Chapter Twenty-Four
Word Count: 7,174

"Thank you for coming on such short notice."

"I have to admit I'm here merely out of curiosity, Mrs. Butler. I'm sure you can understand my lack of enthusiasm about being in your presence. I'm sure the feeling is mutual so please don't try and be polite and tell me otherwise."

Belle watched as Robert went towards the lake, sitting on the ground. She shook her head knowing that it was useless to tell him not to get dirty; if mud was anywhere within Robert's grasp he would find it.

"Well, I have to admit to the same thing, Mrs. Watling." Scarlett sighed heavily, trying to avoid watching the boy. She realized she wasn't even sure if she knew the boy's name. "Why haven't I seen him before now, your son I mean?"

"I try not to take him out more than I have to. He has a private tutor that teaches him his lessons though next year he'll go to boarding school. The less he's observed in town the less of a chance that he's ridiculed and made fun of. Another reason should be fairly obvious. I realize not everyone is as," she paused trying to think of the delicate word for her thoughts, "familiar with Rhett as you are, but just by looking at Robert one could see questions would be raised."

Scarlett nodded, of course that was true. She had known within seconds of seeing the boy. "But why does he want to hide him? I mean, he loves children. And he certainly has never cared to hide anything else about his activities."

Belle shrugged slightly. "Well, at first I think it was to protect me more than anything else. There were already rumors abound about my relationship with him. And then of course came you and I knew nothing would ever change."

"Me? What do I have to do with anything, Mrs. Watling? Your son was born well before I knew Rhett and surely well before Rhett courted me."

"Of course he was, Mrs. Butler. But you have everything to do with it. Until you, I just assumed that one-day I'd sell my business and the three of us would go off somewhere and Rhett would tell Robert then that he was his dad. But Rhett didn't love me - he never has. That's the difference between you and me, Mrs. Butler. He would never love me, certainly not the way he does you."

Scarlett tried to hide her shock at Belle's words. Rhett had never told her he loved her. She wondered how much more Belle knew about her relationship with Rhett. "Surely you're joking, Mrs. Watling. I don't think Rhett is capable of loving anyone save perhaps Geraldine and though I've never seen them together, I imagine Robert. He seems to have a soft spot for children. I don't think I have a spot there."

Belle snorted. She was clueless Belle realized. "Really, Mrs. Butler. If you don't know how Rhett feels for you, you need to take another look. It's no surprise to me he married you, I knew years ago he would without even knowing who you were."

Scarlett looked away watching Robert then looked back towards Belle. "I should get back, Mrs. Watling. But I appreciate your meeting me. Could I say hello to him?"

Belle laughed slightly. "Of course he'd like that I already told him who you are. He never realized Rhett was married. I never saw it as my place to tell him, and Rhett apparently never told him either." Belle shrugged as she called Robert over them. "It's time to go home now, son. Why don't you say hello to Mrs. Butler?"

Robert looked up at Scarlett with his dark brown eyes filled with curiosity. He looked down embarrassed, holding on to Belle's hand. "Hello, ma'am."

Robert wondered if Scarlett was some sort of princess he had never seen a woman dressed in such a way as Scarlett had been both times he saw her. He blushed slightly not accustomed to talking with people he didn't know and buried his face in his mother's skirt.

Scarlett looked from the boy to Belle. "Thank you again, Mrs. Watling. Have a good day." She walked to her coach and entered with thoughts of Belle's conversation playing on her mind as she was led back to the hotel.

Belle had to be mistaken about Rhett's feelings for her. Scarlett had always seen herself as some sort of amusing toy for Rhett, not an object of his affection. She knew he cared for her, as she did for him. But the thought that Belle certainly had little to gain by telling Scarlett Rhett was in love with her played heavy on her mind. This just clouded things further.

If he loved her then why did he leave and why had he been so ready to leave a while ago after he saw her with Ashley? Of course Rhett would do whatever he could in his power to make her happy and if that meant living without her he would see that it was done.

