When You Dance With the Devil
© by J. Harley Elmore, 2003 2004
See disclaimers in Chapter One
Chapter Ten, Part 1
It was safe and cozy where she was, and Rhian sighed with gratification before allowing her eyes to flutter open. Stretching out her limbs, her naked skin brushed against the soft sheets, reminding her of the passionate haze of sensual delight Deven had enveloped her in the previous night.
Closing her eyes again, Rhian let the memory caress her. Without any effort, she could almost feel the womans arousing touch and a slight shiver of desire rippled through her body ultimately to settle in the tender flesh between her legs.
The martial artists arm lay draped across Rhians midsection, and the landscaper lightly traced the soft skin along the forearm with her fingertips. Turning her head to the side, she studied Devens face mere inches from her own and smiled at the peaceful countenance. This was the first morning in some time that shed awakened before her companion, and she was pleased to see the woman was still sleeping soundly.
Enjoying the rare quietude, Rhian reflected on the past few months. It was a marvel to her at just how much her life had changed. How much shed changed, for that matter. There was a sense of completeness to her life unlike anything shed known was possible, and she emotionally embraced it. Devens love had helped her to grow beyond the fears and rediscover the value of her self-worth.
Rhians eyes traced the contours of Devens face, and she felt a sudden surge of love so passionate it brought tears to her eyes. You have no idea how beautiful you are, my love. Not just physically but inside. What an amazing person you are and you cant see it.
Moving towards wakefulness, the martial artists features tensed and her grip on Rhian tightened while sleepy eyes opened and slowly focused. "Hey you," Deven whispered, her voice rough from the first deep sleep shed had in weeks.
"Hi," Rhian replied. Undeniably, she was childishly happy to have her friend awake, but at the same time, the nurturing part of her personality wished that Deven could take advantage of the quiet and sleep longer.
Aware that she was being observed, it made her a touch uncomfortable and Deven tried to jump-start her brain. "What?" she asked.
Reaching out, Rhian gently smoothed her lovers bangs. "Dont get all self-conscious on me. I just like looking at you. I dont get to do it often enough because youre up and running before I even start to stir. And the rest of the time, youre so restless you just dont sit still long enough for me to enjoy the view."
"Huh." Despite her efforts, the martial artist couldnt seem to get her brain to engage enough to allow her to come up with an intelligent response. Stretching, Deven realized that she felt good this morning, better than shed felt in weeks and wasnt eager to let go of the warmth that still held her in its grasp.
Turning on her side and shifting her body closer, Rhian settled against her lover, their limbs tangling together in familiarity. Then bringing her lips closer, she kissed her lover tenderly. "Good morning."
"Morning." Deven wrapped her arms around her friend, hugging her snugly. "What do you say we spend the day in bed?"
"Well, as tempting as that is, its the kids day." As Rhian expected, Deven groaned. "Now, we agreed," she reminded the martial artist.
"I know, but would it destroy something if we skipped it once? I mean would we truly damage their little psyches?"
Rhian smiled indulgently against her lovers neck. "No, it wouldnt actually destroy anything, but we would be missing out on a bonding experience. It may not seem like it now, but it wont be that long before they dont want to do things with us anymore."
"I suppose," Deven grumbled. "By the way, were giving Tiernan a bike for his birthday, so remind me to order it this week."
Lifting her head, Rhian rested her fist on Devens chest and then propped her chin up on it. "Excellent," she said. "As for today, I thought we could take them to that little carnival in town."
"Arent they a little young for that?"
"Not really. They have kiddy rides. And well load them up on lots if sugar and junk food."
"And have them throwing up all night?" Deven asked in disbelief. "No thanks."
"But thats one of the rites of childhood I think. Come on, you did it."
"No, I didnt."
Rhian studied her friends expression. "Never?"
"Never. My mother refused to let us go, and my father didnt like to be bothered with stuff like that. When I got older and could have found my own way there, I was always training or competing. So, no, Ive never been to a carnival or a fair or a circus. Id never even been to the zoo until you and I took the kids."
The younger woman was reminded once again at just how different Devens childhood had been then her own, and it just made her more determined that their children would know as many of the simple pleasures that life had to offer as possible. "I think theyd have a good time."
