It was a hot afternoon when Rhett left Belle's early to get ready for the ball that was being held that evening. While he didn't relish the idea of attending, these types of functions were one of the many things he didn't miss about living in Charleston, he was a guest of honor at Caroline Meade's request.
Interesting how though the people of Atlanta didn't enjoy hearing his objective and honest opinions about their beloved Cause, the fact that he was largely responsible for their being clothed in silks and satins and lace made his anti-war sentiments almost forgivable. If it weren't for the fact that he thought he might run into the O'Hara girl at that night's festivities he would have stayed at Belle's and played cards.
Belle questioned him on his attending, knowing full well how he despised the functions. She had hoped that an evening alone with her would have been enticement enough to keep him from going. Frustrated at the fact he didn't seem to think twice about leaving, she dressed in one of her best outfits and went downstairs to find her own entertainment for the evening. She didn't need Rhett Butler to have a good time, not when there were plenty of other men in Atlanta who wouldn't refuse her offered company. It was a slow night; of course it would be because of the party going on. This depressed her even further, not only did Rhett have a sudden change of heart but also she didn't stand to make very much money on that particular evening.
Rhett dressed in a fine black tuxedo, a freshly pressed white shirt, a gray waistcoat, and a gray tie adjusted his shirtsleeves as he looked at himself in the mirror. He was pleased with what he saw. His usual engraved gold cufflinks, tie tack, and pocket watch completed his ensemble. He was meticulous about his clothes, and took great pains in having them tailored to suit him. He put on his shoes and placed a cigar in his pocket as he extinguished the candles before he left his room.
Luckily for him, the ball was downstairs in the hotel's ballroom so he didn't have far to go. He arrived, standing in the doorway for a minute as he took in the scene before him. There were booths spread around in the hopes of raising funds for the Confederacy. Toward the front of the ballroom was a small orchestra, which would be providing that evening's musical entertainment.
Slightly disappointed at not seeing Scarlett, he made his way further into the room and began to mix with the people of Atlanta who on this night treated him as one of them. Mrs. Merriwether herself walked up to him and thanked him for the material that provided her daughter, Maybelle, a wedding gown. Fabric so delicate could not be found in Atlanta any longer, how Rhett came by such material no one seemed to know or care. He nodded; assuring her it was no trouble at all and with a slight bow he headed toward the bar to get a drink.
He got himself a Scotch and turned leaning with one arm draped on the edge of the bar to face the masses. All of the women were decked out in what finery they had left. It was very easy to spot the unmarried girls from the married ones. It was obvious their friends or parents had gone to great lengths to make sure they looked their best that evening. Many probably spent what little spare money they had left so that their daughter's could be here tonight in their finery.
Rhett scoffed at the idea of these women coming here to catch a man. They were far better off not married, but he seemed to be one of the few that felt that way. The matrons, on the other hand, weren't quite so picky. While their dresses were neatly pressed and looked nice, they were by no means new.
As the orchestra finished warming up, he became aware of a commotion in front of him and to his left. There appeared to be a scuffle going on, and as Rhett started toward the group he heard a familiar voice coming from in the midst of the men. He stopped with a smile and returned to his spot at the bar, shaking his head in amusement. He should have known that wherever there was a crowd of men gathered around, Scarlett O'Hara would be in the middle of it.
She wasn't overly attractive, Rhett had seen prettier he noted as he had before. It was the fire in her eyes when she got mad or enthused about something. The way she feigned interest in what a man was saying; though one had only to look into those green eyes to know she could care less. Her mother had raised her to be a lady, and Scarlett had learned the routine well. She couldn't help it if the Irish in her had a tendency to come out. Most men probably didn't see it, the boredom in her eyes. Rhett saw it, and once again he found himself wondering just what it was she saw in Ashley Wilkes. Surely, she had to realize how different they were, how little he had to offer someone like her. He downed his drink, realizing that it would take a miracle for her to realize that knowing, however, that if he were given the chance he could do it.
