Poetry In Motion

© by J. ‘Harley’ Elmore, 2000 – 2003

See Chapter One for disclaimers


Chapter Twenty One, Part 1

Deven’s head jerked up, causing the strained muscles in her neck to spasm. "Ow," she moaned. Rolling her head in a circular pattern, the cramped muscles gradually relaxed, and she released a sigh of relief. Okay, Masterson, it is so not like you to nod off in odd places, and now you’ve gone and done it twice this week.

The room itself wasn’t odd, it was her living room after all, but falling asleep there was definitely outside of the norm for her. So what is normal, Masterson? Okay, normally on a night like this, I’d be seducing some pretty thing, followed by a pleasant ride home on the Harley to a quiet house and soft bed. So, if that’s normal, then why am I sitting on the floor, dozing?

Lifting her arm, she glanced at her watch and was relieved to see that she hadn’t been asleep for more than fifteen minutes. "Well, that’s more than I can say for you," she muttered to the woman who was using her for a backrest. Wrapping her arms around the sleeping form, she smiled. This is why I’m home, sitting on the floor and falling asleep. Her smile faded. And not getting laid.

Is this the new normality? God, I hope not! Well, not all of it anyway. I mean, being with her is. It’s. Hell, I don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s kind of nice. So, what’s the problem? I’m horny, okay? And I’m holding what I can’t touch. This is probably going to kill me! I’m going to dry up and become some shriveled old athlete who can’t even get a date! She groaned in frustration and forced her attention away from the aroused flesh between her legs.

Think about something else! She took a deep breath and released it slowly. Okay, something else. A smile tugged up the corners of her mouth as her thoughts drifted to the woman nestled in her arms, and she lightly kissed Rhian’s soft hair. Hmm, you do smell good. Resting her cheek against the woman’s head, she let her mind wander, recalling the past few hours. All in all, it’s been a pretty damn good day. A little rough in places, but still one of the better days of my life.

If she put her ego aside and tried to be objective, Deven was able to comprehend to some extent, Rhian’s earlier reaction. Or at least I think I can. I can see how you could have jumped to that conclusion about Kelly and me. But Rhian, that crap has got to stop. I understand that you don’t know me. Hell, I don’t know myself these days, and all you have to go on is my past and what that miserable excuse for a husband did to you. So, I suppose it’s reasonable that you might have reacted the way you did. But come on, it seemed a little extreme. At least to me. And damn it, I can’t walk around on eggshells all the time afraid you’ll misinterpret something I say or do. I can’t and I won’t. "I should probably be actually telling you these things instead of holding a conversation with you in my head, huh? Well, it’s a hell of a lot easier this way."

Her head fell back against the sofa, and she stared up at the ceiling while speculating on the emotional nest of hornets Rhian was stirring up. If I have to live my life flitting from emotion to emotion, I will definitely lose what’s left of my mind. See, it’s like this, Doc. It’s like everything, all the emotions, are hidden in a fog of some sort. I know they’re lurking there, but I can’t see them. I can’t quite make them out. Then all of a sudden, the fog clears for just an instant and I understand. I have these little epiphanies. But before I can really get a grasp onto anything, the fog returns masking everything again, and it gets all confusing again.

I sure as hell don’t need my life turned upside down. And do I really want to do deal with all of this? The landscaper’s sudden attack earlier in the day had certainly bewildered the martial artist. Most surprisingly had been how much it had hurt. But that isn’t all, is it? No. When Rhian hurt her, Deven got angry, and even she understood that it had the potential of becoming a dangerous situation. Something I need to get a handle on and quick, because I can’t have her around me if there’s even a chance I might harm her.

Other than her father, Deven couldn’t remember anyone having the ability to emotionally wound her like this. This woman appeared quite capable of doing it without any effort whatsoever, and if today was any indication, without intention. Imagine what she could do if she wanted to hurt you. That thought was terrifying to Deven. She didn’t want to be that vulnerable. She didn’t want anyone to have that kind of power over her - including this woman.

Deven yanked her rambling thoughts back away from the dismal trail they’d taken and refocused them on Rhian and Kelly, the two most important women in her life. It had become obvious throughout the day that the landscaper was really trying to move beyond the jealousy. Unfortunately, babe, I don’t know how to help you with that. It’s such a foreign concept. Hell, this whole situation is a foreign concept. It’s just another in the growing list of things that make me feel powerless and inadequate when it comes to you. And believe me, I detest feeling that way.

Lifting her head once again, Deven flinched as the muscles in her neck rebelled slightly. How would you feel, Masterson, if Sean were still around? What would you do? Would you just shrug it off? Shake his hand? She felt the rage begin a slow burn in the pit of her stomach, and her upper lip curled into a sneer. At the very least, I’d beat the crap out of him, slowly pounding on him while he begged for mercy. I’d make him pay for every tear she ever shed. For every second of pain she ever felt.

Adrenaline trickled into her blood stream as she created the fantasy. Memories of fights flashed in her brain – the sounds, the smells, the sensations, and she focused them on the visualization of thrashing that one man. She didn’t know what he’d looked like but that didn’t matter, because she didn’t need to see the details of what he’d been in life to enjoy the idea of hurting him. Her body reacted to the imagery. Her heart rate increased as muscles flexed and relaxed in rhythm to the fictitious punches and kicks striking her target.

Rhian stirred and murmured in her sleep shattering the images in Deven’s mind and bringing the martial artist out of her daydream. Unconsciously, she cradled the smaller body, rocking her gently, wondering if it were possible for the woman to have picked up on what she’d been thinking. Don’t be such an idiot. She can’t read your mind. She placed a small kiss on the blonde’s temple and whispered, "It’s okay. I’ve got you."

As the young woman quieted once more into a deep slumber, Deven relaxed back against the sofa. Okay, where was I? Oh yeah, beating up Sean. Best save that mind game for later when you can actually take out your aggression on the heavy weight bag.

Think about something else. Something else. Let’s see. Hmmm…. Her mind took another detour and settled on their return to the house earlier in the day. The ride back from the park had been too short in her opinion, and as she’d suspected would be the case, their friends had been waiting anxiously for their return. All attention focused on whether or not Rhian was okay, and their blatant concern bruised Deven for an instant before it just plain pissed her off.

They just assumed I was going to do something to you. I mean what in the hell did they think? That I was going to assault you? Or take you somewhere and rape you? And these are supposed to be my friends! I mean, I can understand that from Nicole, but damn, Jay and Kelly? Even now it still stung a little. Well, they were studying us enough today maybe they finally got a clue. I felt like a freaken rat in a maze the way they were watching my every move. Why in the hell am I even putting up with it?

If Rhian had been concerned with the surreptitious glances being thrown their way all afternoon, it hadn’t shown. The young woman hadn’t done anything blatant, but there’d been no shortage of gentle touches, hand holding or quick kisses. A small smile pulled up the corners of the martial artist’s lips. I like it. I like the attention, and she’s so damn cute. It feels … good.

Turning her head, she glanced at Jay and Nicole. The couple was asleep as well, spooned on the sofa. I don’t know what you see in her, Bro. You never did have much taste, and you were always willing to give you’re heart away. Dumbass! That’s why you’re always getting it chewed up and spit out. Speaking of which, I wonder if there are any leftovers. Oh lord, I’m beginning to sound like you. She chuckled and was surprised that the woman in her arms didn’t even stir. Well baby, I guess eating and sleeping are two things you do with abandonment.

I made sure you burned off all that food though, didn’t I? She and Jay had served as team captains for an impromptu game of scrimmage football and had immediately found themselves faced with the daunting task of picking players. Neither one of them was certain if it was wise to have their girlfriends on their team, and it quickly became apparent to Deven that it was no win situation. If she picked Rhian and then got upset with her for some reason, she’d be in trouble. If she tried to avoid that by not picking the woman for her team, she was in trouble. And since when do I care?

In the end, Kelly had saved them by suggesting no spouses or girlfriends could be on the same team. If left up to us, we’d still be out there trying to make a decision. Rhian, why is it that I have absolutely no problem deciding what to do about anything except when it comes to you? How pathetic is that? With you, I get so confused and the more I struggle to decide something, the more confounded I become. Then when I think I have it all figured out, I find out that I’m so far out to sea, I might never see shore again.

She shook her head slightly and returned her reflections to the game. It had worked out well and actually been fun. Kelly, Rhian and Jay had comprised one team. Being on the same team required that Rhian and Kelly cooperate, and that seemed to have helped alleviate some of the awkwardness between them. Sometime during the game, the two women managed to reach some sort of a silent agreement.

I don’t think I will ever understand how their minds work. I mean, look at Jay and me. If something happens, we ignore each other or yell a little. Not a big deal. Worse case a little shoving or punching, have a couple of drinks and it’s over. But those two women seem to pass silent signals as if they are communicating on a different level. Like that whistle that only dogs can hear. It isn’t really fair when you think about it. I’m a woman. Why can’t I hear it? And damn it, they even seem to pass those messages with Nicole!

She thought about her team. The arrangement had forced her into cooperating with Rhian’s friend. Having that woman on her team hadn’t thrilled her. In fact, nothing about the woman thrilled her but it was the lesser of two evils. She’d rather have to deal with Nicole than face an angry or hurt Rhian.

There has got to be something about that woman otherwise Rhian wouldn’t care so much about her. But quite frankly, she’s just one great big pain in my ass! Still, I have to admit that she was civil the rest of the day. And she plays a mean game of scrimmage. And, we won of course, though the margin wasn’t as high as I would have liked. Still, a win is a win. Competitive much, Masterson?

She chuckled again. And to the victors’ go the spoils, and I wasted no time in trying to claim mine. What a fiasco that turned out to be. Scooping Rhian up and laying her over a shoulder, Deven had strolled to the side of the pool with the intention of simply tossing the woman in. It should have been a simple task, but who would have ever guessed you’re so damn devious. I definitely underestimated you, Ms. McKenna. Something I must remember never to do again.

