Chapter Sixteen
Word Count: 6,966

June 1865

Melanie sat on the porch steps of Tara enjoying the breathtaking sunset that this late June day was providing. Surrounded by starved, injured and lame soldiers she could almost forget for a moment there had ever been a war. It had ended a few months ago, but the men were still straggling in.

There had been no word from Ashley, and Melanie knew though Scarlett hadn't said anything there had been none from Rhett either. Little Beau now nearly nine months old clung to his mother's neck as he looked at the people around him. Melanie was brought out of her thoughts by a sound that though familiar hadn't been heard around Tara for quite some time. It was a coach and from the looks of it in the distance, it was a nice coach. Melanie stood and went inside to tell Mammy of the fact they had company, and returned outdoors with Mammy wondering whom their guest was.

It had been a long seven months for Rhett. Five of them having been spent serving the Cause and nearly two months spent in prison in Atlanta. Belle had gotten word of his imprisonment and had attempted to visit him, but he had declined. He knew he would catch hell for that at a later date, but he still hadn't told Belle he was married and didn't feel like doing it in jail. He had befriended the guards easily, joining them in cards and gossip about women. One of them, a young black fellow had proven his weight in gold and then some to Rhett.

Rhett had promised Manigo payment if he would learn of the well being of those at Tara and leave word for Pittypat Hamilton that should Scarlett arrive in town this new found friend of Rhett's was to be contacted. Rhett was more than pleased with Manigo's diligence in performing these duties for him, though he sensed there was something Manigo was not telling him. Manigo had assured him Scarlett was all right and that there were plenty more than twelve residing at Tara.

Manigo was no stranger to cards and Rhett could tell the man would be a formidable opponent just by his bluffing capabilities alone. He breathed a little easier knowing Scarlett and her family was all right. He had learned from the bank that Scarlett hadn't taken advantage of his generosity much, spending less than he had expected of the money he had left for her to use. The thought of writing to her entered his mind on several occasions, but he had no idea what to tell her and didn't want to place more on her shoulders than was already there. He was capable of fending for himself. Scarlett needed her mind on the tasks at hand at Tara. She didn't need to worry about him.

Upon release, Rhett's first task was obtaining Manigo as his butler. It took little to sway the man and Rhett knew in Manigo that he had found a faithful servant. Apollo and the new coach he had purchased before being imprisoned was returned to him, Athena he learned had died in her service to the beloved Cause. He had to admit that of the two horses he was glad that it was Apollo who had survived.

Athena had served him well, but she was nowhere near the animal Apollo was. So, it was with Manigo as his driver that Rhett set off for Tara instructing Manigo to make haste and it was a look in Manigo's eyes that made Rhett wonder once again what it was Manigo knew that Rhett didn't. Rhett's thoughts were heavy as he was led out of Atlanta.

It was Melanie who recognized the horse and a smile crept to her lips, she hoped silently that Scarlett hadn't already gone upstairs. Melanie handed Beau to Mammy and went to meet Rhett's coach; a genuine smile on her face greeted him as he opened the door.

"Good evening, Captain Butler. How nice to see you again, and in one piece. We've been worried about you." She looked at Manigo with some confusion as he unhitched Apollo from the coach and tied him to the nearby hitching post. She met Rhett's eyes and read the nervousness in them. She smiled politely hoping to reassure him.

"Won't you come in? Though you certainly don't need an invitation to enter your own home."

"Thank you, Mrs. Wilkes." Rhett indicated to Manigo, "This is Manigo." He laughed lightly at the irony of this man who was not even a few days ago guarding over Rhett now being Rhett's employee. Manigo nodded politely at Melanie who looked at the two obviously confused as to what was so amusing. "Where's my wife, Mrs. Wilkes? Is she too busy to come meet a new arrival at Tara? Or has your household gotten its fill of hungry men looking for shelter and food in their belly that one more matters little?"

Melanie blushed slightly. "No, she's in the house and I'm sure she's more than anxious to see you. I believe she's up in your room resting."

Manigo tended to Rhett's bag and when they reached the porch steps handed it reluctantly to Mammy who had turned Beau back over to his mother. Manigo was smart enough not to argue with Mammy about who would be seeing to Rhett's bag, especially when her mistress was upstairs lying down in the room where that bag was to be brought. Shuffling slowly inside, Mammy indicated she'd fix a bed for Manigo in the room with Big Sam.

