by J. Harleyı Elmore, 2000 - 2003
See Chapter One for disclaimers
Chapter Twenty, Part 1
Resting a hip against the side of the car, Deven casually handed the house key through the open window. "Donıt get into any trouble," she admonished. Despite the stern look she gave her friend, the sincerity of the threat was dispelled by the gleam in her eyes.
"Me? Trouble? Please." Kelly gave the woman a wicked smile. "Actually, Iım going to go up to your bedroom and try out all your toys."
Enjoying the easy repartee, the martial artist laughed. "Youıll have to find them all first." Pushing away from the car and bending at the waist she brought her head down to the window, her face now mere inches from the other womanıs. "Besides," she said in a seductive purr, "not all of them are meant to be used alone."
Kelly placed the palm of her hand against Devenıs forehead and gently pushed. "You are such a horny dog! Now move out of the way. I have to get going. Iıll see you later."
"You got it. Thanks for everything, Kel. I appreciate it."
The lawyer winked and smiled. "Anytime, beautiful."
Deven took a couple of steps backwards to give Kelly room to maneuver her car out of the parking space, and then looking up, she saw Rhian driving into the far end of the lot. Just the site of the blonde landscaper caused her to break into a full smile. After one last wave to the lawyer, she sauntered over to where Rhian stopped, the smile never leaving her face. "Hi," she said as she approached the small truck.
"Hey." Rhian stepped out of the vehicle and watched Kelly drive out of site. "Whatıs up?"
"Not much. Same ole, same ole. Whatıs up with you?"
The blonde pulled her eyes away from the exit and gazed up at the martial artist. "Iım on my way to a site survey and thought Iıd stop by."
"Iım glad you did," Deven replied.
Rhian looked back in the direction Kellyıs car had gone. "You are?" She heard the insecurity in her voice and mentally berated herself for it.
The taller woman cocked her head slightly. "Sure. I havenıt seen much of you in the past few days. I missed you."
"I know. My schedule has been crazy this week. I missed seeing you, too." There had only been a couple of opportunities to visit each other in the past few days and both had been as this one was now, brief and in public. Rhian nodded towards the street. "So, whatıs Kelly up to?"
"She stopped by to get the key to my house," Deven answered. "Sheıs going over now to start getting things ready for this afternoon."
"Thatıs nice of her," Rhian said with as much nonchalance as she could muster.
"Yeah, it is. Sheıs a good friend."
"She seems to be." There was something about the friendship that bothered Rhian, but she couldnıt quite discern what it was. Stop it! Youıre just going to create problems where there arenıt any. "How long have you two known each other?"
The martial artist stood relaxed with her hands clasped loosely behind her back. "Oh, I donıt know - six or seven years. No matter how shitty I get, she puts up with it. Well, she only puts up with so much before she calls me on it." Deven laughed easily. "You should have seen her go after me the day I accused you of taking part in that supposed plot." She laughed even harder, causing Rhian to smile. "You would have loved it."
The young landscaper found her sudden dislike for the lawyer confusing. There wasnıt any reason not to like the woman and yet, in her gut she felt a growing sense of scorn. "Did you guys have a good time the other night?"
Devenıs laughter wound down, but she continued to smile. "We almost always have a good time. Especially when Carlıs not around. So, are you ready for this afternoon?"
Her head told her that the martial artistıs comment held no hidden meaning, but it still hit a nerve with Rhian. She looked across the street in an effort to quell what she was beginning to recognize as jealousy. Not being prone to the emotion, she was unsettled by it and found it difficult to overcome.
Studying the blondeıs profile, Deven could see the strain in the fine features. Maybe she doesnıt want to come over. Maybe she changed her mind about us. About everything. Her own insecurities rose quickly and before she could stop it from happening, Deven reached out. Placing a gentle hand on the landscaperıs upper arm, she gave it a slight squeeze. "Hey."
Rhian felt the touch and relaxed as the green eyed monster receded. She wanted nothing more at that moment than to feel Devenıs arms around her but understood that it was probably inappropriate given that they were standing in front of the school. Still, as her eyes met the tall brunetteıs, she stepped forward seeking the comfort she needed so desperately at that moment.
Perhaps understanding Rhianıs need, or accepting the want within herself, Deven opened her arms and pulled the smaller woman into an embrace. "Whatıs wrong?" she asked.
The connection subdued her anxiety, and Rhian released a soft sigh against the womanıs neck. "Itıs nothing really. Just being overly emotional today I guess." She concentrated on Devenıs good humor. The woman was practically vibrating with energy, and the landscaper focused on that while endeavoring to push her concern away. "Youıre really looking forward to this, arenıt you?"
Deven smiled. "Yeah, I am. I finally get to spend some more time with you."
The womanıs enthusiasm was catching and tucked within the strong arms, Rhian felt her mood lift. Reluctantly, she broke the hug and stepped back, but kept her hands resting on the swell of Devenıs hips. "What time are you heading home?" she asked.
"Noon. Jay will close up here, and Iıll go give Kelly a hand. What about you?"
"I have another survey later this morning," the landscaper responded. "It shouldnıt be too involved, so I expect to be at your place no later than two."
"Good. Weıre going to have fun. Youıll see." Sidling closer, she brought her lips near to the blondeıs ear. "Iım sure that before this day is over, weıre going to get very wet," she said seductively and barely stopped the impulse to flick the inviting earlobe with her tongue.
Rhian giggled. "Youıre such a juvenile," she said as she playfully backhanded the martial artistıs stomach.
Several students arrived at that moment, pausing on their way into the school to address the martial artist. They stopped, snapped to attention and bowed to Deven. She scowled as she returned the bow, but then broke into a smile, causing the students to relax. "Good morning," she addressed them. "I hope you all are ready for a hard workout." The salutations quickly turned to groans, causing their instructor to laugh outright. "Go on and get warmed up. Iıve got a lot planned for you today."
Despite their protests, Rhian noted that the students looked at Deven with a mixture of respect and adoration. People were drawn to this woman, and though Rhian had always known that, today for some reason it bothered her.
So much had happened to them a few days ago. Devenıs disclosure and facing all the emotions that had been stirred up by it had been difficult for Rhian. Not to mention having to face my own issues. Sheıd felt close to the woman at the time and confident about her ability to deal with Deven, but then they hadnıt spent more than an hour together in the days since. Perhaps the lack of any quality time together had planted the seeds of doubt, which now seemed to be proliferating into a garden of uncertainty.
Deven turned to face her, and Rhian struggled to hide the incertitude that simmered just below the surface. "Are you sure youıre okay?" she asked the younger woman.
