This is a work of fanfiction. I do not own the characters of Rhett Butler, Scarlett O'Hara, Ashley Wilkes or any other character mention that is named in Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind or Alexandra Ripley's sequel Scarlett.

Rhett watched Scarlett in disbelief. How many times had he asked her to be his mistress and she had refused. The fact that had she said yes she would not be standing before him with callused hands in a dress made out of her mother's draperies asking him for a measly three hundred dollars didn't escape him. He wondered if she realized this as well. He released her hands, hands that he recalled the last time he'd had occasion to kiss were soft, smooth and creamy white as a lady's hands should be. He took a few steps back, his right hand going into the front pocket of his trousers as he raised an eyebrow. "Let me get this straight, Scarlett. In exchange for three hundred dollars, you will agree to perform duties to me as a mistress. That is what you're offering me, isn't it? You realize I'm not going to change my mind afterward and marry you."

Scarlett cringed at his words. As if it wasn't bad enough he had caught her in her lie, now he was going to humiliate her. She cast her eyes downward, unable to look him in the eye as she composed herself. What other option did she have? She knew of no one else who had three hundred dollars other than her grandfather who had already refused to help them. She breathed out heavily, unaware that she had been holding it. "Yes, Rhett, that is what I'm offering. You've offered me a place as your mistress many times; surely this ought to please you to no end. If you're expecting me to beg, I won't. And I know you won't marry me."

"No, I don't expect you to beg, Scarlett. I'm sure this was difficult enough for you. I commend you not only for your courage in approaching me, but in your mindset to think of this little scenario at all. I'm sure it wasn't easy." He allowed his eyes to scan her body; he certainly had the right to look over the goods she was offering him in this barter. Her breasts were perfect, he could tell that even clothed in velvet. Her waist was tiny; he could picture her stomach taut and smooth. The only thing he had difficulty picturing were her legs, but he imagined them to be as delicious as the rest of her. He was impressed; he knew she was uncomfortable with his looking at her as he was yet she stood there and let him look. The thought briefly entered his mind that if he refused she might take this offer to someone else who would gladly take her up on such an offer. Thank God she knew no one else with the amount of money she was looking for, surely she would have gone to them first coming to Rhett only as a last resort. And one thing Rhett knew about men, all men other than perhaps Ashley Wilkes, not one would turn down such an offer. "And just how do I know you'll actually pay up your end of the bargain, Scarlett? I could give you the three hundred dollars and when I'm released you could renig on our deal. Or were you planning on consummating our deal here and now?"

She shook her head quickly. "God's nightgown no, once you're released of course. I couldn't. Not here." She wondered if he would be able to tell she and Charles hadn't consummated their marriage. Of course he would, she realized, and she couldn't help but wonder what he would think of her then. She wouldn't give herself to her husband but she would to him for money. She had to push these thoughts out of her mind, she'd think about it tomorrow. She had to worry about getting the money for Tara now. "I'll sign over Tara to you until the deal is finished, Rhett. Whatever you want, it's yours. I just need the three hundred dollars."

"And what if I'm not satisfied with your fulfillment of your end of the bargain? Three hundred dollars should buy me a hell of a lot of pleasure, Scarlett. And where would this take place? At Tara? And do I have to take you to dinner, too? Or do I get to skip the courtship rituals and take you straight to bed?" He watched her closely; still unable to believe she was standing here before him making such an offer. It's a good thing young Charles Hamilton is dead, Rhett realized. Or maybe not, the young chap is probably going to come haunt me in my sleep and make me swallow my own tongue. He was toying with her now, more than anything. He would have given her the three hundred dollars even had she not made this tantalizing offer. He couldn't even say for sure if he would collect his end of the bargain when the time came, that would make things very different between them and Rhett wasn't sure if he was ready for that. Gone would be the mystery, for both of them. He knew one day Scarlett would give into him, it was inevitable. If he went through with this, made her pay her end of the bargain, that would be gone. He wanted her to give herself to him because she wanted him, not to pay a debt.

"Well, I don't rightly know, Rhett. I would have to count on you being a gentleman and being content with what you get. As far as where, of course it couldn't be at Tara. I could meet you here in town. Mammy would be with me when I came to Atlanta, but I can manage to get away from her. You know that. As far as what you do with me before that would be entirely up to you. But I imagine dinner and a dance or two would go a long way to make me a bit more the willing participant." Her green eyes clouded slightly, not only was she asking him for three hundred dollars but she was requesting that he take her to dinner too. God's nightgown, he's going to think I'm such a fool. "I'm not asking that of you, mind you."

He thought over what she'd said. Of course he could only take her for her word. He wouldn't have let her fulfill the agreement where they stood now anyway. He had every intention of making his first time with Scarlett the first of many. And in a jail cell on a paper-thin mattress would not go a long way towards impressing her. Though he imagined after Charles, it wouldn't take much to impress her. The boy couldn't have known much Rhett mused. "All right, Scarlett. I guess we're both counting on one another acting like gentlemen and keeping our word." He snickered slightly when he saw her start to get defensive with him. "Now don't go showing your Irish and ruining my generous mood by getting your feathers ruffled, Scarlett. You'll need to get the paperwork, sign the deed to Tara over to me. I won't make you put down on paper the details of the loan. Once that's done Miss Watling will give you your three hundred dollars, give her the deed and I'll collect it when I'm released. I'll let her know to expect you." He narrowed his eyes as he walked towards her, standing daringly close to her. "So help me, Scarlett, if you go back on your word you won't know what hit you. You and your precious Ashley along with everyone else at Tara will be out on their ear. And I won't take money from you either in an effort to pay back your debt. This is the deal, it's this or nothing."

She swallowed hard; he was going to make her go through with it. She knew he would, of course. No gentleman in his right mind would even think of seeing this bargain through. No gentleman would have let it go this far. They would have seen where the conversation was leading, seen how desperate she was and given her the money expecting it to be repaid. But Rhett obviously wasn't in that group, nor was she now that she thought about it. "I understand, Rhett. I won't go back on my word. I never have up until this point. How will I know when you're prepared to collect the debt?"

Rhett laughed heartily. "Believe me, Scarlett, I'll leave no doubt in your mind as to my intentions when I'm prepared to collect my payment. And you best be kind to Miss Watling. Mind you, just because I tell her to give you the money doesn't mean she has to do it if you're rude to her." He smirked slightly, wishing he could be there to watch Belle and Scarlett together this once. The woman who in all of Atlanta's eyes was his mistress and the woman he wanted more than any woman he'd ever wanted before. That would be a meeting he'd love to be there for.

Scarlett shook her head. "I don't understand why it's Miss Watling I have to go and see, but I think I can manage to be kind to her this once. She did contribute money to the hospital after all."

"It's the only way I can grant you access to my money I'm afraid, Scarlett. Believe me, if there were any other way to get you the funds I'd avoid the two of you having reason to talk at all. The less you two talk I think the better off I am. But I have no access to any funds from here, not unless you want me to be hung."

Rhett shook his head in amusement as he watched her leave, walking to the small window that provided him a view of the street below him. Belle was supposed to come see him that evening, so he could tell her then to be ready for Scarlett's visit. She had said she would visit Belle tomorrow. He wondered if she would pay him a visit, too. Probably not, he reasoned. If she had to have a dress out of her curtains made, things weren't going too well at Tara. Scarlett wouldn't come to him wearing anything less than the best she had. She had too much pride for that. He returned to his bunk and lay down, crossing his feet as he placed his hands behind his head. He had to wonder if she would really go through with it. Truthfully, he had to wonder whether or not he would allow her to go through with it. He had to admire her; she hadn't backed down even when he started giving her a hard time. Maybe good old Charles wasn't so bad after all. He chuckled lightly, unable to picture that boy doing anything without clumsiness being a factor. If he did allow her to go through it, he realized the biggest problem would be for him. Would once be enough? Once he'd gotten a taste of her, would he be able to just walk away and never look back. He'd done it before, but those women weren't Scarlett. He drifted off to sleep with thoughts of Scarlett dressed in nothing, her green velvet dress in a rumpled pile on the floor at her delicate feet.

Getting away from Mammy and Aunt Pitty to meet with Belle was no easy task for Scarlett, but as always when Scarlett set her mind to accomplish something it got done. Bringing fresh bandages to the hospital gave her the excuse she needed. Mammy and Pitty both stayed away from the hospital. Whether they grew suspicious when she stated she'd rather walk, she would never know. She delivered the bandages to the hospital and then went out the back way, walking the rest of the way to Belle's. She figured her establishment had to have a back door and was grateful when she saw one. She knocked and a pretty girl answered the door, which surprised Scarlett. The girl didn't seem very surprised to see someone like Scarlett standing at the back door asking to see Belle. I hope she doesn't think I'm here for a job, Scarlett thought. That's all I need. She looked at the girl's clothes, then at her own clothes and her thoughts grew dark. She's dressed prettier than I am. No wonder Rhett came here, he liked seeing girls look their best and this was the only place he could do that in Atlanta these days.

Once her business with Belle had been finished, Belle having kindly met Scarlett at the backdoor and allowed her to conduct their business there, Scarlett returned to Pitty's. Scarlett couldn't help but feel as though Belle was laughing at her. She wondered if Belle knew the details of her agreement with Rhett, and if she did how she felt about it. Scarlett somehow thought even Rhett was not capable of stooping so low as to reveal those details to someone. If only to protect himself from looking a fool if he thought she wouldn't go through with her part of fulfilling the loan. She went upstairs to her room, feigning the need of a nap.

In reality, Scarlett needed to think. She and Mammy would return to Tara tomorrow and she would be able to pay the taxes. Belle hadn't seemed to bat an eyelash at parting with three hundred dollars cash, nor did she seem overly surprised that Rhett was giving Scarlett that large of an amount in cash. She wondered when Rhett was going to get out of jail; she should have inquired about that. But it was a little late to do that now. Not that it would have made much difference in her decision making process anyway. She wondered how Rhett would go about making good their deal. Would he force her? Somehow she didn't think Rhett capable of forcing a woman to do anything, but one thing she knew for certain was that Rhett was no pushover like Charles had been. Charles had abided by Scarlett's wishes to wait, if the mood struck Rhett as being appropriate she knew Rhett wouldn't wait for anything. She cried slightly at the thought of Charles, not from missing him but a twinge of guilt that she had married him at all. Because of her, her husband had died never knowing a woman. India and Charles had been betrothed to one another for years, and Charles would probably have an heir right now if Scarlett hadn't intervened. But she hadn't loved him, and at the time she said yes to Charles she was not thinking of her duties as wife. She was only thinking of Ashley and the fact that he was marrying someone else. Taking her mind off Charles, she sat on her bed and opened the envelope Belle had given her and counted it. She couldn't remember the last time she had seen so much money at one time. Well, good money. Of course she had seen Pa's Confederate bonds which didn't do them a lick of good other than to patch the walls of Tara. She took a moment to count it and thinking there had been a mistake recounted it. There was a thousand dollars. How could it be? She didn't have it in her to go back to Belle's today. She asked Peter to take her to where Rhett was being held after stashing the envelope underneath her mattress.

After the guard had left Rhett's cell leaving them alone, Scarlett turned to Rhett not knowing whether to slap him or kiss him. "Just what is it you're trying to buy, Mr. Butler?" She wasn't dressed near as nice this time, just a basic white muslin dress with light green flowers.

Rhett smirked. He had been lying on his cot when the guard announced Scarlett's second visit in only a matter of a day. He made no effort at being polite or to rise in her presence. "You should have come back in your finery, Scarlett. If you're here to start an argument, perhaps it's best you remember that I could just as easily take the money back."

"I didn't ask for a thousand dollars, Rhett. I asked for three hundred dollars. I'd just like to know before I leave Atlanta what it is you're trying to buy?"

He sat up, his feet on the floor while his hands held onto the edge of the cot as he watched her curiously. Leave it to Scarlett to question his generosity. He should have known better. He allowed his eyes once more to drift over her body. He liked her better in this dress anyway. It wasn't necessarily more revealing, but there was less fabric and fringe to cover and hide her curves. And one thing he knew, he liked the curves. "Well, it seems I've already bought it, so what difference does it make if I pay three hundred or a thousand dollars for it."

"I just don't want my end of our deal to change, Rhett. If this is some kind of trick you're playing to get me to fulfill my obligation to you on more than one occasion you're sorely mistaken on just how low I'll stoop. Once is bad enough ..."

He stood and held his hand over her mouth, quieting her. "I'll stop you from saying anything foolish. Why don't you wait to tell me what's bad enough. I'm a man, Scarlett, not a boy who fumbles to get my own pants undone." When he was sure she was going to remain quiet, he continued. "Maybe I thought over our deal and figured what you were offering was worth a thousand dollars." He raised an eyebrow slightly, dropping his hand from her mouth.

She opened her mouth to speak, and closed it immediately not knowing what to say in response to that. He was complimenting her, but as usual it was said in such a way that saying thank you was sorely out of place. He was basically suggesting that a night with her was worth a thousand dollars. He had no idea what he paid Belle or one of her girls, but she couldn't imagine it was more than fifty dollars for their services. She turned from him, knowing that this thought brought color to her cheeks. She should be offended by the suggestion. She should return the seven hundred dollars. But in truth it excited her to think that he placed such value on her. "And just what is the seven hundred dollars for?"

He looked at her sincerely, no jesting evident in his eyes or his mannerisms. "Let's just call it security. I'd hope that you'd spend it to see to the needs of those at Tara, maybe treat yourself to a dress or two for when I get out of jail and decide to call on you to make good on our deal. If you're coming to me for the taxes obviously things aren't going that splendidly at Tara. I just wanted to make sure you had food. Mrs. Wilkes needs to get herself well, I understand that she's not recovering at all from having her baby. Your sisters need nourishment to aid them in recovering from the typhoid. Use it how you wish, Scarlett. I know it took a lot for you to come to me, and I surely wouldn't want you going to anyone else offering what you've offered me. You have no deed to Tara to offer them anymore, and I fear most of the people you'd think of aren't in jail and would be of the mind of making you pay up first. Three hundred dollars is nothing to sneeze at, Scarlett. Most people would expect services rendered at the time of payment."

"Yes, I am well aware of that, Rhett. You act as though I would make this offer to anyone, and I think you know that is not at all true. I trust you, that's why I offered it at all. And as long as you're not suggesting I have to do anymore to pay back the seven hundred dollars then I will say thank you and accept it."

"Nothing more, Scarlett, other than to please take care of yourself. I like my women thin, but not unhealthily so. And buy yourself some new gloves and a bonnet while you're at it, will you please?" He walked towards her taking her hands in his, shaking his head once more as he turned the palms up to look at them. He kissed them politely. "I don't ever want to see your hands looking like this again. Do you understand me, Scarlett? Once this war is over, never again."

She tried to think but was unable to. Her eyes were focused on her hands and the spot on her palms where his lips had just been. A simple kiss, an innocent kiss yet there was nothing innocent about it at all. It sent shivers through her entire body. She nodded her head. "Well, I'd much prefer they not look this way at all, Rhett, but I've little choice in the matter. We've got to eat, and that means cotton needs to be planted. And with Melanie and my sisters still sick, that leaves Prissy, Dilcey, Mammy and myself. Prissy and Mammy are both useless in the fields." She smiled flirtatiously; he stood so close to her she could smell him. He smelled of cigars, horses, hay, and whiskey, nice smells Scarlett couldn't help but think. How he managed to get cigars and whiskey while in jail she didn't even want to know. At least he didn't smell of perfume she found herself thinking, brushing it off wondering where the thought had come from. She looked at him, and realized that he was truly concerned for her. He would never admit it, and she would never put voice to the knowledge but they both knew. And then she did something that she had never imagined herself doing - she kissed him. It wasn't an overly long or affectionate kiss, but it was a kiss full on the lips that she hoped would make him realize that perhaps his thousand dollars wasn't so horribly spent. She pulled away and in the hurried rustle of skirts she opened the gate to his cell and left.

The taxes had been paid on Tara and Scarlett had used some of the extra money to feed the residents of Tara. No one knew where the money came from, and Scarlett didn't reveal anything. Ashley had to live with the guilt that she had somehow sold herself for the money. He had no idea where she could have gotten it otherwise. She had mentioned Rhett, and if he knew anything about Rhett Butler it was that he wouldn't have just handed over three hundred dollars. Even if it meant a dozen people being put out of their home. Scarlett was frugal; everyone got new clothes and new shoes, but other than that Scarlett spent none of the money. She had no desire to part with it unless absolutely necessary. Somehow she knew that it would be needed. She knew that Pork was going out at night and stealing livestock from neighbors, but not knowing how long the war was going to last she was in no position to be choosy. Rhett wasn't going to loan her any more money, and her grandfather had made it abundantly clear he was unwilling to help. So, the five hundred dollars she had left had to last them until who knew when.

She was in Atlanta on a spring day in 1866 shopping. The war was over, and she was in town to see about buying her sisters and herself new dresses and new shoes. Melanie had moved to Atlanta with Ashley, so she no longer had to be responsible for them, she couldn't help but be relieved even though it meant she and Ashley were so far apart. Mammy had escorted her to Atlanta, but had stayed at Pitty's allowing Scarlett to go shopping alone. How Mammy had permitted this, Scarlett had no idea but she wasn't about to turn the freedom down.

She was in Frank Kennedy's store looking at fabrics when she heard a familiar voice, Rhett's voice. Dear Lord, he was out of jail and his being out of jail meant payment. She turned her attentions to some fabric behind her, turning her back to him hoping he wouldn't notice her. Somehow she knew before even attempting this it was futile, Rhett had an uncanny way of noticing everything, even things he shouldn't notice.

Rhett had been across the street when he saw Scarlett go into the Kennedy store. While the clothes she wore still left something to be desired, she at least looked as though she had been eating. He knew better than to expect her hands to be smooth, but he hoped that she at least invested in bonnets as he had directed her to do. He chuckled lightly at the thought of how delicious it would be to collect his debt. He had been out of jail for a few months now, and had thought a few times about calling on Scarlett at Tara. He decided against it, he knew she'd come to Atlanta eventually. If more than a couple of months had gone by he would have contented himself with spending an afternoon traveling to Tara, but otherwise he really had no desire to do that. He was in no hurry, not fully certain he would make good on the deal.

He walked into Mr. Kennedy's store and after a polite hello to Frank with the tip of his hat he headed in Scarlett's direction. "Please tell me you're looking for material for a new frock, Mrs. Hamilton. It pains me to see a vision of beauty such as yourself dressed as you are." He bowed politely as she turned to face him, a smile crawling to his lips as he viewed the obvious look of displeasure that passed over her face.

"Why, Mr. Butler, surely you have better things to do with your time than to come in here and insult a lady."

"Certainly I do, Mrs. Hamilton, but at the moment I'm not doing them."

"Oh, Rhett, don't you have anything better to do than come in here and harass me. People are going to talk if you stand here and talk to me like this."

"Let them talk. Should I tell them what it is that's really on your mind right now? I'll bet that would make the good citizens of Atlanta look at you in a whole different light." His voice was quiet, though his eyes danced with mischief.

"Rhett, stop." She put the material back and walked from him towards the door saying good bye to Frank as politely as she could knowing Rhett was behind her without having to look. Once outside and out of view from anyone in Frank's store she turned to face him, "Are you trying to embarrass me?"

"Not at all, Scarlett." He laughed lightly. "But I am curious about something. Were you planning on calling on me while you were in Atlanta, or should I only expect that when you need money?"

He was going to drive her mad, he was teasing her now she knew it but still what he said made her feel a touch guilty. She had done nothing since leaving Atlanta with his money to determine if he'd been released. She just assumed he'd seek her out. Who was he kidding, she wasn't going to seek him out and he knew it. It made her wonder how long he'd been out of jail. He obviously wasn't in too big a hurry to collect his payment, which instead of making her feel relieved bothered her in an odd sort of way. You would think he'd be in a hurry to collect something that he had put such a large price on. "No, of course not. But I've never needed to seek you out other than that one time, Rhett. Normally you manage to find me."

"I see. Well, apparently I need to apologize then. My sources appear to be lax in their duties for I had no idea you were in town. I'll be sure and reprimand them. You do have time to join an old friend for dinner while you here, I hope."

She glanced up at him quickly; hoping her surprise wasn't overly evident. He's asking me to dinner. "Yes, I suppose I do. But really, that's not necessary. To offer me dinner, I mean. I'm sure you could join us at Aunt Pitty's for dinner instead. Melanie would love to see you, and Beau. He adores you so."

He noticed she hadn't thrown Ashley's name in with the group. "I have no desire to dine with your Aunt Pitty, Scarlett. Or with Mr. and Mrs. Wilkes for that matter." He wanted Scarlett as far as way from Ashley Wilkes. He had no idea why he felt as strongly about it as he did, but that's how he felt. "I'll see you tomorrow evening for dinner then, around five o'clock. And I'll expect you to be without a chaperone."

She bit her lip lightly, wondering how she was going to get out of this. Surely Rhett wouldn't really make her go through with it, but for a thousand dollars she imagined he very well might. She could return to Tara before tomorrow afternoon, but that would let him know she really had no intentions of going through with it and she couldn't live with him thinking she broke promises. She was a lot of things, but she wasn't a coward and she didn't turn her back on responsibilities. She'd made a promise, granted it was in a time of desperate need. But it was a promise nonetheless. A debt unpaid; and if it killed her she wouldn't have it hanging over her head for the rest of her life. God's nightgown, it's better to get it done with before I remarry. With this thought, she had to add. "I was expecting a guest at dinner tomorrow Rhett. I don't know that Mr. Browning will appreciate my canceling to have dinner with another man."

"I don't really care who you had dinner plans with, Scarlett." He paused realizing this was probably a beau she was speaking of. He wondered briefly if the man was thinking of asking her to marry him. He'd have to find out who Mr. Browning was and have a little talk with him about leaving Scarlett O'Hara the hell alone. Somehow the idea of another man courting her bothered him greatly. He realized he had no rights to her, no claim to her but it still didn't sit well with him. Not when he hadn't yet decided what it was he wanted to do with Scarlett O'Hara. But for a thousand dollars he'd be damned if he was going to let her marry the first young stud to come along hoping to get his grubby hands on Tara. "If you'd rather, we can skip dinner altogether and I'll just take you back to the hotel with me. Then you can be back in time for dinner with your beau." He chuckled lightly, having no intention on doing any such thing. But he couldn't help saying it.

"No, I'll cancel with Jeffrey. He was planning on coming out to Tara on Saturday anyway."

Rhett narrowed his eyes slightly at her familiarity with the man. "Jeffrey, hmm? Do I detect wedding bells in the air, Scarlett? If so, you'd better be quick about fulfilling your obligation to me. You wouldn't want to be an adulteress."

She wasn't going to listen to any more. Now he was insulting her. "I don't think you need to speak to me about whether or not I'm marrying Mr. Browning or anyone else for that matter, as if it's any of your business. I will make arrangements to be available tomorrow."

"On the contrary, Mrs. Hamilton, I believe it is my business. I pay attention to all my investments very closely, Scarlett. You and Tara are no exception."

"I'm not going to argue with you, Rhett, it's futile anyway. I will be ready at five o'clock tomorrow." She turned from him hurriedly, wanting to get away from him. She knew people on the street were staring at them. They always stared whenever Scarlett or Rhett were around even separately, and there were enough rumors abound about her relationship with Rhett she certainly didn't need to contribute further to the gossipy old peahens.

Pitty was upstairs napping when Peter announced there was someone at the door to see Scarlett. She looked at the hideous owl clock on Pitty's mantel and saw that it wasn't much after noon. She told Peter to show the person in, placing her knitting in a basket next to her chair as Mrs. Lowe came into the room carrying a garment bag. Scarlett's face showed her confusion; she hadn't been in Mrs. Lowe's store in almost a year. She certainly hadn't ordered a dress from the woman. She still had four hundred dollars of Rhett's money left and though the thought appealed to her now that the war was over to splurge on one of Mrs. Lowe's fancy dresses, she knew there were still better things to spend her money on than dresses.

Sensing Scarlett's confusion, Mrs. Lowe forgave Scarlett's discourtesy of not offering her a seat and smiled wryly. She wasn't overly fond of Scarlett, but the amount of money Mr. Butler was willing to pay for one of her finished gowns was enough to inspire her to hand deliver this gown herself. All of Atlanta had whispered about Rhett Butler and Scarlett Hamilton for years, as far as Mrs. Lowe was concerned she now had evidence that their relationship was beyond friendship. No man would spend such a vast amount of money on a woman otherwise. And to think Mr. Browning was courting Scarlett. "I can sense your surprise at seeing me, Mrs. Hamilton. I was asked to bring this by for you before one o'clock this afternoon. Luckily I was aware of your measurements and shoe size from previous fittings." She handed the garment bag to Mammy who took it upstairs, slowly ascending the steps.

"But I didn't order a dress from you, Mrs. Lowe. Please forgive me for appearing rude, but I'm rather surprised to see you here. Surely there must be some mix up."

"No, Mrs. Hamilton, there's no mix up. Mr. Butler's instructions were quite clear."

"Rhett's instructions?" He had bought her a dress. Her curiosity to go upstairs and see it right away led her to dismiss Mrs. Lowe rather abruptly. Much to Mammy's displeasure, Scarlett tried on the dress. She knew not only Mammy's opinion of Scarlett accepting such a gift, but the fact that it was from Rhett made Mammy grumble further.

Dressed in the royal blue gown Mrs. Lowe had sent over that afternoon, Scarlett descended Pitty's stairs shortly after five o'clock. Rhett sat in the parlor dressed as handsomely as ever listening to Melanie prattle about her relatives in Macon. As if he cared, but Rhett as always hung on Melanie's every word. She cleared her throat gently, hoping her nervousness wasn't abundantly clear. The gown was lovely, but it bordered on the inappropriate. It clung to her every curve as if it was a second skin, the sleeves rested low on her shoulders, which only accentuated further how low cut the dress was. "Good evening, Mr. Butler."