"Jay and Nicole are supposed to come over."
"The game isnt until eight tonight, right?" Rhian asked and received a nod in response. "We should be home long before then." Deven sighed in resignation, causing the younger woman to laugh. "Itll be fine, sweetie. Youll probably even enjoy yourself."
"Right. I can think of lots of other things Id enjoy so much more," she replied as her fingertips leisurely traced Rhians back and ribs.
"Hmm, me too. What do you say to a nice bath?" the landscaper asked between soft nips across the martial artists chest.
"Only if you join me." Deven felt the heat of arousal moving throughout her flesh and reached out to grasp it. She wanted to spend the rest of her life floating in the haze of love and desire that only this woman could create.
"Oh, definitely." Rhian responded, but as she attempted to move away, Deven gripped her in a fierce hug that was startling in its fervor. Settling back down, she allowed her lover to hang on and returned the embrace. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah." Deven answered on a tone slightly husky with emotion. "I love you."
"I love you, too." Rhian looked up and met her steady gaze. "Very much."
The declaration was met with a full smile from the dark haired woman. "Lets go get wet."
Rhian grinned as she rolled off the bed. "As if Im not already."
"Here," Deven said triumphantly as she handed the large stuffed unicorn to Rhian.
The landscaper laughed delightedly at the prize. "Thank you, sweetheart." It had taken several attempts for the martial artist to figure out the most effective way to win the toy, and by then Rhian had been ready to walk away. But her companion had been determined, and in the end, shed done it.
"I want one, too," Seana whined.
Deven rolled her eyes. No way in hell Im doing that again. "You can share Mamas."
"Mommy, I have to go," Tiernan announced while tugging on his mothers jeans.
She looked at her son and then scanned the area. The line outside the portable toilet was way too long for her patience, and judging from his squirming, for his small bladder as well. "Okay." Turning towards Rhian, she said, "Im going to take him over behind that group of tents over there. Wait for me here, okay? Dont go wandering off," she said gravely.
Rhian cocked her head slightly. "Relax, Champ. We wont go off and leave you."
"Funny," she replied as she led Tiernan off.
Returning to where shed left Rhian and Seana, Deven didnt see them anywhere. She scanned the area, grateful for her height but still didnt catch a glimpse of her lover or the little girl.
Spinning around, she felt an immediate rush of anger and adrenaline as she faced Mace Collier. "Arent you supposed to be in jail?" she hissed at him.
"Time served," he said nonchalantly, and then his eyes drifted down to the boy.
She automatically pulled her son closer. "What do you want?" she asked, more as a demand than an inquiry.
"Its not what I want. Ive got what I want. Cute blonde." He smiled at her. "Its what do you want?"
Devens stomach knotted with barely harnessed fury. "Where is she? And where is the little girl?"
"Near. Ill take you to them."
"So help me, Mace, if anything has happened to her or the child, I will kill you."
He laughed and the sound was grating. "I dont think so. Lets go." He indicated she should walk in front of him and watched as she lifted the little boy in her arms. Following several steps behind her, he directed them out into a deserted field behind the fair.
They walked nearly fifty yards across the field to where several cars were parked, and as they neared, Deven saw Rhian and Seana standing to one side against a dark sedan. They both appeared unharmed, and the martial artist quickly surveyed the area. She noted that the sound of the carnival blanketed any calls for help, and they were far enough away from the activity that the rapidly descending dusk was shadowing them from any curious observers. As they neared the group, Deven crossed to where her lover stood. "Are you okay?"
"Yes. Glad youre here though," Rhian answered.
Reaching out a hand, Deven gently caressed the side of Seanas head. The child was definitely afraid and had been crying, and that fed Devens rage. "Hi, princess. Hang in there, okay?"
The little girl nodded as she clung to her mother. "Whats going on?" Rhian asked softly.
"Im about to find out." She set Tiernan down next to Rhian and then turned to face Mace. "Im going to take my family and leave now. If you have any brain cells left in that empty space called your head, youll just get out of my way." She was aware that in a matter of seconds theyd been surrounded by a handful of men. Maces little hood wannabes. This could be fun. "What do you want?"
"What do I want?" Mace smirked at her. "I want to fuck your girlfriend."
