When You Dance With the Devil
© by J. ‘Harley' Elmore, 2003 – 2004
See Chapter One for full disclaimers.
Chapter Three, Part 1
Rhian was halfway across the parking lot when she heard the music. The steady beat of the base echoed in the pit of her stomach, heightening her anticipation. Music meant that Deven was practicing, and that was an image the landscaper never grew tired of. Her pace quickened in response, and it was only a matter of seconds before she was quietly sitting in the school lobby watching her lover execute the complex techniques of a martial arts form.
Despite the fact that the martial artist wasn't putting forth the same level of effort she did in competition, the spectacle was still impressive and stirred within Rhian the now familiar spark of carnality. It no longer mattered that they be in physical proximity to one another for the landscaper to feel the want. Mental images of the tall dark haired woman were sufficient to awaken a deep-seated longing.
Quite a bit of Rhian's time lately had been taken up with thinking about her relationship with this woman, evaluating where they'd been and trying to understand where they might possibly be going. Deven had come to be an integral part of many things in the younger woman's life and continued to captivate her in multiple ways - something Rhian fervently hoped would always be the case.
Despite how far they'd come individually and as a couple, Rhian was bothered that she still suffered through certain insecurities. She still found it difficult to understand why Deven chose to be with her. The woman gave off an almost preternatural aura of confidence and sexuality, and there was no doubt in Rhian's mind that Deven could have anyone that she wanted. So why me?
The first time they'd met, she'd felt Deven's powerful persona all the way across the crowded bar. It radiated outward from the martial artist, drawing people to her and Rhian remembered feeling both captivated and disturbed by it. It had also been incredibly alluring, though at the time, she hadn't understood the attraction.
As their relationship had developed, Rhian had come to accept that she was far from immune to the woman's sometimes overpowering magnetism. Deven's personality was strong and potentially threatening, but no matter how much Rhian tried to refute it, she found it appealing on a very primitive level within her psyche.
Beyond the physical aspects of their deepening connection, Rhian had come to realize that the martial artist filled long denied emotional voids. Empty places within her that she had, over time, chosen to mentally reject as unimportant or accepted with quiet disillusionment. She believed, or more precisely hoped, that she'd brought some of the same fulfillment to Deven's life.
They were very different people, but she didn't consider them to be opposites despite the obvious contrasts in their personalities. Instead, she marveled at how well they complimented each other. With no small amount of wonder, she acknowledged that Deven tended to be more passionate overall than she was. Rarely was anything half way for the martial artist. Focused and determined, Deven faced everything in her life with a depth of emotion so veiled that no one, including the woman herself, recognized it most times. Everyone else seemed to only see the self-possessed attitude.
But I've always seen so much more. Deven is as vulnerable as she is strong. As formidable as she is tender. As loving as she is angry. As unapproachable as she is devoted. All aspects of the complex woman that few people in her life have ever known. Or ever will I suppose.
Rhian understood, supported, and often actively promoted Deven's efforts to become free of the past. The woman's history was difficult to face for both of them at times, and as ludicrous as it sounded given Deven's fierce temperament, it stirred Rhian's protective nature. She discovered that being with this woman was awakening a lot of things including a tendency towards hedonism, and unfortunately, an ugly green eyed monster that had never before touched the landscaper's life.
There were times that despite the knowledge that Deven loved her, wanted her, and desired her, the idea of someone else catching the martial artist's eye caused Rhian to turn into someone she didn't even recognize. She didn't like the way it made her feel or act and certainly didn't want Deven to know she'd developed such a possessive streak. Never had reason to be jealous or possessive before. Never cared enough to be, I guess.
She watched the martial artist move through the form's pattern with skill and grace that defied words. Deven was wearing black uniform pants with her well-worn black belt settled just below her waist, and a tight tee shirt that hugged her like a second skin. The muscles in her upper body rippled and strained with each move, and it wasn't long before the mounting desire Rhian had felt upon entering the school turned into full-fledged lust.
"She's really something, huh?"
"Yikes!" Rhian jumped visibly in the chair, nearly falling over the edge. "Jesus, Kelly, you just scared the crap out of me!"
The lawyer had the good grace to appear apologetic though a small smile pulled at the corners of her full lips. "Sorry. I guess I should have announced my presence sooner. You did look rather, uh, entranced." She took the seat next to the young blonde. "Long time no see. How have you been?"
Regaining some of her composure, Rhian replied, "Good. You?" She could feel the monster awakening and silently berated it. For whatever reason, this woman more than any other served as a focus for her jealousy. She knew there was nothing to be concerned about, but somehow knowing that Kelly had once slept with Deven stirred up all the nasty feelings. Ugh! You have got to get past this, Rhian!
"Real good." Kelly turned her attention to the classroom. She didn't need to look at Rhian to understand the woman wasn't happy about something. And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it has to do with me. She liked Rhian a great deal and couldn't deny the positive impact this woman had on Deven. I can give her time. "From what I hear, things are going quite well between the two of you. You certainly bring out the best in her."
Glancing at the lawyer, Rhian looked for any signs of sarcasm, and finding none, looked away. "I don't know. I think she does it herself."
Turning her head a little, Kelly smiled as she eyed the younger woman. "Ah, cute and wise. No wonder she's so smitten with you." She watched a faint blush color Rhian's cheeks. "Perhaps she is doing it herself, but you do give her a reason to."
The music concluded and Deven turned, smiling broadly at the women. "Well, if it isn't my two favorite ladies." She walked to the doorway with a sexy swagger, unaware she was escalating Rhian's need. Glancing quickly at her surroundings and discerning no one nearby, Deven leaned forward and grazed her lips against the landscaper's.
