Poetry In Motion

© by J. ‘Harley’ Elmore, 2000 – 2003

See Chapter One for disclaimers


Chapter Twenty Two, Part 1

Deven struck the steering wheel with the heel of her hand, and then sitting back in a huff, she released a groan of exasperation. For as far as she could see ahead, there were brake lights and traffic was inching along at a snail’s pace. "So help me, if this is all because people are rubber necking at something, I will have to yank someone out of their damn car and beat the crap out of them!"

Normally, she wouldn’t have been this frustrated, but she needed to get home. Rhian had said she’d wait for her, and the martial artist just wanted to be there already. Is that too damn much to ask? Over the past few days she’d hardly spent any time with the woman. They'd talked on the phone whenever they could each day and always the last thing at night, but Deven found it wasn't the same as actually being face to face.

Rhian's work schedule left little in the way of spare time, and though she'd stopped by the school each evening on her way home to Seana, she'd been unable to stay for more than a few minutes at any one time. And because Deven was still irresolute about her growing preoccupation with the woman, it was in some ways, a relief for the martial artist.

Her newly developing neediness and longing to be with Rhian concerned Deven. So much so, that it had been the prevailing topic in her meeting this morning with Dr. Martin. Never would Deven have believed that love and being in love would have been a subject she’d discuss with the doctor, but now it seemed to dominate their sessions.

Love? Never having been one to subscribe to the notion of love at first site and only recently buying into the whole idea of being in love at all, she had to concede that there'd been something about Rhian that her heart had recognized long before her head had caught on. And to know that she loves me, too. Unbelievable.

She drummed her fingers on the steering wheel while trying to figure how she could actually push cars out of her way without damaging her truck too severely and causing her insurance to skyrocket. She’d taken the night off from the school as soon as Rhian had agreed to meet her at the house and stay for dinner. The first thing I’m going to do is pull her into my arms and lay a kiss on her that will make her weak in the knees. And if I’m lucky, I can convince her to stay the night. And if I'm really lucky, I might even get lucky.

Scanning the sea of vehicles again, she cursed at nobody in particular but everyone in general. An opening between two cars suddenly appeared and she veered out of her lane, driving up onto the shoulder and deftly swerved around a BMW. Hah! Got there first, schmuck! The other driver honked at her, and she responded by laughing as she hit the gas and drove up the exit ramp.

Off the interstate at last, she took the back roads towards home and with each mile that brought her closer to her destination, her mood lifted. Parked in front of her garage was a Mackenzie landscaping truck and next to it, Rhian's 4x4. She smiled broadly at the site knowing that in a matter of minutes, she was going to kiss the landscaper senseless.

Exiting the Pathfinder, she debated whether to wander out back looking for her target or to just wait inside. She started for the garage but something told her to go find the woman, and she changed directions, moving towards the back yard. As she rounded the corner of the house, she broke into a jog as an unexpected urgency propelled her forward. Something wasn’t right. She didn’t know how she knew that, but her gut told her that something was terribly wrong and to hurry.

Reaching the gate, she saw Rhian and most of the crew headed towards her. The landscaper was holding her hand in front of her body, and Deven could see it was puffy. She shook her head slightly and grinned at the blonde. "Now what did you do?"

Rhian looked up and Deven's stomach knotted. "What's wrong?" she asked as all traces of her good humor evaporating. No one answered, and Deven’s anxiety doubled. "What the fuck is the matter?" she demanded.

One of the crewmen, she remembered his name was Sergio, looked at her and she easily discerned his fear. "She was stung," he said.

Oh God. "By what?"

"A yellow jacket," he told her.

Her mind sorted through everything she'd read about stings and allergic reactions, recalling that yellow jackets like wasps and hornets had the capability to sting multiple times. "Once? Twice?"

"I don't know. More than once," he answered.

Shifting her attention to Rhian, Deven quickly took in the woman's pallid complexion, the inflammation of her hand and wrist, and the distinct wheezing that sounded as she took each breath. "Rhian, where is the epi-pen?"

The landscaper’s came out in a hoarse whisper. "Forgot."

"You forgot? Fuck! How in the hell could you forget?" The woman flinched, and Deven immediately regretted her outburst. "I'm sorry." Taking off her belt, Deven used it to make a tourniquet on Rhian's injured arm. She hoped it would slow the spread of the venom, but she suspected it was too late to do much good. Still, it made her feel like she was doing something.

"You." She pointed at a member of the crew. "Run in the house and fill a baggie with some ice. Fast!" She turned back to Sergio. She could tell he was scared. "How long ago?"

"Maybe five minutes. Maybe a little more."

"Did anyone call an ambulance?" she asked.

He shook his head. "We were headed that way when you showed up."

"Deven?" Rhian could feel her tongue and throat beginning to swell making the act of breathing more difficult.

The martial artist looked at the failing woman. "It's going to be okay," she said reassuringly, and then attempted to calculate how long it would take for an ambulance to reach them and return to the hospital. Too long.

Growing unsteady on her feet, Rhian reached out to the taller woman for support. She was beginning to visibly struggle to breathe, and Deven noted angry looking welts rising up near the wounds.

"I'm going to take you to the hospital. Come on." She wrapped an arm around the smaller woman's waist in an effort to assist her to the car. They only managed half a dozen steps before Rhian's blood pressure dropped, and the strength left her legs causing her to nearly collapse.

This is taking too damn long! Deven lifted Rhian up in her arms and carried her to the Pathfinder. "Sergio, get the door!" Rushing forward, he opened the passenger door. She set Rhian carefully on the seat and secured the seat belt. Looking up, their eyes met, and Deven refused to acknowledge her fear. "I love you. Don't give up on me. You hear? I'm going to get you to the hospital, but you have to hang on for me. Okay?"

Rhian nodded slightly, and Deven shut the door. Walking around to the driver's side door, she took the ice from the crewman as she passed by him. "Call the hospital. Tell them we're on the way. Then call Mac and tell him what happened."

Once in the driver's seat, Deven reached over and placed the baggie of ice on Rhian's injured hand. "Hang on, baby," she said as she backed down the drive. She drove fast and with little caution, ignoring stop signs and traffic lights for the most part. Swerving into the other lane more than once, she came close to sideswiping several cars but never slowed, because she wasn't going to allow anything or anyone to interfere with getting Rhian to the hospital.

The possibility that Rhian might actually die was agonizing for the martial artist. At a loss as to what else she could do, Deven sent out a prayer. Great Spirit, I know I'm most unworthy of you, but please. Please, don't let her leave this world yet. I need her here with me. Please, don’t let her die.

Glancing over, Deven saw that Rhian was barely breathing. A woman of action, the martial artist was frustrated that there was nothing she could do to stop this. The thing killing this woman was unseen and beyond her reach, and she felt a rage at being unable to destroy it. "Hang on, baby. We're almost there."

