Summary: When Little Joe is seriously injured following an attack by bandits, Ben must rush him to the nearest doctor for immediate medical attention. Ben Cartwright is stunned to find that the doctor is a woman and he hesitates to let her treat Little Joe. But when her work proves to be exceptional, he has to put his preconceived notions aside and comes to accept Dr. Michaela Quinn for the professional woman that she is. But when Ben Cartwright begins to develop feelings for the beautiful lady doctor, she is torn between two men.
Rating: T/PG-13 Mild language and brief sexual innuendo. Word Count: 19,190
Dr. Michaela Quinn MD
A Bonanza/Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman Crossover
The bandits had attacked so quickly and precisely that Ben, Hoss and Joe had barely had time to respond. All three men had suffered injuries from the attack but Little Joe was by far the worst of the three. He was shot in the chest and bleeding profusely. Ben had a deep cut in his right hand and wound above his left eye and Hoss had a graze wound to his left shoulder. To make matters worse, the bandits made off with the five thousand dollars they had made selling the cattle to the buyer in Pueblo. The loss of the money was a blow, but Ben was far more worried about Joe. They had done all they could to stop the bleeding, but Joe was desperately in need of a doctor. Ben couldn’t keep his mind off the boy, he was constantly looking back at his son who lying slumped over in Cochise’s saddle, his feet tied to the stirrups to keep him from falling off. He moaned with every bump of the horse as Ben led Cochise behind him, their horses running at top speed, causing Joe’s injured body to bounce mercilessly in the saddle.
“He ain’t looking well, pa,” Hoss said.
“I know Hoss, we just have to make it to Colorado Springs. I heard they have a doctor. He just has to hold on a few more miles till we get there.” Hoss nodded silently, praying his little brother would make it that far. Ben was pushing them harder than he should have but they had been traveling for an hour and were nearly there. Cochise was doing all he could to keep up with his lifeless rider flopping on his back as he raced behind a charging Buck.
Joe was still alive when they pulled into the town of Colorado Springs. It was a small town, much smaller than Virginia City, but it was big enough. There was a general store directly ahead of them and a medical clinic housed in a large building that looked as if it used to be a boarding house. A few of the town’s residents stopped and stared at them as they rushed into town. They were covered in blood and in a hurry.
Ben yanked Buck to a stop in front of the clinic and dismounted, cutting his son’s feet loose from the stirrups as Hoss held him up. Joe’s lifeless body leaned towards his father and Ben eased him off, as Hoss ran around the horse to assist his father in getting Little Joe inside the clinic. Ben burst through the door without knocking. A startled woman looked up from a book she was reading as they rushed inside.
“Put him on the bed,” the woman said as Ben and Hoss carried him to the examination table in the center of the room. The woman rushed up to Joe and pulled a stethoscope out of her bag and began to listen to his heart. Ben put a hand angrily on her arm and pushed her away.
“My son needs a doctor now madam!” he said harshly.
“I am the doctor,” she said without looking at Ben. She pulled opened Joe’s shirt to get a better look at the gaping wound on his chest.
“A man would be preferable,” Ben said startled at the amount of blood that was still on his son’s chest. The woman didn’t speak as she undid the makeshift bandage they had placed on Joe’s chest.
“Colleen!” she called. “Come in here please!” Ben looked towards the door behind him as a young woman who couldn’t be more than fourteen emerged from the room.
“We’re going to need to do surgery, this man’s been shot.” Colleen nodded and put on her apron and gathered supplies from a nearby shelf.
“You and that child are not going to operate on my son, madam!” Ben shouted. “Where in the hell’s the real doctor?” The woman glared at him.
“I’m Dr. Michaela Quinn, I have my degree from the Woman’s Medical College of Philadelphia Mr…Uh…”
“Cartwright, Ben Cartwright,” Ben said angrily.
“Well Mr. Cartwright, there is my degree on the wall over there if you care to look at it.” Ben was torn between verifying the woman’s credentials and standing beside his badly injured son.
“I’ll be darned, pa, it does say she’s a real doctor. Top o’ her class and everything,” Hoss said, reading from the diploma on the wall. “How ‘bout that, a real live lady doctor!” Ben was unimpressed.
“I thank you for your efforts Mrs. Quinn, but I think I’ll take my son elsewhere. I don’t need him butchered by a woman and child playing doctor!” Dr. Quinn ignored him as Colleen stood beside her, holding the lamp and cleaning away the blood. Dr. Quinn lifted her scalpel and began to remove the bullet. The young man’s life depended on her quick actions, she had no time to argue with his ignorant father.
“The nearest male doctor is in Denver, Mr. Cartwright, your son will not survive the journey,” Dr. Quinn said without looking up. “Hold the light a little higher,” she instructed Colleen who continued to dab the wound.
“Pa, let her try,” Hoss said still impressed and worried about his brother. “A doc’s a doc.” Ben bit his lip and folded his arms tightly across his chest. He didn’t want the woman and the young girl butchering his son, but what choice did they have?
“If you and your other son would step outside, I would appreciate it. I don’t allow family in my operating room.”
“My son and I will stay right here madam!” Ben said not budging from his son’s side.
“Fine, but keep your mouth shut,” Dr. Quinn said firmly. Colleen looked up at the two men, Ben was glaring at her and Hoss smiled kindly but worriedly at the girl. Ben held Joseph’s hand and prayed that this woman knew what she was doing. She was Joe’s only hope.
“The bullet is deep Colleen, you see it there?” Dr. Quinn said, prodding the wounds. Joe moaned in pain. Colleen poured chloroform on a cloth and held it over Joe’s mouth and nose until he relaxed.
“I do, it’s right up next to his artery,” Colleen said quietly.
“Yes, that’s why he’s bleeding so much.” Ben looked over the small woman doctor’s shoulder trying to see what she was talking about.
“Please step back Mr. Cartwright, you’re blocking the light,” she said. Ben huffed but complied, mumbling his protestations. The lady doctor ignored him as she carefully grabbed the bullet with her tweezers.
“Steady Dr. Mike,” Colleen said as Dr. Quinn pulled the bullet out slowly and carefully, her concentration unwavering. She didn’t want to further nick the man’s artery; he was bleeding enough as it was. Ben and Hoss held their breaths as the bullet inched out slowly, each man finally exhaling when the bullet clanked on the tin plate on the bedside table.
“Good job ma,” Colleen said, smiling brightly. Did the girl just call her “ma”? Ben wondered looking at the young lady doctor. She didn’t look old enough to have a daughter of thirteen or fourteen. Dr. Quinn did not look up from her ministrations.
“We have a bleeder,” the doctor said as Joe’s blood sprayed from his body. Ben’s heart was racing as blood stained the woman’s apron. She sprung into quick action, Ben could not see what she was doing, but the younger girl was holding something inside the wound to quell the bleeding while the woman stitched it closed.
“Got it,” she said the relief evident in her voice.
“The worst is over,” Dr. Quinn said looking at her patient’s father who was standing beside her. His face was still set and his arms were still folded tightly across his chest, but he didn’t seem as angry as before. “Now we just have to stitch the wound closed and let him recover. He might need blood, but we can watch him overnight and see about that.” Ben nodded silently, he was still angry at Dr. Quinn for the fact that she was a woman. His preconceptions just simply did not allow for the fact that this woman was more than competent.
Ben couldn’t help but be impressed at the fine, tight stitching the woman did to close the wound in Joe’s chest and the careful way in which she cleaned the blood from him. But he grabbed her wrist when she began to remove Joe’s blood saturated pants.
“You’ll leave my son’s pants where they are,” he said firmly. Dr. Quinn glared at him.
“I’ll thank you to take your hands off me, Mr. Cartwright!” she said as Colleen pulled off Joe’s boots. “I’m a doctor. If this was your daughter and I was a male doctor would you stop me from removing her clothes?” Ben hesitated. He wouldn’t. He removed his hand from her wrist and stepped back.
“Colleen, please step out,” Dr. Quinn said to the young girl. Ben looked at the girl who nodded and stepped into the next room. Ben felt better that the young girl would not see his son stripped bare.
“Thank you,” he mumbled. The woman did appear to have some tact at least.
“If it makes you more comfortable, you can clean him yourself, but I do need to examine him for further injuries. From the looks of both Ben and his other son, they were all injured. They must have been attacked in some fashion. Ben nodded and stepped up to his son, undoing the button of his pants. He stopped and looked at the woman.
“Can you step out?” he asked. The woman glared at him.
“I will not, Mr. Cartwright,” she said quickly, her glare matching his. Ben sighed and stripped his son and cleaned the blood off him with a wet cloth the woman had provided. She stepped up beside Ben, she could feel his unease as she examined his naked son.
“He doesn’t appear to have injuries anywhere else,” she said reaching into a drawer beneath her desk as she pulled out a long shirt to dress him in.
“I could have told you that myself!” Ben said angrily as he hurried to pull the shirt down over Joseph to cover his nakedness. He relaxed when Joe’s dignity was finally restored.
“I have some recovery rooms upstairs if you and your son…” she looked at Hoss, realizing she didn’t know his name or even her patient’s name.
“Hoss, ma’am,” the largest man she’d ever seen said, smiling at her. He extended his hand to shake hers but withdrew it when he saw her hand was still covered in his brother’s blood.
“If you and Hoss would like to carry him upstairs, please.” Ben nodded as the woman opened the door at where Colleen had disappeared behind and he and Hoss carried Joseph upstairs.
The recovery rooms were large, clean and well-lit and as Ben laid Joe on the bed, he felt better. Maybe the boy would live after all.
The woman doctor pulled the blankets up around Joe and made sure he was comfortable, she checked his pulse and his pupils. Ben watched her, holding his breath.
“What is his name, Mr. Cartwright?” she asked without looking up from her patient.
“Joseph,” Ben said feeling suddenly very guilty for the way he had acted towards the woman.
“We call him Little Joe, doc,” Hoss added tentatively.
“I’d prefer you call him Joseph,” Ben said quickly. He still did not wish to be too friendly with the woman doctor. Dr. Quinn eyed him quickly. He was one hell of a hard man, she thought looking at him. She had just saved his son’s life and still he refused to give her any credit at all.
“I would appreciate if you will leave my sons and me in peace now Mrs. Quinn,” Ben said harshly.
“I will leave you in peace, but myself or Colleen will be back frequently to check on him. Your son’s position is very precarious right now,” Dr. Quinn said, slamming the door as she left. Hoss’ eyes were riveted on the door.
“Damn, a lady doctor, imagine that pa,” he said. “Sure gotta admire that spunky little gal.” His smile fell when he looked at his father’s angry face.
“The medical profession is a man’s world,” Ben said sharply. “It’s no place for a woman.”
“Aww pa, who in the hell cares whether she’s female or not? As long as she knows what she’s doin’, what difference does it make? And she is might purty, I wouldn’t mind a doc like that tendin’ to me.”
“She should leave it to the men.” Hoss glared at his father. Ben Cartwright was normally a forward thinking man. He was not a racist and was friendly with the Indians that lived near them, even standing up for them when others were against him. Hoss was stunned at the closed mindedness of his father about the lady doctor.
“That lady doctor saved Joe’s life pa. Stop bein’ so damn set in your ways.”
“She hasn’t saved Joe’s life yet Hoss, we have no idea that he’ll be okay…” Ben said, flopping down in a chair to keep vigil by his son’s bedside. Twenty minutes later, Joe’s eyes began to flutter as he woke up.
