Deven noted the slight trembling of her hands as she paid for the pizzas. The phenomenon was so out of character, it unsettled her and she flexed her fingers several times, demanding the tremors cease. The more time she spent with the blonde woman the stronger the pull was to be with her, and Deven found herself increasingly confused by her own reactions.
Most of her responses to Rhian were unfamiliar and puzzling, and usually left her poised on the edge of an emotional chasm, uncertain of which direction to go. She could step off into the unknown where Rhian waited for her, or step back away from the uncertainty and retreat into the world she'd fashioned. So, which way do I go?
After accepting the pizzas, she pushed the door shut with her hip, and then leaned against the closed portal. There was a part deep inside of her that longed to return to the sunroom in the hopes of recapturing the inexplicable connection she felt to the younger woman. At the same time, the very existence of that desire made her extremely uneasy. It implied a multitude of things that she wasn't willing to face, not the least of which was a developing needy streak.
The concept of needing another person was an incredible insult to the martial artist, an idea against which she'd raged for fourteen years. A concept she'd thought was eradicated from her personality, and yet, she knew that on some very basic level, she needed Rhian.
From the moment I laid eyes on her, my life has been a series of disconcerting events, and she has been at the center of all of them. One moment of confusion after another. And now this. Damn! Is it possible to love someone and not need them? It better be, because I can't go there again.
Carrying the pizza boxes into the kitchen, she set them down on the breakfast bar but made no move towards the sunroom to let Rhian know they were there. Unable to follow through on her longing to be near the woman and battling to conquer old angers and fears, she stood rooted in place by the inner conflict. So intent on the clash between desires and memories, she didn't notice when the blonde stepped into the room.
Rhian paused on the room's threshold, taking in the martial artist's tensed posture and troubled features. The turmoil was unmistakable in the taller woman's eyes. What are you more afraid of, Deven? Loving me or allowing me to love you? She crossed the room to stand next to Deven and placed a hand on the woman's lower back. "Deven?"
"I was wondering. Are we just going to stare at the pizza boxes or are we actually going to open them? Because I'm starving."
Deven managed a small smile. "Well, we can't have you wasting away on my watch." She reached out and opened the tops of the boxes releasing the unmistakable aromas of tomato, cheese, assorted cooked meats, vegetables, and Italian spices into the air. "What would be your pleasure, my lady?"
Rhian eyed the feast with delight. "Ah, decisions. I don't know. One of each I guess," she said as she sat on one of the bar stools. "We should probably call the other two up to join us."
"In a minute." While unable to consciously embrace being alone with Rhian, Deven still clung to their shared time together. She removed four plates from the cupboard and handed one to the younger woman before placing the others on the bar. "What would you like to drink?"
"Well, a cold beer would hit the spot. If you have one. If not, a soda will do."
"I think I can accommodate your first request." Deven retrieved two mugs from the freezer and two beers from the refrigerator. By the time she sat down, Rhian had finished half of what was on her plate and was reaching for another slice. "Slow down. You're worse than my son."
The blonde gave her a sheepish look. "Sorry. I told you I was hungry."
Once that first bite of food touched her palate, Deven realized the depth of her own hunger. The two women ate in comfortable silence, and it didn't take them long to consume half of the pizzas. "I suppose we should save something for Jay and Nicole," Deven said as she consolidated the remaining pieces and discarded the empty boxes.
Rhian picked at the crust on her plate, and sighed. "I suppose."
Deven found the forlorn look on the younger woman's face comical and tried, unsuccessfully, to suppress a laugh. "I could order another one if you want."
"No." Rhian grinned at her own foolishness while lightly patting her belly. "I don't want to be a glutton."
"I've got something I think will perk you up." Deven crossed to the freezer and removed a pint of ice cream. "Mocha chocolate chip."
"Yes! You're the best!"
She winked at the younger woman, and then purred suggestively, "Well, I told you that."
Rhian chose not to respond to the comment, but couldn't stop the slight flush that tinted her skin. She watched as Deven retrieved two spoons from the drawer. "Don't bother with bowls. We can share. No need to dirty up anymore dishes."
Returning to her seat, Deven placed the carton down and handed Rhian a spoon. "Go for it." That was all the prompting the woman needed. Rhian attacked the ice cream with such relish that Deven sat quietly and just observed. She is so cute.
She watched the spoon disappear into Rhian's mouth, to slowly reemerge through her slightly parted lips followed by the tip of her pink tongue as she cleaned away any traces of the creamy dessert. Deven's thoughts focused on the woman's perfectly shaped mouth, and she wondered what it would be like to leisurely taste the chocolate on those lips.
Pausing for a second, Rhian looked up realizing she'd been monopolizing their dessert. She couldn't read the expression on Deven's face. The woman's eyes appeared darker and her focus unyielding, causing a blush to creep up Rhian's neck to her cheeks in response. "Sorry. It's really good." She slid the carton towards Deven and turning on the stool, she faced the martial artist. "I've been meaning to ask you. Where does Deven come from?"
With an expression of pure innocence, Deven asked, "My parents?"
"Smart ass." Rhian playfully slapped the woman's arm. "I mean your name."
