Chapter Five, Part 1
Rhian was stunned. As her life had resumed its normal flow of activity over the past few days, memories of The Pit and this woman had been put out of her mind. Now here Deven stood not more than two feet away from her. Well, you were curious. Careful what you wish for, girl.
She looked different to Rhian, not quite so imposing dressed as she now was. Imposing or not, the landscaper was struck with how tall the woman was. Her dark hair was not in a braid as it had been the other night. Instead it lay freely around her shoulders, framing her face and giving it a softer appearance.
She wished she could see Deven's eyes, but the sunglasses the woman wore effectively hid them from her view.
Deven allowed her gaze to take in the landscaper. The sun reflected off Rhian's golden locks creating an impression that she was glowing. She's beautiful in this light. Deven mentally slapped herself. What are you thinking, Masterson? Something isn't right here, so get a grip!
Her mind began to work rapidly, evaluating the situation. She should have known that her pals weren't going to let her live down last Friday night so easily. To make matters worse, they had somehow managed to get this woman involved in their little game. What was her name? Ah yes, Rhian McKenna.
An unpleasant silence grew between the women. Okay, Rhian, Kelly said she was a potential customer so do your business thing. She assumed a professional demeanor and smiled at the taller woman. "Hello, Ms. Masterson. It's nice to see you again. What can I do for you?"
Deven let the silence return for several seconds before she leaned towards Rhian and growled, "Well, Ms. McKenna, I believe you've already done enough."
The remark puzzled the landscaper.
She looked from Deven to Kelly and back to Deven. "Excuse me?"
Never taking her eyes off Rhian, Deven turned her attention to the woman standing next to her. "You know Kelly, I have to hand it to the three of you. Not only did you manipulate me into coming over today; you were able to get Ms. McKenna here to play along in your little game. You orchestrated this beautifully. I concede you guys got me. When you talk to Carl and Jay, be sure to tell them, will you?"
Kelly's confusion receded as she realized Deven believed she'd been set up. That somehow this was an arranged meeting to taunt her about the previous Friday night. She touched the martial artist's arm and felt how taut the muscles had become. "Deven, you're wrong. This has nothing to do with last week, and Rhian here, doesn't have any idea what you're referring to."
Still looking at the landscaper, Deven cocked her head slightly to one side. "Really. Why don't I believe you, Kelly?"
Rhian had no idea what Deven was talking about. She knew she was being accused of something, but for the life of her, she could not figure out what. She looked at Kelly and saw what almost looked like alarm in the woman's eyes. "Kelly, what is she talking about?"
The lawyer shook her head, and tried to explain. "Rhian, this is just a misunderstanding. We tend to play pranks or jokes on one another from time to time. Deven seems to think this is one of those times."
The taller woman snorted. "Think? Ms. McKenna, are you telling me that you weren't a part of this little charade? I find that difficult, no, impossible to believe. Kelly manages to convince me to come to lunch today, and you just happen to be in the neighborhood. Rather convenient I'd say."
Deven didn't allow Rhian an opportunity to reply before turning to her attention to Kelly. "Are you actually going to stand there and tell me, this was not staged?"
Kelly had known Deven long enough to know how unpredictable she could be. She knew her friend was making a fool of herself, and hoped to stop the escalating situation before it really got out of hand. "Deven, please, it isn't like that."
Rhian was beginning to feel her blood boil. She didn't care for the way Deven was speaking to either of them. She didn't understand what was going on, and she definitely didn't like the way she was being addressed. Was this woman really so arrogant as to believe she would get involved in some stupid prank aimed at her? "You know, it really is amazing that you haven't been crushed by that ego of yours. Out of common courtesy, you could remove those sunglasses."
Not knowing why she was doing it but doing it just the same, Deven reached a hand up and took the sunglasses off. Her eyes were the color of blue ice, and she stared directly into green.
Rhian felt a wave of fury pass from Deven, but instead of retreating she met it head on with her own. She was finished with this conversation. Green fire met blue ice, and Rhian's decibel level rose with the intensity of her gaze. "I resent your accusations! I didn't come looking for you. You were the one who showed up here. I was led to believe that you're seeking my professional services, instead you stand there, accusing me of God knows what. I don't know what your problem is, but I choose to no longer be a part of this discussion!"
By the time she completed her tirade, Rhian was shouting at the taller woman. For a second or two she saw Deven's eyes flicker. For that brief interval the rage seemed to leave those eyes to be replaced with something else. Surprise perhaps?
