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"A promise," Emma said simply. "Promise me you'll be faithful, and I'll smile all you want."

With a snorting laugh, Josiah reached around to find his flintlock. He checked the priming, then got on his hands and knees to fit through the small entrance of the shelter.

"Don't you want breakfast?" Emma called after him.

"Just hand me my coat and snowshoes," said Josiah. "I might be late gitting back, today." Squatting down, he accepted his things from Emma and their gaze met. "There ain't any signs of elk or mule deer nearby, so I have to go farther. Keep close to the lodge, and don't step outside without yer shotgun."

"I won't, Josiah."

Josiah heaved a deep sigh, and stared at Emma longingly. "I love you, Em."

"Then be faithful," she said with a challenge in her voice.

Shaking his head, Josiah chuckled dully. "Don't you ever give up?"

"I don't intend to," said Emma. "You didn't pack any jerky to take with you. Do you want me to fetch you some?"

"You'd best keep it," Josiah said, standing up to his full height and out of Emma's line of sight.

From the small entrance, all Emma could see of Josiah were moccasins and large hands as he tied on his snowshoes.

"I don't know if you've noticed," said Josiah, "but we're running low on jerky. If I don't find some game real soon, we're going to be in trouble."

"I've noticed," said Emma, grateful Mary was still asleep so the child couldn't overhear. Crawling outside, Emma got to her feet as Josiah fastened his bear coat shut. "I have to admit, I thought the jerky would last longer."

"It never does," said Josiah. "Git back inside, Emma. Yer shaking like a leaf in this cold, and the snow's coming down heavy."

Shaking her head "no," Emma wasn't ready to go inside just yet. She lingered while Josiah checked his flintlock one last time.

"As long as yer there, fetch me a buffalo hide. The way this snow's looking, I might have to take shelter."

Crawling inside, Emma soon returned with a heavy robe. Before she could find her feet to stand, Josiah took the robe, heading off without a word goodbye.

The center of the day passed, and Emma kept watch for Josiah. She hoped he would arrive before sundown, but guessed that if he couldn't find game, he would probably make camp rather than return empty-handed.

Night descended, and Josiah didn't come back. The next morning and all of that day showed no signs of him, either. Now that his large appetite wasn't there to need the remainder of their dried jerky, Emma knew she and Mary had enough to get by for at least a week. After that-- Emma shuddered. She prayed Josiah's hunt would be successful.

Josiah was well acquainted with hunger, and the bad stretches of luck that came with finding no quarry. What he was unused to, however, was the utter helplessness he felt knowing that two females were depending on him.
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