Rhian had taken a firm grip of the waistband of Deven’s underwear. As the martial artist attempted to toss the woman into the pool, her underwear immediately became a full fledged wedgey, pulling her forward in the direction of the water. She tried to regain her balance by pushing her hips back, but that counteraction only increased the constriction of her underwear. Giving up the struggle, she pushed off the side of the pool, twisting her body in midair so that Rhian’s face wouldn’t slam into her back on impact.

Breaking the surface of the water, her only concern was that she may have hurt the landscaper, but as her eyes met Rhian’s, there was no mistaking the playful challenge being thrown in her direction. That the woman had been proud of herself was something we just couldn’t have, now could we, Masterson? A water battle had ensued that had started in one of the pool and ended in the other. She smiled at the memory. I’m surprised we didn’t drown each other. I will say that you give as good as you get.

Her hands tightened on the body in her arms, and she groaned at the recollection of Rhian climbing out of the pool and stripping down to her bathing suit. Deven’s libido had taken a real beating as she’d struggled to suppress the unadulterated lust that had threatened to overwhelm her. With any other woman, she would have just done what she wanted to do. But this wasn’t any other woman, and so she’d forced her hands into the pockets of her pool drenched shorts to keep from following through on her desire to run them all over that supple body while removing the bathing suit with her teeth. I am so pathetic.

Her eyes fluttered closed, the vision of Rhian’s nipples hardening and pressing against the damp fabric clearly in her mind. That vision combined with the woman’s current proximity reawakened Deven’s unfulfilled carnal appetite. It took a great deal of effort to not let her hands roam over the landscaper’s body. You’re going to be the death of me, Rhian!

All her attention moved south to the throbbing between her legs, and she was only dimly aware that her hand had moved up under Rhian’s shirt. It would be so easy to just caress her, and if you just touched her, you know you could show her how good it can be. Come on, Deven. Do it. You know you want to. Touch her.

Her fingertips stroked the smooth flesh, tracing the abdominal muscles from the top of the woman’s shorts up to her ribs. She poised at the underside of a breast, allowing the edge of her thumb to brush the soft skin, and was just about to move her fingers higher when Rhian moved.

Stop! Enough! Leaving her hand under the shirt but lowering it to Rhian’s waist, she hugged the woman to her, enjoying the softness and warmth of the flesh beneath her palm. Her eyes closed, and she turned her vision inward. Masterson, you have sunk to an all time low! What is wrong with you? You made the decision a long time ago that you weren’t going to play her. And now look at you! You pull a stunt like this, and you’ll be no better than Sean! And you’ll be lucky if she ever trusts you enough to let you touch her! Despite how you behave most times, you are not a child! So stop acting like one!

Unnerved by her actions, her mood declined quickly. Deven, you are such a depraved bitch! Shifting slightly to distance her lower body from Rhian, she was seized by a sharp pain that shot through her hip joint. FUCK! She set her jaw to keep from yelling out loud and moved again to ease the pressure. Well, that’s one way to kill the libido. Shit! She sat still, waiting for the pain to recede.

Unfortunately, years of hard kicking had not come free for her. There were some days, especially in winter, when the abuse let itself be known. The stiffness and pain were usually bearable, but she grew more concerned with each passing year that surgery may be the only cure. Of course, it didn’t help that Jay slammed into me during the scrimmage. At the very least, I’m going to have a hell of a bruise for a few days. And I will find some way to make you pay, Bro.

Okay, time to get up and move. Preferably upstairs into bed. "Rhian? Come on sleepyhead, wake up." The landscaper murmured unintelligibly but failed to rise up out of the depths of sleep. Shaking her slightly, Deven tried again. "Rhian, wake up."

"Don’t want to," she mumbled.

"I know, but we’ll be more comfortable upstairs."

"I am comfortable," she complained, earning a snicker from her backrest.

"I’m sure you are. However, my hips are hurting, and I need to get up."

Suddenly awake, Rhian sat up. "I’m sorry."

The loss of contact was unexpectedly disquieting to Deven, and so she pulled the woman back against her chest. "It’s okay. You can have your human pillow back, I promise, as soon as we hit the bed."

Understanding slowly seeped into the younger woman’s brain, and with it, tension filled her body. She’s talking about us sleeping together. In a bed. She’s talking about sleeping and nothing more. Right? And if she wants something more? She sighed inwardly. I don’t know. I’d like to think I’d say no. Yeah right, Rhian, you never said ‘no’ to Sean, so why would you start now?

The stiffening of Rhian’s body wasn’t lost on the other woman. "What are you thinking about?" she asked, and when the landscaper looked away and didn’t respond, she felt her insecurities rise up. Unable to stop them from getting the better of her, they melded with the guilt she felt from her earlier behavior while Rhian slept, stirring within her the ever-present self-loathing. She was tired, sore, and thinking irrationally, and knew she needed to keep her mouth shut. But knowing what she needed to do and accomplishing it were two very different things. "No, let me guess. You’re thinking that I’m going to get you upstairs and then seduce you."

Rhian looked at her. "No." Her eyes dropped and she shifted uncomfortably. "Not exactly."

Sinking deeper into the contempt she held for herself, the martial artist responded in a forced whisper, "Yeah right. Well, for the record, forcing myself on you is most definitely not my thing!"

Rhian’s first impulse was to fight back but something in the woman’s eyes stopped her. She knew they were both overtired and too quick to react, and she didn’t believe that Deven was angry with her. If she were right, Deven was angry with herself for some reason, and in a quiet and gentle tone, she responded, "I know you wouldn’t do that."

"Believe it or not, I have more control than that!"

"I know you do," she answered calmly.

The martial artist blinked several times as Rhian’s words finally reached past her disdain. "You do? How?"

"You love me."

The words were said with a quiet certainty that left the woman feeling dazed. "Oh. Well, yeah." Is it really that simple? It can’t be. Can it? She rolled her neck to relieve the stress that had gripped the muscles at the top of her spine. "I’m sorry I overreacted. I just…I guess I’m just really tired."

Rhian suspected there was more to it than Deven was letting on but decided to let it go for the time being. "Me, too."

"I’m a real jackass, aren’t I?"

Smiling, the younger woman replied, "Yes, you are, but I love you anyway."

Deven’s mood lifted immediately though she still felt rather foolish. "You didn’t have to agree so fast. You could have taken a minute to at least pretend to think about."

Rhian leaned in and kissed her on the chin. "Why delay the inevitable?"

"Cute." Shifting her hands to Rhian’s waist, Deven tickled the landscaper just below the ribs.

"Yikes!" Laughter erupted from the younger woman awakening both Jay and Nicole. "Stop! Please, Deven."

Ceasing her attack but poised to begin anew, she said, "Tell me what’s bothering you."

Grabbing both of Deven’s hands, Rhian held tight to them in hopes of protecting herself. "Right now you are. Please don’t."

"Oh, all right. Now tell me."

Aware that Jay and Nicole might overhear, she whispered, "I’m just a little concerned that you might want to, you know. I’m not ready to, you know." To her surprise, Deven roared with laughter. Turning to face the martial artist, the now indignant young woman folded her arms across her chest and scowled. "And just what is so funny?"

"It’s just so damn cute the way you can’t say it." Deven tried to place a kiss on Rhian’s forehead, but the woman leaned away from her. "Come on, Rhian. You’re adorable. And just so you know, you have nothing to worry about." She grabbed the younger woman and hugged her. "My hips hurt too much right now to even consider humping you."

The landscaper pulled back and gaped at the older woman. "Deven! Must you be so uncouth?"

"Just because you can’t even say sex, doesn’t mean I can’t. Sex, Rhian. Hot, steamy sex. Thumping, flesh grinding sex. Or would you prefer something less cheeky? Like the horizontal mambo? The wild monkey dance? The nasty? The".

Lifting a hand, Rhian covered the martial artist’s mouth. "Stop! I get it!"

Taking the hand away, Deven leaned closer. The seductive charm that had become a trademark for the martial artist rose up and she stared into Rhian’s eyes. "Not yet you don’t," she purred. "But I can assure you that one day you most certainly will." Pulling the landscaper closer, she nibbled on her earlobe and then whispered, "You have nothing to worry about tonight. We’re both very tired, and my hips do hurt. I can’t risk ruining my reputation, you know?"

Unable to stop herself, Rhian tilted her head giving Deven more access to the sensitive flesh of her neck. "You can kiss that rep goodbye, Champ."

"Hey now, I worked really hard on that."

"You don’t need it anymore." She turned her head and kissed Deven on the lips.

Nicole watched the entire exchange with uneasiness. It was still difficult for her to accept that Rhian was gay, but to see her interacting with this woman in particular set her nerves on edge. "Do you want to go home, Rhian?"

The landscaper looked at her friend expecting to see the animosity she knew Nicole still held for Deven, but all she saw was concern. Do I? She turned back to the martial artist and perceived the unmistakable sadness though she could tell the woman was trying to hide it from her. "No."

Deven tried to appear unaffected by the conversation. "Look, if you would rather sleep in the guest room, I’ll understand."

"Will you be there?" Rhian asked.

She shook her head in confusion. "No. I have my own bed."

"Then it won’t do me much good. You said I could have my pillow back, and since you’re it, I need to be where you are." Not getting a response, the landscaper wondered if maybe she was interpreting the situation all wrong. "Is that okay?"

"Yes, baby. It’s perfect."

Rhian smiled at the endearment and wondered if Deven even realized she’d said it. "I don’t have anything to wear to bed. And don’t even go there, Masterson."

"Fine. Take away all my fun." She released an exaggerated sigh. "You can wear whatever you can find up there. Help yourself."


"Yeah. Now come on while I can still get up."

Rhian stood and watched as Deven slowly gained her feet. She hadn’t realized how much pain the woman was really in. "Does it hurt a lot?"

Grimacing, Deven cautiously stretched her hips. "Nah. Just gets kind of tight sometimes." She took a few steps around the room, limping until the muscles eased. "Go on up. There are tee shirts in the dresser, and I’m sure there is a new toothbrush somewhere in the bathroom." Leaning forward, she lightly brushed her lips against Rhian’s. "Go get comfortable."

