The Long Hot Summer (Chapter Eleven)

Ryan's hand flailed out as he tried brushing away whatever it was crawling over his cheek. He moaned and turned over onto his belly. Seconds later a sliver of ice trickled down his spine and he sprang off the bed, his hands bunched into fists, but was rendered immobile by an arm around his throat, cutting off his breath.

"You still have good reflexes for an old man," a familiar voice whispered in his ear.

"Dammit, Jeremy!"

Jeremy Blackstone released Ryan's throat and stepped back quickly as his older brother swung at him. Grinning, he winked. He had anticipated his reaction.

Ryan stood in the middle of his bedroom, muscular arms crossed over his bare chest. It had been more than a year since he'd seen Jeremy. He didn't look any older, but there was something about him that communicated danger. As an undercover agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration it was obvious that he had become as hardened and dangerous as the criminals he sought to bring to justice.

"How did you get in?" He was certain he had locked the door before he retired for the night.

Jeremy lifted a thick black eyebrow. "I picked the lock."

"You're nothing more than a legal thug."

"You should try it. Thug life ain't too bad."

"No thanks. Do you mind if I put some clothes on?"

Shrugging his broad shoulders, Jeremy moved over and sat in an armchair. "It doesn't bother me what you wear. You happen not to be my type."

Crossing the bedroom, Ryan opened a drawer and took out a pair of boxers. He slipped into them and walked over and sat down on a matching chair opposite his brother. Jeremy's pitch-black hair was longer than he had seen it in years. Pulled back off his forehead and secured in a ponytail on his nape, the style provided an unfettered view of his striking olive-brown face with a pair of high cheek bones, aquiline nose, firm mouth, short dark beard and dove-gray eyes. Diamond studs glittered in each ear.

Ryan knew Jeremy had had his ears pierced when on an undercover assignment in South America, but this was the first time he could recall him wearing earrings at Blackstone Farms.

"How long are you staying?"

"I'm out of here tomorrow night."

"That only gives you one day. Why do you bother to come if you can't stay for more than a day?"

Jeremy frowned. "Now, you sound like Pop."

"That's because he's right, Jeremy. Once you become a father you'll understand how he feels when he doesn't hear from you for months. And he has no way of knowing whether you're dead or alive."

"That's because he refuses to accept what I've chosen to do with my life."

"He doesn't have to accept your career. All he has to do is accept you as his son. A son he loves, a son he worries about. And maybe even a son who may one day claim his rightful place at Blackstone Farms."

Jeremy leaned over, resting his elbows on his knees. "Read my lips, Ryan. I don't do horses. I don't know what has Pop all bent out of shape. You're a brilliant veterinarian rumored to be able to raise horses from the dead."

Ryan's eyebrows lowered as he glared at Jeremy. "This is not a joke." Jeremy sobered quickly. "I might know horses, but you're the one with the business background. Pop has been running this farm for a long time, and even though he's not complaining I know he's tired. Before I left to teach at Tuskegee I picked up some the slack, but since I've been back I realize that it takes more than one person to run a farm this size."

Jeremy swore under his breath. "Please don't pressure me, Ryan. I'm not ready to stop doing what I'm doing."

"I'm not asking you to stop. I'm just asking you to consider your options."

"Okay. I'll think about it."

"Good." Ryan stood up and extended his hand. He wasn't disappointed when Jeremy grasped it. "Why don't you bed down in the room next to Sean's?"

Jeremy shook his head. "I'd rather sleep in my own place."

"It hasn't been aired out."

"That's all right." He stood up, stretching his six-foot-three height. "I've slept in worse conditions." And he had. "If I'm not up by eight, then come and get me. Other than missing you, Pop and Sean, the thing I miss the most is Cook's pancakes."

"Okay." Ryan glanced at the clock on his bedside table. It was a few minutes past four. It was too early to get up, but he knew he wouldn't be able to go back to sleep.

Walking over to the window, he peered out through the screen. The odor of spent fireworks lingered in the early-morning air. Sheldon had hired a professional fireworks company to put on a dazzling display of brilliant color for the children who lay on blankets with their parents, staring up at the sky while cheering and applauding each explosion. Sean kept asking him whether Miss Kelly could see the color from where she was. Ryan told him he didn't believe she could, but his son mentioning her name made their separation even more acute.

Turning on his heel, he made his way into an adjoining bathroom to shave and shower.

Kelly felt as if she had truly come home once she crossed the property line leading to Blackstone Farms. She spied the flagpole with the American flag flying atop the black and red one that represented the farm's silks. The flags hung limply in the falling rain.

