Chapter Twenty Five
Deven leaned her hip against the breakfast bar and savored another pull from the ice-cold beer in her hand. She was waiting, and with each minute that passed, her mood darkened. Rhian was due to arrive shortly, and the martial artist fully intended to set some things straight. She’d had a lot of time to think over the past couple of days about the younger woman’s reticent behavior, and the one thing she was absolutely certain of was that she didn’t like it one bit.
As much as she loved the landscaper, and she didn’t even try to deny that she did love her, Deven could not seem to move past the hurt that Rhian’s rebuff had caused. Understanding that her perceptions were quite possibly tainted by her own insecurities wasn’t sufficient to drive away the mounting irritation. She had no experience to fall back on when it came to dealing with someone on the level that she’d allowed herself to go with the younger woman. More often than not, the whole situation confounded her. And she was used to having things done her way. Something that Rhian didn’t seem to appreciate in the least.
After their brief meeting at the school yesterday, Deven had anticipated a full accounting of just what the hell was going on. Instead, their conversation last night had been barely intelligible, and while she understood that hadn’t been totally Rhian’s fault, it still irked her. That Seana had suffered most of the day with an upset stomach and had been lying there with her mother when she’d called had made it difficult to have a personal conversation with the child so close by. But even so, Deven had felt put out as Rhian repeatedly steered the conversation away from whatever it was that was bothering her.
So, what is it, Masterson, that has your underwear in a knot? I’m not sure. Could it be that she isn’t confiding in you? That she might have a secret of her own? Or that she doesn’t need you? Or perhaps, that she doesn’t want you to be that much a part of her life? She shook her dark head. Yes. No. Maybe. She's the one that's supposed to know how to make this work. She's the one that's supposed to know what the process is for building a relationship. But she's keeping it to herself, damn it! How in the hell am I supposed to understand what's going on if she doesn't tell me? I hate feeling so damn inept!
When they'd spoken this morning, Rhian had sounded better overall though she still seemed weighed down by fatigue. She'd been adamant that she was fine, and she'd promised that everything would be explained tonight. The entire conversation had left Deven feeling uncertain of what she was supposed to say or do. Then to her utter disbelief, the younger woman had the gall to suggest that she needed some tender loving care and pampering from the martial artist. Pampered, my ass! She'll be lucky if I don't whip her ass!
A knock at the door pulled her from her thoughts, and she considered ignoring whoever it was. It was no doubt a member of the landscaping crew wanting to use the bathroom. The temptation to tell them to pee in the woods was almost too much to ignore, but she did push it aside and slowly opened the door. She wasn’t prepared to find Rhian’s father standing there, and for a brief second the surprise touched her features.
"Hello, Deven," Mac greeted her.
She pulled herself together quickly. "Hi. What can I do for you?"
"Mind if I come in?" he asked.
'Hell yes' was perched on the tip of her tongue. Instead, she swallowed the words and opened the door further, allowing him to pass inside. She closed the door, then walked by him and continued on into the kitchen without a word. Returning to her position by the breakfast bar, she waited to find out what he wanted.
Mac stared at her, making no effort to hide that fact that he was doing so. Not one to be intimidated, Deven stood her ground never allowing her eye contact to waver. The martial artist knew she was being challenged, but what pissed her off was the not knowing why. Okay, Mac. Something has crawled up your ass. I can tell that from all the way over here. What is it? I’ve paid up front for the landscaping so you aren’t here to collect on that. I haven’t done anything to your employees so that isn’t it. That leaves Rhian. She eyed him speculatively while he did the same to her. Rhian, what have you done? It went against her nature to run from a fight so she pulled on her mental sparring gear. All right. You came here for a challenge. Let the games begin.
He indicated the beer on the counter with a slight inclination of his head. "I’ll take one of those if you don’t mind."
Deven nodded her head and crossed to the refrigerator. She handed Mac a cold beer and a frosty mug before walking out to the sunroom and sitting down to face the windows. She didn’t invite him to follow though she knew he would. The man hadn’t come all the way to her house to drink a beer. He had something on his mind, and as she’d expected he followed her and took the seat directly across from her.
"You have a nice place here, Deven."
"It suits me," she replied noncommittally.
Both sat in silence sipping their drinks. Though each exhibited expressions of apathy, they were far from it. Deven could sense a tension in the man, and it fed the excitement rising within her. The thrill she always got just before a fight. She hadn’t liked the way Rhian had looked at this man yesterday. He’d hurt her lover somehow, and in so doing, he’d made himself an adversary. Mentally, she squared up against her opponent and waited for his first move.
Mac took another sip of his beer and then set it down on the glass table between them. "I’ve been requested to invite you to dinner," he said conversationally.
Huh? Deven raised an eyebrow. "Excuse me?" she inquired casually.
"My wife and I would like to invite you to dinner at our home on Saturday. Of course, Tiernan is invited as well."
Okay, that's weird. Whose idea was this? Her continence remained undaunted, but behind the façade her mind whirled. There's a lot more to this than an invitation. Stay on your toes, Masterson. "That’s most kind. Do you invite all your clients?"
Mac looked her directly in the eyes. "Only the ones with designs on my daughter."
Damn! Point to Mac for the jab right between the eyes! All right, now we’re getting somewhere. Designs on Rhian? She struggled with the compulsion to laugh. Designs on the designer. Funny one, Mac. Archaic but funny. The look in his stormy eyes confirmed that it wasn’t intended in humor, and her thoughts turned to the young landscaper. So, my love, you forgot to tell me something. Okay, Mac, I block and counter. "Designs on your daughter? I’m not sure I follow. I mean, I have trouble drawing a circle."
