See Chapter One for full disclaimers.
Rhian's head snapped back as the palm of Deven's hand impacted solidly against her forehead. It hurt, but she was too stunned to think about the pain and tried instead, to determine if the single word Deven had uttered was said as a plea or a command. Unsure, she froze and whispered cautiously, "What?"
Deven's frenetically beating heart forced blood through her veins, and her arousal was decimated by the guilt that engulfed her. "I...I." Small pants of breath were all she could manage against muscles that had apparently locked in place precluding her from inhaling completely.
The younger woman looked into eyes that were wild and unfocused. A myriad of emotions flickered across Deven's face, not the least of which were fear and loathing. "Deven, what is it?" Rhian's first thought was that the woman was having some sort of seizure, and her mind worked rapidly to understand what was happening and determine what she should do. Then the thought occurred to her that perhaps she'd done something terribly wrong. "Did I hurt you somehow?"
"No," Deven managed to croak in response before finally breaking the paralysis and drawing a deep breath into her lungs. She inhaled and exhaled several times, trying to get her heart rate down to a more normal range. A faint sheen of perspiration broke out across her flesh from the adrenaline rush, and she ran a shaky hand across her face. "I can't."
Flexing her abdominal muscles, Deven sought to lift her body up and free herself of the woman who still covered most of her form. Her only thought at that moment was to escape the room, and in so doing, distance herself from the pain of the past and the humiliation of the present.
The landscaper felt the martial artist pushing to rise up and instinctively lowered her body, covering the woman like a blanket. Allowing her full weight to settle over her lover's torso, she made no effort to move out of the way. "I don't understand."
The struggle to not throw Rhian off was growing more difficult with each second. Deven's heart continued to beat rapidly, and each beat echoed in her head. Fear, pain, anger, and self-loathing bombarded her, consuming her, taunting her, baiting her to strike out. "Get off me."
'Damn you! Okay, Rhian, you want to fuck around! How about I hit you upside the fucking head? That'll get your attention!' She trembled from the effort it was taking to contain her emotions and keep her body from reacting. 'Shut up! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!' She closed her eyes tightly and her hands gripped the sheets. 'Please, shut up. I don't want to hurt her.' She was keeping herself contained by sheer will and didn't know how much longer she could maintain that tenuous grip. "Please, let me up." Rhian made no move to get out of the way, and the grasp Deven had slipped. "Or so help me, I will throw you across the fucking room!"
Rhian watched the battle, and while a part of her mind told her to get out of the way, her heart demanded she remain exactly where she was. Refusing to acquiesce to her friend's demons, she would not allow them domain over her. The landscaper believed that the earlier blow had been an accident because if it were Deven's intention to hurt her, it would have happened already. Which wasn't to say that it still couldn't happen. Reaching out slowly, she cupped the woman's face gently but firmly. "Talk to me, Deven."
The martial artist's breathing increased again, and she jerked her head free of the woman's gentle hold. She couldn't bring herself to look at Rhian. She didn't know what she might see, but far worse was a fear that by putting her attention on the woman, she would lose the battle not to strike out. Releasing the sheets, Deven's hands reached up and grabbed Rhian's wrists. Her long fingers wrapped around the joints and tightened, and her arms shook from the strain it took to not squeeze until the bones gave way.
Rhian felt the constriction and denied the impulse to struggle free. Instead she lightly caressed the flesh of her lover's face with her fingertips. "Deven, look at me." Stormy eyes glared over her shoulder, and she repeated her entreaty with more authority. "Look at me."
Through the ringing in her ears, Deven heard the summons and despite all efforts not to, she looked directly at the landscaper. She stared into verdant fire and felt it reach out as if to inflame her. What she couldn't comprehend at that moment was that Rhian wasn't angry with her but that the younger woman did want to capture those parts of her that were held captive by the past and banish shadows that still haunted those dark recesses of her soul. All Deven saw was the intensity of the emotion directed at her, and a roar lifted up from her belly but failed to pass her tightly clamped jaw.
Watching her lover's eyes closely, Rhian could tell that while the martial artist was looking directly at her, it didn't appear that Deven wasn't actually seeing her. Although she couldn't understand what the woman was doing or why, she did recognize that some horrific battle was taking place deep within her friend that seemed to be engulfing her. "Deven, honey, look at me. Focus on me."
