Chapter Eight
Word Count: 4,614

Once Robert was asleep Rhett returned to his room at the hotel. While he had slept some the night before at Tara he didn't sleep well, not to mention the day he had had with Scarlett was quite draining. He was glad Robert seemed to have a good Christmas, he was certainly more fun this year than he had been the year before. Rhett enjoyed reading to him, and the boy just seemed to lap it up. Rhett couldn't help being somewhat saddened by the fact that he and his own father no longer spoke. It rarely bothered him, he rarely thought about it. But when he did he couldn't help but realize he wouldn't have lived his life any different and that just wasn't acceptable to his father.

He woke the next morning and after he bathed and dressed for the day in a dark gray suit and a black cravat. His crisp white shirt topped off the outfit, followed by his pearl cufflinks and tie tack and his wide black Panama hat. He went downstairs enjoying a hearty breakfast, realizing he hadn't eaten much the day before. Even with all the food at Belle's the previous night, he had been too exhausted to eat. He walked to a store a short distance from the hotel purchasing a bouquet of daisies for Scarlett and a new cigar for him to indulge in on the ride to Tara.

He left the store, replaced the hat on his head and walked to the hotel's stables unaware of the fact that Belle was standing no more than twenty feet from him. He decided to use Athena for his ride to Tara today instead of Apollo. It had been a while since Athena had been run and Rhett knew that she loved to run like the wind. Rhett had always liked Apollo's looks better than Athena's, but ever being the gentleman left the nicer of the two horses for Belle's day to day usage. Rhett had thought about breeding him if he found the right mare to mate him with. Putting the flowers in the saddlebag he made his way out of Atlanta toward Tara.

Belle had walked to a store to pick up a few things the girls had complained about being short on. Thinking she had seen Rhett go in the store next door she was about to go say hello to him when she saw him leave the store with flowers in his hand. She didn't have to look at a watch to know it wasn't even nine o'clock in the morning. Where on earth was he going so early? And with flowers no less? Once again, numerous questions swarmed through her head.

She thought back to the other night when he had slept with her and she couldn't stop the hurt from overwhelming her. He had left that night without even saying good-bye and what apology he did manage to come up with yesterday was not heartfelt. Was there someone staying with him at the hotel? Her answer was quickly answered when she saw him ride toward the other end of town on Athena. Her errands were forgotten as she made her way back to her saloon. Why she let him affect her like this she didn't know, but the fact of the matter was he did.

Prostitute or no prostitute, she loved him and she couldn't turn her heart on and off. She went to the bar pouring herself a shot of tequila and drinking it quickly without batting an eye.

Damn him anyway, she thought as she slammed the glass on the bar. Just wait until you want to get into my bed the next time, Rhett Butler.

She realized what a useless threat that was as she scanned her saloon. Obviously he could get what she had to offer tenfold in her establishment, not to mention there were other places in Atlanta he could go to if he so desired. She sighed slightly at the fact that she let herself get involved in such a hopeless situation, but why should her relationship with Rhett be any different from the rest of her life. Hopeless.

Looking at the clock she realized she had to get her errands tended to before she opened and made her way to the store hoping the day would be busy enough for her to forget about Rhett and the flowers.

Rhett arrived at Tara a little before noon hoping he was not intruding on their lunch. For the first time when he had brought a gift for Scarlett he brought it with him to the door, ringing the bell he held the flowers by his side. Pork answered the door and for the first time actually presented Rhett with something similar to a smile or a gesture of recognition.

He led Rhett to the parlor telling him he would send for Scarlett pulling the parlor doors closed behind him when he left. At least she was here and not at Twelve Oaks, Rhett thought. He walked to the window, the one he seemed to look out every time he visited Tara. He thought of Scarlett's mother briefly, she was obviously an intelligent woman herself, which was more than likely where Scarlett got her intelligence. Not that her father wasn't intelligent, but there were different levels of intelligence.

Perhaps it was her doing that Scarlett was kept away from Twelve Oaks today. Upon meeting her mother, Rhett had found himself curious as to how exactly a woman of her stature and family name ended up with an Irish immigrant who had apparently had a brief spell with luck.

He would love to hear the tales Scarlett's father had to tell, but that was best saved for another time when Rhett had scotch with him rather than daisies. His thoughts were interrupted by Scarlett's entrance into the room. Rhett turned toward her a smile on his face, which dropped for a moment when he saw she had another girl with her. He walked towards the girls as he spoke his eyebrows arched slightly.

"I trust you're feeling well, Miss O'Hara. I hope that your accident didn't prevent you from getting your fill of dancing in last night. For I'm sure the dance floor itself would have wept had it not felt your tiny feet prancing about it."