Rhett stood upon hearing Scarlett's voice, a smile on his face as his eyes took in the woman who stood before him. And she was all woman, the dress he'd chosen left little doubt of that. He hoped his pleasure at seeing her dressed as she was was not overly evident. He didn't care about Scarlett, but he didn't feel like embarrassing Mrs. Wilkes. "You're looking lovely tonight, Mrs. Hamilton."

She blushed slightly as her gloved hands rested at her hips thankful as Melanie chose that moment to leave the parlor. "Thank you. I guess I should not only thank you for the compliment, but the gown as well."

"It was my pleasure, Mrs. Hamilton. I can't go ruining my reputation for only being seen with impeccably dressed women." He smirked slightly. "I trust your dinner companion for the evening wasn't overly crushed at your sudden cancellation."

She narrowed her eyes slightly wondering what exactly he meant with that comment. Jeffrey himself had actually cancelled their dinner plans. Not only that but he had gone on to say he was disappointed since he wouldn't be able to make it to Tara on Saturday. She wondered now if Rhett had anything to do with that. "Well, yes, I suppose he was. I have been seeing a lot of him recently after all."

Scarlett watched as Rhett's coach stopped in front of a house. They were outside of town; she had no idea where exactly they were because she hadn't bothered to look out the coach's window assuming that they were going to the hotel. She looked at him with question in her eyes. "I didn't realize you had a home in Atlanta, Captain Butler."

He shrugged as he handed her out of the coach and walked with her to the door, using a key to let himself in.

"But why did you get me a dress if you're taking me here?"

"Well, I couldn't very well tell Miss Hamilton, Mrs. Wilkes and Mammy that my intentions were to bring you to a vacant house outside of town for the purposes of seducing you now could I?"

Scarlett took in her surroundings; it wasn't vacant though it didn't look inhabited. She wondered who owned the house and what they were to Rhett. She was nervous and felt caught in a trap. She had been a fool to believe he was taking her to dinner. But then Rhett slipped his hand into hers and led her to the kitchen where she stared at the table set for two. She allowed him to help her sit in the oversized chair.

"I must apologize in advance for my culinary skills. But I did try, so I do hope you will take into account I really do have feelings and keep any criticisms to yourself." He poured them both some wine, setting the bottle down as he sat across from her.

"You made dinner for me?" She laughed lightly. "No wonder you whisked me away from Atlanta, you don't want me to ruin your reputation. Either that or you're trying to poison me."

Her laughter affected him as it always did, cutting right through him to his heart. "Yes, that's right, Scarlett." He stood and brought the plates to the table. It was a simple meal of chicken, sweet potatoes, vegetables and biscuits with gravy. The biscuits he had gotten in town, he wasn't that ambitious. He watched her eat both of them saying little. He knew what was weighing heavy on her, and he left her be. Truthfully, he had a lot of thinking to do as well. As much as the desire to make her fulfill her end of their bargain was there, he had a difficult time making good on his threats. He knew if he did this, it would be a one-time thing and he'd have to walk away from her after this. She would never look at him the same way, truthfully he didn't know if he could look at himself the same way either. But the thing that gnawed at him, that made him down his glass of wine in one swill was whether or not one time would fulfill his need for her. And that's exactly what it was, a need. It had long ago stopped being a game for him. He needed her and he wanted her but he wanted the complete package. Well, he decided he'd see just how far she'd take it, somehow despite her courage he doubted that she'd go through with it. And what got to him, what bothered him to no end, was the fact that he knew that he would not only stop her if she had intentions of going through with it, but he would never pursue it again. He wouldn't sign Tara back over to her right away. He'd let her sweat it out for a while, but then he'd eventually give her back the deed and consider it even.

After dinner he gave her a tour of the house starting with the upstairs, ending in the parlor when he had finished. The house was virtually empty, a few pieces of furniture were scattered here and there, but it needed a lot of work. He poured himself a glass of brandy, then poured her one too not really expecting her to take it but he figured he'd make the gesture. It certainly wouldn't bother him any if she drank it, and he was somewhat pleasantly surprised when she did. He nursed his drink as he explained to her that he had bought the house and planned on making it into a boarding house. He just needed to find the right people to run it.

After they had finished talking about the house, Rhett set his glass down and walked to Scarlett. For some reason now that he had figured out what he wanted to do, he was determined to get it over with and be done with it. He hated seeing Scarlett like this, looking like a trapped jackrabbit. Normally when they were together she was conversational and bubbly, a joy to have around. But tonight she was nothing like that and it darkened his mood knowing that he was the cause of it. Taking her glass from her hand, he pulled her to stand and kissed her hard, his hands going to her waist and inching their way to the small of her back. His lips smothered hers in a hard kiss. While he knew he wasn't going to take this far, he still wanted to leave her wanting more. That was the point; he wanted her to come back to him. He wanted her to come back to him without the three hundred dollars being the issue. Perhaps if he teased her enough, gave her just enough of a taste of what he had to offer she would do so. It was a gamble, but he was willing to risk having his bluff called on this hand.

His lips parted slightly, his tongue licking her lips prying her lips open with authority but gently as he felt her arms inch around his neck. He knew he had her attention now, his hands lowered from the small of her back to her buttocks caressing gently before he moved them to her hips pulling her against him. He was surprised when he heard a slight gasp escape from her mouth, as his manhood's growing arousal became apparent against her. As much as he tried to prevent it from happening, and as much as he tried to hide his arousal, he couldn't. Five years of pent up desire for this woman who was currently pressed against his body was entirely too much for him to even begin to think of figuring math problems in his head. He just had to remember to keep his head and stop before he had drawn any lines. His tongue probed her mouth, begging her to return the gesture as he held her hips tight against him. "Damn it, Scarlett. Kiss me back." He closed his mouth over hers again, a moan escaping his mouth when he felt her tongue tentatively search for his tongue and then they met.

Scarlett was startled by the swiftness in which the mood had changed from one of conversation to one of kissing. And not just casual kissing, but kissing like she'd never experienced before. Certainly not from Charles or any of her beaux for that matter, but when she felt the beginnings of his arousal against her she couldn't help but gasp. She had caused that, and she grew suddenly afraid. This wasn't Charles, she couldn't feign a headache and there was no Aunt Pitty sleeping in the next room. But then his tongue slipped into her mouth like a sword being returned to its sheath and she honestly didn't know if she could tell Rhett no. Though she responded in part by placing her arms around his neck she did her best to remain passive until he had asked her to kiss him back. There had to be something wrong with kissing this way, using one's tongue to probe another's mouth but she tried it hesitantly and a thrill shot through her when she heard him moan in response. Her body grew warm, she knew she was flushed but she also felt a tautness in her belly and pressure between her legs she had never felt before. She was shy and unsure, but he seemed to sense that and he explored her mouth and lips effortlessly. A small sigh escaped her lips when he pulled away briefly; he was looking into her eyes. His eyes were so intense; she knew she would always remember this moment. Never before had she seen a look like that in a man's eyes, it was pure and undaunted desire that she saw and she had caused that. She returned his gaze, not knowing what to say and certainly not knowing what to do.

Rhett was watching her closely; he could feel her body responding to his. Her hips gently rubbing against him of their own accord, he knew she wasn't intentionally doing that. Her heart was beating as quickly as a locomotive engine. Her face, neck and chest were flushed and her eyes were bright and vibrant. She had kissed him back, it wasn't much of a kiss but it was a start. He pulled back slightly, breaking her gaze and kissed her face. His lips warm and intense on her cheek, her lips, her jaw, her neck, her ears, her shoulders, her collarbones, and her upper chest. His tongue teasingly flicking against her exposed skin until he reached the tops of her bosom, the corset Mrs. Lowe had provided Scarlett did its job well providing him with enough of her breasts to satisfy him. For tonight at any rate. He kissed and probed with his tongue over the tops of her breasts then returning to her ears giving her the opportunity to hear his shortness of breath. "Scarlett," was all that escaped his lips.

"Rhett," she breathed out softly, her tiny voice giving away her excitement. She set her hands on his shoulders and pulled away slightly. Her body was reacting to him too easily, she was afraid her mind would begin to give in to him as well. His mouth was hot and piercing against her flesh. No wonder he had chosen this gown, it provided him ample flesh to fondle. She threw her head back as his tongue darted in the valley between her breasts, she could get lost in this and that scared her. She could forget that this was a business deal.

Rhett opened his eyes at her voice, he had kept them closed as his mouth and tongue explored her body and as he looked at her breasts he could see evidence that she was excited. He cupped a breast in his hand, rubbing the thumb across a covered nipple once, twice, three times a slight smile crossed his lips as she responded. He chuckled lightly at the ease with which she responded to him. "I guess it's been a while, Mrs. Hamilton."

She opened her eyes hesitantly, trying to catch her breath and clear her head. This was not good, and she knew it. She was in trouble. She looked at him curiously not knowing what he meant, and then understanding came. "It's been never, Rhett."

Rhett felt as if a flame had been ignited underneath him. The implications of her statement were immense. The pressure of his hand and thumb against her breast increased. "Are you telling me, Scarlett O'Hara-Hamilton, that you and your dearly departed husband were not intimate?" The involuntary thrust of her hips against him almost sent him to the moon. And then he held a whole new respect for her, and whatever doubts were left in his mind about going through with it he knew now that he could not.

She bit her lip willing her body not to respond so violently to his touch. "Yes, Rhett, that's what I'm saying. Charles and I never shared a bed. I couldn't bring myself to go through with it and he was too much of a gentleman to do anything about it." She gasped in horror at what she had just said, but realized that Rhett wasn't laughing at her. He actually looked somewhat pleased.

Rhett kissed her again deeply, his tongue probing her mouth intensely. He licked her lips, biting them gently and then he pulled away. It was the hardest thing he'd ever had to do in his life, but he willed himself to do it. He steeled himself, and it didn't take long for his body to disengage itself from conquest mode. He hugged her tightly against him, kissing the top of her head. "Scarlett," he called softly. He was glad he had decided on his plan of action now. There was no way he could have taken her virtue under such circumstances. Not to pay a debt. He would take her virginity; he had no doubt of that anymore. She had responded to him too well for him not to pursue this aspect of their relationship. He pulled away from her and after tracing her lips with his fingertips lightly he dropped his hand in hers. "Come on, Scarlett."

She looked at him confused. "Where are we going, Rhett?" She had seen no furniture upstairs, so she had no idea where he would be leading her. She assumed he was taking her some place to make love to her.

"I'm taking you home to your Aunt Pitty's."

"You what?" She stared at him in disbelief, wondering what that feeling was at the pit of her stomach. Surely she wasn't disappointed. But she suddenly felt an aching; a longing that she had never felt before and she couldn't help but wonder just what it was he had done to her. He had seduced her; he had done something to cause her body to react so enthusiastically to him. Had done something to cause these feelings in her body.

They pulled up in front of Pitty's house; Rhett handed her out of the carriage looking her over carefully to make sure that she was presentable. When they got to Pitty's front porch, he kissed Scarlett politely on the cheek. "Thank you for dinner, Scarlett."

She watched him utterly confused at this change in his behavior, but it was his eyes that gave him away. He still had the look in his eyes that told her he was still aroused. Why had he stopped? Did he not find her desirable? She didn't think that was it; she had felt he had been aroused. "Good night, Rhett."

He bowed politely, "I can't wait to collect that payment, Mrs. Hamilton." He tipped his hat politely, turning to return to his coach. He watched as Scarlett opened the front door and entered the house and then made his way to the hotel for what he was more than confident would be an incredibly long and sleepless night.

Rhett returned to his suite at the hotel after stopping at Belle's to pick up a bottle of whiskey. He knew Belle wanted him to stay, but he was in no mood for company. At least not Belle's company. He spent the night sitting in a chair looking out the window at the Atlanta streets below thinking about Scarlett and what had transpired between them that night.

He knew that he had left her both quite confused and aroused, but he wondered if she realized how mutual the feelings had been. He really hadn't any idea that Scarlett was still a virgin, how could he possibly have known. Though he remembered a feeling of relief washing over him when a baby hadn't resulted nine months after she had married Charles Hamilton. Well, it all made sense now, and if there was one woman he pictured capable of turning a man out of his bed on their wedding night it was Scarlett O'Hara-Hamilton. He smiled slightly as a thought occurred to him. I'd like to see her try that with me. A snicker accompanied this thought because he realized that had he wanted to he could have bedded her that night. Who was he kidding? He had wanted to, badly. There was no question in his mind he wanted to, but the deed to Tara had to be taken care of beforehand.

His thoughts turned to her reaction to him earlier that evening. She had been surprised he knew how to cook. Why exactly that should surprise her he wasn't sure. He had been living on his own for long enough, certainly she would have to realize that he'd picked up a domestic skill or two along the way. She seemed genuinely amazed that he owned the house; a boarding house to him was one way to profit from reconstruction after the war. And then his thoughts turned to how her body had reacted to him, how his body had reacted to her. Had they been sitting on a couch or in a bedroom, he didn't know if he would have been able to stop himself as he did. As it was, it was no easy task for him to cease and desist.

He had to give Scarlett credit, had he not brought up the subject of the length of time it had been since she'd had relations he doubted she would have mentioned her inexperience. He would have figured it out, of course. But the fact that she was willing to do that, to give up her virtue for a piece of land shed a whole new light on things in his eyes. Of course with that piece of land came the mouths of her family and servants to feed, but still sacrificing one's virtue to ensure you had a roof over your head is something Rhett didn't think many women would think of doing. He had made the statement as a joke, having doubted young Charles had brought any excitement to their bed and he just couldn't picture Scarlett reacting to that boy as she had to Rhett. He poured himself another drink, a light laugh escaping his lips. He shook his head with a smirk as he toasted an invisible companion. "Here's to you, Mrs. Hamilton," he said sardonically.

On the other end of Peachtree Street Scarlett sat on the bench at her room's window looking out into the darkened night her knees to her chest with her hands wrapped around them keeping them tightly pressed against her. Normally she didn't like being in her appointed bedroom at Pitty's alone, avoiding it unless she knew she was going to be able to sleep. It had been Charles' room and it was at night when she was alone and things in the house were quiet that she felt bad for having married him. But tonight thoughts of Charles were far from her mind. It was thoughts of Rhett and what had happened between them earlier that evening that weighed heavy on her mind.

She smiled as she thought of the dinner he had made for them. She had no idea why it surprised her so that he had been able to cook; she had just never given it any thought before. The thought of Rhett doing anything common just struck her as odd. She reached up with her right hand and touched her lips lightly with her fingertips remembering the way his lips felt against hers. She wasn't experienced, but his kisses certainly felt sincere. She didn't think that could be faked, but she could be wrong. But she had felt his arousal, and that she knew he couldn't fake. She had always thought of herself as a toy to Rhett. Something he played with to amuse himself when he had nothing better to do. She knew that he had been serious about his requests to be his mistress, but she also knew he requested it with the knowledge that she'd say no. But after tonight she couldn't help but wonder if she was more than that to him.

Scarlett returned to Tara the following day disappointed that Jeffrey wouldn't be calling on her that weekend. She had grown accustomed to his visits; they were truly a welcome diversion from the day to day happenings at Tara. Now that the war was over, it was nice to have a beau who was there to court her attentively again. He had seemed persistent enough, but not only did he cancel his plans to visit her at Tara the weekend she returned about a month later she received a letter from him stating that he had decided to leave Atlanta. Furious thinking that Rhett was behind Jeffrey's sudden decision to be rid of her; she packed her bags and took Prissy with her to Atlanta. She was going to put Rhett Butler in his place once and for all.

Though she desperately wanted to see Ashley, she knew she needed to stay away from Ashley, Melanie and Pitty on this trip. After getting a room for herself and one for Prissy at the Atlanta Hotel and discreetly finding out that Rhett was in town she sent Prissy with a note to Boyd Tarleton telling him that Scarlett would be by to call on him later that afternoon. It had been months since Scarlett had seen Boyd, the only Tarleton boy still alive after the war. She knew she could work a dinner invitation without Boyd even knowing what hit him. She bathed, taking extra care with her hair and dressed in a simple yet flattering green damask frock with gold colored trim. The dress was more of an evening dress by the cut, but it was late enough in the afternoon by the time that she finished getting ready that it was only slightly inappropriate. She topped off the outfit with a bonnet the same color as the dress and her mother's sapphire earbobs and matching necklace.

The timing for Scarlett was perfect, it couldn't have worked any better if she had choreographed it all herself. She had called on Boyd and he had offered to take her to dinner. She made mention of having dinner where she was staying and he agreed. Had it been someone other than Boyd she would have grown concerned that he had thought she had something other than dinner on her mind. Scarlett genuinely liked Boyd, so it wasn't difficult for her to become engrossed in their conversation at dinner. Being a little older than Scarlett was it was interesting to hear his view on things that she remembered from her childhood especially how she had treated Brent and Stuart. Once again a twinge of guilt entered her mind as she realized that Stuart had been Honey's beau and Carreen had been sweet on Brent. Of course Carreen had been too young to have a beau, but regardless Scarlett once again realized that she hadn't been very kind. But Scarlett had little need in her life for spineless women, so her guilt was replaced with a feeling of pride in what she had accomplished. She wasn't relying on the kindness of family or friends to support her; she was surviving and feeding her kin on her own.

Scarlett sensed Rhett's presence before she ever saw him, rather she sensed that she was being watched and knew of no other person at the Atlanta Hotel who would watch her so closely. She laughed as Boyd said something funny and glanced up in the direction she thought Rhett was. A flash of recognition went through her eyes; her brow furrowed slightly at the look on Rhett's face and then Scarlett returned her attention to Boyd almost as if she hadn't even noticed Rhett was there.

Rhett was in a foul mood when he went to dinner that evening. Dressed in a pair of black trousers, a brown jacket with a black cravat and his usual gold stickpin and cufflinks he gave off the appearance he normally did. But inwardly he was seething. He had received word from his attorney that it appeared one of his ships had become the victim of embezzlement to the tune of close to twenty thousand dollars over the past two years. It appeared it wasn't cash that had been embezzled, but instead goods that the crew had sold and kept the money for themselves. Regardless, Rhett was not pleased with the prospect of having to deal with embezzlers, nor did the idea of having to take a hasty trip to London to get a hold of past bills of lading for all of his shipments over the past two years. It was going to be a lengthy and tedious process comparing the original bills of lading to what he had actually been told was received and he was not looking forward to it.

So it was in this mood that Rhett entered the restaurant at the Atlanta Hotel for dinner and noticed Scarlett dining with a man. This did nothing to calm his already bad mood, and the thought of going to dine somewhere else actually crossed his mind. Hadn't he just gotten rid of a suitor of hers? He knew she never lacked for beaux, but this was just more than he was willing to take at the moment. He looked from his pocket watch to the man waiting to seat him and decided to endure seeing her on a date after all. He would just eat dinner and be on his way to Belle's for a night of cards and whiskey; the two things he knew would take his mind off embezzlement. He wasn't so sure if they would aid him in getting Scarlett O'Hara off his mind.

Dinner went by painfully slow for Rhett. He knew Scarlett was aware of his presence, but she was ignoring him and was being far more attentive to her date than Rhett cared to be a witness to. In fact, he had to say that Scarlett looked comfortable with him, far too comfortable. He observed as the two talked almost seemingly never running out of things to say and Rhett found his foul mood growing steadily worse. The thought that she had chosen this place intentionally crossed his mind. She knew this was where he stayed when he was in town, but he had no idea what exactly Scarlett would stand to benefit from plotting such a thing. Surely she couldn't have any idea of the thoughts that had been plaguing him since that night a little over a month ago. But he couldn't figure out why else she'd be here if not to punish him somehow, and she was succeeding if that's what she had set out to do.

He finished his meal and left, stopping to check for messages in the lobby. As an after thought, he had no idea why he thought of it, he asked if Scarlett was a guest for that evening. The affirmative answer only left him further confused. Why was she staying at a hotel rather than with her aunt Pitty? He realized Miss Hamilton was no treat to stay with, but surely money couldn't be that plentiful for her that she would allow herself the luxury of staying at a hotel when she could stay somewhere free of charge. His thoughts then turned to the man she was with and wondered if he played any part in her desire to stay at a hotel rather than with Miss Hamilton. She was a fool, he suddenly realized and that just soured his mood further. He couldn't stand Scarlett when she did stupid things, because he of all people knew she wasn't stupid. Surely she had to realize that men would assume, given her widowhood, that she had had relations. Men sometimes sought widows out for discreet pleasures knowing that the woman while without a husband might still seek the carnal pleasures of marriage without needing the ties that bind. Rhett himself had enjoyed the company of a "chaste" widow a time or two. He left the hotel thinking that it was none of his business what mess Scarlett got herself into.

Scarlett didn't want to appear rude to Boyd, so she kept her attention on him sparing Rhett a few glances here and there while he ate. She could tell that he didn't appear to be in good humor; though he smiled and was pleasant to his waiter she could tell by his eyes. Normally when she looked at them she could see his amusement, but this evening she saw none of that. She shuddered trying to recall whether or not she had ever in her life seen a pair of eyes that were so cold and empty. They almost seemed to be void of any emotion whatsoever. She watched as he left, suddenly wishing that Boyd wasn't with her. She wondered what could be bothering him so. She would seek him out tomorrow; have the concierge send a message to his room asking him to meet her for breakfast perhaps. After dinner, she and Boyd went out to the gardens the hotel offered for a brief walk neither wanting to discontinue their talk of memories and the past. When it grew dark, Scarlett retired to her room alone suddenly wishing she hadn't come up with this foolish plan. She longed for Ashley's company; even Melanie would do right now. Instead, she made out a list of things that were needed at Tara and imbibed in some wine. She allowed herself the luxury of a long bath appreciating the grand tub the hotel had to offer and sent Prissy away once she was dressed for bed.

Rhett, on the other hand, had a bad night. Even Belle seemed to sense his mood was beyond repair and kept her distance from him he noticed. He knew that he was being unruly and curt, but under the circumstances he felt he was entitled. He couldn't concentrate on his cards, and found his mood worsening when he discovered he was losing money. At least the whiskey went down smoothly and Belle seemed willing enough to keep him supplied with the booze he sought to take his mind off his woes.

It was after midnight before he returned to the hotel, and while he wasn't stumbling drunk he was by no means sober when he entered the lobby. He had long ago shed his jacket and cravat, which were slung over his arm. During the evening he had unbuttoned his shirt and for the short walk back to his room hadn't bothered to refasten the buttons he had undone. He passed an employee on his way up the stairs and asked the young lady if she was aware which room Mrs. Hamilton was staying in and whether the girl knew what time Scarlett planned on departing in the morning. When told she was staying the following night as well Rhett smiled and said that he would send a note to her in the morning to join him for lunch the following day. Thanking the girl, he walked the rest of the way to his quarters. He wasn't drunk enough to intentionally cause Scarlett a scandal, but the fact that he knew which room she was staying in had its merit. He placed the key in the lock to his room pausing for a moment to look at the time. After opening the door he turned to remove the key from his room's door. He sighed realizing he was letting curiosity get the best of him, he left his room and decided to find out whether or not Scarlett was alone. If he turned her away that night only to have her seek what he hadn't finished from someone else she was going to have more than the deed to Tara to answer for. He cursed himself for being such a fool to think that she would wait for him to decide to take her. If she hadn't grown curious as to what happened between a man and a woman before their night together last month, he was sure that he had left her quite curious. And aroused he couldn't help but thinking even though he tried to push the thought from his mind. It was no use thinking about that now.

He stood in front of her door; staring at the room number on the door, number twelve, for what seemed like an eternity to him. If she weren't alone she would be furious with him for thinking that he had the right to check on her. Finally, he knocked softly on her door waiting for what seemed an eternity until she opened it. He pushed the door open and walked past her into the room, not caring to stand in the hallway any longer than was necessary. "Good evening, Mrs. Hamilton." The room was dark as he looked around, it took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dimness of the room but when he did he realized that she was alone.

Scarlett wasn't sleeping soundly when Rhett knocked on the door; otherwise she would have thought that she was dreaming. Dressed in a white gown with white lacing on the bodice and short, sheer airy sleeves, the skirt flowing past her hips and a single lace tie that fastened near the breasts she sat up and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. Who in their right mind would be knocking on her door at this hour? She hesitantly got out of bed and fastened the sash of her sheer dressing gown tightly around her waist as she opened the door ajar. She was startled when Rhett pushed past her into the room; up until now he had never done anything rude. It didn't take her long to recognize the familiar scents of whiskey and cigars, smells she knew all too well from dealing with her father. She smiled slightly, forgetting a moment there was a man in her quarters in the middle of the night. She narrowed her eyes, clutching the front of her dressing gown tightly after she closed the door. "What are you doing here, Rhett?" she hissed unable to figure out why he would risk coming to her room at such an hour.

"Where's your boy friend?" He stood in front of her, indiscreetly allowing his eyes glance over her scantily clad body. The dressing gown she wore did little to hide the ever so evident fullness of her breasts, her tiny waist, her curvaceous hips, and her slender legs. He gasped softly when he had finished his mental seduction of her body and his eyes once again met hers. He hadn't quite thought past knocking on her door to what he would do when he got into her room.

"My what?" Scarlett swallowed hard and was sure that her words gave way her nervousness. She should tell him to leave; he had no right to be in her room let alone at such an hour. Feeling his eyes on her, she pulled the dressing gown tighter knowing it did little to prevent him from looking. She felt herself flush; she couldn't ever recall Charles gazing at her like Rhett just did. When he met her gaze her senses returned. "Rhett, either tell me why you're here or leave. You have no business being ... " here she tried to finish but was cut off abruptly by Rhett's kiss. She whimpered in reaction to his lips pressing hard against hers. She tried to push him away; he shouldn't be here doing this. He was drunk she realized, and her efforts at trying to push him away were only met with a low rumbling laugh as one of his hands reached down to unfasten the sash that held her dressing gown closed. She felt his hands warm against her through the flimsy material of her nightgown and tried again to push him away. "Rhett, please." Her plea went unanswered as he pulled her tighter against him, crushing her arms to his chest as his mouth probed hers.

