Scarlett stood nervously awaiting a coach in the lobby of the hotel she was staying at while in New York. Prissy was nowhere to be found, not that this surprised Scarlett. In truth, she was sort of relieved. She really didn't want anyone with her when she had to identify the remains of her uncle. Why she had been the one chosen to identify a man she hadn't seen in years, she didn't know. She believed there were plenty of O'Hara's who knew her Uncle Andrew far better than Scarlett did.
Nevertheless, it was she who stood waiting for a coach to collect her and take her to the city morgue. She shuddered at the thought of setting foot in a morgue. She swore after the War and the death she saw in Atlanta during that dreadful time that she would never willingly observe the effects of death again. She hadn't realized that she would be called upon to identify a body.
She had worn her widow's black on the train ride up from Atlanta, but those clothes were promptly packed away to be saved for the return trip. No one looked twice at a widow traveling practically by herself, Prissy was the only servant Scarlett had brought with her and didn't count for much after all.
She stepped outside upon seeing the coach arrive and the doorman opening the door for her. She sighed heavily as she pulled her wrap around her neck and throat. The early April wind was downright chilly in New York. She thanked the footman as he handed her in and sat in somewhat shocked silence while the coach made its way to the morgue.
After some confusion over her identity, they were expecting a Scarlett O'Hara not a Scarlett O'Hara-Hamilton-Kennedy, they allowed Scarlett to view the remains. It seemed, perhaps, that they were expecting Scarlett's mother, the wife of Andrew's next of kin. This seemed to explain why she was called upon to identify the remains, as Gerald had been listed as Andrew's next of kin. She glanced at the man, her uncle, and it was like seeing her father all over again. She hadn't been prepared for that, and she felt for a moment like she might faint.
With a quick nod of her head affirming they had properly identified the deceased she quickly departed the building, taking deep breaths and trying to bite back the tears. She was not turning into Aunt Pitty who required smelling salts at the whisper of an unspeakable word. She had seen too much, done too much to become that type of person!
The coach had pulled around to the side of the building and while she waited for it to come back around she quickly emptied the contents of her stomach in the bushes. Not overly ladylike she realized, but it was better this than in front of those men in there who would think her weak for doing such a thing at the sight of the body. Then they would wonder why she hadn't brought her husband along to help her.
As if she needed a man to accompany her for something like this! Although it would have been nice to have Ashley with her, he would have known exactly what to say to help her through this. Of course it wouldn't have been proper to ask another woman's husband to accompany her to New York, though she imagined Ashley would have done it if she'd asked.
It wasn't so much the condition of the body that had upset her and her stomach, it was the fact that even in death he looked so much like her father. It made her miss her Pa and feel his loss all over again. She had seen death before, of course. She had even shot and killed a man once. She hadn't had to identify the man and the man hadn't looked just like her father.
She could still see his eyes with the lines around them more from exposure to the sun and other of Mother Nature's elements than from age. She could hear his laugh and his heavy Irish brogue that she always found fascinating to listen to. She could taste and smell the whisky he was so fond of drinking. And it was like he was here calling her his puss all over again. For a moment she could pretend that there had been no War, that Ashley hadn't married Melanie, that they had no son, and that she wasn't widowed twice before the age of twenty-two. She once again had her whole life ahead of her, and it was sad to come back to the present day realizing in all essence what a failure her parents must see her as.
She wiped her face with her handkerchief, taking special care to dry her slightly moist eyes before walking to the coach. She didn't want to think about Pa anymore. Not today and not ever again. She knew the choices she'd made wouldn't be popular with either of her parents. But it was her father that she always felt the worse for failing. She was never going to be the woman her mother was, no matter how hard she might try. She just wasn't a conformist. It was as simple as that.
As she entered the coach once more to be dropped at the hotel she tried to think of other things. She realized she could use a nip of brandy. She just hoped that Prissy hadn't taken it upon herself to decide to try and be useful for the first time today of all days and unpack Scarlett's trunks. She had a good bottle of brandy that Prissy didn't need to know existed.
Rhett stood kissing Marguerite good bye after their few days together. He would more than likely never see her again, but she sure helped pass the time while in New York. She was leaving that morning and he was trying to be gone before the bellhop came to fetch her bags. The kiss was cut short when he felt as though he was being watched. He hadn't heard anyone approach so he wasn't sure where the feeling was coming from. He hated leaving her thinking he wasn't sincere in his gratitude, but he knew when it was time to go. He was more than surprised and his normally unreadable expression clearly registered this when he saw Scarlett standing with a key evidently to the suite next to the one Rhett had just come out of. It was apparent Scarlett hadn't realized it was Rhett she was watching, which amused him.
Glancing back at the door to Room 32, assured Marguerite was inside and the door was closed, he walked the short distance to Scarlett's door. Room 30 the numbers read, as if he really needed to know that tempting piece of information. Gone was the look of surprise, so quickly that one might have wondered if it was ever there. No one caught Rhett Butler by surprise. But Scarlett O'Hara-Hamilton-Kennedy wasn't no one. Rhett had learned that over the years. He hadn't seen her in quite some time, he tried to quickly calculate just how long it had been in his mind to no avail.
He looked at her, clearly amused. He looked predatory standing as he did towering over her, his broad shoulders hiding her view from anyone who might be passing by. "What a surprise, Mrs. Kennedy. It is still Kennedy, isn't it? Have you gotten so desperate in your attempts to catch yet another husband you had to come all the way up here find one? Surely things can't be that bad in Atlanta?"
He quickly realized that he had perhaps blundered terribly. He noticed too late the red and puffy eyes that were normally green and vivacious, so full of life and up to a challenge. Clearly she had been crying and was in no mood for one of Rhett's challenges. Too late to be sincere in his approach, the words were already out there. And as always with things between them, his words had cut like a knife. Though he had to wonder what had brought her to New York. And had whatever brought her here caused the tears?
He had killed men for less than making a woman let alone Scarlett cry, he just didn't know he was up for one of her games. He frowned slightly wondering if it was possible she could have known he was in New York. Of course she could have, but he wasn't staying at this hotel. It was just by chance he had been with Marguerite.
"I'm not in the mood for your jokes today, Rhett. And surely your lady friend won't appreciate your talking to me when her lips probably aren't even cold yet."
"That kiss," he said, a brow rising as he regarded her closely. "I hadn't even gotten started on kissing her, Scarlett. At least not that time," he chuckled lightly. "It's hard to kiss well when I felt like the weight of the Confederate army was bearing down on my back. Now I know why. Haven't you ever been kissed like that, Scarlett?"