He bowed slightly as he presented her with the daisies. "I hope you don't mind daisies, but roses seemed entirely inappropriate and I remembered when my sister was ill she always liked a fresh bouquet of daisies by her bed. She said they were such a happy flower and with their yellow centers made her feel a bit of sunshine was in her room whenever she looked at them." He nodded politely in Carreen's direction as Scarlett took the flowers.

He smiled at the memory; his baby sister who was now married to a no good bastard who took it upon himself when he'd had too much to drink to beat her. Rhett had tried to help her out of the situation once, but as soon as he had to leave, she'd returned to him.

Rhett had told her after that he would stay out of it, but that he didn't want to receive letters from her complaining about her situation unless she was asking for his help. Their mother knew nothing, or at least as far as Rhett knew she knew nothing. Mothers had a way of knowing things even when they remained unsaid, and Rhett gave his mother more credit than he gave most women so she may very well know and, like Rhett, knew there was little to be done until Rosemary asked for help.

Scarlett had been in the kitchen with Carreen watching the cook make some bread, something for some reason she never tired of doing. She remembered as a little girl the smell of bread baking and had always loved it, and watching as the dough was rolled about. She made a rather angelic picture, sitting with her elbows on the table, her chin set in the palm of her right hand, her hair down but pulled off her face with two crimson ribbons. She wore a white cotton dress with crimson flowers printed on it, with a sash in the same crimson tied around her tiny waist. She had donned her crinoline that day instead of her hoop skirt.

She rolled her eyes when Mammy came into the kitchen, she and Carreen giggling lightly; she had been tediously mother hennish since Rhett had brought Scarlett home the other night. She had always been bad, but now she was worse and whenever Scarlett was back in the kitchen Mammy made it her business to check and make sure she hadn't run off somewhere.

Scarlett wasn't very surprised when Mammy informed her Rhett was in the parlor waiting for her. He had said in his note he would come by today. She looked at the clock and wondered why he had come so early. She had figured he'd be here later in the afternoon and really hadn't dressed for him. She had no time to change now, though. She knew Carreen was curious to meet the man who had saved Scarlett's life twice now, so Scarlett grabbed Carreen's hand.

"Come little sister, you can meet Mr. Butler now, but then you have to run along to your room. I'm afraid I made such a fool out of myself the other day, I want to make sure he doesn't think I'm a fool." Scarlett flushed slightly, that wasn't the entire reason she wanted Carreen gone.

Most of that day with Rhett was hazy and cloudy, but she couldn't get over the feeling that he kissed her, or the fact that she had liked the kiss. She remembered feeling something she'd never felt before, but in a way that's what made it seem dreamlike to her. Surely, no man's kiss could make her feel like she thought she had felt from Rhett's.

Did he really kiss her, or had she dreamt it? She wondered whether he would try to kiss her again today if he had the other day. A glimmer entered her eye as she stopped at the mirror to make sure her hair wasn't out of place noticing the color in her cheeks, which just made them color all the more and started toward the parlor with Carreen following on her heels.

Carreen squeezed Scarlett's hand gently, pulling Scarlett to a stop. "Scarlett, obviously he doesn't think you're a fool. He's in the other room waiting for you. If he had thought you were a fool you probably wouldn't have heard from him again."

Carreen had no idea where the comment came from. She had no knowledge of boys, but she knew that it was at least a two-hour ride from Atlanta to Tara and no man would travel that far two days in a row if he thought her a fool. Her brown doe-like eyes glanced into Scarlett's hoping to calm her a bit. "Scarlett, you're so pretty and outgoing, no man would think you're a fool no matter what you did." She smiled slightly as Scarlett led her to the parlor.

When Scarlett opened the doors, Carreen was shocked at the man who stood before them. She was used to Brent and Stu, Ashley, Tony Fontaine, or the Calvert boys; she was not expecting this. Rhett was tall, well dressed and handsome, too handsome and all else in the room was seemingly small or forgotten in his presence. When he turned to them, she couldn't decide what caught her attention first but decided it had to be his eyes.

They were dark almost sinister because of their color and the darkness of his eyebrows, but yet they sparkled when he looked at Scarlett and she could tell that they had kindness in them. She curtsied slightly as Scarlett introduced them allowing him to kiss her hand, color creeping to her cheeks at the gesture. How Scarlett didn't go weak in the knees every time he looked at her Carreen had no idea, she stood in the room with him for less than five minutes and she already would have done whatever he had asked. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Butler." Carreen left the room, realizing after she had closed the doors behind her that she should have left them open. Oh well, she thought, let Mammy come by and open them.