"Hi," Rhian croaked as she struggled against the impulse to strip Deven naked and run her hands all over the woman's body. God, what she does to me.
The martial artist felt herself drawn to the darkened emerald irises and recognized the slight flush of arousal rising slowly up Rhian's neck to her cheeks. The obvious lust blazing in the woman's eyes kindled the ardency in Deven's already energized body. Oh boy. With sheer determination, she willed her flesh to behave and shifted her gaze to the lawyer. "What brings you slumming around these parts, Kelly?"
"You, of course." The lawyer smiled knowingly. "Are you okay? You look a little, oh I don't know, excited," Kelly teased, earning a scowl from her friend. "Actually, it's Carl's birthday and I was wondering if you were available to do a little celebrating."
"I think so. What did you have in mind?"
"Nothing special. Just an evening at the Pit tonight. You know Carl. He doesn't want a fuss, but at the same time, his feelings get hurt if we don't do something." Kelly cocked her head slightly and smirked. "A lot like you actually."
"I suggest, Kelly, that you keep your day job," Deven responded. "You aren't that funny."
"Ouch. So, are you available?"
"Tonight?" Deven looked at Rhian. "Sorry. I have a standing date on Wednesday nights."
"Really?" Kelly asked as her expression turned somber. "Well, I suppose you could bring her along. After all, the more the merrier, right? I already talked to Jay and he said he'd be there with Nicole." Turning slightly in her chair she faced the landscaper. "And of course, you're invited."
"Huh?" Rhian had been partially listening to the conversation between the two women as she combated the hormones her system was generating. Her brain finally caught up with what had been said, and she realized she was being teased. "I don't know." She turned pensive. "If Deven has a date, then I'll have to find one too. Pretty short notice, don't you think?"
Kelly smiled, pleased that the younger woman had accepted the banter. "Nah. You show up and blink those beautiful green eyes; you'll have your pick of any woman in the bar. Guaranteed."
"I guess I'll have to consider it then." Rhian managed to sound encouraged. "Hmm, that might be well worth it. What do you think, Champ? Should I go stag and see what turns up?"
Deven curled her upper lip and growled. "I think you aren't very funny either."
Reaching out, Rhian grasped her lover's hand and gave it a small squeeze. "Ah, sweetie, I'm just kidding you. There isn't anyone else I want to be with."
The martial artist pointed a finger at the landscaper. "Don't forget that."
"Oh, you two are just too damn cute," Kelly drawled. "So, are we on for tonight?"
Deven looked closely at Rhian. "I'll understand if you don't want to go."
The landscaper took a few seconds to consider the idea. She hadn't been back to the bar since the night Mace had attacked her. In fact, she hadn't even considered going there. "I think I'm okay with it. I wouldn't have any desire to go if you weren't going to be there though."
"Okay," Deven replied as she lightly caressed her lover's cheek. Then looking back at Kelly, she caught the lawyer's faint smirk. "I see you're amused."
"Yes, I am," Kelly said. "Watching the two of you is like watching a disgustingly sweet movie of the week."
The martial artist rolled her eyes, and Rhian chuckled as she stood. "I have to get back to work. I'll call you later, and you can fill me in on the details for tonight. And Deven, don't forget to eat lunch."
"Yes, dear," she replied and then stiffened slightly as Rhian embraced her. "Baby, I'm a tad bit on the sweaty side."
"That's okay." The landscaper's sweet smile belied the suggestiveness in her voice. "I love it when you work up a sweat." She laughed at the bewildered expression on the taller woman's face. "Talk to you later." A mischievous glint entered Deven's pale eyes as she regained her composure, and Rhian knew it meant retaliation. Moving quickly, she gained a more strategic position that placed the lawyer between herself and the advancing martial artist. "Bye, Kelly." Then making a quick departure, she called over her shoulder, "I love you, honey."
Kelly burst out laughing. "She certainly has your number."
Deven shook her head in amazement and sat in the seat Rhian had vacated. "Yeah, she does."
Turning in her chair, the lawyer faced her friend. "You look good, Deven. Less tense."
"Well, getting laid on a regular basis will do that," the martial artist replied with a smirk.
"Something tells me that if Rhian heard you talking like that, you'd be in a lot of trouble, my friend."
"Probably. Of course, you'll note that she isn't here. I ain't no fool."
Resting her elbow on the back of the chair, Kelly propped her head up with her hand. "Have you given much thought to where you want this to go?"
"You always were straight to the point, Kelly."
"Yes, well, I've learned that it's usually the best approach with you. If I give you too much room to maneuver, you'll put me off indefinitely. So?"
Looking down, Deven silently studied her hands. "Yes and no. I mean, I think about it sometimes."
Lifting her head back up, the martial artist stared without focus into the classroom. "I don't know. I haven't really reached any conclusions. I don't know what she wants."
"Have you asked her?"
Kelly dropped her hand and shook her head. "Why not?"
"Would you believe me if I said I don't know?"
"No." There were times when Kelly had to really resist the impulse to just slap the back of Deven's head in the hopes that it would somehow knock some sense into the woman.
"I get to thinking. What if she doesn't want to make it more permanent? She was in a bad marriage, you know? Why would she want to get back into something?" Deven placed a hand against her chest. "Especially with someone like me. And I'll tell you the truth, a part of me is just great with leaving things the way they are."
"But?" Kelly listened closely to what Deven wasn't saying and knew there was something else bothering this woman.