Scarlett actually blushed at his words. She had had no idea it was Rhett standing there, but she couldn't help but notice the way the woman had responded to his kiss. It was clear it was his idea to leave not the lady's. Rhett had only kissed her twice over the years of their association, she refused to call what they had a friendship. She couldn't help but recall that he was rather good at it. "You don't know a damned thing, Rhett Butler, and you never will either. Not about me anyway. Obviously not even New York is big enough to allow me to avoid running into you. I'm surprised you haven't let my being here go to your head and think I'm following you."
"Now there's an interesting thought, Mrs. Kennedy. Just what would you be following me for? You don't need money. Your first two husbands left you with plenty, or at least the means to make plenty, when they passed on and left you a childless widow. And that, my dear Mrs. Kennedy, would leave it to only the kissing. And I'm not sure you're ready for my kisses, Scarlett. Not if you think what you just saw was anything worth talking about."
Scarlett had had just about enough out of this day as it was. And now here was the last person she cared to see both insulting her and making advances towards her in the same breath. And he had just come from being with another woman! How dare he? Without thought and almost as if of its own accord, Scarlett's hand slapped Rhett hard across the cheek. "How dare you, Rhett Butler. How dare you throw my curiosity about a couple back in my face and take it to mean anything other than the fact I am a widowed woman who might miss the kisses of my own husband."
"Which husband's kisses is it you are missing so, Scarlett? Charles's? Frank's? I doubt very likely they'd know where to find their own lips let alone yours, but we'll play it your way." His eyes fell to her lips briefly, they were rather tempting but he wasn't going to risk it. Not here. Not with a bellhop due up here any minute to collect Marguerite's luggage.
"So why are you here, Scarlett," he asked his tone changing. He was no longer teasing or crass but sincere and concerned. He couldn't help it as he regarded her tear stained cheeks and the effects of those tears on her eyes. "And what is it that has you so upset? I know it's not my presence. I've never brought you to tears before, so I know I'm not that offensive to you."
"No, Rhett, it's not you. I wish I could say it were and be rid of you. But I can't. You'd know I was lying anyway." She really wanted that drink about now, but standing out here talking to Rhett wasn't getting it for her. Her hand reached for the handle leading to her suite, hoping that would dismiss him. "Enjoy your day, Rhett. I'm going to go see if Prissy's taken care of my trunks or if I have to do it."
"Prissy's with you," he asked somewhat surprised. "Where's Pork or Big Sam?" Did this woman not know how dangerous it was for a woman with her looks and the appearance of money she presented to travel? Apparently not. For a woman as intelligent as she was, she lacked common sense sometimes. And if he knew Scarlett, she had a trunk full of the finest gowns.
"They're at home, Rhett, caring for Tara. Where else would they be," she asked not sure why the question had been asked. She didn't need a man to travel with her.
"You shouldn't be traveling alone, Scarlett, that's all. These are dangerous times, and you're a little out of your league here Scarlett. These men here in New York are viscous. They'll swarm around you like a school of sharks that smells the hint of blood and chew you to bits if you let them."
"Do you include yourself in that category, Rhett? The woman whose company you just left seemed quite intact to me."
"Very funny, Scarlett," he said, wishing he hadn't gotten onto this subject and away from the subject of what was bothering her. "Well, since you are here with Prissy perhaps you'd care to have dinner with an old friend. It's not every day I run into you in my world, I might just enjoy the show."
"I don't know what kind of show you think I'd put on, Rhett. I'm not up to shows or making a spectacle of myself tonight. But I don't see any harm in having dinner with you. Won't your woman friend mind," she asked just as the bellhop rounded the corner and made his approach to Marguerite's door to collect her things. She smiled slightly with a shake of her head.
"I guess not. Rather convenient her leaving. Would you still be asking me to dinner if she weren't leaving," she asked. And as much as she wanted him to say no so that she could get mad at him and refuse his invitation, she imagined somehow that he would not have let that stop him.
"Well, I can't say for sure if she wasn't leaving I would have run into you. So I have no idea there. But Fate seems to have brought us together, so why not make Him happy." He paused slightly as the bellhop made his departure, walking past them once more.
He chuckled to himself as he noticed Scarlett peering at the doorway of Marguerite's suite. He'd love to know what she was thinking about right now. Was she jealous? Wondering just what the woman he had spent his last few nights with looked like? She was no comparison to the woman standing before him. But then again, no woman had measured up to Scarlett O'Hara no matter how hard he tried to find one to since that fateful day in April 1861 when they first met.
"But in answer to your question. If the situation was as it is now, yes I would still invite you to join me. And my friend would have to understand that you're another friend," he smirked slightly, "who I don't have occasion to see often. Just how long has it been anyway?"
"I believe close to two years," Scarlett said not sure she wanted to admit she knew just how long it had been since she'd seen Rhett Butler. It had been shortly after she had married Frank. He came by the store to, in a round about way, make sure that the taxes she had sought for Tara had been taken care of. He never claimed that was the reason for his visit. He had been as sarcastic as always, but Scarlett knew that was the purpose. She had to admit she was grateful he thought enough to inquire yet be subtle about it. Frank wouldn't have appreciated someone implying he hadn't provided for Scarlett.
"Has it been that long," Rhett queried, trying to calculate just where the time had gone. He had been to Atlanta during those two years but had purposely stayed away from Scarlett and her Aunt Pitty's home. He certainly hadn't let a woman being married to another man stop him from pursuing her in the past. But Scarlett wasn't just any woman, and Rhett didn't believe he could settle for an illicit affair when it came to her. He wasn't even sure if he could settle for an affair under the present circumstances, but he was more tempted to try it now than he had been when she was married.
"It has I believe, yes," Scarlett said feigning as if she had to think on this. "It was shortly after Frank and I had married if I recall correctly."
"Well, the years have been kind to you. Aside from the loss of your beloveds of course."
"Oh stop with this talk of my beloved, Rhett. You know damned well why I married Charles and Frank and neither had anything to do with love. Charles was a simpering fool who let me tell him what to do and Frank was a miserable old man who would have gone broke if it weren't for me. But at least I still have Tara and I don't need to marry again."
"Need to. Does that mean you want to?"
"No, I don't want to do that either. That's my point, Rhett, and I believe you know that and are simply teasing me. My not needing to makes it much easier for me to not want to."
Rhett wasn't so sure about that, he thought he might be able to convince her she both wanted and needed to. If only he knew where Ashley stood in the picture - both in real life and in her mind. "So you'll join me for dinner then? I can meet you downstairs in the lobby at say four o'clock," he said, glancing at his pocket watch. "I have tickets to the theatre tonight if you'd care to accompany me there as well."
"I don't want to take someone else's ticket, Rhett. That's not necessary, really. Dinner is more than enough, especially considering you didn't even know I was in New York until just a few minutes ago."
"You're not taking anyone's seat, Scarlett. I have box seats and there happens to be one lone unused ticket. If you care to join me, just dress for the theatre rather than solely dinner. I leave it up to you. Perhaps after a bath you will feel better."