Rhett had no idea what had come over him. He had come up her to talk to her, to warn her about the impressions people might have of her but he suddenly found himself aroused by the sight of her standing before him in her nightclothes. Surely he had had too much to drink if something so simple can bring about his arousal, but whatever the reason he was. He heard that she was talking, but no words she said registered in his mind all he saw was her lips. Her lips were puckered in anger, perfect red lips that were in such a kissable position. He couldn't resist the urge and he didn't think she would mind once he started kissing her. He opened her dressing gown and reached around her waist, such a tiny waist to bring her body against his. He needed to feel her warmth against him. His kiss was intent and probing, he broke it slightly to respond to her plea. "That's what I'm trying to do." He moved his hands from her waist and cupped her face in his hands so he could look into her eyes. "Let me please you, Scarlett."

His hands dropped to her shoulders as his mouth closed over hers again, his tongue circling her lips prying them apart to fill her mouth with his warmth. His hands gently slid the dressing gown from her shoulders, he felt her pull back slightly as it dropped to the floor but he didn't let her. He couldn't have let her even had he wanted to. He was in too deep at this point, and he knew it. He just hoped he could get her to that point herself soon. He slid his hands down to her hips and pulled her against him, a slight groan escaped his lips as his evident arousal came in contact with her body. He moved his hands again, pulling her away from him slightly so that he could pick her up and carry her to the bed, kissing her as he set her down. He looked from the bed to her realizing he had his answer to whether or not she had entertained her dinner companion in bed earlier that evening. Unless she had gotten dressed and sent for someone to change the linens in a matter of a couple of hours he hadn't been up to her room. Rhett realized he should leave, kiss her good night and just walk out the door as if he had never been here. But the whiskey and his foul mood were thinking for him and he wanted comfort, warmth, to be loved. God how he needed to be loved, he realized. He pulled away slightly after placing her on the bed, his hand tracing gently over her face, her jaw, down her neck, across her shoulders and collarbones. He came upon the lace tie at her bosom which he untied and allowed his fingers to trace the brief patch of bare skin from her neck to above her breasts. He sighed huskily as his eyes met hers, she looked nervous but not upset.

Scarlett lay on the bed and watched as Rhett stood and began to undress her skin feeling as though it was on fire where his hands had just touched. She had never really paid attention to his hands before. They were large, with long fingers and calluses from his hard work. But even with the calluses they were gentle and felt smooth against her skin, sending shivers through her body. When he had traced from her neck to her breasts she felt that warm pulling sensation in her belly she had felt with him before and realized that it must be her body responding to his touch. She looked away when he turned to face her after removing his shirt and trousers, but not before catching a glimpse of his broad chest and shoulders. He was well tanned with a tuft of dark hair on his chest. His broad chest slimmed down into a narrow waist and tapered into from her brief glimpse perfect legs though she had no desire to look at that part of him. She turned towards him again when she felt pressure on the edge of the bed and looked up at him her eyes hesitant. She was about to speak when he kissed her again, silencing her once more with his persistent lips and tongue.

Rhett knew she was uncomfortable, knew that he was going to have to instigate any amount of contact so as he kissed her he reached for her hands and placed them around his neck. Bending closer to her so that she could slide her arms all the way around him as he deepened his kiss. Her mouth tasted like peppermint and tea, it was warm and wet and oh so inviting. As he kissed her, his hand traced over her arms, shoulders and collarbones until it fell to rest at her breast. He broke the kiss to watch her breasts react to his touch; they had reacted so easily that night he wondered if tonight would be any different. He brought his mouth to her other breast, taking it into his mouth through her nightgown chuckling lightly when he pulled away a few moments later because the material wet was see-through and left little to the imagination as to what was underneath her gown. His arousal was beyond belief at this point, but he was determined no matter how much he'd had to drink to be kind to her. He didn't want to hurt her, and he wanted to leave her wanting to come back to him for more. That was important, that was the key. It would do him no good to leave her wondering if that's all there was. He needed to leave her wanting more of it and often. He needed her to want to be a kept woman, because that's exactly what he wanted to do - keep her. He reached down for the hem of her nightgown and pushed it up slowly, caressing her calves and thighs with his hands until the gown was around her hips. His hands rubbed and caressed her waist, hips, stomach and thighs eventually moving to the softness between her legs. He had a difficult time choosing between watching her face or her body; it had been so long since he'd been with a woman who had never been touched before he wanted to memorize everything about Scarlett in this moment. He knelt on the bed at her feet, kissing her legs, waist, hips, and stomach following his hands to the spot between her legs. One hand reached under her gown to touch her bare breasts for the first time while the other he slid under her hips to bring her closer to him as he probed her softness with his mouth and tongue. He knew better than to expect her to touch him, but God how he wanted to feel her bury her hands in his hair, make moon shaped marks on his arms with her fingernails or something to let him know she was enjoying what he was doing. But other than her body's natural responses to his touch she gave no indication.

Scarlett had no idea what she expected, but what Rhett was doing was not it. She had imagined sex as only being pleasing for the man, but the way Rhett was kissing and touching her was very pleasing. She wished he would tell her what to do what he expected from her she had no idea. Instead she closed her eyes and enjoyed the feel of his hand on her breasts, his mouth exploring the place between her legs until she felt something build inside her and suddenly it was gone. God's nightgown, she thought, this has to be so entirely wrong, "Rhett," she said through pursed lips. She didn't want him to stop at all what he was doing felt too good. Suddenly he was leaning over her, bringing his lips towards her for a kiss she wondered if he would be able to see from her eyes how good he had just made her feel.

Rhett was relieved Scarlett had let herself go enough so that he could provide her with relief. When he felt her spasms had subsided he kissed her thighs, stomach, still covered breast and then met her mouth again. He kissed her briefly, looking into her eyes as he brought himself on top of her. He placed a hand over her shoulder as he entered her slowly, gently until he felt the barrier give and heard her cry out softly. Once fully inside her, he reached down to kiss her breasts cursing the nightgown that he had neglected to remove all the way. He kissed her as he brought both hands to her chest and tore the gown down the front. "I'll buy you a new one," he mumbled when he heard her start to protest. He brought his mouth to her breast and it was with the contact against her bare breast that caused him to reach his peak. He remained on top of her suckling on her breasts gently, not wanting to miss any part of lovemaking with her. Finally after kissing her collarbones, shoulders and jaw line again, his mouth met her ears and then her mouth and cheeks. He opened his eyes quickly when he tasted the saltiness of tears. "Are you all right, Scarlett?"

She nodded her head slightly, though she didn't know whether or not she was truly all right. She wondered if she would ever be all right again. He had been gentle and kind, and so attentive. She knew that she probably couldn't have asked for a better experience as her first time, but it hurt horribly and she felt ashamed over what they had done. The way she had felt, that it had been so easy for Rhett to make her feel those things. He had taken her virtue; there was no going back now. She couldn't wake up in the morning and tell him she wanted it back, this was irreversible. They weren't married, and Rhett had made it quite clear over the years that he had no intent to marry. She felt him as he moved along side her and went willingly as he pulled her into his arms. She looked up at him curiously as she lay along side of him facing him; somehow she never pictured Rhett holding a woman after sex. She rested her face against his chest not knowing what to say to him, not knowing what to do. She knew this changed nothing between them, if anything Rhett might suddenly decide to start pursuing her being his mistress again. Or on the other hand, he might leave and never return having gotten what he had wanted all along from her. She sighed slightly wondering once more just what she had done. When she felt him pull away from her she sat up suddenly, looking down at the torn nightgown that was still around her hips. "Are you leaving?"

Rhett knew that Scarlett had a multitude of things running through her mind at the moment and elected, wisely he thought to leave her to her thoughts. Nothing he could say or do was going to reassure her at the moment, it had to come from within her. All he could do was offer her the comfort and security of his arms, which he did so more willingly than she probably knew. He kissed the top of her head, taking in the slight scent of lilacs that lingered. He shifted slightly and was startled by her question; it almost sounded as though she didn't want him to leave. He turned to look at her, propping his head in the palm of his hand, his elbow resting against the bed. "Are you insane, madam? I just made love to you; I have no intentions on leaving for a little while at least unless that was your polite way of telling me to get the hell out of here. Then I'll take your hint and go."

Her eyes grew large as he spoke, taking in his words and she shrugged as she shook her head. "No, Rhett. I mean I don't know." He just said they had made love; she looked at him curiously wondering if that was how he described sex with the other women that he had relations with. Did he also consider sex with Belle lovemaking? And if he didn't, why did he say that to her just now? She turned her back to him, clutching her pillow to her as she brought her knees to her body not wanting to say anything more to him. She stared at the wall, still unwilling to accept what had happened. There had been no telling him no, she could tell. Well, at least now I can get the deed back to Tara, she thought. But somehow that only made her feel worse, sicker to her stomach than she already felt for what had happened.

Rhett was awake long after he heard Scarlett's breathing change into that of someone whom slept. He didn't know whether he should stay or go. Scarlett wasn't someone like Belle who he could leave in the middle of the night and not have to apologize the following day for such behavior. But on the other hand, if he stayed he could be seen leaving her room and that could ruin her reputation even more than it already was. Poor Charles hadn't been dead overly long and she had long ago stopped wearing the mourning clothes of a widow. He lay on his back, his hands behind his head staring at the canopy above his head deciding finally that he should stay. They'd figure out what to do in the morning, but he felt in his heart that leaving would be the worst thing he could do.

Scarlett woke the following morning and put off opening her eyes for as long as she could. The room was quiet, too quiet, and it made her think that Rhett had left her at some point during the night. She should have known not to expect any better from Rhett. She sighed heavily as she stretched; cursing him aloud as she realized her torn nightgown was still at her waist. Her body was sore and felt used in a way she'd never felt before, which only made her curse him more.

Rhett chuckled lightly at her words. "And good morning to you, Mrs. Hamilton. I was expecting you to wake up with thoughts of me on your mind, but I'm afraid cursing me was not necessarily what I was hoping for."

Scarlett's head snapped to face him as she sat up clutching the blanket around her paying no heed to the fact that most of her back was left exposed in her current position. "And what did you expect, Rhett? For me to sing your praises. You come in here drunk and take advantage of me and I'm not supposed to curse you?"

"I wasn't that drunk, Scarlett. And it seems to me you didn't argue too vehemently." He reached up and ran his index finger along the portion of her spine that was exposed as he chuckled. "In fact, I'd have to say that your body wasn't arguing with me at all even if your words did."

She moved to get away from his touch, sitting at the edge of the bed she looked over her shoulder at him. "That still doesn't make it right, Rhett. You took advantage of me. It was late, you took me by surprise, you were drunk, I was afraid you might hurt me if I said no."

Rhett had seldom been tempted to strike a woman in his lifetime, but her words gave him the urge to do so. He jerked her roughly to face him; there was no amusement or jesting in his eyes. "Don't even say that, Scarlett. I have never hurt you. I never once gave you any indication that I would hurt you last night, nor would I ever hurt you. Dear lord woman, I was nothing but gentle with you despite the fact I had more anger at the world in me last night than I have felt in a long time. Why don't you go seek out your dinner companion from last evening and see how gentle he is with you and then come back and talk to me about fearing I would hurt you." He ran his fingers through his tousled hair shaking his head in disbelief. "How many times have I propositioned you, Scarlett? How many times have I kissed you just past the point of being appropriate? How many times have I kissed the palm of your hand in a way that was more than possibly inappropriate? Who was it that put a stop to things that night when there was no chance of our being stumbled upon? Hurt you indeed, I wasn't as tempted to hurt you last night as I am now for even giving credence to that thought." He stood and walked to the other side of the bed to retrieve his underwear and trousers, putting them on abruptly. "And here I felt guilty for thinking of leaving you during the night. I guess I would have been better off doing that and making you feel cheap and used. Lord knows why I tried to think of you and wanting to spare you from feeling anything close to those things. Your bedside manner, Madam, needs to be worked on." He growled as he searched for his shirt.

"Just go, since it's rather obvious that's what you want to do. I don't know why you picked last night to begin worry about my feelings or anyone else's for that matter. Just get out of here and leave me be."

"That should be an easy enough wish to fulfill, Mrs. Hamilton. I'll be leaving this morning for Charleston. I have no idea when business will allow me to return to Atlanta, so you can sleep well this evening knowing that your chamber door will not be under attack from such a big bad oaf as myself." He finished buttoning his shirt and picked up his socks and boots looking for someplace other than the bed to sit on to put them on. He knew not to expect her to get weepy and emotional on him, but this was for more than he was prepared to deal with. Of course he had it in him to be cruel, he could have taken her in any number of ways that easily came to mind. Was there no end to the woman's ability to make him feel the heel?

Scarlett watched as he put on his socks and boots and thought over what he had said a moment ago. She remembered the look in his eyes at dinner the other night and was suddenly very curious as to what was so wrong in his life to make him look so angry. Even now she could tell that he wasn't overly angry at her, at least not as angry as he'd like her to believe he was. She sat on the edge of the bed, her bare legs dangling as her toes barely touched the floor. She cleared her throat lightly and straightened her back proudly as she started to speak. "Do you want to tell me what it is that had you so upset yesterday, Rhett?" The invitation was sincere and she hoped he would take it as such. Rhett had always been there for her, and never once had he ever asked her to return the favor. She could imagine how lonely his life must be at times, traveling from place to place. Not having a place to truly call your home must wear even on him after a while.

Rhett looked from his shoes as he adjusted his trouser cuffs around them to Scarlett. He was shocked because her invitation seemed sincere. But he wasn't about to let his guard down so quickly; he wasn't of the mind to fill her head with any ideas. "It's just business, Scarlett. I found out that I might have some dishonest sailors working one of my ships."

Scarlett knew what it was like to not fully trust the people who worked for you, she felt that way about some of the workers at Tara all the time especially now that she had to pay them or feed them in lieu for wages. She couldn't imagine what it would be like to have people work for you who traveled all over the world and didn't report to you directly for months if even that. She was a little hurt that he didn't give her credit to be intelligent enough to understand his problems further, so she responded curtly. "I see. I'm sorry to hear that. I hope that you will resolve the issue quickly and that any dishonest men will be punished for their wrong doings."

"I assure you, Scarlett, the issue will be resolved and any wrong doings will be handled my way." He stood, grateful that he hadn't left his jacket and cravat in his room the night before. He adjusted the cravat and slipped on his jacket turning to face her. He smiled slightly at the picture she made sitting at the edge of the bed her feet dangling just above the floor. How he'd love to be able to take her in his arms and make love to her all over again, but obviously that was not to happen. At least not on this morning, perhaps another time he'd get the opportunity. "I'll be out of your way now, Scarlett. But before I go I want to make sure that you're all right. I mean physically. I truly tried not to hurt you."

Scarlett cast her eyes down, clutching the blanket to her tightly. "I'll be all right, Rhett. Once I've had my bath and something to eat I'll be as good as new." Of course that wasn't true, but she sensed he was being sincere in voicing his concern for her well being. Lord knows she didn't need him strutting around her for the rest of the day out of some sense of obligation to her. "Really." She smiled with effort.

Rhett nodded, feeling somewhat awkward in leaving. He sensed she was being kind, almost as though she wanted to be rid of him and that didn't sit well with him. He reached for the door handle then as an afterthought turned and walked towards her. He cupped her face with his hands and kissed her softly. "I'll leave you then, Scarlett. My train leaves before lunch I'm afraid so this is farewell. Be well, Scarlett." He kissed her again, stroking her cheek with his thumb and then brushing her lips gently with his thumb as well. He turned and opened the door slowly, peering out into the empty hallway and closing the door quietly behind him.

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 girl 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, leading 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 lingering for a moment. 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 him 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 date 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 your 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 are 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's asking me because he slept with me; he feels he has 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. Is he asking me 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 8-1/2 months later instead of 9 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 is Scarlett's second marriage, at least I don't have to answer questions about my 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'd 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 date they'd gone on. 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 sex with him. He laughed slightly at the irony of his spending his wedding night chastely.

Scarlett spent the first few days married to Rhett both confused and excited. Confused because of Rhett's behavior and excited because she was getting treated to new things. He sent her to Mrs. Lowe's where he let her pick out a handful of dresses for her to wear until they got to Savannah and could have some made. Scarlett was aware of the glances Mrs. Lowe bestowed upon her. Though Scarlett didn't care, she was used to people looking at and gossiping about her, she noticed that Rhett made no attempts at informing anyone that they were husband and wife. Those at the hotel knew she assumed, but otherwise it was almost as if Rhett didn't want anyone to know. She wondered briefly if his purchase of the simple gold band was intentional. After all, she realized, no one would take notice of a new gold band on a finger she'd had one on for years. She wondered slightly how the town could not know, it seemed like anything they had done in the past whether it be together or separate was known about the minute it was done.

But, she reasoned, Rhett was attentive, polite, and complimentary. He saw to her needs, bought her new clothes, let her order the finest food, allowed her the indulgence of the most lavish bath soaps and oils, and generally seemed content with taking care of her. He was even polite in his advances towards her, almost acting as if she had a choice in whether or not to accept them. The morning after they had wed he had initiated lovemaking, which she had tried to stop more due to the time of day. But he had persisted and she had given in, yet he had stopped short of making love to her anyway which made no sense to her. That had been the way of it thus far, she fell asleep in his arms and woke to his displays of affection sometime in the early morning but he would always stop short of making her truly his wife. And outside of their room he gave no outward displays of affection, and this is what brought her confusion on. It was almost as if he was two different people, and she wasn't sure which of the two she liked best. In their quarters it was as if he cared for her he was always gentle and passionate, outside their room he seemed to care about her as he always had, casually. He liked to call her his pet, and that's exactly what she felt like at times - a pet. But at least she had some new things, and more to come. New things to wear in front of Ashley and make him realize how wrong he had been in choosing Melanie over her. She imagined she could deal with being his pet if it meant new things and never having to worry about food on her table again.

Rhett on the other hand spent their first few days together trying to figure out exactly what it was he was doing. What he had done. He'd laugh at himself later if it turned out Scarlett was not pregnant, he had been more careful than he needed to be given that she was his now wife always stopping short of making love to her. He had to know, and on their wedding night he had willed himself to put off taking her until he knew for sure. But when he woke the next morning as the sun was rising he realized that was not going to be possible. Having her there next to him was far too delicious a temptation for him to resist. But he found it was interesting to explore her body, though not nearly as satisfying. While he had taken the time to please her that first night, he had not taken the time to really look at and touch her. And now that he had the right to do that, he enjoyed being able to do it. It wasn't easy getting out of bed every morning knowing it was his own doing subjecting himself to the torture of celibacy albeit brief. But he needed to know. Once he knew whether or not she was with child the period of celibacy would end and he would never have to subject himself to such a thing again.

A week after they were married they arrived in Savannah. Scarlett hadn't been there since she was quite young, and though Rhett had indicated he'd be willing to accompany her to her grandfather's she had no desire to see the man. She hadn't told Rhett before now that she had gone to her grandfather for the tax money and he had refused to help his kin. She knew when her aunts found out she had been in Savannah and hadn't seen him she would catch hell for it, but she quite frankly didn't care. She was quite relieved that Rhett wasn't going to push the issue, though she was admittedly touched that he had even thought to go. Had the situation been reversed, she didn't know if she would have. The view from their suite was amazing, Scarlett mentioned to Rhett more than once the ability to see clear into South Carolina across the river when the day was clear. She was disheartened when Rhett mentioned they could spend only two weeks in town, but she understood that he had business matters that needed tending to. She was frankly impressed he was willing to take two weeks away and she was anxious to get started on their house.

Their first day in town was spent at a dressmaker's, Scarlett had no idea how he had done it or when but somehow Rhett had arranged for gowns, chemises, nightgowns, a coat and hat to be started before they had even arrived. The woman, Mrs. Ecklove, was a polite older lady who admitted to being hesitant to make so many gowns to the measurements specified by Mrs. Lowe unwilling to believe someone with so tiny a waist truly existed. This endeared her to Scarlett further and Scarlett noticed that for once Rhett seemed out of place in a situation as he sat idly by in a chair watching the older woman pin and unpin, take up and let down hems. She knew, however, that Rhett was more observant than he cared to let on. She wondered if Rhett had ever had the experience of actually watching the process of fitting a woman for gowns before. When Scarlett had finished she was famished; her eyes reflected her happiness when she asked Rhett where they were going to eat hoping it would be some place other than the hotel.

Rhett didn't know if a more torturous procedure existed than what he allowed himself to witness that afternoon. Here was this woman he had coveted for the past five years of his life who was now his wife but he couldn't touch her, yet anyway. Watching her change in and out of frock after frock, chemise after chemise, stockings after stockings it was almost enough to make him tell the older woman to leave them be and take her right there in the dress shop. He said little as the two woman discussed alterations and ideas for a dress or two that Rhett had not already ordered, Rhett distracting himself by thinking of other things was all too willing to agree to anything in order to get him out of there quickly. He did, however, put a stop to the fitting process when Mrs. Ecklove suggested she be fitted for nightgowns. That was more than Rhett was willing to bear at the moment, and without appearing rude he said they would take care of that another day. When they left the store over four hours later, Rhett was startled by her request for food. It was the first time since they'd been married that she'd really requested food. He turned his full attention to her and taken in by the bright look in her eyes kissed her boldly on the lips, not giving thought to where they were.

After their dinner, they returned to their suite Scarlett allowing Rhett to lead her to their bedroom and disrobe her down to her chemise. She had grown accustomed to this ritual over the past couple of weeks, they would lie in bed and talk or Rhett would read to her or sometimes he would spend what to Scarlett seemed like hours kissing and touching her. Scarlett was still baffled by his actions; it seemed almost as if he was avoiding her because she knew that he desired her. Even had she not been aware of how to tell he was aroused, she could tell by his breathing and the increasing intensity of his kisses. And in some ways it bothered her, perhaps she had done something wrong that night he had made love to her and he no longer wanted to. Perhaps now that he had her he no longer felt she was desirable. Almost as if he was able to sense her self-doubt, tonight he didn't stop at kissing her. She knew something was different in his intentions after he had brought her release and returned his attentions to her breasts. Normally he let her lay against him, but tonight he didn't. Even had she not known what his intentions were when he moved on top of her, she would have known from the look in his eyes. It was unlike the look he had their first night together, but it was easy for her to recognize desire when she saw it. She bit her lip lightly when she felt him enter her expecting it to hurt as it had the first time. But she was surprised when it didn't, at least not like it had that first night. She obeyed his request to put her arms around his neck and she actually found herself feeling a twinge of regret when he had finished. She kept her eyes close as she felt him kissing her upper body, the warmth of his lips and moistness of his tongue pressing against her skin. She let him take her hands in his, placing them on the pillow on either side of her head. His kisses to her fingertips sent shivers down her spine and she opened her eyes to see him watching her. She smiled hesitantly. "And here I was beginning to think you wanted me as your wife in name only, Rhett."

Rhett hadn't meant to make love to her, but after watching her most of the day stand partially naked in front of him and the way she responded to him he was unable to hold back. He reasoned to himself that it had been over four weeks since that night anyway, surely if she was pregnant they'd know soon enough and there would be little doubt as to the fact that she already was before this night. He could tell that she was expecting it to hurt, and knew that no amount of words could assure her to the contrary and he was pleased that she responded to his gentleness and his prompts to touch him. He lay next to her, his fingers running through her hair gently. He chuckled lightly at her comment. "Nothing was further from the truth, my pet." He paused slightly, not knowing how to broach the subject on his mind with her. If it had been Belle he could have come right out and asked, but this was Scarlett. "Scarlett, has it occurred to you that you could be in the family way?"

Scarlett rested her hand on his chest and turned to look up at him. How different this was from the first time he had made love to her. Though he had held her, he was more possessive this time about keeping her close by. She found it slightly endearing as if he truly cared for her, but then she thought about his question and suddenly got angry. She hadn't thought about that, but now that he had mentioned it she wondered if it was possible. Of course it was, or he wouldn't be mentioning it. And then it dawned on her why he married her. "No, Rhett, it hadn't." Suddenly she got scared. She didn't want children, didn't want to ruin her figure, didn't want to get fat, and didn't want a screaming brat at her breast for hours ever day. "God's nightgown, Rhett, I don't want children. That's why you married me, isn't it? You thought I might be pregnant."

Rhett showed no emotion to her question. His fingers still working their way through her hair. "Don't be silly, Scarlett. You're certainly not the first girl I've taken to bed, and obviously there's the chance every time that's happened that the girl could get pregnant. And as far as I know, you're the first Mrs. Rhett Butler. You of all people should know better than to question me." He looked into her eyes, hoping he had satisfied her curiosities about his reasons for marrying her. In truth, he still didn't know for sure why he had, but his response was true enough. He wouldn't have married her simply out of obligation. He cleared his throat slightly, "So I take it you've received no indication that you're not with child. Should you have by now?"

She thought for a moment, staring at the canopy above them. "I don't know, Rhett. I hadn't really given it any thought. I suppose I should have by now. I mean of course I should have thought of the possibility, but I guess I don't hear you talking about having a dozen bastard children so I didn't."

He was silent, listening to her. He wasn't so sure she'd want to hear the fact that there was the possibility of one said bastard child, so he kept this fact to himself. "Well, I imagine when we get back to Atlanta if you haven't received the evidence that you're not we'll have to wait a while to call on Dr. Meade. A month or so." He chuckled lightly as he turned onto her side to run his finger along her arm lightly. "The good citizens of Atlanta are really going to think you've reformed me. First I marry you, we're going to have a house to live in, and then we have a baby right away. Maybe I should get a real job. My reputation will fall to pieces."

"Your reputation, Rhett. Honestly. Won't they know? I mean won't it be obvious? How could you do this to me, Rhett?"

"They might suspect, Scarlett, but as long as we maintain it was conceived after the wedding and you're careful so that the baby doesn't come too soon no one will be the wiser. And believe me, Scarlett, it wasn't intentional. If I had it to do all over again, I'm not sure that I would."

"Such flattery, Mr. Butler. If you talk this way to all the girls in your life it's no wonder you haven't been married until now. It must not have been too awful an experience for you if you came back a short while later and asked me to marry you."

