Chapter Twenty
Word Count: 9,066

August 1866

Rhett, Scarlett and Geraldine arrived in Charleston just over a week after Geraldine's first birthday. She was walking now, still hesitantly but gaining more confidence in her ability and enjoying her newfound mobility every day. Scarlett had been tickled by the new frocks that Rhett had had made for Geraldine, but was secretly disappointed that he had gotten none for Scarlett.

She suspected in part that it was to somehow impress his father, but neither of them ever spoke of his father. This baffled Scarlett somewhat because the man had been polite to Scarlett on the two occasions that they'd met, and it seemed that the unwillingness for reconciliation between the two men was more from stubbornness than from anything else. But she knew that the two men would have to resolve their problems in their own way and in their own time, and smartly both she and his mother stayed out of their differences.

Scarlett hoped that Geraldine would be the tool to bring the two men together, but so far it had not. Scarlett thought his father had liked her, and she only hoped that during her stay with them while Rhett was in Europe that she would do nothing to change his opinion of her. She never intentionally did things, but it seemed like when she had to act the part of a lady she failed most horribly at it.

She sensed that his father yet again surprised Rhett when Scarlett told him that the three of them had been invited to stay at his parents' home so that a hotel was unnecessary. Scarlett had been glad that Rhett wasn't going to be stubborn and stay at a hotel anyway.

As Scarlett oversaw Prissy's unpacking of both her things and Geraldine's she had time to realize that she was happy to be here in Rhett's home. She knew he hadn't grown up in this house, but still felt she would somewhat better understand the man who was her husband by being where he had been. It would be a long eight weeks without him, she realized. And while she was looking forward to seeing Charleston and to spending time with Eleanor she was also nervous about meeting Rhett's friends. She hoped she'd not disappoint them and make them think that Rhett had somehow erred horribly when he gave up his life as a bachelor to marry her.

But it was the female friends that made her most apprehensive. She could hold her own with any man of that she was certain. The women she knew weren't going to be friends at all, they were all going to have been at one time someone who had been interested in making Rhett their husband, and Scarlett had succeeded where everyone else before her had failed horribly. She wondered if she would meet the woman involved in the infamous buggy incident, but never having learned her name Scarlett wouldn't know it if she did. She didn't know why exactly she was so worried about making a good impression on these people but she was. She knew that her actions would be under close scrutiny and she knew that Rhett would more than likely be made aware of her performance whether she was made aware of it herself or not.

While Scarlett supervised the unpacking Rhett went to see about confirming his passage to London and tended to a few details that he preferred to take care of without Scarlett along. He knew that his mother would be planning a party for them when he returned from London and he wanted to make sure Mrs. Talbot, the dressmaker his mother had used for years, made something appropriate for both Scarlett and Geraldine.

Two of his four ships were in port and he spoke with the captains of both ships to check on the latest shipments and to give them his latest destination ideas. He also directed them as to what he wanted them to focus on bringing back to the States on their upcoming voyages. Now that the war was over and people's lives were regaining some sense of normalcy they were focusing on regaining things that they had lost and Rhett wanted to make sure his reputation for bringing in the best quality goods was maintained. There was nothing that pleased him more than knowing that the furniture his crews imported sold before it could even get taken off his ships.

The three days that Rhett was in Charleston passed by rather uneventfully for the Butler's. Rhett's father stayed away from the house for the most part, successfully avoiding his son the entire time he was there.

Rhett didn't allow his disappointment to show, but it bothered him deeply that the man would welcome his wife and daughter into the home but at the same time still refuse to see him. He passed the days spending time with his mother, Scarlett and Geraldine taking them shopping, for walks through town and to the market where he watched in amazement as Scarlett dickered with the vendors over prices on everything from baskets to spices.

The most enjoyable day for him was his last day in Charleston when his mother kept Geraldine for the afternoon allowing Rhett and Scarlett to spend a few hours themselves. It was on this day that Rhett took Scarlett to the dressmaker to have some gowns made.

Scarlett now understanding why Rhett had only had dresses for Geraldine made was happy to receive the attentions of Mrs. Talbot. Rhett sat in a chair amused as Mrs. Talbot went on and on praising Scarlett's figure, her beauty and the fact that her husband was willing to spend money on high quality clothes.

Rhett nodded his acceptance of materials and colors when Mrs. Talbot presented them to him, but otherwise he sat back and watched Scarlett in her excitement choose the styles and patterns of garments she wanted. Watching her stand virtually naked before him made him more aware than he had been in quite some time as to how feminine Scarlett could be and the fact that he would be away from her for weeks.

Her waist was still tiny even after Geraldine, her hips had filled out nicely after childbirth, and her breasts while being well shaped and sized before kept the increase in size that childbirth had brought with it making them fuller and rounder. It was no wonder she no longer fit into many of her dresses from before her pregnancy, the waist wasn't the problem it was her over ample bosom that had made new dresses necessary. He grew uncomfortable in his chair, as his eyes were able to freely scan her figure to approve of fabrics and colors. He didn't know how much more of it he could take and Mrs. Talbot took his sudden restlessness as dissatisfaction with her. He knew this evening would not come soon enough when he was able to demonstrate to his wife just what effect watching her that afternoon had on him. The problem was he did not to wait until this evening.