She was about to ask him how he knew she didn't feel just fine now, but she knew he could see she'd been crying. Yet he had been kind enough not to press the issue when she obviously didn't want to discuss what was on her mind. She wasn't sure she wanted to admit to Rhett she was haunted by the ghosts of her parents and the expectations they both had for her.
"Perhaps," she said, hearing the bolt from his lady friend's door being thrown she realized they had been talking for some time. She didn't need the brandy nearly as badly as she had a few moments ago, but now she had to think about spending an entire evening with Rhett Butler unchaperoned and outside of Atlanta. She wasn't sure if she was setting herself up for trouble or not. "I'll see you at four then." She entered her room, closing and bolting the door behind her without giving him the chance to respond.
Scarlett sat in the lobby waiting for Rhett at just before four. She was a little early, but she didn't want Rhett to think she expected him to come to her room for her. She had only been here since that morning and she didn't need her reputation called into question already. Not when she wasn't sure just how long she was planning on staying in New York. Now that she was here, she figured she might as well see what was so exciting about this city.
She stood when she saw him enter the hotel. He looked incredibly handsome and he was dressed more than suitably well for a night at the theatre in a black tuxedo, a white shirt, and a plain black cravat. For some reason she had pictured him dressing for such an occasion in a flashy manner, trying to outdo everyone. Even his stickpin and cufflinks were simple, plain gold with some engraving on them. But the funny thing was, if he was trying to blend in and look like a common man, he failed miserably. The cut of his suit coat, the way he carried himself, the way he looked around a room as if he owned it, and the way his entrance caused every woman's head, and some men's, in the room to turn in his direction all made him stand out.
She approached him, her black velvet gown was rather simple but it fit her perfectly. Prissy had gathered her chestnut tresses into a flattering twist of some sort. Scarlett had been pleased with her appearance when she left her suite. But standing next to Rhett, knowing she was going to be compared to him she felt a little frumpy. She wasn't counting on going out to the theatre while here in New York. She figured she'd get her business done and arrange for her departure from New York as soon as possible.
"Afraid I'd leave without you, Mrs. Kennedy, if you weren't waiting for me in the lobby?"
"No, Rhett, in truth I didn't want you thinking I expected to fetch me from my suite. That's all. Do I look all right? And will you please stop calling me Mrs. Kennedy? I've known you for close to seven years now surely there's no reason for you to put on the pretense that we're only casual acquaintances."
"Are you suggesting that we're more than casual acquaintances then," Rhett smirked widely. "I had no idea, Scarlett. And here I thought you couldn't stand the sight of me for all these years. Why once upon a time you told me you hoped a bullet caught me."
"Oh Rhett, how you do hold things against me when you know I was upset and dreadfully frightened at the time."
"Yes, you were, and rightfully so. But you made it through just fine. Look at you now," he said as he himself did just that. "And you look fine, Scarlett." In truth she looked quite stunning, her neck and shoulders exposed like they were gave him ideas of touching and kissing them. Thoughts that were not good to be having about this woman. He offered her his arm. "If you're ready to go then, Scarlett."
"I'm ready, Rhett," she said, taking his offered arm. She thought back to all the times they had been together, even been alone together, but they had never dined out together. Actually, they hadn't ever done anything together away from Pitty's house and a dance or two at balls. She was about to find out what kind of escort Rhett Butler was, and she was starting to worry about what kind of companion Scarlett O'Hara made.
Scarlett blotted her lips with her napkin and drank the last sip of wine from her wineglass. Dinner had gone very well. Rhett had spared no expense and had ordered extravagant dishes she'd never heard of, but everything was excellent. And the pastry she'd had for dessert was one of the best she'd ever had. It was so nice not to have to pretend to have no appetite with him. She knew Rhett knew enough about women to know they ate meals just like men did.
"You do know how to impress a girl, Rhett. Just how well known are you at this restaurant?"
Rhett chuckled lightly. It was nice to see a smile on Scarlett's face, one that was apparent in her eyes as well. For a long time that had been missing, that spark in her eyes he had seen that day at Twelve Oaks many years ago. She was no sixteen year old belle any longer, but she didn't deserve to be wasting away as a twice widowed woman either, existing for a man who was married to another and the businesses she ran. "I'm known here well enough I suppose. Though it's not always female company I bring here, Scarlett."
Scarlett smiled widely at that. She believed him, she knew he worked hard though she had no idea now that the war was over just what he did. "Are you here on business now then?"
"I've been here a few weeks mostly business related, yes. I'll probably be leaving next week. Time to move on."
"After a few weeks? Is it that difficult for you to stay put, Rhett?"
"I have little to stay put for, Scarlett. A hotel room. That's about it. There are hotel rooms in every city around the world."
"Where would you stay put in if you were to decide it was time to stay put, Rhett? Somewhere up north?"
"I haven't given it much thought truthfully," he said as he pulled out his cigarette case, replacing it into his suit coat pocket once he'd retrieved one. "I'd probably end up somewhere near home. I like the north, but I always return south."
"Will you be heading south when you leave here next week?"
"This sounds serious, Scarlett. Are you asking me for an itinerary? Are you trying to find out when I'll see you again?"
"And what if I was, Rhett? Would that be so bad? We've always enjoyed one another's company."
"Enjoyed might be pushing it a bit, Scarlett. But yes I suppose we have. Are things that boring in Atlanta that you're actually asking me to come pay you a visit?"
"Well, not boring exactly, Rhett. But I have no one to talk to about my businesses. The women don't understand me and the men think I'm just a blister on their heel and don't take me seriously."
"And you want me there to take you seriously? To listen to a business proposition? Or is there a proposition more personal in nature taking shape in that pretty head of yours?"
"Stop teasing me, Rhett. You take me seriously, you always have. You've never treated me like a mindless twit because I was a woman. Besides, Aunt Pitty would love to see you," she flashed him a coquettish smile.
"Believe me when I tell you I could quite honestly care less about your first late husband's aunt, Scarlett. But I suppose I'm due to spend some time in Atlanta in the near future. But I want something in return."
"Oh dear Lord, Rhett, what? What could you possibly want in return for making a trip to Atlanta?"
"Me," she asked not sure that she heard him right. Or just what he was implying with that statement.
"If I'm to return to Atlanta to see you it won't be as an acquaintance, Scarlett." He held up his hand to stop her from protesting or saying anything until he was done. Seeing a stray curl that had managed to work its way undone from her hairdo, he reached across the table with his hand and tucked the curl slowly behind her ear. The palm of his hand touched her cheek, his little finger brushed along the side of her neck briefly before he moved his hand. "Now before you go off thinking it won't be so bad because neither of your marriages lasted longer than a year or two. I have no intentions of getting pneumonia and dying. The war is over and I made it out quite well, thank you. And I do not share in your second husband's desire to rid Atlanta of vagrants in the same fashion he did. So I will not be shot in the head trying to clean up any mess you made. So you'd be stuck with me for quite some time."
