Rhett sat in his father's study examining the papers his lawyer had forwarded to him, hoping against hope that he would not have to take a trip to London. He was taking a brief break, the maid having brought him lunch. It felt strange to sit in his father's chair, strange because he felt nothing for the man who had helped create him. He felt no closeness to him in this room, of course Rhett had never set foot in this particular room until recently but the same could be said for any room of the house. He had told Darcey not to interrupt him for the rest of the day when she returned to collect his lunch dishes determined to bury himself in manifests, bills of lading, bills of sales, wages paid, and cash receipts hoping to sort out this mess.
He sat staring out the window at his father's camellia plants; one of the things he had inherited from his father was his love for that stupid plant. He had left Atlanta not even two weeks ago, yet he couldn't get his mind off of Scarlett and what had happened the night before he left for Charleston. It wasn't until the night before as he lay in bed that Rhett had allowed himself to think of the possibility that he could have gotten Scarlett pregnant. With someone like Belle or her girls it wasn't something he gave much thought to, and truthfully he was normally careful enough not to have to worry about such things. But the fact of the matter he realized was that he had been impaired, aroused, and quite distracted in his efforts to be gentle. Had it been any girl but Scarlett he'd be able to put it out of his head and not worry about it, but it was Scarlett. The woman over the years he had tried to distance himself from but for some reason always returned to see her. He gathered his papers together, penned a letter to his attorney asking him to forward all further correspondence to him in care of the Atlanta Hotel and sent Morgan to the depot to make arrangements for his departure to Atlanta.
Two days later he was settled in his suite at the hotel and decided to bite the bullet and pay a visit to Scarlett at Tara. He had no idea how she felt about him, how she felt about what had happened, or even for that matter if she had given it much thought. Hoping that he might be able to convince her to return to Atlanta with him, he rented a carriage arriving at Tara mid-afternoon. It was a chilly afternoon, and it rained most of the way from Rough N' Ready Pass to Tara. Cursed southern winters. He much preferred the north and the snow it offered. At least with snow you felt there was some reason for winter. Why did it need to get cold just to rain? He tethered the horse off and mounted the steps knocking on the front door. Pork answered the door, offering Rhett a glimmer of recognition in his eyes and allowed Rhett to enter the house. He led him to the parlor where there was a nice fire going. Pork took Rhett's hat and overcoat and left the room, closing the parlor doors behind him.
Scarlett was in the kitchen helping Dilcey and Prissy with the evening meal when Pork came in to tell her Rhett was in the parlor. He had said he'd be gone for weeks, she thought. Perhaps she had misunderstood him. The morning he left was one big blur so it wasn't unthinkable that she should forget exactly how long he had said he'd be gone. But why was he here? She almost thought she'd never hear from Rhett Butler again. Surely he had gotten from her what he had wanted all along.
She was just sorry she hadn't thought to ask him about the deed to Tara before he had left. But somehow even in her innocence, Scarlett didn't think the events of that night had anything to do with the deed to Tara. She washed up and straightened her hair as best as she could before leaving the kitchen; opening and closing the parlor doors after she entered the room. It was a good thing Pa wasn't overly right in the head anymore and Scarlett was now considered the head of Tara. He would have a fit over Scarlett being in a room with a man behind closed doors. But procuring the three hundred dollars needed to save Tara had somehow given Scarlett a status amongst the people at Tara that she wasn't sure she was overly proud of.
She had seen the way Ashley looked at her when she returned from Atlanta. It was almost as if he knew what she had done, or bargained to do. She stood quietly a moment, not certain how to greet him. He had kissed her good bye before leaving Atlanta, but she had a feeling that it was more out of obligation than anything else. She cleared her throat lightly, realizing his trousers were wet.
"Didn't Pork bring you a blanket, Rhett? You shouldn't be sitting here in wet clothes."
Rhett turned to face Scarlett a slight smile on his lips. "Are you trying to get me out of my clothes, Scarlett? And it isn't even dark yet." He winked with a slight laugh. "I appreciate your concern, but I'm fine my dear. I've certainly been in wetter clothes than this and without the benefits of shoes on my feet or a fire to keep me warm." He walked towards her, taking her hands in his kissing them politely. His lips lingered for a moment longer than he should have let them, though. He used one hand to wipe a spot of flour from her eyebrow. "Baking bread are we?"