He was glad that he was not going to be here when the dresses were finished. As much as he knew he'd enjoy watching Scarlett trying on and off the various chemises, pantalets and gowns for an afternoon he believed while they were staying under his parents' roof he was better off not arousing his desires any more than necessary. As much as his mother loved him, he didn't think she'd appreciate him carrying his wife up the stairs to the room they occupied before the evening meal.

After they had left Mrs. Talbot's shop, Rhett and Scarlett stood on the sidewalk trying to decide where to go next. Scarlett stood in front of him; the happiness in her eyes at such a wonderful afternoon was evident. She reached up to adjust his cravat, a slight smirk crawling to her lips. "Mr. Butler, I don't know what I've done to deserve such kindness showered upon me, but whatever it is you will be sure and tell me so that I can do it again. I'd like nothing more than to spend another afternoon like this one. But really, Rhett, you are too generous. There's no need for me to have so many new dresses."

Scarlett moved her hands from his cravat to around his neck and kissed him a little more than politely for where they were and broke away when she heard someone call Rhett's name. A flush of embarrassment crawled to Scarlett's cheeks as she realized that she had kissed him on the street in broad daylight. She was startled when Rhett took hold of her arms quickly yet gently not letting her turn from him, but instead held her to him. She peered up at him curiously and saw a smile on his face as he looked from her to the person.

"Good afternoon, Constance. What a surprise running into you here." He released his hold on Scarlett, allowing her to turn around as he spoke and smiled at the woman. "I thought you had moved from Charleston, or are you here visiting as we are?" He offered Constance a slight bow, returning one arm to its place at the small of Scarlett's back.

"Yes, just visiting. I'm afraid my father's not been well." Constance was a striking woman, a bit taller than Scarlett was but her body frame was essentially the same. She had blonde hair and brown eyes and made quite an attractive picture dressed in a powder blue damask dress with a matching bonnet.

"I'm sorry to hear that. I hope he'll be well in a hurry." His arm went fully around Scarlett's waist. "Forgive my rudeness, Constance. Allow me to introduce my wife, Scarlett. Scarlett this is an old friend of mine, Constance Miller."

Scarlett nodded her head politely. "Miss Miller, a pleasure to make your acquaintance." She looked up at Rhett, grateful that he had kept her close to him. She wasn't sure why he had done it, but she liked knowing that he wanted people he knew to see them together. She had wondered how he would treat her in front of his acquaintances, but so far with everyone they'd met he'd been a gentleman and only once had he left her side and that was when someone wanted him to look at something.

Sometimes she felt like he treated her as though she were more of an item or property than a person, as if he was daring one of them to question his choosing her as his wife which she found discomforting at times. Most of the time he was very kind and did his best to include her in the conversations, or steer the conversations away from childhood memories the other person tried to stir up. This bothered her somewhat, she wanted to know more about Rhett as a child and a young man but she said nothing. She would have plenty of time in his absence to subtly inquire about things that interested her about him.

Constance laughed lightly acknowledging Scarlett politely while her eyes were busy taking in every detail of the woman. She had heard rumors that Scarlett could turn the head of a dead man, and those rumors appeared to be true. She was not gorgeous, but she had a striking beauty about her nonetheless. She was dressed in a deep red damask dress with a light gray floral pattern that was very flattering to the woman's figure even if it was a tad lower cut than a dress for shopping warranted. The bonnet she wore was the same color gray as the pattern on the dress and brought out the green in her eyes.

Constance couldn't help but notice the diamond earrings and pendant Scarlett wore, but was surprised when her eyes dropped to her left hand and noticed she only wore a plain gold wedding band. Her surprise quickly faded when she noticed the large diamond and emerald ring on Scarlett's right hand and her gaze returned to Scarlett's face.

She wasn't a Charlestonian, wasn't polished but Constance couldn't help but notice she had a proud air about her. Rhett obviously took great care in outfitting her with exquisite clothing and judging by the fact they were standing in front of Mrs. Talbot's store, Constance realized Rhett had probably been adding to his wife's wardrobe.

"Oh Rhett, I think I could do without the 'old friend' part of the introduction, I don't need any reminders of my age thank you very much. And the pleasure is mine, Mrs. Butler. I see now why your husband has made himself rather scarce the past couple of years here in Charleston, he was keeping you to himself. I am pleased to note that you are even lovelier than I'd heard." She smiled politely and glanced from Scarlett to Rhett. She was not discreet in her appreciation of Rhett. "You're looking well, Rhett. How long are you in Charleston?"

"I leave tomorrow for London actually, but Scarlett and our daughter will be staying with my parents until I return in a couple of months."

"Oh well, I do hope I'll see you before you return to Atlanta. It has been so long since I've seen you, I'm sure you have much to tell me." In particular, how it is this woman managed to capture your hand in marriage.

