When You Dance With the Devil

© by J. 'Harley' Elmore, 2003 - 2004

See disclaimers in Chapter One

Chapter Eleven, Part 1

Damn it! Wake up already! Rhian counted to ten and then opened her eyes again but nothing had changed. I'm going to wake up in our bed, and Deven is going to hold me like she always does after a bad dream. Because that's all this is! Just one horrific dream brought on by too much junk food. She was right. I should have listened to her and not eaten all that crap!

"Mama, we go get Deven now."

Oh God, it is real. Turning around in the seat, Rhian faced the terrified children. They sat huddled together on the back seat, their faces streaked with tears. "Try to stay calm, baby girl. You too, T. We'll go soon." Her gaze settled on the seat next to the boy. "What's that?" she asked him.

"Mommy's jacket," he said with hiccup.

"I forgot she brought it. Hand it to me please." Tiernan passed it over the seat and pulling it close, Rhian buried her face in the leather, inhaling deeply. This can't be happening. Stuff like this doesn't happen in real life!

Lowering the jacket, she scanned the darkness around them. Tiny, who was actually enormous, had taken possession of Rhian's keys and cell phone. The keys had been handed over to someone else who had driven the Pathfinder out into the field, and then she'd been instructed to wait inside with Seana and Tiernan. That had been over an hour ago, and she wasn't sure how to placate the children.

It didn't help that she was keeping herself together by a flimsy tread of sheer will. She'd tried to put her emotions aside and logically address the options. To think like Deven would in the same situation, but she didn't have the experience or skills to formulate a viable plan of action. She knew that she'd do whatever it took to protect the kids, but if these people chose to kill her. Rhian shook her head adamantly. She didn't want to think about what they might do.

Tiny's cell phone rang and Rhian's heart began to pound in her chest. He listened intently and then she watched with dread as he drew near. Once again, she looked around the interior of the truck for something she could use as a weapon but there wasn't anything that would stop this man. Please don't hurt my babies.

As he reached the open window, she cringed before realizing he was handing her the phone. She slowly brought it up to her ear and then she heard Deven's voice. She's alive. Thank you. Thank you. But all too soon there was only silence and Tiny was removing the instrument from her trembling hand. After dropping the keys and her cell phone through the window where they fell onto her lap, he turned and walked away, disappearing into the night.

Deven's voice filled her head. You have to focus, Rhian. Get the kids out of there. "Hey, guys, buckle up. We're going now."

Tiernan stood up and frantically searched the darkness outside the vehicle. "Where's my mommy?" he asked.

"I don't know, honey."

"You can't leave! What if she comes back? We won't be here," he pleaded desperately.

"Sweetheart, Mommy said to go wait for her at my parents' house."

"No!" he shouted at her and then fell back against the seat. "I want my mommy."

"I know, baby. I want her, too." His heart wrenching cries reached out to her, but she couldn't take the time to comfort him. She needed to get away from there. "I'm sorry, Tiernan."

Rhian didn't remember the drive at all. At some point she'd called Jay as Deven had instructed but couldn't recall a single word of the conversation. The next thing she knew she was pulling into her parents' driveway. Rousing herself from the shock-induced daze, she pressed the horn repeatedly until the front door of the house opened.

"What's wrong?" Mac asked as he opened the driver's side door. "Where's Deven?"

"I don't know," Rhian answered.

"What do you mean, you don't know?"

"Just that, Dad. We have to call the police."

Kate hurriedly opened the back door of the Pathfinder and tried to calm the distraught children. "Michael, help me," she said to her son. He gathered up Tiernan and carried him into the house while she took charge of Seana.

Rhian staggered out of the truck, and Mac placed his arm around her waist. "What happened?"

Before she could respond, Jay skid his automobile to a halt in front of the house. "Where is she?" he yelled while lurching out of the car.

"I don't know," Rhian replied as he and Nicole rushed towards them. "They took her."

"Who?" Nicole asked. "Rhian, who took her?"

"I don't know who they were." The tremor in her voice made her hesitate. "Only Mace."

Jay stepped in front of her. "What the hell did he want?"

"Let's go inside," Mac suggested and supported his daughter as they walked towards the house.

Rhian had refused to answer any more questions until the children had been persuaded to go downstairs with her brother. By then, Officers Abbott and Rogers had arrived, and the questions had begun in earnest. She'd tried to keep up but had started to feel completely overwhelmed and confused. "Stop! Please. Just give me a minute."