There was no doubt in Rhian’s mind that she was dying. She was dizzy and each breath was a struggle that further depleted her strength. I'm going to die because I was stupid and forgot the bee sting kit! Tears flowed unencumbered down her cheeks because she didn’t have the strength to reach up and brush them away. I don't want to die. Not yet. I want to see my daughter grow up first. She looked over at Deven. I just found her. How cruel is this? To have finally found out what love is only to have to leave it, leave her, behind. She could see the fear in Deven's eyes and in the worry lines that furrowed her brow. I'm so sorry.

Gripped by a wave of abdominal cramps, Rhian groaned out from the pain. Time was running out for her, and she reached out blindly to touch the martial artist, finally grasping the woman's strong forearm. "Love you," she forced out as her eyes closed.

"I love you, too. Now open you eyes." Not getting a response, she felt herself start to panic. "Open your eyes, damn it!" The woman had grown still, deathly still and Deven reached over and shook her. "Don't you dare die on me! I'll kick your ass from here to Maryland!"

Rhian's head fell forward, and she slumped lifeless against the seatbelt. Unaware that she was doing it, Deven began to cry. "Rhian, please. Fight, baby. Damn you! I need you!"

Slamming on the brakes, she skidded up to the hospital's emergency entrance and jumped from the truck. Running around to the passenger side, she pulled the door open and lifted Rhian's unconscious form from the seat. A gurney, surrounded by several of the hospitals medical staff, appeared at her side. "She was stung by a yellow jacket. She’s not breathing!"

"We got the call, and we’re ready for her," one of them said.

Deven stood there cradling the woman in her arms and found herself unable to move. She couldn’t seem to let go for fear that she would never see Rhian again. Her arms refused to release their precious cargo, but some rational part of her mind pushed to lay Rhian gently upon the gurney.

The martial artist was effectively moved out of the way by the team of doctors and nurses who were now attending to the dying woman. Someone released several puffs from what appeared to Deven to be an inhaler into Rhian's mouth. Someone else was hooking up an intravenous line. She heard the woman's vitals being listed, and though her knowledge was limited, she understood that Rhian was slipping away.

As they wheeled Rhian towards the ER, one of the nurses turned to her. "What's her name?"

"Rhian. Rhian McKenna," she responded. "Please, help her.

"We'll take care of her," the nurse answered. "You need to go talk to the people at the desk."

Deven nodded her head but didn’t move. She stood in the same spot long after the gurney disappeared from view, knowing on some level that her heart now lay somewhere in the ER dying. Nothing she’d ever done in her life prepared her for this. She'd dealt with everything that had been thrown at her over the years, every obstacle, every fight, and yet, never could she remember feeling so helpless and lost.

Her rage had carried her through the worst of her trials in the past but would not serve to brace her now. Nothing could dissipate the torment and fear that threatened to overwhelm her. Despair reached out to seize her, and her view of the doors blurred as tears once more filled her eyes. I love you, Rhian. For what it's worth, I love you.


Deven used the time it took to park the Pathfinder and walk back to the Emergency Room to try and regain her composure. The tension within her body escalated, setting her nerves on edge and giving her a pounding headache. She had enough presence of mind to realize that her self-control was fluctuating, and she knew it wouldn't take much to push her over the edge. Not much at all to immerse her in that darkness inside that raged against the intangible enemy seeking to steal Rhian away.

Taking a steadying breath, she stepped up to the glass partition that separated the ER's information desk from the waiting area. This reminds me way too much of the Center. "Excuse me," she said to the woman on the other side of the barrier.

The attendant looked up and regarded her with an attitude of indifference. "Yes?"

"I just brought my." My what? My friend? My girlfriend? The only woman I've ever loved? The woman sat waiting. "My friend in. She was stung by a yellow jacket and had an allergic reaction."


"Rhian McKenna." She spelled the name and then waited while the nurse entered it into the computer.

The woman read the information displayed on the monitor and then glanced at Deven. "I'll be right back."

The martial artist looked over her shoulder and scanned the crowded waiting room while seeking to quell the mass of fear that sat like a lump in her belly. Fear left a bitter taste in her mouth. A sensation she wasn't used to, and one she definitely detested.

She tried not to think about what might have happened to Rhian. It only fed the anxiety, and she refused to allow it to conquer her. But the internal battle was growing more difficult with each passing second as the overall feeling of her own powerlessness mocked her.

She's fine. We got here in time, and she's probably driving them crazy because she hasn't had dinner yet. You think? Yes! Than why didn't the nurse just say so? Why did she disappear? Oh, shut up! She rubbed her throbbing temples.

"What's your name?"

She turned her head back to the glass barrier. "Deven Masterson."

"All right, Ms. Masterson. I can't give you any specifics. They're still attending to her."

And just what the hell is that supposed to mean? She bit back that question, and asked instead, "Is she all right?"

"I don't know her status other than that they are doing everything they can for her."

Deven felt her aggravation rising rapidly. Her heart rate was elevated and the pain in her temples had gone up a notch. "Is it possible for me to see her?"

"Not at this time." The nurse lifted a clipboard and held it out to her through a small opening in the glass. "Is there any way you can fill out the admitting form?"

Scanning the first part of the document, Deven felt the solid slap of reality. I don't know anything about her. I don't know her middle name or if she has one. I don't even know her birthday. What the hell is the matter with me? I haven't bothered to learn the most basic things about her. And why? Because I'm always thinking about myself. She cleared her throat while endeavoring to swallow the self-loathing that threatened to choke her. "I really don't know that much. I mean insurance and stuff like that. Her father should be on the way, and he can take care of all that when he gets here."

"Fine. You can have a seat in the waiting area if you want." She turned away in dismissal and the martial artist fought the sudden urge to plow both of her hands through the glass and wrap them around the woman's neck.

If I want? I want to be with Rhian! So, fuck you, bitch! Her hands tightening into tight fists, Deven realized that she was precariously close to letting go of all control. Turning away from the wall of glass before she slammed a fist into it, she took two steps towards the packed waiting room and then changed direction. She rapidly covered the distance to the exit, and once outside, she breathed deeply. I hate hospitals! I hate that I'm out here and she's in there. I hate that I can't do a damn thing about any of it! I hate all of this!

Collapsing on a nearby bench, she rested her elbows on her thighs and then covered her face with her hands. It was there that Mac found her a short while later. By the time he got to the hospital, she'd regained a semblance of her normal stoic demeanor by beating her emotions back into submission. Subjugating her feelings had become ingrained, so much so that she'd rarely had to even consciously deal with them. That was until Rhian had entered her life.

It wasn’t until the landscaper’s father stopped directly in front of her that Deven became aware of his arrival. She rose so abruptly that she almost startled him.

"What happened?" he asked.

"She was stung more than once by a yellow jacket. I…I didn't know what else to do. I didn't think we should wait for an ambulance, so I got her here as fast as I could."

