The Long Hot Summer - By Rochelle Alers

Chapter One
"Who the hell are you?"

Startled by the voice below where she stood on a stepladder hanging a colorful border of zoo animals above a corkboard - a booming voice sounding as if it had come from the bowels of the earth - Kelly Andrews lost her balance and fell backward. Her fall was halted as she found herself cushioned against the solid chest of the man who had silently entered the schoolhouse.

A swooshing rush of breath escaped her parted lips at the same time her eyes widened in surprise. Glaring down at her under lowered lids was the man who was her tormentor and rescuer.

There was no doubt he was a Blackstone. The angular, raw-boned face was the same as Sheldon Blackstone's. His eyes were gray, not the silvery sparkling shade of his father's, but a dark gray that reminded Kelly of a wintry sky before a snowstorm.

She wondered which Blackstone son he was - Jeremy the DEA agent or Ryan the veterinarian. Whoever he was, the black stubble on his jaw made him look formidable. Her startled gaze settled on his sensual full lower lip, wondering if it ever softened in a spontaneous smile.

Ryan Blackstone's expression mirrored that of the woman in his arms: shock. He'd just returned to Virginia and Blackstone Farms from the Tuskegee University of Veterinary Medicine where he'd taught several courses as a visiting professor for two semesters.

Minutes after he'd parked his car in the garage near the main house he had noted the sly grins and muted whispers from long-time employees, but chose to ignore them because he had been anxious to reunite with his father. His four-year-old son had spent the drive from Alabama to Virginia chattering incessantly about returning to the horse farm and seeing Grandpa.

Sheldon had warmly welcomed his son and grandson home, then told Ryan that he wanted him to meet the teacher for the new child care center, at the same time extolling the woman's credentials and experience. This news pleased Ryan because now the young children who lived at Blackstone Farms would have a structured daily environment. For years they had become free spirits, wood sprites with the horse farm's property as their backyard. They ran barefoot in the grass, climbed trees, swam in one of the two in-ground pools and raced in and out of the dining hall several times a day for snacks. Establishing the Blackstone Day School was an ideal situation, but only if the woman in his arms wasn't its new teacher.

Kelly placed a palm on his chest, pushing against solid muscle. "Please, put me down, Mr. Blackstone."

The sound of her husky voice jolted Ryan. The soft, perfumed body pressed against his was so pleasurable that he'd almost forgotten how good it felt to hold a woman - especially one who was certain not to share his bed.

Dark gray eyes narrowed slightly under raven eyebrows. He held his breath before letting it out slowly. "Who's asking?" He had tightened his grip under her knees.

"Kelly Andrews, Blackstone Farms Day School's new teacher. And I hope you don't make it a habit of using profanity around children."

Ryan glared at Kelly. Who did she think she was? "What did you say?"

"Mr. Blackstone, if you're hearing impaired I can sign for you. I'm certified in American Sign Language as well as certified to teach nursery through sixth grade. Now, I'm going to ask you again to put me down or I'll be forced to show you what other certifications I have."

Ryan decided he liked holding Kelly. He liked the husky timbre of her voice and the way her curvy body melded with his; he also liked the smell of her hair and skin.

"Are you warning me that you're trained in martial arts?"

Smiling, Kelly admired the masculine face inches from her own. Slanting cheekbones, a strong nose with slightly flaring nostrils, and a square-cut chin made for an arresting visage. His eyes were beautiful. They were a striking contrast to his brown skin.

Slowly, as if in a trance, Ryan lowered Kelly until her sandaled feet touched the newly installed oak flooring.

So, he thought, she was the one everyone had been whispering about. She was the teacher who would assume the responsibility for socializing the farm's young children. Studying her upturned face, Ryan stared down into eyes the color of newly minted pennies with glints of gold. They were framed by long, thick black lashes, which seemed to enhance their vibrancy. Her delicate copper-brown face was exquisite: