© by J. 'Harley' Elmore, 2000 - 2003
See Chapter One for disclaimers
Chapter Nineteen, Part 1
Deven examined her reflection in the mirror. You look like crap, Masterson! The shower had improved her sense of physical well being and though she felt that she'd regained a semblance of control, she still couldn't completely shake the perception of being off balance. Her emotions bordered on fragile and seemed determined to push her to cry again, a notion she fervently rebelled against. Once every fourteen years is more than enough.
She was still weary and yet, somehow energized at the same time. Downstairs Rhian waited for her, and that thought brought a slight smile to her lips while simultaneously sending a tremor of uneasiness down her spine.Meeting her eyes in the mirror, she summoned the willpower to shake off the trepidation. You will not face her like a cowering dog, Deven!
Dressed comfortably in worn cutoffs and a T-shirt, she gave her image one more cursory look, and then lifting her chin and squaring her shoulders, she headed downstairs to join the woman who had already healed her in ways no one ever had. In ways she hadn't known were possible.
She found the younger woman sitting on the love seat in the sunroom and paused for a moment, mesmerized by the serenity of the scene before her. "Hi," she finally said with reluctance at disturbing the tranquility.
Looking up, Rhian smiled as her eyes quickly scanned the tall figure. "Hi there. You look more comfortable." She patted the empty space on the love seat. "Join me?"
Accepting the offer, Deven crossed the room and sat down hoping all the while that her slight nervousness wasn't showing. "Whacha doing?"
"Just enjoying the view and waiting for you." The blonde's gaze returned to the windows and the darkening woods beyond. "It really is beautiful here."
"You should see it at sunrise. There's a short passage of time when everything is waking up and greeting the new day. When Grandfather rises and everything else seems to wake up to greet him."
Confused by the statement, Rhian tore her eyes away from the fading tree line to the dark haired woman."Your grandfather?"
"Well, no." Deven smiled sheepishly. "The sun."
"Ah," Rhian said and then took a minute to digest the idea. "Then the moon is Grandmother?"
"Yes," Deven replied while lifting her sight towards the sky, now painted in streaks of varying shades of pink, indigo and gray. "And then there are Mother Earth and Father Sky. Some people believe that the rain is Father Sky making love to Mother Earth. Sometimes it's passionate and intense. Sometimes it's gentle and slow."
"Wow." Rhian smiled at the concept. "Your grandmother taught you that?"
"Some of it. Some I picked up here and there but mostly it was her." Deven's eyes took on a mischievous glint. "She was an excellent teacher except when it came to my grandfather. He was a real character, and he drove my grandmother nuts. Whenever he got into trouble with her about something, he'd lay on the brogue and try to sweet talk her. If that didn't work, he used to pull her into a dance." She chuckled softly at the memories."He'd sing and dance until she couldn't help but laugh or give in to his charm. Despite how much he drove her crazy, they adored each other."Her eyes tracked a pair of bats as they swept over the yard seeking their evening meal, and she smiled sadly. "I miss them."
Rhian could feel the sorrow behind the words, and reaching out she slipped her hand into Deven's, entwining her fingers with the longer ones. "They sound wonderful."
"They were," Deven replied as she released a long sigh. "I don't think I'll ever understand how those two extraordinary people produced my mother. Well, I best get on with dinner."She started to rise, but Rhian tightened her grip and refused to let go.Turning her head slightly, the martial artist regarded the woman. "Yes?"
"In a minute. I just like sitting here with you."
"Okay." She settled back and smiled when Rhian leaned against her upper arm.Extracting her hand, she lifted her arm and encircled the smaller woman's shoulders, pulling them closer together.
"While I was sitting here waiting for you, I was thinking and wondering," the blonde spoke softly."Have you ever been in love?" she asked.
"No. I've never believed myself capable of it."
"I wonder how many people have actually experienced it in their lives," the landscaper continued."Obviously your grandparents were in love.I've always believed my parents are or at least were when they married. I know they love each other very much. I wonder how many people don't allow it to happen to them because they're afraid. Or who miss it completely because they're looking for something else. Or who can't accept what's offered to them because of the conventions placed on them by others. It just seems that something so beautiful shouldn't be so damning."
Deven wasn't sure how to respond."Rhian, I hope you aren't looking for any answers from me, because I'm the last person to be providing input on this subject."
Pushing back slightly, Rhian studied the woman's profile. Always the artist, she was fascinated by the angularity of Deven's features and how, though they gave her face great strength of character they enhanced her beauty instead of distracting from it. It seemed as much a contradiction as the woman herself. God, she's gorgeous! "Haven't you ever thought about it?"
"No. Falling in love wasn't something that was ever going to happen to me, so what's the point?People like me don't have that option."
"What do you mean people like you?"
"Come on, Rhian. You can't honestly believe that after everything I've done, that I'm entitled to have that in my life."
"Why not?" When the martial artist didn't respond, Rhian shifted to face her."Why...not?"
Deven felt her good humor fading away. "Because I don't deserve it," she answered forcefully."Not now. Not ever."
Aware of the woman's sudden change in mood, Rhian was immediately regretful that she'd caused it and was determined to not let Deven slip into melancholy. "Everyone is entitled to dream. Even you," she said softly. "And if you're having a hard time with that, then I'll do the dreaming for both of us." Her eyes locked on Deven's."You think I'm silly, don't you?"
"No. I just think that you're a little unrealistic."
Rhian grinned. "I see. We're back to your reality versus my reality. Personally, I prefer my reality."
"I'm sure you do, but will your reality stand up to the rest of the world?" the martial artist inquired.
"Sure. Because if anyone questions it, they'll have to deal with me first, and if there is anything left of them, then I'll sic you on them."
Deven chuckled. "You're just too damn cute for your own good."
They sat silently, bodies lightly touching and eyes searching. Both felt the allure and giving into it, Deven dipped her head meeting Rhian's lips in a soft kiss. A kiss intended to impart the feelings she was unable to put into words. The touch was exquisite and she nibbled first one lip then the other before covering them both again with her own. A longing beyond any that she'd known moved through her system, and she fought to suppress it. Now is not the time.Too much happened today, and we don't even know what the ramifications will be.
Breaking the kiss, she rested her forehead against the younger woman's and closed her eyes. She felt the stirring of a something deep inside. It wasn't a bad sensation, she concluded, just one she couldn't quite define. It was almost of as if places within her where only darkness had existed for so long now contained a gentle radiance that sent a warmth through her body seemingly to intensify once it reached her chest.
Pulling back, she waited until Rhian's eyes fluttered open. The look of love bestowed upon her by the other woman was compelling.Damn! I don't deserve this. She cleared her throat. "If I don't go fix dinner now we're going to have a problem on our hands. Well, more like you're going to have a problem because I'm going to make love to you right here." Her voice dropped."Right now."
It took a few seconds for Rhian's brain to register what Deven had said, and while the quiet admission increased the arousal their kiss had begun, she knew she was no where near ready to take that step.
Perceiving the woman's hesitation, Deven rose from the sofa and extended a hand. "Keep me company?"
Rhian took the offered hand and allowed herself to be pulled up to her feet. "Sure. Um, Deven?"
"I'm sorry. I'm just not."
The blonde was clearly embarrassed, and Deven felt an unusual pang of guilt. "It's okay, Rhian. I don't want to rush it either. I mean, I definitely want to be with you, but I don't want you to be uncomfortable with this.I'm not going to force you into doing something you don't really want to do. I just hope that at some point, you'll want to be with me."
"I'm sure I will. In all honesty, there's a part of me that already does." She felt the heat as her skin warmed and begged it to not get any worse."I just need some time."