Rhett watched as Scarlett danced the first few dances with different beaux, and after finishing a second drink straightened his jacket and adjusted his tie. He made his way to where Scarlett sat, trying to decide who would be her next dance partner. Rhett joined the gathering; a smirk crawling to his lips watching as Scarlett so easily wrapped the boys that stood near her around her finger. He cleared his throat, trying to catch her attention to no avail. Finally, he broke down and spoke. "Miss O'Hara, might I have the pleasure of the next dance." He watched as she froze, the smile falling from her lips briefly and then just as quickly she regained her composure and it was back again. No one but Rhett noticed it, none of them would have been watching for it or realized who he was.
Scarlett was enjoying her evening. Dressed in a fine peach dress, the skirt gathered up in five different spots fastened off by cream-colored bows revealing a lighter peach silk fabric underneath. The dress was somewhat low cut, not enough to be inappropriate just enough to be daring. The short sleeves were fastened at the shoulders by more cream-colored bows. Her hair was held up by a silver hairpiece that her mother had lent her. She had no worries, she knew she looked good and was reassured by the men vying for her attention. Suellen had been furious, as she always was when Scarlett looked prettier than she did. Scarlett had shrugged it off; it wasn't her fault. It just wasn't as difficult for her to look pretty as it was for Suellen.
She danced a few dances never committing more than one to any of her beaux. Granting more than one to anyone would mean she had a preference, and Scarlett wasn't ready for that. She had to keep each and every one of them guessing. She had wondered briefly if Rhett was in town and whether he'd be at that evening's ball. She also found herself wondering if he would be alone, or if the woman she had seen him with before would be with him.
She had silently hoped after watching his carriage pull away on his previous visit to Tara that despite telling him to leave that something would bring him back. She had so wanted to dance that afterward she cried on her bed thinking herself a fool to turn away one of the only men around to call on her and offer to take her out. There was no shortage of men to call on her at Tara, of course, but to take her out for dinner and dancing was an entirely different story. No one could afford to do it. No one but Rhett that was.
She heard his familiar voice; reacted in spite of herself but quickly recovered her composure. She looked in the direction his voice had come from, her eyes narrowing slightly, as she looked for the face that belonged to the voice. She spotted him standing in between Cade and Raif Calvert, looking as though he didn't have a care in the world. She tried to make out what he was wearing, but aside from his tie was unable to do so. One thing she was sure of, whatever he was wearing it was expensive and it suited him well.
She dropped her gaze to the floor, biting her lip gently as she thought. She cocked her head to her right, then her left extending her hand as she spoke. "Yes, Mr. Butler, I will dance with you next." Her eyes sparkled as she heard the groans of disappointment from the other men. Some spouted words of displeasure at the fact that they had been waiting longer than Rhett had. But that didn't matter to Scarlett for some reason, though she should have made him wait. It would backfire with him, though.
She realized he could have acquired a dance partner from any number of girls in this room with little effort. While Brent and Stu and the other boys around her would stay by her side most of the night hoping for the chance, Rhett would not. She hated to admit it, but she was curious to know whether he danced as well as she thought he would. While Scarlett acted as though she were pleased with the dancing of her partners, most of them didn't know how to dance near as well as she would have liked.
Rhett made his way toward her, taking her extended hand and placing it in the crook of his arm as he escorted her to the dance floor. "I believe you've done nothing to help my popularity in choosing me as your dance partner over all those other gentlemen who wanted nothing more than the same opportunity."
He laughed as his eyes took her in. He held her closer than perhaps he should have, but not close enough to cause a scandal. He knew she wasn't ready to cast aside her ladylike upbringing quite yet. "Dare I hope that this means that country girl heart of yours is falling for the likes of me?"