"Sure. Like I said, Iım just a little emotional today for some reason, but Iım okay. Now, you better go on. Donıt want to keep them waiting too long."
The martial artist glanced at the school then back at her friend. "Okay. Well, Iıll see you later?"
"Definitely," Rhian replied as she forced a smile. She watched Deven walk into the school before climbing back into her truck. Get a grip already!
Deven took a sip of her water as she watched Kelly finish up some last minute preparations. Sheıd arrived home to find a list of chores waiting for her and had her humor not been so high, she might have resented them. Instead, she took care of each task Kelly threw at her, if for no other reason than it gave her something to concentrate on. Otherwise, she found it difficult to think about anything other than a certain green eyed blonde.
Jay and Carl had both arrived a little while ago and conveniently disappeared. Cowards. Afraid theyıll get pulled into doing a little work? Well, they get clean up detail. Thatıll teach them to run and hide.
All that remained now was to wait for Rhian, and as it had all day, that thought teased her lips into another smile. She realized that sheıd been smiling a lot today and idly wondered if she might appear deranged. Not that she cared how she appeared. She was happier than she could ever remember being in her life and awaited the womanıs arrival with barely contained impatience.
"Youıve come a long way lately," Kelly said, interrupting her thoughts. "Love looks good on you."
Slightly embarrassed, Deven reached up and massaged the back of her neck. "You think?"
The lawyer smiled at the womanıs unease. "Definitely. And it makes you cute as all get out."
"Aw, shucks." Her expression turned serious and crossing the kitchen, Deven closed the distance between them. "Kelly? Can I ask you something?"
"Do you think?" She paused and took a deep breath. "Do you think that if things had been different, if I had been different, if we, you and I, could have made a go of it?"
The other woman was clearly stunned by the question. "What brought that up?" she asked.
Deven shrugged slightly. "I donıt know. I guess Iım questioning a lot of things, you know? Everything is just so confusing right now, and I find myself thinking about stuff." She shrugged again, trying to make light of her self-consciousness. "I was just curious."
Kelly considered the question carefully. If Deven had asked, then the least she could do was provide an honest answer. "Perhaps we could have for awhile, but I donıt think it would have lasted. Iım glad things turned out the way they did, Deven. We have a good relationship now, and I donıt believe that would have been the case if weıd gotten involved. Besides, Iıve got my Carl and you have now found the love your life."
Deven nodded slightly. "Youıre right." She reached out and placed her hands lightly on the womanıs waist. "Kelly? Iım sorry if I hurt you. You know, back then? I didnıt mean to. I didnıt even think about it, and if I could change anything between us, Iıd take that away."
The lawyer studied Devenıs face for several seconds, and her bewilderment turned to amazement at the open sincerity she perceived. "Thank you," she whispered. "I appreciate your saying that."
Crossing the threshold to the kitchen, Rhian stopped suddenly, bringing a startled Nicole up short. She couldnıt hear much of what was being said, but something about the way the two women were conversing woke up her earlier jealousy with a vengeance. Her eyes settled on Devenıs hands and then took in the close proximity of the two women. There was a familiarity about their body language that sent off alarms in her head. Unable to speak, she stood watching as Kellyıs hands encircled Devenıs waist and the women embraced.
Rhianıs mind refused to redefine what she was observing. It had created a story around the image of the two women and with a sudden jolt of intuition, she knew. These women were so familiar with each other because theyıd slept together. She didnıt know how she knew that nor did she care how she knew. Anger began to flare in the pit of her stomach and radiate outwards, but she was uncertain where her anger should be directed - at Deven for so callously flaunting this in front of her or at Kelly for cheating on Carl, or inward for having allowed herself to believe this time would be different. Not waiting for an answer to that question, she was propelled forward into the room by her ire.
Deven turned to her and smiled. "Hey."
The womanıs casual behavior further fueled Rhianıs rage. She doesnıt even care that I know!
Nicole wrapped a hand around her friendıs upper arm and pulled. "Letıs go."
Deven knew immediately that Rhian was upset about something, and asked, "Whatıs wrong?" But the concern in her voice was completely missed by the younger woman.
Jerking her arm free from Nicoleıs grasp, Rhian glared at the martial artist. She wanted to stop. She wanted to bite back the words, but they tumbled out of their own accord. "Why I am surprised? Why in the world would I have thought you meant anything you said to me? That you were going to treat me differently?"
Moving away from Kelly, Deven turned and completely faced the blonde. "What are you talking about?"
Kelly understood exactly what was happening and jumped into the conversation with the hope of keeping the situation from escalating further. "Rhian, it isnıt what you think."
Confused, Deven looked from one woman to the other. Nicoleıs open hostility, Rhianıs anger, and Kellyıs quiet diplomacy made the situation more baffling. "Okay. What am I missing here?"
"Donıt play stupid!" Rhian nearly shouted.
Never one to back away from a confrontation, Deven straightened and squared her shoulders. Her focus settled on the landscaper, and her own rising anger became evident in the narrowing of her eyes. "What in the hell is your problem?"
"You stayed at Kellyıs the other night."
"So? I told you that!"
"Is that when you slept together?" Rhian asked between clinched teeth.
The martial artist looked as if sheıd been slapped. "What?"
"Itıs a very simple question, Deven!"
She took a step towards Rhian, but stopped her forward progress when the younger woman backed away. That simple retreat hurt, and she fought to keep her voice steady when she responded. "No."
"But you have!" Rhian accused.
Deven remained silent as she looked at Kelly, seeing the mixture of anger and embarrassment on her friendıs face. Glancing past Nicole, she observed that Jay and Carl had also entered the kitchen, and with a great deal of regret, realized that there was no easy way out of this. What should have been a private conversation had turned into an extremely awkward situation for everyone.
Taking a deep breath, she looked Rhian in the eyes. "It was a long time ago."
The admission, while expected still pained Rhian more than had anticipated. Tears formed in her eyes, and her only thought was to escape, but she quickly realized that retreating out the way she had come was impossible. She was mortified by her behavior, hurt by Devenıs admission, and sought only to flee. Oh God. What have I done? Without looking at anyone, she bolted out the backdoor not stopping until she reached the edge of the woods beyond the expanse of lawn.
"What did you do?" Jay asked.
"Nothing!" Deven ran a hand through her dark hair. "I donıt know."
"Liar!" Nicole hissed at her.
"Fuck you, Nicole!" Deven shouted as she moved towards the woman.
Seeing his friend start to advance, Jay stepped forward and blocked her path. "Calm down."
Carl walked over and lightly patted the martial artistıs shoulder. "Easy, Deven. I know youıre upset, but this isnıt going to help, okay?" Stepping over to his wife, he placed a comforting arm across her shoulders. "What happened?"
