Chapter Seven
Word Count: 14,447

December 1861

Rhett spent the next four months traveling; while he had thought about going abroad, he decided to put such a trip off until spring. While he spent most of his time in the south, his travels took him to New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania and out west to Indiana and Memphis as well. He loved to travel and his business gave him the opportunity to do plenty of it, though it did get tiresome sometimes sleeping in a different bed all the time and hotels being your home.

It was November before he thought about where he should spend the Christmas holidays; he would need to decide quickly if he were going to get there in time. Trains weren't always easy to catch these days, and especially with the war going on one never knew where the troops were going to be fighting next. He had spent a few Christmas's with Belle in the past and her girls had always enjoyed it when he did. One year he and Belle had given them the entire day off, closing the bar off and had a party in the saloon inviting a few regular patrons but otherwise it was just Rhett, Belle and her girls. Rhett had taken care of all of the food and even had bought each of the girls' gifts. There were some that had places to call home other than Belle's saloon, but there were very few of those. Most of them had no place to go, and Belle's was there home. It was the least he could do and it wasn't as if he had anyplace else to go or anyone else to spend his money on. So, Atlanta was to be his destination for the holidays.

He arranged his travels so that he would get into Atlanta a few days before Christmas. He had a bit of a lay over in Chattanooga before he was able to catch a train headed to Atlanta. Two days before Christmas he arrived in Atlanta and after checking into the hotel decided to have dinner at a restaurant in town rather than at the hotel. While he didn't mind eating at the hotel, their restaurant was rather good but he tired of eating with other visitors and businessmen all the time. Sometimes it was nice to eat amongst the townspeople.

He bathed and dressed in a pair of gray trousers, a darker gray jacket and a black cravat pinned to his starched white shirt with his usual gold tie tack and his cuffs fastened with his engraved cuff links. He topped off his ensemble with a splash of cologne afterward putting on his dark gray overcoat and walking from the hotel the short way to a nearby restaurant. Planning on stopping at Belle's after eating; he brought with him some cigars and extra cash so that he was prepared for the rest of the evening. He was seated at a table near the center of the room, not one of their best tables but since he was alone it really didn't matter to him where he sat.

He was reading the day's Atlanta paper when he heard a familiar laugh coming from a table to his right. He peered over the top of the paper and saw Scarlett sitting at a table with two men and a second girl; the men were twins whom he recognized from the day that he had met Scarlett at Twelve Oaks. The girl he didn't recognize at all, but he assumed she was a friend of Scarlett's.

He watched all four of them as they talked. They knew one another well; it was obvious by the comfort in which they spoke, chatting and laughing too easily for any one of them to be unknown. After a few minutes he allowed himself to focus his attention on Scarlett; apparently unaware of his presence, as she talked with the three people and flirted with the young man who was apparently her date for the evening.

He smiled despite his efforts not to as he watched her; she had the flirtatious southern belle routine down pat. Laughing when he spoke, patting his hand politely to suggest to him he might get a kiss later, batting her eyelashes and lowering her gaze when she wanted to be coy, and blushing when something apparently rude or uncouth was said. When the men spoke it was obvious to Rhett she paid absolutely no attention to what they said, but to look at her one would think she was listening intently. Her eyes gave her away, at least to Rhett they did. He could even see it with the amount of distance between them. He'd seen her eyes under various circumstances over the past eight months: anger, laughter, flirtation, sadness, fear, hurt and boredom. The look registered on her eyes now was boredom.

He presumed the two men were on leave from the service; they were of the right age and had the look in their eyes of servicemen who had seen combat and death. The look of men who were into something well over their heads and who realized that all the talk of the south winning the war swiftly was false. It was a look that only another who had experienced it would recognize a look that once there nothing was ever quite the same again and one it was a look that Rhett knew it well. Between his military service at West Point and his borderline illegal activities, combat and death were nothing foreign or new to him.

Scarlett was at dinner with Brent and Stuart Tarleton and Randa Calvert. She had agreed to go not really wanting to; while she realized she couldn't date both of them, she didn't like the idea of Randa or anyone else spending an evening with one of her beaux. They made it through dinner easily enough, Brent had promised dancing would be part of the evening and Scarlett couldn't wait. She hadn't been dancing since her night out with Rhett four months ago, and while it didn't seem like four months had passed she knew it had been too long since her feet had glided across a dance floor. The war had taken everyone away from her; no one was around to call on her.

Rhett had left months ago and hadn't even sent her a letter to know when he would be returning to Atlanta. While she realized that Rhett owed her nothing, she had thought things had gone well the night that she saw him last. She had thought, hoped, that he would at least initiate some contact with her in his absence. He must really not care.

To make things worse she knew that Ashley had come home on furlough, too, and he hadn't yet been to Tara to say hello. She knew where he was of course; he was at Twelve Oaks with Melanie. True she would see him; the Wilkes's were having a party in honor of his return the following evening. She wasn't going to be there standing by his side as his wife and that depressed her to no end. That and the fact that she realized she would have to go to Twelve Oaks and be civilized to Melanie, who was where she wanted to be, sharing Ashley's bed. That was a picture she didn't even want to have in her head, so when Brent had suggested dinner out with him, Stu, and Randa she had agreed. Why Stuart had chosen Randa instead of her older sister, Cathleen, Scarlett did not know, other than the fact Cathleen had her hopes set on one of the Fontaine's. At least that's what Scarlett thought, Cathleen had not told her outright but Scarlett could usually tell these things.

Normally, Scarlett would have used that information and attempted to take the attentions of the other girl's beau away from them, but with Cathleen she didn't. She had no interest in any of the Fontaine boys and Cathleen was the closest thing Scarlett had to a friend. Pa had been happy that Scarlett was going out that evening.

He liked Brent and Stu both and he realized it had been some time since his oldest daughter had been out. She was dressed in a green damask dress daringly low cut with gold accents throughout the dress, her hair held up by two of her mother's gold hair combs. Scarlett had been surprised Mammy allowed her to wear the dress at all, it was almost inappropriate. She must be feeling sorry for her, which had saddened her even more. To think that someone would feel sorry for her, Scarlett O'Hara.

When they had finished eating and were prepared to leave, Brent stood and politely held her chair for her. As Scarlett stood she couldn't believe her eyes, there sat Rhett at a table reading a newspaper not much more than a stone's throw away from her.

She thought about going over to his table and saying something to him after she realized he was alone, but Brent seemed anxious to get to the dance hall and she didn't want to be rude. She wondered, though, how long he had been in town and why he hadn't called on her. Her eyes narrowed slightly as she took in what he was wearing, even for dinner alone he was dressed impeccably.

She wondered if he even wore the same suit twice, but all thoughts of Rhett and his clothes were dismissed from her head when Brent inquired as to whether or not she was ready to go. Briefly she turned her gaze once more to where Rhett sat alone and after biting her lip gently nodded to Brent and took his arm. Without looking back she left the restaurant and made her way to the dance hall with Brent, Stu and Randa.

As Scarlett and her party stood from the table to leave, Rhett's food was brought to him. He glanced in Scarlett's direction as he took his wineglass in his right hand nodding politely. He raised his glass slightly with a knowing smirk as he noticed her looking at him. He watched as she left on the arm of one of the young men and decided that perhaps some dancing was in the cards for him that evening before going to Belle's. He finished his meal and inquired of the waiter where he would find dancing that evening. After paying for his dinner, he left the restaurant and headed in the direction of the hall he had been told about.