"This is stupid, but it's like when you were kidding earlier and you said she could have her pick of any woman. It's true. Sometimes I get worried that if we don't make it more definite, then she could just." She shrugged and dropped her hand back in her lap.
"Yes, she could, but I seriously doubt she would. That woman is gone on you, Deven."
"Kelly, I've never in my life thought like this. I've never considered the possibility of loving someone and wanting to be with them everyday. There are times when I look at her…and I forget to breathe. Thoughts spin around in my head. All the things I want to tell her, but I can't say them." Her voice grew softer. "There is a part of me that wants nothing more then to tell her that she's where I want to be. She's become that important to me."
There were moments, brief and far between, when Kelly was allowed a glimpse into the woman that was Deven Masterson. And it was on those occasions that the emotions Deven allowed out were so profound it was almost heartbreaking to the lawyer. "So?"
"Give me a break, Kelly," Deven scoffed disparagingly. "You can't honestly believe that I'm what she needs. Plus there's Seana to think about. God, can you imagine me as a parent? Look at Tiernan. The poor kid walks on eggshells around me most times, and I never noticed it before."
"Deven, you are what she needs. More importantly, you're what she wants. As for the kids, don't be so hard on yourself. I see things in court that would make your skin crawl. You aren't like the depraved bastards out there that are procreating at will. If you want to, you can fix things with your son. At least you're noticing that he isn't comfortable and can take steps to change that. And if Seana is anything like her mother, she'll have you jumping through hoops in no time."
She reached out a hand and gently rubbed Deven's shoulder. "Look, I know this is hard for you. A few months back you were saying that talking about commitment of any kind would make you sick. Now, you're considering the possibility. Leave it at that for now. No where is it written that you have to, by a certain date, go down on one knee and profess your love or all bets are off."
"I suppose," Deven conceded. "You know it would make this so much easier if someone would just write a freaken manual on this crap."
Kelly smiled. "You don't need the manual. You've got me."
"Yeah? You're my personal Dear Abby? Only I guess I should call you Dear Kelly." Deven looked at her friend. "Seriously, Kel. Thank you. I don't think I'd have made it this far if you hadn't been around. Rhian would have been long gone for sure."
"Oh, I don't know about that. She loves you, Deven. Believe that. As for the advice, if it makes you feel any better, I'll send you a bill."
"I don't recall signing a contract." Deven chuckled. "Take it up with my lawyer."
Deven laughed heartily. "Been there. Done that."
Finally giving into the impulse, Kelly playfully slapped the martial artist on the back of the head. "Be nice."
"Always," Deven said with a wink.
Nicole eased the car into a parking space and shut off the engine. Rhian reached for the door handle, but stopped as a trickle of fear seeped into her stomach. Her eyes scanned the parking lot through the windshield, trying to see into all the shadows and stopped when they settled on a tall figure approaching them. She knew that strut anywhere, and it brought a smile to her lips and her heart.
Deven reached the car and opened the passenger door. Leaning down, she smiled at the landscaper. "Hi. You okay?"
"I am now," Rhian said as relief dispelled the fear.
The martial artist crouched down beside the car. "You don't have to do this, baby. If you want, we can leave right now."
Lifting her gaze from Deven's strong face, Rhian looked towards the alley where Mace had assaulted her. "I didn't think it would bother me so much. And it didn't really, until we pulled into the parking lot." She felt Deven's hand caress her shoulder. This was where they'd met, and where she'd first felt the woman's protection. It was the first place they'd danced and it was where she'd first known the security of Deven's embrace. It was those things she chose to dwell on. "I'm okay."
Standing up to give her space, Deven quietly watched as Rhian exited the vehicle. Then stepping forward she pulled the woman into a close embrace. "You sure?" She felt the slight nod against her shoulder, and leaning back slightly, she lowered her head and placed a tender kiss on Rhian's lips. "All right. Let's go have some fun ladies."
Taking the landscaper by the hand, Deven led the way into the bar. She parted the crowd inside without much effort, and the other two women followed quietly in her wake. "Look who I found," Deven announced as they reached the table.
"Rhian!" everyone voiced at the same time, much to the woman's embarrassment.
"Glad you made it," the lawyer said as she hugged the younger woman.
"Thanks. Me, too. Happy birthday, Carl."
"Thank you, Rhian," he said just before placing a kiss on her cheek. "Good to see you again."
Stepping up next to her, Deven pulled out a chair. "Here. Take a load off." She waited until the landscaper was seated and then asked, "What can I get you?"
"I'll just have a beer," Rhian replied as she smiled at the woman's chivalrous attention.
"You got it." Deven filled a glass from the pitcher on the table. Turning her seat to face her lover's, she sat down so that Rhian's chair fit between her knees.
"Are you okay?" the landscaper asked.
"Me? I'm great. You?"
Rhian chuckled softly. "I'm good." She glanced around the table and everyone smiled at her as they made eye contact. "Why is everyone so congenial?" she whispered.
"I'm not sure I know what you mean?"
"I don't know. It just seems like everyone is overly pleased to see me. And you're practically jumping out of your skin with nervous energy."
"Well, I can't speak for everyone else other then to say that they like you. A lot. And I think everyone is pleased that you were able to come despite what happened here a while back." Deven reached out and took Rhian's hand. "Plus they know how I feel about you, so I think they believe you have some sort of magical powers. Something like you've enchanted the beast sort of thing. I guess perhaps they're in awe of you."
"Deven, that's crazy."
"Perhaps." She kissed the back of Rhian's hand. "Does it really bother you?"
"No. I don't think so. It just, I don't know, seems strange."