Scarlett nodded, fighting the urge to be rude. How dare he show up here and talk to her as if nothing happened between them. Of course she should have known not to expect better from Rhett. He'd probably already forgotten that anything had happened between them at all. She wondered briefly whom it was he spent his time and efforts on in Charleston.
Surely he had to have a girl there; he didn't talk to his parents that she knew of so she could think of no other reason for him to go there so frequently. "No, I was actually coating some chicken. Are you planning on staying for dinner? If you are, you'll need to tell me so we can accommodate you." Two could play at this acting casual game.
"If it's not too much trouble, Scarlett, I'd like that." He paused slightly and returned to the fire unsure of how to broach the subject that weighed heavy on his mind. "You've been well? I understand you've had some miserable weather here the past week or so. No one here at Tara has taken ill have they?"
Scarlett shook her head quickly.
"No, we've all been fine, Rhett. Though Mammy keeps telling me that if I don't regain my appetite that she's going to have Doctor Fontaine call on me." She saw his brow furrow slightly and quickly added, "But I'm fine, really. I just haven't been hungry lately. There's been little to do out in the fields, the winter wheat and peanuts aren't ready to be harvested yet and it isn't time to plant the cotton or corn yet so I guess remaining indoors is catching up with me. Otherwise, we're all fine other than Pa, of course. But he's the same as he has been since Mother's death."
Scarlett excused herself from the room to tell Dilcey to put on some more food for Rhett, which took a little longer to do than she had anticipated. She was surprised when she returned to the parlor to find Rhett gone. She was even more surprised to see Rhett talking to her father out on the front porch. Her father was apparently in one of his lucid moments and seemed to be enjoying Rhett's conversation so she let the two men be and returned to the kitchen to help Dilcey with dinner. It wasn't until Will and Big Sam came in from the fields that Rhett and Pa returned into the house. Scarlett wiped off her hands to go to Rhett, almost colliding with him in the hallway. She laughed lightly out of surprise and placed her hand on his arm. "Have you come to help the three of us women cook dinner?"
Rhett raised his eyebrows at the ease with which Scarlett touched him a slight smile crossing his lips. "No, I'm afraid I would not care to interfere with one woman in a kitchen let alone three. I'll sit and watch, I don't mean to keep you from your duties Scarlett. Perhaps there's a task I can be assigned to do while still being able to remain out of your way."
Scarlett led him to the kitchen and introduced him to Dilcey. He sat at the table, Scarlett went to her father's office and poured him a glass of whiskey returning to the kitchen and setting it in front of him. Dinner went by effortlessly, Scarlett wasn't sure whether Will and Rhett would get along but they seemed to get along just fine. Scarlett was careful to watch what she said at dinner, Will had an uncanny way of picking up on things and there was a thing or two Scarlett could do without Will knowing about. After dinner and everyone else had retired for the evening, Scarlett sat in a chair next to Rhett after pouring him another drink.
"So why are you here, Rhett? You didn't come all the way out to Tara to have dinner with my family."
"Well, no. I came to offer you a job of sorts actually. It would only be temporary, but I'm guessing you could stand to earn a little extra money to tide you over until you can harvest those crops you were just talking about."
Scarlett kept her eyes on her hands purposely avoiding meeting his gaze. What kind of job could he possibly have to offer her? "Of course extra money would be nice, but whatever could you need me for Rhett?"
"Well, three things actually. The first two are more important than the third, the third is quite honestly my own vanity run amuck."
He could tell she was listening so he continued.
"First of all, the boarding house outside of Atlanta I'm trying to get started. I'd like you to meet with the decorator and pick out furnishings, dishes, colors, wallpaper, and so forth. I trust you more than I do someone I don't know. I just don't know enough about home furnishings I'm afraid never having had to tend to such things."
He looked to her hoping for some response, when he got none he continued.
"The second thing, I need a secretary of sorts for a short time. I need to go through the papers my attorney will be sending me, and I need someone who has a good head for figures and I know you do but someone who can also take notes and write a letter or two. I've heard you prattle on about the bookkeeping here at Tara you have been responsible for and anyone who can keep a plantation in the black certainly should be able to help me sort through these papers. It would require you spending some time in Atlanta, or if you felt comfortable enough doing it I could stay here at Tara until we were finished. Do those sound like tasks you'd be interested in helping me with?"
