Claiming Ana by Brynna Curry
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire…and passion that won’t be denied.
Triple Star Ranch, #1
The child of a gypsy and fey, small-town veterinarian Dr. Anastasia Brannon has always hidden her magic for fear of ridicule. A red-hot encounter with the new PI in town makes their attraction impossible to deny. Throwing caution to the wind, she indulges her desires but keeps her secrets close.
A man with a shady past and secrets of his own, Howl Raven uses his feral talents and tracking skills to make a living, doing his best to lay low and hide the curse that haunts him every month. So far, so good…until an uncontrollable shift outside the full moon leaves him the victim of a werewolf hunter.
When she finds the enigmatic investigator wounded in the woods near her cabin during a storm, Ana provides medical care on instinct. She may be the only one who can banish the wolf from Howl’s blood, but at what cost?
CONTENT WARNING: Contains a brief, mostly off-page, violent scene which may disturb some readers. Violence, strong language and graphic love scenes.
- ISBN: 9781616502874
- Genre: Romance / Erotic / Paranormal / Shifter
- Length: 21,000 words
- Ebook Page Count: 73
- Publication Date: February 3, 2014
- Available Format: Digital
- Series: Triple Star Ranch, #1
All rights reserved, Lyrical Press, Inc.
“That’s a girl. Easy, Sunshine.” Ana stroked the mare’s neck while she watched the colt suckle his mother. Sunshine whinnied and dipped her head to touch Ana’s shoulder.
The barn door opened and Bren Ross stepped inside. “She’s a character. Isn’t she?”
“She sure is, just like Taylor. You’re up early.” She picked up her medical bag and dusted off the knees of her jeans.
“Had to check on our girl here before I start chores. Is she doing okay?”
“Yep. Right as rain.” She glanced at her watch. 5:33 AM. “I’m about through here. Any idea where I can find Cade this early? I figure he’ll want to give Taylor the good news himself.”
“He and Jace are probably at Cooper’s. Then I imagine he’ll be heading into the station before school traffic duty.”
“Still won’t delegate that chore, will he?”
Bren turned toward the barn door. “Says it’s the most important part of the job. Why don’t you come on up to the house and have a cup of coffee.”
“I’d like that.”
* * * *
Thirty minutes later, Ana parked her Jeep Cherokee at the pump outside of Cooper’s gas station and shut off the engine. She reached across the seat for her purse and dug out her wallet. Taking a deep breath before abandoning the cool of the air conditioning, she stepped into the muggy dawn air. Even in April, the days in Alabama could be hot as hell. The severe storms expected to roll in later in the evening had jacked the humidity to a miserable level. It was like trying to breathe through a hot, wet blanket.
She twisted off the gas cap, flipped the pump lever and began filling the tank. Glancing around the parking lot, she noted the two old Chevy trucks. The blue one belonged to Jace Murphy. He’d had it since high school. Ana sighed, reminded of how well she knew the man. The Murphy brothers might be pretty to look at, with a knight’s code of honor, but they were hell on a woman’s heart. The chief’s Charger was parked near the diesel pumps. No doubt having another cup of coffee before turning on the 25 MPH school zone signs. Perfect. Just the man I needed to see. She twisted the gas cap closed and went in to pay.
“Morning, Ana.” Cooper’s wife, Ruby, manned the counter. The older woman took Ana’s debit card and slid it through the machine before giving her a receipt to sign and closing the drawer.
Ana quickly signed the slip of paper and pocketed the duplicate receipt. “Hi, Ruby. Where’s the breakfast crowd?” She smiled and leaned in to chat for a minute. No matter what the owner of Cooper’s had to say, it was bound to be entertaining.
“About a half-hour gone. Severe storms are predicted for tonight. Everybody’s trying to get their errands done before the rain comes in. What about you? Opening the clinic today?”
“Yes. I’ve got a full day of appointments scheduled, but I won’t be taking in any boarders over the weekend. Just in case. Even with the clinic attached to the cabin, I always worry I wouldn’t have enough time to get my charges into the basement if shelter was needed. Especially if the animals were upset by the weather.”