She had had a fun-filled relaxing weekend with her family. She went to bed late, slept in even later and generally did not do anything more strenuous than shift a lounger to a shaded area whenever the sun burned her exposed skin.

Sighing audibly, Kelly maneuvered under the carport beside her bungalow. Recurring thunderstorms with torrential downpours had slowed her return trip. She switched off the wipers, lights and the engine. Pushing open the door, she inhaled the smell of wet earth.

Walking the short distance to the porch, she mounted the stairs. She caught movement out of the corner of her eye and froze. Rising from the love seat in the shadows was the outline of a man. The scent of a familiar cologne wafted in her nostrils. It was Ryan. He had waited for her to come home.

"Ryan?"

"Yes, princess."

"What are you doing here?" He hadn't moved out of the shadows.

"I was waiting to welcome you back to our home."

"This is your home, Ryan."

"It could be yours if you want it to be."

Her breath caught in her lungs. What did he mean? What was he trying to tell her? Shifting, she tried making out his expression but failed. It was too dark.

"I don't understand."

"What is there to understand?" he asked instead of answering her question. He took two long strides, bringing him inches from her. "I want you to stay here – forever."

She shook her head. "That's not possible, Ryan."

His hand touched the side of her face. The smell of his cologne mingled with that of his laundered shirt. "Yes, it is, princess. It's possible if you marry me."

She couldn't move or speak. The word she longed to tell him was lodged in the back of her throat, refusing to come out. She wanted so much to tell him yes; yes she would marry him; yes she would become the mother Sean never had; yes she would be honored to have his babies. She would say yes to everything, but not without his declaration of love.

"I can't," she whispered instead.

"Is he still in your heart?" Ryan snapped. "Is a dead man still standing between us? I'm not asking you to forget Simeon, darling." His voice was softer, calm. "All I want is for you to let me in."

"You're in, Ryan. How I feel about you has nothing to do with Simeon."

"Then what is it?"

Looping her arms around his waist, she laid her head against his chest, and listened the strong pumping of his heart under her ear. "Love."

"Love?" he repeated.

"Yes."

"You think I don't love you?"

"I don't know what to think, Ryan, because you've never told me that you loved me."

He swung her up in his arms. "Of course I love you, Kelly. Do you think I would ask you to marry me if I didn't love you?"

She buried her face against his warm throat. "I was waiting for you to tell me you loved me before I told you how I felt about you."

"Well, I'm waiting."

Tightening her hold around his neck, she pressed her mouth to his. "I love you, Ryan Blackstone."

His smile was dazzling. "Thank you, my darling. Now, isn't there something else you want to say to me?"

"Nope," she said sassily.

"Give me your keys, Kelly."

"What's the magic word?"

"Please." The word was forced out between his teeth.

She placed her keys in his outstretched palm, holding onto his neck while he unlocked the door. Shifting her body, he flipped a wall switch, turning on the table lamp in the parlor. Ryan looked at Kelly, his eyes widening in surprise. She had cut her hair. Soft curls were brushed off her forehead and over her ears.

"You look incredible."

A blush burned her cheeks. "Thank you."

He dropped a kiss on the top of her head. "You're welcome."

She met his gaze, smiling. The love she saw radiating from the sooty orbs made her want to cry. He loved her! He loved her and she loved him.

Kelly closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. "Yes, Ryan. Yes, I will marry you and become mother to our children."

Ryan carried her across the parlor and he walked into Kelly's bedroom for the first time. The time for hiding his love for her ended the moment she'd accepted his marriage proposal.

He had loved and lost and so had she, but it was time for new beginnings. He knew he could not replace the memory of her first husband and did not want to. What they would create would be new memories to reminiscence about whenever they watched a future generation of Blackstones lie on the grass and gasp in awe at Fourth of July fireworks.

Bending slightly, he lowered Kelly until her feet touched the coolness of the wood floor. She walked over to a bedside table and turned on a lamp. The space was flooded with soft golden light that illuminated an exquisite sleigh bed and towering armoire. The soft colors of lemon yellow and lime-green were predominant. The bedroom was romantic and feminine – just like the woman he had fallen in love with.

"It ends tonight, princess. No more making love in hideaway places. No more pretending that my only contact with you is because you're Sean's teacher."

Raising her hand, Kelly beckoned Ryan closer. She stared up at him as he walked over to her. She placed her hands in the middle of his chest. "I want this night to be special, so special that I will remember it for the rest of my life."