“Pa, where am I?” Joe asked looking at this father.
“It’s alright Joe. You’ve just had surgery.”
“Where’s Hoss?” he asked.
“Right here little brother. We’re in Colorado Springs an’ listen to this Joe, a lady doctor pulled the bullet out of you an’ patched you up good as new.”
“No kiddin’? A real lady doctor?” Joe asked, still groggy, unsure he had heard correctly.
“Yep. I saw her certificate on the wall with my own two eyes…she’s purty as a picture too, Joe.” Ben huffed.
“What’s the matter with pa?” Joe asked.
“He’s mad at the lady doc for bein’ a woman I suppose,” Hoss said.
“I don’t care if she is a monkey as long as she knows what she’s doin’,” Joe said, exhausted and weak.
“She’s real good Joe, you should’a seen her…” Ben got up from the chair and started for the door. He didn’t want to hear his son sing the praises of the woman he wanted to hate but currently had no reason to do so.
Dr. Quinn and Colleen were nearly finished stripping the bloody sheets off the operation table and replacing them with new ones when Ben entered the room. Dr. Quinn looked at him, her face set and professional.
“Is something wrong with Joseph?” she asked.
“No, he’s awake and talking a little,” Ben said. Dr. Quinn left what she was doing on the table and hurried past him to check on Joe. Ben let her go and stayed in the room watching Colleen, the girl continued her work uneasily.
“Colleen, is it?” Ben asked the blonde haired girl. The girl nodded but didn’t speak to him.
“Is Mrs. Quinn your mother?”
“It’s not Mrs. Quinn, it’s Doctor Quinn, she’s not married and yes she’s my mother,” Colleen said firmly.
“I thought I heard you call her ma when she was removing the bullet from my son,” Ben said trying to break the ice.
“Yeah…” Colleen said not wanting to talk. She looked at him over the pile of bloody linens in her hand. She might have to be cordial to him but she did not have to be friendly.
“You should have Dr. Mike have a look at you too,” she said nodding at the bloody bandage around his right hand and the stream of dried blood that was running down his face. Ben had forgotten about his own injuries in the effort to save his son.
“Dr. Mike?” Ben asked perplexed.
“Her name’s Michaela, but we all just call her Dr. Mike,” the young woman said as she brushed passed him with the soiled linens. Ben watched her wondering about this mysterious woman doctor.
“Your son appears to be coming along just fine Mr. Cartwright,” Dr. Quinn’s voice said startling him as she came out of the recovery rooms.
“Joseph’s a strong boy,” Ben said.
“Both of your sons are. I had a look at Hoss’ shoulder, it’s just a flesh wound and should heal up very nicely. I did put a little salve on it to help take the sting out.”
“Thank you,” Ben said quietly. The silence fell heavily between them, the lady doctor was staring at his bandaged hand and the blood on his face he knew she wanted to look at it but wasn’t sure how to broach the subject.
“I should have a look at you as well, Mr. Cartwright, Hoss said you injured your hand and I’d like to make sure that head wound isn’t anything serious.”
“I’m fine Miss Quinn,” Ben said, his resistance to her doctoring coming back.
“I prefer you call me Dr. Quinn,” she said harshly. “It’s what I am after all.” Ben eyed the woman, she did have a lot of spunk. “You asked me to call your son Joseph and I honored your request. I would appreciate the same courtesy from you.”
“Fair enough, my hand and my head are fine Dr. Quinn,” Ben said emphasizing the title.
“Nonsense, that filthy bandage on your hand is soaked with blood and there is dried blood running down your face,” Dr. Quinn said as she ushered him to the examination table, unwilling to take his protestations seriously as he sat down in a huff. He removed his hat so she could examine his head first. There was a deep cut above his left eyebrow that was the source of the blood.
“That should take a few stitches,” she said pulling a needle and thread out of her bag as she spoke.
“I don’t need stitches, Miss, uh, Dr. Quinn. I’m fine,” Ben said grimacing as she dabbed at the wound.
“It’s a rather deep cut Mr. Cartwright and it will leave a scar on your face not to mention the risk of infection. Now hold still,” she said ignoring him as she pushed the needle through his skin.
“Ow…damn it woman!” he said as she pulled the thread through the cut, making small, careful stitches so the scaring would be as minimal as possible.
“And stop furrowing your brows, I cannot stitch like that.”
“Sorry it just hurts,” he mumbled but complied. It didn’t take as long as he thought and she was soon cleaning the wound and wiping the blood off his face.
“Only took six stitches, three across and three back, they’re small so you should have very little scarring. Now for that hand,” she said. Her reluctant patient pulled his hand back but she grabbed it and pulled it towards her.
“Are you going to strip me as well to check for other injuries?” he asked sarcastically.
“Not unless you pass out on my table,” she said as she looked at his hand. He had a rather long cut on his right palm. Given the cut over his eye and the wound in his hand, plus bruising on his left knuckles, she suspected they had been attacked and he engaged in close combat with the assailants.
“The hand will need stitching too,” she said holding his hand out by his fingers as she cleaned it. He had forgotten how painful it was in his rush to save Joseph. The doctor cleaned his hand with something that made it sting and burn. He made a face and pulled his hand away again. She yanked it back.
“Looks like a defensive wound,” she said. “I’m afraid this will hurt a quite a bit,” she said as she threaded the needle again. He looked down at his palm, the cut ran diagonally from just below his index finger along the center line of his hand, ending just below his pinky.
“My sons and I were attacked by bandits on the road from Pueblo,” Ben said. “They came at me with a knife, I grabbed the blade with my hand and that’s how I got the cut on my hand. At some point in the struggle they tried to stab by face and that’s how I got the one on my head. I don’t remember which was first. They shot Joseph to keep us from following them…ahhh…” Ben said as Dr. Quinn pushed the needle through his palm.
“There have been a lot of attacks out that way lately,” Colleen said, startling Ben. He had not seen her come back into the room. “The army’s been trying to round them up for months now. They escaped from the local prison several months ago.” Ben nodded at the girl, grimacing as the woman doctor continued to stitch his hand. It hurt a lot more than his head did. He inhaled deeply.
“I’m sorry Mr. Cartwright, I know it’s quite painful” Dr. Quinn said gently.
“Yes,” he said through clenched teeth, his anger rising at the woman again. A man probably would have found a way to make it not hurt so much…he stopped himself at the ridiculousness of the thought.
“Hands and fingers are incredibly painful,” she said not looking up as she sewed his hand with the ease and grace of a woman making clothes. The stitching was tight and neat he noticed begrudgingly. But dear God it hurt, he thought.
“It’s because your hands and fingers are packed with nerve endings,” Colleen said excitedly as she wiped his hand while her mother sewed.
“Is that so…? Ow…” he said, gritting his teeth against the pain.
“Yes, that’s what allows you to feel different textures and…”
“Colleen, Mr. Cartwright probably doesn’t want to hear all that right now,” Dr. Quinn said without looking up from her work.
“No it’s fine, it’s a nice distraction…ahhh…damn that hurt…sorry,” he said when Colleen gasped and covered his mouth. He clenched his teeth and tried to think of something else. Dr. Quinn eyed him but did not chide him, she knew how bad it hurt. She didn’t like swearing but she was a doctor and she knew it often came with the territory.
“Swear all you want, Mr. Cartwright, I know it’s hurts, I’m trying to work quickly,” she said a soothingly as she could. “It is very deep.”
“I don’t like swearing in front of ladies,” he said biting back a tirade of curses that were on the tip of his tongue. Dr. Quinn looked up at him and grinned slightly.
“I’m not a lady, I’m a doctor,” she said meeting his gaze. Ben wasn’t quite sure he understood but did not say so.
“What line of work are you in, Mr. Cartwright?” she asked, trying to get his mind off the pain. He patient was breathing hard through his teeth, staring at his hand.
“Cattle ranching,” he said, steadying his breathing. “I own a ranch called The Ponderosa in Virginia City Nevada. We were selling some cattle to a man in Pueblo. That’s what brought us out your way. How is it, Miss…Dr. Quinn, that you came into your line of work?” he asked her, watching as the line of stitches in his palm grew longer, closing the wound along the way. She pushed the needle in particularly deep and he cried out and pulled his hand away.
“Holy shit,” Ben hissed between breaths as he held his excruciatingly painful hand on his lap.
“I’m sorry. The wound is very deep,” she said pulling his hand back towards her, somewhat more tenderly. She knew it must be torturous for him but it couldn’t be helped. “Try to relax your hand, the tenser your hand is, the more it will hurt. It sometimes helps to not look at it.” The man looked at her, the agony evident in his eyes. How in the hell was he supposed to relax his hand? He cleared his throat and swallowed, his voice cracking slightly.
“You were saying?” he said looking down at his hand, his teeth clenched. He looked away, taking in the small examination room of the clinic. He had to admit it was one of the tidiest he’d ever been in. And it was comforting, not like many of the doctor’s offices were saws and knives hung on the walls.
“My father was a doctor and I am the youngest of five girls. My father wanted a boy and well I used to accompany him on his rounds and just fell in love with it.”
“Have you been doctoring long?” he asked, still perplexed at how she could be Colleen’s mother. The girl had to be at least thirteen years old.
“No, I’ve only been out of college for three years, I answered an ad to come out here when I graduated and that’s how I came west. I’m originally from Boston.”
“Boston’s a fine town,” Ben said, gasping at the pain of the stitching. She rubbed his palm gently with her thumb, trying to ease the pain. She was good, he had to admit that, most doctors didn’t seem to care how much it hurt; they just worked even if you were screaming. At least with her, she tried to make the pain less and even asked if he needed water or a brief beak. He declined both.
“You’ve been there?” she asked intrigued as she resumed her work.
“I have. I’ve been many, many places…ahh…”
“I bet that’s hard on your wife to have you traveling so much,” she said closing up the last part of the cut. “It’s just a bit deeper here under your finger,” she said pushing the needle deeply through his skin. The part below his index finger was very deep, almost to the bone. He gasped and gritted his teeth and proceeded to hold his breath. She noticed that his shoulders and back were rigid with pain and his left hand was holding on so tightly to the edge of the examination table, that the bruised knuckles on is left hand, were white the strain.
“Are you okay?” He nodded, even though he wasn’t.
“Try not to hold your breath,” she said softly. “It will deprive your brain of oxygen and could make the pain worse or cause you to pass out.” He let his breath out through his teeth.
“Shall I continue?” she asked. He nodded and she pushed the needle through his hand once more. He looked away again; he was looking for any way to keep control of his quickly wavering composure. He focused on the soft swoosh the thread made as it was pulled through his hand, he tried to listen to the sounds outside but nothing seemed to help. Sweat ran down his face and his breathing was hard and labored. Each pierce of the needle seemed harder and more painful than the last, and even the trailing of the thread behind it, hurt. He thought Joe got the better end of the deal, at least he had been asleep when the bullet was pulled out of him.
“It hurts like hell doc,” he gasped without looking at her. Dr. Quinn did not look up.
“I know but I’m almost done,” she said softly as she rubbed his wrist soothingly. “You were telling me about your wife,” she said trying to distract him again.
“Oh yeah…I’m a widower, three sons, by three different women…all of them passed on now, my first in childbirth, the second shot by Indians, and the third died in a fall,” Ben said.
