When You Dance With the Devil

© by J. ‘Harley’ Elmore, 2003 – 2004



 See disclaimers in Chapter One

Chapter Twenty-Six, Part 1

Supine on the floor with a small throw pillow cushioning her head, Deven crossed her legs at the ankles and wiggled her sock covered toes. The only illumination in the room came from the small lights on the tree, and the house was quiet save for Christmas music playing softly in the background.

When was the last time you actually celebrated a holiday, Masterson?  Twenty years ago? Twenty-five? Never?  The session with Dr. Martin two days earlier had been mostly about Christmases past, and the few splintered glimpses of those holidays were all marred in some way.  It had been depressing to recount those times, leading her to switch the discussion to the present, and the new events going on in her life.

Experiencing a portion of life, such as the holidays, through the children caused her to vacillate between joy at the exuberance with which they embraced things and bittersweet ache at their fleeting innocence.  As unrealistic as it was, it was her desire to be able to protect Tiernan and Seana from the base cruelties that people were capable of, and she definitely wanted to insulate them from ever knowing the kind of person she’d been.

Who are you kidding? Tiernan already knows more than he should about you. You weren’t there for him, Masterson. You neglected him and only went around when it was convenient for you or you had no choice.  And even if he might not have understood it at the time, you know Patricia filled his head with denigrations about you. One of these days, he’s going to ask if they’re true and what are you going to say?

Deven rubbed her watery eyes. Taking a deep breath, she expelled it slowly, gazing up at the tree and waiting for her body to relax.  This will be our second Christmas, son. Of course, you were only about six weeks old the first time but, baby boy, I am so looking forward to seeing your face tomorrow morning.

“Here you are,” Rhian said from the entryway.

“Here I are,” Deven replied huskily and then patted the floor next to her hip.  “Come over here.”

Eagerly, Rhian walked over and lay down on the floor, using her friend’s stomach as a pillow.  “Oh, that feels good,” she hummed in pleasure as Deven’s fingernails scraped lightly across her scalp. “How are you doing?”

“Me? I’m doing great,” came the reply. “What about you?”

“I’m happy. Really happy, Deven, and I have to say that it kind of scares me.”

“I know what you mean.”

Unbidden, a jumble of emotions rose up and pressed against the landscaper’s heart.  A small sniffle escaped before she could stop it causing Deven to tense.  “Hey, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Rhian answered quickly. “Relax. I was just thinking.”

“About what?” the martial artist asked guardedly.

“Us, mostly.  But me, too.”

“And that made you cry?”

Before responding, Rhian rolled over on her side so she could look at her companion’s face.  “We’ve come a long way, Deven.”

“Yeah, we have.  This year has been harsh, and except for the part where you get hurt, I wouldn’t trade a second of it if it gets me here.”

“Me either.” Shifting her body, Rhian settled against Deven’s body, resting her head on her lover’s shoulder.  “But can we make a resolution for the next year to not do it all again?  I’m exhausted.”

Deven’s laughter was a deep sound in her chest that resonated against Rhian’s ear. “It’s a deal.” 

“Thank you for going tonight.”

“You mean to church?”

“Yeah,” Rhian said. “I’m sure that was an experience for you.”

“It was different,” Deven conceded. “Patricia used to drag me to church every Sunday. Used to scare the crap out of me.”

Lifting her head, Rhian eyed her companion with regret.  “Why didn’t you tell me? I never would have asked you to go.”

“It’s okay, baby. It was a long time ago. I think Patricia wanted to scare me to gain more control.  If she got me believing I’d go to hell or that the Devil was going to come after me, she could keep me under her thumb. But it was pretty awful. I was just too active and it was pretty rare that I didn’t spend my Sunday afternoons in my room as punishment because of it. Eventually, I guess I got to the point that I thought it was hopeless; that I was hopeless. If I was going to hell anyway and I was going to get punished for something, I might as well enjoy the moment.”

“Honey, please, it was never you. You should never have felt that you were hopeless. God, I’m so sorry.” Certain things about the evening’s service appeared different to Rhian now. The way Deven had managed to stay in physical contact almost the entire time, and the fact that the martial artist had been exceedingly reserved through much of it, almost to the point of being guarded.  Rhian had assumed those actions were her friend’s way of dealing with a situation she was unfamiliar with, but now she saw it for the nightmare it probably was. “I wish you’d told me before, Deven.”