Deven's tone concerned him. "How was she?"

She could see the apprehension in his eyes. "Not good. She was unconscious and she wasn't breathing." And then she quickly added, "But she was alive."

He seemed to consider what she said. "Why are you out here?"

She glanced at the entrance. "They wouldn't let me see her, and I really don't care much for hospitals." The explanation sounded lame to her. Rhian was in there fighting for her life, and she was out here because hospitals made her uncomfortable? Yeah, pretty lame, Masterson.

"I'm going to go see what's going on," he said.

She watched him walk into the building and wondered what she should do. No doubt they would take him right to Rhian, and she would be left waiting as she now was. Feeling sorry for yourself, Masterson? Pitiful! She sat back down on the bench and tried not to think.

Mac came out of the ER nearly an hour later and searched the waiting room for his daughter's savior. She wasn't there so he stepped back outside and found the woman sitting where he'd left her. He walked up to Deven and cleared his throat. "Seems I owe you again for saving my daughter."

"You don't owe me anything." Deven rose warily to her feet. "Is she all right?" she asked even though she dreaded to hear the answer.

He inclined her head. "She will be. But she never would have made it if they'd waited for an ambulance. So, thank you," he said as he extended his hand towards her.

The relief was so absolute that it made her lightheaded, but somehow she managed to reach out and return his firm handshake. "Is it possible for me to see her?"

"I'm sure that can be arranged. She wants to see you." He eyed her for several seconds. "Are you okay?"

The question took her by surprise. "I...it was just."

"Scary?" Mac asked.

She nodded. "Yeah."

"I know what you mean," he said. "I remember the last time. Something I don't think I'll ever forget. Feeling so helpless to do anything to help her while wondering if she was going to make it."

Deven looked down at the ground and swallowed. "I'm not likely to ever forget it."

It had been one of the most horrifying things he'd ever witnessed, and Mac felt empathy for this woman. "Come on. I'll take you to her." He led her into a large room with several curtained off examining areas around the periphery. Pausing at the third one, he waited for her then pulled the curtain aside for her to enter.

She stepped through the opening and stopped at the foot of the hospital bed. Rhian lay still and at first Deven thought she was dead. But as she stood there, she saw the slow rise and fall of the woman's chest.

Rhian's eyes opened and she smiled weakly, and Deven thought it was the most incredibly wondrous site. She moved around to the side of the bed and tentatively took the younger woman's hand. "Hi."

"Rhian, I'm going to call your mother," Mac said. "You're in big trouble, you know?"

The landscaper looked over at her father and sighed. "Yes, Dad, I know," she replied in a strained whisper. "Tell Mom I love her." She watched him leave and then lay quietly, studying the martial artist. "You look like hell."

Deven laughed. "Thanks." She leaned forward and gently kissed Rhian's lips. "You look great."

Rhian gazed into Deven’s eyes and knew that the shadows of fear she saw there mirrored her own. "Are you still going to kick my butt from here to Maryland?"

Deven cocked her head slightly and smiled sheepishly. "You heard that?"

"Yes, but I really don’t remember much else. Most of the whole thing is pretty fuzzy." She gave Deven’s hand a slight squeeze. "I do remember that you were driving like a crazed woman."

Deven shrugged her shoulders slightly. "I wasn't going to let anything get in my way. I knew we were running out of time." She blinked several times against the threat of tears.

"I'm sorry, Deven. It was so stupid. I have the kit. I cleaned out my truck the other day and forgot to put it back in."

The martial artist lifted their joined hands and kissed Rhian's knuckles before placing the back of the smaller hand against her cheek. They remained quiet beneath the weight of too much emotion, each just grateful to have this opportunity.

The curtain opened, intruding upon their moment and both women looked up as a nurse entered. "Well, you're lucky. We have a bed for you upstairs."

"Thank goodness. I hate being stuck in here. Not that you haven't been great hosts."

The attendant smiled at her. "Well, you've been a great guest but time to get you ready to move."

"I guess I better get out of the way." Deven leaned forward, placed a kiss on Rhian's forehead and whispered, "I love you."

I almost lost this. Rhian's eyes filled with tears. "I love you, too."

Gazing into the moisture filled eyes, Deven became visibly alarmed. "What's wrong? Should I call the nurse back in?"

"No," Rhian giggled at the woman’s reaction even as she blinked, releasing the teardrops. "I was thinking that I was very close to never seeing you again." She sniffled and sighed. "Close to never hearing those words again or to having the opportunity to say them to you."

"Oh." Deven reached up with her free hand and wiped away the dampness on the landscaper’s cheeks.

Mac strode back into the examining area and smiled at his daughter. "Well, your mother is happy you're all right, but if I were you, I'd steer as clear of her as possible for a bit. She said to tell you she loves you, and when she sees you, you have a big hug coming right before she paddles your behind."

Before she could respond, the curtain was pulled all the way back by an orderly. He smiled broadly as he sauntered up to the bed. "Ready to move?" he asked.

"Ready as I'm ever going to be," she replied.

Deven gave Rhian's hand one more squeeze before releasing it. Their eyes met and held as each woman tried to silently impart the depth of what they were feeling. Acutely aware of Mac’s presence, Deven cleared her throat. "Hurry up and get back on your feet. You still have a lot of work to do on my yard."

Rhian laughed softly. "Yes, ma’am."

Without another word, the martial artist nodded to Mac and then walked away. Rhian longed to call the woman back. She wasn’t surprised in the least at how much she needed Deven near, but under the circumstances, she also realized it was imprudent. A small pang of guilt eased its way into her chest as she caught herself wishing that it had been her father who had left so that she could have asked Deven to stay.

Mac stood silently observing his daughter. There was something about the way she looked at the martial artist, and he couldn't quite put his finger on it. The bond he'd sensed between the two women the first time he'd met Deven was still there and obviously stronger. Lucky for us. Otherwise, I'd be standing in the morgue right now instead of watching my girl recover.

Part 2

Coasting up the long driveway, Deven realized she didn’t recall any of the drive back home. A pervasive numbness had temporarily invaded her being, and she’d merely gone through the motions of driving as if she’d been on autopilot. Now pulling the Pathfinder into the garage, she was relieved that the landscaping crew had gone for the day. She didn’t want to see anyone or answer any questions about Rhian and what had transpired at the hospital. Let Mac deal with it.

After entering the house, she moved right to the refrigerator, removed a beer and stood staring at the bottle for a moment. She hadn't felt the need to drink like this in a long while. That was not to say that she didn’t imbibe from time to time, but she no longer did it for medicinal purposes. That stopped with her pregnancy, but tonight she felt the need to become sedated.

