Chapter Eleven
Word Count: 8,584

Three days had past since Belle had made her revelations to Rhett. He had learned Palmer's full name and the town he hailed from. Belle indicated that he had never spoken of any friends, but Rhett assured her he'd be discreet in his inquiries. They took advantage of Palmer being out of town, Rhett spending most of his time at Belle's. He paid a visit or two to Miss Hamilton's to assure them that he was going to return to Tara in a few days to bring Scarlett back to Atlanta if she was ready. He enjoyed calling on them; Miss Hamilton's behavior was always amusing with her response to him varying every time he saw her.

He treated Belle to breakfast at the Atlanta Hotel that morning, realizing that he may not see her until the following day depending on Scarlett. After breakfast, he walked with her to her saloon where his carriage was. He went to say good-bye to Robert stopping in Belle's room before he left. He stood silently for a moment not sure how to broach the subject at hand.

He handed her a box wondering if she had realized what it contained when they walked together. "It's a gun, Belle. I don't know if you have one and I'm confident that with what I've taught you that if you had to you would be able to keep a steady hand. If for some reason he gets back before I do, don't hesitate to use it if you need to. Just keep it locked here in your room, Belle. Robert's old enough now that he's curious about guns, curious enough that he might just take it without asking. I should be back later tonight or tomorrow, depending on Scarlett of course. She knows to expect me, but that doesn't mean she's ready to come back yet. I may end up staying in Jonesboro for the night." He put his hand in his trousers pockets, his jacket pushed back slightly.

"Do me a favor, Rhett. Be careful. I've known you a lot of years now and I've never known you to be this way about anyone. I don't know anything about her other than a few things I've heard and what you've told me. But just watch yourself, Rhett Butler, or she's going to reel you in and you won't even know what caught you."

She raised her eyes to meet his, her eyes softening slightly. "Don't go acting like you don't know what I'm talking about, Rhett. Tell me when the last time you've spent time with a girl of Miss O'Hara's standing without the intention of trying to compromise her first and foremost being on your mind. Then look at me and tell me honestly that you don't realize that you may as well be courting this girl." She laughed in amusement. "You've known her for how long now and I'll bet you haven't even laid on your charms yet. Have you even kissed her, Rhett?"

Rhett paused slightly unsure if he was comfortable discussing this subject with Belle. Then realizing he had no one else to talk to about Scarlett decided it couldn't hurt.

"I've kissed her, only twice. Unless you want to count the couple of times that I've kissed her hand." He saw her questioning look. "Not that kind of kiss to her hand, Belle. I couldn't count how many times I've kissed her hand hello and good bye. I was referring to the more intimate kind. But even those have only happened twice I believe. So, I suppose to answer your real question, Belle. I have not had sex with her nor have I even tried. It's not as if I haven't thought about it. I could have, of course, the day she was thrown from her horse. I probably could have done whatever I wanted to that day, in fact that was the first time I kissed her. I stopped myself, pulled away. I felt her grip tighten on my arms, and knew that she would have responded had I continued. She was unaware; she probably would have given in rather easily. I couldn't do it, Belle. And then last week was the second time at Miss Hamilton's house. I was leaving and she stood there with this look in her eye and I found myself unable to resist. I've thought about it more often than I've acted upon it, I assure you of that. I haven't totally reformed my ways. She's just different than most girls, Belle."

Belle snorted. "Obviously. Just be careful." She thought she wouldn't mind hearing about this girl, but it had bothered her more than she'd ever admit to Rhett. "I won't keep you any longer from your girl and your thoughts of your childhood home." She thought of kissing his cheek, but refrained. "Thank you, Rhett, for everything. You've suddenly made living this nightmare a bit more bearable." She stood and made her way to the bar.

Rhett left Belle's, upset that Athena was hitched to the carriage instead of Apollo. Not wanting to bother with it, he looked her over carefully making sure she was secure and left town headed toward Tara. He arrived at Tara in due time, tossed the reins to a servant that had come to meet him and ascended the porch steps that led to Tara.

Mammy answered the door in her typical unfriendly fashion, but Rhett couldn't help but notice that she had a slight glimmer in her eye even though her words were short. Yes, he had earned a bit of Mammy's respect, and that bit of respect would take Rhett a long way.

Scarlett was in the parlor with her youngest sister playing backgammon. Dressed in an off white muslin dress with a deep wine colored floral print she made a rather becoming picture sitting as she was. Rhett swept his hat from his head to his waist as he made a bow. "Good afternoon, ladies. I suppose if I were to say Miss O'Hara I'd be doubly accurate in that statement." He smiled widely. "I've come to inquire as to your mother's state as well as whether you are ready to return to Atlanta, Miss Scarlett. Miss Hamilton and Mrs. Wilkes are quite anxious to have you return I must admit."

