Poetry In Motion

© by J. 'Harley' Elmore, 2000 - 2002

See Chapter One for disclaimers


Chapter Eleven, Part 1

Rhian gradually straightened her body up and took a step back from her drafting board. Spread across the surface was the design for Deven's property, and the landscaper quietly contemplated the nearly finished plan. Everything was coming along quite well despite her growing impatience to be finished with the thing. She was enjoying the creativity this project offered, but she'd been working on it for three weeks now, and was eager to present the finished product to Deven.

Slowly rolling her head from side to side, she attempted to ease the muscle strain in her neck and shoulders. Walking over to the desk, she collapsed into her chair, and as her blonde head fell back against the seatback, she allowed her thoughts to wander.

After the site survey, she'd reorganized her schedule to allow for more time to concentrate on this design. While she continued to supervise site surveys and approve all plans, she turned the tedious design development tasks over to her staff. She'd also arranged her appointments so that she could get off work in time to train at the martial arts school at least twice a week.

The private lessons with Deven began the Tuesday after the site survey. She hadn't known they were going to start that night until the martial artist had taken her out of the cardio class and led her to the introductory room.

Realizing they were about to begin training, Rhian had become a nervous bundle of energy. The young woman knew that her coordination was precarious, and she feared she'd make a complete fool of herself. She'd found, however, that Deven was an excellent teacher with a surprisingly patient manner. The martial artist explained each technique in detail, and when she demonstrated what she wanted Rhian to do, she did so slowly and succinctly at first and then with speed and power.

Rhian also learned that Deven was quick to correct mistakes, but did so without being condescending. The landscaper had become frustrated on more then one occasion by the martial artist's perfectionism. It was difficult for her to understand why the minute details Deven seemed to concentrate on were important. But no matter how discouraged or impatient she became, Rhian recognized that Deven was a master at what she was teaching and it was ludicrous for her to question the woman's expertise.

Over the past few weeks of training, Rhian felt she'd absorbed quite a bit of what the martial artist tried to teach her. The first thing she learned was the correct way to stand so that the vital areas of her body weren't easy targets. This stance also put her in a position from which she could strike.

Once she understood the proper way to stand, Deven taught her how to throw a front punch and a back punch without breaking a finger or jamming a wrist, and how to strike using the back of her fist. She'd learned the correct way to deliver a front kick for maximum speed and power, and then how to execute the same kick to push an attacker away. Deven worked with her using weighted punching bags to improve the power of her punches and kicks, and also incorporated into the training the use of various other hand-held pads to improve her aim and timing.

Deven instructed her on how to escape if someone grabbed her by one arm, grabbed her by both wrists, or put her in a headlock. Rhian had taken each of these lessons in stride and was pleased that she could execute the techniques to the martial artist's satisfaction.

The young blonde had no way of knowing that while she was striving to absorb each lesson, the martial artist was undergoing an internal battle of her own. Deven realized that her growing feelings for Rhian were becoming problematic. Outside of the school, they were easier to deal with, as she didn't have to be concerned with protocol or ethical behavior. Plus, outside of the school she didn't have to see Rhian. But inside the classroom, she was concerned that her growing emotional attachment to the younger woman was beginning to interfere with her ability to instruct effectively.

Still, despite both women's concerns, the training had been proceeding well - that is until the prior night. Without warning, the martial artist had come up behind Rhian and grabbed her effectively pinning the smaller woman's arms down. Memories of Mace doing the same thing overwhelmed Rhian, and she froze.

Deven felt Rhian's body grow rigid against her own, and she eased her hold. She didn't release the smaller woman, but held her gently. "What's wrong, Rhian?" she whispered in the woman's ear.

The concern in Deven's voice was apparent to Rhian, and she slowly began to relax in the safety of the taller woman's arms. She bowed her head and spoke softly. "Mace grabbed me so that I couldn't lift my arms. He put one hand over my mouth, and then he somehow pinned my arms down. I couldn't move."

Deven released the upset woman, and stepped around to face her. "I'm sorry. I should have explained to you what I was going to do." The martial artist waited, but Rhian continued to stand quietly with her head bowed. "We don't have to do this, but I think it's important."

Rhian did glance up then, and the emotions of that night were clearly visible on her fine features. Deven was startled by the intensity of fear in the verdant eyes and fought the urge to reach out and pull the distraught woman back into the circle of her embrace. Her feelings towards the landscaper battled with her responsibilities as an instructor.

"I need to do this, Deven. I'm sorry. It's just that when you grabbed me I was suddenly back there. I should be over it by now."

Deven placed a hand on the woman's shoulder in an effort to provide some level of comfort. "Rhian, there is no set time frame for getting over things. You're doing just fine. Listen, let me explain what I want you to do, and then you grab me. I'll show you each step."

She moved to stand next to the blonde so that they were facing the same direction. "The first thing you need to do is understand where your attacker is in relation to your body. You're going to step to the side, but you need to move the leg that will open up your attacker's vital vulnerable points. Okay?" She waited until Rhian responded with a slight nod of her head.

"So, you step to the side. As you do that, you bend your knees which will lower your body, and then bring both your arms straight out in front of your chest - as if you were throwing two punches at the same time. This will loosen your attacker's hold. From this position you can attack. You should use more than one technique. You can hit your attacker in the face with the back of your fist, elbow them in the solar plexus, and of course, use your fist to strike the groin. A good combination is to elbow the solar plexus, smash them in the face, and then pound them in the groin."

Deven turned her back to Rhian. "Okay. Now come up and grab me." Rhian stepped forward and wrapped her arms around the martial artist. For an instant, Deven's mind focused on the feel of Rhian's body pressed against hers. Mentally shaking her head, she reminded herself of where she was and what she was supposed to be doing.