“I’m sorry for your loses, Mr. Cartwright,” she said, pulling the needle once more through his skin before she tied it off and cut away the excess thread. Then she cleaned the blood carefully from his hand.
“All done, now I just need to bandage it,” she said. Ben finally looked back at his hand. There was a zigzag of stitches following the lines in his hand. They were tight, neat and carefully stitched. Her work really was remarkable.
“Thank you Dr. Quinn,” Ben said, sighing in pain. “This line of work you’ve chosen must be hard on you husband and children.” She was rummaging through a drawer beneath the cabinet where she removed a large white roll of linen. She walked back to him, carrying it in her hand along with a small pair of scissors.
“I’m not married, Mr. Cartwright. I haven’t found the right man yet. I won’t give up doctoring just to marry…” Ben looked at Colleen again.
“Oh, you’re wondering about Colleen, she and her brothers are adopted. Matthew, my oldest, is seventeen; Colleen’s thirteen and my youngest boy is only six. I came into motherhood quite unexpectedly.” Ben watched her as she wound the bandage around his hand, going between his thumb and forefinger in one smooth motion.
“Well it looks like you’re taking to it very well,” Ben said surprising the doctor at the compliment. Colleen smiled at the man and went upstairs to check on Joe.
“I think she’s a bit smitten with Joseph,” Dr. Quinn said as the girl disappeared up the stairs.
“Most girls take to him quite fast, but don’t worry, he won’t try anything with Colleen, she’s way too young for him.” Dr. Mike nodded but she knew Colleen was developing a crush on the handsome young man. He watched as she finished wrapping the bandage around his hand, and tied it off at his wrist. The bandage was tight, but not too tight and it too was wound with care and accuracy.
“I take it this is your dominant hand?” she said nodding at the gun holster on his right hip.
“Yes,” he said, rubbing his hand through the bandage, the pain was still very strong.
“Try to use it as little as possible. The pain will be the worst today and tomorrow. After that it should start to subside significantly. It will also start to feel stiff, try to move it a little when that happens, but not enough to tear the stitching. They should come out in about fourteen days to three weeks depending on how much care you take not to use it. I’ll need to keep Joe for about a week, if you want to stay on longer I’ll remove them for you, if not, don’t wait more than three and a half weeks from now, otherwise the skin will start to grow around the stitches and removing them will be quite painful. Now about this bruising on your knuckles…” she said, taking his left hand. His knuckles were dark and split at places. He had put up quite a fight. She went to the shelf on the wall and took down a tin of some kind of salve. She walked back to him and put the tin down on the table and scooped out a large helping on her fingers.
“This is a medicine given to me by the Cheyenne. It’s made from some kind of herb, hemp I think. It works wonders with pain,” she said rubbing the balm into his bruised knuckles. He started to protest that he didn’t want Indian medicine, but his protestations quickly abated as the balm she was massaging in to his skin did seem to relieve the pain.
“How did you break your fingers, Mr. Cartwright? It looks like an old injury,” she said without looking up while she gently stretched out his left middle and ring fingers to examine them. If one looked with an expert eye, they were ever so slightly crooked. She was the first doctor to ever notice.
“How can you tell they’ve been broken? It was a very long time ago,” he said quickly, wanting her to resume massaging his hand.
“I’m a doctor, I know when fingers are not quite as they should be.” Ben smiled as she resumed rubbing the Indian salve into his knuckles. It was soothing and he felt the tenseness in his back and shoulders starting to relax as well.
“When I was a boy, I used to use my left hand for almost everything and my mother didn’t like that. She wanted me to switch hands, but I guess I was just a little too stubborn for her liking.” Dr. Quinn set the tin of salve down on the table and looked at him, anger in her eyes.
“Your mother broke your fingers so you wouldn’t use your left hand?” she asked, incredulous.
“Yeah, in her defense, she did try everything she could to make me switch hands but I can be very bullheaded. Breaking my fingers finally did the trick. She was a very superstitious woman; she said it was the sign of the devil. When Joseph turned out to be left handed, I swore I’d break anyone’s neck that tried to make him switch hands. I didn’t see any reason to put the boy through all that.” Despite Dr. Quinn’s dislike of the man in front of her, he didn’t seem to be completely terrible.
“There’s no defending that kind of ignorance Mr. Cartwright,” Dr. Quinn said firmly noting that his fingers should have been splinted properly to prevent them from healing slightly crooked.
“Do they cause you much pain?” she asked, ever the doctor. Ben pulled his fingers back from her, not wanting anymore doctoring. He feared she might suggest breaking them again to make them heal straight. He wasn’t about to let her do that.
“Now and again; they can get quite painful when the weather changes.”
“They’ve probably developed some rheumatism. When you feel the pain starting, soak your hand in the hottest water you can stand for about twenty minutes several times a day, which should help ease the pain significantly. Also stretching your fingers when the stiffness starts will help as well, start by making a fist and holding it for about twenty or thirty seconds, then bend your fingers separately and hold it for about twenty seconds.” She walked to the shelf and retrieved a glass, poured water in and mixed a powdery substance into it. She stirred it and walked to him.
“Thank you, I’ll try that,” he said. He had seen many doctors in his life and none had ever noticed his fingers or told him how to ease the pain in them that seemed to get worse as he aged.
“Here drink this?” she said handing him the glass.
“What is it?”
“Laudanum, it will help relieve the pain you’re feeling now.”
“I’m alright,” he said, thinking that his hand was extremely painful.
“Stop being so stubborn and just drink it. You’re clearly in pain.” He started to protest but his hand did hurt like hell. He took the medicine and drank it quickly.
“It might make you tired so don’t go riding anywhere for the time being.”
“I won’t. Are you done now?”
“Yes. But we don’t have much of a hotel for you to stay in, the saloon across the street does rent rooms, or you and Hoss can stay in the extra recovery room upstairs if you wish.”
“I don’t wish to intrude on your practice Dr. Quinn, Hoss and I will take rooms in the saloon.”
“It won’t be intruding on my practice, Mr. Cartwright. Please feel free to stay. There is a livery stable around the corner where you can board your horses.”
“I’ll take them there now,” Ben said getting up to leave. He paused in the doorway.
“I just wanted to say thank you for saving Little Joe,” he said. She nodded at him as he put on his hat and hurried outside. She was still angry with him.
“Rancher you say?” Olive Davis said as she and Dr. Mike walked from the store.
“Yes, apparently he has as spread in Virginia City called The Ponderosa.”
“The Ponderosa? That Ben Cartwright?! It’s more than a “spread” Dr. Mike, that ranch is one thousand square miles. He’s got the biggest ranch west of the Rocky Mountains.”
“He’s insufferable,” Dr. Quinn said strolling with her friend that afternoon.
“He’s honest to a fault from what I hear, he’s a man of high moral values…I hear he’s quite the looker too,” Olive said leaning close to her friend.
“I hadn’t noticed,” Michaela said quickly.
“You wouldn’t, you only have eyes for Sully,” she said. “Where is Sully by the way?” Dr. Quinn’s heart sank. She had had a fight with the aloof mountain man and she hadn’t seen him in a week.
“I don’t know Olive. We quarreled as you know and he took off. He’s probably with Cloud Dancing.”
“Cloud Dancing does have a way of grounding him.”
“I suppose, I guess I just want to know where I stand with him. One minute I know he’s in love with me and the next I’m not sure. He won’t tell me or ask me to court him, what am I to think? Was I wrong to demand an answer from him Olive?”
“Maybe…men like Sully are easily spooked. You have to give him time.” Dr. Quinn was willing to give Sully time, but she wouldn’t wait for him forever. She needed to know where they stood and if he was serious about her or not. He had made her a sign for her practice and she was even renting his house. He seemed to always be around when she needed him, but she needed to know if he was just being neighborly or if he really had feelings for her and he did not seem ready to decide that.
“Is that Ben Cartwright?” Olive asked as the silver haired man approached her clinic.
“Yes that’s him,” Dr. Quinn said sizing up the man.
“Dear Lord in heaven,” Olive said. Dr. Mike looked at the older woman, surprised and a bit confused. Olive winked at her. “That is one fine looking man,” Olive remarked, quickening her step to catch up with him.
“Mr. Cartwright!” Olive called from a way off. The rancher paused outside the clinic and turned to the woman.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Cartwright. I’m Miss Olive Davis, I own a cattle ranch myself,” she said quickly. He extended his right hand, forgetting the injury for a moment until Miss Olive’s very firm handshake became a painful reminder. Dr. Mike saw him grimace, even though Olive did not. Olive continued to shake his injured hand, completely oblivious to the rancher’s discomfort, holding tightly despite his efforts to retrieve his aching hand from her grasp.
“Olive you might pop out the stitches I just put in that hand,” Dr. Mike said coming to the rescue. Miss Davis looked down at the hand still clamped tightly in her own and released his hand quickly. Mr. Cartwright took his hand back and tried to rub it discreetly, as he gave a very grateful smile to Dr. Mike for coming to the rescue.
“Forgive me I didn’t realize…I mean well I just didn’t think…” she stammered at Cartwright’s pained expression. He exhaled loudly. Dr. Mike could almost feel the pain herself just by the expression his face.
“It’s alright. It’s wonderful to meet another rancher Miss Davis,” he said. “You run the ranch yourself?” Olive Davis stood up straight, her face proud.
“As a matter of fact I do,” she said quickly.
“Impressive. How big is your herd?”
“A thousand strong,” she said proudly.
“That’s a good sized heard. Texas Longhorns?”
“Only kind I raise,” she said.
“They are a fine stock, Miss Davis,” he said.
“Call me Olive,” she said, trying to hide the attraction she felt.
“Very well Olive. Good day,” he said starting to go into the clinic.
“Wait, Mr. Cartwright, may I call you Ben?” He nodded. “How would you like to come out and see my ranch sometime?”
“Sure,” he said. “That would be lovely.” He smiled and Olive’s knees went weak.
“You’re lovely…I mean you’re too kind. Would you like to have lunch tomorrow at the café and we can go out and see my herd? Strictly business of course,” she added realizing she was being very forward asking a man to lunch.
“Yeah okay, always like to have connections in the towns I pass through. I’ll see you at the café tomorrow at noon then we’ll see about your herd. I don’t want to leave my son for very long. Grace’s Café by the livery stables, right?”
“That’s the one. Dr. Quinn, I would be honored if you’d join us,” Ben said. Olive’s face fell and she tried to glare at her friend, but the good doctor was not looking at her.
“That’s very kind of you Mr. Cartwright.” Ben touched the brim of his hat to the women and disappeared inside the clinic still rubbing his right hand. Olive Davis exhaled.
“Have you ever seen such a fine man in your whole life Dr. Mike?” she asked her heart racing. Dr. Mike thought Sully was, but didn’t say so. She was mad at Sully and maybe she shouldn’t be pining for him after all. He seemed to want nothing to do with her lately.
“You know, you don’t have to join us tomorrow Dr. Mike,” Olive said. But Dr. Quinn did not take the hint. She wanted to join them, she was ready to distract her mind from Sully and the confusion she felt towards the mountain man. She was warming up to Ben Cartwright a bit and she wanted to see what kind of person he really was. He did have some backwards ideas about women doctors, but he had been reasonable when it came to his son’s left-handedness. There might be a bit more to him than she initially thought.