He leaned slowly and deliberately towards her. "Don’t play stupid, Deven. It’s insulting to both of us."
Getting a little pissed off, Mac? Deven's eyebrow arched up under her bangs as she regarded the man. Well, this may shed some light on the confrontation at the school. She took another sip of her beer while trying to gather the facts. This conversation was completely unexpected, and she remained at a disadvantage because she didn’t know any of the details. Okay. Take a step back and let him lead.
"It seems my daughter has suddenly discovered that she’s gay." He watched the martial artist closely to gauge her reaction, and if anything, was disappointed that her stoicism remained completely intact. "I have to admit that it came as quite a surprise to us considering her marriage to Sean, and the fact that she never seemed that way in the past. She never gave us any indication."
Damn it, Rhian! You could have said something. Anything! Deven watched him closely and felt her muscles twitch slightly at the mental wrangling. Time for another block and counter. "It happens," she said indifferently.
"I suppose so," he replied. He picked up his beer and sat back in his chair. "It seems you’re at the center of her new found sexual orientation."
She laughed at the simplicity of his remark. "I’m not responsible for your daughter’s sexual orientation." Oh Rhian, you're in such deep shit! She casually looked down at the mug in her hand, and then back at the man, a smile still on her face. This must be absolutely killing you, Mac. "What did Rhian tell you?"
In the past, he hadn't had much reason to think about Deven Masterson much less analyze her. Now, he wanted to put her under a microscope and dissect her. Her cool demeanor impressed and irritated him at the same time, and despite it all, he held a grudging respect for her. "Only that she's come to realize she's gay and has strong feelings for you. And that she believes those feelings are reciprocated."
Reciprocated? Oh yeah. This sparring match had lost her interest, and she just wanted the conversation over. That Rhian had not told her about this disclosure fueled her earlier aggravation and disappointment with the woman. Obviously, this is what she’s been hiding for the past couple of days. So, why in the hell didn't she tell me? Why keep it from me? The more she thought about it, the greater her frustration with the younger woman became.
Now, I still have to deal with him and get this fucking discussion over with. She was inclined to tell Mac it was none of his damn business but was stopped by the certainty that the revelation that Rhian was involved with a woman had impacted the family. No matter how close they may be, learning their daughter is in a lesbian relationship wouldn’t have been met without reservations. On top of that, they have the likes of me to deal with. I’m most definitely not the person he would have chosen for his daughter – gay or otherwise.
"Nicole says you’re a player and a user."
Ah, the plot thickens. She remained quiet as she tried to visualize how the whole scene might have played out. She had so little to go on, but she knew that from the interaction between Mac and Rhian yesterday, it hadn’t been pleasant. So, Rhian tells her parents, and they…they what? Go ballistic? Cry? Call her names? What? And then in the middle of everything, Nicole eagerly volunteers her opinion. But why tell them now? What in the world were you thinking, Rhian? And why not let me in on it? You didn’t have to do this alone!
Her mind contemplated several potential reasons she would have been excluded from this life changing situation before settling on what she considered the most likely. She doesn't trust me. After everything I've done, I can't blame her for that. But it still hurts. She looked back at Rhian's father while pushing those painful thoughts aside. He seemed to be waiting for a response. "Are you asking me or telling me?"
Deven could tell from the slight hardening of his eyes that he was not pleased with her. Okay, Mac. You want to know. I’ll tell you. "I’ve been considered a user, and I have a reputation as a player. A reputation I worked hard to earn and maintain. It’s always been a game to me, and one I’ve proved to be quite proficient at. I called it giving chase. The object of the game was to find a potential lay, seduce her, and leave her wanting more. I never lied to any of them though. I never led them to believe there was anything more to it than the best night of sex they ever had. So, while I am a player, I’m not really a user."
His features showed his discomfort at her disclosure. You aren't earning any points here, Masterson, and what did you hope to accomplish with telling him that way? Accomplish? There isn't anything to accomplish.
With some effort, she pushed her anger down and looked directly into his eyes. "Your daughter is the most amazing person I’ve ever met, and I feel very strongly for her."
He stared at her for several seconds, scrutinizing her face and body language. "Is she just another pawn in your game?"
Her eyes locked on his, leaving no room for doubt in what she said next. "Rhian is not now, nor has she ever been a part of any game."
The woman's frank gaze revealed no deception. Mac could detect no indication that she was lying and relaxed some as he nodded his head slightly. There was no doubt in his mind that she could be lying and covering it up. She was, after all, a fighter. Good fighters didn't give away their game plan. They never allowed the opponent to know where the next strike was coming from. For the moment, he decided to take her at her word. "And your intentions?"
Deven's lips twitched slightly as she resisted the urge to laugh outright. That was one question she never expected anyone to ask her. "That's difficult to answer." She took a deep breath and released it slowly while quelling the urge to smirk at the man's old-fashioned mentality.
"I love, Rhian. I don’t have a very good history, and I’m certain that as time goes on you’ll hear things about me. Most of them, unfortunately, will be true. I’m not proud of that fact and Rhian already knows this. I told her everything so she doesn’t hear it from some stranger. I also wanted her to have the facts so she could decide what she wanted to do." He said nothing, but she could tell he was thinking. "Whatever happens, I hope that you and Mrs. Mackenzie will be far more gracious and accepting of Rhian than my family was of me."
Her last comment felt like a rebuke to Mac, and it stirred his defensiveness. "My daughter loves you. Why I don’t know, but I guess it’s one of those things that I need to deal with." He leaned forward again. "Know this, Deven. If you ever hurt her, I will hurt you."