Scarlett struggled slightly to pull away from him, realizing that the song had begun she contented herself to remain in his grasp. "I would certainly say not, Mr. Butler, and comments such as those certainly won't help. I believe I have the right to be selective in whom I choose to give my heart to and you have done nothing to deserve it." She eyed him, taking the opportunity of being so near to him to take in the man who stood before her. She couldn't help but notice he even smelled nice, nothing like her father or any of the county boys did. He smelled of cigars, expensive cologne, and of fresh air. "You do dance well, Mr. Butler. I must say I'm surprised." She turned her face up slightly to look into his eyes, her eyelids batting flirtatiously.
Rhett laughed heartily. "Yes, I'm sure compared to what you're used to that is very true, but I'm afraid your compliments are wasted on me. Unless, of course, you're offering me something in addition to your kind words." He increased the pressure on her back as he felt her try and pull away. "I take that as a no. Don't worry, I wouldn't try anything ungentlemanly here, Miss O'Hara. Though I will admit, I wish you'd stop trying to flirt with me and treat me as a man. I'm not one of your beaux, as pretty as I find your eyes, all the flirtatious batting in the world won't work on me."
His hand dropped comfortably to her lower back as they danced the rest of the song without trading words. When the song ended, he felt her start to pull away. "Not so fast, Miss O'Hara, I'm not finished dancing with you yet. You may be able to get away with allowing those boys only one dance but I simply won't tolerate it. We dance well together and I'm not ready to content myself with dancing with someone with two left feet."
Scarlett looked at Rhett in confusion. Why was it he always seemed to gain the upper hand with her? She wasn't used to it. First, he insinuated that she was falling for him, then he dismissed her compliment as though he didn't care. Now he was requesting a second dance, not just a second dance but twice in a row. Why, it would be unheard of. Scarlett O'Hara never danced with the same person twice. She would appear desperate.
Or would she?
She had to think fast, for she couldn't make a scene. Once the song had begun, if they were dancing she would have to dance with him. Oh what to do. She looked over at the group of beaux, most of whom she had known all of her life. Then her sights spotted Melanie, and her eyes dropped with the realization that she wouldn't get a dance with Ashley ever again. Not in the way she would have liked at any rate and all the men in the world vying for her attention wouldn't change that. She placed her hand on Rhett's shoulder without a word as she waited for the next song to begin. "Well, are you going to dance with me or not, Mr. Butler?"
Rhett watched as she contemplated her options and noticed as her eyes glance in the direction of Mrs. Wilkes. He was surprised that she had actually accepted, even though she had agreed more than likely out of spite he wasn't going to refuse. He knew very well that a girl like Scarlett didn't grant more than one dance to just anyone, he just happened to ask the right question at the right time. His hand returned to hers, the other he placed gently on her back.
"It must be hard, Miss O'Hara. Loving a man from afar knowing he will never be able to return your feelings that is. You should try giving your heart to one who is in the position to accept it. You might find it's a much more pleasurable experience, being loved in return."
He smiled broadly, noticing the shock in her eyes. He had never broached the subject of Ashley Wilkes before now; he wondered if she had forgotten the fact he had witnessed her scene with Ashley that day at Twelve Oaks. He was sure to her it seemed like an eternity had passed since that day, rather than just four short months ago. It was something that he would never forget; it was so nice to see a girl go after what she wanted. It was a shame her efforts were directed at such a hopeless creature as Mr. Wilkes.
Scarlett was fuming. Is this what she had given into his request for a second dance for? To have her love for Ashley called into question. What did he know about it anyway? Far too much she realized as she felt her cheeks flush. "What would you know of love, Mr. Butler? From what I understand love is not a word in your vocabulary, unless it lands a woman in your bed. Is that your definition of love? What I feel for Ashley is none of your concern, and is above anything you could ever possibly comprehend." She struggled to get out of his embrace as the song ended, pulling away not realizing he had released her. "A man like you couldn't possibly understand."
