Chapter Ten, Part 1
Dr. Sarah Martin shifted her attention from the file in her hand to the clock on her desk. It's not like Deven to be late. A small smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. Well, there's a first time for everything when it comes to that young woman. In the thirty years Sarah had been a practicing psychiatrist, Deven had been one of her most difficult patients. Working with the brooding woman had been exceptionally frustrating, but also extremely rewarding.
She could still visualize what the young woman had been like back when, at barely twenty-two years of age, Deven had been entrusted to her. The dark woman had been angry, belligerent and depressed. The fact that Deven had been admitted involuntarily had only intensified those emotions. Her behavior had been symbolic of a caged animal. Unpredictable and dangerous had been the warning provided to all staff and attendants.
Deven had not taken her captivity well. She'd refused to eat for days at a time, and only consumed the bare minimum when threatened with sedation and intravenous feedings. Her physical wounds had healed quickly despite the significant weight loss she'd experienced, but the emotional ones had remained open and festering.
There'd been a few altercations involving the martial artist. The worst resulting in a patient suffering a broken wrist when he'd attempted to touch the woman. That incident was sufficient to teach the other patients to steer clear of Deven or risk a painful reminder that she didn't want to be bothered. Sarah felt that under the circumstances and given the woman's abilities, her charge had shown remarkable restraint.
They'd met twice daily for a month, and each day Deven remained sullen and silently antagonistic. The doctor spent their time together mostly observing the martial artist since the woman refused to cooperate. It soon became apparent that Deven Masterson was, if nothing else, stubborn.
As that first month came to a close, Sarah knew she was running out of time. If she failed to find a way to break the impasse before the month's end, her charge would be removed from the facility. She needed and wanted to reach the young woman to help Deven understand the underlying causes of the incident that had led to her incarceration at the Center.
Slowly Deven's overt animosity had abated. She would stand at the window; her eyes focused on something or somewhere far away. She'd remained for the most part unresponsive, but Sarah could always feel the underlying current of anger.
With only a few days left, Sarah had started to resign herself to the idea that she couldn't help this woman. At one of their morning sessions, she'd pointed out to Deven yet again that if she failed to put forth a real effort, the deal that had brought her to the Center would be voided and she would go to jail. Deven had appeared to ignore the doctor as she'd done most days, but a slight sagging of the woman's broad shoulders indicated she was listening. Accepting that small sign as an opening, the doctor had pressed forward and asked Deven if she wanted to go to jail.
The depressed young woman remained at the window and for the first time Sarah saw more than hostility on the strong face. "Maybe that's where I belong," she'd whispered. That simple remark had been the foundation on which they'd worked. It hadn't been easy, but as days turned into weeks and then months, they'd managed to explore the intricacies of Deven's anger, pain and subsequent depression.
The woman who left the center almost a year later was very different from the tormented woman whose admission had been forced. After Deven's release, they'd continued to meet weekly, then biweekly and finally monthly for a year. The last time they'd met, the young woman was no longer a slave to her anger. The anger wasn't gone, but it had been put into a perspective that was manageable.
At that time, Deven was dealing with her life in a much less hostile manner. She'd returned to training and competing in the martial arts. Her relationship with her family remained strained at best, but she seemed to be dealing with it. Sarah had wanted to continue to work with the woman, but Deven had been adamant that she was finished and it was time to move on. Now, years later, she'd lost her way.
When Deven had called her almost two months ago, Sarah had been pleased until she heard the pain in the young woman's voice. Deven had explained that the anger was taking over her life again, and she was losing control. After relaying what she'd done to Jay, she'd said that she feared she might really hurt someone. Her plea for help had been whispered but Sarah understood the enormity of it. For Deven to ask for anyone's help meant this was serious, and so the doctor had agreed without hesitation, arranging for the woman to stay at the Center.
They'd spent the next four weeks exploring what was happening in the woman's life. Sarah had quickly understood that Deven's anger this time was different in some respects as it stemmed from changes taking place within the woman, where the anger of the past had been a rage at the world in general.
Over the past two months, Deven had begun to slowly grasp an understanding that living in a vacuum of emotion was not control at all, but more precisely, denial. She was learning to accept the emotions and deal with them instead of beating them into submission.
Deven's desire to understand what was happening to her had allowed them to work through quite a few issues, and they continued to do so in their weekly meetings. As frustrating as it could be at times, Sarah had come to look forward to her sessions with the martial artist.
She glanced at the clock again. Okay, Deven, where the heck are you? A soft knock on the office door answered that unspoken question. "Come in, Deven." The door opened slowly, and the dark woman entered wearing a rather sheepish expression.
"Sorry I'm late, Doc." Deven sat down in her usual seat, and regarded the doctor. One of the first things that had struck the martial artist when she saw this woman again was how much the woman seemed to have aged. Deven had always found Dr. Martin to be strikingly handsome, with a firm gentleness and cunning mind. She'd done everything she could years ago to shut this woman out, but Sarah's pervasive patience had won out in the end, forever changing her destiny.
Deven drummed the tips of her fingers on her thighs. "I've had an interesting couple of days." She began by outlining the night at the Pit and concluded with an explanation of why she'd been late for their appointment.
The doctor noticed that Deven skirted around how she felt about anything that had occurred except when she spoke of Mace Coullier. Then she had no problem expressing her anger at the man. Sarah mentally shook her head. Anger was something Deven understood. The young woman didn't like it, but it was familiar. The rest of her emotions were so foreign to her she avoided talking about them.
Over the years Sarah had become adept at watching her patients without appearing to do so. She could perceive quite a bit in just a glance. Truth told it had been Deven who had helped her with that skill. When they had first started working together eight years ago, Deven hadn't taken kindly being watched. As a result, Dr. Martin had learned to observe her without being obvious about it.
It had been hard for Deven to open herself up. It was only through discreet observance that Sarah had learned to read the woman's body language and hear what the martial artist wasn't saying. Right now, she was aware that Deven was holding something back and she suspected she understood what that something was.
One issue that Deven was unable to resolve was that she was worthy of being cared about by someone. She believed her mistakes condemned her to a solitary life, and the risks of getting involved were too high. And so, she refused to get involved in a relationship of any kind preferring to keep her interactions with others on a superficial level that she could easily control. That is, until now. "How is Rhian?" Sarah asked.
Deven studied her clasped hands. "She seems all right. Her doctor said there was no permanent damage." The troubled woman looked up at Sarah and frowned. "I feel guilty. If I hadn't laughed at her, she wouldn't have run out. If she hadn't run out, she wouldn't have been hurt. The only reason Mace targeted her was because he was mad at me."
Sarah fought not to smile. "Oh, I didn't know you were so powerful. Deven, she made her own choice. Maybe you shouldn't have laughed, because it wasn't nice. But the decision to leave the bar was hers...not yours." She watched the younger woman closely. Deven was such an intelligent woman except when it came to herself. She possessed a blind spot of guilt that obscured all her positive attributes and tended to taint everything she did. "Why did you laugh?"
"I don't know."
It was Sarah's turn to frown. "Deven, don't do that. You do know."
The martial artist sighed. "Because of what she was saying. It was like she'd seen into my head. Like she was reading my thoughts."
Deven smirked. "Doc, I'm holding a beautiful woman in my arms and swaying to a slow song. What kind of thoughts do you think I'd have?"
Sarah laughed. "Good point. From what you say, or perhaps what you aren't saying, it appears you're quite taken with her."
Deven returned to staring at her hands. When she finally did reply, she did so in a whisper. "I guess so." She suddenly looked up, and Sarah was surprised by the openness she saw there. "I feel things for her that I've never felt for anyone."
The doctor nodded her head. "Do you think you love her?"
The martial artist rose and walked over to her favorite spot in the room. She looked out the window for several seconds, and then back at Sarah. "I think I do, but it can't be."
"Why, Deven? Why can't it be?"
"I believe she's straight, and even if she isn't, I'm no good for her. She's everything I'm not. She's a nice person. She's open and honest. It would be a big mistake. I would be a huge mistake for her." Deven fell silent, but the profound sadness in her eyes spoke clearly to the doctor. She walked back and sat down but said nothing more.
Sarah leaned forward in her chair bringing her closer, and she looked the younger woman in the eye. "Deven, you have to stop this. You're an exceptional woman who has made some mistakes, but we all do. You haven't cornered the market on that. If Rhian is the person you say she is, then let her make her own choices. Don't make them for her. You're trying to control the situation again and you can't. If she doesn't want to be involved with you on a romantic level that doesn't mean she can't be a friend. Start there. Be a friend, and let her be a friend to you."
The cast of Deven's eyes turned harsh. "I don't know what that means! I always thought my father was my friend! He was my buddy, and then he." She paused to get her anger back under control. "After that, I just figured the idea of friendship was an illusion. Everyone is in it for something, and if that something isn't fulfilled, the friendship is over."
"What about Jay and Kelly?" Sarah coaxed.
The martial artist considered those relationships. "I don't know how to answer that. I've known Jay for so long, he's family. I like Kelly. I don't know why she puts up with me. I haven't done anything to promote that friendship if that's what it is."
The doctor kept her voice low and even. "Maybe they see in you the same thing I do. Perhaps Rhian does as well. Deven, I can't draw you an outline on the steps of friendship. It's different for everyone and in every situation. All I can say is don't discount a relationship of any kind with this woman. I can see when you speak of her that you do feel for her. Let it be her choice."
"What if she doesn't want anything to do with me?"
Sarah chuckled. There were times when this woman displayed the innocence of a child. "You just finished telling me about your meeting with Rhian before our appointment. Doesn't sound to me that the woman wants nothing to do with you. She's coming to your house on Sunday."
Deven shook her head. "But that's because it's her job."
"She could have sent someone else. She didn't have to come personally," the doctor countered.
"Well, maybe it's because she feels she owes me. A hero worship type thing. Or maybe it's because I offered to teach her in exchange for her landscaping services."
Sarah held her hand up. "Deven, stop. Maybe she's doing it because she likes you. Maybe she finds you interesting. Or maybe she's attracted to you as well. Whatever the reason, just relax and go with it. What are you really afraid of? That she will like you or that she won't?"
The young woman started to answer but stopped before uttering a sound. She pondered the question for several seconds. "I'm afraid that if she does feel something for me, that I'll hurt her. And that when she finds out who I really am and what I've done, she'll be disgusted. It's never really bothered me what people thought of what I've done or about me personally. But I don't know that I could face that from her."
It was moments such as these that Sarah Martin was glad she hadn't given up on that angry young woman so long ago. "Deven, that's a dilemma many people face at some point in their lives. I believe that you have a great capacity to give, and you're only just beginning to express it. It's a bitch, isn't it?"
The martial artist laughed. "Yes, it is."
"Stop being so hard on yourself. Let things be. Don't try to orchestrate the situation, because from everything you've said, Rhian doesn't believe in your control. If anything, she's adept at taking it away from you."
Deven nodded her head. "Yes, she is."
Sarah smiled and rose from her chair. She really did like this woman. "Well, it's humbling and that's good for you. I don't know if anything more than a friendship will come of this, but from what you've said, I think she could be a good friend if you let her. This could be an incredible character building experience for you."