There was a chill in the air as he walked the short way from the restaurant to the hall, there was no sense in unhitching his horse and boarding his carriage to travel such a short distance. He arrived at the hall, remaining in the entryway for a short while as he took in the sight before him.

The hall had been amply decorated for the night's festivities, many soldiers were in attendance who had been granted holiday furloughs and the town of Atlanta was doing everything they could to make their brave heroes feel welcome and as though nothing had changed. Of course, both the soldiers and the townsmen knew things had changed. It was apparent everywhere, down to the clothing the women wore and the fact that so many were wearing black instead of the colorful frocks they had worn before the war began. For a few evenings it seemed acceptable to forget what they saw during the day and to pretend everything was gay and right in the world.

Many couples were dancing; the looks on their faces reflecting the fact that they realized this might be their last opportunity to dance with the partner that stood before them. These looks weren't put into words, but there wasn't a person there who didn't think it. The married couples were easily distinguishable from the unmarried ones.

The wives of the soldiers were probably more informed as to the truths of the war than the other women were. There were things that while they weren't acceptable or appropriate to discuss with a lady you were courting, once you were married those lines of acceptable discussion grew fuzzy and were easily crossed.

Yes, there were conflicting moods in the room that night, and Rhett looked on in ridicule at the people who stood before him. They thought the war would be over as quickly as it had begun. That because they were gentlemen they would win. The men like Rhett who warned of the fact that the north had the capability to starve them to death if they wanted to by closing off all out routes from the south. Pitiful people, how he despised them and their arrogance. He realized in their eyes he must seem to be the arrogant one, but at least he had his mind open and was able to see what was really going on. His opinions were at least based on facts and knowledge not hopes and dreams.

Rhett made his way to the bar to make his contribution to the Cause the best way he knew how, by buying liquor. He noticed Scarlett shortly after, dancing with a different gentleman than who he had seen her dining with earlier that evening. He watched her with amusement as the latest gentleman lucky enough to rate a spot on her dance card escorted her about the dance floor. He then turned his attentions to the young man who at dinner had appeared to be her date for the evening. He was over in a corner talking to four other men; not even seeming to notice Scarlett was dancing without him. Rhett wondered how the man would feel if and when he did realize his date was managing to have a very good time without him.

Rhett recognized in the young man someone who would pay attention to Scarlett when it served his purpose, which was such a pity because one thing he knew was that Scarlett deserved so much more than being someone's prize for a night. He would be able boast to the others present that Scarlett was his date for the evening and they would envy the fact that he was to be the one bringing her home that evening. As far as being attentive towards her, he wouldn't give her a second thought until it was time to return to Clayton County. He was too busy catching up with his friends who he hadn't seen in months because they were in different regiments to notice Scarlett. Scarlett didn't seem to mind his inattentiveness at all, the more dances she was able to enjoy the more her eyes danced to match.

When the song currently being played was coming to an end, Rhett extinguished his cigarette and set his glass down before walking in Scarlett's direction. He caught her arm gently yet firmly as she started walking away from him and the dance floor. She had her back towards him and was not aware of his presence "Miss O'Hara, what a surprise finding you here this evening. I believe this next dance belongs to me." He smiled widely, the ends of his moustache turning up with his lips as she turned to face him, the fact that she was surprised to see him evident in the wide-eyed look he received.

Scarlett turned to face him, caught by surprise by his presence. She had been so caught up in dancing she had not even noticed him enter the room. Once again, the dual sensations she received from his touch baffled her, no one's touch had ever made her respond in the way she did when he touched her. His grasp on her was firm and strong, yet there was nothing threatening about it.

In fact, there was something almost soothing and calming about it. She realized without hesitation as she had in the past when he had had occasion to touch her that had he wanted to he could crush her with little effort, but she never felt threatened by his touch. While she was pleased to see him, she didn't want him to know that. She narrowed her eyes slightly and made a feeble attempt at scowling at him. "If only I had known you were to be in town, Mr. Butler, I would have saved you a dance, but I'm afraid this evening my dance card is already quite full." She smiled coquettishly as she lowered her eyes from his on the pretense of smoothing out her skirt.

"Well, then I'm afraid it will be someone else's hopes you will have to dash this evening, Miss O'Hara, because I don't recall exactly giving you a choice in the matter." He dropped his hand to her elbow as he guided her to the dance floor. "You can spare me the plantation beau flirtations; they're far better saved for those they will work on."

He was slightly disappointed when it was a reel that began rather than a waltz; one thing he recalled, and hoped she recalled too, was how well they danced with one another. There was little opportunity for conversation during the reel and when it finished he escorted her back to her table and kissed her hand politely.

"Well, Miss O'Hara, I hope you have a pleasant rest of your evening. I'm afraid I have a prior engagement to attend so I have to be leaving. Hopefully the dance partner who I replaced isn't too terribly mad." He smiled as a thought occurred to him. "Maybe he'll challenge me to a duel. Do you think?"

Scarlett laughed; he had to be making a joke. She admittedly was curious what his plans were, she found herself wondering just what it was he did in Atlanta when he was here. At this time of night, there was no business to conduct and with the way he was dressed she had no idea.

She wondered if he ever dressed casually and somehow found herself doubting it. She touched his arm gently, barely grazing it with her fingertips even his clothes felt expensive. She dropped her hand hoping no one had noticed her boldness as the realization that he had once again not commented on her appearance entered her mind. What on earth did she have to do to get him to notice how nice she looked? The only time he ever seemed to pay attention to her was the night when William hit her. Surely she didn't have to be in danger for him to notice her.

"How you do go on, Rhett. I don't think anyone is going to challenge you to a duel because you took his dance." She flushed slightly at the thought. It would be rather exciting, two men fighting over her. But she knew with little doubt that Rhett would win, and what was the fun of that if you knew who was going to win? "Must you leave so soon? I was thinking I might be able to fit in a waltz with you sometime tonight. You do dance divinely." She smiled, flashing her dimples before lowering her eyes. She really didn't know whether or not she'd give him another dance, but she would like knowing she was able to convince him to stay with just the suggestion.

Rhett smiled and using his finger to tilt her face up to look at him. "Miss O'Hara, while the prospect of being granted another dance with the lady standing before me is most appealing I'm afraid the other plans I have simply can't wait any longer." He removed his finger from underneath her chin, bowed slightly and kissed her hand again. "I'm sure I'll see you again before I leave. If not, you have a festive holiday." He arched his eyebrows as the realization that Mr. Wilkes was probably home at this time too. "I'm sure it will be most interesting at any rate." He watched knowingly as Scarlett tried to withdraw her hand from his.

Scarlett narrowed her eyes at him. Why did he have to know everything, and why did she have to know he knew? She managed to take her hand away without causing a scene. "Well, of course it will be festive. There are all sorts of dances and parties this week since all the boys are on leave." She pouted slightly as she lowered her eyes. "But Mother only got me one new dress, Rhett. And Suellen and Carreen, too, of course. Imagine, Christmas and parties and only one new dress for me to wear. I hate this war." And she did hate it.

Not only had some of her beaux died but also things just weren't fun. The beaux that did return home were far more serious and no longer seemed interested in Scarlett. They were more interested in talking with their friends whom they hadn't seen these past eight months for being placed in different regiments.

It was enough to make her scream. Why she had gone out of her way to wear something to make Brent notice her, and there he was his back toward her talking away to someone Scarlett didn't even know. And then Rhett had sought her out and was leaving after only one dance with her. Even an offer of an additional dance didn't seem to sway him into wanting to stay. What was wrong with her? She shook her head; of course it was him not her. Couldn't he see how pretty she looked, and her dress even turned some of the married men's heads that evening.