The martial artist performed each move as she'd described it. She repeated the instructions several times while slowly and deliberately executing each technique. "Okay. Now come up and grab me. Don't tell me when you're going to do it, and hold on as tight as you can."

Rhian quickly stepped forward and wrapped her arms around the woman, squeezing with all her might. Deven's motions were so fast that Rhian missed most of them, but the end result was that the martial artist was free and the landscaper would have been in serious hurt if she'd been a real attacker. "You ready?" Deven asked.

Still in awe at how quickly the martial artist had escaped, the younger woman slowly nodded her head while strengthening her resolve. Turning her back to Deven, she waited.

"Let's break down the sequence, and do it step by step a couple of times." Deven stepped forward and wrapped her arms slowly around the smaller woman. Rhian performed each technique in turn with some minor correction from the martial artist. They ran through the sequence three times using slow deliberate movements.

"This time, I want you to pick up the pace. I'm going to grab you a little harder and faster. Okay?" Rhian nodded, and when Deven grabbed her, she performed each move with little hesitation. "Good girl. Now, I'm going to grab you hard, and I'm not going to let you know when I'm coming. If that's a problem, let me know."

Rhian was aware of the anxiety that gripped her stomach, and she attributed it to not wanting to do the sequence wrong. While she waited, her mind drifted back to that night and Mace. Could I have gotten away from him? She mentally replayed those seconds when he'd grabbed and effectively disabled her.

She was so engrossed in her memories that when the martial artist moved forward and seized her, Rhian reacted in pure instinct. She reacted too well. Her elbow struck Deven hard, forcing a gush of air out of the woman's lungs. The back fist struck the martial artist square in the mouth, pushing her lower lip against her teeth.

Deven's reflexes kicked in, and she jumped back before Rhian could strike her in the groin. Running her tongue across her lower lip, she tasted the coppery tang of blood. Damn!

Rhian didn't know whether to face her instructor or just run from the room. She slowly turned and looked up, expecting Deven to be enraged. "I'm so sorry."

"No." The martial artist ran her tongue across her lip again. "That was good." She stood quietly and regarded the horrified woman for several seconds. "Rhian, when you're out there in the real world, that's how you need to react. Then haul your butt as far away as fast as you possibly can. You just did what you're supposed to do. You did good."

Rhian couldn't shake the uncertainty and embarrassment. "I was thinking about Mace right before you grabbed me and wondering if I could have escaped. I overreacted." She slowly shook her head. "Even when you do things full speed you never mistakenly hit me."

"Look at me, Rhian." She waited until the blonde's eyes met hers. "First of all, I've had a lot more practice than you. Second, if thinking of that night inspires you to protect yourself, then make it a tool for survival."

Rhian could detect no anger coming from Deven, and considered the woman's advice. She hadn't thought she could turn this negative into a positive, but perhaps she could. Perhaps, that was what she was doing by learning from the martial artist. She never would have taken these lessons had it not been for that night. "Maybe you're right."

"Of course I am. Now, I think I've earned some ice cream. Care to join me?"

Rhian smiled shyly. "Sure. But my treat."

Returning the smile, Deven grimaced slightly as the action stretched the cut in her lip. "I was going to insist on that anyway."

After Rhian changed into her street clothes, they walked to the ice cream parlor in amiable silence. Both ordered hot fudge sundaes, and the younger woman was more than willing to pick up the tab. She still felt badly about having hit the martial artist, though she felt better when she considered the woman's reasoning. Using that night as a motivational tool inspired her whereas before it had only left her fearful and sad.

The two women stood on the sidewalk in front of the ice cream parlor and chatted while eating their treats. It wasn't much later that the cardio class ended, and Nicole joined them. She looked at Deven and noticed her slightly swollen lip. "What happened to you?"

The martial artist inclined her head towards Rhian. "I kissed her and she bit me," she said with a straight face.

"I did not!" Rhian blushed at the implication.

Deven laughed heartily at the young woman's reaction. "All right. I didn't kiss her, but she did hit me."

Nicole gaped at her friend. "You did that? Why? Are you nuts?"

Rhian looked at the ground. "It was an accident."

Deven was enjoying herself, and couldn't pass up the opportunity to tease the woman. "Right. Sure it was. You didn't want to hit me at all." She smirked. "I bet you had that stored up for months now just looking for an opportunity to let me have it. Right? Ever since that day at Kelly's I bet. Or maybe it goes all the way back to the first time we met. You saw your opportunity, and you let me have it."

The blonde's eyes widened in surprise. "It was an accident," she mumbled. She looked at the martial artist, and detected the glimmer of amusement in the woman's pale eyes. The sight made her smile.

Deven finished the last of her sundae. "Well, ladies, I must return to work. You both have a wonderful evening. And, Nicole, watch out for her back fist." She winked at Rhian and walked back to the school.

Rhian closed her eyes again as her thoughts drifted back to that evening and how safe Deven had made her feel - at how safe the woman always made her feel. She was finding herself thinking of the martial artist more and more, as if Deven was her personal pick-me-up when the tedium of the day got to be too much.

The more time she spent with the woman, the harder it was to deny that she was attracted on some level. She still avoided thinking too much about what that attraction meant. Instead she attributed it to Deven's bigger-than-life persona in the martial arts school. Every one of the students had a certain level of hero worship for the martial artist. It was difficult not to. She was impressive and commanding and a master technician.

The woman was amazing to watch, and Rhian sometimes stayed after her private lessons so she could observe Deven teach. The martial artist generally only taught the upper belt and black belt students and Rhian quickly learned that those classes were the most interesting and impressive from a spectator's point of view. The techniques, forms, and sparring she'd observed were incredible, especially when the tall woman joined in.

