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Authors: Karen Witemeyer

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Stealing the Preacher

BOOK: Stealing the Preacher
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© 2013 by Karen Witemeyer

Published by Bethany House Publishers

11400 Hampshire Avenue South

Bloomington, Minnesota 55438

www.bethanyhouse.com

Bethany House Publishers is a division of

Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan

www.bakerpublishinggroup.com

Ebook edition created 2013

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

ISBN 978-1-4412-6145-8

Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Cover design by Dan Thornberg, Design Source Creative Services

Author represented by WordServe Literary Group

To all the ministers who proclaim God’s truth with boldness and care for his flock with loving-kindness.
Thank you for answering his call, even when the path he directs you to is not the one you expected.
Contents
Cover
Title Page
Copyright Page
Dedication
Epigraph
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
Epilogue
About the Author
Books by Karen Witemeyer
Back Ads
Back Cover
A man’s heart deviseth his way:
but the Lord directeth his steps.
P
ROVERBS
16:9

1

B
URLESON
C
OUNTY
, T
EXAS
—1885

C
rockett Archer stretched his legs into the aisle as the train pulled away from the Caldwell station. Only a brief stop in Somerville remained before his arrival in Brenham—the place where his life’s work would begin. A wide grin spread across his face as he contemplated his future.

Was this how Abraham felt as he’d journeyed to Canaan? Anticipation thrumming through his veins. Certainty of purpose pumping with every heartbeat. That rare sense of satisfaction that came only when one responded to the direct call of the Lord.

“Mama, that man is laughing at your hat.” A young boy peered over the seat in front of Crockett, pointing an accusing finger at him.

His mother huffed and reached up to pat the back of her hat—as if it might have had its feelings hurt. “Some people have no manners,” she muttered, shooting a scathing glance over her shoulder as she grasped her son’s arm and tried to get him to turn around.

“I meant no disrespect to your hat, ma’am.” Crockett leaned
forward to offer an apology, but in truth, as he focused on the millinery atrocity in question, the desire to laugh threatened to choke him. Blue feathers poked out at all angles, as if a family of jays had used it as a perch while molting. Forcing down his amusement, he schooled his features into a serious mien. “My thoughts were elsewhere entirely, I assure you.”

“Then why was you smilin’ so big?” Suspicion laced the boy’s tone.

And no wonder. If the sample before him was any indication of the woman’s usual taste in headwear, the poor lad probably battled for his mother’s millinery honor constantly.

“I was simply thinking of all the exciting things that await me at the end of this trip, and it made me happy.” Crockett winked at the kid. “Are you looking forward to the end of your trip?”

The boy shrugged. “Not really. We’re goin’ to see my great-aunt Ida.” He gave Crockett a beleaguered look. “She smells funny.”

“Andrew Michael Bailey! How could you say such a thing? And to a stranger, no less.” Andrew’s mother yanked him around, and Crockett beat a hasty retreat, leaning back in his seat while the woman lectured her son in strident whispers.

At least she seemed to have forgotten about the hat incident. Crockett decided to count that as a blessing. If dear old Aunt Ida lived in Brenham, it would be best if her niece was more concerned with her son’s slip of the tongue than the new preacher’s opinions on her hat.

The new preacher.
His heart swelled in his chest.

After three years of apprenticing with the minister in Palestine, Texas, near the ranch where he’d grown up, and guest-speaking at any church in the area that would let him into the pulpit, he finally was being offered the opportunity to preach full time.

Oh, there was another fellow competing for the position, but Crockett knew in his gut that his time had come.

The Lord had been leading him to this day since the summer he’d turned fifteen and his older brother, Travis, suggested he take over the spiritual instruction of the family. At first it had simply been a chore like any other, but it soon developed into a ministry. With their parents deceased and their lives isolated and uncertain, the four Archer brothers had needed a faith that ran deeper than the occasional blessing over supper. They’d needed a faith that penetrated every aspect of their lives. Crockett assumed the responsibility of nurturing his family’s souls, but as he and his brothers reached manhood, an ever-increasing pressure to reach beyond his household drove him to stretch his boundaries.

Apparently, he’d be stretching them all the way to Brenham.

Crockett rested his elbow on the satchel that sat on the seat beside him and mentally ran through the key points of the sermon he’d written and rehearsed for tomorrow’s service. His concentration shifted inward, and the scenery chugging past his window blurred. He silently mouthed a verse from 1 Peter, but before he could complete the quotation, the passenger car gave a violent lurch.