The young woman smirked. "As if I need more character."
"That may be true, Deven. I'll see you next week then. Call me if you need me."
The martial artist rose and walked to the door. Before exiting she turned, "Thanks, Doc."
For much of the night, Deven lay awake staring out the window. When she did succumb to sleep, images of the past invaded her dreams. When awake her thoughts swirled from the past, to her business, to Rhian, to her son, to the past, and to Rhian yet again, over and over all night long.
As the first rays of dawn illuminated the sky, she gave up on the prospect of rest. Throwing the covers aside angrily, she rose from the bed. She dressed in loose clothing and headed down to the basement to work out the edginess that seemed to flow through her system.
Cranking up the volume on the stereo and inserting a techno CD, she spent the next two hours practicing various kicking and hand techniques on the heavyweight bag and the speedball to the persistent techno beat. Personally, she thought the music sucked, but it served as a driving force for workouts. She focused on finesse and technique before switching to power and speed. Each punch and kick helped to ease the pervasive stress brought on from another night of evading her demons. Each reverberation of a strike to the bag served to vanquish the past.
She practiced several forms, slowly at first, locking each technique and holding it before beginning the next one. Between each form she executed a series of slow kicks, straining the muscles in her hips and legs. Her students hated doing slow kicks. She'd hated them too, but she'd learned that they were highly effective at strengthening the kicking muscles.
Deven worked her body hard, forcing it to continue when all it wanted to do was rest. She didn't stop until every muscle group pulsed from excessive use, and sweat flowed uninhibited down her flesh. Standing in the middle of the basement, she performed several breathing techniques to release the last of the night's tension.
Concentrating on her flexibility next, she stretched her body one-muscle group at a time, finishing the workout with a center split. She slowly lowered herself towards the floor by sliding each leg straight out to either side of her body. Six inches from a full split her muscles rebelled. Undaunted, she rolled her hips forward and back while bringing her torso and inner thighs parallel with the ground. Snarling, she bounced gently and then forced her legs to spread further, bringing her body to rest on the mat.
As Deven lay there stretching her inner thighs, she became fully aware that her body was stimulated as it often got during intense workouts. Now what to do about it? That's the question. Sitting up she brought her legs in, wincing as the muscles contracted. Her mood vastly improved and energy level up, she was ready to face the day.
Entering her bathroom, Deven took off her clothes and stretched her shoulders, neck and back. While waiting for the water in the shower to warm, she examined her naked form in the mirror. Not bad, Masterson. She'd worked hard to keep her body in top fighting condition even though she didn't spar nearly as much as she used to, and she admittedly held a certain arrogance about her physique. Doesn't hurt that women find it a turn on either. She grinned at her reflection.
She lightly traced the few minor scars dotting her bronze flesh, but avoided the larger one on her side. It stood as a memento of her former offenses, and a reminder that she would never leave her sins in the past.
Stepping into the middle of the shower, she luxuriated in the pulse of warm water against her skin from the showerheads on each wall. She turned to face the back wall and rested her hands on either side of the showerhead there, feeling her nipples tighten and rise up against the force of the spray. Picking up the body wash and a sponge, she began scrubbing away the sweat her workout had produced, conscious that the contact was fueling her expanding arousal.
Deven slowly moved the sponge over her breasts and across her stomach, smirking at the familiar tightening in her groin. You are such a horny dog, Deven. Setting the sponge down, she used her hands to spread the gel across her sensitized skin. Her eyes closed as she embraced the growing tension.
She traced her breasts before lifting them and squeezing the erect nipples repeatedly with increasing pressure. One forearm found it's way against the tile wall, and she rested her forehead against it. The ember had become a fire, and her free hand drifted down her body to move with purpose between her legs.
Finding their mark, her fingers began a leisurely massage of her roused flesh. Her mind wandered bringing up images of women she had slept with. It has been too damn long. Unexpectedly her mind was filled with a vision of Rhian and she paused briefly before realizing that the image of the blonde didn't diminish her arousal, but actually inflamed it.
She envisioned Rhian's soft green eyes darkened in passion. The younger woman's fine features tinged with the flush of arousal and her lips slightly parted waiting to be kissed. Deven's excitement moved up another notch and she encouraged the fantasy.
She imagined Rhian being there with her, and the feel of the smaller hands touching her. The feel of Rhian's mouth against her own and the sensation of flesh upon flesh. She imagined her lips and tongue exploring and tasting the younger woman. Sensually torturing the blonde until she begged for release.
The tempo and pressure of her fingers increased until sending her over the edge. A loud moan escaped into the empty room as an orgasm overtook her. Her head remained resting on her arm while her body pulsed against the fingers that still pressed her swollen flesh. "Deven, you can not think of her that way!" Pushing away from the wall, she finished her shower quickly, turned off the water, and reached for a towel.
Slowly drying off her tall frame, she indulged in the feel of the soft thick terry cloth on her heated skin. She used the towel to dry her long dark hair, combed out the tangles and then braided it. Then staring at her reflection in the mirror she scolded herself for allowing her attraction to the young landscaper to go as far as it had. Okay. Enough already. No harm done. Just a little release of tension. Nothing more. That better be all, because otherwise, this can only lead to trouble.
She dressed in worn jean shorts and a tee shirt before moving downstairs. Seeking a respite from her thoughts, she wandered into the living room to the stereo and inserted a favorite CD of Gershwin music. As the sounds of an era gone by filled the air, Deven walked into the kitchen to hunt up something for breakfast while she waited for the landscaper's arrival.