Her thoughts drifted to the boy - Robert, she should stop thinking of him as the boy - and she wondered if it was her fault that he was without a father. Belle had mentioned she thought one day Rhett would claim him and if Belle thought Scarlett was the reason he hadn't Scarlett had no reason to discount her.

Normally, she'd not trust anyone of that profession, but Belle had nothing to gain by saying what she had said. Indeed, she had everything to lose because Scarlett realized for the first time that if what Belle said was true - that Rhett loved her - that Scarlett held power. To Belle that must be a very scary thought. It was to Scarlett and it wasn't her son that she had the power to prevent Rhett from seeing if she so chose.

Scarlett returned to Tara the following day still not having decided what to do. She went to her room to lay down later that afternoon pulling out the train ticket that Rhett had given her for Christmas. They'd be in Philadelphia by the time she could get there she realized. She wished she had someone to talk to.

The priest didn't help; she knew what her duties as Rhett's wife were. That wasn't the issue for Scarlett; the issue was quite honestly she didn't know what to do about the boy. What kind of woman would she be if she forbade Rhett from seeing him? On the other hand, what would people say about both Scarlett and Rhett if she suggested he claim him?

And in Scarlett's mind those were really the only two options available. Rhett continuing to see him under the pretense of being his uncle was wrong, both for the boy and for Rhett. But she couldn't talk to Ashley or Melanie about it. Melanie would tell Scarlett the same thing the priest had more than likely. And she really had no desire to get Ashley involved in anything else.

She put the ticket back in the nightstand and descended the stairs in search of Will. If anyone could help her it would be Will. Even though he was to marry Suellen, Scarlett knew that she could trust Will. Scarlett sensed at times that Will wanted Rhett and Scarlett together more than they themselves did.

She smiled slightly, he wants us out of Tara is what he wants. Oddly, for the first time since before the war Scarlett could picture living away from Tara again. Rhett's help was no longer needed as was evident by the fact that he was able to plan a trip taking them away from Tara for close to three months so soon after they had been in Charleston for nearly three months.

She found Will thankfully by himself and though at first she was hesitant to tell him the whole story she did. Somewhere in the back of her mind was the thought that she should not be telling anyone who lived at Tara this information, but she really had no one else. Will, Scarlett knew, would not treat Rhett any differently whereas Ashley, Cathleen or any other of Scarlett's friends would.

Will sat on a tree stump listening to Scarlett's tale and quite honestly he wasn't surprised. It wasn't so much that Rhett having a child wasn't surprising; it was more that after the war little had surprised him anymore. He always enjoyed talking to Scarlett anyway, so this gave him the opportunity to do so and offer her some advice on top of it.

Scarlett was an intelligent woman, probably more intelligent than she even knew. He realized she probably thought little of what she'd accomplished at Tara since the war, but Will knew that Rhett had nothing to do with the accounting aspects of Tara other than giving Scarlett the money to pay bills and buy needed equipment. Most men would have caved in and admitted defeat, and Will knew Scarlett would never have done that.

He looked up at her thinking over what she had said and what he should say. He imagined he knew what she wanted to hear - that she should leave him. Will didn't think that was the right thing to do. If the two of them would ever put their pride aside and admit their feelings to themselves and then to one another he imagined they would have few problems after that.

"Well, Scarlett, I have to admit to understanding a bit where Rhett is coming from. Why would he have told you of a son when first of all he's not certain that the child is his? Despite your claim of the likeness the child has to him, Rhett does have legitimate reason to question that. Second of all, had he told you you wouldn't have given him the time of day after that. And quite honestly if I know Rhett near as well as I think I do, that would not have sat well with him. So, I'm guessing. And mind you that's all this is. So, I'm guessing that by the time he got around to marrying you so much time had gone by that he found himself unable to tell you because then it would appear that he was hiding something and you'd be exactly where you are now."