Deven looked at the doorway Rhian had disappeared through. "Shit! Iım so confused. Kelly and I were just talking. The next thing I know, Rhian is angry as hell and asking me about the past."
"You are so full of bullshit!" Nicole said.
Facing Rhianıs friend once again, Deven growled and then said, her voice rising with each word, "Either you shut up or get the fuck out of my house!"
Unable to take the chaos any longer, Kelly yelled, "Stop! Everybody just stop it! We all know what happened between me and Deven. We also know that it was a very long time ago. Okay? So enough with that!"
Deven glanced at the couple. "Iım sorry. Both of you."
Kelly looked at her husband and gave him a small smile. Turning back to the martial artist, she reached out and took her hand. "I know."
Carl gave her one of his easy going smiles. "Itıs okay, Dev. Old news."
Nicole shook her head in disbelief. "You people are unbelievable!"
"No, Nicole, you are," Kelly said. "You stood there and did nothing to help Rhian see the truth about what was happening. You are so eager to find Deven lacking that you would allow Rhian to suffer unnecessarily if it meant an end to their relationship. What kind of a friend does that?"
"How dare you question my friendship with Rhian! I love her. Sheıs my family and I will do whatever I can to protect her!"
"Protect her from what?" Kelly challenged. "From someone loving her? From discovering who she is? How can you possibly love her and deny her these things? You should be helping her to face them. Do you have any idea how hard this must be for her? Whether you like it or not, you have to accept that they love each other."
Nicole rolled her eyes. "Please. This one wouldnıt know love if it hit her square in the face with a two by four."
Having had enough, Kelly crossed the room until she stood directly in front of the belligerent woman. When she spoke it was clear and concise and left no question as to her sincerity. "Hear this, Nicole. I will not allow you to disrupt this relationship. If it works, all the better because quite frankly I think itıs a good thing for both of them. If it doesnıt, then at least Iıll believe they tried their best. I will do whatever I can to see that they succeed. I will do that because I do love Deven and Iım very fond of Rhian. So, if you love her as much as you say you do, get over yourself and put that love to use. Otherwise, get the hell out of the way and let them be!"
Deven watched the exchange with a growing sense of awe at Kellyıs defense of her. After everything sheıd done and how atrociously sheıd behaved at times, this woman still chose to defend her. Shaking her head, her thoughts settled on what had created this situation in the first place. It occurred to her that Rhian might actually leave and Deven had no idea how to stop that from happening. "Kelly?"
The lawyer turned and regarded the worried look on the martial artist face. "Itıs going to be all right. Iım going to go talk to her."
Almost before she could stop it, Devenıs ever present pride started to surface to refute the offer of assistance, but common sense won out and all she said was a quiet, "Thank you."
Nicole took a step towards the door. "I think I should go."
Jay put an arm around her shoulder. "Let Kelly handle this one." Nicole tried to shake off the arm, but the man held her in place. "Youıll get your turn. Relax."
Deven watched Kelly walk out the back door with a deep feeling of uneasiness. She still didnıt understand what was happening and how things had gotten so blown out of proportion so quickly. What did I do wrong? She replayed the conversation in her head and couldnıt see what it was that had set Rhian off.
Walking out to the sunroom, her eyes scanned the yard for the landscaper. She located her in the shadows just at the woods edge and watched as Kelly walked up to her. Donıt leave, Rhian. Not over the past. If I could change it for you, I would. Please donıt give up. Not yet.
With a quiet resolve, Kelly drew near the younger woman. "Rhian?"
Keeping the woods as her focal point, Rhian wiped away the tears that would not be denied. She was appalled by her behavior and dreaded facing anyone who had been witness to it. It had been her intention to leave but that option had been impossible given she had ridden with Nicole. Why Nicole hadnıt followed her out of the house was bothering her along with everything else that weighed so heavily on her heart and mind. She had expected her friend to be right on her heels, and she fervently hoped Nicole had not decided to confront Deven. It really wasnıt Devenıs fault. Well, not entirely anyway. Okay, maybe not at all. "I must look really asinine."
"No. I wouldnıt say that."
"Well, I certainly feel like an ass."
"I must say you have a way of shaking things up." Kellyıs attempt at levity failed and the upset womanıs gaze remained on the woods beyond. "Why, Rhian?"
"I know she has a past, and I know sheıs a player, but for some reason I never thought I would actually know one of her conquests!" she blurted out.
Kelly felt the sting, and she chose her own words carefully. "First of all, she was a player. Not she is a player. Second, what happened is in the past. And last, Iım not proud of what happened. Perhaps the problem is not the past but that youıre afraid you fall into the same category as all the rest of us."
Rhian lowered her head. Am I?
"She canıt change the past," Kelly said.
"I know that."
"Do you? Because if you do know that, then you canıt blame her or punish her for it."
Rhian blinked back fresh tears. Why am I doing this? Damn it, you know perfectly well why. For the first time, the blonde shifted her sight and it settled on the other woman. "Kelly, Iım sorry I said what I did. I didnıt mean it."
Unwavering, the lawyer replied, "Yes, you did."
The landscaperıs head lowered in shame. "Iım sorry. It isnıt like me to act this way."
Kelly was determined to not be a part of anything that stood in the way of Devenıs happiness, and to that end, she needed to reach an understanding with this woman. Although she appeared calm on the outside, internally she resented Rhianıs insinuations. Her voice remained low, but the words themselves were sufficient to make the younger woman flinch.
"That may be true, Rhian, but donıt do it again. Iım not a whore or a slut who makes it a habit to sleep around. I never was. What happened with Deven was over six years ago, and I would just like to forget it. Not just for me, but because itıs unfair to throw it up in Carlıs face. And for the record, Iıve been faithful to Carl since we committed ourselves to building a relationship. I find it ironic that in all the years since, Deven has never once mentioned it until today when she apologized. She never once rubbed our noses in it and never once put Carl on the spot. You, on the other hand, managed to do it in a matter of seconds."
Taking a deep breath, she paused before stepping closer the landscaper. Placing an arm around the womanıs slumped shoulders, she continued in a softer tone. "As for Deven, I do love her, but I am most certainly not in love with her. You need to cut her some slack. At least in this area. Whatıs done is done. What matters is here and now."
"I know. I just." Rhian faltered.
The blonde head nodded slowly. "I donıt understand it. My head knows youıre right, and I agree with you. But something inside me just appeared out of no where, and before I could stop myself, I was saying all those awful things."
"Rhian, I need to know something."
"Do you love her? I mean really love her, or do you think perhaps this is more of a physical attraction? A crush perhaps?"