Decorating and bookkeeping, two things Scarlett loved doing and was good at. How she longed to have money at her disposal to redecorate Tara, but if not Tara and her money having Rhett's money at her disposal to decorate his boarding house would be the next best thing.
"Yes, they do. Though I'm really not sure if I deserve to be paid for decorating your home, Rhett. That sounds rather silly to me. What's the third thing?"
He cleared his throat. "Well, I have tickets to a theatrical production in Atlanta later this month with a business associate who happens to be married. And since I really don't know any other respectable women in Atlanta I was rather hoping you'd accompany me."
The thoughtfulness and kindness in Scarlett's eyes was quickly extinguished at his words. "So in other words, Mr. Butler, if you did know other respectable women I wouldn't have been your first choice? Why is that exactly? Afraid I'll make a fool of myself? Make a fool of you? And you're offering to pay me for this as well? I'm not exactly sure I like what you're insinuating."
"Good lord," Rhett muttered and stood suddenly, running his fingers through his hair as he walked towards the window. He was silent for a moment, knowing that with his silence Scarlett's anger grew.
"I'm insinuating nothing, Scarlett. I thought you might enjoy going to the theater, I could chose to go alone if I want to. Most of the time in business when you go to a function socially and one of the men has a compaanion or a wife you bring someone with you so that the evening doesn't have to stop just because the engagement is over. In other words, an evening at the theater might turn into an evening of theater and dancing. But if I'm alone the chance of that happening are nil." He turned to face her. "So you are interested in the first two offers I made you, correct?"
Scarlett nodded slightly; she would have been interested even if he weren’t offering to pay her. The thought of decorating a house completely was enough to brighten her day. But add on top of that Rhett was asking her for help, he would never say that's what he was doing but he was. She remembered how angry he looked that day at the hotel and she couldn't begin to imagine what it would be like having people work for you that you never saw. How would you know who was trustworthy and who wasn't?
She imagined Rhett had suspicions as to who was embezzling, she wondered how he felt. Was it someone he had hired himself? Someone who had come highly recommended? Or worse yet, was it someone Rhett had called a friend?
"Yes, I think we can come to some sort of agreement on both of them. As far as you staying here at Tara, I do think that would be easier. Don't you? If we worked in Atlanta then I'd be away from Tara and that would defeat the purpose of your trying to help me now wouldn't it?" She laughed lightly. "When did you want to start? I'll have Mammy fix a room upstairs up for you, and we can use Pa's office to work in. I'm the only one who goes in there anymore anyway."
Rhett nodded, "All right. I'll need a day or two in Atlanta to tend to the boarding house arrangements and a few other things I need to take care of. I'll have to wire my attorney and have him send any papers to me in care of you here at Tara." He chuckled lightly. "No reading my mail now, Scarlett, if I'm not here. You might not like what you read."
"Love letters, Rhett? Is that what you're referring to?" She rolled her eyes. "I'm sure you get them by the boatload and I'm sure Tara would catch on fire from the steaminess of the words alone. A woman in every port and every town, just how many ports does the SS Butler stop in I wonder?"
Rhett chuckled. "Cute, my pet, very cute. Contrary to what you may believe that is not true. That's not to say I don't enjoy the company of ladies when I visit foreign lands. How else am I supposed to find out what does and doesn't look good on ladies? You've certainly never complained about it when it resulted in your having a new bonnet or a new crinoline." He pulled out his cigarette case and removed a cigarette, lit it, and returned to sit near her. "And about the theater. There's more to my request than simply accompanying me."
"God's nightgown, Rhett. What more could you ask of me? Do you want me to act as if I'm devoted to you? That I hang on every word you say? To act the part of a bubbly, mindless woman who clings to your arm? Do you want me to build you up to be the best blockade-runner, speculator, thief, blackguard, pirate that ever lived? Even more famous than that grandfather of yours you speak about. Just what is it you want me to do?"
Rhett laughed heartily as he looked at the end of his cigarette as if it somehow held the answer to her question. "No, nothing as auspicious as all that. Though I admit the part about devotedly hanging on my arm and my every word does have its appeal." He put the cigarette out, stubbing it out in the ashtray almost to the point of overkill. "I was hoping, Scarlett, that you would accompany me as my wife."