Devens fist connected solidly, smashing his nose on impact. "Watch your mouth in front of my kids, you pig!"
The man fell to his knees and covered his face with his hands. "You bitch! You broke my nose!"
"Youre a pathetic little man, Mace. Evolve already!" she shouted at him.
Lifting his head slightly, he yelled, "What are you waiting for?"
Several men charged her at the same time, but she was ready. Shed been training for this moment and embraced the feral part of her nature as it rose up, donning it like a shield. Moving instinctively, she kicked her attackers while maneuvering herself between them and her family. Had she stopped to think about what she was doing, she would have realized just how much she was enjoying the challenge.
They came at her and she countered, driving them back with solid punches and kicks. It was almost too easy even though she was at a distinct disadvantage. Not because they outnumbered her, but because of the people she had to protect. Shed trained to face multiple attackers and normally shed have remained in constant motion causing them to follow her. The intention was to move in a large circle and keep her attackers on the defensive, chasing after her. The technique would keep them in front of her and ultimately get them lined up. Then she would only have had to fight the person in front because their body would effectively block those behind them. But she couldnt move much without exposing Rhian and the children.
Seana screamed at the same time several men charged, and for a second Devens attention was diverted to the child. That instantaneous loss of focus was enough, and she felt a searing pain explode through her hand as a crow bar struck the back of it. "Son of a bitch!" she roared and then turned the pain into power. Spinning she struck the arm holding the weapon with an axe kick, cracking the forearm before driving her elbow into the attackers face.
A sound of a gunshot fractured the air, and everyone froze accept Deven who crouched slightly as she spun around to face her family. A chill ran down her spine and settled in her belly as she recognized the man now holding a gun to the side of Rhians head. Deliberately rising back to her full height, she regarded the ghost from her past.
Mannys deep rich voice reached her ears, and she slowly raised her hands, palms out towards him noting for the first time the swelling of her right hand. "Just take it easy," she said.
Taking advantage of the situation, Mace pulled his arm back and stuck Deven just below the ribcage with his fist. Shed sensed the blow coming and could have easily deflected it, but she didnt want to risk that Manny might misinterpret her actions. Not while he had a gun pointed at Rhian. She flinched at the blow and doubled over slightly before taking a deep breath and straightening back up. The children were crying openly, and she wanted to somehow reassure them. Squaring her shoulders, she smiled at the man. "That the best you got?"
"Thats enough!" Manny held Rhian by the upper arm, the gun never leaving the side of the womans head. "Back off," he directed at Mace.
Deven studied the situation quickly to evaluate her options. Most of Maces buddies were sprawled on the ground either unconscious or in pain. They didnt concern her, but the men and women now forming a circle around them did. They werent some half-baked street bums. These were professionals, and Deven saw her options disappearing rapidly.
She looked at Rhian. Seana was in her mothers arms, crying softly on her shoulder, and Tiernan had his arms wrapped around the womans leg, large tears silently coursing down his face. "What now?" she asked Manny.
"I want you to take a little ride with me," he said as easily as if he were talking about a drive through the countryside.
This wasnt how it was supposed to be! Devens nostrils flared and her pupils dilated. Every muscle in her body went taut with unreleased energy. Shed waited for this confrontation for years. Shed always believed that this was to be her ultimate contest. A true fight to the death, her death, and her goal had never been to survive it but to take as many of them with her before they ended it. She was a fighter and had always known shed die fighting and on her feet, but in all the times shed imagined this moment, a family hadnt been part of the scenario.
The risk that Rhian or the children would be hurt or worse was too great, and she didnt want to be killed in front of them. The only alternative was to give up and let them take her. Everything within her screamed in rage against the idea, but as she looked at Rhian, she felt the fight ebb out of her. Shed already lost. Her eyes met her lovers, and she sent a silent prayer out for forgiveness. "Nothing happens to them," she said to Manny but her eyes never left Rhians.
"As long as you cooperate, you have my word. Tiny will have your truck brought here, and hell stay with them until he hears from me. Then theyll be free to go."
Deven nodded and stepped forward, and Manny eased back.
"Deven, dont do this, please," Rhian said. "There has to be some other way."
