***Part Seven***
Word Count: 4,493

He called it home, and with that word Scarlett saw a glimmer of hope. As long as he still considered it his home, their home, she had not lost him for good. She knew he didn’t use that word lightly, in fact she couldn’t ever recall him referring to anyplace as home.

“I take it accompanying me to Tara is out of the question,” she regarded him carefully.

“I certainly didn’t come home to spend Christmas on a farm either, Scarlett.”

“So I’m supposed to not go to Tara and instead stay here with you, the man who left me, because you’ve decided to come home at the last minute?”

“Last minute? Scarlett, there’s over two weeks until Christmas, unless you’re on a different calendar than I am. And I came to Atlanta to spend Christmas with you.”

Scarlett’s eyes widened, her surprise at what he had just said evident. “Why?” she asked, her voice barely a whisper.

Rhett scoffed slightly, she sounded as though she really cared. But Rhett knew that the only reason Scarlett ever cared about anything was if it would bring her something.

“Well, I wouldn’t be playing my role of husband very effectively if I chose to spend Christmas away from you. Besides, what would Christmas be if I didn’t bestow my charming wife with gifts?” His words were harsh; he had been a fool to come home. If he hadn’t thought it before, he knew it now.

Scarlett set the glass down and walked to the doors of the room. She knew Rhett was trying to antagonize her, but she wouldn’t let him win. She also knew that with Rhett’s sarcasm came truths hidden within his jibes.

“I’ll have Manigo bring your things to our room,” she turned towards him. He wouldn’t have known she brought his things back to their room after he had left.

Rhett smirked slightly. "You’re being a bit presumptuous aren’t you, Miss O’Hara. Or can this mean that you’ve missed me.” His smirk turned into a full-blown smile. “Are you suggesting you want to sleep with me?”

“Well, you are my husband and this is our house. Where else are you going to sleep? I’m no longer on bed rest, so you have no excuse for being in the guest room,” she decided to use his words against him. “After all, Rhett, you are here to play the role of husband.”

“The word play is the key word here, Scarlett.” He paused and then asked the question he knew he shouldn’t because her answer could very well inspire him to stay. “You haven’t been sleeping well?”

Scarlett withdrew her hand from the door handle slowly, hesitating before she answered him. “No, not at all. The nightmares are worse now, now I have an unborn child that will never be born to torment me on top of everything else. I thought they had stopped.” Why she spoke so freely to him of her nightmares, Scarlett didn’t know. But she imagined she had nothing to hide from him when it came to her dreams, he knew about them.

As if he didn’t feel like a big enough heel already. Scarlett had never disclosed to him what her nightmares were about, but he had a guess as to their nature. He didn’t find it a coincidence that they stopped shortly after they married and started again when he had left. He hadn’t really thought of that when he’d chosen to leave. He walked towards her; the distance between them shortened to inches within a matter of seconds, and placed her face in between his hands gently. He looked into her eyes his eyes softening, briefly giving Scarlett a view of a part of him that he carefully tried to mask. He kissed her lightly, his lips barely brushing against hers.

“I’m sorry,” he said softly. He traced her lips gently with his fingertip, replacing them with his lips once more. His kiss grew bolder and more demanding as the desire that had gone unreleased over the past weeks made itself known. He had tried to take other women to bed in the months he was gone only to find he had to turn them away when it actually got to the point of bedding them because images of the woman now standing before him haunted him. One hand inched around her waist; the other went to the door bracing them as he moved her gently so her back was flush with the door. He kissed her again.

“Damn it, Scarlett, show me I didn’t waste my time coming home. I know you won’t tell me.” He trailed off, lowering his lips to her neck, his body pressing flush against hers. “Show me, and I’ll see to it you have no more nightmares,” he whispered.

Scarlett wasn’t sure how it had happened. One minute he was across the room looking at her as though he couldn’t care whether or not she died. The next he was kissing her and apologizing. Apologizing for what exactly she wasn’t sure, but she knew that Rhett didn’t apologize easily. And then he was kissing her again. The first kiss had been tentative, almost shy. But the kisses after that left nothing to the imagination as to what Rhett’s intentions were.

