When You Dance With the Devil
© by J. ‘Harley’ Elmore, 2003 – 2004
See Chapter One for full disclaimers.
Chapter 4, Part 1
Deven sauntered across the room and flopped down on the bed, chuckling softly at the reminiscence of that night. Rhian’s sudden amorous assault had been a most pleasant surprise, and the memory of their ardor sent a warm drawing sensation to her lower belly. Folding her long legs up and leaning back against the headboard, she sat cross-legged and placed the bowl of popcorn she’d been carrying in her lap. I think she shocked the crap out of herself.
A broad smile appeared and faded again as her reflections drifted to later that same evening. To the martial artist, it had been a foregone conclusion that when they got home, they’d pick up where they’d left off in the truck. And it had started that way, but then. She placed a few pieces of the buttery treat in her mouth and chewed them abstractedly.
They’d reached for one another with unrestrained passion, their touches insistent and seemingly everywhere at once. Rhian spurred within her such craving it was as if she’d never in her life been sated. Deven mentally shook her head. No, that isn’t it. Well, not exactly. Damn! I can’t explain it. Even to myself.’
Like her lover, longings were awakening within Deven that she hadn’t known she possessed. Her hunger for Rhian was so consuming at times, it gripped her from all sides at once, spiraling her down into a vortex of emotional and physical need, want and desire. It pushed her to know the woman, to know her heart, body and soul - to possess her completely. There were times when she wrestled hard with herself to temper that force for fear of actually hurting Rhian in her attempts to satiate her own desires.
But then there are the other times. Times when her passion was so intermingled with emotion, she felt herself immersed in her love for the woman. That night her gaze had moved over Rhian’s naked body and Deven had found her desires inexplicably shift. The depth and clarity of emotion that had filled her became so great she’d nearly succumbed to tears from the sheer power of it. They had made love again, but the earlier urgency had vanished. Instead of seeking release, she’d longed to have it never end.
Deven had finally come to realize that she could no longer separate the physical act from the emotional and what she felt for Rhian was often fearsome in it’s foreignness and strength. There were instances when the landscaper would look at her a certain way, and Deven thought her heart would burst from the unbidden and indisputable affection the woman gave so freely. Impeccable moments in which they seemed to connect without words or touch, and she would find herself fighting not to fall to her knees and cry from the purity of Rhian’s selfless love.
She never told her lover any of these things. She couldn’t speak them aloud. Not to Rhian. Not to Dr. Martin. Not to anyone. She didn’t voice them because of the fear that plagued her, a fear that had become a nearly constant niggling at the back of her mind. Her faith in herself, when it came to her emotions, and to Rhian, was built on a foundation of insecurity and uncertainty. She didn’t possess the faith to believe this could last.
While placing more of the popcorn into her mouth, she consciously steered her thoughts away from the darkness that lurked at the fringes of her mind. The shadows of what had once been her life. She felt good, and while that should have been wonderful, it left her feeling diffident. She was in love, and she felt loved, truly loved for the first time in her life. And though she often felt lightheaded from the emotions and from the uncertainty of what she was doing, she wouldn’t have traded Rhian’s presence in her life for anything. But the underlying fear that she’d lose all of this because she had no right to it in the first place was always present.
Nothing in her life had prepared her for this situation. To love, to be loved, and all that went with it. She resented losing her freedom at the same time she knew she would without hesitation forfeit her life for Rhian’s. She bucked the idea of being accountable to the woman at the same time she had to know everything her lover was doing and with whom. Possessive much? And rather hypocritical, wouldn’t you say?
A sigh escaped her as she picked up the remote and began surfing the channels for something mindless to watch. Finally selecting a baseball game, she sat quietly munching on her snack while waiting for her young friend. They’d fallen into a routine over the past few weeks. Rhian came to stay with her once or twice during the week and on the weekends, and since that night at the Pit, they’d taken to going out more. To her amazement, Deven found she liked dating. Well, dating Rhian that is. They went to the movies, dinner, or to the Pit. Sometimes they went alone, sometimes not.
But the best part is just holding her or feeling her near, knowing that she’s within arms reach. Waking up with her. I haven’t had a nightmare once when she’s been here. Well, not that I remember anyway. Huh.
The sound of children’s laughter filtered down the hall, and Deven’s thoughts changed direction yet again. At Rhian’s insistence, at least one day on the weekend was spent with their children. That had been a tremendous adjustment for Deven and a lot for her to assimilate. There were days when she disliked what she sometimes felt was an imposition, and there were times when she had to repel the urge to get on her bike and just ride off, distancing herself from the whole situation. When those thoughts invaded her mind, she tried to cover them up. Yeah, but you know Rhian’s caught on. You’ve seen it in her eyes. You better watch it, Deven, or she’ll give up on you sooner rather then later.
She ran a hand through her hair, pushing those thoughts back into the dark recesses and refocusing on the children. They’d taken the kids to the zoo in D.C., the petting zoo in Reston, and to the movies. God, going to the movies with two small children and then sitting in a theatre with a roomful of the little monsters…a hot red pepper enema would be less torture. And the movie sucked! She’d been so miserable that Rhian had teased her mercilessly for days after that adventure.
It isn’t that I dislike the kids. They just have a natural ability for getting on my nerves. It was those times that her temper simmered close to the surface. But so far, I’ve managed to keep it at bay. Right, Masterson. Barely. And it isn’t all bad. Both of them are swimming quite well so we can spend more time in and around the pool. You’ll get no complaints from me there. And now that they’re meeting people, I don’t have to entertain them all the time.
Both Tiernan and Seana had recently developed a friendship with the neighbor’s children, a girl and boy around the same ages. Deven hadn’t met the parents yet, but Rhian had gotten to know them and liked them well enough, and both children, Freddie and Star, were well behaved.
In fact, they were coming to the birthday party tomorrow. Deven groaned and her head fell back against the headboard with a resounding thunk. Who would have ever thought there would be a birthday party at my house? Not me, that’s for damn sure. But tomorrow Seana was turning four and had insisted on having a pool party to celebrate the occasion. And you? You’re a wuss! You could have said no, but that child looked at you with those big hazel eyes and that same pout Rhian gets, and you caved.