"Then don't pressure yourself, okay?I can do that for both of us."She smiled to assure the younger woman that she was teasing. "Now, come on.I've got to feed at least one of our appetites."
Rhian smiled shyly at the martial artist, relieved that they'd passed that hurdle.She'd thought a lot about the physical aspects of a relationship with this woman, and as much as she was beginning to seriously consider becoming intimate, she was terrified of the prospect on some levels."I can't wait to see if you know what you're doing."
"You doubt me?" Deven asked in mock indignation. "Well, doubt if you will, but you're in for a treat." With that, she made her way to the kitchen pulling Rhian along with her.While the younger woman watched, Deven set the steaks aside in a marinade. She then retrieved an assortment of vegetables and dried fruits for the salad she was going to prepare. "Can I get you something to drink?"
"I'll do it," the blonde offered. "What do you want?"
"I'll have a Dr. Pepper over ice. They're in the refrigerator.Help yourself to whatever you want."
Rhian retrieved sodas for them both and then resumed her seat at the breakfast bar."Somehow, I wouldn't have pictured you as the domestic type."
Deven laughed."I am most definitely not the domestic type. I'm no chef, but I can find my way around the kitchen. A necessity if one likes to eat and is in training. Eating out all the time gets to be difficult if you're trying to watch what you're consuming and get the right balance of foods." She set the salad aside and then prepared some balsamic vinaigrette to dress it.
"I am impressed, Ms. Masterson."
Grinning, Deven replied, "Then you're easily impressed." Placing the dressing in the refrigerator to chill, she retrieved the steaks."Okay, grill time.How do you like your steak?"
"You got it. While I do this, will you set the table?"
"If you can't find anything, give me a holler," Deven called out as she slipped out the back door.
"No problem."Rhian noticed a couple of potatoes in a bin next to the refrigerator. After scrubbing them, she placed them in the microwave to cook while she went about setting the table.
It didn't take her long to find everything she needed and though she knew could have set them up to eat casually at the breakfast bar, she felt inspired to create something special. After placing the silverware and plates on the table in the sunroom, she went out to the front yard and cut sprigs from various plants to make a centerpiece for the table. The arrangement was simple yet elegant, and she was pleased with the results. Wandering around the ground floor of the house, she found a few candles in the living room and placed those on the table as well. Satisfied with the placement, she finished setting the table, lit the candles and waited.
Rhian looked up from the martial arts magazine she'd been reading as Deven stepped through the door and paused, staring at the table. Suddenly nervous that the woman might not have wanted such a display, she said, "I hope that's okay. I guess I should have asked what you wanted."
Pulling her eyes away from the table, Deven addressed the landscaper. "It's beautiful, Rhian. Thank you." In the background, she could hear the soft strains of music and took it all in appreciatively. What am I doing here?I've never...never what?Dated? Is that what we're doing?How the hell should I know? Or are we beyond dating? What's beyond dating? Oh, for crying out loud. I am so totally hopeless and out of my element here.
Unable to read the dark haired woman's expression, Rhian grew concerned. "Are you feeling okay? You aren't feeling ill again are you?"
"No. I'm fine."Deven shook her head slightly."Listen, I hope you still have an appetite," she said as she held up the plate of cooked steaks.
"Definitely. Those smell fantastic, and I took the liberty of cooking a couple of potatoes in your microwave."
"Good. Shall we?"
With the food on the table, Deven poured them each a glass of chilled wine. She was surprised given what had occurred earlier that she could be hungry, but she found herself ravenous and the women ate in comfortable silence for some time as they each concentrated on filling their bellies.
"This is really good. Thank you, Deven."
"My pleasure.Though I suppose you keep someone hungry for long enough even my cooking would taste good."
"Give it up. It's good and you know it."
Unable to stop herself, Deven smiled fondly at the other woman. "Well, I'm glad you like it." She looked at the table over the rim of her wineglass.This is so totally romantic. "Was he romantic?"
"Your husband. Did he do romantic things for you?"
Rhian looked down at her plate."Not really.Maybe it was that we grew up together or maybe because he wasn't a particularly romantic person. At least, when it came to me."
Deven wasn't certain what to make of that comment, but it pricked something inside, making her almost angry."Did you miss it?"
The dark head nodded.
"When I was younger I suppose I did but life just isn't like that."
"I don't think so," the blonde sighed sadly.
Deven set her glass down and leaned towards the woman. "Then what would you call all this?" Rhian shrugged but didn't reply. "I'd say it's very romantic, and I thank you for it. I don't think I've ever had a romantic dinner in my life." She could see the faint reddening of the landscaper's skin in the low light."Did you love him?"
Rhian paused and considered her answer."Yes. Or rather there was a part of me that loved him once, but I was never in love with him."
"Why did you marry him then?"
"It seemed like the right thing to do."
Placing an elbow on the table, Deven cupped her chin in her hand. "Was it?" she asked.
Rhian looked at the pale eyes watching her intently. "Yes and no.Yes, because I have Seana."Her gaze fell to her wineglass."No because I lost what love I had for him, and I was very unhappy."
"Did he love you?"
Rhian shook her head slightly and Deven watched the candlelight dance across the blonde hair."I guess he thought he did. Maybe at one time he did.I don't really know.I just know that when it came to my marriage, I was a real failure."
Deven reached out and took the woman's hand."No," she said softly.
Rhian looked up at her. "You don't know that."
"I can't believe that you were responsible for what may have gone wrong with your marriage.I'm more inclined to believe it was his failure, not yours."
"I appreciate that, Deven, but you don't know."
"Then tell me."
Rhian looked down at their joined hands. "I will, but not tonight, okay?"
It hurt a little, and the martial artist wasn't sure why."I'll accept that if you promise that you will tell me."
She gave Deven's hand a slight squeeze."I will. I promise."
"Okay. You want some dessert? I just restocked the ice cream."
"Oh heavens, not now."Rhian reached down and patted her stomach."I think I'm going to burst.Thank you for dinner. It was wonderful."
"You're most welcome, my lady.Why don't you go into the living room and pick out something to watch or listen to, and I'll clean up."
"Let me help. It's the least I can do after you fixed dinner."
With their hands still clasped, Deven stood pulling the smaller woman to her feet and into an embrace."Not this time. Go on. I'll be there in a minute."After a gentle hug, Deven released the landscaper and nudged her towards the door.
Reluctantly, Rhian left the kitchen.Once in the living room, she glanced at the hole in the wall before reviewing the martial artist's music and video library, impressed with the diversity it contained.She'd just selected a movie to watch when Deven joined her.Handing the video over, she waited to see what the other woman's reaction would be.
Taking the box, Deven examined the title, and smiled. "The Princess Bride? As you wish." She loaded the video and moved to join the blonde on the sofa.
As the movie progressed, Rhian noticed that Deven was leaning more and more against the end of the couch."Deven? If you're tired, I can go and let you get to bed."
"No!" The reply came out sharper than she'd intended."I'm just relaxed."
"Liar." Rhian moved forward to the edge of the cushion. "Lie down."
Deven wiggled her eyebrows suggestively and smirked.
"Stop it. Lie down on your side."
"Hmm...different. I figured you more for the missionary style."
"You know. You on the bottom, me on the top."
"That isn't what I meant, Deven, and you know it."
The hint of color that darkened Rhian's ears caught Deven's attention, and she leaned closer to the reddened flesh and whispered. "Though I also suspect you have many hidden desires in there that haven't even been tapped yet."
The younger woman sat quietly looking down at her hands. The days fatigue was catching up rapidly and with it, her doubts were rising.I'm so out of my league here. What was I thinking?