Had he come home because he missed her? Did he want her as his wife? She knew she should ask him these things – that she should get answers but it felt so good to be in his arms. To have his body against hers and to feel his lips on hers, she forgot for a moment that he had been gone for three months and that she should be mad at him. So instead of talking she found herself returning his kiss, responding to his request for her to show him.

They could, after all, talk tomorrow. He would grow tired of kissing her and making love to her and then she could ask her questions. Besides she realized if he kept kissing her like he was she would cease to have the will to think for herself anyway. She found herself going weak in the knees; her lips trembled lightly under his kiss. “We shouldn’t be doing this, Rhett.” She was sincere, but her voice lacked the conviction it should have behind such a statement.

“I can’t think of anything else I should be doing, Scarlett.” He nibbled her upper lip gently, “nothing that needs done needs doing more than what I’m tending to right now.”

“The servants.”

“They’re smart enough to know to leave us alone after I’ve been gone for so long. Besides that’s why doors have locks on them.” He brought his attentions to the side of her neck and her earlobe.

“It’s still daylight, Rhett,” she said with broken breath.

“Mm, that it is, Scarlett.” He quipped between persistent kisses to her neck. “Any other excuses, Mrs. Butler?”

She realized she could have come up with a few more, or could have just flat out told him no but she didn’t want to say no. Rhett had a way of making her feel like his lovemaking was sincere and after months of feeling hurt she longed to feel loved. She sighed slightly, more out of enjoyment from what he was doing than anything else. She opened her eyes and looked at him, her answer clearly written on her face.

Rhett took her face in his hands and kissed her lips, dropping his hands to the bodice of her dress he began to work the buttons.

Scarlett placed her hand on his to stop his progress, her eyes wide. “Here? I think the bedroom would be more appropriate, don’t you?”

Rhett chuckled lightly in response and kissed her to quiet her objections as his hands continued their task of unbuttoning her gown. He had no desire to stop and go upstairs to their room and give Scarlett the opportunity to change her mind. “I’ll see the bedroom later, Scarlett. I’ve got all I need right here in front of me.” His mouth was inches from her ear, his lips and teeth seeking her neck after he had finished speaking.

“Oh,” Scarlett said as she made a fist with her hand clutching the front of Rhett’s shirt in response to his attention to her neck. She felt a rush of warmth all over her body and was sure that her skin from head to toe was flushed. Coming to her senses somewhat she released Rhett’s shirt from her stronghold when he took her into his arms and carried her to the chaise. She watched him, his desire and arousal clearly visible in his eyes, as he finished undressing her without hesitation. Despite her efforts not to let him know he was pleasing her, she let out an obvious moan of appreciation as his warm hands traced over her body. He seemingly wasn’t paying attention to any specific part of her body and that’s what aroused her most, it was almost as if he missed her and he was making sure she was really there.

Rhett knelt before Scarlett almost transfixed, his hands caressing her everywhere and he didn’t want to stop. When she reacted to his caresses his arousal almost double if that was possible. He undressed quickly, not caring where his clothes ended up on the floor. He kissed her, his hands more selective and specific in the parts of her body he chose to caress now. He broke the kiss briefly as he entered her, he hadn’t meant to be so quick about it, but over three months of being unable to touch his wife did odd things to him it seemed.

She didn’t seem to let on that he’d hurt her if he had. He reached under her with one arm to bring her closer to him, wanting to feel her bare skin against his own – needing to feel it. This is what had been missing with the others he had tried to sleep with while he had been gone, it was just simply her. His time came too soon, and he knew he had not satisfied her as well as he had in the past.

“I’ll make it up to you tonight, Scarlett. I took what I needed for the moment, tonight will be all about you,” he said softly his mouth resting comfortably against her breasts. He kissed her and stood slowly, honestly not wanting to move but knowing they couldn’t remain in the parlor forever. He put on his trousers and then helped her dress before dressing himself the rest of the way. He saw her eyeing the door and walked up behind her as he placed his cuff links in his shirt.