Lately Deven had been working on a form she was planning to compete with at an upcoming tournament. The intensity and focus the woman had was amazing to the landscaper, and she wished she could borrow some of it once in a while since her own focus tended to drift. Like now.

Rhian stood and walked back over to her drafting board. Looking down at the drawing, she smiled. The design was emerging better than she had initially thought. It wasn't going to be inexpensive, but there were ways she could lower the costs if need be. After all, Deven had said to treat this as if she was designing for her own yard, and Rhian had. She'd put more of herself into this landscape design than any other design she'd created in the past.

The overall plans were complete, as were the blueprints for placement of plant materials and the building specifications for the stone wall, the terrace in the front yard, the deck, and the steps leading to the lower yard in the back. She knew that all of this work was unrealistic, but it had been fun to create it. If Deven wanted, they had the option of installing parts of the landscape over a period of time instead of all at once. If that was not an option, she could always eliminate parts of the design all together.

All that remained to be done were the color drawings showing how the landscape would look from ground level. The sketches would give the martial artist a better idea of what the landscape would truly look like. The young woman smiled again. She couldn't wait to share this with Deven.

Part 2

Sitting in the lobby of the martial arts school, Rhian waited for Nicole to finish in the cardio class. The blonde had completed another private instruction with Deven a few minutes ago, and she felt that the lesson had gone well. She hadn't panicked or struck the martial artist, so she considered it a successful evening.

Deven had started to teach her some other kicking techniques, including the roundhouse kick and the side kick. Rhian realized that balance was going to be an issue for her, but Deven seemed confident she could learn the movements with a bit of practice.

She watched as Deven exited the woman's locker room and walked across the classroom. The martial artist paused briefly to observe the cardio class, and the younger woman took that opportunity to observe her. The woman possessed a carriage that was self confident and authoritative. When that bearing was coupled with the uniform she wore, Deven was magnificent looking. There was an aura of power that surrounded the martial artist, which seemed to draw people to her like moths to a flame. Rhian knew she was no exception, and wondered at the fact that it was that same power and confidence that had intimidated her months ago.

The martial artist turned and continued her journey towards the lobby. Stopping at the doorway, Deven turned and bowed to the classroom, and then faced the landscaper. She gave Rhian a full smile, and the younger woman felt a warmth start to grow in her chest and radiate outwards to the rest of her torso. I do love that smile.

"You want to come keep me company?" Deven asked while stepping towards her office.

"Sure. I wanted to give you an update on the design." Rhian followed Deven into the office and took the seat opposite her.

"How's it coming along?" Leaning back in her chair, Deven lifted her long legs up, crossed them at the ankles, and set her feet on the corner of the desk surface.

The younger woman was a little surprised at the martial artist's casual attitude. She'd never seen Deven this relaxed before. "I'm pleased to say that it's ninety-five percent complete. The design itself is done. I'm just finishing up on some drawings. It will be done this week, and I was wondering if you were available this weekend. I could bring the design over, and we could discuss it."

Deven's cell phone rang, causing her to frown. Very few people had her cell number. "Excuse me." She looked at the display and saw the call was coming from her sister's house. She would have preferred not to answer, but there was the possibility that something might have happened to Tiernan. With a deep sigh, she dropped her feet to the floor and sat up in the chair before accepting the call. "Yes, Laura?"

Rhian sat quietly while scanning the various plaques and pictures hanging on the walls of the office. She tried not to listen to the conversation, but Deven's overall demeanor had taken on a tension that was hard to miss. Who's Laura? A girlfriend? Past? Present? It's none of your business, Rhian!

"Laura, what do you want me to do?" Deven asked in a weary tone. Her features had become guarded, and she was clinching her jaw so hard, Rhian thought she could hear the woman's teeth grinding. "Give me a break. You talk like the boy can tell the difference."

Rhian could feel waves of emotion undulating from the martial artist. She tried not to stare at Deven, but the intensity of the woman's agitation was difficult to ignore. And so Rhian watched as Deven's pale eyes turned hard and her strong features became rigid from the tension that claimed them.

"Fine! And Laura? Tell Mom she can bite me!" Deven disconnected the call and then sat for a minute or two in silence, just staring at the phone in her hand.

Rhian didn't know if she should just get up and leave. It's a little late for that. You should have left as soon as she answered the call. She waited quietly amid the wrath rolling invisibly off the other woman, and wondered at what could make her so angry.

Deven slowed her breathing and concentrated on pushing the rage back into the dark recesses of her psyche. She hadn't meant to lose it like that in front of Rhian. Her family, especially her mother, had a real affinity for pushing her buttons. It was as if they knew that she couldn't hold her temper with them, and as soon as the anger appeared it justified their abhorrence of her. She slowly looked at the blonde. "Sorry about that."

Rhian waved her hand in the air in a dismissive gesture. "It's okay. Anything I can do to help?"

Deven shook her head. "No, but thank you for asking. It's just the usual family stuff." She reached up and rubbed her neck, feeling the taut muscles below the skins surface. Please, not another headache. "Now, what were we discussing?"

Rhian remained perplexed by the emotions the call had roused in the other woman. She still found Deven to be a conundrum, and that frustrated and fascinated her at the same time. "I was asking if you wanted to meet this weekend about the design."

"I'd like to, but I have to work Saturday and that phone call was to inform me that my presence is required at my sister's on Sunday." The bitterness in Deven's tone was unmistakable.

"Okay." Rhian tried to hide her disappointment, but a touch of it still managed to come through in her voice.

Deven looked at the young woman. I'd so much rather spend time with you. "Maybe we can work something out. I don't have to be to my sister's until around lunchtime. Can you come by Sunday morning?"

