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Authors: Jackie Merritt

The Coyote's Cry

BOOK: The Coyote's Cry
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Welcome to Black Arrow, Oklahoma—the birthplace of a proud, passionate clan of men and women who would risk everything for love, family and honor.

Bram Colton:

This sexy but serious town sheriff has wanted blond beauty Jenna Elliot for years, but will he let his Comanche pride destroy his chance for true love?

Jenna Elliot:

She had loved Bram Colton since she could remember, but he was as prejudiced as her father. She knew she could prove their love was color-blind…if hardheaded Bram would just give her the chance.

Gloria Whitebear:

Will the secret past of the Oklahoma Coltons' matriarch come back to haunt her grandchildren?

Willow Colton:

Bram's younger sister hasn't seemed the same since she returned from vacation. But her secret will soon be hard to hide….

Dear Reader,

This August, I am delighted to give you six winning reasons to pick up a Silhouette Special Edition book.

For starters, Lindsay McKenna, whose action-packed and emotionally gritty romances have entertained readers for years, moves us with her exciting cross-line series MORGAN'S MERCENARIES: ULTIMATE RESCUE. The first book,
The Heart Beneath,
tells of love against unimaginable odds. With a background as a firefighter in the late 1980s, Lindsay elaborates, “This story is about love, even when buried beneath the rubble of a hotel, or deep within a human being who has been terribly wounded by others, that it will not only survive, but emerge and be victorious.”

No stranger to dynamic storytelling, Laurie Paige kicks off a new MONTANA MAVERICKS spin-off with
Her Montana Man,
in which a beautiful forensics examiner must gather evidence in a murder case, but also has to face the town's mayor, a man she'd loved and lost years ago. Don't miss the second book in THE COLTON'S: COMANCHE BLOOD series—Jackie Merritt's
The Coyote's Cry,
a stunning tale of forbidden love between a Native American sheriff and the town's “golden girl.”

Christine Rimmer delivers the first romance in her captivating new miniseries THE SONS OF CAITLIN BRAVO. In
His Executive Sweetheart,
a secretary pines for a Bravo bachelor who just happens to be her boss! And in Lucy Gordon's
Princess Dottie,
a waitress-turned-princess is a dashing prince's only chance at keeping his kingdom—and finding true love…. Debut author Karen Sandler warms readers with
The Boss's Baby Bargain,
in which a controlling CEO strikes a marriage bargain with his financially strapped assistant, but their smoldering attraction leads to an unexpected pregnancy!

This month's selections are stellar romances that will put a smile on your face and a song in your heart! Happy reading.

Sincerely,

Karen Taylor Richman

Senior Editor

Jackie Merritt
THE COYOTE'S CRY

Books by Jackie Merritt

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JACKIE MERRITT

is still writing, just not with the speed and constancy of years past. She and hubby are living in southern Nevada again, falling back on old habits of loving the long, warm or slightly cool winters and trying almost desperately to head north for the months of July and August, when the fiery sun bakes people and cacti alike.

Prologue

A
June article from the
Black Arrow Daily Chronicle:

Yesterday, Comanche County Sheriff Bram Colton brought the newspaper up-to-date on several ongoing investigations, primarily the courthouse fire and the burglary of the
Chronicle
's office.

The courthouse fire was unquestionably arson, the sheriff reported, a sad fact confirmed by State Investigator Harold Bolling. Apparently Mr. Bolling provided evidence that proved the fire was started with candles and gasoline. Mr. Bolling has returned to Oklahoma City and has given his permission for the insurance company investigator to examine the damage for his own purposes—namely, to approve or deny the claim filed by the county for funds to restore the historic old courthouse to its former glory. Arson is covered by the insurance policy, according to the
county officials in charge of the claim, so they're quite certain of eventual approval and anticipate little delay in getting repairs started. There have been no arrests, however, and Sheriff Colton admits that while the case is of high priority, he does not have a suspect.

When asked about the unusual coincidence of his brother and friend reporting the fire, the sheriff replied that the residents of Comanche County are fortunate that Jared Colton and Kerry WindWalker spotted the flames and phoned the fire department when they did.

Perhaps relevant to the mysterious crime is Sharon Fisher's report of a stranger requesting privacy to research birth records the same day as the fire. “He's not a man who would stand out in a crowd,” Fisher said. “Brown hair and eyes, not at all memorable in looks, but I got the impression of nervous tension from him, as though he had something to hide.” Sharon has worked in records at the courthouse for five years.