The martial artist tried to clear her mind. She sought to calm her body and force everything to recede and with aching slowness, the past withdrew back into the recesses of her memory. Her muscles relaxed as her need to lash out retreated and a wave of fatigue crashed down on her. The jumble of emotions remained though and unwanted tears blurred her vision.
Deven wanted to look away. She didn't want to expose the shame to this woman, but Rhian's gaze held her firmly. Keeping as still as possible, she wanted to be certain that the danger had completely passed and that she could restrain her actions. Her greatest fear was that she would hurt Rhian. So she remained unmoving, her vision locked on the eyes of the woman who held her captive in an elusive way.
"Talk to me. Please," the landscaper coaxed.
"Yes, you can. You can tell me anything. You know that."
Deven swallowed several times to suppress the cry that threatened to choke her. "The last person I allowed to touch me. Like this. It wasn't like this." Her voice trailed off into silence.
"Sweetheart, I don't understand."
Blinking against the memory, Deven released the tears to flow unobstructed into her dark hair. "I made her touch me. I used her like a whore because that's all she was to me. My personal whore. I taught her what to do and how to do it. I bought and paid for her by giving her a place to live and took care of her essentials. In return, I used her for whatever pleasure I wanted. That was eight years ago." She tried again to look away but couldn't break the gaze that held her. "I tried to beat her to death."
Rhian studied the tormented expression on Deven's face. "Was that the woman you told me about before? The one who stabbed you?" A slight nod of the dark head and the loosening of the grip on her wrists were the only responses. Deven had been quite open about the past and much of it had been difficult for Rhian to even understand much less assimilate. The woman's past had been dark and violent, built on a pretense of power that had rapidly been stripped away from her. "What was her name?"
"Her name?" she asked more forcibly.
"Ki...Kiera. Everyone called her KiKi, because they knew she had a rep for being so kinky."
Rhian studied her lover's troubled face. "That was a long time ago.
"That was my fault! Don't you understand?"
"Kiera shares the blame for everything that happened to her, Deven. It wasn't one sided despite what you think. The blame and responsibility aren't yours alone. It's in the past. Leave it there."
"I don't deserve to feel this. I don't deserve your love. I don't deserve anyone's love!"
"Why not? You...deserve...to be...loved. Your life has been so devoid of the emotion. The way I see it, you have a lot of love coming to you, and I intend to give it to you. Everyday."
"You don't understand."
There was a part of Rhian that wanted to lash out at the woman - to somehow shake some sense into her. 'What do I say? Damn the past and damn your guilt, Deven!' Rhian lowered her head and closed her eyes. 'Okay, Rhian, being mad at her isn't going to fix anything.' She understood why Deven felt the way she did and that stirred her compassion for the woman. It fed her need to ease her friend's pain. "I think I do. But you're wrong." She looked back up into distressed eyes.
"Deven, we have to move forward. I'm not like your father or the man who raped you. I'm not like your mother, or any of those people who abused you emotionally or physically. I'm not like those people who used you. I'm not like Kiera or any of the other people you used or who wanted you to use them. I'm just me, baby. Nothing more. Nothing less. I'm just a woman, with my own flaws and imperfections, who loves you desperately. And you, my love, are not the woman you were. You've moved past that part of you that was so out of control and gained a maturity while keeping the parts of yourself that are so wonderful."
Tears slowly snaked down the sides of the martial artist's face, and she bit down hard on her lip to keep the sob from escaping. 'What the hell is wrong with me?' She stared into the eyes of the woman who believed in her, believed in them. The one person who knew more about her than anyone alive and still chose to be with her. The one person who knew what she'd done and could still look her in the eye with love. "No, you aren't like anyone else," she whispered, her voice heavy with emotion.
Rhian lightly traced Deven's cheek. "I will not allow you to live your life, to live our life together, in that shadow. I love you. I love you for who you are. I love your strengths. I love your weaknesses. I love your confidence, and I love your vulnerabilities. I love you despite the past or because of it, I'm not really sure. Perhaps both. Why can't you accept that?"
"You come into my life and you say that all you want is to love me. You say it like it's such a little thing. It's huge, Rhian!"