Turning away, Rhian addressed her crew. "If you need anything, call my cell phone." Without another word, the landscaper stormed around the house towards her truck.
Kelly's through her hands up in exasperation. "Damn it, Deven! She didn't have a clue what you were talking about." She hurried around the house in hopes of catching the younger woman before she left, but by the time she reached the front yard, Rhian's truck was pulling away and accelerating quickly.
Deven slowly made her back around the house. Was I wrong? Did I just make a complete ass of myself for the second time in front of that woman? Come on! That isn't me! She rubbed her temples. This is bullshit! No woman has ever bested me. She released a deep breath. Yeah? What about the Pit the other night? That little no nothing of a landscaper knocked you on your ass! And you? You don't need any help whatsoever in making a fool of yourself. Rhian comes anywhere near you and you become a complete and total jerk!
Deven put her sunglasses back on while walking up to stand beside Kelly. The other woman gave her a cursory glance before turning away and heading back to her own house. That brief look was more than enough to let Deven know that the lawyer was pissed off.
Watching her friend's retreating back, she debated whether to go with the woman or just get in the car and leave. She realized she'd left her keys in Kelly's kitchen so just driving away was not an option.
Halfway across the street, Kelly paused and spoke in a strained tone to Deven over her shoulder. "We need to talk."
Well, so much for a quiet getaway. Deven shook her head and moved to follow.
The women entered the house in silence, which in truth, suited Deven just fine. Kelly waited until they were back in her kitchen, and she'd poured herself another glass of tea before she faced her aggravating friend. "You listen to me. Don't interrupt until I'm done. Then you can say whatever you want or just leave. Right now, I could care less." She paused to take a sip of her tea and glared Deven.
"I'm angrier with you right now than I can ever remember being! Rhian is a wonderful person. She is honest, caring and friendly. And she is one hell of a landscaper. What you did today was horrific! It was truly beneath you." She paused to take a breath. "I've seen you do some harsh things, Deven, but today was by far the worst. There was never any thought of ridiculing you about last Friday. You get it into your head that you're being dumped on, and won't let it go. I told you she didn't know what you were talking about!"
Deven opened her mouth to respond, but the lawyer continued before she had a chance to utter a word. "What is wrong with you? What is it about this woman that has you acting like the village idiot? You can not deny that there's something going on here. I've never seen you back down from anyone, and yet this woman has managed to disarm you not once, but twice. I've never seen you so...so...damn it, so obnoxious! "
The martial artist took in every word Kelly said. Her first instinct was to lash out. How dare she speak to me like that! She's speaking to you like that because you're a jackass, Deven! What are you going to do? Deny it all? What's the point?
She didn't lash out or deny it. Instead she walked out the back door to the patio. Gazing sightlessly at the yard, she allowed her thoughts to drift to the young woman...to Rhian. Kelly, her anger abated, walked up beside Deven and stood silently waiting.
The martial artist never took her eyes off the fountain as she spoke. "I don't know how to explain this, because I don't understand it. From the moment I saw her, I felt like I should recognize her. Even though I'm certain we've never met before, I feel a sense of familiarity about her. When I'm around her, it's like my equilibrium is off. I can't think straight. My thoughts swirl around in my head. I can't remember anyone ever making me feel so out of control of myself, but when I look into her eyes that's exactly what seems to happen."
Kelly studied the brooding woman's profile intently. In the years that she'd known the martial artist, she had never known Deven to speak of herself so openly. She felt a need to tread easy right now before Deven retreated behind the stoic Masterson facade. "Is it a bad feeling or just a different feeling?"
Deven contemplated the question. "It isn't bad. I just ... I don't like not having control, and Rhian seems to somehow disrupt that. I can't figure it out, and I've tried. Something about her reduces me to the obnoxious idiot you've so aptly labeled me."
Both women stood quietly lost in their own thoughts. Though neither spoke out loud, the one thought they shared was that Rhian had been wronged. Kelly cleared her throat breaking the interminable silence. "We should go talk to her. Explain what happened."
Deven laughed, but the laughter was hollow. "What's the point? If she's as good a person as you say, she has no business being around someone like me. You, of all people should realize that."
Kelly felt the martial artist retreating and quickly countered. "The point, Deven, is that she was treated badly today. You bullied her and called her a liar. She didn't deserve that, and you owe her an apology!" She watched the muscles in Deven's face constricting as she clamped and unclamped her jaw. What are you thinking, Deven?