Scarlett couldn't help but laugh at Rhett's antics and at Carreen's reaction to him. Carreen stared at him wide-eyed as she had done the first day she had met him. "Carreen, why don't you go see what Pa's doing outside." She turned her attentions to Rhett. "Mother's doing better, Rhett. She's still upstairs in bed, but I guess it's nothing very serious. Dr. Fontaine said she'll be laid up for another week yet more than likely and then she'll be able to get out of bed intermittently until he releases her to full duty." She glanced down as she stood from the chair and walked to him. "Mother has told me to go back to Atlanta, Rhett. She knows how much I like it there and I'm sure she realizes Melly and Pitty count on me. Though I don't know why exactly, I guess it has something to do with what you were talking to me about the other day. My bags are packed, I'll have Pork tend to them and then we can go." She smiled at him her dimples showing as her eyes sparkled.

Rhett brushed her chin gently with his thumb as he gazed into her eyes intently. "If I didn't know better, Miss O'Hara, I'd say you were happy to see me. But since I'm your ride back to Atlanta, I guess I can understand why you'd be happy to see me." A slight look of disappointment crossed his eyes, replaced once again by something unreadable. "Do you think you could rustle me up some of that cornbread I had the other morning. I haven't had cornbread like that in years. If there isn't any that's fine but I've had a taste for it ever since I left here. The Atlanta Hotel has good cooks, but grits and other breakfast items they need to learn how to make."

Scarlett laughed. "I think we can get you some. In fact, I'll join you. Come on." She took his hand and led him to the kitchen. She found them cornbread, butter and preserves. "Now, Mr. Butler, how often is it you get served at the Atlanta Hotel by a girl like me?" She quipped as she set down plates and silverware.

Rhett was a bit surprised at the ease with which Scarlett took his hand and enjoyed observing her as she sifted through the kitchen. Yet another attribute to add to his admiration of her, even though she had servants she knew her way around a kitchen. He smiled at her comment.

"Indeed, Scarlett, there have been a few girls who are as cute as you are, but none that have your grace and charm. And none that have been dressed like you either. Have I ever told you Scarlett O'Hara that I find you fascinating?" It was casual, his question. He looked up at her as he spread some butter on the warm cornbread.

Scarlett almost dropped her knife when he asked her. "Why, no Rhett I'm afraid you haven't made mention of that until now. Do you really?" She smiled slightly; her green eyes were shining brightly with the thought of being able to catch Rhett when he told her he loved her. Surely, that is what he would tell her next.

"Indeed, Scarlett. You are one of the most fascinating people, male or female, I've had the pleasure of encountering in my lifetime. I'm not going to say it twice, Scarlett, so don't even try and bait me into it."

He popped the last of the cornbread in his mouth, brushing the crumbs off his hands. "Do you think they're done loading up the carriage? I want to get a move on before it gets too dark." He pushed his chair back and stood, offering his arm to Scarlett as they walked to the foyer to check on her luggage. Seeing that the carriage was successfully loaded, Rhett retrieved his hat from the parlor. "I'll wait outside while you say good bye to your family, Miss O'Hara."

He winked and then turned toward the door. He descended the porch steps and made his way to his carriage. He spent the time ensuring that the luggage was securely fastened in. Athena would be tired after making the trip from Atlanta to Tara, so he wanted to make sure nothing could throw her off. He was checking the last tie down when Scarlett made her way to the carriage. He was surprised when she didn't wait for him to help her in.

"I always knew women were fully capable of getting in and out of carriages on their own, and there you just proved it to me. I guess now I can stop playing the gentleman and let women get in on their own." He laughed slightly as Scarlett looked at him, a little surprised at his statement. "I'm kidding, Scarlett. You have to admit, most women would have stood there waiting for me to finish, or they would have expected me to stop what I was doing to help them in."

Scarlett's smiled returned. "Oh, well, I'm not completely helpless, Rhett. And you were obviously doing something. I don't mind getting in on my own." She looked at him as he walked to his side of the carriage and got in. "You really are thorough, aren't you? Pa says that if he asked you to do a job he'd know it was done right. He says he can tell by looking at you that you don't believe in doing something unless it's done right."

"Your father is very observant, and more than correct in his summary of my work ethic, Scarlett. I don't believe in taking on a job if I can't do it well and within a reasonable amount of time. I love a challenge and rarely shrink away from a task because the possibility of failing exists. I stand before you today, Scarlett O'Hara, evidence that I have yet to fail. For if I had failed running the blockades, I'd be dead or in jail. Certainly not standing before you today escorting you back and forth between Atlanta to Tara." He started Athena on her way as he looked up at the sky. It was later than he had planned on heading back to Atlanta. It wasn't always safe anymore. There were defectors, both Union and Confederate soldiers, and there was no telling where they'd be.