"Aren’t you coming up?" the woman asked.

"In a minute. I’m just going to make sure the house is locked up."

Jay yawned and then asked. "Need a hand?"

Deven nodded. "Sure. You know the routine."

Nicole sat up reluctantly, giving the man room to get off the couch. He stood and stretched. "I’ll get the garage."

Rhian looked around. "Where are Kelly and Carl?"

"They left about an hour ago. You were sound asleep, but they said to tell you a good night."

"Oh. We should do something for Kelly. You know, a thank you kind of thing."

The martial artist smiled. "We’ll figure that out later. Now go on and get ready for bed. I’ll be there in a minute."

Deven went down to the basement and checked the back door. Though the door and windows were secured, she got a feeling that something wasn’t quite right. She canvassed the entire basement but found nothing out of place.

Returning to the kitchen, she stepped into the sunroom and felt the hair on the back of her neck tingle. Without breaking her stride, she walked to the back door and bolted it. There was no doubt in her mind that something or someone was watching her from the woods. Shutting off the inside lights, she stood perfectly still as she scanned the darkness beyond.

An owl screeched and she observed it as it swooped soundlessly across the yard and then reaching over, she turned on the outside lights, seeking anything out of place. She thought she saw a flicker in the shadows to her right, but when she concentrated on that area, nothing moved. Though she saw nothing, she knew she was being observed, and her gut told her it was not the indigenous wildlife.

She’d installed motion sensors on all the outside lights but decided that tonight she would forego them and just leave the lights on. She heard Jay step into the room, but didn’t take her eyes off the backyard. "Keep quiet."

He moved up to stand next to her. "What’s wrong?"

"I don’t know. I just have a really strong feeling that we’re being watched."

"No kidding." He too studied the tree line but didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. "Do you see anything?"

"Not really, but I feel it. I’m going to leave the lights on tonight. Stay inside, okay? I don’t want anyone outside."

"No problem there. Nicole and I are going to bed anyway."

"Good. Me, too."

He looked at her profile. "Hey, Deven?"

"Hm?" Her eyes never stopped scanning the tree line.

"I’m glad you and Rhian worked it out."

She looked at him to gauge it he was teasing her, but he seemed to mean it. "Thanks. Me, too." Feeling a sudden urge to ensure that Rhian was all right, Deven turned and strode out of the room. "Night, Jay," she called over her shoulder.

Taking the stairs two at a time, she was pleased that her hips had loosened up and the pain had receded to a dull ache. In the bedroom, she found all the lights off with the exception of the bathroom, and it cast just enough illumination for her to see the form curled up in her bed. What are you thinking, Masterson? You’ve never had someone sleep in your bed.

She walked over and stood looking down at the woman. This feels right. Having her here feels right. So, why is it so damn scary? She reached out and brushed a few strands of Rhian’s hair into place.

Backing away from the bed, she stepped over to the dresser, removed a shirt and boxers, and then went to change in the bathroom. Once ready for bed, she stood staring at her reflection in the mirror. Well, you look the same. You act like an ass but you don’t look like one. I guess that’s something.

She turned off the light and moved quietly to the bed. Slipping under the covers, she tried not to disturb Rhian. With her hands behind her head, she lay there staring at the shadows on the ceiling wondering what it was this woman saw in her.


She turned her head and regarded the sleepy woman. "I thought you were asleep."

"I was, but you’re thinking too hard."

She couldn’t help but laugh. "Sorry. I was just wondering how it is that you love me."

Rhian knew she was much too weary to enter into a conversation just then, especially one that deep. "It just is. Can I have my pillow now?"

"Sure." She smiled as the young woman snuggled against her. Wrapping her arms around Rhian, she pulled her tight against her side, and kissed the blonde head that now rested on her shoulder. "Go back to sleep."

"You, too."

"I’m right behind you."

Rhian yawned. "I love you, Deven."

"I love you, too." She lay there slowly stroking Rhian’s back and listening. The house was quiet, and as her eyes drifted closed, she hoped it stayed that way. God help anyone who comes near you.

Part 2

Sunlight filtered through the trees outside the bedroom window as dawn signaled the beginning of another day. Deven lay on her side with her arms wrapped around Rhian, and it took her several minutes to realize that what she was feeling was contentment. Stranger still, she found it held a certain appeal.

A small voice in her head told her to get up and go for a run, but she didn’t really want to get out of bed just yet. ‘In a minute,’ she told the voice. She hugged Rhian a little tighter, inhaling deeply as she nuzzled the younger woman’s neck. This was the first time in her life she’d awakened holding someone. And it feels … nice.

She placed a soft kiss on the back of Rhian’s neck before rolling onto her back and slowly flexing and stretching muscles along her long frame. Cautiously she maneuvered her hips and was grateful to find them relaxed and fairly pain free. Carefully manipulating various joints, she smiled as several satisfying pops filled the still room.

"Ouch." Rhian rolled over; her face scrunched up at the sound.

"Actually, it felt pretty good," Deven replied. She lifted her arms straight up over her head and arched her back as she stretched her shoulders. The action caused her shirt to lift up exposing her abdomen, and her ego got a boost as Rhian appeared mesmerized by the site. Taking the landscapers hand in hers, she placed it on the exposed flesh. "How did you sleep?"

Rhian looked up from where her hand now rested and smiled. "Good. You?"

"Great. Better than I can ever remember, thanks to you."

"Me? Why me?" Rhian asked as she tentatively moved her fingers against the soft skin.

"You chase the demons away."

Rhian expanded the path of her caresses and watched the martial artist’s eyes blink slowly and then close. The flesh was smooth over taut abdominal muscles, and she found her curiosity piqued when something within her stirred at the thought of someday exploring more of this woman’s body.

Her hands paused when she felt a change in the texture just below Deven’s ribs, and pushing the shirt up a little more she studied the scar. Tracing the distortion lightly with a fingertip, she felt a wave of sadness overtake her. Sadness for what had happened to this woman and for what Deven had allowed herself to do, none of which could be changed. They could only go forward, and Rhian believed she needed to keep this woman moving in that direction now that the first tentative steps had been taken. She also understood that wasn’t as simple an endeavor as it sounded.

She glanced up to find pale eyes watching her intently. Shifting nearer, she kissed the scar gently before moving up to place her head on Deven’s shoulder. Strong arms enfolded her in peaceful warmth, and she eagerly snuggled closer.

The tears that had formed in Rhian’s eyes as she’d studied the scar had shaken the martial artist. She’d thought the blemish and what it represented might disgust this woman, but instead, Rhian showed only a deep-rooted compassion. "I’ve never let anyone touch it."

Lifting her head, Rhian regarded the older woman’s face. "I’m sorry. I guess I should have asked."

"No, baby, it isn’t that." Deven stared up at the ceiling. "It’s just strange. To me it’s a constant reminder of what I did. When I look at it, I know that I’ll never be rid of the past. I will carry it with me always."

"When I look at it, I see the pain you suffered. We all carry our past." Rhian’s hand continued to lightly caress the skin across Deven’s belly. "It’s impossible not to, because it’s the past that has molded us. That has brought us to where we are now. But, we don’t have to let it dominate our lives. I need to stop that, too. Everyone has something in their past they wish they could erase or would do differently given the chance." She watched the woman’s face closely and smiled to herself as the features relaxed and Deven’s eyes closed again. "If we dwell too much on the past, we miss the present."

She continued the tender caresses, until Deven’s breathing slowed and evened out, and then satisfied with herself, Rhian settled her body down and smiled. I do love you. Closing her own eyes, she quickly drifted off as well.


Rhian awoke some time later to find Deven still sleeping soundly. All right, Rhian. I know you hate to leave this spot, but you do need to call home and check on Seana. Careful not to wake the woman, she slowly eased out of the bed and slipped out of the room. Once in the kitchen, she started the coffee dripping, and then went to the phone to call home.

"Hi, Mom. How are things?"

"Well hello," Kate responded. "Things here are quiet. How are things with you?"

"Good. Is Seana all right?"

"I guess. We sold her off last night. Got a whole quarter for her, too." Kate smiled as her daughter’s laughter reached across the phone line. "She’s fine, Rhian. You worry too much."

"I know. Is she around? I’d like to tell her good morning."

"Actually, she’s outside right now running your father ragged. I’ll call her in if you want."

Rhian could picture the scene in her head, and smiled. "Nah. That’s okay. I wouldn’t want to interrupt Dad’s fun."

Kate chortled as she looked out the back window and watched her granddaughter chasing Mac around the yard. It reminded her quite a bit of when Rhian had been that age. "Are you having a good time?"

"Yeah, I am. This is a great group of people." Rhian suddenly felt a twinge of dejection, because at that moment, she wanted to tell her mother the truth. That she was in love, truly in love for the first time in her life, but she swallowed the words.

"I’m glad honey. Is Nicole there?"

"Yeah. She’s still asleep. Listen, I just wanted to check in and see how things were going."

"Nothing to worry about. At this rate your father will probably be ready for a nap shortly." Kate heard the change in her daughter’s voice. "Honey, are you okay? You sound a little down."

I’m gay, Mom. I’m gay and in love. "I’m fine. Give Seana a kiss for me?"

Intuition told Kate that Rhian was holding something back, but she knew her daughter wouldn’t be forthcoming if she didn’t want to be. "Of course."

"Well, I’ll be home later. Love you."

"Love you too, Rhian. Just relax and enjoy your day off. You haven’t taken one in a long time. Too long."

"Yes, ma’am. I’ll do my best. Bye."

"Bye, honey."

No sooner had she hung up the phone then she felt the warmth of Deven’s body as it pressed against her back, and long arms wrapped around her midsection, hugging her tightly. "Morning, Champ," she said as she leaned back into the solid form.

Deven began to sway slowly to music in her head. "Good morning. What are you doing up?"