"Well, Constance, we'll need to be heading back to Tara as soon as I return unfortunately. Running a plantation really doesn't allow for much time off and I'm afraid ten weeks is about nine weeks longer than we should be away." He turned his smile from Constance to Scarlett, giving her a confident smile. "If you'll excuse us, Constance, we really should be getting back to my parents' home. We've been gone a bit longer than we had anticipated and I believe our daughter will be in need of her mother soon." He bowed again politely as he placed Scarlett's hand on his arm.

Constance not being married and never having children was a bit slow to catch on to what Rhett was saying, but flushed slightly when she realized. "Yes, of course. Mrs. Butler, Rhett's mother usually comes for tea on Friday afternoon's I hope that you will join her this Friday. I can't wait to meet Rhett's daughter."

Scarlett smiled politely with both hands around Rhett's arm as she looked up at Rhett and then looked to Constance. "That would be nice, Miss Miller. Thank you. I look forward to it." She nodded in Constance's direction and watched as the woman entered Mrs. Talbot's store. Scarlett turned to face Rhett, feigning interest in the front of his shirt as she brushed it off with her hand. "A former conquest, Rhett?"

Rhett chuckled lightly as he tugged lightly on the ribbon fastening Scarlett's bonnet. "I never kiss and tell, Scarlett. The only reason people know that I've been intimate with you is that we have a child to show for it. Are you jealous? I'm afraid in my absence you may be left to the lions. My mother will do her best to protect you, of course, but I don't think this is going to be a picnic for you either. Though if I didn't think you could handle it I wouldn't have suggested you come. Even if some of the women you meet aren't former conquests as you phrased it, they are still going to be looking you over very carefully. You're not from Charleston after all, and you're quite different than the women here in Charleston. Even though your mother was a Robillard, your maiden name was still O'Hara and that will make people curious in its own right. The fact that my father has opened his home to you will raise interest as well. It's not every day that they get to meet Mrs. Rhett Butler, and most of them thought there would never be one of those."

Scarlett's eyes flashed briefly reflecting her excitement at the challenge. "I'm not jealous, Rhett. Obviously if you had wanted to marry one of these girls you would have. I still haven't quite figured out what it is you saw in me that you desired so much you wanted me as your wife, but I will do everything I can to protect the Butler name while defending both our honors at the same time. Does that appease you?"

He laughed loudly.

"Scarlett I have no doubt that you will make me quite proud, both as my wife and mother to my daughter. Fear not, I have no doubts in your capabilities of being utterly and completely charming. Don't forget I saw you in your prime before the war, before Ashley Wilkes was married, I watched you as you wrapped every man within eyesight around your finger even those that were married. I know full well what you're capable of and I pity the woman who tries to corner you into a cat fight." He kissed her fully on the lips, a bit prolonged for where they stood and pulled away. He sighed heavily. "Is Mother going to feed Geraldine?"

"Yes, she said she'd see that she gets lunch. Why? What's on your mind, Rhett Butler?"

"Well," he cupped her chin in the palm of his hands tilting her face so his eyes looked into hers drawing his face to hers as if he was going to kiss her again. Again he spoke barely above a whisper. "I was thinking that you could perhaps feign illness when we got to the house so that I'd have a legitimate reason to take you up to our bedroom when we got home and stay with you a while without causing you embarrassment later."

Scarlett blushed slightly, though she had to admit the idea did hold charm. "No, Rhett, the last thing I need is your mother making me stay in bed tomorrow thinking I'm ill. You'll just have to wait until tonight to curb your appetites."

"I don't think that's possible, madam, to curb them I mean. But if waiting is what the lady orders then wait I shall. You drive a hard bargain it had better be worth the wait."

She smiled coquettishly. "I haven't heard you offer any complaints yet, Mr. Butler. Are you insinuating that you've been less than truthful regarding my ability to please you?"

Rhett placed her hand on his arm again and began walking to their coach; he handed her in before getting in himself. "Nothing could be further from the truth, Scarlett. You please me to no end, in all aspects of your wifely duties."

They returned to the house, Rhett leaving Scarlett in the parlor with his mother while he went upstairs to get things ready for his trip. After everything was packed he rode with the coach to the docks to see to his luggage being put on the ship. As he was about to leave he heard a familiar voice call his name. He turned to see Constance walking towards him. He smiled widely with an overly gallant bow but refrained from kissing her hand. "Why, Constance, twice in one day after all these years. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"I thought you might be down here when you mentioned leaving tomorrow morning. How are you, Rhett, really?"

Rhett watched her carefully, raising an eyebrow slightly. "I'm quite well, Constance. Why do you ask? You haven't heard otherwise I hope."

"No, not at all. I just. Well, I have heard rumors that your wife may not, that is, that her feelings for you may not be altogether genuine." She glanced down, removing a non-existent piece of lint from her skirts.