They made it to Rough and Ready Pass; Rhett stopping to let Athena rest, helping Scarlett out of the carriage as they walked for a bit to stretch their legs. Helping Scarlett up into the carriage, they were once again on their way toward Atlanta. About twenty minutes after they had been on the way again, Athena started getting jumpy. Rhett tried to calm her to no avail. He couldn't understand it; she had never acted in this fashion before. Rhett sat up straight, reached back to open the bag that lay on the seat right behind him and pulled out his gun. He was alert and ready for whatever it was that was spooking Athena. Assuming it was an animal, he wasn't too worried.

Suddenly, there was someone in front of Athena; they pulled her bit, bridle and blinders off. Rhett stood, unable to see the perpetrator from where he sat as the man walked to Scarlett's side. He smiled. "I'll take your jewelry, ma'am. That's a mighty fine necklace and earbobs you have there, but one as fair and beautiful as you doesn't need such finery to accentuate your beauty."

Rhett quickly drew his gun and called out for Scarlett to lean forward as he shot, barely grazing the man's arm. The man huffed and returned the shot hitting Rhett in the shoulder causing him to lose his balance and fall out of the carriage. "Your jewels, ma'am." He walked to the back of the carriage as another carriage pulled up alongside Rhett's. He unloaded Scarlett's luggage into the second carriage.

Scarlett slid over to the other side of the carriage to look at Rhett who was lying on the ground. "Rhett!" she yelled.

Oh God, she thought, he's dead.

She quickly without thinking removed her earbobs and necklace. Luckily, she hadn't worn anything too nice today. When she handed the jewelry to the man, tears were welling in her eyes. I will not let him see me cry he will not know he has me licked. She sat proud and tall, her shoulders and chin held high as the man got into the carriage and left, leaving them in the middle of the road.

Scarlett stared, not able to think clearly. Athena, she had to get her bit and bridle back on properly. It's a wonder she didn't bolt, Scarlett realized. There is a God. She quickly got down and felt Rhett's neck for a pulse. He's alive, thank goodness. She called out to him as she shook him lightly. "Rhett. Rhett." He wasn't responding. "Rhett, damn you. Answer me if you can hear me. Something, anything. Just let me know you hear me."

She stood, realizing that she might very well be on her own and walked to Athena. She talked to the horse sweetly as she readjusted the bit and bridle, removing the blinders altogether. When she had finished she heard Rhett stir. She went back to the carriage noticing Rhett's over night bag.

He must have come under the assumption she wasn't ready to leave Tara, she realized. A smile came to her with the thought that he was willing to stay the night for her. She gently turned him onto his back and he let out an audible groan of pain. "I'm sorry, Rhett, but I don't know where he shot you." She was amazed once again that Athena just stood there, seemingly waiting for them. "Rhett, can you grab on to me and I'll help you into the carriage. There's a house up the hill a ways, the Krier's. They'll help us."

Rhett fell to the ground cursing himself for leaving himself open to being shot like that. Normally he was more careful, but his first thought was of protecting Scarlett and her belongings. Another reason he cursed women, they always clouded your judgment. He must have passed out for the next thing he heard was Scarlett talking to him about helping him into the carriage. He opened his eyes slightly and held up his right arm.

"This arm, Scarlett, he shot the other one." His voice was soft and hoarse, but audible. He stood with her slowly, his right arm draping around her neck as they walked together to the carriage. He sat, cringing when his left arm was jostled. He managed to get his jacket off, and taking his cravat off he wrapped it as close to where the bullet was as he could, having Scarlett tie it as tight as she could before she took Athena's reins. "Just go slow, Scarlett."

Scarlett kept Athena at as slow a pace as she could manage, which got them to the Krier's about thirty minutes later. Scarlett couldn't remember being so pleased at seeing the road to someone else's plantation before. Her excitement quickly faded when they got to the house and it was dark. "Rhett! The house, it's dark. Surely not every one of them could be gone, they have eight children."

Rhett opened his eyes slightly. "They probably left, Scarlett. Let's go in anyway. It's dark and I don't want you to have to control Athena in the dark. There might be more people out to rob us and they wouldn't be too pleased to find out someone had gotten to us beforehand." He held onto his arm with his right hand, getting out of the carriage slowly. He walked with Scarlett, her arm around his waist as she helped him walk to the house.

"Take out my pocket knife, it's in my jacket pocket." He gestured to his jacket, which hung over his arm. Scarlett fumbled in the pockets, found the knife, and looked at Rhett curiously. "I'm going to teach you how to pick a lock, Scarlett. Most unladylike."