The martial artist knew this wasn’t an idle threat though she held no fear of anything he could do to her. "Understood." She hadn’t put a lot of thought into the future. Dealing with Rhian and their relationship on a day to day basis had taken up enough of her energies. She never deluded herself into believing that this family would welcome her with open arms. Her concern had always been that they not hurt Rhian because of her.
"Now my turn." Embracing the feral part of her nature, she allowed it to rise up and reflect in her eyes. She knew what he was seeing as he looked at her and knew it was a risk to show him this part of her personality. "I can say that I have never felt about anyone the way I feel about her. I will not under any circumstances stand by and allow anyone to hurt her. Not even you."
Sitting back, he watched the iciness recede from her eyes. Protecting my daughter you're formidable, Masterson, but the question is would you ever turn on her? He didn't know and so he decided to drop the question for the time being. He would, however, keep a close eye on this woman. "Shall I tell my wife you've accepted her invitation? Just as a word of warning, you do not want to stir her ire. A trait she and Rhian share."
Deven chuckled easily at the knowledge that she’d already felt the impact of the landscaper’s fury and understood what he meant. "Well, I’ve experienced Rhian’s first hand. Some day you’ll have to tell me how you deal with it."
"I’m not sure that I do." He smiled her. "Easier most days to let it pass."
Cocking her head slightly and gazing into the clear sky, Deven contemplated the invitation. In part it sounded awful, spending an evening with the parents of her newly out lover. On the other hand, she supposed it was inevitable. "Well, I certainly don’t want to anger Mrs. Mackenzie, so yes, I accept your invitation."
He finished off the last of his beer and rose to his feet. "Good. I’ll have Rhian give you the details."
She also stood up, and the two walked out together. Mac’s expression registered his surprise at seeing his daughter talking to members of the crew, and Deven caught the look and smirked. Ha! Didn't expect to see her, did you? Thought you'd be in and out before she showed up. Busted!
The young landscaper looked at Deven and then at her father. "Hi. Dad, what are you doing here?"
Despite some discomfort at the situation, Deven didn’t sense any of the anger between them that had been so obvious the previous day.
"Just getting to know your friend a bit. Your mother has invited Deven and Tiernan to dinner on Saturday."
Rhian peeked at the martial artist. It was evident to her that the woman was not pleased. "Really? Well, that’s nice. I think." Oh, damn it! She's going to kill me.
The phone began to ring in the house, and a flicker of relief crossed Deven’s face at the sound. Finally. Escape. She spared one quick glance at the other woman. But not for you. "I should get that. Excuse me." She turned and jogged though the garage and into the house.
Rhian watched her go before facing her father. "What did you say to her?" she asked between clinched teeth.
Anger shone clearly in his daughter’s eyes, and Mac slowly shook his head. He’d faced this spitfire since she’d come kicking and screaming into the world, and he wondered idly if Deven had any idea what she was getting into. Taking a deep breath, he steeled himself against the storm to come. "I asked her what her intentions are with regard to you."
Rhian's eyes widened and her jaw dropped. "You what! How could you do that?"
Taking his daughter by the arm, he led her away from the crew. "Now you listen to me. Your mother and I know nothing about this woman. We know nothing about this lifestyle, but we’re willing to learn. What we won’t do is stand idly by and allow you to get into something over your head. You’ve told us how you feel. I wanted to know what she feels for you. I’m your father, Rhian. Do not expect me to do nothing while you get hurt. I can’t and I won’t if I have anything to say about it."
The anger drained out of her. "I appreciate that, Dad, but you have to let me live my life."
"I’m not stopping you," he replied as his hand lifted and gently cupped the side of her head. "Besides, I think I like her."
"You do?" Rhian asked skeptically.
"Sure. Aside from the fact that she saved your life, and she produced Tiernan, she’s straightforward. She didn’t try to bull me. And she obviously cares for you." His hand dropped to her shoulder. "Do you know about her past?"
She nodded her head slightly. "She told me everything awhile back." She looked up at him. "So, what did she say? About me, I mean."
Mac smiled and stepping forward engulfed her in a bear hug. The strain between them over the past couple of days had been difficult for everyone. He’d detested it. Never before had there been a time when he and Rhian had been estranged. If there was ever any tension in the house, it was usually brought on by issues between his wife and daughter that tended to blow up quickly and fade away. Not this time and he accepted that it was his fault. As he stood there holding his daughter, he realized how close he’d come to alienating her. "She says she loves you."
Rhian smiled brightly. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. But we still have a bit to go here, Rhian. We don’t know her, and while we want to support you, we really are clueless about all this." His voice was quiet, almost a whisper. "I don’t understand. I didn’t understand Will, and I don’t understand what is going on with you. But I love you, and I will do whatever I can to be here for you." He released her and stepped back while clearing his throat. "I think you might be in a bit of trouble."
He inclined his head towards the house. "I got the impression you didn’t let her know that you’d spoken to us. I believe she’s the type that doesn’t take kindly to being blindsided."
The younger woman looked toward the house and then at the ground. "I didn’t quite get around to it. I was going to tell her today, but you seem to have beaten me to it."
Mac held up both his hands with the palms facing his daughter. "Oh, no you don’t. Don’t be putting this on me. You should have told her, Rhian. I figured you would have discussed it with her right away. When I picked you up at the school yesterday, I thought that’s what you two had been talking about."
"No. I just. I was. I don’t know," she rambled.
"Well, I’m thinking you best go clear the air." She looked towards the house again but made no move towards it. "I’m thinking sometime today might be a good idea," he prompted.
"Oh, all right," she conceded. "I’ll talk to you later, I guess."