Realizing she might have made a blunder, Deven reached out and placed a hand on Rhian's shoulder, almost cringing when the muscles stiffened beneath her fingers. "I'm just teasing you. I'll stop. Here, I'll lie down."Stretching her body out, she settled on her side with her back against the sofa. "Okay?"
Rhian closed her eyes.She'd known that she was being teased and had still been unable to stop herself from overreacting. She was really beginning to feel the impact that this day's emotional strain had placed on her and giving into the impulse, she lay down on her side in front of the martial artist.
Wrapping an arm around the woman's waist, Deven pulled gently bringing the landscaper's back firmly against her own body."I'm sorry.I didn't mean to upset you," she whispered.
Rhian slowly ran the tips of her fingers along the strong arm that held her. "I know.I guess I'm just overly tired."
I guess you have some secrets of your own. Leaning forward, Deven placed a kiss on the younger woman's cheek and then watched as a small smile pulled at Rhian's lips. I don't want to hurt you, Rhian.Ever.
Laying her head down on one of the sofa pillows, Deven absorbed how good it felt to just hold the woman.So, this is what cuddling is like? It's kind of nice.Peaceful like. She concentrated on the touch of Rhian's fingers as they traced a lazy pattern on her arm. I can deal with this. Her eyes closed and she drifted for some time on the serenity that edged its way into her weary brain.She couldn't remember a time when she'd felt this comfortable with anyone, and she never noticed her awareness recede as sleep crept up and overtook her.
Rolling leisurely onto her back, Deven sighed with pleasure as her muscles flexed, stretched and then relaxed again. She blinked several times before her eyes completely focused and her vision settled outside the living room window to the blue sky beyond.
"Rhian?" she called out in a voice still heavy with sleep. Lying still, she listened, and her heart sank when all she perceived was silence. Maybe it was all a dream. Turning her head, she spied the damaged wall.Maybe not. Closing her eyes again, portions of the prior evening played through her mind.So much had occurred in the short span of a few short hours and to her, it seemed that more had happened in that small timeframe than in the past eight years put together.Weird.
Glancing at her watch, she was astounded to see that it was nearly .She hadn't intended to fall asleep like she had, but lying there with Rhian had just felt good. Too good. With her body relaxed against the younger woman's, the fatigue had quickly become overwhelming, and she'd slept through the first dreamless night in some time.
Rhian, what are you doing to me?No one other than Tiernan had shared a bed with her since she was twelve.Even in the condo in California she'd always slept alone.Her live in playmate was never permitted into Deven's bedroom unless invited, and under no circumstances was she allowed to sleep there.
Deven valued her personal space and found it difficult to sleep with someone else in the bed with her. Another's presence made her feel as if she were on alert the whole night, subconsciously listening for any sound out of the ordinary. As if waiting for something to happen.And forget sleeping with someone touching me. Well, you didn't seem to have that problem last night, did you?No, but I was also beyond tired.
Regardless of the circumstances, it bothered her that she'd fallen asleep so easily with Rhian there. In the grand scheme of events this seemed like such an insignificant thing, but it went against years of behavior and for Deven carried a deeper meaning she was unwilling to explore.
The stabbing had been a turning point for her in many ways. Not the least of them being that she became determined to never leave herself open to another incident like it. To accomplish that, she'd developed several rules that had remained unbroken.Until now, don't you mean, Slick?
She never brought a conquest to her home. They were never to know where she lived.If one should happen to figure it out, she scared them so badly they never dared show up again.
She never spent the night with a conquest. Once she finished taking her pleasure, she was out of there without a backward glance.Staying seemed to denote some level of emotional investment, and there was no way in hell she was going to send that message to anyone.
She never had sex with anyone more than once unless they are excellent or interesting in a deviant sort of way, and then she limited the number of repeats.The one exception to that rule had been Karen Phillips due to the circumstances underlying their sexual interactions. Their sex was based on the premise of winner take all and was limited solely to tournaments or the occasional impromptu sparring match.Everything they did, and when they did it, had always been at Deven's discretion.
Deven believed that to break any of those rules would send the wrong message, and she was loath to get involved with anyone on any level again. But Rhian is different. What is it about her that makes her different? I mean, she's a woman. A good looking one at that so she more than qualifies. The memory of Rhian in her underwear flashed into Deven's head bringing with it a smile and the unmistakable beginning of arousal.Okay, she's pretty and has all the right body parts, so why in the hell is she not like the others? Masterson, Rhian is not now, nor has she ever been a part of this sick game. No shit! I got that already. The question, damn it, is why!
Unable to find a ready answer to that question or to the myriad of other questions surrounding her own behavior, Deven was growing frustrated. Okay so technically the couch isn't a bed, but the idea is the same. Isn't it? Falling asleep with Rhian in her arms opened up whatever their relationship was to a new level of intimacy, a level to which she had never intended to go in her life.
Pushing herself up to her feet, she walked over to the television. She wasn't sure what to make of Rhian's departure, or the fact that she had slept right through it, or that she cared one way or the other in the first place. Maybe, dummy, you just needed a good nights sleep.It's been over a week now since you slept well.As for her departure...Her head, the proclaimed master to her heart, sought a logical explanation as to why she'd awakened alone. It didn't have to be a good explanation just viable enough to enable her to push her heart so far to the background that she could no longer feel the kernel of heartache beginning to fester there.
The woman has obligations that you don't have to be concerned with. Like a family, for instance. But you know what it really was, don't you, Masterson?She did the smart thing and got the fuck away from you.You knew she was going to.The minute you opened your mouth yesterday, you knew she was gone. She's just a hell of a lot nicer about things like that than you are.You would have told her to fuck off and walked out.
She paused to shut off the television and turned the stereo on, tuning it to her favorite classic rock station.Damn, Masterson, what the hell is wrong with you? Since that woman has come into your life, you're stuck on stupid most of the time. Like having this conversation with yourself. How absolutely moronic is that? Who gives a fuck why she left?She left. Pure and simple. So, stop acting like a lovesick child! You poured out your heart and made her dinner, and didn't even get in her pants for all your trouble.Now that sucks! But you know what? There are plenty of other women out there and every single one of them is a hell of a lot less trouble.
With an underlying feeling of dejection, she made her way toward the kitchen, chastising herself the whole way for having allowed herself to feel for the woman. Turning the corner, she nearly collided with a large body coming towards her. Twenty-five years of training kicked in subconsciously as the adrenaline pumped into her veins and she set her body to attack. Her arms came up defensively and stepping back, she flexed her leg muscles to strike. At the last second, she realized who it was and was barely able to contain the kick.Lowering the leg, she shouted at the startled man."What the fuck are you doing here?"
Jay brought a hand up to his chest."Jeez, Deven! You just scared the crap out of me!"
"You? I thought I was alone!"Running a hand through her hair, she paced the room seeking to settle her pounding heart."Damn! You're a lucky son of a bitch, bro. I almost took you out!" She looked at her friend and saw that he was as stressed as she was.
He inhaled deeply and let the air out slowly."Don't talk about my mama like that."
"I told you to call me!"
"I did," he argued. "I tried your cell phone several times and even called here. I left you two messages."
Deven continued to pace the room, settling her heart while she considered that she'd never heard either phone."I forgot. I left the cell upstairs.But I can't believe I slept through the phone ringing." Crossing over to the counter, she set the coffeepot up to drip. Having slept through Rhian's departure and Jay's arrival was freaking her out a little - actually a lot. "When did you get here?"
Sitting down at the breakfast bar, he shrugged."Late. Nicole and."
