Scarlett took one last walk through of the suite to make sure that nothing had been missed. What they weren't taking with them on their trip would be kept at Aunt Pitty's until their home was finished. She had spent most of the morning at the construction sight ensuring that the men building her new home had everything they needed. Funds had been left at the bank in case of an emergency, Scarlett realized from being on the other side of the building business that emergencies did arise, but she hoped nothing would arise for her home.
Rhett had given her the ability to design as she wanted; all he had done was assist in the designing of the exterior and the layout of the actual floor plan. Otherwise, he had left her to her own devices to dictate what rooms were to be used as what. Of course they would have to hire servants, but they would do that when they returned from their trip. The house would be finished by then and Melanie had offered one of her servants to look after things until Rhett and Scarlett returned. It was a generous offer, especially since Scarlett couldn't help but realize that with Beau Melanie really needed all the help she could get. She had never truly recovered from having the child, something Scarlett secretly blamed herself for. She had been forever curious if she had somehow done something wrong during the birthing process or that taking everyone to Tara so soon after Beau's birth had been terribly wrong.
She pushed aside those thoughts as she said goodbye to the suite that had been her home for the past six weeks. Rhett had been patient with her and her wanting to stay until she had at least seen that the frame of the house had been completely erected. She knew he was itching to get out of Atlanta, she was too she had to admit to herself. Everyone had been kind to her, some had even told her they knew it had only been a matter of time before she and Rhett married, but she knew underneath it all when the old peahens were away from Scarlett they were having a field day gossiping about her. She had even heard in passing some had bets placed on how long Rhett would survive being married to Scarlett. This cut like a knife to Scarlett, as if she'd been responsible for Charles' death. Frank's she had a bit of a hand in, she couldn't deny that, but Ashley had come out of that night alive.
And Rhett had made it quite clear that he planned on being married to her for longer than she had been to Charles and Frank combined. Of course that wasn't difficult to do; she had been a widow longer than she'd been a wife to either man. Actually, her period of mourning for Frank had been as long as their marriage had lasted.
It seemed strange leaving Atlanta for such a long period of time not knowing exactly where she was headed. Rhett had indicated that he rarely chose more than one town in advance never quite knowing what direction his business might take him. She found this a little odd, but refrained from pressing him. He was successful, so she imagined if that was what worked for him she couldn't argue his logic.
Their first stop was Kentucky. Scarlett had never been to Kentucky and wasn't altogether sure what Rhett wanted to do there, but she'd soon find out as they would be there the next day.
Scarlett felt rather than heard Rhett's presence behind her and turned to face him. "Have I kept you waiting too long?"
"Not at all, but we do have to get going Scarlett or we'll miss our train. Everything is fine, Scarlett. We've taken care of everything, the house is well underway and the builders know there will be hell to pay if we come back and everything is not to our specifications. I've left them with our hotel information in Kentucky and have told them we will be wiring them to let them know where we are for the extent of our trip."
"I know you've thought of everything, but I just can't help but feel I'm forgetting something. You're used to doing this, I'm not."
"Which is exactly why you need to trust me."
"I trust you," Scarlett said with a heavy sigh. It bothered her that she trusted Rhett so much. She had watched him over the past week as he had made arrangements and a more conscientious traveler she had never seen. She wondered if there was any detail he had forgotten or not thought of. She wondered if Ashley would be this diligent if he were to leave Atlanta for some time.
She didn't think he would. Ashley would make arrangements, sure, but he would assume that problems would fix themselves or that there just wouldn't be any problems. He wasn't overly wise when it came to things like that. She felt a little blasphemous for thinking such a thing about her beloved Ashley. There wasn't a hurtful or spiteful bone in his body. But facts were facts; Tara would have gone under if Scarlett had placed the burden on Ashley's shoulders when he'd returned from the war.
"What time did you come in last night anyway? I didn't even hear you."
"It wasn't too late, a little after midnight I suppose."
"At least it was a respectable hour that you came home from that woman's place, Rhett. I don't know why you had to go there, but you kept true to your word."
"I'm always true to my word, Scarlett. And like it or not, I had to let her know I'd be away for a while."
"I don't like it. You never told me when you were coming or going before we were married. Why is she special?"
"It's not a matter of being special, Scarlett. And let's not argue about this here and now, or we'll miss our train. I didn't have a vested interest in any part of you until now, I have a financial stake in her business. It's called courtesy, and it's not as if I told her where specifically we were going merely that we were going."
"She knows I'm going with you."
"Yes," he replied cautiously.
"I'll be she loved that."
"Truthfully, no, but that's not her business. You're my wife, she's not, and you have the right to come with me if you want to."
"I hope she remembers that."
"Scarlett, she's not going to cause any problems. I won't claim that she was happy with our getting married, but she knows I didn't enter into marriage to you blindly. If she believed you tricked me somehow then perhaps she'd make things difficult."