Rhett laughed lightly, his tone of voice changing suddenly to one almost paternal in nature as if he were talking to a child. "Yes, of course you do. Why should it matter that your friends have died without shoes on their feet or food in their bellies and holes in their uniforms when you can only get material enough for one new dress? Don't worry, the war will be over soon enough and then things will be returned to some semblance of normalcy. Though, Miss O'Hara, I'm afraid it won't be a normalcy that you're accustomed to or one you'll like at all."

His tone was light, but he was aware she knew he spoke the truth. "I'm afraid, however, I really must be going. Believe it or not I do have other things to keep me occupied while in Atlanta and I'm afraid my friend shall be quite upset if I'm any later than I already am."

He glanced over to where Brent stood talking; still unaware of the fact that Scarlett's time was being monopolized by another man and smirked. "Enjoy the rest of your evening." He bowed slightly once again and turned away from her, retrieving his hat from where he had left it and left the hall, pausing to look back at Scarlett once who was unable to react quickly enough and avert her gaze from his. He smiled with a slight nod of his head before walking through the doorway his back and broad shoulders being the last thing Scarlett saw.

Scarlett watched him leave, unable to believe for one moment he really would. He always showed up at the oddest times, when she was least expecting it. It was as though he took great pleasure out of surprising her, and of course, she liked surprises so he was wise in taking such an approach.

Her mind flashed back to the afternoon months before when she had seen him at lunch with another woman. She wondered briefly if that was who his plans were with that evening, but why wasn't she with him if that was the case. He obviously enjoyed dancing and was good at it. She blushed slightly at the thought and it was at that moment that Rhett turned back to look at her from the doorway.

She was so deep in thought that she didn't have time to react and he saw she had been watching him, but oddly she didn't mind being caught. Oh but he will surely tease me to no end about it the next time he sees me. How is it that he always gained the upper hand in things she wondered? She wasn't used to that, she was used to being in control of things. She sighed, not wanting to think about Rhett anymore that evening. She was here to have fun, not think about Rhett Butler who was nothing but a cad anyway. She could think about him another day if she so desired, but with all the parties this week and all the company she was sure to have at Tara she wouldn't have time to give him a second thought anyway. Go to your friend, Rhett, there are plenty of other men for me to dance with and don't think for a minute that I wish you were here.

Rhett arrived at Belle's a short while later, making his way to the bar where Belle stood apparently training a new barmaid. Dressed in a dress that was not as flattering to her figure as she normally wore with a towel slung over her shoulder as she gave the girl instruction on how much liquor to put in the drinks she looked matronly rather than like a madam. Things were tight these days with the war and while Rhett had provided her with a solid stock before things had really gotten under way she still had to conserve.

"Well, good evening, Miss Watling. This time of year always does bring a glimmer to your eye that's not normally there." He took out a cigarette, offering her one as she poured him a glass of whiskey without him having to ask. After eight years, she didn't need to ask. He lit both cigarettes then took a drink as he looked around the saloon filled with many men who obviously did not have dates for the dance that Rhett had just left. "Any chance of my getting in on a game of cards? I'm feeling rather lucky this evening, so I hope so." He knew that Belle would make sure he got into the tables in back where the card games were held. He was in the mood to gamble and drink lots of whiskey that night and, if she allowed it, spending the rest of the night in her company.

Belle smiled and fixed her dress, smoothing the skirt and adjusting the bodice when she saw Rhett come in. As Christmas approached, she wondered if he would be in town. While he had chosen to spend some Christmas's out of Atlanta over the years they'd known one another, she found that he usually at least made an appearance in Atlanta around this time. Whether out of obligation or the fact he actually cared she wasn't really sure. She could only hope the latter was the case; she had grown fond of him over the years.

Whom was she kidding; she had fallen in love with him years ago even her girls knew it. She assumed he knew it, too, which depressed her further sometimes for she realized his knowing and doing nothing about it meant he didn't reciprocate.

She was relieved when he mentioned cards; it was on nights that he didn't ask her that he acted as a customer rather than her friend. While she would never refuse his requests for another girl, or his money for that matter business was business after all, there were times she couldn't bear the thought of his being with anyone but her for the night. Tonight was one of those nights.

"Good evening to you, Mr. Butler," she responded as she poured his drink grateful for the cigarette. She didn't like to smoke or drink in the bar area where the patrons could see her, but when one was offered she rarely refused. "You're looking sharp this evening, though I should know better than to expect anything else from you. What brings you to Atlanta this time of year? Business or pleasure?" She knew he usually mixed the two, but hoped he had left himself open for more pleasure than business this trip.

He brushed his hand against her cheek, letting it rest there for a moment as he brushed back a lock of hair that had fallen in her face. "Nothing but pleasure's on the agenda, Belle, for this evening at any rate. I don't suppose I can talk you into providing me with at least part of that pleasure; a man can't survive on cards and whiskey alone." He winked at her as he stood and made his way to the back room to see about getting in on a hand or two of cards without waiting for an answer.

A few hours passed and Rhett was about finished with his gambling for the night when Belle came into the back room indicating she was heading upstairs for the night, as things seemed to be slowing down. The men were disappointed.

One of the reasons Belle's saloon was more successful than the others in town was because Belle was good at making the men who frequented her establishment feel special. Some of the men weren't interested in the girls she had to offer; they were just interested in good drink and conversation with their cronies. The fact that there could be up to twelve attractive girls on the saloon floor certainly helped bring them here, but it was Belle who kept them coming back.

It wasn't just Rhett whose drink preference she remembered, usually after someone had been in there twice she remembered his drink and after the third visit made an effort to learn and remember his name. Rhett knew that now that the business was in the black, Belle spent more of her time downstairs with her patrons and in the office then upstairs in her room with her patrons. He honestly was not sure if there were that many men she continued to offer services to. Since she had given birth to her son two years ago, she had distanced herself from that aspect of the business.

Rhett finished his hand of cards, collecting his winnings as he chewed on his unlit cigar. He gathered his jacket and after saying good night to the gentlemen he had played with made his way up to Belle's room, knocking before he entered. She sat at her vanity, brushing out her hair when he came in. Rhett put his coat and hat on a chair by the door and walked over to the bed where he sat watching her brush her hair.

Dressed in a blue silk robe with, he was quite certain, nothing underneath it was quite the contrast to her red hair. Suddenly it was no longer Belle he saw sitting before him, but Scarlett. The hair was now brown and the eyes green. He shook his head to clear his mind from the picture that for whatever reason had chosen to present itself at that moment.

Noticing that Belle had two snifters of brandy already filled he stood taking them both in his hands as he walked to her, handing her one while taking a sip from his. He placed his glass on the vanity in front of them next to hers and took the brush from her. Instead of putting the brush down, he brushed the back of her hair, taking over where she left off. His brush strokes shortened and then stopped altogether as he bent down to kiss her cheek and then her neck as he put the brush down.

Taking her hand, he led her to the bed, undoing the sash that held her robe closed while she removed his cravat and unfastened the buttons on his shirt. He took out his cuff links, placing them on a table next to her bed. He removed his shirt when she had finished with the buttons, tossing it carelessly on the floor next to the bed as he brought his mouth to hers for a demanding kiss, unable to get the picture of Scarlett out of his mind. He broke the kiss briefly to kiss her upper lip, biting it gently as he knew she liked him to do and then kissed her neck and shoulders. His hands found her breasts, now exposed as her robe had fallen open, with Belle letting out an audible sigh as the warmth of his hands cupped her breasts.