With a great deal of uneasiness, Rhian tread softly into the house, listening intently for any sound that would indicate Deven’s location and perhaps the woman’s frame of mind. Pausing just inside the kitchen, she didn’t hear anything but quiet and that fed her overall feeling of foreboding. Okay, Rhian, what are you so nervous about? I’m not nervous really. I just hate the idea of disappointing her. Moving forward once again she peeked into the office and found the brooding martial artist sitting at her desk, staring out the window. "Deven?" she called out tentatively.
The woman swiveled her chair around towards the landscaper but didn’t say anything. Instead, she sat very still save for the slight movement of her eyes as she scrutinized the blonde. It was taking some effort, but she was managing to keep her anger in check and maintain an appearance of calm.
"Are you very mad at me?" Rhian finally asked, if for no other reason than to break the silence and hopefully stop the scrutiny.
Very mad? Oh yeah! Deven knew she was angry, frustrated and hurt. The anger she understood. The other two only served to confuse her. "You forget to tell me something?"
"I’m so sorry about all of this, Deven. I had no idea he was going to come over here and talk to you. I was going to tell you everything today."
"Is this what you’ve been working so hard to keep from me?" The woman’s voice was deceptively tranquil, and Rhian wasn’t sure how to interpret that.
"I haven’t been keeping it from you really. It’s kind of complicated, and I just didn’t want to discuss it on the phone." The landscaper shifted her weight from one foot to the other; a habit that the martial artist was learning meant that the woman was nervous or unsure about something.
"You don’t trust me, do you?" Deven leaned back further in the chair.
"What? That’s not true. I do trust you."
"Right," the martial artist snorted and looked away so that Rhian couldn’t see the hurt.
"Why would you think that I don’t trust you?"
Deven stood up so quickly that she startled the other woman. "You ask me to trust you. You ask me to let you in, and I did! I shared with you things I’ve never shared with anyone! You tell me not to shut you out but hours later you’re blowing me off - purposely excluding me from something important in your life!" Taking a deep breath she released it slowly and lowered her voice. "Everyday I struggle to understand how this is all supposed to work. Everyday I’m reminded of my inadequacies when it comes to relationships. I’m trying so hard, Rhian. It’s like you expect me to do things that you aren’t willing to do."
How did everything get so messed up in such a short span of time? "Deven, it isn’t like that. It isn’t a question of letting you in. You’re already in. I know you’re trying. I know that, and I appreciate it. I’m trying, too. You don’t know what the last two days have been like."
As the anger increased its grasp on her, the taller woman’s pale eyes bore into Rhian and her hands curled into tight fists. "You’re right! I don’t know because for some reason you refuse to tell me! You refuse to let me be a part of any of it! Why?"
Rhian flinched but held her ground. "Because I don’t want to burden you with something that isn’t your problem. I mean, gees, in the short time we’ve known each other you’ve saved me from Mace, saved me from certain death after the bee sting. I can’t come running to you every time something in my life goes wrong!"
"Why not?" Deven asked. "Are you saying that every time one of us has a bad day, we aren’t supposed to talk about it? Or whenever we have a problem, we shouldn’t share it? Because quite frankly, despite my limited understanding of how this is all supposed to work, I thought sharing was a pretty basic element. You know sharing the bullshit that life throws at us. Coming out to your parents is a big deal, Rhian. One you didn’t want me to be a part of for some reason. If you don’t want to share things, fine! Just tell me, because I’m more than willing to go back to the status quo! At least then I knew what the fuck I was doing!"
The past few days had left the landscaper’s emotions in a fragile state and while she thought she’d cried all she possibly could, she found her vision blurring with tears. "I don’t want that." She swallowed several times in an effort to keep from crying. "To answer your question, it’s because I need to be able to stand on my own feet. I need to be able to stand beside you and not in back of you. Otherwise, you’ll end up fighting all my battles and carrying me through life. I can’t live like that. Neither can you."
They regarded each other in silence, across a chasm of hurt, frustration and misunderstanding. Deven knew that to some extent Rhian was right. Her young friend needed to be feel capable of standing on her own - of being able to make her own decisions and choices. Still, the martial artist didn’t like the idea of being excluded.
Deven knew she was capable of achieving many things in life, but most of them weren’t necessarily good. Being there for this woman, supporting her in a positive way was one she desperately wanted to be able to accomplish. "I would carry you anywhere anytime," she finally said, the conviction coming through clearly. "I would gladly fight every battle for you." She leaned against the edge of the desk and crossed her arms across her chest. "It’s what I do, Rhian. It’s the only thing I do well," she said softly.
The landscaper thought her heart might break at the sadness in Deven’s voice. "Oh, sweetheart, that’s not true. You do everything well, and you are so much more than a fighter." Rhian allowed the momentary quiet to linger as she thought about her lover’s words. That Deven would carry her and fight her battles really came as no surprise and at that moment, she believed that there wasn’t much in this life that this woman wouldn’t do for her.
"God, I love you. I wanted to talk to you, but I was worried that you would start to see me as a weakling who can’t take care of anything on her own. I’m not. It’s just that so much is changing so fast, it’s hard to keep up with sometimes. Your opinion means a great deal to me, Deven. I don’t want you seeing me as some sort of pathetic person who can’t function. That’s how Sean treated me most of the time, and I hated it." When Deven remained still, all the emotional mayhem of the past twenty-four hours rose up, and Rhian bowed her head. "May I have a hug please?"
Her anger evaporating completely with that simple request, Deven moved forward and embraced the woman. She knew she needed this as badly as Rhian did but hadn’t had the nerve to initiate it. Perhaps she needed it more, and though that was a concern, she pushed it aside for the time being. To say that everything was changing quickly seemed an understatement. There was so much to try and understand, and she just didn’t know where to even begin.