Deven had distanced herself as much as possible from the planning, leaving that to Rhian and her mother. She’d be present for the occasion, and that was more then enough in her opinion. The Mackenzies, Jay and Nicole, Carl and Kelly, and the neighbors had all been invited. An invitation had also been extended to Laura and her kids, but Deven doubted they’d show. Patricia had been excluded from the invite, and she was certain that was enough to ensure Laura didn’t make it.
She looked up as Rhian walked into the bedroom and pushed the door almost shut behind her. Deven’s eyes tracked down the woman’s body and pleasurable warmth spread through her again. She found that though the younger woman was still somewhat shy about their physical relationship, she was an apt learner and as her growing confidence replaced her reticence, the adventurous part of her was emerging. The trust the landscaper had in her was an awesome responsibility, one Deven felt the weight of sometimes and prayed that she never did anything to damage.
Gazing at her lover, Rhian flushed at the look of unmasked desire on Deven’s face. She is so good for my ego. She walked over to the bed and leaning forward, brushed her lips against the martial artist’s. “Hey, sexy.”
Rhian ran her finger along the woman’s smooth cheek down to her strong jaw. “Whacha thinking?”
Lowering her voice, Deven spoke in a sensual tone while her fingertips lightly caressed the skin along Rhian’s neck and collarbone. “I was thinking about,” she paused, “that night in the truck.”
“Oh, God.” Rhian covered her face with her hands.
Deven’s hands drifted lower, brushing against the younger woman’s chest. “And that made me think about ravishing you.”
The sultry tone of Deven’s voice sent shivers throughout Rhian, and her body responded to the gentle touch. “Oh.” The reaction was strong enough to almost force all conscious thought out of her mind. “Hold that thought. Whew!” she said as she used a hand to fan her warm face.
Deven reached for her and wrapping an arm around Rhian’s waist pulled her closer. “I’d rather hold you.”
Blood surged through Rhian’s veins as her heart beat faster, and she was very aware of the moisture trickling out between her legs. “Me, too, but I need to start wrapping Seana’s presents.” With great effort, she pushed the desire aside. “Where did you put them?”
The martial artist made no attempt to hide her disappointment. “In a box in the closet. Top shelf to the left, I think.” She released her hold, allowing Rhian to step back. “You want me to get it?”
“No. I’ll get it.” Rhian gave the pouting lips a quick kiss. “You look like someone just took away your favorite toy. I didn’t say forget it. Just wait a bit.” She walked to the closet very aware that she was being watched, and that thought brought a little more sway to her hips.
Deven smiled at the alluring motion of her lover’s backside. Oh yeah. Later. Definitely. As the object of her desire disappeared into the closet, Deven turned her attention away from the pulse between her legs to the television.
A minute later, Rhian stepped back into the room holding a box. “Honey?”
“Hmm?” she replied without looking away from the game.
“Wha.” Deven looked over, and her mouth went dry. The popcorn she’d been chewing seemed to increase in volume and adsorbed what little moisture remained on her tongue. Swallowing had become practically impossible.
Rhian set the box down on the bed and reaching one hand into it, she started shifting the contents around.
Oh, shit! Deven observed her lover’s expression, noting the concentration on the woman’s face as she tried to discern the contents. Rhian’s head suddenly lifted, and she jerked her hand out of the box. Deven was frozen in place unsure of what she should say or if she should even attempt to explain. While she battled with that question, Rhian unceremoniously dumped the entire contents of the box on the comforter. An assortment of sexual paraphernalia and toys hit the surface next to the martial artist and she barely kept from cringing.
Rhian’s eyes locked on the martial artist. “I take it these are yours.”
Deven couldn’t decipher the landscaper’s expression, and she almost choked as she tried to swallow the popcorn and clear her throat at the same time.
“Have you actually used all of these things?”
“Um.” Her brain seemed to have locked and under the circumstances she found it difficult to respond coherently.
“Did you buy all of them?” the landscaper asked as she looked back at the pile on the bed.
“Some,” she managed to croak.
Rhian studied Deven closely. She was acutely aware of the woman’s discomfort and took some pleasure in it. “Some you bought?”
“Then some of them were what? Gifts?”
“Yes,” she responded sheepishly.
Rhian sat down on the bed and looked at the pile. “You’re kidding?”
“No.” I sure as hell wish I were.
Scanning the pile, the blonde’s eyes rested on a box, and she picked it up tentatively. “What is this?”
Oh Lord, please just take me now. She started to speak but couldn’t seem to form a single word. Damn! Why didn’t I just get rid of this stuff!
Rhian examined the sealed container curiously. “What’s a butt plug?” She scanned the writing and pictures on the box, and Deven watched her. A blush raced up the woman’s neck as understanding dawned on her. “You mean, you put this.”
“It has an adjustable vibrator,” Deven said as if somehow that made a difference.
“Have you used it before?”
Clearing her throat while lifting her hand, Deven rubbed the back of her neck. Oh, please let the ground open up and swallow me.
Rhian stared at the martial artist and almost laughed outright at the woman’s obvious embarrassment. “I’ll tell you what. Since you’re having such a hard time with this, I’ll keep it as simple as possible. I’ll ask a question and you can nod or shake your head in response. Okay?”
The condescending tone wasn’t lost on the older woman. Her features went still and her chin lifted in a gesture of defiance, but she remained unable to put together a coherent thought. And so, as much as she was loath to do, she just bobbed her head. Oh, get a grip already!
“Have you used one of these before?”
“On someone else?
Deven rubbed her neck harder. “I, uh.”
Rhian took a deep breath and released it gradually as she set the sealed box to the side. She moved the pile around a little with her hand and gasped as her eyes settled on something pink. “Is that a dildo?” She didn’t wait for an answer as she reached out and lifted the object with the tips of her forefinger and thumb to find it attached to a leather harness. Dangling it, she gazed at her lover and realized that much of her good humor at Deven’s discomfort was really a mask for her own uncertainty. She knew these things existed, but she’d never actually seen any of them before.