Rhian smiled. "Sure. Same time as last time?"

Deven nodded while suppressing a smile of her own. "Perfect. I'll have the coffee waiting."

"You've got a deal." They both looked through the window into the classroom as the cardio class ended. Rhian watched Nicole go into the locker room, and then looked back at the martial artist. "Deven, I know we don't know each other well. I just want to say that I do consider you a friend, and if there's anything I can do to help, let me know. I mean, I'm a pretty good listener."

The martial artist felt dazed. Not knowing where to focus her eyes, her vision shifted to the classroom, to the desktop and finally to her hands as she sought to still the turmoil this woman seemed to stir within her. She couldn't remember anyone ever saying anything like that to her before. Her defensive nature surged forth, screaming not to trust this young woman, but her heart refused to accept that. Rhian had never shown her anything but open honesty.

Looking up, she studied the younger woman's face before her gaze settled on Rhian's eyes. They looked back at her with a gentleness that was somewhat disconcerting. "Thank you. I'll keep that in mind." Rhian graced her with a sweet smile, and Deven felt her heart beat harder in her chest. What am I going to do? Every time I spend any time with this woman, I get in deeper. This is a bad situation, and I can't seem to put an end to it.

The blonde watched the emotions move like shadows across Deven's face. It was easy to believe that this woman felt little. That she was the apathetic and controlling bitch Rhian had met at the Pit. But as time passed, Rhian was realizing that Deven was a highly complex individual emotionally.

Her thoughts were broken as Nicole tapped on the doorframe. "You ready to go?"

Rhian looked up at her friend. "Yes." She turned back to Deven and watched as the martial artist's countenance returned to its usual impassive expression. "I'll see you Sunday."

Deven nodded. "Sunday it is. Drive safely, ladies." Sitting quietly, she watched the women go and then turned her attention to the class of students performing warm up exercises. She rose from her chair and walked to the classroom. Somehow Rhian played havoc with her ability to focus. It wasn't anything the woman did consciously. It just was something that happened whenever the younger woman was around or when Deven's thoughts dwelled on her.

Deven felt the need to get that focus back. I could sure use a few good rounds of sparring. Her gaze settled on her friend. Ah, Jay. You don't know it yet, but I've decided you need a little sparring practice tonight. She smiled at the prospect.

Part 3

Rhian's eyes were closed, but the rest of her senses were fully awake. She felt the erotic pleasure of flesh on flesh and of full lips pressed to her own. A fire was building in her belly that radiated out to her breasts and groin. She was aware of the growing wetness between her legs, and a moan escaped her only to be swallowed by the mouth covering hers. Then those lips were gone, and a deep rich voice whispered in her ear, "Rhian, open your eyes." She did and found herself looking up into Deven's beautiful face.

Rhian struggled to wake up. Finally clearing the last layer between waking and sleep, she pushed herself to sit up in the bed. She brushed a trembling hand across her face as if she could wipe away the remnants of the dream. "Oh, God," she groaned to the empty room.

Her flesh was warm and tingling. She was more stimulated at that moment then she could remember ever being, and she was terrified by the cause of her arousal. She'd known she was attracted to Deven, but had avidly chosen to ignore what that allure meant. She hadn't wanted to consider the ramifications or depth of her fascination with the other woman.

Hiding from the truth was no longer an option. Her thoughts and feelings were overpowering, and she needed time to sort through them. I don't really want to do this, do I? Figure out what I feel? "Obviously, I excite you," Deven's sultry voice whispered in her head, and Rhian felt caught between the stimulation of her physical being and the chaotic state of her emotions. Given the current state of her body, there was no denying that the martial artist did arouse her, and she believed she could overcome that. It was the emotional aspects of this newfound discovery that truly terrified her.

She wondered if Deven might feel for her. What are you? Stupid? Why would she? She can have anyone she wants. And she has. Visions of Deven's sensual dancing with different women at the Pit sent a jolt of jealousy through her. And me? She felt her throat constrict. I'm nobody. All I manage to do is cause problems for her.

Releasing a groan, Rhian fell back down on the bed. Okay, stop with the pity party! Just relax and think. What else am I feeling? She considered her still aroused body. Besides that! Deven makes me feel safe and cared for. There are times when she shows me a gentleness I don't see her display towards anyone else. Of course, I don't see her interact with everyone, but I have a gut feeling that she doesn't share that gentle side of her nature with just anyone. Covering her face with her hands, she released a long groan. Oh, you're grasping at straws, Rhian!

Lifting a pillow from the bed, she covered her face to muffle the scream she allowed to escape. What is wrong with me? And where is all of this coming from all of the sudden?

Rhian lay quietly for several minutes as her thoughts swirled around in her head. She was still avoiding the most confusing and difficult issue. Why was she attracted to a woman in the first place? She'd never considered the possibility before, but then her whole dating life had revolved around Sean.

She thought back over the years and remembered various friends who had moved into and out of her life. Of course, there was Nicole, but she'd never felt anything other than sisterly love towards her best friend. Okay, so I had a few crushes on girls growing up. Doesn't every girl sometime during adolescence? Isn't that considered normal? She recalled having a crush on her seventh grade English teacher. She hadn't thought about that in years, and the memory now made her uneasy.

The following year, she and Nicole had begun to hang around with a group of eighth grade kids that included her future husband. There had been one girl in the group that Rhian had been very fond of, but she never thought it might have been more than just a normal friendship. Now she wasn't so sure. Now everything about her life seemed suspect.

In high school, she hadn't had a lot of time to hang out with friends. Aside from her studies, most of her spare time had been taken up with working at the garden center or helping to care for Michael. When she did go anywhere, it was usually with Sean or with a group of people.