"Oh, I don’t know. I woke up, and I thought I’d surprise you with some coffee. And I needed to call home to check on Seana."

The martial artist lightly kissed the side of Rhian’s neck. "Is everything all right?"

"Mostly." She closed her eyes and relaxed completely in Deven’s arms, allowing the woman to lead them in a silent dance. So much had happened this week. So much had happened in the last twenty-four hours, and she felt her emotions bubbling up just below the surface. It was a real struggle for her to keep them all contained, but yesterday had been emotional enough. The last thing she wanted was for Deven to think she was unstable.

"What mostly? Is something wrong with Seana?"

"No, nothing like that." Rhian’s head fell back against Deven’s shoulder, and she closed her eyes. "I was just talking to my mother, and I realized I can’t tell her."

"Tell her what?"

"About you. About us. I wanted to. I wanted to tell her that I love you, but I don’t know if that’s possible. It just made me a little sad."

Deven eased her hold and gripping Rhian’s shoulders, turned the woman around so they were face to face. She tilted the blonde’s head up so she could look into her eyes. "I don’t know your family. They seem to love you very much from what I’ve seen and heard. Your father seems like a decent guy, but I honestly don’t know what to tell you."

"Did you tell you parents?"

"I didn’t have to. I pretty much knew I was gay early on. Jay was the first one I told, and he and I used to talk about girls all the time. We would sit and watch the girls and talk about what we liked and what we didn’t." She grinned. "I always had better taste." Her expression turned somber once again, and she shook her head slightly. "My father figured it out when I was about fifteen. I don’t know what bothered him more; the fact that I was gay or that being gay might mess up his plans for my martial arts career. Then after what happened, I didn’t care what he thought anymore. I flaunted it in front of him every chance I got. He was the one who told my mother, and she freaked. She still hasn’t forgiven me for it. Among other things."

"I don’t like living a lie."

Deven brushed her thumb across Rhian’s cheekbone. "Do you want to tell them?"

"I don’t know. I mean I do, but I’m afraid of what they’ll say, or how they might react."

"Well, baby, give it some time and think about it. There isn’t any rush."

Rhian stepped forward and hugged Deven fiercely. Can I live two lives? One with Deven and one without? Is that even living? She was certain of her love for this woman, and that she was loved. She was certain that there was no where else on earth she felt safer and happier than wherever Deven was. But she also understood that they’d only just begun to get to know each other and that there were absolutely not guarantees of where this might all go. "I love you," she said against the woman’s neck.

The martial artist smiled and conceded to herself that she was growing to really like hearing those words. "I love you, too." She held the woman tight to her and began to sway again. Humming softly, she led them in a slow circle.

They moved together easily, neither thinking about the dance itself but rather losing themselves in the closeness of the other. Deven looked down into Rhian’s open gaze and lowering her head, she brought their lips together.

The kiss began as so many, simple and meant to bestow the love in her heart, but it quickly grew in response to the rising passion between them and a frustrated libido. Lips pressed more firmly, and her tongue searched hungrily. A soft moan from the other woman was all it took and with her heart pounding in her chest, Deven bent her knees and stood, lifting Rhian up off the floor and seating her on the counter. Shifting her mouth away from Rhian’s lips to her neck, Deven explored the flesh greedily. She was rapidly losing control but didn’t care as she immersed herself into the desire coursing through her system.

Tilting Rhian’s head back, Deven bit down on the pulse point releasing a guttural moan from the younger woman. Fed by that response, she reached around and cupped the landscaper’s bottom and pulled her forward, spreading her legs further apart. The impassioned woman massaged the soft mounds, forcing Rhian’s body closer still, and somewhere in the back of her mind she heard the younger woman whimper.

Bringing one hand up, Deven cupped a breast, pressing into it with the palm of her hand and then gently kneading the flesh until it grew firm beneath her touch. Capturing Rhian’s lips again she moved her hand to the other breast and teased the nipple to rise up for her. She wanted to touch this woman everywhere. She needed to touch her.

"Stop," Rhian said into her mouth.

"What?" Her heart was pounding, and her breath was starting to come in soft pants. The desire was so strong it made her whole body tremble. She heard Rhian but didn’t register what was being said. "What?" she repeated.

The smaller woman’s hands moved up between them in an attempt to push the martial artist away. "Deven, I’m sorry. I can’t."

She kissed Rhian behind the ear. "You don’t have to do anything but relax." Trailing her fingers up Rhian’s thigh to the edge of the shirt she was wearing, she pushed it aside to gain access to the flesh beneath. Her hand came to rest between the landscaper’s legs and pressed against the crouch of her panties.

Rhian shoved hard against the woman’s chest. "Deven, stop!"

Confused and highly aroused, the martial artist blinked at her several times trying to understand what was happening. Part of her screamed to take the woman right there anyway and that scared her. Turning away, she walked to the other side of the room. "Fuck…fuck…fuck!" Each word was punctuated with the slap of her hand as it connected with the counter top. "Why are you fucking around with me? Is it me? Is it that I’m a woman or is it just that you don’t want me?"

"Don’t want you?" Rhian felt as if her body was on some sort of hormonal overload. "What you do to me is unbelievable."

Deven whirled around and faced the other woman. "Then what the hell am I doing wrong?"

"Nothing. You aren't doing anything wrong." The emotions she'd been trying to restrain surged forward, and covering her face with her hands, Rhian cried softly. "Please don't be angry with me."

"Don’t cry. Rhian, please don’t cry." There was no doubt that Deven hated when this woman was upset. It was especially unnerving when she was the cause. She moved across the room quickly and tentatively wrapped her arms around the distraught woman. "It’s just hard. I want you so much and sometimes it’s near impossible not to express it. I don’t mean to scare you."

"You don’t scare me. I’m not sure exactly what you make me. I…I feel things that I don’t really understand. Well, that isn’t totally true. I mean, there are parts of me that don’t want you to stop." She choked back a sob. "This is so hard. When I’m with you, I feel…I feel so much. I don’t know if it’s normal. I’ve never felt anything even close to what I feel for you with anyone. That’s what scares me."

"It’s okay, Rhian."

"No it’s not! I’m not a child! I’m not a virgin. I’m a grown woman, and yet, I feel like a...I feel like a fool!" She wept softly against the taller woman’s shoulder.

"Please, baby. Don’t cry," Deven implored.

"This isn’t about whether or not I love you. I do. This isn’t about whether or not I believe you love me. I know you do. This is my problem. I know that, but if you can't see your way clear to allow me the time to work through this, than," her voice trailed off.

"Than what?"

"I can’t do it again, Deven. I can’t. I love you, but I can’t put myself in that situation again."

Situation? What situation? "You’re." She stepped back as if Rhian had struck her. "You’re comparing me to Sean?"

"No! You’re not like him at all. It’s just that things are moving so fast. I feel like I’m being pressured to keep up with you, to sleep with you and that’s just too close to how things were. I’m so overwhelmed, Deven. So much has happened to me. Realizing that I’m attracted to you and trying to understand the ramifications of that. Understanding only this morning that I can’t even tell my mother about something this important. I can’t share this with anyone. Learning about your past. Accepting that l love you. That I’m in love with you. Finally hearing you say those words to me. Knowing that sex is really important to you and not knowing if I’ll measure up. I haven’t had a chance to adapt to anything yet. I’ve gone from feeling nothing to feeling so much. And everything is changing."

Deven turned away. God, am I really that bad? Yeah, you are. You pretend to consider her point of view but as soon as you get a little horny, you do whatever you want. Why not end this now? Let her go. Tell her to go! "You’re wrong," she said as she turned back around to face the woman. "It’s our problem." She reached out and wiped away the tears from Rhian’s cheeks. "I know this is hard for you, and I forget that. I get so into you and the moment, all I want is to touch you. I forget what you’ve been through and that this is new to you. I know you’ve never been with a woman, and when you get down to it, you haven’t really experienced the pleasure."

"Pleasure? No," she said bitterly and fought not to cry again.

"I know that, and it’s okay." Reaching out she lifted the younger woman’s chin and waited until Rhian’s gaze met her own. "I’ve never been with anyone like you before."

She stared into Deven’s eyes, and to her amazement, the martial artist appeared reticent. "What are you talking about?"

"I have been with people yes, but baby, I never loved any of them. When I had sex, it was about seduction and control. I didn’t really care about how my bed partner felt emotionally only how they felt physically. My goal was to get them into bed, bring them to orgasm, and then leave them longing for more. I never shared any intimacy with them. Never gave them anything of myself."

Deven released a long sigh. "With you, it’s different. It’s all about you. When I touch you, I feel like my heart is going to explode. All I want is to bring you pleasure. For the first time in my life, I want to do more than just have sex with someone. I don’t want to take something away from you. I want to give you something. Share something. But, I’m really not sure what to do. You act like you want to be with me. Like you enjoy my touching you. I feel you react to me. At least I think you are. Please tell me you aren’t faking it?"

"No! I feel it. I feel you. Why would you think that?

"Because the next thing I know you’re running away. You have to stop running away from me. If you don’t want me to touch you, I won’t. I’ll never touch you again if that’s what you truly want. But, damn it, I need to know where I stand and what you expect from me."

Rhian reached out and gripped Deven’s hands. Tears slowly trickled down her cheeks and her lower lip trembled. "I’ve never felt like this about anyone. I’ve never wanted to do this with anyone, but sometimes the way you look at me, I want nothing more than to be with you, to feel you touch me. And when you kiss me or caress me, it seems like too much. It isn’t that I don’t want you to touch me. I do. I want you to want me. God, it’s so powerful sometimes. Like a minute ago. It was too much, and it scared me. I’m afraid of the intensity of what I feel, and I’m afraid you will be disappointed."

"You could never disappoint me, Rhian. I told you that. It will be all right. I need to slow things down, and I will. But you have got to let me know what is going on, okay? I can’t read your mind." Deven released a sigh of relief and hugged the woman. "Please don’t cry anymore."

"What did you do to her?"