Belle had been slightly surprised by Rhett's mood that evening, he seemed in unusually good spirits at least compared to his moods of late. Whatever it was that had been taking him away from her, she assumed it would take him out of her life for good. Tonight it felt as though nothing had changed.

There were questions she wanted to ask, but they were better left unasked tonight. She didn't know if she wanted to hear the answers. When he had suggested spending the night with her, she was sure her face revealed her true feelings at his request though she tried to act uncaring about it. She didn't know for sure until he walked through her door whether or not he would come to her that night.

It wasn't often, but it had happened in the past that he had stayed up all night playing cards and never managed to get up to her room. He was there now and for a few moments she could pretend that she was a normal person, something only a few people had the ability of making her feel. There was nothing romantic to their relationship, but that didn't mean that his touch didn't affect her. When he took her hand and guided her to her bed, she eagerly worked the buttons on his now rumpled white shirt opening it to place her hands against his broad chest as she lay back on the bed while he undid the sash holding her robe in place. She closed her eyes and tilted her head back as his lips moved from her neck to her shoulders finally finding her breasts and stomach, his hands encircling her waist as he brought her body toward him. His mouth was warm and sensual against her body, his moustache occasionally tickling her as he moved his mouth across her body.

He stopped to finish undressing, removing the rest of his clothes, not bothering to remove her robe as he returned to the bed knowing they would enjoy the feel of the silk against their bare skin. He was on top of her now, his arms around her waist as he trailed eagerly from her thighs to her stomach to her breasts and back to her mouth with his mouth, his hands remaining where his mouth had left.

He rolled onto his back as he pulled her on top of him, entering her with little effort. It was a position he didn't get the pleasure of experiencing often, most of the ladies he slept with wouldn't hear of it. They had been raised that sex was for reproducing, the man was on top and when it was finished you pretended you enjoyed it. But it was a position that Belle seemed to get the most enjoyment and gratification from, which to him was the whole point of sex, pleasing the woman.

His reputation for being a cad had nothing to do with his behavior in the bedroom, he didn't like a session of lovemaking ending with the feeling he had not satisfied the girl even if it was someone he would never see again. He wasn't selfish and got the most gratification from knowing the girl enjoyed herself. He had to keep his eyes open, every time he closed them suddenly it wasn't Belle on top of him but Scarlett.

What in the hell was going on, he wondered?

Her hands rested on his chest, toying with his male nipples, which always had a tendency of responding when she barely grazed them with her fingertips. Something she had at first found odd when she discovered it, she normally didn't have the opportunity to explore men's bodies and how they reacted to things.

She was after all a prostitute and her experiences overall were with men not looking for caresses and kisses when they sought out her services, they wanted sex and the type of sex they couldn't get at home from their wives. Rhett took one of her breasts in his mouth as he ran his hands lightly against her arms and waist. The combination of these senses he had found over the years created quite a reaction from her and he always enjoyed knowing he had helped cause it. Unable to last any longer he reached around her waist his hands resting in between her bare skin and the silk robe that she wore, causing a slight shiver to run through his body at the contrasting sensations as he brought her to him.

Rhett woke with Belle lying next to him, her arm resting on his stomach as she faced away from him. From her breathing, he could tell that she had fallen asleep so he tried to remove his arm from underneath her without disturbing her. He sat up in the bed, not knowing what time it was but looking out her window he knew it was not yet morning. He dressed as quietly as he could, returning bedside, and watching for a moment as Belle slept.

She looked so peaceful and content, a look that wasn't common when she was awake keeping her guard up all the time, something that Rhett was still unable to penetrate sometimes. He kissed the top of her head and made his way out of her room, closing the door softly behind him as he left. It wasn't a normal occurrence for him to just get out of bed and leave, he know how much she disliked it when he did it. For some reason that night he had the compelling urge to go. The fact that never before had he been in bed making love with one woman while imagining another woman disturbed him. He returned to his hotel room, knowing Belle would be none to happy with him in the morning when she woke and realized he had left. It was five o'clock when he finished undressing once again and lay on the bed knowing he would have her to contend with later that day.

He got up for the day at around eight, later than he had planned but he really had little to do that day other than make arrangements for Christmas dinner for Belle and her girls. He looked out his window deciding as he saw the sun was already bright at such an early hour to go for a ride. After bathing, he dressed in a pair of dove gray breeches, a forest green jacket, a white shirt, gray cravat, and his freshly shined riding boots.

He stopped at the desk downstairs asking them to have his horse saddled and ready for him after breakfast. He ate breakfast, which consisted of unusually bland eggs, grits, fried potatoes, and biscuits. He couldn't imagine the hotel had any shortage of spices or condiments so just attributed it to a batch of bad cooking. He found Apollo brushed down and saddled as he had requested and after tipping the stable boy made his departure, stopping first to make arrangements for the food and gifts to be delivered to Belle's the next day for her and her girls. Without even thinking about his destination, he headed in the direction of Clayton County and Tara.

A little over two hours went by and he found himself riding along a road somewhere near Tara, but it was one he hadn't traveled upon before today. He spotted a clearing and decided to let his horse rest for a bit and get some water from the lake that was nearby. He took a newspaper from the saddlebags and sat with his back against a big oak tree, taking the opportunity that rarely presented itself to relax with no chance of distraction or interruption.

The spot he sat offered a rather picturesque view. Tall oak trees were all around. The clearing, which seemed to come out of nowhere, overlooked a small lake that appeared to have a few plantations along its banks. Rhett wasn't certain where he was, but he had an idea in which direction Tara lay and that was what he was basing his direction on.

His solitude was disturbed a while later when he heard a shrill cry come from up the road. He wasn't sure how much time had passed since he had been sitting there, not having bothered to look at his watch when he stopped. He noticed the sky had clouded up and it was suddenly quite gray, perhaps it had not been wise to come out all this way after all he thought, returning his thoughts to the cry he had heard. Uncertain how far away the bearer of the cry was, he mounted his horse after taking out his pistol and loading it. He started in the direction from which it had come. Apollo trotted at a slow pace, stopping at Rhett's direction when he saw shadows on the road up ahead. He approached cautiously hearing no further sounds.

The first thing that came into view was a saddled horse lying on its side on the ground. Rhett maneuvered his horse close to it, but was unable to tell from his perspective what was wrong with the horse. Its eyes barely remained open, and then he saw its hind leg was obviously broken. The horse made no sound; its blank eyes just looked up at Rhett as it started to rain.

He would deal with the horse in a minute, more than likely he would have to shoot it. Pity, he thought, it's a beautiful animal. It was obviously a woman's horse from the length of the stirrups, but he did not see its rider. He went forward a few more paces and called out hoping the person was able to respond. "Is there someone here? Your horse is badly injured, so unless you care to walk back to where you came from I'd suggest making yourself known." He put his gun in the waist of his trousers and spoke again when he received no response. "I mean you no harm, but I'm afraid I may have to put the horse down."

Still no response and the rain had really started coming down now. He sighed audibly and got down from Apollo, tying him off to a nearby tree. He shook his head slightly at the tree the horse was now fastened to, had he wanted to get away it would be able to with little difficulty, but he wasn't too concerned about it. This horse had never run off on him, not even when a snake had spooked it. He made his way a few feet in either direction on one side of the road, and then crossing over to the other side repeated the process.