The younger woman met the lawyerıs eyes. "I love her."
The open look of love the landscaper held at that moment told Kelly all she needed to know, but still she pressed on. "Why?" The look of confusion that appeared on Rhianıs face almost caused her smile, because it reminded her of the perplexed expression Deven often wore these days.
"Iım not totally sure," Rhian answered honestly. "I just know that I feel things for her that Iıve never felt for anyone. Sheıs the most amazing person Iıve ever met, and she canıt see that. She sees herself as some kind of monster. I donıt." Her brow furrowed as she sought an answer to Kellyıs question. "When Iım with her or think about her, Iım filled with so much emotion I donıt think I can contain it." Her head lowered and she said softly, "I donıt know, Kelly. I just love her."
"Good because she loves you. Sheıs never allowed herself to love anyone before, and this is kind of a difficult time for her. Sheıs very unsure of herself."
Rhianıs head snapped up. The idea of Deven being unsure about anything seemed absurd. "Why?"
Kelly smiled at the memory of her friendıs plea for help. "Because she seems to think that there is some sort of magic to building a relationship that she knows nothing about. Sheıs convinced herself that sheıs going to mess this up, and youıll never really give her a chance." She mulled over what she was about to reveal and smiled. "Sheıll be very unhappy with me for telling you this, but she came over to my house to talk about you and to ask for my help."
"Yes, she did. She wants desperately to do everything right by you and believes that sheıs destined to fail without a little outside help."
Rhian stood quietly, thinking about what she was being told. For Deven to ask anyoneıs help, especially something so personal was quite an indication of how serious she might be concerning a potential relationship.
"She told me you were quite a romantic." Kelly smiled at the woman. "Sheıs trying so hard. I find that kind of romantic, donıt you?"
"Yes." A small grin tugged at the corners of the landscaperıs mouth but faded quickly as thoughts of her earlier behavior returned.
"Deven has a lot of growing to do, Rhian. If she hurt you or offended you, it was most certainly not intentional. It never would have occurred to her that you might construe our friendship as something more."
"Iım always going to be competing with the past, arenıt I?"
"Thatıs up to you. You hold a part of her that no one has ever even touched. You have the power to hurt her, because whether or not sheıs admitted it, sheıs already given you her heart. I would not even suggest that this is going to be easy, Rhian. She is difficult, stubborn and emotionally immature. And she is quite possibly the most clueless person I have ever met when it comes to affairs of the heart. She has a great deal of learning to do, and I guarantee you, she will trip up over and over again. She can be obnoxious, selfish, and egotistical. But she is also loyal, honest, and amazingly gentle should the need arise. And when it comes to you sheıs insecure, uncertain, naïve and afraid. Things I never even knew existed within the woman. Now you should let her off the hook because sheıs up there beating herself up about this. She truly is clueless, Rhian. She has no idea why you would be mad at her."
Rhian glanced up at the house. "Iım not mad at her. Itıs me Iım angry with." Her eyes settled on Deven, and then she lowered them, feeling once again the shame of her earlier actions. "I shouldnıt have behaved like that. Iım truly sorry, Kelly. I just couldnıt seem to stop myself."
Looking up at the house, Kelly motioned to Deven to come down. "I know. We have to be careful what we say in anger, Rhian. It cuts deeply whether it was intended to or not. We seem to have trouble accepting what is said in love but cling onto whatıs directed our way in rage."
Rhian sighed. "Youıre right. I guess I have an awful lot of growing to do, too. Thanks, Kelly."
"Anytime. Listen, if you need a sounding board, Iım here."
The landscaper stood quietly, nodding her head. Deven didnıt do anything. I did it all, because I couldnıt believe there was any other explanation.
Kelly turned and walked towards the martial artist. As she passed Deven, she paused long enough to give her hand a gentle squeeze in reassurance before heading back towards the house.
Deven approached Rhian with caution. This near constant feeling of uncertainty was beginning to wear real thin on her, and she didnıt much care for it. No one had ever made her feel as confused about her actions and motives as this woman.
Steeling herself, she continued to cross the lawn towards the landscaper. The insecurity within her grew with each step, and upon reaching her destination, she paused not knowing what to say or even what was expected of her.
Rhian stood hugging herself as if she was cold despite the early summer heat and the tracks of tears were clearly visible against her flushed cheeks. Slumped shoulders further indicated to Deven the sense of despondency the woman was feeling.
"Are you okay?" She watched the blonde head nod slowly, and sighed when Rhian made no attempt to even look at her. This sucks!
Standing alone in the sunroom earlier, watching Kelly and Rhian talk, sheıd replayed the incident in the kitchen over in her mind. Obviously, Rhian was upset with the idea that she had slept with Kelly. The most logical reason for her to have behaved as she had was out of a sense of jealousy. That was an emotion that Deven never tolerated from anyone. She belonged to no one. Except now the idea of belonging to this particular woman held a certain appeal to it.
In the time before Rhian, had anyone so much as hinted at a desire to possess her in any manner, she would have given a rebuke they werenıt likely to ever forget. But now, she knew that was changing as well. A part of her most definitely disliked the idea of being anyoneıs possession, but at the same time, she wanted this woman to desire her heart, body and soul. "Are you okay?" she asked again. She watched as Rhianıs shoulders slumped even further. Not knowing what else to do, she moved away and started back to the house.
That broke the womanıs silence. "Wait!"
Devenıs pent up frustration rose up, seeking release. "I donıt know what you want! I donıt know what Iım supposed to do! I donıt even know what I did, damn it!"
"I am who I am, Rhian. If youıre looking for me to change into someone else, I donıt think thatıs possible."
The turmoil in Devenıs eyes reached out to her. "No. I donıt want you to be someone else. I know youıre confused and Iım sorry."
"You do realize that I canıt make it go away. I canıt change what I did!"
The young woman hugged herself tighter. "I know that. I justGod, I didnıt think I would ever actually know one of them. And I like Kelly, but now I look at her and I have a hard time not thinking of the two of you together."
"Rhian, I donıt want to rehash this thing about Kelly. This is the last time I ever want to discuss it. It was a long time ago, and it was a mistake! I canıt explain how it is that she stayed in my life after that. I think I really hurt her, and not because she loved me. I think it was humiliating for her to have allowed it to happen. And yet, she has become my friend. Hell, I think Kelly and Jay are the only two people in this fucking world who would give a damn if I disappeared tomorrow!"
The anger rose up so fast within the woman that Deven barely had a chance to register the flash of it in Rhianıs eyes before she found herself the target of a verbal assault. "Thatıs not true! How dare you negate my feelings for you! Do you think so little of me that you believe I wouldnıt feel the loss? How dare you!" Tears flowed unchecked as she choked back a sob. "You come into my life and turn everything upside down! You awaken things in me I never knew existed. I tell you that I love you, and you have the nerve to stand there and say that what I feel for you doesnıt matter!"