Deven’s head turned, and she regarded Nicole. She was still struggling against having slammed the brakes on her arousal, and though the craving was dissipating, it still coursed through her body seeking an outlet. The last thing she needed at that moment was another problem. "I don’t know that this is any of your business."

Nicole looked at the tears on her friend’s face and held her ground. "If it affects Rhian, than it most certainly is my business!"

Deven cocked her head. "Do you have to interfere in everything in her life?"

The other woman stood up to her full height, which still wasn’t anywhere near the martial artist’s. "What’s it to you?" she challenged.

Deven studied Nicole as if she were seeing her for the first time. If she’s always been this close to Rhian and so involved in her life, then she had to have known about Sean. "You knew, didn’t you?"

"I knew what?"

The timbre of Deven’s voice lowered, coming out almost like a growl. "You knew what that son of a bitch was doing to her, and you did nothing. For all your meddling, you did nothing."

"Deven, please don’t," Rhian said, trying to get the martial artist’s attention away from her friend.

"Who? What are you talking about?"

Ignoring Rhian, Deven turned to completely face the other woman. "Sean! You knew what he was doing to her and how miserable she was." She took a step forward but was stopped when Rhian’s hand wrapped firmly around her upper arm. "You did nothing!"

Nicole looked stricken by the accusation. "What was I supposed to do? It was their marriage. She wanted to make it work! She wanted to make the relationship work!"

Deven snorted at her. "Like our relationship? Well, that doesn’t stop you from screwing around with us! You’re such a hypocrite!"

Tears brimmed in Nicole’s eyes, and Deven felt herself shoved out of the way as Rhian jumped off the counter and moved to her friend. "Nic, it’s okay. I know you did what you could." Looking back over her shoulder, she sent Deven an accusing glare.

"Now what did I do?"

"Do you have to be such a bully?"

Deven started to respond but didn’t actually know what to say. Instead, she threw her hands up in the air. "Oh, I get it. You’re taking her side. Fine!" In a few long strides she reached her office and slammed the door behind her, thinking she could leave the confusion, guilt and anger in the kitchen. Moving across the room, she flopped down in her desk chair and stared out the window. What in the hell just happened?


She had no idea how long she sat there looking out the window, seeing nothing of the world beyond the panes of glass. Dealing with Rhian was like being on a perpetual roller coaster of emotion that sent her skyward towards euphoria and then flying back towards earth leaving her stomach in her throat. One minute she was happier than ever in her life, and the next she didn’t know if she was coming or going.

She stood up and began pacing the small room. Is this bullshit worth it? I don’t need this! Ever since she came into my life I’ve been living in absolute chaos. No control. Completely out of my mind. Second guessing everything I do. This is going to stop! To hell with her! To hell with her little friend! To hell with the whole damn thing! She was confused by the sudden urge to cry. "And to hell with me," she said as she sat back in the chair.

She heard the light tapping on the door but chose to ignore it. She didn’t want to see or talk to anyone. The knock came again a little louder this time. "Go away!"

The door opened slowly, and Rhian stuck her head in. Deven didn’t turn around to see who was there.

She didn’t care. "I said go away!"

"I don’t think so."

"Leave me alone, Rhian."

"I can’t do that." Walking over to the desk, she regarded Deven’s profile. "You don’t really want that, do you?"

"I want…I don’t know what I want anymore! I don’t know who I am anymore!"

The woman’s frustration and anger were obvious, and Rhian knew she was taking a risk but decided to follow her gut instinct. Stepping closer, she reached out to touch Deven’s face only to have her wrist grasped by the woman. The grip was firm, though not painful, but the torment in Deven’s eyes was heart wrenching. I did that to her. Moving forward, Rhian sat down on the woman’s lap, wrapping her free arm around Deven’s neck.

The martial artist remained still, the only movement the rise and fall of her chest with each shallow breath. Rhian watched the woman’s eyes, concluding that they were extremely expressive if one knew how to read them. Rhian lived by shades, shapes and textures. It was her job but also her passion and Deven’s eyes reminded her of the heavens. Watching them was, for her, like watching the color of the sky infuse with different shades based on the atmosphere, and so Deven’s eyes changed as her moods warmed and cooled.

They could be a pale cerulean when she was happy or nearly the color of blue ice when she was enraged. They took on a deeper shade of indigo when she was aroused, and turned almost gray, like they now were, indicating that the woman was hurting.

Rhian could see all the emotions rise and recede in those eyes and wondered how it was that no one before her had ever seemed to notice. Perhaps she never allowed it. "Talk to me, please." Deven didn’t respond but Rhian watched her jaw clinch. She allowed the woman to brood for a moment more and then decided to put an end to it. "Okay. That’s enough. What’s wrong?"

Deven released the wrist she’d been holding and looked down. "I don’t know," she spat out in barely more than a hiss.

"Well, at least that’s a start. Honey, you have a tendency to come on too strong sometimes. Your inner strength is one of the things I love about you, but sometimes you need to temper it a little. Nicole comes on strong too, and I’ve told her the same thing. She needs to back off a bit."

Deven’s eyes lifted, and she looked out the window again, wishing she were on her motorcycle and riding far away. How is it that I love being with her so much, but all I want right now is to get as far away from her as possible? I feel like such an ass around her. Oh hell, why should I care? Because you don’t like looking like a bad person in front of her and you don’t like her being mad at you. She slowly wrapped her arms around the smaller woman. "I’ll do better."

"I love you both - in very different ways, of course," the landscaper continued. "I know that you both want what’s best for me, and I know that you’re both territorial. You especially. And you both want to protect me. It would be a lot easier for everyone if you stopped fighting with each other though."

"I’ll try."

"Thank you." Rhian leaned in and kissed Deven on the cheek. "I love you. I really want to make this work." The martial artist continued to avoid looking at her, and she wondered if Deven were angry with her. "Be patient, okay? I’m trying."

Deven did glance at the younger woman then but quickly shifted her site back out the window. "I know you are, baby. And I haven’t been trying hard enough. Too used to having things my own way I guess. I swear to myself that I won’t do anything to hurt you, and that seems to be all I do."

"Oh, Deven, that’s just not true. You’ve opened yourself up and let me in. That is huge. And most of the time, you make me feel wonderful. As for the hurting part, I wish we’d never hurt each other but being human I suppose we’re bound to. Hopefully, it will never be more than a little thing here and there. It’s human nature and until we get to know each other, I suppose it’s possible, even probable. I don’t want to ever hurt you either, but I know I do. I know you’re hurting now, and I’m responsible. And for that I’m sorry."

Rhian watched the martial artist closely. She could tell the woman was listening even though Deven still avoided looking directly at her. "I wasn’t taking Nicole’s side. You hurt her, and I don’t like that you meant to."

Deven hung her head and remained silent, and Rhian forged on. "I did tell her about Sean, and I did tell her I wanted to make my marriage work. She tried to talk me out of it more than once. She tried to convince me to go to my parents, but I…I was too stubborn I guess. Maybe if I had followed her advice, things would have been different. Maybe I would have ended the marriage, and he would still be alive."

She couldn’t stand not being able to see what the woman was feeling. "Deven, look at me." She waited for the martial artist to comply, and when Deven’s eyes finally met hers, she saw the woman’s shame. Wrapping her arms tighter around Deven’s neck, she hugged her fiercely. "God, I love you. It’s okay. I’m not mad or anything."

Deven hungrily absorbed the feel of the woman in her arms and the embrace. She didn’t understand what she was feeling exactly and instead of trying to analyze everything, she just allowed herself to go with it for a change. "I’m sorry."

"I know. Me, too." The landscaper pulled back a little and rested her forehead against Deven’s. "We have got to work on this otherwise the only thing we’ll be saying to each other is ‘I’m sorry.’"

"Well, I think I’ve said it to you more times than the whole rest of my life put together."

"I do want more from you than you’ve ever given anyone else but not apologies," Rhian said. "Can we please start this day over?"

Deven nodded her head. "I’d like that." She took a deep breath and then cleared her throat. "What do you want to do today?"

"It’s Seana’s day."


Rhian smiled at the confused look on Deven’s face. "I try to spend at least one day a week with her and do some things that she likes to do. What about you? Are you going to see Tiernan?"

"I suppose I should."

The younger woman had a feeling that left to herself, Deven wasn’t going to see her son at all today. "Tell you what. Why don’t we have breakfast? Then you go get Tiernan, and I’ll go pick up Seana. We can meet up somewhere."

"We could come back here," Deven offered. "The kids have plenty of room to run around, and we can hang out in the pool. Unless you’d rather do something else."

"No, that’ll work. My daughter thinks she’s a fish and would love to play in the pool."

"Okay. Let me see what my offspring is up to." Reaching around Rhian, she activated the speakerphone, then hit the speed dial and waited.

"Hello?" a small voice answered.


"Mommy! Where are you?"

"Hi, T. I’m at home. Listen, Rhian and I were talking and wondered if you would like to come here and spend the day with Seana?"

"Really? Yes! Can we sleep over?"

"Uh, hang on."

She looked at Rhian, and the younger woman almost laughed at the expression of consternation on the martial artist’s face. "Well, I have to go to work in the morning."

"Oh, sure," she said with relief.

Oh no you don’t. I’m not letting you off that easy, Deven. Rhian smiled. "Well, if they get a sleep over, does that mean we get to have one, too?"

"I suppose," Deven answered cautiously.

"Good. You just need to make sure I’m up in the morning in time for work."

A little overwhelmed by the whole idea, Deven was nonetheless pleased to be able to spend more time with this woman. "No problem. I’m usually up early anyway." Turning her attention back to the phone, she spoke to her son. "Okay, T. Let me talk to Aunt Laura."

"YAY! Aunt Laura, Mommy wants to talk to you!"

Deven stared at the phone in disbelief. "I have got to talk to him about that."

Rhian laughed. "He’s just excited. Wait until you hear Seana let go with a squeal. You will most definitely lose your hearing."


