Thanks to everyone who has said nice things about this little fic--especially those who don't normally read Jasper-with-anyone-other-than-Alice fics. Thanks for taking a chance on mine. I hope you won't be disappointed!

DISCLAIMER: SM owns Jasper, but since he's the only recognizable character in this fic, I own everything else you see here! Gotta love that! ;)


Chapter 2—Unexpected

Jasper clicked his tongue softly, urging his mare to pick up her pace. Annabelle rode ahead of him, her back straight with curls bouncing. He chuckled as he pulled alongside her, his eyes straying down to her shapely calves. He had been startled when she mounted her gelding astride, her long skirt riding up her legs to expose her black half boots and soft grey stockings. Even more startled when she kicked her heels into the gelding's side and called, "Race you!" Dashing to his mare, he'd leapt into the saddle and charged after her, leaving the stable door gaping wide.

Now Annabelle reined her mount to a walk, and Jasper followed suit.

"So where are you from, Miss Belle?"

"Pennsylvania. And you?"

"Texas born and bred," he replied, a hint of pride in his tone.

She smiled and adjusted her grip on the reins slightly, causing the gelding to dance sideways.

"What brings you down South?" Jasper asked.

"Deborah is one of my best friends," she answered.

"Deborah?"

"Daniel's fiancé," she supplied, surprised that he had to ask.

Jasper smiled in understanding. "I see. I haven't had the pleasure of meeting the future Mrs. Grayson yet."

"Well, they're prefect for each other," Annabelle said, adding playfully, "even if he is a Southerner."

"Is that so?"

She chuckled in reply.

"Is it such a bad thing?" he asked softly. "To be a Southerner?"

Annabelle stared at him, her eyes traveling from his down to his shoulders and chest, then to his strong hands as they expertly held the reins and along his well-muscled thighs and calves and back up again.

"Not when a Southerner looks like you," she said boldly, just a hint of pink tinting her high cheekbones.

Jasper couldn't help the laugh that escaped his lips. It'd been too long since he had really laughed like that. She laughed with him, hers a complimentary soprano to his tenor.

"Are all Northern women so bold?"

"Well, I have yet to meet all the women in the North, but I was raised to speak my mind. I suppose that's what comes from having Abolitionist parents," she said.

Jasper lifted one hand to the nape of his neck and ruffled the curls that lay damply on his collar.

"Abolitionists, hm?" he murmured. "So I guess your parents wouldn't take too kindly to you conversing with a Confederate soldier like me." It wasn't a question.

Annabelle tilted her head and the corner of her mouth turned down a bit. She brushed a strand of hair off her cheek and said, "Conversing would be acceptable to them."

"And you?"

She raised a questioning eyebrow. "What about me?"

"How do you feel about a Confederate soldier?"

"A Confederate soldier?"

Jasper ducked his head, suddenly unsure of himself and where their conversation might be heading. He peeked up through his blond lashes, trying to gauge her expression and tone.

"Well…" His voice trailed off, but—never one to back down from a challenge—he steeled his courage and clarified, "This Confederate soldier."

She brushed her curls over her shoulder and said almost too lightly, "I thought you were a civilian now, Mr. Whitlock. And I am fairly certain the war is over and the Confederacy is dead."

Again he laughed. She was a spitfire, unlike any other woman in his experience. "Details, Miss Devereaux," he said, his eyes twinkling at their banter. "But the question still remains."

"Indeed, it does, Mr. Whitlock."

"And your answer?"

She looked in his eyes for a moment, faint birdsong and the nearer clink of the bridles the only sounds around them.

"Shall we walk?" she finally said.

He dismounted quickly and walked around to the left of her gelding to help her dismount. She swung her right leg over the horse's head in a flurry of petticoats and slid into his waiting arms, her skirts rising a little higher in her descent.

Jasper's hands closed around her tiny waist and stayed there for several seconds after her feet were firmly on the ground. She shook her skirts into place then turned to pick up her reins, moving out of his grasp.

"Will you answer the question?" he asked, gathering up his own reins and walking beside her.

"I hardly know you, Jasper."

He smiled, pleased that she had returned to using his first name.

"That can be remedied, Belle."

She nodded but glanced away from him.

