Dinner went by surprisingly well in Rhett's opinion. He wasn't too sure as he sat indulging in a post-dinner cigar at the dinner table just what Scarlett's interpretation of the evening was. She was very quiet now that Melanie and Ashley had left to go home for the evening. That thought, that Ashley and Melanie had a home, brought about some thoughts of Rhett's own as he enjoyed his cigar.
"You know, my pet, during our conversations in New York and today we've yet to discuss where exactly we'll live and in what." Apparently, that had been the wrong question for Rhett to pose, because Scarlett looked at him as if he'd gone mad. "Surely you didn't think we'd be living at Tara?"
"I hadn't given it much thought to be honest. You mentioned wanting a wife to travel with you. I assumed that was what I would be doing. Or were you expecting me to sit here like a good and dutiful wife waiting for your return when you go off on your adventures?"
"I don't know what I expected. That's the reason for the question. Surely even if you do come with me you'll want somewhere to call home."
She sighed, letting out a small breath. Of course he was right. She didn't want to live in hotels and ships all of her life. Though with no home, perhaps he'd hold off wanting babies. "I suppose you're right," she paused slightly as if she were struggling to acknowledge that fact. "Did you have something or somewhere in mind?"
"I assume you want to continue on in Atlanta."
"Well, it is my home, Rhett. I don't know that I'd want to be too far from Tara, at least not permanently. You know I was thinking," she paused chewing lightly on her lower lip. She had no idea what Rhett would make of her idea. She just hoped she wasn't pushing her luck with how generous she thought he might be.
"I can see the dollar signs flashing in your eyes, Scarlett. Don't hold back. I make no promises, but I'm willing to listen to your ideas. I'm sorry if your first two husbands were not as progressive as I am."
"Please don't bring Charles and Frank into this, Rhett. I know you enjoy doing it, but I'm married to you now so there's no sense in insulting me. And need I remind you had you given me the money I asked for when I visited you in that jail I would not have needed to marry Frank." She took a sip of her wine to calm herself wondering when this night would end.
"Scarlett, I couldn't have gotten you the money had I wanted to. Had I realized you were going to rush off and marry someone for the money maybe I would have seen about coming up with a better alternative. But I didn't make you marry Frank. That's in the past and it's better left kept there. This is our marriage, our life together and I'd rather start it and keep it going on some sort of positive note. So tell me your idea."
"Well, what if we were to buy some property out near Tara, build a home and start a plantation of our own. Tara will never be to where it was before the War, Rhett. I'm not foolish enough to believe that. Not unless you and I were to live there and see to it happening. But I could never live with Suellen any longer than was necessary. And I'm not sure how well you'd get along there either."
"I can get along just about anywhere, Scarlett. But I don't want to live in your childhood home. I'm not too sure I want a plantation of my own either. That would limit our ability to travel. Is that what you want to do? To be a plantation owner's wife?"
Scarlett raised a brow slightly in question, wondering why he sounded with that question like he was putting her down. "Well, it was good enough for Mother. And yours from what I understand."
"You can leave my mother out of this. And no offense, my pet, but you are not your mother." He raised a hand slightly to prevent her from talking over him, he could see from the look in her eye his comment had made her upset. No, upset was too kind a word, furious was more like it. "I haven't said no, Scarlett. I'm simply ensuring you've thought this through. Wouldn't you rather live in town? You'd be closer to the shops and the people as well as your businesses." And Ashley Wilkes, but he left that portion of his thought to himself.
"I hadn't thought about it like that." She smiled widely, her eyes sparkling as her enthusiasm for the idea grew. "Of course it is a good idea. I'd like a good bit of property, though, Rhett. I don't want to look out my window and see our neighbor. Can you do that do you think?"
"I'm sure we can arrange something, sure. It might not be right in the center of town, but we'd be closer to things than out near Tara at any rate." He placed his hand over hers and squeezed it gently. "I'm glad you agreed to that. I'd probably agree to wherever you wished to live, but truthfully, I'm not a plantation man. Maybe if we have children and something to keep us in one place for more than a few months at a time I'll think differently."
Her eyes lifted from his hand on hers to his face. "I'm glad you said if."