“It’s okay, Rhian. Really. This was very different. It wasn’t so bad. I liked the church, and the sermon was interesting. And the kids were great. I’d even be willing to go again sometime, if you want.” Deven moved her hand up under the back of the woman’s sweatshirt and caressed as much of the skin as she could reach. “But I do have a bone to pick with you.”

”Me? What did I do?”

“You know very well what you did. You conveniently put me between you and your mother.”

“Oh that,” Rhian answered while trying unsuccessfully to suppress a giggle.

“Right. That. Then you and Nicole could do whatever you wanted because I was your shield.”

“I never knew you could squawk like that,” the landscaper said and then laughed out loud. 

“Well, what did you expect? You two were there talking it up and the one time I said something, I have your mother pinching me behind the knee. It isn’t fair.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” Rhian placed her thigh over her lover’s and snuggled closer.   

“As you should be,” Deven agreed. “Are they asleep?”

“Out cold.”

With a featherlike touch, Deven ran the tips of her fingers down the center of Rhian’s back. “Have you ever made love under a Christmas tree?”

“Uh, no. You?”

“That would be a definite no.”

“Hmm. You know what, Deven?”


“I think we should change that.” Lifting her hips, Rhian straddled her lover.  In one fluid motion, she pulled off her sweatshirt and tossed it aside.  Deven’s pupils enlarged and her nostrils flared slightly, and Rhian’s body responded immediately.  With a wicked little smile, she removed her bra and sent if flying off in the same general direction her shirt had gone.

The shifting of muscle between her legs alerted her to Deven’s intent to take control.  “Ah ah ah,” she said and pressed her torso down.  “Not this time, champ. I want you right where I’ve got you.” 

Complying for the moment, Deven tethered the unremitting lust. Since that first coupling after the beating, she’d found that there were times when the need to have her lover was so fierce, she couldn’t restrain it for long. The harder she tried to hold back, the more her body would actually tremble from the pent up desire struggling to be freed.  What was truly unexpected about those times was how willing a participant her companion was. 

Caressing the back of Rhian’s head, Deven coaxed her forward into a kiss.  With tantalizing thoroughness, her tongue explored the moist warmth while her fingertips moved across skin with light pressure, leaving goose bumps in their wake.

“Hmm,” Rhian hummed.  “As good as that feels, I’m on to you. You’re trying to distract me again.”  Sitting back up, she unbuttoned and lay open the martial artist’s denim shirt, baring the woman’s upper body.  Nipples lifted invitingly, and the landscaper’s tongue itched to wrap around them.  Appreciatively, as if running her fingers across a prized sculpture, she touched Deven’s body, fondling each rise and valley until touch alone was no longer enough.  With her lips barely touching a soft breast, she declared, “Mine.”

Eyes closed, Deven inhaled sharply as teeth lightly clamped the taut flesh.  Lifting her hips in response to the increasing suction, the seam of her jeans pressed more fully against her swollen labia. Off. Gotta get them off.  “Rhian,” she said and guided the woman back up into a kiss.

Lips pressed together, tongues danced, and hands roamed causing muscles to quiver beneath soft skin.  The landscaper settled completely on Deven’s body, their breasts pressing together as her hips began a slow, teasing grind.

Moving her hands lower, Deven gripped Rhian’s bottom and drew her closer still. Touching, kissing, moving together in a controlled pace, they stoked each other’s arousal.  “Wait,” the martial artist panted.

“Don’t want to.”

“Wait, Rhian.”

“Why?” the landscaper asked in obvious irritation.

Amused by the reaction, Deven smiled. “I just want to feel you. All of you.”

“Oh.”  Somewhat unsteadily, Rhian managed to strip off the remainder of her clothes and the martial artist’s as well. “Now where were we?” With the brakes having been thrown unexpectedly on her rampaging desire, the urgency was diminished if not the level of her arousal.    

Deven floated in a place where sensation and emotion curled around each other, seeking to coalesce.  Rhian was touching, tasting, loving her and that was all there was in the world.  This woman. This love.  There was no beginning and no end. No pain. No hurt. No memories or thoughts of times past. She knew that in opening herself, body and spirit to this woman, she was the closest she would ever get towards experiencing true ecstasy.