Ryan wanted to tell her that what was to occur between them would be only one of many more special nights to come. There would be their wedding night, the night they'd celebrate their first wedding anniversary, the tenth, twentieth, thirtieth, fiftieth, the birth of their first child and the others he hoped they would have.

His hands covered her back, burning her flesh through her cotton blouse. Pulling her closer, he lowered his head and tasted her mouth. Her lips parted and his tongue mated with hers, plunging and pulling back, as he simulated making love to her.

Kelly writhed against Ryan in an attempt to get even closer. It had taken only three days away from him to make her crave him. How had she existed every Sunday through Thursday not having him touch her?

His hands moved lower, cupping her hips and allowing her to feel the solid bulge in his jeans. His hardness electrified her as she moaned and exhaled into his open mouth.

Ryan forced himself to go slow. He wanted to prolong their coming together as long as possible. He caught the tip of her tongue between his teeth and sucked gently while pulling it into his mouth. Kelly moaned in protest, but he refused to let her go. He sucked a little harder and suddenly she went pliant in his arms. He had to release her tongue when he swept her up in his arms and placed her on the bed.

Moving over her body, his lips seared a hot path down her neck and under her ears. His hands went to the buttons on her blouse. Suddenly fingers that were trained to perform the most delicate surgical procedures were heavy and clumsy. Placing both hands at the neckline, he pulled at the fabric. It parted, buttons flying in every direction.

The sight of her dark nipples showing through the sheer fabric of her white bra was his undoing. Ryan did not remember undressing Kelly or himself. What he did remember was sliding down the length of her body and drinking deeply from between her legs. He remembered turning her over and running his tongue down the length of her spine and over the curve of her hips. He remembered tasting and sampling every inch of her fragrant body as her moans of pleasure echoed his labored breathing.

It was when he guided his swollen flesh into her hot, wet pulsing flesh that he forgot everything. Slipping his hands under her hips, he held her as he pushed into her again and again.

Kelly gloried in the hard body atop hers. Her breasts tingled against his hair-roughened chest, whenever she arched to meet his downward thrusts. She trailed her fingernails up and down Ryan's back, eliciting deep groans from him. Without warning, he reversed position. She almost toppled off the bed with the sudden motion, but he caught her around the waist, holding her protectively.

A smile curved her mouth. He knew it was a position she favored because it allowed for deeper penetration and for her to set the pace for their coming together. Leaning back, she closed her eyes and established a slow rocking motion that mimicked her riding a horse. Ryan's hardness touched the walls of her womb, and she screamed out her climax, shaking uncontrollably as her screams became soft moans of satisfaction. Spent, she collapsed to his damp chest.

The muscles in Ryan's neck strained; he struggled not to pour out his passions into her hot body. Waves of ecstasy throbbed through him like blood rushing through veins, carrying precious oxygen to the heart. He tried holding back but the rush of desire seized him and sent him hurtling into a dimension where he experienced free-fall for the first time in his life.

They lay together, still joined, and waited until their respiration slowed enough for them to breathe without gasping. Their coming together was special; the night was special.

Kelly moved, shifting until her legs were sandwiched between Ryan's. The odor of their lovemaking blended with the perfume and cologne on their bodies. Resting her check on his breastbone, she sighed softly, knowing she would never forget a single detail of this joining.

Ryan ran his fingers through her short hair. "When do you want marry, darling?"

Raising her head, she met his gaze. "How about a month from now?"

"You want to wait that long?"

"That's not long, Ryan."

"For me it is."

"Aren't you forgetting about Sean?"

Ryan's forehead furrowed. "What about him?"

"He needs time to get used to me sharing his father with him."

"Sean is crazy about you."

"That may be true, but we'll still need a period of adjustment. Right now he sees me as his teacher, not his mother."

"What do you want him to call you?"

"That will be up to him."

Holding hands, they planned their upcoming nuptials. Kelly told Ryan she wanted to be married at Blackstone Farms. She expressed a desire have her sister as her matron of honor, while Ryan said he would ask Sheldon to stand in as his best man.

"I have someone I want you to meet," he said cryptically.

"Who?"

"My brother."

Kelly sat up. "He's here now?"

Ryan nodded. "He's leaving tomorrow night."

She wanted to meet the other Blackstone son – the one who had partnered Ryan during their adolescent mishaps. "Is it possible to meet him now, because I've made plans to take the children into town for a puppet show tomorrow."

Sitting up, Ryan swung his legs over the side of the bed. "Sure."