“Running away from me, my pet?”

“No, Rhett, I wouldn’t run away from you. If I’d wanted to, I would have a long time ago. I just don’t want the servants to think, to suspect that’s what we were doing in here.” She smoothed down her skirts hoping to hide the color she knew had crept to her cheeks once more.

Rhett placed his finger under her chin and tilted her face up to look at him. “Sweetheart, they know. And if they don’t know they suspect, the doubt being raised only because we were in here and not in our room.” He released her face, brushing her cheek with the back of his hand gently. He returned to the chaise and slipped on his shoes, smiling as he watched her mull over what he had said. He stood and returned to her side. “Thank you for the nice welcome home, my pet.”

“But I didn’t do anything, Rhett,” she stared at him exasperated.

He touched her cheek lightly. “If that’s what you want to believe.” How could he tell her exactly what it was she had done?

He had begun to wonder if it was something entirely different that prevented him from performing, but obviously with what just happened that was not the case. And with that observation, he knew without a doubt that he had allowed himself to fall for her. And as much as that thought should have disturbed him, that somehow he had let down his guard and allowed her to penetrate his heart, he found he didn’t mind at all. It was a matter of getting her to feel the same way now.

He’d be damned if he was going to leave again and tempt Ashley Wilkes more than he already had these past few months. Rhett had known his problem was that he cared for Scarlett, that he cared too much for her, and he had hoped that time away would change that. But now that he knew it wouldn’t, he no longer cared to give up and in Rhett’s experiences he rarely lost when he set his mind to accomplishing something. And gaining Scarlett’s affections was something he had now set his mind on obtaining.

Rhett was looking at her so strangely, and it was unnerving. She was used to him being sarcastic and caddish not genuine or caring, but that’s exactly what she saw in his eyes at that moment – caring. It was almost startling, surely she should be able to turn this around and use it to her advantage but she didn’t know how to at the moment. Rhett had seemingly come here to spend Christmas with her, whether or not that was entirely the truth she had her doubts but that’s how it would appear to their friends and family. He hadn’t let her down; he hadn’t let her face the holidays alone. And as much as she hated to admit it, for that she owed him something. She hated to be alone; she especially hated seeing Ashley and Melanie together when she was alone. And at least for a little while, she didn’t have to face them alone. Maybe if things went well he wouldn’t leave again, but Scarlett wasn’t counting on that. Somehow though she was going to have to try and convince him to stay without his knowing it, she would not let him disgrace her by leaving again.

The two weeks before Christmas went by quickly for both Rhett and Scarlett. Rhett tried his best to be attentive, courteous, and affectionate without going overboard. He went with Scarlett when she asked him to accompany her when she visited the construction sites of the homes she was having built. She even surprised him by asking him to accompany her to Ashley’s mill.

Two days before Christmas is when the parties started, and Rhett had just finished putting the finishing touches on his tuxedo when he came into the bedroom they shared and noticed Scarlett hadn’t even begun getting dressed. She looked pale and her eyes lacked the normal vivaciousness he saw in them. “Not feeling well, my pet? We can stay home if you want; it certainly doesn’t matter to me if we make it to the Meade’s party.”

“No, I’m fine, Rhett. I just have a touch of the flu I think.” She looked up at him and offered him a smile, hoping to convince him she was indeed fine. What she saw nearly took her breath away. He was incredibly handsome dressed in a black tuxedo, crisp white shirt, a gray waistcoat, and a plain black cravat. She stood and straightened his cravat, fixing the plain gold stickpin he used for the evening.

“My, Mr. Butler, I never realized you cleaned up so nice. You look almost respectable.” She offered him a smile, her dimples flashing and a little life returning to her eyes. No matter how awful she felt, now that she saw how handsome he looked she wouldn’t miss out on the opportunity to walk into the Meade’s home on his arm. This was exactly one of the reasons she had agreed to marry him – they looked good together. Surely Rhett knew that as well as she did.