The past few days had been difficult for Rhian. Physically she continued to improve. Her face was still bruised though the swelling was now completely gone. She hadn't felt recovered enough yet to take a cardio class, but she expected to begin again next week.
Mace continued to invade her dreams though the nightmares diminished with each passing night. She was anxious to start training with Deven in the hopes that taking that step would further ease her memories of the frustration and fear she'd felt that night.
Her musings broke off as she slowly pulled her truck up Deven's long driveway. At the top of the drive sat an impressive colonial brick home and she parked in front of the two-car garage. Sitting in her truck, she scanned the house and front yard. The yard had definitely seen better days, but the house was beautiful. Emerging from the vehicle, Rhian reached behind the seat and extracted her brief case before closing the door.
Walking up the front path towards the stoop, she examined the walkway and surrounding plantings with a landscaper's eye. Her mind began to make notes of all the opportunities she'd already started to envision. She climbed the two steps to the stoop and paused at the front door. Her hearing picked up the faint sounds of music, and a smile touched her lips as she recognized the piece as 'Rhapsody in Blue'.
She has no sense of landscape, but she does have good taste in music. Rhian never would have figured the martial artist as anything other than a rock and roll kind of gal. She is full of surprises. As the song ended, she reached out and rang the doorbell.
Deven stared at the closed door for several seconds before actually motivating her body forward to open it. Damn it! You're behaving like a pubescent on the verge of hormonal discovery. "Behave yourself, Deven," she admonished as she opened the front door. Her eyes settled on Rhian and involuntarily scanned the petite woman. She couldn't help it. The landscaper looked cute in her jeans, work boots and green polo shirt, which accentuated the color of her eyes.
Rhian could feel Deven's eyes scanning her, and might have been offended except that she realized she was doing the same thing to the martial artist. She came to the conclusion that this woman always looked great regardless of what she was wearing, and she realized that she envied the woman's physical condition and height.
As their eyes met, the martial artist's head filled with memories of her earlier fantasy, and the images stirred a slight pulsing in her groin. Oh shit! Knock it off! She clamped her mind down fast forcing those thoughts to retreat. She cleared her throat while stepping to the side. "Hi. You're looking some better. Come on in."
Rhian moved past the taller woman. "Thanks. It still hurts a little to the touch, but overall it's healing fine. I like your taste in music."
"You like Gershwin?" Deven asked as she closed the door.
The younger woman nodded her head. "Actually, I have an eclectic taste in music."
Deven gave her a lopsided grin. "So do I. I'm not sure where I developed it. Can I get you something to drink? I've got bottled water, juice, sodas, or coffee. Take your pick."
"Water would be fine."
"Okay. Follow me." Deven led Rhian down a small hallway past the sunken living room towards the kitchen.
The landscaper paused to look at the living room. She found that sometimes a person's tastes inside their home helped define what they wanted in a living space in their landscape. Apparently, Deven's tastes are on the simple side.
The room featured a dark brown leather sofa and matching lounge chair. In front of the sofa was a glass table devoid of any collectibles or ornamentation. The sofa and chair faced a large entertainment system featuring the biggest screen television Rhian had ever seen, and a complete stereo system. Speakers were placed strategically throughout the room indicating the system included surround sound.
A large fireplace adorned the far wall, and like the table the mantel was bare. The walls and ceiling were painted off white, and the floor was hardwood. The only other color in the room came from the sizeable Native American rug on the floor. The design was simple and incorporated various tones of brown, orange and tan. It was a nice room - if somewhat austere.
She continued down the hallway to the kitchen. This room was bright and spacious primarily because the back wall opened to a large enclosed sunroom. The floor was white tile designed to resemble marble. The cabinets were made of oak and the countertop was also white tile. The walls were painted a pale yellow with white trim. All the fixtures were white and the room featured an island that doubled as a breakfast bar.
The only adornment to the room was a picture taped to the refrigerator, which featured a childlike interpretation of a horse. In large letters across the top were the words To Mommy Love Tiernan. Deven has a son? She looked at the picture again and then the rest of the kitchen. There was something about the whole scenario that bothered Rhian. She couldn't figure out what it was, but something didn't add up and it tickled at the back of her mind.
Deven crossed to the refrigerator and removed two bottles of water. After loosening the tops, she handed one to Rhian. "Here you go. What now?"
"Thank you," Rhian said as she accepted the bottle. "Do you have the plat?"
"I've got it in my office. Do you want to sit in here or go out to the sunroom?"
"Here will be fine to start." Rhian placed her briefcase on the breakfast bar and took a sip of water.
"Okay. I'll go get the plat. Be right back," Deven said.
Rhian wandered to the sunroom and was immediately mesmerized by the view. Each wall was constructed mostly of glass, which opened the space up to the backyard and woods beyond. To her right was a door that led to a set of wooden steps leading down to the yard. The floor was wood and the walls off white.
The landscaper was perplexed. Deven's preference for earth tones and her obvious penchant for light didn't coincide with her image. The woman was such a contradiction, an enigma, and the more Rhian got to know her, the more puzzling she found the martial artist to be. The dark overbearing woman at the Pit didn't fit into this suburban home.
Rhian returned her attention to the room. Right before her was a rectangular table with a glass top. The frame appeared to be wrought iron as were the six chairs that surrounded it. The other end of the room contained white wicker furniture with inviting thick forest green cushions. There was a love seat, a chaise lounge and two barrel back chairs around a low round wicker table with a glass top.
She walked across the room and stood by the far wall. Her eyes scanned the view, taking in the peaceful scene before switching to her landscaper's vision. So many possibilities.