Scarlett made her way back to her beaux, glancing back at Rhett briefly only to find him laughing at her as he watched her walk away from him. She returned to her seat, claiming thirst as her excuse for sitting the next dance out. Brent fetched her some punch, which she drank appreciatively. The longer she sat, the madder she got at Rhett. Her thoughts turned to Ashley and she found a new face to place her anger onto, Melanie.
Her love for Ashley was as true as the day was long, there was no question in her mind of that. It wasn't his fault he had to marry Melly, suddenly the dislike Scarlett held for Melanie rose to the surface once more. She was married to the man Scarlett wanted. Here she was at a dance surrounded by dozens of beaux when the one man she wanted she couldn't have. Life seemed so unfair to Scarlett just then.
Why should she have to sit here a maiden while the wife of the man she loved sat just feet away from her with the other married women? The fact that if she was married she would be sitting at that table, too, and would not be surrounded by dozens of beaux did not cross her mind. Nor did the fact that she would be unable to dance all the dances with as many men as she pleased. Scarlett's thoughts didn't take her past her wedding day or what the rest of her life would be like afterward. She just knew she wanted Ashley and she couldn't have him.
Rhett watched in amusement as Scarlett left the dance floor. It was going to be no easy task to get Scarlett's mind off the honorable Mr. Wilkes, but Rhett was determined to make the effort. He smiled at her words, so she was aware of his reputation yet she still allowed him to call on her and accepted his invitation to dance. He wondered how much trouble that would cause her, but believed she really didn't care otherwise she wouldn't have. She was quite capable of making up her own mind, and of saying no of her own accord.
He returned to the bar and ordered another scotch when he noticed one of the girls that Scarlett had been with the other day at lunch sitting alone obviously wanting to dance. Rhett set his drink down and made his way toward the girl. He bowed slightly as a smile crossed his lips. "Would you care to dance, miss?"
Cathleen looked into the blackest eyes she'd ever seen and nodded slightly unable to speak. This handsome man was asking her to dance? She had just seen him dancing with Scarlett and found it hard to believe one of her beaux would go from Scarlett to her. She extended her hand as Rhett took it and escorted her to the dance floor.
With a bow as the music began he led her in a waltz. He introduced himself and made the appropriate small talk. When she said her name was Calvert he nodded in recognition of the name. As the song ended, he placed her hand in the crook of his arm as he escorted her back to her seat. He bowed slightly, his hand at his waist. "Thank you, Miss Calvert, for the company as well as the dance. You truly are light on your feet." He took her hand and kissed it above the wrist, his lips barely grazing her skin. "I look forward to the chance to dance with you again."
As the night wore on and many people had already left for the night Rhett made his way to the door, there was no reason for him to stay any longer. He had danced with Scarlett, and managed to infuriate her once more. He stopped at the door, looking back into the ballroom briefly and then made his way into the lobby. He decided to take a walk outside before retiring to his room for the night. He wasn't in the mood to return to Belle's, cards and liquor held no appeal for him tonight.
He lit his cigar as he walked out the door and upon hearing voices in front of him he started to turn around. He stopped when he recognized the woman's voice as Scarlett's and was more than surprised when he turned around to see her in the man's arms. He did not know the man Scarlett was with, but it was rather plain Scarlett wasn't responding to his embrace. He moved from view, not wanting to make his presence known but unable to leave for fear that if something were to happen to Scarlett that he would feel somewhat responsible.
Scarlett had agreed to let William Whiting take her home. Pa and Mother had gone home earlier and she wanted to stay. With the promise that William would have her home at a reasonable hour, they allowed her to stay. They knew how Scarlett loved to dance and parties these days of this caliber were rare. The Whiting's were a respectable family from the County; Gerald and Ellen were secure in the feeling Scarlett would be brought home safely. Suellen left in a huff, just another reason for her to dislike Scarlett. She always got preferential treatment from her parents, but being younger Suellen had no cause to argue.