She held up a hand. "Wait. If it involves Nicole, I don't want to know."
"Don't have to."Now that her pulse had returned to normal, she was acutely aware of the dull heartache. She snuck out.Well, what did you expect, Deven?You're a sick twisted excuse for a human being, and she's...she's probably scared to death of you. An unexpected flare of sorrow rose up in her chest, and a wave of sadness washed over her. You knew this was how it was going to be, and you knew she needed to get away. So, stop with the melodramatics and get on with things.
"Hey, I think this is for you," Jay said as he held up a folded piece of paper he'd found lying on the breakfast bar.
"Give me that."
He lifted it and sniffed, a smile creasing his face as he looked at his friend."It smells good. Maybe it's a love note."
"Hand it over, dipstick," Deven said irritably.
He waved the piece of paper just out of her grasp."What do you say?" he taunted her.
Her lip curled into a snarl and she growled at him. "I say if you don't hand it over, I'm going to kick your ass all the way down to the street."
Leaning further away from her, he continued his teasing. "My, my. Perhaps you shouldn't sleep on the couch. It makes you very grumpy in the morning."
She stood still and sighed."Please." Chuckling, he handed the paper over. "Asshole," she muttered as she accepted the note and spent a few seconds looking curiously at the neat handwriting. Please don't let it be an I hate you letter.
Deven, I had to go. Seana's allergies have been acting up and she hasn't been feeling well, and I want to make sure she got to bed okay.I'm sorry I didn't tell you goodnight, but you were sleeping so soundly à I didn't have the heart to wake you. I hope you only have good dreams tonight.If you should have trouble sleeping for any reason, call me.That isn't a request by the way.Consider it an order.
I'll talk to you soon, D.I love you - Rhian
She read the note again aware of the delightful sensation the words created. She loves me. Wait! What if she was just being nice? What if she has no intention of talking to me again?Don't be stupid! She wouldn't have written that she loves me if she was never going to talk to me again. Idiot!
Okay, so now what?Do I call her? She looked at Jay and almost laughed out loud. He's as clueless as I am. Crossing to the phone, she punched in Kelly's number."Hey. What are you doing for lunch today?"
"Hello, Deven," the lawyer replied. "How are you? Me? I'm fine. Thank you for asking."
"Wait a minute.Let me get my calendar out and mark this most auspicious occasion. Deven Masterson apologized and did so of her own accord."
"Yeah, yeah. Everyone is just so funny this morning." She crossed over to the coffee maker and poured herself a mug of the aromatic liquid.
"I'm glad you think so, Deven, because the rest of the world wouldn't agree with you.I know of a judge who right this very minute isn't finding anything humorous about me. So all in all, I'm having a good morning."Kelly laughed. "As to the question of lunch, I'm free.Why?"
The martial artist smiled as she visualized the lawyer blithely squaring off against the figure of authority."Have lunch with me."
"What's going on?"
"I need to talk you about something." Deven paused and then added, "Please, Kelly. It's important."
"Okay," Kelly answered, drawing out the word."Since you asked so nicely, how could I possibly say no? Pick me up here at . Oh, and Deven? You're buying so pick someplace nice to take me."
"All right. I'll see you then." She set the phone down on the counter, knowing that when she turned around Jay would be studying her. Instead of facing him, Deven spoke over her shoulder."I'm going to get cleaned up."
He stared at the back of her head. "Don't I get a lunch?"
"I'm hurt," he said.
"Right," she snorted.
He watched as she added sugar and cream to her coffee. "So what's going on? You told Kelly it was important."
Turning to face him, she sipped her coffee as she contemplated what, if anything, to tell him."Look, something happened last night.I guess it's actually been building up for awhile now."
Her odd behavior fed his curiosity. "What happened?" he asked.
"Rhian was here."
He stood up amazingly fast for such a large man. "You didn't!"
His reaction actually surprised her."Didn't what?"
"Sleep with her!"
"No!" She wasn't sure why the question angered her so much.It was logical given her past and still it irritated her.
"You better not be playing her, Deven."
His protective streak when it came to Rhian still puzzled her. "If you'll just shut up, I'll continue." She waited to see what he would do. When he finally sat back down, she tried to explain. "Look, it wasn't like that, okay? I told her about my past figuring that she would run out of here as fast as she could.Instead, she stayed and had dinner with me.Afterwards, we were watching a movie, just cuddling you know, and I fell asleep." She slowly shook her head. "Believe me, I don't get it."
"Why she stayed. Why she ... why she thinks she loves me."
"Whoa. Rhian told you that she loves you?"
Deven held up the note. "I got it in writing."
He mulled over the situation, trying to be fair to his friend and not automatically assume the worst. It was hard given their history. If Deven was playing the landscaper, it was worse than if she'd just seduced the young woman. Now there existed a real risk of Rhian getting her heart broken."And you? Do you love her?"
Her eyes dropped and looked down at the note again. "I think so. Maybe. How would I know?"
"Holy shit," he muttered. "So, what are you going to do?"
She took another sip of her coffee while contemplating his question. "I don't know. I know that she'd be better off without me in her life, but to be honest I'm having a difficult time with the idea of breaking it off now.I thought she'd do it for me once I told her the truth. Instead, she's seems determined to stick around. At least for now."
"Okay," he said. "Now, how does Kelly figure into this?"
"Sorry, bro. That I can't answer." She laughed at his look of disappointment. "I'm going to go take a shower. Try not to break anything while I'm gone."With that she turned and walked out of the room before he could ask anything more.
Stopping just inside the threshold to her room, she looked around slowly. It was different somehow. It was most definitely the same room, but new memories had altered it.It was as if a canvas that had previously only consisted of blacks and whites now contained varying shades of color, muted hues but there nonetheless. Her perceptions of this room, in truth of many things in her life, had been changed by Rhian's unassuming and compassionate presence.
She walked into the bathroom slipping out of her clothes as she went, and examining herself in the mirror, she was pleased to see that the circles beneath her eyes had lessened and her complexion was normal. Stretching slowly, she relished the feel of her muscles lengthening.Something felt different and she couldn't quite put her finger on it. She felt lighter somehow.Yesterday had been hell but it had ended in a way she never could have imagined. Now what?Where do I go from here? She stared at her reflection. "I sure as hell hope Kelly has a clue."
Jay looked up from the newspaper, cocking his head and listening to the sound of the garage door going up.It was followed shortly by the back door opening, and he was intrigued as Rhian entered the house."Hey."
The blonde landscaper smiled brightly at him."Morning, Jay."
Obviously, Deven had given her a key to the back door and the code to the lock pad by the garage. His friend wasn't one to allow anyone easy access to her space, and he was concerned that she was taking this whole thing, whatever it was exactly, way out of context.Having never seen Deven emotionally attached to anyone, the whole situation was totally bizarre to him. "What brings you around this morning?" he asked the woman.
"I came by to meet with my crew," she replied. "We're starting the work on Deven's yard today."
"Gotcha." He actually felt relieved to know it wasn't anything more. "Well, her majesty is upstairs taking a shower."
Crossing the room, Rhian neared where he was sitting and leaned against the breakfast bar."Is she okay?"
He thought about his earlier conversation with his friend, acknowledging to himself that he was irked she preferred to confide in Kelly. Not by nature a petty person he was nonetheless, bothered that she'd excluded him once again from the personal aspects of her life.Okay, Deven, you want to play games with me.Heh! Watch this. "She seems fine considering." He allowed the sentence to trail off and watched with amusement as obvious concern showed on the woman's face.
"Considering what?" she asked.