"I suppose it would seem that way." Deven was the strongest woman she'd ever known and yet, she was so vulnerable. With daunting clarity, Rhian understood what Kelly had tried to tell her weeks ago. By allowing herself to love, Deven had opened the doors to the past. She'd laid bare her feelings, good and bad, and trusted that her heart would be safe. Whether it had been intentional or not, or whether Deven was even conscious of it didn't matter. The sheer responsibility Rhian felt to protect this woman crashed down on her and feeling her composure slip, she gave into the need to let go and wept softly. "I don't want to hurt you. Ever."
Rhian's sudden change startled Deven, but it also gave her something to focus on besides her own chaotic emotions. "Don't cry, Rhian." Wrapping her arms around the younger woman, Deven pulled their bodies together and held her lover tightly while she cried.
She waited until Rhian quieted before speaking again. "It's hard for me to believe that you love me. I hear the words, but I can't understand how it's possible. I've never done anything in my life to earn the right to have you with me. And I'm afraid that one day you're going to wise up and run for the hills."
The landscaper nuzzled the martial artist's neck. "First of all, I'm already fairly wise especially when it comes to you. And second, I'm never running away from you." She lightly brushed her lips against the skin just below Deven's ear. "Please, don't run from me. Let me try to show you how much I love you."
She placed tender kisses along Deven's neck up to her jaw and finally to her chin. Their eyes met and she whispered, her breath caressing the woman's face. "Put the past in the past. There is only right here, right now. You and me in a house filled with love, our love. That is all that matters. That is all there is." She captured Deven's lips in a kiss that quickly became more demanding. Her ardor was growing again, and she broke the contact to gaze into the eyes that revealed her lover's heart.
Rhian easily saw the trepidation, and it became imperative to her that her heart be resident in everything she did. That need quickly outweighed her own insecurity about her inexperience. The passion was there just beneath the surface, smoldering, waiting to rise up, but she no longer sought to figure out how to gratify this woman.
Her movements remained unhurried and delicate as she sought to re-ignite the fire between them. Everything was about loving this woman, healing her. Each contact was a tangible revelation of the merged love and passion that coursed through her. She was consumed with the need to make Deven feel it.
She kissed Deven again with barely tempered urgency and sighed with relief as she felt the martial artist respond, kneading the muscles on her back and coming to cup her bottom. Long fingers pressed into her flesh, and she moaned softly into the kiss. Pulling back slightly, she gazed at Deven's darkened eyes. "I'm going to make love to you, Masterson. I'm going to make you feel my love for you."
Passion flared and she kissed the martial artist again hard, entering her mouth and urging Deven to meet her in a sensual dance. It didn't take as much coaxing as she thought before she felt her tongue jousting for supremacy against the rising tide of the other woman's arousal.
She bit down on Deven's lower lip before sucking it into her mouth. Things were moving along faster than she wanted them to, and she purposefully backed off to slow the pace. Still straddling her lover's hips, Rhian sat up breaking most of the physical contact between them. Closing her eyes, she moved her fingers along the warm flesh, picturing the contours of the martial artist's body in her mind while her hands explored deliberately.
Beginning at Deven's neck, she traced the shape of the woman's shoulders, across the swell of her breasts and the dip between them and down across the abdomen. Muscles rippled under soft flesh and a shudder coursed through the body she straddled. Opening her eyes, her gaze followed the same trek her hands had taken. Looking at Deven's face, she smiled. The pupils were enlarged and lips slightly parted. But the one thing that caused Rhian's heart to pause was the look of surrender on the woman's face. "I love you, Deven."
Deven was incapable of responding. Nothing in her past had ever come close to what she was experiencing at this moment. Rhian's touch was soft as a feather but left in its wake a burning need. Her body was awake and sensitive, and she ached from the increasing stimulation. Rhian touched her in such a way that she felt revered, and the want that flowed through every cell of her being moved beyond the physical to an almost spiritual level. She didn't just feel Rhian's touch on her skin. She felt it inside as if each caress was somehow reaching her soul.
Leaning down, Rhian kissed her softly and then moved to explore the same flesh her hands had mapped with her lips and tongue. Her movements were slow and sensual as she migrated down to Deven's chest. She'd touched her lover before this night but not like this. It had always been in the heat of their passion, an extension of what Deven was doing to her. Now as her hands claimed her lover's breasts, she wasn't going to allow anything to rush her.
"Oh, God, Rhian." Deven again reached out and placed her hand behind the landscaper's head but held it gently in a silent plea.