Stepping out of her office, Deven was stopped by the vision before her. The sun shone on Rhian at such an angle that it gave the illusion that she was glowing with an ethereal light - as if her very soul were the source and it radiated outwards to the world. She was spellbound by the illusion and felt an inexplicable tightening in her chest. She looks almost celestial was the impression that settled in Deven's mind. That has got to be one of the stupidest things you've ever thought. Yeah? Well, stupid or not, it's true.
Rhian slowly turned, and as her eyes met the other woman's she felt drawn into their depths. She was fascinated by Deven's subtly changing irises, and realized that each hue was representative of an underlying thought or emotion. The transitions stopped suddenly as the martial artist closed down her feelings effectively shutting the landscaper out.
Deven held up the document in her hand. "I've got the plat." Both women walked to the breakfast bar and she handed Rhian the paper.
The landscaper scanned the diagram for several seconds. "Deven, you have six acres. You don't want all six acres landscaped do you?"
She laughed at Rhian's amazement. "Yes, there are six acres, and no, not all six are to be landscaped. You only need to deal with the acre that the house sits on. That includes the front, sides and the area inside the fence line out back. The other five acres stay as they are."
"What do you do with the other five acres?" the landscaper asked.
"They used to be part of a working farm owned by the Wilson family. In fact, this whole area was part of that farm. After Mr. Wilson passed away, the family slowly sold off parcels of the land. A few years ago, Mrs. Wilson could no longer keep up with the taxes on the property so she decided to sell off the last five acres. I bought them.
Mrs. Wilson still lives in her house, and will stay there until she either can no longer take care of herself or until she passes on. I rent out the stables to locals who need a place to keep their horses. Eventually I'd like to have a horse of my own, but I don't have the time right now."
Rhian stared at the woman before her. Who are you really? "That was really nice of you."
Deven snorted. "I've never been called that. I bought the land so they couldn't develop up to my back yard. I let Mrs. Wilson stay because that was part of the deal. I rent out the stables to make them pay for themselves. Nice? Not me."
A silence fell over the room as the women regarded each other. A sense of despondency settled over Deven. I'm not a nice person, and the sooner she realizes that the better for her. As realistic as she believed that statement to be, the thought of Rhian knowing the truth, the whole truth, clenched at her heart.
The look of dejection that settled in Deven's eyes was painful to Rhian. She knew so little about this woman. She was aware that there was on some level a connection between them. She didn't know how to explain that bond or what constituted it. She'd felt it the first time she saw Deven, and felt it again now. It wasn't the intense sensations the martial artist evoked in her at times but more a subtle feeling like a caress of her heart.
Deven broke the silence by clearing her throat. "Well, shall we get started? What do we do first?"
"Sure." Rhian sat on one of the stools at the breakfast bar. She opened her briefcase and extracted a sketchpad, a notepad, a mechanical pencil and a set of colored pencils. "I need to do a survey of the yard, and make some notes on things such as permanent features and locations of current plant materials. I also need to take some measurements, and will create a few sketches of contrasts and colors that exist.
If any inspiration strikes me, I may sketch that as well. After I've completed the survey, I have some questions to ask you that will aid me in selecting the best materials for my design. Are there any plants currently in the yard that you want kept? Which is not to say that I'm going to come in here with a bulldozer and level everything. But if there's a particular tree or plant that you're partial to, I want to work it into the overall design."
Deven leaned her hip against the breakfast bar opposite Rhian, slowly sipping her water while listening to the landscaper's animated explanation. She was struck again at how charming the younger woman was. "Favorite plant? Rhian, you could probably come in here with a bulldozer, level everything and I wouldn't even notice unless you fill in the pool."
Rhian laughed freely. "I figured, but I had to ask."
Deven answered with an easy smile. She no longer denied that Rhian enchanted her. She could no longer convince herself that she hadn't developed feelings for this woman. Rhian had touched something deep within her the very first time she'd heard the woman laugh. Relax and see where it goes had been Dr. Martin's suggestion. Easier said then done, Doc.
The landscaper was captivated by the martial artist's grin. When Deven allowed herself to smile, it was beautiful, and Rhian wished she'd share it more often. "Okay. I'll go get the rest of my tools out of the truck and get started on the survey. It'll probably take me about an hour. If you need to go, I can finish up the survey and leave the questions for you. That way you can answer them when you have a chance and fax them over to the office."
Deven shook her head. "Nope. I've no place I have to be. Take your time. When you're finished, if I'm not in here or the sunroom, I'll be in my office which is right through that doorway there."
Rhian spent the next hour evaluating Deven's property. The layout of the house and natural contours of the land offered a multitude of options, most of which would be determined by budget constraints. The house had been built at about a seventy-degree angle to the street and approximately fifty yards back from the cul de sac. The front of the structure was visible to the passerby, but overall, Deven's home was secluded. The location and layout provided a level of privacy missing in most houses in the Washington metropolitan area.
The driveway was actually an ease way with the property on either side belonging to Deven's neighbors. It wasn't until the driveway curved at thirty-five yards that Deven's acreage actually began. Her house was set forward on the acre and surrounded by stately trees. The result was a small, almost triangular front yard bordered on two sides by the drive and the house. A natural woodland barrier between Deven and her neighbor's property created the remaining border.
Rhian measured the existing walk, the surrounding beds, and the drive. She envisioned various plant materials and noted possible combinations before turning her attention to the rest of the yard. As per the martial artist's instructions, she concentrated her survey on the property within the fence.
The yards on both sides of the house were bisected with a wooden fence that Rhian learned framed the back yard across both sides. The wooden fence traveled into the woods where it connected to a black chain link fence. The wooden structure enhanced the appearance of the landscape while the black chain link virtually disappeared from view in the woods.
