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Leaving Josiah, the woman dressed, and then went to help wife number two get the lodge ready for the day.

When Josiah passed the woman's husband on his way out, he glimpsed his Hawken proudly displayed beside the man on a buffalo robe. Anger surged within Josiah's breast, but a deal was a deal, and he paused long enough to give up the percussion caps the Shoshone would need to fire the Hawken.

Clamping his jaw shut, Josiah stepped outside into the snow. He strapped on his snowshoes, and then headed off for somewhere in the valley where he might find large game. With a groan, Josiah looked over the old trade rifle in his hands. He had lost his Hawken. The one he had saved for, and worked so long to obtain. How many beaver skins had it cost him? Josiah didn't want to calculate the sum.

Clouds parted overhead, beating heat onto Josiah's heavy bear coat. Tugging it off, he let himself cool down a moment before continuing on his way. His pulse was fast, and he felt panic nipping at his heels. Why was last night different from the others? Josiah swiped at the perspiration beading on his forehead. He felt fearful, as though half expecting a large hand to come down from the Heavens and flatten him where he stood.

Josiah turned his attention to the beat-up flintlock, to test its accuracy. Bringing the rifle to his shoulder, Josiah fired the weapon. As he reloaded it, Josiah recalled Emma's tender look as she kissed him yesterday morning before he left.

Angrily, Josiah shoved aside the image, plodding across the snow in search of something to shoot.

The skies closed once more, and the sunlight disappeared behind thick clouds. Wind swept around the foothills, chilling Josiah's frame and making him wish for the sunshine again.

"Sunshine," he said in a dull voice. The memory of Emma's soft golden hair, her warm smile, the gentle touch of her hand, the tilt of her head when she laughed, all flooded Josiah until he thought he would suffocate. Grimacing, he pulled open his coat to breathe easier. When it didn't work, he hastily closed it again to keep warm.

Josiah's eyes fell on the Shoshone's trade rifle. His Hawken was truly gone. He felt as though he had just lost a dear friend. Unbidden, the memory of Emma returned. He could feel Emma nestled at his side, happy and content in his arms. The vividness caught Josiah off guard. Try as he might, he could not stop the sound of her hushed voice as they exchanged tender words while Mary was asleep. Had his soul ever burned for a woman, as it had for Emma?

But he had embraced another man's wife last night.

In a fit of rage, Josiah slammed the old rifle against the snow. Breathlessly, he stared at the object in disbelief.

"What have I done?" he asked.

As the question set in, Josiah realized his weakness and hardened himself against the answer. He was accountable to no one-- not even to Emma. Let the world be cursed. He would do as he pleased.

Stooping down, Josiah retrieved the battered rifle, wet with snow. It had been a poor trade, but at least he had a usable weapon.

The day waxed dim, and the sun set against the mountains, signaling the approach of night. Josiah had been away for two days now, and knew Emma would be praying for his safe return. She was like that. As he built a campfire before settling down to sleep, Josiah knew he wasn't ready to go back and face Emma.

Not yet.

It was snowing again, laying yet another blanket of white against the vast wilderness. Standing in the open doorway, Emma brought up her shawl a little higher around her shoulders. Her eyes scanned the mountains, searching for someone who wasn't there.
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