"If that's all, I think you'll have to get used to it because this is a pretty strange group." Deven smiled sheepishly. "As for me. I've missed you."
The younger woman laughed. "You just saw me this afternoon."
"I know. That's not what I meant," the martial artist replied, a look of self-consciousness crossing her face.
"I know what you mean." Rhian caressed her companion's cheek. "I've missed you, too."
Leaning into the touch, Deven asked again, "Are you okay?"
"Yes," the younger woman said. "Just very much in love."
"Me, too." Deven's eyes studied the landscaper's face. "You bring out the best in me," she whispered. Closing the distance between them, she covered Rhian's lips with her own in a kiss born of the overwhelming love she felt for the woman.
The music was slow and melodic, and they moved together in unison, a comfortable dance of lovers. Rhian relaxed completely in Deven's arms, following the woman's graceful movements. "You're a great dancer."
"You think?" Deven purred in her ear.
"No," Rhian giggled. "I know. I knew it the first time we ever danced." She slowly ran her tongue along the flesh just below the martial artist's ear and smiled at the woman's sudden intact of breath.
Deven pulled back a little so she could look at Rhian's face. "You never told me why you ran away from me that night."
The landscaper felt the blush rise, burning her cheeks with embarrassment. She ducked her head back against her companion's shoulder and sighed. "I was attracted to you. I didn't understand it, and so I told you I wasn't. Then you laughed, and I felt like such a fool. I mean, why would you be interested in someone like me, right?"
"I'm so sorry." The guilt for her actions that night filled her yet again, and Deven closed her eyes against the memory. If she hadn't laughed, Rhian wouldn't have run away and out into the parking lot where Mace found her.
Rhian felt the stiffening of the martial artist's body and knew the cause. "It wasn't your fault. I didn't understand anything at that point. We both know that I never should have run out like I did."
"I think you should know something," Deven said somberly.
The discomfort on her friend's face was obvious to the younger woman, and she grew concerned with what it was she was about to learn. "What?"
"That night, when we were dancing, I realized just how much I was attracted to you. I was thinking about how much I wanted to kiss you, and then you said you weren't interested in me. At that moment, I was irrationally afraid that you somehow knew what I was thinking. So, I laughed because I was feeling pretty foolish myself."
"Oh." Rhian smiled.
"Why are you smiling?" Deven had expected a reaction of some sort in response to her confession, but a smile hadn't it.
"Because, I love you. And whenever I think about you loving me, it makes me happy."
"Huh." Deven nodded her head and grinned. "Then you have plenty of reason to be happy." Giving into the pull, she kissed Rhian deeply. With wanton pleasure she explored her lover's mouth, a promise of the passion yet to come. Mindful that the song had ended, she broke the kiss to rest her forehead against her lover's. The steady beat of the next song filled the air, and the dance floor filled with bodies, signaling it was time to move on. "You go back to the table. I'll go get another pitcher and meet you back there."
"Okay. Don't take too long."
"Yes, ma'am." Deven watched Rhian walk to their table and then headed in the opposite direction. Stepping up to the bar, she leaned casually against it while waiting for the bartender. She picked up pieces of conversation from the people around her, but one in particular caught her attention. A group of four or five women were next to her discussing another woman in the bar. She quickly picked out the ringleader - a stocky woman with dark spiky hair and several piercings. Deven smirked at the false bravado the woman displayed.
"She's pretty," one of the women said. The group quickly agreed and Deven turned her attention in the direction they were looking. She wasn't surprised when her focus settled on her own table. Now the question was whether they were referring to Kelly, Nicole or Rhian. All three women certainly qualified in her opinion.
"Yeah, she is," the ringleader said. "But she ain't all that."
"How would you know, Andy?" someone asked.
Andy? What the hell kind of name is that? Probably Andrea or something.
"Cause I had her. I mean she was good, but she wasn't all that. At least not until I showed her a thing or two."
The women laughed, and Deven felt her anger stir. It didn't matter who they were talking about anymore. "Excuse me," she said. "I couldn't help overhearing." They looked over at her, and knowing that they were sizing her up, Deven remained leaning against the bar. Her posture hid her height, which made her seem less intimidating. "Which one of those fine ladies are you talking about?"
"What's it to you?" one woman asked.
Deven shrugged nonchalantly. "I was just considering trying my luck, but if it's a waste of time." She lowered the timber of her voice and purred seductively, "There are plenty of other fish around here." She flashed her best sexy smile and noted the subtle shifting of postures as the women began to size her up as a potential playmate.
Andy indicated the table with her chin. "The blonde."
Deven looked back at her lover. "Her? The slight thing?"
"Damn, and I thought she was an easy mark."
Andy laughed conspiratorially. "Not that one. Tease is more like it. Yes. No. Yes. No."
"I know the type," Deven replied. Not really.
"Yeah, well, waste of time. Trust me." Andy's comment was met with snickers from her friends.
Deven was having a hard time keeping her voice amiable. "But you said, you'd done her."
"Sure," Andy said, as she stood a little straighter. "It was just a hell of a lot of work, you know? But hey, worth it in the end I guess. A fuck is a fuck, you know? I fucked her good though. When I finished with her, she wanted more, but I was like bored. Left her begging for more. That's how you have to do it, you know? Always make ‘em beg."
Been there. Done that. Deven looked over at Rhian and allowing the rage to rise up, she embraced it. Mine. She moved swiftly and surely. Grabbing Andy by the back of the neck, she slammed the woman's head down on the bar and held it there. "Now you listen to me," she growled.