The martial artist picked up her son and then wrapped her free arm around Rhian and Seana. "I love you all."
"Dont go," Rhian pleaded. "Please."
"I have to. Its the only way I can be sure youll be all right. As long as I do what they say, theyll let you go."
"You dont know that!"
Deven struggled to keep her voice calm. "Sweetheart, I know that if I try to fight now, at least one of you will get hurt or worse. I cant take that risk." She took a deep breath. "When they let you go, head over to your parents house and call Jay."
"No, Deven! You promised!" Rhian felt her body growing cold from the inside out. She saw the defeated look in her lovers eyes and wanted to scream, to somehow wake up that aspect of the woman that was confrontational in nature. Without thought, she reached out and slapped the martial artist as hard as she could. "You promised me that you wouldnt leave me!"
The womans head snapped back at the blow, but the reaction Rhian had hoped to cause wasnt forthcoming. If anything, the martial artist looked despondent. What the landscaper didnt understand was that Deven already knew what lay ahead for her and had started to accept it. She placed a kiss on Seanas head. "Be a good girl for Mama," she said before turning her attention to her son.
"Tiernan." The boy clung to his mother and cried harder. "Son, listen to me, okay? You take care of Rhian and Seana for me until I get back. Uncle Jay will help you." She knelt while slowly moving his grasp from around her neck back to Rhians leg. She kissed him before standing back up.
She looked into the eyes of the woman who had in a very short time given her life meaning and purpose. Grandmother, please look over them. She took Rhians face in her hands and kissed her hard. "I love you." She brushed her lips once more with just the whisper of a kiss. "Im sorry."
"Lets go, Masterson." Manny signaled and one of his men cuffed Devens hands behind her back.
"Are these really necessary?" The pain in her hand was becoming bothersome and to have the hand trapped behind her back didnt help.
"Do you take me for a fool?" he replied tersely. They led her to the nearest sedan and directed her into the back seat. Manny turned to Tiny before getting in the car as well. "If you havent heard from me within an hour, you know what to do," he directed.
"Mommy," was the last thing Deven heard before the door closed and the car sped away into the gathering gloom.
Trying to find a more comfortable position, Deven shifted in the seat, but it didnt help. The truth was that she was extremely uncomfortable. She absolutely hated to be confined in any way, and with her arms trapped behind her back she was growing edgy. On top of that, the painful throbbing from her broken hand was increasing with each minute that passed. In an effort to take her mind off her agitation, she studied the cars other occupants.
Manny sat to her left, talking into his cell phone, and she tuned him out for the moment. She didnt recognize the driver at all, but the young man sitting directly in front of her looked vaguely familiar. He glanced over his shoulder at his boss, and it was then that Deven recognized the profile.
"Hi, Sali," she addressed him with a hint of teasing in her voice.
The driver snickered at the childhood nickname, which earned him a glare from the twenty year old. Turning in his seat, the young man looked directly at her. "Hi, Dev."
Hed only been a child when shed last seen him, a gawky preteen entering adolescence with a massive crush on her. "You grew up nice. You look real good. I think you were what? Twelve the last time I saw you."
"Yeah," he answered, obviously at a loss for words.
"You look a lot like Tito," she observed.
"Thanks," he replied sincerely.
A thought occurred to her, and she pinned him with her eyes. "A word of advice, little brother. If youre going to run around the woods, especially at night, youd do better to wear boots or sneakers. Not your good shoes." The reddening of his cheeks confirmed for her that shed guessed correctly. Hed been the watcher in the woods. "Thank you for calling the ambulance when my son got hurt."
"I I didnt." His blush deepened. "Oh hell, youre welcome, Deven. He seems okay."
"He healed up fine. I just want you to know that I appreciate what you did for him." Then another notion popped into her head. "Did you send the photographs?" she asked him, her tone edged with barely censored annoyance.
"No," he said as his eyes briefly settled on his father.
Interrupting his telephone conversation, Emmanuelle Di Napoli addressed his son. "Salvatore," was all he said, but it was enough to convey his displeasure.
"Yes, Papa," Sali replied to the reproach and turned back around in the seat.