"That's all well and good, Will. But what am I to do? He's got my daughter and I'm carrying his child. Am I to stay here at Tara and hope that one day he'll return? I know he won't unless I send for him. He thinks I don't want him here and he will honor me by staying away. If I wanted a divorce I imagine he'd see it got granted."

Will raised an eyebrow slightly. "Is that what you want, Scarlett? You realize that would mean living the rest of your life without him? I don't imagine Rhett being the type at second chances once permanent closure had been put to paper."

"No, of course it's not what I want, Will. I wouldn't get a divorce; I'm surprised God hasn't struck me down right here in my place for even giving voice to the word."

Will laughed lightly. "I imagine God might be a little busy with other things right now to worry about you uttering a word He might deem offensive."

"You're not helping me, Will."

"I guess it comes down to, Scarlett, can you forgive him this transgression? Can you put it behind you and go forward? Can you accept the fact that he's accepted the child as his own even if he hasn't publicly claimed the child? Surely you've given thought to the fact before that he's got children, Scarlett. You're not dumb, nor are you unwise to how those things happen." He gestured to her as of yet unshowing stomach. "If the mother weren't Miss Watling, say it was Miss Elsing. Would you find it so offensive then?"

Scarlett looked from Will to the pond, the pond that they had once hidden livestock in to keep the Yankees from getting it. "You're asking me more questions, Will Benteen." She returned her gaze to him. "I don't know. I don't have an answer to any of those questions. I suppose it would make a difference, but then if it was Miss Elsing or someone like her I'm quite sure Rhett would have little doubt as to his being the father."

"Indeed, Scarlett, and there lies both your problem and your answer. Are you punishing him - and yourself - because the child is Belle's?" He lowered his head slightly.

"Scarlett, you say you hadn't thought Rhett loved you. And if I may be so bold I will speak my opinion on that and then return to work. If you aren't aware of how your husband feels then you are entirely clueless when it comes to matters of the heart. You are an intelligent woman, Scarlett. You balance Tara's books, you keep the household fed and clothed, and you can bargain with the shopkeepers in town until you get the price you wanted to begin with and make it seem like it was their idea to sell it to you at that price."

He stood.

"This is just my opinion and you can take it for what it's worth, and it's probably not worth much. But your husband has demonstrated over the years I've known him, and from the tales I've heard told for years before I had the opportunity to meet him, that he is there for you. And yet I see little evidence of the same in return to him from you. If you want my advice, I assume that's what you came here for. Go to him. Use the ticket he bought for you and go to him. Even if it's under the pretense that you miss Geraldine, your being there will speak volumes. I agree with you that he won't return to Tara if you don't ask him to, but I think it's time you demonstrated that Rhett means more to you than the means to an end for you to keep Tara." He paused slightly and it was obvious what he was about to say he was unsure of.

"One last thing, Scarlett. At least you know he doesn't love Belle. Think of all the things Rhett did for you and continues to do for you knowing how you feel for Mr. Wilkes. It's not very easy competing against a ghost of a man; I tried to do it with Carreen and failed drastically. And Brent Tarleton is a dead man. I admire Rhett's persistence and his willingness to marry you knowing how you felt about Ashley. I could never have done it." He turned to go and then added. "If I've spoken out of line I apologize, but I've yet to lie to you, Scarlett, and I'm not going to start now because we're talking about your marriage rather than talking about cotton."

It took over a week for Scarlett to decide to go to Philadelphia to find Rhett and Geraldine. Will was right, even if she went under the pretense of missing Geraldine it was something. And though she had been angry at his words, she realized as the days wore on that he was right. She knew Rhett would return to Tara if she asked him to, but she also knew that little would be accomplished with that.

Prissy was not pleased at the concept of going to Philadelphia, Scarlett knew it but she couldn't go alone and she wasn't about to bring Mammy. She could do without the lectures and I told you so's that Mammy would give her along the way. So it was that Prissy and Scarlett left Atlanta for Philadelphia at the end of January. Three days later they had arrived and Scarlett directed Prissy where to have their bags brought and went alone to find the hotel that Rhett was staying at.