He looked down at the newspaper to hide the smile. "Considering I believe she's in love for the first time in her life.There's some coffee over there if you want it."
Rhian didn't move. "What did you say?"
His focus stayed on the paper as he fought to keep from laughing. "I said she's in lo."
"Shut up, Jay!"Both Rhian and Jay jumped at the booming voice. They turned to find Deven standing in the doorway with her hands on her hips and a full fledged scowl on her face. "You're really pushing it this morning, and I'm going to be more than happy to give it to you. So, keep it up, bro. Just give me an excuse to kick your ass." She glowered at him before turning her attention to the landscaper, and as her eyes settled on the woman, her expression softened considerably."Good morning."
"Good morning to you, too," Rhian replied, a hint of shyness coming through in her voice. "Did you sleep okay?"
"Yeah, I did. Look, I'm sorry I didn't wake up when you left. That's very unusual for me."
"It's okay," the landscaper assured her. "Yesterday was pretty tough for you. What with that strain on top of the fact you haven't been sleeping well, I'm surprised you lasted as long as you did. I tried not to wake you."
"Well, you succeeded."
Both women were very aware of Jay's presence, and his attentive listening to their conversation was adding to the overall awkwardness of the moment. Taking Rhian by the hand, Deven led her out to the sunroom, but once they were alone, she wasn't certain what to say or do.Do I hug her?Do I kiss her? Stepping forward, Rhian solved the dilemma for her.The landscaper's arms encircled her waist, and she drew the smaller body closer until it came to rest against her own. Deven studied the upturned face, smiling as the flesh across the woman's nose crinkled.
"What?" Rhian asked self-consciously.
Deven hugged her tighter."You are just so adorable." The younger woman practically beamed from the compliment, and the martial artist felt as if her stomach flipped at the sight.She realized that she loved that smile, especially when it was directed at her.
"Did you see my note?" Rhian asked.
"Yes." The brunette's mind went back to awakening and finding herself alone.
A cloud passed outside briefly casting a shadow upon them, a shadow that to Rhian appeared to be mirrored by something within the woman's eyes. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Deven said with a slight shrug.
Cocking her head to the side, Rhian considered the woman's evasion. "Okay. What are you thinking about?"
"It really isn't anything.I was just a little ... confused when I woke up and you were gone. I thought that maybe you'd decided that getting away from me was the best thing after all. Not that I'd blame you, because it is."
"Deven, that wasn't it at all. You hadn't slept well in days, and I couldn't bring myself to disturb you.You looked so relaxed."
"I know that now. I read the note."Deven's tone came out a bit harsh, making her wince inside.She knew she was being childish but couldn't seem to stop herself. Just a little while ago you were all gung ho on finding a new conquest. Now look at you. You're bringing pitiful to a whole new level.
"I'm sorry if you thought that I'd run away from you.I didn't want to leave, but I didn't have a choice."
"I know."God, Deven, you sound pathetic. "It was just a brief thought.The ramblings of a semiconscious mind." Struggling to regain control, she couldn't bring herself to look directly at Rhian.
The younger woman smiled at the martial artist's discomfort. "You're rather cute when you get embarrassed," she said earning a frown from the woman.
"I'm not embarrassed. I don't get embarrassed because I have no reason to," she said succinctly.
"Yeah right, and I never blush," Rhian teased. She kissed Deven's chin, eliciting a smile from the woman and another hug.Pleased by the response and immersed in the pleasure of the moment, she blurted out, "Oh, I do love you."
Deven's smile vanished. "You what?" Rhian had written the sentiment but to hear it spoken out loud was profoundly different, because giving voice to the emotion made it somehow so much more real and, for Deven, terrifying.
Rhian paused as the words she'd spoken sunk in, and she gave the older woman a wistful smile."I'd thought those words would be said the first time during a disgustingly romantic moment. Silly, I know." She took a deep breath. "I love you, Deven Masterson."
Stepping back, Deven severed the physical contact between them. "How can you possibly say that?After everything I've told you.How can you?"
The woman's reaction was unexpected and Rhian felt as if her feet had been kicked out from under her. "You almost sound disappointed."
The uncertainty and hurt that crossed the blonde's face struck Deven in the chest."No. It isn't that. I just don't understand." Bringing a hand up, she rubbed the back of her neck."Rhian, this isn't good for you, okay?I'm not good for you. You need someone who doesn't come with all this bullshit.Who will always be good to you...for you. I'm not that person."
Deven's sudden change in mood flustered the landscaper. "Who says?You? Well, I might point out to you that your track record at deciding what is or isn't good for me stinks," she snapped. Both women fell silent, and Rhian used the time to study Deven's posture and expression. She just doesn't get it.
Taking a breath, she calmed herself before continuing. "I had some time to think about things last night and no matter how I look at it, I...love...you.I loved you before we talked yesterday and if anything, I love you more now. My love for you doesn't change that the things you did in the past ... I can't comprehend that kind of violence. It has never been a part of my world, and I hope that it never is.I hope that our children grow up to never know that world exists."
She held up her hands to silence the protest she knew Deven was about to utter."You're going to say something like if I stay with you than I'm just opening myself up to that world. I don't believe that, because you have a control of your actions today that didn't exist back then." She took a step closer to the woman. "All that aside, I can understand how you could have ended up where you did.Given what happened to you, it isn't inconceivable that you would have taken that path.You're right in that you made some really bad choices, Deven.But like I told you before, I'm much more interested in the choices you make today, because I know in my heart that the person you are is not the person you were."
"That person is still here, Rhian.She never left."
"I'm sure that's true.She'll always be a part of who you are, but she isn't all that you are. Why can't you understand that?You don't see it, but much of your courage comes from her. I know now that it was that part of you that protected me from Mace. "
Deven snorted. "You make it sound like a good thing."
Rhian shook her head."Good...bad. I don't think it's that simple. I believe that if you were just that one piece, you would have done far worse to him.If that person were who you truly are, we wouldn't be having this conversation because we never would have gotten this far.You would have smacked me for standing up to you, or seduced me and thrown me away, or never spoken with me again after our first meeting."
"True." Deven nodded her head slowly and the look of desolation on her face touched the landscaper deeply.
Closing the distance between them once again, Rhian placed the palms of her hands flat against the taller woman's stomach."I think that it serves a purpose.I think that it can be dangerous but at the same time formidable if directed correctly. And I believe that the person you are today is a result of your ability to direct and use that part of you for the right reasons." Pausing, she studied the other woman's face. "Don't look so sad, Deven."
"I'm just confused."
Rhian nodded her head and smiled."I can see that, and I most likely will keep you that way much of the time." Stepping forward once more, she embraced the baffled woman.
Deven circled her arms around the slighter frame, resting her cheek against the blonde head.She was truly mystified. Nothing was as she thought it would be, and she remained uncertain what to make of everything. She gave up for the moment trying to understand what was going on, and turned her attention to just savoring the connection between them.It was comfortable and held a completeness she couldn't remember ever feeling before.
As if sensing that same truth, Rhian asked, "Do you feel this? How right it feels to hold each other? How well we fit?"
"Then don't question it so much."
"Okay. I'll try."
Rhian laughed at Deven's prudence."Good. Now I've got to get to work.The crew is here and has already started to tear things up. They'll do their best to stay out of your way, but if anything should come up, call me."
Deven was struck speechless as she stared into eyes filled with love for her. I love you.The words still would not pass her lips.They paused there seeking to be expressed but moved no further. Somehow to speak those words out loud changed everything.It opened her up to a new level of intimacy and vulnerability she wasn't prepared to allow. It would mean to hand over control to someone else and that she could not do. Not ever again. And yet, she knew in her heart that she loved this woman with a depth and desire she'd never believed possible."Rhian, I can't."