“Did he tell you if he’s married?” Olive asked as they continued their stroll towards the church. It was a lovely day for a walk and she needed to clear her mind.
“He’s a widower three times over,” Dr. Mike said. “Three sons by three different women.” Olive was delighted to learn he was not married and was a widower. That was one thing they had in common. She was a widow herself although she didn’t really regret it, her husband had not been a kind one, however, that was one thing Ben didn’t have to know. They could share their stories of grief for lost spouses.
“You suppose he could find me attractive Dr. Mike?” she asked. Dr. Quinn was startled. Of all the women she’d ever known, Olive Davis was not one to be easily smitten. She was one of the hardest women Dr. Quinn had ever known and did not seem to have any use for men whatsoever.
“I don’t see why not Olive,” Dr. Quinn said, smiling at her friend. She interlocked her arm with Olive’s and the two women strolled on each lost in their thoughts and confusion about men.
“I still say you owe Dr. Mike an apology,” Hoss said to his father that afternoon as they gathered in Joe’s recovery room. His father stood with his back to them, looking out the window.
“Yep, she said I could call her that,” Hoss said proudly. “You were plum rude to her pa.” Joe lay in bed, he was in pain but was alert. Colleen had been coming in an out to attend to him and had even given him some broth which he managed to keep down. Ben was grateful that it didn’t seem like he was in need of a blood transfusion after all. Dr. Quinn thought he could recover his blood loss by staying in bed and getting plenty of food and rest.
“I agree with Hoss, pa, she’s a fine doctor and you were pretty hateful to her from what Hoss tells me.” Ben turned back towards his sons, his arms folded tightly across his chest.
“I wasn’t hateful to her Joseph, I just wasn’t expecting a woman doctor okay?!”
“You implied that just ‘cause she’s a woman she don’t know what she’s doin’. You told her when Joe was bleedin’ to death that you preferred a man an’ that she was “just playin’ doctor.” That ain’t the way you taught us pa. I’m surprised at how you acted. It was downright embarassin’ if you want to know the truth.”
“Oh I agree pa, Dr. Mike’s a fine doctor,” Joe chimed in. “Prettiest doctor I’ve ever seen too,” Joe added for good measure. Hoss smiled at his brother and nodded in agreement.
“So I’m old fashioned, what’s wrong with women having their roles and men having theirs?” Ben asked.
“It’s just plum ignorant,” Hoss said firmly his voice raising. “Lots of folks feel that white folks got a right to own black folks too an’ you always told us that was wrong. Lots of folks think it’s okay to slaughter Indians too just ‘cause they’re Indians…you taught us that is wrong too…You know Little Joe, he even refused to call her Dr. Quinn! He kept calling her Mrs. Quinn!” Joe looked at his father, who was now looking at his feet, Hoss was right. He was being very hypocritical. Had he really sounded that bad?
“What difference does her gender make pa?” Joe asked quickly, his voice slightly weak. “You raised us to judge a person by their character, not by the color of their skin. Doesn’t that also apply to what’s between their legs or what’s not?” Joe asked bluntly.
“Yes Joseph, it does,” Ben said abashed at how he had acted. Hearing it thrown back at him by his disappointed sons made him sound terrible. “Thank you for pointing it out to me boys. I guess I didn’t realize how foolish I sounded. I shall apologize to her the first chance I get. She and her friend are having lunch with me at the café tomorrow, Hoss, I’d like you to join us if you’re not too embarrassed to be seen with me.”
“I’ll go as long as you apologize first,” Hoss said. Hoss was not easily angered but when he was, he wore it on his sleeve. His blue eyes were hard and distant. He was still mad but was starting to soften. “Shall we have some dinner Hoss and then turn in for the night?” Hoss nodded and followed his father out of the room.
Dr. Quinn was at her desk when they returned from the café. Hoss nodded at his father, suggesting that the time for the apology was at hand and headed upstairs to the spare recovery room. Ben lingered in the examination room. He removed is hat and approached her desk.
“Dr. Quinn…I afraid I acted quite terribly to you today and I just wanted to say I’m sorry,” he said quickly. Dr. Mike stared into his eyes, her arms folded across her chest. He thought she was quite pretty after all.
“I’m used to men like you Mr. Cartwright,” she said quickly, not willing to forgive him that easily.
“That’s just it, I’m not that kind of man.”
“No…I’m really not. I’ve taught my sons to judge a man by his character, not by the color of his skin. I guess I just never realized that that doesn’t just apply to men. I suppose that old habits die hard Dr. Quinn and I’ve lived in a man’s world for a very long time.”
“Times are changing, Mr. Cartwright. This world isn’t just for men anymore. The way we change that is by men like your sons who are willing to accept a woman in a role she’s chosen for her life, not the boxes that men like you think they should be in!”
“My boys gave me a very sound tongue lashing for the way I treated you today and it made me realize how terribly I acted towards you. I know that you think I don’t mean it but I really am sorry. I hope you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me and give me another chance to prove to you that I’m not the kind of man you think I am. If it wasn’t for you and Colleen, Little Joe would be dead right now. Thank you again for saving him even when I was acting so terrible. You really are a fine doctor.” Ben put on his hat and started for the door. He wouldn’t blame her if she didn’t ever forgive him. He had belittled her and her profession. He knew exactly how it felt to have someone question his knowledge about ranching, she must be feeling the same way.
“Mr. Cartwright, wait,” she said standing up and coming towards him. “I accept your apology, let’s start fresh,” she said extending her hand to him. He took it in his right fingers, avoiding his injured palm, she was careful to avoid his palm as well. “I’m Dr. Michaela Quinn, my friends call me Dr. Mike.”
“Pleased to meet you Dr. Mike. I’m Benjamin Cartwright, my friends call me Ben,” he said.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance Ben,” she said smiling beautifully at him. His heart fluttered in his chest. Her hand felt warm in his and he hesitated to let her hand go. But she pulled back quickly and looked away her cheeks flushing slightly. Olive was right, he really was quite dashing. Especially his eyes, they were as black as coal.
“Well Ben, you and Hoss make yourselves comfortable, I’ll be staying in the third recovery room. I always stay in the clinic when I have patients. Let me know if you need anything at all or if Joseph starts hurting. I’ve given him laudanum so he can sleep tonight. He still needs a lot of rest. The outhouse is in the back and there should be fresh water in the wash basin the room you and Hoss will be staying in.” Ben nodded and started up the stairs, feeling much better than he had all day. It was hard to swallow his pride and admit that he had been wrong, but it felt much better to finally do it.
“Thank you for your apology Ben, it means a lot to me,” she said. He paused in the doorway and smiled at her. He could get used to her smile, he thought as he walked up the stairs.
After the argument with Dr. Mike, Sully went to the only person he could trust to sort out such matters, his best friend and surrogate father, Cloud Dancing, a Cheyenne Medicine Man. As always, Cloud Dancing’s advice had been wise, even if Sully had not wanted to hear it. Cloud Dancing had agreed with Dr. Mike, that if Sully had feelings for her, he should tell her how he felt. It was not fair to her to not be truthful about his feelings, but he was scared to tell her, afraid she might not feel the same and even more afraid that something terrible might happen to her and he would lose her forever. Cloud Dancing pointed out that if he continued not to tell her how he felt, he would lose her forever anyway.
But Sully wasn’t sure he wanted to go crawling back to town and swallow his pride to Dr. Mike. He wanted her to come to him, but that would only happen if he went back to town. He had been away for a week and he doubted very much that she even knew for sure where he was and if she did, he doubted even more, that she would venture out to find him just to apologize for something she hadn’t been wrong about in the first place. They weren’t even courting and she really didn’t even know if he was sweet on her or not. Still he decided that he would head back for town the next morning and try to catch up to her and some point and maybe they could start a conversation. It would be the easiest way and if she apologized first that would be even better.
The clinic was empty of Dr. Mike when Sully arrived the following afternoon. It wasn’t entirely strange for her to be gone in the middle of the day, she often went out walking with Olive or might have been called away on an emergency. He was both relieved and disappointed when he didn’t find her. On the one hand it bought him more time to think about what he was going to say, but on the other hand, it just prolonged the whole ordeal. Part of him had hoped to just get it over with. When Sully did not find her in the store either, he decided to check with Robert E, the town blacksmith. He was good friends with both Sully and Dr. Mike and might know where she had gone too.
“Hey Robert E,” Sully said approaching the large former slave as he hammered a horse shoe.
“Hey Sully, where’ve you been?” Robert E asked, dunking the shoe in water. Sully followed him as he approached the corral. There were three very beautiful and expensive looking horses in it. Robert E. approached the buckskin horse and began to replace the shoe.
“Out,” Sully said in response to his question.
“Well that’s obvious, where was you “out” to?” the blacksmith asked, expertly replacing the shoe while he talked to his friend.
“Visitin’ Cloud Dancing,” Sully said absently.
“How’s he doin’?” Robert E. asked setting down the horse’s foot as he patted its neck.
“He’s fine. Have you seen Dr. Mike?” Robert E. began to brush out the buckskin.
“You’ve been avoidin’ her ain’t ya?” he asked.
“Maybe…whose horses are those?” Sully asked.
“Some big rancher fella named Ben Cartwright from Virginia City, they’re some of the finest horses I ever laid eyes on, let alone had boardin’ in my stalls,” Robert E. said admiringly. “In fact Cartwright and his son and Miss Olive are over at the café right now having lunch with Dr. Mike.”
“Thanks Robert E.,” Sully said patting Buck’s nose as he started towards the café.
“Sully, if you ask me that fella’s a little sweet on Dr. Mike,” Robert E. said, stopping the mountain man in his tracks.
“The rancher?” Sully asked. Robert E. nodded and went back to work. Sully looked from his friend towards the café. Grace’s Café was attached to the livery stables in an outdoor section that used to be part of the livery.
The path to the café ran from the livery, down behind the clinic. Sully approached slowly, not willing to enter the café if Dr. Mike was having lunch with another man. He watched from a distance, being careful not to be seen. Dr. Mike was having lunch with two men and Miss Olive. Sully didn’t know which one was “the big rancher from Virginia City,” but he suspected it was the older one. He was smiling at Dr. Mike and he was laughing, a booming laugh that weakened Sully’s resolve to tell Dr. Mike how he felt. Instead of approaching her like he had planned, he turned and ran away from the café.
“My but you do eat a lot,” Grace said as Hoss finished his second plate of fried chicken.
“He’s just getting started,” Ben said smiling at the woman over the brim of his cup of iced tea.
“Well Miss Grace here shore is a fine cook…no offense pa, but your cookin’ on the trail tastes like eatin’ a boot,” Hoss said, talking quickly between bites. Ben chuckled.
“I never was much of a cook, I’m afraid,” he said.
“Me either,” Dr. Quinn said. Ben swallowed his tea and put down his cup.
“Really? I would think that you were a fine cook,” he said. Olive noticed that his eyes were dancing when he spoke to her friend.
“We had servants when I was growing up and I’m afraid I was much too preoccupied with other things to learn how to cook. Fortunately Colleen is an excellent cook and she’s been giving me some pointers.”
“I’ve won the blue ribbons at the fair for the last five years for my apple pies,” Olive added.
“Is that so? Nothing quite like a fine apple pie,” Ben said. “Our cook Hop Sing makes some pretty good pies, doesn’t he Hoss?”
“Oh yes ma’am,” Hoss said still occupied with his chicken.