Scarlett's mood soured when the gentleman at the front desk refused to tell Scarlett which rooms Rhett occupied. Her green eyes flared with anger as she asked, "Would you kindly send Mr. Butler a note then telling him his wife is in the dining room waiting for him? I may as well have a decent breakfast while I wait for him."

"I could do that, Ma'am." The man watched as Scarlett walked towards the dining room; a smug grin crept to his mouth. Any woman who talks that way deserves whatever she gets, he thought. He smoothed his jacket over his rotund belly and went about his work.

Scarlett was seated at a table and ordered some eggs, staying away from grits. She seemed to remember Rhett talking about the northerners knowing little about preparing grits. She removed her hat setting it beside her and thanked the waiter as he poured her coffee.

She waited for what seemed like hours and was about to give up hope and leave until she heard a voice exclaim "Mama!" She turned towards the voice, which came from the other side of the restaurant. She offered the girl a smile, that exclamation of mommy had tugged on Scarlett's heart making her realize how long it had been. Geraldine had begun saying "dada" before she and Rhett had left for Charleston, she wondered if "mama" had been added to her repertoire. Her smile quickly fell when she saw that not only was it Geraldine and Rhett but a woman sat with them.

Rhett had invited Mrs. Sloan to join him and Geraldine for breakfast. She was recently a widow who was in Philadelphia trying to settle her late husband's estate and she happened to be someone who's company Rhett enjoyed. Rhett had turned her onto a friend of his locally who had in turn led her to an attorney who was working hard to get her husband's estate settled quickly.

Rhett was trying to quiet Geraldine down as Mrs. Sloan was talking to no avail. He was growing frustrated, she never behaved like this and then when she started talking about her mama Rhett tried to assure her that her mama was at home and if she would sit down and behave he'd take her home to see her soon.

Geraldine got a look in those brown eyes of hers that Rhett couldn't remember ever seeing before, it was almost as if she felt triumphant for some reason. When Rhett returned his attentions to Mrs. Sloan and apologized, Geraldine tugged on his arm. "Geraldine, you're being very rude. Daddy and Mrs. Sloan are trying to talk."

Geraldine unable to talk much and certainly unable to communicate much did something she knew her daddy hated. She took her index finger and pointed it, looking from Rhett to where she pointed and said, "Mama!"

Rhett looked from Geraldine to Scarlett and then to Mrs. Sloan, a groan of displeasure and realization escaped his lips. Surely he was dreaming. What on earth would Scarlett be doing sitting in the hotel's dining room? But the look both on her face and in her eyes made him fully aware of the fact he was awake.

"Mrs. Sloan, if you'll excuse me but it appears my wife has attempted to surprise me. And I'm sure she thinks that it is she who is the one on the receiving end of the surprise at the moment." He left the table with Geraldine toddling after him as Scarlett was getting up to leave hers.

Rhett caught up to her just outside the restaurant, having stopped to pick a crying Geraldine up who was still a little unsteady and slow on her feet. He set her down once more when Scarlett heard the girl's cries and stopped. "Just why were you running away from us exactly? I don't care about me so much as I do your daughter, Scarlett. I couldn't get her to behave; I had no idea why otherwise I would have had the waiter seat you with us."

Scarlett glared at him as she took out her handkerchief. After picking up Geraldine she dried her eyes and helped the girl blow her nose. Smoothing down the girl's curls once her tears had stopped, Scarlett turned her attentions to Rhett. "Really, Rhett, I can't say that it surprises me to see you dining with another woman and I'm sure it would have pleased you to know end to embarrass me. But do you have to carry on in the presence of our daughter with other women?"