Scarlett took the flowers from Rhett and introduced him to Carreen who while shy to begin with seemed to forget herself completely when he kissed her hand and quickly left the room. Scarlett laughed, her green eyes twinkling slightly. "You'll have to forgive Carreen, Rhett, she's never seen you before of course and you're not quite what we're used to here at Tara."

She blushed slightly, that hadn't come out exactly as she had meant it to. But it was true, most of the men that came to Tara had been coming there for so long that there was no longer any formality in anything they did, but it wasn't just that.

Rhett had a way of being imposing in any room he stood in, whether there were two people or two hundred. "As far as my dancing, Dr. Fontaine told me I was not allowed to dance last night so I had to sit there all night long like a wallflower making excuses that I wasn't feeling well. But I suppose he was right, even without dancing I came home exhausted. He said I was lucky you found me when you did." She lowered her head slightly, casting her eyes toward him flirtatiously. "I guess I'd have to agree with him."

What she didn't tell Rhett was that the night Rhett had brought her home and yesterday had been awful. She had been in and out with a fever so high that she wasn't even allowed to go to Twelve Oaks until much later in the evening yesterday. Even then, it was only on the condition that she wouldn't move from her chair unless she had to. So, she sat surrounded watching her beaux dance with other girls, noticing the look of pleasure on the other girls' faces when they realized that Scarlett was too ill to dance.

At least she had been able to see Ashley for a few minutes; he had come over to her and inquired about her health. He looked at her, eyes and a face that she had memorized over the years, and he had been so caring and gentle. Then he had walked away. Walked away from her and returned to Melanie's side, who came over herself later to talk to Scarlett. She hated the fact that Melanie was so kind to her. Didn't she understand how Scarlett's heart broke every time she saw Melanie and Ashley together? Of course she wouldn't understand that, Scarlett thought, she's got Ashley and hasn't a care in the world. The way she clung to his arm drove Scarlett crazy; it was almost as if Melanie thought if she were to let him go Ashley would disappear forever.

She smiled slightly, more to herself, her dimples flashing as she took in the daisies for the first time. "They're beautiful, Rhett, really. But it wasn't necessary for you to bring me flowers. I'm not laid up in bed like an invalid, but I will have Mammy put them by my bed anyway. I think I agree with your sister, there is something rather cheerful about them, isn't there?"

She smiled as she met his gaze briefly before she spun around on her heels opening the door and calling for one of the servants to take the flowers. She closed the doors and walked over to the couch. "Won't you sit, Rhett, or weren't you planning on staying very long? Surely, you didn't come out all this way just to bring me some daisies. But then again, it wouldn't surprise me if you had; you are always one to surprise me." She glanced up at him, her eyes still glimmering as she sat on the couch arranging her skirt properly about her.

Rhett sat in the chair adjacent to the couch, his hands draped casually over the arms of the chair while his right leg crossed over his left.

"I had hoped you'd ask me to stay a while. I'm sorry you weren't able to dance last night. In fact, if I'm in town when Dr. Fontaine clears you to dance I'll take you personally, assuming of course that you'd care to accompany me. Most of our men in uniform leave tonight and tomorrow morning if I'm not mistaken, but no matter the invitation from me is open whenever you want to take me up on it I'll be here to take you."

He leaned forward, taking her tiny hands in his. "I can't tell you how glad I am that you're all right, that and the fact that I happened to be nearby when you needed me. I'm not one to believe in fate but I woke up that morning and for some reason decided to take my horse out for a good ride. I keep them in Atlanta in my absence, so there are times when they don't get ridden as often as they need to. So, I'd say it was at least quite a coincidence I just happened to stop in that spot."

He regretted the statement about his horses as soon as it had left his mouth. Hoping she wouldn't think that strange or ask questions about where he kept them. He lowered his voice. "Truthfully, Scarlett, I'm very relieved that you're all right, things just wouldn't seem quite right without you around." He realized he still held her hands and released them slowly.

Color crept to Scarlett's cheeks as Rhett took her hands into his. Hands she once again couldn't get over the sensations a simple touch could create in her. She knew they were used for harsh things and for him to use them so gently with her made her uncomfortable. She raised her eyes to his startled as the comprehension of his addressing her as Scarlett came to her and she smiled.

"Are you, Rhett? With the way you left just leaving me a note, I would have thought you didn't care. Did you have to leave without saying good bye?" She hadn't meant to be so direct with her question, but she had been rather disappointed when her mother had told her that she had given Rhett a bedroom upstairs to find out he had left before she had woken up. This added more confusion to her memories of the prior day.

Surely if he had kissed her, he wouldn't have left without saying good bye and perhaps trying to steal another kiss. She wanted to know whether or not he had kissed her, but how to ask such a question without sounding forward.

