See disclaimers in Chapter One
Chapter Twenty One, Part 1
Rhian sat down on the bed next to her slumbering friend and then rested a hand on the woman's hip. The hipbone beneath her palm was rather pronounced and she pondered just how much weight her companion had lost in the past few months. Need to fatten you up some. "Hey, honey. Time to wake up," she said and watched as tension slowly filled the martial artist's body.
Rolling onto her back, Deven opened her eyes and blinked several times "Ugh. What time is it?"
"Just after two. Are you okay?"
"Yeah. I just. I didn't actually expect to fall asleep."
"You were out," Rhian said with a smile.
"The family is here. You want to get cleaned up and come on down?"
"Sure." But instead of sitting up, Deven curled back onto her side and interlaced her fingers with Rhian's. "Thank you. This is the first Thanksgiving I've had in years."
"Really. I usually just hang out here all day and watch whatever's on the television, drink beer and eat takeout."
Hesitating only for a second, Rhian gingerly ran the fingers of her free hand through Deven's hair and smiled when her companion leaned into the touch. "I'm glad I could do it for you. Now we best get a move on before Mom comes looking for you. She's already asked me a million questions, so don't be surprised if she wants to go over your health in minute detail."
Deven grinned as she stretched. "I'll keep that in mind. Go on and tell her I'll be down in a minute. Then she can give me the third degree."
"Okay," Rhian answered before standing and walking out of the room.
A few minutes later, Deven was halfway down the stairs when the doorbell rang and she slowed her descent as Rhian rushed to greet whoever was there. Continuing down, she reached the entryway at the same time that Manny entered the house followed closely by Salvatore. At first she was shocked into silence, but then the rush of adrenaline through her veins helped her find her voice. "Just what the fuck are you doing here?"
"I was invited," he replied calmly.
"Bullshit. I didn't invite you."
"No you didn't," Manny said as his eyes flicked to Rhian.
"That's impossible," Deven retorted, but the look on the landscaper's face told her it was the truth.
Please don't make this a mistake. "Deven," Rhian started, but the woman pushed passed her and stormed into the kitchen. "Oh, God," she mumbled.
"Patience," Manny said reassuringly and then followed after the martial artist. "Deven," he chided as he entered the room, "that was rude. Aren't you going to introduce me to your other guests?"
Closing the distance between them, she spoke through clinched teeth, "Bite me!"
"Is it any wonder I've always been so fond of you, selvaggia?" he asked and laughed heartily at the glaring woman.
Steeling herself, Rhian moved up beside Manny. "Deven, I invited him to stop by."
"Why? Why would you do that?"
"I ran into him."
"When?" Deven demanded.
"When I went for that walk yesterday. He asked how you were doing and I invited him to stop by and see for himself."
Her head jerked back towards the man. "Ran into him, my ass! You were following her! How dare you!" Continuing to watch her with interest, Manny didn't respond to her outburst.
"Rhian, do you have any idea who this is?"
"Yes," the landscaper replied.
"How could you do this to me?" Deven asked; her voice filled with hurt.
"I didn't do anything to you," Rhian answered with a shake of her head. "All I did was invite an old friend of yours to stop by."
"Old friend? Rhian, you have to know who this is!"
Manny watched the exchange closely, curious to see the dynamic between these two women. He knew he could gain a truer insight into the person Deven was today by how she reacted in her own home setting with her partner then anywhere else. Unfortunately, the presence of others in the house made it imperative that he prod their conversation forward faster than he would have preferred. "Deven, we need to talk."
"Fuck you! You're in my house! I don't work for you. I don't owe you a damn thing! And I don't have to bow to your every whim!"
"I think you forget whom you're talking to," he countered with incontrovertible authority.
"I think you forget! I let you take me to protect my family and pay for my mistake," she hissed at him. "I will not do it again!"
"Tsk, Deven," Manny replied in a condescending tone. "You aren't willing to protect your family? How terribly disappointing it must be for them."