Deven grinned at the insult. "Well," she drawled, "my mother has always been active in breeding and training horses, jumpers mostly. She used to go to all the big horse shows. One of the more prestigious is in Devon with an O in Alberta, Canada. Apparently she liked the name. My father, however, was not about to allow her to name a child of his after some horse show. So they compromised and changed it to Deven with an E."
"Does it have a meaning?"
Deven took a bite of the rich ice cream and savored the flavor as it melted on her tongue before replying. "Supposedly, it's of Gaelic origin and translates to poet. Which I might add, I have most certainly not lived up to."
"Oh, but you have."
"Rhian, I'm no poet." Deven waved the spoon in the air as she spoke. "I mean, I've penned a couple of things here and there in my life, but nothing that could ever be construed as poetry."
"No." The quiet vehemence in Rhian's voice captured the martial artist's attention. "You don't understand, Deven. I mean, I haven't read anything you've written. I'd like to though, and I'm sure it's good, but poetry isn't always about words." Her expression took on a faraway quality as her mind sought how to explain her thoughts. "Sometimes...sometimes there are no words. Sometimes there aren't enough words to really describe a sensation or a moment in time. Sometimes poetry isn't about words at all."
She looked back at Deven and the martial artist was captivated by the gentle countenance. "What you do with the martial arts is incredible. When you teach or perform, it's...perfection. It's beautiful." Her eyes locked on Deven's. "But it isn't just that."
Rhian reached out and took Deven's hand in her own. "There is something that comes from deep inside of you, something that I can't explain. There's like this energy, a force that can be focused into a narrow beam of power like...like...like a laser. Or it can spread out and be as gentle as a spring rain. It seems to always be there, because it's expressed in the way you move. You have such grace of motion." She looked down at Deven's hand and gently ran her thumb across the knuckles. "See?" Her head lifted. "I don't have the words to describe what you inspire. It's in everything you do. It is poetry, Deven. Poetry in motion."
The depth of Rhian's gaze held the older woman spellbound as once again they entered a visceral passage where heart speaks to heart and soul to soul. Where words can't begin to explain or express the sensations and understandings that are realized on a level beyond that of mere conscious thought.
Deven was aware that the same feeling of warmth that had filled her chest earlier in the evening, laid claim to her again. Not thinking of the possibilities or the ramifications or the past or the future, she reached a hand up and slowly traced the contours of Rhian's cheek. Green eyes stayed locked on hers and she watched as the younger woman leaned into the contact.
Unaware she was doing it Deven closed the short distance between them. Lips met in a whisper of a kiss - soft and sweet. Unlike any kiss she'd ever known, it enshrouded her in a pristine emotion that pushed her demons to recede. "Sometimes there are no words," she whispered, her breath lightly caressing Rhian's face.
She closed the distance between them once more, and brushed small kisses on the other woman's lips, first one kiss and then another and another. She thought her heart would expand beyond the confines of her chest when Rhian responded in kind.
Rising to her feet, Deven pulled the smaller woman up to stand in front of her and wrapped her arms tightly around the young woman who had unceremoniously and unwittingly laid claim to her heart. Forbidding the voice in her head domain, she allowed the sensations of the moment to enfold her.
No matter how hard she tried to deny her feelings, or how strenuously she fought to submerge them, Deven realized that she was lost in this woman. She was lost in a place she'd never been with anyone before. What she couldn't have understood at that moment was that she was finally becoming found.
Rhian rested her head on Deven's shoulder as her love for the woman surged to the forefront unabated. This was the most incredible feeling she had ever known, and she knew with certainty that there was no where else in the world she would rather be then in Deven's arms. It felt right. In that brief kiss her world had shifted imperceptibly bringing all the disjointed pieces that had been her life together. She felt whole for the first time.
They stood together in that place were newly encountered love flares, illuminating a world of possibilities. Where this love would take them and what it all meant was unknown and neither woman was prepared yet to face those questions. For now, they lingered in that moment of discovery. A moment in which lives shift and change with the subtlety of a breeze, and two people are forever changed, for better or worse.
Reality slowly but resolutely seeped in. It began as an elusive thought that tickled the recesses of Rhian's mind. There was something she needed to remember, and with sudden clarity, the altercation with Karen Phillips surged to the forefront of her mind bringing with it trepidation that perhaps the current situation was not what it appeared to be.
Rhian was suddenly reminded that this was Deven Masterson, the seducer, and with that realization came the uncertainty that she might be a pawn in a game far beyond her experience. She feared that perhaps she'd somehow perceived the situation, as she wanted it to be not as it truly was. As disheartening as it was, she had to concede that it was possible that she was nothing more than someone to be bested by this woman.
Lifting her head, she eased her hold on the woman while searching Deven's face. "I have to know something."
The hesitation in Rhian's voice set off alarms in Deven's head, but she had no idea why.
"Is this?" What if she says yes? And even if she says no, how would I know if she were lying? Struggling to keep her voice even she asked, "Am I just another conquest for you?"
"No!" Deven studied the woman's face. Distrust had claimed Rhian's fine features, and Deven felt it's impact like a cold slap across the face. Leaning forward, she rested her forehead against Rhian's. "You bring out things in me that I didn't know I was capable of. I feel things for you that I didn't know I could feel."