Rhian wouldn't give in to any attempts to speed her along. She was in no hurry and enjoying every second of her exploration, delighting in how the martial artist's body responded to her touch. The soft moans coming from Deven increased her hunger and filled her heart to know that she was reaching her lover. That she was breaching the walls that held parts of the woman in emotional limbo.
She loved each breast in turn, teasing the flesh. Moving from one to the other and back again as if she had all the time in the world. Deven's hips lifted, seeking to make contact, and as the movements became more urgent, Rhian shifted to lie back down upon the woman. Deven's legs parted and she lay between them as her weight settled fully and their flesh pressed together.
The younger woman gazed up into eyes filled with want and need. "What do you want, baby?"
Deven was astounded by her body's reaction to the woman. A few minutes ago she would have sworn it was impossible to become aroused again, and yet, she couldn't deny her longing. "Touch me."
"As you wish." Shifting enough to slip a hand between their bodies, Rhian cupped Deven's sex and pressed slightly as the woman lifted her hips to increase the contact. Parting her lover's slick folds, she traced the swollen flesh. "You're so wet."
Lifting her hand back up, Rhian looked at the glistening moisture that coated the end of her finger. Bringing her hand closer to her lips, she tentatively licked it with the tip of her tongue and then smiling at the look on her lover's face, she pulled the finger into her mouth and sucked it clean.
Deven thought she might lose it right there and fought hard against the desire to grab the woman's hand and move it back where she needed to be touched. "Rhian," she growled between clinched teeth.
The younger woman pulled the finger from her mouth and grinned. "Not to worry, sweetheart. I've got you covered." Slowly kissing her way down Deven's abdomen, Rhian moved her body until her shoulders came to settle between the martial artist's parted thighs. Gazing at Deven's sex for the first time, she was drawn into the site as the folds and varying shades of color reminded her of an exotic flower. She traced the entire area with a fingertip watching as the flesh quivered in some places and become more engorged beneath her touch. Then she blew softly causing Deven to jump.
Lifting her head, the martial artist glared at the landscaper. "Rhian! What are you doing?"
"Enjoying the view."
"Fuck!" Deven dropped her head back against the bed. "Enjoying the view," she mumbled. "Bite me!"
"Okay." Turning her head, Rhian bit down gently on the inside of a tender thigh and snickered when Deven yelped in response. She was enjoying this newfound power. Not only did she truly enjoy making love to this woman, but she was also fascinated by Deven's response to her. She kissed and licked the spot she'd just bitten, tasting the essence that had coated the skin. She slowly worked her way towards Deven's tender center, and parting the lips like she would the tender petals of a flower, she slowly touched the flesh with the tip of her tongue.
"Yes, " the martial artist hissed.
Losing herself, Rhian ceased to think about what she was doing. She allowed her instincts to flow, ceasing to think about the act and doing what her heart bade her to do. She heard Deven. She felt Deven. She tasted Deven. All her senses came to play but nothing touched the intensity of emotion that rose up within her.
Deven's hips began to move against her, and she wrapped her arms around the strong hips to control the pace and contact. The martial artist struggled against her grasp before relaxing into the slower pace. Glancing up, Rhian was stopped by the look of absolute arousal on the woman's face.
Once again, Deven's eyes met hers. "Don't you dare quit now!"
"Never," Rhian whispered. It wasn't the taste, the smell or the soft texture of her lover that reached deep inside. It was the response, the sounds, the movements and reactions coming from Deven. It was the knowledge that she was creating them that lifted her heart and fueled her to a level of passion she hadn't thought was possible. She understood for the first time in her life what true passion was. She understood what making love to someone was, and she embraced it with fervor.
Every touch, every kiss, every caress reached into Deven. Rhian touched her with such devotion it made her crazed with want. No one had ever touched her like this. She'd never felt so adored and loved by anyone. She stood on the precipice and closing her eyes, she allowed herself to fall. The last of her defenses shattered and she gave up the fight, submitting everything to this woman. "Oh, God, Rhian."
A lifetime of ideas about love and sex shattered into a thousand pieces. Deven was lost. Lost in the experience and lost in the love being bestowed upon her. One hand came to rest on Rhian's head urging her to increase the pressure. The other gripped the sheet of the bed tightly. The fire was building low in her belly and fanning outwards at the same time the sensitivity between her legs was igniting sparks. And then it was upon her. A wave of gratification lifted her up only to fling her into a vortex of sensual delight.