What really bothered her was that some of these things had been used on other women, and she couldn’t help but wonder why Deven hadn’t gotten rid of them. “I doubt you used this on yourself,” she muttered before setting it aside, some distance from the plug.
Over the next quarter of an hour, Rhian selected each object in turn and with an economy of words, Deven answered her questions until everything had been placed in one of the two piles on the bed. “Anything else hidden around here?”
Leaning over, Deven reached into a drawer of the nightstand. She removed the vibrator she kept there and handed it to Rhian. “That’s it.” She knew the next question. “And no, I’ve never used it on anyone other than myself.” Trying to regain some of her composure, Deven smiled charmingly at the younger woman. “Though I’ve been thinking a lot lately about sharing it with you.”
The idea had appeal, but Rhian lowered her head to hide that fact from the martial artist. Nothing in the box had been offensive to her though some of the toys were a little intimidating. Turning the vibrator on, she held it in her hand as she tried to picture Deven using it. She was very aware of the increasing moisture between her thighs, and she turned the object off before handing it back. “We need to find some other place to keep it. The kids are bound to find it in there.”
“Huh?” was all Deven could manage to say in her befuddled state.
Rhian took the smaller pile, which began with the plug and put the items back in the box. She left the other larger pile on the bed as she walked into the closet and put the collection back on the shelf. Returning to the bedroom she picked up the trashcan and swept everything left on the comforter into it. Then she addressed Deven. “Get rid of these. I don’t want anything kept that you’ve used on anyone else. We’ll discuss whether or not to replace them with new ones.”
Deven blinked at her several times as her mind attempted to comprehend what Rhian was actually saying. She heard the words but couldn’t quite seem to make sense out of them.
“Did you hear me?”
“Yes. I’m not deaf, Rhian.”
Deven’s forehead furrowed slightly. “I don’t understand.”
“I want you to throw those away.”
“I know that! I mean I don’t understand you.”
Rhian moved to where Deven still sat cross-legged on the bed. Without a word she relocated the bowl of popcorn and climbed on her lover’s lap, bringing her legs to wrap around the woman’s torso. She brought her lips to Deven’s and kissed her fervently. “What don’t you understand?” she asked softly.
Deven’s eyes opened slowly, easily detecting the playful twinkle in the eyes staring back at her. “I thought you might be mad or embarrassed or disappointed or something. You’re too damn calm about all this.”
“Yes, well, I knew you had a past, Deven, the first night I met you. So, I can’t be mad about your history though I’m not happy that you kept these things.” Doubt took hold, and her shoulders slumped slightly. “I hope there isn’t some deeper meaning to that, like you see this as a temporary thing so you need to hang onto your toys,” she said.
Great, Masterson! Why don’t you just rub her nose in your past? “Rhian, look at me.” When the landscaper kept her head down, Deven reached out and lifted her chin with the tips of her fingers. “I don’t know why I didn’t get rid of those things. Truthfully, it didn’t occur to me.” She saw the muscles in Rhian’s face twitch. “I’m sorry. Look, I know we haven’t talked about it much, but no I don’t see this as a temporary thing.”
Rhian stared into Deven’s eyes and accepted what she said as the truth. “Good, because I don’t either. I don’t like to think about whom you’ve been with and what you’ve done with them. That makes me absolutely nuts.”
Relief flowed through the martial artist. “Well, truth be told, I can’t stand the thought of Sean.”
A small smile teased Rhian’s lips. “At least you don’t have to worry about running into him somewhere. Okay, as for the rest of your concerns. Embarrassed? Yeah, well, it is kind of new and some of those things. Holy cow! Can you imagine what they did to come up with some of this stuff? Disappointed? Only if your attentions wander elsewhere instead of remaining on me where they belong. And something?” She smiled coyly. “How about you make me horny as hell?”
“Shush.” She ran her fingers through Deven’s dark hair, lightly grazing the sensitive scalp. “It’s okay, baby. Now, I need to get those presents wrapped.”
Deven grinned. “Not only are you naughty, you are such a tease.”
The landscaper laughed as her mood lifted. “I’ll make it up to you.” She nibbled Deven’s chin and then moved to stand up. Before she got far she found herself on her back and the martial artist’s body stretched out mostly on top of hers. Oh, boy.
“I want you,” Deven breathed out. “Now.”
Rhian felt a strong hand move up under her shirt and shuddered as long fingers lightly fondled her breast. The desire she’d been suppressing for the past hour captured her completely as her nipples pressed against the confines of her bra, and her lower belly quivered with anticipation. She moaned softly against the mouth that had taken possession of hers and her fingers tangled in Deven’s shirt.
Both women froze, and a low rumble rose up out of Deven’s chest. Tiernan didn’t see his mother’s anger, and thinking it was all part of a game, he laughed when she growled. Rhian didn’t need to see it because she could feel it flowing through Deven’s body. Before things could get out of hand, she firmly gripped the woman’s chin and forced Deven to look at her. “It’s okay. It’s not his fault. I didn’t close or lock the door.”
As nonchalantly as possible, Deven removed her hand from under Rhian’s shirt. It’s not his fault.
Oblivious to what was actually happening, Tiernan ran to the bed. “I’ll save you, Rhian.”
Deven slowed her breathing and frowned. “Save you? From me?” The boy scrambled up onto the bed and onto his mother’s back, and gripping her by the shoulders, he attempted to pull her off of the other woman. The martial artist’s body relaxed and a mischievous glint entered her eyes.
Recognizing the look she was getting, Rhian’s eyes widened in alarm. “Oh, no. No. Please don’t.”
She could feel the weight of her child on her back and his feeble attempts to stop her from an attack that hadn’t yet begun. “Might as well give him a reason.” Her fingers quickly found their mark, and Rhian yelped.
“Stop! Deven. Oh, God.” Her protests were replaced with helpless laughter.
A devious smile captured the martial artist’s lips, and turning her body slightly, she rolled Tiernan off onto the bed’s surface. One hand continued to torture Rhian while the other attacked her son. Curling up into a ball, he attempted to conceal his ticklish spots but couldn’t quite cover them all. His giggles merged with Rhian’s and Deven found herself laughing as well. It felt good.