"What would you like to know about me?" he asked.

They walked a few steps in silence. He was curious what she would ask but didn't want to rush her, so he surveyed the Grayson's property, focusing on the grove of trees twenty yards ahead.

"Did your family keep slaves?" Her soft voice broke the peaceful silence, and Jasper turned to look at her.

"We did," he answered simply.

She waited.

"We have a large farm, and it takes a lot of hands to work it. But we only had around twenty, twenty-five slaves. And we never mistreated them."

"You might not have, but what about your overseer?" His lips moved to form a reply, but she continued, "I cannot tell you how many tales I've heard of slaves raped and beaten by overseers while the owners looked away or went about their business unaware."

Jasper let out a short breath.

"Well, as to that I couldn't really say. I didn't spend much time around them until the last few months before I enlisted."

They walked along in silence, each seeming to wait for the other to say something. And yet, it wasn't uncomfortable at all. Finally, Jasper broke the quiet.

"I was glad when I heard Lincoln had freed the slaves," he admitted softly. "I don't hold with one man having that kind of control over another's life. In the Army…"

Annabelle remained silent when he trailed off, waiting.

Jasper took a deep breath and blew it out. "In the Army, you need commanders or the ranks dissolve into chaos. And on a farm, you need someone in charge to make sure the job gets done right and on time. But for one man to own another—especially because their skin is a different color—" He paused, shaking his head. "I can't abide that," he finished, looking up to see Annabelle frowning, her expression puzzled.

"If you don't believe in slavery…"

"I didn't always feel this way," he said when she left her sentence hanging. "I never gave it a second thought when I was a boy. My papa held slaves, and so did our neighbors. That's just the way it was. But being in the War and seeing how some take advantage of their positions and power… That taught me to look at things a little differently." He paused then said, "Now I'll be looking to hire hands to keep the farm going."

"So why did you join the Confederate Army?"

His answer was simple.

"I'm a Texan. Texas was part of the Confederacy."

She nodded as if she understood.

"Have you ever killed anyone?"

"Yes," he answered, his voice hard, the single word clipped. He could feel her eyes on him. He didn't look at her.

She nodded again.

"What was it like?" she asked after a moment.

Jasper's head snapped around, his eyes locking with hers. He stood rooted to the ground, unable to believe that she would ask such a question. "Killing someone?" he asked then, needed the clarification.

She shook her head, dark curls bouncing. "No. The War."

He let out the breath he hadn't realized he was holding, somewhat relieved that she wasn't asking him what it was like to kill someone, yet also somewhat troubled that she would ask about the War. Because really, weren't they almost the same subject?

"You don't really want to kn—"

"I wouldn't have asked if I didn't," she interrupted. "I never do or say anything I don't mean, Jasper."

Sucking in a deep breath, he ran his free hand through his hair. "Annabelle," he whispered, his voice almost choked. "Please don't ask me about the War."

She laid her hand on his arm, an apology frozen on her lips as he turned to face her, his eyes haunted.

"Jasper—"

He shook his head, almost as if to clear the memories inside. "It's alright," he said softly.

Annabelle nodded and held out her hand. "Let's keep walking."

He took her offered hand, and they began to walk again.

"Have you ever been shot?" she asked, continuing her inquisition.

"Yes," he answered, "several times."

"Where?"

Jasper chuckled. "Where haven't I been shot?" he returned.

Annabelle laughed quietly with him before asking the most surprising question.

"May I see?"

Although he wasn't embarrassed about the scars marking his body, he was afraid of the pity he knew he would see in her eyes. During his military service, those scars had often led to short-lived trysts with debutantes and whores who had been impressed by the evidence of his prowess, but he knew Annabelle was not like his past conquests. She had a gentleness the others had not, and he didn't want her pity.

But she was insistent.

"Please?" she pressed.

He sighed and reluctantly dropped her hand to pull up his left pant leg. A small, pink scar the size of a finger digit decorated his calf, leaving that spot hairless and crudely puckered.

"I was lucky it didn't hit the bone," Jasper said. "If it had, they would have taken my leg off," he added, without knowing why he said it.