When the martial artist didn't respond, Kelly pressed on. "Besides, she really is a great landscaper and your property is in desperate need of her talents." The last of her anger dissipated, and she regarded her friend. "Sometimes I worry about you, Deven. You don't relax. You're always working out, or teaching, or taking care of a hundred different business related issues. Everything about your life is so calculated and controlled." Except when it comes to Rhian McKenna.
"How long do you think you can keep it up? Something is bound to give eventually, and then you're going to find that you didn't have as much control of things as you thought. It will be a rude awakening for you."
Deven produced a small sigh. "Whatever. Come on, Kelly. You don't actually believe Rhian would ever step foot on my property, do you?"
Kelly turned and goaded her friend. "Are you telling me you're not up to the challenge?"
The effect was instantaneous as Deven scowled. "What are you talking about?"
"It just seems that she intimidates you on some level. I don't know how else to explain it. You yourself said she makes you feel out of balance. You need to figure out why. But in the meantime, you did upset her. The immediate question is are you a big enough person to face her and apologize."
Deven studied Kelly's face for a few seconds than turned her gaze back to the fountain. She was right. As much as she hated to admit to any of what Kelly said, she couldn't deny the truth. "You're right, Kel. I have a lot to think about, and I do owe Ms. McKenna an apology. Now can we drop this discussion? I have to get back to work."
The lawyer nodded, and smiled at her small victory. "Sure, but don't put it off too long."
While driving back to the garden center, the horrible scene played over and over in Rhian's mind. She wasn't in any real hurry to get back, so she stuck mostly to the back roads. She was furious, and allowed the anger to run its course.
Who does that woman think she is? She practically called me a liar. That bitch stood there and accused me of taking part in a charade I know nothing about. She didn't listen to me. And she ignored Kelly. Damn!
She has an ego unlike anything I've ever seen. Why would anyone want to spend time with that arrogant, self-centered witch? You wanted to know what makes her tick? She's a lunatic. That's what makes her tick.
Kelly called her a friend. What kind of friend talks to people that way? She hit the steering wheel with the palm of her hand, instantly regretting the action as the pain fanned out to her fingers and wrist. "Ouch!"
The anger drained away filling her with hurt at Kelly's part in this - whatever this was. She'd liked the lawyer, and was disheartened that the woman would use her like a pawn in some petty little game. She was rarely so wrong about people, but apparently she had been very wrong this time.
She hated feeling like this. She tried desperately to fight the tears, but couldn't quite contain them all. By the time she drove into the garden center parking lot, the hurt had been replaced with a sense of sadness.
Nicole watched her friend cross the parking area and enter the main building. She couldn't be certain, but from this distance it looked as if Rhian friend had been crying. Jogging to the building, it didn't take her long to catch up to the young woman. "Rhian, what is it?"
The blonde looked at her friend. How can I explain all of this? "Just a bad day, Nic. Nothing serious."
Nicole could see that her friend had in fact been crying and she sensed that Rhian was holding something back, but now didn't seem the best time to push her into talking about it. "What can I do to help?"
Rhian hugged Nicole hard. "You help just by being here."
Releasing her friend, she gave Nicole a weak smile and walked out the back door of the building. Needing to clear her head, she strolled for almost an hour around the stocking areas where no customers were permitted. It was quiet in this part of the nursery, providing her with an opportunity to think.
She had no idea what had happened earlier. She didn't know if she would ever understand it. When she had first seen Deven today, a part of her had been pleased. She didn't know why. Perhaps it was because she'd believed that the person that had so intimidated her that night at the bar was an extension of the environment, not the actual person herself. Today she didn't know what to think. More puzzling she didn't know why she cared.
Why does any of this bother me? Deven Masterson is not now nor will she ever be a part of my life. So, what possible difference does it make? And then she thought about Kelly, and she was deeply upset by what she perceived as the woman's betrayal. Let it go Rhian. People use people all the time. You just don't have to be one of them.
She slowly made her way back to her office. There was still a couple of hour's left in the day to get some work done. Focusing on her work, she lost herself in the artistry of her designs, and the outside world retreated, if only for a while.