Stepping forward, she shoved the startled martial artist. "Where do you get off making a judgement like that?" Anger gave way to sorrow, and Rhian began to cry softly. Her head fell forward against the taller womanıs chest with a slight thud.
Unsure of what she was supposed to do and still reeling from the sudden tirade, Deven stood still. Slowly, she wrapped her arms around the distressed woman and just held onto the trembling body. "Iım sorry, Rhian." No one had so openly displayed such love for her. It left her once again feeling precariously poised between emotions. On the one hand, it was terrifying. On the other, it felt really good. She wrapped her arms tighter around the shuddering body, pulling Rhian firmly against her frame.
The smaller womanıs arms encircled her waist, and she rested her cheek against the blonde head. This was the second time Deven had held this woman as she cried, and she realized she didnıt like it when Rhian was in any pain. It was a small notion, but a revelation nonetheless. When Rhian hurt, she hurt, and she felt helpless, a sensation she despised. Unable to do anything else, she held onto the woman wishing the pain away, and eventually the sobs slowed and gave way to soft sniffles.
Backing away, Rhian wiped her face on her shirttail. "I must look like hell."
"Nah. Just a little disheveled." Deven made a point of straightening the womanıs collar. "This isnıt just about Kelly, is it?"
"No. Iıve been struggling with this all day for some reason. That isnıt totally true. Iıve been worried about this for some time, but Iıve been able to at least keep it inside." She threw her arms up in exasperation. "Iıve never felt like this before! Even when I found out that Sean was having an affair, I donıt remember feeling jealous so much as angry."
That son of a bitch! Deven felt the familiar burn of fury beginning to form in her belly. At the same time, she recognized the irony of it. Sheıd seduced more than one married woman and had never once considered the infidelity. It didnıt concern her. Illogical as it was, the thought that Sean had hurt Rhian in exactly the same way she may have hurt countless others infuriated her. If that makes me a hypocrite, then so be it. "He cheated on you?" she asked in a voice far more calm than she felt.
Rhian looked back towards the woods. Her voice was so low; the words were almost lost. "Yes, but it was my fault."
"Just how in the hell was it your fault?" The woman remained silent, her blonde head hanging down. "Rhian? Why was his inability to keep his dick in his pants your fault?"
"Deven, I canıt! This is so embarrassing and once you know the truth, you arenıt going to want anything to do with me."
"Someone once told me to not think of it as embarrassing. You know, look at it like its letting go of the past or a new beginning."
Rhian recognized the sentiment as being her own. "Smart ass."
"Yeah, well, you always knew that about me," she replied. Placing a finger under the smaller womanıs chin, she lifted until Rhian looked up at her. "Talk to me, please. I donıt understand how it is that he could cheat on you, and you think it was your fault. And why you think I wonıt want anything to do with you. Nothing you have ever even considered doing in your lifetime could be anywhere near as bad as what Iıve actually done."
Rhian stared into pale eyes and reached a decision. Sheıd carried this burden for so long, and until this amazing woman had entered her life, she never considered it would be an issue again. It wasnıt something she could hide from Deven forever. Better to get it over with now than later.
Reaching up, she caressed Devenıs cheek. "Iım so sorry. Iım behaving like such a child." She gently traced the cheekbone with her thumb watching as the taller woman leaned into the touch. "I owe you an explanation. You opened yourself up to me, and I havenıt done the same. I think my behavior today is due to a large extent because I know that I will never measure up. I know that I can never compete with the women youıve slept with. I think about how many women have slept here, in this house, in your bed, and I get crazy becausebecause I know that I canıt be like them."
Deven held her hands up with the palms outward. "Wait a minute. You donıt have to ever measure up to anyone. You just have to be you. And for the record, I never brought anyone home. After the disaster in California, I never wanted anyone to know where I live. The only women who have stepped foot in that room beside you and me, are Kelly and my sister. Kelly only recently and that was just to see how it was decorated. No one, other than Tiernan and I have slept in that bed."
Her mind whirled as it tried to comprehend what Rhian was struggling with. "As usual, Iım having a difficult time understanding what exactly youıre talking about. I donıt want you to be like them. This isnıt some sort of competition. There arenıt scorecards. Hell, I donıt even remember most of the woman let alone whether or not they were any good."
"They meant so little to you."
"Thatıs what Iıve been trying to tell you. They meant nothing to me. You do."
Rhian nodded her head. There was something bizarrely sweet about that admission. "Easy for you to say now. Deven, youıre such a passionate woman, and I." Once again the turmoil became too great and she began to cry softly. "Damn it!" Instead of taking solace in the other womanıs arms, Rhian turned away from her. "You donıt understand!"
The martial artist was growing frustrated again. "Rhian, I feel like youıre leading me around by the nose in no particular direction at all."
The younger woman chuckled at the picture that description created in her mind. "Donıt make me laugh." She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly as she wrapped her arms around herself again.
"My relationship with Sean was difficult for me. For a lot of reasons - most of which I didnıt begin to understand until you came into my life. Iıve always believed it was all me. In many ways, it was. Because of you, because of what I feel for you, I know that I was never in love with Sean. Loved him at one time but was never in love. I have also come to accept that I wasnıt really attracted to him. At the time, I didnıt know that. I didnıt understand, and I think our marriage was doomed to begin with. That was my fault. Perhaps we could have found a middle ground in time. Perhaps not, but I didnıt enter into my marriage lightly. I was determined to make it work."
She turned back towards Deven but avoided looking directly at her. "When I found out he was cheating, I was furious and hurt. And when he said it was my fault, I believed him. I thought it was my fault because I wasnıt able to give him what he needed, and Iım afraid I will fail you, too."
The struggle to keep calm was growing more difficult with each passing minute. "What he needed?" Deven shook her head in disbelief. "Are you telling me that he told you he had to have other women to compensate for something he wasnıt getting at home?"
A faint blush began to creep up Rhianıs neck. "Yes."
"And you bought into that?" When Rhian didnıt respond, she continued. "That has got to be one of the oldest and lamest excuses in the book!"
The younger woman did look directly at her then. "Great! So now you think Iım a fool, too!"
"No, I donıt. Youıre not a fool. Naïve perhaps, but definitely not a fool. I still donıt see how this is your fault, and I donıt understand how this means you will fail me. Fail me how?"