"That isn't what I meant and you know it!"
"Selvaggia, close your mouth and listen for a minute," he ordered. Before she had a chance to respond he asked, "What makes you think that's why I'm here?"
"How stupid do you think I am, Manny? Why else would you be here?" Her heart rate was up as was her breathing, and she could feel the perspiration starting to break out on her skin. It was all beginning to make her somewhat lightheaded and nauseous. "I want you to leave. I want you out of my house and out of my life!"
It was a power struggle, one they'd played many times in the past. The circumstances and reasons changed with each altercation, but the underlying battle of wills remained the same. Most confrontations between them had ended in stalemates with both of them going off to calm down until a compromise could be reached. Rarely had Manny gone so far as to take control completely away from Deven, and he didn't intend to do that now.
Leaning closer, he spoke softly but with a great amount of conviction. "I don't think you're stupid in the least. I never have. I'm here because I needed to see for myself that you're healing. Physically, you've made substantial progress. Better than I'd hoped. But, Deven, there's a part of you that isn't healing at all."
"You don't know what you're talking about."
"Are you so sure?" he asked. Lifting his cane, he tapped her lightly on the shoulder. The gesture served as a reminder of what he himself had endured because of her.
She didn't flinch from the contact, but as their gazes remained locked, her head filled with memories of the warehouse. Bits and pieces of images and conversations from that nightmare threatened to overwhelm her, and she found it difficult to swallow against the tightening of her throat.
Rhian observed the exchange, intent on not interceding but as she watched Deven's throat working, she grew concerned. Moving forward she hugged Deven hard enough to cause the woman to take a step back, and with her arms still wrapped around the martial artist's waist, she looked at Manny. "Would you and Salvatore like something to drink?"
Jay and Mac tried to appear casual as they strolled into the kitchen followed closely by Michael and Nicole. Great. The freaken posse has arrived, Deven thought. I so do not want to deal with all of this right now. Fuck, I don't want to deal with it all. Why did she invite him here? Regardless of the reason, it felt like a substantial betrayal and with some reluctance, she separated herself from the woman by taking another step back.
"Scotch. Neat, if you have it," Manny answered. "Salvatore?"
"Nothing for me, thank you."
"Sure." Rhian reached up into a nearby cupboard and removed a bottle.
Effortlessly, Manny's whole demeanor changed as he turned to greet the others. He already knew who all these people were and to some extent, what their relationship was to Deven. "Happy Thanksgiving. My name is Manny and I'm an old friend of Deven's." He extended his hand to Jay first since he knew his relationship to Deven was the longest, and therefore, might be the most challenging.
"Jay Thomas. I'm also an old friend and I don't recall ever hearing your name," he replied while returning the older man's firm grip.
Manny smiled charmingly while glancing at Deven. "Shame on you, selvaggia." He laughed at her scowl before reaching out to shake Mac's hand.
"Mac Mackenzie. I'm Rhian's father and this is my son, Michael."
"You have a lovely daughter, Mac. She's beautiful and spirited and certainly a good match for this one." Nodding his head towards the younger man, he added, "Pleasure to meet you, Michael."
Manny's charisma fascinated Rhian. How can someone with such cultured assurance and grace be capable of such brutality? "So, you've met the male contingency," she spoke while handing him the drink. "Except for Tiernan."
"I'm sorry about his absence," he replied sincerely. "It's difficult to lose a child under any circumstances." Though he addressed his comments mostly to Deven, he inclined his head towards the landscaper, including her in his message of condolence.
"Thank you," Rhian said with a sad smile. "This is my best friend Nicole and my mother, Kate. And this little one is Seana."
Bending over at the waist, Manny addressed the child. "Hello, Seana. Are you having a nice Thanksgiving?"
The little girl moved closer and Rhian held her breath. If Seana somehow recognized him and said anything, it would be extremely difficult to explain. "Yes, but I'm hungry," she declared. That earned a bit of laughter from everyone present except Deven, who continued to glower at the man.