He smiled slightly, knowing Scarlett knew he was in pain. He instructed her on how to put the knife in and move it around until she heard the cylinders of the lock fall into place. "Well done, Scarlett. Stick with me; you never know what you'll learn or when you'll need to use it again." He walked inside after she had opened the door and spotting a couch immediately went to it and sat on it hard. "Have you ever tended to a bullet wound, my dear?"

Scarlett couldn't believe Rhett was suggesting she pick the lock to the Krier's home, but he had a point. If none of them was here, and it did appear deserted, they were probably gone. She had to admit that it was somewhat thrilling picking the lock; she could just imagine what her mother would say. Pa on the other hand would pat her on the back and say, 'Just what every girl needs to learn how to do.'

Scarlett laughed at the thought, returning to the present when Rhett asked her about bullets. "I've seen them tended to, Rhett, of course at the hospital. I've tended to some as well, the more minor wounds. So, yes, I should be able to help you. Let me go into the kitchen and see what I can find, some whiskey perhaps to numb you. And some tweezers, there's plenty of sheets since the furniture's all covered." She was rambling and knew it. "I'll be right back, Rhett."

She went to the servants' quarters, knowing she'd find there most of what she needed a lot faster than she would scouring the house as a whole. She found what she needed. Tweezers, needle and thread, and even remembering to fetch a stick from outside for him to bite down on if he needed to. Somehow, she didn't think Rhett would do that, but she did it just in case. She found some whiskey and scotch in the pantry and brought that in with her.

She set everything in front of him, realizing he was conscious but barely, she doubted he even heard her come back into the room. It was too dark, she couldn't see properly and from the looks of it there was no exit wound. That meant the bullet was still in his shoulder. She had watched Dr. Meade pull bullets out a few times and hoped that it was something she could repeat. She didn't want to take the time to do it, but she started a fire knowing she had to if she were going to see. Returning to his side once the fire was going.

"Rhett I need to take off your shirt, and if you can move to in front of the fire so I can see more clearly."

Rhett mumbled something, understanding what Scarlett was saying but for some reason his mouth didn't want to work. He nodded his comprehension and sat up. His vision was blurry, but he was able to make out the fireplace where Scarlett had kindly set out a blanket for him to rest on. He sat on the floor, letting Scarlett undo the buttons on his shirt and remove his cufflinks. When she had removed his shirt, he lay on the floor with his eyes open staring seemingly at nothing. He smirked slightly. "You do that too well, Scarlett. Who else's shirt have you undone?"

Scarlett couldn't help but laugh at his comment. "Rhett! Why there are so many I can't even count them anymore. Lest you forget, I've been working at the hospital for two years now, not to mention all the years I helped Pa into bed when he came home after having drunk too much. I don't know why he came to me instead of Mother, but he always did. Why I remember one time, I had to give up my bed. He sat down and couldn't get up afterward."

Scarlett laughed at the memory realizing Rhett surely didn't care about such stories. Then she realized that he probably needed to hear her talk. Once his shirt was off, she realized that her guess was correct. There was no exit wound. "Well, I guess all that nursing is going to pay off after all, I've never had to take a bullet out before. This should be interesting."

She went to work her eyes wide in concentration as she bit her lip. After a grueling two hours of digging and stopping to blot the blood, more digging, finally finding the bullet only to have it move on her, and more digging she got the bullet out.

"This is going to sting, Rhett." She opened the bottle of whiskey and poured some of it right on the wound, knowing that though he didn't cry out it hurt. She spread her skirt around her as she sat down to tend to the suturing.

When she was finished she had to admit to the fact that given the circumstances and what she had to work with it wasn't half-bad. He'd have a nasty scar there, but as her eyes scanned his bare chest and stomach she noticed it wouldn't be the first he'd be left with.

Saying his name was met with no response, so she allowed herself to take him in. She had never been in this position before; he was always with the advantage. Always the one tending to her, now the situation was reversed. She had to admit to liking the feeling, the feeling of being needed by him and knowing that she was able to do what he needed. She certainly didn't consider herself much of a nurse, but obviously all the months she spent at the hospital had helped, for three years ago she would not have had a clue how to remove a bullet.

She allowed the hand that rested on his chest to trace the scar that was near her fingertips. It extended from his tanned chest to his abdomen. Flushing slightly when she realized what exactly it was that she was doing. Flushing further as she realized that she enjoyed it, his skin felt so warm to her touch.

She removed her hand slowly almost with hesitation, surprised when Rhett took hold of it with his right hand and returned it to his chest. Staring at his hand pressed on top of hers, she looked to his face. His eyes were open now, causing her cheeks to flush further as she realized that he was awake.

"Rhett," she said softly trying to ignore the feelings a simple touch to her hand from his created in her. "I got the bullet out and the wound stitched up." She looked at her dress and hands. "I must say I make quite a sight. Lord knows what I'll wear tomorrow." She was trying to make light of the situation, not wanting to let him know how touching him had felt to her.