Oh God, please let this be a bad dream. Rhian brought her hand up and stood quietly chewing on her thumbnail. She bit down hard. Ouch! No, damn it, this is real. She knew the blush was rising, adding to her overall embarrassment. "It was just that, it never was enjoyable for me. It got so that I dreaded him coming near me, and Iım sure he knew it. Our wedding night was awful. Heıd been drinking quite a bit at the reception. I thought weıd wait until the next day to, you know. Instead, he insisted we consummate our marriage that night."
Deven fought to keep her tone even. Her desire to hurt the man was growing in tandem with her rage. Surprisingly, she also found herself somewhat piqued with Rhian. The younger womanıs easy acceptance that she had done something wrong was ludicrous. "Was it your first time?"
"Did he know that?"
"Of course he knew that. Sean was the only person I really dated, and being rather archaic in my thinking, I wanted to wait until I was married. What an idiot I was! It was nothing like I thought it would be. It was." She shook her head as if clearing it of the memories. "Our honeymoon was a nightmare. I was kind of sore, but he said it would get better if we just kept doing it." Her laugh was cynical. "It never did get better. I was never comfortable with him again, and I grew to dread that look he would get when he wanted to, you know."
"Have sex. You can say it, Rhian." Deven watched the blush reappear. "Did he ever force you to have sex with him?"
"He was my husband."
"That doesnıt answer the question, Rhian!"
"I know. Deven, he never attacked me. It wasnıt like that. Itıs just that, it was what I was supposed to do as his wife, but I was so bad at it."
The martial artist snorted. "You were bad at it? How could you be bad at it?"
"I just am! Donıt you understand? Youıve made sex into an art form! I canıt do it! There is something wrong with me. Iım some sort of freak!" New tears caused her vision to blur, and she wiped them away angrily.
Staring at the distraught woman, Deven silently chastised herself. "Rhian, youıre not a freak, and I donıt believe thereıs anything wrong with you."
"Well, youıre wrong! When I found out about the first affair, he was sorry. At least he said he was. He became very solicitous, but I could never trust him again. Heıd taken that away from me, and I resented him for it. Despite his promise to end it, I found out he hadnıt dropped his girlfriend. In fact, he had another one. We had a big fight, and he told me it was my fault. If I hadnıt been such a lousy lay, he wouldnıt have had to look elsewhere. And he was right."
"Rhian, Iım sure that isnıt true." Bastard! Lucky for you, youıre dead!
"No, it was true! I knew it was me! So, I went to several doctors trying to find out what was wrong with me. Why I couldnıt get any pleasure and why it was often uncomfortable, but they all said there was nothing wrong physically. That meant it was in my head." She paused to take a breath. "Knowing that it was my problem and not wanting to give up on my marriage, I started to fake it. I stopped being there, in my body. I would lie there thinking about designs and making all the right noises. It wasnıt so bad after that. And of course, I got pregnant."
The guy must have been a moron! She looked closely at Rhian. This was painful for the young woman, and Devenıs heart hurt at the thought of what she must have put up with over those years. She now understood that Rhianıs self esteem had been severely damaged by what she perceived as a failure on her part. "Go on."
"I foolishly believed that he had ended the affairs, but that wasnıt true. The night of the accident, we were fighting because one of his girlfriends had been at the party. She was all over him, and he did nothing to stop her. If anything he encouraged it. Everyone knew. I felt like such an idiot."
"Rhian, please, you canıt believe that it was your fault." How do you torture a dead man? Give his wife all the pleasure he couldnıt and hope heıs watching from Hell!
"Deven, I want to move past it. I donıt want to feel guilty about him anymore. I will not regret it anymore, because out of all that came Seana. To dwell on all the negative is to somehow negate my daughter and I wonıt."
"Okay. I think thatıs a good thing." Devenıs mind whirled with images of Rhian with her husband, and it fueled her hatred of the man. She admitted that sheıd felt a twinge of jealousy at one time and had purposefully disallowed herself to imagine Rhian in the throes of passion with the man - with anyone for that matter. No jealousy now. Just a full blown I want to fuck him up rage. She pushed the anger down.
This was a turning point for her, and some of what Kelly had told her before resounded in her mind. For the first time in a very long time, perhaps ever, she put someone elseıs feelings before her own. The most important thing to her was to make this woman happy. To help her heal and come to view herself as the beautiful woman she was.
Deven knew Rhian was capable of passion. Sheıd felt it more than once and somehow she had to get the young woman to see it. "Rhian, what do you want? With us? Do you want to leave things strictly platonic?"
"No," she whispered.
"Do you want to be lovers?"
The blonde didnıt respond, and shifted her focus away from Deven.
"Come on, Rhian. Donıt leave me hanging here. What do you want?"
She couldnıt bring herself to answer the question. It wasnıt possible, because she knew there was no way on this earth that she would ever be able to please Deven. The woman had taken more lovers to her bed than seemed humanly possible, and Rhian knew she would never measure up to the worst of them.
The martial artist allowed her frustration to get the best of her. "Damn it! What do you want?"
"I want to be with you! Okay? Is that what you want to hear?"
"Not if it isnıt the truth! Unlike that bastard, I donıt want you to fake it!"
Rhian stared at her in disbelief. "I canıt believe you just did that. That you threw that back in my face."
The hurt on the womanıs face struck Deven hard. "God, Rhian. Iım sorry. I just." There was no excuse for that! She brought a hand up and rubbed the back of her neck. "I hate him so much, and if he were alive, Iıd make him wish heıd never looked at another woman. And selfishly, I want to understand how I fit into your lifeto understand where weıre headed. I want to understand what you want."
Rhian was tired of talking about it. It doesnıt matter anyway. "Do we have to talk to about this?"
"Itıs important. How am I suppose to know what you want if you donıt give me a clue?"
"How am I supposed to know what I want? I neverSean and I. And Iıve never."
Deven watched the blush that had slowly been working its way up the younger womanıs neck, deepen and travel up her cheeks. "You know, youıre very cute when you to that?"
"What?" the blonde eyebrows lifted in confusion.
"When you blush."
Rhian covered her face with her hands. "I hate it! I canıt control it."
"Well, I happen to think itıs adorable, and I think youıre adorable." Closing the distance between them, Deven hugged the woman. "Iım so sorry I said that before. I donıt want our relationship to ever be based on lies. It would kill me if I knew you were pretending in anything to do with us. Forgive me? Please?"
Rhian detected the pleading quality in the taller womanıs voice. "This time, but donıt do that to me again, Deven."
She nodded and made no attempt to hide her obvious relief. Dipping her head, she captured Rhianıs lips in a soft kiss. "What do you want?" she whispered.
Rhian sighed as she pulled back slightly and locked her gaze on the taller woman. "To not be afraid anymore."