She could feel it now.  The slow burn that had seemed content to simmer in her lower belly flared and spread rapidly.  “Rhian,” she gasped, and at the same instant her body climaxed, she looked up at the tree. The lights swirled in her vision and closing her eyes, they remained a kaleidoscope of color - if only in her head.  Muscles grown taut from the full impact of her release arched her back, lifting her up and suspending her there in a pleasure that was nearly unbearable.  Then just as suddenly they went lax, collapsing her back to the floor. 

Unmoving, Deven waited for the pounding of her heart to slow.  Then opening her eyes, she found her lover watching her intently, a small crease of concern on her forehead. “You kill me.”

“That is so not my intent. Are you okay?”

“I’m great,” she replied with a lazy smile.  “Now, sit up and straddle my hips.”

Rhian did as requested and sat quietly waiting, while Deven gazed admiringly at her body.

“Touch yourself,” the martial artist said.


“I want to watch you touch yourself.”

“I can’t.” Self-consciously, Rhian crossed her arms to cover her breasts. 

“Baby, please. You did it once before,” Deven pressed.

“But. But that. That was different,” the landscaper stammered and her skin flushed. “We’d been fighting and I was.”

“You were what?”


“Of me?”

“No. Never,” Rhian answered adamantly, but tears brimmed in her eyes and she blinked several times to clear them.  “I was afraid that you wouldn’t want me anymore.”

“Baby, that isn’t true. I can’t even imagine not wanting you.”

“When I came home that day, I just wanted. I don’t know what I wanted. To touch you. To feel you. To know that you still loved me. That I was enough for you. All of it. And things just built up. I hadn’t intended to do that. It just happened.”  

“Relax, sweetheart,” Deven soothed and waited until the tension left Rhian’s body.  “I asked because it was incredibly sexy, baby. You excite me. You are so beautiful and when you’re aroused.”  She reached out and gently coaxed Rhian to drop her arms, and then she ran her finger down the center of her lover’s chest. “You are the most intoxicating thing I have ever experienced.”

Rhian looked down her naked front conjuring up two memories at almost the same time. One was the first time she’d exposed herself to this woman, which had been a prelude to the consummation of their physical relationship. The second was the evening that she had started out teasing Deven but had ended up gratifying herself instead. Both times had been charged with emotion, and that had allowed her to move past any embarrassment or uncertainty.

“Please,” Deven asked again, and the look of smoldering desire in her eyes caused a trickle of dampness from between the landscaper’s legs. 

Rhian focused completely on that gaze.  She knew it well.  It spoke of passion and desire, love and lust.  It promised tender caresses and unbridled possession.  It reminded of tickling teases and demands that pushed the boundaries in their intensity. “For you.”

As her eyes closed, Rhian lifted her hands and began the journey across overheated flesh. Nipples tightened at the suggestion of touch.  Swelling flesh pressed lightly against the lower belly on which she perched. 

“More,” Deven encouraged.

Placing a hand over each breast, Rhian squeezed.  Her hips began a steady rhythm, pressing her sex ore firmly against her lover’s body.  And then one hand snaked down her abdomen to begin stroking between her legs.

Deven counted to ten before sitting up. Wrapping her arms tightly around her lover, she rolled them both to the side, guiding Rhian to lie back. “Thank you. You are so beautiful.”  

Rhian squirmed in anticipation, eager to be taken, but the release she craved was not imminent. Deven’s touch was slow and gentle, and as much as she appreciated the consideration, it wasn’t taking her where she wanted to be fast enough. “Deven,” she whimpered. “Please.”

“Patience, love.”

“Patience, my ass. Fuck me, Masterson. Please.”

“As you wish,” Deven replied. Finally releasing the self-imposed restraint, she kissed the landscaper hungrily. Pulling back abruptly, she said, “Roll over.” Then fully embracing the fervor, she claimed her lover’s body. 


They lay in companionable silence, just holding and lightly caressing, their sated bodies pressed together in familiarity. “I suppose we should get some clothes on and get things taken care of so we can go to bed,” Deven said.

“I suppose you’re right,” Rhian agreed and reluctantly rolled onto her back.

Deven stood up and extended her hand.  “Come on, darlin’.”

Accepting the assistance, Rhian was easily pulled up to her feet and immediately into a heartfelt hug.  “Merry Christmas,” she murmured against the martial artist’s neck.

Deven glanced at her watch, and it took a few seconds for it to register that it was well after midnight and therefore, Christmas had officially arrived.  “Wow. I think that is the best present I’ve ever received.”