"Well then, Mrs. Butler, are you ready to call it a night?" He put out his cigar just then and could think of no reason to put off going up to his suite.
Scarlett retracted her hand quickly as if burned. "Have we settled everything then?"
"Well, I don't know what else there is to settle at this time of night. And while I realize you've done this twice before already, this is my first time having a wedding night. So, I'd like to spend some of it alone with my wife."
"Do you think anyone will realize we're married? I mean, you don't think anyone's going to believe I'm going to your room with you without benefit of marriage, do you?"
Rhett laughed heartily. "Scarlett, I think a man could see that ring on your finger clear to New York and back, I don't think you need to worry about people knowing." He arched a brow slightly. "Are you concerned about it, Scarlett? Really, who cares what they think. You are, in fact, my wife, so what does it matter?"
"Well, it's bad enough that I have to work with some of these people, Rhett, or that those I don't work with talk about me because I run businesses. And profitable ones at that mind you," she added quickly so he didn't think she married him because her businesses were in trouble. Although now that the words were out, maybe it would have been safer for him to think she'd married him for some ulterior reason. "Unlike you, I do care about my reputation to some extent."
"Would you like me to make an announcement here and now to the effect you have taken yet another husband? I'm sure the good citizens of Atlanta would love to hear it, especially the single men and women."
"Yes, I'm sure the single women would form a line to place a target on me to shoot at."
Rhett laughed with a shake of his head. "I think you deem your husband in demand in a way that far exceeds the reality of it, Scarlett. But thank you."
"Well, why wouldn't anyone want to marry you? You're rich and handsome and can be charming when you want to be."
"Are those in order of your personal rankings, Scarlett, or do you believe that's how every woman sees me? Rich, handsome, and sometimes charming?"
"Of course not, but I can't deny if you were a pauper I wouldn't have married you."
"If I were a pauper, Scarlett, you wouldn't have given me the time of day. I'm well aware of that fact, thank you very much. At least I had something to offer you. Without my money you wouldn't have married me, I fear."
She looked at him quizzically. "Why do you say that? I have money of my own."
"Yes, I'm sure you have quite a bit. I know full well that with the land you got from Charles and that which you got from Frank left you not wanting more than likely for the rest of your life. But you'll grow tired, eventually, of being a woman of business. Sooner or later the memories of the War and your hardships brought on and caused by it will dissipate some and you won't be so driven to stuff your mattress full of money instead of feathers."
"I don't know that those memories will ever go away, Rhett. You make it sound so simple. Though I imagine to someone like you who suffered little in the way of hardships as you call them it would be simple and I'm sure you must think me a fool."
"Did I say that? Have I ever said that? I admit I've accused you a time or two of being foolish, but never has it been when it comes to a matter relating to business, Tara, or finances in general. You have a head for business. Why your father didn't notice it and educate you better I don't know. I can only guess for some reason your mother stepped in and didn't want your father making you too much into the son he didn't have."
"I'm not sure if I should take that as a compliment or an insult, Rhett Butler. What are you suggesting? Are you saying that I'm somehow masculine?"
"Hardly," he chuckled, covering his mouth with his hand briefly realizing he probably shouldn't laugh just at that moment. He smoothed down his moustache. "There's not a damned thing masculine about you. There are a few things that aren't entirely feminine, mind you. But that doesn't make anything about you masculine. You can ride a horse like the wind. And what you did with Tara. Perhaps I've never told you, in fact I'm sure I didn't because you were married to Frank by the time I had gotten out of jail and then it wasn't appropriate for me to say such things. But I'm proud of you."
"How you do go on, Rhett. I didn't do anything that outstanding."
"Sure you did, and don't you ever let anyone tell you that you didn't. You kept your household clothed and fed. You defended yourself and your loved ones when you needed to and despite the questionable means you did it, kept a roof over their heads. You're right in that Tara may never thrive like it once did, but the fact that it has a chance at all unlike some of your neighbor's plantations it and your sister and anyone else who lives there can tribute to you and you alone. I know your sister didn't help much, and I'm sure Mammy and Pork were quite useless when it came down to it. One thing about house servants, they never were much good for anything practical."