Outside of the fence line was natural woodland that had been left to grow unencumbered. From the plat, Rhian knew that the property line was quite a ways into the woods. There was a pathway that led through the wooded area in the back to a gate in the fence. She was envious. She could imagine how relaxing it would be to have her own woods to walk around in at the end of the day. A place to escape the concrete world, if for only a little while.
She noted that Deven's purchase had been shrewd. With the amount of development in this county, the woodlands were rapidly disappearing in the name of progress. It would not have been long before developers had devastated this acreage and leveled the trees. Deven had ensured her property line was protected from such development.
Rhian returned her attention back to the survey. The majority of the acre, not taken up with the house, was contained within the fenced in back yard. The yard sloped steeply away from the house and then leveled off towards the woods edge. She unclipped the knife from her belt and dug a small hole in the ground, noting that the soil was silt.
Examining the plat again, she saw that a small tributary of Difficult Run Creek passed through Deven's property just outside the fence line. She contemplated that this land might have been under water at one time as part of the creek. That would explain the sloping of the yard, as it may well have been the creek edge at one time.
Rhian turned and studied the back of the house. From the far end of the yard, she could see that the structure had three levels. The sunroom was not on the plat, so obviously Deven had done some major renovations. The room ran almost the whole length of the back of the house on the second level. The basement had been built out to support the addition, and the top level had been extended out over the sunroom. What does she do with such a big house?
On the lowest level was a glass door leading out to a concrete pad, which supported a hot tub. Now that would be a pleasure after a long day. Deven has her own little piece of paradise here. I wonder if she takes the time to enjoy it. I sure as hell would.
Rhian scanned the yard again, and felt her excitement growing at all the possibilities for this landscape. She walked back down to the lower corner and sitting on the lawn, she began making copious notes and sketches of her initial ideas.
She worked rapidly for fear that a concept might be lost before she could get it to paper. She hadn't had a challenge like this in a long time. Inspired, she allowed her creativity to flow uninhibited as her vision took form on each page.
Deven spent some of her time waiting in her office. She answered emails and reviewed the web sites of a few martial arts suppliers. No matter how hard she tried to concentrate, her mind repeatedly revisited the vision of Rhian bathed in sunlight.
The landscaper was so different from anyone she'd ever met before. The younger woman summoned up denied feelings in her, and that was disquieting. Until now, anger had been the only intense emotion anyone had managed to provoke within her.
The martial artist shook her head. Rhian walks into my life and stirs up feelings I didn't even know I was capable of, and she does it without any effort or intention. "Get a grip, Deven!" She rose from her desk and paced. "You sound like a love sick ass!"
Stopping in front of the window, she watched a pair of squirrels playfully chase each other around the front yard. I do care for her. More than I should. There's no denying that I'm attracted to her on a physical level, but I've been attracted to people before. This is so different though, and I don't have a clue what to do about it.
Rhian hadn't given her any indication that she might be interested in women. Deven had no reason to believe that the younger woman felt anything for her, especially after the way she'd treated her in the past. Setting that aside, she knew that she had no right to feel like this about Rhian or anyone. She placed her forehead against the windowpane. I forfeited that right a long time ago.
Deven turned and walked back into the kitchen. She crossed to the coffee maker and set it up to drip, and the room quickly filled with the scent of hazelnut coffee. Stepping out to the sunroom, she searched for the young landscaper. The sun was now high in the sky, and the sparkling surface of the pool sent her a quiet invitation. She glanced at her watch and saw that nearly two hours had passed since Rhian began the survey. She didn't know if that was a good sign or not.
She spotted the younger woman in the shadows at the far corner of the yard drawing in her pad. Every few seconds Rhian would look up at whatever it was she was sketching and then bend back to the task. Deven sat in one of the wicker chairs that afforded her an unobstructed view of the landscaper. She felt a little guilty, like she was spying on the woman. She just wanted to watch her for a while without Rhian becoming self-conscious. Although, I have to say she is mighty adorable when she blushes. I wonder if she blushes when she... Stop right there! You aren't supposed to be thinking about her like that anymore.
Deven's thoughts returned to that night at the Pit when Rhian had danced with her. Holding the woman in her arms had felt right, and she allowed her mind to relive those few good moments. "I can't seem to stop thinking about her. I like her laughter, and her fire. I like the way her nose crinkles when she smiles. I like the sound of her voice, unless she's yelling at me of course. I like her eyes and how expressive they are." Deven closed her eyes. "I like the look of her butt in those jeans." She leered. "I want to run my hands through her hair. I want to taste her lips. I want to run my fingers down her."
"Did you say something?" Rhian asked from just inside the room.
Deven almost bit her tongue in an effort to clamp down on the words that threatened to escape. She felt her skin warm as she wondered how much of her mutterings Rhian had been privy to. "Uh, no. I was just rambling to myself. Sorry. I didn't hear you come in. Can I get you something to drink?"
Rhian wasn't certain, but it looked to her as if Deven's skin had darkened slightly. Is she blushing? A faint smile played on her lips as she took pleasure in the fact that the martial artist was not invincible after all. She wondered what in the world could possibly cause Deven Masterson to blush. "The coffee smells good. I'll have a cup of that if you don't mind."
Deven rose from her chair. "Sure. No problem. Have a seat, and I'll be right back." As she passed the smaller woman, she paused. "What do you take in your coffee?"
"I'm not a purist. Two teaspoons of sugar and some cream." Rhian sat in a wicker chair and waited for Deven to return. Looking around the yard, she realized that from this vantagepoint it was possible to see most of the landscape. She turned slightly in the chair, which gave her almost the same viewing angle that Deven had when she'd walked in.