"We're back to this again, are we, Rhett? I figured by now you no longer desired me in that way. You certainly don't act like someone who does, making yourself scarce for years at a time."
"At least we're making progress, Scarlett. That wasn't a flat out no and there were no further strikes to my face. So perhaps young Charles and old Frank did me a favor."
"A favor," she asked not sure how that could be.
He laughed lightly. If they were back by her suite's door as they were this morning he might be prone to answer her by showing her. But they weren't, and they had the theatre to attend yet this evening. So he contented himself with toying with her a little more. "Well, maybe they made aspects of being a wife not so offensive or terrible as you imagined they were. And maybe that's left you curious to know what someone who knew what they were doing could do."
"And you think you're that person, Rhett Butler," she asked not quite sure why she was pursuing this conversation. She should have told him to go to hell and walked out, theatre after dinner be damned. But she was somewhat curious and being in New York together seemed to make things different for them. She didn't know for sure but she imagined what both Charles and Frank combined knew could fit into a thimble compared to Rhett's knowledge.
"I don't know for sure, but I have an idea I am, yes," he winked, taking a puff of his cigarette. "I've been trying to find out for a half a dozen years now but you haven't been overly receptive to letting us both find out."
"Because you are always so contemptible and crass about making the suggestion, Rhett. You've made it quite clear I'm a curiosity to you. Are there any other women out there in the world who have said no to your advances repeatedly? I gather there aren't." She leaned forward and in doing so she revealed more of the tops of her breasts to him and anyone else who happened to look at her at that moment. "And I've already told you I don't want any babies. I made it through two marriages without going through the process and somehow I'm not so sure you'd be content with that."
"Why's that, Scarlett," Rhett asked, trying not to look at the view she was providing him. "And I suggest unless you want the entire restaurant to think you already are my mistress you might not want to sit like that."
Scarlett hadn't realized just how much of her was exposed in this dress since this was her first time wearing it. She sat back slowly, her eyes never leaving Rhett's. She saw a flash of something there when he had made his suggestion. Was he jealous of other men looking at her? She didn't think so. He knew her well enough to know that while she loved attention she wasn't one to do something obscene in order to get it.
"Why do I think you wouldn't be content with that," she asked her eyes narrowing slightly. "Because you'd want something of mine or from me that Charles and Frank never had. And they already had me as their wife."
"That's assuming I want children, of course. Don't you'd think I'd have myself some by now if that were the case?"
She laughed lightly with a shake of her head, her pearl earbobs making soft clicking noises as she did. "No, Rhett Butler, I don't think so."
"And why don't you think so, Scarlett? I'm dying to hear the insight you have into my thought process on why I don't have children."
"Because none of the women you're with are consistent. They're gone just as quickly as they enter it."
"And you're not? I guess a two year absence from one another doesn't count?"
"Well, no, because I know you were in Atlanta during those two years, Rhett. You just chose not to actually call on me. I can only guess that the reason was out of some sort of respect for Frank and our marriage."
"Respect isn't actually the term I'd choose to use, Scarlett. But, yes, I suppose you're right in that regard. I knew our times together were suspect enough when you weren't married, I wasn't going to add to gossip about you. And then if a child were to have resulted from your marriage its paternity would have been called into question. And well, you'd be a widow either way. Because had I been called out, even knowing it wasn't my child, I would not have been the one lying on the ground dead at the end."
"You would leave my child without a father?"
She smiled slightly, her eyes playful. Somehow instead of making her feel uneasy that simple statement soothed her. Rhett Butler would do whatever it took to ensure that Rhett Butler thrived. He had said once upon a time that they were alike, bad lots both out for themselves. She had always believed him, and this just reassured her all the more.
"And then what? Despite gossip you'd leave me to raise my child alone?"
He laughed lightly. "You would have had more than one candidate to replace Frank, Scarlett. I doubt you would have remained single for any longer than propriety called for. Maybe even less with a child thrown into the mix," he shrugged slightly. "But I'm sure barring a surrogate father we could have come to some sort of agreement since I would have been responsible for its being without its father."
"Surely you can't be serious, Rhett. I don't see you taking responsibility for every child, born or unborn, you've deprived of a parent."
Rhett laughed loudly, pouring them both more wine since it seemed they weren't going anywhere quite yet. They had plenty of time to get to the theatre. "That's assuming I've bastardized a child before, Scarlett. I'd admit many things to you, but that's not one of them. But I was serious, simply because the child's mother would have been you."
"You're too much, Rhett. I never know when to take you seriously or when you're baiting me. But it's nice to know I wouldn't have been entirely on my own. Lord knows there's few in Atlanta I could count on."
"Yes, you've kind of burned all your bridges, haven't you? You've stolen beaux from two women and married them, one having been your sister's. And you're in love with another woman's husband. There are few places for you to turn."
"I did what I had to do, Rhett. I regret Charles. I do, really. That was just stupid and childish. Spite and jealousy over seeing Ashley and Melanie together. But Frank," she said, peering up at him through lowered lashes. "What was I to do? Suellen wouldn't have helped Tara had she married Frank."
"Not that you'll get me to admit what I just said to anyone but you. I suspect you already knew, though, so I'm telling you nothing revolutionary."
He laughed once more. "I'll never tell another soul, Scarlett. Is that what you see me as, the person to take your confessions? I hope not. I am no priest, nor could anything you say offend me or make me think you must say ‘Hail Mary's' or anything else."
"Are you that bad, Rhett? You know, I know you are. I know about your reputation and have known about it since that day at Twelve Oaks. But I must admit you've never been anything but kind to me. You're rude to me at times, to be honest, but I sense you're only as rude as you feel you can be. Take this morning for instance."
"What about this morning," he asked going over the morning in his mind and once again realizing he wasn't very in tune to Scarlett's mood until it was too late. And even then he wasn't overly good at offering her comfort.
"Well, first of all you successfully distracted me from what was on my mind. Though I realize that wasn't intentional on your part, it happened. And second of all, you didn't try and force me into telling you what was wrong or treat me like I was a simpering girl for being all red eyed from crying."
"Well, I asked and you didn't seem to want to answer. So I didn't press the issue. Would you like to talk about it now?"
"I'm not sure," she said not meeting his gaze. "Aren't you even curious what I'm doing here?"
"Well, I just assumed it had something to do with your uncle's passing."
"You knew about that?"
"Yes, I knew about that, Scarlett. I've actually, believe it or not, been trying to figure out just who was behind his death. That's one of the reasons I extended my visit here."
"Why? Why do you care who was behind my uncle's death, Rhett?"