Scarlett smiled wryly. "You're right there. Though, now, Dilcey was a godsend. She worked like you wouldn't believe."
"Of course she did, because your father went out on a limb to bring her to live with her husband at Tara. And she was able to bring their daughter, too. Not that she didn't do it for you, but I'm sure the memory of how she got there drove her quite a bit."
"How do you know all of these things, Rhett? I'm not sure that even I know the full details of how Dilcey came to be at Tara."
"I make it my business to know things, Scarlett. And I admit I was intrigued by your father and how he'd come by Tara in the first place. My curiosity led me to find out more about him. He was an interesting man, and someone who I was happy to get along with." He leaned toward her slightly, his hands on the table bracing his weight. "And that wasn't an act, Scarlett."
"I know it wasn't, Rhett. I was both furious and pleased with what you had done that night. I was furious, because I wasn't sure how Pitty would react to having a drunken man in her house. But I was pleased because I knew you had done it to avoid questions neither of us wanted to answer. And I didn't want to go back to Tara like I'd done anything wrong."
"Would you have accepted anyone else's offer to dance that night I wonder?"
"No." She regretted speaking without thinking as soon as the answer almost jumped from her lips of their own accord.
"That's good to know. None of those men there that night deserved to dance with you anyway."
"I hope you don't think that just because we're married what you said that night is going to happen."
Rhett smirked. "Not tonight, no. One night though it will be me you dream about after we've made love."
Scarlett blushed visibly and found herself without knowing what to say in response to that. True with Charles and Frank it had been so easy to go to sleep and dream about Ashley. Neither of them had been hurtful to her, but she knew somehow that there was more to what went on between a husband and wife then the little Charles and Frank had done with it. "I think you're confidence might be your downfall, Rhett Butler."
"I have a lifetime to make that happen, Scarlett. I'm in no hurry. You'll find about some things I'm a very patient man. And now that I have you, I can be as patient as I need to be to hear those words from you." He stood then, pushing the chair he had been sitting in away with the movement. He didn't want to talk about love or feelings or lack of feelings. He knew damned well that Scarlett loved him, just as he loved her. He had held out for years hoping her infatuation with Ashley would dwindle, but it hadn't. He couldn't tell if it was necessarily stronger than it had been years ago when he'd first met her and witnessed her heartfelt confession and attempt to thwart Melanie Hamilton of her future husband.
Scarlett let him help her from her chair and took his offered arm. "You know I've never actually been inside a room at this hotel."
"They're like any other room at any other hotel, Scarlett. Once you've seen one you've seen them all. Some are a little nicer, sure. Some offer a few creature comforts that others do not. Some offer a staff that is more helpful than others. But overall, they're all the same to me."
"Have you had any place at all over all of these years that was permanent? Any place at all where you actually have things of yours that remain there even when you're not there?"
"No. I have some things at my sister Rosemary's house. But that's the closest to permanence I had. Well, that is until now. I don't know that I can get much more permanence in my life than getting married."
"Children," she whispered almost audibly as they started their ascent of the stairs to his suite.
"Does it scare you?"
"Nothing scares me, Rhett." She frowned, realizing she couldn't get away with lying to him about something like that. He had seen her at her worst, had seen her when she was frightened beyond belief. And, yes, after seeing all that Melanie went through, childbirth scared the devil out of her. "Does what scare me," she asked her tone softening slightly.
"Having children? Do you think that you'll have to go through it alone? That if you were to have a child that I'd arrange to be gone when you were due?"
She regarded him as she searched his inside suit coat pocket for his room key. "No. In fact, I believe you'd be more protective than Mammy."
"Only if I found you were being unreasonable."
"By doing too much. I realize you're not as delicate as some women are and that you might think you're invincible. So while I'd allow you some leeway I'd also expect you to take the advice of Dr. Meade to heart."
Scarlett laughed haughtily. "I'm not so sure Dr. Meade wouldn't tell me to stay in bed for the entire time I was carrying the child just to get back at me for pestering him as I did the day Beau was born."
"I wouldn't let him get away with that unless he assured me it was in fact necessary, Scarlett. Surely you can't believe I'd want you in bed for months and months."
She stared at him slightly but said nothing.