In college, she'd made several friends who were coincidentally gay. It was something she'd never questioned. In fact, she'd admired their willingness to accept who they were against a society that sought to deny or ridicule them. She now realized how much her friendships had bothered Sean. With a new clarity, she understood that as her group of friends had grown, Sean's controlling and smothering of her had also increased.

Eventually, her circle of friends had declined until it consisted mostly of Sean's friends - none of whom were gay. She'd never thought to question any these things. Had he been homophobic? Or was it just coincidence? Or worse, did he think that I might be leaning that way? How could he?

Rhian stood up and began to slowly pace the room. Because I once mentioned in passing that I thought my roommate was attractive? She remembered he'd pressured her into changing rooms when he found out that her roommate was a lesbian. She'd refused, and so he'd threatened to break up with her. In the end, he'd only backed off when she'd told him to go ahead.

A nervous hand rose up and ran through her hair, causing several strands to stand straight up. Her thoughts turned to her roommate, Melinda. She'd been attracted to Melinda's carefree attitude, and her self-confidence. You were attracted to more than that, Rhian.

Melinda hadn't been modest and thought nothing of walking around the room naked. She could remember sneaking glimpses of Melinda's body, and wondering what her skin felt like. Her roommate had brought several women to their room and openly made out with them as if Rhian hadn't been in the room. And suddenly, she remembered wishing Melinda would kiss her like that. I was a horny eighteen-year-old virgin, for crying out loud. Gees!

She sat back down on the bed, and wrapped her arms around her knees. "Have I been lying to myself all these years? Did I marry Sean so I wouldn't have to deal with this?" Her eyes filled with unshed tears. "It doesn't matter! What if I am gay? So what? I'm not looking for someone be it man or woman, to come into my life and sweep me away. That shit just doesn't happen. I have a daughter to care for and a business to run. And it sure as hell is a little late to start experimenting."

She lay back down and stared at the dark ceiling. Visions of Deven swam before her eyes, and tears blurred the images. Who am I kidding? A part of me is in love with Deven Masterson. She'd felt something for the woman from the moment her eyes settled on the dark stranger at the Pit, and she'd retreated as fast as she could because deep down inside she knew the truth. The night they danced she'd run away from Deven to avoid the growing desire she felt for the martial artist.

She was in way over her head what with falling for a woman for the first time and then having that woman be Deven. Deven's a player. She has women fawning all over her. Women who are so much more worldly and experienced than I am. What could she ever possibly see in me? Nothing! So knock off this adolescent self-pitying, and grow up!

The tears flowed unchecked, and Rhian hugged her pillow to her chest. Tomorrow morning she would be going to Deven's home, and that prospect no longer held any joy for her.

Part 4

The following morning Rhian had a small dilemma. She'd forgotten that her parents were going to a friend's home for brunch and wouldn't be able to watch Seana. Part of her was relieved though, because she now had an excuse to back out of her appointment with Deven. She'd picked up the phone and called to cancel, but to her astonishment, Deven invited Rhian to bring the child along.

Now as she was driving to their meeting, she contemplated that having Seana with her wasn't a bad thing. It would certainly keep her mind off her feelings for the other woman and on her priorities. "Listen, baby girl. I need you to be on your best behavior, okay?"


"This isn't play time. It's business."

"Where we going?" Seana asked.

"We're going to Deven Masterson's house. She's a client of mine and also my teacher. She's teaching me how to protect myself. She's kind of scary because she's so tall, but she's really nice. And her eyes are the color of the sky. She's really beautiful and strong." Rhian realized she was rambling and had lost her daughter's attention. "Anyway, kiddo, be good for Mama and I'll take you out to lunch afterwards."

The mention of going out to eat caught the child's attention. "I be good."

Rhian smiled at her daughter. "Thank you."

Deven paced the kitchen floor as she waited for the landscaper. She didn't understand how it was that Rhian stirred up so much in her without any effort whatsoever. No one in her entire life had managed to make her feel so much, and she wondered at how it was possible.

She was nervous about meeting Rhian's kid. What if she doesn't like me? What if I do something stupid and scare the crap out of her? Why am I even worried about that? I'm not entering into anything with this woman. No way. I train her. She landscapes my yard. We have friendly little conversations once in awhile. That's it.

The sound of the doorbell brought her up short. She slowly walked to the door while rubbing her damp palms on the seat of her denim shorts. You're pathetic, Masterson. She reached out, choosing to ignore the tiny voice in her head that whispered to pretend she wasn't home, and opened the door.

Rhian immediately took in the fact that the shorts and tee shirt the martial artist wore showed off a great deal of the woman's skin. Her eyes were drawn to the tall woman's powerful legs. Sighing, she shifted her attention to her daughter. She ushered Seana in through the front door and urged the child forward down the hallway.

Deven sensed that something was bothering the woman. It wasn't anything really tangible, but more an intuitiveness that the younger woman wasn't feeling herself today. She appeared remote and somewhat nervous.

Once in the kitchen, Rhian set her portfolio down on the counter and turned to Deven. "This is my daughter, Seana." She then addressed the child. "Seana, this is Deven. Say hello."

The little girl looked up at the tall woman and smiled. Deven noted that the child's nose crinkled just like Rhian's sometimes did when she wasn't quite certain about something. "Hello, Deben."

The landscaper quickly corrected the child. "No, honey. Her name is Deven with a 'v' not Deben with a 'b'."

The little girl looked at her mother and a small scowl covered her fine features. "That's what I said, Mama. Deben."

Deven chuckled at the child's indignant response. Rhian smiled as she looked sheepishly at the other woman, and apologized. "Sorry. She hasn't quite grasped the difference yet."

"That's quite all right." Deven reached out and gently shook the little girl's hand. "It's nice to meet you, Seana." The small child had to lean her head so far back to look up into the martial artist's face that Deven feared for a moment that she might actually fall over backwards.