A moan began low and rose up along with the current of her pleasure. She was aware that she called Rhian's name and then gasped as her entire body went rigid just before her orgasm hit hard. It began deep in her groin and spread outward, rising up to the top of her head and downward to her toes. Muscles all along her body constricted as the first wave of ecstasy she'd ever known in her life crashed over her
It wasn't merely the physical. She'd had orgasms before, but she'd never experienced the emotions associated with being made love to. She'd never known how intense that could be, and as her body slowly released the tension bringing her back down, the emotions rose up and consumed her. "No more," she whispered as her hand gently bade Rhian to stop. "No more."
The younger woman gazed up at her lover and her heart constricted as she saw the wet trails flowing uninhibited from closed eyes. 'Oh God. What did I do wrong?' She crawled up the martial artist's body and watched as Deven wiped away the tears. "What's wrong? Did I do something wrong?"
"Why are you crying?"
Deven kept her eyes clinched shut. She knew that if she looked into Rhian's eyes, she'd burst out in sobs. "I'm okay."
"Look at me, Deven." Rhian clasped the martial artist's chin to keep her from turning her head away. "Open your eyes."
"I'm sorry, Rhian. It was just." Feeling some of her composure return, she slowly allowed her eyes to open and gazed into the face of the woman who now held her heart and soul. "I've never had anyone do that before, and it was really intense."
"Never do what? I don't understand."
Deven easily detected the younger woman's concern. "Just give me a minute, okay?
"Come here." She drew the landscaper close and relaxed as Rhian's body settled against her own. "I've never had anyone touch me with love. God, that sounds so stupid, but I never wanted it to be about love. I never wanted anyone to have that power over me. But you." She paused as her throat constricted. "You love me." She swallowed hard several times. "It was like I could feel it."
"I wanted you to feel it," Rhian whispered. She lifted her head and looked at the pained expression on Deven's face. "Oh baby, I do love you. I will always love you."
Tears streamed down the proud cheekbones and each was replaced as quickly as Deven could wipe them away. Rhian reached up and took her hand, kissing the tear-covered fingertips. She kissed the damp cheeks and each eye. "I love you, Deven Masterson. Thank you for letting me love you."
Unable to restrain it anymore, Deven cried. She let the emotions go and with it, some of the pain. Rhian had the power to destroy her if she so chose and that thought was terrifying. But she was helpless to deny what she felt. She didn't want to deny it, and so she acquiesced to the love and embraced it.
Rhian held on and murmured words of love. She waited as Deven had waited for her; holding on and speaking of the love that burned within in her. She waited until the tears ended and Deven calmed and then repeated the words the martial artist had spoken to her the first time they'd made love. "If you're going to cry every time we make love, I'm going to have to make sure you're well hydrated."
Deven chuckled and then kissed her lover's forehead. "Cute," she said. "I'm sorry. I don't know why I'm so emotional."
"It's okay. Emotional can be good once in awhile, and I promise I won't tell anyone."
"Yeah." Lifting her head, she looked into Deven's eyes. "I'm not going to let anything happen to you, Deven. I will always do my damnedest to keep you safe. "
The martial artist understood that Rhian wasn't talking about her physical safety, but something much harder to protect - her emotional safety. There were no words to express what she felt, and so she captured the woman's lips instead.
When the kiss ended, Rhian lowered her head back to Deven's shoulder, settling into the depth of love she felt for and from this woman. She slowly rubbed her lover's belly, knowing it would bring on a relaxed state. "Close you eyes, baby. I'm not going anywhere." She kept up her caresses until Deven's breathing evened out, and then placed a gentle kiss on the sleeping woman's neck. "Sweet dreams, love."
Rhian paused on the threshold of wakefulness, stirred from the warmth of a tranquil dream. Even as her consciousness poised between the two worlds, the dream dissipated fading back into her subconscious and leaving behind only remnants of the pleasure the vision had brought.
She had no idea what pushed her to awaken, but she passed from the realm of dreams to reality with a bit of resentment at leaving behind the place she'd been. Shifting her body slightly, she resettled herself against Deven's long frame and smiled as the slight displeasure at being roused was replaced by the absolute contentment of being this close to the woman she loved.
Her eyes opened, and she gazed sleepily at her lover's profile. Deven's usual wariness was gone, replaced by a relaxed and peaceful visage. Unexpected waves of emotion rose up from deep inside the young blonde, causing her vision to blur with unshed tears.