He squeezed her hand gently. "Thank you, Scarlett. I'm sorry about your luggage, your dress, everything. It shouldn't have happened. I've never failed before. Thank God I didn't get you killed for my stupidity." He cringed slightly when he inadvertently moved his left arm. "He didn't hurt you, did he?" He was watching her intensely and when she didn't respond right away. "Scarlett?"

She met his gaze. "No, Rhett, nothing happened to me. They got a necklace and some earbobs that I had gotten from Brent or Stuart and my luggage, but there was nothing other than clothes in the luggage. I don't know how I'm going to replace them, but luckily there were only a few dresses in there." Her eyes dropped once again to where their hands lay. "Do you feel all right? There's some whiskey and scotch here if you want some."

He laughed. "Are you trying to get me drunk, Scarlett O'Hara?" He shifted again slightly with a slight laugh. "I guess I could use a shot or two, I don't know that I'll be able to sleep too well without it."

He watched as she uncapped the bottle and after placing her arm around his neck to bring his head up a bit, poured some into his mouth. He drank readily, hungrily wanting the pain to stop. Not wanting to hurt her feelings or to make her think she'd done something wrong.

He couldn't tell her how badly it hurt, but his shoulder was throbbing. He didn't know how long it had taken her to get the bullet out. He knew he had drifted in and out a couple of times, but the digging was agonizing. She did her best he realized and he couldn't have asked for more. He had to admit he was surprised she had done it at all. "Thank you." He gasped when she took the bottle away. He let his head fall to the floor again, closing his eyes as he reached for Scarlett's hand again.

Scarlett could tell he was hurting. She wasn't dumb and it didn't take a genius to see it or the fact that he was trying to hide the fact he was hurting. His eyes had that glazed look that she had grown all too familiar with while working at the hospital when Dr. Meade had no morphine or ether.

"I'll be right back, Rhett. Let me go upstairs and see about getting you a pillow to rest your head on and a blanket to cover you with." She went upstairs, finding what she wanted and returned downstairs. She lifted his head again gently placing the pillow underneath it. Realizing it was warm enough in front of the fire he really didn't need a blanket quite yet she left if off of him for the time being.

She would put it on him when the fire had died down and the room began to cool off. She couldn't help but notice how gentle and peaceful he looked lying there. He didn't look helpless, Scarlett wondered if Rhett was ever helpless. She doubted it, and had she been made to take a guess she would have imagined Rhett would have been just fine without her today. She brushed some hair out of his eyes, letting her hand rest on his face a moment longer than she had meant to.

Rhett smiled slightly at the feel of Scarlett's hand against his face. It had been a long time since a woman had touched him so gently, with such tenderness and so timidly he had almost forgotten such women existed any longer. He placed his right hand on top of hers gently, opening his eyes to look at her, moving his hand from her hand to her face. He was surprised when she moved her face with his hand as he drew her toward him.

His hand moved to the back of her head as his mouth met hers for a kiss. It was a deep kiss, his lips pressing fully against hers demanding her response. The softness of her lips a contrast to his and his moustache, which brushed against her mouth. His hand moved to her hair, not wanting her to pull away and when he realized she was not only not going to pull away but that she was returning the kiss he moved his hand so it rested along her waist. He broke the kiss, kissing her upper lip then moving his mouth to her neck and her ear.

Scarlett wasn't sure she should let Rhett kiss her, but then he was and it felt nice. Her first instinct was to pull away, but she couldn't. Not only couldn't she pull away, but she felt herself returning his kiss in a fashion that she couldn't help but think was wrong. How could a simple kiss make her feel so many conflicting things?

Once again her corset felt restricting, but oddly even though she thought she would, she didn't pass out. She felt his hand drop to her waist, and then his lips break away from hers. She let out a slight gasp of disappointment until she felt his lips against her neck. His gentle kisses were placed along her neck leading to her ear, and when he kissed her ear she thought that she would faint.

She had never experienced such feelings. His kisses were tender and there was something that made them difficult to resist even though she knew that she should. She realized after a moment that she was holding her breath and nervously exhaled.

Rhett pulled away from her and looked into her eyes, his hand returning to her face to rest against her cheek. His hand dropped to her hair, which had fallen out of place and was quite disheveled. He laughed slightly as he gently took hold of some hair and tugged on it. "Prissy's going to have a time getting your hair washed and brushed out. I'd offer to do it for you, but I don't know how much good I'd be washing your hair one handed."

Scarlett blushed from embarrassment, not making any effort to pull away from him. He was once again changing the subject and acting like nothing had happened. Though there was something oddly suggestive about what he had just said. God's nightgown, it was enough to drive her mad.

