The Long Hot Summer (Chapter Seven)

Sean sat on the padded bench at the foot of his father's bed, watching Ryan loop the length of a dark brown tie into a knot under the collar of a white shirt. "Do I have to sleep at Grandpa's tonight?"

Ryan caught his son's reflection in the mirror over a triple dresser. He tightened the tie, then turned to stare at Sean. "Yes, Sean."

The young boy stuck out his lower lip. "But, Daddy," he wailed.

"No whining, Sean. What is it you want?"

"I want to sleep over with Travis and Trent. They are having a Spider-Man party tonight."

"They may be having a party, but were you invited?"

"Yes, Daddy. They invited everybody from school. Even Miss Kelly."

Ryan studied his son's deeply tanned face and smiled. Sean had talked nonstop about what he did with Miss Kelly and the other kids at school during the time Ryan was in Richmond. He said he could read a lot of words, could count up to one hundred and match shapes and colors.

"Go get your sleeping bag while I call Miss Millie."

Sean jumped off the bench and raced out of the bedroom. Ryan picked up the telephone and dialed the number to the twins' house. Millicent Smith answered the call after the first ring.

"Hi, Millie. This is Ryan. I'm calling about the Spider-Man sleep over at your place tonight."

"Doc, I really need to have my head examined for agreeing to this," Millie drawled.

He smiled. "So, it's on?"

"Yeah. Drop Sean off at the dining hall and we'll bring him back with us."

"What time do you want me to pick him up in the morning?"

"Don't bother to pick him up. The kids don't have school tomorrow, and if the hot weather holds we'll probably hang out at the pool most of the day."

"You know if he gets to be too much for you just bring him back to Sheldon."

"Dr. Blackstone, you have the most well-behaved child on the farm. If my boys were half as good as Sean I'd consider myself blessed."

Ryan wanted to tell Millie that she was blessed. She had two bright, healthy sons. A parent couldn't ask for more than that. "They're boys, Millie."

"That's what Jim says. Thanks for letting Sean come."

"No problem, Millie."

"Bye, Doc."

Ryan rang off, then picked up the jacket to his suit, slipping his arms into the sleeves. He walked out of his bedroom and into Sean's across the hall. The boy was busy putting out changes of clothes on his bed. He watched as Sean took out socks, briefs, T-shirts and shorts.

Sean glanced up at his father. "Is that enough?"

Nodding, Ryan smiled. "Yes."

Sean picked up a backpack and put the clothes inside. After zipping the colorful bag, he hoisted it over one shoulder, then picked up a small duffel bag containing his sleeping bag.

"Are you ready, Champ?"

The little boy puffed out his narrow chest. "Yes, Daddy."

Ryan had taught Sean independence early. He had learned to select the clothes he would wear for the next day, laying them out the night before. He had to keep his room clean by picking up his toys and books. He knew he had to brush his teeth twice a day, wash his hands before and after meals, and say his prayers before he went to sleep.

Ryan cupped the back of his son's head, leading him down the staircase and out of the house. "I'm going to drop you off at Grandpa's."

Sean looked up at Ryan. "You're not going to eat with us?"

"No, Sean. I'm going out to eat."

"Who you eating with, Daddy?"

"Miss Kelly." He'd never lied to his son, and he did not want to begin now.

"She's pretty, Daddy. She's pretty like a princess."

"You're right about that, son."

"You like her, Daddy?"

"Yes, Sean, I like her."

"I like her, too. Isn't it good we both like her?"

"Yes it is."

Ryan wanted to tell Sean that what he felt for Kelly went beyond a simple liking. What he wanted was to see her – every day. He wanted to hold her close and feel her feminine heat, inhale her feminine fragrance. He wanted that and so much more.

He led Sean up the steps of the porch to the house where he'd grown up. The inner door stood open, as it did every day until Sheldon closed it to retire for the night. He held the screen door open for Sean.