Kelly sat quietly in her kitchen and contemplated her friend's behavior. She simply couldn't make sense of what had happened. Deven's conduct was so extraordinary, that it defied everything she knew about the woman. She'd called Jay several times to gain his perspective, but the best she'd been able to do was leave a voice mail message for him outlining the catastrophe.
On the most obvious level, she shouldn't have been surprised at Deven's reaction. She could see how the woman might have construed they were having fun at her expense, but she was having a difficult time understanding the intensity of Deven's reaction.
Deven was always in control of herself and those around her. She was quite adept at manipulating people and situations. Except when it comes to Rhian. Rhian had shown no indication of being intimidated by the martial artist. So what is it, Deven? You normally scoff at the Rhian's of the world. What is it about this young woman that's different?
Is there something more to this...something on a deeper level? Are you attracted to Rhian? The landscaper wasn't anything like Deven's normal conquests so the seduction theory didn't seem likely. Deven certainly wasn't following her normal pattern of seduction either. If anything, she was destroying any possibility of luring the younger woman to bed.
Kelly wondered if Deven could be drawn to Rhian on more than a physical level. Despite the antagonism between the two women, the landscaper had managed to touch something in Deven that Kelly had never seen before. She'd never seen Deven emotionally involved with anyone so there was no basis for comparison. The martial artist didn't do emotional entanglements. Her forte was seduction.
Deven pursued her chosen prey with an undeniably seductive charm until they voluntarily succumbed to her. She showed them the time of their lives, and then kissed them goodbye. No strings, and no complications for the seducer.
Kelly knew the routine first hand. She wasn't proud of the fact that she'd been just another notch on the martial artist's seduction belt. She knew it was her own fault. Deven hadn't forced her into anything. She'd slept with the woman willingly. What had hurt was the realization that the martial artist hadn't seen her as a human being. She'd been nothing more than a toy to be played with and then discarded.
She'd been dating Carl at the time though they hadn't moved into a relationship yet. When she finally told him about it, he'd been supportive, helping her to put her feelings in perspective. That had been a turning point in their relationship, so in some weird sort of way, sleeping with Deven had brought her closer to the man who would become her husband.
Deven never mentioned it to either of them as if it had never actually happened. She supposed a part of her ego remained bruised though even that had faded as she'd watched the martial artist seduce woman after woman over the years. Giving chase is what Jay called it. Still, despite her wounded pride, they had somehow grown to be friends.
She turned her thoughts away from the past to the present. Even though Deven had agreed in principle that Rhian deserved an apology, Kelly didn't actually believe that the woman would follow through with it. Deven didn't 'do' apologies.
Kelly grabbed her keys and purse, and headed out of the house to her car. The Mackenzie truck was still in front of the neighbor's house, but there was no sign of Rhian's 4 X 4. Kelly knew she could just call the garden center, but she was concerned that Rhian wouldn't accept the call. Besides, she believed this conversation was best accomplished face to face.
She spent most of the drive to the garden center contemplating what she was going to say to the younger woman. Everything she practiced in her head sounded weak or contrived. As she pulled into the garden center's parking lot, she wondered what she would do if Rhian refused to see her. She still had not come up with an answer to that question when she entered the main building.
She didn't see Rhian, but she did recognize the younger woman's friend from the Pit. "Hello. Nicole, isn't it?"
Nicole looked at Kelly and smiled. "Yes. Kelly Preston, right?"
"That's me. Listen, I'm looking for Rhian. Is she around?"
"Is she expecting you? Is there something wrong with the work we did for you?"
Kelly was quick to respond. "No, the landscape is great. I just need to talk to her. There was a misunderstanding this afternoon and I want to make sure she's okay. And maybe clear the air."
Nicole's friendly attitude vanished as her protective streak kicked in. "What happened?"
Kelly watched the change in the other woman's demeanor and decided it was prudent to tread carefully on this subject. "What did Rhian tell you?"
"She didn't want to talk about it. All I know is that she showed up here, and had been crying. Were you responsible for that?"
The lawyer regarded the young woman before her and answered quietly. "I'm responsible in part, but it wasn't intentional. As I said, it was a misunderstanding, and I would really like to set matters straight. Is she here?"
Nicole considered telling the woman that Rhian had already left for the day, but decided that might cause more problems in the end. "She's up in the office. I'll take you up, but if she doesn't want to speak with you, you're gone."
She led Kelly across the main building and up the stairs to the office. The office door was open and both women entered. Nicole cleared her throat causing Rhian to look up from the design she had been reviewing.