While gathering up her clothes, Deven responded, “Yeah, I am. And wait until I tell your mother what you said.”

“What? What did I say?”

“You said the F world.”

“I am not responsible for what I do in the heat of passion. And besides it was your fault.”

“My fault?”

“You wouldn’t quit teasing me.  And you wouldn’t dare tell my mother.”

“Wouldn’t I?” Deven taunted. She just managed to elude Rhian’s attempt to swat her bare backside and bolted out of the room before the woman had a chance to try again.


After nearly an hour of walking up and down stairs, carrying armloads of gifts, Deven finally stopped and surveyed the damage. “Holy cow!”

“Think we kind of overdid it?” Rhian asked as she surveyed the sprawl of wrapped packages. 

“Oh, I don’t know,” the martial artist responded while placing an arm across the woman’s shoulders. “I have a lot of Christmases to make up for. And I missed yours and Tiernan’s birthdays this year.” Cocking her head slightly as if she were straining to hear something, she stared at the tree.  “I have a lot to make up for,” she spoke softly.

“I don’t agree,” Rhian argued.  “Seems to me you’ve done made up for more than was yours to carry in the first place. I think we should call it even and move on.” She gave her companion’s stomach a gentle pat. “Now, come on. I hear a nice warm bed calling my name. I’ll even tuck you in and kiss you good night.”

“How can I possibly pass up an offer like that?” Deven replied as they walked together towards the stairs.

Part 2

Christmas morning arrived far too early for Rhian.  Prying an eye open she found not only her lover staring at her expectantly but two eager children as well. “Go back to sleep,” she moaned.

“Mama, Santa came!”

“Yeah, Mama, Santa came!” Deven said, mimicking the little girl.

Pulling the comforter over her head, Rhian shifted lower in the bed, hoping they’d all get the hint and leave her alone for a little bit longer. “Not yet.”

“Are you sure?” Deven asked.

“Yes,” came the resolute answer.

“Okay. She’s all yours,” the martial artist said to the children. Quickly getting out of the way, Deven watched as Tiernan and Seana pounced on her lover.

“Wake up, Rhian,” Tiernan nearly shouted.  A tug of war began as he struggled to break the woman’s hold on the covers.

“Stop,” the landscaper called out to no avail.  

“No, Mama, now!” Seana demanded while climbing up and bouncing on her mother.

“Okay, guys, back off,” Deven said before things could get out of hand. They obeyed, but remained poised to attack again. “Baby, I think they mean business.”

“Big help you are,” Rhian grumbled.

“Kids, have you ever heard of Scrooge?”

Pushing the covers back, Rhian glowered at her companion. “You are not nice.”

Tiernan crawled closer and then lay his head down on his mother’s pillow, his face now mere inches away from the landscaper’s.  “Mommy was right, Rhian. Santa found us,” he said in an exaggerated whisper. 

“No kidding,” she answered just as softly.  “What makes you think any of those presents down there are for you?”

His face lit up and he smiled broadly. “Cause there’s a bike down there with my name on it.”

“Me, too!” Seana quickly added.

Rhian looked at both of the children and then up into Deven’s face. “I can’t tell who’s more excited.  You or them.”

A flicker of uncertainty crossed the martial artist’s face before she smiled and answered proudly, “Me.”

“Okay, here’s the deal,” Rhian said. “Everyone must have a glass of juice and some toast or a muffin to start.”

“Then can we open the presents,” Deven asked hopefully.

“Just one more thing.”

“Anything,” Deven replied.


“I’m on it. Come on guys.”  The children scrambled off the bed and rushed out of the room. 

As Deven turned to follow after them, Rhian called out to her.  “Wait.”


“Come here,” the landscaper said.  “I didn’t get my morning kiss.”

“Beg your pardon, my lady.” Deven sat down and kissed the woman with loving care. “Morning,” she said as they pulled apart.

“Morning, my love,” Rhian replied while caressing her companion’s cheek.  “How long have you been up?”

“Not too long. I heard them trying to sneak around and cut them off before they could get into too much trouble.”

“Mommy,” Tiernan shouted up the stairs.

“You better go make sure they put something in their bellies.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Deven stood and purposefully strode across the room and out the door.