Kelly moved off the bed, smiling. "Race you to the shower." She hadn't taken more than two steps when Ryan caught her around her waist, swept her off her feet and carried her over his shoulder into the bathroom.

Kelly felt a shiver of apprehension as she walked up the porch steps to Sheldon's home. It was only the second time she had entered the spacious structure. The first time had been for her interview.

What had caught her attention during that visit was a quartet of curio cabinets filled with trophies, mementoes and faded photographs of black jockeys dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. Sheldon had proudly revealed that of the fifteen jockeys at the first Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisiana in 1875, fourteen were black. Oliver Lewis, riding Aristides, became the first black to win the Derby. However, it was Isaac Murphy who was considered to be one of the greatest jockeys in U.S. racing history.

She followed Ryan through a formal dining room into a smaller room where she had sat while Sheldon had questioned her about her credentials and experience.

Her gaze met and fused with a pair of gray eyes that reminded her of Sheldon and Ryan's. Whereas Ryan's eyes reminded her of lightning, Jeremy's made her think of a cloaking fog. He stood up, his gaze narrowing. Seconds later, Sheldon also stood up.

Ryan curved an arm around Kelly's waist, the action communicating protection and possession. The gesture was not lost on Sheldon.

"Ah, Miss Kelly."

She nodded. "Good evening, Sheldon."

A mysterious smile curved Ryan's mouth. "Jeremy, this is Miss Kelly Andrews, my fiancee." He ignored his father's gasp. "Kelly, my brother and former partner in crime, Jeremy."

"When…when did you two decide this?" Sheldon sputtered.

Jeremy leaned over and kissed Kelly's cheek. "Welcome to the family. Don't say I didn't warn you, but you're about to have the ride of your life," he added, whispering in her ear.

She smiled at Jeremy, deciding she liked him. There was no doubt he and Ryan were brothers because they looked so much alike. But that's where the similarity ended. There was something about Jeremy that was overtly dangerous. A sixth sense told her he was a magnet for trouble.

Sheldon pursed his lips, whistling loudly. Everyone went completely still. Three pairs of eyes were fixed on him. "Will someone please tell me if there's going to be a wedding?"

Ryan smiled. "Yes, Pop, there's going to be a wedding. Kelly and I plan to marry sometime next month."

Sheldon crossed his arms over his chest in a gesture Kelly had seen Ryan affect so many times. "I'll say it again. When did you decide this?"

"Tonight," Kelly said in a quiet voice.

Sheldon's expression was impassive. "Are you sure you want to marry my son and spend the rest of your life on a horse farm?"

"Pop!" Ryan's voice bounced off the walls.

Kelly caught his arm, feeling tension tightening the muscles. "It's all right, darling." Jeremy and Sheldon exchanged glances at the endearment. Giving Sheldon a direct stare, she said, "The answer is yes to both questions. I will marry Ryan, and I plan to spend the rest of my life living on a horse farm raising our children to love this land and honor the heritage left them by their ancestors."

"Boo-yaw!" Sheldon yelled, pumping his fist in the air.

Ryan and Jeremy howled, slapping each other's back while shouting, "Boo-yaw!"

"This calls for a celebratory drink," Sheldon said as he made his way over to a liquor cabinet. He took out a bottle of aged bourbon. "I've been saving this for a long time. The last time this old girl and I danced together was the day I became a grandfather." He gave Kelly a level stare. "You are able to imbibe, aren't you?"

At first she did not understand his question, but realization dawned. He probably thought the reason she and Ryan had planned to marry so quickly was because she was pregnant.

"Yes, I am."

"Daddy? Are you having a party?"

Everyone turned to find Sean standing in the doorway, rubbing his eyes. He was dressed in a pair of lightweight cotton pajamas. It was apparent the loud voices had awakened him.

Ryan smiled at Sean. "Yes. Come in." Sean padded barefoot into the den, and found himself cradled in his father's arms. "We're celebrating because Miss Kelly and I are going to be married."

Sean's eyes widened with this disclosure. "She…she's going to be my mama?"

Pressing a kiss to his son's forehead, Ryan said, "Yes, she is."

His eyes sparkled. "She's going to be my mama and my teacher?"

Ryan nodded. "Yes."

Pumping his fist like he'd seen his grandfather do, he crowed, "Boo-yaw!"

Kelly doubled over in laughter, unable to stop until tears rolled down her cheeks. Jeremy was right. She was in for a wild ride – one she looked forward to taking over and over again.