He was about to give up when he saw a shoe sticking out from some brush and weeds. "Hello. Can you hear me?" He called as he parted the brush and weeds hoping he would not find the poor girl dead. "Oh dear lord," he said as the sight before him registered in his mind. Before him unconscious, her head lying on top of a stone was Scarlett.

She looked so tiny and helpless lying there and he realized she must really be out if even the sensation of the rain falling on her didn't wake her. His first move was to look at the wound on her head trying to move her as little as possible. While it was bleeding, it didn't appear to be too deep. Perhaps a couple of stitches would be in order, but she could more than likely do without. Once he had determined she was in fact breathing and from what he could tell, her arms and legs were not broken, he took her in his arms almost effortlessly carrying her to a spot near his horse. He set his jacket down on the ground then laid her upon it, no matter what he did, she was going to get dirtier than she was and wet but he at least tried.

He went over to her horse, which was now making low guttural sounds. He had heard noises from horses in the past and from the look in the animal's eyes Rhett could tell that it wasn't going to last much longer. Looking at its leg, he couldn't determine what had happened but it was broken and from his experience with horses it would never walk again. He hated doing it to such a fine animal, but knew there wasn't much choice. He took his gun out of the waistband of his trousers and shot the animal between the eyes. It almost seemed to look at him in understanding and appreciation as the shots went off. Moments later, its breathing stopped, and its eyes closed, Rhett knew it was out of its misery.

He had no idea where he was and only hoped Scarlett would remember where she had been riding when she fell to tell someone where the horse was. He ran the back of his hand against his brow, running his fingers through his now wet hair as he put the gun back into his waistband. He returned to Scarlett, who had not stirred. One might think she was sleeping to look at her, but Rhett knew better and knew he had to get her home and out of the rain before she caught pneumonia.

He untied his horse and brought it to the road next to where Scarlett lay. Picking her up and placing her over the horse in front of the saddle he got on too and slowly started on the path he thought was toward Tara. It was raining hard now; he was unable to see more than a few feet in front of him.

About thirty minutes passed and he had not seen anything that looked remotely familiar to him. Finally, he saw a brick gate-like entrance and decided to turn down its path. He realized that getting Scarlett help even if it wasn't at Tara was necessary. Another thirty minutes passed and there was still nothing. Frustrated, he turned around and made his way back to a small house that he had stopped at a few minutes prior but no one had been present.

He got off the horse carefully trying not to jostle Scarlett anymore than necessary and made his way to the front door. He managed to pick the lock with his pocketknife and opened the door. It had apparently been servants' quarters or belonged to someone of little monetary means as it was run down and the off-white stucco was in need of a good cleaning.

He returned to Apollo, happy there was a proper hitching post to tie the horse to. He eased Scarlett off the horse, taking her into his arms and grabbed the saddlebags before returning inside. It was a small dwelling and the roof had a leak, but it was better than being outside in the rain. Rhett found his way to the only bedroom setting Scarlett on the bed as he looked for something to cover her up with. Finding a woolen blanket in the closet, he placed it on top of her. She still had not made a sound, so after removing her shoes and stockings he decided to find out what was available to him in the house.

He started in the kitchen, noticing through the window that the rain didn't appear to be letting up at all. He found wood in a room off the kitchen and used it to start a fire in the kitchen stove. He was impressed he even remembered how to since it had been so long he'd had to deal with a stove.

He brought some firewood into the main room and started a fire in there as well, removing his shirt and setting it on the back of a chair in front of the fireplace to dry. He returned to the kitchen to search for something to eat or drink. There was no food, but he did find some tea, coffee and enough tobacco to make a cigarette or two out of. He pocketed the tobacco and smiled when he discovered two bottles of whiskey, one still unopened.

There were no glasses, but he could deal with drinking straight from the bottle on this occasion. He wondered briefly where the people who lived here had gone as the house was pretty well furnished. Other than being run down it did not appear derelict. He took one of the whiskey bottles and a chair from the kitchen and walked toward the bedroom to sit and wait for her to come to.

He also found some napkins that he figured he could use for the cut on her head. The thought of getting her out of her wet clothes entered his mind, but he decided to put that off hoping that she would come to soon and could tend to it herself. He blotted the cut, pouring some whiskey on the napkin and rubbing it gently on the wound. After that had been tended to Rhett propped his feet up on the foot of the bed as he sat in the chair by Scarlett's side.

When Scarlett came to her head was throbbing and when she tried to open her eyes, it only made the pain worse. Oh my lord, she thought, what in the world is wrong with me? She stirred slightly, calling for her mother, and when she heard nothing she opened her eyes quickly as it all came back to her.

She wasn't at Tara; neither Mammy nor her mother was there. Her horse, where had her horse gone? She felt with her hands underneath her. She lay on something too soft to be the ground, but if she wasn't at Tara where was she?

She had been out riding and the horse somehow ambled off the side of the road and threw her. But how did she get here? Who had found her? She opened her eyes slowly, cursing the pain and took in her surroundings. She most certainly was not at Tara, the walls were dirty and there were cobwebs all over the ceiling. She raised her head slowly to call out to whoever was in the house with her and then saw Rhett at the foot of the bed bare chested sleeping in a chair.

She wondered briefly in her clouded state if he was some sort of angel, surely he had to be to be in this many places when she needed him in so short a time span. Her clothes were wet, and she blushed slightly as she wondered why he hadn't gotten her out of them realizing that must be where his shirt was. She tried to sit up, but her head would not allow her to. It hurt too much for that. She called his name, but he didn't respond. She closed her eyes as she raised her voice hoping he'd wake up.

"Rhett! Oh, Rhett, wake up!" Tears welled up in her eyes, what would she do if he were dead? She couldn't think about that, he couldn't be dead. He was more than likely just sleeping, and when she turned her head and saw the bottle of whiskey she cursed him thinking he was drunk. She started coughing loudly, not caring whether or not she was behaving like a lady. "Damn you, Rhett." If the pounding in her head would let up even just a little bit she could get up and slap him awake if she had to no matter how unladylike it might seem, but that didn't seem likely anytime soon.

Rhett woke to Scarlett calling to him, disappointed in himself that he had fallen asleep. She was trying to get up and he leapt out of the chair. "Don't try to move yet, Miss O'Hara, you've got quite a lump on your head from the spill you took."

He sat on the edge of the bed facing her, his hand gently brushing the hair out of her face as he looked at the cut on her head. It had stopped bleeding, stitches would evidently not be necessary. He couldn't help but notice her looking at his chest; an odd sensation went through him with the idea that she was looking at him.

"You gave me quite a scare; it was a good thing I happened to be sitting not too far away and heard your cry." He looked away from her, trying to decide if he should tell her about the horse. Deciding it was better to tell her now then later and have her get upset all over again. "I had to shoot the horse, Miss O'Hara; its leg was broken too badly. It would never have walked again and more than likely would have died within a day anyway, there was no sense extending its misery. I'm sorry."

He squeezed her hand gently, letting her know he was indeed sorry. He knew what it was like to lose a horse, and if it's one you'd had for quite some time the pain can be equal to that of losing a person.

"I'll be right back." He went to the front door and checked on the weather, returning to the bedroom. "It's still raining pretty heavily, and I'm afraid with you having been lying here in wet clothes you might catch pneumonia if we venture out in this weather. I assure you as soon as the rain eases up I'll get you home to Tara. You would be there now, but I'm afraid I am not overly familiar with the surroundings and got us lost. Now, let's get you in front of the fire."