"Get off me, bitch!" Andy struggled to push off the bar. She felt the tension ease on her neck and lifted up her head only to have it shoved forward again, connecting audibly with the bar's surface.
The sound of the impact caught the bartender's attention. "Aw, come on, Deven. Not here. Take it outside."
The martial artist looked up at the woman behind the bar. "Just give me a minute, Mary." She glanced at the other women surrounding them, and the dangerous glint in her eye warned them off. "That woman you're talking about is mine. And I happen to know for a goddamn fact that you have never been anywhere near her. Have you?" The woman continued to struggle, and Deven tightened her grip. "Have you?"
"Not in this lifetime or any other." She moved directly behind the trapped woman and quickly searched her for any weapons. She found a switchblade in the inside pocket of Andy's jacket and laid it on the bar. "That woman is all that and a hell of a lot more, you worthless piece of shit. Even on her worst day she's more woman than you could ever handle." Deven increased the pressure until Andy groaned in pain.
"Now I'll tell you what I'll do. I'm going to release you. You're knife is right there. You can go for it, in which case I'm going to have to hurt you. Or you can turn and walk away. If any one of your little girlfriends here interferes, I'm going to put a hurt on all of you. But you, I'll make sure I break something. Your choice." Deven slowly released her grip, stepped back, and waited. She didn't have to wait long and wasn't disappointed by the choice Andy made.
Grabbing the knife, Andy released the blade as she turned. Facing the martial artist for the first time, she hesitated at the stature and the solid set of the woman's body. Even as her mind tried to stop her forward motion, her body lunged.
Deven shifted away from the blade and locked the woman's wrist. The pressure shot a jolt of pain up Andy's arm, weakening her grip on the weapon. The knife slipped from her fingers, and Deven caught it easily, stabbing it point first into the top of the bar. Her fist connected solidly with the side of Andy's face, knocking the woman off her feet, and she hit the ground barely conscious. Kneeling next to the prone body, Deven grabbed her by the hair. "If I ever hear you talk about my woman, or any other woman like that, I promise I will fuck you up."
Straightening back up, she looked at each of the other women. "That goes for all of you." Shaking from the rage coursing through her system, she returned to the bar. The need to pummel the whole group of women was hard to ignore, and she clasped the edge of the bar tightly with her hands. She took several deep breaths before addressing the bartender. "I'd appreciate another pitcher, please."
Waiting while Mary filled her order she scanned the establishment, and then watched as the bouncer escorted Andy and her friends to the entrance. The woman's unsteady gait eased her anger somewhat. An almost imperceptible sensation, like a slight change in the air pressure, alerted her that Rhian was nearby and pushing off the bar, she turned to face her lover.
"Is everything okay?" Rhian asked.
"Sure." The anger wasn't completely gone, and she endeavored to keep her voice steady.
"With them?" Deven shrugged slightly. "Nothing really."
"It didn't look like nothing."
The landscaper stood before her waiting, and Deven realized she wasn't about to budge until she received a more definitive answer. "She said something I didn't like."
Rhian's mouth dropped open, and then she asked in disbelief, "So, you beat her up?"
"Not exactly!" Deven found that a part of her resented Rhian questioning her motives. "I gave her the choice of walking away or taking her chances. She chose to take a shot at me."
"All of that because you didn't like something she said?"
Rhian's incredulous tone ignited Deven's anger. "She was telling anyone who would listen that she'd slept with you and that you were a lousy fuck. I took exception to that!"
Mary returned and placed the pitcher on the bar. "Here you go, Deven." She turned and addressed Rhian. "Can I get you something?"
"Uh, no thanks. I'm with her."
"Ah. Lucky you." Mary winked before moving away to wait on another customer.
"Yeah. Lucky me," the landscaper muttered. Hearing what Deven had said struck a nerve deep within her, stirring old feelings of shame. She knew it wasn't rational but that didn't seem to stop the painful emotions from trying to consume her. "Am I?"
"Are you what?" Deven snapped. The look on Rhian's face decimated the anger, and as she quickly considered the question, she understood what it was that her lover was asking. "No. You most certainly are not." Her voice softened. "You're wonderful."
Rhian chewed her lower lip as she considered the situation and how she felt about it. A part of her was pleased that Deven had jumped to defend her honor. It was somehow deeply flattering. Still, she continued to have some difficulty accepting how easily Deven used her fighting skills to resolve things.
The martial artist waited, but her friend didn't say anything further. "I gave her a choice, Rhian. She could have turned and walked away, but she chose to attack."
Looking up, Rhian easily read the concern on Deven's face. "I'm just. No one has ever done anything like that for me. Defended me like that."
The martial artist cupped the landscaper's face with her hands and stared unwaveringly into her eyes. "Is it such a bad thing?''
"No. It's crazily romantic. It's just, you know I have a problem with the fighting part."
"Hey, Deven. I haven't seen you in awhile. What are you up to?"
Both women turned to see a tall redhead approaching rapidly, her expression one of undisguised lechery. She stopped beside Deven, close enough that her breasts brushed the martial artist's arm upper arm.
Ah shit! Why now? Deven was very aware of the woman's proximity and of Rhian's change in posture. "Hey, Lynda."
The landscaper was appalled by the stranger's overt behavior. Attempting to divert some of the focus from Deven, she extended a hand. "Hi, I'm Rhian."
The woman looked her up and down as if measuring her value before taking the hand and giving it one quick squeeze. "Lynda. Nice to meet you." She turned her attention back to the martial artist and leaned in, pressing her body against Deven's solid arm. "So, are you up for a little fun?"