The martial artist debated picking up the receiver but decided she didn’t have anything to hide from Rhian when it came to her family. "Hi, Laura. I’m going to pick Tiernan up later and bring him over here for the night."

There was a long pause before Laura responded. "Are you sure?"

"I’m sure. Would you please pack him up a change of cloths, some pajamas and his bathing suit?"

"All right, but Deven, he doesn’t know how to swim."

She stared at the phone. "What do you mean he doesn’t know how to swim? He’s old enough."

"He just hasn’t shown much interest, and we haven’t pushed it."

"Does he have a bathing suit?"

"Well, he did, but I don’t think it will fit anymore."

Rhian reached up and smoothed the worry lines in Deven’s forehead. Leaning in, she placed a feather like kiss on the woman’s lips.

Deven’s eyes locked on the landscaper’s. "Okay. I’ll get him one. Just pull the rest of the stuff together, and I’ll call you when I’m on the road. Sometime around noon."

"All right. Are you sure, Deven?"

"Yes, Laura. I’m sure. See you later." She disconnected the call and sat quietly.

"What’s wrong?" Rhian asked.

"Nothing." Her eyes drifted to the window. "It’s just that there’s so much I don’t know about him. I didn’t know he couldn’t swim. What kind of mother doesn’t know that?"

Rhian caressed the woman’s cheek. "At least you realize that, and if you want, you can change it. There are some parents who live in the same houses with their children and don’t give a damn about them. One thing I am certain of is that you do love Tiernan." Deven just shook her head and opened her mouth to retort, but Rhian cut her off. "Don’t argue with me, Masterson. You’ve used up your quota. You have to behave for the rest of the day."

Unable and unwilling to stop herself, Deven laughed. "Well, that sucks."

"Yeah, it does," Rhian agreed. "And you know what else? We have to work on your language. I won’t have you talking like that in front of the children."

"Oh, come on," the woman practically whined. "Can’t we pick something easier to work on?"

Rhian grinned and shook her head. "Nope. You can do it. I have faith in you. You can do anything, my love."

Those simple words touched Deven deeply. Brushing her lips against Rhian’s, she smiled. "Another thing for me to work on, huh? This list of yours is getting mighty long."

"Oh, it’s just begun, Champ. Now, before we do anything else, what are you going to make me for breakfast?"

Deven raised an eyebrow in question. "Me? I thought you were going to fix me breakfast."

"Why don’t we compromise? Why don’t we fix breakfast for Jay and Nicole?"

"All right." She started to rise, but Rhian made no move to get off of her lap. "You’re going to have to get up, Rhian. Or do you want me to carry you?"

"In a minute." She lightly traced the martial artist’s features with her fingertips watching as Deven’s irises turned from gray to blue. "I love you, Deven Masterson. And I’m going to keep you."

Deven swallowed hard. "Thank you," she whispered.

Part 3


"What, Tiernan?"

"What are you doing?"

"Just looking around." Deven had examined most of the area inside the fence line looking for anything that would confirm that there had in fact been someone in the woods the previous night. Nearing the area where she thought she’d seen something in the shadows, she paused. Her eyes met Jay’s, and he walked over to stand next to her.

"What did you find?" he asked.

"Footprints." She studied them quietly for several seconds and then sighed. "If it had been a kid, they would have tread. Kids wear sneakers or hiking boots. Not smooth soled shoes. Those prints are smooth and even, and you can even see the stitching. So, chances are they were pretty new. I’m surprised whoever it was didn’t fall on their ass. At the very least, they damaged a good pair of shoes traipsing around out here. Given the size, it was most likely a man or a woman with bigger feet than mine."

"So what does all that mean?"

"I can’t say for sure. Just a hunch. Whoever was out here knew exactly where they were. It wasn’t an accident or coincidence or a simple case of voyeurism."


"Why indeed." She glanced over at her son. "Tiernan, will you do me a favor?" He nodded his head vigorously. "Go up to the house and get me a Dr. Pepper out of the refrigerator, please? You can have one too if you want."

"Okay, Mommy." She watched him walk away. "I don’t want the kids unsupervised at any time. I want one of us to be nearby, and I don’t want Rhian or Nicole alone either. But make sure they don’t know we’re watching them. I suspect that Rhian will have a fit if she thinks I’m guarding her for any reason."

"Guarding them against what? You think this could be dangerous?"

She looked at her friend and saw that he was truly concerned. They had shared a lifetime, and yet there remained things he didn’t know about her. Things that she’d kept hidden from everyone except Rhian. "Let’s just say that I don’t have a good feeling about this, okay? It may not be anything, in which case I raised the alarm for nothing. I don’t see any point in scaring Rhian or Nicole or the children for nothing."

"All right. But I’m going to get something off my chest," he replied. "You’re holding back on me again, and I’ll tell you, that really pisses me off, Deven. I have stood by your side and covered your back for most of our lives. I have rarely questioned what you did or why. I’ve taken the brunt of your temper and still defended you. I would do it all again in a heartbeat. But your lack of trust in me is wearing real thin."

She regarded him for a moment, and she couldn’t deny that everything he’d just said was true. "Look. There are some things about my life I just don’t like to talk about."

"But you’ve told Rhian," he accused her.

She cocked her head and smiled at him. "If I didn’t know any better, Bro, I’d say you were jealous."

"Of what?"

"Of my relationship with Rhian."

"Oh, give me a break. What has this got to do with her?"

"You tell me. You brought her up."

"Nothing," he said in frustration. "Forget it."

"No. Spill it. It’s obviously bothering you so let’s have it."

Tiernan walked up to them holding the two cans of soda carefully in front of him. "I didn’t shake it, Mommy."

"Good boy. Thank you." She took one of the cans, opened it and handed it back to her son. She then took the other can and turned towards Jay. "Look, I told her because I believed she would hear the truth and high tail it out of here. I made a lot of mistakes, Jay. Some really bad ones. I did some really fucked up things." She heard her son gasp. Oops! Reaching down, she ran her fingers through Tiernan’s hair. "Sorry."

She looked back at the man who had been her friend and her family for as long as she could remember. "I never told you because quite frankly, I’m ashamed of what I did. You’re the only family I have anymore, Jay."

"What about me?" the child asked.

She smiled down at her son and lightly caressed the back of his head. "And you. My two favorite men." She laughed as the boy puffed out his small chest. "Son, do you want to learn how to swim?"

"Yes! I’ve wanted to for the longest time."

"You have?" What was all that crap Laura fed me this morning? "Why haven’t you taken lessons?"

He suddenly appeared uncomfortable, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. "Grandmother said that I couldn’t take swimming lessons and horseback riding lessons."

"So, she’s been teaching you to ride." He nodded his head. Figures. "Do you like it?" she prodded.

He looked down at the ground. "Yes, but sometimes it isn’t fun."

"Why sometimes?" He seemed uncertain, and so she squatted down to his level and looked him in the eye. "Why sometimes?"

"She gets mad at me," he whispered.

"Why does she get mad at you?"

"Cause sometimes I can’t do things. I’m sorry, Mommy. Sometimes I just can’t do things right. Grandmother says I’m a goof off."

Bitch! A slow boil began in the pit of her stomach. "Does she get mad at you a lot?"


He looked at her with such trepidation that she quickly stood back up, quelling the anger she held for her mother. "Its okay, Tiernan. It’s not your fault." She took a deep breath and released it slowly. "What do you say we go make sure the pool is ready for the ladies?"

He looked up at her, the uncertainty clear. "I don’t know how."

"Come on I’ll show you. We have to skim out the bugs and leaves, dump the traps, backwash the main filter, and check the chemical levels. Hmm." She made a show of studying him. "You look pretty strong, but I don’t know. You got any muscles?"

Setting his soda carefully on the ground, Tiernan stood up straight and lifted both arms, flexing his biceps proudly. Deven reached out and poked one. "Not bad. Let’s get this done before Rhian and Seana get here."

Jay watched them walk over to the pool. The exchange he’d just witnessed between mother and son had been so very different then those in the past, and he marveled at the affect it had on the little boy. The child walked beside Deven with a smile on his face, and his head held up. Keep it up, Deven. Whatever you’re doing, don’t stop.


Rhian stepped out to the sun porch and froze at the sight before her. Deven was holding Tiernan by his ankles and dangling him over the pool. Seana didn’t hesitate for a second and made a beeline for the back door. "Wait!" she called out, but her daughter was already out of the door and moving down the steps to the backyard. She followed quickly to ensure the little girl didn’t fall. "Slow down, Seana."

Deven started to lower Tiernan, stopping when the top of his head touched the water. "So Jay, do you think I can toss him all the way over the pool to you? If not, he’ll get awfully wet."

"No, Mommy!" the boy shrieked.

Laughing, the martial artist started swinging the child back and forth over the water.

"I don’t know, Deven. I think he’s going to get mighty wet," Jay answered.


"Deven, what are you doing?"

The woman’s head snapped up. "Uh, playing?"

"Put him down," Rhian demanded.

"Okay." Deven lowered her son towards the water.

"Not in the water!"

With a definite pout, she muttered, "You’re no fun." Turning Tiernan over, she lowered him to his feet next to the pool, and he immediately ran to Rhian.

"Hi, Rhian," he said as he wrapped his arms around her.

"Hi, buddy," she answered, returning his heartfelt hug. "Was your mom being mean to you?"

"Nah. She was just playing. She taught me how to take care of the pool."

"Did she?" Rhian looked up and met Deven’s eyes as the taller woman drew near. "Well, maybe she isn’t in as much trouble as I thought. And where’s my hug?"

Deven smiled easily as she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around the woman. Lifting her up, she spun them around several times before setting Rhian back on her feet. "Hi." She pressed her lips against Rhian’s forehead. "Welcome back."

"Thank you."

"What about me?" Seana demanded.

"Ah, the princess." Deven scooped the child up and spun, causing the little girl to squeal with laughter. After setting Seana back down, she faced Rhian again. "Okay, so swim first or eat first?"