When William suggested to Scarlett that it was time they head back, she was disappointed but agreed. She knew her parents had allowed her to stay out later than they normally would have and she had fun. When they got outside they stood and waited for his carriage to be brought around. Scarlett was shocked when he placed both of his hands about her waist and brought her toward him for a kiss.
Shocked because she never realized William had felt that way toward her, he wasn't ever one of her regular beaux. More shocked because she had done nothing to suggest the advance would be welcome. She pulled away from him severely placing her hand against his chest to try to keep him away from her.
"William, I'm afraid you may have gotten the wrong idea, but I'm simply not interested in you in that way."
She realized her words had perhaps stung she hadn't meant to be so harsh but it wasn't often she encountered this situation. She did not slap him for she thought a simple no would be more than enough to stop his advances. After all he couldn't be blamed for trying but any gentleman knew no was no. Instead, however, her no was met with her being hit across the cheek. She bit her lip trying to stop herself from crying. She could not let him see her cry.
Rhett heard the slap, knowing the difference between a ladylike slap and the lady being on the receiving end of such a blow he began to walk toward the couple. Being on the receiving end of them a few times himself he could speak from experience. Despite his inclination to not get involved, Scarlett or no Scarlett, he couldn't stand idly by and allow a man to strike any woman.
He tossed his cigar on the ground and quickened his pace. He released the man's hold on Scarlett's arm holding his arm as Scarlett backed away her eyes wide. Rhett threw a punch hitting the man in his nose feeling it break under the pressure and another landing on his jaw. Rhett grabbed the man by his jacket's lapels, his right hand throbbing from the contact with the man's face. He threw him back against the brick wall of the hotel.
"If I ever hear of you laying a hand on her again, I'll kill you. I swear I will. You're despicable, taking advantage of her innocence."
Rhett dragged the man to his carriage, which had been brought around. "I believe you'll be traveling alone this evening, young chap."
He set him roughly in the carriage directing the driver to take him home as he slumped over in his seat. Rhett shook his head in disgust and walked toward Scarlett as he brushed off his hands. He took her by the arms and walked her over to a street lamp to get a look at her face. "Are you all right, Miss O'Hara?" He placed the back of his hand gently against her cheek, feeling the bump that was going to be more than evident in the morning.
Scarlett had no idea where Rhett had come from or how he managed to come across them at that moment, but she had to admit for once in her life that she was grateful someone had perhaps been spying on her. She felt like a fool standing idly by while Rhett came to her rescue, but there was nothing for her to do. She stood like a shadow pressed against the wall watching as Rhett hit William. Never had she been the cause for a man being hit and she suddenly felt ill.
She didn't feel so fresh and pretty in her new peach frock; instead, she felt cheap and somehow exposed as if it had been her fault William had acted that way. Perhaps she had done something to give him the wrong impression, if she had just gone home with Mother and Pa this wouldn't have happened. But it did happen and Rhett was there to save her. She felt sick thinking about what could have happened to her if Rhett had not happened along. She never pictured William as the type to treat a woman that way, but she guessed you never knew.
Before she knew it, Rhett had put William in his carriage and was walking toward her. She tried not to feel scared, but then the thought that Rhett could just finish what William had started occurred to her. After all, she had treated him rather awfully the few times they'd seen one another. She made him come all the way out to Tara only to send him back to Atlanta alone. Thoughts were swarming around in her head when suddenly she was standing under a lamp on the street and Rhett was touching her cheek.
"What?" She asked quietly as she registered what it was he had asked. "I'm fine, really. I just never imagined … I mean how could he? How could anyone? I didn't give him any reason to think." She looked up at him questioningly. "Or did I? Oh, Rhett. Is that what men think of me? Is that what you think of me?"
Tears started falling as she laid her head on his shoulder. Broad shoulders, shoulders that belonged to arms that had he wrapped them around her she knew she would have been safe from anything and anyone. Oh lord, now she was crying in front of him. What was she doing?
Rhett shifted as he pulled her face from its resting-place against his shoulder. He would have been perfectly content taking her into his arms and planting kisses all over her face and mouth, but knew that would be taking advantage.