"Yes, I'm sure I must look a sight. It's not every day a girl like me gets to play nurse to someone like you." She laughed lightly. "Somehow I don't think you're nearly as incapacitated as you'd like me to think you are. Judging by this scar here," she touched the scar on his chest. "I'm guessing you've seen far worse than a bullet to your shoulder. How did you get it anyway? This scar, I mean. Battling those pirates you were telling Carreen and Suellen about?"

Rhett laughed lightly. "I wish it were as heroic as all that." He laid his hand to rest on top of hers once more. "I'll tell, but I fear it's not at all going to live up to your expectations. I was out in California, the gold fields, and got into an argument with a man who wasn't a very nice drunk I'm afraid. Apparently, the girl who I had chosen as my companion for the night prior was this man's wife and he wasn't too happy with me. I can't say as I blame him, of course, but he really should have looked to the real source of the problem, his wife. She wore no wedding ring, never mentioned the fact that she was married. How is a man to know? Well, I wasn't about to leave the woman a widow so I hesitated to draw my gun when he drew his knife. I thought he might be able to listen to reason. He wasn't interested in reason; he was only interested in killing me. I had made a fool out of him not only in his wife's eyes but also to all that had seen me leave with the woman." He paused; looking at Scarlett's hand and the scar it rested on. "I managed to disarm him and wield his own knife against him, but not until after he had managed to draw blood." His eyes locked with hers. "Sorry to disappoint you, for it was obtained doing nothing heroic."

Scarlett listened to his tale with wonder, not sure whether to believe him or not but he had no reason to lie to her. "Do you mean to tell me you slept with another man's wife, Rhett?" She looked at him curiously, not sure which amazed her most. That he spoke about it so freely or the fact that a woman would seek out a man other than her husband. "Don't answer that, I don't need to know about such things."

He laughed heartily, wincing slightly at the exertion. "You may not need to know, Scarlett, but you want to know. That's why you asked the question. What is it your curious about? The fact that there are women who take the initiative to seek male companionship?"

His eyes narrowed slightly as he reached up to her face to bring her toward him for another kiss. She didn't respond at first and he withdrew slightly. "Kiss me, Scarlett. You want to, so what's stopping you? Don't tell me Ashley Wilkes either or I swear to you Scarlett, I'll leave and never look back." He looked into her eyes, knowing that if he said the right things she would give in to her desires and by doing so give in to his.

Scarlett heard his question and didn't know what the answer was. What was stopping her? She moved her head from Rhett's hand as she thought. The one man she wanted was married to someone else and he would never dishonor himself or Melanie by seeking Scarlett's companionship. Oh Ashley, why did you have to be so honorable and marry Melly even though you loved me? Who was left for her? Brent or Stuart? She could never choose one over the other, despite what she ever led them to believe. Alex or Tony? They were drunk most of the time and had tempers. They would surely beat her the minute she let her Irish show as her father called it. Cade or Raif? They were respectable enough, but they were boring.

Scarlett cast her eyes down to meet Rhett's gaze. Hadn't Rhett maintained they were alike? While Brent, Stu, Alex, Tony, Cade, Raif and all the other beaux she had were nice, they weren't like her. She was different. Rhett was right, she would never be like Melanie or Fanny or Maybelle or India.

She could never be a mousy plantation mistress; she needed more in life. She needed a challenge and it dawned on her that she couldn't think of any one other than Rhett who could give her what she needed. She didn't know if that was the point Rhett was trying to make in all of their conversations. She had always thought that he was just spouting words at her to get her to lower her guard. "I don't think there's anything stopping me, Rhett. Maybe you should try again." She smiled slightly, her eyes shimmering in the light from the fire unsure of exactly what it was she was doing as her cheek once again pressed against his hand.

Rhett wordlessly brought her to him once more, his lips meeting hers again passionately. How he wanted her and this feeling was demonstrated in his kiss. He kissed her upper lip, nibbling on it gently causing her to open her mouth slightly. When she did, he opened his mouth his tongue meeting hers. He felt her pull away and he held on to her tighter, as tight as he could with only one hand. At first she didn't respond to his kissing her like that, so he pulled away slightly allowing his tongue to gently brush against her lips.

She opened her mouth again in response, more responsive to him this time. He felt her kisses intensify, unbelieving she was kissing him back with such enthusiasm. He used his left arm and as gently as he could pulled her closer to him, cringing slightly at the movement of his arm and shoulder. He wanted her on top of him, but he knew that would be pushing it at the moment so refrained. Instead, he just held her closer to him, intensifying the kiss. He broke away slightly; his lips and tongue gently meeting her lips, the tip of her nose, and her cheeks. When he felt her lips kissing his neck he couldn't help but let out a gasp of his own. Her lips were so soft, so tender, and so unsure of themselves.