He took hold of her hand and pressed it against his upper chest. “You can’t fool me, Scarlett. The smile and the dimples are nice, but you’re pale. I’ll take you, but if you’re not feeling well I want you to tell me and we’ll come home.”

“You fuss over me too much, Rhett. I’ll be fine, so long as you excuse me and get Prissy so that she can help me dress.” She shed her dressing gown casually, revealing her scandalous sheer white imported French lace chemise. It was something she had ordered while in Savannah on their honeymoon, but Rhett had never seen her in until now because she’d never had reason to wear it until tonight. It clung to her like a second skin and it looked fabulous on her, she knew it. She had spent at least ten minutes looking at herself in the mirror earlier that evening to make sure that it was flattering to her figure. She offered him a slight, coy smile before going to her dressing room and pulling out a gown. “I was thinking of wearing this one tonight. Do you agree with my choice?”

Rhett wondered if his mouth hung open at the sight of Scarlett in that chemise, if it hadn’t his mouth was better trained than he was. He felt his heart lurch into his throat, and when she looked at him with a glimmer of mischief in her eyes that she was trying to hide he smirked slightly. He glanced at the dress she held in front of her, asking his approval. As if she’d ever required his approval before now, but he nodded knowing later he’d have no idea what it was he had agreed to.

“I’ll get Prissy then,” he said softly as he left the room. Closing the door on his way out, his hand remained on the doorknob for a moment his mind racing. It was tempting to forego the party and remain at home worshipping her body in that chemise, but something told him there’d be plenty of time to do that after the party. They had picked up where they left off as far as their lovemaking went; they were still newlyweds he reasoned. Between the three months he had been away and the month before that that Scarlett had been bedridden in Rhett’s eyes they had lots of time to make up for and though she liked to tease him about it, Rhett sensed Scarlett wasn’t too put out by his requests.

He was somewhat surprised by this, expecting her to retaliate for his absence by denying him his right in the bedroom. Secretly, Rhett was hoping that Scarlett would get pregnant, which would give him a reason to stay without him having to say anything about why he was staying. But so far she didn’t seem to show any signs of being with child, certainly not through lack of trying on his part. He wondered if maybe the miscarriage was the cause, but also realized that less than three weeks wasn’t that long when he was aware of people who tried for months or even years unsuccessfully.

Scarlett emerged from her room and descended the steps to a waiting Rhett in the front parlor dressed in a black velvet gown with white satin at the bodice worn off the shoulder. Black onyx earrings, a pearl necklace with a black onyx teardrop shaped pendant, and a white rabbit fur wrap draped over her arms completed the outfit. Her hair was pinned back with faux pearls interspersed in her hair. The wrap had been a gift from Rhett for Christmas that he had given her early assuming she’d want to show it off at the holiday parties they attended. He knew her so well she mused as she cleared her throat.

“I’d say, Mr. Butler that we coordinate ourselves very well despite the fact we’ve not been married overlong.”

Rhett stood with a smile having collected his composure since leaving their room earlier. “My, Mrs. Butler, if I didn’t know better I’d guess you were trying to turn every man’s head at that party tonight. Not that you need any help doing that, but dressed like that you’re bound to succeed.”

“How you do go on, Rhett. I’m a married woman after all. I don’t need to turn heads anymore.”

“And there’s no snow in New York today either, Scarlett. But let’s not argue about something tonight.” He offered her his arm as he led her outside to their coach where Manigo waited for them.

Rhett spent the next four hours wondering when exactly Scarlett would save him from this hell called socializing; she knew damned well he hated these things. He stood talking to Maybelle’s husband, a man whose last name he never could remember and he would never address him by Philippe, wondering if this was how Scarlett planned on seeking her revenge on him for his quarter long absence. He caught glimpses of her talking throughout the evening, periodically she’d walk up to him and drape her arm through his as she joined in his conversation with whomever he was being bored by at the moment. But she would soon release his arm and with a gentle kiss to his cheek she would once again disappear into the throng of other partygoers.