Rhett took a minute to take in his surroundings as he entered the hallway of what was for now his home. Tara was dirty and bare. There was little left to indicate it had at one time been an impeccably kept and furnished house. While he knew things were clean, the dirt and grime that came with war wasn't so easily washed away. Months of use when there were more important things to think about then cleaning the curtains had taken its toll on Tara.

Rhett knew that it was a good thing Mrs. O'Hara was dead; it would have taken the life out of her to see the house she had ruled over for years look as it did now. He could only imagine what Mr. O'Hara felt to see this thing that he had built from nothing once again be essentially nothing. Rhett knew the days of plantations like Tara flourishing were pretty well over. They'd produce enough cotton to survive and have a little extra, but never would they see the day of barbecues and balls weekly that came with having a plantation full of servants. Rhett stood in the parlor when Mammy came downstairs, her weight taking its toll on her knees and back. Rhett could hear that she was uncomfortable but knew she'd never complain.

"You can go upstairs now, Mr. Butler. Scarlett's settled, I didn't tell her you were here since she's resting. Your bag is sitting outside the door." She said to Rhett with a slight smile, though she didn't meet his eye.

Rhett nodded and after removing his coat and handing it to Manigo, made his way up the stairs to Scarlett's room. Their room. He opened the door quietly to find Scarlett on her side facing away from him. He crossed the room slowly and realized at once what it was Manigo had known about his wife. Unable to take his eyes off her, he sat in a rocking chair by her bed and watched, as she appeared to be sleeping.

Scarlett hadn't been sleeping very soundly when she heard the door open and someone come in. Assuming by the footsteps it was Pa she didn't move, and when she heard someone sit in the rocking chair she smiled realizing he had come to look after her. When he said nothing, she grew concerned. And then she realized that Pa wasn't there anymore. Suddenly she was frightened; Mammy wouldn't come in so quietly. She opened her eyes and thought she was dreaming. "Rhett?" She sat up, pulling the covers tightly around her. God's nightgown I must look a frightful mess, of all days for him to come home.

"Good evening, Mrs. Butler. I thought you were asleep." He stood and kissed her, his eyes lingering where his lips had just been. "I see you're looking well. Are you feeling well?"

"I do not look well at all, Rhett, you can save your flattery for some other time. You've already got me as your wife."

"And from your appearance I'd say you'll soon be more than just my wife." He rested his hand on her rounded stomach a smile crawling to his lips as he felt the baby kick. "And you do look well. In fact, I'd have to say you're more beautiful now than you were when I left you seven months ago." He got into the bed, lying next to her and took her into his arms so she rested against his chest. Not exactly the welcome home he expected to receive after being gone for so long, and he had to admit to being disappointed his desire for her would have to wait a few more months to be displayed.

Scarlett couldn't help but respond to his kind words, though she was furious at him. She didn't want any babies and here he had gotten her pregnant the week they were married and then left her. She had turned it over in her mind these past seven months. Gone over in her head what she'd tell him when and if she saw him again.

Then she'd dwell on the if part.

Perhaps he had done it intentionally, getting her pregnant, so that if something happened to him he would at least have sired a child. This lessened her anger at him, but now that he was here and was healthy and whole she was angry again. "That's kind of you to say, Rhett, but I'm sure you won't be saying that once the shock of seeing me look like a buffalo has worn off."

"You look nothing like a buffalo; I don't see a beard growing from your chin yet." He laughed heartily as she smacked his arm. "I'm teasing you, Scarlett. I'll just have to make sure and reassure you every day. But I really don't think there's any way possible that you could succeed at looking awful even if you tried to." He stroked her hair lightly, grabbing her brush from the nightstand and helping her to sit up while he brushed her hair. "How are things at Tara otherwise? I'll bet your father is pleased as punch to have a grandchild forthcoming."

Scarlett turned to him quickly and realizing he didn't know lowered her eyes. "Pa's not here, Rhett. Didn't Mammy tell you? He died shortly after Christmas trying to jump the fence with his old mare." She hadn't meant for it to sound so matter of fact and cold, but she had steeled her heart so much over the past few years that even talking of her father's death couldn't penetrate it any more.