Rhett stood and walked to the window. "You were still sleeping and somehow I don't think your mother would have approved of my stopping in your bedroom on my way out." He turned to her; his eyebrows raised a glint of mischief in his eyes. "It seems that I missed my opportunity the other day, pity I fell asleep in a chair at your feet. I doubt very highly the opportunity will present itself to me again anytime soon." He returned his gaze outside, "So what is it you had in mind today, Scarlett? You don't mind my calling you Scarlett do you? I figured after the other day that Miss O'Hara was no longer necessary."

Scarlett stood and smoothed out her skirt the rustle of her skirts the only sound in the room as she walked toward him. She stood behind him; her hands lay to rest on the back of a chair next to her. "No, I see no reason why you should call me Miss O'Hara any longer. What did I have in mind? Well, I see you didn't ride in your carriage so I guess a ride is out. I don't think I'm well enough for riding, not to mention I don't know if I'm ready to get on a horse again just yet. Perhaps a walk to the creek would suit you? You'll have to walk slowly though, I've been told no swift movements and I would imagine that would include walking too quickly."

She looked at him curiously; she'd never really looked at him when she stood this close to him before. He was handsome with strong almost chiseled features. His moustache was neat and trimmed his lips tempting with their mysteriousness and the sneer he utilized so often. His shoulders and chest were broad, and then she remembered she had seen him without his shirt on. She had fallen asleep with her head and arm resting against his chest. She did not realize that a smile crept to her lips as she remembered the feeling of warmth and security that had come from simply resting against him.

He had taken care of her. She knew that if it had been Brent or Stu or Ashley that had found her they would have taken care of her, too. But it was the way he had taken care of her that stood out in Scarlett's mind. Contrary to what she had heard about him and had assumed he would have done if they had been alone like they were that day, he did not disrobe her. In fact, he didn't do anything that could have been construed as inappropriate. Even if her thoughts about him kissing her were correct, there was nothing inappropriate about a kiss. Certainly not when so much more had been available to him had he been of the mind. She shook the thoughts from her mind; it was better not to think of such things. He may not have even kissed her.

Rhett turned to her, the left side of his mouth raised in a slight smirk, his left eyebrow raised slightly. A slight hint of mischief was evident in his eyes. "A walk sounds fine, though I can think of other things that would be of more interest to me. I'll save my ideas for another time; however, I don't want to spark that Irish temper of yours just yet. I have seen it in action, and don't know that my ego could take such a blow being on the receiving end of it." They walked to the doors together, which Rhett opened allowing Scarlett to exit the room before him. "Shouldn't you get a wrap? I don't want to be responsible for your getting even sicker than you already are."

Scarlett nodded and asked Mammy to fetch her wrap. When she returned, she put the wrap around Scarlett reminding her what Dr. Fontaine told her about doing too much. Scarlett rolled her eyes at Rhett as she placed her hand on Rhett's arm, turning to face Mammy. "Mammy, I'm sure Mr. Butler will see that I don't do anything other than take a leisurely walk. He is the one who saved me after all I'm sure he wouldn't have saved me only to put my life in danger two days later." She turned her attention to Rhett with a smile, pulling the wrap around her with her free hand as Rhett opened the front door taking the hint that Scarlett was ready to leave.

Rhett helped Scarlett down the steps; slightly surprised when he dropped his arm by his side she put her hand around it anyway. She looked up at him with a smile; her green eyes sparkling as Rhett smiled in return. He couldn't help but realize that her smile seemed genuine. They walked in silence for a while, Rhett enjoying having Scarlett close to him and the fact that he didn't feel the need to keep her entertained with senseless conversation. He glanced to her, wondering if he should broach the subject of his actions the other day. They seemingly did not upset her, but she had been in and out of consciousness she may not even know. She certainly wasn't acting like anything unusual had happened between them. He cleared his throat softly. "Are you really all right, Scarlett? If we shouldn't be out here, I don't want to cause you to be bedridden further."

She looked up at him; almost forgetting about her wrap as her grasp on it loosened. "Really, Rhett, I appreciate your concern but I'm all right. I haven't coughed much all day today, and my head feels much better. The fresh air is soothing. If you keep it up I'm going to begin thinking this concern for me you're demonstrating is genuine." She smiled playfully with a giggle as she loosened her grasp on his arm.

Rhett looked down at her pleased to hear her laugh. "Of course it's genuine, Scarlett. I'm not sure what thoughts go through that pretty head of yours, but I could think of better ways of spending five hours of my day then traveling by horse to visit someone whose company I don't enjoy. Now don't take that to mean anything other than what it is Scarlett." They stopped walking; Rhett turned to face her. "You're pretty, and your mother has taught you to flirt with beaux very well but I'm not looking for love or a wife."