“Mommy, stop it.”
“You started it,” she said.
Rhian fought gallantly to stop the attack, but Deven was faster and managed to evade her attempts to grasp the offending fingers.
Slowing the tickles, Deven allowed them to catch their breath.
“That was so not nice, Deven,” Rhian whined.
“Yeah, Mommy. Not nice.”
Her fingers lifted as if to begin again and both of her of victims shrieked. “All right. I’ll let you off this time.” She rolled onto her back and stared up at the ceiling, a smile plastered on her face. Tiernan quickly climbed onto his mother’s stomach, attempting an attack of his own. She easily grabbed his small hands and held them. “Nice try, son, but you aren’t quite big enough to get the better of me.”
Rhian took advantage of the situation and quickly joined Tiernan, straddling the martial artist’s hips, and the two together began a rapid assault of the woman’s ribs. Deven bucked while trying to block the attack. Her rich laughter filled the air as she quickly assessed the situation. Their four hands against her two weren’t much of a contest really, but she didn’t want to do anything that might hurt either one of them, especially her son. Rhian was deceptively strong and had a low center of gravity, making it difficult to throw her off without sending Tiernan flying. “Okay, I give.”
“No way. It’s a trap, Tiernan.”
“No. Really. I give,” she managed to get out through the laughter.
“Wow.” The landscaper’s fingers stilled, and she brought her hands to rest on Deven’s hips. “We won,” she said in disbelief.
“We won!” the young boy yelled triumphantly while raising his arms in the air.
Deven smiled affectionately at them. “Yeah, well, don’t get used to it. Remember. Paybacks.”
“Mommy, can I have some popcorn now?”
“I see you have your pajamas on. Did you clean the room and brush your teeth?”
“Let me see.” He opened his mouth wide for her inspection. “Not bad. Where’s Seana?”
“In our room.” The children had been sharing the guestroom and that seemed to be working fine so far. No plans had been discussed to change that arrangement since nothing more permanent had been mentioned.
“Why don’t you go get her and pick out a movie to watch,” Rhian suggested. “Then come back here.” He quickly moved off the bed and rushed out of the room.
Rhian leaned forward and gazed into her lover’s eyes. “Why are you moping?”
“I don’t mope.”
The landscaper laughed. “Honey, you could give lessons on moping.”
“Could, and no talks back.” Rhian gave the martial artist a sly grin.
“I just.” She sighed.
“You’re aroused, resent the intrusion, and you were hoping we’d just send them to bed.” Deven nodded, looking rather pitiful. “It’s okay. Me, too. But that, my love, is the price we pay for being parents.” Rolling off her lover, she sat up and leaned against the headboard. “Now sit up here and give me a kiss.”
Deven did as she was bid, gently pressing her lips to Rhian’s. “I love you.”
“I know. Good thing, too, cause I love you.”
“Go figure.” Deven started to lean forward to kiss Rhian again, when the children rushed into the room. Tiernan quickly clambered up onto the bed and situated himself between the two women. Seana scrambled up after him and immediately claimed Deven’s lap, using the woman’s torso as a backrest.
“I guess this means I have to put the movie in,” Rhian said.
“I guess it does,” Deven said in a singsong voice. She placed the bowl of popcorn on Tiernan’s lap where they all could reach it and leaned back as Rhian started the video.
Seana stared at the television. “Deven?”
“Did you get me a present?”
The little girl turned to look over her shoulder at the woman, an expression of disappointment on her face. “You didn’t?”
“I didn’t say that.” She touched the little girl’s nose. “You’ll have to wait until tomorrow, rugrat.”
Seana giggled and turned back to the movie, settling herself comfortably. Deven glanced at her son, and he happened to look back at her at the same. She winked at him and was rewarded with a broad smile. “You up for helping me with the pool tomorrow? We need to get it ready for the party.”
“Yes!” He practically vibrated with excitement.
“Me, too?” the little girl piped in.
Rhian knew that Deven needed to spend time alone with her son, even if it was doing something as menial as skimming the pool. “Sweetheart, I need you’re help getting ready for the party.”
“I want to help Deven,” she groused.
“Maybe next time. Besides, you do want to have a party, and you want it to be a nice one, right?”
“Then I need your help.” Looking her daughter straight in the eye, she smiled. “I can’t possibly get everything ready without you.”
“Okay,” Seana replied happily.
How in the hell does she do that? Deven looked over at her lover. Their eyes met and she felt a peace beyond her dreams. When this woman was beside her, she felt as if anything was possible. Leaning forward she lightly touched her lips to her lover’s. “Thank you.”
Cocking her head slightly in question, Rhian asked, “For what?”
“Everything.” Deven kissed her again, chuckling when the children groaned. “Everyone’s a critic. Watch the movie you two, or it’s off to bed…now.”
Deven wasn’t sure when the kids fell asleep since she herself dozed off at some point. Snapping her eyes open, she blinked several times while getting her bearings. Seana was still using her as a pillow and Tiernan was leaning heavily against Rhian. Looking at her lover, she caught the unmistakable smirk. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay.” Rhian reached over and brushed the dark bangs out of Deven’s eyes. “You need a trim. Want me to do it?”
“No!” Deven looked horrified. “Thank you. Not that I don’t appreciate the offer, but after a few times where my mother decided to cut my hair, I’m very selective with who comes near me with scissors.” She shifted her body and stretched her back. “Okay, first things first. Let me get Seana to bed, and I’ll come back for him.”
She rose, cradling the little girl and carried her to the guestroom. After laying her gently on the bed and covering her up, she returned to get her son. Lifting him up, she settled him in her arms and held him for just a moment before walking to the other room and laying him down on the vacant side of the bed. She watched as Rhian covered him up and lightly kissed his forehead.
“Come on, Champ.” Rhian took the woman’s hand and led her down the hall back to the bedroom. Once inside, she made a point of locking the door and then turned to her lover. After tugging Deven’s shirt out of her shorts, Rhian’s hands moved beneath the fabric, flowing over soft warm skin. “Now where were we?”