Rhett was actually stunned for a moment, though he masked his emotions well. How in the world would she hear something like that from Atlanta to Charleston? He wondered whom she might know that he wasn't aware of. But there was really no one other than those at Tara that would have any inclination at the storms that sometimes came through the relationship that encompassed Rhett and Scarlett's courtship and marriage. "Well, Miss Miller, I can't imagine who would have filled your head with such notions, but I assure you that Mrs. Butler and I are quite happy with our choice in one another as husband and wife."

He had spoken the truth; he thought that though it went unspoken that he did indeed make her happy. The fact that it remained unspoken was something that upon his return from London he was bound and determined to pursue until it was spoken. "While I assume you will not divulge to me your source, I would appreciate it if you would reiterate to said source that my wife and I are quite happy. I appreciate your concern, but you really have overstepped your bounds as a lady and as a friend."

Constance placed her hand on Rhett's forearm lightly, her well manicured nails displayed for his benefit. "Of course, Rhett. She is interesting to say the least. No one has quite figured out why it was you needed to travel to Atlanta to find a wife when you could have had the pick of just about anyone here in Charleston. But I have to admit to understanding a bit more now that I've seen her."

Constance's thoughts went to Scarlett and what she had seen earlier. She was well dressed; Rhett obviously took great care in making sure she looked the part of a Butler. Not that she'd expected any less from Rhett. Her jewelry while simple was obviously expensive and the ring she had seen on her hand while large was not gaudy. Had they been married before the war she would have believed such extravagance necessary, but since the war very few people were able to afford wedding bands let alone gemstones. "I understand she's Irish, aren't you worried about her temper Rhett?"

Rhett turned slightly, politely dislodging her hand from his forearm by brushing off some dust from his other jacket sleeve. "I love her temper, Constance, just as I do everything about her. I wouldn't change one thing about her. Her temper least of all." He chuckled lightly. "In fact, you might say that had it not been for her temper I perhaps wouldn't have met her and she's fascinated me ever since. Now, can I walk you back to your carriage? I must be getting back for dinner. This is my last night with my daughter and I must admit to regretting the fact I have to be away from her for so long."

"Of course, I was actually testing you more than anything, Rhett. I had to see it with my own eyes that you've changed. I'm glad and it's obvious that she makes you happy. No hard feelings?"

"None, though I don't know how much I've changed, Constance. Scarlett never asked me to change who I am. She accepts me for who I am, as I do the same for her in return. I'm no different than I was ten or twenty years ago." Rhett replied as he handed her into the carriage, he watched with a light laugh as she was taken from the area. He shook his head in amusement. Was this what life was going to be like as a married man, continually met with temptation to see if he would give in. He really wasn't worried about it, but it was an amusing way to pass the time nonetheless.

When Rhett returned he opened the doors to the parlor and presented Geraldine with a stuffed bear for her to hug in his absence; Eleanor smiled at her son and granddaughter. It pleased her to no end to watch them together; Rhett so obviously cared for the girl. She hated to interrupt the scene between father and daughter, but she felt that Rhett wanted to spend time with Scarlett more than Geraldine. "Scarlett is upstairs resting, Rhett. She asked that you come up when you returned. Though she said nothing to me, I think she's a little apprehensive about being here without you for so long." She held up her hand to stop Rhett from talking. "I will watch out for her of course, and if things get too sticky I will wire her relatives at Tara and ask them to beckon her home. I've already thought of that."

She offered her son a smile as she picked her granddaughter off the floor. How nice it was to have a grandchild she could be proud of, she thought to herself. She had always feared that Rhett would sire a child out of wedlock and she would be a grandmother to an illegitimate child. If it had happened, she knew nothing about it and she preferred it that way.

"She mentioned you ran into Constance today. She didn't give you a hard time, did she? She was rather startled to find out you had married. Truthfully, I think she had it in the back of her mind that you were going to come back to Charleston and save her from being an old maid one day." She held Geraldine close to her, but her eyes were on Rhett watching him closely as he frowned slightly at her words.

"Yes, I know Mother and I'm sure she's not the only one. I think Scarlett will be fine I truly do." He relayed both meetings with Constance to his mother and shrugged. "I'm just glad to know that you'll be watching out for her. She's strong, Mother, but she can sometimes be too strong. I don't envy any of the women who try and give Scarlett a hard time about being my wife. I'm sure Scarlett's going to hear stories about me, some true, some not true and some that are a mixture of true and false. But I'm positive Scarlett will handle herself just fine."

Eleanor was shocked by Rhett's words. She didn't know exactly what went on between her son and daughter in-law, but she knew that Rhett was smitten with the girl. It wasn't too hard to miss and Rhett perhaps never having experienced love in a pure form wasn't very good at disguising it from his mother. But he surprised her with the kindness in which he spoke of her.

She could tell that he was genuinely concerned for her and her reputation. She found that rather amusing, for she was quite certain if what he had heard had been about him being a poor husband he would not be nearly as upset. Rhett didn't care what people said or thought about him. He had never cared.