Scarlett laughed. "Oh Rhett, you are amusing. What is it you really want me to do?"
"I don't know what it is you find so amusing, Scarlett. I'm quite sincere. I'm asking you to marry me."
"You, Rhett?" She narrowed her eyes slightly realizing he was seemingly very serious. She remembered his earlier conversation with her father on the porch and wondered if this is what that had been about. "Why on earth would I want to do that? Why on earth would you want to marry me?"
"There you go dangling your feminine charms in front of me again. If you spoke to me like that all the time I guess I could understand how you could wonder why I was asking. But if you could put your sarcasm away for just a moment, I'll tell you why. Because you deserve better than being cooped up here on a farm in the middle of nowhere and I don't see any shining knights on a white horse coming to take you away from here. You deserve to be cared for and pampered, not picking cotton like a field hand. Are you interested or am I wasting my breath?"
"How do I know you're serious? How do I know you're not going to leave here and change your mind tomorrow? And besides I really didn't like being married."
It was Rhett's turn to laugh. "Of course you didn't. You married a boy who didn't even have the gumption to take charge and wear the pants in the family. I would love to have seen you try pulling that chaste stuff on me on our wedding night, Scarlett. Our marriage would have been annulled faster than you can say Tara. So don't compare marriage to me to the one you had with young Charles Hamilton. As far as my changing my mind or my degree of seriousness, I guess those are chances you'll need to take." He watched her closely, about ready to give up. He wasn't going to force her into marrying him. But he realized, too, if he had gotten her pregnant if they waited until she knew she was pregnant that would not be good. Babies were born a week or two early all the time, but more than that and it would not sit well with the citizens of Atlanta who enjoyed any bit of gossip they could get. Especially gossip about Rhett and Scarlett.
Scarlett stood and walked to the fireplace. She was shocked and quite honestly for once in her life speechless. She wasn't foolish enough to think Rhett was in love with her, but she had thought all along that he felt some sort of affection for her. She turned her head slightly to look at him discreetly. He was handsome with fine features, he was rugged but she also knew how soft and gentle he was capable of being - in and out of a bedroom she couldn't help but think. Realization hit her.
He was asking her because he slept with her; he felt he had to. She placed both hands on the mantel and shook her head; not caring that the position she currently stood in was most unladlylike. Her mother was probably turning over in her grave right now if she was watching. Was he asking her to marry him out of pity? She didn't think that was the case, it wasn't love she saw in his eyes but it wasn't pity either. She didn't think it was out of sense of duty either. Surely she wasn't the first woman whose virtue he had claimed, and she knew for certain she wasn't the first woman he had bedded. She spoke more to the fire than to Rhett, but her voice was clear when she spoke. "Yes, Rhett, I'll marry you."
Rhett stood and placed his hand along the back of the chair. "That's good, because I had no idea what I was going to do with that confounded house if you said no."
She spun on her heels to face him as his words sunk in. "You mean I'm not decorating a boarding house?"
Rhett chuckled. "Nope," he said simply. "You're decorating your home, Mrs. Hamilton."
She walked towards him and threw her arms around his neck. "A house of my own, our own. No aunt's or other in-law's living with us?" The concept made her deliriously happy. "How soon can we move in?"
Rhett instinctively wrapped his arms around her waist when she hugged him. "Well, I think we need to be married first, Scarlett, don't you? And of course there's the issue of furniture." He chuckled lightly, brushing his lips lightly over hers. "Though as far as I'm concerned, so long as we have a bed to make love in and work on that bedside manner of yours I'll be happy."
Scarlett pulled back slightly insulted at his words until she saw from his eyes that he was teasing her. "You're terrible, Rhett. You shouldn't say something like that. What if someone heard you? You know Mammy has ears like a dog. She hears everything."
"That's good," he said softly as he lowered his mouth to hers. "Because I think we've done enough talking for the evening." He kissed her passionately; his arms crushing her against him as one hand reached up to run through her hair and support her head. He broke the kiss briefly only to move his mouth to her neck and ears. "You smell good enough to eat, Mrs. Hamilton. You and your lilacs, the fragrance suits you," he whispered huskily at her ear as he nibbled lightly on her earlobe. He moved along her face in a series of light kisses finding her mouth again. He pulled away slightly to look at her face. Her eyes were closed, her lips were responsive to his kisses, and she looked calm. "Is one week enough? This is your second marriage; so something simple should be suitable don't you think? We can throw a grand party at the house once it's finished."