"I'm sorry, my dear. I had no idea." He began brushing her hair again. "You really have had a rough few years, haven't you? Everything you have known is gone. But you have me, Scarlett, something you've had to count on for over four years now whether or not you knew it I've always been there. And you have Tara and those here love you. Why I see even Big Sam stayed. He certainly didn't have to. He's a field hand and could find employment for a far better wage then you can pay him I imagine. And you have a new beginning growing within you. A little girl or boy that you can raise and teach about the old ways all you want. We may not have slaves anymore and things will certainly be different but the war really wasn't fought about slaves anyway. It was our way of life we were fighting for. They can take away our slaves, but they can't take away what is in our hearts and minds, and how we raise our children."

Scarlett looked at her growing belly, enjoying the gentle way Rhett was brushing her hair. It was so soothing; she could have stayed like this for hours. She toyed with the edge of the quilt. "Rhett? You're not going anywhere again, are you? There aren't any other last minute causes you're going to run off and leave me for? You told me when you left that when you returned you'd stay."

Rhett paused his grooming duties and pulled her hair aside, kissing her neck gently. Instantly he regretted the action. She was wearing perfume; a light scent of vanilla was brought to his attention. Being so close to her and realizing how good she smelled waked desires in him he'd rather not have to think about for a few months. Not wanting to give her the impression he found her undesirable in any way, he lingered at her neck a moment before returning his attentions to her hair and hairbrush.

"Well, my dear, it seems you already have your answer. I promised you we would not be separated again for a long time. And even if for some reason I had changed my mind that was before I knew you were carrying my child. I would never leave you in such a condition. So I'm afraid, Mrs. Butler, you're stuck with me for a little while." He wrapped his arms around her, setting the brush down beside them and resting her hands on her belly. "Is the baby active?"

"God's nightgown, Rhett. He keeps me awake at nights sometimes he kicks so hard. And every once in a while he does something where it feels like he's going to break my ribs." She giggled slightly. It felt so nice to be able to talk about this finally. She hadn't been thrilled to learn she was pregnant, angry was more like it. But not knowing whether Rhett was alive or dead had brought her a little closer to the baby over the past few months when she started feeling its movements realizing it might be the only part of him she'd have left. No one would talk to her about it, because she wasn't even supposed to tell anyone she was having a baby. And here was Rhett, a man, who wasn't even supposed to know about babies asking her how active the baby is. "It's like he's doing somersaults or something in there."

He smiled slightly. "Well, that's good. That's the sign of a healthy baby. You keep saying 'he', Scarlett. Have you stopped to consider it might be a girl?"

"Well, of course that's always a possibility. I just assumed you'd prefer it to be a boy, so I say 'he'. I'm glad you'll be home, though. I had no idea what to name him or her. And I don't know that Mammy would have liked you too well if you weren't here for your own child being born."

Rhett smiled, kissing the top of her head. "No, I imagine she wouldn't have been too happy with me. As far as the gender of our baby goes, as long as it has ten fingers and ten toes, two ears and eyes, a nose and a mouth that's all that I really care about. Whether it's a boy or a girl is of little consequence to me."

Two months passed quickly. There was much work to be done, Rhett realized the day he returned that as good a worker as Big Sam was he wasn't an overseer. Rhett had found one in one of the soldiers that had shown up at Tara, Will Benteen.

He was a cracker, Scarlett wasn't fond of him in the least but Rhett knew that the man would see to Tara and get done what needed done. This time also brought Ashley home to find a very happy wife, a healthy child and a married and very pregnant Scarlett.

By the beginning of August, things were shaping up fine. They had the home back to just the people living there. They knew to expect a few more stragglers here and there, but overall the bulk of the soldiers had come through that were going to come this way. So, things had settled down to a routine and Scarlett grew bigger.

Scarlett did well with her pregnancy, realizing there was little she could do to better the situation and that complaining would get her nowhere. Had Rhett not been so helpful about getting Tara back to normal again she might have been more irritable, but as it was, he was acting the model husband.

He rarely went to Atlanta, and when he did he was gone for no longer than his errand allowed. Scarlett secretly wondered about Belle, whether she knew Rhett was married and expecting a child. She never asked, though she smelled his shirts when he came home from Atlanta and they never smelled of perfume. She put the thoughts out of her mind, and enjoyed his pampering. He rarely let her lift a finger and was always there to rub her feet or back when she needed them rubbed.

She couldn't help but notice the envious looks Suellen gave her every once in a while. There were days he rode Apollo and was gone for a while, but it was never overly long and Scarlett just attributed it to his needing to get away now and again. She knew how hard he was working to get everything done for the baby, between Rhett, Ashley, Big Sam and Will they did the work of twenty men it seemed some days.