Rhian wanted desperately to accept what Deven was telling her. She wanted, no needed to believe that this was not one sided, but given the other woman's reputation, she couldn't stop the kernel of skepticism. The uncertainty cast a pall over all other feelings. "You aren't just playing with me? This isn't some joke, or you aren't doing all this just to get me to sleep with you?"
Deven pulled her head back to look into the younger woman's eyes, and the look of dread she saw there pained her. She was at a loss as to how to convince Rhian that she was not preying upon her. "You have to believe me. This isn't a game. It's not a joke, and I'm not merely trying to seduce you. I can't begin to explain any of this. How I feel. What you stir in me."
Pausing, she struggled to find the words - the right words. The reputation she'd earned with such pride now filled her with remorse. Remorse, not for what she'd done to earn that reputation, but that it now stood like a specter between herself and this woman. "Rhian, I haven't let anyone near me on an emotional level since I was a teenager. I've never allowed myself to feel for someone."
Studying the blonde's face, she waited, hoping to see the doubt recede. "You've turned my world upside down, and it." She swallowed and took a deep breath. "It scares me. I don't know what to say. I don't know what to do. Most of the time I don't even know what to think anymore. All I can tell you is that my life is so different when you're in it. I'm different. I'm afraid of where this could go at the same time that I'm afraid it will end."
Rhian allowed a small smile to play upon her lips. "Me too." She watched Deven closely, seeking to find the truth. She saw the pain her question had caused, and detected no signs of deception. If anything, Deven appeared uncharacteristically open.
Rhian understood that with such openness came vulnerability, and for this woman to permit herself to be vulnerable on any level implied a great deal about the current situation. She'd observed several of Deven's interactions with other people over the past few months, and in each case, the martial artist had always maintained a high degree of control of herself and those around her. Looking into Deven's eyes now, she saw none of that control. Instead, she perceived the love she had known lay hidden somewhere deep inside this woman.
"Why didn't you sleep with Karen tonight?" she asked. Deven attempted to back away, but Rhian wrapped her fingers in the woman's leather vest and held tight. "Oh, no you don't. You ask me to believe you, and I want to. So, be honest with me."
Deven lifted her eyes and stared out the window. How do I answer that? I mean, why didn't it? I could have. The incident in the shower played through her mind, and lowering her gaze once more, her vision settled on the woman in her arms. "All I could think about was you. About how different the tournament had been today because you were there. It was fun for the first time in years, and I was happy because...because every time I looked down from that stage, you were looking back at me. Nothing else at that tournament mattered, and following through with Karen, seemed so...wrong."
The younger woman heard the words and tried to understand their meaning. "I have no hold on you, Deven."
"You're mistaken," the martial artist said quietly. "Your hold is stronger than you think."
Reaching a tentative hand up, Rhian gently cupped one of Deven's cheeks before running a finger along the taller woman's angular features. She brought her other hand up as well, and with her eyes closed, she traced the strong face and neck with her fingertips, seeking to create a more complete sensory image in her mind.
The taller woman stood still and waited. The uncertainty seemed to have left Rhian, and for that she was unexpectedly grateful. Her own doubts nibbled at the recesses of her mind, but she pushed them back. If these brief minutes in time were all she would be allowed with this woman, than she would make the absolute most of them.
Deven's lips met Rhian's more forcibly then before and though she intended to stop with just a kiss, she found her hunger demanded more. Opening her mouth, she slowly ran the tip of her tongue along Rhian's lips, tasting the remnants of the ice cream. As the younger woman's hands rose up and settled behind her neck, Deven tightened her hold on the smaller body, eliminating any distance between them. She was cognizant of every place their bodies' touched and her flesh warmed as her rising lust sought to consume her.
Rhian hesitated for an instant unsure, before answering Deven's silent request. She had never known a kiss like this and the intensity of her feelings shocked her. She had been kissed certainly, but this was so different - soft and firm, demanding she acquiesce and yet yielding in soft supplication. Arousing her. So unlike Sean.
As Rhian's lips parted, Deven felt her desire soar. She wanted nothing more at that moment than to rip the clothes from their bodies and devour this woman. She was starved in her need, and her body trembled from the constraint it was taking to not follow through on the images in her head. She deepened the kiss as her hands explored Rhian's back before drifting down to cup the smaller woman's bottom, pulling her hips forward and parting the shorter legs with a solid thigh.
The martial artist's tongue found hers and began a sensual dance, teasing hers to join in. The sensation in Rhian's mouth was somehow being mirrored where her groin now pressed firmly against Deven's leg. A low moan rose up, and it took Rhian an instant to realize that she had made the sound.
The strength of her reaction to Deven was so astonishing, and she felt she was being swept away by the incredibly intoxicating sensation. Soft lips and a moist tongue moved slowly down her neck, kissing and tasting her flesh. A strong hand moved up under her shirt, caressing the flesh of her back before moving between them to cover a breast. She felt her nipple harden immediately and gasped as Deven increased the pressure. This is too much! I've got to stop it.
"What the hell are you doing?" Nicole's voice severed their connection, forcing the two women to pull back.