Deven began divesting Rhian of her clothes. “I don’t know about you,” she smiled, “but with you, I’m just this side of Heaven.”
“You can be so corny sometimes,” Rhian said with a laugh.
A dark eyebrow rose. “Hey now, I was being serious.”
“I know.” Rhian took hold of Deven’s hands and lifted them to place small kisses on the palm of each. “That’s why I find you so sweet, and I’ve decided I’m going to keep you.” She lay back on the bed, her eyes never leaving Deven’s. “You said something about a vibrating experience.”
“Oh yeah,” Deven purred, as she stripped off her clothes. Rhian’s eyes never left her, and she watched the flush of arousal claim her lover’s skin. She felt her heart rate speed up again and swallowed hard against all the things she wanted to tell this woman. Instead of professing what she felt, she stretched out along side Rhian’s body, releasing the passion to rise up and consume them both.
Seana’s earsplitting squeal carried across the yard, causing Rhian to look up, fearful that her daughter was hurt. Her anxiety was quickly alleviated at the sight of the child greeting her new best friend, Star Perez. The two little girls were talking at each other faster than Rhian could keep up, and she wondered how much of the conversation they were actually following. Tiernan walked over to Star’s brother, Freddie, and the boys gave each other a high five in salutation but otherwise remained rather quiet. Fascinated by the dynamics between the children, she watched them interact for a few more seconds.
“Tiernan, come here.” Rhian waited until he approached and then asked, “Do me a favor?”
“Sure,” he said. His pale eyes sparkled as he practically beamed at her.
“Introduce Freddie and Star to the other children, okay?”
“Okay. No problemo, Rhian.” Turning, he headed over to his friends and led them to where his cousins waited.
No problemo? She chuckled softly as she watched him go, and then directed her attention to Deven’s next-door neighbors, Alessandro and Lydia Perez, as they walked through the gate into the backyard. She’d liked the couple from the moment she’d met them several weeks ago and was happy that they’d agreed to join in celebrating Seana’s birthday. Professionals, he a police detective and she a doctor, they faced a lot of the same trials in child rearing that Rhian had found in trying to work and take care of Seana. There was no doubt in the landscaper’s mind that Alex and Lydia adored their children and surrounded them with a loving environment, one she felt good about allowing Tiernan and Seana to play in. It also pleased her that Freddie and Star enjoyed spending time at Deven’s, and that the children were bonding nicely.
Of course, we’ll see how it goes when they figure out about my relationship with Deven. That could absolutely change everything. And how do we explain it to the kids? Rhian shook off those thoughts as she walked over to greet their guests. “Hi. Glad you could make it.”
“Hi, Rhian,” Lydia replied. “This is all the kids have been talking about for days now.”
“I know what you mean. I wasn’t sure Seana was going to survive the week.” She shifted her attention to Lydia’s husband. “Hi, Alex. How are things?”
He smiled amiably. “No complaints here.”
Lydia wrapped an arm around his waist and gave him a slight hug. “He almost had to go in to work today.”
“But I didn’t,” he said more to his wife then Rhian.
“That would have been a drag. Come on. Let me introduce you to the homeowner.” Rhian led them to where her lover was having a rather animated debate with Jay. As they drew closer, Deven looked at them, her eyes settling on Lydia and her head cocking slightly in quiet contemplation. “Deven, these are Freddie and Star’s parents, Alex and Lydia. This is Tiernan’s mother, Deven.”
“Oh, my God!” Lydia gaped at the martial artist with a look of surprised delight.
Deven’s eyebrows lifted in question, and she glanced to Rhian for an explanation receiving only a slight shrug in response.
“I don’t believe this! Deven Masterson,” Lydia said as she clapped her hands together and then laughed with glee.
“I’m sure you don’t remember me, but I’ve never forgotten you.”
Deven’s complexion paled visibly, and she sent an apologetic look towards Rhian. Taking a deep steadying breath, she released it gradually as she looked back at Lydia, trying to summon up a memory of her. The woman’s dark wavy hair framed her face, and Deven studied the delicate features, finding them similar to Rhian’s but with a decidedly Latin complexion. The one feature that stood out was the rich caramel color of Lydia’s eyes. You’d think I’d at least remember those. “I’m sorry,” she finally muttered.
“Of course you wouldn’t remember me. It was what…fifteen years ago?”
“What?” The bewilderment showed clearly on Deven’s face. Fifteen years? I was in high school, and I definitely would have remembered sleeping with her.
Unmindful of Deven’s bemused state, Lydia continued. “High school. You came to my rescue. I was kind of small and pretty geeky. Spent a lot of time reading and in the labs. One day a group of girls were ganging up on me, pushing me around and making all kinds of threats. I was sure I was about to get pounded and suddenly you were there. Next thing I know, several of the girls were on the ground and the others were running with their tails between their legs. You were awesome.”
Looking off in the distance, Deven conjured up the memory of that incident. “Lydia? Lydia Cortez?”
She nodded her head. “That’s me. Well, was me. Now I’m Lydia Perez.”
“I do remember that.” Deven laughed from the almost tangible relief. “Wow. You look great.”
Lydia’s smile grew. “Thank you. I have to say you don’t look that different. Taller. Stronger. And even more beautiful then I remember.” A slight motion out of the corner of her eye captured Lydia’s attention, and she turned her head to glance at the landscaper. The change was very inconspicuous but unmistakably territorial. Interesting. She gave Rhian a friendly smile and then addressed Deven again. “I had no idea this was your house.”
“Yeah, well. You know how it is.” She shoulders lifted slightly. “I usually keep to myself, but Seana really wanted a little party. So.”
What do you know? The doctor looked from her former classmate to the landscaper, taking in their physical differences. She didn’t know either woman really but comparing what she knew of Rhian against what Deven had been, the contrast was even more astounding to her. They do make an interesting couple. She reached out a hand, slipping it easily into her husband’s. “This is my husband, Alex.”
With the eye of a fighter, Deven quickly sized up the detective. Slightly taller, he rivaled Jay in bulk and was definitely in good shape. Reaching out a hand towards him, she shook his hand firmly. “Alex. This is my friend Jay. And of course, you know Rhian.”