She nodded her acceptance, she never knew anyone before who had married twice so she had no idea what the stipulations were regarding such an event. "One week is fine, but I have nothing to wear, Rhett. Nothing white at least."
Rhett thought a moment. "I'll take care of that. One week from today then, here at Tara. I'll have someone send for your things that morning; as well as bring you what you'll be wearing. Untraditional, I know that I should know what you're wearing before you do, but I can think of no other way of assuring it's done in such a short time other than taking care of it myself. So have all of your belongings packed and ready to go to Atlanta." He kissed her again softly. "Thank you for dinner, Mrs. Hamilton, but I fear if I don't head back to Atlanta I'll never make it."
"Won't I see you again before then, Rhett?"
"I think we're both safer if I stay away for the week, my pet. I'm afraid working on that bedside manner of yours has its appeal here and now. Surely this doesn't mean you'll miss me."
"Oh go then and never come back, see what I care." She turned her back to him.
Rhett walked to the parlor doors laughing lightly. "I'll be back, Mrs. Hamilton, in a week's time." He bowed sarcastically. "No need to show me to the door, my dear. I know the way. Thank you for a lovely evening." He retrieved his coat and left, unfastening the horse from the hitching post and making his way back to Atlanta for what he knew was to be a very long week.
Scarlett spent the week getting ready, packing her things realizing as she did that she would more than likely never return to Tara as anything but a guest. It was somewhat sad, but with the announcement of her upcoming marriage to Rhett came a proposal from Will to Suellen. So Scarlett knew that Tara would be left in capable hands, and that Suellen would not be free to destroy what Scarlett had worked so hard to keep thriving over the years.
Mammy spent most of her time in Scarlett's presence grumbling under her breath but loud enough for Scarlett to hear that it was improper for a man and a woman to marry so suddenly, that people would talk. As if people didn't already talk about Scarlett. What did she care what people say about her anyway? She was sick of living like a pauper, and she refused to ever have to worry about going hungry again. She knew of no other person who could offer her the security of her belly never being empty again save Rhett Butler. She just wished she knew why Rhett had asked her to marry him. But the more she thought about it, the less it mattered to her.
Just as she had her reasons for saying yes, he obviously had his reasons for asking. As long as they both understood it wasn't a marriage based on love she didn't see the harm in them marrying. She sat in her room the night before her wedding looking at her now barren bedroom and closet. She sighed as she looked at her trunks.
She hoped Rhett realized she had no new clothes. He said he'd take care of her dress for tomorrow, but what about after tomorrow. Surely he wouldn't want to be seen with her dressed basically in rags. Most of the money that remained from what Rhett had given her went towards paying for the food, the priest, and new clothes for Suellen, Carreen, and Gerald. She had little funds left to buy anything new for her. She watched in the morning as the driver Rhett had sent with her gown loaded her trunks into the coach and left for Atlanta. There was no use going back now she thought as she went upstairs to let Mammy bathe her and help her dress.
Rhett spent the week in Atlanta trying to tend to business but getting little accomplished. The first thing he had tended to was a dress for Scarlett. Mrs. Lowe was none too thrilled with having to make a dress in less than six days, but once again when Rhett wanted something done he was rather convincing. It was difficult to walk away from the amount of money he offered, especially these days. Few people in Atlanta were able to spend money as freely as Mr. Butler was, and Mrs. Lowe found herself sometimes going for two weeks without having an order placed. He told Mrs. Lowe what he wanted and who it was for, giving her no indication that it was to be a wedding dress. Let the town figure it out on their own he thought. Once Scarlett's dress was taken care of, Rhett really wasn't overly concerned about accomplishing much else.