She was cold despite the heavy leather jacket she wrapped tightly around her body. "We decided to take the kids to the carnival. Actually, I decided and convinced Deven to go. Everything was fine. Then Deven took Tiernan to the bathroom, and while she was gone, Mace showed up with several other guys."

"Mace?" Officer Abbott queried.

"Mace Collier," Jay provided. "We've had problems with him in the past. In fact, he served a little time for an assault on Rhian."

The apprehensive young woman looked at each person in the room as if entreating them to understand. "I didn't know what to do. I looked for a way to escape, but they had us surrounded. They said that if I made a sound or tried to get away, they'd hurt Seana. I tried to stall, hoping that Deven would return, but Mace said some awful things about what he'd do to me and to Seana if I didn't cooperate. I couldn't let them hurt her. So, I went with them. They led us out into a field behind the carnival, and then he left and headed back the way we'd come. A little while later he returned with Deven and Tiernan."

Seeking clarification, Officer Rogers asked, "Who are Tiernan and Seana?"

"Tiernan is Deven's son. He'll be five next month. Seana is my four year old daughter."

"Okay. Please go on," Rogers coaxed.

"Deven told Mace to get out of the way. That we were leaving, and then all hell broke loose. They attacked her, and she was beating the crap out of all of them. And the next thing I know, a gun was fired. Someone grabbed me from behind and put the gun against my head."

"What did he or she look like? The one with the gun?" Abbott inquired.

"It was a man. I never got a look at him because he was behind me, and I couldn't move my head because of the gun. I was afraid to move. But Deven saw him. I think she knew him because her whole attitude changed. She didn't even put up a fight. She let them take her."

"Why?" Mac asked.

"She said it was the only way she could be sure they'd let us go. She was certain that if she allowed them to take her, we'd be all right."

"Did she call him by name?" Jay asked.

"No. But I got the feeling that they knew each other."

An uneasy silence filled the room and sitting down beside her daughter, Kate provided what support she could.

"What happened next, Mrs. McKenna?" Office Abbott asked.

"They handcuffed her and put her in one of the cars. Then they drove away. They made us wait in the Pathfinder until someone called, and then they let us go. I know she was alive because they let me hear her voice." Rhain began to cry softly. "She...she had told me that as soon as they let us go, to...to come here. I should have called the police right away, but I...I wanted to get us out of there as quickly as possible. I was afraid they might not really be gone or would come back."

For the next hour, the police asked her a multitude of questions and re-examined her story repeatedly. She was frustrated that she couldn't give them many details. With the exception of Mace, she hadn't known any of the people involved. It had been dark, their clothing had been nondescript, and the hats they'd worn had obscured their faces with shadows. After she and the children had been confined to the Pathfinder, their captors had stood guard outside the vehicle far enough away that she couldn't see them clearly. With the exception of a few instructions from Tiny, they hadn't spoken to her or to each other the entire time.

Eventually the children had been questioned as well, but they hadn't been able to offer much either. Rhian began to feel like they were being interrogated, albeit in a subdued sort of way, and she felt her aggravation rising. "Look, we've been over this. I've told you everything I can."

"I know it's difficult, Mrs. McKenna," Officer Abbott said. "But sometimes if we go over it several times, you might remember something new. "

"I understand. I just can't focus anymore right now. And the kids need to be left alone. It seems that every minute we spend rehashing everything is a minute wasted in finding Deven."

"If you do remember anything else, please give us a call," Officer Rogers said as he handed her a business card. "We'll get this out on the wire right away. And you'll probably be seeing someone from the crime lab out here to check out the Pathfinder. They might have left some evidence when they drove it out into the field."

Rhian nodded in answer and then watched as Jay walked the officers out. Collapsing back on the sofa, she reached out and took her daughter's hand. Seana was held securely in Nicole's arms, and Rhian was aware of how quiet the child was. The quiet in the room was broken as Tiernan once more called out for his mother. He seemed to fluctuate between crying and being nearly comatose.

"Let me have him," Rhian said to her father. She held her arms out, and Mac settled the boy on her lap. She held him to her and rocked him gently. Besides the jacket, he was her only physical connection to Deven, and at that moment she imagined she needed him just as badly, if not more so, than he needed her.