Deven moved quickly, placing herself protectively in front of the smaller woman. Her defenses surged forward and combined with her overactive and unappeased libido. She focused her pent up energies on Nicole, and a small voice in the back of her head warned her to get control before she unleashed her frustration on the woman.
Oh, shit! Rhian tried to speak but couldn't get any words out. Her brain had seemed to short circuit from the over stimulation of her body. This cannot be normal! Her cheeks burned from the embarrassment of having been caught in that position. Okay, stay calm and think, Rhian. She took a moment to tuck her shirt back into her slacks before facing her friend. You knew you were going to have to talk to her eventually. But why now? "Nicole." She took another breath and let it out slowly. "Please calm down."
Ignoring Rhian, the irate woman pointed a finger at Deven. "You stay away from her! I won't allow you to use her!"
The martial artist's expression became nondescript and her body stilled. Rhian felt a sudden dread as she recognized the quiet composure, having witnessed it first hand before. It was eerie. The stillness resided on the surface only, because Rhian knew that Deven had entered that place where she stood poised to attack. Her exterior belied the power building inside the woman. Only the slow constriction of her jaw muscles and a slight narrowing of her eyes indicated her growing hostility, and still Rhian felt it radiating off the woman in small waves. Oh, boy. This could get really ugly. Stepping forward, Rhian placed a palm flat against the taller woman's back. The muscles were rigid beneath the surface, and the energy nearly vibrated beneath Rhian's fingers. "Deven?"
"Hmmm?" she replied, keeping her eyes locked on Nicole.
"I'm sorry," Rhian muttered.
"What?" Deven turned her head and regarded the woman. Oh God, she's sorry. You are such an idiot, Masterson! "Why...why are you sorry?"
"I don't want tonight to end like this," the younger woman whispered. "Something wonderful has happened in my life, and I don't want that destroyed now." She watched the cold aggression in Deven's eyes begin to fade. "This isn't her fault. She doesn't understand."
Deven glanced over at Nicole and then back at the blonde. "You have nothing to be sorry for."
Nicole watched the exchange and though her anger was on the verge of exploding, she had the good sense to keep some distance between herself and the martial artist. She couldn't hear everything they were saying to each other and it fueled her aggression. "Get dressed, Rhian. We're leaving."
"Rhian can make her own decisions." Deven moved back and leaned against the breakfast bar with an air of indifference. In reality, it was taking a great deal of control not to walk over and slap the woman.
"You stay out of this!" Nicole shouted at the taller woman.
Jay watched the women in perplexed wonder. He needed time to understand what was happening here, but the situation was escalating too quickly to provide that opportunity. He loved Deven and he cared a lot for Rhian. The only thing he seemed sure of at that moment was that he didn't want his friend using this woman. Yet, he wasn't certain that Deven was using Rhian. This was different from her previous conquests - very different. Still, he couldn't be sure this wasn't just another game to Deven. "Come on, Nicole. I think you might be overreacting."
"Mind your own business," she snapped at him. "It figures you would take her side."
"I'm not taking her side," he protested. "I just think we need to calm down and find out what's going on."
"Everyone just shut up!" Rhian's outburst stunned them into silence. Rubbing her temples, she took several calming breaths. Nicole started to speak but she cut her off. "No one say a word! That includes you," she said while pointing a finger at Deven. The martial artist raised her arms in mock surrender bringing a slight smile to Rhian's lips. It faded quickly as she faced her friend. "What happened... what you saw... is hard to explain."
"No, it's not. I saw her kissing you, and I definitely saw where her hands were. I won't stand by while she takes advantage of you. She's nothing more than a user! It's all a big game for her, Rhian, and you're just one more toy for her to play with."
"Stop it!" Rhian yelled at her friend. Please, Nicole, don't be this way. I need you to be my friend. Now more than ever she needed the support and love that had always been there.
Deven spoke quietly. "Rhian, you can't blame her for believing that. You have your own doubts."
She's right. I do have doubts. I need time to think through everything, but I have no doubts about what happened here. "Nic, you're wrong. I wanted her to kiss me. Truthfully, I've wanted her to kiss me for the longest time, and I kissed her back." Again she held her hand up to stop her friend's protests. "First of all, I'm not a child. Second, I know what I'm doing. Nic, I have feelings for Deven that I've never experienced before."
"Its called misdirected lust, and she's playing you for a fool!"
Rhian glanced over at the martial artist. Though Deven's face showed nothing of what she was feeling, when her eyes met Rhian's the pain and anger were both evident. Crossing over to where Deven stood, Rhian placed a hand on the woman's cheek. "Are you playing me for a fool, Ms. Masterson?"
Leaning slightly into the touch, Deven gave her a rueful smile. "No."
"Yeah right," Nicole snorted.
Looking deep into Deven's eyes, Rhian saw nothing but sincerity. "Can we take this slow? This is all very new to me, and to be honest, it's kind of scary."
Covering Rhian's hand with her own, Deven brought it to her lips and kissed the smaller palm. "Absolutely. This whole feeling thing is new to me." She swallowed and added in a hoarse whisper, "I don't want to mess this up."
Reaching behind the dark head, Rhian pulled Deven's face towards hers. She placed a gentle but firm kiss on the lips that had minutes before sent her into a confusingly sensual place. "Me either."