"I'm sure you are. I know that I can't wait to get home to have my dinner." Standing back up, he reached out and took Kate's hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. "Mrs. Mackenzie, it's a pleasure. Nicole, you're lovely. It's good that Rhian has a friend besides the ornery one."
"Everyone, this is Manny's son, Salvatore," Rhian said and then waited patiently while greetings were exchanged. "Shall we get more comfortable out in the sunroom?"
"That would be nice," Manny answered. "Deven?" With a slight lift of his cane, he indicated she should proceed.
But Deven didn't budge. The landscaper's fingers entwined with her own, drawing her attention away from the man. Looking at Rhian's unspoken entreaty, she took a deep breath and released it slowly in resignation.
In a gesture meant to be reassuring, Rhian stroked her thumb across the back of Deven's hand. "Does anybody want anything before we move out there?" she asked.
"Jack on the rocks," Deven said. The ensuing silence in the room was unnerving. "What? I may not have any control over anything else in this house anymore, but I can still control what I drink. If nobody wants to get it for me, I'll get it myself."
Rhian squeezed Deven's hand again. "Honey, relax please. You have plenty of control though it may not feel that way at the moment. It's just, are you sure?"
"I'm not planning on drinking the whole fucking bottle, Rhian," she retorted.
"Deven!" Kate's voice broke in.
Can this possibly get any worse? She didn't need to see Kate's face to know the frown that was being directed at her. "I know." Not certain where else to look, her eyes settled on Rhian's face and then she sighed. "I'm sorry." With a firm grip on the landscaper's hand, she led the way out into the sunroom and they sat side-by-side on the love seat. Their guests followed and made themselves comfortable.
"What business are you in, Manny?" Mac asked.
Manny sipped his scotch before answering with a casual air. "I'm involved in a conglomerate of things but mostly commercial construction. I do promotions as well, which is how I met Deven in the first place back when she was still in college. In fact, one of the reasons I'm here today is to give you something, Deven." Turning slightly he addressed his son. "Salvatore, please go get the parcel."
Jay handed Deven her drink and she took a long draw from it while watching the man. "I think you've given me quite enough, Manny."
Their eyes met briefly in response to the underlying intimation of that statement, and he reached into the inside of his suit coat. Deven's body filled with tension that Rhian picked up on immediately, and she felt her heart rate rise in response. Pulling out a large envelope, he placed it on the table between them. "You can review that later," he said with the hint of a smile at the martial artist's intrinsic defensiveness.
Deven made no move to touch the envelope but sat quietly and sipped her drink.
"I left it by the door, Papa," Salvatore said as he returned to the room.
"Thank you, son. A package arrived for you some time ago from a member of your family, Deven. Tito had it in his possession and somehow it got lost."
What the hell is that? A member of my family? I don't have a family. The silence in the room caused her to look around. They're all picking up on your mood, Masterson, and it's making them all uncomfortable. All except of Manny, of course. Knock it off or there are going to be a hell of a lot of questions when he leaves. "How is Marianna?" she inquired after the man's daughter.
"She's doing well. Married now with two little ones of her own," he answered proudly. "She asked me to send you her regards. Salvatore, well, you can see for yourself. I thought we were going to lose him a while back, but he seems to have come around," Manny added, oblivious of the embarrassment he was causing his son.
"I was sorry to hear about Tito," Deven said softly.
Looking into her eyes, Manny saw the sincerity. "Thank you. It was difficult for all of us but especially hard on his mother."
Deven nodded in understanding. "They were very close."
Seana walked up to the martial artist and without preamble, climbed up on her lap. Leaning comfortably against the woman's torso, she sat quietly while the conversation went on around her.
Watching Deven with the child, Manny smiled. You're finally growing into yourself. "So, selvaggia, what are you planning to do about Tiernan?"
"Selvaggia? What does that mean?" Rhian asked.