Scarlett's smile brightened, he had called her pretty. She had never waited so long to hear a compliment and while it wasn't much of a compliment she was pleased to hear it at any rate. She blushed appropriately, as she was supposed to when someone paid her a compliment. But then a pout crawled to her lips. "But Rhett, if you don't want those things why are you here? Why do you take the time to come see me? Surely you have friends in Atlanta. What do you need me for?"

"Most of my friends in Atlanta are men, Scarlett, and obviously no where near as pretty as you. You intrigue me, I'm hoping one day that the Scarlett O'Hara I witnessed unbeknownst to you at Twelve Oaks that day will resurface and I'll be able to keep her from burying herself again."

He unthinkingly put his arms around her waist bringing her to him. "You have no idea how you appealed to me that day, Scarlett. You were breathtaking. Your temper flaring, speaking what was on your mind despite the fact it wasn't proper, and going after what you wanted. Even if you didn't get it, it's commendable. Had your tantrum not been over another man, one obviously a fool not to be taken in by your display, I would have been tempted to take you right there and then. But obviously the timing was inappropriate and though I don't quite recall any longer how I managed I restrained myself."

Scarlett couldn't tell if he was kidding or serious. She realized she should be upset with him for even making such a statement whether it was in jest or not, but she couldn't bring herself to be mad at him today. Instead, she went a different route with her emotions, one she was much better at and one that met with much better results, flirtation. "Why, Rhett, the things you say. Breathtaking when I'm angry? Really, you are too much, but I suppose since it appears I will not get a straight answer out of you as far as your reasons for visiting me I will just accept your visits for what they are. Maybe one day you'll tell me the truth." She smiled realizing that this reaction was not the one he expected. Why, it was almost as if he was daring her to get upset with his comments. She wouldn't give him the satisfaction. She stood tall; her shoulders squared seemingly daring him to say anything about the fact she didn't take offense to his statement.

Rhett's smile widened. "Perhaps I am telling the truth, Scarlett. But I suppose you'll have to wait another day to find out, because I'm unwilling to play your southern belle games today." He watched her for a moment, his gaze dropping from her eyes, to her hand holding her wrap at her neck, to her covered bosom, to her waist and back up again. He knew she was aware of his gaze and that was what he wanted. He wanted her to know he found her appealing and perhaps pique her curiosity as to what he might do if she were to allow it.

They stood in silence for a moment, Rhett not knowing how to broach the subject he was about to present to her. "Scarlett, I'm leaving in a few days. I have to take a trip to Europe: London, Dublin, Paris, Barcelona, and Düsseldorf. While I enjoy my work, and may make light of it what I do can be dangerous. I know behind that simple grin you wear you have a brain, so I'm not going to insult you and explain to you what I do anymore than I have to. Nor am I going to romanticize it for you, Scarlett."

Scarlett lowered her eyes from his, staring at the ground she stood on for a moment. Now how on earth was she supposed to take that statement? Was he implying he could die or that he simply wasn't planning on returning to Atlanta or her?

Surely he wouldn't die. He wasn't in the army and who would bother trying to hurt someone like Rhett anyway. She wasn't aware exactly of what he did only what Pa had mentioned about him. She raised her eyes to meet his, confusion evident in them.

"Romanticize it. Rhett, whatever do you mean? I'm afraid you give me too much credit. While Pa has mentioned some of what it is you do I'm not all that knowledgeable on what exactly you do to accomplish it. Why it seems to me it's little more than sailing your boat from Europe to Charleston." She placed her hand on his forearm. "I mean if you don't want to see me any more, Rhett, why don't you just say so instead of speaking in riddles or making it sound as if you aren't going to come back."

Rhett placed his hand on top of Scarlett's hand resting on his arm, and after a moment removed it from his arm without releasing her hand. "Think what you like, my dear, but the fact of the matter is I may never see you again. Whether I end up dead, in jail, or just unable to return to the States."

He brought her hand to his face, kissing the palm lightly. He brushed his moustache lightly across her wrist as he looked into her eyes. "Surely you realize by now, Miss O'Hara, if I wasn't to return to Tara there'd be a reason for it. It can't have escaped your notice that I enjoy your company." He smirked slightly, realizing full well what he was saying and the implications that came with such a statement.

Scarlett inhaled sharply as he placed his hand on top of hers. She tried to ignore her increased heart rate, but when he kissed her hand she could have fainted right there. What feelings he brought about in her. Feelings she never knew existed. Surely, what he was doing had to be wrong. Something that made her feel like this couldn't be right or proper. His kiss affected her all the way to her toes, she was sure she was blushing profusely.