Rhett sighed heavily as he ran his fingers through his hair. "That's not at all what I meant, Scarlett. I meant that if I had to do all over again I would have turned around and left the minute I saw that you were alone. I was going there to warn you about impressions your friend might have had about you being a widow and all. He wouldn't be the first man thinking a pretty widow, who happened to be left a fair amount of land that now that the war is over stands to make her some money, would fall into bed with him. I'm certainly not suggesting I regret making love to you." I had just hoped after five years of coveting you I would have been able to enjoy the experience a little more than I did, he thought.

"I don't know why you thought it was your place to look out for me, Rhett." She turned to look at him realizing that if he hadn't she would have lost Tara. "But I had nothing to fear from Boyd, I suppose you didn't recognize him he wasn't at the Wilkes' that day you and I met. I've known him for years."

Rhett scowled slightly wondering if Scarlett realized how unsettling that statement was. There was one man she had known for years that Rhett was quite aware he needed to fear if not Scarlett. "Well, there's little use discussing it now is there. We're here and we can't very well get the marriage annulled now, I'm not going to lie about whether or not we had relations, Scarlett and if you're pregnant it will be rather obvious. Unless you're going to claim it's someone else's."

"Rhett, don't be silly. I don't want an annulment." She stared at her stomach for a few minutes wondering if it was possible that she was with child. She was 21 - years older than her mother was when she'd finished having her babies. "I'm just not ready to have children yet. I wouldn't know the first thing about being a mother, Rhett."

"Well, I reckon most people don't, Scarlett. Don't get yourself all worked up over it, Scarlett. It's not good for you, and there's little we can do about it." He kissed the top of her head. "Whatever God dishes out we can handle it. We've managed to do that divided for a long time, I imagine together we'll make an even stronger front." Rhett sensed Scarlett was tired and watched as she fell asleep. Sleep overcame him not too much later.

They spent the next two weeks in Savannah trying to enjoy themselves and not talk about babies. Rhett enjoyed showing Scarlett some of the sites from the war, the war was a different picture outside of Atlanta and Rhett imagined Scarlett hadn't really understood the true harshness of it. Sure she saw the wounded and the dying, but Savannah was a port city. It was, like Charleston, a city the Union wanted under its thumb right away to bottle up its harbors. Blockades that Rhett had managed a time or two during the beginning of the war to get around. They kept busy, Rhett even taking Scarlett out on the water convincing the captain of a small ship to take them out for a few hours. After their first night of lovemaking, Rhett more than willingly discontinued his brief stint with celibacy figuring it was going on a month since that first night anyway. Scarlett's new clothes were finished just in time for them to return to Atlanta. Rhett could tell that as much as Scarlett enjoyed getting away from Atlanta, she was anxious to get back.

They had been gone for three weeks by the time they returned to Atlanta. To Rhett he wondered if it had been long enough, though he knew he had business to tend to. He had been serious about wanting Scarlett's help with the paperwork he had to go through, he promised her she could be given a week of reprieve from her duties as his secretary to first take care of her duties as the decorator of their house. Rhett tried for the most part to stay out of her way, tending to business and aspects of the house that he could without her.

Though it was rather apparent to the citizens of Atlanta by now that Rhett and Scarlett had married, Scarlett still found it bothersome that he didn't seem to tell anyone they were married. Nor did he treat her any in public with anything but polite casualness, as if they were on a date rather than married. It's almost like he's unwilling to admit that we're married. In Savannah he had been warmer to her, and she found herself after a few days of his aloofness wishing to be back in Savannah. She spent the first week ordering furnishings for the house, Rhett had been right when he said as long as they both had the bedroom furnishings they needed, a place to eat and a place to entertain the rest of it could be done at another time. She didn't care to spend months and months at a hotel, so she limited her things to making the house livable for the time being and left it at that. Scarlett grew more and more convinced every day that she was in fact with child. She had bouts of nausea, was tired and no matter how much sleep at night it didn't seem to help, and the most damning evidence was that she was late for her monthly flux. She hadn't told Rhett yet, somehow she believed by not telling him it would keep it from being true. Besides, he had said she should wait to see Dr. Meade for a month or so after their return. She thought back to that night at the hotel, counting back and realized that she'd be over a month along now, close to six weeks. So it was with this thought that Scarlett had ordered, without Rhett's knowledge, baby furnishings as well.

It was one afternoon when she was walking through Rhett's house she still had difficulty calling it hers for some reason, that Ashley called on her. They had no servants yet save Prissy and Manigo, but Manigo was with Rhett and Prissy was downright useless, so Scarlett was left to answer the door. She didn't know whom exactly she was expecting, but Ashley was the last person on her mind. She wasn't dressed to receive him; she had been in the back parlor taking sheets off the furniture and trying to figure out what to do with the room. Scarlett was glad that she had only ordered furnishings for the main parlor because what was in this room was nice. She wondered briefly who had owned this house before and how all this furniture had come to withstand the pillaging of war. If Rhett bought it, it was probably some blackguard Union associate of his Scarlett thought. She smiled at Ashley, her smile genuine though her surprise was evident a glimmer entered her eyes that was reserved only for Ashley. She stammered for a moment, his name on the tip of her tongue but she got tongue tied at actually seeing him standing there before her. Finally realizing she must appear the ninny, she stood back from the door. "Come in, Ashley."

Ashley stood in the doorway of what was now Scarlett's home and waited for her to lead him somewhere. When she gestured to the parlor he went and sat on a finely upholstered chair, a package in his hand. He was admittedly nervous about seeing Scarlett. He hadn't a chance to talk to her before she so suddenly married Rhett and Ashley couldn't help but feel somewhat responsible for her needing to marry. That's what he thought it was at any rate, it didn't take a genius to figure out who Scarlett had acquired the money to pay for Tara's taxes from. He hadn't bargained for her marrying the man. He cleared his throat as Scarlett asked Prissy to bring them some tea and stood to hand her the simply wrapped package. "It's from Melanie and myself. A wedding present if you will, we weren't able to give it to you before you left for Savannah."

"Oh, Ashley, you didn't need to." She unwrapped the present to reveal a leather bound book of Shakespeare's sonnets. She looked at it then up at Ashley with her best smile, just like Melanie and Ashley to give her a book. She set it on the table next to her when Prissy brought in their tea. "I'll be sure and show it to Rhett tonight. He's more of a reader than I am, but you know that." She glanced from her teacup to Ashley, a slight blush creeping to her cheeks when she realized he had been watching her.

Ashley was unable to look away fast enough, nor was he able to make his glance appear discreet. He hadn't seen Scarlett in almost a month, and he wondered how she enjoyed marriage to Rhett. He knew she must be thrilled to have this house to make into her own from top to bottom. A sense of worthlessness washed over him as he thought of Melanie and the fact that they lived under her aunt's room, sharing a bed in her childhood bedroom. He had been watching Scarlett because up until today he hadn't ever seen Scarlett look disheveled, excluding at Tara after the war but that was different. He knew from the gossip about town that Rhett had provided her with quite a wardrobe, ordering dresses for her both here and in Savannah. So to see her dressed to work, to see that spark of determination he recognized so well in her eyes when she set forth to accomplish something brought back so many memories. He wondered briefly where they would be had he taken her up on her offer to run away together. Would Melanie miss him? Of course he knew she would, but it was more for Beau that he stayed. He couldn't dishonor Melanie and leave a child fatherless in one act. "What have you been doing today, Scarlett? I'm surprised Rhett doesn't have people here to help you." His gaze fell to the ringlets of hair that had escaped her coiffure and he had to fight back the urge to wrap it around his finger.

Scarlett smiled; pleased Ashley had asked what she was doing. Scarlett loved to talk about herself and the things she was doing, nothing pleased her more. She set her teacup down and stood gesturing for Ashley to follow her, as she led him to the back parlor without a second thought. She wanted to show him the furniture, still unable to believe how nice it was and that the set was intact. Their tea forgotten, they spent the better part of an hour in the back parlor talking, Ashley doing his best to catch Scarlett up on the gossip she missed without seeming the gossip himself. Scarlett didn't mind what Ashley talked about, she would have sat there for the rest of the day listening to him talk about sonnets, poetry, or whatever silly book he was reading just to hear his voice. A voice she was destined to only dreaming about speaking intimate things to her. She stood quickly and left the room as she heard Prissy scream shrilly from upstairs. She laughed at the girl, scolding her for scaring her so. A stray cat had found its way in the house unknown to the two of them and had scurried across the floor. Scarlett descended the stairs, the crisis settled and returned to the rear parlor only to find it empty. She hoped that Ashley hadn't left; surely he wouldn't have without saying good bye. She turned to walk to the main parlor only to walk right into Ashley. Startled, she blushed slightly at the contact. He hadn't touched her since that day at Tara when she'd asked him to run away with her, and she'd almost forgotten how much she liked his touch. "You startled me, Ashley." She made no effort to move her arm from under the grasp of his hand.

Ashley realized the time when Scarlett had gone upstairs, and decided it was time to leave. He had been there far longer than he had anticipated. As expected, he knew Scarlett hadn't been thrilled with the book of sonnets but he hoped one day she would actually open the book and appreciate it. It had been his mother's, a book that Ashley had actually read to Scarlett a time or two when they were younger. Scarlett had been even less interested in books and sonnets then than she was now. But he hoped she would open it and remember, and appreciate the gift. He heard her descend the stairs; a slight smile met his lips at the way in which she descended the stairs. There was nothing wrong with it, but she wasn't exactly light on her feet either. He realized she was looking for him and returned to the back of the house when she turned right into him. He paused slightly at her statement, taking the opportunity of being so close to her to smell the hint of lilacs. Somehow lilacs only smelled this good on Scarlett. How long had he been standing there without responding, he wondered? Surely she thinks I've lost my tongue, but he wasn't sure he could put together a sentence when kissing her was on his mind. It was the sound of the front door closing loudly behind them that broke the trance, his hand dropped from her arm but he knew he hadn't reacted quickly enough. He also knew without turning around who it was that had opened and closed the door. He didn't even need to see the startled look on Scarlett's face. He hadn't felt so dishonorable as he did the moment he turned to face the husband of the woman he had just had his hand on in a home without a chaperone. And of all the men's wives in Atlanta he could choose, he chose the wife of the man who was probably the best shot in the state if not the south. Ashley was surprised when he met the man's eyes to see not murderous anger or rage in them but instead saw humor and pity.

Rhett had spent the morning with his attorney who had come to Atlanta to bring the rest of the paperwork personally. The man had kindly gone to London himself and met with a barrister there and accumulated all the paperwork Rhett needed to get his information gathered. Rhett hadn't wanted anyone but his attorney to know why he was gathering this paperwork, he would deal with the men in his own way if he discovered who it was. He had left his attorney deciding to see if Scarlett wanted to join him for lunch. He had pretty much remained out of her way during the days recently, keeping his promise of allowing her the week before they started working on his growing mound of paperwork. He hadn't been overly quiet in his approach to the house, nor in his opening of the door but when he saw Scarlett and Ashley standing in the hallway leading to the back parlor, he knew that they hadn't heard him. He actually stood for a moment and watched them, Ashley's back was to Rhett but Rhett could just imagine what the man was thinking standing so close to Scarlett. He didn't need to imagine what Scarlett was thinking. He closed the door loudly behind him, and watched as Ashley turned to face him. A slight smirk crossed his lips as he nodded in Ashley's direction. "Mr. Wilkes," he said turning his attentions to Scarlett who was watching him with the widest eyes he'd ever seen. "I came to see if you'd like to have lunch with me, Mrs. Butler. I have the next couple of hours free, it seems my attorney has another client in Atlanta that he promised to see while he was here. Mr. Wilkes you could join us if you'd like."

A wave of nausea washed over Ashley, he should have been relieved but instead he felt worse than if Rhett had called him out. The man was acting far too calm, and that was alarming. He had heard of people who had caused trouble at Belle's leaving town to never be heard from again, and many speculated that Rhett was behind those disappearances. He just hoped that Rhett wouldn't take it out on Scarlett, though for all the misgivings Ashley had about Rhett he couldn't picture him hurting a woman. "Thank you, Mr. Butler, but I was actually about to leave. My wife is expecting me for lunch herself. Perhaps another time, I know we're both anxious to hear about the latest Savannah news." He turned towards Scarlett and nodded his head politely in her direction then left, closing the door behind him. He hesitated a moment, hoping he wasn't leaving Scarlett in harm's way but realizing that it was none of his business. As much as he'd like it to be, he had no right to interfere with Rhett and Scarlett's marriage.

Scarlett walked towards Rhett, suddenly feeling weak. She forced a smile, realizing it was probably because she hadn't eaten since breakfast. She hadn't realized how late it had gotten so engrossed with Ashley's visit she was. "Ashley gave us a book, Rhett, as a wedding gift. You'd like it I'm sure." She started to walk to the parlor and lost her balance, her eyes grew fuzzy and suddenly she couldn't see in front of her. "Rhett," she called out with alarm her voice suddenly oddly distant as she felt herself begin to fall and then she saw nothing.

Rhett had his back to Scarlett as she started walking to the parlor, he heard her call his name but thinking it was just a ploy to get him to look at her he said nothing. When he heard her fall to the floor he thought his heart had leapt to his throat. He called for Prissy and receiving no response cursed loudly as he picked Scarlett up and carried her into the parlor. Why hadn't he noticed how pale she looked, why hadn't he turned when she'd called out for him. And she had called out for him. Prissy finally made her way into the room and Rhett told her to run and get Dr. Meade and tell him that Scarlett passed out and that she might be pregnant. Ensuring she was comfortable on the couch, he went to the kitchen to find a bowl, some washcloths and some cool water to apply it to her brow and neck. He shook his head when he realized she was wearing one of her older dresses, she liked wearing them when she was working at the house she claimed. Rhett knew it was secretly that she thought somehow he was going to disappear and with him so the new clothes would disappear too. He unfastened the first couple of buttons and applied a cool cloth to her neck and upper chest and one to her brow, speaking softly to her. He sat in the chair, not knowing what else to do until Dr. Meade came and glanced at the table spotting a book. A look of recognition passed over his face as he realized that Ashley had indeed brought her a book. He opened it; the book was obviously old. Ashley had good taste; he wondered why the man would give such a gift to Scarlett. Surely he had to know that Scarlett didn't care for Shakespeare. He set the book down as Prissy brought Dr. Meade inside and into the room.

Rhett explained to Dr. Meade what had happened, confirming with Prissy when the last time Scarlett had eaten was and reiterating his thought that Scarlett might be newly pregnant. Rhett had to mentally count in his head to be sure he didn't overestimate, coming up with three weeks to a month. They had been married for over a month now, so he felt safe in that estimation.

As Dr. Meade was examining her, Scarlett came to. She looked around the room curiously, still slightly dazed. She looked from Dr. Meade to Rhett, wondering if that worried look on his face was for her. Why he looks as if he actually cares. She answered Dr. Meade's questions, and admitted that she had experienced evidence of pregnancy. She also admitted that she had not eaten since her breakfast earlier that morning. She looked from Rhett to Dr. Meade, noticing the look on his face had changed from worry to irritation assuring the doctor that she would take better care of herself and her unborn child. She watched as the doctor left, Rhett walking him to the front door as she sat up on the couch. She looked up at Rhett as he returned to the room. "I'm so embarrassed, Rhett. What must Dr. Meade think of me?"

"I'd say he thinks you're a young woman working on her first pregnancy who is perhaps doing a bit too much. He's a doctor, Scarlett, he's seen worse than this I'm quite sure. Why didn't you tell me you've been feeling sick, Scarlett?" Thoughts of the little scene he had walked in on earlier were fresh in his mind, but he could tell by Ashley's mannerisms that nothing had happened between the two of them. Rhett was quite sure Scarlett was disappointed that was the case, but he pushed those thoughts from his head. She was carrying his child, they were married, and there was no going back. He just wished he knew how to go about removing Ashley from Scarlett's mind.

"I didn't want to worry you, and I guess I was thinking if I put off telling you it wouldn't be true." She bit her lip, fighting back tears. She wasn't going to cry in front of him, not today. She looked down at her hands until she felt her voice steady. "Can we go eat now, Rhett? Didn't you come here to take me to lunch?"

Rhett walked towards her, offering her his arm as she stood from the couch. "Indeed, madam. And what say you we spend the rest of the afternoon in our rooms at the hotel. You need to rest, and I'm afraid when you spend time here at the house all you do is work. Perhaps I should hire someone to help you with the arranging of things. Maybe Mrs. Wilkes would help you."

"What does Melanie know about decorating a house, Rhett? No, I'll do it. I'll be more careful, I promise. I'll make sure Prissy has a sandwich made for me earlier than this every day. I want to be in our home soon, Rhett."

He handed her into their carriage, going over to the other side and getting in. "I know, Scarlett. It will be ready soon enough. And then you'll be wishing you didn't have the pressures of running a household on your shoulders." He chuckled lightly. "A baby, Scarlett. You're giving me a baby." He shook his head slightly in disbelief as he started the horse on its way to the hotel.

The next month passed by quickly and busily for the two of them. Rhett tried to keep Scarlett busy yet calm by giving in to her wish to oversee the painting, wallpapering, furnishing and arrangement of said furnishings at their home. The entire downstairs and their bedroom had been tended to first, so that by the time they'd been back in Atlanta three weeks and married a little over six weeks they were able to finally move out of their suite at the hotel and into their house. Besides Prissy and Manigo as servants they came by another for the kitchen. Scarlett made plans for Mammy to join them from Tara as well. The servants quarters behind the house was surprisingly in better condition than the main house had been, the rooms just needed to be adequately furnished for everyone.

Rhett and Scarlett spent hours going over his papers and it grew rather apparent which ship it was that was having the problems. Once it was narrowed down to the one ship, the paperwork seemed less intimidating. Scarlett took notes and kept a ledger as Rhett dictated items, prices, and dates not knowing what all the information meant exactly, but she knew that Rhett was not happy with what he was discovering.

Scarlett had been surprised by the sudden change in Rhett when it was confirmed she was indeed carrying a child. He had gone from publicly acting as though he didn't care about her to an overly protective husband. He had Manigo accompany her wherever she went; sometimes she found his presence unnerving. This wasn't Big Sam or Pork who she had known all of her life, and he had at first been resistant to her charms. But after about a week of being together so often, he quickly softened up and allowed her to engage him in conversation.

Scarlett had decided to use some of the land that Charles had left her to build houses; she had approached Rhett with the idea cautiously. It was his money she was asking him to spend she realized, but she thought it made good business sense to build some smaller houses that families who would be moving to Atlanta once their plantations had gone to ruins could live in. She was surprised at how easily he had agreed to the idea, and that he was not only in favor of it but that he gave her free reign to control the project as she saw fit. It pleased her to no end that he had so much confidence in her ability, and she knew that's what it was. If he didn't trust her, he wouldn't have done it.

Since the day at her house when Rhett had walked in on them, Ashley had avoided Scarlett. He saw her, of course, but he always made it a point for Melanie, Rhett, or someone else to be present. It wasn't necessarily his behavior that had brought him displeasure; it was what he was about to do had Rhett not walked in at that moment. It had been quite some time since that day in the orchard at Tara when he and Scarlett had kissed, and he had wanted to experience the inviting warmth of her lips again. Sadly, Ashley had to bear the weight of his thoughts alone, having no one he could possibly talk to. How does one explain that they're torn between his soul mate, which he had in Melanie and a woman who made him feel alive like he never felt otherwise? He pushed aside his attraction to Scarlett, convincing himself it was desire and the longing for companionship in that way that had planted the thoughts in his mind. Had he known that a child with Melanie meant a lifetime of torment after that he would have been much more careful about getting her pregnant. Though it went unspoken, he knew that Scarlett was carrying a child, and that was another reason he stayed away. He couldn't bear to look at her, desire her, knowing she was carrying another man's child - her husband's child. There were days when he saw her in town with Rhett's butler that he thought for sure that he was going to hell for thinking such thoughts about another man's wife.

So it was with both curiosity and extreme difficulty that Ashley accepted Scarlett's call one afternoon when Melanie was out with Aunt Pitty. He was surprised when Scarlett sat down and started talking to him about business. He couldn't hide the shock on his face, and he saw the hurt register in her eyes and instantly regretted the reaction. So he sat and listened to her ideas about bringing Ashley's lumber mill more business when the building of her houses began. He listened to her ideas, looked at some of the house plans she had brought with her, and understood that she had the financial backing to order lumber from whoever she wanted to from Rhett. He agreed that his mill would supply her all of her lumber, and watched as she left holding a new respect for the woman. Was there no end to what she could accomplish? The fact that she had a better head for business than he did was a sore spot, but he dismissed his jealousy and was pleased to know that he would be able to feed his family well until these homes were built. Possibly he, Melanie and Beau could finally have a home of their own. It didn't dawn on him until much later that Scarlett hadn't once looked at him like anything other than a prospective business partner. This realization didn't sit well with him at all, though he knew he should have been thrilled.

Rhett and Scarlett were sitting at the dinner table; the house was disconcertingly quiet and Scarlett couldn't help but wonder why. Melissa had served them their dinner and taken her leave, Scarlett hadn't seen Prissy for hours and while she knew Manigo was around he wasn't visible. Manigo had become a welcome fixture in her life lately; she quickly learned why Rhett was so fond of the man. Oddly, Scarlett realized that's exactly how she saw Manigo, a man not a servant. Dealing with Manigo was the first time in her life she'd ever dealt with servant that didn't belong to her. Even Uncle Peter by her marriage to Charles was hers in a round about way.

"I understand you visited Mr. Wilkes this afternoon."

Was that an accusation, a question or a statement? Scarlett honestly couldn't tell. "Yes, I did. I want him to supply the lumber for our houses. I know it will be slow going, but I don't trust anyone else, Rhett. And he could use the business." She shrugged slightly. "Isn't the point of building these houses to help people?"

"I don't recall agreeing to spend my money lining the pockets of your boy friend, Scarlett. Had I known this was your intent, I would never have allowed this."

Scarlett stared at him in disbelief. "You can't be serious, Rhett."

"I'm quite serious, Scarlett."

"Well, I can't very well take it back, Rhett. He offers the finest lumber in Atlanta everyone knows that. He just isn't too quick about things. Why do you hate him so?"

"I don't hate the man at all, but why should I pay the man to spend more time with you. You're suggesting I'm wise in paying the man to give into his temptation? I shudder to think what I would have come home to that afternoon had my carriage thrown a wheel and I would have been delayed a few minutes."

Scarlett was quiet, Rhett was right of course. She had felt that Ashley was going to kiss her that day. She hadn't been so excited in a long time, but then Rhett had ruined it by coming home. She glared at the man sitting across from her, throwing her napkin on the table. "You shouldn't speak of things you don't understand, Mr. Butler." She stood and walked out of the room to Rhett's cutting words. "I understand quite a bit more than you give me credit for, Mrs. Butler."

Scarlett went outside to collect her thoughts; she had to get away from Rhett and out of the house. She hadn't taken her wrap with her and as she walked in the sparse garden she hadn't realized how chilly it had gotten. It was spring and the days could be quite warm, but the nights could get equally cold. She wasn't going back into the house now, though. If it was the last thing she did she was not going to give Rhett the satisfaction of going back into the house until she was ready. She thought he would have followed her, and she felt a twinge of disappointment when more than enough time elapsed to indicate he was not going to seek her out. She sat on a wrought iron bench on the red brick patio in the middle of the gardens; a bench she imagined at one time offered a glorious view. She imagined the former occupants of their house holding informal gatherings out here. How she longed to have a party. Rhett had promised her one. Scarlett still hadn't been able to get out of Rhett who had owned the house, only heightening her suspicions that she was living in a Yankee house. She had no idea how much time had elapsed when she realized that not only was her stomach upsetting her horribly but that she was sweating as well. Odd, she thought, I'm not warm at all. She stood to go indoors realizing she had probably been outside for far too long, but found that she couldn't. Her hands reached for her skirts to pull them up so that she could secure her footing to no avail. Instead, she felt lightheaded almost as if she was going to faint. She sat back on the bench, thinking it was just a bout with sickness from pregnancy. Morning sickness is not an accurate term; she had quickly come to learn. She was sometimes sick all day, not being able to keep any amount of food down. Lifting her hand to wipe her brow, she felt something sticky on her hand and the odor was intense and coppery. Blood, she realized. She knew by now what blood smelled like. But where is it coming from? "I'm dying," she thought. It was the only logical explanation to her, and suddenly she was overcome with guilt. Her mother would be so disappointed with the way Scarlett had chosen to live her life. "I'm sorry, Mother, I had so wanted to be the lady you were," she said meekly to no one. Determined to at least make it back to the house, she tried to stand again and once again felt her feet go out from under her. She tried to call for Rhett, but his name caught in her throat as she fell to the ground in a pool of darkness hitting her head on the bench.

Rhett had finished his dinner calmly, it was difficult but he paid little attention to the empty space across the table from him. For years he had been accustomed to dining alone, so why tonight did it bother him to find himself in the situation once again? The idea that he had grown accustomed to having Scarlett in his life on such a level was a little shocking, but he could come up with no other explanation. It wasn't even three months ago that he was still single. How could he get so used to her company in such a short time after years without it? He pushed his plate aside and after finding out from Manigo that Scarlett had gone out to the back he went out to search for her. It had grown dark and his eyes had difficulty identifying some of the shadows he saw. After looking around he saw no sign of Scarlett and returned indoors. Searching their room and the back parlor where she enjoyed spending her time, he found them empty. Assured by Manigo that she had in fact not returned, Rhett grew worried.

Their backyard wasn't huge but it was still a large enough area he didn't want to cover it by himself. He asked Manigo to get Prissy and Melissa to help. He knew Scarlett was mad, but he just never pictured her wandering off. He lit a lantern hoping it would aid him in making his job easier, that she would see the light and know he had sought her out. Maybe that's what she was doing, he thought. She's testing me to see if I'll come to her like a puppy dog with my tail between my legs and apologize. As much as this thought angered him, he didn't believe that was it. He spent over twenty minutes searching for her, growing frustrated he walked to the gardens to sit down for a minute trying to figure out where she would have gone. Maybe she wandered out to the front to walk to Mrs. Wilkes', but as he approached the patio he quickly realized that was not the case. Why he hadn't thought of the patio before now he had no idea, but he was the one fond of gardens not Scarlett. He had come to think of this little area as his. He set the lantern on the bench and saw the blood on her dress, her hands and saw by the position of her head that she more than likely struck her head against the bench. Establishing that she was in fact still breathing, he found Manigo and told him to send for Dr. Meade. He returned to the bench wanting to take her into his arms and hold her, but knew it was best to leave her still. He'd never forgive himself if she died because he carelessly moved her.