He took her arm and led her into the restaurant. "Remember you're supposed to be a lady and for once in your life act like one." He hissed at her under his breath. "I sure hope you know how to beg forgiveness, Scarlett. Because you're accusing me of being an even bigger fool than I thought you had already." They arrived at the table where Rhett had been dining and he released Scarlett's arm, placing his hand at the small of her back. "Mrs. Sloan it would be my pleasure to introduce you to my wife, Scarlett. Scarlett, Mrs. Sloan."

Mrs. Sloan stood slowly from her chair; she was a nice looking woman for her age. Rhett estimated she was in her early forties, and time had been nothing but kind to her. She had no gray hair and her skin was still as smooth and creamy white as a woman in her thirties. Now that she faced Scarlett, it was obvious that she was dressed for mourning.

She smiled genuinely at Scarlett, speaking with an obvious northern accent. "Mrs. Butler, a pleasure to meet you. Your husband has told me so much about you I feel as though I know you. I envy your fortitude to run a plantation on your own. And a successful one at that from how your husband boasts. Though I don't know that I would let a woman like you out of my sight for very long if I were him."

She winked slightly as she glanced from Scarlett to Geraldine who was all smiles, no evidence of her earlier tears remained. "And it's obvious this little princess missed her mother as well. I have a granddaughter a little older than she is. They grow so fast, pretty soon she won't want to be held anymore and you'll wonder where the time went. I've enjoyed the little time I've got to spend with your daughter, though she makes me miss my granddaughter all the more."

Scarlett smiled genuinely, exhaling sharply in relief. She had nothing to fear from this woman. She was just a grandmother who was lonely for her grandchild. "She's already grown so fast, Mrs. Sloan." Scarlett spoke softly never noticing until now the effect her accent had on people. "It seems like just yesterday she was content lying next to me on our bed. First it was rolling over, then it was sitting up, and then it was crawling and then walking. It happened so fast. No wonder my mother had three of us, she liked having babies around I think."

"Your husband tells me you're expecting another. How exciting for you both and for your daughter. I'm sure she will enjoy having a baby brother or sister to play with and help you with. When is the baby due to arrive, dear?"

Scarlett blushed slightly at the freedom with which this woman unknown to her mentioned her state, her free hand instinctively going to her belly. "Well, it was supposed to be Rhett's Christmas present, but things didn't work out that way. My telling him not the arrival." She laughed nervously, still uncomfortable talking about such things in public. "Well, my guess is July. So Geraldine and this one will be very close, within weeks of one another."

Rhett smiled slightly, surprised at how easily Scarlett was talking about the baby. In fact, had he not known better he'd get the impression she was almost happy about this one. He took Geraldine from Scarlett so she wasn't burdened with the extra weight the girl offered. "Mrs. Sloan, if you'll excuse us I think Geraldine is ready to be changed and a nap. We were up reading together for quite some time before we came down for breakfast. In fact, before I saw my wife was here I thought that was the reason for her acting up."

"No need to excuse yourselves, I perfectly understand. If I were as young as the two of you and had been apart for so long, I wouldn't want to sit here talking to me either." She laughed lightly. "Thank you for your help, Mr. Butler. And though it wasn't nearly payment enough, thank you for allowing me to buy you and your charming daughter breakfast."

They made their way up to the lobby, Scarlett having completely forgotten about Prissy and their luggage. She grabbed hold of Rhett's arm. "God's nightgown, Rhett, I forgot. The man at the front desk was so rude to me; he was supposed to send a note up to you to tell you I was waiting for you in the dining room. Obviously you never got it. But I don't think he believed I was your wife, and now I know he must not because Prissy's sitting out here with our luggage."

Rhett approached the front desk after telling Scarlett he would handle it. A quiet argument ensued with the man who had the audacity to suggest he had thought Rhett wouldn't want to be disturbed. After speaking with the manager and arranging for Scarlett's luggage to be brought up to his room and Prissy's to be brought up to her own room, they made their way upstairs. "I guess I no longer need to employee a nanny since Prissy's here." He opened the door to his suite and let Scarlett enter before him, still a little surprised to actually see her. "Did you just arrive today?"