"Nice to meet you," the little girl echoed.

Deven turned her attention to the other woman. "I have the coffee as promised. What can I get Seana?"

"What kind of juice do you have?"

"Ah, well, let's see. I have apple and orange."

"Apple in a small, unbreakable cup, if you don't mind." Rhian began removing her artwork from the portfolio.

Deven felt the strain coming from the landscaper. She poured some juice into a small plastic cup and handed it to Rhian. "If this is a bad time, we can reschedule."

The landscaper paused. "No, I'm...I'm sorry. Just a little on edge today."

"Would you like some coffee?" Deven asked. Rhian gave her a nod as she coaxed Seana to sit at the table in the sunroom before handing her the cup of juice. Deven filled a mug of the flavored brew and doctored it the way she remembered Rhian liked it. "As I recall, you're not a purist," she said as she handed Rhian the mug. She was pleased that the comment got a small smile from the blonde.

Deven fought the compulsion to give the woman a hug. She considered that it might not be appreciated. The martial artist believed herself not to be the huggy type anyway. Except when it comes to Rhian. Then it seems to a preoccupation with you. "What do you have for me?" she asked.

The landscaper took a deep breath and expelled it slowly. "You told me to consider this as if I was landscaping my own yard. Well, I did. I may have gone overboard, but I'll tell you, this is the most fun I've had designing in a long time."

Deven smiled at her. "Okay, I've been warned."

Rhian uncovered the complete landscape design and set it down on the breakfast bar. Deven examined the intricate detail slowly, taking a moment to get her bearings. She made out the house and driveway as well as the fence line and pool. She didn't recognize anything else.

What Rhian had created astounded her. Before her lay a pictorial representation of a new living environment, and she found the intricate detail of the design fascinating. Looking closely at the plan, she explored each section of the design in turn, marveling at the beauty of each part. Her gaze settled on what appeared to be a deck. Rhian had gone so far as to draw small boards on the design in a herringbone pattern. The artistry awed her. This was the most remarkable thing she could ever remember seeing.

"Rhian, this is incredible." Deven looked at the younger woman with new respect. "I mean it. I've never seen anything like this."

The landscaper beamed. "Let me show you what I've done for you." She provided a general explanation of each element of the design for both the front and back yards. While she explained the beds, she showed Deven the color sketches she'd created representing what the ground level view would be. She did the same with the stone wall, the terrace, the deck, and the steps on the back slope. "Why don't we take a walk around the yard, and I'll show you what I have in mind."

Deven nodded. "Can we take the design with us? I want to put what you've drawn to where it goes."

"Sure." Rhian helped Seana off the chair and quietly addressed the child. "Now you need to be good. This is business so no running off, okay?" The little girl nodded at her mother, and Rhian kissed the child on the tip of the nose. "Good girl."

She rolled up the design, and the threesome walked outside together. She led them to the top of the driveway, unrolled the design enough to reveal the front yard, and turned to face the house. "Okay, I decided to keep the dogwood and mimosa trees you have in your front yard. Both trees have a nice shape and look healthy. What we'll do is create a bed under them and plant variegated hosta and painted ferns. Those plants will add to the natural feel of the landscape and won't deter from the more formal foundation plantings."

She looked at Deven and smiled as she watched the tall woman look from the plan to the yard and back again. Deven pointed to the design. "Is that this part here?" Rhian nodded. "And these two things here are those two trees?" Rhian nodded again. "And this stuff here is the plants you were talking about?"

"You've got it."

"Rhian, I have no idea what those plants look like."

"That's okay. I have some pictures in my briefcase, or you can come by the garden center and I'll take you on a tour. I can show you all the plants that are in the design. In the meantime, the color sketches I showed you may help. We'll review them again after the tour, okay?"

Deven stared at the design again and nodded her head. She was so out of her league here. That Rhian, that anyone, could create all of this amazed her. This wasn't some painting of a landscape. This was a living, dynamic environment, and Deven found her view of the younger woman shifting. Rhian, you are truly an artist.

Rhian handed the design to Deven, who accepted it gingerly. "Here. Why don't you hold on to this? If you have any questions about it, just ask." Taking Seana by the hand, Rhian walked towards the front of the house. "These foundation plantings will have to be redone. The slate walkway is in decent condition, but several stones will have to be leveled." She kicked at an uneven piece of slate with the toe of her boot, a gesture that was mimicked by her daughter.

"Lebel this, Mama."

"Yes, baby, I'll level it." Turning her attention back to Deven she continued with her plan. "While I have someone fix the walk, we'll dig up these plants and throw them away. I'll have some new soil brought in to raise the bed level back up even with the walk. This part of the yard is semi shaded so standard foundation plantings such as Japanese holly, yews and azaleas will work well. You'll have a nice evergreen background and good color in the spring when the azaleas are in bloom."

Deven smiled. "You've sold me."

Rhian laughed. "We've just begun." She walked towards the left of the stoop, followed closely by both Seana and Deven. "Your yard drops sharply here. What I propose is a series of retaining walls to create a terraced effect. I've included a set of steps in the proposal that will allow for easier access to the lower yard. Right now, if it rains you risk falling on your butt walking down this hill."

Deven had never even noticed the slope. She looked at the design again. "I don't see anything here for that side of the house."

"I didn't put anything in. If you want we can look at some perennials, but to be honest, that side of the yard is too shady to do much with. Plus, it isn't a high traffic area. Not like the other side." She turned and walked towards the opposite side of the house. She was beginning to feel a little like the Pied Piper with Seana and Deven trailing after her.

