She had told him she hoped he died, but secretly she could not have been more relieved to see him that afternoon. He looked good as if the war had never happened. But then that was the way Rhett was and Scarlett was confident he had found some way to profit from his service.
Dinner had been scarce and Scarlett had been ashamed, but Rhett said nothing. He ate as if it was the best meal he had eaten in ages. Perhaps it was, though Scarlett doubted that. Cook's eyes widened proudly when Rhett told her how good the vegetable soup she had prepared was. Scarlett had bitten her tongue from retorting that she had to make soup out of the vegetables so as not to waste them.
She set down her brush and shed her dressing gown before walking to her bed. Her mother's bed. She enjoyed sleeping in here, using her things. It made Scarlett forget about how let down her mother must have been that her oldest daughter had not been by her side when she took her last breath.
Scarlett had not told Rhett about her mother's passing yet, but he seemed to know. He had an uncanny ability to know things he had no business knowing so she would not be surprised if he did know.
She turned down the bed, poured herself a glass of water and walked to the window. It had rained hard that evening. The air smelled fresh and clean, as if the rain renewed everything. She wished it were true but tomorrow there would be the same bills to worry about coming up with money to pay, the same mouths to feed and the same chores to do.
She hated that Rhett was seeing her like this. Up until now she had always looked her best when encountering Rhett Butler. Today she had looked like a field hand. They all did. And here Rhett was larger than life in clean, freshly tailored clothes.
If they had been alone without her sisters, father and Melanie swooning over him as if he was Lee himself Scarlett would have reiterated to Rhett how much she hated him. She was confident the looks she bestowed upon him during the evening reflected her feelings clearly.
She finished her glass of water and gave the clear night's sky one last glance before extinguishing the lamp and climbing into bed. She fluffed the pillow and drew the covers over her body. She was exhausted, as she was most nights. Tonight's exhaustion was not just physical. She was always on edge when Rhett was around, waiting for the shoe to drop or for him to say something that will embarrass her. Especially in front of her not-all-there father, though the men seemed to get along famously.
When Scarlett had gone up to bed Rhett had presented her father with not just a bottle but an entire case of whisky straight from Ireland. Scarlett could not recall seeing her father happier. For a moment she saw a glimmer in his eyes that had been missing since her return. She missed that look, missed her father and had to fight back tears or risk embarrassing herself in front of Rhett. She refused to do that.
Distantly, she heard the sound of rambunctious male laughter and smiled at the sound as her mind and body succumbed to Morpheus' call.
Scarlett was cold. Not the cold of a winter's night but the chill of her body suddenly being exposed to the air. She felt a feather-like caress against her sunburned cheeks and turned into the touch. The hands were large and strong, cupping her cheek easily. A soft moan escaped when the hand's thumb stroked her lips. She parted them invitingly. Her body was reacting in an unfamiliar fashion. Her heart was beating fast and her pulse was racing both from a simple touch. Like most of her dreams she could never see who it was but she felt safe here.
She felt the bed shift as if weight was being added to it. Alarm bells were going off in her head. This was wrong. She should not be feeling these things in her dream but she was unable to slip out from under Morpheus' spell.
The hand at her cheek was gone now, leaving her wanting more. More of what she was not sure. She felt a pair of lips press against hers, hesitantly at first. She sighed softly into the kiss at the same time it was intensified. Fingertips found her neck, throat and jaw and caressed expertly. There was no question her dream lover knew exactly what to do, though Scarlett was not sure how she knew that given her minimal experience.
He smelled familiar, like cigars, whisky and maleness. They were comforting scents, soothing her into submission of his seduction. She stretched her arms above her, wrapping them around her lover's neck wanting him closer.
"Scarlett," he whispered.
"Yes," she replied in a breathy whisper. She did not know what the question was but knew her answer should unequivocally be yes.
Her lover moved his kisses lower to her throat and the side of her neck. A gentle nibble just below her ear made her arch into the body above hers.
The tie that held the neck of her nightgown in place was unfastened adeptly. Scarlett knew she should put a stop to this. Ladies did not let unknown men into their bedrooms but Scarlett's body screamed for completion.