"I just can't."I can't say it!
"Deven, relax.Just tell me."
"I feel." A faint sheen was beginning to coat her forehead, and she reached up to wipe away the perspiration.
Rhian was growing more concerned, and she stroked the woman's back, trying to ease the tension."Relax. Just take it easy and talk to me."
Deven took a deep breath and then closed her eyes. "Sometimes I feel... When I'm with you..." Each statement trailed off incomplete. What the hell am I doing?She felt Rhian's hand caressing her cheek and unconsciously leaned into the touch. "Rhian, I..." Oh God, just SHUT UP! Opening her eyes, she stared at the woman's concerned face. "I'm sorry. I'm not making any sense."
"It's okay," Rhian reassured her. "Take your time."
Looking off into the distance, Deven took several calming breaths before attempting to speak again."About what Jay said earlier. About me. "
"Ah." Rhian understood now what the problem probably was, and she pursed her lips to keep from smiling. "It's okay, Deven.I think I know what you're trying to say."
"You do? How?"
"There are times when you look at me, when just for a brief second you let your guard down, and I can see it in your eyes.But then just as quickly, you retreat back behind your walls and hide it away. I think I understand why you do that though I don't much care for being left on the outside."
She continued to caress the strong features watching as some of the tension eased. "One of these days, I hope you will trust me enough to let me in for more than a moment or two.I appreciate what you did yesterday.I understand how difficult that was for you to do, but I also believe that it wasn't your intention to get emotionally involved.I believe you thought you would provide me with a matter of fact synopsis of your life, I would run away, and that would be the end of it. Right?"
Deven nodded.How in the hell does she know that?
"But something happened and you felt it," Rhian continued. "And as painful as it was, it was a good thing.You were able to release so much of the torment you've held onto over the years. But, Deven, you can't stop now. Yesterday was a huge step forward for both of us, but it doesn't end there."She chewed her lower lip. "Unless you want it to. In which case, I'll." Her throat made a clicking noise as she swallowed hard against the lump that had cut off her sentence.
"No," Deven whispered."No," she repeated a little louder.Allowing everything she felt for this woman to rise up, she captured Rhian's lips, expressing what she could not speak.Rhian had said she possessed certain poetry to her movements, and if that were so, she willed herself to be able to speak the words in her heart through physical expression. Now you have your answer, Masterson.Now you know why she isn't like all the others.
She nibbled the soft lips before sucking gently on first one than the other. I love you, Rhian. The tip of her tongue traced the smooth contours seeking entrance into the younger woman's mouth, her passion rising as Rhian's lips parted in acceptance.
I love you. Pushing her tongue forward, Deven slowly explored the moist warmth teasing the younger woman to join with her in a sensual dance.She felt Rhian respond, tentatively at first, stirring her on to deepen the kiss. Resting her hands on either side of the blonde head, she held their mouths together, and as the woman yielded further, Deven felt a tightening in her groin and pressed her body forward against the smaller frame.
It felt as if her chest was expanding impossibly as her heart pounded against her ribcage, and then something within her seemed to give. Like the subtle popping of a bubble, the pressure eased and she was filled with a love so intense it brought tears to her eyes.Breaking the kiss, she pulled Rhian against her and held tight to the woman. At that moment she knew that the cost of turning away from this was far greater than the potential risk of accepting what this beautiful woman offered her. She didn't understand what exactly was happening to her but accepted that she would do whatever she could to make it work for as long as this woman would allow.At some point, Rhian had become a part of her.Why didn't matter.When didn't matter. All that mattered now was this woman and making sure she was happy.
Not trusting her legs to keep her upright, Rhian clasped handfuls of Deven's shirt and held on. The passion that flowed through that kiss had been enthralling. Each kiss they shared was more intense than the previous ones, and with an odd mixture of wariness and desire, she found that her body was responding.Deven's words from the previous night came back to her as she realized that desires were awakening within her that she'd never known existed, and she was finding that the more time she spent with this woman, the more she craved the contact.Still, she couldn't get past the uneasiness."I, um, have to get to work."
"Too bad." Deven kissed her on the forehead and stepped back a little to more clearly see the woman's face."You okay?"
"Oh yeah. Just great," Rhian sighed dreamily.
"Me, too." She registered the truth to those words. She felt better than she could ever remember. "Call you later?"
The blonde took a deep breath before responding. "You better, or I'll hunt you down," she said while pointing a finger at the taller woman.
Deven smirked slightly at the woman's bravado. "I just bet you would."
Turning away before she gave into the urge to revisit those lips, Rhian called back over her shoulder as she walked out of the room, "Count on it, Masterson."
Deven sat in the Pathfinder, listening to the radio and staring off into space. What am I doing? She took a deep breath and released it slowly, and lifting a hand, kneaded the taut muscles at the base of her neck. After Rhian had left, Deven had felt good about the situation. But as the hours ticked away, the near euphoria had slowly dissipated to be replaced by nagging doubt. Almost believed it could happen. Schmuck!
The past twenty-four hours had been incredibly grueling as her feelings had oscillated from one extreme to another, and she felt as if she were experiencing a series of aftershocks, remnants of the previous day's cathartic emotional quake. They reminded her of the earthquakes in California. A big tremor first, shaking or rolling the earth beneath your feet, followed by multiple smaller ones less potent but sometimes more damaging as they exploited the weaknesses created by the initial quake. She fervently hoped that her life would settle back down to normal soon. And just what is normal, Masterson? She snorted.You weren't normal before yesterday, why would you be today?
Normal.She shook her head.The better part of her morning had been spent on the phone with Dr. Martin. Why in the hell did I promise to call her? Because you figured Rhian would leave, and you could face the doc with a great big I told you so. Didn't work out that way though, did it? God, I hate it when that woman is right.
Providing Dr. Martin with a summary of the previous day's events hadn't been difficult. Remaining emotionally detached had been. In all the time she'd worked with Sarah Martin, she'd managed to keep a control on her emotions that allowed her to speak of the past without feeling too much of it. For whatever reason, she was now finding it a struggle to maintain that distance.
She rubbed her eyes and sighed.The most difficult part of the conversation for her had come while relating that she'd been so violently ill and subsequently broken down. God, that was embarrassing. She'd attempted to skim over those parts of the narrative, but the doc had been unwilling to allow her that leeway. Sarah Martin had whittled away at the martial artist's defensive and evasive posturing until the woman had conceded and told the whole story.
Deven knew herself to be stubborn but found she often paled in comparison to the doc. Sometimes it was just easier to give the woman what she wanted and move on than to remain stubbornly entrenched, because stalemates between the two women could go on for weeks otherwise and in the end, Sarah's quiet and persistent methodology weeded out the information she sought anyway.
Rotating her head from side to side, she attempted to ease the stress in her neck. It had taken quite a bit of maneuvering on her part but Deven had finally managed to convince the doctor that she was all right. Well, that and agreeing to go in for a face to face meeting tomorrow. Yippee!
Her fingers drummed absently on the steering wheel, keeping a steady beat with the music coming from the radio.Not everything that happened was bad. What I feel for Rhian is most certainly one of the best things I've ever experienced in her my life. Accepting she was in love with the woman scared her while at the same time it filled her with a sense of near jubilation, and she felt more alive than she could ever remember.