Rhett had been busy more than Scarlett even imagined. Sensing Ashley's unwillingness to take any further charity from Scarlett and her family than was necessary, Rhett and Ashley went into business together. Rhett purchased three lumber mills, one in Atlanta, one a little further north in Marietta and the third located in Savannah. He had a good man to run both the one in Marietta and Savannah and knew he stood to make healthy profits there.

With that knowledge, Rhett was willing to go out on a limb for Ashley and offer him the position of manager of his Atlanta mill as well as a stake in the mill making him part owner. He even offered to fund the building of a home for Ashley and his family in Atlanta if they so desired. Ashley was hesitant at first to take Rhett up on the offer of a job, but after a week went by and he had spoken to Melanie about it he realized it was the best thing to do.

Rhett had arranged for the interior of the house to be cleaned and painted and things were rearranged. Suellen and Carreen shared a room, Gerald and Ellen's bedroom was changed into a nursery for both Beau and the baby Scarlett was expecting, and Melanie and Ashley took Carreen's old bedroom. Mammy, Pork and Dilcey, Prissy, Manigo, Big Sam and Will all slept on the third floor. The bedroom on the first floor was left vacant and was used by the men who worked on the house during these couple of months.

It was a hot August Sunday when Scarlett's labor began. Rhett had been by the swamp with Big Sam when Carreen had come to get him with Will by her side to take Rhett's place in his tasks for the day. Rhett wanted to remain by Scarlett's side the entire time, sending Manigo to get the doctor when he sensed her pains were getting closer together. Mammy took over, leaving Rhett to stand and do nothing. Unable to stand it any further, he went downstairs into what was now his office and sat at Gerald's desk. He poured himself a drink and drank it down without even tasting it. He was going to be a father. Ashley came in to join him and somehow successfully managed to water down Rhett's drinks while keeping him busy talking of whatever he could think of to talk about.

Ashley knew Rhett was well read and traveled, so their conversation seemed to focus on books they had read and trips they had taken. Ashley was happy for Rhett and Scarlett but couldn't help but be a bit envious as well. Not only was Rhett able to be here for his child's birth, but it was Scarlett's baby. He'd felt like he had been kicked in the gut when he came to Tara after finding his home destroyed to see Scarlett on the porch knitting baby clothes with her obviously pregnant stomach not hidden from view in the slightest.

For the first time in their life of knowing one another, Ashley saw a look in Scarlett's eye he had never seen before. She had looked at him as though she didn't love him. Of course it was what he had wished for all along, but he had no reason to believe she'd run to the likes of Rhett for love. He had observed the two of them closely over the past few weeks and decided that they were a good match. They were both headstrong and independent and both had tempers. Ashley wouldn't have believed the way Rhett treated her unless he'd seen it with his own eyes. A better cared for pregnant woman he didn't believe existed.

It was after eleven o'clock at night August 6, 1865 when Rhett and Ashley heard a scream from upstairs that made them both jump out of their skin. And then there was silence. Rhett got up from his chair and went to the doorway, but Ashley stopped him assuring Rhett they'd come down and tell him what was going on. Rhett was out of sorts, he was involved in a situation that he had no control over, and he had no idea how to react. He wanted to be in the room with Scarlett. He wanted to be able to hold her hand, wipe her brow, and help her through this but it wasn't allowed. So here he sat with the man Scarlett loved waiting for his own baby to be born. Time seemed to stand still and finally Melanie was in the doorway with a smile on her face.

"Mr. Butler, I believe you have someone waiting for you upstairs." She crossed to Ashley, placing her hands gently on his arms as she watched Rhett bolt out of his chair and go upstairs.

Rhett entered their bedroom and his first concern was Scarlett. He went to her side, but she was already dozing off so he let her be. He sat in the rocking chair next to the bed, a chair he had sat in so many times over the past couple of months as he read and talked to Scarlett as she rested or knitted baby clothes. Almost forgetting the baby had come at all; he was startled when Mammy placed it in his arms. He looked up at Mammy after looking at the little creature he held in his arms.

"I'm sorry it's not a boy, Mr. Rhett." Mammy steeled herself for Rhett's response. Men always wanted boys.

"I've got a daughter? Mammy, pay it no mind. It doesn't matter to me. A girl is just as good as a boy, more if you want to look at who he'd have to take after if I had a son." He laughed and looked from his daughter to Mammy. "You called me by my Christian name, Mammy."