Rhett spent the evening before his wedding at Belle's. He wasn't interested in cards that evening, only in being among people and drinking a good amount of whiskey. He hadn't talked with Belle in quite some time and decided tonight was not the night to start. Why exactly he was marrying Scarlett weighed heavy on his mind. He knew a portion of it was out of a sense of obligation; she wasn't a girl who he had met and wooed into his bed the same night. She was someone he'd known and had a relationship with for over five years. Her husband had been dead for close to five years as well, should she end up pregnant and unmarried more eyebrows would be raised than if she and Rhett were to marry and a baby were to result after a little over eight months later instead of nine months later. But it was more than that; Rhett did very few things he should feel obligated to do. He pushed the thought to the back of his head; it didn't really matter why he was marrying her anyway. He was doing it and that's all there was to it.
He sat in his room as Manigo brought Scarlett's belongings into Rhett's suite. He had finished dressing for the day shortly before Manigo returned. Dressed in a black suit with a light gray waistcoat, a black and gray cravat, and his black onyx stickpin and cufflinks he thought he presented a nice picture for a groom-to-be. He certainly never thought he'd see the day that he would be the groom in question, but here it was. One thing Rhett was certain of was that life with Scarlett as his wife would certainly not be dull. Life with her in it over the past few years had certainly proven interesting; he wondered what spending every day and every night with her would bring. Once Manigo had finished bringing up Scarlett's things, he made his way to the coach waiting for him outside the hotel and started on his way to Tara.
Pork met Rhett at the door and led him to the parlor, closing the doors behind him. Rhett felt like he was being closed off from the rest of the world at that moment. He pulled out his cigarette case, lighting a cigarette and walking to the other end of the room. He turned as the doors opened and nodded at the priest. Of course the priest would want to talk to him, he realized. Thank God this was Scarlett's second marriage, at least he wouldn't have to answer questions about deflowering her.
He answered the priest's questions; assured the man his intentions were sincere, that he would treat Scarlett well and that he was aware of her prior marriage and that it posed no problem to him. He also expressed understanding that since no children resulted of that marriage there was the possibility Scarlett wasn't able to bear children. The priest seemed to find Rhett's answers and comments acceptable for he left the room and Rhett heard him instruct Mammy to fetch Scarlett and her sisters to begin the ceremony. Ashley and Melanie were to stand as their witnesses.
Rhett sensed that Ashley was none too thrilled with the idea of Scarlett marrying Rhett, which Rhett found amusing. Strange that the two of them probably disliked one another for essentially the same reason. Jealousy. In some ways, Rhett hoped Scarlett was pregnant; it would amuse him to see the look on Ashley's face if that were to happen. Rhett, Ashley, and the priest took their places in the parlor as Suellen, Carreen, and Will came in and sat down.
Melanie soon descended the stairs dressed in a simple green satin gown that she had made herself for Christmas and took her place opposite Rhett and Ashley. She smiled glowingly, truly happy that Scarlett and Rhett were marrying. She had tried to ease Ashley's fears and concerns, she knew the misgivings Ashley had about Rhett and even the reminder that if it weren't for Rhett both she and Beau may not be alive didn't seem to ease his mind. Melanie shrugged; Scarlett was her sister not by blood but by marriage and that bond in Melanie's eyes was just as strong. She was happy for her sister and knew that Charles would be pleased that Scarlett would be cared for.
Scarlett stood at the top of the stairs with her father, who seemed relatively lucid for the time being. One could never tell with him Scarlett knew. She pulled up the hem of her velvet gown and descended the stairs towards her future, a future that was taking her away from Tara and from the poverty she'd known for the past few years. It was this thought that gave her the strength to make it down the stairs and enter the parlor. Her gown was simple yet elegant. She nearly cried when Mammy had taken it out of the bag, surely this dress was intended for someone else.
It was ivory velvet; Scarlett couldn't believe how soft it was. The full skirt was plain other than a few rose colored satin flowers evenly spaced along the hem. There was a light rose colored sash in a V at the waist and the sleeves were off the shoulder, light rose satin colored flowers the same color as the sash at the waist and the flowers at the hem held the sleeves together at the shoulder. She took her spot standing next to Rhett, her father told the priest he was giving Scarlett away and Ashley and Melanie were both witness to the exchange of their vows.
A meal more glorious than any Tara had seen in years followed and then Rhett and Scarlett took their leave in the coach Rhett had rented for the day. Scarlett watched as Tara disappeared realizing that her leaving this time was different, this was permanent. She had never thought past her wedding day with Charles, they spent the two weeks of their marriage living at Tara until he went to war. Sure she had lived with Aunt Pitty and Melanie in Atlanta, but she had always known she would return to Tara. That Tara was still hers to return to. She shed a tear and it left a trail along her cheek as she realized that was no longer the case. From this day forward the house that Rhett had chosen on the outskirts of town was to be her home, and the Atlanta Hotel until it was finished.