“Good point. Well. Don’t get so busy you forget to bring in the hanging flowers. It’d be a shame to lose them to the wind this early on.”
“Town council meeting is tonight, if we’re still around to have one.”
Ana nodded and turned toward the dining area and what she liked to call the round table. Usually occupied by the morning regulars who came in to gossip before starting their day, it was quiet today. Shady Creek’s police chief Cade Murphy sipped his coffee and listened to his brother Jace complain about coming weather. Cade’s semi-formal chief’s uniform only added to his already disarming good looks. Along with their brother Drew, the triplets shared the same jet-black hair, olive skin and deep green eyes.
Jace preferred a farmer’s outfit of work boots, denim shirt with rolled up sleeves and jeans. Ana knew he was just as comfortable on the dance floor as he was on a tractor or slinking around foreign nations doing God-knew-what for the CIA. He looked up and winked as she walked over to the table. J-Ana, as their classmates dubbed the couple in high school, was long over, but she could still appreciate the view.
“Morning, gorgeous. Ready to walk down the aisle with me?”
She laughed when he wiggled his eyebrows, kissed her cheek and pulled out an empty chair. “I’d never survive the trip, Jace.”
“Maybe, but the ride would be worth it.”
“Oh, of that I have no doubt. Tempting, but no.” She couldn’t be entirely sure he wasn’t serious. J-Ana had been a heat-filled year. Easy to recall the memories. Yes, it had been a hell of a ride and worth every minute. She sat in the chair next to Cade.
“Down boy, before I have to arrest you.” Cade smiled and finished off his coffee. “Morning, Ana. How’s Sunshine?”
“Doing just fine. She foaled about two hours ago. A colt. Both are healthy. I figured you’d want to give Taylor the news yourself.”
Cade beamed. Sunshine, a beautiful paint mare, belonged to his best friend, actress Taylor Ross. She loved the horse fiercely and wouldn’t trust anyone but Cade to board her while she was filming. Since Taylor was shooting pretty much all the time now, Sunshine had taken up permanent residence at the Triple Star. Taylor flew in as often as possible to visit with family and see her horse, but not often enough for her Aunt Bren or Cade. The visits were always short, because of both of their schedules. Ana missed the long talks they’d had as teenagers.
“Thanks. I’ll check in with Tay in a couple of hours. It’s still early yet.” Something about the way Cade said Tay made her heart ache. Only he called her friend by the pet name. Longing and banked heat coated the word. What would it be like to hear her name spoken like that, full of wicked promises and forever? Ana glanced toward Jace. He had come close once, delivered on the promises in spades. Forever? Not so much.
“Right. Time difference. I always forget.”
The tinkling of a bell announced the arrival of another customer. Ana looked toward the door. The newcomer was tall, with black hair. His leather jacket and jeans accentuated a muscled but lean form. Sunglasses hid his eyes from view. He didn’t stop at the counter, instead making his way over to their table. “Sorry to interrupt, chief. Got a minute?”
“Sure. Have a seat.”
The stranger shook Cade’s hand before moving on to Jace. The scent of pine and crisp soap tempted her into curiosity. Slipping off his glasses, he hooked them in the V of his jacket. He turned, his golden eyes meeting hers. A wave of pure heat swept over her, washing away her common sense with the tide.
“Howl, this is Dr. Anastasia Brannon, our local vet and a close friend of the family. Ana, this is Howl Raven.”
Noting Cade deliberately left Howl’s occupation out of the introduction, she smiled and held out her hand to shake his. “Nice to meet you.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Anastasia.”
God, his voice was like the finest whiskey. Rich, dark and damning as it rolled over her name. The air changed at his touch. He didn’t shake her hand, instead held it warm in his just a second longer than was polite. She didn’t miss the frown on Jace’s face. Even old lovers were territorial.
“Ah, yes. Likewise. Well, I hate to run, but I have to get going. Got a full day of appointments scheduled.” Flustered, she tugged her hand out of Howl’s. “Hey, Cade, tell Taylor to call me when she gets in. We need to catch up. Spa day.”