Nicole watched them in shock. "This is unbelievable, Rhian! Are you really so blind?"
"No," she replied, her eyes locked on Deven's. "I'm seeing a lot of things clearly for the first time in my life."
With an exasperated sigh, Nicole stormed out of the kitchen.
The level of tension between the two women rose steadily as each tried to come to terms with her anxieties. A sensation of dread filled Rhian, feeding her insecurities. She had no idea how her recent discovery concerning who she was would impact their life long friendship.
Nicole restlessly paced the guestroom, trying desperately to contain her anger and confusion. She could find no rational explanation for Rhian's behavior, and she didn't understand the current situation, a situation that was rapidly throwing their relationship into turmoil. "This is insane! Maybe that's it. You've lost your mind!"
The comment would have been funny to Rhian was it not that her friend was serious. Standing to the side, she watched Nicole pace. Still nonplussed and somewhat aroused from the brief but intoxicating contact with Deven, she found it difficult to concentrate long enough to figure out how to proceed. There were so many things she still needed to sort through and understand about herself, about the martial artist, about the two of them. "Look, I know this is a big surprise. It was for me, too."
"What are you talking about?" Rhian's behavior made no sense, and Nicole was finding it difficult to comprehend much of anything she'd witnessed or heard thus far other than a certainty that this was all Deven's fault.
"I've had some time to think about this," Rhian replied. "That is to think about me as well as my feelings for Deven. And the truth is, I believe that I'm gay."
Nicole stopped abruptly and faced her friend. "You are not gay! People don't just turn gay overnight!"
Rhian remembered how difficult it had been to come to terms with her feelings and thoughts. How difficult it had been to reevaluate her life, and face the realization that she had lived a lie throughout most of it. "No, they don't. Which means, I've always been this way."
"Oh, this is such bullshit! That woman has turned your head so inside out! She's taking advantage of your loneliness, Rhian."
"Deven didn't do anything. I came to this realization on my own." Rhian sat down on the bed. She felt tired - deep down tired. So much was happening in a manner too quickly for her to assimilate. There had been little opportunity to come to terms with one emotion before another had overtaken her. She didn't really have the strength to deal with this right now, but Nicole was her family and she needed to find a way to placate the woman.
Nicole stood with her hands on her hips. "What about Sean? Huh? What about that?"
"Nic, I wish you wouldn't bring him into this, but since you have." Rhian paused and chewed briefly on her lower lip. "When I married Sean, I cared for him. I suppose I even loved him, but I've come to understand that I was never in love with him. Hell, I didn't even know what it meant to be in love. I believe that a part of me always knew that, and I think he knew it as well." Her feelings were too raw to keep the pain of that time buried, and it rose up sending an emotional jolt to her chest. "You know how difficult being with him was for me. You know how hard I tried to make things work!"
Rhian's voice caught and she swallowed hard. "You of all people know how guilty I feel. And you of all people know what went on!" A solitary tear followed the gentle contours of her face and she reached up wiping it away with disdain.
Nicole felt her friend's pain, and immediately regretted having mentioned Sean. She wasn't certain why she'd brought him up, because she did know a great deal about Rhian's marriage. It never would have occurred to her that their difficulties could have been remotely due to a questionable sexual orientation. It was all too complicated to understand. She wanted to drop the subject all together, and forget this night had ever happened.
"What I feel for Deven is so much stronger. So much more...everything. It's hard to explain. I do know with certainty that I'm in love with her."
"Oh, God." Nicole covered her face with her hands and groaned. "She's a player, Rhian!" Her hands dropped, smacking against her thighs with a resounding slap. "She'll use you just like she uses everyone else. You're just a new plaything for her. Why can't you see that?"
"Because it isn't true!" Rhian took a deep breath, and when she spoke again she hoped she sounded more relaxed then she felt. "I don't know how to explain it, Nic. Deven and I somehow connect on a different level. Like this was meant to be."
Throwing her hands up in the air in frustration, Nicole nearly shouted, "You sound like a cheap romance novel!"
Rhian shrugged. "Whatever it sounds like, it is what it is."
Okay, Nicole, this isn't getting you anywhere. She just can't accept the reality that Deven is a shallow, self-serving bitch. "You have to admit that the woman is dangerous. You saw her tonight. You saw what she did to that woman. She's unbalanced. She could just as easily turn on you."
"You don't know that!"
"YES...I do." Rhian slowly rubbed her temples. "I don't want to fight with you, okay? Can we please just talk about this instead of shouting at each other?" She caught sight of a stuffed bear on the bed and picked it up. The toy showed signs of wear, and it occurred to her that it must belong to Tiernan. A small smile touched her lips as she visualized the child asleep cuddled up with it. I wonder if I should take it to him? She wrapped her arms around the soft toy, resting her chin on the top of its plush head.
Nicole quietly observed her friend, taking in the signs of fatigue, and felt the fight drain out of her. She just didn't understand what was happening and felt that a lifetime of friendship was turning out to be an illusion. That thought hurt and as much as she wanted it to stop, she couldn't seem to bury the sense of betrayal. Still, a part of her did consider that the whole situation must be just as hard if not harder for Rhian. Crossing the bedroom, she sat down on the bed.