“Hop Sing? That’s an interesting name. Where’s he from?” Dr. Mike asked.
“China,” Ben said taking bite of his food. “He’s been with us a long time, he’s like a brother to me.”
“I’ve had some Chinamen working for me on cattle drives. I must stay they are hard workers,” Olive agreed. Ben nodded at her but his eyes were on Dr. Mike.
“More iced tea gentlemen?” Grace asked stopping at their table with a pitcher of the fresh tea.
“Yes thank you,” Ben said as she filled up his glass. Hoss nodded that he too wanted more, but his mouth was too full to speak.
“So you’re the Ben Cartwright from Virginia City…My sister Harmony told me a lot about you,” Grace said. Ben looked at her quizzically then his face lit up with recognition.
“Harmony Jackson is your sister?!” Grace nodded.
“My baby sister.”
“I’ll be darned pa,” Hoss said smiling.
“She wrote to me how you showed up at the Freedman’s School with a wagonload of new textbooks, slates and backboard for the school. She said she cried like a baby. It was the happiest moment of her life since the Emancipation.” Ben smiled under the woman’s praise.
“She said the white folks were up in arms ‘cause the Freedman’s School had newer textbooks than the white school.”
“I thought them ol’ bitties on the school board was gonna tar an’ feather pa right then an’ there,” Hoss said, smiling as he finally finished his food.
“I don’t think they would have gone that far, Hoss, but they were quite upset. I swear old Mrs. Cunningham still won’t speak to me to this day,” Ben said. Olive’s heart sank when she saw the way Dr. Mike was looking at Cartwright, the admiration was evident on her face.
“Was a fine thing you done, Mr. Cartwright,” Grace said.
“Ah well, those children deserve it, they’ve had a hard enough life as it is. A good education can go a long way in giving a person a leg up in the world.”
“Would you and Hoss care for some pie, on the house of course?”
“I’m about to burst if I eat more but I’ve never known Hoss to turn down pie,” Ben said. Hoss’ face lit up.
“What kind do you have?”
“For you, whatever you want,” Grace said happily. Hoss licked his lips, trying to decide if it was feasible to have one of each. Ben hid his face in his hand and chuckled, looking at Dr. Mike through his fingers. She smiled kindly at him and he was smitten.
Dr. Mike enjoyed the lunch more than she thought she would. Hoss was quite pleasant and she found it was easy to talk to Ben Cartwright. As she and Olive walked back to the clinic, Dr. Mike had not seen what the older woman had seen, which was that Ben was attracted to the doctor and not to her. Olive Davis tried not to be jealous, but she was. Ben Cartwright couldn’t take his eyes off Dr. Mike during the entire lunch. He was engaging with Olive but he always looked to Michaela to see if she was amused by the conversation. It was upsetting.
“Well that lunch didn’t go as I planned,” Olive said as they arrived back at her brother, Loren Bray’s store.
“Whatever do you mean Olive?” Dr. Mike asked. Was she really that clueless that she couldn’t tell when a man was sweet on her? “I thought it was quite lovely. Ben and Hoss are actually quite charming. I was very impressed about what he did for the Freedman’s School. Not everyone would do that.” Olive tried not to sneer at her.
“Ben Cartwright is sweet on you Dr. Mike.”
“No he’s not. Olive that’s crazy,” Dr. Mike said standing by the store. Olive Davis looked out past the store to where Ben was standing with his son. He was talking to Hoss but occasionally he would glance over his shoulder and smile at the doctor. Dr. Mike felt her heart flutter in her chest and confusion at the same time. It was flattering to have such a man interested in her but then there was Sully.
“What are you going to do about it Michaela?” Olive asked flatly.
“What should I do?”
“Whatever you want,” Olive said unable to hide the irritation in her voice as she disappeared inside the store leaving Dr. Mike alone. Dr. Mike didn’t look at Ben who was still standing across from the store, talking to his son. He said something to Hoss and hurried towards her. She increased her step, hoping to avoid him so she could sort out her thoughts. But he was much taller than her and quickly fell in step with her.
“Lunch was lovely Mr. Cartwright, thank you for treating,” Dr. Quinn said without looking at him.
“It was the least I could do considering what you did for Joe and Hoss and I. You still think he needs to rest a bit more?”
“He’s healing much faster than I expected but yes he should rest at least two or three more days, I want to be sure he’s clear of infection and his blood supply is completely replenished, he did lose a lot blood. I’m sorry, I’m sure there’s not as much to do in our town as there is in Virginia City, Mr. Cartwright.”
“To the contrary Dr. Mike, I’m rather enjoying your town. I sent Hoss to the army to report the robbery, maybe they’ve had some success in catching the bandits.”
“I hope so,” Dr. Mike said as they approached the clinic. “Do you think it’s safe to send him out by himself?” she asked hoping Ben would go with him so she could think. Olive was crazy, he wasn’t sweet on her. He was just being nice and trying to make up for the way he had treated her.
“Oh yeah, the army encampment is only two miles outside of town, they expanded the perimeter because of the attacks. The bandits won’t attack that close to town as there’s patrols all up and down the roads for miles.”
“That’s great,” she said as she went inside. He followed her inside and proceeded to go upstairs to check on Joe. He paused in the doorway as Colleen sat on a chair near the bed, reading to Joseph. He waited until she finished reading the serial from the paper and stepped inside.
“That sounds like an interesting story Colleen,” Ben said as he walked in.
“Just reading to Little Joe, Mr. Cartwright,” she said, frazzled as she hurried out. Ben took a seat on the chair.
“That girl is very young Joseph…and she’s sweet on you.”
“No pa, no she ain’t she’s just being friendly.”
“That child is sweet on you Joseph, don’t lead her on.”
“She’s not a child, pa, you’ve seen how shapely she is.”
“Shapely or not, she’s thirteen years old, she’s more child than woman. If you care for her that’s fine, but if you don’t, don’t play with her Joseph. I mean it. It might be all fun and games for you but you might very well break that young girl’s heart.”
“I won’t lead her on pa. I swear. I’ll tell her I have a girl back home,” Joe said finally. “When can I get up anyway? I’m bored out of my mind.”
“Dr. Quinn says it’ll be a few more days yet before you can get up.” Joseph made a sour face. He was sick of being laid up and sick of being poked and prodded every few hours. “Try to get some rest,” Ben said patting his leg.
“I’m not tired.”
“I’ll bring you something to read,” Ben said getting up from the chair as he left the room. “But don’t you get out of bed yet young man. Do you hear?”
“Yes pa, I won’t get up, just bring me something to read before I go stir crazy.”
“Dr. Mike is there a library in this town? Joe’s terribly bored,” Ben said as he came down the stairs into the examination room.
“Of sorts, Mr. Bray who runs the general store will sometimes let people borrow the books he has in stock but he might not let you since you’re from out of town. You can certainly buy one if you wish to.”
“Thanks,” Ben said tipping his hat. Dr. Mike watched him as he left. Olive was full of it, he didn’t think anything of her.
Ben wondered why Bray’s Mercantile fell silent when he entered; everyone stopped what they were doing and stared at him. He was a little uneasy but guessed maybe they weren’t used to strangers in town. He nodded at them as politely as he could. When they noticed he knew they were staring, they looked away quickly.
“Hi I’d like to see what you have for books,” he told the white haired shop keeper.
“Why…you’re Ben Cartwright of the Ponderosa. I’ve heard stories about you,” Mr. Bray said. “I’m Loren Bray and I believe you met my sister Olive,” he said motioning to the stone faced woman beside him.
“Indeed I have, pleased to meet you Loren,” Ben started to extend his right hand but pulled it back, remembering the injury. Mr. Bray noticed the bandage too and nodded instead.
“It ain’t every day we have a man of such means and fame in our town. What brings you in?” Loren asked, knowing full well what brought him into town.
“I don’t know about all that fame but really I just came in for a book or two. My son is laid up at Dr. Mike’s and he’d like something to read,” Ben said, feeling Olive’s eyes crawling along his body. Something about Olive’s hungry look made him suddenly very self-conscious and uneasy.
“Sure thing, we have the finest selection of books,” Mr. Bray said leading him to the back of the store where there were two rows of books. Ben scanned them, most were encyclopedias and the like. Ben could feel Olive’s eyes on his back and buttocks as she stood behind him. He tried to shift away from her unwavering gaze, but could not.
“How to Start a Successful Cattle Ranch might suite you Mr. Cartwright,” Loren said in awe, realizing how stupid he sounded the minute it was out.
“Please call me Ben and that book’s not really what I had in mind.” Mr. Bray eyed him abashedly and put the book back.
“Right, I’m sure you know all there is to know about cattle ranchin’,” the shop keeper said unable to hide his embarrassment.
“Pretty darn near anyway,” Ben said. Loren looked at Olive who rolled her eyes heavenward, mortified.
“Here’s a popular one, How to Grow a Summer Garden,” Loren said trying in vain to be helpful but failing miserably.
“Don’t have much use for that either.”
“Let me help,” Olive said shoving her brother aside. Loren put back the How to Grow Lima Beans book as Olive took over. She stood beside Ben, sizing him up longingly. She touched his arm affectionately and batted her eyes as best she could. Ben was extremely uncomfortable.
“Here’s the novels, we have Little Women and Sense and Sensibility, she said triumphantly. “I’m afraid our novel department is pretty slim pickings right now, Loren keeps lending them out to the school children…I’ve told him time and again not to but he won’t listen,” Olive said in a tone that indicated her brother didn’t have good business sense.
“I think that’s a good thing, Miss Davis, children should read all they can. If you don’t have a library in town, how else would they get them? These will do I suppose…” Ben said thinking that they would be more interesting than a book about lima beans but Joe wasn’t going to like reading them.
“Call me Olive,” she said, admiring him blatantly.
“Those are girly books, Miss Olive,” a small blonde haired boy, who resembled Colleen, said as he approached the bookshelf.
“And what do you recommend young fella?” Ben asked kneeling down to meet the boy’s eyes. The young boy scanned the shelf. Ben doubted he could read yet, but did seem to have a something in mind. The boy ran his fingers along the bindings of the books until he found what he was looking for. He pulled it from the shelf and handed it to Ben.
“Trains of the World, does sound a bit more interesting to a young man than Little Women,” Ben said taking the train book from the boy as he put Little Women back on the shelf. Olive seethed. The boy scanned the shelves again and found another one. He pulled it out and handed it to the stranger.
“A World of Wonders,” Ben said scanning the book. There were pictures of marvels from all over the world. “Thank you son,” Ben said ruffling the boy’s hair. The little boy smiled a gap toothed grin. “What’s your name?”
“Brian Cooper,” the little boy said. “And what’s yours?” Brian asked.
“Ben Cartwright. I live in Virginia City Nevada. My son was shot and he’s over at Dr. Mike’s recuperating.” Ben stood up straight and walked to the counter with the two new books in hand. Brian followed him and stared at the gun on his hip, wondering about him.
“That’ll be ten cents even,” Mr. Bray said. The rancher took the money plus some extra out of his pocket and laid it on the counter. “And a bit extra for a gumdrop for my little friend,” Ben said nodding at Brian.
“Thanks Mr. Cartwright!” Brian said excitedly as he ran to the candy jar just as the stranger started for the door.
“My ma’s a good doctor, she’ll take good care of your son,” Brian said.