Deven watched the man next to her. Manny wasnt exactly handsome, though he did have rugged good looks that were becoming decidedly distinguished as he aged. His sons, on the other hand, favored their mother and possessed a more refined bone structure that gave them both a handsomeness that bordered on striking. But looks werent what drew people to Manny. They were attracted to his commanding presence, and Deven noted that it hadnt diminished at all over the years.
Finished with his phone conversation, he switched his attention to her. "Why the photographs?" she asked him.
"I would think that obvious."
"To spook Rhian into leaving," she acknowledged.
"It would have made this so much simpler."
Deven resisted the urge to laugh out loud. "Sorry this is so much work for you. You could just drop me off at the next gas station. Im sure I could find my way home." He shook his head slightly either in amusement or disbelief. She wasnt sure which.
"Whose idea was it to burn them?" he asked.
"Does it matter?"
She shrugged as much as her confined state would allow. "It was Rhians. Shes got this protective streak that shows up now and again."
"When I heard youd become tamed I was fascinated, and I just had to find out who had managed such a miracle. But I must admit I was surprised. Shes so nondescript. Cute certainly, but not at all what was the quality you sought most often? Oh yes, whorish."
Deven did laugh at that. "Do you honestly think Id take a whore into my house? Give me some credit, Manny. I learned my lesson." The ache in her hand was causing a faint sheen of perspiration to break out on her skin. "So you send Sali to spy on me. You send pictures to Rhian to get her out of the way. Why? Why after all these years? I mean I did everything I could to stay on your radar. I never hid from you. So, why now?"
"Why indeed." She didnt think he was going to answer. He seemed lost in thought, and she turned her attention to the darkness outside the vehicle.
"My associates blamed me when you went to the police," he finally said.
"Not that it matters now, but that was my fathers doing. Not mine," Deven said as she watched him twirl his cane between his fingers. Shed never seen him with a cane before. He hadnt needed one.
"The District Attorney couldnt touch me," he continued. "They tried but couldnt dig up anything useful. Still, it was messy, public, and someone had to pay." He rubbed his leg absently, and Deven understood the implication. Theyd punished him when they couldnt get to her. "Every time it pains me, I think of you."
"So, why didnt you come after me? I waited for you."
His laughter was low and resonated deep in his chest. "Believe me it would have given me great pleasure at the time to have put a bullet through your head. But Tito, God rest his soul, managed to convince me otherwise."
"He shouldnt have," she whispered.
"He explained much. He betrayed your confidence, Deven, to save you. And I realized that to some extent I was also to blame."
She eyed him curiously. "Why? You had nothing to do with it. Im the one who lost it."
"Yes, but I didnt do anything to stop you either."
"Wasnt your responsibility."
"As an employee, you were my responsibility the day I hired you. But it became personal when I took you into my home. Choices, Deven. You and I have made some pretty bad ones. That is not to say that you were a bad choice. You were never that. Not clipping your wings, however, was a very bad decision on my part. But Im not going to revisit that with you. We dont really have the time for it." His cell phone rang, and he checked the display before forwarding the call to voice mail. "A renewed interest in you has arisen recently and someone wants their pound of flesh. To be quite honest, Im not certain who initiated the contract but I assumed the right to carry it out. Given our history and all."
"Kill two birds with one stone, eh? That should please you immensely. Get your revenge while providing theirs. Convenient."
Reaching across the seat, he gripped her chin firmly in his hand. "You listen to me. I dont think you understand the seriousness of this situation."
She smiled at him. "Youre kidding me, right? Do you think this is all because I gave the police a couple of names and locations for fights? Shit, Manny, I only gave them the names of two people so far down the food chain they couldnt have possibly linked them to you. I didnt tell them anything they didnt already know. If they were able to tie anything back to you personally, your security really sucked." Her smile vanished and she glowered at him. "This has nothing to do with that, at least not for me. I know what Ive done, and Ive always known that I would have to pay for that. So back off!"
He held her firmly, pulling her closer and staring into her eyes. "Are you really so eager to die, Deven? I dont think so. At one time, you would have welcomed it but now, you have Rhian and your children. La famiglia è molto importante. Even to you, and I dont think you want to leave them."
"It doesnt matter what I want."
He studied her, still holding tightly to her face. "Do you love her?"
He pressed his fingers harder into her flesh. "Do you love her?"