The pain was staggering. Sharp and piercing atop a constant dull ache that ebbed and flowed in intensity. Deven had managed to face each blow with muted grunts and groans for some time, but then something inside had fractured and each subsequent strike had sent a jolt of agony through her torso. It was impossible for her to find a part of her body that didn't hurt to some extent. She tried to focus, to move beyond it all, but the pain was too extreme now. Just the simple act of breathing had become pure torture. God, Manny, just fucking kill me already!

"When do I get my turn, huh? I brought her to you, man. I should get a shot at the bitch."

"Screw you, Mace." Deven spat a mouthful of blood at him.

"Eww, Masterson. Keep your blood to yourself, will ya?" He cocked his head and smiled at her. "Hey, Deven, when we're done here, I think I'll pay a visit to your girlfriend and finish what I started."

The facial swelling was causing her range of vision to diminish rapidly. There was a lot of pressure building up around her eyes, and she wondered how much longer it would be before she lost her sight completely. Even though she couldn't actually see him, she knew that Manny was nearby. "You gave your word," she said.

In one smooth motion, Manny swung his cane, striking Mace in the throat. At first Mace didn't seem to register what had happened but then his eyes widened as he gulped for air through a crushed windpipe. "I gave my word," Manny stated dispassionately to the dying man. The beating stopped for a moment as attention was diverted to Mace Collier's slow waltz with death.

"Serves you right," Deven muttered. A punch hit her in the back near a kidney and her legs buckled. Slowly and with a great deal of exertion, she managed to regain her feet but not before the cuffs had cut into her wrists.

Observing Deven's struggle, Manny's admiration for her grew. She'd already endured more than anyone he'd ever known and had held back the screams for a long time. But even she couldn't deny the pain of broken bones grinding together.

Manny stepped forward and looked closely at his prisoner. Her erratic breathing was becoming a concern. Certainly her ribs were broken and there was no way of knowing how much internal damage those fractured bones were causing. The eyes that looked back at him were unfocused and one pupil failed to dilate properly. How much more of this can you endure?


Time had become a trial of sorts for Rhian. It meant nothing, and yet it meant everything. It would seem to rush by her, unstoppable and yet it would drag on insufferably. She no longer knew exactly how long it had been since Deven had said goodbye nor did she know when she'd last heard her lover's voice. For that matter, she wasn't even certain what time it was. All she knew was that it was very late and with each tick of the clock, her despair grew a little more.

Standing at the living room window, she stared off into the inhospitable darkness beyond the glass. Where are you, love? Are you okay? Please be okay. She tried to think what Deven would do under the same circumstances. She wouldn't be standing around waiting. She'd be doing something.

There had been no new information from the police, though they had examined the Pathfinder thoroughly. If they'd found anything, they weren't sharing that information with her. We are selling that damn thing! You hear me, Deven. I don't care if you're attached to it or not. It's gone.

Her father's strong hands settled gently on her shoulders, and she leaned back against him. "You should get some rest, Rhian. You have to keep up your strength."

"I just don't know if I can, Dad."

They stood quietly, Mac trying to provide his daughter some comfort but uncertain of how to accomplish that. "They'll find her, baby."

"I don't want her hurt," she replied faintly. Just the thought of Deven being harmed caused Rhian's heart to beat more rapidly and her palms to become clammy. The fear that the heartache would consume her if she allowed the tears to come was so strong that Rhian staunchly refused to free them. She had to hold onto the belief that Deven was alive and well, because the alternative was unbearable. And she felt that if she gave into the despair, she was somehow acknowledging that perhaps Deven was anything but all right.

Purposefully, she pushed her thoughts away from what might be and sent them in search of happier memories. It wasn't long before she chuckled softly.

"What's so funny?" Mac asked.

"I was just thinking about the first few times Deven and I crossed paths. She was the most arrogant, egotistical, intimidating person I'd ever met. I couldn't stand her. I absolutely hated her attitude, and I especially hated that she could infuriate me. She could make me feel so much, and I didn't realize that part of the problem was that I had feelings for her. I had no idea what those feelings were or what to do with them, but I knew I was drawn to her. It was so frustrating. Every time I'd finally convince myself that she was a lunatic, she'd go and do something nice or look at me a certain way, and I'd fall deeper in love with her. Though I had no idea that's what it was at the time."

