It was while talking with a horse breeder from Kentucky that Rhett heard an all too familiar laugh cascade through the crowd as if meant to be heard by him. His eyes scanned the room as he took a drag off his cigarette, searching for the last person he expected to see tonight.
He had never seen her at a formal function and had forgotten how attractive a woman she could be. She was in her element here. It was too bad Savannah would not accept her if she was to spend time here. She was far too progressive for this conservative town.
For tonight he knew how it would work. She would find a gentleman to dance with and lead him to believe she was obtainable. She would put on a good show, pretending that she was the woman he had been dreaming of for years. She would wrap him around her little finger with a laugh inserted at just the right moment as he was telling a story. She was queen of the game and Rhett enjoyed watching her play it.
Her eyes sparkled in the candlelight until her gaze fell on him. Her green eyes softened with pleasure until she managed to mask it. She betrayed her confusion at seeing him and he smiled sardonically in her direction before she looked away.
"Excuse me," he said to Mister Kennicott and walked in Scarlett's direction. It was rude to leave the other man behind without reason. They had been having a nice conversation but, finally, this wedding was not looking so dull and boring.
He stopped on the way to her table to get a glass of punch. "Misses Kennedy, what a pleasant surprise."
"I could say the same about you. As if you did not know Molly was my cousin."
"I had no idea," he said with a frown. And then asked the question that was on his mind. "Who's Molly?"
"The bride, Rhett. Did you come without an invitation?"
"I had an invitation. I just paid little attention to the players in the actual wedding party."
"Are weddings a business venture for you, too?"
"Everything's a business venture for me, Scarlett."
"Is that all you think about then? Money and the next scheme to make more of it?"
"Don't you?" he asked, boldly taking a seat without being asked to join her.
"I do have a life outside of it."
"Oh really? And you're dressed as you are despite being twice a widow and a mother because you just want to look good." She wore a dress in the shade of green he preferred on her. The skirt was gathered in a few places revealing a satin underlay in a deep yellow. Bright colors to show her off, a flower to be plucked by a gentleman of her choosing. Her hair was done in the fashion of a maiden not a matronly widow.
"A woman always has to look her best."
"And why is that?"
"I'm not trying to get another husband," she said, apparently sensing where his line of questioning was going.
"You may not be trying to get another husband but maybe you realize young Wade and Ella need a father. By the way, why aren't your sisters in attendance tonight?"
"Someone had to stay and see to Tara. As the eldest, it's my responsibility to represent the family."
"How charitable of you."
"You're making fun of me, Rhett."
"I would never dream of doing such a thing, my dear."
"You would, you live for it, Rhett Butler. As God as my witness you take pleasure in my suffering."
"Suffering? Who said anything about suffering?"
"Okay, you found me out, I couldn't stand to be in Atlanta for another minute. Everybody's sick or melancholy and I'm so tired of it. All anyone complains about is how things are different and will never be the same. There are still people walking around in black as if it was a fashionable color to wear."
"And how did you come to be in Savannah?"
"My aunts invited me," she said, her eyes downcast as she said the words. "It was a bribe, I suppose, to get me to visit. They wanted to see the children. Ella looks like Mother from what I'm told."
"You don't see the resemblance?"
"Hardly. They both look like their fathers."
"How lovely for you," he said with a low chuckle.
"Stop it, Rhett, someone's going to hear us."
"Hear us talk about your children? How horrible that would be. Or haven't you told anyone that you have them?"
"Of course they know about them, Rhett."
"But you just don't want to draw further attention to the fact you're no longer Scarlett O'Hara."
"I will always be Scarlett O'Hara, Rhett Butler. Nothing can take that away from me."
"You take such pride in being a pauper's daughter."
"My father was a wonderful man. He worked hard to build Tara out of nothing. No one can take that away from him. My mother saw fit to marry him and she's a Robillard, so he could not have been all bad."
He chuckled lightly. "And where were the Robillard's when you needed them, Scarlett?"
"Do we need to talk about this tonight? I came here to get away from thinking about the war and money problems."
"Where is your chaperone?"
"My aunts are here somewhere. I am a widow, Rhett, I don't need to be watched like a hawk as if I was a child."