It seemed like an eternity passed before Manigo returned with the doctor. Rhett had by this point removed his jacket and covered Scarlett with it. His shirtsleeves were rolled up to his elbows; his cravat was untied and hanging loosely from the unbuttoned collar of his shirt. The doctor's reaction at least assured Rhett he had made the right decision in not moving her. He watched as the doctor examined her, seemingly more worried about her head than the blood on her skirts. Though Rhett realized there was by this point probably no use worrying about the blood on her skirt. He knew enough about pregnancy and miscarriages to know that with that much blood came the loss of the child. He watched in silence, for once in his life keeping his mouth shut as Dr. Meade took Manigo and walked towards the house, returning a few minutes later with a stretcher to put Scarlett on. He stood slowly as they took Scarlett into the house and up to their room, Rhett had protested vehemently that she should be in her room when Dr. Meade stated he wanted her placed in a spare room. Rhett assured the doctor he would take the spare room, but that Scarlett was to wake up in her bed, in her room. Rhett left the doctor alone to examine her, and was relieved when the door to their room opened. The doctor gave Rhett some laudanum for the pain that Scarlett would surely feel when she woke up and sedatives to administer should she become disturbed and need to be calmed.

Rhett nodded blankly at the doctor's instructions, unable to take his eyes off Scarlett's lifeless body lying on their bed. He looked up when he heard someone knock on the bedroom door, a look of shock on his face when he saw Melanie standing in the doorway. He had to remember to praise Prissy tomorrow when Melanie said that Prissy had sent for her. He held Scarlett's hand, rubbing his hand over the top of her hand. Rhett stood and left the room with Dr. Meade as Melanie assured him she would get Scarlett cleaned up and into a nightgown with Prissy's assistance. Melissa was down in the kitchen brewing some coffee.

The doctor reiterated to Rhett that he was more concerned about the head wound than he was about her miscarriage. Women miscarried babies all the time Dr. Meade reasoned. He offered Rhett his sympathies on the loss of their unborn child and said he would be by the next afternoon to check on her. He left instructions with Rhett that when she did come to that it would be important to try and keep her awake from that point until Dr. Meade returned to see her again. Rhett showed Dr. Meade to the door, thanking him for coming so quickly and returned to the bedroom upstairs. He knocked softly and entered when bid to do so by Melanie. Scarlett was so pale and appeared so frail lying in bed. Melanie had cleaned her up well; there were no traces of blood on Scarlett's hands or head. She had even gone so far as brushing out her hair so it was fanned out behind her on her pillow. She almost looks like she's on display in a coffin Rhett thought and quickly pushed the thought aside. He couldn't think like that. Suddenly, it seemed more important to him than anything that this woman lived. If it meant he didn't sleep for days he didn't care, he would sit by her side every minute of every day if it meant she wouldn't die.

Melanie seemed to sense Rhett's introspective mood and said nothing. She took the coffee service tray from Melissa instructing her to start making something for Rhett to eat. She poured Rhett some coffee; unsure of how he took it she set the cup and saucer on the nightstand near him and decided it would be best if she just left it black. She realized he more than likely wasn't going to drink it anyway. She grew very sad watching the helpless look she recognized on Rhett's face and wondered if anyone would ever believe he could bear such a look. She doubted it and she would certainly never tell anyone. She left the room quietly after telling Rhett she was going to go downstairs to help Melissa in the kitchen. She engaged Prissy's help and the three of them started on some soup for when Scarlett came to. She would be hungry, Melanie wagered but solid food probably wouldn't sit well. Certain that things were taken care of as best as they could be under the circumstances, Melanie returned once more to the bedroom upstairs and after receiving no response to her knocks at the door opened it slowly. "Captain Butler, I'm going to return home for the night. I will return first thing in the morning. If you should need me, please have Prissy send for me again." She watched him, he hadn't heard a word she said and she knew it. "She'll be fine, Captain Butler. Scarlett is the strongest person I know. She doesn't know the meaning of the words quit or give up." She turned and quietly left the room, closing the door softly behind her. She descended the stairs slowly and left the house. Never before had she observed a man so obviously devoted to his wife or devastated by the events of that evening. Melanie couldn't help but wonder if Scarlett realized how lucky she was. She quickly pushed the thought aside, of course she did. She returned home, telling Ashley and Aunt Pitty of the events as she knew them and retired to bed knowing the following day would be a long one.

The next three days passed by for Rhett as if he was in a dream. The spare room had been prepared for him, but he never left Scarlett's side. When he needed to sleep he just rested his head on the edge of the bed and caught a few minutes of sleep. Melissa brought him food, but when she went to retrieve the tray hours later they continued to go untouched. The doctor came and left trying to assure Rhett that she would by fine, but Rhett wasn't stupid and knew that there was the chance she could be less than fine. Melanie had been there during the days, Rhett knew they talked but couldn't have related one word of the conversations that passed between them. On the fourth day, Melanie finally convinced him to take a hot bath, eat something, drink some brandy and lay down in the bed in the spare room. He saw the concern in Melanie's eyes was prevalent equally for both he and Scarlett, and he apologized for his behavior. As if Melanie didn't have enough to worry about with her sister in-law taking ill, she felt obligated to take care of him, too.

Melanie politely led him from the room assuring Rhett there was nothing to apologize for. She was just trying to make sure that when Scarlett came to he was well rested, well fed, cleanly shaven and dressed. "You're not going to do her any good, Captain Butler, if she wakes up and feels like she has to take care of you. So, please, just get some rest. I'll sit with her for the rest of the night if I have to so you can get your rest. I believe Manigo is seeing to your bath water already and Melissa will bring you something to eat. If there's anything else you need, you just let me know and I'll see to it. I don't want to see you leave that room until morning." She looked at him with genuine compassion in her eyes. It was so obvious to her that this man loved Scarlett. She couldn't help but once again believe that Charles would be relieved to know that Scarlett had married someone who would take such good care of her. Melanie closed the door after he left, feeling slightly uncomfortable being in such close proximity to a man who was going to be bathing and sleeping. She returned to Scarlett's bedside and her knitting.

Melanie dozed off in the chair and was woken suddenly by Scarlett's voice. She went to sit on the edge of the bed, a damp cloth in her hand to wipe off Scarlett's face and neck. "It's all right, Scarlett. I'm here." Her voice was soft and gentle, how odd it was to be taking care of Scarlett. Melanie had always been the weaker of the two of them, and had always relied on Scarlett to care for her. How many times had Scarlett saved Melanie from disaster? Both Scarlett and Rhett had, and while Ashley had been unpleasantly surprised by the sudden marriage between the two of them Melanie had seen it coming for years. She knew the two of them were both strong willed and would be slow in coming to the realization that they fit, but she knew that it would happen.

Scarlett came to slowly, feeling as if she was climbing out of the darkness of a mineshaft to the opening, which greeted her harshly with its brightness. She felt something damp on her head, and heard someone talking to her but she had no idea if she was awake or dreaming. She reached up to touch her throbbing head. Surely she must be dreaming because such excruciating pain couldn't exist in real life. She moved her hands from her head in an almost dreamlike state; her body and head felt heavy almost as if she were swimming in a mud filled watering hole, trying to reach the top. "Rhett?" she called softly as her hands came in contact with the sheets and felt the empty space next to her.

Melanie didn't see the need to wake Rhett, it was the middle of the night and Manigo had told Melanie that he had unwillingly gotten into bed after eleven that night. "He's in the other room sleeping, Scarlett. He needed the rest." But Melanie knew Scarlett hadn't heard the last sentence and fought the urge to go across the hall and wake Rhett. She finished wiping Scarlett's brow and returned to her chair.

Rhett left his room the following morning realizing once again what a voice of reason Melanie was. Had Scarlett come to over the last twenty-four hours, he would have been so tired that he would have been of no use to her. At least now he was bathed and freshly dressed. He had elected not to shave, deciding he would not do that until he knew she was going to be all right. He went downstairs to eat breakfast and to try and get back to some routine in the house. Melissa, Prissy and Manigo wisely stayed out of his way and a short while later he returned upstairs to Scarlett's room. He spoke softly to Melanie who appeared to be sleeping in the chair. "Mrs. Wilkes, why don't you go home? Your son and husband need you, too. I thank you for coming to my aid, but I'll be fine for the day."

Melanie woke slowly; startled to hear a voice that was not Ashley's. She flushed slightly, "Captain Butler, I'm so sorry. You must think I'm terribly lax falling asleep like this." After Rhett had assured her he thought nothing of the kind, she stood and told him that she had come to briefly during the night. Rhett showed Melanie out and returned to Scarlett's side. He wasn't an overly religious man, but this was going on five days now and he found himself offering himself in exchange that she might be spared. Almost as if in answer to his prayers, as Melissa brought him his lunch that afternoon, he noticed her stir in the bed. He set his tray aside and sat on the edge of the bed, taking her hand in his and brushing her hair back. "Scarlett, can you hear me?"

Scarlett came to feeling dizzy, her head throbbed and she did not want to open her eyes due to the pain she felt in her head. She heard Rhett's voice and for some reason she was comforted by its sound. She seemed to recall waking up to Melanie's voice, but what would Melanie be doing here in their room? When she spoke, she was amazed at the weakness of her voice. Surely that wasn't her talking? She had to be dreaming. "Rhett?"

He breathed a sigh of relief, though he realized that they weren't in the clear yet. "Yes, Scarlett, I'm here." He squeezed her hand lightly. From what Dr. Meade had said, other than her head she had sustained no other injuries. But Rhett still exhibited caution in touching her; he brushed back her hair with his other hand. "Can you open your eyes, Scarlett? I haven't seen those pretty green eyes of yours for days now."

She processed what Rhett had said as she opened her eyes slowly, pleased that the room wasn't too bright. She looked around slowly and noticed that the drapes had been pulled over all the windows accounting for the dimness in the room. But this also prevented her from seeing what time of day it was. She turned to look at Rhett; he looked like he hadn't shaved in days. She shook her head slightly, trying to process everything causing pain to shoot through her head and eyes. She groaned slightly. "What is this about days, Rhett?" Had he been gone for days, is that what he was talking about? "The last thing I remember is going out to the garden after our argument at dinner earlier, but after that I'm afraid I don't remember anything else about tonight's events."

"Scarlett that was four nights ago, you fell apparently and hit your head." He paused, not wanting to tell her anything else until she had been up and about for a little more than five minutes. "And judging by your hesitancy to move it overmuch, I'm gathering you hit it quite hard."

She nodded slightly, cursing under her breath at the movement. "Yes, it feels like I've got a bump the size of brick on my head." She closed her eyes again trying to remember what had happened to no avail. She looked to Rhett. "There's something else you're not telling me. I can see it in your eyes, Rhett."

"It's nothing to worry about now, Scarlett. There are more important things to worry about, like getting you a bath and something to eat."

"I must look a fright if I've been in bed for four days." She looked at him, her eyes finally focusing on him. "Have you slept? You look like I feel."

"I slept last night. Mrs. Wilkes ordered me out of the room and ordered Manigo to see I got a bath, food and sleep."

The thought of Rhett allowing Melanie to order him to do anything was both amusing and disturbing to Scarlett. She didn't like the kindness Rhett showed Melanie, always polite and always willing to go the extra mile for her seemingly without a reason. She knew Rhett wouldn't have thought twice about helping Melanie with tax money. "If you'll send for Prissy I'll have her bathe me and then I'll join you downstairs."

Rhett stared at her in disbelief. "Scarlett, you can't get out of bed. Not yet anyway. I'll have some soup brought up here for you. Mrs. Wilkes, Prissy and Melissa spent hours making you chicken soup that is mostly broth knowing that it would be sometime before you woke and food would probably not stay down. I'll help you with your bath, I wouldn't trust Prissy not to let you fall in and drown."

"Oh Rhett, how you do go on. But if it will make you feel better, all right. You coddle me too much, Pa never spoiled mother this much when she was carrying Suellen or Carreen. You act as if I'm the first woman that's ever been pregnant."

Well, you're the first Mrs. Butler to be pregnant he wanted to say but couldn't. While he didn't feel it right to tell her about the loss of the baby, he didn't want to deceive her either. "Your mother probably obeyed your father a lot better than you do me, Scarlett."

"Obey?" Scarlett arched an eyebrow at the word.

"Let's not get you excited, Scarlett. I was just making an observation, not being critical or insulting." When Prissy had come in with the bath water, he could tell that Scarlett was ready for the bath. He pulled back her covers; she looked so frail and weak. At just under three months along, she had just started to show, a slight roundness to her belly that hidden by clothes wasn't noticeable but whenever they made love Rhett noticed it. He noticed it and liked it. He had never understood men's aversions to the woman's body when it was pregnant. He picked her up gently; supporting her head as best he could and set her gently in the tub. He washed her hair first, letting her body relax in the tub's warmth. Once her hair had been washed, he sponged her off dismissing her claims to be able to do it herself. There was nothing suggestive or erotic about what he was doing; though he knew from past experiences with bath tubs that they could lead to very sensual experiences. When finished, he allowed her to sit in the tub for a while longer, letting her skin absorb the scent of lilacs. He toweled her off and helped her into a fresh nightgown, returning her to bed as Melissa knocked on the door with Scarlett's soup and tea.

Scarlett allowed Rhett to feed her the soup, her arms felt fine but she didn't trust her eyes to see straight enough not to cause her to miss her mouth and scald herself with the soup. She felt like an invalid, but truthfully she found it amazing how Rhett was caring for her. Dr. Meade came by to look at her and after pronouncing her well on the road to recovery left her reminding her not to push herself too hard for a couple of weeks. She saw the visual exchange that occurred between Rhett and Dr. Meade and Scarlett asked Rhett about it as soon as he left. "What was that all about?"

"Nothing to worry about, Scarlett. I just didn't want the doctor to worry you; you know how he is. He'd tell you to stay in bed for a month just to be safe." He set the tray aside, sensing she wasn't going to eat anymore. "I guess it's time for you to go back to sleep and for me to go to my assigned quarters for the rest of the evening."

Scarlett raised an eyebrow at him. "Your assigned quarters? Why does it make a difference where you sleep?"

"You're not feeling well, Scarlett. The last thing I need is to share a bed with you and be tempted to touch you in any way that would hurt you." His eyes dropped to the blankets and back up to her face. "I'll stay and talk to you if you want me to, I realize you probably don't want to go to sleep after you've spent the last few days doing nothing but that." His eyes brightened as he thought of something. He went to her closet and brought her a wrapper, helping her sit up as he put it around her and picked her up with ease. He opened the French doors that led to the balcony off their bedroom and set her gently in a chair. "Dr. Meade will probably have my head for doing this, but I just realized you haven't been outside in days either. Nor have I for that matter. Perhaps we can see a shooting star."

Scarlett laughed lightly. "You're too much, Rhett." They sat in silence for a while; Scarlett had no idea how much time went by. The sky was clear making the stars seem extra bright. "You're right this is much better than being in that bed." She paused as she thought over the last few hours and something dawned on her. "Rhett," she placed her hand on his arm. "The baby. Why hasn't anyone mentioned the baby?" Suddenly, she had a vision of blood on her hands and the scent of blood was prevalent, of her trying to stand and losing her footing, feeling faint. She had tried to sit down and had missed. "It's gone, isn't it?" She asked softly, with a surprising amount of emotion in her voice.

Rhett looked out over the balcony and sat in silence for a moment. It would do no good to lie to her. "Yes, Scarlett, it's gone." He suddenly grew very sad; he hadn't taken the time to think about it overmuch until now. So focused had he been on Scarlett, that he hadn't given any thought to the fact that his child had been lost. And the irony of the situation hit him like a ton of bricks. He was now married to a woman who was in love with another man and he really didn't need to be.

Scarlett removed her hand from Rhett's arm as if she had been burned. He's acting like I'm not even here, as if he'd rather be somewhere else. She said the only thing she knew to say - it seemed the right thing to say under the circumstances. "I'm sorry, Rhett."

He shrugged, his eyes still staring into the darkness. "You have nothing to apologize for, Scarlett. Don't start acting the part of dutiful wife now and apologize to me as if I'm going to find fault with you for losing my child. You never wanted a baby to begin with. I'm sure you'll be much happier without having to contend with motherhood. At least you're all right, we didn't lose you in the process."

"Your child? Did you ever stop to consider that perhaps I had grown to like the idea?" She stared at him, not believing he could act so cold at such a time. It had been their child, not his. He had been so nice to her earlier, comforting. He fed her soup damn it. Was it all a show? What was he going to do, feign attentiveness and kindness to her until he felt she should know the child she carried was lost? "Of course I didn't like the idea at first, I was scared. Scared that people would find out I was pregnant when you married me. Scared that people would think it wasn't your child. Scared of being a mother, I have such huge shoes to fill. I don't know the first thing about babies, Rhett. But I was growing to warm to the idea."

He stood and took her into his arms, carrying her back to the bed. After removing her wrapper, he pulled the comforter around her. "You need your rest, Scarlett. We can talk about this more tomorrow. The important thing now is you need to get better. You have twenty-five houses to oversee the building of remember?"

"Yes, I remember, Rhett." She sighed as her head hit the pillow and her eyes grew heavy. "Can't you stay here, Rhett?"

"I can sit with you for a while if you'd like." He sat in the chair by her bed, the chair he had sat in so often over the last four days he thought his body's impression would be permanently imbedded in the chair. She drifted off to sleep quickly; unaware that Rhett had had Melissa put a dose of the laudanum in her soup. Rhett went to his room across the hall soon afterward and went to sleep himself, the last thing he remembered was being grateful Scarlett's life had been spared.

Scarlett recovered relatively quickly from both the miscarriage and the blow to her head. Within a matter of days she was out of bed and walking around, within a week she begged Rhett to take her for a ride outdoors. She spent the time trying to analyze Rhett's mood. She made no effort to bring up their argument that night at dinner before her accident, and she noticed that he didn't either. She knew the less she brought up Ashley the better off she was. Melanie came by every day to check on her, and Scarlett suspected to check on Rhett as well. Scarlett had to admit to being worried about him, too. Though the more she thought about it, the more she realized that she was more worried about her when it came to Rhett. If what she thought was true, that he had married her because there was the chance she was pregnant that reason was now gone. She wondered if with the miscarriage Rhett would leave as well. With these thoughts her nightmares returned, nightmares that in the few short months with Rhett had subsided.

As if on cue, as soon as Dr. Meade gave Scarlett permission to return to her regular schedule Rhett made arrangements to go to Europe. He was leaving under the pretense of having to hire and train a crew for his ship to replace the people he had to let go. Rhett had no plans on returning to Atlanta any time soon either, though he wasn't about to tell Scarlett that. As long as there was a child he knew he would have a part of Scarlett Ashley Wilkes could never get, a visible demonstration of it. Now that there was no child he wasn't of the mind to remain in town and watch the two of them carry on. It made his head hurt the more he thought of the countless opportunities they'd have to do just that under the pretense of work. Mrs. Wilkes might be naïve enough to believe that they were up to nothing but work, but Rhett knew better. He knew that sooner or later Ashley Wilkes would give into the temptation. He knew without a doubt that this child was his, and while he honestly didn't believe Ashley would disrespect Melanie by taking Scarlett to bed he wouldn't put it past him. Nor would he risk wondering the next time Scarlett got pregnant whether or not it was his.

Scarlett came home to find him packing and she couldn't help but notice that it appeared he wasn't just packing for an extended trip. He hadn't slept with her since the miscarriage. He had slept with her, in the same room when she'd had a nightmare and had woken up screaming or when she simply wanted him to talk to her so she knew someone was there. And she had to admit even over Mammy, she chose Rhett every time. Even when he was angry or in a foul mood his voice was soothing - at least to her. "You're leaving so soon? If I didn't know better I'd think you were leaving me."

Rhett met her gaze sharply. "Very astute observation, Miss O'Hara."

She tried to hide the shock in her green eyes. "You mean you are? Leaving me I mean. You're not just going away?"

"Don't look so shocked, Scarlett. Without a child you have little need for me now, and I don't generally stick around where I'm a third wheel." He snorted slightly. "Let me clarify that, I generally don't find myself in this type of situation at all."

"But what will I tell people? What about the house? Surely you didn't buy this house and have me do all this work on it just to sell it."

"No, Scarlett, you can keep the house and I imagine I'll be back now and then. I do have some business interests here in Atlanta, including your housing project. As far as telling people, tell them whatever you want. I'm sure it won't be any big surprise to the people of Atlanta that I'm traveling. And I'll try and not stay away too long to prevent the good citizens of Atlanta from thinking you've done anything wrong."

"But I haven't done anything wrong, Rhett. I don't understand why you're doing this."

"Just keep convincing yourself of that, Scarlett, and you should be fine."

"What on earth are you talking about? If you're accusing me of some transgression at least have the manners to tell me exactly what it is I've supposedly done."

"Well, for one giving the lumber business to Mr. Wilkes. For another, the little display I came home to here a few months back. Not only were you a married woman looking at someone who wasn't your husband in a way that should be reserved only for your husband, but you were pregnant as well. With my child, damn it. And I could see what was running through your mind that evening at dinner." He glanced from his luggage to her. "Yes, I can read you like a book, Scarlett. You were wishing the child you carried were his. And I refuse to live like that. It's bad enough knowing that I have to share my bed with him, but I refuse to share you with him during the day when you're awake. I never asked for your heart, I don't believe you have one of those anyway. But I refuse to let someone else have possession of your mind."

"You are incorrigible, Rhett. Honestly. I have no idea what you're going on about." Of course she did, and she knew he knew as well. "What happens if I get sick or take ill? It's only been a few weeks."

"Then I'm sure Melanie will take care of you. You don't need me for anything, Scarlett." He closed and fastened the bag he had been packing and looked at her. "Pardon me, I'm wrong. You don't need me for anything but money. Don't worry, I have no plans on cutting off your funds but I will be watching exactly what you buy and if I feel my generosity is being taken advantage of I may rethink my decision on that matter."

"You wouldn't?" Of course he would, he was a heartless cad who wouldn't think twice about the possibility that she might starve. "You are heartless."

"Far from it, Scarlett, but it's hard to open up my heart to a cat who bears its claws or to a woman who hasn't a heart to begin with." He walked towards her and stopped inches from her. "And bear in mind before you go telling anyone I've left or that I'm heartless or any other slanderous possibilities. You, my dear, were pregnant before we got married. I could divorce you for that you know."

She stared at him wide-eyed. "But it was yours."

"So you say. How do I know if during my two weeks in Charleston you didn't turn to Mr. Wilkes or any other of your countless beaux?"

She slapped him hard across the face and stormed out of the room, her fists clenched trying to control her fury. "Good riddance."

He chuckled lightly as he watched her leave the room, he couldn't help himself. He knew he was in effect running away from his problems with Scarlett, but at the moment he had no desire to deal with them in any other fashion. If Ashley weren't in the picture, his thinking might be different. He also realized that by leaving he might be in fact pushing Scarlett into Ashley's arms, but if that's how she was going to be he wanted to know it now not two years from now when he'd invested more into the marriage. He'd be back; he was more than anything curious about what Scarlett would do in his absence.

He finished packing and had Manigo brings his bags down to the coach for him. He went to find Scarlett and found her in the back parlor; it was obvious she had been crying by her puffy and reddened eyes. "Scarlett, I'll try not to be gone too long, to avoid people speculating any further about the two of us. I've set up a line of credit for you at the bank, which I will replenish but again only if I see that you're not being careless. I wish it didn't have to be this way, Scarlett. But it seems rather obvious you don't want to be married, at least to me, so why make things more difficult."

She didn't hear a word he'd said until he mentioned her not wanting to be married to him. "Oh but that's not true, Rhett. I hadn't even thought about my, er, condition when I accepted your proposal. So I have no idea why you think I don't want to be married to you."

"Mm, yes, perhaps the fact that you're in love with a man other than myself. That could be a good indicator."

"You're such a fool, Rhett. You knew what I felt about Ashley before you made love to me that night, of course I doubt Ashley was on your mind you were so drunk."

"Well, I had no idea that he occupied your mind and your soul in addition to your heart. I assumed incorrectly it seems that I'd be able to have control of at least those, and I was willing to dismiss his having your heart. But I have neither. When you dream of another man in my bed, there's a problem. When you wake up and dress in the morning based on whether or not you're going to see another man, there's a problem."

"I … but I don't dress for him, Rhett. Surely you know that. I dress to impress everyone, not just Ashley or Melanie or anyone else specific." She stood and boldly took hold of his hand, squeezing it lightly. "Rhett you have no idea what it was like to go for two years with no new frocks, no new shoes, wearing the same chemise every day. You came out of the war better than you entered it, not all of us were that fortunate. You were living it up eating meat while I was feeding a dozen people on sweet potatoes and turnips day in and day out. I don't expect you to empathize with me, Rhett. But God's nightgown, surely you can understand why I crave the things you can afford to give me."

"Yes, of course I do, Scarlett. But that's the most frustrating thing about it. You're in love with a man who couldn't provide you the lifestyle you want."

"Oh Rhett, you married me knowing I didn't love you. I've never claimed to love you, nor have you ever claimed to love me. As you say, we're alike you and I. I've already come to that conclusion. Maybe you expect more from me than I offered."

He knew she was right and he was tempted to stay, but he couldn't. Even if it meant hurting her temporarily, he knew that in the long run if he wanted things better between them he had to go. He couldn't let her take him for granted. "It's not about love, Scarlett. It's about loyalty. It's about knowing that I can turn my back on you without worrying about what you're doing. I refuse to be made a fool of, and I refuse to be gossiped about because of your behavior. It's entirely different than being gossiped about based on my own actions." This was getting them nowhere and he knew it. "I have to go, Scarlett. My train leaves in under an hour." Had she asked him to stay, come out and said she didn't want him to go he would have stayed. But she didn't so without another word he left, hoping the picture of the hurt and disbelief he read in her eyes would not be etched on his memory forever.