"Rhian?" Nicole's voice broke into her musings.

"Hi, Nic."

"Hey. I know you've got a lot on your mind right now, but we can't get the kids to go to sleep. They're fighting it. Tiernan absolutely refuses, and Seana isn't going to bed if he isn't."

"Okay. I'll come down," she answered. Mac gave her a gentle hug and released her. "Thanks, Dad."

Walking down the stairs, Rhian could hear Jay's voice as he tried to convince Tiernan to go to bed. When she reached the bottom step, all three looked at her expectantly. There was no disputing that the children were exhausted. It was well after midnight, and she wondered that they both hadn't passed out by now. They have a lot of growing up to do, and I will not do this without you, Deven! They need you. I need you.

"Is Deven home, Mama?" Seana asked in a small sad voice.

"Not yet, baby girl." Rhian glanced at Jay but looked away when she saw the hurt in his eyes. It was more than she could handle just then. "I know two younguns who need to go to bed."

Tiernan pulled his knees up and crossed his arms in an act of defiance. Rhian recognized it for what it was but felt no irritation at the boy's obvious disobedience. To the contrary, she was worried about his emotional wellbeing and walking across the room, she knelt before him. "Why don't you want to go to sleep, little man?"

Lifting his head, his eyes met hers and the steady gaze he gave her was very reminiscent of his mother. "I have to stay up," he declared.

Despite the bravado, his sadness was so deep it hurt her just to watch him. "You do? Why?" she asked.

"Mommy told me to take care of you until she gets home."

His determination tugged at her and reaching out she ran her fingers through his dark hair. He was trying so hard, and he was still just a baby. "She did, didn't she? I'll tell you what. You can watch out for Seana and me, and we'll watch out for you, too. That way we can all share the load. In fact, why don't the three of us keep each other company while we wait for her?"

He slowly unfolded his body. "Okay."

"Mommy is going to be very proud of you." She kissed his cheek before standing back up and extending a hand to each child. "All right you two. Let's go. Tell Uncle Jay and Aunt Nicki goodnight."

Once both children were tucked into her bed, Rhian lay down with them telling herself it was just until they dozed off. What she didn't expect was that her own emotional exhaustion would quickly pull her to sleep.


A punch struck Deven near the temple, sending a searing pain through her head and creating a cascade of stars that only she could see. All she wanted to do was fall into a deep sleep from which she'd never awake. But they wouldn't let her, and at that moment she'd reached the limit of her continued existence.

The sound that erupted from her was inhuman, and Manny regarded the beaten woman with astonishment. Somewhere between a wail and a bellow, it rose up out of her as if she were trying to rend her soul from her body - as if somehow she could force her spirit to vacate the vessel of agony.

Everyone froze. None of them had ever heard anything like it, and then as abruptly as it had begun, the sound ceased though it continued to echo eerily off the walls of the warehouse.

The act of filling her lungs had pressed against her broken ribs, separating the bones with excruciating force. Her only regret for having done it was that she was still alive. "Damn, that hurt," she muttered as the darkness finally came to claim her. Her head dropped forward onto her chest and her knees buckled.

The weight of her body slowly came to rest on her wrists, and the handcuffs dug into flesh that was beyond raw. Manny signaled everyone to move away from her. The restraints supporting her body were stained red, serving as temporary dams for the blood, but as her body settled completely the pools were freed to flow unencumbered down her arms. Manny imagined it wouldn't be long before the continued pull of gravity did some grave damage to the already abused flesh.

Stepping forward, he lifted her head and regarded her grotesquely swollen and bloody face. He barely recognized her. There was nothing left of the beautiful woman she'd been only ten hours prior. And for the first time in a very long time, the indomitable Emmanuelle Di Napoli felt a pang of remorse.

"All right. Clear out," he ordered. "All of you know where to go." He pointed to Mace's lifeless form. "Don't forget the trash." Then he addressed his driver. "Take the car and get it out of sight. I'll call when I'm ready to be picked up."

"But, Boss."

"Do it! Just don't go too far." He looked at the group of people. "Go!" Gripping his son by the arm, he waited until everyone else was out of earshot before issuing the next orders. "Get them out of here. Make sure the door is secure and then get back here. Pronto!"