“You’re Dr. Mike’s son?” Ben asked. The boy nodded.
“Dr. Mike is an incredible woman. You’re a very lucky boy to have such a woman as your mother,” he said pausing in the doorway. Brian beamed.
“Mr. Cartwright, Hank Lawson, owner and proprietor of that fine saloon you see on your left,” Hank, the long haired bartender who had been standing quietly in the corner of the store said, stepping forward to offer his services to the wealthy stranger.
“Nice to meet you Mr. Lawson,” Ben said not extending his injured hand.
“It’s just Hank an’ I’ve got the finest refreshments in the county and plenty of beautiful women to entertain you while you stay in our fine town. This here’s Myra, my best girl,” Hank said shoving the scantily clad prostitute forward to meet the stranger. The woman was shy and nervous as she nearly careened into the stranger.
“Finest refreshments if you like your beer half water…” someone mumbled over Hank’s shoulder. Hank’s face fell as he turned a glared at the culprit. Ben tried to hide his laugh, but he couldn’t keep the amusement out of his eyes. He cleared his throat and turned his attention back to Hank and Myra.
“Nice to meet you Myra,” Ben said as Hank shoved her forward further, closing the space between them.
“Likewise, you just come on by later an’ let me know what you fancy,” she cooed. He stepped back, stunned as he tried to think of what to say. He looked around the store at all the faces that were riveted on him.
“No charge for the first five minutes…for first time customers with the purchase of a drink,” Hank said. Ben swallowed hard, more than a little put off. Myra looked over her shoulder, both angry and nervous at Hank but turned and smiled wearily at Cartwright.
“You just come on by later darlin’,” she said gently squeezing his arm as she winked at him.
“Uh…I’m going to pass on your offer Hank.” Ben peeled Myra’s hand off his arm and abruptly left the store.
“For God’s sake Hank!” Olive said as he left.
“He shore is a nice lookin’ fella. I ain’t never seen eyes that dark in my whole life,” Myra remarked nervously, wondering if he might actually come by. He was very wealthy and he could be a very good client.
“You’ll not go near any of the Cartwrights Myra,” Olive demanded. Myra looked sheepishly at the formidable Olive Davis.
“She’ll do what I tell her to, an’ if Cartwright wants Myra, it’s Myra he’ll get,” Hank retorted. Myra looked to Horace, the lanky telegraph operator who was in love with her. Both of them wished she could leave her line of work so they could marry, but neither had the money to buy out her contract. “He’s got enough money to buy Myra outright if he wanted to.” Horace looked horror struck at Myra. What if he did want to and took her away?
“Ben Cartwright is a man of high moral standards, Hank. I seriously doubt waste his time or money, and risk his reputation on a whore,” Olive said, glaring at Myra. Myra flinched under the insult. Hank smirked and took a long drag from is cigarette.
“Well it shore don’t look like he’s gonna waste his time with a dried up old crone like you either. The way I hear it, he couldn’t take his eyes off Michaela the whole time you were at lunch yesterday.”
“Hank’s right, Miss Olive. Me an’ Horace were havin’ lunch at the café yesterday an’ he seemed to be fallin’ pretty hard for Dr. Mike. If you ask me, that fella’s sweet on her,” Myra said matter of factly. She knew Olive thought herself better than her and Myra couldn’t help but relish the fact that her plan to snag Cartwright for herself had backfired. Olive was angry as having the obviousness of it shoved in her face.
“He ain’t sweet on ma, is he Mr. Bray?” Brian asked climbing on the counter and dangling his legs over the side, still savoring the gumdrop the stranger had bought for him. “Sully’s sweet on ma.”
“Sully ain’t spoken up about that to her now has he?” Mr. Bray asked. Brian shook his head no and looked out the door towards the clinic where the stranger had disappeared to. What if he wanted to marry Dr. Mike and take her away from them?
“You think he’ll marry ma an’ move away with her to his ranch?” Brian asked anxiously.
“There’s no tellin’, Brian,” Mr. Bray said. Brian’s heart sank. Mr. Cartwright had seemed so nice to him when he was in the store. How could he be sweet on his mother and how could Dr. Mike go along with it when it was clear how much Sully loved her? Sully wouldn’t let him take her would he?
“Did you find books for Joseph?” Dr. Quinn asked as Ben came back downstairs.
“Yes thanks to Brian,” he said smiling. “Olive was trying to give me some “girly” books but the boy wouldn’t hear of it. He found me one about trains and wonders of the world, much to Joe’s delight I’m happy to say.”
“I’m afraid there’s not much in the way of books,” she said longing for a library. “One day we’ll have a fine library, Mr. Cartwright. I do miss that here; we had so many fine libraries in Boston. Colleen would so love a library. One day we’ll have one. I’ll make sure of that,” she said wistfully.
“Please call me Ben, and yes, I’m sure you will,” he said. He had no doubt whatsoever that if Dr. Mike wanted a library in Colorado Springs, they would indeed have one.
“My father had an enormous amount of books in his study. When I was a young girl, I could spend hours in there going through them. Even when I couldn’t yet read, I loved them.” Ben smiled, thinking of Adam.
“My oldest Adam is just like that, he can’t get enough of books,” Ben mused, turning his mind back towards the breathtaking woman doctor. His breath caught in his chest. “You loved your father very much didn’t you Dr. Mike?” he asked, seeing the saddened look in her eyes.
“Yes, I was much closer to him than I am to my mother. My mother has never approved of the choices I’ve made in my life. She resented my father for encouraging me to become a doctor. He’s been dead three years and sometimes hurts like it was yesterday.”
“I know what you mean,” Ben said absently. “My father died when I was twelve years old and sometimes I still miss him. I wish he could have met Adam, Hoss and Joe.”
“I’m sure he’d be very proud,” Dr. Mike said. Ben beamed at the compliment. They both were silent for a moment, lost in their own reminiscing about lost loves.
“I’m happy you met Brian, he’s my youngest,” Dr. Mike said, breaking the silence.
“He seems like quite a young fella…” Ben said admiring the doctor outright. “Would it be forward of me to ask if you’ll go on a picnic with me tomorrow afternoon? No Olive, no Hoss, just us?”
“I haven’t been on a picnic in ages,” she said. Then it dawned on her that what Olive said might be true, maybe he was sweet on her. He couldn’t be though. He was still trying to make up to her for how he had acted at their first meeting.
“Well I hate to leave Joseph…and what if there’s an emergency?”
“Joe will be fine now that he’s got something to read and if there’s an emergency I’m sure someone will be able to find us,” Bens said.
“Well the children might wonder where I am when they get out of school and…”
“And what?” Ben asked, his eyes dancing and amused. She wanted to say there’s Sully, but was there Sully? He had been gone for more than a week.
“I guess I’m running out of excuses, Mr. Cartwright,” she said somewhat nervously.
“Ben,” he insisted. “I’m guessing that means you’ll go then?”
“Alright, I’ll see you tomorrow at noon sharp,” she said.
“Sharp,” Ben agreed.
“Don’t be late, Ben, I won’t stand for a man who’s late.”
“Oh I won’t be late. Now if you’ll excuse me, Olive is waiting to give me a grand tour of her ranch.”
“Have fun,” she said, smiling as she returned to reading her medical journal, the fact that he was smitten on her, was still lost on her. A picnic seemed like a lovely thing for friends to do, she did wonder why he didn’t want Olive and Hoss along though. But she didn’t dwell on it long and was soon absorbed in her reading.
Sully followed them as they rode out of town the next day. He had an idea where they were going. Even if he lost them, he could track both horses easily and follow them. He didn’t think Dr. Mike would be too happy if she knew he was following them, but he had to know just how much this Cartwright was interested in Dr. Mike. He felt a mix of anger and jealousy as he followed silently in the woods, keeping his distance. Dr. Mike had to know how he felt about her and yet she agreed to go with Cartwright anyway. But then he reminded himself, that that was the point, she didn’t know. Hadn’t that been what their fight was all about? Surely he couldn’t expect her to decline the invite simply because of him. And yet he wished she had. When they stopped at the picnic spot, Sully positioned himself close by in the woods where he could see and hear them, but they weren’t likely to see him.
They spread the blanket out on the spot by the creek and sat down. Cartwright removed his hat and sat cross legged, his gun tied to his leg. Sully noted that he always had his gun, and was probably very fast with it. If Sully made a sound, he had no doubt Cartwright would draw on him and possibly shoot him. He was older than Sully but he moved with ease and confidence that made Sully uneasy.
“Grace is a terrific cook. She makes the best fried chicken I’ve ever had,” Dr. Mike said trying to make conversation.
“Yes, Hoss was devouring it yesterday. If it’s anything like her meatloaf I’m sure it’s wonderful. She’s from the New Orleans, isn’t she? They make some very fine food there.”
“Yes, she was enslaved there for most of her life. You’ve been to Louisiana also, Mr. Cartwright?”
“Dr. Mike will you please call me Ben? And yes, I’ve been to New Orleans. I’ve been all over the world. In my line of work, one does have to travel a lot,” Ben said taking a bite of the chicken. “Mmm, that is delicious.” Dr. Mike smiled delighted he liked the food she had chosen for their picnic.
“So tell me Dr. Quinn, how did you end up with those three children of yours…” he said and Sully zoned out. He didn’t think she should tell him about the children’s mother. It wasn’t for him to know. He loved those kids, they meant nothing to Cartwright.
“…anyway, when Charlotte lay on her deathbed, she asked me to care for them so I did. I’ve been their mother about a year now. I’m not sure they think of me as such but I hope one day they will. And you, Ben, tell me of your children. You have three sons?” Sully perked up as he listened to the story of his adversary. The man had had some rough patches, losing three wives in such a short amount of time had to be hard. Sully had lost one and it had nearly killed him, he couldn’t imagine losing three.
Sully watched him angrily, Cartwright was getting too comfortable. He lay stretched out on the blanket, he had taken off his gun and he was leaning back on his elbow, his chin resting on his fist as he seemed to hang on every word Dr. Mike said. Sully hated the way he smiled, even when she wasn’t looking at him. He hated the admiration that was evident on the man’s face.
“Sounds like you’ve had quite a life Ben,” Dr. Quinn said, looking down into his eyes. “Sailing all over the world as a young man must have been so exhilarating.” He nodded, feeling a bit shy at having talked so much about himself. He was never shy around women, but this lady doctor was something different entirely.
“As have you, it must have been so hard to be a woman in a man’s profession. Not only to become a doctor but then to have to deal with backwards men like me who think you don’t know what you’re doing.” Ben was still ashamed of how he had treated her.
“You’re not backwards, Ben, just old fashioned, at least you apologized which is more than most do.”
“Tell me Dr. Mike, if you were to settle down one day and get married, maybe have kids of your own, would you give up doctoring?”
“I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world,” she said firmly. “I love it.”
“And if your husband didn’t want you to be a doctor?” She looked at him, wondering what he was implying.
“Then, Mr. Cartwright, he wouldn’t be my husband to begin with. If a man were to fall in love with me, he would know what I do and how much it makes me who I am and would not ask me to quit. Would you ask a woman to quit just to be your wife Ben?” The rancher thought about it. Days ago, before he had met the beautiful woman doctor he would have said yes in a heartbeat, but now, he wasn’t so sure.
“I don’t think so,” he said. Dr. Quinn pursed her lips and looked cross-eyed at him.