They stood quietly in each other’s arms communicating through the contact - the steady rhythm of their hearts, the subtle caresses, and the emotional warmth found in a lover’s embrace. Unable to stand the distance any longer, Deven’s lips found Rhian’s and the kiss they shared began soft and reassuring but steadily built in ardency as basic need pushed everything else aside.
The landscaper responded eagerly into the kiss. Her hands reached up behind Deven’s head and held tight, keeping their mouths pressed firmly together. The turmoil of the past few hours receded behind the rising fervor between them and Rhian gladly let it go.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, the martial artist registered amazement that she could feel so much desire for one person. Wrapping her arms around the smaller woman, Deven pulled their bodies together and lifting the back of Rhian’s shirt, her hands sought out the smooth skin. One hand held the blonde close while the other drifted lower along the back of Rhian’s shorts, kneading the firm buttocks with her strong fingers.
"Wait." Rhian released her grip and pulled back.
"Why?" Deven asked even as she tried to recapture the kiss.
Trying to slow her heart rate, the landscaper closed her eyes and took several deep breaths. "My crew is still here, and I need a shower."
"Well, get rid of them." Deven bit down on her neck as if to underscore the demand.
"Ugh," was the only thing the young woman managed to utter before Deven’s mouth found hers again. The kiss was firmer and heightened the sensations being created by the hands that sought to possess her body. With the last of her restraint, Rhian pulled back. "Deven, wait. I can’t just get rid of them. There’s still plenty of daylight left. I don’t want to get behind schedule. That wouldn’t be fair to you."
"Rhian." It was spoken softly but there was no missing the command there. "Get rid of them." They stared at each other for several seconds before Deven smiled wolfishly at her. "Otherwise," she drawled, "I will carry you out there and spank you in front of your crew. You wouldn’t want that, now would you?"
The landscaper's eyes widened at the threat, and she gulped audibly. She's kidding. I think. She wouldn't. Would she? Attempting to back away, she collided with the wall and found herself trapped between the solid surface and the martial artist’s body.
Deven cocked her head and then laughed at the expression on her friend’s face. "I’m kidding." She reached out and gripped the woman’s chin, tilting the blonde head back. Kissing Rhian again, she increased the intensity until she was rewarded with a moan of pleasure.
Moving her attention to a leisurely exploration of Rhian’s sensitive neck, her lips, tongue and teeth teased the flesh producing another moan and nearing a soft earlobe, she whispered, "I don’t usually spank on the first offense." Then lowering the timbre of her voice, she added, "Unless you want me to, of course." The landscaper shivered, and Deven smiled triumphantly against the smooth skin.
Rhian was rapidly losing herself in that haze of sensuality this woman created. She felt the martial artist’s teeth nip at her pulse point, and the throbbing between her legs became unbearable. "You keep doing that to me, and you can do whatever you want," she mumbled distractedly.
Pulling back slightly, the martial artist raised an eyebrow and smirked. The realization that Deven had heard the comment caused a deep blush to rise up the younger woman’s neck to her cheeks. Her eyes widened, and she blinked several times while trying to find something to say. "So, you told my father that you love me."
Deven laughed delightedly at the landscaper’s befuddled state. "Changing the subject? Okay." Purposely lowering her voice once again, she purred against her lover’s ear. "I just want you to know that I’m going to awaken all your desires – even the ones you don’t know you have."
"Oh, God." Rhian wasn’t certain how much more of Deven’s seduction she could take. This woman easily put her in sensory overload, and the only thing she wanted was to be taken higher and then released.
"And yes, I did tell your father that."
The landscaper smiled and her eyes danced with happiness. "Say it."
"I love you, Rhian McKenna."
"I love you, too." She rested her head against the taller woman’s shoulder. "Um, why don’t I send the crew home?"
"I’ll, uh, just be, um, right back." Deven made no effort to move out of the way, and Rhian slowly wriggled out from between the martial artist and the wall, causing already sensitive body parts to rub against the taller woman’s body.
Deven watched her lover with a combination of amusement and desire. "Don’t keep me waiting too long."
"Okay," Rhian croaked as she concentrated on keeping her legs steady.
As soon as the younger woman walked out the door, the martial artist bolted up the stairs taking them two at a time. A small voice in the back of her head told her she shouldn’t be enjoying this game of seduction quite so much, but the voice of caution was overridden as Deven began to plan just how she was going to continue her sweet torture.
With a much lighter step, Rhian returned to the house a short time later. The heaviness that had weighed upon her heart and mind had been eased. Gone was her earlier trepidation though she knew there was still a lot to talk about. The air between them had been cleared, but not everything had been resolved. Still, she was once again optimistic that they could work through things.
She walked from room to room on the ground floor but didn’t find her lover. "Deven?" she called out from the base of the stairs.
"In the bedroom. Come on up."
Her pace slowed as she neared the upstairs hallway. Memories of her time with the martial artist brought on a sudden case of shyness at the same time it re-ignited her aroused state. As she entered the bedroom, Deven stood waiting for her and guided her to sit on the edge of the bed. Kneeling before the seated woman, the martial artist deftly removed Rhian’s work boots and socks and then began a slow massage of her feet and calves.
"That feels wonderful."
"I’m glad you approve." Rising to her feet, Deven curled her fingers around the hem of the woman’s shirt.
"What are you doing?" the landscaper asked uncertainly.
"I’m undressing you. Now do me a favor and lift your arms." Lifting the shirt, Deven let her knuckles trail lightly along the smooth flesh before finally removing it completely. Brushing her fingertips up the muscles of Rhian’s back she paused and then unhooked her bra, sliding it off in unhurried movements.
Immediately, Rhian felt her breasts tighten and her nipples rise up in the cool air of the room. "Uh, Deven. I need a shower."
"I got something better," Deven purred. "Stand up."