She nodded in understanding, not saying anything while Rhett helped her stand from the bed. He walked with her to the living room and helped her sit on the love seat in front of the fire. "Do you remember what happened?" He called out as he walked to the kitchen to see if there was any water and something to heat it up in.

Scarlett sat on the love seat, pulling the blanket tightly around her as she coughed and stared into the fire. Why did it hurt so much when she coughed? Her chest felt heavy and the pain. It wasn't bad enough her head hurt; her chest had to hurt too? She turned looking for Rhett, wondering how a man so big and strong could be so tender.

She tried to think of what one of the Tarleton or Calvert boys would have been like in this situation and realized none of them would be as calm as he was. He treated it as if it was no big deal, just another event in his day. Blockade runner and hero of ladies in need. She smiled slightly at the thought. She stared at her bare feet wondering where her socks and shoes were.

It dawned on her as she spotted her stockings by the fireplace that she knew nothing about Rhett, not even what it was he did that brought him to Atlanta and took him away so often and for so long. Not to mention how it was he always seemed to be there to rescue her. Not that she needed rescuing; she was quite certain someone would have come along eventually and found her. But then her thoughts turned to her horse, Jasmine; she had had the horse for three years now. Pa had taken great care in ensuring the horse broke easily and Scarlett rode her whenever she had the chance to. Never before had she gotten spooked or trodden off the path. Scarlett was a capable rider, and thought she had been able to counter anything a horse might have done. Obviously, she was wrong, as was evident in what happened today. And now Jasmine was dead. She tried to remember what exactly had happened and couldn't.

"No, I really don't recall, Rhett. I mean, one minute we were going at a decent pace and the next thing I remember she went down and tried to get back up again. That's when she threw me. I haven't been thrown from a horse since I was a little girl, I'm afraid this is rather embarrassing." Where was he? He certainly was taking his sweet time about whatever it was he was doing. Her head was pounding, and no matter how tightly she held the blanket to her she couldn't stop shivering. What was wrong with her? This couldn't all be from hitting her head.

Rhett returned to the room with a cup of tea for her. "I don't know how good it's going to be, probably a bit strong. I could find no sugar and obviously no cream. I had to hold the cup over the stove to warm it, so you'd best be nice to me or I certainly won't go through this much trouble for you again." He didn't bother telling her he'd added a bit of whiskey in with the tea. She didn't need to know that, but he thought it would help calm her. He watched as she took a drink from the cup, making a face. He wasn't sure if it was the strength of the tea or the whiskey that warranted the face. He didn't think he'd put too much in but he was used to liquor.

"There's no need to be embarrassed. If it were someone else sitting before you would you feel embarrassed? I certainly hope it's not me, Miss O'Hara, causing you to feel self-conscious. You've done nothing wrong. What were you doing riding alone, though? I'm surprised Mammy allows you to do that, with Yankees in the area I would have thought she'd be keeping you under lock and key for fear you'd get handled or worse." He chuckled slightly at Scarlett's obviously shocked reaction to his bold statement.

Scarlett closed her eyes, trying to clear her head. She had no idea what Rhett was talking about. There were no Yankees even close to Tara, yet he seemed so sure of his statement. She thought he must be joking, but he was so straightforward and to the point. "Well, Mammy doesn't know everything I do, Rhett. I manage to get out from under her watchful eye every now and then." She grabbed her forehead and covered her mouth as she coughed, wondering if the pain would ever stop. "Rhett, I don't want to talk about this now. Why don't we talk about something else? Something that won't make my head hurt from thinking." She sipped more of the tea, how she longed for some sugar or cream but she wouldn't insult his kind gesture by not drinking it all. It did warm her, she would never admit to him how cold she was. The blanket kept her warm, but barely.

Rhett went to the door as she talked, checking his pocket watch as he looked outside once again. Not even paying attention to her or what she said. "Yes, of course, talk about whatever you want." He turned to her; concern was evident in his eyes as he saw her huddled underneath the blanket. "Does anyone know where you were going? Or will someone know where to look for you when they realize that the horse is gone? I have no idea where we are, or how far we are from where you fell or Tara."

He sat on the love seat, trying to keep a respectable distance as he felt her head. "You're burning up yet you're shivering. I should have gotten you out of your clothes earlier, I should have known better." He spoke to himself really, he didn't know if she was able to focus on his words at this point. He went back into the bedroom, getting more blankets.

"Here, let's get these around you." He put another blanket around her and sat next to her in the love seat, putting his arm around her he pulled her to him, letting her head rest against his chest. He leaned his head against the back of the love seat not expecting her to say anything, cursing himself for not doing the right thing earlier. It never ceased to amaze and yet at the same time amuse him when the gentlemanly upbringing he denied was a part of him came to the surface without him realizing it.

Scarlett was thankful for the additional blankets, surely she would warm up now. She couldn't recall ever needing more than one blanket to keep warm before, not even in winter. She was surprised when he sat next to her and even further surprised when he laid her head to rest on his chest. She brought her knees under her, rested her hand on his chest, and closed her eyes. "What about you, Rhett? Don't you need a blanket to keep warm with? It's awful cold, isn't it?"

Rhett could tell from her voice that she was drifting back into unconsciousness. He looked down at her, her head and hand rested gently on his chest, realizing she would have done the same thing if he had been her father. He sighed, looking at the fire realizing he had to get her home, or at least get her help. He wasn't a doctor, but he didn't think it took being one to realize she was sick. And not just from a concussion either. The next time she woke he would see if she knew where they were and he would go for help.

He must have drifted off again, because the next thing he knew there was nothing left to the fire but bright orange and red embers. Scarlett was still asleep against his chest and it was dark outside. Just once, he thought, he'd like to see this girl without worrying that because of something he had no control over he would never be able to see her again.

One of these days she or her father would begin to think Rhett was behind all these things. He kissed the top of her head, softly touching her hair debating whether or not to move and risk waking her. There was enough wood in the back room for at least two more fires, possibly three or four if he conserved so he wasn't concerned about that. Her head still felt hot, though, her breathing sounded heavy and congested, and despite having two blankets on top of her and resting against his body, she was shivering. He stood slowly, trying not to disturb her. He placed her head gently against the arm of the love seat.

He got wood and got the fire going again, not worrying about the kitchen stove. If she wanted more tea, he would heat the water out here if he needed to. He found his jacket and took out his cigarette case, removing a cigarette and returning the case to its place. He lit the cigarette, opening the door leading to the outside and stood in the doorway looking outside. It had stopped raining at least, but now it was dark and without knowing where he was he didn't think it was worth the risk venturing out unless Scarlett knew for certain where they were.

He finished the cigarette and walked to the bedroom, bringing the bottle of whiskey to the other room with him and returned to her. He sat on the floor in front of her his head supported by her knees, taking a drink as he looked into the fire. He thought he felt her move behind him and turned so he was now parallel with the love seat, his elbow resting on the loveseat near her head. Realizing she was still sleeping, he took another drink before closing the bottle. Lost in the darkness of the room the light from the fire the only thing illuminating the room, he was startled to feel something on his arm.

Scarlett woke, the day's events cloudy in her mind. Her head still throbbed and her chest felt like a horse was standing on top of it. She opened her eyes, the first thing she saw being Rhett's silhouette sitting in front of her and a smile crept to her lips. She wondered how he had gotten from the love seat to the floor, color creeping to her cheeks as she remembered resting her arm on his chest.

She had never touched a man's bare chest before, and it was rather exciting though she realized she shouldn't think that way. He was not aware she was awake and she took the opportunity to watch him in silence and to take in her surroundings a bit more. She noticed the whiskey bottle near him and she smiled slightly, it was a familiar smell to her, liquor, having smelled it on her father many times over the years. Something she would never admit to, the fact that she recognized the smell at all.

