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"Jenna, you and I can never be anything but acquaintances."
Nurse Jenna Elliot knew proud, hardheaded Bram Colton thought she was the town's spoiled golden girl, and that her father would rather die than let her get involved with a Comanche. But that didn't stop her from loving the dark, brooding sheriff. Now she was living under Bram's roof, caring for his ailing grandmother, and he could no longer ignore her or the intense passion stirring ...
"Jenna, you and I can never be anything but acquaintances."
Nurse Jenna Elliot knew proud, hardheaded Bram Colton thought she was the town's spoiled golden girl, and that her father would rather die than let her get involved with a Comanche. But that didn't stop her from loving the dark, brooding sheriff. Now she was living under Bram's roof, caring for his ailing grandmother, and he could no longer ignore her or the intense passion stirring between them....
Falling for Jenna Elliot was Bram's worst nightmare—and ultimate fantasy. He had always wanted the blond, blue-eyed beauty in his home—in his bed, to be exact. But he knew theirs was a forbidden love and he'd fight his warrior-like urges to make Black Arrow's golden girl his forever....
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 KerryWindWalker 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?
* * *
Driving 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 middleage 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."
Excerpted from The Coyote's Cry by Jackie Merritt Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.