Rhett took out his handkerchief, drying her tear stained cheeks. He handed it to her when he had blotted her cheeks dry.
"Not all men are like that, Miss O'Hara. Surely I have done nothing to suggest I expect anything from you. I may say things, but you can't blame a man for trying." He shrugged with a slight smile. "I just keep hoping one of these days I'll catch you in a weak moment." He laughed as he gently wiped more tears from her eyes with his thumbs.
A weak moment such as now, what an opportunity this was for him. He had just saved her from being compromised, or worse, she was vulnerable and not thinking clearly surely a stolen kiss would go unnoticed. Clearing his mind of this thought, he cleared his throat with a slight smirk on his face.
"As for what men think of you I, of course, can't speak for other men but I don't believe you do anything wrong or that would encourage such behavior. You enjoy dancing and having a good time, which doesn't suggest the good time should be carried past the ballroom doors." He dropped his hands from her face, "Here come inside with me for a moment and then I'll get you home." He took her hand as he led her to a side entrance she pulled her hand back.
"Oh come now, Miss O'Hara. Surely you can't think. … I was going to get some ice for your cheek. You're going to have a nice little bruise there tomorrow, but icing it might help keep the swelling down."
With that she acquiesced and let her hand join his as they entered the hotel. He led her to the front desk where he asked the concierge for some ice and a fresh napkin. Seeing the woman's face, the man did so without question returning moments later with the napkin filled with ice. Rhett applied it gently, Scarlett pulled back slightly from the cold so Rhett placed the napkin in her hand.
"I can't control the carriage and hold this on your cheek anyway, so you may as well do it for yourself." He gave the concierge a tip and then looked at Scarlett's bare shoulders. "You don't have a wrap with you?" She shook her head no, the whites of her eyes reddened from the tears. "Wait right here. I'll be right back."
Rhett went up to his room, sifting through his suitcase he found a coat he carried with him and returned downstairs. Placing it around her shoulders, "Of course, you figured you were going home in your coach. I'm not going to have you catching a cold on me tonight. I fear I shall be in enough trouble with your parents when they see you in the morning. But that's the chance I'll take to get you home in one piece."
Rhett moved the make shift ice pack from her cheek briefly, replacing it quickly. He offered her his arm, "Your chariot awaits, Miss O'Hara." He led her to his carriage and offered her his hand as she got in.
Scarlett couldn't help but react to Rhett's gentle touch. Here was this man who had just performed a violent act being tender to her. She was beginning to realize what an interesting man he was. Never had she had someone come to her defense as he had.
Why, he had told William he'd kill him if he ever laid a hand on me again. Surely, he was joking, but Scarlett couldn't help but look into his eyes and think that it was not meant as a joke. She suddenly felt very safe. Then he suggested they go into the hotel, she stiffened and drew her hand back instinctively. She knew this was where he stayed when he came to town. What on earth was he suggesting?
Surely, he couldn't think that she owed him something for what he had just done. Why, that was even worse than what William had done. Then he spoke of ice and she realized her cheek was throbbing. William must have hit her harder than she thought. Oh she was going to have a bruise the size of Georgia tomorrow, she just knew it.
She placed her hand in his, allowing him to lead her into the hotel. Somehow she knew she could trust him; she couldn't help get over the feeling that if Rhett were near no harm could come to her. Her cheeks flushed as she realized what the man at the front desk must think. He seemed to know Rhett and didn't question his request. Was there no end to what this man can do?
Why does it seem as though people were willing to do whatever he asked of them? She stood in the lobby for what seemed like an eternity as Rhett went somewhere. When he appeared several minutes later and draped a coat over her shoulders, her eyes softened as she thanked him. She took his offered arm and for the first time since she had known him didn't think twice about being seen with him as they walked out together.