"I couldn't have tricked you if I'd wanted to, I know for a fact a few have tried that, and it got them nowhere near married to you. I'll bet it got them just the opposite, you as far away from them as you could get."
Rhett tossed his head back and laughed. "And just think the one who had no desire to marry me ended up as my wife. It's rather fitting isn't it?"
Scarlett's eyes narrowed slightly, wondering if he was teasing her somehow. His comment had hit a little too close to home, not that it was insulting. She just wasn't sure if there hadn't been a desire to marry him before now but she had always ignored it. She had been so young when they first met, she wasn't sure if she'd have made him a good wife. Not that she was overly confident she would make him a good wife now. She certainly hadn't been a good one to Frank and even less than that to Charles.
"Let's go, Rhett. Wasn't it you worried about missing our train?"
"Of course, you're satisfied you've left nothing behind?"
"Yes," she said following him out the door and down the stairs. They walked through the lobby and outside where Rhett handed her into the carriage that would take them the short distance to the train station.
"Are you excited?"
"Traveling. I admit Kentucky isn't one of the glamorous locales I promised you when I was tempting you to be my mistress years ago, but we'll get to those places once I tend to my business."
"What exactly is your business in Kentucky, Rhett?"
"Horses? Why do you need to go all the way to Kentucky for horses, Rhett? That doesn't make much sense."
"Because they breed the best there, Scarlett, that's why. I rarely settle for less than the best and I'm not talking about riding horses, my pet, I want to invest in some horses that are going to produce racing horses. Top quality, fast thoroughbreds that will win races and produce more top quality, fast thoroughbreds."
"I thought you said you didn't want to run a plantation."
"I don't. I'd be investing in them not raising them. At least not for now, perhaps in a couple of years we'll feel like keeping our feet on solid ground for a while and build a grand plantation out near Tara like you spoke of."
"And raise horses? That sounds like a waste of good land, Rhett. This land is for cotton and tobacco, peanuts and soy beans not horses."
"I wager Mrs. Tarleton would argue that point with you, Scarlett."
They had arrived at the train station by this point and Rhett handed Scarlett down after paying the driver for the trip and for seeing that their luggage would be placed on the train.
Rhett and Scarlett made their way to the platform to wait for the boarding call. "As I said, Scarlett, I just don't see us as crop plantation owners. Not unless we could surround ourselves with employees that we trust impeccably to tend things while we go, and I'm just not that trusting. Horses and livestock aren't as difficult to tend to and honestly, they're much more likely to give me an incentive to stay put. You'll grow tired of traveling eventually, Scarlett. Not because you won't enjoy it," he said matter of factly. "But simply because this city and the County are too much a part of you to be away from either of them for very long. I'm aware of it, so I'm hoping we can do enough traveling for a while to suit us both and then we'll worry about where I'm going to house my horses. I designed the barn so it will be big enough to house quite a few horses, Scarlett, so we could keep them in Atlanta. I'd just have to take them out to the country is all."
"You're really going to do this, aren't you?"
"I am, Scarlett. It's something I've pondered for quite some time. With the War over and reconstruction well underway, well people will once again turn to things of entertainment. My business is making a profit off other people, Scarlett, that's what I do. I don't gloss it over or make it pretty, it's business to me. All of my businesses up until now are things I have merely financed I have no real personal stake in much of anything."
"What of your blockade running, Rhett? I know you did it for your own benefit, but you had a personal stake in it and don't tell me you didn't. You wouldn't have risked your neck otherwise."
"Yes, I would have, Scarlett, I saw a way to profit from the War and I did it. I played both sides, straddling both sides of the fence rather successfully. I had enough friends or acquaintances both here in the South and in the North to accomplish that feat."
"I never understood how you could help the North when you're from the South."
"They were willing to pay and could pay, my pet, it's as simple as that. Why play favorites when I could rake in money from both sides?"
Scarlett was grateful that the call to board the train had come then. She didn't like talking about this with Rhett. She had always been excited when he came to visit Atlanta bearing gifts for her, but it sort of bothered her to think there might have been a Yankee woman he had brought gifts to as well. Scarlett wanted to believe she was the only one Rhett did such personal things for, aside perhaps from his mother and sister.
Scarlett stood with her arms resting against the corral railings watching the horses. It wasn't a very ladylike pose, one her mother would have frowned at her for taking, but Scarlett was admittedly fascinated by the horses. She had always thought of Mrs. Tarleton's horses as the finest horses around, and while that was true of Clayton County, Atlanta, and perhaps Georgia they failed drastically in comparison to the horses she had seen the past few weeks in Kentucky with Rhett.
She stepped back from the railing and walked to Rhett and the gentleman he was with, a Mr. Krueger. Placing her hand on Rhett's forearm, she peered up at him tilting her parasol back ever so slightly so that she could see both gentlemen.