"Because I liked your father, Scarlett, and he would want someone to find out who shot his brother in the back. There's little I would do for my father or my relatives, but I can't say that I like him. Hell, a lot of my relatives probably deserve to be shot in the back. But as far as I can tell your uncle was a good, hard working, and honest man."
"You know I never really knew him. I'd met him once as a little girl I think, but Pa kind of kept to himself at Tara. But God seeing him there at that awful morgue was like looking at Pa all over again. It was horrible, Rhett. I never got to say good bye to Pa. By the time I came back to Tara after I'd married Frank, he had died." She glanced up at him finally. "If I hadn't married Frank, Rhett, he'd still be alive. I wouldn't have done what Suellen did. I'm capable of a lot of things, and I know I could get Pa to do whatever I wanted him to do. But I would never have tricked him. At least not after Mother had died."
"Of course not, Scarlett. I don't think anyone's ever questioned your love for your parents. At least not that I've ever heard talk of."
"I know, but I still feel like people are talking about me sometimes. Blaming me for my father's death, probably my mother's too even though I was in Atlanta when she got sick."
Rhett paid their bill and stood, helping Scarlett up from her chair. He placed his hand at the small of her back as he walked with her out of the restaurant. Stopping at the edge of the roadway where they awaited their hired coach be brought around for them he turned to face her. He placed his hands at either side of her neck, his thumbs stroking her cheeks as his mouth sought hers and kissed her. It was a brief kiss, lasting only a few seconds, but it was heartfelt, an attempt to reassure her that she was not to blame herself for everything bad in the world that had happened to her or her family.
"No one blames you for anything, Scarlett. Frank's death is as close as they could possibly come to that. But had he and Ashley and the others not been engaged in their ‘political meetings' he might not be dead either."
Scarlett was surprised by their sudden departure and even more surprised by his kiss. Not so much that he kissed her, he'd kissed her before, but at the feeling accompanying the kiss. He seemed genuine, not as if he were trying to get her into his bed that night. This was a rarity for Rhett, considering the tone of part of their conversation that evening.
Rhett handed Scarlett into the coach and took his seat next to her once the driver had been told where they were going next. He placed his arm around Scarlett and with his other hand brought her to look at him. He kissed her again, deeper this time. "Kiss me back, Scarlett. You're no blushing young maiden any longer, you're a woman and are allowed."
Scarlett did kiss him back for a moment, it was hard to resist given how lightheaded his kisses rendered her. But then the realization that he had just been with another woman that morning dawned on her and she pulled away. "You skunk, Rhett. How can you dare kiss me like that when your lady friend probably hasn't even made it out of the state of New York yet?"
"Scarlett, had I known I'd be here with you like this I wouldn't have spent any of the time I spent with her let alone stayed last night. But I didn't." He tipped her face up to look at him, his eyes meeting hers. "I can kiss you like that because I desire you like no other woman I've ever met before, Scarlett O'Hara. I don't care who I've been with that day, that hour, or that minute before seeing you it would still stand true."
"Then why did you go two years without seeing me? Surely you could have called on me. Aunt Pitty never minded acting as a chaperone. And there was always Melly."
"And talk with you as we sat in the house you were making with your husband, Scarlett? And I certainly didn't care to see you carrying his child. No, thank you. I'd just as soon not endure that. Had I known that Frank was going to pass on so soon perhaps I would have behaved differently. But I didn't know and I thought the temptation - for both of us - was better left alone."
"I don't know that I can have children, Rhett. I mean, shouldn't I have some by now if I were able to?"
Rhett laughed lightly. "Well, I don't know the scope of your late husbands' knowledge or their skill in such matters, Scarlett, so it's hard to say. I'm afraid I don't know the answer to that one, other than perhaps you weren't ripe at the time of your lovemaking."
He turned from her his arm bent so his elbow rested at his knee his hand under his chin. Christ, now he was talking to her about making love to Charles and Frank. What in the world was this day turning into? He could do without the images of Scarlett making love to anyone, particularly two men who surely would have no idea how to treat her right and give her the passion she deserved.
"I don't know that I want them anyway, but sometimes I wonder what it would be like." She regarded him with interest. "Do you have any?"
"Children of course. Isn't that what we have been talking about?"
He grunted slightly his acknowledgement, not having expected that question. He shifted slightly, using his hand to move the coach window's curtain out of the way so he could see outside. They were approaching the theatre now.
"What makes you think I have children, Scarlett?"
"It was just a question, Rhett. There's no need to get upset with me. But I've seen you with Beau and you're good with him. And Melanie says you always give him the best presents, as if you know what little boys his age will like. So I was just curious."
"I was a little boy once myself. You do realize that I hope," he asked with a slight lift of his lips that could be taken for a smile.
The coach drew to a stop and Rhett didn't wait for the footman to open the door and set up the step, he did it himself more than ready to have this conversation over with. He hadn't lied, yet, and he didn't want to lie. But with the answer to that question would come more questions and the revelation of who the mother was. That would send Scarlett packing clear in the other direction if not the other side of the world.
Scarlett realized she probably shouldn't have asked the question, but for some reason she thought he might just trust her enough to answer her question with a true answer and not a riddle or avoiding it as he had. So he either had a child, or children, and didn't want to acknowledge the child. Or wanted them and didn't and didn't want to talk about it. She wondered which it was as she took his offered arm.
"What show are we seeing anyway," she asked regarding the crowd nearby, obviously going to the show as well.
He laughed heartily. "Shakespeare's ‘Taming of the Shrew'. Kind of appropriate wouldn't you say?"
"Only if you're the shrew, Rhett Butler."
"Not on your life, Scarlett." He retrieved the tickets from his jacket pocket and presented them to the doorman.
"Who else will be joining us tonight?"
"Nobody, why do you ask?"
"Well, those seats are in a box. Aren't there usually more than two seats in a box?"
"There are, but I bought the whole box. I like my privacy," he winked. "It gives me the chance to tame those shrews."
"There was a time I'd be hesitant to spend hours alone with you in a theatre's box."
"And you're not now?"
"No, Rhett, I'm not. I've come to the realization that you're not so bad a person to spend time with."
"Because I take you to nice restaurants and to the theatre? I imagine it's a better trip than you hoped for since you came here to identify your uncle's remains."
"Yes, it's a little better than I expected." She took his arm as they walked up the staircase leading to their box. "And in case I forget to say it later. Thank you, Rhett. I don't know if you knew what was wrong or not, but you helped me take my mind off everything for a little while."
As they took their seats, Scarlett felt sort of like a princess. The theatre was beautiful, far more so than anything they had in Atlanta. The chandeliers were enough to give Scarlett pause at who had to not only clean them but was responsible for lighting them every evening. Not to mention the fact that she was here with one of the most eligible bachelors out of Charleston, and his reputation exceeded the boundaries of even just that city.