When Sheriff Colton was told of Sharon's comments, he allowed that she may have seen the arsonist, but since the man's identity is unknown, and he hasn't reappeared, he could simply have been someone passing through town researching his family tree. “No crime in that,” Sheriff Colton said. “We shouldn't lay blame or accusations on anyone without strong evidence.”

As for the newspaper office break-in, there seems to be no logical purpose, as nothing was taken. Was the perpetrator researching his family tree in there as well, Sheriff?

Chapter One

D
riving his patrol car, Sheriff Bram Colton preceded the ambulance from the accident site into town. He'd been in his car when the radio dispatcher reported the one-car rollover about three miles west of Black Arrow, Oklahoma. Grabbing his radio, Bram had told Marilu Connor that he was nearby and on his way to the site. The ambulance had arrived at almost the same time he had, and now the two official vehicles were on their way to the hospital.

Bram had his overhead lights flashing, but hadn't turned on his siren, as the ambulance was making enough noise to alert motorists and anyone else within earshot. In mere minutes they pulled up to the emergency entrance of the Black Arrow Hospital.

ER personnel took over, and Bram headed straight for the administration desk.

“Here's his driver's license,” he told the clerk, who began filling out forms. “The paramedics said he wasn't badly injured, considering it was a rollover.”

“Apparently he was wearing a seat belt,” the middle-age woman said.

“Appears so. I'll be back later to talk to him.”

“See ya, Bram,” the clerk said absently, intent on her emergency admittance forms.

Two hours later Bram returned to the hospital and was told that the young man had been installed in a room on the second floor. Bram walked past the elevator, which he knew from experience was slow as molasses, and opted for the stairs. He took them two at a time, mostly out of habit, although there was no question about his feeling hurried and unusually anxious lately. He was busier than normal, what with the courthouse fire and that peculiar burglary of the newspaper office, added to the usual roster of domestic disputes and petty crimes common to the town and county.

He easily located the accident victim's room. But when he walked in, he suddenly became a tongue-tied schoolboy. Nurse Jenna Elliot was in the room, the beautiful young woman that Bram had secretly had his eye on for a very long time.

 

Jenna saw Bram's tall, dark form enter the room, and her pulse rate quickened. “Hello, Bram,” she said, managing to sound like her usual self in spite of the explosion of adrenaline rushing through her system. That was what he did to her—what he
always
did to her—and not once had he ever smiled directly at her. She'd seen him smile at his sister, Willow, who was a good friend of Jenna's. Smile at
his
friends, and even at total strangers. But he would not smile at her, and she knew why. It was because of his Comanche blood, and because her father, Carl Elliot was a snob. Jenna had always wished Bram wouldn't lump her and her dad in the same category of ignorant intolerance, but she didn't know how to change his mind. The
whole thing was frustrating and worrisome and just plain dumb; the other Coltons—and they were plentiful in and around Black Arrow—didn't snub her as Bram did. He had no right to assault her senses so powerfully and then treat her so coldly, no right at all.

“Jenna,” Bram said stiffly. “Sorry for the interruption. I'll come back later.”

Before Jenna could tell him to stay, that her patient was only slightly sedated and quite capable of talking to him, Bram was gone. She glared at the door he'd whisked through, then shook her head in abject disgust and shoved Bram Colton to the back of her mind, something she was well-practiced at doing.

Bram's teeth were clenched as he walked up to the nurse's station. Running into Jenna always set his hair on end. “How long are you planning to keep James Westley in the hospital?” he asked the nurse on duty.

“Just overnight. He'll be released in the morning.”

“What time is the shift change around here today?”

“At six. Same as always.”

“Thanks.” Bram left. He would come back later in the evening to talk to James Westley and get the information he needed for an accident report.

 

Jenna was relieved that her dad wasn't home for dinner that evening; she was always relieved when he wasn't there to harangue her for becoming a nurse. “It's such a common profession! Nursing is beneath you, Jenna,” she'd heard him say a hundred times. “Disgusting, considering some of the things you have to do to strangers, no matter who. You should have finished college and gotten your degree in art history, as you set out to do.”