Somehow, Rhian found the strength to stand though she swayed slightly.
The martial artist knelt once more, slowly removing the landscaper’s shorts and panties. Leaning closer, she placed small kisses on each thigh, before brushing her lips against the golden curls. Rising back up to her feet, Deven kissed Rhian’s lips softly before taking the woman’s by the hand and leading her into the bathroom. The bathtub was filled with warm water lightly scented with raspberry bath oil.
"Wow. For me?"
"For you." As soon as the woman was settled in the tub, Deven turned on the jets creating a whirlpool of bubbles. "How’s that?"
"Awesome. But why?"
Deven managed to suppress a smirk. "You said I was supposed to pamper you. So I am."
"I wasn’t serious, Deven."
"I am." Oh yeah. Very serious.
Rhian looked up into the martial artist’s eyes and saw the love clearly. But there was also something else lurking there that she couldn’t quite put a finger on. "Kiss me."
Deven knelt on the floor beside the tub and leaned in to capture Rhian’s lips. She kissed her languidly, gently exploring her lover’s mouth, stopping before the passion could build too high. She had plans for this woman that involved a heavy dose of pampering to hide the seductive torture. She was going to make Rhian beg for release. Paybacks are a bitch, my friend.
Leaning back on her heels, she regarded the younger woman. Rhian’s lips remained parted and her eyes closed, and Deven wondered not for the first time, how it was that this tender and compassionate woman could love her.
"Hmm, you are the best kisser, Deven." Slowly opening her eyes Rhian stared at the woman under hooded eyelids, her growing state of arousal evident in the darkened verdant irises. "Join me?"
Deven shook her head not so much in response to the entreaty but rather to clear it. "Not this time."
"Why? Wouldn’t you like to get all wet with me?"
Damn! Deven felt precariously close to losing the game to her own desires. Oh, no you don't, Rhian. "Pampering, remember?" Concentrate, Masterson! No one has ever bested you in this game. "Let me wash you hair." With the utmost care, she shampooed and rinsed the golden tresses, smiling at the expression of pleasure that settled on Rhian’s face. Picking up a bath sponge, she washed the woman’s body, exploring the flesh slowly, never staying in any place long and never applying much pressure. It wasn’t easy, because the soft sounds coming from her lover were driving her to distraction.
"I’ll be right back. Just relax." Once outside the bathroom, Deven leaned up against the wall. Remember your goal, Masterson. Drive the woman to the pinnacle of desire and then fulfill her every wish. Make her beg you to.
Deven returned to the bathroom a short time later and brought with her, two glasses of chilled white wine. She handed one to Rhian and then leaned against the counter watching the woman luxuriate in the tub. Her eyes slowly roamed down the landscaper’s neck to her shoulders and then to the swell of her breasts. "How are you doing?"
"Great." She opened one eye and peeked up at her lover. "I’d be perfect if you’d climb in here with me."
"No can do this time. Let me know when you’re ready to get out."
Rhian's eyes closed again. "I don't know. If could be awhile because this feels awfully good."
I know what would feel a whole lot better. "Well, then you relax and I’ll come back in a moment."
"Where are you going?"
To get the hell out of here before I ravish you. "Put your clothes in the washer and check on the schools."
Rhian sat up suddenly. Her breasts rose up out of the water, the nipples growing firm as the air caressed them. "Deven, you don’t have to do anything with my clothes."
Stepping up to the tub, Deven watched the water cascade off the expanse of exposed flesh and swallowed hard. Her mouth went dry as she imagined licking the droplets from each nipple and leaning down; she brushed her lips lightly against Rhian’s. "I know. But I have a load to do anyway. Be back in a few minutes."
The martial artist was finding it difficult to keep her resolve to slowly seduce this woman and that baffled her. With each passing moment, her own desire was growing, and she wondered how long she could keep it up before she had to have Rhian. What the hell is wrong with you, Masterson? Since when have you had a problem with controlling your urges? Since you fell in love and everything changed.
By the time she returned with her control firmly back in place, the tub had cooled and Rhian was ready to get out. Deven held her hand while the younger woman stood and stepped out of the tub. With extreme care, she patted her lover’s body dry with a thick bath towel and then led her lover over to the bed. Draped across the comforter, was a cream colored silk shirt similar to the one Rhian had borrowed the night they’d made love. Deven settled it on the woman’s shoulders and buttoned it; purposely leaving the top buttons open to reveal much of her lover’s chest and cleavage.
She placed a wet kiss between Rhian’s breasts. "Okay, I didn’t make dinner tonight, so we have to order something. You’re choice."
Rhian thought for a moment, eliminating each possible cuisine in turn. "Pizza?"
Deven chuckled softly at the hopeful look on her friend’s face. "You’re so easy. Okay, pizza it is. Come on."
Over the next several hours, the martial artist continued to slowly build Rhian’s need while fighting her own. There was no shortage of kisses or caresses, and she repeatedly built up the fire only to back away. Now as they lay together in her bed, she once again raised the younger woman up on the wave of arousal before pulling away. There was no doubt that the landscaper was getting frustrated, and Deven enjoyed the knowledge that when they finally did make love, Rhian was probably going to explode.
The younger woman lay still and glared at her. "You’re doing this on purpose. Why? Are you trying to drive me insane?" Rhian caught a glint of humor in the martial artist’s eyes. "No, I get it. You’re trying to punish me, aren’t you? You’re still mad at me and this is your way of paying me back."
Deven smirked. "And it’s working."
"You think? Think again." Rhian rolled over onto her side away from the woman.
The martial artist bit back a chuckle. Leaning down she began a slow assault on the back of Rhian’s neck, nibbling the tender flesh. Her hand slid down the landscaper’s naked form to her backside and lightly caressed the flesh. "You have such a cute butt."