“I had no idea that you two knew each other,” the landscaper said speculatively. A devious grin captured her face at the same time a mischievous glint entered her eyes. “Lydia, do you have any other stories about my friend here?”
“Oh yeah. Half the school feared her, some wanted to be her, and a good portion wanted to be with her, if you know what I mean.” Lydia’s expression turned thoughtful. “I admired her because she was always her own person and was never afraid to stick up for what was right or for those who couldn’t defend themselves.”
Standing quietly, Deven was troubled by the woman’s point of view. You have no idea how wrong you are.
Taking the doctor by the arm, Rhian steered her towards the pool. “I can’t wait to hear all about it.”
“Hey, now. That’s not fair,” Deven protested.
The landscaper paused and regarded her lover while managing to maintain a serious expression for a few seconds before giving into a grin of satisfaction. “Heh! You get the entire scoop from my parents and Nicole. It’s my turn.”
Before Deven could retort, Tiernan walked up and tapped her on the leg. “Mommy? Can we go in the pool now?” he asked.
Torn between fleeing the uncomfortable situation and trailing after the two women to find out what tales Rhian heard she chose to follow her son and escape the embarrassment. “All right. Jay, why don’t you show Alex where everything is?”
Rhian reclined back on the lounge chair, her face turned up to the sky and her bare feet resting comfortably on the outside of Deven’s sun warmed thigh. Lowering her head, she quietly regarded her lover’s profile. Lydia had regaled her with several stories about the martial artist’s high school days, and Rhian smiled at the picture the woman had painted of Deven all those years ago. Protector of the underdog. Defender of the helpless.
But the smile faded as she remembered Lydia talking about the sudden change Deven had undergone. How the younger martial artist had become sullen and guarded, angry and belligerent. Mostly Deven had stayed to herself, a loner who still found it difficult not to watch out for people like Lydia but made no other effort to interact with anyone. Rhian knew the cause and wished she’d been there. To what, Rhian? She wouldn’t have given you the time of day then. True, but I’m here now. We’ve come a long way. She sighed happily at the thought.
The day was hot and clear, which wasn’t a surprise given that it was July. But despite the heat, everyone was spending most of their time outdoors lathered in sunscreen, enjoying the sunshine and the pool. In spite of the occasional grumbling, Deven had finally admitted the party wasn’t as tortuous as she’d feared it would be. Much of the woman’s time thus far had been spent keeping a close eye on the children whenever they neared the pool, but Rhian suspected the diligence was in part a cover that allowed the martial artist to indulge in a myriad of water sports.
Turning her head slightly, Rhian glanced over to where Laura was sitting in the shade, chatting amiably with some of the other guests. They hadn’t expected her to accept the invitation, but Laura had come and brought her children along. That was a surprise. Okay, a shock. It had occurred to Rhian rather quickly, that though Laura knew her sister was gay, she’d never actually seen Deven with anyone. Her knowledge of her sister’s sexuality was cerebral instead of gleaned from experience, and it was painfully obvious she didn’t know how to deal with it. Thank goodness, Mom was here. Kate took Laura under her wing and made the woman feel at ease.
Mom, you’re something else. A small sigh of near contentment escaped Rhian as she considered her parents. They were really trying to deal with the whole situation and had grown to acknowledge her relationship with Deven. For the most part, they no longer seemed to even notice the gender part. But, she also knew they worried about her happiness and still weren’t convinced that Deven was the right person to provide that. Rhian didn’t believe it was a question of whether or not they liked Deven as a person. More a question of whether or not they believed the woman was capable of building and sustaining a relationship.
Stretching her leg out, Rhian lightly tapped her heel against the top of Deven’s thigh. The martial artist turned her head towards her, lifting an eyebrow in question before returning to the conversation she was having with Carl and Mac. The younger woman just indulged in watching her friend while idly listening to them converse, groaning when the subject turned to football.
Grabbing Rhian’s foot, Deven began massaging it, changing the blonde’s groan of protest to a moan of pleasure. The landscaper’s eyes closed and her head rested back against the lounge in bliss.
“Not now, Seana. Mama is getting a foot massage.”
The little girl stepped forward and slapped her mother on the arm as hard as she could. “Mama!”
The outburst successfully gained her mother’s attention as her eyes snapped open, and she glared at the child. “Seana! What do you think you’re doing?” Rhian was conscious that all conversation around her had ceased into shocked silence, waiting to see what she’d do.
“Mama, look!” Seana demanded.
Still stunned by the little girl’s behavior, Rhian did look in the direction her daughter indicated nonetheless. What is wrong with her? She’s never acted like this. The child was pointing towards a tree, and all Rhian could see was a canopy of leaves. “I don’t see anything. You don’t go around hitting, young lady. Do you understand?” Her eyes met Deven’s and saw the confusion before the woman turned her attention back to Mac, providing Rhian some sense of privacy to deal with the situation.
Tears brimmed in Seana’s eyes, and she pleaded with her mother. “Tiernan, Mama, help him. Please?”
Rhian scanned the yard but saw no sign of the boy. The other children were all clustered around the base of the tree, anxious expressions on their faces. A feeling of dread hit Rhian hard. “Where is Tiernan?”
Again the child pointed up, and Rhian’s studied the tree. “Oh, God.” Sitting up, she gripped Deven’s forearm, pressing her fingers into the muscle.
“Ow, Rhian. What are you doing?”
“Deven,” was all Rhian could manage to whisper past the apprehension constricting her throat. Rising from the lounger, she pulled the marital artist up with her. “Tiernan? Don’t move,” she called out to the boy.
Deven caught the strain in the woman’s voice and looked in the direction her friend was staring. She looked for her son but didn’t see him. “Where is he?”
Deven’s eyes followed Rhian’s direction. “What the?” Her head cocked slightly to the side. Somehow the boy had managed to climb about thirty feet up into the tree and now stood hugging as much of the trunk as his small arms would allow. “Tiernan! Don’t move!” How in the hell did he get up there? A small amount of anger rose up, briefly clouding her thoughts. I’ve never laid a hand on you boy, but when I get you down, kiss your ass goodbye!