When she reached the far side of the driveway, she paused. "We'll dump and stage materials here. It'll take up some of your driveway, but won't block your garage too much. I'll try to schedule things so we don't overwhelm you."

"I appreciate that." She looked at the younger woman, and felt that stirring of her emotions again. You have no idea, do you? You do overwhelm me.

"We'll move all materials and equipment down this side of the house because it's more accessible to the driveway and the gate is wider here." She paused and smiled. "I'm really excited about all the possibilities for your backyard."

The threesome walked along the side of the house, through the gate into the expansive backyard. "The biggest challenge back here is this slope, but it also affords some interesting opportunities." She walked down the slope to the lawn below. Turning, she bumped into Deven, who'd been following closely while looking at the design, and hadn't noticed when Rhian stopped.

Deven grinned sheepishly. "Um, sorry. I was...I wasn't paying attention."

"That's okay." Without thought, she gently patted Deven's side leaving her hand to rest on the curve of the woman's waist. She could feel the heat of Deven's flesh through the thin cotton shirt, and memories of dancing with this woman filled her head. Realizing she was still touching the woman, she dropped her hand and turned her attention back to the yard.

"I've envisioned a low stone wall along the bottom of the hill. It will help curtail erosion and add an accent to the expanse of lawn. The wall will run all the way along this end of the yard. So, we're talking at least 100 feet long and a foot tall. It will frame the hillside and define a break between the lawn and the slope. It will also provide a nice backdrop for the pool."

She pointed to the wall on the design and then to the crops of trees on the slope. "We'll leave the trees that are growing there unless they look unhealthy or weak. You have a nice variety of species for fall color. We'll clear out the grass around them. Then we can install different varieties of viburnams on the ends, some azaleas towards the middle, and flowering almonds in the center. That will give you good seasonal color.

I'd like to include a groundcover like periwinkle, or if you would prefer, we could go with a juniper. I've incorporated some steps built into the hillside from the upper level of the yard down to the lower level. It will make it easier to get up and down the slope."

Deven was on overload. To further complicate things, her mind drifted from the design to the place where Rhian had touched her. Pulling her focus back to the landscaping, she remembered the color sketch Rhian had shown her of the hillside and how everything would look. The sketch showed part of the wall, the steps, and some of the plants. Most impressive, she recalled, were that the colors were extraordinary.

Seana tapped her mother's leg. "What's that?"

Rhian looked to where Seana was pointing. "That's a swimming pool. You can't tell that really because it's covered right now."

Leaning against her mother's leg, Seana stared longingly at the covered pool. "Mama, can we go swim?"

Rhian gently caressed her daughter's head. "No, honey."

The child stuck her lower lip out, causing Deven to laugh. Seana's pout turned to a scowl, and Deven laughed harder. She turned to Rhian, who bore a look of confusion. "Sorry. She's just very cute when she does that. Did she learn it from you?"

Rhian laughed as well. "I'm not a pouter, and I have no idea where that scowl comes from." She looked at Deven thoughtfully. "It looks more like something you'd do," she chided good-naturedly before turning and walking towards the wooded edge at the back of the lawn. She waited for Deven to catch up. "These azaleas and rhododendrons are beyond saving. We'll dig them up and replace them. Of course, every bed in the front and back will have an edge put on and be mulched in."

"Put an edge on?"

Rhian laughed at Deven's bewildered look. "I'm sorry, Deven. 'Putting an edge on' means we define where the bed is from the lawn. We can do that one of two ways. We can just dig down a couple of inches to define a temporary border, or we can install black plastic edging which creates a more permanent boundary."

Deven nodded her head. "I think I understand."

"Do you have any questions?"

"Not yet, but give me a chance to take all this in."

"Do you want to stop now?"

Deven shook her head. "No. It's just that...I'm a little overwhelmed. I don't know anything about landscaping. You could be telling me anything right now, and I'd just have to nod my head." She saw the look of disappointment on Rhian's face. "It isn't you. It's me. What you've done on this paper and the vision you have are incredible. I can't even begin to imagine how you do this."

"Are you sure?"

"Definitely. So keep going, okay?"

Rhian nodded. "Now for the big one."

Deven smiled at the landscaper. "Okay. Hit me."

"I see a deck running along the outside of the sunroom." She reached over and pointed to the structure on the design. "We'd have to remove the stairs that are there now and add a new set in the middle. That would provide equal access to most of the yard including the hot tub and the pool."

Deven looked around her property, trying to visualize all the things that Rhian had described. Her mind settled on her one frame of reference - Kelly's yard. Remembering how the landscaping looked at her friend's home, she was able to understand some of the concepts and ideas Rhian was referring to. "Okay." She nodded her head slightly. "Now what?"

"Now we go back inside and break this all down." Rhian called to her daughter, and the three made their way to the house. Once back in the kitchen, Rhian set Seana up on a chair at the table in the sunroom. She gave the child a few blank pieces of paper and some colored pencils to play with while the adults conducted their business. She then picked up her briefcase and extracted several documents.

Deven noticed some other plans that Rhian hadn't discussed. She wanted to see everything this woman had created. She'd never considered how much talent went into landscaping, but now her view of Rhian had grown substantially. Kelly was right. Rhian is truly a landscaping genius. The designs and sketches had all been done by hand, and what had been created had all come out of her head. "What are those?" she asked while pointing to the other designs.

"Those are the blueprints on how all of this will be done." Rhian pulled over the diagrams and presented them to the martial artist.

Deven reviewed the blueprints for a moment then stepped back and viewed each of the designs and sketches in turn. How could someone create all this? Where would the vision come from? She glanced at Rhian, who seemed to be expecting something from her. "These are good. Really good."

Rhian fought not to smile but lost the battle. "I'm glad you like them."