She felt a hand at her thigh as her lover took a hold of the hem of her nightgown. She should slap his hand away but she did nothing. His capable fingers worked at moving the nightgown up along the length of her legs, sending waves of arousal through her body.
Charles had been a clumsy and inexperienced fool. There had been no foreplay, no seductive games. Scarlett had succumbed to his demands knowing she had no choice but to. Lord knew she had not wanted to let him touch her. It was something she swore she had no interest in doing again yet here she was encouraging it almost wantonly.
Her nightgown was almost to her waist now, leaving her exposed. His hand rested about mid-thigh, warm and surprisingly calming. Inside, she was anything but calm. His touch and his kisses were creating a firestorm, making her blood pulse through her body like liquid fire.
He traced feather-light patterns on her thigh with his fingertips as he kissed and nibbled her neck. She refused to let go of him, afraid if she did he would disappear and be replaced by the foggy night she had grown frightened of. As long as he was touching and loving her the fog stayed far away, which was where she preferred it to remain.
She whimpered in protest when she felt him draw away from her neck, his kisses were drawing to an end. She did not want them to end. His hand stilled, cupping her thigh just above her knee. He stroked her thigh with his thumb making her shiver in delight.
Her body barely had time to recover when she felt a warm puff of breath against her covered breast, making her already hardened peak stand even further at attention. His hand trailed a path along her body from thigh to breast, supporting it in his hand as his mouth closed over her. Her body felt as if a bolt of lightning had struck her there in her bed. This was positively wicked. She would be damned to hell.
His tongue traced circles around her aroused peak and she writhed beneath him. Her hands found his hair, imbedded there and drew him closer to her. She arched into him wanting more. More of what exactly escaped her, but he would know.
He gave into her unspoken request of more so she dropped her hands from his hair to his shoulders finding purchase there for a moment as his mouth closed over the swell of her heaving breast. She was on the brink of exploding and was not sure how much more she could take.
Her hands sought the buttons on his shirt. The collar was heavily starched and crisp. She remembered shirts feeling like this once upon a time, before the war. Now they were lucky to have soap to wash them with let alone starch for ironing. She worked the buttons with ease once she got past the difficult one at the collar. Her fingers shook, her mind reeling with the knowledge she was committing such a brazen act.
She parted the shirt front, crying out in frustration when her hands encountered not the warm bare flesh she expected but an undershirt in its place. His low chuckle vibrated against her breast as his hand slid lower along her body to her thigh. Her nightgown was still bunched up close to her waist and her dream lover took advantage of the easy access he had to her creamy white skin.
She shivered as his touch tickled her until his thumb stroked the sensitive button at the entrance to her core. Which sensation to focus on, the mouth at her breast or the fingers caressing her and on the verge of penetrating her nether region?
Her mouth was parched from her breath coming in short, raspy gasps and she knew what she wanted. One hand grabbed a hold of the front of his undershirt while the other drew him toward her. Her mouth found his, her lips parted at the same time his did, welcoming him into her mouth.
She had never kissed or been kissed like this but it seemed instinct took over because she knew exactly what to do. Of course it helped that he knew how to kiss. Very well. Distantly, she thought on Ashley's kisses and how bland they were in comparison. Yes, her heart pounded severely but that was with the thought of kissing Ashley not from his kisses.
A finger slid inside of her and she clenched around it. Her lover groaned, the sound stifled only by their joined mouths. His thumb stroked her nub, bringing her body to a place she did not understand. It welcomed yet frightened her to be so out of control. She had had to retain control for so long now she was not sure she knew how to stop. But her lover was tempting her to cross the line of careful control.
He drew away, attempting to break the kiss but Scarlett tugged at his shirt front. She welcomed the feel of his lips, needed it something fierce and she was not about to let him escape too easily. She had suspected this was inside of her, buried somewhere deep. She felt a kinship to her grandmother, a woman who Scarlett always felt was not as prim and proper as she looked in the portrait.
She had never expected it to be unleashed so easily and with such force. All of the love, the passion and the desire in her poured out in her kiss. She could almost see it, hovering above her bed like a shadow, encouraging her. Giving her the strength to move forward. She had never welcomed a man in her bed and had never expected to do so willingly.