She poured the beer into a frosty mug and set it down on the counter. Reaching up, she removed a bottle of Jack Daniel’s from the kitchen cabinet and unscrewed the top. She debated whether or not to use a shot glass and finally decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. Lifting the bottle to her lips, she took a long pull of the amber liquid, enjoying the slow burn from her throat to her empty stomach.

The warmth seeped outward and after a few seconds, she followed it with a couple of swigs of icy cold beer and then walked out to the sunroom. Sitting in the quiet space, her mind wandered, not settling on anything in particular but flowing with fragments of thought. It was some time before she corralled her wayward thinking and began replaying every moment she'd spent with Rhian. From the first time they’d met right up until she’d left the hospital a short while ago, and she was appalled to find a common thread through her memories - that of her own insensitivity and arrogance.

Not that she'd treated Rhian much different than anyone else. In truth, that was the problem. She'd somehow convinced herself that she was treating the woman differently. She'd believed she was putting her self-interest aside, but in reality she'd just masked it and called it something else. For the second time that day, reality slapped her up the side of the head. She realized that had Rhian died today, these were the memories she would have carried with her for as long as she remained alive.

I've said that her happiness was paramount. I promised myself that I wouldn't hurt her. That I would do right by her, and over and over, I break my word. Why? I suppose it's impossible to accomplish all those things all the time, but that isn't why I've failed. I've failed because it's all about me. Everything is always about me. I think about how my actions will impact her with regard to me. How my changing for her will benefit me in the end. That she'll love me if I do this. Or she'll want me if I do that. Or she'll give herself to me if I treat her a certain way.

She sipped her beer. So, what now, Masterson? I haven't got a clue. I just know that I almost lost her today. I almost lost the one thing that means more to me than anything ever has in my life. I know that when I think about her or I'm with her, I'm inspired to want to be a better person. To always be worthy of the love she has chosen to give me. So, I had better get my act together before she decides she’s had enough. A dismal thought came to mind. That is assuming she hasn’t already.

Dusk came and painted the sky in a profusion of color that was completely lost on the martial artist as she welcomed instead the darkness that settled quietly around her. Shadows lengthened before her eyes even as the gloominess expanded within. It occurred to her that she was behaving foolishly, but that enlightenment was insufficient in spurring her to act against the despondency.

Faintly, she registered that someone had entered the house and listened as familiar footsteps crossed the kitchen floor. The refrigerator was opened and closed, and she heard the sound of the whiskey bottle being moved on the counter. "You can bring that with you," she called out.

A few seconds later, Jay stepped into the room and sat across from her. She reached for the bottle, and he handed it over and then watched as she lifted it to her lips and downed a mouthful. "You okay?"

The whiskey hit her stomach, and she was almost disappointed that the after burn was less intense than the first shot had been. "I'm just ducky," she said after smacking her lips.

"How's Rhian doing?"

"When I left the hospital she was all right. Going to take a few of days for her to get back to normal, but they say she'll be fine."

"That's good to know." He studied her as intently as he could in the darkened room. "Nicole says you saved her life."

Deven snorted derisively. "No. I took her to the hospital. They saved her life. I couldn't do a damn thing for her."

"Well, from what I hear, if you hadn't rushed her there, they wouldn't have been able to do anything for her. She would have died."

She took another swallow of the whiskey before setting the bottle on the table between them. At the same time, Jay reached over to turn on a lamp, and she stopped him. "Don’t. Leave it off," she said. Feeling unexpectedly fragile, she preferred the concealment the darkness offered.

"She was dying, Jay. Right before my eyes, and I couldn't stop it. I saw her eyes close, and I couldn't wake her up. I watched her stop breathing and couldn’t do a damn thing about it!" Her voice caught and she struggled not to cry. "I thought she was dead." She wiped angrily at the tears. "I've spent my life fighting. Practicing and perfecting my skills. Defeating opponent after opponent, but I couldn't beat the thing that was killing her. I couldn't even lay a finger on it!"

Her pain reached out to him. "Deven, you took charge like you always do, and because you acted so fast, she's alive."

"Yeah? It just doesn't seem like enough."

She reached for the bottle again, and he debated trying to dissuade her. It had been a long time since he'd seen her drink like this. "You really love her, don't you?"

"Yes, I do. Isn't that a kicker? Me? I'm so fucked up, Bro. I don't know what I'm doing most of the time. I treat her," her voice trailed off. "I don't deserve her. She loves me, and I'm nothing more than a self-centered egotistical bitch."

He laughed. "True, but she does seem to love your sorry ass anyway."

"I just can't figure out why." She picked up the bottle again and downed another mouthful.

"Easy there, Dev. I thought you said she's all right. The way you're drinking one would think something is wrong."

"She's okay. She'll be fine. And there is something wrong. Me. I realized that I know nothing about her. Not really. If she’d died today."

"She didn't," he interrupted. "That's all that matters. If there’s something bothering you, you have an opportunity to change it or make it right. And why she loves you isn't important, Deven."

They sat in silence for some time before the woman spoke again. "Do you think it's possible for people to change? Really change?"

He considered her question. "I think it's a lot of work, but yes, I believe that if someone wants to change how they act, they can. They have to want to though, and they have to be willing to work at it. Behaviors are hard to break or redefine, but not impossible. If you're talking about yourself, I think you can. I've already seen a lot of changes in you. Besides, you're the strongest person I've ever known."

"I feel weaker then I can ever remember in my life." Her head fell back against the sofa. "What the hell has happened to me?"

"You're all right. I'd just say that you're in love, and it looks good on you."

"Kelly said the almost the exact same thing." She released a long sigh. "I'm tired, Bro. I'm going to take a shower and lay down."

She rose slowly, and he noticed she was a little unsteady on her feet. "Have you eaten?" he asked.

"No. Rhian was supposed to have dinner with me," she said dejectedly.

"Deven, you've been drinking like this on an empty stomach? Shame on you. You know better than that."

"Jay, I'm not going anywhere. It's not like I'm going to get on the bike and ride off. I'm just not hungry."

"Why don't I fix us a couple of sandwiches?"

"No thanks," she replied as he followed her into the kitchen.

"Come on, Deven. You have to eat something. It will only take a minute to fix. Besides, Rhian would be pissed at me if I didn’t make you eat something."

"Oh, all right. But make if fast." Even though she was annoyed by his persistence, she was somehow comforted by it as well. And in truth, It didn’t take her long to finish off the sandwich, a bag of chips and a soda. The food had made her feel better overall though she still had a serious buzz from the alcohol.

Deven made her way upstairs, showered, and then climbed into bed. Turning on the television, she lay there trying not to think anymore. Today had been too hard with too many new things to consider and feel. She just wanted to forget it all - at least until morning.

Part 3

After they transferred Rhian to a regular room and she was settled, her father bid her goodnight and went home. While she wasn’t thrilled about being left alone in the hospital, she was grateful for the respite because she had a lot on her mind.