"Swim!" the little girl answered while jumping up and down.

"Okay, there’s Seana’s vote. Tiernan?" Deven asked.

He suddenly appeared very shy. "Swim?"

Deven smiled at him. "All right. Here are the rules. No peeing in the pool. No going anywhere near the pool unless one of us grownups is with you. No going into the woods unless Jay or I take you. No exceptions. If you break the rules, you go in the house for the rest of the day. Okay?" The children nodded their agreement, and she looked at Rhian. "Did I miss anything?"

"No dangling the children over the pool. No dunking them. Splashing them. That sort of thing. Behave yourself until I get back. And put lots of this on them." Rhian handed over a tube of sun block. "I have some food to put in the refrigerator."

"Food?" Deven responded in disbelief. "There’s plenty here. What did you buy?"

"Just some stuff for the kids," Rhian said as she shrugged her shoulders. "’Hotdogs, chips, you know, junk."

"You didn’t get me anything?"

Rhian grinned at the woman, causing her nose to wrinkle slightly. "You can be so darn cute."

Deven beamed. "I know."

"Tsk. And modest, too," Rhian smiled, taking any sting out of the words.

"Where’s Nicole?" Jay asked.

"She went to her apartment. She should be here any minute."

Deven watched Rhian walk away before addressing the children. "Okay, now you’re mine you little rugrats. We’re going to have a water battle to end all water battles."

"I heard that," Rhian called out. She turned and faced the small group. "Kids, if Deven misbehaves, you let me know. I’ll take care of her. Okay?"

"Okay, Mama."

"Okay, Rhian."

"Traitors," the tall woman grumbled.

Rhian laughed as she walked back towards the house.

Part 4

Deven set the steaming mug of coffee down on the nightstand before sitting on the edge of the bed. "Rhian." The younger woman lay on her side with both arms wrapped around Deven’s pillow.

A smile touched Deven’s lips as she recalled the previous night and how peaceful it had been to fall asleep with Rhian snuggled up against her. Lying there listening to the younger woman’s gentle breathing had restored the newly discovered contentment, and she was somewhat concerned that a part of her craved that feeling to some extent.

Deven knew she’d found something she didn’t deserve, but she also knew she’d fight to keep it. Even if it meant subduing herself, she would find a way to be worthy of this woman. To be what Rhian needed when she needed. She’d faced some tough fights in her life. Fights that could have left her maimed or dead and she’d persevered. But never had she faced an opponent so capable of subjugating her, as was this woman.

She chuckled. Well, she doesn’t fight fair. She sneaks up on and sucker punches me in the heart. Reaching out, Deven smoothed Rhian’s disheveled hair. "Baby, time to wake up."

"Not yet." The sleepy woman nestled further down in the covers.

"Sorry, but you have to. You have to start getting ready for work." Her hand came to settle on Rhian’s hip, and she gave it a little shake. "I brought you some coffee."

"You did?" Rhian’s eyes blinked open, and she scanned the woman. "Why are you dressed?"

Deven smirked at the question. "If you’d prefer me naked, I can certainly fulfill your wish." She pulled her shirttail from her shorts and started to lift it.

Rhian placed a hand on Deven’s arm, stopping the action. "No. That’s okay."

"Fine." She pouted while tucking her shirt back in.

"Gees, Deven. I didn’t say never. You’ve got a bigger pout than Seana," the landscaper teased.

"Well, yeah. I am bigger than she is."

"And yours is so much cuter," Rhian added.

"Heh. Flattery so early in the morning," she grinned. "To answer your question, I’ve already gone for a run, showered, and started breakfast."

"No way. Really?"

She nodded. "Really."

"I never heard you."

Deven smiled down at her. "I know. Though, I have to say that you weren’t too eager to let me get out of bed."

Rhian’s eyes widened in alarm and a faint blush crept up her neck. "Oh God, what did I do? I mean, I didn’t do anything real embarrassing did I?"

The martial artist pretended to contemplate the question. "Well, no. I don’t suppose it was too embarrassing."

The blonde wasn’t certain if she was being teased or not. She pulled the covers up over her head and groaned.

"Rhian, I’m kidding." Remaining hidden beneath the sheet, the landscaper groaned again. "Come on. I’m teasing you," Deven said. "You just didn’t want to let go of your pillow is all."

"My pillow?"


Rhian slowly lowered the covers and looked at Deven. "That’s it?"

"That’s it. Now come on. You have to hit the shower. Eggs, bacon and toast all right for breakfast? I can make an omelet if you want?"

"With cheese?" the hopefulness in her voice was unmistakable.

"For you, anything." Deven started to rise from the bed, but Rhian reached out and took her hand. "What?"

"Can I have a hug?" she asked.

"Of course."

Sitting up, Rhian found herself enveloped in an embrace that made her feel safe. "You give such good hugs," she whispered.

The martial artist held the woman, lightly caressing her back and smiling when Rhian sighed against her neck. She’d promised herself she would try not to pressure Rhian anymore. She wasn’t going to give up on leading her toward what she hoped would be the consummation of their relationship, but she’d finally come to understand that the direct approach was doing nothing more than scaring the woman. The more she pushed, the more Rhian retreated.

In theory, one only continues to attack a retreating opponent head on, if the intent is to overpower them into defeat. Defeating Rhian was the last thing she wanted to do, and so she decided the best course of action was to give the woman more room. She would give Rhian more freedom to explore the concept and hopefully get comfortable with the idea of their having sex.

And if she doesn’t? What then? Deven considered the possibility. I don’t know. Can I be in a celibate relationship? Why even enter into a relationship than? How bizarre is that? I mean what’s the point?

This whole thing, thinking in terms of a relationship versus a conquest, was so new and different. She’d never failed to get a woman to her bed. That had just never happened. She didn’t want to fail now, but not because her reputation might be sullied. She didn’t give a damn about that anymore. What she wanted was nothing more than to just love this woman, but for the life of her she didn’t know how to make that happen. This is just too damn confusing. "Okay. I have an omelet to make and you have to get moving."

"Is Seana up? I should go wake her if she isn’t."

"Don’t. Let her sleep. When the kids wake up, I’ll make them breakfast, get them cleaned up and drop

Seana off wherever you want."

Rhian considered the offer. "Are you sure?"

Deven laughed at the dubious expression on the younger woman’s face. "Yes, I’m sure. I think I can handle two little kids long enough to get them fed and dressed."

"I don’t know. When the three of you get going, it’s hard to tell who is the youngest. They’re just children. You’re childish," she teased.

"Now is that nice? Here I am offering to make you breakfast, and this is the thanks I get? You call me childish?"

"You can be. Admit it. You and Jay are like two overgrown children. I had to rescue the kids more than once yesterday when the two of you got going with one of your famous water battles." Despite their somewhat overzealous and sometimes competitive natures, yesterday had been fun. Their exuberance brought out playfulness in everyone around them.

"Oh, come on now," Deven protested. "I was pretty good yesterday. We just had a good time. And just so you recall, I didn’t start that first water fight. Seana did. I just educated her to the fact that you start something, you’d better be prepared to finish it."

"By drowning her?"

"I didn’t drown her. Just splashed her a little and she laughed."

"That she did. And yes, for the most part, you were a good girl." That earned her a smile from the martial artist. "Thank you, Deven."

"For what?"

"For everything. For keeping your word and trying with Nicole. I appreciate that more than you’ll know. For being so good with the kids. They had a blast with you, and Tiernan laughed so much I was afraid he was going to rupture something. And both kids learned a lot yesterday about swimming. You really are a good teacher. I love to watch you. I think it is one of your greatest talents."

Deven wasn’t used to hearing positive things spoken about her outside of the martial arts venue, and it made her a little uncomfortable. "Yeah, well. Listen, go get cleaned up and I’ll meet you downstairs." She rose from the bed and left the room without another world.

Rhian brought her knees up and wrapped her arms around them, hugging herself as she watched Deven walk out of the room. How long is it going to take to convince you, Deven, that you are the most remarkable person I’ve ever met?


Stepping into the shower moments later, Rhian allowed her thoughts to wonder back to the previous day. It had been relaxing and fun. But the best part had come in the late afternoon. The sun had gotten too intense for the children, and so everyone had retreated indoors for awhile. They had all ultimately taken naps, the children on the floor in front of the television, Jay and Nicole in the guestroom, and she and Deven curled up on the sofa.

She’d awakened first, an unusual phenomenon for her, and had risen to start fixing an early supper for the children. Knowing they would awaken hungry, she preferred to be ready for them. After having been caught unprepared in the past while facing a hungry child, she’d learned to avoid that situation whenever possible.

A short while later, Deven had sauntered into the kitchen and just stood quietly watching her for several minutes. Unable to take the scrutiny any longer, Rhian had asked the woman, "What are you looking at?"

"You." Crossing the room, Deven had pulled her into a hug. "You’re beautiful, you know?" she’d asked in a whisper.

"Right. Smooth talking me again?"

"No. Just stating a fact. You are beautiful."

"No, I’m not." She had never thought of herself as beautiful. Deven was beautiful. She was at best considered…cute.

"Yes, you are." Before she could protest again, Deven had kissed her soundly. Not as passionately as she had in the past, but still a kiss that made her body lean into the martial artist’s solid frame for support. Pulling back, Deven had looked into her eyes and smiled. "Yes, you are," she’d said. And for the moment, she had felt beautiful.

Pulling her thoughts back to the present, Rhian continued to smile from the memory as she finished her shower, dressed, and then headed downstairs to find Deven waiting for her with breakfast as promised.

Leaning a hip against the breakfast bar, Deven watched in silence as Rhian devoured the omelet. "Do you do everything with such passion?" she asked seductively.

The younger woman blinked as the meaning behind the question sunk in and cursed the blush that tinted her cheeks. "Uh…no."

"Pity," Deven drawled. Picking up Rhian’s mug, she refilled it from the coffeepot and returned to her casual position near the woman. "What do you have going this week?"