Scarlett looked around the lavish room, as if she had expected anything else. "Yes, this morning. It's been a long trip, I don't know how you do this all the time - travel back and forth. I've grown tired of it in just a few months. Between Charleston and now here, I've seen enough of the inside of a train than I care to see for some time." She was rambling and she knew it, but she hadn't really thought this far ahead when she decided to come here. Of course he'd expect her to share his room with him. "What did Mrs. Sloan thank you for?"

"Oh, it was nothing. Her husband passed away and apparently his brother is trying to contest his will saying that Mrs. Sloan is mentally unbalanced and incapable of controlling his estate." Rhett laughed. "She's about as sharp as they come, Scarlett, let me tell you. Anyway, I turned her on to a friend of mine who deals with attorneys here in Philadelphia and apparently Mrs. Sloan has found herself an attorney who is capable of defending her."

He smoothed his moustache down with his thumb and index finger eyeing Scarlett. "So, do I get to hug my wife after weeks apart or is that sort of contact off limits? Come to think of it, you never even allowed me the chance to react to the news of your carrying our second child."

"Well, you left me the day I told you, Rhett." She walked to the window and pulled back the curtain to look outside. "It's lovely here; somehow I always pictured Yankee country as being looted and dirty. I enjoyed the train ride here. I didn't realize there'd be snow on the ground."

She let the curtain fall back and stiffened slightly as she felt Rhett's presence behind her and then his arms were around her. "It's a good thing I wore my older shoes, they'll be ruined I'm sure." Now he was kissing her ear, she closed her eyes. She should be pushing him away, telling him to take his hands off her. But for some reason she couldn't bring herself to do it just yet. It was just a kiss she assured herself. "Rhett, we have to talk. This isn't the time for kissing."

Rhett groaned lightly in her ear. "I'd beg to differ with you, Mrs. Butler. I thought it was a most suitable time. Our daughter will be napping for at least two hours, but if it's talking you want to do I guess I'll have to live with that." He turned her to face him, kissing her gently before he spoke.

"Before we start talking and things are perhaps said that aren't overly polite. Let me tell you that I'm very glad you're here. I know it wasn't easy for you to come here. Mrs. Sloan, by the way, thinks that you were unable to join me because you had problems at Tara that had to be taken care of. She admires your independence." He winked, "That's the story I've told anyone whose asked. And believe me, with Geraldine toddling along with me I got asked where her mother was all the time. I'm sure most of them were hoping I was a widower, but no such luck." He went to the sideboard and poured them both a brandy. He sat gesturing for Scarlett to sit across from him as he handed her a glass.

"So in other words you haven't admitted to anyone that you took our daughter and left me? Ashamed of yourself, Rhett Butler?" She narrowed her eyes slightly; curious as to what he'd say.

"Hardly. I went to see my ill father and once I was assured he would live I went ahead with my trip. I had hoped you'd join me, but I was prepared for enjoying Yankee territory alone. I didn't leave you, so stop saying that. If it were that easy, Scarlett, I would have done it five years ago. Lord knows I tried before I had you as my wife."

"You did. Rather than face the problem that was at hand, you left. And took my daughter with you."

"Of course I took Geraldine with me. You needed time to think it wasn't me that had the things to think about, Scarlett. I've known about Robert for seven years, you had just learned about him. I figured it would be best for Geraldine and me to be out of your hair for a while. If you never made it up here, I admit I probably would have delayed my return a while longer. I haven't been to Boston in quite some time and I'm sure there are some other stops I could have occupied our time with."

"And you would just continue living that way? And what about Geraldine?"

"No, I imagine I would find some place to call home until the money at the bank ran out and you needed me back at Tara. Though whether you know it or not you could make it without me."

Scarlett cringed slightly at his words. They were harsh, but it was more the fact that Will had said almost the same thing to her that made her react so to them. It was one thing to hear Rhett say it, but to know that Will and lord knows who else thought the same thing made her realize she had been quite a fool when it came to Rhett.