"Any man who takes as good care of his wife and unborn child as you done, Mr. Rhett, deserves to be called by his name. You've done more for Tara then you needed to do, and don't you think I don't appreciate it. We all do, Mr. Rhett." With that, she turned and walked from the room telling Rhett she'd be back in a few minutes to give the baby her bath.

Rhett sat in silence as he held his daughter, rocking her as he took in her swaddled body and her tiny wrinkled face. He smiled at her and didn't pay any attention to the movement on his bed until Scarlett cleared her throat. He looked at Scarlett who appeared a little shocked that he was holding the baby so capably. "You did a mighty fine job, Mrs. Butler. Why don't you get some sleep while I get to know my daughter a little bit?"

Scarlett smiled with an effort. She was tired and sleep sounded so appealing. How did Melanie survive having Beau, Scarlett wondered. Now Scarlett understood why it had taken Melanie so long to recover. Why Melanie still hadn't fully recovered. Scarlett had ten times the strength Melanie did and she felt as though she could have slept for days. "You're really not upset that it's a girl?"

"Dear Lord, Scarlett no. Had she come out with blonde hair I might have been a trifle upset." He chuckled and realized Scarlett didn't catch his meaning. "Never mind, Scarlett. She's beautiful. Good night, my dear, get your sleep while you can. I fear there's a part or two of mothering I am unable to do for you as much as I'd like to." He watched as Scarlett blushed at his words as Mammy came in to put a fresh nightgown on her and then Scarlett slept.

The baby was christened Geraldine Eleanor Butler in the dress that Ellen and her three daughters had each worn on their christening day. By the time summer turned into autumn at Tara, things were coming along nicely at the house and a more spoiled little girl could not be found. When Rhett wasn't outside in the fields with Big Sam or Will he was walking around the house with little Geraldine in his arms. While Scarlett enjoyed the breaks, it bothered her at times the way he cherished the girl. Mammy had to argue with him at times to get him to let the girl take her naps.

Ashley, Melanie and Beau had moved in with Aunt Pitty at her home in Atlanta by September. Love seemed to be blooming between Will and Carreen, though whether or not the feelings were returned were as of yet undetermined. It was no secret Carreen had been fond of Brent Tarleton and his death had taken something out of her.

Frank Kennedy was in business for himself in Atlanta with a small store and had begun courting Suellen with a bit more enthusiasm than he had before the war. Rhett, Big Sam and Will worked harder than ever on the cotton fields getting them ready for the coming spring when they would plant their first efforts at a crop post war. The winter wheat and peanuts were also planted for the winter. Rhett had made sure material had been ordered so that Scarlett would have new gowns for the Christmas season, and new furnishings were ordered for Tara. By the spring, Rhett imagined Tara would look much like it once had on the inside.

And so it came as a surprise one October afternoon after Geraldine had been fed that Rhett surprised Scarlett with the idea of a picnic just the two of them. She had silently watched Rhett with their daughter over the months wondering if she had turned invisible. He went to bed with Scarlett every night regardless of the time she decided to go upstairs, he slept with her, and he was attentive towards her making sure she took care to recover from the baby. But other than quick kisses he had paid little attention to her as his wife.

She remembered the nights that he would lay in bed with her, her nightgown pulled up around her belly so that he could rest his hand against her and feel with her the slightest movement. His touch and his kisses were so gentle and though she recognized on several occasions his desire for her, he had remained the gentleman and refrained from harming her or the baby.

She then thought to the nights when they were first married, the nights during one of which Geraldine had been conceived. She longed for those moments, the closeness. Mammy had assured her she looked fine and while she hadn't gotten her waistline entirely back to where it had been before the pregnancy, she couldn't help but look in the mirror whenever she dressed and admire her figure just as she had before. She also couldn't help but notice Rhett's figure.

The months of hard work in the fields had only added to his strength and muscular build. His chest, back and arms were well tanned after a long summer of working in the fields usually without his shirt on when it was only he, Will, Big Sam and Ashley. His hair had grown a bit since Melanie had left, for some reason he was only pleased with the way she cut it.

She would watch as he undressed each night, applying salve to any bites or cuts he had received that were festering or appeared infected. But other than these innocent touches that passed between them it was like they were strangers that shared a bed. And while Scarlett had no idea why it bothered her so, she knew it did. So the opportunity of even an hour during the day alone with Rhett was gladly accepted on her part.