Scarlett watched as he left, walking to the front parlor and watching from the window as the carriage pulled away from in front of their house. She turned away in disgust, the sound of the horse's hooves along the street ringing in her ears long after she could hear them. And while she was disgusted and angry with Rhett she couldn't help but wonder if the disgust wasn't with herself as well. She had no time to think about that now she had to figure out what to tell people so she pushed the thoughts from her mind determined to think about it tomorrow. The first thing she did was go upstairs and move everything of Rhett's from the guest room back into their room, somehow it helped soothe her. The next thing she did was ask Prissy to get her bath water ready, she decided to go check on the status of her houses. Picking out one of her finer gowns knowing she might run into Ashley she bathed, had Prissy wash her hair and dress her. Downstairs in the parlor while waiting for the carriage to be readied, it took Tom forever to ready the carriage; she poured herself a glass of brandy. She swirled it around in the glass before closing her eyes and downing it quickly, the amber liquid burning the back of her throat. She opened her eyes, wiping her mouth hoping her eyes would stop tearing. After the initial sensations passed over her, she realized that she was fine and poured herself another. She drank it just as swiftly as the last, only this time she left her eyes open. She set the glass down and went outside hoping to find Tom was done, already she missed Manigo and his efficiency.

After stopping at the site where the homes were being built, Scarlett was pleased that the exterior of three homes were almost entirely finished, she had Tom take her out to Ashley's mill. She exited the carriage gracefully and entered his office with a bright smile, one reserved only for Ashley, on her lips. "Good afternoon, Ashley. I hope I'm not interrupting anything important." She stood in the doorway, holding her now closed parasol in both hands. She looked a vision dressed in royal blue from head to toe, and she longed for the appreciative look in Ashley's eyes.

"Not at all, Scarlett," Ashley replied before he turned to look at Scarlett. He closed the ledger he had been working on after marking the page and stood from his desk. He glanced in her direction finally and smiled, a deceptive smile he knew because inwardly his heart leapt at the sound of her voice. "What brings you all the way out here today, surely the workers aren't complaining about being out of lumber already." Part of him hoped she was here on business, while another part of him hoped it had nothing to do with business.

"No, no complaints at all, Ashley. I just thought I'd come say hello; it's one of the first days after Dr. Meade told me I could get out of bed. I got to feeling so cooped up indoors I thought I'd tour the site and pay you a visit. It seemed like forever since I'd last seen you," she smiled brightly, her green eyes glimmering flirtatiously.

"I apologize for not visiting you, Scarlett, but I've been following your recovery through Melanie." He glanced down at her hands clutching her parasol then back up to her face. "I was sorry to hear about the baby, Scarlett. I hope Rhett's not taking it too hard." He cursed himself for bringing Rhett's name into their conversation, but something told Ashley he needed to.

"Oh, I don't know, Ashley. He must not be, he left for out of town today." Scarlett shrugged, "I didn't want any babies anyway. I wouldn't be able to wear this dress again if I had one, and it's one of my favorites." She smoothed down her skirt slowly, almost caressingly.

"I can see way, Scarlett. It's very becoming, then again I can't imagine anything not looking fetching on you." He stepped towards her, "forgive my rudeness, Scarlett. Here you've just gotten permission to be out of bed after losing your baby and I'm making you stand in the doorway like a visitor." He gestured to a chair and waited until she walked gracefully across the room towards the chair, the scent of lavender wafting to his nose as she passed by him. "How are things at Tara?"

"Tara?" Scarlett looked at him blankly as if he were speaking another language. Then realization dawned on her. "Things are fine. Carreen sent me a letter just the other day; Will is doing wonders with Tara. And she's joining a convent she says."

"Carreen?" Ashley looked surprised, but the more he thought about it the less surprised he truly was. "I can see that, actually. She so loved Brent, even though he never thought of her as more than your little sister. None of us did."

"Yes, I was thinking of going there for a few days while Rhett was away to try and talk her out of it."

"Oh." Ashley paused slightly, not sure if he wanted to be on the receiving end of Scarlett's wrath. But he decided to chance it. "Scarlett, she's old enough to make her own decisions, and I'm sure she's thought it through. How old is she now anyway, eighteen?"

Scarlett rolled her eyes, not wanting to be reminded that Carreen was eighteen, because if Carreen was eighteen that meant Scarlett was twenty-one. "Yes, she's eighteen. But she's still my baby sister and with Pa not being all there anymore I need to go make sure she understands what she's doing. Surely there are better men out there than Brent Tarleton. I surely never thought I'd find anyone better than you, but I found Rhett." She regretted the words as soon as they were spoken, but he had pricked her anger and her pride. She dropped her eyes to her parasol and then chanced a look at Ashley.

Ashley swallowed hard; she thought Rhett was better than him. She had said it so smoothly, without hesitation that he had to believe she spoke the truth. And in some ways, he had to wonder if she was right though it killed him to think that. But deep down, Ashley knew he could never provide Scarlett the type of life she wanted. Melanie was happy with a couple handfuls of gowns, a house that wasn't completely furnished and what furnishings they did have were refinished and refurbished. They had one another and that was enough for Melanie. Where Scarlett on the other hand would settle for what Ashley offered her, but she would not have been happy. And he had to wonder if having one another would have been enough for Scarlett. He offered her a smile, "well, just be gentle on her, Scarlett. I doubt very highly she's come to this decision irresponsibly. And you're right; she'd find someone to love again eventually. Maybe not someone who made her forget about Brent, I don't think one ever truly gets over their first love."

"I don't know that marriage has anything to do with love, Ashley. Do you? I think it just clouds things. What exactly is love anyway? An emotion that makes people act irrationally."

"Is that how Rhett is better than me, Scarlett? You don't love him? I find it hard to believe you of all people would marry someone you didn't love. Why you had offers from every man in the county at least once, and I imagine during the war you got quite a few from wounded soldiers you nursed back to health as well."

"I don't love him like I love you, Ashley. I never could. I know I told you I'd never throw myself at you again, and I hope you don't think that that's what I'm doing right now. Because I'm certainly not going to stand here and deny that I love you."

"You shouldn't talk like that, Scarlett. Not here," though he couldn't help but realize that her words felt like a caress to him. She loved him, how long had it been since she'd said those three words to him. He couldn't remember, and he wondered if he'd ever hear them again. While he hoped he would, something in the back of his mind tugged at him telling him it was better if he didn't. "I should walk you out to your carriage before people wonder why you've been in here for so long. We don't get many people who come out this way, but anyone who does knows you and your carriage." He walked towards her and offered his hand to help her from the chair. He stood transfixed by her gloved hand for a moment. The vision of her hands calloused and bruised from overuse after the war fresh on his mind, a way of life Rhett was able to save her from. Something Ashley even had there been no Melanie would have been unable to do. His eyes locked with hers, he could read her thoughts they were written quite plainly on her face. He didn't know how long they stood like that with him holding her hand looking into her eyes, but he finally broke out of whatever spell it was that had been cast and cleared his throat lightly as he looked away. He didn't look away fast enough, however, to miss the look of confusion in Scarlett's eyes. Somehow his legs moved, how he wasn't sure because they felt like lead to him at the moment, and he was leading Scarlett up the stairs and out the door. He handed her into her carriage and kissed her gloved hand politely, his lips barely grazing the exposed skin at her wrist. "Thank you for coming by, Scarlett." How forced his words sounded. "I'll tell Melanie you are up and around, she'll be thrilled to hear it. You had us all worried, I never thought I'd see the day anything could keep Scarlett O'Hara in bed." He released her hand and stepped away from the carriage watching as she was taken away from him.

Scarlett sat in the parlor at home a month after her visit with Ashley. There were things she should be doing, but at the moment she had no desire to do them. She visited the housing site daily, made weekly visits to the lumber mill, and made every attempt to sit in on events with Atlanta's women. No matter how hard she tried, however, she was no more apt to sit and sew than she had been four years ago during the war. She sat in the dimly lit room holding her teacup and saucer not recalling Melissa bringing it to her. She stood absent-mindedly and placed a drop or two of brandy in the tea and returned to the love seat, her eyes dropping to the book that Ashley had brought over what now seemed like eons ago even though it had only been little more than a few months. She set her spiked tea down and picked up the book, tears formed in her eyes when she opened it realizing what it is that Ashley had given her. Here she thought he had given her some stupid book that would be something both Ashley and Melanie would do. But instead, it was his mother's book, a book that Ashley had brought over to Tara and sat with her on the porch steps or beneath the shade of a tree and read from to her. She had always been bored with it, having no interest in Shakespeare's, or anyone's, sonnets. But Scarlett could have listened to his voice forever. From fairest creatures we desire increase, That thereby beauty's rose might never die, But as the riper should by time decrease, His tender heir might bear his memory … That had always been her favorite for some reason, and now that she reread it she had to admit that Shakespeare had had a way with words. She set the book down frustrated that she allowed herself to cry, there was no use crying over things that couldn't be helped. She wasn't Ashley's wife, Melanie was. It was Melanie who had the right to hear Ashley's voice utter words of undying love, not Scarlett. But she couldn't help but cry when she was now stuck here with nothing, nobody only a big house full of servants, only one of which she knew, and nothing else - no husband, no baby, no family.

She had married Rhett for security, it certainly wasn't out of desperation there had been plenty of beaux for her to choose from had she simply wanted to marry. And despite the fact he had left, Rhett had implied he would continue to take care of her, at least financially. And from what she could tell so far, he had been telling the truth. She hadn't heard from him since the day he left, no telegrams, no letters, no word even from their lawyer or banker for her. But over the past month Scarlett had found something missing, something that Ashley couldn't fill even though she tried like the devil to make it so. Scarlett missed talking to Rhett; she never imagined she'd grow accustomed to talking about topics that didn't revolve around her, but listening to Rhett talk of his travels, his businesses, world events and politics held an interest for her. He talked to her as he would an equal, not a woman who deserved to have things glossed over and beautified. And she realized as she sipped her tea wishing she had put a little more brandy in it but not wanting to make the effort to get up and add more that there was no one else she could talk to about her business. None of the women of Atlanta engaged in business aside from nursing or selling baked goods, so they certainly had no knowledge about accounts receivables and accounts payables or how to tell a good builder from a shady one. And the men were really no better than the women; they refused to take Scarlett seriously. Refused, that was, until they realized that Scarlett's homes were going to be quality homes that sold for a fair price.

It was almost Christmas and Scarlett was making the last minute arrangements to close up the house before leaving for Tara. She would spend the next month there and come back to Atlanta after the New Year. 1867, she would be twenty-two soon but she had no desire to think of that now. She stood in the back parlor by the window overlooking the backyard having a glass of brandy. The doors closed she had no fear of being caught so she paid no attention to her back being turned to the door. Her chestnut brown hair had been brushed out to a brilliant sheen that morning, Prissy doing an unusually thorough job. Dressed simply in a white damask gown with a green floral print she was prepared for the uncomfortable train ride from Atlanta to Jonesboro and the bumpy ride from the depot to Tara. She was startled out of her thoughts when she heard the double doors behind her open without warning. "I'm not ready to leave yet, Tom. I've plenty of time to meet the train, when I'm ready I'll let you know." Annoyed at the intrusion she didn't turn to look at him merely continued to look out the window. When she realized she held the glass of brandy in her hand she grew more annoyed because she realized that she couldn't turn around even had she wanted to. God's nightgown, why was he standing there? Why wasn't he leaving? And then suddenly he was behind her and Scarlett knew it wasn't Tom.

"Going somewhere I presume, Mrs. Butler." Rhett smirked slightly, his hat and gloves held by his side with his right hand. Dressed handsomely in a dark gray wool overcoat and a dark red, almost crimson in color scarf. He set his hat and gloves on the sofa nearby and walked over to the decanter running his finger over the stopper before turning his attentions back to Scarlett. She was glaring at him, whether it was that she was genuinely upset with him or upset that she had been caught with a glass of brandy in her hand he wasn't sure.

"I was going to spend Christmas at Tara with my family. Thanksgiving was bad enough having to impose on Ashley and Melanie, I wasn't going to do that again for Christmas."

"Yes, I must apologize for my absence. I made an effort to return before now, however, my delay was unavoidable."

"Of course it was, and Western Union and the post office were closed the entire three months you've been gone as well." She clutched tightly to the glass she held, trying to control her temper. This wasn't how she saw his homecoming going at all. She didn't know what she had envisioned, she wasn't a silly schoolgirl with visions in her head of his missing her so badly he had to carry her to their bed and ravish her on the spot. But still, something more than this would have been nice.

"Not at all, I never promised I'd write. Why on earth would I bother leaving you if I had the desire to write to you, Scarlett? The purpose, if you didn't know, of leaving someone is to get away from them."

"Then why bother coming home at all? If you were compelled to leave me alone on Thanksgiving, what difference does Christmas make?"

He chuckled lightly. "And what makes you think I've come to see you at all?" That was cruel and he knew it, but it needed to be said. The last thing he needed was Scarlett thinking he'd been unable to get her off his mind these past eleven weeks. He broke the gaze first, dropping his eyes to the glass she held in her hand.

"Well, I would never be so presumptuous, Rhett Butler, aside from the fact that other than myself and Belle Watling you have no friends here in Atlanta that would want you at their table for Christmas. And since you've returned to our home, I'm assuming it's not that woman you've come to visit. Something tells me you never completely moved your things from your room there."

"Isn't that calling the kettle black? Are you accusing me of committing adultery?"

"Are you denying it?"

"Does it matter? Either way you won't believe me."

"You're incorrigible, Rhett. Despicable."

"Tell me something I haven't heard, Scarlett." He paused and something about the way she looked at him caused him to soften slightly. "Are you going to Tara then?" He leaned against the table gently, both hands rested on the edge of the table by his sides.

She lifted her head, meeting his gaze trying to determine if that was a question, a statement, or a request. She wanted to go to Tara, but she knew he wouldn't go with her and despite everything she found herself wanting to be with him. To hear about where he'd been, what he'd been doing, and to tell him about everything in Atlanta, and as foolish as she thought she was for feeling that way she did. "Were you counting on spending Christmas alone?"

"I didn't come home to spend Christmas alone."

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 is 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 were 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 bed ridden 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 and a pearl necklace with a black onyx teardrop shaped pendant and draped over her arms was a white rabbit fur wrap 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, Scarlett." 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 their 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 is 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.

It was the night before New Year's Eve, 1866; Scarlett lay in bed waiting for Rhett to return home for the evening. He and some other men had gone out for an evening of cards. It drove her mad when he went to Belle's, even when it was with respectable men from Atlanta. They had gotten into a heated argument before he left, which ended when Rhett left announcing that if he indulged too much he'd just stay at Belle's. This was met with her throwing her hairbrush at the closed door, the first object that she came across. Perhaps he was joking to see if it would bother her, she thought of that now. But at the time those words had set her into a rage. The fact that she was in a marriage with someone who could tell her truthfully where he was going escaped her at the time as well. She had seethed for part of the night; she couldn't believe he'd carry on with his mistress in front of her friends. But a snifter of brandy had calmed her down enough to realize that even Rhett wouldn't do that. She was determined to stay awake to see what time he decided to come home.

Tonight had been the first time since he'd been home that they'd had an argument, a real argument. Scarlett believed that she and Rhett would always argue, sometimes she believed they started arguments with one another just to argue. But tonight's argument was a real argument; she had tried not to get upset with him for wanting to go out. Surely he had the right to go out and play cards, her father did it all the time and she couldn't recall her mother and father arguing over these things. She heard him laugh at her when she threw the brush at the door when he had left the room, and that just steamed her even more at the time. No one could get under her skin like Rhett could, and sometimes she sensed he did it just for that reason - because he could.

Later as she sat in bed sipping her brandy she wondered why she wasn't more like her mother. Where had she failed? Her mind wandered to the child she lost and if it had been a boy. Had she somehow inherited whatever it was that prevented her mother from giving her father an heir? Thinking of the child she lost that brought on the nightmares, it was the reason that she had started drinking a brandy before bed when she was home alone. The brandy seemed to stave them off - for a little longer than without it at any rate. She set the glass on her nightstand and picked up the book of sonnets Ashley had given her for a wedding gift, sleep overcame her unfortunately rather quickly.

Rhett enjoyed this type of holiday gathering, men getting together for cards and drinks. If he made a little money out of the evening as well, all the better. He knew Scarlett wasn't pleased about his going to Belle's, but if he didn't go he felt that would raise more suspicions than going would. He knew the rumors about his relationship with Belle, and what better way to start putting those rumors to rest than for the men of Atlanta to see Belle treat him as a customer. When he walked through the doors of her saloon, he realized that he hadn't been to see her since he'd married Scarlett. But between his sudden marriage, the honeymoon, his dealings with his ship, settling in a new house and then Scarlett's miscarriage he hadn't had much time to be social. And with Belle he could never just come in for a drink and leave if he wanted to visit her, he had to plan on staying for a while. Contrary to what most believed, their relationship wasn't purely physical, though there had always been that. But there were times that they used one another as a sounding board for their problems, ideas, or tantrums. Neither took offense to what the other said and things said were left within the room they spoke, never falling on another's ears.

Rhett was one of the first to leave this night, much to the amusement of some of the men - men who never thought they'd see Rhett married let alone willingly leave a game of cards when there were still willing participants. His excuse was quite simply that his bride of little more than six months who he had been away from for about half that time was at home waiting for him. A discreet glance in Ashley's direction found Ashley not smiling with the rest of the gentlemen at the suggestion that Scarlett was at home waiting for Rhett. Neither did Belle for that matter, but the comment was more for Ashley's benefit than Belle's.

Rhett had never thought of himself as a jealous man, but then again he never saw himself in the role of husband either. His comment at the Meade's party about wanting to see Scarlett in her chemise was not something he saw himself saying ordinarily, but the fact he knew it was Ashley refilling Scarlett's drink had caused him to react. Three months ago it wasn't important to him, hell a month ago it wasn't important to him, what anyone thought of his relationship with Scarlett. But now, however, it was very important to him for Ashley to know that he was Scarlett's husband, not Ashley. He wondered if Ashley knew Rhett had left, but somehow he doubted it. Scarlett might embarrass herself by having an affair, but he didn't think she'd embarrass herself by admitting her new husband had left her - even to the man she wanted to have the affair with. In fact, Scarlett being married might be encouraging to Ashley; he would be fool enough to believe that Scarlett could just settle for an affair. For some women that might be true, but when it came to Scarlett Rhett didn't believe that was true.

He returned home, attempting to be quiet as he ascended the stairs to their room. He got ready for bed, a slight smirk on his face when he noticed Scarlett had fallen asleep reading. His brow furrowed slightly as he removed his cravat and suit jacket noticing the empty brandy snifter bedside, he knew she imbibed every now and then but he was beginning to wonder how common an occurrence it was. He went to her side of the bed to adjust the covers around her, removing the book from her stomach and glanced sharply at it as he set in on the nightstand. "What the hell is this?" he bellowed, knowing he was going to startle her but he really didn't care.

Scarlett woke with a start; she looked at Rhett genuinely confused as she stretched. "God's nightgown, Rhett, you scared the daylights out of me." She looked at the clock, and then at him. "I see you made it home at a decent hour."

"Yes, I did. I came home thinking you might still be awake, but instead I find you in our bed with your boy friend's book. I should have burned this the day he gave it to you."

"What in the world are you going on about, Rhett? It's just a book."

"I don't notice you sleeping with anything I've ever given you. Is this what you fell asleep to while I was gone? Reading Shakespeare wishing Ashley was here with you? Do you still think that when I'm sleeping next to you?"

"Don't be crude, Rhett. I was trying to wait up for you and so I chose to read for a while. There's no crime in that the last time I checked, and yes it happened to be the book that Ashley gave to me. Did you ever stop to realize that his parents were like a second set of parents to me, Rhett? And that that book was Ashley's mother's book, and he chose to give it to me. I take that back - he chose to give it to us, you and me, for our wedding gift."

"Yes, I remember quite well the day he gave it to you, Scarlett. I came home to find you two in what could be construed as a very compromising position. Why is it, I wonder, if the gift was from both he and Melanie he came by himself to give it to you during the day when more than likely I would not be at home?"

"How dare you suggest that Ashley came here for any reason other than to give me the book. You of all people should talk, Rhett Butler. Should we put the shoe on your foot? Tell me that you've been faithful to me."

"Me?" He laughed sardonically. "Scarlett, the way I'd be unfaithful to you is rather ironic. I don't need to seek physical pleasures elsewhere you do just fine in that department. I'm no saint, Scarlett, I've never claimed to be one and I've certainly never hidden from you what I truly am. But, my dear, there's a large difference between you and me. I don't lust after another man's wife, and if I ever were to cheat on you I can assure you that not you or anyone else would even suspect it."

"You're drunk, Rhett. That's the only explanation I can come up with for why you're behaving this way. When you've slept it off why don't you try coming back and apologizing to me. Until then, I suggest you find somewhere else to sleep for the night."

"You suggest I what?"

"You heard me."

"Ah well, there's where you're mistaken, Mrs. Butler. You see, this is my home and whatever is in it belongs to me, including you. So if I want to sleep in this bed, any other bed, or the damned roof that's for me to decide, not you. I don't tell you what to do, though I certainly could, and I certainly won't be told what to do by my wife. It's bad enough I have to deal with mentally being made cuckold, I will not have you telling me where to sleep."

"I belong to you? You couldn't be more wrong, and you certainly didn't marry me to own me - you can't try and tell me now you did. " Scarlett pulled the down comforter around her chest as she sat up in bed as she rolled her eyes. "I've never been unfaithful to you, Rhett."

"I imagine only because Ashley was too much the gentleman to actually step foot in this house alone while I was traveling. He's no fool, which unfortunately I cannot say the same about you." He jerked the comforter away from her. "I did not tell you to cover up." He leered at her, his eyes reflecting clearly his foul mood. "As far as owning you, the marriage vows you took Scarlett indicate differently. Maybe you should visit your priest and review them, or better yet talk to Mrs. Wilkes about the duties of being a wife."

"I'll start acting the role of wife when you start acting the role of gentleman. We both know that will never happen, so don't count on me changing my spots either, Rhett."

Rhett extended his hand placing it at her throat. "You know, I could put myself out of my misery quite easily, Scarlett." She watched her eyes and he saw something he never thought he'd see in Scarlett's eyes - fear. "Yes, you should be scared of me, my pet. You'd be surprised what these hands have done in the last twenty years. A pillow over your face and no one would be the wiser; I think I could play the part of devastated widower quite well. Certainly better than the act you put on as Charles' widow. But sadly, I think you'd come back to haunt me and I'd rather not have to deal with that. At least with you alive I can get away from you when I need to."

Scarlett swallowed hard; she was trying to be brave. She had never seen Rhett like this, never dreamed this side of him existed despite the rumors she'd heard about him. "I should never have married you. You're a cad and you don't know the first thing about making a woman happy."

"Then divorce me. If you think there's someone out there in Atlanta or anywhere else for that matter who can treat you as well as I treat you despite the fact you're in love with another man you go find him and I wish you nothing but happiness and good fortune. I'll give you a divorce and then you can be free to search out someone who is able to make you happy, Scarlett."

"Divorce you? I would never."

"Why, because of your beloved church? When was the last time you were actually at mass, Scarlett? When was the last time you went to confession? When was the last time you prayed the rosary? When was the last time you coveted another woman's husband? Such a fine example of a good Catholic you are, no wonder I prefer not to claim any religion as mine. I don't like being a hypocrite."

"How dare you!"

"How dare I what call you out for what you really are?" Rhett pushed Scarlett down as she started to get out of bed. "Sit down, Scarlett. I'm not done with you yet."

"Rhett, just go away and leave me alone. Go sleep it off. You're drunk."

Rhett stepped away from the bed slightly and finished undressing, stopping only once when Scarlett started to get off the bed again. "Move again, Scarlett, and so help me I'll tie you to the bed. And don't think I wouldn't do it either." She apparently took him seriously because she didn't move again.

"If you think I'm going to let you make love to me after everything you've just said to me you're not right in the head."

"I don't think, Scarlett, I know. Though I don't know that I would quantify what we do as making love, there is no love in our relationship." He moved to the bed, lying on top of her he entered her quickly with no semblance of foreplay or that her pleasure was even a factor to him at that moment.

Scarlett tried to push him off of her, but he was too big and he was inside of her so quickly she couldn't even hit him in the one place she knew would put a stop to what he was doing. She moved her hand to claw at his face with a hiss, "stop it, Rhett. You're hurting me." She looked into his eyes as he took hold of her hands placing them in the strong hold of one of his hands and she knew that he didn't even hear her. Wherever he was he wasn't cognizant that she was there. For the first time since their first night together, she did nothing to meet him or to try and heighten his pleasure. She bit her lip to hold back the tears that she felt coming. She knew there were women out there that had to endure this type of behavior from their husbands but in the over six months they'd been together Rhett had never given any indication he could do this. She would not give him the satisfaction of seeing her cry, if she had to go into her closet and do it after he was done she would.

Everything Rhett had been feeling - his frustrations, his anger, his hurt and even his love for this woman came out at that moment. He knew Scarlett would never understand, but something came over him and he wanted - no needed - to make her understand that she was indeed his. That as long as he had breath in his body, he would never give her the chance to belong to Ashley Wilkes or anyone else. He held her wrists securely in his hand as he lowered his mouth over a breast and bit gently, not hard enough to hurt her. When he removed his mouth, he exploded within her when he saw that he had marked her. He remained within her, his hand still clutching her wrists. He glared into her eyes, his own eyes clouded and severe. "You're mine, Scarlett O'Hara. And don't ever question again what I do or don't have the right to do as your husband." He circled the love bite on her breast with his finger. "I wonder what your precious Ashley would think if he knew I'd left my mark on you. Lord knows my seed being within you growing into a child didn't make any difference to you. Had I not walked through the front door that day, you would have more than willingly spread your legs for him."