The sound of a cracking branch reverberated eerily through the woods around them causing birds to take flight, a cacophony of wings echoing in the woodlands around them. Everyone froze, and as stillness returned to the air, Tiernan’s cries drifted down to his mother. “I can’t get down, Mommy.”
The anger receded to be replaced with a cool focus. Never taking her eyes off her son, she concentrated on the problem. “Tiernan, stay put. I’m going to get you down. Okay? So, just take it easy.” Deven took a couple of steps to the side to get a better view of him. Her eyes scanned the tree, quickly evaluating possible routes to where the child perched. It was apparent that most of the branches were too thin to hold her weight. Okay. I’ll just have to rely on the ladder as much as possible and then coax Tiernan to climb to me.
A plan of action decided upon, she turned her head slightly while keeping her gaze on the stranded child. “Carl, go get the extension ladder from the garage.” Raising her voice, she addressed her son. “Tiernan, as soon as Carl gets back with the ladder, I’m going to come get you. Just hang on.”
Rhian’s could feel the energy radiating from the martial artist. An indescribable sensation as her lover’s body took on tension. Her hand reached out and settled on the small of Deven’s back. “Deven?”
“Maybe I should go. I’m lighter so I could probably climb closer to him.”
Taking her eyes off the child for the first time, Deven looked at the younger woman. “No,” she replied decisively.
“But why?” Rhian was taken aback by the way Deven had responded, more so by the tone of voice then the one word answer.
“I said no,” she answered more harshly. “Look. This is my problem.”
Rhian’s eyes widened in surprise at the verbal slap. She tried to push the hurt down as she considered the implications of what Deven had said. “Your problem?” The emotions of the moment were immense and blocked her ability to assess the situation reasonably. “I see.” She raised both her hands with the palms turned towards the martial artist. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude.” Dropping her hands, she took a step back and crossed her arms across her chest.
The ramifications of her own words struck Deven, as did the woman’s defensive posture. “I didn’t mean it that way, Rhian.”
“No. Of course not,” she answered sharply.
“Rhian, listen to me, okay?” Deven was aware that their conversation was far from private and knew she wasn’t handling the situation well. “I don’t want to risk you getting hurt, too.”
“So, you just decided I have nothing to contribute? First of all, I am lighter and smaller, which means I have a much better chance of getting close to him. Second, I’m a landscaper who grew up in a garden center. I’m a qualified tree surgeon, Deven. How do you think we prune the things? Levitate?”
“No. I just. Damn it, Rhian. Don’t do this to me right now.” Her eyes dropped to the ground. “Please.” Another crack, louder then the first sounded, drawing everyone’s attention back to the boy. “Tiernan? Hold on!” Looking around her, she saw no ladder and shouted, “Someone go get the damn ladder!” Mac jogged off towards the garage to give Carl a hand.
The branch snapped and Tiernan slipped, managing to fall onto the next limb down. “Shit!” Deven said as her frustration moved up a notch, and she took a step closer to the tree. The disagreement forgotten, she felt Rhian’s hand return to the small of her back, grateful for the touch and its grounding affect. “What in the hell was he doing?”
“He was trying to see into the squirrel’s nest,” Freddie said.
Rhian looked at the children gathered at the base of the tree, observing their fearful expressions. “Kids, come over here.” They moved towards her. “Mom, could you, maybe?”
“Got it. Come on kids.” Kate led them over to where Laura, Kelly and Lydia were standing.
Another snap filled the air, and Tiernan screamed. “Mommy!”
“I’m coming, Tiernan.” Deven was growing tenser with each passing moment in which she couldn’t act. She was filled with energy that had no place to go. “Where the fuck is the ladder?”
It all happened so fast after that, and yet to Deven, it seemed insufferably long. Another crack broke the silence punctuated by Tiernan’s shriek of terror. The branch he had been standing on gave way completely, and he began to fall. Instinct took over and the martial artist was running, intent on catching the child, but even as she pushed herself forward, she could see he was descending faster then she was moving towards him. His small body bounced through the tree’s limbs, snapping off some, bending others. Her mind filled with a vision of the boy’s limp body impaled on a branch, filling her belly with icy tendrils of fear. She felt as if she was trying to run through water.
Sprinting full out, she watched his descent. She leapt over the obstacles in her way, seeking the shortest route to her son. It was a question of timing and Deven knew in her gut, she wasn’t going to make it. Pushing with her powerful legs, she dove forward through the air, hoping to put her body between his and the ground. She stretched her body completely out, reaching for the boy. One hand cradled his head and the other his back, and she lifted up, trying to at least lessen the collision.
Her body hit first. The pain shooting through her chest and head were muted as his small body impacted the ground with a sickening thud. She was aware that Jay was there, and she could hear voices, but the blood pounding in her ears made it impossible to clearly decipher anything that was being said. All else receded behind the knowledge that her son wasn’t moving. Pulling her knees up, she crawled closer, keeping her hands motionless where they had come to rest beneath him. “Tiernan?” He remained unresponsive, and she stared at his still face. Her head lifted and she looked into Jay’s eyes, his terror a reflection of her own.
“He isn’t breathing.”
“What?” Deven looked back down at her son and saw that indeed his chest was motionless. In that instant, Deven faced a horror she’d never imagined. All her illusions and perceptions of motherhood shattered becoming irrelevant in the face of this child’s, her child’s potential death. She’d hidden behind a fallacious sense of rightness, choosing to bring the boy into the world, keep him close by but denying him at every turn. She’d created an illusion in which she was right to deny Tiernan access to her, believing she’d done everything to protect him. But she’d failed to keep him safe - this small child who had despite everything continued to love her, to crave her presence, and to forgive her. Who fears you.
Always convincing herself that her motives were correct, she’d denied that the bottom line had always been a fear of failing him. In the end, I failed him anyway. I did this. Razor sharp talons of guilt grazed her psyche, rending the veil of her control and leaving her on the verge of an emotional meltdown. Stop it! Put the bullshit aside and help him, damn it!