“Any husband of mine would have to know so,” she said flatly. Sully leaned in closer to listen. This just might be enough to ruin Cartwright’s chances with Dr. Mike. She loved doctoring more than anything else.
“Fair enough,” Ben said. “I suppose he would know what he was getting into from the start.”
“Indeed he would,” she agreed. Her eyes lingered on his for a moment, his eyes were amazingly dark. He turned away from her gaze and looked out at the scenery. It really was a beautiful spot.
“Do you come out this way much?” she asked wondering what his Ponderosa was like.
“Now and again, we often drive the cattle to the train in Denver. This time, were drove five hundred head to Pueblo for a buyer in Texas. I don’t go on the drives as often as I used to though. I like to stay home and manage the ranch.”
“I’d love to see your ranch sometime Ben, I bet it’s lovely.”
“I’d love to have you and the children come visit sometime, Dr. Mike. I’m very proud of it. It’s nothing like the fine homes in Boston, but I suppose it’s just fine for a western ranch.”
“You should be proud, you’ve worked very hard for it…A thousand square miles? What it must be like to stand out on your porch and look around you and know that you own everything as far as the eye can see. Isn’t it exhausting trying to keep up with it all?”
“At times,” he said. Sully watched him closely; his eyes were lingering on Dr. Mike in a way that made Sully very jealous. She wasn’t looking at him, but he was looking at her, he had barely taken his eyes off her the entire time. “But I love it,” he said. “Maybe like you love doctoring, I’m sure there are times when it’s exhausting and heartbreaking, but you wouldn’t have it any other way.” She nodded surprised at how well he seemed to understand. She looked at him, feeling her heart flutter at his smile and quickly turned away so he wouldn’t see the color rise to her cheeks.
“Oh look, deer,” she said looking out at the mother and fawn in the pasture. Ben followed her gaze only briefly before turning his attention back to her.
“Would you mind terribly if I called you Michaela?” She looked at him, people didn’t usually call her that. Dr. Mike was much more endearing. “It is your name after all.”
“Yes, it is my name…but usually only my enemies call me Michaela. My mother only ever calls me Michaela, never Mike. It was my father who used to call me Mike. It was his pet name for me. When I first came to town, they were expecting a male doctor and well, Dr. Mike just kinda stuck.”
“Well I don’t want to be counted as an enemy and if you’d prefer that I don’t, I certainly understand. I don’t think I would like to be called Benjamin all the time either.” She smiled beautifully and his heart paused in his chest and his breath caught in his lungs.
“It’s fine if you wish to call me Michaela. I don’t hate it, it’s just that I’m used to being called Dr. Mike. The folks around here use it as a term of endearment and God knows I’ve worked hard to get into their good graces. I’ve been called far worse things in my life than Michaela.”
“I’m sure you have. I think it’s a beautiful name for a very beautiful woman,” he said as he put his hand on her face and caressed her cheek with his thumb. She covered his hand with hers and gazed into his eyes.
“You have the most amazing eyes,” she whispered.
“I was just thinking the same thing about you Michaela,” he whispered, brushing a wisp of hair back from her face. And then he sat up, leaned into her and kissed her, softly and tentatively. When she didn’t pull away he kissed her harder. Sully prayed she would scream and slap him but she didn’t. She actually kissed him back. Sully’s heart raged with jealousy and he got up quietly and hurried away. He couldn’t bear to watch anymore.
“Ben we really should be getting back,” she whispered. His hand was still caressing her cheek and his face was inches from hers. He kissed her mouth softly again, before he broke away from the moment, butterflies fluttered hard in his stomach.
“Yes, I suppose we should,” he agreed, tearing his gaze away from her.
“I do need to check on Joseph and the children will be getting out of school soon.” She rose quickly and smoothed her skirt. He lifted up the basket and the blanket and climbed onto his horse, her horse was running on ahead before he even got started.
Dr. Mike wasn’t sure what to do as her horse raced for town. Her lips throbbed from the pressure his kiss and her heart was giddy with the feeling of it. She was not the kind of woman men often kissed. Most of them were threatened by her and ran away, especially men like Ben Cartwright. He was one of the wealthiest men in the country, by far one of the wealthiest men in the west, he could have any woman he wanted. Why had he kissed her? She did not consider herself a particularly attractive woman. Her mother and sisters had reminded her time and again of that. Surely he didn’t think her beautiful did he?
“Michaela, wait,” he called from behind, his large beautiful horse quickly overtaking her nag Bear. He was soon riding beside her. She looked at him, avoiding looking at his mouth. She pressed her fingers to her lips and looked away.
“I’m sorry about that. I meant no offense,” he said. He hadn’t even thought about it before he kissed her, he had just done it, surprising even himself.
“Do you regret it?” she asked. He wasn’t sure how to answer correctly.
“Only if you do.”
“I don’t, just don’t do it in front of anyone,” she said, imagining the scene if he kissed her in town. Everyone would talk about it for weeks and weeks and Olive would probably never speak to her again. As it was, Olive was one of her only close friends in town, and she would want to know every detail of the picnic. Should she tell her about the kiss or leave it out? She was just grateful Sully hadn’t seen. She didn’t know how he felt about her, but she did care about him and she didn’t want to hurt him. But at the same time, if he wasn’t prepared to tell her how he felt, she wasn’t going to wait around for him either. She didn’t owe him a thing.
On the ride back to town, they made small talk but then Ben asked to see where she lived. She thought of taking him by her home that was a few miles outside of town but decided against it. The small cabin she shared with Matthew, Colleen and Brian was hardly big enough for one person let alone four and a man like Ben Cartwright would surely scoff at it. Besides that, the cabin belonged to Sully and he had let her live there nearly rent free. It didn’t seem right to bring another man by the house Sully had provided for her. So she changed the subject, talking of Boston. It was always nice to talk of home with someone who had been there and he was gracious enough to pretend he hadn’t noticed she changed the subject.
As Dr. Mike expected Olive wanted to know every detail of the picnic and as they went for a walk later that afternoon, she told her about it. She left out the kiss, feeling the envy in her friend’s demeanor even without mentioning the kiss. Ben’s visit to the ranch had still not made him like Olive in the way her friend had hoped and Dr. Mike could feel the older woman’s envy towards her. That was something new to her as well. Women didn’t envy her. They usually looked down on her or thought her strange for the life she had chosen.
Still she wished for a woman to talk to about it and she wished Sully would turn back up. Maybe if he was there, she wouldn’t be so confused with her feelings. She cared deeply for Sully, she might even love him, but she was growing fonder of Ben Cartwright. And Cartwright was there, Sully had disappeared. She knew that things couldn’t last with Ben, he lived to far away and he had too much to lose. There was no way he would move from the Ponderosa to Colorado Springs and she was unwilling to move as well. She had worked too hard over the last year to build up her practice and her reputation and she wasn’t willing to start all over again. Besides that, there were the children to consider. She knew Matthew wouldn’t leave Ingrid and Colleen and Brian wouldn’t leave Matthew or the town they had grown up in. There was simply no way it could work with Ben and she suspected they both knew it. Still she longed for him to kiss her again, just one more time before he left for good.
He was respectfully distant with her when she tended to Joe later that evening and the following day, giving no indication to his sons or anyone present about what had transpired, still she could feel his eyes on her, watching her every move. Joseph was mending fast and would probably be out by the next day or the day after. Hoss had returned from the army encampment stating that the army had captured the bandits and he was able to positively identify them. They were being charged with attempted murder for Joseph’s injury and they might have to come back in a few months to testify at the trial, but the sergeant had told him that might not be necessary if the men accepted the plea deal. Further, they were able to recover four thousand of the five thousand that had been taken. It wasn’t all the money but it was a good portion of it and Ben was elated. They could start out for home as soon as Joe was up to it. Dr. Mike would hate to see them go but she kept her feelings to herself.
“Well Joseph Cartwright, you’re healing very well,” Dr. Quinn said as she checked his wound. “No sign of infection and your color is back to normal. I think you should be ready to leave by tomorrow.” The young man smiled at her and then at his father who was also smiling.
“That’s thanks to the fine doctorin’ I’ve had,” Joe said. The men around him agreed. Dr. Quinn put her instruments back in her bag and rose from the bed. She, Hoss and Joe could feel Ben’s eyes on her as she left the room. His boys eyed him suspiciously but said nothing.
“Hoss, start packing please, I’d like to head out as soon as possible. I’ll be in to help you in a bit,” Ben said. Hoss nodded and made for the guestroom next door. Ben lingered for a bit and then went out himself.
Dr. Quinn exited the guestroom Hoss had entered, telling him to let her know if he needed anything as just as Ben exited Joe’s room. Hoss called from within that he would.
“Little Joe’s looking very much back to normal, Michaela,” he said. Dr. Quinn put the linens she had been carrying in a closet the walked towards him.
“I’m delighted to hear it. He’s young and strong.” Ben nodded and crossed to her. He wrapped his arms around her and pressed her to the wall, holding her tightly as he gazed into her eye.
“You’re a fine doctor,” he said as he pecked her cheek. Her heart began beat hard and there were butterflies in her stomach.
“Am I Mr. Cartwright?” she asked, turning her mouth up to him.
“Yes you are, Dr. Quinn,” he said lightly kissing her chin just below her mouth. The fluttering in her stomach got stronger as he kissed towards her mouth. He lightly kissed her bottom lip, biting it gently as he did so. His lips played softly on hers, then he kissed her hard.
“Ben we can’t do this, it will never work,” she said between kisses. “Virginia City is too far away…I can’t leave my practice and you can’t leave your ranch,” she said as he kissed, her cheek, then back to her mouth.
“Mmm…” he mumbled as her heart fluttered within her. Her knees felt weak as he found hers mouth again. She shut her eyes and allowed herself to get lost in the moment as his fingers caressed her side affectionately. His kiss was so hard it almost hurt and she could feel his heart racing in his chest.
“God, you’re beautiful,” he mumbled. She was stunned when she felt his desire suddenly hard against her and equally surprised when her body responded in kind. He propelled her to the opposite wall, towards the closed door of the third empty recovery room and they fell heavily against it. His hand was reaching for the knob while kissing harder and more urgently. She nearly fell when the door opened behind her. He caught her with his right arm, as he caught himself on the doorframe with his left.
“No Ben,” she said realizing where their passion was heading. He froze as he realized it too and stopped kissing her, but he still held her tightly for a moment longer, his faced pressed against her head. Dr. Quinn stood in his embrace, looking into the empty room and the neatly made bed within it.
“I’m so sorry Michaela,” he whispered into her hair. She could feel his heart pounding in his chest, matching her own. Then he broke away from the embrace and stood looking into her eyes for a moment.
“It’s never going to work,” she whispered, holding his gaze as he held himself up against the doorjamb with his left arm. He seemed a bit unsteady, she noticed.
“I know,” he whispered back, resting his forehead against hers. He touched her face tenderly before the moment broke and she went hurrying away down the hall, wanting to run from the passions he had awoken in her. She paused to look back at him before she started down the stairs. He wasn’t looking at her, he was leaning heavily on his left arm against the doorframe, his head was bowed and his breathing was still rapid. Dr. Mike noticed his arousal was still evident, and blushing, she quickly looked away.
“Thank you for stopping, Ben Cartwright, you’re an honorable man,” she said. He nodded at her but said nothing. There wasn’t anything to say.