The fog she always feared so much came now, but it was not choking or suffocating her. It seemed to envelope the lovers, enshrouding them in a protective cocoon. She was safe here, protected. It had been years since she had felt that way. She wondered why her dream would be so cruel but pushed the thought aside.
Her hand released his undershirt front and lowered to his hard abdomen as he continued bringing her body to levels she had never experienced before. She cupped his manhood and heard him groan in excited surprise. Her dream lover was a fine specimen, chiseled from the renderings in her active imagination. She was surprised at how easy it was to be so brazen. It was oddly liberating and, judging by his response, received well.
He broke the kiss much to her disappointment. She felt the weight on the bed shift. When he joined her again she felt nothing but his warm body against hers. He knelt above her making quick riddance of her nightgown, tossing it aside.
She took in her lover's appearance as he knelt above her, naked as if inviting her to get her fill from looking. She looked into his eyes, confusion setting in at the familiarity there yet not able to place it. It was the closest she had come ever to identify the subject of her dreams.
She was wet and ready for him, but she had a moment's panic about feeling pain knowing it had been years since she had lain with a man. Should she tell him? Would it ruin the moment?
He lowered his body slightly, placing his hardened arousal against her moist entrance. Her breath caught, expecting pain and discomfort. He rubbed against her, coating his member with her juices and entered her. She let out the breath she had been holding when he did not thrust inside of her too quickly. Instead he worked his member in slowly, inch by inch, seemingly allowing her body the opportunity to adjust to his size.
The fog grew more formidable, though Scarlett paid it no attention she was so caught in the throes of ecstasy with her dream lover. It embraced them, drove them closer together once he was completely inside of her. Arms encircled bodies, lips found each other until there would be a question as to where one body ended and the other began.
She now understood the meaning behind man and woman becoming one. She welcomed him, welcomed the feeling, cherished it and the fog that had given it to her. She had never felt closer to anyone than at that very moment with her dream lover thrusting himself inside of her pliant body.
His hand adjusted her hip and leg slightly, allowing him deeper entry into her womanhood. Her eyes flew open as he thrust further into her, expecting pain to follow but of course there was none. He took great care with her, worshipping her as if he had just found the path to heaven within her. Recognition dawned on her, the face of her dream lover clear for the first time in all of the years of having the dream.
"Rhett," she cried out as he took them over the edge simultaneously.
The lovers remained like that, joined and entwined with Scarlett drifting off to sleep, exhausted and spent from her dream lover's ministrations.
Scarlett woke slowly. Her body felt well and truly sore. She tried to remember what she had done the day before to cause such discomfort but though of nothing. She felt good, an exhilarating feeling she had not experienced since before the war. Today she would get a lot of things accomplished. It was not long before she realized that she was lying in bed without a stitch on. Her eyes shot open and she let out a blood curdling cry when she saw a man in bed with her, his arm draped across her bare abdomen.
His head lifted lazily. Her eyes met Rhett's familiar dark ones which were laced with sleep induced confusion. That confusion was quickly replaced with a keen awareness she recognized well. It happened so fast it was startling. His hand was as quick as a snake in covering her mouth at the sound of a door somewhere on the floor opening. She had managed to wake someone up. Had she cried out that loudly?
His mouth went to her ear. She thought he was going to say something to her, explain what he was doing in her bedroom. Instead his lips closed over her earlobe. Her eyes closed and her lips parted in response. "Rhett," she murmured. She had no idea she could be made to feel like this.
She heard a knock on her door. "Scarlett." It was Melanie. Of course it was. Carreen was probably there, too. Suellen would feed Scarlett to the wolves and was probably snuggled in bed pretending she heard nothing.
"I can leave, but if they come in and are observant enough they'll notice the bed has been slept in by more than one," her seducer whispered in her ear before placing a kiss to the side of her neck.
"Yes," she said, her voice not sounding like hers at all. The bed was the least of her concerns she realized as she glanced at her body. A dream had done this to her. Rhett had done this to her, she quickly corrected. She would never know how much was a dream and how much had been due to Rhett's influence.
"Is everything all right?" Melanie asked.
"We heard you scream." Scarlett could not help but smile at the concern evident in her youngest sister's voice.