Lydia knelt across from her and touched his neck, checking for a pulse. “He’s alive, but his pulse is weak and he’s not breathing. Do you know CPR?” Deven nodded. “Alex, go get my bag. Hurry.” Lydia watched her husband run towards home, scaling the fence that separated their back yards.
With infinite care, Deven moved her hands out from under his body. “Okay.” Careful not to move him too much, her mouth lowered to his and expelled with each breath a small part of herself born of the inexplicable bond of a mother to her child that even Deven Masterson couldn’t deny or conquer. I’m sorry, son. Please don’t die.
Pushing aside the emotions she did what she did best, she took action and with each breath she willed him to breathe on his own. Tiernan, breath. Come on, baby, take a breath for me. She felt Rhian near and latched onto that awareness.
A small gasp escaped the child as he took in air on his own. Lydia reached into the bag Alex had brought and pulled out her stethoscope. She listened for several seconds before nodding her dark head.
Deven sat back on her heels, and took Tiernan’s small hand into her own while watching Lydia attend to him. “Come on, T. Wake up, buddy.” His complexion was deathly pale, and his hand was cold in hers. She looked up to see faces frozen with fear staring back at her. “Damn it! Someone call an ambulance!”
“Got them on the phone now,” Alex said. “They said they’ve already dispatched a unit.”
“What?” A faint, unexplainable prickle touched the hairs on Deven’s neck, but she shook off the sensation. She watched as he handed the phone to Lydia and vaguely listened as the doctor advised them of the child’s condition. She wasn’t really paying attention and was somewhat surprised when Tiernan stirred and moaned. Quickly placing a gentle but firm hand the boy’s chest she held him still. “Tiernan, don’t move. Lay still.”
“Mommy?” his voice came out so low it was barely audible.
“Yes, baby. I’m right here. I need you to lay perfectly still, okay?” The sound of sirens was growing rapidly. “Someone, go meet them. Bring them back here.” Rhian started to stand and Deven grabbed her hand, pulling her back. “Not you,” she ordered.
Their eyes met, and there was no mistaking the unspoken plea beneath the command. The turmoil in Deven’s eyes was so at odds with the woman’s commanding presence, and yet, Rhian understood it was a very private glimpse she was permitted into the woman’s guarded vulnerabilities. She heeded it, kneeling down beside her lover, holding tight to her hand. “Okay.”
Easing the pressure on her son’s chest, Deven reached out and lightly stroked his cheek. “You’re going to be okay. Just try to relax.”
The boy was in shock; otherwise, Rhian was certain he would have been wailing. Before she had time to completely consider that, the paramedics arrived and she and Deven moved back allowing Lydia to take charge. She stood with her lover, watching as they stabilized the boy’s neck and back. Deven’s expression was one of complete control, but Rhian could feel the slight tremors in the woman’s body where it touched her own. The marital artist’s focus shifted from the boy to the tree, and the look of disgust and loathing on her face caused Rhian to shudder. Deven’s lips twitched slightly, and her nostrils flared, increasing Rhian’s concern.
“I don’t want to go. Mommy,” Tiernan cried.
Deven blinked away the rage. “Tiernan, you have to go. Please don’t cry.”
“Tiernan,” Lydia spoke softly to the boy, getting his attention. “You remember that I’m a doctor, right?” He didn’t answer, but his gaze was steady and she spoke again. “I need to make sure that you didn’t hurt anything inside when you fell. But I can’t do that here.”
“My head hurts.”
“I’m sure it does.” The doctor brushed his hair back out of his eyes. “I want to make sure everything is okay.”
Reaching out a hand, Rhian gently rubbed his stomach. “When you get to the hospital, Lydia can measure to see how big a bump you got. Who knows, it might even be a world’s record.”
He looked at her skeptically. “Do you think so?”
Rhian smiled to ease his fear. “Maybe, but we won’t know until you get there.“ She gave his belly a gentle caress. “It’s okay, little man. They’re just going to look you over and make sure everything is okay. And Mommy will be with you the whole time.”
“You come, too?”
“I will, honey. Mommy is going to ride in the ambulance with you, and I’ll meet you there. Okay?”
“Uh, I don’t know.” Deven’s eyes met Rhian’s. “Why doesn’t Laura ride with Tiernan, and I’ll follow with you? I’m mean, I’m sure he’d be more comfortable with her anyway.”
“Wha? Rhian started and stopped. “You go with him. I’ll meet you at the hospital.”
Rhian lowered her voice, but her words rang out clearly to the martial artist. “Don’t you dare give me any crap about this, Deven. Don’t you dare start with the ‘I’m no good’ routine. He is your son.” She stared defiantly at the woman. “He needs you, and quite frankly, you need him.” She paused and pulled Deven to the side. “Deven, you’re the strongest person I’ve ever met, and right now your son needs that strength.”
Laura stepped towards the stretcher. “Maybe I should go.”
Rhian knew Deven would gladly accept her sister’s offer and cut her off. “That’s very kind, Laura, but Deven needs to do this. Why don’t you go with me?”
The paramedics lifted the stretcher, and Tiernan cried out in fear. “Mommy.”
“I’m right here, T.” She moved back by his side and held his small hand in hers, gently stroking the back of his hand with her thumb.
“I don’t want to go.” He sobbed harder and sent a pleading look first to his mother and then to Rhian.
“I’ll be there in just a bit,” Rhian assured him. As they neared the transport, she leaned forward and kissed him gently. Looking up she met her lover’s eyes. “I’ll see you in a little bit, too. Just hang in there.” She pointed a finger at woman. “And behave yourself. No chasing the nurses.”
For a second, Deven’s gaze remained unwavering and then a small smile appeared. “Does that mean I can chase the doctors?”
“No. The only one you can chase is Tiernan. I’ll see you soon, baby.” She lightly patted Deven’s stomach. “I love you guys.”
Rhian stayed in place until the ambulance was out of sight and then allowed the tears. Her father’s arms engulfed her, providing what comfort he could, and she accepted it without reservation, allowing herself a moment to free the remnants of her fear before she put her mind on the task of getting to the hospital.
To Be Continued in Chapter Five
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