“Any time.” She retreated to the safety of her Jeep, but couldn’t resist a second look toward the door before driving away. He was watching her through the glass. She still felt his touch and ached for more. Howl Raven was a flash fire. And she was a moth to that flame, begging him to consume her.
* * * *
“I have some new information,” Howl commented as he watched his mate walk out the door. Though he’d traveled all over the country, never had he met a woman who called to his blood as she did. Her scent lingered, wrapped around him, taunting him. His darker half stirred, demanding he follow her. Claim her. Taking a half step toward the door, his human side told the wolf to shut the hell up. Turning away from temptation, he gave his full attention to Cade and Jace.
A month had passed since Sam Murphy had been found shot to death in the field behind his home. Officially warned to keep their collective noses out of the investigation, the brothers had turned to Howl to dig into their father’s financials. First rule in murder, follow the money. Second, find the woman. Since he’d yet to find evidence of a secret lover, he was sticking to the money. What he’d found turned his stomach. The Triple Star was in serious trouble. The Murphys had a month to figure out a way to save their home.
“So what did you find out?” Jace quickly changed the subject and leaned back in his chair.
Howl pulled a notepad out of the inner pocket of his leather jacket and flipped through the pages. “Your father kept two sets of books. One to show Jace, and the real ledger. He made four large withdrawals from the operating account in the two months before he was killed.”
“How large?” Cade asked.
“Ten grand. Always on the first and fifteenth of the month. No records of where the money went after that, but I have a call in to a guy I know. That much money goes missing, it usually means one of three things: drugs, gambling debts or blackmail. All of them good reasons to wind up dead. If there is a link, my guy will find it.”
“What could he have done with forty thousand dollars? The ranch can’t handle that kind of loss.”
“No, it can’t. A closer look at the hidden books shows serious debt. He was behind several months with all of his suppliers. They’ve cut off your accounts. The only things it seems he managed to keep up were the utilities. And there is one other thing. Your dad mortgaged the Star.”
“How much?” Jace again. A deep red flush of anger crept up the man’s neck at the open collar of his shirt. Apparently, the brothers hadn’t been informed of the mortgage or the upcoming balloon payment that would cost them their family home.
“Another hundred thousand. A balloon payment comes due in three months.” Howl stuffed the notepad back in his jacket pocket. Bad news sucked. Both on the giving and receiving end of things.
“There’s no way. No way in hell we can come up with that kind of money.” Jace jumped up with so much force his chair fell over.
Ruby hollered at them from the kitchen. “Take it outside, boys.”
Cade sighed and stood. “Calm down, Jace.”
“Like hell I will. Were you even listening?”
“I heard him just fine.” He was on his feet and in his brother’s face. “Outside. Now.”
Howl followed the men outside to Cade’s squad car. He hadn’t expected this latest blow to sit well with the Murphys. Honestly, Jace had a point. He’d seen the financials. Between the three of them, they might be able to come up with enough to pay the suppliers, but not enough to save the Star.
“I have somewhere to be. We’ll talk about this at home. Dad’s reputation is tarnished enough without dragging our dirty laundry out for everyone to see.” Cade spoke quietly, the underlying authority unmistakable and more powerful than a punch.
“Fine. You twitch your nose and conjure a hundred grand, Mr. Fix It.” Jace stomped toward his truck, got in and slammed the door. “Maybe Taylor’ll give it to you.”
“Where are you going?” Cade asked.
“To run fences, while we still have a damn ranch to run. Better call Bren before she hears about this through the grapevine.” Spinning gravel, Jace tore out of the parking lot.
“Sorry about that. My brother can be a hothead. He’s understandably upset.”
Howl leaned against the car. “I’m sorry to lay more trouble on your doorstep. Your call, chief. Do you want me to keep digging?”
“I want to know where that money went, Raven. Don’t stop until you find out.”
“Count on it.”
“One other thing.”
“Yeah?” Howl called back over his shoulder.
“I saw how you looked at Ana. I’m guessing you’ll move on when this job is finished. If you hurt her, you’d better pray I find you first. Jace knows ways to torture a man I prefer not to think about. Understand?”
“Are they together?”
“Not anymore, but that doesn’t change a thing. Just giving some friendly advice. I don’t want another murder in my town.”