Stilling herself, Rhian waited for the emotions to release their grasp and ease the pressure in her throat and chest. She felt Deven's body taking on tension, and she murmured to the woman, "Shh. It's okay." Running her fingers across the soft flesh of Deven's stomach, she eased the martial artist back to a calm sleep while taking solace for herself in the gentle caresses.
'What was that all about?' Rhian expelled a deep breath and blinked several times to clear the tears. The concentration of feelings had been completely unexpected, and she was having a difficult time pinpointing exactly what it was exactly, other then the love she felt for Deven. Reaching a more composed state, she examined the feelings more closely and recognized that there was some fear, too. 'What am I afraid of?'
She kissed the soft swell of a breast and lowered her head back down. She'd been using Deven's shoulder as a pillow for much of the night, as she did most nights they slept together, and had come to consider this her spot. She felt safe and loved in the circle of this woman's arms, and the steady heartbeat beneath her ear had a comforting effect on her unlike any she'd ever known.
Despite a night of restful sleep though, she still felt tired. 'Every time we face a situation that requires Deven face the past, it's so painful and emotionally draining. For both of us. But...but once we manage to move past the problem, she's more open and happier. At least I think she is.'
Rhian traced the scar on Deven's side lightly. Dissecting her emotions further, she found that a certain amount of anger and bitterness was taking purchase within her. She felt as if she was in an ongoing battle against the hold the past had on Deven and the unending guilt that accompanied it. There was also the woman's occasional depression and moodiness to deal with, and despite how far they'd come, there were times when Rhian wondered if she'd be able to face them all.
'Where are we going, Deven? What do you want? Do you want to just keep things the way they are? Do you want to move forward to something more permanent? For that matter, what do I want?' She grinned. 'That's easy. I want you everyday. Just like this. Practicality be damned!'
If anyone had told her she would fall so deeply in love, she would have fostered a certain degree of hope before dismissing the idea all together. If anyone had told her she would enjoy making love so much, she would have broken out laughing at the improbability right before she cried at the impossibility.
Her thoughts were scattered as the doorknob turned and she glanced up, watching the bedroom door open slowly. Hazel eyes peeked around the edge and met hers, and she quickly put a finger up to her lips. Seana mimicked the gesture as she tiptoed over to the bed and looked at the sleeping martial artist.
Rhian reached a hand out to the child, careful to keep Deven's bare chest covered with the sheet. Modesty wasn't important to her lover, but Rhian's natural instincts led her to be vigilant of the slumbering woman. She also acknowledged that she hadn't reached a point yet where she wanted to explain to her daughter why she and Deven were sleeping together naked. "Morning, baby. We need to be quiet so Deven can sleep," she whispered.
"Okay." Seana looked at her mother and then at the sleeping woman, her brow creasing in thought. Rhian wondered what her daughter was thinking but didn't get a chance to ask before the little girl's expression cleared. "Mama, I'm hungry."
"Me, too," she said as she gently cupped her daughter's cheek. "Is Tiernan awake?"
"He went downstairs," the child's huffy tone indicating she wasn't pleased he'd gone without her.
"Okay. You go on down too, but be very careful. I'll be down in a minute."
Seana smiled happily. "Okay."
The landscaper had an instant of panic when she saw the child grab the edge of the door as she rushed out of the room. 'Don't slam it!' Seana released her grasp and skirted around the open door, leaving it ajar. 'Well, I'm definitely awake now.'
Reluctantly, Rhian edged away from her warm and cuddly bedmate. She tried to be as careful as she could, but still found it amazing that Deven didn't move. The martial artist always awoke before she did and tended to be a light sleeper, but right now she remained oblivious to everything. The only other time Rhian could remember the woman sleeping this deeply was the night Deven had told her about the past. Facing the emotions had been so hard on the woman that she'd fallen into a deep healing sleep and never stirred when the landscaper had left.
Rhian stood and walked over to where Deven's shirt lay in a heap on the floor. They hadn't paid much attention to where their clothes were going last night because their focus had been totally on getting them off. She picked up the shirt and held it to her face, inhaling deeply. It smelled of Deven's soap and perfume combined with the woman's natural scent, a most appealing and contenting blend. She slipped the shirt over her head and shook her head at the reflection in the mirror as the shirt came down to her lower thighs. She looked back at the bed longingly before leaving the room to join their children downstairs.