This was the third time she'd faced death in the span of only a few years. She understood first hand that facing ones mortality had a way of awakening much in the heart and mind of a person. Love can be deepened and desires roused. Missed dreams and regrets can surge forward, and she wondered if it were truly conceivable to live a life without any. She knew there were people who claimed they had no regrets, but she couldn't understand how that was humanly possible.

She didn't want to face death again for a very long time, and she certainly didn't want to do it thinking about what she'd failed to do or regretting something she'd done. And so, she took a few moments and concentrated on Sean. He hadn’t been a bad man. They just hadn’t been right for each other, and no amount of effort on her part would have changed that. She did regret that he was dead, not because of herself, but because of their daughter. And she found it regrettable that they had chosen to deal with their problems in the manner in which they had thus destroying any real love they’d once held for each other.

The only thing I can do now is try to learn from it and not make the same mistake again. It’s time to let you go. You've dominated too much of my life already because I've allowed it. I'm sorry if I hurt you, Sean. But you hurt me, too. I can't change what happened between us, and I'm not going to spend any more of my life carrying all the blame. I hope you're at peace.

Her thoughts then shifted to her daughter and how much the little girl had grown in the past year. If she'd died today, Rhian knew that her parents would take care of their granddaughter and that Nicole would always be there for the child. Seana would always be loved, and Rhian was able to take solace in that even as it hurt to think of not being there to watch her daughter grow up.

And finally she allowed herself to think about the woman who had completely turned her world upside down and, who now more than ever, held her heart. Instead of analyzing her feelings, she reached for the phone and dialed the now familiar number. She couldn’t stop the smile that emerged when she heard Deven's voice. "Hi, honey," she greeted the martial artist.

Honey? Deven felt an undeniable surge of love for the woman on the other end of the phone. "Hi. How are you feeling?"

"I'm doing all right. Really tired though. I think the drugs are going to knock me out soon. Don't worry, okay? They've pumped me full of epinephrine and an antihistamine. They started me on an antibiotic to ward of lymphangitis and given me hydroyzinc for the itching. So, they’re covering all the bases. I should be going home tomorrow."

"Good. I'm sure you'll be glad to be out of there."

"Oh, yeah." Rhian had just assumed that Deven's restraint was a result of what had happened this afternoon, but now as she listened to the woman's subdued tone she suspected there was something more going on with her friend. She was concerned that if Deven was thinking too much about everything, she might start to withdraw and turn whatever she was feeling inward. "Are you okay?" she coaxed.

Deven took a long time to answer, and when she finally did, she seemed even more distant. "I'm all right, Rhian. Just a lot to take in, you know? So much happened today."

"I know. Thank you, Deven. I owe you my life."

"No you don't. Just…just, please don't ever do that to me again," she said in a hushed tone.

Rhian laughed softly. "I won't. Believe me." She paused while she chose her next words. "Listen, I've been thinking about things, and we have some stuff we need to talk about."

Deven hesitated as she imagined the worst. "What stuff?"

Rhian could hear the uncertainty underlying the woman’s contrived reserve and wanted desperately to somehow reassure Deven. "Good stuff. I hope. At least I think so. But I don't want to talk about it over the phone. I'd really rather wait until we're face to face."

"All right," the martial artist replied. She could just break things off over the phone. She wouldn't have to do that face to face. Right?

The landscaper could feel the strain and wasn’t certain what to do to make it better. "You know what I'd really like?"

"What?" Deven asked absently.

"Some ice cream."

Deven’s thoughts derailed and an involuntarily smile creased her face. "You want me to get you some?"

Rhian laughed at the gesture. "Not tonight. But thank you. You could bring me some when you visit me."

"Visit you? I thought you were going home."

"I am, but that doesn't mean you can't come see me."

"Are you sure? I mean, I don't want to cause any problems."

"There won't be any problems unless you neglect me," the younger woman teased.

"Well, can’t have that now, can we?"

"I want to see you, Deven. It was so hard watching you leave. I really didn't want you to go."

"It was hard for me, too." Deven took a deep breath and gathered her courage. "Rhian?"


"I'm really sorry. There have been times when I've treated you badly. When all I've done is put what I wanted before your feelings, and I want you to know that I'm sorry. I'm just not very good at this stuff."

Finally. I knew there was more to this. "Deven, honey, please don't do this."

"Do what?"

Rhian took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "Don't go backwards. You've taken some big risks emotionally and come so far. Today was an eye opening experience for both of us I think, and I believe that's to be expected. You face death and suddenly everything becomes questionable. If you're lucky, you're given a second opportunity to rectify some things and change others. But please don't beat yourself up. I don't want you sitting there convincing yourself that you're no good for me, and that you have to remove yourself from my life. I know that you're the best thing for me. We're okay."

"I never meant to hurt you."

Would it be really selfish of me to ask her to come back to the hospital? "I know for certain that you’ve never intentionally done anything to hurt me. I know that you wouldn't."

"I never want to."

"Honey, I know that. I do love you, Deven, so very much."

"I love you, too." The martial artist took a shaky breath, and feeling embarrassed by her obvious insecurity, she sought to change the subject. "You sound tired."

"I am." Rhian tried but couldn’t stop from yawning. "This took a lot out of me."

"Go to sleep, baby. I'll talk to you tomorrow."

"Are you sure you're okay?"

Here this woman is laid up in the hospital after having almost died, and she's concerned about my feelings. "Yes, Rhian. I'm fine. Really. I'd be great if I could just hold you, but I'm fine."

"I wish you could, too. No more drinking tonight, Deven."

Now how in the hell did she know that? "I, uh, had a few earlier, but I’m done for the night."

"Did you eat?"

"Yes." She rolled on to side, very aware of how empty the bed was. "Jay made me a sandwich. He was afraid you’d get mad at him if he didn’t make me eat."

Rhian laughed quietly. "He’s right." Her eyes closed. "I wish I was there."

"Me, too. Go to sleep, baby. "

"Okay. You, too. No bad dreams."

Deven didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. "Good night, Rhian. Sleep well." She hung up, rolled over onto her other side and wrapped her arms around Rhian's pillow. If she couldn't have the real thing, she'd at least improvise, and with the thought of Rhian tucked securely in her arms, Deven gradually drifted off to sleep.

Part 4

When did you get to be such a chicken shit? Reaching out for the fourth time, Deven finally rang the doorbell. She wasn’t really certain why coming to the Mackenzie house was so unnerving. She liked Mac well enough, and Kate seemed okay. She'd never met Rhian's brother, but based on the rest of the family, she figured he must be all right.

She just wasn't used to a family environment that appeared to actually be centered on the concept of family. These people all seemed to truly love each other, and she couldn't begin to understand what that was like. The closest she'd come to it was with her grandparents and to some extent with Jay's mother. Jackie Thomas was lousy at picking men, but there was no doubt she loved her sons and had always treated Deven well.