Rhian exhaled wearily. "Listen to me. I know this is a big adjustment for both of us. It isn't as if I've understood this about myself and kept it from you all these years. I'm only just now beginning to come to terms with it."
"Have you slept with her?"
"Good heavens no!" Her mind returned to the kitchen and the intensity of Deven's kiss. She wondered if making love with the woman would be that consuming and found the thought arousing and frightening at the same time. "To be honest, I'm terrified of that. This is so foreign you know, but somehow it seems right. When we kissed tonight it was right, and I began to feel things I've never experienced before. But I'm afraid. What if I'm as big a failure with Deven as I was with Sean?"
Nicole turned slightly on the bed and studied her friend. "You were never a failure, Rhian. I'm sorry I brought Sean up."
"This scares me, Nic. Not just the sex, but everything...except Deven. I'm not afraid of her." Rhian's eyes met her friend's, expressing a silent plea. "My life is changing faster than I can seem to keep up with it. Realizing that I'm not who I thought I was. Falling in love with a woman. I need you, Nicki. Please, don't turn your back on me."
"Rhian, I want to be here for you. I just don't understand, and I definitely don't trust her!"
"Then please trust me. You know me better than anyone. You know I don't do things frivolously. I never have. And believe me, this hasn't happened overnight. What Deven and I feel for each other has been building since the first time we met."
"I don't know what to say." Nicole slowly shook her head. "You seem so blind when it comes to that woman."
"Blind? Maybe I'm the only one who sees the truth. I have a lot to learn about her. I know that. She's very complex. She's capable of deep emotion when she allows herself. I wish you could see that part of her. She isn't perfect Nic, but then neither am I. I believe her, and I believe in her."
Deven had watched Rhian stride out of the kitchen to talk to her friend before she began to clean up the room. She was disappointed that an opportunity to kick Nicole in the ass was not in the offing. Well, at least not tonight.
Now that Rhian wasn't standing there with her, doubts surged forward pushing her previous happiness aside. The evening had been filled with so many emotional swings, which when combined with her aroused yet unfulfilled libido, she felt uncharacteristically anxious.
Her desire for Rhian had grown steadily over the past few months, and in that time, it had never occurred to her that the young blonde could possibly have been experiencing somewhat the same thing. To further complicate the situation, the fervor between them was as perplexing as it was exhilarating.
After drying her hands on a dishtowel, Deven crossed the kitchen and removed the bottle of her favorite liqueur from the freezer. She was aware that Jay was silently hovering nearby, and purposefully chose to ignore him. I've got more important things to think about then what's going on in his mind.
The implications of her relationship with Rhian would impact a lot more people than just the two of them and though that was of little concern to her, it was going to make things interesting. Relationship? Who are you kidding? You've never had a relationship with anyone. What could you possibly know about building and maintaining a relationship?
After pouring herself a double shot, she walked into the living room, turning on the stereo before crossing to the sofa. Sitting on the soft leather couch, she turned the volume up using the remote, and the room soon reverberated with the sensual tones of Bonnie Raitt.
Sitting back, she sipped her drink and closed her eyes, allowing the music to fill her and drive away thoughts of what was happening upstairs. Her mind drifted back to the glorious sensation of Rhian in her arms. As right as it had been to hold the woman and to kiss her, things were moving too fast. She had realized that Rhian had begun to retreat, and knew she needed to slow down. Slow down? You idiot! You shouldn't have started it in the first place! This can't be!
There were so many things Rhian needed to be made aware of. She dreaded exposing her sins, but understood it was only fair to the young blonde. Of course, telling her will mean the end. Yep. The end of something that never should have begun! I could just tell her that I'm sorry, but relationships aren't my style. Then I wouldn't have to tell her anything. Funny, Masterson. You think it's that simple? No! Because either way she'll hate me.
Jay watched his friend with a nonchalance he didn't feel. In all the years he had known this woman, he had rarely understood why she acted or reacted the way she did but until now it was never important. She was who she was and that had always been enough for him.
But over the past few months she had started to change in small ways. Each change so understated that it didn't seem like much until he took a step back and looked at the big picture. A few months back she had been volatile about everything and towards most everyone. Then she vanished to return a calmer version of her self.
Now this whole thing with Rhian was unbelievable. The younger woman was nothing like the women Deven usually pursued. For one thing, Deven never allowed herself to feel for her conquests, but that she did in fact feel something for Rhian was obvious.
Deven was aware that Jay was observing her. His head must be spinning trying to figure this one out. He's never seen me like this. Hell, I've never seen myself like this. She was in new and uncharted territory, and some of it was certain to be hostile. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
He poured himself a beer before striding into the living room, uncertain what it was he needed to say. Turning the music down, he faced his friend. "Mind telling me what's going on?"
Deven didn't bother to open her eyes. "That would depend on what you're referring to."
"Okay. Let me get real specific for you. What's going on between you and Rhian?"
"I would have thought that was obvious."
"Look, Deven, I don't want to see her get hurt. She isn't like the others."
"To Rhian, who isn't like the others." Opening her eyes, she lifted her glass, and took a small sip.