He smiled leeringly, leaning in as if to kiss her and heard as she caught her breath which made him smile even wider. "All right, you win, perhaps I would want you there for months and months, but not for that reason," he whispered his breath warm against her cheek before he kissed her there. He pulled away, his smile still in place as he saw the surprise in her eyes. He unlocked the door to his suite and guided her in by placing his hand at her elbow.
Rhett watched as Scarlett looked around the suite. The one she had stayed in while in New York had been nice, but this outdid even that one. He normally didn't stay in rooms quite this elaborate, but his time here in Atlanta this time around was different. He was bringing not just any woman back to his room with him for the night, but a wife. And not just any wife, Scarlett. As if there would be any other woman he'd take as his wife, that idea was absurd and Rhett suspected that despite the fact it went unstated Scarlett knew that. Not that he would ever say that to her even if she were to confront him about it, he wasn't going to give her any emotional weaponry to use against him in what he anticipated might be a very passionate marriage. Passionate in temper and anger as well as other things. They were both equally good at getting angry, he knew that for a fact. They were especially good at getting angry with one another. He just hoped that Charles and Frank hadn't closed her off to what other passions he thought all along lay dormant inside of her.
"Is this for me," she asked, a note of suspicion in her voice.
"Not entirely, no. I mean, I asked for this type of suite with you in mind, knowing I was bringing you here. I don't normally get this type of room if that's what you're asking me."
"It was," she said simply. She reached with her hand to touch a rose petal, rubbing it between her thumb and index finger.
"We won't travel like this, Scarlett. I don't want to give you the wrong idea. It's not that I can't afford to, but I think you'd agree my money is much better spent on other things than hotel rooms that are suitable for the King of England himself."
"No, of course not. I wasn't expecting anything like this at all, Rhett." She turned away from the roses to face him.
"What were you expecting?"
"I don't know really, nothing. I guess I expected nothing."
He walked up behind her, placing his hands at her shoulders lightly. "There's a box there next to the roses. I think it's calling your name."
"For me," she said her hand already reaching for it. She touched the top of the box, knowing it was jewelry by its shape. "I actually got you something." She didn't look at him as she spoke.
One of Rhett's hands slid from her shoulder to her neck, brushing her hair from it slowly as his thumb and fingers touched her. "Really," he asked genuinely surprised that she had. He kissed the back of her neck lightly. "I can't wait to see what it is." He smiled and blew lightly along the nape of her neck when he felt and heard her take a sharp intake of breath at his kiss. It hadn't sounded like a dissatisfied or unpleasant sound, so he took it to mean she wasn't put off by his touch.
She opened the box with a shaky hand and gasped softly when inside the box was one of her mother's pendants. A pendant that Scarlett had presumed had been stolen during the War when the Yankees had used Tara as their headquarters. Many things had gone missing, but Scarlett hadn't recalled ever talking to Rhett about what had gone missing. "I don't understand," she said genuinely at a loss for words.
"I recognized it," he said simply. "And paid handsomely to fetch it for you, but I thought it belonged back in O'Hara or Robillard hands."
"But how did you know it was my mother's? I don't understand. I never told you about these things."
"Well, you're not the only one who could provide me such information."
"No, I suppose I'm not," she said obviously still in shock. She turned to face him and her arms went around his neck enabling her to kiss him boldly and deeply. She didn't care for that moment how he might interpret her behavior, he had gone to lengths to retrieve something purely sentimental to Scarlett. Charles or Frank would never have done such a thing for a pendant. "Thank you, Rhett," she said breathlessly once she had broken the kiss.
Rhett's arms around Scarlett prevented her from making the fast getaway he imagined she'd want to make after such an emotional display. It wasn't just the kiss either, but the sincerity behind her thank you he imagined she might try to hide from. He wasn't going to let her. "You're more than welcome, Scarlett. I'm glad I was able to find something that was so special to you." He looked into her eyes, his eyes scanning her face briefly before returning to her eyes. "Now where's my gift," he asked, hoping to lighten the mood a little bit without putting a damper on it as she might have liked.
"It's in one of my bags. Should I get it now," she asked. She made somewhat of an attempt to step away from him, testing his hold on her more than any true desire to get away from him. "I'm afraid it's nothing compared to this."