Annabelle sank down and ran a finger lightly over the ridges of badly healed skin. She looked up at his gasp, startled by the intensity in his eyes. She rubbed her finger over the scar once more before he dropped his pant leg and extended his hand to help her back to her feet.

He cleared his throat and looked away.

"Where else?" she asked.

Jasper raised an eyebrow and shook his head at her. "I don't think that's a good idea."

"I want to see—"

"Why?"

"To understand. To know what it was like—"

"Annabelle…"

"Jasper. Please."

Searching her eyes, he saw no pity. Only curiosity and gentleness. With a sigh, he looped his mare's reins over the saddle horn and smiled as Annabelle did the same with hers before taking a step closer. He slowly began to unbutton his shirt, keeping his eyes on her face. He silently prayed that her calm expression would not turn to revulsion when she saw…

As the lapels of his shirt separated and fell to either side, exposing his chest, Annabelle inhaled softly and stepped even closer. She took in the extent of his injuries, her gaze traveling from the single bullet wound near his right shoulder across each shrapnel scar peppering his chest and stomach. Without really thinking about what she was doing, Annabelle brought both hands up and ran them lightly over each scar, coaxing another, stronger gasp from Jasper's suddenly dry throat.

He gripped her shoulders, intending to set her back and stop her gentle exploration. But before she could protest, he drew her closer, his lips crushing hers, one hand cupping the nape of her neck. His other hand pressed against her lower spine, pulling her against his badly scarred chest, her arms trapped between their bodies.

She could feel the heat from his bare skin through her sleeves. Her involuntary gasp parted her lips briefly, and Jasper pulled back slightly, searching her eyes to gauge her reaction. She took advantage of the space between them to slide her hands up and over his shoulders, her fingers threading themselves into his hair, pulling his lips back to hers.

He immediately parted his lips, sliding them against hers again and again, gently sucking her bottom lip into his mouth. He winced slightly at the sting of her nails when he ran his tongue over the lip now trapped between his teeth. But then her finger rubbed softly where her nails had been, and he couldn't hold back a groan of pleasure.

He murmured her name against her lips and said, "You taste so…" But her lips pressed back to his, cutting off his words, and he lost himself once again in the kiss. His tongue swept over her bottom lip again. She was sweet honey and tangy barbecue and tart lemonade.

Perfect.

She pressed her body against his, needing to get closer. Jasper kissed her again, praying her layers of skirts would keep his body's reaction hidden from her but not caring enough to pull away. She met him with equal fervor, her lips gently sucking his lower lip into her mouth where her tongue briefly teased him, and she moaned again before pulling back.

He shook his head as if to clear it and whispered her name.

"Yes, Jasper," she replied. He wasn't sure if she was inviting him to speak or giving him permission to continue their kissing and perhaps more. And then she was kissing him again, forcing coherent thoughts from his brain.

On a gasp for breath, he started to ask if she was a virgin but only managed, "Are you—" when she breathed, "Yours. I'm yours, Jasper."

And then he couldn't think, could only feel. And it was a powerful emotion that wrapped around him, silencing any warning that this might not be a good idea. That he might be making a colossal mistake.

He ran his fingers down her back, the laces of her bodice rubbing against his fingertips, making them tingle. He longed to feel her soft skin against them instead. Quickly he found the bow tucked under her bodice and tugged it loose then pulled at her laces until the garment itself slackened around her torso. He stepped back as she raised her arms to allow him to lift her bodice over her head, leaving her in her undergarments and skirt. She reached behind her waist and began to pull the ties of her skirt and petticoat free. When she let them go, they slid down her slender legs into a pool of fabric at her ankles.

Jasper let his eyes travel down her body, taking in the curves of her waist, hips, and thighs. He knew the slimness of her waist was due in part to the white corset around her ribs, but he felt certain that it was more of a fashion necessity than a figure-shaper. His hands twitched, wanting to touch her again, and his eyes glowed with his desire.

"Annabelle," he said, breaking them both out of their trance.

She stepped forward then, her hands sliding against his chest and under his opened shirt. She swiftly slipped it over his shoulders and down his arms. And then her fingers found his scars again, touching gently, reverently, before she lowered her head to press her lips to the largest one at his shoulder. He jerked involuntarily, and she peered at him from under her eyelashes, worried she might have done something wrong. He smiled to reassure her and brought his own hands to her back to tug the laces of her corset free. In little more than an instant, it had joined the pile of clothing at Annabelle's feet.