Jenna's relief at her dad's absence was shortlived. Because she was such a softie when it came to hurting anyone, or even
thinking
about hurting someone—especially
her father, whom she loved in spite of his horrid, undeserved sense of superiority—she next felt a wave of guilt.

After all, she was living under her dad's roof. Not by choice, God knew, but because Carl Elliot had acted almost mortally wounded when his only child had returned to Black Arrow as a full-fledged registered nurse and announced that it was time she got a place of her own. Jenna's mother had died several years before, which had left Carl rattling around alone in the large and quite elegant home he'd had constructed in what he considered the best part of town. Losing her mother had been hard on Jenna, and it was during her mom's illness that Jenna had become profoundly focused on the nursing profession. She wished her father possessed just a fraction of the compassion for mankind with which her mother had been blessed.

But he didn't. Jenna could argue against prejudice and bigotry until she was blue in the face, and nothing she said ever made a dent in Carl Elliot's supreme confidence that the color of his skin—and that of his ancestors—made him superior to anyone who wasn't as white as the driven snow. Actually, Jenna had given up on trying to change her father's infuriating intolerance. It cut her deeply that he'd made so much money from those residents of Black Arrow with Comanche blood, yet still looked down on them. As a youngster, she'd been forbidden to play with Indian children and had been sent to a private, all-white school. All the same, she'd had Indian friends growing up. Willow Colton would always be a friend, and Jenna would give her eyeteeth if Bram would relax his guard and
become
a friend.

Martha Buskin was chief cook and bottle washer in the Elliot household—had been for many years—and she had roasted a chicken that afternoon. Jenna thanked her and told her to go on home. Normally Martha's final chore of
the day was to tidy the kitchen after the evening meal, but whenever Jenna ate alone she let Martha leave early.

When the housekeeper had gone, Jenna ate some chicken and salad at the table in the kitchen. Then she went upstairs with a glass of her favorite wine and ran a bubble bath. Lighting scented candles placed around the tub, she switched off the bright bathroom lights, undressed and sank into the sudsy hot water. Sipping wine and feeling all the kinks of the day leave her body, she did what she'd known she would when she began this delightful ritual: relived and dissected those few moments in James Westley's hospital room when Bram Colton had come in.

She could see Bram in her mind's eye as clearly as if he were standing next to the tub…which she found herself wishing were true. She thought him to be the most physically attractive man she'd ever met or even seen. He made her spine tingle and her legs wobble, her heart beat faster and her mouth go dry. She loved his thick, lustrous black hair and black eyes. She loved the deep bronze tone of his skin and his perfect white teeth. The sight of his broad shoulders, flat, hard belly and long legs clad in his tan sheriff's uniform, with a big gun on his hip, almost caused her to go into respiratory failure. Was she in love with him? No, she couldn't say that. But lust? Oh, yes, she most definitely lusted after the county sheriff; after Willow's big brother. And if Bram ever decided to give her the time of day, she would give
him
a lot more than time. She'd give him…

“Oh, stop,” she mumbled, finishing the last of her wine and hitting the small lever to drain the tub. Why did she torture herself over a man who was never going to do anything but look through her? Bram was every bit as stubborn as her dad. Her father would have a heart attack if his daughter took up with a Native American, or a “breed,” as he called those with even a drop of Indian
blood, while Bram's stiff-necked pride would never permit him to get involved with Carl's daughter. She was in a no-win situation and she might as well forget that Bram Colton even existed.

That was easier said than done, but she hoped she would at least leave him behind when she went to Dallas for her week's vacation on Saturday. She was going to visit an old college friend, Loni Owens, and there was no doubt in Jenna's mind that she would have a good time. Loni was a bright, upbeat and extremely uninhibited gal when it came to fun, especially fun with guys. Jenna had hesitated in accepting Loni's invitation to spend her week off in Dallas because she knew Loni would have a dozen male friends lined up to meet her.

But what the heck? she'd finally concluded. She sure wasn't getting anywhere with the one man she would
love
to get somewhere with, so she might as well settle for second best.

She would be leaving very early on Saturday morning.