Extending her hand to ring the doorbell again, she paused as the door swung open. Expecting to see Kate, she was a little taken aback to find Rhian standing there. "Are you supposed to be up?"

"I'm fine. Get in here." Rhian stepped aside allowing Deven room to enter and then shut the door.

Observing the landscaper critically, Deven was gratified at how well the woman looked. "How do you feel?"

"Pretty good. I should be back to normal in a day or so." Rhian wrapped her arms around the martial artist’s waist. "I'm glad to see you."

Unconvinced that Rhian was in fact recovered, Deven wrapped her arms somewhat cautiously around the woman and hugged her gently. "I'm glad to see you, too. Here I brought you something."

Easing back from the embrace, Rhian accepted the small paper bag the taller woman held out to her. "It's cold," she said as she peaked inside. "Mocha chocolate chip. You're the best!" Wasting no time, she grasped Deven’s hand and headed for the kitchen where she removed a spoon from the drawer, popped off the container’s top and ate a spoonful of the creamy dessert. "Hmm. Heaven."

Deven grinned at the younger woman's appreciation of the little treat. "I'm glad you approve. Where is everyone?"

"My mother took Seana with her to the store. Dad and Michael are at work. It's just me right now. Let's go downstairs."

Deven followed the woman to the lower level and sat down next to her on the sofa. She watched patiently as the landscaper took several more bites of the frozen treat before she reached for the carton.

"No. It's mine," Rhian said as she moved it out of Deven's reach.

"But I bought it." Deven responded in astonishment.

"Yes, you did. For me." Rhian took another bite and then looked at the martial artist who was now sporting a full-blown pout. "Here, open up, you baby." She fed Deven a spoonful of the ice cream, then leaned forward and licked the woman's lips. "Yummy."

There was no way around the fact that Rhian's behavior was confounding Deven. She couldn’t dispute that she liked the playfulness, and yesterday before everything had gone wrong, she would have welcomed the suggestive banter. But Deven wasn't sure whether or not the younger woman actually intended her actions to be perceived as sensual in nature. Given what she knew about Rhian, she doubted that was the case.

After much thought the previous night, Deven had resolved that she was going to consciously tone down the sexual part of their relationship, or more precisely, she was going to tone down her actions. She expected that it would require a concerted effort on her part but fully believed that it was necessary in rectifying her behavior towards Rhian in the past. So in keeping to her resolve, she chose to ignore the possible innuendoes and changed the subject. "What's your middle name?"

Rhian looked at her and smirked. "I'll make a deal with you. I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours."

Shrugging noncommittally, Deven merely responded, "Okay."

The landscaper frowned. "All right. Now I know there's something wrong."

"What do you mean?"

"Come on, Deven. You didn't even touch that. You should have jumped all over what I said and made some sort of lecherous comment." She looked closely at the martial artist, and with devastating clarity, she understood. You screwed this up, Rhian. You totally screwed this up. She set the container of ice cream on the coffee table. "You've changed your mind, haven't you?" she asked, though it came out more a statement then a question.

"About what?" Deven asked. She could easily see that Rhian had become upset about something, but didn't understand what the problem was.

"About me. About us. You don't want me anymore, do you? Not that I blame you."

"No, Rhian. I mean yes. I mean no you're wrong. Yes, I do want you."

The younger woman continued as if Deven hadn’t said anything. "I couldn't understand why you were interested in the first place. I figured it was because you found me such a challenge, you know? And I could deal with that, but then you got all nice about it. It really seems ridiculous when you think about it. You being attracted to someone like me. I mean come on."

Deven practically jumped to her feet. "Stop it!" She took a deep breath. "I can't imagine what you went through yesterday, but I can tell you that it scared me more than anything I can ever remember. I do not want to ever face that again, because if anything happened to you…I don't know what I'd do."

"It scared me, too," she said quietly.

"I'm sure it did, Rhian." Deven walked over to the landscaper's drafting board and stared unseeingly at the design laid out across the top. "They wouldn't let me in to see you," she said in a low voice. "I didn't know what the hell they were doing. I didn't know if you were alive. No one would tell me anything. I hated it. I was scared to death that I would never see you again. My last memory of you was laying your body on that gurney, thinking that if I let go of you, you’d be gone."

She turned and faced the younger woman, and Rhian was stunned by how unguarded Deven was. "You stopped breathing, and I felt so helpless. There wasn't anything I could do. This wasn't like protecting you from someone like Mace. That was easy. But this. I couldn't to a damn thing for you. I couldn't even fill out the admissions form, because I didn't know the fucking answers! I don't even know when your birthday is! How fucked up is that?"

Rhian sat in silence, unable to think of anything to say because it was at that moment that she got a true glimpse of just how much Deven loved her, and the revelation left her speechless.

Deven took several deep breaths before speaking again. "I did a lot of thinking last night. About me. About us. About how we've interacted. About how I've treated you and I realized that I don't like it."

"I don’t understand," Rhian replied. "I don't think you've treated me badly at all."

"How can you honestly say that? I think all I’ve done on a consistent basis is made you feel uncomfortable."

"That’s not true. And if you’re talking about the physical part, it isn't your fault."

Deven walked over and sat back down on the sofa. "I love you. I want you, but I won't pressure you anymore. I won’t push you into that anymore."

"I don’t see where you’ve pushed me to do anything, Deven. And besides, what if I want you to?" Rhian asked, her voice barely more than a whisper.

Deven wasn't sure how to answer that question and so she lifted Rhian's chin and kissed her gently. Pulling away, she felt the landscaper’s hand move through her hair and settle behind her neck pulling them back together.

"Kiss me." Rhian’s voice was low but her eyes burned into the marital artists. "Kiss me as if my life depended on it."

All the fear and desperation of the previous day flowed up from within Deven, and the depth of that kiss was beyond any they’d shared. She kissed the younger woman as if she could free them both of the pain and fear. Rhian’s free hand came to rest upon her chest, and she felt as if her heart was beating in a desperate attempt to move past her ribs and touch the warm palm.

Separating to breathe, they stared at each other. Each woman had felt the brush of death and each had been changed on some level. It was through those shifted perceptions that they now viewed one another.

"Okay?" Deven’s voice was husky with emotion, and that one word was all she could manage to voice.

"Uh huh. Very okay." Lifting her hand, Rhian lightly traced Deven’s face. "Very okay." She smiled as her world started to right itself. "For that you can have some more of this." She handed Deven the carton of ice cream and laughed at the delighted look on the martial artist's face. "To answer your question, I was born Rhian Quinn Mackenzie."

"Where did Quinn come from?" Deven asked around a mouthful of the frozen treat.

"My mother's maiden name. Your turn."

"Wait. You know what Deven means. What does Rhian mean?"

A slight blush crept up Rhian's neck. "The spelling is a variation of my father’s name. Ryan, for a girl, supposedly means queen, or goddess, or witch."