When they arrived in Atlanta, Rhett surprised Scarlett by suggesting dinner in the hotel's dining room. She really hadn't eaten much at Tara. As was usual of late her eyes were bigger than her appetite so the idea of food held its appeal. She was a little surprised at the casualness in Rhett's attitude; he was treating her as though today were no different than any other time they'd spent together.
In fact if she hadn't stopped to glance at her left hand and see the new gold wedding band she wore on her finger to replace the one Charles had given her she would believe that after dinner he would be taking her back to Tara. Instead he was going to be taking her up to his room, their room, for the night. And then he would expect her to sleep with him again, she didn't know if she was ready for that yet. A thought occurred to her, and she put it to words.
"Why is it I have a wedding band and you don't?"
Rhett tried not to choke as he took a drink.
"Well, I didn't think it was overly important I have one for the ceremony today, Scarlett. I've never been one for jewelry, but I figured if you wished for me to have one we could pick it out together while we're on our honeymoon. It seems fair that you'd have a say in the ring I wear. I'll also pick out something a little more suitable than the one you're wearing now. It was the best I could do on a week's notice." He stole a glance at his own ring finger trying to picture what it would look like with a wedding band on it. He couldn't complete the picture in his mind, so he dismissed the thought and turned his attentions back to Scarlett and watching her.
"Honeymoon?" Scarlett pushed her plate aside. She couldn't have eaten another bite had she wanted to and then Rhett started talking of a honeymoon. Now this was an aspect of marrying him she hadn't thought of. A honeymoon, yet something else she didn't do with Charles. And something for some reason she hadn't even thought about this time. "You can't be serious. That would be positively scandalous, Rhett. As if my marrying you isn't bad enough."
"Of course I'm serious." He lit a cigarette and leaned back in his chair, shifting slightly so that he could rest his arm on the back of the chair. "I was thinking Savannah, Chattanooga, or even somewhere up north if you'd care to venture into Yankee territory."
Scarlett narrowed her eyes slightly; the thought of getting out of Atlanta was most appealing. But she noticed he hadn't suggested Charleston. "Why not Charleston, Rhett? Or are you ashamed of me that you wouldn't care to bring me home? Or perhaps your mistress there would stop seeing you if she found out you were married."
Rhett laughed slightly, his eyes on his cigarette. "Hardly, my dear. I just assumed you wouldn't want to deal with the people of Charleston two days after you became my wife. If you'd prefer Charleston, I'll take you to Charleston. I'm sure my mother would be fascinated to meet you, surprised too since I just left her a little over a week ago single and unbetrothed."
Scarlett thought about what Rhett had said, and realized that perhaps he had a point.
"No, Rhett, Savannah would be fine. I don't want to go anywhere up north, but you knew that. Sometimes I think you say things like that just to see what I'll say."
She bit her lip gently thankful that the waiter came when he did; Scarlett had no idea how to broach the next subject. She stood when Rhett helped her from her chair and took his arm, walking with him out of the dining room and up the stairs to his room. Their room she corrected herself. She stood behind him as he unlocked the door to their room and entered when he allowed her to pass by. She took a seat on the couch in the front room of the suite and looked around curiously. The room she had stayed in was about the size of this room right here; of course she had opted for a single room not a suite. "Rhett, there's one other thing I should mention since I assume you didn't search through my luggage this morning."
Rhett closed and bolted the door, watching Scarlett curiously as she took in her surroundings. She looked very pretty in the dress she wore; he could only imagine how nice she'd look in the nightdress he had purchased for her the other day. He laughed slightly as he realized the shopkeeper probably thought it was for someone like Belle. He sat in a chair next to the couch where she sat and raised his eyebrows as she spoke. She sounded nervous, almost apprehensive and he was quite curious as to what could be on her mind to make her act in such a way. "Of course I didn't search through your luggage. I'm your husband not your keeper, Scarlett. I would never search through your things, but I expect the same courtesy in return. Now what is it you felt it necessary to mention?"