"Forget it, Deven."
As if not hearing the woman at all, the martial artist continued her stimulating touch. Rhian was saying no, but her body was responding to the attention. The tantalizing aroma of her arousal rose up, and Deven smiled at the woman’s defiant posturing. "Rhian?" she said in a soft singsong voice. Her hand slid between the soft cheeks and pressed against the tight aperture.
The landscaper involuntarily shivered from the sensation. She’d never been touched like this and was surprised that she wasn’t freaking out as Deven increased the pressure. Uh oh. If anything it was quite the opposite, and she had to dig deep to override the pleasurable sensations. Be strong, Rhian. She moved away from the other woman’s touch and rolled over to face her torturer. "Forget it, Deven."
"I can tell you want this," Deven purred at her.
"I can tell you want it, too. But I can also tell you, you aren’t getting it."
They had reached an apparent impasse. Deven knew she could easily push her advantage. She could continue her assault until the woman gave up. But Rhian isn't like other women. She's just stubborn enough to refuse no matter how aroused she becomes. She'll deny it just out of spite. Damn it! "Okay." Deven rolled over onto her back and stared up at the ceiling. Great! Way to go, Masterson. Now I’m horny as hell and have not where to release it! Shit!
"That’s it?" Rhian asked, taken aback by how easily Deven had backed down.
"Yeah. That’s it." Deven closed her eyes and tried not to think about the throbbing between her legs.
"Really." She glanced at the younger woman. "You sound surprised. I told you a long time ago that I would never force you to do something you didn’t want to."
With that one statement, Deven had proved to the younger woman just how different this relationship was. It drove the words home into Rhian’s heart, and she suddenly felt like crying. Reaching out Rhian gripped the woman’s wrist and lifted her arm and then shifting closer, she settled in her spot against Deven’s body, her head resting on the strong shoulder. She felt Deven’s arm settle around her back and the long fingers gently caress the flesh on her side. "Can we call a truce?"
The martial artist sighed. "Good idea."
"I’m sorry, Deven. I’m sorry I didn’t come to you. I’m sorry I didn’t make the time to talk to you. I hope that you do understand at least, in part, why I hesitated. Your opinion is important to me."
"I do understand, but I don’t want you to feel that way. I don’t think you’re weak. I don’t think you’re a lesser person. You have strengths I don’t have. I only want to help you, Rhian." There was something that still bothered Deven. "Why did you tell them?"
"I didn’t exactly."
Deven shifted back a little to try and see the woman’s face. "I don’t understand."
Rhian sighed and her breath brushed across Deven bare chest, teasing her already unfulfilled libido. "My father saw us at the garden center. He saw us kissing and immediately thought you were taking advantage of me. I didn’t find out he’d seen us until I got home that evening and was confronted by both my parents. He was so mad, Deven. I’ve never seen him like that."
She took a deep breath and then continued in a rush. "When I talked to you later, I couldn’t bring myself to tell you. All I wanted was to feel you near, but I was afraid you’d think I couldn’t handle the situation and come over to knock some sense into him. I really didn’t understand what was going on, and the way he reacted really hurt."
The anger stirred within the martial artist. "He didn’t touch you did he?"
"No. It wasn’t like that. It’s just that he was so distant and wouldn’t talk to me. I didn’t talk to him again at all until he came to pick me up in front of the school."
Deven hugged her tighter. "What changed his mind?"
"My Uncle Will." Rhian related the conversation she’d had with Mac about her uncle and what had happened to him. She then told her friend about her father and mother’s attempts to understand and deal with the situation.
The martial artist listened intently. "Please, don’t do that again, okay? It hurt, Rhian, and it upsets me to know that you’d rather hurt by yourself then allow me to share in the burden."
"I wouldn’t rather do that. I love you, Deven. I was even going to move out of my parents’ house so that I could still keep seeing you without the hassles."
"You were?" Deven asked softly. She would have done that for me?
"Yeah, I was. My mother talked me out of it, but I told her that I was still going to keep seeing you, and she just needed to accept that."
Deven didn't understand the way Rhian's family worked. Her own was so vastly different it was beyond her comprehension. But she did understand that for Rhian, this was an important change in her life. Not knowing what to say, she placed a kiss on the woman's forehead.
"Deven?" Rhian whispered.
"Please, don’t ever treat what I feel for you as some sort of a joke or use it as punishment. It makes me feel, I don’t know, like I really am a failure or a loser or something."
That revelation troubled Deven, and she pushed Rhian back slightly so she could search the woman’s eyes. "You are not a failure or a loser. And yes, I was playing with you but not to hurt you. The last thing I want to do is hurt you. This is probably going to sound stupid, but I wanted to arouse you. I wanted to make you want this. I wanted you to want it so badly you’d beg me to release you. I love making love to you. I love touching and kissing you. I love the sounds you make. I love your scent. I love the changes in your body as your arousal rises. I especially love the look in your eyes when you want me. The look you give me when you need me."
"Wow," Rhian mouthed the word. She reached a hand up and traced the martial artist’s features. "Deven?"
"Can we make love now?"
A deep laugh erupted up out of the martial artist, causing the bed to shake. "And if I say no?"
"I’ll start without you." Rhian slid a hand down between their bodies and settled it between her own legs.
Realizing her lover's intention, Deven flipped them over and gradually settled her weight on the smaller body. "Oh, no you don't. She's mine," she growled.
The blend of power and pleasure that went with making love with this woman was a curious thing for the landscaper. Rhian marveled that she had the power to arouse Deven in any manner, but more importantly, that she had the power to say no if she had a reason to. That Deven respected her and wanted her still was hard to fully understand but something that she embraced nonetheless. "Yes, she’s yours, and she wants you bad." Moving her hand, she reached between Deven’s legs and smirked at the amount of moisture she found there. "Apparently, she isn’t the only one in need of a little attention."