"Quite the contrary, my dear, you're a rather wealthy widow. That means you need to be watched."
"No one knows."
He laughed loudly then, taking a sip of his drink. "How na?e you still are at times, Scarlett. A widow not looking to secure a husband quickly to aid in the upbringing of her two young children is uncommon. My first instinct is that the widow has her own means to support herself."
"Only people like you who think with their pocketbooks instead of their hearts would think like that."
"You think with your heart? I did not know you had a heart that actually beat, Scarlett. I thought you had locked it away long, long ago when your beloved married another woman."
"How dare you! Did you come over to my table to insult me? If you did, I'll have no more of it. You may take your leave. The sooner the better and don't come back."
"Can it be possible? Has Scarlett O'Hara gotten over her childhood crush? Is she ready to let a real man into her heart?"
"Someone like you, you mean? A cad and a scoundrel who could not be faithful to a woman if he tried."
"And I'll bet you've tested the theory on how faithful Ashley will be to Melanie time and time again." She stood from the table as if to leave and Rhett's hand shot out, capturing her wrist in a quick movement. "Sit down, Scarlett. I'm not done with you yet."
"I have nothing more to say to you and I refuse to sit here and let you insult me I'm not deserving of."
"Yet, you don't deny my accusation. Had Melanie even gotten out of her sick bed before you went in for the kill, Scarlett?"
Unshed tears glimmered in her eyes and he realized he may have taken this too far. He had not intended to be nasty when he walked over to her, but it bothered him in some way that she was able to put her life back together without his help. Twice now he had left her in a position she should never have recovered from. Twice he had expected her to come to him, beg him to marry her. It had not happened. She had persevered no matter what life threw at her.
"I apologize, Scarlett. Blame it on the whisky or that I detest weddings. I'm in a foul mood and took it out on you."
"Apology accepted," she said. She took her seat and looked at him. Rhett honestly believed it was the first time in all of his years of knowing Scarlett she ever took the time to really look at him. "Why are you here then if you hate weddings so much?"
"I'm in the middle of a business deal with the father of the groom and did not want to risk insulting him by not attending. I planned on staying for dinner and leaving."
"Now what? Now that you're here?"
"I suppose dancing holds more appeal since the right dance partner is here."
"You could make a statue dance well, Rhett."
"Was that a compliment?"
"It's the closest thing to one you'll ever get out of me."
He smirked and held up his glass in a mock toast before taking a sip. "So, who was your intended victim for the evening?"
"Yes, who had you set your eyes on toying with while in town?"
"Don't lie to me, Scarlett."
"I'm not lying there is no one, Rhett."
"So, I'm not going to be challenged to a duel because I've stolen you away?"
"That would be a sight to see. I've heard your fighting skills are second to none. But that's assuming I'm anyone's to steal."
"Good point. We both know the answer to that little riddle."
"I wish you'd leave him out of this."
"I wish I could, Scarlett. But it's hard living in a man's shadow even when he's not here."
"Why does it bother you so much? Why do you even care?"
It was on the tip of his tongue to tell the truth, to just blurt out that he loved her and be done with it. It was a wedding, the perfect time to get all sappy and admit he was besotted by the only woman who had ever dared to challenge him. He shook his head and wagged a finger in her direction. "I never said I cared, you're not going to trick me into confessing my undying love for you, Scarlett O'Hara."
She smirked then, her green eyes sparkling and shimmering with amusement. "You just did, Rhett Butler." She looked positively triumphant at that moment and Rhett was in a perverse way glad he was the cause of it.
"So now what?" he asked.
"Why, we dance of course. Isn't that what all respectable gentlemen do when they've confessed their love and devotion to a woman? Ask them to dance?"
"I'm not respectable," he stood, setting his glass down and offering her a hand.
"You used to fool me with your denials, but underneath it all you're everything you say you're not. I think it's a case of protesting too much."
"You've been reading."
"Charles and Frank would have wanted the children read to."
"You're going to be dangerous if you actually start putting that brain to use to do more than making more money."
"How you do go on, Rhett."
"It's a good thing you're not wearing white today."
"Why is that?"
"Because you would positively outshine the bride if you were."