Deven blushed slightly and Manny chuckled at her obvious discomfort. "It means wild one. It was a nickname I gave Deven because she was so wild and spirited."
"She still is at times," Kate added with a chuckle.
"I'm sure," Manny answered. "Some day we'll have to compare notes."
"I don't think so," Deven cut in.
"It's okay, honey, I won't let them," Rhian assured her companion.
"Me, too," Seana piped in though she had no idea what they were talking about.
"Thanks," Deven mumbled and took a large sip from the glass in her hand.
Deciding to give the woman a break, Manny changed the subject. "So, Deven, Tiernan?"
She wanted to tell him it was none of his business but was certain that a response like that would only raise more issues with the rest of the people in the room. "I don't honestly know," she replied in annoyance. "All things considered, especially after the latest event, I don't think I'm the best thing for him."
"How can you say that?" Nicole asked and suddenly found herself the focus of everyone's attention. "What? Okay, so it's no secret that you and I haven't seen eye to eye on much," she said to Deven. "But the one thing that I am certain of is the love you have for Rhian and those children. And I know that they love you. I can't imagine anyone else willing to go through what you did on their behalf."
Deven shook her head. The protest perched on the tip of her tongue but before she could speak it, the landscaper increased the pressure on their joined hands.
"I can't either," Rhian said. Their gazes met again, and she challenged the martial artist to disagree.
"Regretfully, I must be going," Manny announced. "Salvatore and I have a plane to catch. My wife would skin us both if we missed dinner tonight."
For the first time, Deven noticed the difficulty his injury gave him as a slight pained expression crossed his face. She just barely stopped the impulse to reach out to assist him to his feet.
"It was a pleasure meeting you all and seeing what good hands Deven is in," he said. "Selvaggia, would you be so kind as to walk me out?"
"Sure," she answered as she set Seana down and rose to her feet. Rhian stood as well, and hand in hand, they followed him out of the house.
No one spoke again until they reached the driveway, and then Manny became all business. "I'm going to send someone out to change all the locks. I'll also have one of my men install a top of the line security system. Nothing is fail proof, but we'll do all we can."
"Is that necessary?" Rhian asked uneasily.
"Probably not but better to be safe then sorry." He took two cards out of his wallet and wrote something on the back of one of them. He started to hand them to Deven but then changed his mind and gave them to Rhian instead. "Their names are on the cards. I also wrote down my private numbers."
"Look, Manny," the martial artist began but he stopped her.
"Deven, I'm not here to take over your life. You were right in there. You don't work for me, and you don't owe me anything. If for no other reason, consider this for old times sake."
She looked away while her mind worked through this new aspect to her life. He hadn't done anything today that could possibly be construed as aggressive or truly overbearing. He hadn't demanded a thing from her other then that she listen and be generally civil. And no matter what she agreed to at the moment, he was obviously still going to be around in some manner or another. Better to have him face to face than trailing around behind your back. Better the devil you know than the one you don't, Masterson. "I want to know who was behind this, Manny."
"I deserve to know," she answered simply.
"To what purpose, Deven? What is it you'd do with the information? Hunt them down? Get revenge? Your focus should be on healing and your family. Let me deal with this matter."
"Don't you worry about my focus. I need to know, because what if it's someone close to me?"
"Come on, honey. Isn't that a little melodramatic?" Rhian asked.
"Is it? I can think of at least one person who'd have a lot to gain by this. And even if I'm being melodramatic, as you say, I need to be able to protect you and the kids. To do that, I have to know who it is I'm protecting you from."
"It was that need that kept you so closed mouthed in the first place," Rhian countered. "We're not going down that road again, Deven. I won't allow it. We need to protect each other and our children to the best of our abilities. And keeping secrets isn't the way."
Deven's swallowed the retort. She had kept it all to herself, except the little bit she'd finally shared with Jay. Still, at that moment knowing everything she now did, she wasn't certain what she might have done differently except to have ensured she'd gone out alone that night.