Watching her playmate go, Rhian shook her head. She doubted that her lover realized just how much she’d changed over the past few months, the last month in particular.  These times were hard for Deven, but she was facing each challenge with extraordinary courage and not fighting the process anymore. And because of that, she was more open and giving of herself. 

Rhian reached out and picked up the photograph of them on the nightstand. It was a favorite of hers because they had been so happy and carefree in that moment.  Tears sprang up unexpectedly and she didn’t try to stop them. There were, from the past few months, still some raw places inside that were mending, and she embraced the tears as an outward sign of her internal healing. 

“Mama,” Deven’s voice rose up the stairs.  “Coffee’s on.”

“On my way,” she called back. Setting the photograph back down, she climbed out of bed and walked into the bathroom. Splashing water on her face, she erased the vestiges of her tears before grabbing her robe off the bathroom door.  “Being in love with Deven is,” she paused while putting on the robe and then running a comb through her hair.  A list of adjectives went through her head but none was sufficient to encompass the depth of what she felt for the woman. 

Walking towards the bedroom door, she finally settled on “Indescribably wonderful.”   


What followed was an hour of jubilant bedlam. Packages were distributed, paper ripped off and scattered, and many appreciate exclamations followed.  Sitting back on the sofa, Deven surveyed the damage with satisfaction.  I guess I did all right. 

“Okay,” Rhian addressed the children. “I know you want to play with your new toys, but before you do, we have to get this a little organized. So, gather your things into a pile. Tiernan put your presents on that side of the tree and Seana yours go on the other side. And toss the paper and stuff to be thrown out into a pile right here.”

“But I want to play, Mama? Do this later.”

“That’s not how it works, Seana. You know that. Now let’s get this cleaned up so Deven can make us breakfast,” she said to the child and then winked at her lover.

The little girl’s stubborn streak came out in full force and Deven could already tell where this was headed. Normally, she’d leave it to Rhian to deal with and disappear before things escalated, but today was different and she didn’t want it spoiled like all her other holidays had been. “Seana?”

“What?” the child said without looking up.

“Look of me, please.”

Reluctantly, Seana lifted her head and warily regarded the woman. 

“You don’t want to get into trouble, do you?  That wouldn’t be fun and then you wouldn’t be able to play with your toys at all for the rest of the day.”  Seana’s eyes widened and she gaped at the martial artist.  “Please, do what your mama asked. I’ll help and we’ll be done before you know it.”

Seana pondered the offer for a few seconds and just when Deven thought she was going to refuse, she asked, “You’ll help?”


“Okay,” Seana agreed and began the task. 

Rhian leaned over and kissed Deven on the cheek. “You’re a good mom.”

“Nah. A good negotiator maybe.”

“No, Deven. You’re a good mom.”

“I didn’t do anything really. I could see she was going to push you as far as she could and I just didn’t want to have this day start off that way.”

“Well, thank you.”

“Rhian, I didn’t do anything.”

“Deven, the appropriate response would be a simple you’re welcome.  Don’t make me call my mother over here to teach you some manners.”

The martial artist feigned a shudder and lifted her hands in surrender. “Okay, you win. You’re welcome.”

“Good girl,” the landscaper responded triumphantly.

It didn’t take long to get everything organized and the trash cleaned up. Now that the excitement had worn off, Deven was tired but content and walking into the kitchen, she headed straight for the coffee pot for another blast of caffeine. 

“Hey, champ. I have one more thing for you,” Rhian said as she stepped up to her friend and handed over a small neatly wrapped package.

“What’s this?”

“I’d say from the looks of it, that’s a present of some sort.”

Deven arched an eyebrow.  “No kidding. I never would have guessed that.”

“Open it,” Rhian said with a playful poke to the woman’s ribs.

Removing the colorful paper, Deven uncovered a small jewelers box but made not effort to look inside. 

”Go on,” the landscaper coaxed.

Lifting the lid, Deven found a gold lightening bolt nestled on dark blue velvet. It was attached to a gold chain that disappeared inside the box.  “Rhian, I-“    

“I know you don’t wear much jewelry, but when I saw it, I thought of you,” the landscaper interrupted.  Please don’t hate it.  “Partly because of your name, but mostly because of what your grandmother wrote in her letter to you.”

“I’m not sure what you mean.” Deven looked out the window towards the woods, her eyes slightly unfocused, seeing the letter in her mind.  “Grandmother said that the power of the storm is not to be underestimated.  That my power lies in the West where the Thunder Beings live. Is that the part?”

