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Jeremiah Jones set off to war, a boy full of pride and ignorance, seeking glory and to prove his manhood. That boy never returned. Wounded to the depths of his soul, Jeremiah clung to sanity only by holding tight to the memory of Maggie, the girl he’d loved since the first time he saw her in his father’s church. But Maggie had married another.
His soul seeking peace, but his warrior’s heart wanting only battle, Jeremiah’s mind is caught in the middle, between heaven and hell. Though he rides the saddle-preacher circuit, bringing the word of the Lord to all who’ll listen, inside rages the killing beast that war birthed within him. The only company he can count on are two ghosts–the man he fought beside and the first who tried to stand against him.
Cold company indeed, for that long journey home.
He was sitting bent-kneed in a tub of steaming water, deep into Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, when a key was inserted into the lock of the door to his room. A fat whore in a dress of mauve silk waddled in like she owned the place and offered to scrub his back with a boar bristle brush. She folded a towel carefully, knelt beside him.
“I’m only paying for the bath.” He laid his head back against the tub’s rim, looked up at the underside of the woman’s breasts and the rolls of fat at her chin.
“That’s all I’m offerin’.” Her voice was raw and raspy, her breath smelled of whiskey, and the gold of a front tooth winked at him.
The feel of the hard brush on his back was better than most sex.
“What you fixin’ to do when you catch the little gal what stole your horse?”
“Nobody stole nothing belongs to me.”
“I’ll pay you ten dollars, you fetch her back here to me.”
She scooped bath water into a tin bucket, poured it over his head so it ran down his face and exposed shoulders and chest in warm rivulets.
“That why she was running? You got some old man willing to pay for the evil of drooling sin on that child, ruining her for the life God promised his children?”
“You a preacher?”
He caught her wide wrist, pressed until flesh yielded to bone under his fingers. “I am but a sinner scratching at the gates of heaven and begging God’s blessing. Will you pray with me, sister?”
She twisted her wrist from his grip, leaned so heavy against the tub to lift herself up off her knees that, for a moment, it seemed she would tip him dripping to the floor, steaming water spilling in a baptism of waste.
“I will not pray with you, preacher.” She wiped her hands on the folds of her skirt. “But, you bring that gal to me and I’ll pay you in gold and give you a free ride besides.”
“I do not lie with whores, nor trade with the devil.” His arm hung over the side of the tub, rested on the butt of his Colt. “I will, however, pray to God that you receive what you deserve in this life and the next.”
Lace peeked from the bottom of her skirt, her boot heels drummed hard with each step across the smooth wood of the floor. At the door she turned and faced him.
“Suit yourself, preacher. I know things that can make a man forget God and his mama and the bloody flag of battle.”
“Of that,” Jeremiah said, “I have no doubt. Now go. Make haste, before God, or some other powerful being, stirs me to remove your loathsome soul from the burdens of this world.”