Then he started talking and his tone was turning to one that was familiar to her. The gentle kisses to her hand were forgotten. This is what she had been waiting eight months to hear from him and she wasn't about to let him forget it. "Do you, Rhett?" She batted her eyes slightly lowering her gaze from looking directly into his eyes. "I surely wouldn't know what to think. After all, you never have successfully explained to me who the woman was I saw you having lunch with months ago." She bit her lip with a slight gasp and withdrew her hand from his quickly. She hadn't meant to mention that. Fiddle dee dee. He would know now that she had thought about that day, and obviously more than once if it was still on her mind.

Rhett laughed as he released her hand. "Why Scarlett," he stepped back from her slightly, taking her in. Trying to figure out what she might be thinking before he replied. "Surely you're not jealous. I was in town, my plans with you weren't until the next day and I enjoy the company of beautiful women so I invited my friend to have lunch with me. I believe I told you when we discussed this the following day that had I known you had plans to dine at that particular restaurant I would have gone elsewhere to avoid such a situation. Scarlett, I am not going to stand here, lie, and tell you that you are the only girl that I've seen over the past eight months. And believe me, I've seen quite a lot more of some of those girls then I have of you. Surely you realize you have no claim to me, just as I have none to you." He laughed at her startled reaction and grabbed hold of her arm as she turned to walk away.

Scarlett couldn't believe her ears. He was not only talking about the woman he had lunch with, but there were others? She knew his reputation, knew of course what she had heard over the months but until now she didn't believe it. Oh whom was she kidding?

Of course she believed it, but it was one thing to suspect and another to have it paraded about before her. He was admitting he had been with women, stood there with that smirk on his face suggesting that he had had relations with them. This man who with her had really been nothing but kind, who had saved her life, who had been in the position to take advantage of her and had not, and this man who for some reason could bring about emotions within her she had never experienced before. Not even Ashley.

But who was he, Scarlett couldn't help but wonder, dismissing the question as soon as it entered his mind. Why did she need to know whom he was for after all? It didn't matter, so long as he continued to call on her and bring her pretty gifts once in a while. "Rhett, there's no need to be rude. I was simply pointing out that you never did explain that to me. But let's not talk about that." Her hand returned to its place in the crook of his arm, her dimples flashing. "Do you really enjoy my company, Rhett? I always figured there was something else behind your visits entirely." She looked up at him, her green eyes flashing with a flirtatious shine she so capably turned on whenever necessary.

He took her hand in his again, the warmth of his big, strong hand enveloping her white delicate, child-like hand. He again brought it to his lips kissing the palm softly with tender kisses. He eyed her longingly, going from her hand to her eyes and once again scanning her clothed bodice before returning to her lips and settling once again on her eyes. "Oh there is something behind my visits, Scarlett. Don't ever kid yourself about that and think I have no reason for my actions. I very rarely do something without a motive, though sometimes the motive may even be unknown to me right away. And I bet you could very ably tell me my motives with you, Scarlett, if you looked within yourself to find the answer."

Scarlett's eyes were on her hand, she moved them slightly to meet his gaze and then in embarrassment cast them down once again to her hand watching as his lips planted soft kisses on her hand. Suddenly she felt as if her stays were tied too tightly and she would faint. Her heart was beating rapidly, she knew she was flushed, and when she looked into his eyes again she saw something in them she had not seen in another man's eyes.

She had no idea what it was, this look in his eyes, but it burned right through her. She tingled down to her toes from it. "Release me now, Rhett, please." The words were said softly almost breathlessly. How she caught her breath and was able to get the words out with some semblance of being convincing she would never know. At least she thought she sounded convincing. Rhett released her hand at any rate.

He smiled down at her as she spoke the words. He knew she had to strain to say them, knew it took every ounce of willpower contained within her to utter those words at that moment. Not that he expected her to give into his advances on a bed of pine needles outside of Tara. That was tacky and low class, but he was tempting her.

He knew he was making her think and feel things that were strange and unfamiliar to her, yet they felt good. He knew that she was plagued with guilt for despite asking for her hand back, he knew that if he hadn't. That is to say if he had continued kissing her hand as he was doing she more than likely would have allowed it despite her attempts at remaining proper. He would of course never have done that. No from a lady is no after all, he was almost thirty-four years old and had yet to force a woman to do anything. He wasn't about to start now. "Do you feel all right, my dear? You're looking rather flushed. You're not going to faint on me, are you? I really don't know that I like the idea of having to carry you into Tara yet again. It gets old after the first couple of times."

Out of his grasp, she was able to catch her breath and collect her thoughts. "Of course, Rhett I'm fine. I didn't mean to worry you. I don't know what came over me." She smiled up at him, her dimples flashing and her eyelashes fluttering. "I suppose we should be getting back to the house, or Mammy's liable to come looking for me and she'd skin me alive if she saw that."