Deven regarded her, the corner of her mouth lifting in a slight grin. "Well, you rule my heart. You've bewitched me. And I think you're a goddess." The depth of Rhian's blush grew, and Deven leaned over to place a kiss on the reddened cheek. "Deven Storm Masterson."

"Storm? You're kidding?"

"Nope. My grandmother gave me my middle name much to my mother’s chagrin. Supposedly, she had some dreams about me before I was born. And as the story goes, she held me after I was born and told my mother that I would face many crossroads in my life. It was likely I would rarely choose the easier path and that I would endure many storms in my life before I could find happiness. She said that I needed to honor the west, the home of the Thunder Beings, because I would find much of my power there. She also told my parents that I would carry a warrior's spirit and needed to be taught what that meant. Apparently, my mother was very put out by the whole thing. She told my grandmother she didn't buy into any of her native mumbo jumbo."

The smile that then graced Deven’s features made her look years younger. "My grandmother was very stubborn but in a gentle sort of way. Persistent is probably a better word. I guess she finally wore my mother down. She wanted me to have a Lakota name, but in the end, they compromised and settled on Storm. My mother has always been quite adamant that the only reason she allowed it was to get my grandmother to leave her alone."

"Wow. That's a great story, but I just don't get your mother."

"Me either."

Rhian looked at the martial artist and cocked her head in contemplation. "The storm part definitely came true. The warrior's spirit thing. Did anyone teach you?"

"Not really. I don’t know if that had anything do to with my father getting me into the martial arts. My grandmother tried when I'd visit her, but I didn't pay much attention. I saw her only once or twice a year and wouldn't sit still long enough to truly grasp anything. My grandfather wasn't much help, because he just wanted to have fun. We'd sneak off and do whatever we wanted. Hiking. Fishing. Whatever struck us that day." Her face lit up with the memories. "My grandmother always found us out. She'd cluck her tongue and scowl. We'd pretend to be sorry, and the next day we'd do it again."

The smile faded as the memories turned dark. "After the assault, I visited them a couple of times before I left for California, but I was so angry, I wouldn't listen to anything they tried to tell me. The last time I saw her was at my grandfather's funeral. I found out I was pregnant on that trip. In fact, she was the one who told me I was. I took a test and sure enough. The next day I hopped on my bike and headed home. I never went back." The deep-seated sorrow rose up and tried to ensnare her. "I wish I had. I wish I'd taken Tiernan."

Rhian reached out and took hold of Deven's hand. "I'm sorry. I can tell that you really miss her. I wish I could have met them."

"Me, too," Deven said as she gave the smaller hand a slight squeeze. "They would have loved you. Almost as much as I do."

"They wouldn't have had a problem with us?"

Deven shook her head. "No. I think my grandmother knew I was a lesbian before I did. Natives, who follow the way of the people, don't live by the same close-minded conventions as our world. To be gay, or different, was to hold a place of honor because it meant you possessed a special power."

"I wish everyone was like that."

Deven sighed. "Me, too. Okay, birth date?"

"October 10th, 1974." Deven shook her head and Rhian asked somewhat defensively, "What?"

"Tiernan was born on the 11th."

"Another Libra. Cool. We can share birthdays. When were you born? Or were you created, because quite frankly I can't imagine your mother having sex with anything or anyone."

Deven laughed heartily. "That is really disgusting, Rhian. Oh God, I think I’m going to be sick." She playfully poked the landscaper’s ribs.

"Don’t you dare start, Deven! No tickling."

"All right. Just don’t put anymore of those awful images in my head. April 17th, 1970."

"April? That was just a couple of months ago. I missed it."

"You didn't miss anything and besides we weren't on the best of terms then."

"True." Rhian shook her head to clear it of those memories. That had been a difficult time between them and especially hard on her. "My turn. What is your favorite thing to do? Besides the martial arts and sex."

Deven looked off and thought about it for a few seconds. "Ride. When things are really bad, I get on my motorcycle and ride up into the mountains. Sometimes I stay at a cabin up there." She looked at their joined hands. "I've never told anyone that. It's been my secret, and when I disappear that's usually where I go." She looked up and met Rhian’s eyes. "I'd like to take you there some time."

"I'd like to go."

Deven smirked. "What do you do? Since you don't do the martial arts and don't have sex."

"Smart ass," Rhian said as she playfully slapped the martial artist’s arm. "For your information, I draw. You know, sketch and paint." She got up and crossed the room. Opening one of the drawers of the nearby desk, she removed a sketchbook, and returned to sit next to Deven. She handed over the book and then rested her cheek against Deven's shoulder, watching as she turned the pages.

Deven browsed through the sketches. There were drawings of plants and trees as well as various scenic locations around the area including some of the monuments in D.C. and natural habitats such as Great Falls.

There were sketches of Seana, which when viewed in order created a visual chronology of the child's development. She was stunned when she came to several pictures of herself. She almost cringed at the first one. She already knew the answer but asked the question anyway. "When was this?"

"That was the night we met. I'd never come across anyone like you." Rhian laughed. "You intimidated the hell out of me and that really pissed me off. But I got over it."

"That you did." The next several pages contained pictures of her in her uniform performing different martial arts techniques. She figured that Rhian must have drawn most of them after the tournament.

She flipped to the next page and quietly contemplated a drawing of Tiernan. The landscaper had captured him in one of his more reflective moods, and it looked so real she didn't wonder at the emotion it stirred in her. There were a few more pictures of her son and a couple of Seana and Tiernan together. The last sketch showed a picnic bench with a motorcycle next to it.

"I didn't know that much about the bike," Rhian said.

Deven studied the picture. "Is that where we went that day?"

"Yep. That's where you first told me that you loved me."

She looked at the landscaper in quiet speculation. "You're really good. You could do this, you know? I mean, professionally."

"I do. In a way." Pulling her legs up onto the sofa, Rhian turned to face the martial artist expectantly. "You once said you wrote poetry. Tell me one."

Deven set the sketchpad aside. "I never said I wrote poetry. I said I'd penned some stuff. No one would ever mistake it for poetry."

"Tell me anyway."

The martial artist’s discomfort was obvious as she tried to downplay the whole idea. "I don't remember them really. I just write things down and then forget them."

"Something. Anything. Please?" Rhian pleaded.

"Most of it is pretty dark and poorly written." "Deven! Enough already. I’m not a critic. I just want to hear something that you created. Something that came from you. I don’t care how it’s written."

"Fine." She released a deep sigh as she discarded poem after poem in her mind, finally settling on something she'd written recently. Closing her eyes, she focused on remembering the words while pushing away the knowledge that she was about to be laughed at.

"Change, the subtle shedding of old skin,

brings growth - excruciating, when will it end?

The sadness. Profound loss, the cause unknown.

So frightening, this path traversed alone.