"I saw Mrs. Watling and Robert briefly after you left. I asked her to meet me." She bit her lip lightly, her green eyes meeting his curious dark ones. "He's a well behaved boy. And he obviously adores you. I don't think he's very pleased to have found out you've married by hearing someone call me by your name, Rhett."

Rhett looked into his brandy. He was admittedly surprised that Scarlett had taken such a bold step. Honestly, Rhett didn't even know if he could do it. "You talked to him then?"

"No, not really. He bid me hello when his mother told him to, but otherwise he sat by the lake while she and I spoke." Scarlett stood and walked to the window, pulling back the curtain again. "She said the most curious thing, Rhett. Will said it too, or at least he said the same thing in so many words."

What in the devil could Belle and Will both say regarding Robert he had to wonder. "So Will knows?" Yet another surprising thing Rhett would never expect from Scarlett.

"Yes, Will knows. I had to talk to somebody who I knew wouldn't judge you severely for the rest of your life - well, even more than they already do. And I know what Melanie would have told me. She would have told me the same thing the priest told me. And the priest told me nothing I didn't already as a woman know." She was babbling and she felt Rhett's laughter without having to turn around and see the look on his face. "Stop laughing at me, Rhett Butler. I don't find this at all amusing."

"So what is it that Belle said to you and that Will agrees with her on?" He had his arms folded at his chest now, the brandy snifter supported on his forearm as he leaned against a chair watching her. The thought that she hadn't been to speak to a priest in quite some time brought him a bit of amusement as well.

She breathed deeply. He was going to laugh she knew it. Either that or he was going to find some way to make light of it or to make her feel the fool for believing it. "She said you love me. That until I came along she thought you'd eventually claim him." She left out the part about Belle thinking they'd end up together, somehow she didn't think Belle would want him to know that. "But that she knew that you never would as long as you loved me."

"And Will agreed with her?" He was being too casual, but he was curious about what Will had to say. Will had eyes and a mind like a hawk; he was worse than servants were when it came to knowing what was going on in a household.

"Well, no. But when I voiced my doubts about you feeling anything for me other than fondness, Will pointed out to me all the things you'd done for me and how little in turn I've ever done for you." She turned to face him now. She had thought about this and she wasn't embarrassed any longer to say what she knew she should. "I'd have to agree with him now that I think about it. Other than Geraldine, I've done little to make your life much easier."

"Well, you did save it once. That certainly made my life a little easier; I can't imagine life being much more difficult to live than trying to live it dead. And you never cease to make life an adventure. So why is it exactly you don't believe Belle?"

"Well, you've never said anything remotely close to that, Rhett. I've always thought I was a source of amusement for you with the bonus of being able to give you children. I mean the only reason you pursued me was because I didn't want you. I figured for sure once I said yes to your proposal that you'd disappear, satisfied that you could get me to say yes."

Rhett laughed. "Now why on earth would I go so far as proposing to you, Scarlett? If I recall correctly the night that you tended to my shoulder you made it more than apparent you would have been a willing participant in marital activities without the marital vows to go with them."

"So is this your way of telling me that she's right, Rhett Butler? And if so, how on earth am I supposed to know if you never tell me such things?" She took a sip of her brandy turning her back to him once more.

"You apparently think I'm far braver than I actually am, Scarlett. Why would I lay such a weapon in your hands when you're so capable of turning it around to thrust it into me? I should think my actions over the past six years would go a long way towards telling you how I feel. If you think I have a girl in cities all over the United States that I take to balls, buy gowns for, and risk my life to take them home to see their ill mother for. Not to mention all the other things I've done for you; then I'm afraid you give me far too much credit than I deserve. There's only one woman I would do those things for, Scarlett. And she's standing here in front of me."