"Yes," she hissed at him.
"And your son, Deven, do you love him?"
She glared at him. "Yes."
"Enough to die for them?" She didnt answer but her gaze never wavered, and he released his grasp. "Well, they certainly seem to love you."
"You sound disappointed," she remarked.
"No. Everyone deserves to be loved, Deven. Even you."
"You sound like Rhian," she muttered.
"Smart woman." He thumped the end of his cane absently on the floor of the car. "I wish youd trusted me more. I was not like your father."
"No?" she snorted. "I was your fighter, Manny, just like I was his. I was your prize pit bull. For you, it was the money. For him, it was the bragging rights."
"I hate to burst your bubble of self importance, Deven, but I didnt make my fortune off of you. I just loved to watch you fight. Almost as much as you loved to do it, I might add."
This man had always treated her well, and as best she could tell, had always been honest with her. At one time hed welcomed her into his household and had never treated her like property, and she did understand his desire for revenge. If she were going to die now, a part of her was more accepting that it was coming from him instead of a stranger. That he would hurt her was certain, but he wouldnt allow them to defile her. She found a perverse sort of comfort in that.
It always came back to the choices shed made. At the time she hadnt even considered going to him and had chosen instead to let her father make life-altering decisions for her. What if shed gone to Manny? What would her life have been like? It wouldnt have included Rhian. She would have never known that kind of love or compassion, and she would have missed out on the best part of her life, brief as it was. Her chest tightened, and she quickly steered her thoughts away from what shed already lost.
"How does that weasel Mace fit into this?" she asked.
"Just a means to an end. Apparently, he was arrested for assaulting your girlfriend. While he was in jail he threw your name around, and the acquaintance of an acquaintance picked up on it. I used him to get you where I needed you to be."
Deven nodded. "Clever you."
He regarded her. This woman was not unlike the fighter hed known, but she was definitely so much more. There was a depth to her now, and on some level he regretted what was to come. "You have a nice family, Deven. I never would have figured you for the domestic type though there was always a part of you that longed for it."
"Yeah well, shit happens."
"That it does." The car stopped behind a large brick building, and he waited until they were alone in the vehicle before speaking again. "Id like you to make it home to them. Though I cant guarantee in what condition that will be."
It was a struggle, but Deven managed to maintain her composure. She had to. Nothing that she was about to endure could possible come close to the agony shed suffer if she failed to secure freedom for Rhian and the children. The car door opened abruptly, and Salvatore reached in and helped her to her feet. "This way," he said as he escorted her into the building.
It appeared to her to be one large warehouse. They were the only people there at the moment, but the cleanliness and amount of inventory stacked in neat rows indicated it was used regularly. No one spoke as they waited for the other car to arrive. Within minutes, another five individuals including Mace joined them.
She was led past several rows of industrial shelving to a secluded area and watched in silence as her ankles were shackled by chains attached to two opposing load bearing supports. There was little room to move her legs, which of course ensured she couldnt kick anyone.
Manny pulled his cell phone from his pocket and held it up for Deven to see. The handcuffs were opened on one wrist and inserted through a loop in a chain suspended over her head and then reattached to her free hand. No weapons. She sighed. There was only one thing remaining for her to do. She stilled herself and met his eyes. "You gave me your word."
"That I did." Manny opened the phone and dialed. "Let them go. You know where to meet."
"How do I know youre talking to him?" she asked.
"Shame on you, Deven." He stepped closer to her. "Put the woman on," he said into the phone before holding it up to her ear. "Dont do anything stupid. I can still change my order."
"Deven?" Rhians voice reached her.
"Hey. Do what I said, okay?"
"Where are you?" Rhian cried. "Are you alright?"
Deven could hear the panic in her lovers voice. "Rhian, you have to focus. Get the kids out of there."
The phone snapped shut, cutting off the connection. Its done. She took several deep breaths and mentally severed all ties with Rhian and the children. They were gone to her now. She dug down deep within herself and pulled up every ounce of anger she possessed and every thread of hatred shed ever known in her life. So, I cant fight. Ill still die with my pride intact. Lifting her chin, she sneered at Manny. "Bring it on."
To Be Continued in Chapter Eleven
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