Color crept fully to her cheeks as she realized that she was more worried about Mammy then the fact that Rhett had kissed her hand at all. She was quite certain now that Rhett would propose to her, perhaps on his next trip to Atlanta. Perhaps being away from her for a while would make him realize he loves her. In her experience, no man did these things unless that was his intent.

What fun she would have with him with that piece of information. Her eyes twinkled with the thought that she, Scarlett O'Hara, could get a man like Rhett Butler to propose. Of course, she had no desire to marry him and that just made it more pleasurable a thought for her. She didn't imagine he got told no very often and what a pleasure it would be to say no to such a question. A question she s didn't think he asked very many, if any at all. She remembered his slighting marriage, talking about being able to get the positive benefits without the negative and she wondered if that's how he truly felt. She shrugged it off, she'd think about that when he returned and asked her. She'd have a lot of things to tell him then.

Rhett laughed heartily as he watched Scarlett, his eyes narrowing slightly almost as if he knew what was running through her mind. "Yes, I'm sure Mammy would have a fit." He walked toward her and she placed her hand through his arm, but instead of walking he turned slightly and brought her to him, his arm supporting the back of her neck as he tipped her head back gently. "And I'm sure this would make her skin me if she saw it."

He bent to kiss her, hesitating at the last minute as he opened his eyes to look at her. She stood before him, her eyes closed, face turned up. She wasn't exactly posed to return a kiss, but it was obvious she wasn't going to reject one either. He released her suddenly, bringing his hands to her face placing both palms gently on her cheeks supporting her face. "Look at me, Scarlett."

She opened her eyes slowly. "Tell me what you remember about the other day. You were in and out of consciousness. Do you remember anything?" He wasn't sure why he asked the question, but for some reason he didn't want to kiss her if she had no memory of him kissing her the other day. He dropped his hands from her face to her shoulders.

Scarlett gasped slightly when Rhett took her into his arms. He was going to kiss her now and she would no longer have to try and remember whether or not he had or what it was like. It seemed like forever went by, and he hadn't kissed her yet and suddenly she felt his arms move from around her and his hands resting against her face. She opened her eyes hesitantly when he bid her to do so; not wanting to she had to will them open.

"What?" She asked in amazement to his question. What did he want her to say?

"Well, I don't remember much, Rhett. I remember riding along and something spooking Jasmine. After that, I remember waking up and you were sleeping in a chair with your feet on the bed." She giggled lightheartedly as she remembered. "Oh but I was mad at you, Rhett, I saw the whiskey bottle you had by the bed and thought you were drunk. I remember waking up by the fire and you smelled like my father, not really like my father, but you smelled of cigarettes and whiskey. I remember smiling at the thought of those smells making me feel at home." She blushed slightly, wondering if she should reveal anymore of what she remembered. "I remember falling asleep next to you and waking up with you unaware I was awake so I watched you for a while in the darkness."

She watched him for some sign as to whether or not he wanted her to continue, sensing he did she shut her eyes. "I think I remember you kissing me, Rhett, though I could be mistaken of course. I remember you helping me onto your horse and then I remember waking at Tara." She let out a breath of relief; tempted to ask him if her memory was correct but realized even mentioning it was embarrassing enough.

Rhett raised his eyebrows slightly, a mischievous look in his eyes. "You think you remember? Why, Miss O'Hara, I hope you're not being coy with me. I realize that you were rather out of sorts that afternoon, but why is it only the part as to my kissing you that you put an 'I think' in front of?"

She was sure her face was bright red now. "Well, I. Rhett, what type of question is that? It seems like I remember it, but I'm not sure if it was a dream or not. Truthfully, I'd heard such disreputable things about you I was sure a kiss wouldn't have been where you would have left it. But it seemed so real." She looked up at him, wondering why on earth she was talking to him like this. "I grabbed onto your arm, didn't I and that's when you pulled away from me. But why?" She bit her lip.

"Forget I asked that, Rhett. I don't want to hear the answer." She peered up at him through her lowered lashes. "Unless of course you have a good answer." She giggled lightly, amazed that she was able to remain so light when talking about something that made her rather uncomfortable.

"Why did I pull away from you, Scarlett? I think I have a good answer to that. First, let me assure you that you are correct in your memory. You looked at me your green eyes glowing slightly from the fire; you looked so complacent lying there with your chin resting on your arm. As far as why I pulled away from you. Well, it was simply my attempt at acting like a gentleman, Scarlett. You're very correct in thinking that had I not stopped when I did a kiss would not have been all I wanted to settle for. The circumstances were such that it obviously would have been very easy for me to take advantage of you and your state. While there have been women in my day I've encountered who I wouldn't have thought twice about taking advantage of in a moment of vulnerability, I couldn't bring myself to with you. Not that the thought hadn't crossed my mind." He smirked slightly, one corner of his mouth creeping up just enough to let her know he was thinking. "I hope that answers your question acceptably." He smiled slightly, realizing that he may have just overstepped his boundaries in what was acceptable conversation, but what he had said was true. He wanted her, badly in fact but not badly enough to take advantage of her.