Looking at the other members of the audience she glanced at Rhett finding him watching her looking at everything as if she'd never seen such sights before. In truth, she hadn't. She'd been to Charleston and Richmond before, but that had been when she was younger and attending theatre wasn't an option for her then.
"What will you tell people about me? Am I just another one of your women that will be forgotten about as soon the evening's over?"
"If asked I imagine I would tell them that you were an old friend who I took to dinner while our paths crossed here in New York. I should tell you I typically don't offer information unless asked for it." He placed his arm around the back of her chair, his fingers resting lightly against her bare shoulder. "And I really think you give me far more credit for having as many women at my disposal as you seem to think I do. In truth, Scarlett, until this morning have you ever seen me with a woman romantically?"
"Well, no I don't suppose I have," she said after thinking his question over. And she hadn't, but she had always attributed it to his being discreet not wanting to ruin his chances with her. Vain perhaps, but Scarlett wasn't exactly known for believing the world didn't in some way revolve around her. "Surely some of your reputation is true, Rhett."
"Some of it, sure. I like women and I don't want to get married so that makes me all sorts of things. Add to it I've made myself some money, enjoy the finer things in life, and don't mind sharing some of my fortune with the women I do choose to spend my time with. Well, people just naturally like to gossip about what they don't know or don't understand. It's unfathomable to some that a man with my bloodline would have no desire to continue it on."
"And is that true, Rhett? Or is that just part of the image you've worked so hard at to present?"
"Which part the children or the wife? Your observations of my enjoying children are correct, I do. I just have a difficult time imagining myself settling down in one place long enough to find a woman willing to marry me and know that I might be gone more than I'm home. And women seem to consider having a home of great importance."
"What do you mean by that? I think most people do, Rhett."
"Yes, I suppose you're right. What I meant is that I've yet to find a woman who is willing to travel with me when it is allowed, who wouldn't mind being away from their home and family for months or even years at a time."
She laughed lightly, this statement clearly amused her. "And you think you could stand living with the same woman day in and day out, Rhett? On a ship or in a hotel room? I think your problem might be a fear that if you married someone and were gone you'd have a hard time remaining faithful to one woman."
Rhett glanced at her amused at her statement. "Perhaps you're right, Scarlett. I don't suppose you'd volunteer for the job?"
"Which job? Joining you on your world traveling endeavors or being the one waiting at home for you wondering and worrying if you'll ever come back? I did that once already, Rhett. I didn't like it very much."
Rhett regarded her closely, surprised at her statement. Surprised that she had said something indicating she was vulnerable. "I'm not off joining a war this time, Scarlett," he said softly, wondering if she'd ever let him live that down. He doubted it. "Come with me then. What's holding you to Atlanta? Your late husband's business that you could hire someone else to run?" His lips curled up in an amused grin. "You could travel as my secretary."
"Rhett," Scarlett started to say as the curtain rose signaling the beginning of the performance. She reverted to silence, knowing that once she started talking about just what would be required as his secretary she'd probably get upset.
The show over, Scarlett remained seated watching the people below them as they left. Rhett's arm hadn't strayed from its place at her shoulder, which she found oddly comforting. She turned to look at him curious what he would have done with the tickets had she not been there. Had someone else been invited only to be usurped by Scarlett? That thought wasn't entirely displeasing, though she certainly hadn't forced Rhett to bring her here tonight. "Do you always attend the theatre alone, Rhett," she queried her eyes returning to the seats below theirs, the proscenium, and the now curtained stage.
Rhett's lip curled up in an amused smile, sensing just where her thoughts were. "I was actually going to give the seats to one of my business associates here if you hadn't joined me. I just prefer box seats for the space it offers, and I can choose who I sit near," he chuckled lightly. "Wondering who was supposed to be sitting to my left this evening, Scarlett?"
"Well, the thought did cross my mind. The lady from the hotel has obviously left."
"There would have been no other lady present tonight, Scarlett. Again, it seems Fate dealt us the cards to play, it was up to us to read them right." He stood, placing her wrap around her shoulders. It was a nice wrap, but it didn't seem as though it would offer her much warmth. "You need proper outerwear if you're going to be up here this time of year, Scarlett. This isn't Atlanta."
"Well, I didn't exactly have time to get something made, Rhett," she said her green eyes gazing into his dark ones with interest as he fussed over her wrap and ensuring her shoulders were covered. It was nice to be fretted over. She hadn't had anyone to fret over her in years, she'd almost forgotten how nice it was. Her eyes fluttered closed briefly as she lowered her gaze. It was odd to see this side of Rhett, and to see it when they were quite a distance from Atlanta. She could almost forget what a skunk he could be.
"I don't suppose you did," he replied amused. Knowing Scarlett, had she had the time she would have arrived in New York with an entirely new wardrobe, never mind that the city of New York had never seen her or any of the frocks she already owned. It just was the way Scarlett was. She had been that way before the War he imagined, but he knew that the War had made it a more prominent need in her. He stepped away from her momentarily before offering her his overcoat. "You can wear mine if you think it'd be warmer, Scarlett. I'm not sure if the coach I hired will have a source to keep us warm or not," he admitted.
"What would you wear then," she asked, glancing from his face to his coat. It was a tempting offer, and the dress she was wearing tonight sported a straight enough skirt that it wouldn't ruin anything too horribly. "I can't take your coat, Rhett."
"And I can't have you getting sick when there was something I could have done to prevent it. I have my suit coat, that's more than sufficient really." He moved a few steps closer, his free arm encircling her waist as he brought his face ever closer to hers. His lips were less than an inch from hers when he pulled away and moved his mouth to her ear. A smile crept to his lips when he heard her expel the breath she had been holding in anticipation of his kiss. "Besides I'll have you beside me to see to keeping me warm, Mrs. Kennedy."
"I suppose you would have that, wouldn't you," Scarlett replied her voice barely a whisper. She had thought for sure he was going to kiss her just then. And a real kiss, even better than the one she'd seen him in the midst of when she approached her suite's door that morning. It was a good thing he couldn't feel her pulse race, she didn't want him to know the effect the mere thought of him kissing her had on her.
Rhett brought his lips to the side of her neck, brushing them lightly against her skin before kissing her ear lightly. "Take the coat, Scarlett," he said softly against her ear before pulling away. "I realize it's not a fashion statement, but it will serve its purpose."
Aiding her in removing her wrap and into his overcoat, he placed her wrap over his arm, offering her the other as they left the box. "Did you enjoy the show, Scarlett? It didn't strike too close to home did it?"
"Hardly since I've already been married twice, Rhett. Though I guess my delay in marrying the first time did prevent Suellen from marrying Frank when they wanted to. I really didn't care, but Pa wouldn't have any of Suellen marrying before I did." She shook her head realizing she'd strayed quite far from his question. "I did enjoy it, but I think you already knew that. I can't believe that men used to play all those parts. It seems like it would be rather strange to play the roles and say the lines man to man."