"And just who do you think it could be that's close to you? Me? Jay? Kelly?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Rhian. But how about my mother?"
"Oh come on. She's a bitch, but a murderer?" But now the seed of doubt had been planted in Rhian's mind. Patricia did seem to have a rather nasty streak when it came to Deven and she'd gain full control over Tiernan. But was she capable of hurting her own child like that?
The exchange between the two women was interesting to Manny. The landscaper was far stronger and more formidable when it came to dealing with the fighter than he'd expected her to be. "Deven, leave it to me. When I have something to tell you, I will. You have my word. In the meantime, let it be."
"I don't understand, Manny. What was the deal?" Deven asked.
"Someone wanted you beaten to death," he answered matter-of-factly.
"So why didn't you?" Rhian challenged, knowing that he'd refused to answer that very question the previous day.
Ah, you are tenacious, he thought. "It's that old eye for an eye adage, Rhian." He looked between the women, uncertain of how much of her history Deven had actually shared with her lover. "I believe that this is somehow associated with an old roommate of yours."
"Kiki?" Deven asked in disbelief.
"I haven't been able to confirm anything, however, from everything I've been able to determine so far, it's somehow tied to her. But, you see she lives. So, to take your life wasn't equitable. I'll say that you suffered far more than she ever did." He studied Deven's bowed head. "But beyond all of that, I had a personal interest, because I had no desire to see my grandson become an orphan."
The woman's head shot up but she made no attempt to respond.
"I don't understand," Rhian said.
"He is named after his father, is he not?" Manny asked.
The answer didn't come for nearly a minute, and when Deven finally did reply, it came out under her breath. "Yes."
"But I thought you told me he was named after your grandfather."
"He is, Rhian."
"Your grandfather and Tiernan's father had the same name?"
"No." Deven shook her head as she regarded the younger woman and were it not for the seriousness of the situation, she might have laughed at the look of absolute bafflement on her friend's face. "Tiernan's father's birth name was Tadeo, which translates to Thaddeus in English. I named him Tiernan Thaddeus Masterson. His father was Tito."
Rhian's confusion cleared and her eyes widened. "Ooohhh. Tito, as in your son? That Tito?"
"Yes," Manny answered with a smile. "You know, she's adorable," he said to the martial artist.
"I know," Deven replied as a full blush raced up the landscaper's neck to her cheeks. "Rhian, why are you so surprised?"
Looking away, she stammered, "I thought. Well, Nicole and I thought. We."
"We thought it was Jay," she blurted out.
"Eww! That would be like having sex with my brother." Deven pointed a finger at the woman accusingly. "You guys are sick!"
Indignantly, Rhian squared her shoulders and placed her hands on her hips. "Give me a break. Tiernan looks enough like him to be his son. You have to have noticed that."
"No," Deven answered truthfully. "Not really."
"Does Tiernan know?" Manny interrupted.
"No," the martial artist said. "Up until this moment, I thought I was the only one who knew, and he hasn't asked."
Movement caught Rhian's eye, and she glanced past Manny's sedan. "Hi guys," she called out as her neighbors drew closer. She exchanged a quick glance with Deven and then began the introductions. "These are our friends and neighbors, Alex and Lydia Perez, and their children Freddie and Star. Go on inside kids. Seana's waiting for you."
"Is Tiernan here?" Freddie asked hopefully.
"No, sweetheart. But we're going to try and call him later."
As the children raced away towards the house, Rhian took a deep breath and then forged ahead. "Alex is a police detective. In fact, he's been working on the investigation into Deven's abduction and assault. And Lydia is our doctor. Thank goodness she's been there every step of the way through Deven's recovery."
Suddenly at a loss, Rhian didn't know how to introduce Manny. Alex, this is the man you've been searching for.
Before she could think of what to say, Deven stepped in. "Alex, Lydia, this is Manny. He's Tiernan's grandfather." She hadn't missed the detective's casual scrutiny of the sedan and the two men standing next to it, and she was certain that Manny had noticed as well.