He allowed her to continue, enjoying the feeling as her lips made their way to his ear. Her soft hands were resting gently on his chest. The things she was arousing in him had been dead for so long, he didn't know how to feel about them.

She made him feel alive, as if he had until that moment never been kissed like that before. Truthfully, as he lay there with his head resting on the pillow, it had been ages since he'd been kissed in this fashion. She was moving away from his ear now, returning to his neck, and then moving down to where her hands rested on his chest. He parted his mouth and responded with a slight moan. He lifted her head to meet his eyes. "Scarlett, I've waited for this moment for almost three years. But I have to make sure you understand. I mean what I say when I speak of never marrying. Do you understand what that means, Scarlett?"

Scarlett looked into his eyes, her lips still moist from his kisses and the kisses she gave him. She couldn't believe she was sitting here with him half-naked kissing him and enjoying herself. Dear Lord, is this why he's stopped kissing me so suddenly all the times before. Did he know I'd respond to him this way? Of course he must have, she realized somewhat sadly that she probably wasn't that different than most girls after all. All she knew at that moment was that he made her feel things with a simple kiss that she had never imagined possible.

She had heard about it of course, had read books, but she always thought those feelings never existed in real life. The kisses she had seen her mother and father exchange were almost brotherly in nature. How wrong she had been. She bit her lip slightly and nodded her head. "Yes, Rhett, I understand." She regretted the words as soon as they left her mouth. Not that she had thought them, but that she had actually said them aloud. She was a Robillard after all; she shouldn't be laying here in the Krier's house with a shirtless Rhett Butler kissing him in front of a fire. She was meant for better things, but she honestly couldn't imagine anything better existing than how Rhett was making her feel at that moment. And if a simple kiss made her feel that good, what would the rest of it feel like.

Rhett nodded simply. "All right, Scarlett. I just don't want you telling me that I somehow lied to or mislead you." When she shook her head no, he brought her next to him on the floor so she lay by his side. He leaned on his right arm as he faced her, the hand of his left arm resting on her waist. "You're beautiful, Scarlett."

He kissed her again, as he took his left hand slowly and used it to take her hand and placed it on his chest. His heart was beating quickly, he knew she could feel it. She was responding to his kiss so easily now, he wondered if he had dreamed her ever resisting him at all. He raised his left hand to her cheek, letting it drop to her collar, his lips following and kissing her neck before he unfastened two of the buttons on her dress, kissing the newly exposed flesh.

He returned his attentions to her neck and lips, his hand starting on the third and fourth button of her dress. He lowered his mouth again; kissing her lower neck and upper chest as his fingers aptly undid another button. He sighed slightly, knowing she felt the warmth of his breath on her skin as his mouth followed his hands and his mouth came in contact with the top of her corset.

He kissed the top of her breasts and was about to place his hand on her still covered breast when he suddenly stopped. He realized he couldn't do this; he sat up running his fingers through his hair forgetting about the pain in his arm for the time being.

What in the hell was he doing? He looked at her, his hand still resting on his head. What was wrong with him? Isn't this what he had been working towards all along. Here it was, the opportunity he thought he had been waiting for over two years for and he couldn't do it. "I can't do this, Scarlett." He cast his eyes down, pausing at her chest and the portion of her corset that was visible, which was rising and falling quickly with every breath she took. He didn't know what else to say, so he said nothing.

Scarlett stared at him in disbelief. "You can't do what, Rhett? Am I missing something? I told you I understood you aren't going to marry me. What else do you want from me? You want me to beg you? I basically threw myself at you. Isn't that what you wanted?" Her green eyes narrowed into cat-like slits. "How dare you, Rhett Butler? What is it?"

She clutched for the neck of her dress, frantically trying to refasten the buttons he had undone just moments before. She had no idea what he was doing. Was this a game? Was he testing her to see if she really wanted to go through with it? Did he not find her appealing? What a fool she had been. What if he told? What if someone find out? She started crying unable to stop the tears they came too suddenly. As if she wasn't embarrassed enough.

Rhett stood slowly, bringing Scarlett with him. He wrapped his arms around her slowly, gently his left hand resting at her side his right arm going around to her back. He pulled her close to him, his right hand moving from her back to her hair, smoothing it down. "Scarlett, it's all right. If you'll stop crying and hear me out I'll try and explain it to you."

He pulled her away from him gently, reaching for his jacket that hung over the chair behind her to grab his handkerchief not knowing if he could explain it to himself let alone explain it to her. "Here dry your eyes, sweetheart."

