April 1868 - New York City, New York
Scarlett stood in the lobby of the New York hotel she was staying at nervously awaiting a coach. 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 at 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 curt 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. But 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 he was being watched. He hadn't heard anyone approach so he wasn't sure where the feeling came 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 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 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 the weight of the Confederate army 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 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'? 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.
"So why are you here, Scarlett," he asked his tone changing. He was no longer teasing or crass but sincere and concerned. "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 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 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.
"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.
"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. And 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 was dressed more than suitably 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 in 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 you 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 have 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 date Rhett Butler was and was starting to worry about what kind of date 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 existing for a man who was married to another and the businesses she ran either. "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 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 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. 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, I admit, 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 has 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 the day, the hour or the 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 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 would not stop.
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 she 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 your, 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."
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. But 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.
He wasn't going to show up. Scarlett glanced at the face on the grandfather clock in the library and knew as the minutes crept closer to two o'clock that Rhett was going to stand her up. It had all been some sort of cruel practical joke on his part just to get her to say yes. She toyed with the hem of her skirt frustrated. That made no sense. He would have taken her to bed if he had been joking with her. Never had she been so surprised in her life than that night, a night when she would have willingly given herself to Rhett Butler. She would never have considered becoming his mistress but she certainly would not have lain with him with the expectation of marriage.
But none of that changed the fact that here she was, with a priest out in the parlor ready to marry them with no evidence of the groom. She hadn't heard from him since she left New York a little more than a month ago. She received a letter from his attorney with some papers for her to look over and sign. It read like a business contract and Scarlett had replied to the attorney that she'd sign such papers over her dead body before talking them over with Rhett first. There was a call for the bearing of children in there, and she'd be damned if she'd give him more than one if the first one was a boy. Maybe she shouldn't have been so hasty in her reply to the attorney. Perhaps that's why Rhett wasn't here. But this wasn't a business contract, it was a marriage and Scarlett wasn't going to sign her name to anything beyond that which was required for the marriage certificate. She'd thrash him herself if she ever laid eyes on him again. No, better yet, she'd do to him just what she had done to that Yankee soldier. Only this time she'd enjoy it!
Suellen hadn't talked to her upon returning from New York with news that there would be a wedding at Tara in a month's time. Scarlett couldn't help that she was going on her third husband and Suellen hadn't one of her own yet. The new foreman at Tara Scarlett had hired to stay on with them seemed to have had an interest in Carreen. Maybe with Carreen's being gone that interest would transfer itself to Suellen. He certainly wasn't Scarlett's type. Not that Frank Kennedy had been either, but he at least had all of his body parts. And he hadn't been a cracker.
All these thoughts running through her head made Scarlett unaware of the fact Mammy had come into the library. Her words sunk in quickly enough, though. Rhett had come. He was here and Pork was waiting to give her away. There was no one else for Scarlett to choose from aside from Ashley. And Scarlett couldn't bring herself to ask Ashley to give her away. That would mean that she considered him family, in a blood relation way, and that was the last thing she wanted Ashley to think she believed. She had dreamt far too long about her father walking her down the aisle to Ashley for her to let the man she loved walk her down the aisle to her future husband. A future husband that wasn't him.
Scarlett glanced once more at her reflection. She had worn her mother's wedding gown for her first wedding and had worn a simple and cheap dress for her second wedding. She could still fit into her mother's wedding gown, but decided that was inappropriate given this was her third wedding. She had decided on a long sleeved, satin ivory gown. The neckline was high with some sheer lace over her chest. It wasn't revealing, but Scarlett was happy with it. She hoped Rhett would be too. She imagined deciding on his attire for the day wasn't as difficult for him as it had been for her. She imagined, too, that he would look handsome as he always did.
She came out of the library and took Pork's arm. She was more nervous than she cared to admit, but outwardly nothing in her actions or demeanor reflected that nervousness. She offered Mammy a smile, grateful the woman had kept her opinion to herself. Scarlett knew full well Mammy didn't care for Rhett, but she didn't want to stay here on Tara living the miserable life of a widow for the rest of her life. If her mother and father couldn't be here, having both Pork and Mammy here was at least something. Both had been a part of Tara longer than Scarlett had.
The ceremony was over before Scarlett knew it. Rhett had asked Ashley and Melanie to join them for dinner at the hotel in Atlanta they'd be staying at, but otherwise there would be no wedding celebration. It was more than she had after marrying Frank so she wasn't going to complain. Scarlett had hoped Ashley would say no, but of course Ashley was too polite to turn Rhett down. And Melanie was even worse. She stood there with wide doe eyes, staring at Scarlett as if she'd been thrown from a horse or something strange. The woman thought Scarlett loved Rhett, and this just made Scarlett once again realize what a fool Melly was.