Ben was stunned at his response to Michaela; he had kissed many women over the years and had never reacted so strongly to one he wasn’t married to. There was just something about her that was irresistible. She must think he was a horrible person to do what he did and to react the way that had. What had he been thinking, trying to lead her into the spare bedroom? He hardly knew her and yet he had come dangerously close to putting them both in a very precarious situation. As it was, they had been in a compromising positon with the way that he had been kissing her, but to even think about taking it further, in her own clinic, with her daughter going to and fro and Hoss and Joe in the adjoining rooms, he must have been crazy.
He had known in his heart it wasn’t going to work, he had known it all along. And yet part of him wished desperately that they could figure it out some way. Maybe if they crossed that line, they would have to make it work. He slipped into the room he had nearly pushed Dr. Mike into and quickly closed the door. He leaned against it and tilted his head back towards the ceiling, willing his arousal to relax. He raked his fingers angrily through his hair, making it stand on end. He wasn’t angry at Dr. Mike. He was angry at himself. How could he do that to her? How could he lose control of himself like that? She had to have felt his desire, there was no way she couldn’t have. She was a proper woman, whom he was fairly certain, had never been with a man. She was the kind of woman who would demand a man marry her before crossing that line with him, and, he thought, just the kind of woman worth waiting for. Ben envied the man that might one day marry her.
He splashed what was left of the water in the basin on his face and allowed his head to clear. They needed to get out of Colorado Springs as soon as possible. Even one more night seemed too long to wait. He would have to wait if Michaela, no not Michaela, Dr. Mike, he told himself, (putting the distance back between them) determined that Joseph was not ready to travel. But he would not sleep in the clinic that night if she was staying there too. He would get a room at the saloon, one far away from Myra, he told himself.
Dr. Mike insisted that it was not necessary for him to get a room at the saloon that evening but he would not hear of it and did so anyway. She knew why he did, it was because of what had transpired between them that afternoon. In some ways she was relieved. She knew he would never touch her again, but what had occurred had rattled her and she suspected it had shaken him as well. The only man that had ever kissed her had been her now deceased fiancé David, long ago when she was still a college student in Boston, but he had not kissed her like Cartwright had and she had never felt a man’s desire before.
She had heard of it happening, her sister Marjorie had had many beaus and had often whispered and bragged about them, but she never imagined it would happen to her. Her upbringing told her she should have been appalled and angry. Marjorie had bragged about slapping more than one beau who had gotten a little too “friendly” as she liked to put it. It was the thing a lady was expected to do if a man reacted to her in such a way, and yet, it didn’t feel right to do it. Slapping him would have made the whole situation so much worse. It just didn’t seem to her that it would have been fair. Still her cheeks flushed at the memory and she was glad he was leaving. And try as she might, she wasn’t angry with him. He had stopped when she told him to and had kept a respectful distance since. She was just grateful it hadn’t gone any further and that she had had the wherewithal to ask him to stop, if she hadn’t, she shuttered to think what might have happened.
Ben, Hoss and Joe readied their horses for the journey in front of the clinic the next morning. Joseph had been given the all clear but was told to still be careful and to have his doctor looked at his wound as soon as they got back to Virginia City. Ben was instructed to do the same with his hand. Both men assured her that they would. She had quickly removed the stiches from above Ben’s left eyebrow that morning and was pleased to see that the scar was very small and light and probably wouldn’t even show in a few months.
Dr. Quinn stood on the porch outside her clinic, Colleen stood beside her looking sad that Joe was leaving and Brian stood in front of Dr. Mike, smiling at the famous, mysterious strangers, glad they were leaving without taking his mother with them.
“Here are the sandwiches for your journey,” Grace said approaching Ben with the brown sack. “You’re always welcome back in our town any time, Mr. Cartwright.”
“Thank you Miss Grace,” he said taking the sandwiches and putting them in his saddle bags. “You have a very friendly town here.”
“The sandwiches should last till you to the next town,” she continued.
“Well they’ll get Hoss to the next town anyway,” Ben said laughing. Grace smiled. It did her heart good to see a man with a hearty appetite. She was going to miss the big, blue eyed stranger who frequented her café.
“I packed Hoss his own,” she said happily. “Plus some pie for the road.” Hoss’ face light up and he thanked her. She smiled back and turned her attention back to his father. Ben pulled out a coin to pay her for the extras.
“It’s not necessary,” she said. She knew that he had paid Robert E. very well for boarding their horses and had paid her for the sandwiches and the food she had delivered to Joe when he was in recovery. “Consider it my traveler’s special.” Ben thought of insisting, but seeing the beaming look on the woman’s face, he decided it would probably insult her.
“Much obliged,” he said as he put the sandwiches in his saddlebag. Hoss and Joe were already mounted and were waiting for their father. Ben pulled something from his saddlebags and walked towards Dr. Mike and the children.
“Here Brian,” he said handing the boy the two books he had purchased for Joseph. “I think you might get some use out of these. Joseph enjoyed them very much, thanks for the recommendation.”
“I can keep them?!” Brian asked in excitement.
“As long as you promise to read them,” Ben said.
“Is it okay if ma or Colleen read them to me? I can’t read good yet,” Brian said.
“That’s fine,” Ben said, smiling as he ruffled the boy’s hair playfully. Ben turned towards Colleen.
“And now for you Colleen, we didn’t get much of a chance to get to know each other, and I’m afraid I was terrible to you at our first meeting, for that I am deeply sorry. You took very good care of Joseph and were an excellent assistant to Michaela…er…Dr. Mike. Little Joe and I thought you might like this,” Ben said handing her a book of Jane Austin’s collected works. The girl’s eyes went wide. She knew the book was terribly expensive. Ben smiled, they had chosen correctly. He hadn’t been sure.
“Oh thank you Mr. Cartwright thank you,” she said throwing herself at him as she hugged him tightly. Ben was a bit startled and didn’t know how to respond. He patted the girl’s back awkwardly until she released him, her eyes still beaming at him.
“I’ve looked and looked at this at the mercantile and dreamed of buying it…but it was just too expensive,” she squealed. Ben’s pleasure was evident on his face.
“Well I see we chose correctly,” Ben said, looking over his shoulder to wink at Joe. The girl nodded vehemently, her smile wide on her face as she hugged the book tightly to her chest.
“And now there’s the matter of the bill…” Ben said turning towards Dr. Quinn. His heart still fluttered at the sight of her. “How much do I owe you?” he asked.
“Well I usually just ask that people pay whatever they can,” she said, hugging Brian to her, keeping the boy between them even though Ben was standing several feet away from her.
“While that might be good for running a charity, it doesn’t work very well for a successful business, Dr. Mike,” he teased, his eyes dancing.
“I didn’t go into this business to make money.”
“No I reckon you didn’t. I’ve given away my share of cattle over the years to those who needed food and couldn’t pay, so I know what you mean. Still it’s nice to get paid for your work. So what do I owe you?”
“I don’t know…let’s see. Two dollars for pulling the bullet out of Joseph, twenty five cents for his lodging at the clinic, a dollar for his care. So three twenty five sounds fair to me,” she said. Ben’s eyebrows shot up almost to his hat brim.
“You didn’t charge for mine and Hoss’ lodging or my face, hand or the medicine you used.”
“Okay so five dollars even,” she said doing a rough estimate in her head. There was the food that Joe had eaten, but Grace had provided that and Ben had paid for that already. There was the laudanum for both him and Joseph but even that hadn’t been much either. It didn’t feel right to charge more. She had put about fifteen stitches in Ben’s hand, but even those weren’t worth more than a few cents and the pain it had caused him negated the price.
“Michaela, five dollars is nowhere near a fair price and you know it!” Dr. Mike’s heart fell and she was suddenly angry. He was going to try to get out of paying, probably because she rejected him. Five dollars wasn’t that much for someone like him. If he didn’t want to pay, why had he asked her?
“You asked, Mr. Cartwright! Pay what you think is fair then,” she said sharply. Ben reached into his wallet and pulled out five bills and handed the folded money to Dr. Mike. She snatched the bills angrily, but when she unfolded them, her face fell and her anger abated.
“Ben…this is way too much money.” He put his wallet back in his jacket and climbed onto his horse, his eyes sparkling with delight.
“It’s what I think is fair, you told me to pay what I feel is fair did you not?”
“Yyyy…yes but five hundred dollars…I can’t accept it.” Ben looked down at her and smiled.
“I’m not taking it back. If you don’t want it, use it to start a college fund for Colleen. This world can use one more lady doctor and what a fine doctor she’ll make.” He smiled at Dr. Quinn, touched the brim of his hat to Colleen, and waved to Brian as he urged Buck to a start. His sons followed close at his heels, waving as they left. Dr. Mike was stunned as the three Cartwrights rode out of town. Colleen had talked and dreamed about becoming a doctor one day but getting the money to send her to college seemed like a near impossibility. Ben Cartwright had given her enough money to make it more than just a dream. It was now a reality.
“Did he really give you five hundred dollars ma?” Colleen asked looking at the money clutched in her mother’s shaking hands. Dr. Mike nodded, unable to find her voice as she wiped the tears from her eyes.
“Yes Colleen,” Dr. Mike whispered, still struggling with the enormity of the gift. “It’s enough for several semesters. We’ll need more but now…you can go to medical school! Oh Colleen, it’s so wonderful.” Colleen felt tears come to her own eyes as well. She had known that despite Dr. Mike’s assurances to the contrary, paying for medical school was going to be nearly impossible. Now it was a reality. Colleen cried as she hugged her mother and brother, unable to contain her elation.
“I can actually go to college,” Colleen squealed hugging the money to her. It was more money than she had ever seen in her life.
“Yes, you can my darling,” Dr. Mike said, smoothing her daughter’s hair. “We’ll put that somewhere safe where it will collect interest until you’re ready to go.”
Dr. Mike looked in the direction the Cartwrights had gone. The dust from their horses was settling. Ben Cartwright had proven her wrong about her initial impressions of him. Not only had he come to accept her as a professional woman, he had not asked her to change for him. He knew her career was her dream, just as his dream was the Ponderosa. And now, he had given her child her dream as well. The Cartwrights were a remarkable family. She didn’t know if she would ever see them again, but she would never forget the wealthy, generous strangers that had come to town and changed her life. Just as they would never forget the lady doctor who had changed theirs. Ben had awoken passions in her that she hadn’t known existed before. She knew she could never marry him and didn’t really want to, but it was nice to be wanted by a man. Still, deep in her heart she longed for Sully and she missed him desperately.
As she turned to go back inside she saw Sully in the distance walking towards the clinic. Her heart leapt at the sight of him. The aloof mountain man approached her cautiously. It was all she could do to keep from running to him. Still she had her pride so she walked slowly towards him.
“Do you have some time to talk, Dr. Mike?” he asked. She smiled warmly at him.
“I do,” she said taking his arm as they strolled through town. “You’re never going to believe what just happened…” she said, walking along with him as if he had never been away. She wasn’t sure she would tell him about the encounter with Ben Cartwright, maybe she would someday, but for now, she just wanted to be near Sully; and to share the joy of the enormous gift with him. If there was anyone else in the world who loved the children as much as she did, it was him, and he alone, would understand the magnitude of what they had just been given. And as they walked side by side, all the jealousy Sully had been feeling abated. Dr. Mike had chosen to stay in Colorado Springs and he hoped he was at least part of that reason.