Dilcey and Prissy had put together a lunch for them quickly and Rhett with Scarlett on his arm made his way out to their tree with the food and a blanket for them to sit on. Knowing they would have at least a couple of hours before they'd have to return to the house, Rhett was looking forward to the time. He wondered if Scarlett knew how hard it had been for him the past months to restrain himself where she was concerned. There were moments he knew she sensed his desires and he knew a willing partner he would have found in her but he kept telling himself it was too soon after the baby.

Though she had recovered quickly, Mammy maintaining it was unfitting for a woman to recover so easily from a baby. It was almost as if she'd never had one, and Rhett couldn't help but notice as he watched her dress and undress that applied to her figure as well. She was still slender, her waist tiny but there was a curviness to her now that made her look like a woman and not a girl. She was twenty now, and though the last few years had been difficult they had been kind to her by not taking their toll on her looks. Her skin was still youthful and creamy; her hands had regained their softness. The calluses had all healed from the months of picking cotton. She had gloves and bonnets to wear again, and Rhett noticed where she once thought little of going outside without them, she rarely left the house without them any longer.

Scarlett watched as Rhett spread the food out before them while she took the opportunity of being alone with him and removed her slippers. She didn't know how Rhett managed it, she never noticed him gone from Tara long enough to tend to these things, but new things arrived at Tara weekly for her, Geraldine and the house. He'd even had new dresses made for Suellen, Carreen and the servants. They were nowhere near as nice as Scarlett's were, but she knew the garments were still appreciated.

She couldn't help but notice some of the looks Carreen received from Will when she donned those new dresses for the first time, though Carreen seemed not to notice. They ate, talking little both seeming to realize that no words needed to be spoken. They were both appreciative of some quiet time together with no one around. Scarlett wondered what Rhett had promised Will in exchange for these couple of hours of solitude, she knew that Rhett didn't expect Will and Big Sam to work any harder than Rhett himself did.

After they had finished eating, Rhett leaned up against their tree and invited Scarlett to place her head on his lap and enjoy the feel of the autumn warmth upon them. Rhett raised an eyebrow when he noticed Scarlett was barefoot. He chuckled lightly. "You're turning into a regular natural girl, Scarlett. No corset, no stockings. What's next or dare I even inquire?"

"Well, it's awful hard to wear a corset, Rhett when I have a baby at my bosom every few hours. How would I get out of it if for some reason no one was around and the baby got hungry." She smiled, for she secretly enjoyed going without a corset only wearing one in the evenings anymore. And even then it was because Mammy made her put one on for dinner. "As for the stockings, I just wasn't in the mood to struggle with them today. You suggested a picnic and thoughts of anything else just flew out of my mind."

He shifted the skirts of her dress so that his hand rested above her bare knee. "And here I thought you might have had other thoughts on your mind." He laughed lightly, though touching her as he was doing was the last thing he needed to be doing at the moment. It was all he could do to keep his hand still, and he could tell from the heaving of Scarlett's bosom that his touch had had the same effect on her.

His hand got bolder in its touch moving well above her knee, causing Scarlett to gasp softly. After a few moments that seemed agonizingly like forever to Rhett, he removed his hand from her legs. Pulling her up and laying her on the blanket, he met her there and kissed her hard. His lips seeking her response, his desire evident as he began unbuttoning her dress. One nice thing about the baby was that all of the dresses she'd had made buttoned in the front. He let out a barely audible groan when he opened the bodice of her dress and his hand found what it had sought.

Scarlett returned Rhett's kiss just as passionately. Finally, he was kissing her as if she was a woman not a mother. And when she felt his hand rest against her breast she had all she could do contain herself. She broke the kiss hesitantly. She looked from his hand to his eyes wondering what he was doing. She could read in his eyes that he didn't care where they were and after a moment's thought she decided she really didn't either. It's not like they had workers galore that could stumble across them. Acting the voice of reason she spoke her doubts aloud. "Rhett, someone might see us. Can't this wait until tonight?"

He brought her towards him so that he could remove her dress, his lips reclaimed hers and he knew his kiss answered her question. He broke the kiss as he laid her on the blanket once more. "I've waited almost a year, Scarlett, I have no intention of not taking advantage of this moment and finding out tonight Geraldine can't sleep or something else goes wrong." He chuckled lightly as he reached for her hands to unbutton his shirt as he lowered his lips to her neck, shoulders and breasts. "And after a year, Scarlett, I don't want to be anywhere near another human being besides you. Mammy would think I was skinning you alive and break down the door."

