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"Well," stammered Emma, suddenly realizing the girl was unfamiliar with this childhood ritual, "my ma always said it was best to start and end the day with a prayer. We ask for God's blessings in the morning, and then thank Him for answering us at night. What happened today that you can be thankful for?"

"Are you going to be much longer?" asked Josiah.

"I'll be along soon," Emma said patiently. "What blessings have you had today, Mary?"

The child shrugged her shoulders.

"Let's see," Emma thought out loud, "you got to sleep beside your grandmother last night, and you enjoyed the Bible stories today, didn't you?"

Mary's head soberly bobbed up and down in a "yes."

"Dear Heavenly Father," Emma bowed her head, "we thank you for Grandmother's care over Mary, and for the stories that were read today. Please keep us safe while we sleep, and give us pleasant dreams. In Jesus' name, Amen." Emma opened her eyes, and found Mary had followed her example and bowed her head, as well. "Snuggle down with your doll," smiled Emma, tucking the warm blankets around the child as she wiggled under the covers to get comfortable. "God keep you till morning," Emma kissed the girl's cheek. "Goodnight, Mary." Emma would have felt better had Mary returned her smile, but she contented herself that at least Mary hadn't recoiled from her kiss.

After checking the bar over the door one last time, Emma crossed the room to the buffalo robes where Josiah was waiting.

"You shouldn't coddle her," said Josiah, as Emma climbed beneath the covers. "Kindness weakens a body, until they can't fend fer themselves. If you want to be kind to the runt, then let her be."

Instead of snuggling against Josiah, Emma rolled onto her side, so that her back was to him.

"You ain't going to take it like that, are you, Em? Yer going to nestle with me, aren't you?"

"You're right, I shouldn't coddle people so much," Emma said evenly, "so it's best I don't nestle with you anymore. After all, I wouldn't want to weaken you."

"I ain't laughing," muttered Josiah.

"If you haven't noticed, Mr. Brown, neither am I."

Suddenly, Emma felt a strong arm drag her across the buffalo robe until the space between her and Josiah closed. Firmly placed beside him, Emma saw the mountain man close his eyes to sleep.

"Be kind to the girl," Emma said quietly. "I don't want her to fear you anymore than she already does."

Josiah's hand moved to Emma's shoulder, and he squeezed it threateningly. "Don't tell me what to do."

"I will when it concerns Mary."

Gasping, Emma suddenly found herself on her back, her face inches from Josiah's.

"Don't defy me, Emma!"
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One of my longtime readers, Myra Valcourt, has created a Facebook group just for you! "The Works of Judith Bronte" offers a forum to discuss the stories and characters, and a way to get to know other readers. I hope to see you there!