"Grandpa!" Sean's strident voice echoed in the large living room.

Sheldon came from the direction of his study. It once had been called the family room. A network of lines fanned out around his eyes. He saw Sean's backpack and sleeping bag.

"Where are you going tonight?"

"I'm going to eat with you, then I'm sleeping over with Travis and Trent. We are going to have a Spider-Man party."

Sheldon's head came up and he stared at Ryan, who nodded. "Good for you."

Sean turned and stared at his father. "But Daddy's eating with Miss Kelly."

Sheldon angled his head, grinning. "Boo-yaw!"

"Boo-yaw to you, too," Ryan mumbled, while trying not to laugh. "I'll see you guys tomorrow."

"Have fun," Sheldon called out.

"Yeah, Daddy. Have fun with Miss Kelly."

Ryan walked out his father's house head high, and his step lighter than it had been in years. And it had been years since he really looked forward to sharing time with a woman, especially one as sexy as Kelly Andrews.

The week had passed quickly for Kelly and her students. They'd frolicked and splashed in the in-ground kiddie pool before they were served a picnic lunch under a large tent. Everyone napped, then swam again. When the parents came to pick up their sons and daughters later that afternoon all remarked how tanned and healthy they looked.

On Thursday Heather brought a kitten to school to show off her new pet. Miss Buttons had caused a stir when she jumped on the table to press her tiny nose against the fish tank. Kelly had to issue her first mandate: no pets in school.

It was now late Friday afternoon and she lay in the bathtub, eyes closed, and her hair wrapped in a silk scarf. A soft sponge pillow cradled her head. She had just completed her first full week teaching, and had almost forgotten how much energy it took to keep up with preschoolers. The only time they were still and quiet was at naptime.

The doorbell rang and she jumped, opening her eyes. "He can't be here!" she gasped. Ryan had called her earlier that afternoon to inform her he would come by to pick her up at six. Rising quickly, she stepped out of the tub, splashing water onto the tiled floor. She reached for a bath sheet, wrapped it around her wet body, and walked out of the bathroom.

She hadn't taken half a dozen steps when she saw him. Kelly sucked in her breath. Ryan stood in the middle of her parlor, dressed in an ecru-colored suit that made him look like a GQ cover model. His black hair was neatly brushed off his forehead and his deeply tanned gold-brown skin radiated good health. But it was his eyes – a smoky-gray that pulled her in and refused to let her go.

"Did you know that you left your door open?"

Her eyelids fluttered as she shook her head. She couldn't remember whether she had closed or locked the door. "I must be slipping. That never would've happened back in New York. By the way, what are you doing here so early?" Her voice had dropped to a whisper.

"I told you I'd be here at six."

"But…but it's not six."

Extending his left arm, the face on his timepiece showed beneath the starched cuff of his stark-white shirt. The hands indicated that it was exactly six o'clock.

Clutching the towel over her breasts, Kelly wrinkled her nose. "I'm sorry, Ryan. I must have lost track of time." She backpedaled, unable to believe she had fallen asleep in the bathtub. "Please excuse me while I put some clothes on."

A mysterious smiled curved Ryan's mouth. "Please…don't," he said in a quiet voice. "I happen to like what you're wearing."

Kelly stared at him. "I'm not wearing anything."

His eyes widened until she saw their sooty centers. "Exactly."

Her heart pounded an erratic rhythm as she turned on her heel and rushed into her bedroom, slamming the door behind her. The clothes she had selected to wear lay across the bed.

Trying not to think of the man waiting in her parlor, she patted her body dry, moisturized her skin with a perfumed cream, dotted a matching scent at her pulse points, then slipped into her underwear and dress. It took another fifteen minutes to apply a powdered bronzer to the face, feather her eyebrows, apply a coat of mascara to her lashes and outline her mouth with a shimmering red lipstick.