"Of failing! Iım afraid of disappointing you! I donıt want to fail you!"
"You canıt disappoint me."
"Yes, I can." She blinked, releasing a tear from each eye.
Deven wiped them away and gently kissed each eyelid. "Donıt cry. Itıs going to be okay. I promise." The kiss she placed on Rhianıs lips held no passion as it was meant to reassure the younger woman. "Come on." She stepped back and took Rhianıs hand.
"Where are we going?"
Sensing that Rhian was hesitant to follow her, Deven held tight to the woman's hand as she led her around to the front of the house. Only when they reached the driveway did she release her grasp and walked into the garage where she straddled her motorcycle. She carefully backed the machine out into the sunlight, turning it to face the street.
Rhian stood still, watching. The first time sheıd seen this motorcycle had been at the Pit when Deven had used it to rescue her from Mace. In the daylight, it seemed even bigger than she remembered. She turned to see what Deven was up to and was surprised to find the woman standing next to her holding a helmet.
Staring at the bike, Deven spoke softly. "Whenever I'm having a hard time with something, I ride. My head clears, and my worries seem to float away. It gives me a feeling of freedom I can't seem to find anywhere else." Turning her attention to the younger woman, she asked, "Have you ever ridden before?"
Rhian looked at the pristine motorcycle. "Only once and definitely nothing that big."
"Nothing to it." Deven carefully put the helmet on the blonde head, ensuring it was securely in place. "How's that feel?"
"Okay." Rhian looked skeptically at the motorcycle. "I don't know about this."
Resting her hands on Rhian's shoulders, Deven gave her a playful tug forward. "You said you didn't want to be afraid anymore, right?"
"Yes, but I was talking about something else."
"I know. And since that's not going to happen just now, we're going to try this. Come on. You'll love it. Trust me. Please?"
She looked into Deven's eyes. They were clear and bright, and she knew she couldn't deny her this. "Okay. But take it easy." Deven's grin lifted her up, and she smiled at the sense of exhilaration that came from the taller woman.
"No problem," she replied.
The door to the house opened, and Rhian watched with some uneasiness as Kelly stepped into the garage. The lawyer looked at them both and then at the motorcycle. "What's going on?"
"I'm taking Rhian for a ride." Retrieving her own helmet and sunglasses, Deven walked over to the bike and started it up. Straddling the machine, she balanced it between her legs while extending a hand to the younger woman. "Just hang on to me, okay?"
Rhian settled behind the martial artist, bringing her body as far forward on the seat as she thought was appropriate. The machineıs vibrations coursed through her body, and she felt a combination of nervousness and elation.
Kelly walked up beside them. She could tell from how relaxed her friend was that things must have gone all right between the two women. "Deven."
"I know you. You get on that bike and forget about the time and pretty much everything else. Don't disappear, okay? People are getting hungry."
Deven laughed because she knew Kelly was right. She would forget about everything and just take off. On more than one occasion sheıd started out on a short ride only to find herself up in mountains or at the beach. "Yes, mom." She pulled her helmet on and secured it. "Wrap your arms around me," she said over her shoulder. She felt Rhian tentatively hug her waist. "Tighter, Rhian." Taking the younger woman's hands in her own she pulled, forcing the woman forward on the seat. "I don't want to lose you. Nicole would have a fit."
Taking the hint, Rhian wrapped her arms around Deven's body, pressing herself against the strong back. She inhaled deeply, closing her eyes as the woman's spicy perfume filled her nose. She decided she really liked the scent. It suited Deven.
Shifting into first gear, the martial artist winked at Kelly before putting on her sunglasses and giving the engine gas. She throttled slowly so as not to unnerve her passenger and coasted the bike down the drive. Engaging the clutch, she revved the motor a couple of times. The roar of the powerful engine combined with the feel of Rhian's body against her back made her spirit soar.
Sheıd always loved to ride, but something about having Rhian with her made it different. Better, somehow. Confident her passenger had a tight hold she opened it up and headed off with no particular destination in mind. She stuck mostly to the back roads, partly because she didn't want to scare Rhian but also because they were more scenic and required fewer total stops. She could coast through most intersections if she timed it right.
They had ridden for nearly twenty minutes before Deven had to come to a complete stop at a traffic light. Turning slightly, she regarded her passenger. The smile that Rhian gave her made her heart skip a beat. You were right, Kelly. When she smiles at me like that, it does feel great. She returned the smile with one of her own before shifting her attention back to the road.
A short time later, she steered the bike into a small county park and pulled to a stop near a somewhat secluded picnic table. Shutting off the engine, she slipped off her helmet and turned to observe her passenger before offering Rhian a hand to dismount.
Deven got off the bike and walked over to the table where she perched on the edge of tabletop. She looked around the park and then at the young woman. "I'll let you in on a little secret." Her eyes met Rhian's. "I'm afraid of failing you."
"I have no experience in relationships, Rhian. And you have to admit that my role models sucked."
"That's not totally true," the landscaper interjected.
"What's not true?"
"The role model part. You're parents certainly sucked, but your grandparents seemed really good at the relationship thing. Wouldn't you say?"
Deven's mind filled with memories of the two people who had shown her so much love. "You're right, but that doesn't change my ineptness." She took a deep breath and shifted her attention back to the present. "I can't change anything I've done. I'm afraid that you'll get fed up with me, or that I'm going to hurt you. And now I'm concerned about the possibility of a repeat of today. They're out there, Rhian. There's always the possibility that we'll run into someone that I slept with. I'm not proud of that, and I'm sorry, but I can't change it."
She reached out and took the younger woman's hands in her own. Her heart rate shot up, and she started to feel lightheaded. "You have to believe that you are the only person I've ever met, that has touched my heart like this. Rhian, I." She struggled in silence for several seconds before the words were finally freed. "I love you."
The young woman felt giddy from the admission, but fearful that she might have misunderstood. "What?"
Deven gave her a lopsided grin. "Shocked you, huh?"
"Yes," was the only word the young woman could manage at that moment.
"Well, I shock myself when it comes to you. Rhian McKenna, I'm in love with you, but I don't know how to love you."
Rhian's brow furrowed in confusion as she said, "I don't understand what you mean. You don't know how to love me?"
"I've never been in a situation like this before. I've never been in love before. I don't know what to do."
"Does it scare you?"
"Yes!" Deven laughed at her admission. "And if you tell anyone I said that, I'll deny it." Her smile faded and her expression turned pensive. "There is so much to feel. It seems like too much sometimes. Is that totally stupid?"
Rhian smiled and stepped up between the woman's long legs. "No, it isn't stupid. I feel it too." God, I love this woman.