Scarlett blushed profusely at his comment, but her fingers nimbly unbuttoned his shirt as her body reacted to his lips touching her everywhere. She may as well never have been touched before, because every touch, every kiss of his electrified her.

She allowed him to remove her dress and watched as he removed his shoes, socks and trousers. And then he returned his attentions to her and her body. It wasn't long after her desires had been satisfied when he satisfied his own as well. She opened her eyes and looked up at the blue October sky wondering if she would ever be able to look at the sky the same again after today. She giggled lightly as she tickled his lip with her fingertip gently.

"I declare, Mr. Butler, you acted as though you had never bedded a woman before. Was your appetite so strong that you had to take me like a common wench out here in the open?"

"My pet, there is nothing common about you that's what made my desire for you so strong. As far as taking you out here in the open, I didn't hear too loud of an argument come out of your mouth. Though I heard some other things come out of your mouth that I don't think you'd want Mammy or your sisters to hear."

Scarlett pulled her dress around her and hit his arm playfully. "Rhett," she blushed. "How you do go on. You're not supposed to talk about such things. It's not right."

"What's not right about it? The fact that you enjoy yourself or the fact that I'm happy you enjoy yourself? I can talk about whatever I want with my wife, and what goes on between the two of us whether it be love making or anything else is no one else's business." He put his trousers back on and lay next to her on the blanket, bringing her to rest against him finding comfort when she rolled onto her side and placed her hand on his chest.

He could have fallen asleep right there, but he knew the duties of Tara and parenting would be beckoning soon enough. He sighed slightly, wondering just what he had committed himself to by agreeing to stay at Tara.

Was he destined to live here forever with Scarlett and her two sisters? He hoped not, but if it were to be then he would deal with the cards that were dealt him. He had worked too hard for too long to work as a field hand the rest of his life, but his first priority in life now was to keep Scarlett happy.

He knew she hadn't wanted children, and he had gotten her pregnant the week they were married. He laughed lightly as he rubbed Scarlett's arm tenderly, realizing it was a good thing the baby hadn't arrived early or there would have been some eyebrows raised as to why their wedding took place so spontaneously. So it was with this thought, that she had given him a daughter, that he contented himself to whatever it was God would send his way.

If a life at Tara was it, then so be it. As long as he was able to see the smile on Scarlett's face and in her eyes and they were directed at Rhett and not Ashley he would be happy. "But I assure you, Scarlett, I'm not waiting another year."

She giggled as she got back into her dress. "Neither am I, so there Rhett Butler. Take that feather and put it in your cap." She cast her eyes down, looking at him through her lowered lashes. "Aren't you going to button me, Mr. Butler? Or does your chivalry only extend to helping a girl out of her clothes?"

"In, out what difference does it make. Either way I get to touch you, and that my dear is a pleasure in its own right." He put his own shirt on after he buttoned her dress, followed by his shoes and socks and gathered up the blanket as Scarlett put the remnants of their meal back in the basket.

She didn't want to go back, but she knew they had to. She looked up again at the sky, her eyes dropping to the tree where over the years so much had transpired between Scarlett and Rhett. Now it truly was their tree, and she knew she would never be able to look at it the same way. She shuddered slightly as a cool breeze swept through the air and she smiled when Rhett put the blanket around her shoulders and took the basket from her as they made their way back to Tara.

When they returned to the house, Scarlett couldn't help but feel like she'd been caught. Though what Rhett had said made sense. They were married and whatever they did was no one else's business, but still Scarlett couldn't help but realize her mother probably never succumbed to her desires the way Scarlett had that afternoon.

Mammy had no way of knowing, but Scarlett felt Mammy's eyes on her and so she made her excuses and went upstairs to rest before Geraldine woke up for her next feeding. She was pleased when Rhett accompanied her upstairs, hoping he would and that he wouldn't rush out to help Will and Big Sam so soon. Scarlett drifted off to sleep in Rhett's arms with the thought that she was lucky to have someone like Rhett to take such good care of her. Her thoughts were clouded, as your thoughts are when you're in between sleep and wakefulness but somewhere in Scarlett's mind something stirred telling her that she would be no happier with anyone else.

And for the first time Scarlett fell asleep thinking of Rhett.

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