"Nice to meet you," Alex said as he shook the older man's hand.
"Pleasure," Manny responded. After releasing Alex's hand, he addressed Lydia. "Thank you for taking such good care of her. We were all very worried."
"It was touch and go for awhile. We almost lost her a couple of times, but she's a strong woman," the doctor replied.
"Thank goodness for that," he answered sincerely. "May I present my son, Salvatore."
The younger man nodded and smiled at the couple but remained quiet.
"Why don't you go on in and help yourselves?" Rhian suggested. "There are all kinds of snacks and drinks in the kitchen. We'll be in shortly."
"All right," Lydia said as she took Alex by the hand and walked towards the front door.
They remained silent until they were alone once more. "What will you tell Tiernan if he should ask?"
"I don't know, Manny."
"The truth perhaps? He deserves to know who his father was, Deven."
"Perhaps. Of course, you're making the questionable assumption that he's going to be in my life. But should that be the case, I don't want him brought into that world. I don't want him to know who I was, what I did. And I sure as hell, don't want him to know what you do."
"Deven, I'd never do that to you or to Tiernan," he shot back. "I'm not just asking this for me. I'm asking for my Maria. She lost her son, selvaggia. Shouldn't she know that he lives on?" He waited but she didn't answer. Still, he could tell she hadn't dismissed the idea. "Tito knew. He told me that he believed the child was his and it was his intention to do the honorable thing."
The tension eased dramatically as Deven laughed. "Oh God, that was so typical of him."
"He wanted the child to know both of his parents."
"He was a good man," Deven finally said. "I'll think about it, Manny."
Nodding, he took a step closer. "Deven? When I told you that I hoped you made it home, I meant it. I meant it then and I mean it now."
"I don't understand."
He placed his hand on her shoulder. "I think you do. You're surrounded by people who obviously love you for you, not for your talent or potential earnings, and not for the glory of the champion. But for you. Don't make the same mistakes. Let them love you and, for God's sake, let yourself love them. Rhian will stand by you if you allow her to. She'll be your support and your champion. Accept this gift you're being given. It's that simple, mia filia. Love is the poetry of life. Write it. Live it."
Shifting his hand he cupped her cheek, and the vision of what she'd looked like the last time he'd seen her filled his chest with pain. "You are still so beautiful. And for once I'm grateful you're so damn stubborn, otherwise, we wouldn't have had this chance." Stepping forward he hugged her, and though she hesitated at first, she returned the embrace. "My home is your home. My family your family." Leaning back, he looked her in the eye. "You understand."
"Yes," she answered softly.
His expression was so tender that Rhian realized that this man really did care a great deal for Deven. She still couldn't reconcile what he'd done with what she was seeing at this moment and she didn't try to. Some things were better just accepted on faith.
There was something surreal about the moment, and Deven wondered what her life would have been like if she'd turned to this man instead of allowing her father to step in all those years ago. Nothing like it had turned out to be. The path taken had been an incredibly difficult and extremely painful one on many levels, and in a bizarre turn of events it had brought them around to this point.
Both Manny and Deven nodded at the same time, and Rhian didn't understand what had just passed between them, but it appeared to be a good thing.
Moving back, he pointed a finger at the martial artist. "Behave yourself."
Deven rolled her eyes like an adolescent. "Whatever."
Lifting Rhian's hand, he placed a small kiss on the back of it. "Thank you for inviting me into your home."
"Thank you for accepting."
"If she gives you any trouble, let me know," he said with a wink.
"I think I can handle her," Rhian rejoined.
"I bet you can." He walked to the car and paused just before getting in. "Make an honest woman of her, Deven. Tito would have expected no less. Nor do I."
"Buh," the martial artist coughed. "Funny, Manny. Very funny."
His genial laughter was cut off as the car door closed.
"Bye, Deven," Salvatore said as he prepared to get into the sedan.