It was Annabelle's turn to shiver as Jasper ran his hands up her ribs, his long fingers splayed over her back. A gasp escaped her lips when his thumbs grazed the sides of her breasts. Unable to wait any longer, Jasper pulled her to him and crushed his lips against hers again, not bothering to be gentle this time. She met his kiss with equal fervor, her hands kneading the muscles of his back as she tried to get closer and closer to him.

Her hands strayed downward, brushing against the back of his waistband. He inhaled sharply as she ran her fingers around his waist to his stomach.

"How do I—?"

Jasper smiled against her lips, quickly slipping the buttons of his trousers through the buttonholes and helping her push them down his legs. He lifted her up then and sank to his knees, lowering her to the ground atop the pile of discarded clothing. She threaded her fingers through his hair and brought his face down to hers so she could kiss him again. Her lips brushed his lightly at first, and he held back to see what she would do. Her fingers flexed into fists, urging him closer as she deepened the kiss, running her tongue across his lips.

He deftly slid the buttons of her chemise through the holes and slipped the thin cotton garment off her arms. Her pantaloons were next, untied and down off her legs before she could take another breath. He paused a moment to appreciate the beauty of her naked body, his hands and eyes smoothing over her curves. A smile played at his lips as he watched her shiver with pleasure at his touch.

When her hands left his hair, he nearly protested. But then she touched the sensitive flesh of his waist again, pulling another gasp from him as she tugged loose the ties of his drawers to push them down. Her fingers kneaded the muscles of his thighs made strong by the years and years of riding horseback.

"Annabelle," Jasper whispered as he positioned himself over her, peppering soft kisses across her cheeks and nose, finally coming to her mouth again. "Are you—?"

"I'm sure, Jasper," she said, cutting off his question once again as she arched into his body. He felt her legs come up around his hips and kissed her deeply again as he slid into her warmth, pausing to allow her body to adjust to his. And then they were moving together, finding their rhythm quickly and smoothly until the pleasure was beyond anything either had ever felt before. As the maelstrom of passion overtook them, they cried out together, their bodies shaking with the aftermath of their climaxes.

Jasper cupped her cheek in his palm and placed a soft kiss on her lips before moving slightly to Annabelle's side. She turned onto her side, not wanting to be separated from his body. She snuggled into his chest and smiled as his arm came around her shoulders. With a contented sigh, Jasper drifted off to sleep with the sound of Annabelle's soft, even breathing in his ear.

~ * ~

As the sun began its descent to the west, Jasper and Annabelle returned their horses to the stable and walked toward the rest of the party guests. They kept glancing sideways at each other, trying to keep the silly grins from their faces. It took everything Jasper had not to take her hand and kiss her senseless again. But they had discussed the issue and, while neither of them regretted their tryst in the meadow, they had decided it would be best not to announce it to the world just yet. Annabelle was scheduled to stay with the Grayson's until after the wedding in a few months which would give Jasper plenty of time to court her.

Annabelle's step quickened, and she turned to tell Jasper, "Come and meet Deborah."

Jasper smiled and followed her eagerly, glad to meet her friend and offer Daniel his congratulations.

They came to a halt at the edge of a small gathering on the back steps of the house.

"Deborah," Annabelle said, gaining her friend's attention. "Have you met Mr. Jasper Whitlock, yet?"

"No," said a pretty blonde, turning as Annabelle indicated the tall man at her side.

"We met in the stable," Annabelle explained.

Jasper took Deborah's hand and kissed it briefly in greeting. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Deborah. Daniel's a lucky man." He nodded to the groom-to-be and said, "Congratulations, Daniel."

The two men shook hands and began to catch up with each other. The back door opened suddenly, and Jasper smiled as he saw his mother come out onto the porch. She returned his silent greeting, stepping forward quietly as to not interrupt their conversation.

Just then Annabelle turned toward the door and saw Jasper's mother. "Aunt Meg!" she exclaimed.

Aunt Meg?


I'll bet you weren't expecting that, were you?