All of the horses they had seen so far had been fine specimens, Scarlett wasn't sure how Rhett was going to choose among them. He had said that he might very well just buy the finest horse from each establishment. Scarlett had thought he was joking. Surely he didn't have that much money; they had been to over ten plantations so far and she knew horses weren't cheap.
One of the plantation dogs rambled up to them and sniffed at Scarlett's lilac colored dressed. She laughed a light laugh and patted him on the head. The dog then took to teething the lace of her wrist length gloves, her stern "no" did nothing to dissuade the animal.
Mr. Krueger simply called out the animal's name firmly and he backed away from Scarlett, sitting at his master's side.
Rhett peered at Scarlett, his eyes searching hers to make sure she was all right. The weak and tight lipped smile she graced him with didn't ease his worries any. Scarlett hadn't told him, but Rhett knew she wasn't overly fond of dogs, particularly large ones. He graced her with a feather light kiss to her forehead and turned his attentions back to the horses, his arm slid around her waist though and he kept her close.
On their way back to their hotel Rhett broke the quiet between them. Scarlett had said little that afternoon after her encounter with the dog. She had taken tea with Mrs. Krueger while he and Mr. Krueger talked some business, but otherwise she had remained quiet. "Is everything all right, Scarlett? He didn't ruin your glove did he," he queried. He took a hold of her wrist with his hand and turned it to see if the lace was torn or otherwise ruined.
"No, he didn't. I'm all right, Rhett, I'm just," she paused, trying to think of the word for what she had been feeling lately. "Exhausted and being out in the sun all day these past couple of weeks has just made it worse."
He released her hand and lifted his hand to push away a few of the stray curls that worked their way out of her chignon. "You should have told me you were feeling that way, Scarlett. I didn't realize. You don't have to come with me every place I go."
"I want to, Rhett. I don't want to sit in a hotel room and wait for you to come back. Please don't worry, I'm sure a good night's sleep is all I need."
Ironically, her lack of good rest wasn't from her dreams anymore, it was because they had been late in getting into their suite more often than not. Rhett knew her dreams had subsided only because she woke him up less and less frequently with them.
"All right, we'll stay in tonight, then."
"You don't mind? I hate to ask it, but we're traveling again tomorrow and I can never sleep on trains."
"I'm pretty much done here anyway. I've decided on five I'd like to purchase, I'll wire the prospective sellers and my lawyer and let him handle the actual transactions."
"You're going to buy five horses, Rhett?"
"Yes, which also means that we'll be returning to Atlanta sooner than I'd planned on us returning. I apologize for cutting our trip short."
"It's okay, Rhett. We can go other places some other time."
"Well, we won't have to cut it all that short. I'll be able to take you to a few other places. It'll take a while for the transactions to actually go through, the money to exchange hands, and then there's the coordinating to transport all five horses at the same time. So, we should be able to get St. Louis in and perhaps Chicago, then we'll have to return to Atlanta."
"I can't say I'm not disappointed, some of the places you've spoken of sound very interesting, but I understand and it is fun to see places I've never been to."
A little less than three months after they'd departed from Atlanta they returned. The sometimes still cool days of late May had been replaced with the always sweltering days of mid-August. Rhett had arranged with the sellers of each of his horses to put off delivery until late August, citing their house not being completed yet as the reason.
As they alighted the train, Scarlett glanced around them grateful to be back. As fun as the cities they had seen had been, Rhett was right, this was where Scarlett belonged.
"So what do you want to do first now that we're back, Mrs. Butler?"
"Why how can you even ask that, Rhett? Of course I want to see our home."
"Well, I was thinking you might be curious about your mill, the store and how the restaurant is coming along."
"Of course I want to do those things, too, but the house first Rhett. You weren't planning on my doing otherwise, were you?"
"No, not really, Scarlett. Forgive my teasing."
Scarlett's eyes met Rhett's dark ones and she saw something there that wasn't teasing. He had been serious in his query into what she wanted to do. Aside from seeing Ashley, which she couldn't very well do as soon as she and Rhett had gotten off the train, there was nothing she wanted more than to see her new home.
"You're forgiven I suppose," she said gracing him with a smirk and a twinkle in her eyes. "Are you going to come home with me? Or do you have things to do at the bank; I know the horses are due tomorrow."
"I'll come home with you. Everything's been taken care of that I know of, I want to see it too, you know. I will be living there as well, so I'm curious to know how it turned out. I never had a home of my own before," he admitted with a hint of regret in his voice.
"Are you frightened?"
"Frightened? Why would I be frightened, Scarlett?"
"I don't know it's a little more permanent than you wanted our lives to be and I feel like I twisted your arm into remaining in Atlanta."
"I would have said no if I truly had a problem with living in Atlanta, Scarlett."
She switched her parasol from her left hand to her right and slid her left hand through Rhett's offered arm. "Well then, Mr. Butler, let's go see this home of ours I'm dying to see it," she admitted flashing a dimple as she smiled up at him.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com