She removed the scarf and pins holding her hairdo. Lowering her head, she brushed her hair forward off the nape of her neck and flipped it back until it settled into layered precision around her face and neck. Taking one last glance at her reflection in the mirror on the door inside the armoire, she slipped into her heels and picked up her evening purse. She walked into the parlor to find Ryan standing where she had left him.

It had taken only three days away from Kelly – only seventy-two hours for Ryan to realize how much he'd missed her. He knew nothing about her other than what he saw, but that was enough for him want her with an emotion that bordered on craving.

There was so much he wanted to share with her, yet he knew it was too soon in their relationship to make his desires known. He wasn't a boy, hadn't been one in twenty years, yet his need to share her bed exceeded any he had ever known in his life.

He watched her move closer, unable to take his gaze off her face and slender body that was showcased in a slim black tank dress. He measured each step she took in a pair of black, three-inch, sling strap sandals.

Moving closer, he placed his hand on her bared back. Peering over her shoulder he went suddenly still. He wasn't certain whether the back of the dress – what there was of it, began or ended just inches below the small of her back.

He grimaced at the same time he gritted his teeth. "Aren't you going to need a shawl or something for your shoulders?"

A smile trembled over her lips. "Nope.

"It might get cold."

She cut her eyes at him. "The temperature hit ninety today." Curving an arm through his, she smiled sweetly at him. "I'm sorry I made us late. Let's go."

"If any man looks sideways at you he's going to get a serious beat-down," Ryan mumbled under his breath.

Kelly frowned at him. "What did you say about a beat-down?"

"Nothing," he mumbled again, leading her to the door. Taking her keys from her hand, he closed and locked the door. He slipped the keys into the pocket of his trousers.

Ryan caught a glimpse of Kelly's bared back, admiring the silkiness of her dark brown skin. A lighter band of color showed beneath the narrow straps on her velvety shoulders. He smiled. It was obvious she had gone swimming with her students.

He opened the door to a low-slung two-seater black convertible sports car, waiting until Kelly was seated and belted in before he removed his jacket and placed it on the narrow space behind the seats. He sat down, put the key in the ignition, and the engine purred to life. Pressing a button he raised the top, adjusted the flow of cooling air coming through the vents, and pulled away from Kelly's home with a burst of speed.

Resting her head against the leather headrest, Kelly closed her eyes, enjoying the surge of power propelling the car forward. "Where are we going?"

"To an inn in West Virginia."

She opened her eyes and stared at Ryan's profile. "West Virginia?"

"It's not that far. It's a quaint little place in the mountains."

"Mountains as in Appalachian?"

"Yes, ma'am."

Those were the last two words they exchanged until more than an hour later Ryan maneuvered into a parking lot of a hotel and restaurant that had been built into the side of a mountain.

A valet opened the driver side door for Ryan, handing him a ticket while Ryan reached for his jacket, putting it on as he came around to assist Kelly. His right arm curved around her waist and he led her to the entrance of the restaurant.

Kelly felt as if she had stepped back into the nineteenth century when she surveyed the Victorian furnishings. The maitred' directed them to a table in a corner where a quartet of large painted urns provided a modicum of privacy.

Ryan ignored the menu and wine listing on the table; he stared at Kelly's face in the golden glow of flickering candlelight. The nostrils of his aquiline nose flared slightly. "Did I tell you how beautiful you look tonight?" Her lids lowered, the demure gesture enchanting him.

"No." She glanced up, meeting his heated gaze. "But you could've told me that back at the house."

"No, I couldn't, Kelly."

"Why not?"

"Because I don't think we would've left the house."

Unconsciously her brow furrowed. "What are you talking about?"

"I would've asked if you would let me make love to you."

She gasped softly. "Is that what you want to do, Ryan? Make love to me?"

Reaching across the table, he captured her hands. "Yes."

Kelly felt her stomach muscles contract. There was so much passion in the single word that she found it hard to swallow. Her breasts rose and fell heavily, bringing his gaze to linger there.