She was grateful it was dark when she took his offered hand to help her into the carriage she knew her cheeks had flushed at the contact. Her thoughts returned to the gentle way that his hands had caressed her cheek and wiped her tears away. He had touched her, in what by many would be construed as an inappropriate way, yet she felt certain that had she told him not to touch her again he would respect her wishes. She shifted comfortably in her seat holding the ice to her cheek as Rhett got in on his side of the carriage. To think the night would end this way, with Rhett Butler taking her home.
Rhett slid in on his side of the carriage and took the reins, making sure Scarlett was set comfortably before he started the horses on their way. They rode wordlessly for a few minutes, but realizing it was quite a ways back to Tara, Rhett decided to initiate some conversation. He cleared his throat as he glanced over to where she sat. She no longer held the ice to her cheek.
"I wonder if you realize something, Miss O'Hara. In all the commotion of the evening, you addressed me by my first name. Don't get me wrong, I'm not insulted at all. In fact, I'm rather flattered. It indicates to me that despite your words you feel comfortable with me; otherwise, when your guard was down you would not have spoken my name so freely. And I hope that you will continue to address me in that fashion from now on." He touched her cheek lightly with the back of his hand. "It must not hurt too badly anymore if you removed the ice."
Scarlett attempted a smile, but it hurt too badly so she stopped.
"No, it's not so bad. Besides the ice was melting and I was getting water all over my dress. I can't ruin my new dress after all." She fiddled with her hands in her lap twisting his handkerchief as she thought. "Rhett," she glanced at him. "I know I may not act it, but thank you. I have no idea what William would have done if you hadn't come by at that moment. None of the county boys would have defended me as you did. You really are a rogue, aren't you?" Her eyes lit up, a shimmering glint visible in the moonlight as she turned to look at him.
"No, my dear, I'm just a man. No better and no worse than most of the others. I could never turn my back on a lady in need at least not under the circumstances that were before me this evening."
They made the turn onto the road that led to Tara where Rhett stopped the carriage, letting the horses rest for a few minutes before continuing they continued on. He turned his attention to Scarlett.
"I'm sorry that any of it had to happen. I was walking by when I saw him embrace you, and turned around to leave. I assumed he had been the man who escorted you to the ball tonight and he was stealing a private moment with you while waiting for his carriage to be brought around. Who could blame him after all?" He started the horses moving again and they were soon pulling up to Tara.
Rhett exited the carriage, tied the horses off, and then walked to Scarlett's side where he helped her out.
"I best go in with you, I'm assuming someone will be waiting up for you and if I ever want the opportunity to show my face here again I need for them to know I did not do this to you. I may be a lot of things, but hitting women is something I would never stoop so low as to do."
Scarlett nodded in agreement; of course he should come in with her. Pa would want to thank him for saving his daughter from being put into a compromising position or worse. She bit her lip as he felt her cheek. She must look a sight she thought as she put her hand through Rhett's arm without his offering it. She smiled slightly as he looked to her curiously and they ascended the steps. Scarlett opened the front door and they found her father sitting in his office enjoying a nightcap of whiskey before he headed up to bed. Her mother had long since gone to bed.
Gerald stood when he noticed Mr. Butler enter the room. He had been expecting Mr. Whiting to be bringing his Scarlett home. He looked to Scarlett and noticed the mark on her face, his eyes shifting from Scarlett to Rhett and back to Scarlett again.
Rhett removed Scarlett's hand from his arm and introduced himself, extending his hand to Gerald as he explained what had happened. "I apologize for the lateness, Mr. O'Hara, but I wanted to make sure your daughter had some ice for her cheek. If you have some here, you may want to have her ice it a little while longer this evening before she goes to bed. She was struck rather hard from what I heard so I imagine she will have quite a bruise on her face. I just hope I got her ice soon enough to prevent there from being much swelling." Rhett bowed slightly as Gerald nodded. "Miss O'Hara, might I have the privilege of you showing me to the door?"