“Yes,” Rhian responded eagerly. “And then she added that like the storm so is your passion, and like the storm, it is unpredictable.”

“And I need to channel my passions,” Deven took up the narrative.  “Direct them where they are the most beneficial to myself and others.” She lifted the charm, pulling the chain free, and holding it up.  “It’s beautiful.”

“Really? You don’t mind?” Rhian asked hesitantly. “I guess it was kind of stupid. You can take it back if you want.”

“Absolutely not. I’m sorry if I made you think that I don’t like it. I’ve just never gotten anything like this, something that has a meaning. At least not since the last time I saw my grandmother.”  The martial artist pulled her friend into a hug. “I love it. And I love you.”

“I love you, too.” 

“Mama, you said if we cleaned up, Deven would make breakfast.”

“Yes, I did. And you did such a good job, too” she replied to the child. With one last squeeze of her lover, she stepped back.  “Put it on.”

Deven handed the landscaper the box and after clasping the chain around her neck, she let the charm drop.  It came to rest just below her collarbone.

“Nice,” Rhian acknowledged appreciatively.

“That’s pretty,” Seana said.

“Yes, it is. Your mama has good taste.”

“Of course I do. I picked you, didn’t I?” the landscaper answered smugly.  “Come on, Seana. Let’s get you and Tiernan cleaned up.”

Watching her lover and the child walk out of the room, Deven touched the lightening bolt. The metal warmed beneath her fingertips and a small smile appeared. She sure is something, isn’t she, Grandmother?      

Part 3

“Lord have mercy, I’m tired,” Rhian groaned and flopped down on the sofa.  Propping her feet up on the glass coffee table, she surveyed the room.  Most of the toys had been put away hours ago and only a few remained near the tree where Seana and Tiernan had been playing before being sent off to bed.  Which is where I should be right now.

“Hey,” Deven said as she entered the room.

“Hi, honey.”

Walking over to the sofa, Deven sat down with her back against the armrest and tapped her chest in invitation.  Rhian scooted over and lay back against her lover’s chest, sighing contentedly as arms closed around her. 

“I think the kids are happy,” Deven remarked.

“Are you joking? They’re ecstatic,” Rhian replied. “It’s been a great day.”

“Yeah, it has been,” the martial artist answered in agreement. The whole day had been filled with activity that included spurts of excitement and a lot of friendship. Jay and Nicole had arrived in time for breakfast and another round of gift exchanges had taken place.  “This is the first Christmas that Jay and I have actually celebrated.”

“I kind of figured that. You both looked a little awkward there for a bit.”

“I guess we did. It felt kind of weird at first.”

Freddie and Star had made an appearance late morning. Sitting at the breakfast bar sipping coffee, Deven had listened for nearly an hour as all four children had played in the sunroom and discussed, rather boisterously, the bounty they’d received.  The knowledge that she’d had a part in Tiernan and Seana’s happiness brought Deven a sense of pride unlike any she’d ever experienced.       

An early dinner at the Mackenzie’s had continued the celebration, and they’d ended up spending several hours there. Time had passed unnoticed in the warmth and comfortable atmosphere that Rhian’s parents created for them all.  

“Do your folks always do such a big spread for Christmas dinner?”

“Pretty much,” Rhian answered.  “I didn’t see you complaining. What was it? Three servings of everything?”

“I did not have three servings of everything,” Deven replied with a soft chuckle.  “And I wasn’t complaining.”

“Good because you still need to put on some weight, honey.” 

Deven grunted in response.  She’d managed to gain a few pounds in the past month but was nowhere near where she’d been before the beating and little of it was muscle.  The desire to resume a training schedule continued to be elusive, and she still contemplated selling the schools and seeking another vocation. 

Shifting slightly, Rhian turned her head and observed the woman’s profile. “What did you think of Mom’s gift?”

“Which one?”

“You know which one,” Rhian answered.

Kate had given them both, among other things, matching pewter key chains, each with a tag that had DM + RM engraved on them.  Sitting both women down at the kitchen table, she’d looked at them gravely while explaining that the key chains were much more than utilitarian. They were intended to hopefully serve as reminders to lock the door.  Deven had groaned and Rhian had blushed causing Kate to laugh heartily at their expense. “I think your mother has a warped sense of humor,” the martial artist replied. 