"I wouldn't worry about it, what some people may misjudge as Scarlett's aloofness is what I believe got you to fall in love with her to begin with. Now go upstairs to your wife; dinner will be ready in about thirty minutes. Geraldine has already had her supper, but I'm sure she'll be hungry for some dessert." Eleanor looked at the girl and coo'd while Rhett left the room.

Prissy was helping Scarlett with her bath when Rhett knocked and entered their room, which had been his room. He dismissed Prissy and took over the duties of washing Scarlett's hair and sponging off her body. "I could do this for hours, you realize that don't you?" The smell of vanilla and lavender was pungent as he helped Scarlett out of the large tub and placed a towel around her.

He watched entranced as she applied lotion and powder to her skin before getting dressed for dinner. He moved only to help her lace up her corset and button her dress; otherwise he sat still and just watched her. Once she was fully dressed, he stood behind her while she sat in front of the vanity and brushed her hair for her. After he put on a fresh shirt they made their way to the dining room where his father sat at the head of the table, a spot that until this evening had been empty since Rhett's arrival.

Scarlett kissed her father in-law on the cheek before sitting in the chair Rhett held out for her, politely and wordlessly nodding in his father's direction. His mother was already seated at the opposite end of the table, Geraldine was in her high chair next to where Scarlett sat and Rhett sat across from Scarlett.

Dinner was tense, though Rhett's mother was full of questions about Rhett's trip, which he answered as generally as possible without trying to sound rude or curt. His father said nothing, Rhett noticed that Geraldine was aware of her grandfather's presence and smiled at him fully whenever he gave her a spoonful of mashed potatoes. The meal couldn't have ended soon enough for Rhett. It was bad enough being in the same city as his father knowing the man wished no contact with him, but to be seated at the same dinner table was just entirely too much for him.

When the meal had ended and Geraldine was put down for the night, Rhett bid good night to his parents followed by a kiss to his mother's cheek as he took Scarlett's arm and guided her up the stairs with him to their room. He knew he wouldn't see his parents again until he returned from London, but as they entered their quarters and he shut the door behind them Rhett had no intentions on getting much sleep that night.

The dress that Rhett had only a few hours ago helped Scarlett get into he wasted no time getting her out of. Her protests of his parents hearing or Geraldine waking since she had only just been put to sleep were silenced quickly by Rhett's kisses, his mouth and lips pressing against hers demanding her response. For the next few hours before he had to leave for the docks, one would have had difficulty telling where one body ended and the other began. When they weren't making love, Rhett held Scarlett tightly against him his mouth never far from her own, his lips only breaking contact with a part of her body to move to another part.

When the alarm clock rang in the now darkened room signaling Rhett's need to rise and dress for his day, he hesitantly untangled himself from Scarlett's arms and tucked the blanket around her snuggly. He dressed quickly in the dark, the clothes he was to wear having already been set out for him the night before and after a quick kiss to Scarlett's forehead left the room quietly. His last stop before leaving his parents' house was Geraldine's room, he checked on her, replaced her blanket and left just as quickly and quietly as he came.

The trip to London was long and uneventful, other than a large storm that kept everyone in his or her cabins for two days. The four weeks he spent in London went by rather quickly; he kept himself busy enough that he rarely had time to miss his family. His associate, Alastair Sinclair, had come through greatly on some new business contacts for Rhett to import more furnishings and goods from London. He did have a day or two to himself where he was able to shop for both Scarlett and Geraldine, but otherwise the time was spent working.

Alastair was sorry to see Rhett go when the four weeks were over; Rhett as always had impressed him with his hard work and his shrewd head for business. His attempts at getting Rhett to accompany him up north to Bedford for a week of hunting were unsuccessful; Rhett would hear none of it.

Alastair was secretly pleased at his long time friend's obvious desire to get home, and had Rhett accepted Alastair's invitation he would have told the man to go home anyway. As his driver was taking Rhett's belongings to the ship Rhett and Alastair said their good byes with Alastair making Rhett promise that he would bring his wife with him on his next visit. Rhett agreed and bid his friend good bye before boarding the ship en route to Charleston. He had a feeling that the return trip would go by a lot slower than the departure had.

He was right, the time could not go by fast enough for him and when he finally did arrive in Charleston two days earlier than their scheduled arrival he was disappointed that no one was there to meet him. Of course there wouldn't be he realized they were early, but he was still disappointed.

He hired a coach to take his things to his parents' house and was even further disappointed to find the house empty. Dennis, the butler informed Rhett that the family had gone to the market for the day but were expected back shortly, Rhett saw no need to go searching for them. So instead he went up to their room to sort through his luggage and unpack what he needed for his stay in Charleston.

Scarlett spent the weeks while Rhett was gone mostly in the company of Rhett's mother and the other women of Charleston. It had been so long since Scarlett had been involved in such gatherings she hadn't realized how much she had missed them.

She was once again the center of attention as she was asked questions about how she and Rhett met, how he proposed, and when they were married. She could sense the minds calculating nine months from Geraldine's birthday, she understood finally how relieved Rhett had been that Geraldine had been carried to term.