Scarlett was having a good time, for the first time in months she was able to be among Atlanta’s residents and not have to endure probing questions about what was keeping Rhett away for so long. Occasionally, she joined his conversation knowing how he hated these things, but she was quick to leave and initiate her own conversations with people. She stood with her back against the wall, Ashley was off getting her a fresh glass of punch when Rhett walked up to her and surprised her by boldly taking her into his arms. She blushed profusely at the suggestive intimacy by how close he held her to him.

“Rhett, what are you doing? People are watching,” she said softly, though she didn’t really need to ask. She was able to see in his eyes that he wanted no more of the party.

“Let them watch, Scarlett. I’m your husband and I have every right to hold my wife. Besides, I think I’ve been social enough for the night. We have ten days of these things to show our faces at. Let’s go home so I can get you out of that dress. I want to see that lace number you have on underneath again, but much closer this time than the view you gave me of it earlier.” He winked slightly as Scarlett squirmed in his arms.

Scarlett’s cheeks colored further when Ashley returned with her punch, she knew there was no way he had missed Rhett’s comments. She tried to be mad at Rhett, but she knew she had started it by teasing him as she had in their bedroom earlier by showing him what she was going to be wearing underneath her gown. Besides, it gave her a bit of a thrill to know that Ashley knew that Rhett found her desirable and that she didn’t have to throw herself at him to gain his affections.

“Thank you, Ashley,” she said simply when Ashley made a quick departure. Scarlett giggled lightly when she noticed that Ashley’s face, too, was flushed with embarrassment. Scarlett wondered briefly if Ashley would ever dream of speaking to Melanie that way, and realized that though she didn’t appreciate Rhett saying such a thing in earshot of anyone it did give her a thrill to know that all this time he’d been thinking about that brief moment when she showed him her chemise. “I was feeling a little light headed. I know you told me to fetch you if I felt badly, Rhett, but I didn’t want to be the first to leave the party.”

“Well, we’re not going to be the first, so please put me out of my misery and let’s get out of here.”

Scarlett pulled the fur wrap around her so that the back of it draped gracefully along the small of her back as she straightened herself after being released from Rhett’s embrace. “All right, we at least need to say good night to the Meade’s or they’ll think us quite rude.”

Rhett moved out of her way and placed his hand at the small of her back. “All right, let’s say good night and get the devil out of here.”

They returned to their home almost an hour later, Rhett stood and tried to politely say good bye until he didn’t want to utter the words “Merry Christmas” to another living soul until next year. Rhett wasted little time getting her out of her dress and himself out of his own clothes. He stood in front of her his hands touching every inch of her within reach enjoying the feel of the lace beneath his fingertips. “Where did you get this anyway and why did you wait until now to show it to me?” He placed a light kiss on her cheek and along the rest of her face as he waited for his answer.

“In Savannah, and you haven’t seen it because you were gone.”

“Had I known I would have come sooner.”

“Don’t tease me, Rhett.”

“Teasing can be good, Scarlett. Very, very good. But I assure you, sweetheart, I’m not teasing you one bit.”

That was twice he’d called her sweetheart, no my dear or my pet but an actual endearment that seemed sincere. She felt the hem of the chemise being pushed up, felt the warmth of his hands against her thighs and hips as one hand slid gently to cup her causing her to gasp. How was it he was able to make her feel like this every time? They had made love at least once a day since he’d returned and every time he touched her like this he made her feel like it had still been months since he had touched her.

Rhett lay in bed watching as Scarlett slept, the lace chemise clutched in the hand she still held above her head resting on the pillow. It was the oddest thing, whatever exactly it was he felt for her, it gave him the stamina and the drive to make love to her whenever he could. It was almost as if he couldn’t get enough of her, as if he wanted to possess her somehow and this was the only way he knew of to do that. Sadly, he realized as he traced her bare stomach that he wasn’t content with just the possession of her body; at one time a few years ago he thought that was all he wanted, but he wanted it all, and he’d be damned if he was going to settle for anything less.

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