Bitch! Rhian's suppressed jealousy took over. "She has all the fun she needs. Thanks for the offer. And hey, I saw someone dragged out of here just a couple minutes ago. More your speed, I think."
"Excuse me?" Lynda said as she faced the smaller woman. "Who the hell are you?"
"I'm her girlfriend, and if you don't stop rubbing against her, I'm going to knock you on your ass!"
The woman laughed. "I'd like to see you try, little girl!"
Rhian took a step forward, and Deven quickly intervened by placing her arm across her lover's shoulders. She pulled the smaller frame firmly against her side. "Lynda, Rhian is my girlfriend, so you'll have to look for your fun somewhere else."
The shocked expression on the woman's face was comical. "You're kidding me."
Deven smiled brilliantly. "No. So, bye."
The couple watched Lynda walk away and then the martial artist turned her attention completely to her friend. "Did you just piss on me?"
"What?" the landscaper asked. "What are you talking about?"
"You know how animals mark their territory?"
"They go around peeing." Rhian laughed.
Deven's dark eyebrows lifted in question. "So, did I just get marked?"
"If you feel peed on, then I guess you did." Placing a hand behind Deven's neck, she pulled her head down and captured her lips, opening her mouth when Deven's tongue requested access. She allowed the kiss to continue until she could no longer take the growing desire. "Keep that thought, Champ," she panted. Placing her palms flat against the martial artist's stomach, she smiled. "I have a feeling neither one of us is going to get much sleep tonight."
"Really? Oh do tell," Deven whispered before lightly biting down on the woman's sensitive neck.
"Ugh." A shiver of anticipation coursed through Rhian's system, and she felt goose bumps rise on her flesh. "Wow." She patted Deven's side. "I'll wait until later and show you."
Rhian laughed. "Yeah, lucky you."
Since they'd gotten into the Pathfinder to go to Deven's house, Rhian had become noticeably distant and the martial artist was acutely aware of the woman's withdrawal. The uneasy silence seemed a tangible entity between the two women, and it pressed in on Deven making her uneasy. Even the lively music coming from the truck's radio wasn't enough to break it.
Quiet was comfortable for Deven. She found her own introspection preferable to trivial chatter, and usually avoided discussing her thoughts and feelings with others. As a rule, but Rhian is the exception to the rules, isn't she? Normally, Deven would have welcomed the hush and allowed her mind to wander. The problem was that her thoughts were obsessing with the silence. "You're awful quiet."
"Huh?" Rhian gradually emerged from her musings unaware of the impact her remoteness was having on the other woman. "I know. Sorry. Just thinking."
Deven regarded her pensive companion, and her anxiety grew. "Hey, what is it? Did I do something wrong?"
"No, it isn't you. I just." The landscaper stopped talking and began chewing on her lower lip.
Replaying the evening's events in her mind, Deven couldn't come up with a reason for Rhian's current behavior. Everything was fine. Maybe she's still upset about the fight. "Look, if this is about what happened with Andy, I told you, I gave her the choice to walk away or to take me on."
"What?" Rhian's brow creased. "Who's Andy?"
"The bitch at the bar. The one who was shooting off her mouth about you."
"Oh." The confusion cleared, and Rhian shook her head. "No, this isn't about her. It has nothing to do with that."
Damn it! Deven realized that she truly disliked these moments. No matter how hard she tried, if Rhian wasn't forthcoming with her concerns, she couldn't figure out what was going on and subsequently, didn't know how to react. At times such as this one, her thoughts tended to turn inwards, automatically assuming that whatever was wrong had to be her fault. But what the hell did I do this time? "What then?" she asked, aware of the slightly pleading quality in her voice.
"I'm sorry." Rushing on to explain, Rhian seemed unable to complete a sentence. "I didn't mean. Back there. What I said. I don't know what happened."
"Whoa, Rhian! Slow down. You've completely lost me." Looking at her lover, Deven noted the woman's troubled expression. Tentatively reaching out a hand, she brushed her knuckles down Rhian's smooth cheek. "Please, tell me. You're the one who does the talking thing."
Grasping Deven's hand, Rhian held it in both of her own. "Okay." As if finding her resolve, she straightened in the seat and took a deep breath before speaking. "Deven, I'm sorry about how I acted."
The martial artist waited for the woman to continue, but the oppressive silence had returned and she shifted uncomfortably. Now what? Am I supposed to know what this is about now? Should I have figured that out from what she just said? I mean, come on! Damn it, this is too complicated!
She stared out the windshield, aware that Rhian was still holding her hand and gently rubbing the back of it. She wouldn't be doing that if she were mad at me. Would she? No way. Okay, relax and think. Maybe she's waiting for me to say something. Well, what the hell am I supposed to say? I don't even know what she's talking about! All right. Take it easy and just calm down. Keep it simple. "Okay." She drawled the word out making it sound more like a question then an acknowledgment.
This time Rhian did hear the uncertainty. "You don't know what I'm talking about do you?"
"No." Deven released a deep sigh, a sign of how disheartened she was. "As usual, I don't have a clue."
For the first time since getting into the truck, Rhian looked closely at the woman. She could tell that Deven was frustrated, and knew she was responsible. I have to find a way to explain this before it gets out of hand. "I'm sorry. I know this isn't making sense. I just. This is another one of those things that I'm ashamed of."
"What are you talking about? You have no reason to be ashamed."
"Yes, I do." Rhian gazed out the windshield, purposefully keeping her eyes diverted from Deven. "When that woman was coming on to you…I didn't… I just… she… and then I."
"You got jealous."
"Yes," Rhian whispered.