"My past is not going to go away. It will continue to rear its ugly head, and I want to be really sure that you understand that."
"I understand. I do. Just try to be a little patient with me, okay?"
Deven chuckled. "I think you're the one that's going to need all the patience." Bringing their joined hands up, she kissed the back of Rhian's. "No matter what happens, you have to remember one thing." Their eyes locked. "I love you. I've never loved anyone before you. If I ever thought I felt love, I was mistaken. Because until you came into my life, I didn't know what it was. I tried to deny my feelings for you, but my heart just wouldn't allow it."
"Is that a bad thing?" Rhian asked.
Deven looked down at their hands as she considered the question carefully. "At first, I thought so. I'd accepted a long time ago that love was something that was never to be mine. Something that was never going to enter my life." Lifting her gaze, she stared into Rhian's eyes - eyes that looked back at her from the gentle soul that had conquered hers. "My life has changed so much in the last few months, but as hard as some changes have been, my life is so much fuller now. So no, it's not a bad thing."
Her voice grew strained with emotion. "You're the best thing that has ever happened to me, Rhian. I can't imagine what I could have ever done in my life to have you here with me, loving me. I'm terrified that the powers that be will figure out they made a mistake and take you away, or I'll find out this was just some sort of cosmic joke."
Tears of happiness filled Rhian's eyes. She lifted her arms and wrapped them around Deven's neck. She felt the woman's strong arms encircle her body, pulling them together and both women remained quiet, simply basking in the healing comfort they found in each other.
Until now it had never occurred to Deven that she could just hold a woman in her arms for the pure pleasure of holding her and not because she was about to screw her. Taking comfort in another person's presence had been taken from her when her father had turned her world inside out, and she never believed she would ever find that ability again.
But here she was, savoring the connection she shared with this woman. The warmth that flowed between them reached into the recesses within her, touching parts of her soul that sheıd thought long dead. It was powerful, and she felt helpless against the overwhelming sensation. Closing her eyes, she pushed the tears to recede. Once sure she wasn't going to cry, she loosened her grip slightly and asked, "So what now? Are we okay?"
"Yes, Deven. We're very much okay. We're still finding our way, but I think that as long as we can talk about things and we work together, we'll be fine." The awareness of this woman's feelings for her emboldened Rhian, and she pressed her lips to Deven's. The kiss began as a gentle confirmation of the love she felt, but changed as a primal urge from deep within stirred. She parted her lips in a silent request, and moaned as Deven responded.
Astounded by her behavior, Rhian pulled back breaking the kiss. Her confusion rapidly intermingled with embarrassment, and lowering her head, she kept her eyes closed, afraid to face the woman.
"Rhian, look at me." Deven waited until her head lifted and their eyes met.
"I didn't mean. I don't know why. I," she stammered.
"It's okay. You didn't do anything wrong. You did it because you wanted to and it felt good, right?"
The blonde head nodded. The verdant eyes remained troubled from the profusion of emotions the landscaper was struggling with.
"Well, personally I'm glad. I like kissing you very much. You're a good kisser by the way." She watched a deep blush cover the young woman's cheeks.
Deven laughed. "Two things you need to know about me. I never give my word unless I'm certain I can keep it. And I have no need to lie. Every time we kiss it gets better, because you relax a little more. So, I'm thinking we need to practice." She gave the younger woman a rakish grin. "A lot." Lowering her head, she trailed several small kisses along the side of Rhian's neck, concentrating her attention on the tender flesh just below the earlobe. She felt the woman shiver and smiled. "Cold?"
"Uh, no." Rhian looked in wonder at the goose bumps on her arm.
"Oops. Did I do that?" Deven feigned innocence.
The landscaper looked up into eyes filled with mirth. "Do that again."
Only too happy to comply, Deven began a slow exploration of the younger woman's neck, kissing and nibbling on the soft flesh until eliciting another shiver.
Rhian stared transfixed at the fresh set of bumps on her skin. "Wow," she whispered.
The martial artist chuckled. "If you think that's something, wait until I get you naked and do that all over your body."
Rhian's eyes widened as she felt an unfamiliar yet somewhat pleasant tightening in her groin. "That might just kill me," she managed to croak.
Deven noted the enlarged pupils centered in darkened emerald irises, and knew the woman was feeling aroused whether she realized it or not. "That would most certainly not be my intention." A wave of tenderness blindsided Deven. She had no doubt of Rhian's internal strength. The woman had already demonstrated fortitude in facing the challenges that life had placed in her path thus far. She certainly has no trouble standing up to me. But despite her appreciation of Rhian's strong character, Deven had a sudden need to protect her, a need to keep her safe. From what she wasn't sure, but she knew in her heart that she would do whatever she could to keep this woman from being hurt by anyone, including herself.
"I love you, Deven."
She smiled and said, "I love you, too." Rising from the table she engulfed the landscaper in a bear hug. She was pleasantly pleased at how easily those words now seemed. "I guess we better get back before they call the police because I kidnapped you."
"Do we have to?"
"Yes, my love. Kelly has gone to a lot of trouble to put this together. I guarantee you that she would kill us both. And besides, I've had enough of the heat and am more than ready for the pool."
Rhian had little desire to face anyone back at the house. "It's just. I made such a fool of myself, and I'm afraid I may have embarrassed Carl."
"You have nothing to worry about. Carl is a big boy and one of the most laid back people I've met. I can assure you that he's fine." She released the woman and walked her towards the motorcycle. "Believe me, these people are used to my tirades. You're going to have to do a lot worse if you plan on keeping up with me in that area." Picking up the spare helmet, she turned to face the woman. "Besides, if they aren't nice to you, I'll kick everyone's ass."
Something inside told Rhian that the martial artist could very well make good on that threat. "I don't think that will be necessary, Champ. But thanks for the sentiment."
"Anytime. And I mean that."
Rhian patted the woman's side. "I know. Let's get this over with. I wouldn't mind trying out that pool, and I'm getting mighty hungry."
Deven laughed while helping Rhian secure the helmet. "It's always about food with you, isn't it?"
The landscaper cocked her head slightly, a mischievous glint in her eyes. "It's always about sex with you, isn't it?"
"Who me? Nah. Well, mostly." Straddling the motorcycle, she started the engine and extended a hand. "Let's go cause some trouble. I mean have some fun."
Once seated on the bike, Rhian looked at the picnic table. She committed the image to memory, as this would always be a special place for her. She felt Deven's hand cover hers, giving it a gentle squeeze. Tightening her grip, she hugged the martial artist, happy in the knowledge that not only did she love with a depth that still astounded her, but that she was truly loved in return.
To Be Continued In Chapter Twenty One
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