"I’m not completely sure," the landscaper answered. "I know I have two presentations scheduled and at least five site surveys. I also have about half a dozen designs going and the installation here."

Deven stared out the window to hide her disappointment. "Sounds like you aren’t going to have much free time."

"I think it sounds worse than it really is. I hope to be able to come by the school after work tonight."

This was a topic that Deven had thought a great deal about but had thus far avoided. "Rhian, about the school."

Something in Deven’s tone caused the younger woman to look up from her meal. "What?"

"I don’t know if this is going to work."

"If what is going to work? What are you saying?"

Deven picked up on Rhian’s unconcealed concern. "Easy. I don’t mean us. I mean my teaching you."

Relieved this wasn’t about them, she asked, "Why would that be a problem?"

The martial artist took a sip of her coffee while gathering her thoughts. "Because I can’t let my personal feelings interfere with my teaching. It’s been hard enough teaching you knowing that I was falling in love with you, but now, I just don’t know if I can separate the two. I don’t know if you can."

Rhian smiled at her. "Afraid you’ll go too easy on me?"

"No. I’m sure I’ll be too hard. I can’t be objective with you."


"Because, I have to be certain that if I’m not around, you’ll at least have a fighting chance. I can’t be content to just let you get by with learning a few self-defense moves. You have to gain some proficiency. You have to be good at it, because I don’t know if I can handle anything happening to you."

The passion behind the words surprised Rhian, and she reached out and grasped Deven’s hand. "I think I can handle it."

"I can have Jay teach you.

"No." She brushed her thumb across the skin on the back of Deven’s hand. "Why don’t we just see how it goes?"

Because I hate it when I hurt you, and I hate it when you’re mad at me. And I don’t even want to think about how much I’d hate myself if I fail you. She looked down at their joined hands. "We can see, but if this interferes with us in any way, it stops and Jay takes over.

"Come here," Rhian said, and Deven stepped closer. The landscaper settled her hands on the taller woman’s hips. "This really worries you, doesn’t it?"

"Yes, it does. I’ve known people who have gotten involved with their students and it’s a disaster - for them, for the student, for the school. That or they fail to really teach anything. They get lazy or indifferent. I can’t do that. I can’t allow that to happen."

"You know what I think?"


She smiled at the martial artist, and her eyes took on a mischievous glint. "I think you’re just afraid that I’ll bop you in the mouth again."

Deven laughed. "Right."

"Well, don’t be. Cause this time I’ll kiss it and make it better."

"I could live with that. In fact, I think it hurts now." She lowered her head bringing her lips firmly against Rhian’s. Easing the pressure, she nibbled on first one lip than the other as she slowly allowed the kiss to intensify.


Rhian pulled back. "In the kitchen," she called out to the child. She looked up into Deven’s eyes and smiled. "You know, your kisses are deadly."

Deven wiggled her eyebrows. "I suppose that’s good to know, but that’s most definitely not my intention. Seduce you? Oh yeah. Kill you? Absolutely not."

Seana walked into the room and if she noticed anything about the closeness of the two women, she gave no indication. "I’m hungry, Mama."

Deven smirked, and Rhian pointed at her. "Don’t say a word. She’s a growing child."

The martial artist raised an eyebrow. "True. So, what’s your excuse?"

Rhian swatted her on the hip. "You aren’t nice."

"Oh baby, hit me again." Deven laughed at Rhian’s shocked expression. She allowed her voice to deepen and purred sensually at the blonde, "Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it."

Rhian swore she felt the vibration from Deven’s voice settle within her at a point just south of her navel and shivered at the timbre of it. Turning her attention away from what this woman was doing to her, she opened her arms to her daughter and lifted her up on her lap. "Deven is going to make you breakfast, and then later on, she’s going to bring you to the nursery."

"Where are you going?"

"I have to go to work now."

The child started to cry. "I want to go with you."

"Honey, its okay," the landscaper soothed. "You’ll be with Tiernan and Deven, and I’ll see you in a little bit."

"Rhian, if she’s this upset maybe."

"It’ll be fine, Deven. She’s not completely awake yet and probably just hungry. Seana, look at me." The little girl looked up at her mother with tear filled eyes. "What is this nonsense? Look, you’re hurting Deven’s feelings."

The child glanced shyly at the martial artist and leaned into her mother’s body. Rhian gave her a gentle kiss on the head. "I thought you liked Tiernan and Deven."

"I do."

"Than what is the problem, Miss?"

Seana’s answer was to hug her mother, and Rhian responded by rocking her slowly. "I’ve got to get ready for work. You go to Deven, and I’ll be right back to tell you good-bye. Maybe if you ask her real nice she’ll make you scrambled eggs." Rhian glanced over at the martial artist who at the moment looked alarmed. "Come here and take her."

"I don’t know, Rhian."

"Get your butt over here, Masterson. I don’t have time to play this game with both of you." She grinned at Deven’s unease. "She doesn’t bite anymore, which I’m sure is more than can be said about you."

Deven stepped closer and Rhian stood, passing Seana to her. The child immediately wrapped her arms around Deven’s neck and settled her head on the woman’s shoulder. Standing stock still, the martial artist watched Rhian exit the room. "Seana?"


"You want me to fix you breakfast?"

The little girl nodded. "Can we go in the pool?"

"I don’t know if it’s warm enough yet. But we’ll see." She attempted to set the child down on the stool that Rhian’s had just vacated, but Seana clung to her. "Seana, I can’t make you breakfast if you don’t let go of me." Reluctantly, the tot released her grasp and sat down. "I’ll be right here and you can watch everything I do, okay?"


Tiernan entered the room and smiled broadly. "Hi, Mommy." He walked up slowly and hugged her.

She stood frozen for the blink of an eye before caressing the back of his head. "Hi, T. You want some breakfast, too?"

"Yep." He made no move to release her, and so she lifted him up and carried him to the stool next to Seana. "You can both sit here until breakfast is ready. No playing around though. Sit still. Understand? It’s a long way to the floor." They both smiled at her and nodded. She turned towards the stove and released a long breath. Damn! She broke some eggs into a bowl and started beating them, looking up as Rhian returned.

"Okay. I’m off." She placed a kiss on the tops of first Seana’s and then Tiernan’s head. Turning towards Deven she felt at a loss. She wanted to kiss her goodbye but was uncertain how to accomplish that in front of the children.

Deven sensed her hesitancy, and as much as she disliked it, she did understand the woman’s reluctance. She herself didn’t care. Tiernan knew she was gay even if he didn’t yet understand what that meant. She had no intention of hiding it from him. However, Rhian was not out to anyone in her family, and if Seana took it upon herself to say something about what she witnessed, it could be a disaster. Deven closed the distance between them and pulled Rhian into a hug. "What time should I drop Seana off?"

"What time do you have to be at the school?

"Noon. I have a meeting there."

"Okay. Why don’t you take her with you, and I’ll pick her up on my lunch break."

Tiernan listened intently. "I want to go, too."

Deven glanced at the boy. "Sorry, Son. I need to drop you off at Laura’s." He stared at his mother, and she saw the hurt but also what appeared to be anger. It was the first time she’d ever witnessed that emotion in the boy.

"Why? I want to stay here," he said defiantly.

Her gaze locked on him. "You can’t."

Tears brimmed in his eyes. "Why?"

"Tiernan, not now. You just can’t."

He blinked releasing the tears. Rhian watched the exchange and stepping away from the martial artist, she moved to embrace the child. "Tiernan, Mommy can’t take care of you right now. Not full time. That doesn’t mean that she doesn’t want you. Okay?" She looked at Deven expectantly, and mouthed the words, "Get over here!"

The woman shook her head slightly and watched the ire rise up in the landscaper’s eyes. Resigning herself to having lost this battle, she stepped over. Rhian indicated the child with a nod of her head, and Deven reluctantly scooped the boy up. He clung to her and cried against her neck.

"Tiernan, you’re much too young to understand this. I need you stay with Laura because it’s better for you." He continued to cry, and she looked at Rhian with an expression somewhere between an accusation and desperation.

Reaching out, Rhian gently rubbed the boy’s back. "Its okay, Tiernan. Mommy loves you. Don’t you?"

Deven swallowed hard and sent a silent plea to the woman. Don’t ask me to do this. Please, Rhian. Ask anything else of me but not this.

The plea was lost as Rhian continued to stare at her, demanding a response. Everything she’d done to protect this child from her was crumbling before her eyes, and she was helpless to stop it. Every argument she’d held with herself became meaningless. Every effort to keep a distance between them vanished. She knew this would change everything but looking into Rhian’s expectant gaze, she couldn’t fight it anymore. Closing her eyes, she held him tighter feeling the impact of the words she was about to speak. "I love you, Tiernan."

"I love you, Mommy," he murmured against her neck.

Deven fought not to free the tears that threatened as her heart finally accepted the love she held for her child. She’d struggled to deny what she felt for him, because it hadn’t been as important as shielding him. She felt a touch on her cheek and opened her eyes to find Rhian’s fingers wiping away a stray tear.

"Okay, enough of this," she said. "You two will starve if I don’t get breakfast going." She looked at Rhian, and saw the love the woman held for her reflected plainly in a soft green gaze. What you do to me with just a look is scary. She set the boy back down and turned to suddenly find her arms full as Rhian embraced her.

"Thank you. I know that was hard for you."

"You know this changes everything. I can’t protect him," Deven said sadly.

Rhian looked up at her. "Of course you can. You can protect him better if you’re a part of his life instead of a bystander." Dealing with her own emotions was so difficult for this woman. "Do you want me to stay for awhile?"

The question surprised the martial artist. "Uh, no. That’s okay. You get going, and I’ll see you around noon."

"You’re sure."

"Yes, Rhian, I’m sure. But thank you." She kissed her on the forehead and then released her. "Okay. Time to feed you rugrats."

Rhian looked at the children who both seemed to have settled back down to normal. She gave Deven one more glance before turning to leave, feeling a happiness she hadn’t known in a very long time.

To Be Continued In Chapter Twenty Two

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