He set his glass down and walked to her, placing his hands on her shoulders. "So if you're asking me to tell you I love you. Then I'll say it. I love you. I've always loved you, even before I met you. I knew the moment I saw you that you were the woman I had been holding out for all of my life. You've got a brain, you've got spunk, you've got desire, you've got passion, you've got a temper, you've got morals - your own warped version of them but you have them - and you've got heart. Even when you'd rather do things for yourself when there was someone else in need you end up putting them first, even if you had your own selfish reasons behind doing it. But I don't think you were upset with me over my lack of loving you. And my feelings don't change the fact that I more than likely have a son."

"Why didn't you tell me about him? I just don't understand that. I mean, you've never hidden anything else about your lifestyle. Why him? Of all things, I know children mean so much to you."

"No one knows about him, Scarlett. It's not like I just intentionally lied to you. But I couldn't tell you. I couldn't risk you telling me to leave. And I knew you would. So don't stand here and tell me you wouldn't have. My having two dozen mistresses would have sat better with you than my having an illegitimate child, especially given who his mother is."

"No, of course you're right. But I know now. So what do we do? It's not right for you to go on pretending you're his uncle. Doesn't he wonder where his father is?"

"Of course he does, but at the same time, I didn't want him to see me with his mother knowing I was his father and cling to the idea that we would end up together. I already knew Belle thought that. I didn't need them both thinking it."

"You knew she thought that?" Scarlett's surprise was evident.

Rhett laughed. "Scarlett, I'm not a fool. I know full well how Belle felt."

"You didn't love her?"

Rhett laughed lightly. "No, Scarlett. I never loved Belle, at least not in the romantic sense of the word. I don't believe I ever allowed myself to love anyone. It was easier to distance myself, to leave and not look back. Something I was never able to do with you even though I didn't even get a kiss from you."

"Maybe that's why I never allowed you to kiss me, Rhett. I knew you'd never come back."

Rhett laughed lightly. He'd had enough of talking for the moment. They had been apart basically for ten weeks and his need for companionship had been pushed to the back of his mind until seeing Scarlett that morning. He took her into his arms and kissed her, his lips claiming hers not giving her the opportunity to turn him away. He unfastened her dress and corset letting them fall to the floor by the window. He picked her up and carried her into the bedroom, removing her chemise in one swift movement as he lowered her onto the bed.

"Rhett, we shouldn't be doing this." Scarlett watched as he started to undress. Somehow she knew her protests were futile and in some ways she didn't want him to stop. As much as she was mad at the situation, things never seemed too wrong when they made love. And Scarlett had to admit to missing the closeness that came with the intimacy they shared. No matter what she thought of Rhett and his relationship with Belle, she knew that when they were in bed together there were no other women in their bed. She hoped he knew the same was true.

He removed his clothes without hesitation. "Perhaps you're right, Scarlett. But I don't care and somehow I don't think you really do either." He got into bed with her, pushing the blanket from around her as he began his exploration of her body. She was about three months along now and he felt a moment of regret wash through him that he had once again missed out on a portion of her pregnancy. He hadn't been thinking of the unborn baby when he left, or maybe in some way he had been. He knew staying would have made them both miserable, and could have caused harm to the baby. He was pleased that she allowed herself to respond to him, though he was certain she didn't really want to.

Rhett held Scarlett in his arms as she slept. Prissy must have realized their need to talk or for more intimate matters, because no knock came on their door to announce Geraldine's needs. He looked down as Scarlett slept; her arm draped across his chest as if nothing had changed between them.

He heard her stir and kissed the top of her head somehow sensing this would be his last chance for showering her with intimacy for a while. He still had no idea how this would be resolved, but he knew it had to be. At least she hadn't suggested he stop seeing Robert, though Rhett had to admit if he had to choose between Scarlett, Geraldine and their unborn child and Robert there would be little contest.

He would continue to support the boy, but it would be done in such a way that no one but his attorney would ever know. Not seeing him and making sure he got an education and had clothes on his back were totally different issues, at least in Rhett's eyes. He just hoped that Scarlett would come around and not ask that of him. Perhaps some time away from Atlanta and Robert would help them.

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