Deven fingered the gold chain around her neck.  She’d received more presents on this day than the past twelve years combined and while every gift had been appreciated, this one was by far her favorite.  “You about ready to call it a night?”

“Oh yeah. I’m beat.”

Together they moved from room to room, shutting off lights and ensuring the house was secure. After a quick check on each child, they walked hand in hand to the bedroom and once inside, Deven closed the door. 

Rhian went straight into the bathroom, leaving Deven waiting in the bedroom with a growing case of nerves. Come on, Rhian, hurry up. No don’t. Oh, this was a bad idea.

“Aren’t you going to get ready for bed?” the landscaper asked as she stepped back into the bedroom and crossed to the dresser.

“Yeah, sure.”  Mechanically, Deven stripped out of her clothes and gathered them up to place in the hamper.  She’d just reached the bathroom door when it happened.

“What is that?” Rhian asked in a hushed tone.

Dropping the clothes carelessly onto the floor, Deven swallowed hard and then moved closer to where her lover stood.  “Surprise,” she said nervously. 

“Is that what I think it is?”

“That depends on what you think it is. Go on. Have a look.”

Rhian walked into the sitting room followed closely by her friend.  Standing near the window was an easel with a large red bow on it.  Next to it was a wooden cabinet and opening the various drawers, she found it filled with paints, brushes, charcoals and various other art supplies.  Her hand covered her mouth as she released a sob and turning her head, she stared at Deven through tear filled eyes.

“If it’s not the right thing, we can exchange it,” Deven said in concern. “We can exchange all of it.”

“No,” Rhian answered adamantly and then wrapped her arms tightly around the woman. “It’s wonderful. You’re wonderful.”

Returning the embrace, Deven gently rubbed the landscaper’s back.  “You told me that what you’d really wanted to do was study to be an artist, but you didn’t get the opportunity to do that. I just thought that if you had the stuff here, you could explore it if you wanted to. Maybe take some courses.”

Resting her forehead against Deven’s chest, Rhian began to cry.  Though it had not been feasible, being an artist had been a dream that had never gone completely away.  Now, she was being handed the possibility to revive that dream.  “I got you wet,” she said when the tears stopped.

“Well, it isn’t the first time.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” Rhian quipped. Turning her head to the side and resting it on Deven’s bare shoulder, she looked at the easel again. “That is the best Christmas present I’ve ever gotten. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

Deven smiled happily.  She hadn’t had the opportunity to bring the easel and cabinet up from the basement last night, and things had been so hectic all day that she’d been unable to figure out the best time to give it to her friend.  A heavy dose of worry had ensured she didn’t want to present it in front of anyone else in case Rhian didn’t like it.  “You’re welcome. Go on and take a look,” she said with a gentle nudge. “I’m just going to get ready for bed.”

Rhian traced the inlaid design on the cabinet with the tip of her finger before opening the drawers again.  Deven had obviously done some homework.  The brushes were all top of the line, and the assortment of paints and pencils was extensive. This gift was so much more than just art supplies though.  Deven had listened and understood her dream, and there was no way to truly express how much that meant or to put a value on what it was that her lover had actually given her.      

Closing the drawers, she ran her hand across the top one more time before turning towards the bed.  Lying down on her side, she pulled the covers up and eyed the cabinet.   

Stepping out of the bathroom, Deven shut off the lights and then crawled under the covers. “Have you thought about what you want to do for New Years Eve?” she asked.

“Don’t care as long as I get to kiss you,” Rhian answered, cuddling with her lover and releasing a big yawn.

Deven snorted. “You get to do that anyway.”

“Tomorrow talk. Tonight sleep. Love you.”

“Love you, too, baby.”

Deven listened to the house.  All was quiet. The children were safe in the their beds and sleeping soundly.  Her lover was in her arms and had already drifted into slumber.  There had never been a time in her life when she’d felt this at peace.  The road that she’d traveled to get to this place had been incredibly difficult.  Sometimes I don’t even know why or how I made it to this point. Fate? Luck? Just plain stubbornness? Whatever it was, I am so blessed and I’m going to do everything I can to keep this.  She placed a tender kiss on Rhian’s head and then closed her eyes.

In a week they’d be entering a New Year in a new decade, and they’d be doing it together. There were still a lot of unanswered questions, but there were no more secrets, at least not with Rhian, and that was a heavy burden that had been lifted from her shoulders.