"Take care of yourself, Sali."
The two women watched the vehicle back down the drive and then Deven gazed off into the woods. She smiled as Rhian's arms wrapped around her waist.
"Mia filia? What does that mean?
Deven's smile faded and her brow furrowed, and Rhian thought she might not answer. But mellifluously she said, "My daughter."
Rhian considered everything she'd witnessed between Manny and this woman. It was still extremely complicated to reconcile how they interacted, the concern Manny showed, and what he'd done. "Huh."
"I suppose we should get back inside," Deven said reluctantly.
"In a minute. Are you mad at me?"
"No. I was. And I was pretty hurt that you invited him here, but no I'm not mad. It's a lot to take in. A lot of memories. Some good and some bad. And there's an awful lot to think about." The arms around her tightened slightly and Deven shifted her sight from the trees to the landscaper. "Are you okay?"
"Well, you're right about it being a lot to take in, but we'll sort through things."
"About Tito, I."
"You don't owe me any explanations, Deven."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"Eventually," Rhian answered. "I'd like to know who he was as a person and who he was to you. I think I need to know for Tiernan. Some day, he's going to ask."
"I suppose so." Releasing a sigh, she rested her forehead against the landscaper's. "You didn't really think I slept with Jay, did you?"
Rhian laughed. "It had occurred to me. And Nicole."
"That is so totally disgusting."
It had been a long time since they'd connected on such a basic level. For Rhian, it wasn't an overt feeling. It wasn't anything she could actually pinpoint but rather just something deep within. She stared up into Deven's eyes and for the first time since this whole ordeal had begun there were no barriers there.
Feeling the defenses shifting, Deven let them go. It wasn't a conscious decision. It was just happening and she didn't fight to retain them. Dipping her head, she pressed her lips against Rhian's. There was something reminiscent about the contact. They'd kissed innumerable times, but none had been as sweet as that first kiss until this one. It was almost pristine, born of the love that she'd kept shackled and starving for so long.
Leaning back slightly, she studied Rhian's face, wondering if the woman could feel it. Rhian's eyes fluttered open and she saw in that moment that yes it was there. Their lips met again, and deepening the kiss, they slowly explored and re-familiarized themselves with each other.
The first stirrings of true passion began to burn between them, and breathless Rhian pulled back. She expected to see Deven retreat, but what Rhian found in Deven's eyes was smoldering desire and a touch of fear. "You've always been the best kisser."
The martial artist's smile was almost shy. "Well, you give me lots of inspiration."
"Right back atcha. Now, I reckon we really should go see to our guests and do some celebrating. It is Thanksgiving after all, and I do have an awful lot to be thankful for."
"Me, too." Deven's voice grew strained and tears welled up causing her vision to swim. But instead of backing away this time, she accepted the solidness of her love's presence. "More than I ever thought possible."
Extending her legs out and crossing them at the ankles, Deven sat back until her head and shoulders came to rest against the love seat. With her fingers interlaced across her full belly, she watched, beneath heavy eyelids, the shadows elongating across the backyard. Sated for the first time in months, she released a long sigh of contentment, and it was that which caught Kate's attention.
Walking across the room, Kate neared the reposing woman and sat down next to her. "You're looking well," she said in satisfaction.
"Am I?" Deven answered without taking her vision away from the landscape.
"Yes, you are and you know it." Shifting in the seat, Kate turned so that she was facing the martial artist. "Any pain?"
"Not much. Just little things here and there. My hand still bothers me some but nothing that isn't bearable."
"Good. How are the headaches?"
"Better. Not as often and not as intense when they do occur."
With her elbow resting on the back of the loveseat, Kate propped her head up with the palm of her hand. "Manny seems like a nice man." A slight nod was the only acknowledgement she received from Deven. "I kind of got the impression that you weren't too happy to see him at first."
"Yeah well, I didn't know what he wanted. It's been awhile and the last time I saw him wasn't under the best of circumstances."