Scarlett looked to Gerald who in spite of the late hour acquiesced; the man had done a heroic thing after all. Scarlett walked with Rhett to the front door and opened it. Feeling her father's eyes on her back she stood up straight. "Thank you again, Mr. Butler. I wish there was some way other than simple words to repay you for your kindness."
Rhett bowed as he took her hand kissing it properly at her wrist, his lips barely grazing the skin.
"Perhaps you would do me the honor of joining me for dinner, Miss O'Hara. How about the night after tomorrow? I realize it may be asking too much and if you wish to say no I completely understand." He stood and saw the confusion in her eyes as she nodded her head in acceptance. "I'll see you in two days time then, Miss O'Hara." Rhett tipped his hat, "Mr. O'Hara, a pleasure to finally meet you. I am just sorry for the circumstances." He placed his hat on his head, made his way down the porch steps, and to his carriage as Scarlett shut the door behind him.
Scarlett closed the door and returned to her father's office, where she wrapped her arms around him and cried on his shoulder. Truthfully, she had been scared out of her mind. She wouldn't let Rhett see it, of course, but she could have been raped! It didn't seem necessary to say a word to Gerald as he just stood and hugged her as if he understood.
"There there, Katie Scarlett, you're safe and sound now here at Tara. 'Twas luck that Mr. Butler happened by at that moment. I don't know what your relationship with him is, but a man with his luck wouldn't be too bad to have around you."
Scarlett looked up at him wiping her eyes with his handkerchief realizing suddenly that she still had his coat around her shoulders. "Good night, Pa. I'm going to bed."
She clutched the coat about her tightly as she walked along the hallway and up the stairs to her room. She took the coat off holding it to her face with a slight smile. It smelled of cigars, tobacco, whiskey and cologne – both men's and women's she noted – and somehow the scents all mixed together were pleasant. So Rhett finally got his dinner date with her, hopefully this time nothing will happen to prevent it from happening she thought as she removed the pins from her hair and waited for Mammy to come in and help her undress.
Scarlett fell asleep that night with thoughts of dinner with Rhett floating around in her head. Who would have thought the night would end with her once again committed to dinner with Rhett? She thought about what he had said; that she had addressed him by his first name. She tried to recall it, but couldn't.
It didn't surprise her under the circumstances; she had been scared and upset. Under normal circumstances, it might have upset her to think he had been watching her, but tonight it didn't bother her at all. However, she couldn't help but wonder if he had in fact been watching her. Did he get jealous when he saw another man kiss her? She brought the blanket over her head wanting all the thoughts to go away so she could get some rest.
Rhett unsecured the horses, got into his carriage and started off toward Atlanta once more. He stopped the horses shortly, as he turned to look at Tara before heading out once more. He felt bad that something like that had to happen to Scarlett. As annoying as she may be at times she didn't deserve to be hit. No woman did.
He made a note of the gentleman's name and would seek him out another day. He realized, well underway to Atlanta that he had forgotten to get his coat from Scarlett, something that had slipped his mind entirely. He thought back to the look of fear in her eyes when he had taken her from Mr. Whiting's grasp. She had been scared and the fear remained in her eyes until he had asked whether she was all right.
Then her eyes changed, they softened. He dismissed it; she was in shock after all, so it meant nothing. Her addressing him by his Christian name on the other hand did mean something. Despite her efforts at feigning displeasure with him, he obviously was making some sort of impact on her life or she wouldn't have felt so comfortable in a time of need addressing him so informally.
As he neared Atlanta, his thoughts moved forward to the possibility of having dinner with the girl in two days time. Perhaps it took something bad to bring about something good. Ideas of where he would take her that evening filled his thoughts as he approached the Atlanta Hotel. He exited the carriage and made his way to the front desk where he checked for messages and then went up to his room. He changed into his pajamas and walked over to the window, moving the curtains to look out at the quiet Atlanta street below him. He walked away from the window and made his way to his bed, sleep came quickly.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com