Salvatore caught the urgency in his father's voice and quickly left to do his bidding. As soon as everyone was out of sight, Manny neared the woman once again. He checked for a pulse and then after taking off his suit coat, he carefully wrapped his arms around her, holding her gingerly until his son returned. "Open the cuffs."

Salvatore unlocked the restraints holding her hands, and Manny continued to cradle the woman while his son freed her ankles.

"Papa? Is she?" the young man asked nervously.

"Not yet." With the utmost care, Manny eased her onto her side on the floor and then knelt beside her. "Deven?" Not getting a response, he spent several minutes reviving her.

At first, all she could manage were a few arduous gasps. Though it was a struggle, she eventually inhaled enough air to speak. "Just...kill... me," she forced out.

In a gesture that was remarkably paternal, he brushed her hair back off her damp forehead, and when he spoke, his voice was low and soothing. "You think that you deserve to die. That justice is being served, and this is the ultimate way for you to pay for your transgressions. How courageous it is for you to forfeit your life in compensation for all the suffering you caused. Right?"

He continued to lightly caress her head. "Well, let me tell you something. You're wrong. It takes a lot more courage to live. To face yourself every day. To face your family and your children. To struggle every day to be worthy of them. But that is your choice now, and so I have a gift for you."

Taking her undamaged hand, he wrapped her fingers around the grip of a handgun. "I won't take your life, Deven. The contract has been fulfilled, and now you get to decide if you're brave enough to live. If not, you can end it at any time." After placing a tender kiss near her temple, he stood and looked down at her broken form. "Choose well, Deven."

Part 2

After the initial shock had worn off, it had been a battle to keep her feelings inside. Emotional reticence went against Rhian's nature, and the strain was exhausting. For the most part, the night had been dreamless, but now as she began her ascent to wakefulness, her subconscious taunted her. In that place between sleep and waking, she floated, convinced that she could actually feel strong arms wrapping her in a cocoon of warmth and safety.

But as she continued towards consciousness the warmth receded leaving her firmly in despair's cold embrace. Not wanting to face the truth or reality, Rhian fought to not wake. She wanted to hold onto the illusion that she was lying in bed wrapped in Deven's arms, but all too soon her eyes were betraying her and opening to prove that her lover's presence was nothing more than a dream.

Sitting up slowly, Rhian regarded the children. Both were still sleeping soundly, and she hoped they could stay that way for a while yet. Slipping out of bed, she made her way quietly to the bathroom where she studied her haggard features in the mirror. The eyes that looked back at her were haunted, and the circles under them challenged that she'd slept at all. Turning away from the reflection, she started the shower, and then stripping out of her clothes she stepped under the hot water. It was only then that she allowed herself to feel what she'd tried so hard to deny.

She stood with her head bowed, the water beating against the base of her neck. "Deven? I wish you could hear me." She swallowed several times before she could speak again. "I'm trying to be brave, to do what you would want me to do, but I'm not doing a very good job."

A sob escaped her and she was powerless to stop the tears as her memory settled on the last exchange she'd had with her lover. "Oh God, I'm so sorry I slapped you, Deven. You just looked so damned defeated! I didn't want you to give up! I didn't want you to leave me. Why? Why did you just quit?"

Her hand pressed to her chest over that spot where her heart felt like it was rending into pieces, and she started crying in earnest. "Please, Deven. Don't you understand? I need you. I don't want to do this without you. Don't you dare not come home! You hear me? You have to come home! You have to!"

Unable to withstand the onslaught of emotion, Rhian crumpled to the floor of the shower and wept, her tears mingling unobtrusively with the shower spray. Curling up into a tight ball, she cried harder than she could ever remember and instead of easing her pain, it only increased her misery.

Eventually there were no more tears to release, and she slowly sat up. The water had cooled considerably, though she hadn't noticed. Lifting her head, she allowed it to rinse away the last of her tears before she rose to her feet and finished washing.

Returning to her old bedroom, she glanced at the clock and saw that it was nearly 7 a.m. She changed into an old pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, and then quietly made her way upstairs to the kitchen where she found Jay sitting alone at the table. "Hi," she greeted him. "Couldn't sleep?"

"No." Their eyes locked for a second and then he looked away. "I keep thinking about the last time I saw her. I was such a jerk."

Rhian busied herself by starting the coffee maker. "She was confused about that. But, Jay? She wasn't angry with you. In fact, she'd expected to be watching the game with you last night." She shook her head to try and dissipate the sadness. I will not cry again, damn it!