Kate noticed that the envelope lay on the table exactly where Manny had left it. "Aren't you going to read that?"
"Eventually," the martial artist replied without commitment.
"You aren't curious?" Kate prodded.
"Not that much. Why?" Deven asked, looking at the older woman for the first time.
"Because, I think its driving Rhian nuts."
Laughter rose up out of the martial artist causing Kate to smile. "I imagine it might," Deven said. "She can open it if she wants."
"She won't go that far to settle her curiosity. The box by the door was eating away at her so she had Jay carry it up to your room. Out of sight out of mind." Kate quietly regarded the younger woman for several seconds before asking, "Everything okay now?"
Uncertain what Rhian's mother was referring to, the martial artist returned her gaze to the backyard and answered cautiously. "I suppose."
"Why didn't you mention that Manny was Tiernan's grandfather?"
"Because I didn't know he knew until we walked him to the car."
"Look at me, problem child." Kate waited until the woman complied. "About Tiernan. Deven, for whatever reason, your mother is heartless when it comes to you. She doesn't have a clue what a wonderful person you are, and Tiernan will never be better off without you. Don't discount what you and Rhian give these children. To do so is to minimize your love for each other and to cheat them out of knowing your love."
"I just want him safe," Deven responded sadly. "You know enough about my past and me to know that I'm not like you or Rhian."
"So? You're you, and I happen to think that you're an amazing person. So, you haven't always done the right thing. So what? What matters is what you do now. Who you are now. Deven, honey, you say want the best for him? Then bring him home. And you have to know that you won't be facing everything alone."
Deven rubbed her fingers against her damp eyes. "And what happens if my, if Patricia, decides to go to court. My whole past could get dragged out into the open. How could that possibly be good for anyone? Especially the kids."
Reaching out, Kate gripped Deven's hand. "If she takes that path, then we fight. All of us together. Believe me, no one hurts my family, and in case you haven't figured it out yet, you're now a part of that family."
"I just want to do the right thing."
"And you will most of the time, but you're only human, honey. We all make mistakes. Even me."
"No way," Deven said with a chuckle.
"I know it's hard to believe, and I certainly haven't made one in a very long time. And just for the record, I've never made one when it came to you."
"There you are," Nicole called out from the doorway. "Rhian wants to know if you're ready for dessert?"
"Sure. Be right there." Deven waited until Nicole left before looking back at Rhian's mother. "Thank you."
"For what?" Kate asked.
"I don't know. For caring about Tiernan. For taking care of me even though I didn't deserve it."
"Hey," Kate stopped her. "Tiernan is easy to care about. And so are you. Yes, you weren't my most cooperative patient, but I think much of that's understandable. I'd do it all over again because it's good to see you getting well and smiling again."
"I." Deven swallowed hard.
"It's okay, honey," Kate soothed. "It's all going to be okay. It may take some time, but be patient with yourself and Rhian. You'll see. I'm never wrong, remember?"
"Yeah," the martial artist answered with a small grin.
"Now, let's go get some of that dessert. Last time I looked, you needed to put on a good fifteen to twenty pounds."
Deven pushed herself up and then extended her hand to Kate. "Shall we?"
"How can I pass up an offer as gallant as that?"
"You can't," Deven replied smugly.
"In your dreams, stud," Kate answered back.
The martial artist's eyes widened. "You, Mrs. Mackenzie, have a wicked sense of humor."
"Oh child, you have no idea just how wicked I can be. Now come on before Michael eats all the pumpkin pie."
"Yes, ma'am," Deven replied smartly and offered the woman her arm.
"I had no idea you were so chivalrous," Kate said as she accepted the invitation.
"Trust me," she answered as they walked towards the dining room. "There's a lot you don't know about me. And any day that you want to compare notes on wickedness, I'll bury you."
Kate chuckled. "Of that I have no doubt."
To Be Continued in Chapter Twenty-Two
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