He wanted no cloud of doubt hanging over their marriage suggesting to anyone that they were married because she was already with child. With her friends and family it wouldn't have mattered so much because they all knew that Rhett had been gone until they married. But of course the citizens of Charleston weren't aware of that. She met a few of his male friends, mostly because they were married to some of the women she had the opportunity to meet. While the people of Charleston were cautious of Scarlett she was an outsider after all; they found that she grew on them. No one could place a finger on it, but somehow during the eight weeks Rhett was gone she had been accepted.

Little did they know that Scarlett really didn't try that hard. She was herself for the most part just careful to keep some of her more unladylike thoughts that didn't bother Pa or Rhett to herself. She sat in on their groups, took tea with them, sewed with them, helped raise money for their various causes with them, and in general was pleasant to have among them. She initiated few conversations, preferring instead to listen and learn what she could about Rhett. When she did speak, though, she was always polite and charming complete with a smile.

Scarlett was pleased that with Rhett's absence Geraldine didn't seem to be able to get enough attention from her mother, so she painted the picture of loving wife and mother quite easily. She appeared to be a wife who despite being from Atlanta not Charleston was doing what she could to see that her husband's home was returned to some sense of normalcy.

Of course Scarlett didn't care about sewing, causes, or Charleston being restored to anything. She only knew that she wanted to learn what she could about Rhett without it being obvious that she knew so little about her husband. And she wanted to be able to come back with Rhett and have lots of friends to call on her and to invite her to their parties and balls.

The dresses Mrs. Talbot had made were exquisite and Scarlett had no problems causing more jealousy among the women of Charleston, some of whom hadn't more than a handful of frocks to wear since the war. The fact that everything she wore was obviously new and that she looked stunning in them all, as if the dress had been made exclusively for her and no other caused more jealousy.

Just where did Rhett find this woman many found themselves wondering, and while they all tried to find out exactly how Rhett met Scarlett no one seemed to be able to get that information from Scarlett. But still the women were polite to her, blaming Rhett for her outfitting.

Scarlett maintained she couldn't exactly remember when she had met Rhett, the fact that they had met before the war was the only detail she claimed certainty on. There were some that tried to question her further, to get more information from her, but Scarlett said nothing more to them than she said to anyone else. She had been the belle of the county at the time; it wouldn't have been unthinkable for Rhett not to stand out in her memory at their first meeting.

There were no balls while Rhett was away, which disappointed Scarlett. Not only had she grown up hearing about the balls of the Charlestonian people, but also it had been so long since she'd been to a ball. Rhett had mentioned that his mother would more than likely hold one in their honor; Scarlett hoped that it was true. Now that Geraldine was no longer nursing, Scarlett looked forward to a night when she could dance and dance and not have to worry about waking up in the morning to feed a squawking child.

On the day that Rhett's ship returned to Charleston, Eleanor, Roger, Ross, Rosemary, Scarlett and Geraldine went to market together. Scarlett found that she was quite enchanted with Rhett's brother, but she wasn't so sure how she felt about Rosemary. Rhett had mentioned briefly that she was married with no children, but said little else about his sister. Scarlett wasn't sure if it was due to lack of interest on his part or something else.

Scarlett found herself once again disappointed that she had not taken the time to ask her husband these questions. Yet again she realized as she often had how much of a mystery the man still was to her.

It didn't bother her until now when she was spending time with his brother and sister and realizing that she knew nothing about them. She clutched Geraldine tightly to her breast and kissed the girl on the cheek while tucking some stray hair back into the bonnet and whispered in her daughter's ear. "Mommy's just going to have to make it a point to find out more about Daddy, isn't she?" Rosemary lived in Charleston, and Scarlett found it peculiar that her husband hadn't come with her, but she asked no questions as no one else seemed curious as to where the man might be.

She learned that Ross lived in New York and was married with three children, one girl and two boys. Having just arrived in Charleston the night prior, his wife and children were resting at the hotel so that he might enjoy the day with his parents and sister as well as his sister in-law and young niece. When dusk approached they decided to return home. Scarlett went up to her room to freshen up, pleased with the day. Where Rosemary had seemed somewhat distant when she met Scarlett at first, Ross was the opposite almost seeming to accept Scarlett without hesitation or question.

She opened the door to her room, pleased to see that Prissy had prepared fresh water and towels for her to wash off with quickly before dinner. The shades were drawn in the room, which confused her until she saw a form on the bed.

She was startled for a moment until her eyes adjusted to the dimness in the room and saw Rhett's familiar things around the room. She walked to the bed and realized that Rhett was sound asleep; she opened the door quietly and left the room to find Prissy. "Tell Mr. and Mrs. Butler I'll be remaining in my room for a while and will send for dinner trays shortly. Let them know also that their son has returned and other than needing a good shave and a haircut is apparently no worse from the wear." She closed the door quietly, the click of the lock the only sound until the rustle of skirts signaled her moving across the room.

She struggled out of her dress and chemise, remaining in her corset as she got into the bed next to where Rhett lay. She had missed him, the feel of his strong, hard body against hers every night was easy to get accustomed to and never before had she realized how empty her bed was without him until these past eight weeks when she was forced to sleep alone.