Scarlett turned beat red, a combination of embarrassment and anger at his comment. She reached up to strike him, but Rhett grabbed her hand. "How dare you, the thought crossed your mind indeed. You are no gentleman, Mr. Butler."

Rhett laughed heartily as he watched Scarlett turn and walk back toward Tara. "I guess that means a kiss good bye is out of the question, my dear. You realize, of course, I may not return and this might be your last chance."

Scarlett was walking quickly, her hands holding her skirts up off the ground. She heard Rhett's comment and halted her feet briefly to turn and face him. "I hope you drown, Rhett Butler. I hope your ship gets stuck in the middle of the ocean and you starve to death. My last chance to kiss you, hmmph, you'd be more accurate in saying that this was your last chance to kiss me."

She turned away from him, storming back to the house where she sat on the steps waiting for him. Surely he would be right behind her to tell her he was sorry, that's what any gentleman did when they'd upset a lady. She didn't want to go inside the house just yet, she still hadn't calmed down. He sure was taking his time in walking back here, she thought. She heard his footsteps and bent her head quickly to focus on her slippers as he approached.

"Well, Miss O'Hara, it seems I've upset you once again. I only spoke the truth and was answering a question you had posed no less. Forget about the part about the thought crossing my mind, I admit to throwing that in to spark the Irish in you. But the rest of it was acceptable enough of an answer. I can honestly tell you that you are unlike any woman I've ever met before and I didn't feel right taking advantage of you. So, before I go away and the last words I have from you are that you hope I drown or that my boat sinks might I get a proper good bye out of you?" He watched her as he leaned both forearms on the banister of the porch steps, eyeing her curiously.

She raised her eyes slightly; looking at him through her lowered lashes a slight smile crawling to her lips. "I suppose, Rhett, but I don't understand why you have to say such hateful things sometimes." She stood and placed her hand on his forearm. "Have a safe trip, Rhett, and thank you for the walk. I was going positively insane indoors with Mammy watching me like a hawk."

"The pleasure was all mine, Scarlett." He took her hand in his and kissed it politely, just slightly below her wrist bordering on the inappropriate in the placement of the kiss. "Hopefully you have not cursed me and I will live to return to Tara another day." He squeezed her hand gently. "Feel well, Scarlett." Rhett bowed slightly after releasing her hand from his grasp. He watched her for a moment as she dropped her hand to her side and turned to go inside. Once she had entered the house, he turned and walked to Athena whom he alighted and returned to Atlanta.

He stayed away from Belle's that night, though it was hard to do. Holding Scarlett as he had that afternoon had left him filled with desire, but for some reason he enjoyed the feeling it left him with. Sleep was fitful and restless, but eventually it came to him with him waking the next morning to pack and eat breakfast before departing for the train depot. He stopped at Belle's on the way, saying good-bye to her, letting her know his travels would be keeping him out of Atlanta for a few months at least if not longer. She knew how to get in touch with him if she had to. His attorney in New Orleans always knew how to get a hold of Rhett and Belle knew should she ever need him she simply had to wire him and Rhett would be contacted straight away. The only other person who had this information was Rhett's mother. After saying good-bye to Belle, he made his way to the depot where he boarded the train that would take him to Charleston, from there he would board his ship, the SS Valiant, to England.

Scarlett returned inside after Rhett left and went straight up to lay down, asking Mammy to come unlace her she was ready for a nap. She lay on her bed mulling over in her mind all that she and Rhett had talked about that day. He seemed genuine in his statement, but why had he stopped himself from kissing her again today she wondered. Maybe he hadn't liked kissing her, but she quickly pushed that thought out of her mind.

She tried to recall where he said he would be visiting. Dublin, she thought that was in Ireland. She recalled Pa talking about it and wondered what it would be like there. The other places he mentioned were London and Paris, which she knew of, Barcelona and Düsseldorf, which she was not familiar with. She wondered briefly what it was he did exactly. From what her father mentioned, he shipped goods back and forth between here and there.

What was so dangerous in that, she wondered?

Surely, he must be joking, but she realized he hadn't appeared to be joking when he mentioned it. She drifted off to sleep, confident that if whatever it was that Rhett was doing were dangerous he'd escape unharmed. People like him always succeeded at whatever they attempted.

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