"No, I just feel embarrassed to mention it. But you do realize that the dress I'm currently wearing is the only new dress that I own? I mean I have a few dresses that would pass for acceptable here in Atlanta, but you know very well that Pa can't afford to outfit me with a new wardrobe. And quite honestly being my second marriage I don't know if he would even if he could afford it."
Rhett scowled slightly in irritation. He was irritated, not at Scarlett's question but that she for some reason thought he wouldn't provide for her. What way of life had she grown accustomed to that she didn't realize she didn't have to do everything by herself anymore? "Well, I suppose we can work something out. We'll stop at Mrs. Lowe's tomorrow to pick out a dress or two that you can wear and when we get to Savannah we'll get you properly fitted for a few more. I can't have you joining me for dinner as my wife dressed as I saw you that night a couple of weeks ago."
"You didn't seem to mind it too terribly later that night if I recall correctly, Mr. Butler." How dare he insult her? He acted like it was her fault that there had been a war and she had no new dresses to wear. She hadn't the luxury of blockade running or speculating and hadn't the option to get away with the Confederacy's gold.
Rhett lowered his eyes to her breasts and her waist, allowing his gaze to linger as he spoke. "I don't think you were wearing the dress you wore to dinner when I called on you later that evening, Mrs. Butler. I only recall ruining your nightgown not a dress." He stood suddenly and offered her his hand. "It's late, I think it's time we go to bed. Don't you?"
"Bed?" She looked from his hand to his face. Of course this was coming, she knew better than to not expect it. "I'm not too tired, Rhett. Surely you can tell me about Savannah or what exactly it is you want me to do with your house. Our house." She smiled coyly as she batted her eyes coquettishly hoping she would keep his mind off the bedroom.
"Scarlett, you might have been able to talk your way out of having your wedding night with young Mr. Hamilton, but I'm afraid that will not work with Mr. Butler. Surely you're not frightened of me?"
She placed her hand on top of his and stood slowly. "No, Rhett, you don't frighten me."
She squared her shoulders proudly, wondering how he dared call her a coward after everything she'd done. She followed him into the bedroom and stood in the middle of the room without turning around until she heard him walk up behind her. She allowed him to work the buttons on her dress; impressed with the gentle way he unfastened them. His hands seemed so large and rough, incapable of doing such a delicate task as unbuttoning a lady's gown. Next he unlaced her corset and as she stepped forward he took both items and placed them over a chair. She folded her arms in front of her chest nervously. This was much different than the night he came to her, there was light in the room now from the candles. She turned to face Rhett; blushing slightly not realizing he was undressing.
"There's a nightgown for you on the bed. I told you I'd replace the one that you had to dispose of." He chuckled lightly. "I assume you don't need help with your chemise and stockings, Scarlett." He finished undressing and went to the bed, pulling back the covers and extinguishing the candles sensing Scarlett's inhibitions about undressing in front of him. Why she should be when he had just undressed completely in front of her was beyond him, but he allowed her her shyness.
Scarlett removed her chemise and put on the nightgown Rhett had set on the bed for her. It was much nicer than the one he had torn that night, almost making it worth her needing a new one. The feel of the silk as it cascaded against her creamy white flesh was almost sinful it felt so nice. She got into bed hesitantly and lay on her back staring at the canopy uncertain exactly what to expect or what he would expect of her.
"Turn on your side, Scarlett."
"What?" She said quietly, then did as bid when he repeated himself turning away from him. She was surprised when he pressed his body to hers and placed his arm around her waist gently. She felt a tingle run through her when he kissed her ear and neck lightly.
Rhett placed his arm around Scarlett's waist and sought out her hand, taking it in his. He kissed her ear and neck lightly and whispered in her ear. "Good night, Mrs. Butler." He had no idea why he was doing what he was doing; perhaps it was penance for stealing her virtue the way he had. Though he had to admit that the idea of having a woman in his bed that belonged to him, that for once belonged there in his bed had its appeal and while it was arousing he realized he had years to enjoy bedplay with Scarlett. But he didn't have years to gain her favor and hope that they could both make an effort to make their marriage at least an above average one. He was certain that laying next to her and holding her this night would take him farther down that road than making her have relations with him. He laughed slightly at the irony of his spending his wedding night chastely.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com