Rhett laughed heartily. "Well, no one knew any different, Scarlett. You running a business is unheard of now. Just think two hundred years ago," he shrugged. "If a woman acted she was thought of as a prostitute basically. Respectable women just didn't do that sort of thing. Honestly, that mentality still holds true for a lot of people today. But I assure you all actresses are not harlots or loose women. Some are just like you."
"I'm sure you're right, and I wasn't judging them in any way. I just can't help thinking of Romeo and Juliet and wondering what that must have been like watching it knowing Juliet was really a man. It sort of loses its effect."
"I didn't realize you were a reader of Shakespeare, Scarlett."
"I'm not really. I'm not sure where I knew that from really. And everyone knows Romeo and Juliet," she said with a shrug. Of course, she did know where she knew that information from. It was one of the many tidbits of information over the years Ashley had bestowed upon her that Scarlett had always thought of as being useless.
Rhett handed Scarlett out of the coach and walked with her to the hotel. She was exhausted, it was easy for Rhett to tell. He imagined she'd had a long day, he just hoped he had helped in making her forget for a little while what she'd come to New York to do.
He took her key from her and opened her suite's door for her. "Prissy's asleep it would seem," he said, observing the sitting room of the suite was empty. The fire wasn't banked and it seemed to have been freshly stoked, so perhaps she had just recently gone to bed.
He helped her off with his coat after placing her wrap over the back of an armchair. "Is there anything else you needed to do tonight, Scarlett," he asked as he draped his coat on top of hers.
"No, why? What could I possibly have to do at this time of night?"
"Well, it occurs to me that your servant is asleep and I'm not. I could help you in getting ready for bed."
"Help me into bed you mean, don't you, Rhett?"
"That's not what I said, Scarlett. I can control myself. Perhaps it's yourself you don't know if you can trust. We've had a nice evening, I'm not of the mind to ruin it by forcing myself or my advances on you."
"I don't know that you'd be exactly forcing yourself on me, Rhett," she said softly, glancing at Prissy's door. Her eyes depicted their conflict clearly as she looked at him. Why did the thought of Rhett undressing her excite her so? Even without the expectation of lovemaking it was exciting. "I really could do it myself."
"Of course you could, Scarlett," Rhett quickly agreed. "But you're tired. You've had a long day. And I'm a little more inclined to see that you're settled comfortably in your bed before I leave than Prissy is."
An eyebrow rose in question at the meaning behind those words. "All right, Rhett. But one touch beyond my corset's laces and I'll scream so loud the entire hotel will be woken up."
Rhett laughed lightly. "Very well, Mrs. Kennedy. Lead the way then," he said, gesturing with a nod of his head to her room.
Scarlett led him to her bedroom, closing the door behind her after he had stepped into the room. She leaned against it, wondering just how wise this was. It was like playing with matches and she knew it full well. Rhett's touches and kisses had always aroused her interest, and now here she was inviting him to undress her and ready her for bed. She ought to be committed, she was sure of it. But the idea of his taking care of her was appealing, and it was with that in her head that she moved to sit at the vanity.
Rhett brushed her hands away when she reached to remove the hairpins from her hair. "I can do it, Scarlett," he said as his hands began dexterously removing the pins from her hair, dropping them in the dish on the vanity in front of them he imagined they had come from. Finished with that task, he allowed his hands to run through her hair telling himself he was just making sure he hadn't missed a pin. But in truth he just liked the way her hair felt to the touch.
Meeting Rhett's gaze in the mirror, Scarlett sat entranced as she watched the gentle yet able way he removed the pins from her hair and after he had removed them all the way he almost caressed her hair. "Rhett," she whispered.
"Ah yes, my dear, you're ready for the next step then," he said as he pulled the chair she was sitting in back a bit. Kneeling at her feet, he untied and removed her shoes from her feet. He glanced at her questioningly as a hand fell to rest at her ankle. "I can either remove your stockings for you, Scarlett, or you need to stand up," he said as he set her shoes aside.
Scarlett stood slowly, hesitating a moment though she knew there was no way she was going to allow him to remove her stockings. Not tonight or any other night. She turned her back to him and found herself holding her breath as his fingers worked the dainty black velvet buttons of her dress from the loops they were hooked into. She didn't move an inch when she felt the dress fall to her feet in a flurry of black velvet. Here she stood for all practical purposes naked in front of a man who honestly knew her better than either of her two husbands ever did. She felt his hands as they worked the laces of her corset. He was going slowly, too slowly as if he wanted to prolong the moment and Scarlett wasn't sure she could stand it.
She turned to face him, her arms going around his neck, her mouth next to his when she felt that the corset was unlaced completely. "Rhett," she whispered softly.
Rhett looked deeply into her eyes, saw the desire there but he wasn't sure what was behind the desire. But he held her close anyway and kissed her deeply. Who would have thought that morning he'd be standing in Scarlett's bedroom kissing her with her in nothing but her chemise? He broke the kiss and took her into his arms. A few long strides and he was at the side of her bed, setting her onto it gently, carefully as if he couldn't stand the thought of harming her. He kissed her again, deeply this time before pulling away.
"Scarlett, I meant what I said earlier, I want you but not like you think I want you. Our conversation this evening was more serious and to the point than you might have known. I want to marry you, Scarlett. I won't make love to you unless you're my wife."
"You what," she asked her eyes flying open, certain she had heard him wrong or this was some sort of a joke.
"I want you to travel with me, I want you to be the one I make a home with when we're ready to make a home, and I want you to be the mother of my children. We'd make beautiful babies you and I, smart and witty and more charming than is allowable by law."
"You can't be serious, Rhett. After all these years of wanting me as your mistress, here I am giving myself to you and you're saying you won't unless we're married?"
"I'll call myself all kinds of names tomorrow I'm sure, Scarlett, but I'm serious. I can't do this to you. You'd hate me later, and no matter what people think of you I know you've never made love to a man who wasn't your husband. I'm not about to change that fact."
He sat at the edge of the bed and moved his hands to her leg closest to him. He unfastened the stocking from its garter and rolled it down the length of her leg slowly. Once it had been removed, he repeated the process with the second stocking. He kissed her lightly on the forehead when he had finished and stood from the bed.
"Good night, Scarlett. I'll meet you for breakfast tomorrow and you can give me your answer. I won't live in Atlanta with you. Not now. So bear that in mind when you make your decision. But at the same time, you'll see the world, all of it. Anywhere you want to go, I'll take you." He kissed her lightly on the lips, lingering briefly before walking away from the bed. At the door, he glanced back to her on the bed. "I've never proposed marriage before, Scarlett. So please realize that I am serious and I'm not speaking out of an irrational moment of lust. I'd simply stay and make love to you if that was the case."