The fire had been tended to, and the hint of tobacco lingered around him making her realize he'd recently had a cigarette. She touched his arm, her delicate creamy white fingers gripping his arm gently to get his attention. She couldn't help but laugh when he looked at her; it was almost as if he had forgotten she was there. "What's the matter, Rhett? Surely I'm not the first girl to touch you without provocation." She rested her chin on the same arm whose hand was touching him, her green eyes looking up at him. He looked as though he hadn't slept in a week, and a thought occurred to her. He was worried about her.

Rhett allowed his eyes to look into hers. "Nothing's the matter; I was just startled is all. I didn't hear you wake up." He smoothed back her hair to again feel her forehead. She didn't feel quite as warm and he noticed she didn't seem to be shivering underneath the blankets that covered her. Maybe she wasn't ill after all, he thought hopefully, but he knew that wasn't the case when she coughed again. He smiled at her; a feeble attempt at disguising his concern for her well-being. He noticed her hand remained on his arm.

Neither of them said anything for quite some time. He sat enjoying the feel of her hand against his arm, her chin still resting on her arm watching him. Both contented to sit quietly surrounded by their own thoughts. Rhett took another drink of whiskey as Scarlett watched him. She knew he could see her eyes, but still she made no effort to attempt to conceal the fact she was looking at him. "God's nightgown, I must look quite frightful. Being thrown from a horse and stuck in the rain, and then sleeping in my clothes." She had no idea why she spoke, but the silence alone was almost deafening.

Rhett ran his fingers through his by now disheveled hair. "Miss O'Hara, I honestly don't think you could ever look frightful, no matter what the circumstances." He looked into her eyes, his gaze falling to her lips. Without thinking he kissed her, a soft and tender kiss his moustache gently tickling her upper lip. His hands gently held her face; one hand moved to the back of her head his fingers intertwining with her hair. Her hand's grip on his arm tightened, making Rhett stop and pull away.

Scarlett was surprised by Rhett's kiss, not expecting it at all. All these months she had begun to think his intentions were simply as a friend. But when his lips met hers she couldn't pull away, couldn't or didn't want to she wasn't sure which. This was not the same as a kiss from Brent or Stuart or any of her other beaux. Their kisses left her feeling nothing, wondering if that's all there was why people talked about kissing as though it were enjoyable.

Rhett's made her realize what she had been missing in just a few short minutes. She knew she shouldn't respond that she should pull away or slap him. Instead when he touched her hair she gave in. She didn't kiss him back, but she didn't pull away or try and stop him either. No wonder he had the reputation he did and it was with this thought that she tightened her grip on his arm.

A girl could get lost in his kiss and more than likely easily be convinced to allow the kisses to lead to other things. What other things, Scarlett really didn't know, nothing like that had really been explained to her. She knew how babies were made, but other than that she really had no idea what went on behind closed doors between a man and a woman. And then just as suddenly as he had kissed her, he stopped.

She looked at him, not knowing what to say her hand still grasping his arm tighter than she meant to. Why did you stop she wanted to ask, fearful it was her that had caused him to. She held his gaze as his eyes looked into hers, wondering if she'd be able to tell by them what he was thinking. Most men were easy to read, but not Rhett and she found herself more flustered.

He stood, taking his shirt from the chair, putting it on and buttoning it quickly. He hadn't meant to kiss her, but it had happened. He was glad to see that she was all right, that her fever had apparently started to break and that he wouldn't have to go to Tara informing her father that she was dead.

Of course he had thought about kissing her the day he first saw her, but until now had always resisted the temptation. He knew her type, and he knew very well that he was in a position to take advantage of her innocence. It was this thought that disturbed him most, not that he was thinking it but the fact that there was something in the back of his mind telling him not to. That and the fact that she was obviously on his mind, and not just kissing her either. He had imagined himself making love to her.

After years of compromising young girls and moving on uncaringly to the next he had actually found one that he liked. He stood facing the fire, his hand resting above his head on the mantel thinking. Is that what this was? It had been so long since he'd allowed himself to have a conscience he wasn't sure. But he knew he wanted more from her than a roll in the hay. "We need to get you home. Are you feeling well enough that you could stay awake? At least to get me on a road that will lead to Tara, or something vaguely familiar to me."

She nodded dumbly, not understanding why he was acting in such a way. He's acting as though he didn't want to kiss me. She remembered, as a little girl always wondering what it would like to be kissed, seeing men and women kiss always looked so glorious and romantic. Her parents never kissed like that, in fact other than chaste kisses on the cheek or quick ones to her mother's lips she couldn't recall ever seeing her parents kiss affectionately.

She stood slowly, trying to get the picture of her parents out of her mind. Why did Rhett always have this affect on her, making her have doubts about herself? It took her a moment to collect her bearings and to stand without wobbling, but when her head finally stopped spinning she walked to Rhett, touching his right arm with her right hand. "What's the matter, Rhett? Have I done something wrong?"

Rhett kept his face turned away from hers. "No, of course it's nothing you've done. I need to think about how to get you home, Miss O'Hara. It's after nine o'clock; your family I'm sure is quite worried about you. Your fever seems to have broken finally and we can't be that far from Tara. If you were willing to risk it, I'd feel much better if you were sick knowing that someone who has the means to tend to you is doing so. I'm not a doctor, there's nothing to eat here, and I don't want to put either of us in the position for what just happened to happen again."

Of course that wasn't true; he did want it to happen again. He wanted her more than he could ever remember wanting anybody and if she were to tell him that she didn't care about her virtue or her reputation he would take her to the bedroom right then and there. He somehow knew, however, those words would not be spoken.

"I think I feel well enough, Rhett. And you're right, Mother and Pa are surely worried about me. I'm sure if they weren't too busy fighting the war they'd have the army out searching for me."

Scarlett couldn't believe her ears. He had kissed her, and yet he was acting as though he hadn't wanted to. Surely he couldn't kiss her like that and not have it affect him, unless he'd kissed so many women that way it was nothing to him. But yet, it hadn't seemed like nothing at the time. God's nightgown, why must everything be so difficult?

"If you would help me with my shoes then I imagine we can go. I'm sure I can find our way to Tara, Rhett." She removed her stockings from near the fire, going to the bedroom to put them on, returning to the living room when she had finished. She blushed slightly as Rhett eyed the pantalets she held in her arms. "They were still wet. It's bad enough having to be in a wet dress, at least these I can remove." She sat on the chair near Rhett where he had her shoes set out.

"I certainly would not have objected to you removing anything you wanted to remove, but I wasn't going to be the one to suggest it."

He tied her shoes, which were really ankle length boots, allowing him the pleasure of touching her bare leg. He finished with both shoes and stood. He tended to putting out the fire in the fireplace, making sure the fire in the stove was out and put one of the blankets over Scarlett for the ride to Tara. Going outside to put the saddlebags back on his horse and getting the animal ready, he returned to find her dozing off on the couch. He shook her gently.

"Scarlett, are you sure you can make it?"

She opened her eyes slowly. "Yes, quite sure, Rhett. Thank you for your concern though. I'm just awfully tired, and my head still throbs." She held a hand to her forehead. "Are you sure I'm not going to have a scar? I don't know what I'd do if I had a scar on my face." She bit her lip at the thought; she had always prided herself on her clear complexion. The fact that Rhett had for the first time addressed her as Scarlett was missed.