Mac entered the room and sat down at the table next to the other man. "How you holding up, honey?" he asked his daughter.

"All right, I guess. I didn't mean to fall asleep," she answered, a tinge of guilt seeping into her voice.

"You needed it, Rhian," Mac soothed. "It wouldn't do anyone any good if you got sick."

"Yeah, I guess." She stared out the kitchen window at the clear September morning. "I keep thinking that there must be something else. Something that I'm just not remembering that would help the police to find her." Her brow furrowed. "I know in my gut that she knew that guy."

"She might have," Jay said.

"What?" Rhian turned abruptly. "How do you know?"

Under her piercing gaze, Jay shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "I don't really. It's just that she's been a little concerned about some things lately," he answered, trying to sound casual.

'What are you talking about?" Rhian demanded.

Does it matter now if I tell her now? He looked at Rhian and took a deep breath. "A few months back, we knew that there was someone in the woods spying on the house. At the time, it worried her a little, but it didn't come to anything. I mean whomever it was they didn't do anything else. I think she pretty much forgot about it until the day Tiernan got hurt. It seems that someone called the ambulance for Tiernan before we did, which sort of implies that she was still being watched. But even then I don't think she was that worried. I don't think she got really anxious about any of it until you go those pictures."

Nicole had walked into the room just as he'd started his explanation. "What pictures?"

"She knew that something was wrong and didn't talk to me about it? Damn her!" Rhian snapped.

"She didn't want to worry you if it really wasn't anything," Jay replied. "She didn't know for certain that anything was going on. Those things could have all been coincidences. And what was the point in freaking you out if there wasn't any reason to?"

"If I'd known there was even the chance that something could have happened, we would have stayed home yesterday. That's why I should have known!"

"That's exactly what she didn't want, Rhian. She wasn't certain about any of it, and she didn't want your life turned upside down over something that might have turned out to be nothing."

"Well, it wasn't nothing, was it? If she would have just told me the truth, we could have been more cautious! But no! And look what happened!" Rhian knew she was shouting at the man, and he didn't deserve all of her wrath. She was angry with Deven for excluding her from something so important. She was angry with Jay because he knew. But mostly she was angry with herself for not having picked up on any of it.

"So, this is the secret you've been keeping?" Nicole asked him.

"I'm sorry, Nic," Jay answered. "I wanted to tell you but I gave her my word."

"Is that why she's been training like a mad woman?" Rhian demanded, and he slowly nodded his head. "I thought we were past all the secrets!" Sitting down at the table, she cradled her head in her hands. A part of her wanted to be furious with Deven. But how could she be? She was scared to death for the woman. "Why didn't you tell the police any of this?"

"I did. When I walked them out, I told them what I knew." He sought some way to convey to her the depth of Deven's feelings. "Rhian you have to know that she'd give her life for you and the kids."

"I don't want her to give her life for us, damn it!"

"I'm sorry."

"Rhian, calm down," Mac attempted to placate his daughter.

"I want her home!" she shouted. "What is wrong with you? You just don't get it Jay. Either does Deven. I don't want her to protect me. I don't want her to buy into some vigilante justice. I don't want her to lay down her life for me. I want her here. I want to be able to tell her how pissed off I am right now because she didn't trust me. She should have told me what was going on," she said while slamming the palm of her hand down on the table. "You should have said something. And because the two of you kept this to yourselves, I don't know where she is!"

"Rhian!" Kate's voice cut into her tirade. The younger woman's head snapped up and her eyes locked on her mother's. "I know you're hurting. I know you're angry. And you have every right to be."

"I just want her safe, Mom. I feel so helpless."

Kate wrapped her arms around her daughter. "I know, baby. So do I." Her gaze met her husband's. "We all do."


Deven hovered somewhere between worlds of awareness. In one, she was warm and sleepy, and lying in her own bed with Rhian's body securely in her arms. In the other, she was anything but warm and ached seemingly everywhere at once. Every breath burned, and she found it nearly impossible to inhale normally without her lungs pressing against injured areas internally. Uncontrollable shivers sent waves of agony throughout her body, and she wished she still had her leather jacket even though she knew it would be useless against the chills that originated from deep inside.

She didn't want to guess how extensive her injuries were, but she was realistic enough to know they were significant and that she was dying. Unable to see, she had no idea whether it was day or night, or even how long it had been since she'd been released.