Could she tell him? Did she dare reveal what lay in her heart? That she also wanted him. Had wanted him the first time he'd held her in his arms after she had fallen off the stepladder.

"I do, too," she admitted in a voice so soft Ryan found it difficult to believe what he was hearing. "However, there is a part of me that says becoming physically involved with you will change me, change everything."

He tightened his grip on her fingers. "How, Kelly?"

"I…I don't want to forget Simeon. And I know once I sleep with you he will no longer exist for me."

"Simeon is your late husband?" She nodded. "Do you still love him?"

She smiled a sad smile. "I'll always love him."

"There's nothing wrong in loving him. But he's gone. And if he loved you as much as you loved him, then I believe he would want you to be happy."

Moisture shimmered in her eyes. "Do you think you can you make me happy, Ryan?"

He made love to her with his eyes. "Only you can make that possible."

Kelly shook her head. "I don't understand."

"Not only do you have to love with your head, but also with your heart. Loving has to be both, not one or the other."

She sniffled, and Ryan reached into a pocket and produced a snow-white handkerchief. Moving his chair closer to hers, he held her chin and dabbed her eyes. Resting his forehead against hers, he kissed the end of her nose.

"You're not the only one hurting, princess. I've been there, too. I fell in love with a girl I'd met in college. After graduating we went our separate ways, then one day out of the blue she called me. I invited her to the farm and she was caught up in the prerace excitement and parties. Blackstone Farms had entered a horse in the Virginia Gold Cup. Miss Fancy Pants was a twenty-to-one long shot, but we still had a lot of faith in her because she had heart. Our horse won, and that night Pop threw a party to end all parties. Caroline and I celebrated in our own special way, and the next day we announced our engagement.

"We had a September wedding, and by December she discovered she was pregnant. That's when everything changed. She became depressed and talked about aborting the baby." Ryan ignored Kelly's audible inhalation. "I was forced to watch her around the clock because I thought she was going to…" His words trailed off.

"Take her own life," Kelly said softly, completing his statement.

He nodded. "She said she hated me and hated living on the farm. She cried that she was being smothered to death and wanted to go back to Los Angeles. Caroline carried to term, but when she went into labor she made me promise to either give her a divorce or she would kill herself. I know I probably could've had her committed, but I agreed on one condition. She could leave, but she could not take my son. I refused to jeopardize his life with a woman who had proven herself to be emotionally unstable.

"I had my lawyer draw up the agreement before she left the hospital. Sean was two months old when she got into her car and drove away. I loved her, Kelly. Loved her enough to let her go so that she could find her happiness."

Kelly laid her head on Ryan's shoulder. "You've had your share of pain."

Curving an arm around her bare shoulder, he pulled her closer. "That's true, but I've learned not to wallow in it. There comes a time for healing."

Kelly knew he was talking about her. She had been wallowing in her pain for two years, accepting it as readily as breathing and sleeping.

"You want me, Ryan, knowing I'm still carrying baggage? Knowing that I'm not ready to offer you what you feel you deserve from a woman?" She sucked in her breath. "I haven't slept with a man in two years, and what I miss most is the intimacy." There was a sob in her voice. "Are you willing to accept me giving you my body without offering my heart?"

Ryan eased back, his gaze meeting her tortured one. He did want her, more than any other woman in his past. "You fascinate me, Kelly," he confessed. "I don't know whether it is your beauty, spunk or your intelligence. And I have no right to demand or expect you to offer me anything. What I will accept is anything you're willing to give me."

Her lids slipped down over her eyes as her lips parted. Ryan angled his head and slanted a kiss on her mouth, silently acknowledging the terms of their agreement. The kiss ended and they exchanged a knowing smile.

Ryan blew out his breath. "I don't know about you, but I could use a drink right about now."

Closing her eyes, Kelly sighed softly. "I could use one, too."