Rhian and Kelly regarded each other in silence for several seconds, before the Kelly stepped further into the room and addressed the landscaper. "I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am about what happened earlier, and I wanted to try to explain."
Rhian shifted her gaze out the window, and considered why she should allow this conversation. She was hesitant because she could still feel an ember of anger, and discussing the matter might only serve to ignite the flame. However, this was an opportunity to find out what had actually happened.
Perhaps the question is do I really care to know what had happened? I hate leaving things unresolved. She needed to try to understand so that she could put it behind her. "Have a seat, Kelly."
Nicole was uncertain what to do. She wanted to know what had happened, and her protectiveness of Rhian was in full force. "Do you want me to stay?"
Rhian looked at her friend and gave her an open smile. She was eased by Nicole's presence, but she didn't feel she really needed her protection on this issue. "No, Nicole, that's okay. Would you do me a favor and close the door on your way out? Thanks."
She waited until Nicole was gone and the door closed before turning her attention back to Kelly. "Kelly, I don't understand any of what happened. I do know that I feel like I was used for something, and I don't like it. I also resent being called a liar."
The lawyer dropped her head for a few seconds before returning the blonde's gaze. "I know, and I'm so sorry. I'm not sure exactly how to begin. Deven...Deven is a very complex individual. If you can get past her exterior, she really is okay. At the Pit last week, you did something that no one has ever done to her. It was rather embarrassing for her and quite honestly a great opportunity for us to rib her."
Rhian gaped in disbelief. "What did I do? I barely spoke to her."
Kelly looked at the unassuming woman, and allowed a small smile to play on her lips. "You walked away from her."
Rhian shook her head slowly. She was more confused now than before. "I still don't understand."
Kelly paused to consider how much did she dare reveal about the martial artist. "Rhian, this is difficult to explain. Deven has a powerful and magnetic personality. She can be exceptionally charming, and people don't walk away from her like you did that night. None of us can ever remember anyone doing so before. We thought it was rather humorous and didn't hesitate to let her know that. When she say you, she believed that today was a continuation of our ribbing her and that you were an active participant."
Rhian sat quietly trying to decipher what Kelly had said. The whole thing still confused her. She could see that people would find Deven charming. She herself might have seen that if she hadn't found the woman so intimidating.
She regarded the lawyer. She felt that Kelly wasn't telling her everything. Her gut told her that Kelly was not being dishonest ... just vague. She had always trusted her gut those today's incident and marred that trust a little.
Rhian allowed her lips to curl into a slight smile. "She does have a big ego, doesn't she?"
"Yes she does, but it protects a fragile heart," Kelly replied.
The landscaper's almost laughed. "Pardon me?"
Kelly looked at the younger woman. "To most everyone, Deven is just a heartless bitch. A reputation she has earned, but I don't believe that to be the truth. She isn't heartless at all. I think there is a fragileness there that has caused her to lock her heart away. She's never allowed anyone to get close enough to unlock it."
Rhian contemplated that thought. "That is rather sad."
"Yes it is." Both women became silent. The quiet was disrupted as Kelly released a small chuckle. "I'll tell you one thing, Rhian. No one that I'm aware of has ever yelled at Deven and made her flinch. No one has ever talked to her like you have and not paid for it in some way. You have managed to be the exception to both those rules."
Kelly glanced at her watch and then rose from her chair. "I've got to go. I hope you know how sorry I am, and can accept my apology. This truly was a huge misunderstanding that you unfortunately were pulled into."
Rhian rose also and walked with the lawyer to the office door. "I believe you. I was very angry when I left. And my feelings were hurt, but I don't believe that any of it was intentional."
Kelly turned to the younger woman. "Thank you. Take care. Maybe we can get together some evening."
Rhian gave her a small smile. "Maybe."
Nicole didn't even wait for Kelly to depart the building before rushing up the stairs to the office. She had to be sure that Rhian was okay. She found her friend standing at the window with her back to the office door. "Rhian, is everything all right?
The landscaper turned. "Yes, Nicki. Everything's fine. There was a misunderstanding and I got my feelings hurt, but everything's fine now. What do you say we get out of here? I'd like to see what my daughter has been up to all day."
"Sure. I'll get my stuff and meet you downstairs." Nicole was having a difficult time dealing with Rhian's evasiveness. It wasn't like her friend to not speak of her feelings, and Nicole found the change bothered her more than she cared to admit.
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