Attempting to change position, she started to rollover onto her back only to nearly pass out form the agony that followed. Her fingers tightened around the gun, and for an instant, she wanted to laugh at the absurdity of the situation. After all of that, he gave you the freaken choice! Manny, you are such a sick bastard!

Resting her head back down against the cold concrete, she appreciated the coolness even as another chill caused her to shudder painfully. Damn. It would be so easy, Masterson. All you have to do is take one shot. Are you kidding me? No matter what I do, I fuck it up. So, why wouldn't I fuck that up to? With my luck, I'd only blow my damn ear off.

For the first time since the ordeal had begun, she allowed herself to think beyond her immediate circumstances. The anger and hatred she'd shrouded herself in were long gone, and she was left with a quiet despair that was not quite foreign though it had been years since it had visited her in any form. Desolation had been present during certain times in her life, but at some point she'd risen above it. She'd bullied it, and all the other emotions she had no use for into submission, burying them somewhere deep inside.

But you hadn't expected to still be alive. And here you are. Broken. Beaten. But still kicking. Ah, kicking. A little martial artist humor, Masterson? Funny, in a sick sort way. And now we have nothing to do while your body slowly succumbs. So, what shall we do to pass the time? Huh?

Without any effort on her part her thoughts went to the one place she truly wanted to be - with Rhian and the children. What are you guys doing, huh? Are you asleep? Are you having breakfast, or lunch, or dinner? What the hell time is it anyway? She tried to calculate how long it had been, but it was a futile mental exercise.

I bet your parents have completely flipped. I hope they aren't giving you a hard time, because none of this was your fault. It was all mine, and I never should have allowed you to be dragged into it. But, I couldn't seem to help myself, Rhian. I don't know what it is. With you I'm just so...so selfish. I guess I just fell in love with you and that was all that seemed to matter. It really sucks that Nicole was right about me. I guess maybe you should have listened to her after all.

It seemed to Deven that she'd created more memories in the short time she'd been with Rhian than in the rest of her life put together. Images of their time together moved across her mind, bringing with them a rollercoaster of emotions. Love, passion, regret, anger, tenderness, before finally settling on the look Rhian had given her just before she'd been taken away. Even now she couldn't really describe it. It had appeared to be a blend of anger and disappointment.

I'm sorry, baby. I really had hoped that after all this time that they weren't going to come after me. But some people never move past the need for revenge. I know. I just wish I knew who it was. I mean if I have to die, it would be nice to know who was behind the whole damn thing.

Oh God, Tiernan is going to absolutely hate me. If this doesn't fuck him up for life, nothing will. I didn't even get to order his bike. Will Rhian do it anyway? Who's going to teach him how to ride it? Jay could, but I'm sure my mother is going to cut him off from everybody. I'm sorry, Tiernan. I meant to change all that. I just thought I'd have more time to figure out exactly what to do with you. What would be best for you in the long run? I wanted you to stay with Rhian.

Oh yeah, Masterson? You never even asked Rhian if she wanted him! You never put his needs before your own, and now when he looks back over the first five years of his life, he'll have all these great memories of you to fall back on. What a great legacy you leave him!

Another shiver convulsed her body, causing her to groan out in pain. Her reserves were running low and so she tried to still her mind and relax her body. You're dying. You realize that, right? So, why in the hell are you spending your last time on earth dredging up this bullshit?

She felt the darkness easing it's way back in and a sense of calm overtook her as the despair turned to resignation. So, baby, I hope you'll be okay. Really okay. You need to be. The most painful thing in the world for me would be to know that you changed because of any of this. You need to stay the wonderful person you are, Rhian. I know that there is someone out there somewhere who is going to fall madly in love with you. It's impossible not to. And they'll treat you good. Not like I did, but they'll really get it, you know? They'll be perfect for you. She struggled not to cry if for no other reason than the pain it would inflict upon her already tortured body.

Please try to always remember that I did love you. And I tried, Rhian. I really did. I would have given you the world, if I could have. "I love you," she whispered through dry, swollen lips. She imagined herself at home in her bed with Rhian's body draped over hers. The fantasy gave her a sense of comfort and warmth that she clung to as she drifted on the edge of consciousness and than plummeted down into the abyss of nothingness.

To Be Continued in Chapter Twelve

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