Deven awoke a short time later to find herself alone. "Rhian?" An instant of irrational panic gripped at her causing her to sit upright in the bed. "Rhian?" she called out a little louder. She closed her eyes and listened intently. The faint sound of music filtered up from the floor below and she could smell coffee. Relief filled her at the same time she chastised herself for behaving so ridiculously.
She slipped out of bed, stretched out her long muscles, and studied her reflection in the mirror. 'Last night had been...scary as hell.' She ran a comb through her disheveled hair. 'But unbelievable.' She'd never felt so loved and safe in her life. She'd never felt so vulnerable either. It was frightening to realize that Rhian knew more about her then anyone ever had. The woman knew all her secrets, her weaknesses, and could destroy her.
'What will you do if she leaves you?' She stared into her eyes in the mirror. 'I don't know. I don't know if I could survive that. I don't know if I'd want to.' She shook her head to clear it of the dark thoughts. 'Well, she hasn't left yet, so get your butt downstairs and enjoy the moment. Sempre fi.' She put on a tee shirt and boxers and then went in search of some well-needed caffeine.
"Mommy said she'd make me pancakes," Tiernan said sadly.
Rhian felt his dejection all the way across the room. "I know, sweetie, but Mommy's still asleep. Can I make them for you?" His face was crestfallen, and she didn't know how to make it up to him short of going upstairs and waking his mother. "I'm sorry, Tiernan."
"Sorry about what?" Deven's voice, still a little raspy from sleep, sounded from the doorway. Rhian, Tiernan, Seana all looked at her and smiled. 'They're happy to see me. Damn! That's a first.' Moving into the room, she stepped up to the landscaper and her into a much-needed hug. Her emotions, still raw from the night before caused her to increase her hold. "Good morning," she whispered against Rhian's ear.
"Good morning." Rhian settled into the embrace and returned it with fervor.
Lowering her head, Deven softly kissed the landscaper. She broke the contact when the children giggled. "You think that's funny?"
"Yes," they said in unison.
"Huh. I'll remember that." She looked back at the woman in her arms. "So, what are you sorry about?"
Rhian shook her head slightly. "Tiernan was a little disappointed that you weren't here to fix pancakes."
She glanced over at her boy and considered the uncertainty on his face. 'I don't deserve to feel so much love when he doesn't.' Releasing Rhian, she walked over to where the children were sitting side by side at the table and kissed each on the top of the head. "Well, I'm here now. So, chocolate chip and banana pancakes for everyone." She walked back across the room towards the coffeepot as both children voiced their approval. "But first, I need some of this."
She fixed herself a mug and sipping the brew, contemplated the schmaltziness that was invading her life. Much of her felt the same but things were very different. 'Oh hell, I'm different. All I think about is Rhian. Everything now is about her. That can't be good. Can it? I mean, people are just out for themselves. If nothing else, my father taught me that. So, I'm a complete imbecile for putting any faith in her, in us. Aren't I?'
She shifted her gaze out the window. 'Grandmother, I'm sorry to bother you, but I'm so confused. My heart belongs to her, but my head tells me that to love so deeply is foolish and that I'm setting myself up for disaster.' Her brow creased. 'I'm afraid, Grandmother. I never believed that love would find me in this life. That there was someone out there that could love me regardless of who I am, regardless of what I've done. But she does. She loves me. What if she decides that I'm just too much trouble and leaves? Worse, what if I hurt her?'
She listened with half an ear to the chatter between Rhian and the children, their children. And what of my son? He's terrified of me. I distanced him from me so he wouldn't have to be afraid, and yet, the way he looks at me sometimes...I hate it. I deserve it, but I hate it.' She struggled with the impulse to walk over and pick him up.
So much was happening in her life, she was amazed she hadn't gone over the edge yet. 'Dr. Martin is having a field day with all of this. Just a few months ago, my life was under control and just the way I wanted it. Now everything seems completely out of my hands, but I'm happier then I've ever been. But is Rhian?'
She turned and watched the interaction at the table. 'It's beginning to feel like a family. And just how in the hell would you know what family feels like, Masterson?' She took a deep breath. 'Good question.' The thought of family and commitment of any kind should have created, at the very least uneasiness, but there was none. She walked out to the sunroom.