The corners of her mouth twitched as she thought of the landscaper. The young woman was the most amazing person Deven had ever met and that Rhian actually loved her was staggering. I'm not worthy of that love, and I know it. And one day she is going to figure it out and leave me. So, why not end it now and save myself the trouble and potential heartache? You should have ended it before yesterday. It's too late to take that route now and you know it. But you didn't have the guts to tell her it just wouldn't work. Instead, you let her in and now you're fucked.And that's not all, is it? No. I'm selfish, and damn it, I want to buy into this whole idea of love!
She looked up as Kelly exited the building and watched her walk towards the truck. Damn, she looks good. The lawyer was dressed in a tan skirt and jacket that hugged her in just the right places, and Deven found the combination of professionalism and feminism to have an alluring appeal. Her eyes trailed down Kelly's body coming to settle on the woman's legs, and she let out a low whistle. She has always had nice legs. Carl, you are one lucky dog.
Kelly opened the passenger door and settled in the seat. "Hi, beautiful."
"Hi yourself." Deven turned her attention to the road as she pulled out into traffic. "You look very nice."
"Why thank you. So, where are you taking me? And keep your mind out of the gutter."
Deven laughed. "You know me too well, Kel. How about Mr. Smith's?"
"Sure." The lawyer looked closely at her lunch date. "Do you feel okay? You've got circles under your eyes."
Deven glanced at her friend and then back the road. "I'm okay. I just haven't been sleeping all that well."
"Yeah." She shrugged a little. "You know how it is. They come and go."
Kelly knew that her friend suffered periodically from horrific dreams. It had taken some time and a lot of coaxing to convince the martial artist that it was okay to pick up the phone and call if they got too bad. Over the years, Deven had become more comfortable with calling during a bad night though she didn't do it often, and despite that concession on the woman's part, she'd never discussed the content of any of her bad dreams."Why didn't you call me?"
"When it gets like this, Kelly, I'd be calling you every night. Somehow I don't think you or Carl would appreciate that. You'd both be mad at me for not allowing you to get enough sleep."
"Yeah, well, why don't you let me worry about that? Besides, since when do you care if we're mad at you? I really don't like the idea of you suffering night after night by yourself."
The concern was evident, and Deven wondered at how it was that Kelly could be so empathetic. As incredulous as it seemed, she knew the woman did care and that boggled her mind.Their conversation came to a stop while Deven parked the truck and then escorted her friend into the restaurant. Once seated, she looked across the table at the only one of her conquests who had come to mean something to her. When and how that had happened she didn't know. She'd denied that she felt anything for anyone all these years, but now she faced accepting some of the lies she'd been living and this woman was one of them.
For reasons she just didn't understand, Kelly had become a part of her life, and until now, she'd never questioned their relationship. Nor had she ever considered the impact her actions might have had on this woman. A part of her had always known that her little game had hurt her friend on some level, but she'd blown it off as inconsequential at the time and never revisited the potential ramifications. As with all the women she'd slept with, she moved on without looking back, seeking out the next opportunity to play.
But that's not totally true, is it? You didn't sleep with her again, but you didn't exactly move on either.Over the years she'd come to admire Kelly a great deal. The woman had a strong character and inner strength that were generally hidden beneath the feminine exterior. And what an exterior it is.
Deven had never been particularly close to Carl, but she liked the man. They got along fine, but there was always something that seemed to bother her. Maybe it was the fact that she knew that if she'd ever allowed herself to consider the possibility of loving someone before now, she believed it would have been this woman.
"So, to what do I owe this pleasure?" Kelly asked.
Looking across the table, Deven realized she didn't know what to say. Where do I even start?
"Are you sure you're okay?"
The martial artist cleared her throat. "Yes. I just need your help with something."
"No." She took a sip of her water, and a sense of relief washed over her as the waitress came up to their table. They ordered lunch and silence settled again.
"So?" the lawyer urged.
"Okay." Deven sat back in her chair and took a deep breath. "I'm in this situation, and I don't know what to do exactly."
Kelly raised a perfectly shaped eyebrow. "Please don't tell me you knocked up one of your playmates."
Deven rolled her eyes. "Funny. You and Jay should take your comedy acts on the road."
Kelly feigned that her feelings were hurt, earning a slight smile from her friend. "Come on. You've never been one to hem and haw. Out with it already."
Leaning forward, Deven rested her forearms on the table. "I've met someone."
"When you say met someone, what exactly does that mean? I meet people all day."
The martial artist sighed. Kelly was intelligent and not one to accept things at face value. She liked details and used them to meticulously formulate an opinion. "You can be a real pain in the ass, you know that? I've met a woman that I'm attracted to."
The lawyer snorted. "You're attracted to women all the time."
"Damn it, Kelly! You know what I mean!"
Sitting back, the lawyer stared across the table. "Okay. So you're attracted to a particular woman.Why don't you just do your thing?"
"It isn't like that. It's. This is different."
"Who is she? Do I know her?"
Deven looked down at the tabletop and fidgeted with the silverware. "Yes."
It didn't take Kelly long to figure out who they were discussing. "Rhian! You've fallen for Rhian?" Leaning forward, she lowered her voice. "When did this happen? Just a couple of days ago you were talking about having nothing to do with her."
"I know. Believe me I'm confused about the whole thing. I know that I've been drawn to her since...since the day I met her. But I had no idea what it all meant.Until last night, I guess. Last night was a major turning point of sorts."
"Wait a minute."Kelly held up her hands, palms facing the martial artist."Last night? What happened last night? You didn't sleep with her did you?"
"Why does everyone keep asking me that? It's beginning to really piss me off."
"Because Rhian is different from the women who fawn all over you. She isn't like the rest of us that find ourselves blinded by your seductive charm. That's why."
Though said in jest, Deven didn't miss the underlying hint of bitterness in her friend's voice and quietly accepted the rebuke. "No, I didn't sleep with her. We talked, had dinner, and I fell asleep while we were watching a video."
Kelly's eyes widened and she began to laugh heartily. "You fell asleep?"
"I don't see that it's all that funny," Deven replied in a piteous tone.
"Sure it is." Using her napkin, Kelly dabbed the moisture from her eyes. "God, that's funny.So, what do you need from me? No Doz?"
The martial artist looked down her water glass pushing her temper down. She wasn't used to being laughed at, and if it were anyone else, she would have put an end to it quickly. A painful end at that.
"I'm sorry, Deven. Really I am.It's just I can't imagine you falling asleep with a beautiful woman within arms reach."
"Yeah, well, something about Rhian makes we want to behave myself, I guess."
"Hmm. Okay, I'll be serious. What do you want?"
Deven looked up and saw the smile that was teasing the other woman's lips. "Never mind."
Reaching across the table, Kelly took the martial artist's hand. "Come on. Spill it."
Gathering her courage, Deven began to explain. "I'm at a loss here. I don't know what to do. I've never dated anyone before." To her chagrin, her friend burst out laughing again.
"You're kidding me right?"
Releasing the lawyer's hand, Deven sat back and glared. "Do you honestly think that I would put myself through this embarrassment if I were kidding? Just forget it."
"You're serious." Kelly watched as the woman looked away, and the laughter left her. "I'm sorry. I'll do whatever I can to help you, all right? What is it you're looking for?"As Deven glanced back at her, Kelly was taken aback by the depth of emotion she saw in the woman's pale eyes. She's in love. "Honey, I'm sorry I laughed. I've just never seen this side of you. It took me by surprise. Please, talk to me."
Their lunches arrived, and Kelly watched Deven silently move the food around the plate. She realized that if she wanted to get to the bottom of why she'd been invited to lunch, she'd have to coax it out of the other woman. "Have you told her yet?" she asked.
"Told her what?" Deven continued to concentrate on her food though she made little effort to actually eat anything.
"Have you told her that you're hopelessly in love with her?"