His hand caught the seat back in front of him at the last second, narrowly preventing a spill into the aisle when his weight was thrown forward. The locomotive’s wheels screeched against the rails. Passengers flew about the car. Women gasped. Children whimpered. The train slowed slightly as the screeching continued.

“What’s happening, Mama?” Andrew wailed as his mother curled her body protectively around her son.

“There’s probably something on the tracks.” Crockett raised his voice above the chaos. “Once the train stops, the crew will
clear it away and we’ll resume our trip. No need to be afraid, little man.”

Yet even as he spoke the words, a tingle of unease crept between Crockett’s shoulder blades. A woman a few rows up let out a shrill scream and pointed at something beyond her window. The man at her side pushed forward for a better look, then shouted the one word guaranteed to strike fear in any traveler’s heart.

“Bandits!”

Crockett instinctively reached for his hip only to come up empty. He’d left his guns at the ranch. For more than a decade he’d worked the Archer spread with a rifle within constant reach or a pistol strapped to his thigh. Usually both. Now he was stuck facing a band of train robbers with nothing more than his wits because his mentor assured him that circuit riders were the only preachers who traveled armed.

He should have listened to Travis when his brother advised him to pack a weapon in his bag. Maybe then he wouldn’t be sitting here defenseless. But he’d been too intent on making a good impression.

Not one to sit idle, however, Crockett lurched to his feet and fought the forward momentum of the slowing train. Lunging across the aisle, he locked his hands onto a pair of seat backs and hunched over a salesman’s sample case to peer out the sooty window.

He counted four men. Guns drawn. Faces covered. Their horses quickly closing the gap between them and the train.

“God help us,” Crockett prayed under his breath.

As the train slowed to a near stop, the outlaws drew abreast of the passenger car. One rider fell back, disappearing from Crockett’s line of sight. The other three surged ahead.

A thump echoed from the rear of the car. The first man was aboard.

Crockett reclaimed his seat.

Just as the rear door crashed open, two other bandits burst into the coach from the front.

“Ever’body put your hands where I can see ’em!” The lead man pulled a second pistol from his left holster. With a weapon in each hand, he took aim at both sides of the railcar, eyeing the male passengers who seemed most likely to interfere.

As he did so, the train came to a full stop, jerking the passengers a final time. The leader’s stance never wavered. He stood as steady as an old sea dog on a ship’s deck.

Panicked murmurs slithered through the coach, gradually rising in pitch until one lady shot to her feet.

“I have to get out. Let me out!”

The leader’s left gun immediately shifted aim to her chest. “Better control your woman, mister.” His steely eyes narrowed above the black bandana he wore over his mouth and nose. “I ain’t planning to shoot nobody, but plans can change real fast.”

The woman’s companion snatched her from behind and hauled her back down into the seat. She whined but turned her face into the shelter of the man’s arm and made no further comment.

Satisfied, the outlaw turned his attention to the crowd at large. “There’s no reason to get all worked up, folks. As soon as we get what we came for, we’ll be on our way.”

He took a step down the aisle. Then another. The bandit who’d entered with him hung back by the coal stove at the front of the car.

Crockett stole a glance at the man in the rear. He blocked the exit, his gun hand steady. Crockett shifted his attention back to the leader.

Something was off about these outlaws. From accounts he’d read and stories he’d heard, robberies usually featured
hotheaded, cocky kids eager to prove they were fast with their guns. This group seemed too steady. Too self-controlled. Too . . .
old
.

Crockett examined them more closely. The one by the stove turned to glance out the window, and Crockett spotted graying hair at his collar beneath his hat. The middle one had leathery skin—what little was visible above the bandana. Deep creases around his eyes testified to a life lived outdoors, squinting against the sun. And though his glare was intent, the slightly crooked posture of the man at the back reminded Crockett of his sixty-year-old mentor when the man’s joints were paining him after too much work in the garden.

Crockett was still chewing on his observations when a man in a business suit held out a fancy gold watch, the chain dangling from his fist.

“Here. Take it and leave.”

The leader scowled down at the watch as if it offended him. “Put your valuables away,” he groused. “That’s not what we came for.”

BOOK: Stealing the Preacher
11.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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