"You'd look as pretty as you did before the scar. You'll have to check with a doctor of course, but it doesn't appear deep enough to leave a scar." He took her hand, helping her off the couch and walked with her out the door to the horse. He got on the horse, helping her get on behind him her hands resting on his chest as the horse started moving. He enjoyed the feel of her hand pressed against him, even if it was only for support.

As it turned out, the moon was fairly bright and Scarlett was able to get Rhett on the path to Tara in no time. They had been right by the Follett's plantation, only about a mile from Tara to the north. Scarlett had laughed when she realized it; the house they had stopped had been abandoned for years at least she thought it had been.

Someone must have been using it, because Rhett had told her it hadn't been locked and there were blankets and things there. She had laughed gaily when he suggested perhaps it was haunted. She had never heard of ghosts requiring things like blankets or whiskey. Once Rhett was confident he was on the path to Tara and knew where he was going, she rested her head against his back hoping to get some more rest. She was so tired, she felt like she could have slept for a week.

Rhett rode the rest of the way to Tara in silence, not bothering to tie the horse off when he finally reached the front of the house. He took Scarlett into his arms after he had gotten off the horse and carried her to the front door ringing the bell. Pork answered the door and Rhett didn't wait for him to let him in, he pushed right past him and brought her into the parlor and laid her to rest on a sofa. "Pork, is it?" Pork nodded in the affirmative and Rhett continued. "You'll need to send for a doctor. Are her parents home?"

Rhett's question was answered with the appearance of Mrs. O'Hara. He stood and bowed his head politely. "Mrs. O'Hara." He explained to her the day's events, and she promptly sent Pork for Dr. Fontaine. Ellen had some nursing experience and Rhett watched as Ellen tended to her daughter. "If she will be all right and if I'm not needed further I'll be on my way back to Atlanta. I don't want to get in the way, but please let Mr. O'Hara know he can find me at the Atlanta Hotel for the next few days at any rate if he should have any questions. You will also need to get the location of her horse when she comes to. I'm afraid I'm not certain where it is. It's near a clearing and a lake, but I realize there could be many of those."

Ellen stood and looked at Rhett; perhaps Gerald had been right in seeing some good in him after all. "Mr. Butler, I realize this isn't the first time you've been there when my Scarlett needed help. I'm aware of the events that transpired between Mr. Whiting and yourself a while ago and I have not been able to extend to you my personal gratitude for being there that night. I don't know that I could have lived with myself if anything had happened to her."

She walked toward Rhett and stood in front of him allowing her the opportunity to take in the man who stood before her. He was as old as she was she realized, or perhaps older. She could understand how his charms and looks could catch girls, she having fallen for one who had charm and good looks herself when she was about Scarlett's age. She realized that he had for whatever reason set his sights on Scarlett and just hoped he realized what it was he was getting himself into. Scarlett was her daughter, and like Ellen was her own person. "I realize this may be improper, but under the circumstances and the fact that I won't have it on my conscious if you were to get ill and pass out on the way back to Atlanta I will have Mammy show you to a spare room. It will be on the third floor; of course you understand that. You were out in the rain same as she, and doing physical work on top of it." She raised her hand gently but authoritatively obviously used to having the last word when she spoke as Rhett started to speak. "I will not hear of anything else, and of course I'll send the doctor in to look at you as well. Just to make certain."

Rhett nodded realizing the look in Ellen's eye as being very similar to that of his mother's. She was the woman of the house and despite the fact they were of the same age, he would never disrespect her by going against her wishes. He went with Mammy to a guestroom located on the third floor informing him she'd come back up with the doctor after he'd finished with Miss Scarlett. Rhett lay down on the bed, falling asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.

He woke the next morning, unsure if the doctor ever made it to see Scarlett or him, though he couldn't remember getting under the blankets the night before and he was now. He sat up in bed, looking at his pocket watch it was seven o'clock. It was Christmas Day.

Belle's son's birthday.

He ran his fingers through his hair; he had been there the day young boy had been born and he had been there last year for his first birthday. He stared out the window as he thought of the day that young Robert had been born. He and Belle had been in bed together, she had assured him that she wasn't due for a while longer and he had to admit that her pregnant body was a bit of a turn on to him. Well, she had been quite wrong as no more than an hour after they had finished her water broke and labor began. That was December 24, 1859 at around nine o'clock in the morning. Thirty-six hours later, at nine o'clock in the evening Christmas Day Belle gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Robert Watling came into the world weighing six pounds and one ounce and was twenty-one inches long. Rhett had stood by her side the entire time, leaving her only when he had to use the bathroom. She had a time of it, Dr. Meade telling her she might not be able to have more.

Rhett made his way downstairs as quietly as he could, finding Mrs. O'Hara in the parlor. "I hope you were able to get some sleep, Mrs. O'Hara. And Miss O'Hara, she's all right?"

Ellen smiled curtly when Rhett came in. Despite his kind deeds, in the back of her mind she still questioned his motives with her eldest daughter. Then the thought came to her that if Rhett once again hadn't been there Scarlett could have died this time and she cursed herself for being rude.

"Yes, Mr. Butler, she'll be fine. She's in bed resting; Dr. Fontaine thinks it might be pneumonia. He's going to come back later today. You were sleeping so peacefully we let you be. He told me what to look for this morning, and you seem to be quite well according to what he told me I'd find if you weren't." She smiled slightly. "Can I get you some breakfast? We're going to a neighboring plantation in a couple of hours so I'm afraid we aren't having our breakfast at the normal time today."

"I appreciate the offer, Mrs. O'Hara, but I'm afraid I have plans of my own today. A young boy, my ward, is having his second birthday today, and I'm afraid if I'm not there I'd have quite a few people upset with me. I'm sure his mother is wondering where I disappeared to yesterday. I appreciate the bed, and perhaps I could trouble you for a piece of paper and something to write with so that I may apologize to Miss O'Hara for leaving without saying good bye." Ellen gestured to her roll-top secretary where Rhett sat and wrote a note to Scarlett.

"Miss O'Hara,

I trust when you read this that you will be feeling better. My apologies for not being familiar enough with the area and getting us lost. I will call on you tomorrow to make sure you are on the road to recovery.

Merry Christmas.


Rhett left the note with Ellen and thanked her again for the bed and left, wondering briefly where Scarlett's father was. Ellen had been sitting in the parlor alone, and it was quite early in the morning. Even for a plantation mistress seven o'clock was early on a holiday. Not wanting to bother thinking about it, he untied his horse pleased that someone had bothered to tie it up the night before and made his way back to Atlanta.

He spent the day with Belle, Robert and her girls. Once again, the saloon was closed for the day opening later in the evening this time, however. Robert was pleased with the train set Rhett got for him and spent the entire day playing with it and the toy horses Rhett had gotten him. Once they had eaten dinner and Belle and her girls were back at work, Rhett sat with Robert in his room playing with his new toys.

His thoughts drifted to Scarlett and the kiss they had shared. She hadn't responded but she hadn't slapped him either. It was the pressure she put on his arm that had made him pull away, thinking that was her way of telling him to stop but when he had pulled away her eyes were not telling him to stop. It had taken all the willpower he had to act respectably; he wondered if she realized how strong he had to be.

Then his thoughts wandered to the other night with Belle. Twice he saw Scarlett instead of Belle. What was it about this girl that he allowed her into his head? He had no idea, but whatever it was it made him want to see more of her. His attention was brought back to Robert when he crawled onto Rhett's lap wanting him to read him a story before he went to sleep.

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