"I'm sure it's lovely, whatever you picked out, Scarlett." He thought he saw a brief glimpse of panic in her eyes and couldn't help but wonder where it had come from.
"I made it, actually."
Ah, he thought, that explained the glint of panic he saw in her eyes. Scarlett was no embroiderer, even Rhett knew that. But he would take whatever gift it was she had made him and act as though he'd never seen a better made one in his life. "Well, all the better. Show me, Scarlett. Please. I'm curious to know what you made for me. It's not a muzzle, is it?"
She scoffed followed by a hearty, unladlylike laugh. "If only that would work, I somehow doubt a muzzle would stop you, Rhett Butler. Your eyes can say as much as your mouth can sometimes."
"Oh really, Scarlett O'Hara. And just what are they saying to you now?"
"That you're not at all interested in seeing what I made you, but you are interested in getting me away from the front door to our suite and into your room."
"You said my room. It's our room."
"I guess it is our room," she said as she took in the rest of the room. The pendant was now tucked securely in the palm of her left hand. Rhett's left hand took her right hand with Scarlett making no effort at taking it away from his grasp.
"I admittedly never thought I'd see the day we'd be saying anything was ours in reference to the two of us."
Scarlett released his hand and touched the pendant almost lovingly before walking the short distance from the doors to their actual sleeping chamber to her trunks. She tucked it away into a velvet pouch in her trunk she had for her other valuables and hummed softly as she took out Rhett's package.
Rhett saw the look of uncertainty in Scarlett's eyes when she approached him with the item wrapped in tissue paper. He pulled back the tissue paper, there certainly was enough of it. "It's tissue paper, right? A joke?" He was trying to put her at ease with some humor. It was odd seeing her like this, but he understood at the same time why she was like that. Rhett was uncertain, too, at times when it came to Scarlett. Never before her or never since her had he cared what anyone else thought about something he did or something he'd purchased for them, but he did care when it came to Scarlett.
"Yes, that's right," Scarlett said dryly, though the smile on her lips indicated she appreciated his attempt.
The tissue paper torn away, pieces of it discarded on the floor at their feet, he took out a set of handkerchiefs. They were bright white linen and crisply pressed, obviously of costly material. He wondered briefly how she'd gotten the material so quickly. In one corner of each handkerchief embroidered was his monogram, a upper case R, a upper case but larger B and a upper case but smaller again K. He was somewhat shocked and didn't know what to say right away. The embroidery was well done, that wasn't the reason or his surprise. It was the obvious thought that went into the gift.
He met Scarlett's questioning gaze and smiled. "Thank you, Scarlett. I've always paid to have my handkerchiefs done." He kissed her cheek politely. "Put a little spray of your perfume on them and I'll smell like you wherever I go," he chuckled lightly.
Scarlett's smile widened, and her eyes sparkled at his comment. "What a wonderful idea that is. I would never have thought of it. Do you really like them, Rhett? You're not just saying that to placate me, are you?"
"Not at all. They're very well done. Truthfully, if you were of the mind I'd let you do them from now on. Not that I expect it, I realize this type of domestic activity isn't up your alley."
"No, I'd do it. I mean, as long as you don't expect another dozen of them in a month's time. But as you need replacements I wouldn't mind."
"Well, I won't hold you to it, but I do like them."
"I always pictured you with a room full of luggage for some reason. Do you always travel so light?"
"No, not always. If I'm going to be somewhere for an extended period of time I pack more of course. But a man doesn't have as much to travel with, or at least things that don't take as much space. One of your gowns would fit in the space of several of my shirts."
"Pa never traveled much, so I guess I hadn't thought on it like that. When he did it was with us as a family, and I never stopped to think about what was his and what of the luggage belonged to the four women," she smiled slightly.
Rhett was grateful she hadn't added Charles or Frank into her talk of men who did or didn't travel. Charles, of course, probably had before he married Scarlett but the only traveling he'd done after marrying Scarlett was to serve the Cause and then back home in a pine box. Rhett doubted in either instance he had packed too extravagantly. Frank wasn't such a bad man, Rhett had to confess at least to himself. He had cared for Scarlett well enough, even after he'd found out about her blatant deception.