The dark head jerked up. "I am not! "
"Give me a break.I know you better than that.You are, and have you told her?"
Letting out a frustrated sigh, Deven set her fork down. "I can't. I tried to say the words and they just won't come out."
"Has she given you any clue as to how she feels about you?" Kelly prodded.
"She told me that she loves me," Deven whispered, certain that her friend would start laughing again.
"Really? When was this?" The incredulity was clear in the lawyer's voice almost making the martial artist cringe.
"This morning." Deven leaned forward and rested her forearms on the table again."Look, I have very strong feelings for her. I think its love. Oh hell, who am I kidding? I know it is. But that scares the crap out of me. On the one hand, a voice in my head keeps telling me I'm not good enough for her and that I need to put an end to this right now. But then when I really start thinking about how to accomplish that, I can't seem to do it."
"Okay. So, what do you want from me?"
"I don't know what I'm doing, Kelly."She paused to gather her thoughts."I don't know how to treat her. I don't know what I'm supposed to do. What do I say? How do I, you know, date her? I've learned that Rhian is a romantic, and she missed out on anyone romancing her. I want to make that up to her, but I don't know how."
Kelly might have laughed at the absurdity of the conversation if it wasn't for the fact that Deven was so serious. "Okay. First of all, relax and eat your lunch. Second, I'll do what I can, my friend, but there isn't a manual on how to date someone. It's pretty unique for everyone." She took a sip of her tea while considering the situation."It would help if I knew Rhian better."
"I don't want to mess this up, Kel. I don't know what happened, but from what little Rhian has said, I think her husband hurt her. Maybe not physically, but something about the way she talks about her life with him makes me believe she got hurt. And for some reason, she believes it was all her fault."
Several minutes passed as each woman picked at their meals, deep in thought. "Does Rhian know about your past?"
"Yes. That's what we talked about last night."
Kelly hesitated before broaching what, for her, was an uncomfortable subject. "Does she know about me?"
I'm so sorry, Kelly. Without thought, Deven reached out and took her friend's hand. "No. I didn't get into that kind of detail. I wouldn't do that to you."
The lawyer nodded her head slightly and gave the woman's hand a slight squeeze before releasing it. She took a bite of her lunch and contemplated how she could help. "You need to slow down and just take it easy, Deven. You two have a lot to learn about each other, and the best thing would be to start with friendship. Passion can flare and burn out fast, but a relationship built around a strong base of friendship can last a lifetime."
"Okay, so I forget the romancing stuff and just hang with her?"
Kelly smiled. "No. You do both. What you don't do is try to push her into sleeping with you. If she wants to that's fine, but you have to think carefully about it this time. A relationship can't be based on what happens in the bedroom."The confused expression on the martial artist's face almost caused her to chuckle. "This isn't about seduction, Deven. It's about building a lasting relationship with the person you love. Think about it. You get her to your bed and then what? What do you do with each other after the sex? If you can't talk to each other and be comfortable in each other's presence, you're doomed. Making love is a wonderful thing, but nothing compares to being able to just be with someone you love."
What is she talking about? Deven sat back with an exasperated sigh. Why in the hell does everything have to be so complicated?
"Deven, maybe you're making too much out of this. You say you love Rhian, but do you want to have a lasting relationship with her or are you just looking for a short term playmate?"
Her sense of inadequacy was infuriating, and Deven found she wanted to lash out. But she bit her tongue as she realized it was herself that she was truly angry with, not this woman. What do I want? Unable to readily answer that question, she remained silent.
"Well, maybe you should figure that out," the lawyer continued. "You tell me you love her and that you can't stand the thought of breaking it off. That sounds like you want more than a toy. Is that true?"
"Do you want to build something with her that will last?"
"You mean like a forever kind of thing?"
"I'm not asking if you plan to marry her, Deven. I'm trying to understand what you want. You don't seem to know."
Deven considered everything that had happened between Rhian and herself. She'd been fighting against her feelings for the woman from the moment that she'd laid eyes on her. If she took a step back and looked at their interactions from that first night at the Pit until last night, they'd already come a long way. At least it seemed that way to her.
Her thoughts settled on Rhian holding her, comforting her and stranger still, how safe she'd felt with the younger woman. How good it had been to hold the landscaper and the calming effect she seemed to have. Deven looked across the table at her friend. "I love Rhian. When she's with me, I feel things I never would have believed possible. I want her to be a part of my life, but right now I can't think too far ahead. If we start talking about commitments, I will freak!"
"All right. Take it easy." Kelly allowed a lull in the conversation. "Then we're back to just taking things easy and letting the friendship develop."
"What about the romantic stuff?Aren't I supposed to do things for her?"
The martial artist's innocent curiosity was endearing to Kelly. "I have always suspected that you have a quixotic streak in you somewhere that is dying to come out. So, let it out. Just be your self." She chuckled softly. "No, I take that back. Let yourself be. Give that part of you that is awakening the opportunity to come out and grow. Allow yourself to enjoy her company."
"You make it sound so damn easy, Kel. How do I know if I'm doing things right?"
"When you see her smile because of something you've said or done, you'll feel great. When you see that look of love in her eyes for you, you'll feel like a million bucks. That's how you'll know.And it won't be easy. You're going to have to change some things. You have to think about her and her feelings. That's going to be a big change for you - putting someone else's concerns before your own. You've spent your adult life looking for instant gratification and avoiding entanglements of any kind. You haven't had much practice in putting someone else first, and you're going to have to work real hard at it."
As aggravating as that was to hear, it was the truth and Deven knew she couldn't dispute it. The more Kelly talked, the more frustrated the martial artist became and it all suddenly seemed impossible to her. "I can't do this. I'm just going to mess it up."
Kelly brought the palm of her hand down solidly on the tabletop. "Stop it! Since when have you given up on anything? Since when have you run away from a challenge? Don't you dare start to get pathetic on me!" Deven glared at her, but it wasn't enough to deter Kelly from speaking her mind. "So you have some work ahead of you. So you can't put yourself before everyone else. So what? You have lived your life keeping everyone away emotionally and now all of that is changing. So what? You have been given an opportunity to know love, Deven. It is a gift that not everyone has the opportunity to experience. Damn you if you don't take it!"
The two women stared at each other across the table. Deven could see the anger in Kelly's eyes and felt herself sufficiently chastised. "You're right," she finally said."Will you please help me with this?"
Kelly felt the tension drain out of her.Deven could be difficult to deal with under normal circumstances, but this whole new aspect of her personality was confusing at best. "I will do whatever I can to help you. For starters, why don't you have a cook out this weekend? A little thing. Just you, Rhian, Carl, Nicole, Jay and me. That way it will be a little less intimidating because you won't be alone, and I'll have a chance to get a better feel for Rhian."
"I guess."Deven nodded. "Okay. I don't know how much time I'll have to put everything together though."
Kelly waved her fork in the woman's direction. "I'll help you. What about Saturday afternoon? We can hang by the pool and cook out. Just have a laid back kind of day."
"Sounds good. I'll work on a list of what to get at the store tonight."
"I'll tell you what," Kelly said. "Why don't you come over tonight after you close up the school? We'll go over the details. Besides Carl is out of town, and you know I don't really like staying alone."
A weight seemed to lift from her shoulders, and Deven's mood lifted. "Sure. I can do that."
The rest of lunch progressed leisurely, and by the time the martial artist dropped Kelly off, she felt better about everything. Having a plan made her feel more in control and definitely improved her attitude. She still was clueless and knew that, but now she didn't feel quite so lost.
To Be Continued In Chapter TwentyReturn to the Academy