She had laughed one night when she struggled to find sleep realizing what Rhett had meant when he spoke of Talisman or Amulet taking his place in bed. Even a dog would be a worthwhile companion to warm her bed on the nights that sleep was difficult to come by. At least she wouldn't have felt so alone. Though Roger and Eleanor had done everything in their power to make her welcome in their home, she still felt uncomfortable walking around the house at night. So on those nights she couldn't sleep, she traded off between reading, pacing the floor, sewing, and continually checking on Geraldine.

Rhett hadn't meant to fall asleep. He had unpacked the things he knew he would need for the next few days and was going to go through the presents he had purchased sorting them between Geraldine and Scarlett. He lay down on the bed, determined to rest for only a few minutes when sleep took over. Sailing was never easy, and sailing twice in two months now that he was no longer used to it was hard on his body.

Pictures of Scarlett lying on top of him haunted him when he lay in his bunk alone at night, and while he didn't mind the images they certainly made sleeping a difficult task. He didn't know what time it was or how long he had been sleeping when he woke up feeling something pressed against him. Certain he was once again dreaming he opened his eyes wide, taking in his surroundings. All was quiet and still, he was no longer on the boat.

He held his breath for a moment and the gentle sound of someone else's breathing filled his ears. He turned his head and saw Scarlett asleep beside him dressed in only her corset and tried to figure out just how long he'd been asleep, silently cursing himself for sleeping so heavily as to not to hear her come in and undress herself. He rolled over onto his side realizing that he was fully clothed and let out a slight groan of disappointment as he saw her eyes flutter open. "Good evening, madam, had I not been over dressed I fear I would have woken you up in a less than conventional manner."

Scarlett smiled slightly, realizing that she had not dreamt his return. She reached out hesitantly to touch his face, afraid she might still be dreaming. "You're really here. When did you get home and why didn't Dennis tell you where we were?"

He took hold of her hand keeping it pressed against his face. "He did, my dear. He also told me you were expected home shortly. Apparently he wasn't aware that you were going to be dallying." His eyes dropped to her ample bosom, pushed up and made more ample by the corset she wore. "Could I interest you in dallying here for a while, Mrs. Butler, or do you have a prior engagement?"

His hand dropped from her hand to her back where he started to unlace the corset not giving her the opportunity to answer. He stood, undressing and upon returning to the bed brought her on top of him so that he could kiss her fully, wrapping his hands around her tiny waist holding her against him tightly.

Scarlett broke the kiss breathlessly. "Your parents, Rhett. Your brother and sister are here, too."

"I don't care, Scarlett. They've waited this long, let them wait longer." He chuckled lightly as he thought of something. "Just what time was it when you got home anyway? They're going to think our time apart left us both rather lusty, it's situations like this that lead to one getting a reputation." He kissed her fully on the lips, his growing desire underneath her evident with each passing moment. "In this case though I don't think I'll complain about the reputation I'd get from someone thinking I'd made love to my wife for hours after being gone for weeks. So, come, Scarlett make at least part of it true."

Sensing her willingness he shifted slightly, guiding her onto him letting out a low moan in appreciation. She remained sitting on top of him, allowing him to explore her chest, stomach, waist and tiny hips freely something he so loved to do. When he felt his time nearing, he brought her to him, taking a breast in his mouth toying with the peak gently but relentlessly wanting her to finish with him.

He had never worried about that so much before, but for some reason he wanted that at this moment. It mattered to him now, though and as difficult as he knew it would be for her to do, he asked her to let him know when she felt her time coming.

He continued with the attention to her breasts, one hand rested against her lower back holding her close to him while the other hand was intertwined with her own hand. Her breathing changed and quickened accompanied by a slight pressure change on his hand and their mutual satisfaction followed soon after. He lay holding her to him, his hand caressing her back lightly the other still locked with hers as he kissed her forehead lightly. "It's good to be home." He chuckled lightly, "It should be rather apparent by now, but I missed you."

Scarlett caught her breath and collected her thoughts, something that wasn't always easy to do after she and Rhett made love. She had caught herself telling him she loved him, which was why she was only able to squeeze his hand. She was afraid if she spoke her words would deceive her and she wasn't ready for that, she wasn't even sure if she loved him. "Yes, I think you demonstrated that fact quite well, as did I. I hope. It's not every day I crawl into bed with you before dinner has been served."

"Umm, indeed, madam. Well, if this is to be the end result of such occasions, please don't ever let me stop you from doing just that if your heart so desires."

Scarlett sighed. "You know, we're going to be missed. Not to mention you haven't seen your daughter yet. Though I'm glad I got to welcome you home first, I need to be first in your life sometimes Rhett Butler."