He stepped towards her, taking her into his arms. "How are you, by the way," he asked his eyes searching her face for the honest answer to his question.
"How am I," she asked clearly confused by the question. "I'm fine. Why? Did you expect I wouldn't be?"
"I guess I should have clarified my question. Since your return from New York and having to identify your uncle. You spoke of your father a moment ago, and I know you mentioned how difficult it had been to see Andrew since he looked so like your father. I was inquiring after your well being during our time apart."
"Oh," she said simply. She tried to lower her face to prevent from having to look at him, but Rhett stopped her from being able to escape his close scrutiny. "I'm fine, Rhett. Really. It was strange, but it wasn't Pa."
He knew she wasn't being entirely honest. It had to have been hard on her. Rhett had to admit it might have even been hard on him to have to look at a man who looked like his own father. He kissed her lightly at first, deepening and intensifying the gesture as he felt her respond. He pulled back slightly when he felt her arms go around his neck.
"What," she asked frowning.
"Nothing. I was afraid for a minute you were going to slap me."
Her frown quickly became a smile. "Not this time, Rhett Butler. But that doesn't mean I never will again."
"I look forward to it," he mumbled with a slight smirk as he quickly kissed her again before she changed her mind.
Rhett woke unexpectedly with a start. For a moment he thought it was simply because he wasn't alone in his bed causing him to wake up in such a manner. But as his eyes opened to the sight of the bed's canopy above him he heard Scarlett's muffled and obviously sleep induced cries for help.
He reached over to try and comfort and soothe her. He took her into his arms, bringing her close against his chest. He could hear the fear and the panic in her voice despite the fact she was sleeping. Or perhaps it was because she was sleeping that she allowed him to see her in such a vulnerable state. She wouldn't like knowing he had seen her tear stained cheeks, he knew this. But the protector in him couldn't just sit there idly, watching and listening to her as she cried out for something.
It wasn't Ashley she was calling or looking for, that much he knew. And that surprised him, he was glad of that fact but it was still surprising. Even more surprising was her reaction to his voice. His touch had made little progress in soothing her, though he did notice in his arms she had at least stopped shaking so. But with his voice, gentle words of assurance that she was safe and all right, she drifted back to what was a sound and undisturbed sleep. He knew this because he remained awake for the rest of the night, holding her close to him, smoothing down her hair and whispering gentle words into her ear as she slept. To Rhett, it seemed as though he was actually the one that had brought her the comfort, and he took stock in that fact.
It satisfied him, yes, of course. He liked knowing that Scarlett did in fact seek him out for something, even if it was just safety. Yet, it wasn't surprising. She had turned to him in her fits of panic before, the lighthouse of calm for her in the worst of storms in her past. Could it be that he was the only consistent one who had been there for her? Who despite the separate paths they had walked and purposely stayed on she knew would always be there for her to provide her something?
Ashley didn't. He had essentially thrown her words claiming her love for him back into her face, dismissing them as a silly girl talking. While Rhett agreed this was the case, Rhett would have handled the situation both a little more delicately yet with more force. Ashley had essentially led Scarlett on for years, which was the biggest puzzle for Rhett. How to get Ashley to stop and how to get Scarlett to see that was what he was doing, regardless of whether or not Ashley ever stopped.
Charles and Frank certainly hadn't provided her anything. Charles had left her a widow within months after their young marriage and Frank, while he had more than likely offered her physical, tangible comforts Rhett doubted he had understood what made Scarlett Scarlett very well.
He was well aware that Scarlett knew once he had been released from jail that when he had called on her at Frank's store he was there to ensure Tara had been taken care of. He believed, too, that Scarlett knew honestly that had he been able to get her the money he would have. Rhett had up until then not said no to Scarlett, and hadn't since then either. Sure, he might have given her grief over her asking to begin with, but he always gave her what she needed.
He continued offering her protection and comfort well into the morning, curious about what it was she had been so frightened of in her dreams. He would never ask, though. He knew Scarlett would hate to appear weak, and especially to him. So if comforting her while she slept helped her whether she realized it or not, he would wordlessly provide her that and never say a word.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com