She held back a retort unable to speak not knowing if her tears would give way, never having felt so violated in her life. She'd take the Yankees going through her mother's sewing basket again over what he had just done. She glared at him, finding the ability to speak finally. "Would you kindly get off of me, Rhett?" Her tone was bitter and sarcastic; obviously she didn't think he was capable of being kind at the moment.

"As you wish, my pet." He rolled to her side, one hand behind his head as he placed his head back on the pillow. He took hold of her when she started to move. "Where in the hell are you going?"

"Anywhere but here, I don't want to sleep with you after what you just did to me."

"Wrong, Scarlett, you're not going anywhere. This is our bed remember? You are the one who demanded I sleep in here when I came back. Well damn it, I'm ready to go to sleep."

"You can't possibly believe I'd want to be anywhere near you after that?"

"After what? I'm just a cad remember who doesn't know how to treat you kindly. Why should I act any differently since that's what you expect from me anyway? Or did you grow accustomed to sex being about making love and my giving you pleasure?"

"To be honest, yes."

"Then stop bringing another man into our bed, Scarlett. I know he's never been here physically. But damn it, mentally I want him out of your head when you set foot through those doors. And if I catch that damned book or anything else that man's given you in this room again, I'll burn it."

"You can't be serious."

"I am quite serious and I will do it. Don't test me on this, Scarlett."

"I wouldn't dream of it," she retorted sharply.

An apology was on the tip of his tongue; he hated what he had done. Never had he forced himself on a woman, his first night with Scarlett was questionable but he had at least taken the time to please her. Tonight had been entirely different. It was as if he was no better than an animal, and that bothered him. The thought that he caused her any pain at all wasn't something he liked to think about, but he knew he more than likely had. But he refused to apologize, how the hell was he supposed to be a man if he kept kowtowing to her and her infatuation with Ashley. Let her be mad at him, he'd make it up to her the next time he made love to her. Instead he helped rearrange her nightgown so that it covered her thighs and drifted off to sleep.

Scarlett laid in bed wide-awake for a while after Rhett fell asleep. She wanted to move, but Rhett was holding her down with his leg draped over both of hers. Whether or not it was intentional, she didn't know but she knew that if she moved he'd wake up and the last thing she wanted was his getting upset with her again. She was trying to figure out exactly what it was that had caused him to get so upset to begin with. He was drunk; she knew that was part of the problem. But what was so wrong with reading a book? She had no idea and her head hurt from thinking about it. She eventually found sleep, though it was difficult with the pressure of Rhett's leg on her. Normally she liked it when he slept so close to her, she felt safe as if nothing could harm her. As if by his being close to her like this her dreams couldn't get through him to her. She woke with a start in the morning having to get up to use the facilities, but Rhett wouldn't move. "Oh dear Lord, Rhett. Move I have to get up." She slapped his hand away when he draped it over a breast, "Rhett, I need to get out of bed. Stop handling me and wake up." Finally he moved, though she still didn't think he was conscious. She went to her washbasin and got sick, that had been the fifth time this week she'd been sick when she woke up to the smell of ham frying from below. She wiped her head with a washcloth cursing slightly; though she was grateful Rhett had apparently slept through this. She couldn't be pregnant again so soon. Rhett had only been home for about three weeks, but at the rate he was going to make up for the three months they'd been a part she wouldn't be surprised to find out she was having triplets. She thought about returning to the bed but sat in her chair instead. Think - she had to think about what to do. Could she stay with him after what he had done? Would she even have known the difference if she was married to someone else? Is that how Ashley treated Melanie? She couldn't imagine that and shook the image from her mind quickly. But if she were pregnant, Rhett would never let her go. Unless she didn't tell him, of course. She'd go to the train station this afternoon and see about getting a ticket to Jonesboro and send a telegram to Suellen asking Will to pick her up at the station there. A few days at Tara would do her good, seeing the red dirt of Tara always did.

Rhett woke the following morning with an ache in his head more powerful than he'd experienced in quite some time. He turned over gently not wanting to wake Scarlett only to realize as he reached for her that she was gone. He opened one eye hesitantly to look at the nautical clock that sat on his nightstand. Surely it couldn't be after noon, but as much as he'd like to doubt the time piece's indication that it was one o'clock it had been a dependable time piece for over ten years. He ran his fingers through his very rumpled hair and sat up slowly hoping to stall his head from spinning and his stomach from turning. He dressed slowly, rinsing his mouth and washing his face with the cool water in the washbasin. The silence that greeted him overwhelmed him when he made his way downstairs. Melissa scurried into the pantry almost as if to avoid speaking to him when he entered the kitchen.

Rhett liked Melissa, she was a nice enough girl and seemed to take to Atlanta life. He had hired her when he found out she was out of work, having met her a time or two at the household of one of his cronies who high tailed it out of Atlanta shortly after the war ended. He knew she had taken his offered job with the hope that once their household grew and flourished she would be delegated to household duties rather than kitchen duties. He almost hated to let her go from that position, because quite honestly she cooked very well. He watched as she busied herself in the pantry, seeming to take an inordinate amount of time to do a simple task. "Melissa, do you think it might be possible for me to get some breakfast? I realize it's after noon, but I believe breakfast food will be best."

Melissa glanced at Mr. Butler, brushing a stray blonde hair that had fallen from her braid. "Aye, Mr. Butler. There must be something going around. The Mrs. indicated before she left this morning that she wasn't feeling very well either." She expected him to leave then and was surprised when she returned to the room with the eggs and other things to make his breakfast. "Is there anything else, Mr. Butler?"

"You say my wife left this morning? Did she say when she'd be back?" He had expected her to be getting ready for the ball that was being held at the Atlanta Hotel later this evening, or at the very least resting by now. It's all she had been talking about for the past week.

Melissa dropped an egg and blushed apologizing under her breath. She didn't know what to say, Mrs. Butler had asked her not to say anything, but it was Mr. Butler who paid her salary and she imagined it was he who would promote her when the time came. She cleaned up the broken egg. "I gathered from the bags that she took with her, Mr. Butler, that she wasn't planning on returning this afternoon."

"She took luggage with her?"

"Yes, sir. She asked me not to say anything, but well I couldn't have it on my conscious should something happen to her."

"Did she happen to mention where she was going or even better still why?"

"She mentioned a name, Sir, that I'm afraid I didn't recognize nor do I remember. As far as why, I'm afraid I wasn't privy to that information. She took her maid with her, though, and your man took her to the depot. Perhaps he would know why." Melissa had her suspicions as to why Mrs. Butler had left so suddenly, and obviously it wasn't just an unexpected departure to the staff. Even though the house was large, sounds traveled well enough and Melissa had been in the upstairs hallway putting linens in the linen closet and had heard the Butler's arguing. It wasn't her place to comment, husbands and wives argued all the time. Her employers were no different.

Rhett nodded and left the room, finding Manigo in the stables tending to the coach. "I understand you took my wife to the depot this morning, Manigo."

"Yes, Sir, Mr. Butler, I felt it my duty to do as she wished."

"Without telling me? Manigo, I believe you've forgotten who it is you're employed by and who exactly it is you work for."

"No, Sir, I haven't. She asked me and I took her. I knew she had plans to return before the holidays and I just assumed you'd be joining her. If I made a mistake I apologize, Mr. Butler. But she can be rather persuasive at times, as I'm sure you're aware."

"Yes, I'm well aware of that Manigo. No harm done. I just don't understand why in the hell she left without telling me." Rhett sensed Manigo was either not going to tell him anything further or did not know anything further so he returned to the house and went to his study pouring himself a whiskey. As the whiskey met his lips his stomach lurched, he still hadn't eaten that day and he now felt as if he was going to be sick. Clearly, he had drunk more than his fair share last. He had to wonder for a minute how he managed to get home.

His mind started to clear even though his stomach still threatened to revolt against him. He went into the kitchen to see about his breakfast surprising Melissa by taking his breakfast at the large table she, Prissy and Manigo ate at. There was no need to sit at the large dining room table alone. He didn't bother trying to engage her in conversation, eating swiftly and getting out of her way.

Scarlett arrived in Jonesboro and wasn't quite sure what to do from there. She had sent a telegram ahead of her departure hoping that Will would be able to meet her at the depot. Dressed in a royal blue frock with black accents, a matching hat with black gloves Scarlett stepped off the train and left Prissy to collect their bags while she went to see if anyone was there to meet her. She had taken great care in what she chose to wear that day, not wanting to give Suellen reason to believe there was anything wrong. She breathed a sigh of relief when she spotted Will coming out of the post office. She walked towards him and offered him a smile. "Hello Will, I hope you received my telegram."

"You know I did, Scarlett. I had to come into town anyway so I hope you don't mind riding back with the supplies."

The bags collected and placed in the back of the wagon with the supplies Will had come for where Prissy sat. Scarlett sat next to Will on the wooden plank that served as the seat wishing once more the man would take some money from her for things such as a new wagon. She understood pride, but the idea that people saw someone from Tara riding around like this bothered her a great deal. She realized the Tarleton's, Fontaine's, and the other neighbors were in the same position - or some even in worse positions - but it still bothered her. For once in her life, Scarlett allowed someone to talk about whatever they wanted to talk about, despite her boredom. She was pleased not to have to answer questions about her absent husband.

Scarlett hadn't realized exactly how long it had been since she'd been away from Tara, but as she saw the white house take form in front of the late afternoon sun she knew it had been entirely too long. Gone was Pa and Mother, gone was the fine plantation that once was, but this was still her home. As nice as the house she shared with Rhett was, she didn't know that it would ever feel like home. She got out of the wagon without Will's assistance almost before he had brought the wagon to a complete stop.

Drying her hands on her apron as she stood at the front door Suellen was sickened to see Scarlett show up dressed so well when she was still wearing rags. She couldn't help but wonder why Frank had never come for her, his letters had just suddenly stopped coming. And when Rhett and Scarlett married, she knew that Will's idea for them to marry was the wise thing to do. They couldn't live at Tara alone and unmarried and Tara obviously needed him. So, they'd spent the last six months as husband and wife, married two days after Scarlett left with Rhett. Scarlett got a honeymoon to Savannah and was able to come home to a new house that she was able to furnish from head to toe. Suellen found herself with child immediately and now stood to welcome Scarlett, the one person she really didn't care to see, six months along. She spared any attempt at a smile, Scarlett would know it was forced and false. "Where's Rhett, Scarlett? I was surprised when your telegram came, I figured it would be another six months or the next time your husband traveled for months at a time before we'd hear from you again."

Scarlett removed her hat, holding it in her still gloved hands. "Rhett's in Atlanta, Suellen. I certainly have the right to come home whenever I'd like. It seems to me that I'm the one who came up with the money needed a little over a year ago to keep Tara as our home. Perhaps you'd rather be having that baby out in the woods like the wild animals." Scarlett brushed past Suellen and went to find Mammy and Dilcey in the kitchen. She wished she could talk to one of the two of them about Rhett, but until she decided what she wanted to do she could give no indication she wasn't happy with Rhett. Mammy didn't like him as it was, Scarlett wasn't going to give the woman who had been with her and her mother since birth any more reason to dislike him.

Big Sam stood in the front foyer obviously waiting for direction. He was clearly conflicted as he cleared his throat. Scarlett smiled when she came out of the kitchen genuinely pleased to see Big Sam. One of the only field hands who had come back to Tara after the war and was willing to work for nothing. The next time she spoke to Rhett she'd have to talk to him about repaying Sam somehow. "You can bring the bags up to my old room, Sam." Scarlett glared at Suellen daring her to deprive her of her room; she had only been gone six months not years. She ascended the steps following Sam waiting until he had left the room before she closed the door and sat on her bed. Her bed, not the bed she shared with Rhett. She found herself laying back and staring at the canopy above her and without realizing it she succumbed to tiredness and fell asleep.

It took Manigo little time to saddle up Rhett's gelding, Sienna. A name Rhett cursed, but it fit the steed's coloring well. Rhett had won the animal in a card game shortly after being released from jail and though Rhett didn't care for geldings, the horse suited his need for a ride. Manigo seemed to sense Rhett's urgency and asked no questions of his master when he left for Tara with nightfall approaching well before the amount of time it would take him to get there. Rhett wanted to ask his manservant if there was something he should be made aware of before he arrived at Tara, but he refrained. Whatever Scarlett's reason was for leaving, Rhett would find out soon enough. He left shortly before four o'clock in the afternoon; his last instructions to Manigo were to send their apologies for missing the ball that evening.

Rhett spent the two hours it took to get to Tara trying to figure out what in the hell Scarlett was trying to pull now. It wasn't like her to miss an opportunity to show off in front of Atlanta's old guard. His mind carried some memories of the prior night, but some he found were quite hazy and other portions seemed to be completely missing. He wondered if those moments had anything to do with her sudden departure. He frowned as he dismounted and allowed Sienna to rest for a short while about twenty minutes from Tara.

About forty minutes later he found himself approaching Tara. He realized that he hadn't been here since the day he and Scarlett married, and wondered briefly if she was met with the same thoughts when she got here earlier in the day. He secured Sienna to the hitching post, hoping there was someone who would take him to the stables for him for the night. He ascended the porch steps, a slight smile crawling to his lips as he briefly thought of the times he and Scarlett had bantered on this porch and these steps. Switching his bag from his right to his left hand to ring the bell, he stood at the door somewhat surprised that no one had heard his approach. Either that or they've been told not to acknowledge me. He dismissed the thought, Scarlett might do a lot of things but admit in front of Suellen there was any hint of a problem in their marriage was not something he envisioned her doing.

Suellen answered the door, gone were the days of only servants delegated to such a task. She smiled slightly at Rhett, a somewhat knowing look in her eye when she saw that he held a bag only large enough for one or two day's worth of clothes. "Good evening, Rhett. Somehow I'm not as surprised to see you as I imagine my sister will be."

Rhett chuckled lightly, as he glanced over Suellen's figure. The thought that Scarlett would be a little further along with their child at this point saddened him. He wondered if Suellen even knew about the child, he doubted it. Scarlett wouldn't share that bit of information with her. "I imagine you might be right, Suellen. You're looking well. Marriage seems to be agreeing with you at any rate."

"As well as can be expected," she rested one hand on her now visible stomach. "Will and Mammy are obviously pleased."

"I'll just bet they are." Rhett found himself a little upset that Scarlett had lost that baby; somehow he felt she had the right to have Gerald and Ellen's first grandchild. But apparently the forces of fate saw differently, and he had to accept there was a reason. Perhaps there had been something wrong with the babe, or perhaps Scarlett would have had trouble carrying it the entire time and speculation would have ensued about their marriage. "May I see my wife, Suellen? Or am I to stand out here in the cold New Year's Eve air?"

"Of course. She's upstairs in her room, I believe. She hasn't been down since she arrived. Mammy's been up to check on her, but I haven't seen her since." Suellen stepped aside allowing him to pass.

It was odd to Rhett to be able to walk up the stairs leading to Scarlett's bedroom. How many times over the years had he thought of doing just this? Though the situation was always pictured a little differently than his reasons for ascending them at the moment. He had always imagined it would have been a moment of passion that swept them both away, not because his wife had essentially left him. And she had left him; he had come to grips with that on his ride here. This wasn't a last minute decision to come here this was her escaping, evidently him.

Rhett gave a moment's hesitation before just walking into Scarlett's room. It was after all her room not his or theirs. But he realized he needed the advantage and if she was upset with him, he didn't need the entire household hearing her slam the door in his face.

The sound of the door opening once more sounded incredibly loud to Scarlett at that moment. Apparently the train ride and an hour-long ride on a wooden plank didn't bode well for whatever it was that ailed her. She was not yet willing to admit the fact that she was pregnant. This was far worse than the first time had been, she had rarely been sick then. She had been so sick on this day that no matter what she had tried to eat it came back up. Assuming it was Mammy coming to check on her, Scarlett remained with her back to the door hoping that Mammy would think she was asleep and leave her be.

Rhett recognized by now the difference in Scarlett when she was awake and when she was asleep, and he knew she was awake when he closed the door behind him. He unbuttoned his overcoat, not having bothered to remove it downstairs, and set his bag down on the bare wooden floor next to the door. "Scarlett, surely you know by now I'm not your Mammy or Suellen."

Scarlett rolled her eyes, more because she was annoyed he was right than his actual presence in her room. She had expected he'd follow her here, she had acted without thinking and she realized as she ate a dinner she didn't think was suitable to feed servants let alone her family that there was a ball that evening. She had completely forgotten about it being New Year's Eve when she left this morning. She exhaled slightly, hoping he knew how annoyed she was. "Yes, Rhett, they don't smell anything like you," she said sharply.

He removed his overcoat and draped it over a table by the door. "I didn't realize you missed Tara so much that you'd feel the need to leave without saying good bye."

"Why not? You were going to leave months ago without saying good bye to me. Why should you expect me to perform a courtesy you yourself didn't see the need to perform?"

"Touché, Mrs. Butler. I take it then that you're leaving me then?" His words were biting and harsh, but he really didn't care at the moment. His head and stomach still hadn't fully recovered from the prior night's indulgences. "If you recall those were the circumstances surrounding my last departure."

"Yes," she said sharply then caught herself. "I don't know, Rhett. What did you expect me to do after what you did to me last night?"

Rhett actually paused as he walked to the side of the bed Scarlett was facing. What in the hell was she talking about? He knew he had done some crazy things in the past. Most of them had been with Belle, but he had never dreamed he would carry those behaviors into marriage. "I'm not sure I know what you're talking about," he said finally as he sat on the edge of the bed by her legs.

"Rhett, please, don't sit there looking at me like I am a fool or try to make me recount the details." She moved her legs slightly not wanting any part of her to be so close to him at the moment. "I don't believe you were that drunk to be unaware of your behavior."

Rhett lowered his face into his hands, his elbows resting on his thighs. "Scarlett, you took it upon yourself to leave me I think I have the right to know why. Aside from that, I've never known you to turn your back on an opportunity to snub your nose at the people of Atlanta. So I would like you to tell me what in the hell made you decide to leave."

"Keep your voice down, Rhett. Suellen's already been asking me questions about why I came here alone so unexpectedly I don't want to give her anything to gossip about."

Rhett scoffed. "You should have thought about that before you left, Scarlett. Did you think no one would find out you'd decided to leave? Because unlike you, I have no desire to stay in Atlanta."

Scarlett's stomach was upset, but she had to admit when she made the effort to look at Rhett he looked far worse than she did. She shook her head, clenching her fist tightly. She refused to show him any sympathy. "Just get out of here, please, Rhett. I have nothing to say to you."

Rhett laughed loudly. "Mrs. Butler, I have no desire to leave here at least before tomorrow. And you can't kick me out of your room, as you said Suellen's already been asking questions."

Scarlett groaned lightly. He was right of course. He was so infuriating when he was right. "Then make yourself a pallet on the floor and lay there. I refuse to share my bed with you."

"Surely you jest, Scarlett. It's going to get below freezing tonight and you're going to make me sleep on the floor. I'll have Mammy make up a bed in another room. Carreen's room out to be available since she's left."

"You wouldn't dare!" Scarlett sat up quickly, regretting the movement as soon as it had been done. She glared at Rhett as she struggled to get off the bed, but he was sitting in the way from her getting her legs out. "Would you kindly move?" She was relieved he seemed to sense her urgency and moved without further ado. She rushed from the bed, returning after she had emptied her stomach pale but feeling much better. She got in on the other side of the bed, not wanting to deal with getting past Rhett again. "You can't ask Mammy to prepare a bed for you somewhere else. Why not just announce to everyone we're having a row?"

"Scarlett, you packed your trunks and left even engaging MY servant to help you. This is more than a row. And if you're leaving me, you may as well get used to people knowing. I have no desire to protect your reputation if you're the one doing the leaving."

Scarlett's head was throbbing and her stomach was turning inside out, and Rhett's talking wasn't helping her at all. She hadn't thought the whole process through, only thought far enough to get herself to Tara and away from him. She closed her eyes trying to clear her thoughts. Surely if she hadn't wanted him to find her she would have chosen somewhere other than Tara to come to. She could have gone to some of Charles' relatives in Macon; they would have let her visit. His cousin Daniel was always asking when she was going to pay them a visit.

She glanced at Rhett, able to recognize that he was telling the truth claiming he didn't know why she had left. He had the look about him that suggested he truly had no clue what transpired between them. Had her father behaved that way to her mother? The thought made her shudder with revulsion. It was especially revolting because she knew how loving Rhett could be. "Sleep wherever you want then. Just don't touch me and if you do anything to lead Suellen to believe we're not the epitome of a happily married husband and wife I'll never speak to you again."

Rhett couldn't help but laugh, though the effort made him cringe slightly. "I think I need to see Mammy about something for my head. Do I have the lady's permission to do that? Or does admitting I may have indulged too much last evening tarnish that image you so wish to present?"

"Do whatever you want. I don't care. If you had half a brain you'd know I didn't want you to come here to begin with."

"Of course you did. If you didn't want me to find you you wouldn't have chosen the most obvious place to go."

She groaned loudly in reaction to him saying aloud what she had just moments ago thought. "Go see about your head, maybe mine will stop hurting once you've gone." She frowned slightly as she watched him stand from the bed and walk across the room. Surely he had to notice she had gotten sick a few minutes ago, and yet he said nothing about it.

"Thank you for your concern, my pet." He left the room and found Mammy downstairs, knowing if anyone would know about curing a whiskey induced headache it would be she.

It was Pork who helped Rhett, and Rhett felt foolish for not thinking of the man in the first place. He was quite sure Pork had had to deal with this a time or two in the past as Scarlett's father's valet. Once his stomach was settled and his head stopped feeling as if it were going to implode Rhett brought up a tray for Scarlett of eggs and dry toast. He realized she might not eat it, but recalling the empty brandy glass by her bed he assumed what was ailing him also ailed her. He opened the door to her room as quietly as he could. "Scarlett, I brought something for you to eat. Perhaps it will help settle your stomach."

He had noticed. Scarlett smiled slightly to herself at the thought. "Thank you. I take it you found what you needed. You sound better." She struggled slightly to sit up upset with herself that she would allow him to do one good deed and forget about what had happened the night before.

"Well, I don't think I'm going to be ringing in the New Year much later than claiming my kiss at midnight, but Pork fed me some food and some strong coffee and got me a bath. Nothing much those three things can't cure I imagine." He set the tray over her lap once she had sat herself up in bed and pulled up a chair by the bed. He propped his feet on the foot of her bed.

"You presume too much if you expect me to kiss you, Rhett." Scarlett ate as if she hadn't eaten in days. She didn't know if the food before her was Rhett's doing or Mammy's but it was exactly what she needed. The eggs were bland which made her scowl slightly but her stomach didn't turn over and attempt to revolt as she ate them. Unable yet to stop being angry with him for the night before she watched him discreetly as she ate. He certainly didn't come across as someone who was aware of what he had done the night before.

"There we go onto that subject again." He watched as she first made a face at the eggs then proceeded to devour them. "I realize you're not feeling altogether well, Scarlett. But do you think we can talk about the fact that you chose to leave me. I mean if that is in fact what you care to do then I have no reason to stay here tonight."

"You couldn't ride back to Atlanta, Rhett. I don't know how you made it here in one piece."

"That'll be for me to worry about, but I appreciate your concern." His words were biting and sarcastic, but that mattered little to him at the moment. He wasn't overly concerned with whether or not his words hurt her, not until she told him why she chose to leave.

"I don't plan on going back to Atlanta, at least with you. Not until I've had some time to think, Rhett."

"Damn it, Scarlett. Think about what?"

"You don't honestly expect me to believe that you don't know."

"Yes, I do expect you to believe that. I've no reason to lie to you. I don't try to purge myself of any wrong doings by lying, Mrs. Butler."

"So you're admitting you know you did something wrong?"

"Well, it wouldn't take a genius to figure that out, Scarlett. If I hadn't you wouldn't have felt the need to leave."

Good point, she thought to herself.

"Well," he said impatiently. "This is getting us nowhere. If you aren't going to tell me and you aren't going to return to Atlanta with me then I will contact your attorney with divorce papers. I have no reason to stay married to a woman who has taken it upon herself to leave me."

"Divorce me? Leave it to you to think of that, Rhett. Only a cad would entertain something so vile."

"You'd rather remain married to me and watch me publicly break our wedding vows? That would be real good for your reputation, my dear. For it's you they would be gossiping about, not me. They already know I'm a cad, but six months after we're married and I'm already seeking company from other women. They'll realize you aren't exactly keeping our marriage bed hot."

"You saw to that last night," she quipped angrily in reply.

He looked at her confused. "I did what?"

"Saw to it that I have no desire to keep our marriage bed even lukewarm."

"I really don't give a damn about that, Scarlett. But what I do give a damn about is the fact you left. And your leaving meant you missed out on an opportunity to show off a new ball gown."

"Lower your voice. Do you want all of Tara to hear you?"

"Then answer me, Scarlett."

"You raped me, Rhett," she said barely above a whisper unable to meet his eyes as she said the words. To say such a thing about her husband, whether it was Rhett or Charles or anyone else was too much for her to actually think about.

"I did what?"

"You did. You were drunk. You came home from Belle's and saw that I'd fallen asleep reading the book of sonnets Ashley gave us for our wedding gift and you went into a rage. I told you you shouldn't have gone to Belle's."

Rhett walked to her window and looked outside, though he saw nothing. He couldn't remember anything remotely similar to what Scarlett was claiming. Was it plausible? Of course it was. He could indeed see himself getting upset at finding her asleep in their bed reading a book Ashley Wilkes had given her. But to rape her? Forcing a woman to have sex with him was not exactly something Rhett found himself having to do. He raked his fingers through his hair. "No, Scarlett. I just can't believe I'd do that. Drunk or not drunk."

Scarlett got out of bed and started unbuttoning her nightdress as she walked towards him. "Yes, well, perhaps you can explain what this is then, Rhett Butler? And why I had to make sure that Mammy didn't look at me from the waist up." She pulled the material back revealing the bite mark still quite fresh on her breast.