She noticed that her line of vision included the spot where she'd sat to do her sketches. Was she watching me? The thought should have bothered her, but instead she found the idea that the woman looked at her somewhat appealing.
Deven poured two cups of the fragrant coffee and added sugar and half-and-half to each. She took an extra moment to compose herself. It was bad enough that she had to deal with all these growing feelings, but to have anyone other than Dr. Martin aware of them was too much, especially if that someone was Rhian. Returning to the sunroom, she placed one of the mugs on the table in front of the blonde before resuming her seat. "So, any hope?"
Rhian picked up the cup and took a sip. "Well, as I told you before, I'm not a miracle worker. But, there's a lot of potential." She smiled and her eyes twinkled. "Of course, how much of my vision becomes your vision will depend on how well I paint it and how much you're willing to spend."
Deven returned Rhian's smile and nodded her head slightly. "Fair enough. What now?"
Rhian set the coffee back down on the table. She leaned forward to retrieve her note pad and a pencil. "I just have a few questions, and then I'll get out of your way."
Deven chuckled. Her voice lowered unintentionally as she said, "Rhian, you're most definitely not in my way."
There was something about the quality of the martial artist's voice that caused that fluttery feeling in the blonde's stomach. How does she do that? Rhian cleared her throat and concentrated on the task at hand. "Yes, well, I'm sure you have places to go and people to see."
"Actually, no. You have my undivided attention."
Rhian took several deep breaths to calm her stomach. Does she do that on purpose? "Do you have a favorite season?"
"No." Deven paused to reconsider the question. "Actually that isn't totally true. I like the winter because I'm partial to the holidays though I really don't have much reason to celebrate. I'm definitely not partial to the weather and driving around here with all the snow phobics. You know, the ones who abandon their cars on the roadways at the first snowflake."
Rhian giggled. "Yeah, I know the ones. Okay, do you have a favorite plant?"
Deven gestured towards the outdoors. "Rhian, look at my yard. I don't know one plant from another."
"True." The landscaper nodded while making a few notations on her pad. "Okay, do you have a favorite flower?"
"I don't think so. I suppose I should pay more attention. Wait, I like roses."
"Um . . . Deven, roses are high maintenance plants, and from what I've seen so far, I don't think you're the kind to spend hours pampering your rose bushes."
Deven smirked and bit back the sexual retort. "You got me there. What else?"
"What is your favorite color?"
Rhian glanced up from her pad and looked at the other woman. She found Deven to be, for her, the epitome of feminine strength. Her body was well defined by not overtly so. Her solid physique didn't distract from the fact that she was decidedly female, and her features were strong but beautiful.
Her eyes met Deven's. At this moment I would have to say that the color of your eyes is my favorite. She forced herself to look back at her notes and cleared her throat. "I don't really have a favorite. In my business one deals with so many shades, colors, and textures, it's difficult to pick just one."
Deven couldn't read the expression on Rhian's face. "I'm not sure I have a favorite either. My tastes are rather simple, as you can see. I like earth tones. I suppose I get that from my grandmother."
Rhian gazed around the room. She was struck again by the thought that something wasn't right. The room was immaculate, as had been the kitchen and the living room. Then it dawned on her. Nowhere were there any visible signs that a child lived in this house. Her parents' house bore the signs of Seana everywhere. How strange.
She steered her attention back to the task at hand. "Okay, let's see what you've given me to work with. Low maintenance. No favorite plants, color, flower, or season. Yep, you've pretty much given me nothing." She glanced back up at Deven, and both women laughed. "Well, Ms. Masterson, I've had bigger challenges in my career, but not many."
"Rhian, just do whatever you'd do if this were your yard."
She closed her note pad and picked up the mug of coffee. "Can I ask you a personal question?"
Deven's countenance took on a guarded look. "I suppose. Though I reserve the right not to answer."
Rhian cocked her head slightly. "Do you have a cleaning service?"
Deven blinked. Now where did that come from? "Yes. Why?"
"Do they come daily?"
The landscaper shook her head. "It's just that I can't believe how clean your house is with a child in it. My parents' house is a disaster thanks to my daughter. You can't miss her existence anywhere. How do you do it?"
Deven tensed visibly and looked out the window to the woods below. How can I explain this? Why should I explain it? And why should I care what Rhian might think? It doesn't matter why, Deven, you just do. "My son doesn't live here."
"Oh. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to pry."
Deven looked at the younger woman and saw nothing but a gentle kindness. "It's okay. He lives with my sister and her family towards Middleburg. She gives him a sense of stability I can't."
Rhian watched the other woman closely. A deep sadness touched Deven's eyes, and she found that she wanted nothing more than to comfort this woman, but had no idea why or how to do so. "Tiernan is an unusual name. Is it a family name?"
"I named him after my mother's father. He was my favorite grandfather. Plus my naming him Tiernan seemed to really irritate my mother." Deven shrugged. She could not fathom why she was telling Rhian all this. She never talked about Tiernan with anyone outside of her immediate family and occasionally Jay if he asked.
Rhian couldn't miss the haunted look that descended on the martial artist's features as she discussed her son. Without thought she reached out and placed her hand on Deven's forearm. She felt a slight flinch from the other woman, but was pleased when Deven didn't pull away.
The martial artist looked at the hand resting on her arm and fought every compulsion to reach out and take it in her own. Damn it! I have got to put a stop to this! Her logical side told her to end it, but at the same time, a part of her wanted to embrace the feeling. "What about you? You said your daughter is three?"