He kissed the top of her head as she dried her eyes. He led her back to the blanket in front of the fire and helped her sit down. "Scarlett, I'm trying to be a gentleman here. I can't stand the thought of you being angry with me, but I also can't stand the thought of feeling that I took advantage of you and the situation. If we were at Miss Hamilton's house or at Tara none of this would have happened, you know that and I know that."

He looked at her, she was staring into the fire her eyes unresponsive, but she had stopped crying so he knew she was listening. "You have no idea how difficult it is for me to do this, Scarlett. I certainly don't make it a habit of not living up to my expectations as a cad." He looked at her. "You really don't understand, do you, Scarlett?" He didn't know if he completely understood it, so how could he expect her to understand it. He had feelings for her, that much he knew but how could he convey those feelings to her without putting himself in the position to be subjected to her teasing.

She sniffled, staring into the fire. What a pendulum of feelings she was experiencing today. Happiness, fear, passion, anger, and sadness she had experienced them all. "No, Rhett, I don't understand. I'm not like you; I've never experienced anything like this before. I've never let a beau kiss me like you did today. God's nightgown, Rhett, I didn't know kisses like that existed. I'm laying next to you on the floor offering myself to you and you say no. How is a girl supposed to take that?" She turned her eyes from the fire to him. There was no mockery in his face, he seemed genuine. Did he really stop for her? Did he care for her?

He thought a moment, choosing his words carefully. He had to be careful now. "Well, Scarlett, I would hope it would make you realize that I respect you. That I care for you as a woman, as a human being and that I think you deserve better than giving yourself to me on the floor of some stranger's house with me injured and unable to perform as aptly as I would like to. You've had an emotional day, Scarlett. You've had your belongings stolen, witnessed me shooting someone, witnessed me being shot, played nurse to me. I'm trying to be the voice of reason and not take advantage of you when you're not altogether here. Because, Scarlett, the next time I hear you say those words to me I want you fully aware of what you're doing and able to enjoy what we do." He met her smile with one of his own. "I do have a reputation to live up to, after all. I can't have you going around town telling people I didn't satisfy you. Knowing you, you'd leave out the part about my shoulder having just had a bullet removed from it by someone who is not a medical doctor and has limited bullet removing experience I might add." He kissed her shoulder. "Which by the way, you did a wonderful job. I doubt Dr. Meade could have done better." They sat in silence in front of the fire. Rhett having more to say, but not wanting to say it looked over at her watching as she stared into the fire. "So am I evil, Scarlett, or am I forgiven?"

She laughed lightly, upset that she couldn't stay mad at him. She wanted so hard to remain mad at him, but she couldn't. What he said rang true. "I suppose you're forgiven, Rhett. But," she bit her lip not knowing whether she should ask the question that was on her mind. "What does that say about me though, Rhett? I was willing to. I mean I was willing to let you. I wouldn't have stopped you, Rhett. I like how you make me feel."

"It doesn't say anything about you, Scarlett, other than the fact that you're a woman who can think for herself and who realizes perhaps those feelings I aroused in you aren't bad. You're a woman who realizes that there are some rules society sets forth that are wrong. I know you wouldn't have stopped me and that's why I knew I had to stop. I certainly can't deny the feelings of desire weren't mutual." He looked at her intensely. "Please, Scarlett, don't ever think that because there have been other women that you don't have that effect on me. You have affected me in ways no other woman I've encountered has. And I'm not just saying that to be kind." He looked at the blanket on the floor. "I think we both need some rest. I don't know that I can take any more excitement today. Do you want the floor or the couch? I'd offer to share the floor with you. But I don't want you taking advantage of me in my injured state."

Scarlett knew she should have gotten angry at the comment, but instead she laughed. "I think I can manage that. Are you sure you don't want the couch, Rhett? You were the one shot after all." She helped him lay down, helping him to get comfortable with his arm. She removed his shoes and sat next to him pulling her knees under her chin, trying to keep space between them. "Did you mean that, Rhett? Do I really affect you?" She was curious more than anything. She had assumed that he felt nothing. Assumed somehow that she was just another girl to him, nobody of significance.

Rhett could barely keep his eyes open by this point. His voice was soft; indicative of the fact he was sleepy. "Scarlett, I don't know what else I can do to make you realize that. I've saved your life, I brought you from Atlanta to Tara without question to see your ill mother, I've saved you from being raped, and have never laid a finger on you. Not even tonight really. Yes, Scarlett, you affect me. Being around you seems to bring out the gentleman in me; perhaps that's not so bad. Good night, Scarlett." He closed his eyes, suddenly feeling exhausted.

"Good night, Rhett." She took her shoes off, setting them next to Rhett's and stood to move to the couch, taking the blanket with her. Sleep came easily to her, the day had brought with it a lot of things and she was more tired than she had realized. Even the fact that Rhett was lying on the floor not more than ten feet from her wasn't enough to cause her sleeplessness.

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