Rhett would have been amused at Scarlett baring herself so easily in front of him if it weren't for the nasty bite mark. It obviously wasn't a love bite and not just a love bite taken too far either. "I could have been drunk and gotten carried away."

Scarlett slapped him hard across the face. "After all the times I've given myself willingly to you. After all the times I've let you do whatever you wanted to do. And now you're going to stand here and tell me I don't know the difference between your making love to me and your raping me. I may not be as experienced as you are and I don't believe I could ever come close. But I know the difference between giving myself to you and being taken against my will."

Rhett had to agree on that point. "Did I hurt you? I mean aside from that," he gestured to her breast fighting the urge to touch her and attempt to rub the mark away.

"I've some bruises. A couple on my arms and some," she dropped her eyes, "in other places. But it's not the bruises I'm upset about."

He turned from her to look out the window once more. He didn't know what to say, for once finding himself speechless. He had hurt her. The one person he had come to realize over the past few weeks that he cared about more than himself. "And this all happened over a book?"

"Yes," Scarlett said simply.

"And if I promised it would never happen again?"

"That's not good enough, Rhett. It should never have happened to begin with." He was not going to get away with saying he was sorry and have life return to normal. She had forgiven him far too easily when he returned to Atlanta after being gone for months after she'd lost their baby. She wasn't going to just let this go.

"Of course you're right. But need I point out that if you were not in love with another man I wouldn't need to worry about who you think of in our bedroom?"

"Be careful your jealousy may be construed as caring."

"I've never denied that I care for you, Scarlett."

"You have an odd way of showing it at times."

He turned to look at her once more. "As do you. I'm not the one in love with another woman."

"And what is Belle?"

"I am not in love with Belle, nor have I ever been, Scarlett."

"Then why did you insist on going there last night? If you hadn't gone none of this would have happened." She felt tears starting to form in her. She blinked trying to fight them back. She couldn't let him see her cry. Couldn't let him see how much his going there had bothered her.

Rhett took hold of her arms and shook her gently. "Damn it, Scarlett, don't you understand why I went there last night?"

Scarlett couldn't respond so instead she shook her head. She didn't understand why he went at all.

"I went for you. I know what people say about Belle and me, and I knew that if I didn't go to a party at Belle's with the other gentleman of Atlanta that it would cast even more suspicion on our relationship. I went so that everyone could see Belle treat me as a customer and nothing else. Surely if she were my mistress as the rumors floating about say I wouldn't flaunt it in front of your friends, and they realize that."

She looked up at him, not caring that there were tears in her emerald green eyes. "I don't understand, Rhett."

"Of course you don't, because you don't understand how men think. But I did it for you. For us. For our marriage. So that you could hold your head high in Atlanta and not have to worry about being whispered about as you walk down the street. Not anymore than you already are, of course. I can't stop the gossip entirely on my own, but I can certainly put a stop to the pitying gossip feeling sorry for you that you entered into a marriage with a man who had a mistress he had no intentions of giving up." He paused releasing her arms knowing he had her attention without forcing her to look at him. "There will be those of course who still have doubts. Those who will think that it was all an act, but even they'll come around after a while. I'm not going to stop going there, Scarlett. I'm not going to stop drinking whisky, playing poker and talking to Belle or any of her girls. I wouldn't make such a promise to you because I'd go back on it in no time."

"That's all well and good, Rhett," Scarlett said regaining her composure. His words were nice, and she knew he was sincere. "But that still doesn't excuse your behavior after you got home. If going there is going to make you act like that, I'd just as soon let everyone think every one of her girls were your mistresses."

"Not to be difficult here, Scarlett, or to make light of your feelings in this matter. But has it occurred to you that I have the right to act as I did?" His eyes narrowed as he glanced at her. "I certainly won't deny I'm ashamed that I behaved in such a manor. That's not exactly how I'd like to think I got my reputation with women. And not that I'm making excuses for my unwelcome behavior, but I did have to sit and watch your boy friend all night and my mood was foul." He walked towards her dresser and ran his finger over it collecting his thoughts. "And if as you say I found you with the book he gave you, that would explain my reaction in part. The other part I imagine was just drunken foolishness."

"Scarlett, those three months I was gone, I tried to get you out of my mind. I made every attempt I could to bed other women hoping that that would do the trick. That it would enable me to get over you, but I couldn't do it. It upsets me to no end to know that I've fallen for you and yet you love another man. It still doesn't excuse my behavior, but perhaps it will make you understand what goes through my mind. If I could just get you out of Atlanta, away from Ashley Wilkes and everything else that reminds you of him. That's an opportunity I'd welcome. We had a nice time in Savannah. At least I thought we did. I was able to spoil you and shower you with gifts and kind words and you were genuinely receptive. For those few weeks I felt that you truly had no thoughts of Ashley, that you were sincere in enjoying my company."

Scarlett stared at his back. Of course he had turned his back on her on purpose. He was confessing he loved her, wasn't he? He didn't say it outright, but that was what she was getting out of this conversation. He loved her. Three words she had longed to hear him say so that she could turn them around and use them against him. But then another part of his confession struck a nerve with her. "You cheated on me? And you accuse me of being unfaithful? How dare you, Rhett."

"I said I tried. I had left you, if you recall. You lost our child, the one thing holding you to me. There was no reason for me to continue on in Atlanta watching you lust over another woman's husband. I made you no promises other than I wouldn't divorce you and that I would return often enough to keep gossip to a minimum. I made no promise to keep wedding vows that were entered on false premises to begin with."

"So you did marry me because you thought I was pregnant," she said softly.

"Well, no. I certainly didn't have to marry you, Scarlett. You aren't the first girl I've slept with, and obviously with each there's the possibility of getting with child. But, yes, I guess in some way I felt responsible. Your name was already tarnished enough with your behavior after young Mr. Hamilton's death. I didn't think it fair to add more fuel to the fire so to speak." He turned to her as a thought occurred to him. "Pray tell, Mrs. Butler. Why didn't you accuse me of raping you that night at the Atlanta Hotel? I had no right whatsoever to be in your room let alone take you to bed. That would have sent me back to jail, you would have had your deed to Tara, and you would have been excused for being with child."

Scarlett blushed profusely at his words. She had no idea what to say, how to respond to that. He was right, and suddenly she felt defeated but she wasn't going to let him know that. "That night was different, Rhett. You didn't hurt me. You were kind to me, I know now that you took the time to make sure I received some pleasure. And I hadn't thought of the possibility of being with child until you mentioned it on our honeymoon. Perhaps if you had mentioned before your marriage proposal I might have thought of it and accused you then." She placed her hands on her waist as a thought occurred to her. "Though I don't think my accusations would have amounted to anything. You probably have the entire Atlanta legal society in your pocket."

"I assure you, Scarlett, had you accused me of rape I don't know that all the money in the world could have bought my freedom. Reputation or not, you were still Charles Hamilton's widow and Gerald O'Hara's daughter. Two names that carry a lot of weight and influence around these parts. And there are some who I'm sure would have enjoyed the opportunity to imprison me for something scandalous like rape."

"Yes, stealing the Confederate's gold supply wasn't scandalous enough."

Rhett chuckled. "Not as scandalous as rape. And I'm sure they would have used it against me to find out about the money. Used your being with child, my child, against me." He moved closer to her, his mouth next to her ear. "It wouldn't have worked, Scarlett. Just in case you're wondering."

Scarlett pulled away from him. "Are you staying the night or returning to Atlanta, Rhett?" She sat on the edge of her bed watching him.

"That all depends on you. If you're still leaving me then I certainly have no reason to stay here." He glanced at her bed. "Though I have to admit in all the years I've known you I don't know that I'm quite yet to walk out of your bedroom. I used to think about this moment. You and me in here. Though arguing was never part of the picture."

She smiled slightly pleased to know that he had thought about her before they were married. "Really, Rhett?"

"Yes, really, Scarlett." He leaned back against her dresser, crossing one foot over the other and crossing his arms over his chest as he watched her. "I used to think about coming to Tara one day when everyone happened to be gone and somehow managing to get you to let down your defenses and allow me to seduce you."

"I never knew."

"Of course not, I never saw the need to tell you. A gentleman never confesses his fantasies to a lady."

Scarlett couldn't help but laugh. "And that stopped you from telling me yours? I don't believe it."

He shrugged. "Yeah, well, I had to draw the line somewhere. And I had the feeling that telling you I fantasized about you would send you scurrying in the other direction."

"Yes, you're probably right."

"Can we work through this, Scarlett?"

"I don't know, Rhett. I need to think. This isn't a simple argument that you can bring me roses and I forgive you."

"Damn, I knew I forgot something."

"Be serious, Rhett."

He laughed lightly. "All right. I'm sorry, Scarlett."

"I'd like to stay at Tara for a while. Without you," she glanced up to meet his eyes wondering what his reaction to that would be. "I've not been well, I want Mammy. Prissy just doesn't have Mammy's touch."

"We can bring Mammy back to Atlanta, you know."

She shook her head. "I need time, Rhett." She twisted the wedding ring on her finger. "If it had been Brent or Stu or anyone else I probably would have just accepted it as part of married life. I wouldn't have liked it, mind you. But you're not them. I know how truly kind and thoughtful you can be. You make it so that I don't want our lovemaking to end."

Rhett nodded simply waiting for her to continue.

"I just need time. You can stay here tonight and leave tomorrow because of unfinished business. You'll be leaving me unwell in Mammy's capable hands. You don't want me to travel until you know I'm well. Or whatever excuse you want to think of. And you won't set foot on Tara's grounds until I tell you that you can."

"That wouldn't be very husbandly of me, Scarlett." He held up a hand. "If I'm leaving you here because you're not well, don't you think I'd want to check on you. Suellen wouldn't have too many kind words for me if I just left you here."

Scarlett worried her lower lip in her teeth. He was right of course. And she didn't want Suellen to think anything was wrong. "Yes, yes, of course. You could come for the afternoon once a week and leave after dinner."

"You plan on being gone that long then," Rhett sighed. "All right. Sunday's."

She looked up at him. "No more talk of divorce?"

"As long as a few weeks doesn't turn into a few months, Scarlett. I'm not going to wait for you to make up your mind indefinitely. Being married doesn't hold that much charm, not even being married to you. At least not if you're going to be absent. If I'd wanted that type of marriage I would have married the girl my father wanted me to marry years ago."

Scarlett glanced up at him. She wondered just what his views on marriage were. What type of marriage did he want? She really didn't know. They hadn't been married long enough for her to know. But she didn't want the type of marriage that most people had either. There were some couples she knew that never got past the point of addressing one another formally. They were together to better one's standing, property holdings or whatever else. Obviously Rhett hadn't married her to do that. Though technically her share of Tara now belonged to him, she knew he didn't need Tara or anything else she had to offer him.

"You have your time, Scarlett. Are we going to go downstairs and join your family? Or are we going to make them think that we're celebrating the New Year early?"

She stood from the bed. "I can't go down in my nightgown." She went to her closet and removed her nightgown and quickly placed a simple green damask dress on. She walked over to Rhett so he could button the dress. "Thank you," she said simply when he had finished.

They spent the rest of the evening in the sitting room with Suellen, Will and a few other neighbors who had come to celebrate the New Year with them. Though they spoke little, Rhett made sure to play the role of model husband as best he could. It wasn't long after midnight after claiming his kiss from Scarlett that they excused themselves and went up to bed. "You're not really going to make me sleep on the floor, are you? Suppose Mammy comes into the room during the night to check on you."

Scarlett sighed slightly. "No, I suppose not. You aren't drunk, so I think I'm relatively safe."

He undressed and got into bed unable to stop himself from watching Scarlett undress and blow out the candles. He rolled over onto his side when she got into bed and started to reach for her.

"Rhett," she said sharply.

"I'm not initiating anything, Scarlett. I was just going to hold you. Allow me that luxury for the evening?"

She didn't say anything, but she didn't make any effort to pull away from him either. She drifted off to sleep easily.

She woke the next morning, the first day of 1867 feeling sick once more. She cursed softly as she was bent over the chamber pot. She had to be pregnant. She had been sick every morning now for days. Should she tell Rhett? If she did she'd be hard pressed to get him to leave Tara without her. She washed out her mouth and pulled on her dressing gown before realizing Rhett wasn't in bed. She glanced at the clock on her dresser it wasn't even six o'clock. She put a pair of slippers on and went downstairs hoping not to disturb anyone else at Tara, but wanting to know where he had gone.

"He's gone, Scarlett," came Will's voice from the kitchen.

"Who?" Scarlett pulled her dressing gown about her tighter and belted it more securely. She took a seat across from Will and helped herself to some eggs, biscuits with gravy and grits.

"I assumed you were looking for Rhett."

"No, I just couldn't sleep. I smelled the food and decided to come join you." She took a bite of a biscuit with sausage gravy. "He got off to Atlanta all right then? He was worried about Sierra, he's never been ridden so big a distance before."

"Sierra was fine, Scarlett. Big Sam tended to him for you. And yes, he left about twenty minutes ago." Will watched her closely as he poured himself some coffee. "Are things all right?"

Scarlett smiled, her eyes sparkling flashing her dimples. "Of course. Why would you even bother to ask?"

"Well, Rhett indicated you weren't feeling up to the ride home."

"Oh, well, I'm sure a couple days of being here at Tara will do the trick. There's nothing that ails me that Tara can't cure." She wished that were true.

Suddenly a thought occurred to her. No one knew she was pregnant. Though she figured Mammy might have guessed by now. She worried her lower lip as thoughts ran through her head. She'd heard about girls taking something to get rid of unwanted pregnancies. She frowned, she had no idea where to go to get these things. And if Rhett ever found out. She closed her eyes tightly not wanting to even think about what he would do if he found out she had deliberately gotten rid of a baby. But glancing up at Suellen as she entered the room, Scarlett wasn't ready to look like that. She didn't want to be fat and ugly with her feet and every other appendage swollen. "Good morning, Suellen," Scarlett said more cheerily than she felt.

"Good morning to you, Scarlett. You seem to be in a fine mood this morning. I don't suppose that has anything to do with you and Rhett spending all day up in your bedroom yesterday. I've never been more embarrassed having to explain to Mrs. Fontaine why you hadn't come downstairs to say hello."

"All you had to do is come upstairs and get me, Suellen." Scarlett met Suellen's gaze evenly and held it. "Surely I would have come downstairs had I known there was someone worth coming down for."

Will glared at the two of them. "All right, ladies. Can we not start out the day right away with this?"

Scarlett flushed slightly at being tongue lashed by Will. "Of course, Will. I didn't start it, though."

"Thank you," he said softly. He stood and cleared his breakfast plate from the table. "I'm going out for a while. Try not to hurt one another while I'm gone. You managed for twenty years to live under the same roof, you can do it for a few more days I imagine." He took his hat from the hook it hung from and went out the back door.

Scarlett said nothing as she mopped up the last of the sausage gravy with a biscuit. She watched as Suellen stood from the table and left the room without having eaten and without saying another word. Scarlett shrugged and poured herself some coffee when she heard a loud thump followed by a cry coming from the stairs. Scarlett jumped to her feet almost spilling the hot coffee on her as she went to the hallway. "Suellen," she called shrilly. "Mammy!"

Scarlett saw the blood on Suellen's dress and knew what was happening. Dear lord, maybe none of them were meant to carry babies. But she was so far along. Mammy appeared at the head of the stairs and Scarlett looked up seeing the look of surprise in Mammy's eyes to see Scarlett holding Suellen's head in her lap. "Tell Pork to run along and get Dr. Fontaine right away, Mammy." She bit her lip lightly trying to think of what she'd need in the meantime. "I guess bring me everything that goes into delivering a baby, Mammy. Water, blankets, everything. We have to move her upstairs. Big Sam and Will ought to be able to do that."

Mammy and Pork both hurried about their assigned tasks. Mammy brought Scarlett a cloth to wipe Suellen off with before going to get Big Sam and Will, while Pork left for the Fontaine's. "It'll be all right, Suellen," Scarlett murmured as she wiped off Suellen's brow and face.

"You don't have to lie, Scarlett. I can see it in your eyes."

"Oh don't talk silly. I lost a baby and I'm just fine."

"You did? You never told anyone you were with child."

"Of course I didn't, we didn't know for sure yet at the time for me to tell anyone." Scarlett didn't know if this was doing any good, but she reasoned that keeping Suellen talking was wise. So she kept talking.

"I was in bed for a while, but I'm fine now." She was close to being six months along, Scarlett knew that that would mean the baby would have to be delivered dead or alive. She hated to think of anyone going through that, even Suellen. She remembered what Melanie had gone through to bring Beau into this world, but at least she had a live child to hold onto as a reward for her efforts.

Big Sam carried Suellen to Carreen's old room with little effort and as gently as he could. Scarlett left the room and went downstairs to scrub the floor and the carpet where Suellen had bled. She wasn't needed in the room, Mammy and Will were there and the doctor would be there soon. She answered the door, wiping her brow with the back of her hand when Dr. Fontaine knocked. Scarlett led him up to the bedroom and turned to leave when the doctor told her to stay. He told the men to leave. He apparently thought that Suellen and Scarlett were closer than they were and that Scarlett's presence would be a help. Scarlett remembered nothing about her miscarriage, but she knew that no one deserved to go through something like this alone. Scarlett had had Melanie and Rhett. So she stayed. She sat on the edge of the bed and held Suellen's hand tightly while the doctor did what needed to be done. Scarlett glanced at the baby, obviously not breathing, Dr. Fontaine held in his hands. A girl. Suellen refused to hold it. Dr. Fontaine left Suellen and Scarlett alone while he brought the baby downstairs hoping Will or Mammy would be of the mind to tend to her receiving a proper burial.

Scarlett didn't know what to say. "I'm sorry, Suellen." The words sounded so foreign coming out of her mouth. Scarlett couldn't recall ever apologizing to Suellen.

"Oh, Scarlett, what's the point in my being married now?"

"Oh, Suellen, there will be other babies," Scarlett blushed as she thought of the child that more than likely was growing within her right now.

"I know. But you married Rhett because you love him. You obviously don't mind going through the process of making them. I don't love Will. At least not the way you and Rhett love one another. This means I'll have to go through it again."

Scarlett barely heard all of what Suellen said. She thought she and Rhett loved each other. Is that how people saw them? Were they that good at fooling everyone or was there maybe something more to it than an act? "Will isn't going to make you try and have another one too soon, Suellen. He's a nice enough man. It can't be all bad."

Suellen blushed slightly at having such an intimate conversation with Scarlett. "No. But surely you know what I mean. There has to be a difference between Charles and Rhett. I know you didn't love Charles."

Good lord, there certainly was a difference between Rhett and Charles. Charles was a boy and Rhett was a man, that's where the differences began but they ran deeper than that. "I loved Charles in my own way, Suellen. He was a good man and a good husband. It wouldn't be right for me to say anything ill of him." Or to admit to you that I'd never shared a bed with him. "Things were different then anyway. The war. He went away so soon." She smiled slightly. "You get some rest, Suellen. Let me go talk to the doctor."

"No, Scarlett, don't leave me. If you leave Will will come in here and I don't want to see the disappointment on his face."

So Scarlett stayed, making excuses to Will. She assured him he could see Suellen later that evening. Only Mammy was allowed into the room when she brought a food tray up. Scarlett picked at hers, Suellen slept through it.

The following Sunday when Rhett came for dinner Scarlett was surprised at how happy she was thinking of his coming. The past four days had been incredibly tedious and boring. She was glad that some of the rift between she and Suellen seemed to have been mended, but she didn't want to sit by her sick bed all day, every day either. Her being ill seemed to have been completely forgotten about by everyone around Tara, too. Rhett's coming meant she had an excuse to get out of the house for a while. Go for a walk with him. She had Mammy dress her in a green velvet dress that was almost low cut enough to be sinful. But Scarlett liked the way it looked on her, and she couldn't wait to see the appreciative look on Rhett's face when he saw her in it.

Rhett stood at the bottom of the stairs feeling once again like a suitor coming to call on Scarlett rather than her husband. But he waited. Everyone seemed rather distracted as was he when he saw Scarlett descend the stairs. "My, Mrs. Butler. Did you dress for me or were you expecting someone else today?"

"Don't be silly, Rhett. I'm just glad to be able to wear something nice today." She placed her hand on his forearm. "Let's go outside and I'll tell you about my week here at Tara."

"You certainly seem to be in better spirits," he said as he led her outside and down the porch steps.

"Well, I shouldn't be but I do feel better. It must be the air, and being so close to my parents. Their memory." She shrugged. "Suellen lost her baby. It was a girl." She stopped walking and looked up at Rhett. "What if none of us can have children, Rhett? My mother had difficulty, losing three boys before she had the three of us girls." Suddenly she felt better for giving voice to her fear and knowing that it was safe with Rhett, he would never tell a soul. She looked around Tara. Looked at Rhett and for a moment it was years ago, before the war and he was just a suitor come to call on her for the afternoon.

Rhett didn't know what to say to ease her fears. "Well, from my perspective, it makes me little difference whether or not you can give me a child. I'd like one or two I admit, but it's not that important to me." He glanced back at the house. "Will, on the other hand. He's going to want the free labor that comes with strapping boys." He chuckled lightly. "I'm sorry, that wasn't very nice of me. Is Suellen all right?"

"Yes, she's recovering nicely. You just missed Dr. Fontaine actually."

"Ah," Rhett said softly. "That's who I passed on the roadway."

"You mean that, Rhett? About not caring whether or not I can have babies."

"Yes, Scarlett. I didn't marry you just to have babies."

She breathed out a sigh of relief. "I think I'm pregnant again, Rhett."

"You what?" Rhett said somewhat distracted. He wasn't a superstitious man, but he wondered if he hadn't somehow had a hand in Suellen's loss. Hadn't he just the other day thought that it should be Scarlett having the first O'Hara grandchild? "You're pregnant did you say?" He wasn't sure whether or not to hug her or not, but went with his instincts which told him to hug her. "You're obviously not too far along yet if you are. You've had symptoms then?"

"Yes, I've been ill almost every morning for at least a week."

Rhett laughed lightly. "And here I thought you had had too much brandy."

"No, I don't drink that much brandy," she blushed at admitting she actually drank any at all.

"So what does this do to your thoughts of needing more time, Scarlett? If you're pregnant and not ill you can't remain here at Tara forever."

"I know." She twisted her handkerchief around her fingers tightly thinking. "I'll go back to Atlanta with you, but I want my own room for the time being." She looked up at Rhett, her eyes searching for something in his. Thinking back to Suellen's words the other day. "You know, Suellen said the strangest thing to me the day she lost the baby. Of course, she might have been delirious. But she said that we were in love. That our marriage was different because we loved one another." She laughed lightly. "Isn't that just the silliest thing you've ever heard?"

"I don't think it's that silly. And I'd wager she's not the first person to think that, Scarlett."

"You think so?"

"I know so. When you want to be, Scarlett, you can be the most charming wife known to mankind. That night at the Meade's Christmas party for example. Take two dozen other wives and they would have slapped me or done something else to let me know I'd drawn the line with my comment about wanting to see you in your negligee. But you didn't. You enjoyed the comment. You enjoyed knowing I wanted to see you in it." He stopped walking and turned to look at her fully. "Ashley had it right when he talked about your passion for living, Scarlett. You're full of it, and it's for that reason I feel bad for that night. I had no right to take against your will what you so freely give me whenever I want it. And the most amazing thing about it is that you don't just give it to me, you take from me as much as you give." He smiled slightly. "I could see very easily why a number of people would think our marriage is one based on love. It's certainly not a marriage of convenience, unless you're trying to get your hands on my money." He chuckled lightly. "But I wouldn't have married you if that's all it was."

"No? Even after I had said no to your repeated invitations to be your mistress?"

"Even then. You forget that day at the jail you offered yourself to me for three hundred dollars. An offer, believe it or not I had no intention on taking you up on."

"You didn't? Why not?"

"Because I didn't want our love making to be about money, Tara, a debt or anything else. I wanted you to come back to me for me. I wanted you to want me as much as I wanted you."

"Oh, Rhett, why didn't you tell me these things a long time ago?"

"Two words, Mrs. Butler. Ashley Wilkes."

Scarlett glanced up at him, her green eyes sincere searching his to see if he too was sincere. Apparently finding what she wanted she spoke, her voice barely above a whisper. "Who needs Ashley Wilkes, Rhett?"

"Last I checked, Scarlett, you did. Or thought you did."

"Are you telling me you love me, Rhett Butler? Is that what you're saying by agreeing with my sister?"

He was caught. He had dreaded this day for quite some time. He couldn't lie to her. For if he did he knew it would come back to haunt him one day. "Yes," he said simply.

"And you're willing to let me live with you but still give me time?"

"Yes, Scarlett. Don't talk to me in the privacy of our home. But in public, I want you the same as you have been until now."

"Fair enough. You have yourself a deal, Mr. Butler. Truth be told, I can't stay at Tara another day longer. It's too depressing."

Rhett chuckled lightly. "But apparently it's what you needed."

"Apparently so. It's too bad it took my sister to open up my eyes." She glanced up at him, still unable to believe he had admitted he loved her. "I think this marriage based on love thing may not be such a bad deal."

"How do you figure that, Scarlett?"

"Oh, Rhett, how can you ask me that? Suellen made me see something else. She doesn't enjoy marriage or making love with Will. She sees it as a duty. She was more upset to lose this child thinking that she would have to start the process all over again as soon as the doctor said she was able. I feel sorry for her, and anyone like her. I'm still mad at you for what you did, but maybe it happened for a reason. To open my eyes to what I have."

"And what do you have, Scarlett?"

"A husband who loves me and one who I know would never intentionally hurt me. You were mad at me, and I understand it. I don't know how I'd react if I came home to find you with a keepsake from Belle in your hand. I'm not saying what you did was right. It doesn't excuse it, but I think I can understand things a little better."

He slipped his arms around her waist. "And Suellen made you see all this?"

"Yes," she said simply as she rested her head against his chest. "Who would have thought?"

"Who would have indeed," Rhett said softly before he kissed her lightly on the lips.

© Story Copyright Susan DeWitt.