Rage. Angry torrents of silent shrieks.

Fractured, the soul in pieces keeps

seeking to coalesce and redefine

the spirit, the heart, and body combined.

Strength - where wounds heal and scars emerge.

Knowledge - where survival and growth converge.

Rebirth. Hope ablaze, rekindled anew.

Dreams take flight - some old, some new.

Like the Phoenix rising from death's door

the spirit ascends and soars once more.

And in the wake of this transformation,

emerges triumphant - the soul's salvation."

She sat perfectly still waiting for Rhian’s laughter. It didn't come and she peaked over at the landscaper only to find the woman staring at her, tears brimming in her eyes. "Oh, don't cry. It wasn't that bad."

Moving forward, Rhian situated herself on the martial artist’s lap and wrapped her arms around Deven’s neck. "I'm just amazed. It was beautiful and very profound. I loved it."

Embarrassed, Deven reached around Rhian and picked up the ice cream container, took a bite and passed it to the landscaper. "See. I know how to share."

Rhian remained where she was seated but accepted the container, and then on impulse, she leaned forward and nipped the martial artist's earlobe.

The contact sent a jolt of arousal straight to the flesh between Deven's legs. She's not making this easy. She looked at the blonde and caught the mischievous glint in her eye. "Cute." Reaching out, she brushed her fingers across a ticklish spot on Rhian's ribs.

The younger woman jumped, "Hey!" She set the ice cream down quickly to free up both hands but soon found that defending herself was nearly impossible because Deven was so much quicker and stronger. The more Rhian struggled, the more ground she seemed to lose, and before she knew it, she was flat on her back begging the martial artist to stop.

Realizing where she was, Deven ceased her assault. She felt the length of Rhian's body beneath her own, aware of everywhere they touched. She supported her weight with her forearms, and felt Rhian's hands pressing into her back. Staring into the woman's eyes, she expected to see anything but the desire that burned there. She fought to stop, but the pull was too strong and her lips met Rhian's with barely bridled purpose.

But the passion between them built quickly, and Deven felt her resolve fading. Stop! Or at least slow down! But even as she admonished herself, she felt her hips press forward, grinding slowly against the other woman and she moved her kisses down to the landscaper’s neck.

Not thinking but giving into the moment, Rhian wrapped her legs securely around Deven’s hips and brought their bodies firmly together. A door opened and then closed upstairs effectively halting the martial artist’s progress, and she lifted her head, listening to the sound of footsteps above. Looking back at Rhian, she stammered out, "I'm…I’m sorry." She attempted to sit up but the landscaper's strong legs held her in place.

"Why are you sorry?"

Never in her life, even when she’d first started exploring her sexuality, had Deven experienced such difficulty in controlling her lust. What she didn’t understand was that her attraction to the landscaper went far beyond the mere physical and because of that, it carried a greater depth of passion than she’d ever know. In her mind, she tried to equate what she felt for Rhian to her sexual encounters of the past and that just wasn’t possible. Further, she failed to realize just how much self-control she was actually putting forth. "Because, damn it, I keep swearing that I won't do this."

"Wait a minute. What if I want you to?" Rhian gently caressed the strong back. "What if I told you that I've dreamed about you touching me?"

Trying to short circuit her libido and re-engage her brain, Deven quietly studied the landscaper’s face. "I don't understand. You said."

"I know what I said, Deven. Though I’m not sure that you actually heard what I was saying at the time. I've been doing some thinking, too. Nearly dying can be an enlightening experience." She unlocked her ankles, freeing the other woman. As Deven sat up, Rhian found she missed the weight and warmth of the woman’s body. She sat up as well and studied Deven's profile. "I love you, Deven."

The martial artist gave her a small smile. "I love you, too," she answered as she felt Rhian's hand cover her own.

The sound of footsteps could be heard on the stairs, and judging from the timing, Deven surmised it was Rhian’s daughter. As if in confirmation, Rhian called out, "Slow down, Seana."

"Yes, Mama."

The little girl cleared the last step and squealed as she caught sight of the martial artist. "Deven!" Crossing the room as fast as she could, she reached the sofa, clambered up onto Deven's lap and gave the startled woman a wet kiss.

"Can we go swim?

Deven grinned at the tot. "You're just like your mother. One track mind."

"Me? I'd say she is much more like you in that regard."

"Heaven help us when she gets to be a teenager." Deven turned her attention to the child. "Not now rugrat. I have to get to work."

"No. You stay with me and Mama," Seana demanded.

"I would if I could, but I really do have to go."

The little girl sent an appeal to her mother. "Mama, make her stay."

Rhian gave her daughter an indulgent smile. "I wish I could, sweetheart. Come on. Let's walk Deven out."

But neither woman moved. Finally, Deven said, "Call me on my cell phone later?"

Rhian nodded. "You got it. You aren't going to get much work done, you know? You're going to be spending way too much time on the phone."

"That's quite all right. I look forward to it." Deven leaned forward and placed a kiss on Rhian's forehead, and then standing up, she lifted the child in her arms while extending a hand to the landscaper. The three ascended the stairs together and with reluctance, she released Rhian's hand just before they stepped into the kitchen.

Deven was silently grateful not to find Kate in the room. She knew the polite thing to do would be to make a point of speaking with the older woman, but she just didn't want to hear anymore about her role in getting Rhian to the hospital. Her preference was to forget that yesterday ever happened. At the threshold to the house, she attempted to set the child down, but Seana held tight and giggled. "You're a funny little rugrat," Deven said.

"I'm not a rugrat. I'm a princess," Seana said haughtily.

"Oh. My apologies, your majesty."

Once outside of the house, Deven tried to set the child down again but the little girl refused to let go. She gave the landscaper a beseeching look. "Help?"

Rhian laughed at the woman's plea. "Let go of Deven, Seana. She has to get going."

The little girl loosened her grip, but then rested her head on the martial artist's shoulder. "I don't want her to go," she said plaintively.

"I don't either, but she has to. We'll see her again," her mother soothed.

Rhian watched as Seana reluctantly released her hold, and Deven set her down carefully. Shaking her head, the landscaper asked, "What is it with you and all the girls?"

Deven laughed. "I don't know. My animal magnetism, I guess. Jealous?"

"Sometimes," Rhian replied with all honesty.

"Don't be. You have nothing to be jealous of." Deven hugged the smaller woman and kissed her on the side of the head. "I’ll talk to you later." She turned and strode across the yard to her motorcycle before she changed her mind about going to work. Straddling the bike, she secured the helmet and started the engine, laughing as Seana's eyes opened wide at the noise. Meeting Rhian’s eyes once more, she hoped they expressed what she couldn’t speak out loud. Then putting on her sunglasses, she drove off and with each mile that passed she felt a growing loneliness. But what she could or should do about it continued to elude her.

To Be Continued In Chapter Twenty Three

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