A small smile tugged at the corners of the martial artist's lips. "And decided to stake out your territory."
"It wasn't a conscious decision. It just happened." The scorn in Rhian's voice was unmistakable. "I'm so sorry, Deven. I know you hate that possessive stuff. I try not to feel that way. And if I do, I try not to let it get out of hand, but sometimes."
"But," Rhian objected.
"Hush," Deven countered gently. "Give me a minute." She's right. I'm not the possessive type. Never have been. No? Then what were you doing tonight? You get into a fight over her. Didn't you refer to her as my woman? I'd say that's pretty possessive, Masterson. And if that wasn't enough, you stood by while she publicly announced that you belong to her. Memories of Rhian's assertiveness caused the martial artist to grin. "Rhian, I don't know if I can explain this, but it was. It was cute." A soft chuckle escaped the woman. "I actually thought you were going to do it. The look on your face." The sound of Deven's robust laughter filled the truck.
"Very funny!" Releasing Deven's hand, Rhian pushed it away and then crossed her arms defensively across her chest.
The sulking posture wasn't lost on the martial artist and it added to her amusement. "Oh, it was." Taking a quick look over at the woman, Deven noticed that Rhian's expression now reflected a blend of hurt and anger and strove to get herself under control before she spoke again. "Oh baby, come on. You were going to knock Lynda on her ass." Unable to stop herself, Deven began laughing again. "And judging from the look on your face, I just bet you could have."
Realizing the absurdity of the incident, a tentative smile teased Rhian's lips. "I would have," she replied somewhat smugly, and then she eyed her lover. "You aren't mad?"
"No. Listen, I was having my own possessive issues tonight." She shrugged in a dismissive gesture. "It's…kind of nice. I mean I've never liked it before. People thinking that I belonged to them. It used to really piss me off. But with you, I don't know, it's surprisingly sweet."
Needing to restore the connection between them, Rhian reached over and settled her palm on Deven's leg. She'd been afraid that her behavior at the bar would cause Deven to push her away. Her fear of losing this woman, of having done something to jeopardize their growing relationship combined with her fragile confidence and fed her need to be close to Deven. Her aim was to merely reestablish their bond, but it quickly became more as her thumb deliberately stroked the soft worn denim. Her fingers massaged the muscled thigh through the cloth, slowly inching closer to the core of Deven's pleasure.
Very aware of the warmth of Rhian's hand and the sensuality of her touch, Deven felt a slow burn begin in her groin, and her flesh became oversensitive and almost painful against the constriction of her jeans.
Rhian's gentle assault continued until her hand settled against the tender junction between Deven's legs. Pressing her fingers against the crotch, she forced the seam against the martial artist's inflamed flesh.
"Rhian, I'm driving."
"I know." The landscaper didn't pause to consider what she was doing or why. She unbuttoned the top button of Deven's jeans, and then another and another until the fly opened and the backs of her fingers brushed against the woman's underwear.
Deven felt her body reacting strongly to the contact, sending a flood of warmth from her belly down to between her legs. "This really is not a good idea," she protested.
"Why?" Rhian unbuckled her seat belt and slid closer to the woman. Removing her hand and replacing it with the other, her fingers moved down over the damp underpants and started a slow kneading of the sensitive region through the thin fabric as her lips and tongue tasted Deven's neck.
"Rhian, I need to concentrate on the road," the martial artist croaked.
"You go right ahead, honey. Don't mind me." Rhian knew that Deven might be protesting verbally, but her body was saying that she wanted this. Her pupils were dilating and Rhian's fingers were wet from her lover's response. Pulling her hand slowly out of Deven's pants, she unbuttoned the woman's shirt, exposing her breasts to the coolness of the air-conditioned truck. "Hmm, I knew you weren't wearing a bra." Lowering her head, she bit down hard enough to persuade the nipple to rise up before sucking it into her mouth.
"Oh, shit!" Deven swerved into the other lane. "Rhian! We're going to get killed!"
"Then maybe you should pull over," the younger woman murmured as she trailed kisses over to the other breast and sucked on the hardened point. Trapping it with her teeth, she teased the tip, smiling at the growled response that vibrated deep in Deven's chest. Her hand trailed lower once again and her fingers moved inside the soaked underwear. She brushed the dark curls with her fingertips before closing her hand into a fist and tugging slightly.
Deven's hips jerked forward and her foot pressed down on the accelerator. "Rhian!" Her reaction to this woman was becoming harder to refute. The more time they spent together, the more she craved Rhian's touch and the less she denied that desire. But right now, it's a bad idea! She quickly calculated how much longer it would be before they reached home and made a decision that brought a devilish grin to her face.
Pulling off at the next exit, she drove into a strip mall and parked in the dark shadows under a tree. With a snarl of frustration, she tilted the steering wheel out of the way and unbuckled her seat belt. Her hands now free, Deven ran her fingers through Rhian's hair before leaning forward and kissing the woman from the depth of her lust. At Rhian's prompting, she lifted her hips, allowing her pants to be slipped down out of the way and parted her legs as far as the material would allow.
Rhian smiled at her lover's enthusiasm. "Eager much?"
"Only for you," she said in-between nibbles to the landscaper's neck. She just barely tempered her desire enough to hold back from laying siege to the younger woman's mouth. Instead, she managed to kiss Rhian with restraint, teasing her lips with gentle nips before sucking them gently.
"Remember that," Rhian murmured, her breath brushing across Deven's over heated face. Slipping her fingers between the woman's wet folds, she traced the tender area.