 

After obtaining the accident information that he needed and then leaving the hospital that evening, Bram stopped in to see his grandmother. He did that three or four times a week, and not just out of a sense of duty. He genuinely loved the elderly woman and thought her witty, wise and wonderful. Gloria was eighty years old, but since
her
father, Bram's great-grandfather, George WhiteBear, was still living at ninety-seven—at least that was the age George claimed to be—Bram was sure Gloria had many good years left. Occasionally he could get her talking about the old days and her youth, but not very often. “Live in the present, Bram,” she usually told him. “Let the past stay in the past.”

She always had something good to eat in her apartment above the Black Arrow Feed and Grain Store, a business
that had supported the WhiteBear-Colton family for a good many years, and Bram enjoyed a cup of coffee and a slice of Gloria's delicious cinnamon-applesauce cake while they talked. She was very proud of his being sheriff, which she considered to be a very high position in the United States government. Bram let her think it, for anything that made her happy pleased him.

“Gran, Willow's been working in the store long enough to take over. Isn't it time you retired?” he said just before taking his leave.

“You've been trying to retire me for years, Bram,” Gloria said briskly. “What do you want me to do, sit around up here in this apartment and watch soap operas and talk shows on TV?”

Bram had to laugh. “Forget I mentioned it, Gran.”

“And you forget it, too.”

“For tonight,” he agreed with a twinkle in his eye. Leaning down, he kissed her cheek. “See you soon.”

Bram's home was a two-hundred-acre ranch twenty miles out of town. Known in the area as the Colton Ranch, it had a big rambling house, a couple of barns, and fertile soil—soil rich enough to produce a nutritious grass ideal for raising quarter horses. The ranch had belonged to his parents, Trevor and Sally, and had been passed to their five children after their deaths. None of the five wanted to sell the family home, but the only one who wanted to do any ranching and live on the place was Bram. Much as he liked his job as sheriff, there was something in his blood that demanded a portion of his life be lived outdoors.

And he loved horses, as his Comanche ancestors had, for history books touted the Comanche as the most skilled riders of the Southwest. Bram broke and trained his own horses, but he was so good at the craft that sometimes other ranchers asked him to break one of their wild young stallions. He did it willingly and free of charge. What he
knew about horses, he believed, was in his genes and had come to him from his ancestors.

Bram also had a dog, and when he arrived home that night Nellie came bounding out of the smallest barn, barking a joyous hello and wriggling her hindquarters back and forth. Nellie was a black-and-white Border collie with pale blue eyes. She was a love of a dog, and her main goal in life was to herd sheep, cows, horses, chickens or anything else that moved. Anytime Bram wanted some horses brought in from a pasture he whistled to Nellie, and off she'd go to get them. Bram's best friend, his fishing and hunting buddy, Will Mitchell, had three wild little boys, and all three adored Nellie and would let her herd them around Bram's yard when Will brought them out to the ranch.

Bram knelt down now and gave Nellie a hug, then scratched her ears. “Did you get lonesome today, girl?”

She wriggled again and licked his face. “Hey, that's going too far,” Bram said with a laugh, rising to his feet. “Come on, let's go and scare you up some dinner.”

 

It had been a long, busy day, and when Bram went to bed he was ready for sleep. But as he closed his eyes he promptly saw an image of Jenna Elliot. Punching his pillow in frustration, he turned to his side and tried to relax. But Jenna was still there, glowingly beautiful and causing him all sorts of physical distress.

Bram always thought of Jenna as Black Arrow's golden girl. Her hair had been twisted on top of her head today, but he knew what it looked like cascading down her back—like a golden waterfall. Its color nearly drove him mad, and he was positive it would feel as silky as it looked. Even Jenna's flawless skin had a golden hue, as though sprinkled with gold dust. Add her deep blue eyes to that mix and she sparkled. In Bram's eyes, anyway, Jenna El
liot sparkled more brightly and more beautifully than any Fourth of July fireworks he'd ever seen.

He recalled how much easier he'd breathed when she went away to college, and how the world had begun spinning crazily again when Jenna came home to help care for her terminally ill mother. After Mrs. Elliot's funeral Bram heard that Jenna had left town again, but not to return to college; she had decided to become a nurse. That had surprised him. Nursing was a service profession much like his own, and he'd wondered about a golden girl working such long hours. It wasn't as if she had to earn a living. Old Carl owned half the town and almost as much of the county. Everyone knew he had more money than he could count, and that he doted on Jenna. Hell, she'd never have to work a day if she didn't want to.

BOOK: The Coyote's Cry
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