Scarlett was grateful when they were alone in their coach headed for Atlanta. She was more than ready for a confrontation with Rhett about those papers he had expected her to obediently sign. An afternoon of being overly polite and pretending that she was in love with this man who was now her husband left her in a foul mood.
"I'm surprised you came," she said bitingly not bothering to hide her annoyance. But in with her annoyance there was something else laced in with her tone, though Scarlett didn't realize it. Fear.
"I almost didn't to be perfectly frank, but I realized it's not every day I ask a woman to marry me. So I decided it was best I not break such a commitment. Lord knows you'd hold it against me for the rest of my life. And that just wasn't acceptable to me."
"Why wouldn't you have come? Because I refused to sign those awful papers?"
"That was part of it, but not really. I didn't expect you to sign them." And he hadn't. It was in part a test to see just why she was marrying him. In addition to the few stipulations he had had his attorney draw up, there were also stipulations for financial allowances for Scarlett. He was curious to know if she was willing to basically prostitute herself for money in exchange for giving him children. She hadn't and had passed his test very well. He knew she'd be madder than hell at him, but he also knew he'd have plenty of time to smooth her ruffled feathers.
"Then why did you even have them drawn up. I've never been so humiliated in my life. It's difficult to pretend I'm in love with you when you go to such great lengths to point out to everyone that love isn't a factor at all."
"I don't want you to pretend a damned thing, Scarlett. I never asked you to pretend you loved me, hated me or any other such thing. People will think what they want about us regardless of how we act. So why bother trying to please them?"
"Maybe I want them to believe that this time I married for the right reasons."
"And you didn't the first two times, Mrs. Butler?" He chuckled lightly, pushing back the coach window's curtain briefly to look outside at the passing scenery.
"You know damned well I didn't, Rhett. And stop with the Mrs. Butler. It makes me think you're talking to or about your mother."
"Yes, it sounds a little strange and foreign coming from my tongue too, I admit. You don't like it? You'd rather be Mrs. Hamilton-Kennedy again?"
Scarlett clenched her teeth together, trying to hold back her annoyance. "You know that's not it at all."
"Do I?" He glanced sharply at her. "The Kennedy part, yes I can be fairly certain you don't care whether you have that name. But now the Hamilton part is entirely different."
"Different how, Rhett?"
"Different in that it gives you a connection to Ashley Wilkes."
"Only by way of his kin."
"Ah yes, and you wouldn't want to be kin to him now would you," he asked though it was clear the question was rhetorical and he wasn't expecting an answer. He already knew the answer to that. "That would make it awful difficult for the ending with him you fantasize about."
Scarlett visibly paled at his statement. He had hit too close to home with that and it bothered her to no end that he saw her, knew her so clearly. "You don't know about my fantasies, Rhett Butler. So don't flatter yourself into thinking you know anything about what I think about Ashley."
"You're right, I wouldn't know anything about a grown woman holding onto a school girl crush on a man who couldn't make her happy with all the money in the world."
"If I didn't know better I'd think you were trying to instigate an argument so that we won't be able to join Ashley and Melanie for dinner tonight. It was your idea to invite them to join us so I don't know why you'd try and get out of it now."
"Just how is an argument going to stop us from having dinner with them?" He grew serious as he regarded her closely. Suddenly, he wasn't so sure he knew this woman as well as he thought he did if she was accusing him of what he believed she was just now. "You can't possibly believe I'd physically harm you, Scarlett. In all the years that I've known you I've never raised a hand to strike you despite a time or two when it probably would have done you a favor."
She rolled her eyes dramatically, his words unsettling her more than anything else. She imagined he was trying to settle her, but it wasn't working. Not because she believed he'd harm her, quite the contrary. Scarlett believed that regardless of what might happen verbally between them their sparring would never extend to physical violence. She wondered if Rhett was even capable of hurting a woman. She imagined he probably was if truly driven to it. She imagined, too, that she herself might be the type of woman to drive him to it. But not when the conversation was about Ashley. Scarlett got the impression at times that Rhett was laughing at her more than he was angry with her. And this only served to baffle her more at times.
"You were the one complaining about my calling you Mrs. Butler."
Scarlett toyed with a finger of her glove, tugging on it gently. "I wasn't complaining. It just sounds strange and it sounded like you were making fun of me. Or as if by that being my name it gives you some sort of right to me."
Rhett smiled widely with a shake of his head but said nothing. He watched as she nervously toyed with her glove and let her go on pretending that he had no right to any part of her he wanted, even Tara if his heart desired it. Not that he wanted a farm or wanted any part of her unwillingly. He had wondered more than once over the past month if he should have just gone to bed with her that night in New York when she was so willingly offering herself to him. Now that they were married would that willingness still be there? Or would he as some sort of fitting punishment for his lifestyle prior to marriage end up with a frigid wife?
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 is 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 here 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 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 is 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 that's 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.
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 bet 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 trustworthy. 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