Seana looked at her mother and then at Deven. "Mama is good."

"Yes, she is," Deven agreed. She noted Seana had her mother's hair and fine features. Her eyes were hazel, and the martial artist wondered if those were a legacy of her father. Why does the thought of the child's father bother me so much? Because, I don't want to even think about someone else touching her. Of anyone else bringing her pleasure. Hold up there, Deven. Since when have you gotten possessive about someone? She turned her attention away from that foreign concept and back to the landscaper. "So what now?"

"Now we talk price. Look, Deven, I designed this without price being a constraint. That was unrealistic, but like I said before, it was fun. So, now we look at ways of cutting back the scale." Rhian looked at the designs, and then back at the martial artist. "That's if you want to go forward with any of this."

"Rhian, I do want to go forward. Let's get the business part out of the way so I can go back to admiring these works of art."

The younger woman blushed slightly. She'd never expected Deven would really appreciate what she'd done. That she did made Rhian almost giddy with happiness, and for the time being, she forgot the internal conflict over her feelings for the woman. "All right. We'll take each project separately and see what to keep and what to discard."

They spent the next hour going over the plan in detail, with only a few minor interruptions from Seana. When they'd finished, they'd agreed to do each project, but to spread the jobs out. In the end, they decided that the plantings in the front, including the terrace and the plantings on the slope in the back yard would be installed first. The deck and steps on the back slope would go next. The stone wall would be installed last.

Rhian was amazed when Deven presented her with a check for the full amount for the first part of the installation. It was a sizable sum, but Deven wrote the check without hesitation.

Glancing at her watch, the martial artist noted that it was time for her to get ready to go see Tiernan. Rhian noticed the action. "We should get out of your way."

"Rhian, you aren't in my way. I just need to change, and then I'm having lunch with Tiernan."

"Who's Tiernan?" Seana piped in.

Deven glanced at Rhian and then turned to address the child. "Tiernan is my son."

"Can I play with him?" she asked hopefully.

Rhian began gathering the paperwork together and putting it in her briefcase. "No, honey. Tiernan isn't here."

"Can we go see him?"

"Seana, we need to go so Deven can do what she has to do."

"But I want to play with Tiernan. Please, Mama?"

Deven watched the exchange. She didn't want their time together to end just yet, and before her brain became engaged with her mouth, she started speaking. "Why don't you come with me?"

Rhian continued to gather up her things. "Oh, Deven. That's nice of you, but."

"Yes, Mama. We go with Deben so I can play with Tiernan."

Before Rhian could object further, Deven concluded the conversation. "Okay, then. I need to go change, and then we'll go pick up my son." She turned and walked out of the room before the landscaper could say anything further.

Rhian stood at the breakfast bar trying to sort out her feelings. A part of her was pleased to be spending more time with the woman, but at the same time, it made her nervous. Now that she had accepted her feelings for Deven, she found it harder to keep them in check. She didn't know how to handle the situation other than to extricate her self from it. Somehow that option seemed too painful to contemplate. She wasn't like those people who could take their feelings and hide them away - she tended to carry her emotions in plain view. How am I going to keep what I feel hidden from her?

Deven walked into her bedroom and began changing her clothes. She put on khaki shorts and a navy blue sleeveless polo shirt. Why did I just do that? What did I invite her to come along? She'd never taken anyone to meet Tiernan. She'd never invited anyone into her private life before, and to now be doing so was very unsettling. Yet she couldn't seem to stop it.

This is getting out of hand. Deven wasn't sure how to stop it other than to cut Rhian completely out of her life. She could do that, but the pain that seemed to accompany the idea of Rhian not being a part of her life, any part of her life, was undeniable. Her feelings for the woman had continued to grow steadily, and Rhian had become a regular topic in her meetings with Sarah Martin as the young woman dominated Deven's thoughts.

Sarah seemed to alternate between finding amusement in Deven's naivete about her emotions and admonishing her for her narrow vision. Deven knew the doctor was getting frustrated at reminding her over and over that Rhian did not need to be her lover to be in her life. She could hear Sarah's voice in her head. "Stop trying to control the relationship, Deven, and allow it to grow of its own accord."

Deven no longer even tried to deny that she wanted to control the situation, and finding that she couldn't was startling and difficult. She railed against the notion of not having control, only to find she was in a fight she couldn't win. If she was totally honest with herself, it was a fight a part of her didn't really want to win. She was struggling to stop fighting the notion and just let it be. No matter how hard she tried to deny it, Rhian had become an important part of her life. Unfortunately, the young woman had no idea what her impact was on the martial artist and would quite possible never know.

Deven combed her hair and braided it quickly. Now, I'm taking her to meet my son. Taking her to meet one of my bigger mistakes. She studied her image in the mirror. This could end everything right here. She's going to be getting a glimpse into the screw-up you really are. The past isn't going to go away no matter what you do, and the sooner she knows about it the better. So, if she wants nothing more to do with you after today, are you all right with that? "No. I'm not all right with that, but I'll get through it somehow."

The thought of Rhian rejecting her caused her heart to beat rapidly. Closing her eyes, she willed her heart rate down and slowed her breathing. Opening her eyes again, she stared at her reflection. "When did I start falling in love with her? More importantly, how to I fall out of love?"

Shaking her head, she concentrated on getting ready. On the good side she mused, her mother and sister would have to be on their best behavior in front of Rhian. So there was a plus to taking Rhian and Seana, but was it enough to outweigh the potential of losing the woman all together?

Dr. Martin was always reminding her that changing the past was not a possibility. That Deven had to deal with the here and now and move forward. Time to deal with the here and now and see if moving forward is an option. She squared her shoulders and left the room, willing good fortune to be with her for a change.

To Be Continued In Chapter Twelve

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