Deven gazed intently at her lover and the look of desire mingled with love was enough to bring tears to the younger woman’s eyes. The martial artist brushed back a few strands of Rhian’s soft hair and placed small kisses on each of her fine features. "You’re so beautiful," she said. "I." Her brow creased as she tried to find the words. "When I look you at you, I’m amazed."
When the woman didn't continue, Rhian reached up and gently traced Deven's face with her fingertips. Pale eyes fluttered shut at the touch.
"You just don’t know," Deven whispered.
Her eyes opened once again, and she stared intently at the younger woman. "Everything I think to say in my head sounds so trite or inane. I don’t know what to say!" she blurted out in frustration.
"Easy, Champ. You’re doing just fine."
The martial artist pursed her lips for a few seconds and then as if making the decision to forge ahead, the words began. "I’ve done so much. So many things wrong. I’d accepted the consequences a long time ago." She laughed bitterly. "For as long as I can remember my mother has been telling me that since a chose to dance with the Devil, I deserved to get burned. She was right. A long slow burn for the rest of my life."
"No," she said emphatically. "She was right, and I’d accepted it. But then you came along and everything changed. Rhian, I’m." She sighed, her breath lightly caressing the younger woman’s face. "I’m really afraid sometimes. I don’t want to be. I hate it. Absolutely hate it. And I especially hate telling you that. But it’s the truth. I think about all the things that I’ve done. I think about the times that I’ve already hurt you. I think about all the ways I still can hurt you. It really scares me."
"I know, Deven. Don’t you know that I have the same fears? Not of you hurting me, but of me hurting you? You’ve known so much pain in your life. I don’t want to be one to add to it. I want to be the one to take it all away. Besides, your mother is a good for nothing witch, and she wasn’t right at all. It’s kind of funny in a way, because my mother always said that if you danced with the Devil, the Devil didn’t change. You did. So love, I don’t think it’s as simple as you make it sound. And I certainly don’t believe that you deserve anything but some happiness in your life."
"You have a comeback for everything, doncha?"
Rhian smiled. "No, but I’ll bet my mother does."
"And what if I am the Devil? Aren’t you afraid I’ll change you?"
"You already have, Deven. For the better," she replied as she lightly cupped the woman’s cheek.
Tears brimmed in the older woman’s eyes, and she swallowed hard several times. It didn’t seem humanly possible to feel this much love for someone. And yet, it overwhelmed her and she did nothing to hide it.
"Deven, I wish you wouldn’t hate letting me in so much. When you open up to me, it’s like receiving a gift because I know that you don’t share those parts of yourself with anyone else. They’re a part of who you are. They’re just one more reason I love you so much."
When she'd regained some control and the tightening of her throat finally eased, the martial artist spoke softly. "I do love you." It came out sounding like a conviction, and she thought she might actually weep with the intensity of the emotion behind the words. She could only hope that Rhian understood what exactly she was trying to say. And as Rhian's eyes filled with tears and her lips curled into a sweet smile, Deven knew the younger woman did understand.
That was the last truly coherent thing Rhian heard that night as both women embraced the desire to love and be loved. Their passion rose and ebbed repeatedly until emotional and physical exhaustion demanded their sated bodies to rest. Wrapped tightly around each other, they murmured words of love and devotion as sleep crept up to claim them.
When her eyes closed for the last time that night, Rhian floated in the intensity of the love Deven gave her. She knew with certainty that this was where she belonged, and she also knew that they would be all right. It wasn’t going to be easy by any means. They had a lot to learn about each other and about how to deal with each other, but she didn’t doubt their ability to succeed.
The past couple of days had left Rhian emotionally raw, but she knew she was in a better place overall and wouldn’t have traded the experience for that reason. She no longer had to deny her feelings for Deven. Her family now knew the truth and was trying to accept the situation with the grace and dignity she’d always known they possessed. And she loved them for it.
Shifting slightly, she settled contentedly against Deven’s body. The steady heartbeat lulled her, and she smiled. With one last whispered, "I love you," she drifted into a peaceful sleep.
For Deven, another layer of her pain had been stripped away and in its place, healing and restoration of the spirit. She didn’t believe for a moment that the world would suddenly stop and everything would be right. But for the first time since the night she’d been assaulted, Deven was starting to feel optimistic about the future. So much so at the moment that she forgot to be terrified of the prospect. And when dreams visited her that night, they weren’t nightmares of the past, but visions of a life she might someday obtain.
Had Deven been awake, she would have scoffed at the notion. But in sleep it fed her battered soul and planted deep within her subconscious – hope.
To Be Continued In the sequel – ‘When you Dance With The Devil’
Up to this story's index
All original fiction and poetry are the property of the authors and are subject to copyright laws, as well as other laws, including, but not limited to, other applicable state, federal, territorial and international laws and treaties. You are granted permission to print these pages or save to a file on your computer for personal use only. No other use is permissible, except where otherwise specified in writing or where the author's prior express written consent has been obtained. Any other use of the materials, including, but not limited to, distribution, modification, reproduction, publication, transmission, participation in the transfer of or sale of, performance, creation of derivative works, or in any other way, the use of which results in the exploitation of any of the materials, in whole or in part, for uses other than those expressly permitted herein, is strictly forbidden. The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess are the property of Renaissance Pictures, Universal MCA, and who knows who else. The characters of Star Trek: Voyager are the property of Paramount and who knows who else. Any use by an author herein is not intended to infringe on the copyright holders of the characters.