Manny’s return into her life had been quite a painful surprise but it had also cleared up a lot of things while creating new issues - his knowledge of Tiernan being foremost.  As she lay there, she knew that he was keeping a sort of vigil over them, and she needed to decide if she was willing to pay the price for his protection.  The more accurate question, Masterson, is do you have a say in it?  Because you know that even if you tell him to get lost, he’ll still be there in some way or another. The man has a personal reason to be involved.

And what of Tiernan?  There will undoubtedly come a day when he’s going to ask about his father. And what are you going to say? He’s dead. It’s the truth. But that won’t be what he’s really asking, will it? He’ll want to know who his father was and where he came from? Will you lie to your son?  She didn’t think she would. So, the question is, should you wait until he asks?

Tito had been her friend and a decent man.  Ah, Tito, our son is a beautiful little boy and I can’t take credit for anything good in him.  But I’ve always tried to do what I thought was right for him. I know you would have been an active part in his life whether I’d welcomed it or not. You’re too much like your father in that respect. It wasn’t that I didn’t want you to know your son. It was that I didn’t want our child to know how we met and how we became friends.  If you’d been around, I didn’t know how, or if, I could have insulated Tiernan from that. 

And she had some serious concerns about allowing Manny into the boy’s life now for the same reasons.  Deven could sympathize with Tito’s mother, Maria. The woman had loved her son deeply and his death must have broken her heart.  Knowing that Tito had a child would probably go a long way to helping the woman heal some of her grief. But is the risk worth it? 

Tiernan aside, Manny had the resources she needed to figure out who had been behind the contract on her life.  Knowing that someone was seeking revenge for Kiki after all these years was troubling.  It had been so long in coming that she’d almost dismissed the possibility. Unfortunately, I have to wait for Manny to come to me with the answers, and that sucks.

As if that wasn’t enough, there was also the looming problem of Patricia and the possibility that the woman would seek custody of Tiernan. A part of Deven had always hoped that a day might come when somehow she’d gain an insight into her mother that would allow them to reach some sort of middle ground. She understood that it was impossible, and most surprisingly to her was the fact that she no longer cared.  Patricia was the woman who had given birth to her and nothing more. Kate had been more of a mother in the past four months than Patricia had been in thirty years.

Rhian shifted slightly and murmured incoherently, bringing Deven out of her musings. Her arms tightened in reflex and her hand lightly stroked the sleeping woman’s back. She didn’t really want to think about any of those problems now.  Next week would be soon enough. 

Inhaling deeply, her senses filled with the smell of shampoo, lotion, and the distinctive scent that was Rhian. And for Deven, it was a calming balm. 

This holiday season had been unlike any she’d ever known. Rhian had been right in that the memories far outweighed any of the hassles.  Tiernan’s smile and Rhian’s appreciation of her gift were foremost among them.  Seana’s unique way of embracing everything was another. It felt good to be surrounded by people who meant something to her: Rhian and the kids, Jay and Nicole, Kelly and Carl, Lydia, Alex and their kids, and the Mackenzies.  She’d gone from being alone to a life filled with people she cared about and who, for whatever reason, cared about her.

So, Grandmother, I finally celebrated a holiday. Can you imagine? Me? I wish that you and Granddad could have been here to share this day.  I’m hoping that you were.  Merry Christmas to you both.  I love you.

“Go to sleep,” Rhian said groggily.

“I thought you were out.”

“I was but you aren’t. Whatever it is, let it go and save it for tomorrow.”

“Uh, I was just kind of thinking about some things. And I was wishing my grandparents a Merry Christmas,” the martial artist said reflectively.

“Oh?” Rhian opened her eyes and lifted her head enough to look at her friend’s face. It was dark in the room, but she was close enough that she could sufficiently make out the woman’s features. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, love,” Deven, answered.

Rhian lightly ran a finger down her lover’s cheek and then grinned.  “Merry Christmas, Deven’s grandparents.  Thank you for loving her and watching over her.”   Lowering her head once more, she snuggled back down.  Reaching a hand up under the martial artist’s shirt, she moved her fingers lightly over the smooth flesh. 

The lazy pattern across her abdomen soothed Deven, and her body relaxed completely. “Us,” she murmured. “They’re watching over us.”

The End of this tale but not for our friends

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