"You can't play your cat and mouse game with her."
She closed her eyes again. "I can do whatever I want."
His personality was such that he rarely got angry with her, and when he did, he usually kept it to himself. Not this time. "I won't let you do it, Deven. I've never stood in your way, but Rhian is different. I can't let you do this to her."
"And just what do you propose to do?"
"If you won't stop on your own, I will tell her about the game."
She opened her eyes and glared at him. "What do you care? You have a thing for her?"
"It isn't like that and you know it!"
She found his protective stance regarding Rhian interesting. "What would you say if I told you this isn't a game?"
He looked at her closely. "I'd say I don't believe you."
"Oh, come on, Deven. It's always a game. Why the hell didn't you just screw Karen and get it out of your system? Why bring Rhian into this?"
"It's not a game. Believe it or not."
"Then what the hell are you doing?"
Her brow creased in thought. "I'm not entirely sure."
"You are really starting to piss me off, Deven."
She snorted at him. "Like I care? Anytime you think you're man enough to take me on, bro, I'm ready to kick your ass."
He shook his head. "You are absolutely pathetic. I don't know why I even bother with you anymore."
Damn, he's serious. She regarded him for several seconds, unexpectedly stung by his words. She looked away, embarrassed by her inability to control her emotions. Why should I care what he thinks? "Yeah, well. Look, I don't know." Her brow furrowed again. "I'm not real sure what's going on here. I'll tell you one thing though, affairs of the heart are really a pain in the ass."
He stared at her with an expression of disbelief. "Affairs of the heart? Are you telling me you love her or that she loves you?"
She swallowed back the distasteful tang of embarrassment. "I love her." Taking a deep breath she shifted her gaze to the glass in her hand. "I think she loves me. Not to worry, Jay. I have no intention of playing with Rhian."
He had never known this woman to be this open and forthcoming about her feelings. He was actually stunned into silence.
They sat without speaking, Rhian waiting to see if Nicole would reject her, and Nicole trying to sort out her thoughts. "We still have a lot to talk about. I don't understand how it is that you suddenly come to the conclusion that you've always been gay. As for that woman, I can't just change how I feel about her."
The music from below filtered up and Rhian wondered what Deven was doing. "That woman has a name. Whether or not she stays in my life will not change the fact that I'm attracted to women. I started having dreams, very explicit dreams. When I thought back over my life I realized that I've always been drawn to girls. All my crushes and attractions have been to females. I never was attracted to Sean."
"And you're obviously attracted to that...to Deven."
Nicole exhaled slowly. "Couldn't you have picked someone else to fall in love with? Anyone else?"
Rhian smiled. "It doesn't work that way, Nic."
"I suppose not. How long have you known?"
"Weeks now, but I thought it was all one sided. I couldn't imagine that Deven could possibly feel the same way about someone like me. I convinced myself that nothing could ever come of it, and I've been trying to get over my feelings for her."
"And now you think she loves you?"
"She didn't say she did, but from what she did say, it sounds like it. When we're alone and she looks at me, I see it in her eyes. One thing that concerns me is that she won't allow herself to be loved. I don't think she believes she's worthy of it."
Nicole smirked. "Well, I agree with her there."
"Please don't. You don't know her. "
"What about your folks? What about Seana?"
"I don't know. I haven't thought that far ahead. I've been trying to deal with all of this by myself, and the best I've been able to do is little steps. I suppose I will have to think about it though."
"I suppose you will, but for now, you look really tired. Let's call it a night, okay?"
"I am tired, Nic. I feel like I've been on an emotional roller coaster for weeks." She rose from the bed. "You get changed up, and I'll meet you downstairs. And you better make it up to Jay. You weren't very nice to him."
"I love you, Nicki."
Nicole stood as well. "I love you, too. Nothing changes that."
Rhian wrapped her arms around her friend. She had needed to hear those words, and feared they might never come. "Thank you."
Nicole held her. "I'm sorry, Rhian."
She stepped back. "It's okay. I understand."
Rhian sat down on the sofa next to Deven, their arms touching. The martial artist studied the younger woman's face looking for a clue as to how the conversation upstairs had gone. "Everything okay?" Please...please...please give me a reason to smack Nicole.
Shifting her body lower, Rhian leaned her head against Deven's shoulder. "As well as can be expected I guess. This is a big adjustment for me. I've never in my life contemplated that I was anything other then an unhappy heterosexual. And Nicole has known me forever, so this is a big surprise to her, too. Then on top of that little discovery, there is you."
"And it doesn't help that she doesn't like me."
"Well, you haven't always been your best around her."
Deven smiled ruefully. "True. I haven't been my best around you either."
Rhian laughed softly. "No, you haven't, but I see beyond that brash arrogance once in awhile, and what I've glimpsed there, I like very much."
"Most definitely. Now the task is to bring that inner you out."
"You won't like what you find, Rhian."
The blonde lifted her head and quietly observed the martial artist's profile. "I might not like it all, but I could say the same to you. Deven, we're just people with flaws like everyone else. We've made mistakes. We've hurt and been hurt, but that's what makes us human."
"Let's hope you always believe that." Right, Masterson. Ain't gonna happen. The mystery of this night will pass, and she will see what you really are.
