Unexpected Love

"We come to love not by

finding a perfect person, but

by learning to see an

imperfect person perfectly"


Disclaimer: I own none of the original characters in this story. They all belong to Tamora Pierce.

Chapter 25

A Newfound Beginning

Kel found Neal and Merric crowded around Joren's bed an hour later. All three were holding a hand of cards and there was a small pile of coppers and a few scattered gold nobles in three piles of varying size. Joren had the most by far. He was sitting up, his back resting against the wall with his pillow propped behind him for support. Both Neal and Merric had pulled up chairs as close to the bed as possible. Joren's lap held a tray made for food that served as a makeshift table for the cards. As yet, the men had not seen her, all too focused on the game to register her presence by the door.

"Ha! I win. Straight flush!" Joren's smug voice carried easily in the empty infirmary.

"Ugh. Why do you always have the luck? I haven't won a hand in ages!" Merric's petulant tones were unmistakable. "It's not fair. You already smashed us in chess. Do you have to beat us at cards too?"

"A Stone Mountain never loses." Joren grinned to take the sting from his words. "I can't help it if I'm talented."

Neal grunted. "More luck than talent. Don't worry, you're due to run out of that soon. Then I'll start winning all the money back."

Kel watched as they re-dealt the cards and began another round. Deciding it was time to let them know she was there, Kel walked over to Joren's cot.

At the sight of Kel walking toward them, all three knights exchanged guilty looks.

"Hello boys. I see you've followed my instructions to the letter. This is definitely what I had in mind when I said to tend to Joren. Gambling away your money is a noteworthy cause." Kel's voice stayed bland throughout the short speech, but her eyes gave her away. Under her oppressive stare all three men gave her sheepish smiles and shrugs. Joren's eyes fairly danced with wickedness.

"Why, this was Merric's idea. We just wanted to find a way to pass the time since I'm bedridden for a while. And like true friends, they've parted with their money for me."

Kel couldn't hide the smile that tugged at her mouth. "I'm sure that losing their money was what they had in mind. I can see from there cheerful faces that they're having fun."

Neal just groaned while Merric scowled and replied. "I think he's got some trick up his sleeve. No way a man could have such a wide streak of luck."

Kel laughed. Unconsciously, she'd been holding her breath when she'd come to check on her friends. But despite her worries that her comrades would be all stiff silences and hooded gazes, they were easy with each other. Somehow, in that strange way that men do, they'd come together as fast friends as if nothing had ever happened. Involuntarily, Kel's eyes met Joren's. His silver-blue ones seemed to fill with a love and intimacy that only they shared. Sensing the sudden romantic tension in the air, both Neal and Merric made hurried and pitiful excuses to leave, gathering up their meager winnings and the cards.

"Ah Kel, I just remembered that I promised Dom that I'd mend one of his shirts. I really should go. We'll finish this game later Joren." Neal's excuse was painfully obvious.

"Me too, Kel. I have to help Cook in the kitchens. He wanted my advice on this family recipe of beef stew I have. Uh yeah, I'll go now—" His excuse was cut off by Neal's hand over Merric's mouth.

"We're leaving. Have fun."

Neal's sentiment was echoed by Merric's muffled "Mmmph"

Their footsteps faded away and the sound of a door closing marked Neal's and Merric's exit. Complete silence hovered in the air.

Suddenly nervous, Kel tucked her hands behind her back. She knew that she loved Joren and that he loved her, but that didn't wipe away the abrupt awkwardness that permeated the air. Kel wet her lips and began to speak.

"Joren, I—"

Before she could finish her thought, Joren gripped her arm and tumbled her onto the bed, his impatience with her formal speech evident. His hands held her firmly against his body. They pressed chest to chest, hip to hip.

"Why must you make it so difficult?" He gazed into her eyes, a light amusement in them. Gently, he stroked her cheek.

"I don't." Suddenly shy, Kel ducked her head.

Joren chuckled quietly and tucked her head in the space between his shoulder and neck. "Yes you do. Everything with you has to be analyzed and thoroughly thought over. Doesn't it ever drive you mad?"

Kel was silent for a moment. Then, "No."

Joren blew out a disgusted breath. "Of course not. You wouldn't be the Protector of the Small otherwise, I guess."

Kel expressed her protest in the form of a pinch.
"Hey! That hurt! How could you wound an injured man that can't protect himself? And one you love at that?"

Kel's laugh was muffled by his neck. "I hold no mercy when that title comes into play. You should know that by now."

Joren sighed softly, his breath warm against her shoulder. "I missed you."

Kel smiled. "I was only gone a few hours."

Joren's voice was solemn. "It felt like days."

Laughing, Kel pressed her lips to Joren's neck. "You didn't look so mournful when I came in to find you sitting up and playing a round of poker."

Joren's voice was unshakable. "I still missed you."

Sighing, Kel closed her eyes and relented. "I missed you too."

Lulled by Joren's steady breathing, Kel was soon drifting, content to be held by him. This was love. Her hand fisted over his heart and his arms tightened around her, pulling her more fully against him. One hand stroked her hair.