He rolled with her so she lay on her back on the bed. "You are always first, Scarlett. Don't ever doubt that. Geraldine will one day be grown and married living on her own, I simply enjoy taking advantage of the time I have with her for I know it will inevitably end. Soon she won't want to sit on my knee or listen to my stories anymore. So, if I make you feel anything but first I humbly apologize 'tis not my intent. I'm simply enjoying being a daddy while I can, I have years to be your husband but I don't have years to be daddy to my little girl."

It sounded so logical what he said and she realized that he always knew the right things to say to ease her mind. She nodded slightly and let her hands trace his broad chest, tugging on a chest hair gently before she spoke again. "Years." She chuckled lightly and sat up. "Help me dress, Rhett. I told Prissy I'd send for a dinner tray," she looked at the bedside clock. "Dear Lord, three hours ago." She looked at Rhett, a look of terror and embarrassment on her face. "God's nightgown, Rhett, what are your parents going to think of me?"

Rhett chuckled lightly allowing his hand to gently caress her arm. "Blame it on me, Scarlett. I don't care at this point. Who cares? We're married. We were away from one another for eight weeks, the longest we've been away from one another in over fifteen months. Surely we're entitled to some marital bliss after such a lengthy time apart."

"I suppose you're right, Rhett, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't have waited until bedtime."

"And who says what time our bedtime is. Are you really that hungry for dinner? I'm not, my appetite is more directed at love then food. Why do we need to go downstairs at all? Just stay in bed here with me until morning."

"As much as that might appeal to me, Rhett, I can't do that and ever show my face in this house again. Three hours is bad enough, the whole evening and night would be worse. You should say hello to your brother anyway; he just arrived in town yesterday. He's rather charming; if he wasn't already married I'd wager he was trying to steal me from you."

"He might just be doing that anyway." Rhett laughed and sat up from the bed. "Are you going to try and deceive them further by putting the same dress on?" He chuckled as he picked the frock she had discarded on the floor near the bed tossing it to her then his clothes. He dressed quickly, the same suit but putting a fresh shirt on then helped her into her corset, chemise and an emerald green dress she knew he loved seeing her wear. He kissed the back of her neck after he had finished buttoning her letting her hair fall. "You look beautiful, madam." He let his hands fall to her hips. "Good enough to eat."

Scarlett struggled lightly to get out of his grasp. "Rhett, stop. You shouldn't talk like that. Someone might hear you."

He laughed lightly. "And that they might." He released her. "All right, Scarlett. I'm sorry. But it's true." He offered her his arm. "Let's go greet my family then, wife."

He opened the door for her, allowing her to pass through first chuckling lightly at the unkempt bed before shutting the door. He stopped her at the top of the stairs and kissed her fully, a lingering, bold and suggestive kiss hinting of things to come if Rhett had his way.

Scarlett pulled away slightly touching her fingers to her lips amazed that his kisses could still have such a powerful effect on her. She found herself once again wondering how she could have ever thought Brent or Stu knew how to kiss. Their kisses left her feeling nothing, where a simple kiss from Rhett could leave her breathless and wanting for more.

She took Rhett's arm and walked with him down the stairs, realizing as she walked into the parlor that she was still flushed from the kiss she grew more embarrassed and glared at him slightly only to see him shrug innocently. She watched as he released her arm realizing that she had not trimmed his hair or shaved him, and this brought further embarrassment. She sat on the love seat while Rhett went to kiss Rosemary and greet Ross then joined Scarlett on the love seat. She found her embarrassment quickly fading as no one seemed to think ill of her or even pay attention to the fact that she wore a different dress than she had on when she went upstairs or to Rhett's disheveled appearance.

The rest of the evening passed by uneventfully. Rhett and Scarlett ate their dinner while Ross and Rosemary joined them and ate their dessert. Rhett's parents retired to their rooms for the evening leaving the four of them to their own devices for the evening. Geraldine was overjoyed to see her father and clung to his leg whenever she was dislodged from his lap, which he seemed to enjoy. He couldn't believe how much she'd grown in his absence.

She was walking with much more confidence now and losing some of the baby fat that she had as a result of her mobility. After they had finished their dinner and retired once again to the parlor, Geraldine was all too happy to sit on Daddy's lap and snuggle against him, falling asleep against his chest where she remained for the rest of the evening until Rhett and Scarlett went upstairs for bed.

None of them were surprised by the ease with which the girl fell asleep in Rhett's arms. Scarlett showed Ross and Rosemary out when they decided to take their leave as Rhett carried Geraldine up the stairs to her crib. Scarlett soon joined him, one hand taking hold of his upper arm gently as she peered at their sleeping daughter with him. She rested her head against his shoulder, realizing she was quite tired. "I think the other woman in your life needs to be put to bed too, Mr. Butler. Care to see to that?"

Rhett acted as though he hadn't heard her until suddenly one hand fell to her lower back the other at her neck and he picked her up to carry her into their bedroom. He helped her undress watching from the bed as she put one of the nightdresses on that Mrs. Talbot had made for her. He would have to remember to thank the old woman the next time he saw her. It was beautiful and rather becoming to his wife's figure. He got ready for bed soon after, joining her when finished turning the bedside lamp down low taking her into his arms and holding her close to him.

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