The haunted look that settled on the older woman's features tore at Rhian's heart. She lifted the martial artist's arm, bringing it to rest across her shoulders. Deven took the not so subtle hint, and encircled the smaller woman, pulling her closer.
Curling up against Deven's side, Rhian rested her head against the strong shoulder. This woman reached deep inside of her. What she felt for the troubled beauty was born beyond her heart. She had felt love in her life, but what this woman stirred emulated from her soul. God, I do sound like a cheap novel. Is Nicole right? Am I blinded by my feelings? Her mind told her that her perceptions might in fact be tainted by emotion, but her heart told her that she saw the truth that was Deven. That they communicated on a more profound level - a level that she was just beginning to comprehend.
Lifting her head, her gaze met Deven's, and she glimpsed a reflection of her own uncertainty. If she had harbored any doubts, they were vanquished in that instant. "Kiss me, Masterson."
"Rather demanding aren't you?" Deven allowed the sensuality to rise up. "Are you that demanding in everything you need?" she purred seductively.
Rhian's complexion reddened at the implied meaning. "Um...no."
"Well, I live to serve." Deven brought her face down towards Rhian's and laid claim to her lips. Giving into the temptation, she deepened the kiss, allowing the desire to build. Stop it, Deven! Stop it right now! Breaking the kiss, she pulled back and waited.
Rhian gradually opened her eyes. "Hmmm...you taste like red hots."
Deven chuckled while lifting her shot glass. "It's the drink. You want a sip?"
"I think I just got one. You taste yummy."
Deven set the glass down, and then lightly grasped Rhian's chin. "We need to talk. There's a lot you need to know, and I want you to hear it from me. Not some stranger. I've done things that...that you aren't going to like."
Rhian's gaze remained steady as she sought the inner strength to meet this challenge. Deven had alluded on several occasions about her past, and made it sound appalling. "All right. When do you want to talk?"
"Soon. Before we could possibly take this any further, you need to know the truth."
Nicole paused at the entrance to the living room, taking in the close proximity of the two women. "Are you ready to go?"
Rhian glanced over to where her friend stood with Jay, and she smiled when her eyes settled on their clasped hands. "I guess you apologized."
Nicole nodded. "Yep. I took your advice."
"About time." She turned back to Deven. "I'm really tired."
"I'm sure you are." The martial artist touched the stuffed bear under Rhian's arm. "Planning on stealing that? You might have a problem with Tiernan if you do."
Rhian laughed. "No, I'm not stealing it. I figured it was his, and wondered if I should take it to him. I was also thinking I should take a change of clothes for him for the morning."
"I'll go put some of his things together. As for the bear, take it. If he's asleep when you get home, and I hope he is, just put it where he'll find it if he wakes up."
Neither woman seemed willing to break the contact. They lingered in the embrace as if to part would somehow dissolve the connection, and everything this night had brought would prove to be an illusion.
Deven was aware that both Jay and Nicole, while attempting not stare, were studying them intently nonetheless. "I'll go get something for the boy to wear tomorrow." She kissed Rhian's forehead as she stood.
Rhian watched her go with a sense of loss. This evening had been the most confusing and exciting of her life. One moment she was seeking a way to distance herself from Deven, and in the next, she was falling into a whirlpool of the most extraordinary sensations she'd ever experienced.
Jay cleared his throat. "Rhian?"
"Is everything all right?"
She wondered what he meant by everything, but found that her exhaustion precluded her caring. "Sure. I'm just tired. When I get like this, I don't think too clearly."
She looked past Jay as Deven came back down the stairs carrying a small backpack. Their eyes met, and a look of concern shadowed the tall woman's features. "You need to get home and to bed. Come on. I'll walk you out."
Hand in hand they stepped out into the clear night air, and walked to Nicole's car. Deven was aware that Jay and Nicole were standing close by, and found the situation awkward. She felt as if she were under a microscope. "I'll call in the morning about picking up Tiernan."
"Okay. Sounds like a plan. Thanks for everything." Rhian looked up taking in the beauty of the taller woman. Even in the gloom of night, Deven's eyes were clear and sparkled in the moonlight. Her feelings for this woman swelled up within her, and she wanted to say the words that were yet to pass between them. "Deven, I." A long finger pressed gently against her lips, silencing her.
"Wait. You need to know some stuff first, and you might just change your mind."
"How do you know what I was going to say?"
"I know." Deven dipped her head bringing their lips together once more. The kiss was not passionate. It wasn't intended to be. The martial artist sought to fill it with the emotion that would remain unspoken. She held the smaller woman tightly. I love you, Rhian. Parting, she glanced over at Jay and Nicole. "I don't think you should keep her waiting," she said as she stepped out of the way to allow Rhian access to the car.
Deven and Jay stood silently watching until Nicole had driven out of sight. "So, what do you want to do?"
He shrugged. "It's too late to go out now. What say we just hang here? Besides I'm hungry."
Deven shook her head. "God, we are getting old." They walked back into the house in silence.
"Help yourself. Still a pizza in there."
He turned towards the kitchen as she stepped back into the living room. "Hey, Jay. Thanks for not laughing at me."
He paused, smiled and nodded his head.
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