A while later, Kel's peaceful doze was broken when Joren gently pulled her up.

When Kel had struggled back into a sitting position, she gave him a questioning smile.

"I just wanted to look at you." Joren too, was sitting up. The bed sheets had pooled at his hips leaving his leanly muscled chest bare. Firm ridges shaped his stomach, evidence of a well-honed body. His shoulders were broad, his hips narrow. Silky, white blond hair, which was more suited to a girl than a man, was tousled and tangled and fell to his shoulders. Joren's silvery-blue eyes studied her intently, as if trying to figure out some complex problem. He was beautiful.

Kel felt her cheeks flush at the sight of Joren's half-nakedness. She knew that he wore breeches beneath the sheets, but it didn't take away from the image of an exquisite god, untouchable and perfect. The dark bruises that had marred his body not so long before had all but disappeared due to Neal's thorough healing.

Joren's sharp gaze caught her blush. His hand firmly gripped her chin as he studied her face. "What is it?"

Kel shook her head quickly. "Nothing, it's nothing."

Joren could be stubborn too. "I know you're lying, Tell me."

Kel pressed her lips together firmly, then slowly relaxed. Hesitantly, she spoke. "It's just you. You're beautiful."

"Don't say that. You know I hate those kind of compliments."

Kel's reply was matter-of-fact. "It's not a compliment, it's a truth."

With trembling fingers, Kel traced the heavy muscles of his shoulders and chest, her touch feather-light. Joren groaned softly. As Kel continued to trace her way down the muscles of his torso, Joren's breath began to shudder between his lips. His body trembled lightly from her touch. Wonder filled Kel. This was the power of a woman who was loved by a man. She, a lady knight who was no court beauty, could make Joren of Stone Mountain tremble at a simple touch.

When he could take her stroking no more, Joren grabbed her wrist. He was breathing heavily, his eyes a deep, icy blue. "You're teasing me."

Kel shook her head. "I just like to touch you. You're bea—"

Her words were muffled by his mouth as he leaned forward and kissed her fast and hard.

"No more "truths" as you call them. I don't think I could take it."

Kel pressed her suddenly swollen lips together. "I won't. But it doesn't change the fact that—"

Joren pulled her against him again, his lips seeking hers and finding them. This time it was minutes before he let her go.

Kel was now breathing heavily too. "Are you going to kiss me every time I try to say something? Because if you do, We'll never finish a conversation."

Joren grinned unabashedly at her. "But they would be pleasurable interruptions."

Kel fought the urge to grin foolishly back. "Yes, well, it would be very impractical, not matter how pleasurable they are. Even your kisses can't distract me enough to disregard my duties."

Joren's grin remained untroubled. "Who says you have to disregard your duties? Doesn't keeping your underlings in the pink of health fall under duties? You are my commanding officer, are you not?"

Kel bit her tongue to keep from laughing out loud. "I don't think kissing has anything to do with keeping you healthy. Elsewise, I'd be kissing every man woman and child in New Hope on a daily basis. I don't suppose you want me kissing Neal or Merric everyday now would you?. But I guess since it falls under my duties as a knight, it can't be helped. Maybe I'll make it a new event. In the mornings everyone must line up at my door and—"

Joren held up his hands in defeat, an annoyed and exasperated look on his face. "You win. I guess my little joke backfired on me. I don't want you to kiss anyone but me." He paused, then softer, a dark look of possession on his face, he continued. "You're mine." His tone brooked no argument.

Kel met and held his gaze. "And you are mine. Forever."


Author's Note:

To all those readers who have just found and finished reading my story...I would love it if you would review even though I finished it...I love feedback on how much my readers liked it...thanks!

I'm sorry for the delay. I just kept going back and forth on how to end it. I know that most of you begged me to continue the story, but I felt that I just couldn't prolong it. Sorry to all who were hoping for a sequel or subplot. I tried to think of a subplot, but every time I came up with one, I couldn't see it fitting smoothly into the story. I've decided to end this one and start a new story with a whole new plot line. It will still be a Kel story but the male character will either be Dom, Joren, or someone else I have yet to think of. I'm leaning towards Dom. I've finished a Kel/Joren (successfully, I hope) and my fingers are itching to try a Kel/Dom. Please Please Please to all those Kel/Dom haters give me a chance to write one if that's what I choose. If you liked this one, then a Kel/Dom wouldn't be too bad, right?? And if for some reason my Kel/Dom story falls flat and totally sucks. I'll go back to K/J. (Assuming its a K/D). Please give me a chance.

I would also like to give ALL my readers a huge THANK YOU. You've all been so awesome. When I started to write Unexpected Love, I agonized over the fact that it would be a complete failure and I would get no reviews or worse...flames..(shudders). I'm so glad that everyone loved the story and really enjoyed it. Everyone who gave me constructive criticism, thanks. You pointed out mistakes I missed. I really appreciated it. So don't give up on me. There may be a delay on putting out the first chapter of a new story, but I would love it if you would to continue to read my work. Thanks again. --Lupus17