With that he left the room, leaving a very mystified and oddly pleased Scarlett.
Scarlett sat in the hotel's dining room growing impatient that Rhett hadn't shown up yet. He had sent a message to her that morning asking her to meet him at nine o'clock. It was now almost twenty minutes past nine and no sign of Rhett. Perhaps he changed his mind, or realized what a fool he might have made of himself last night. But Scarlett didn't see it that way. Despite the fact she was tired last night, she didn't sleep much. After hours of remaining awake thinking over Rhett's proposal, it took a couple of nips of the brandy hidden in her trunk to finally enable her to drift off to sleep.
She glanced up from the cup of tea she was drinking while she waited to catch a glimpse of Rhett as he arrived. He saw her at the same moment and walked towards her table. She tried to be upset that he was so late, but she realized too that he wasn't here to entertain her. He was in New York as he had admitted the day before on business.
"You are still here. I was afraid you'd not only have left the dining room but the hotel itself without telling me where you'd gone to," he said, setting his coat over the back of an extra chair before taking a seat across from her. "Long night, Mrs. Kennedy? Do I owe you an apology for more than just being late?"
"I didn't sleep very well, Rhett, but that's not through any fault of yours," she said, hoping she was convincing. "I thought about leaving, but realized that perhaps you were hoping I would. An attempt to pretend our conversation last night never happened."
He laughed lightly, ordering a cup of coffee and breakfast for them both when the waiter arrived, waiting until the man left the table before replying. "I would have found you and reminded you at some point, Scarlett. Not that I would have gone to Atlanta hot on your heels in search of you. Despite my tone last night and the sincerity of my proposal, I'm really in no particular hurry to marry if you're even agreeable of course."
"I have one question. Why the aversion to making our home in Atlanta, Rhett?"
"Because I don't want to live in the shadow of Charles, Frank, or Ashley. And I don't particularly care to reside with your Aunt Pitty, thank you. Frank might have gone along with that, but I won't have anyone other than servants and whatever children we have residing in our home together."
Scarlett hadn't thought about Ashley or what leaving Atlanta for any length of time would mean as far as how often she saw him. She glanced at her cup as she thought on this aspect of marrying Rhett. It was the only negative she could think of. Well, besides the fact he seemed to want children. And considering he wasn't getting any younger, he had to be close to forty by now, she imagined he'd be in somewhat of a hurry to have them. She imagined even that might not be so bad, not when she thought of the type of life Rhett could provide her. She'd never have to worry about going hungry or running out of money again. Why, she imagined, and this had occurred to her last night, that she could have Tara fixed up to the way it had been before the War and the Yankees had had their way with it. "I see," she said simply, meeting his gaze.
Rhett reached into his coat pocket and pulled out his cigarette case, setting a cigarette on the tabletop before returning the case into his pocket. He set his hand palm down on the tabletop and slid it in Scarlett's direction. "This is why I was late. So you realize I'm serious, Scarlett. That my proposal is real." He removed his hand from its place on the tabletop to reveal a small black velvet jeweler's box. He opened it slowly his eyes never leaving her face. Inside the box sat cushioned in the velvet bottom was a large oval shaped emerald surrounded by several small diamonds set in gold.
"Rhett, it's beautiful," she said eyeing the ring. It was beautiful, the most beautiful thing she'd laid eyes on. Well, outside of some of the Yankee women she'd seen in Atlanta who put on airs in front of the Atlanta natives who had been decimated by the War. "Why are you asking me to marry you, Rhett? I mean, you could have just come here this morning and told me you just didn't desire me?"
"Because, Scarlett, it occurred to me yesterday when you were talking of and missing your father that I wanted to comfort you. That you deserve someone who can comfort you without making you feel weak in the process. I believe you'd be the type of wife to come with me rather than wait at home for me. You wouldn't let me stray even if I wanted to," he chuckled lightly. He took the ring out of the box and slid it over her left ring finger, pushing up on the back of it slightly as it went over her knuckle.
"But surely we'd have to have some place to call home, Rhett. We can't just live out of trunks and hotel rooms. You want babies you say, what will we do? Take them with us and have them die from exposure on ships and everything else? Not to mention the condition I'd be in traveling quite advanced with your child. And you're not exactly welcome in Charleston, or so I've heard."
"And our only choices would be Atlanta or Charleston? What have you to keep you to Atlanta? Suellen? Your youngest sister is in Savannah from my understanding."
"Well, no, I suppose not, I just never thought of leaving Atlanta, Rhett. It's my home, and I could never be too far from Tara. Unlike you I've never aspired to be a world traveler."
"You've never been curious to see London and Paris, or the Orient, Scarlett? To see the latest fashions? To know when the hoop was replaced by the bustle before everyone in the States knew?"
She smiled slightly at his words. "Well, yes, of course, those things appeal to me. I've never had it put to me quite like that."
"So is your answer yes or no, Scarlett? We can have a home in Atlanta if that's what you want. Is that all that's preventing you from saying no?"
"Who said I was going to say no, Rhett," she asked coquettishly removing her fingertips from the palm of his hand. She held her hand out in front of her, glancing at the ring on her finger. "The ring does suit me. It'd be a shame to have to return it to you."
"Indeed," he chuckled lightly.
"Well, then I suppose I have no choice but to say yes."
Rhett nodded his head simply as the waiter returned with their breakfasts, setting their plates in front of them. "I'll come to Atlanta for you in a month then? Is that enough time? Surely you don't need a large wedding, do you? Just a couple of witnesses and a priest? A dress of course," he added. "Every bride needs a gown."
Scarlett smiled widely at the mention of new clothes. "I imagine a month is fine. It's not as if there's someone you need to ask permission from."
"I wouldn't do it even if there were, Scarlett. Your answer is the only one I want or need."
"I sensed that about you, somehow. Though Pa would have given you his blessing I think. He liked you," she admitted.
"He was a good man, Scarlett. Though I have one request of you. Your bank accounts. Transfer them to the name of O'Hara. I don't want Hamilton or Kennedy on any of your documents. I'll hire a lawyer to help you take care of that."
"Why? Why does that matter to you?"
"Because you are my wife, and you should have been to begin with. While I don't mind being your third husband I plan on our marriage outlasting both of your previous ones put together. So Hamilton and Kennedy need not be a part of your name. Is that a problem? Surely you're not attached to either name."
"No, of course not. I just wasn't sure why it mattered."
"Now you know," he had come a little too close to admitting his feelings for her so he decided it was perhaps time to let the subject drop. In truth, Rhett knew he should have probably married Scarlett six years ago. She had married Charles Hamilton before he had had the chance to realize that he cared about her enough to consider marrying her.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com