'Grandmother, why doesn't the idea of a family scare the crap out of me? I mean, think about the family I grew up with - except for you and Granddad, of course, but our visits were limited. For some unknown reason, my mother thought you would corrupt me somehow. You would have saved me from myself, I think. Instead, family grew to mean hostility, self-absorption, bitterness, deception, and eventually hatred. This feels nothing like that. Why?'
She took another sip of her coffee. 'Because of Rhian? Because family is so natural to her? Is it something that can be learned? Maybe she can teach me. Then again, maybe not. What if she doesn't want that? With me, I mean. Maybe she doesn't want to move in that direction. And we aren't just talking about her. We're talking about her child, too. I'd have to be a parent, and we know how fucked up I am in that regard.'
The resident hawk chose that instant to sweep through the back yard, calling to her. She looked up in time to see it pass by the window in a blur. The sun reflected off the surface of the pool hitting her directly in the eyes, blinding her for an instant, and she swore a voice whispered right next to ear. "Remember Jumping Mouse."
Blinking several times, she tried to clear her vision. 'Jumping Mouse?' Deven endeavored to recall the story her grandmother had told her when she was about Tiernan's age. The details had faded over time, but she did remember that Jumping Mouse, like all mice, had poor eyesight. 'His field of vision was very small and he could only see what was directly in front of him. That was not a bad thing, and as in all things, it served a purpose. But it limited his sight, physically and spiritually, and he grew discontent. So, he went on a quest and after several misadventures, he found his destiny. He became an eagle and soared high. Unlike Jumping Mouse, Eagle has very keen vision and the ability so see far and wide. Eagle can see the bigger picture.'
She remembered her grandmother telling her that the ideal is to be a little of both - to see the details of the moment, but move beyond the narrow vision to see the whole. The shrill call of Hawk sounded in the distance, and she suddenly felt lighter. There was a lot to think about still, but she'd put that aside for now and enjoy the details of the morning. And when she did sit down to contemplate the future, she'd try to do so with the eyes of Eagle.
Turning, she walked to the living room and stopping at the stereo, she tuned the radio to her favorite mix station before activating the speakers in the kitchen. Increasing the volume, she walked back in the room to find everyone looking at her with expectancy. "Let's get this show on the road."
The playfulness that Rhian so loved in the martial artist came out in full force. As Deven moved about the kitchen to the rhythm of the music, the younger woman sat at the table with the children and watched in wonder.
Melissa Ethridge's 'The Only One' came on and Deven paused. She faced her young lover and curled her finger in a come hither motion. When Rhian didn't respond, Deven sauntered over to where the woman was seated and pulled her up. Wrapping her long arms around the smaller woman's waist, she pulled their bodies closer together. Rhian's hands settled behind her neck, and they began to sway sensually to the music. What began as a playful gesture quickly turned into something more. The multitude of concerns and questions they both harbored were forgotten as they stared into each other's eyes.
"I'm the only one," the landscaper whispered. She hadn't intended to say it out loud, but as the words passed her lips, she wondered how Deven would interpret them. A trickle of apprehension filled the pit of her stomach.
The martial artist studied the landscaper's face. They needed to talk. They both needed to understand where this was going, but she wasn't ready to ask those questions. More truthfully she was afraid of Rhian's answers, and she was afraid to examine too closely exactly what it was that she wanted. Still, she knew she'd already moved down a path from which there was no turning back. She couldn't go back to the life she'd lived. "Yes, you are."
Rhian felt her knees weaken, and her heart rate rise. She pulled Deven's head forward until she could reach her lips, and the kiss they shared was sweet and soft. The passion was there, she could feel it, but it was tempered by the emotions flowing freely between them. It was moments like this when she believed that she and Deven could conquer anything.
"Mama, I want to dance, too," Seana said as she maneuvered her body between them, staring up at her mother in anticipation.
Resting her head against her lover's, Deven sighed. "Keep that thought." She kissed Rhian's forehead and then reached down to scoop up the child. Holding Seana in her arms she danced around the kitchen causing the child to squeal with delight. She spun the little girl around several times before moving back towards the table. Setting Seana down, she picked up Tiernan. With her son in her arms, she repeated the same path with him she'd taken with the little girl, and by the time the song ended, they were all laughing hard.
"Well, I'm awake now and hungry." Deven placed Tiernan back in his seat and returned to the stove to heat the griddle. 'I could get used to this.' She turned her head, meeting Rhian's eyes once more and winked, earning a smile from her companion. 'Oh yeah. I could get real used to this.'
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