"Yes. Her name is Seana. She's a handful and into everything. My mother claims she gets that from me."
Rhian's enthusiasm was contagious, and a smile tugged at the corners of Deven's mouth. "Somehow I don't doubt it."
"Hey now. I was never that energetic."
"Uh huh." Deven pointed to Rhian's coffee mug. "Can I get you a refill?"
The landscaper's cell phone rang. "Better hold off on the refill." She answered the call, and Deven sat back in her chair, listening to the blonde's side of the conversation. Rhian closed the phone and returned it to her belt. "My mother. She and my father are going out this afternoon, so she wanted to be sure I'd be home before they left."
"You live with them?"
Rhian nodded. "After the accident I couldn't take care of my daughter. We stayed with them until I was recovered. Once I was back on my feet, it still seemed like the best solution, so I moved in there. My parents are great with Seana, and they've been a tremendous support to me through everything."
"You're a close family?"
"Yes, we are. Always have been. What about you?"
Deven looked down at the coffee mug in her hand. "My parents divorced when I was about ten. My father's dead. My mother lives in a guesthouse out at my sister's place. We aren't close. Never were." She looked out the window at the shadows beginning to form as the sun moved across the sky. "Well, I think I've monopolized enough of your time. Got any more questions for me?"
"No. That'll do for now. If I have any more questions, I'll call you. I already have some ideas, and I've started some sketches. I'll give you a call when the plans are ready to review."
"Okay. Have you given any more thought to the private lessons?"
"I still want to do them, Deven. I don't want to feel so helpless anymore."
Deven regarded the woman for a couple of seconds. "Rhian, you shouldn't be looking for ways to stand and fight. Your focus should always be to get away."
The blonde looked past the martial artist to the woods beyond and though Rhian wasn't looking directly at her, Deven could see the pain that settled on the younger woman's features.
"I understand that," she said. "I also understand that I should have been able to get away from Mace. He was fairly inebriated, but I was too afraid. And I don't want to ever feel like that again." Her gaze shifted and settled back on Deven. "You think I'm foolish, don't you?"
"No, I don't. I'm only trying to ensure that your expectations aren't too high. I've been doing this for twenty-five years. It's second nature to me. With time and practice it will become ingrained in you as well. In time your body will react as it's been trained to. The key is time and practice." She paused. She didn't want to take away the woman's resolve. "Let me know when you're ready to start, and we'll work out a schedule for you."
Deven rose and escorted Rhian back into the kitchen where she gathered up her briefcase, and put her notes inside. She then walked her to the front door. "When do you think the plans might be ready? I admit I'm curious to see what you intend to do."
Rhian thought about her schedule. She was excited about this plan and didn't want to rush through it. "My schedule is tight for the next couple of weeks. This one is such a challenge I want to take my time with it." She hoped that wouldn't be a problem. "If that's okay with you?"
"It's lasted this long, I don't suppose a few more weeks will make much difference." Deven felt awkward again, and she didn't like it. Still, there are worse things in life to feel. "Um, Rhian? Thanks for doing this. I know I've been a real jerk in the past."
Rhian stepped closer to the taller woman, placing a gentle hand on the woman's arm. "I thought you were insane."
To her surprise Deven laughed. "Well, I can see why you might have questioned my mental health." She was very aware of the feel of Rhian's hand where it touched her skin.
"Well, I better get home. I'll be by the school next week. I want to get back into the cardio workouts, too. I've just been following your suggestion and giving my face a chance to heal."
Deven placed her hand over Rhian's. "Don't rush it." She gave the smaller hand a slight squeeze before releasing it to open the door. "Take care of yourself."
The younger woman stepped out the door. "I will. You too."
Deven waited until Rhian got into her truck before closing the door. She leaned against the wall with her eyes closed. Her house suddenly seemed empty. She'd never noticed how quiet it was before. Well, that wasn't totally true. She'd always enjoyed the quiet and eventually didn't notice it anymore. Now, it seemed unbearably still.
Crossing the entryway to the living room, she made her selection on the CD player and then touched the play button. 'Rhapsody in Blue' filtered through the air once again, and falling back onto the sofa, Deven closed her eyes. "Rhian McKenna, I think I'm very much in like with you, and that is a very bad thing."
During the drive home, Rhian contemplated the time she'd just spent with the mysterious Deven Masterson. She'd avoided analyzing her feelings lately, because she feared where they might lead. She liked Deven. Despite everything that had happened between them in the past, she truly liked the woman, and she felt drawn to her. It was almost as if this connection she felt existed far beyond her control.
She knew Deven seemed at times to have a physical effect on her, and that troubled her. It was those feelings she avoided thinking about. Instead she concentrated her thoughts on Deven and not herself. Rhian couldn't seem to grasp who Deven really was. The woman seemed to be one contradiction after another. She was overbearing and self assured one moment, and haunted and lost the next.
It was the haunted look that stayed with Rhian. There was so much pain behind that cool façade. So much pain that she seemed to carry alone. She wanted to help Deven, but she had no idea how to accomplish that. She doubted the woman would accept help from anyone. Deven was much too proud. Still she hadn't pulled away when Rhian reached out and touched her. That was a good sign, wasn't it?
The more she tried to understand the women, the more baffled Rhian became. It was so hard to read the martial artist. It seemed, from everything she'd seen and heard, Deven had undergone some sort of transformation lately, and Rhian wondered again what could bring about such change. No one could alter themselves so much unless they were lying and hadn't, or unless they wanted to change.
She didn't believe that Deven was lying. That would imply than that she sought to change. But why? Rhian couldn't explain her need to reach the woman. Somehow she knew that Deven needed her, even if the older woman would never admit it.
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