Rhian's tortuous caresses were arousing Deven faster then the younger woman seemed willing to bring her to release. "Rhian, damn it! You're making me nuts." Pushing the jeans down below her knees to gain more movement, Deven was able to turn in the seat and face the other woman.
"Honey, you were already nuts," Rhian snickered.
The martial artist extracted Rhian's blouse from her slacks, and in one quick move she pulled it up over the blonde's head and tossed it on the floor.
Shocked by the speed at which she'd lost her top, Rhian stammered, "What…what are you doing?"
Without answering, Deven's deft fingers unhooked Rhian's bra and slid in off her shoulders and down her arms. "Deven! Stop it!" The landscaper quickly glanced around the parking lot while trying to get her clothing back in place, but before she could, Deven captured a bare breast in each hand and fondled them with growing fervency. "Deven, what if someone comes by?"
The martial artist leered. "That'll teach you to start something with me, and if you want to keep from losing your pants as well, you better get busy and finish. Otherwise, I promise you, I will have you naked and on all fours before you have a chance to think twice." Her hands moved lower and unbuttoned Rhian's slacks. As she slid the zipper down, she felt her lover's hand return to where she needed her and resume the excruciatingly slow caresses. "Oh, yes, baby. Don't stop." Her hands moved back to Rhian's breasts, taunting the erect nipples with slight squeezes and gentle tugs. "God, Rhian, I want you so bad."
The landscaper's moans of pleasure soon mingled with Deven's, and she forgot where they were when the martial artist's long fingers slid down into her slacks.
All ideas of foreplay fled Deven's mind, her focus narrowing to building up the exquisite tension and raising this woman up to the pinnacle of arousal. She traced the familiar territory - her touches persistent in their exploration and unyielding in their quest to inflame Rhian's need even as her own arousal was pushing her nearer to the brink of release. She consciously forced her climax back. Not yet.
Kissing Rhian, her tongue plunged deeply into the yielding mouth as her skilled fingers incited the woman's passion. She wished she'd waited until they'd gotten home. She wanted this woman completely and was frustrated by the limitations of the current situation. Her mind filled with visions of Rhian naked, writhing in ecstasy. Pulling back abruptly, she stared into her lover's hooded eyes and while increasing the force of her strokes, she commanded, "Come with me."
Rhian shivered from the timbre of Deven's voice, and the last tenuous thread of propriety severed as she gave herself over. Her hips lifted and her back arched slightly as she felt her nipple compressed between strong fingers, and she gasped as teeth grazed against her neck. All conscious thought left her and her world was reduced to the erotic sensations flooding her system. Her touch mirrored Deven's, stroking harder and faster against aroused flesh. Her eyes locked on pale blue gone almost indigo and moaned as her hips thrust harder against the pleasure of Deven's touch.
"Oh, God. Yes, Rhian!" Deven's mouth crushed the younger woman's, and she swallowed Rhian's cry of release. The landscaper's body pressed solidly against hers and she wrapped her arms around the smaller frame, pulling their torsos tightly together. A deep moan lifted up out of her own chest and pulling back from the kiss, her head fell back as her own climax exploded outward from her center.
They stayed together in the close comfort of each other's arms until the sweet aftershocks abated. As much as she enjoyed their sex life, Deven was gradually coming to fully understand that it was the emotional bond they shared that was restoring her spirit, and a part of her craved these feelings of intimacy as much as the physical passion. Easing her grasp, she gazed into her lover's eyes and smiled broadly. "Well, that was, uh, rather overzealous. Who would ever believe that you are such a naughty girl?"
Rhian hoped that it was dark enough in the truck that the blush heating her skin wasn't obvious. She'd never before experienced anything like what had just happened between them and she found her behavior inexcusable. What the hell was I thinking? I wasn't thinking. Ugh! I essentially attacked the woman. What she'd done to purposefully arouse Deven in a public setting coupled with how easily she'd lost herself in the exhilaration of the moment left her feeling self-conscious and unsure of herself. "I'm not exactly certain where that came from," she muttered as she quickly put her bra and shirt back on, and zipped up her slacks.
Even in the dimly lit interior of the vehicle, Deven could see from Rhian's expression that she was close to feeling mortified. The last thing she wanted was for this woman to ever regret anything they did together. "You're amazing."
"I am?" the landscaper asked timidly.
"Yes, you are. Don't be embarrassed, okay? Please?" She smiled brightly and then leaned forward to whisper in Rhian's ear. "It was exciting and wonderfully decadent and marvelously wanton." Her expression turned somber and taking the younger woman's face in her hands, Deven kissed her with loving tenderness. "You, Rhian McKenna, are the best thing that has ever happened to me. You are sexy and beautiful and I love you."
It had suddenly become difficult for her to speak against the wave of emotion brought on by Deven's declaration, but Rhian struggled to force the words out. "I love you, too."
Deven pulled her pants back up and fastened the fly. "I tell you what, if your getting jealous leads to this, you can get jealous anytime you want. In fact, I might have to promote it."
"No, you don't!" Rhian reached over and buttoned the woman's shirt. "I don't like feeling that way, Deven." Lifting her eyes, she gazed at her lover guilelessly. "Besides, you start doing things like that on purpose, I just might have to cut you off."
"Right," the martial artist drawled. "Cut me off? I don't think so." Steering the truck towards the exit, she smirked at the other woman. "Besides, you'll be cutting yourself off, and you know you just can't resist my charms." Lifting her fingers to her nose she inhaled deeply of the remnants of her lover's excitement, and then laughed heartily as Rhian slapped her arm in mock indignation.
To Be Continued in Chapter Four
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