"I," she had no idea what to say. It would be one thing if she was flighty and excitable in general but Scarlett O'Hara was as level headed as they came. "I must have had a bad dream and when I woke up from it thought I saw someone out the window."
"That explains it," Melanie said sounding relieved. "If you're sure."
Rhett decided to nip at her neck at the exact moment she was going to reply. "I'm fine," she managed to force out.
"You don't sound okay."
She tried to push Rhett off of her, but it was no use. He was far too heavy. But he seemed to take the hint and stopped what he was doing. "I'm fine. I'll see you both at breakfast."
"Okay," both women said.
Scarlett let out a breath she had been holding when she heard retreating footsteps followed by the sound of two closing doors. How utterly embarrassing it would have been had they come in. Her father would have been told, Rhett would have been called out. And Scarlett would come out of the scandalous situation single. Like the girl rumors ran rampant about even years later, Rhett would not marry her either.
She was on the verge of telling him to leave when his hand cupped her breast. His thumb stroked her peak back to attention and her breath caught. She turned her head so her eyes met his. She wanted to know what he was doing. Was this a game to him?
"You were beautiful last night."
She closed her eyes, her mind reeling from the idea that she had not been dreaming at all. It had really happened. She had welcomed Rhett not only into her bed but access to her body. What was he going to think now? She had turned down his offers prior to this of becoming his mistress and she certainly had no intentions on changing her mind.
"I was?" she asked cautiously.
"You were, though that doesn't surprise me."
This confused her and she turned onto her side to face him. She drew the bedding around her to hide her form, but he knocked it away so he could touch her. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, I always knew you were a volcano waiting to erupt, Scarlett. I hoped I would be the one to bring you to that point."
"I didn't mean to."
"That is what was so beautiful about it, Scarlett."
"This changes nothing. You realize that, don't you, Rhett?" Her eyes narrowed as he smirked in response. "How did you get in here anyway? My door is locked." As she asked the question, she knew the answer. Her eyes fell on the door that connected her room with her father's where Rhett was supposed to have spent the night.
"I assumed it was a subtle invitation."
Had it been? Had she done it on purpose? She had no idea. She had too much to think about, especially now that she knew it was Rhett in her dreams all this time. He was who she had frantically been searching for in the fog so thick she could barely see her hands in front of her.
"Rhett," she whispered, tears forming in her eyes. What had she done? She had unleashed a world of more complications on her already taxing existence.
"It's okay, Scarlett," he said drawing her into his arms. She went willingly. She could not remember feeling comforted from so simple a gesture.
His mouth found hers and before she knew it he had shifted them so he was on top of her, hard and ready to slide into her body which accepted him without hesitation. Her eyes drifted closed, her mind whirling with questions she did not want him to have access to.
There was no mistaking this for a dream. He was flesh and blood, thrusting into her so invitingly. Thoughts of Tara and what she had to do were distant thoughts she was so caught up in the here and now of being in Rhett's capable hands.
She lay beside him now, his arm beneath her clutching her to his chest. She let fingertips trace along the scar not sure what there was to say. Her fumbling instances with Charles gave her no clue as to what lovemaking could be. Leave it to Rhett to show her a world she would enjoy only to close her access to it. He would leave Tara and she would have to go back to her life here. Only now she was not sure how she could do that.
"When do you leave?" she asked, giving voice to some of her thoughts.
"I hadn't thought on it. I had thought only of staying a night or two."
"Only that long?" She was careful to keep her eyes averted from his, trying to sound casual with her question.
"I can stay longer if you want me to. I really intended to check on you and your family, nothing more. But your invitation was far too tempting for me to resist, my dear."
"It wasn't an invitation."
"I know that now, Scarlett. I couldn't think of any other reason for you putting me up in the room adjacent to yours. Clearly, your mind and mine operate on different levels. Of course, the whisky I had with your father could have clouded my judgment some. Do you hate me now?"
"You mean more than I did before?" He chuckled lightly. "Someone will hear you."
"You're a widow, Scarlett. You're entitled."
"I don't think my father or Carreen or Melanie would understand."
"You're probably right," he said as he slid out of the bed and searched for his clothes. "I'll go back to my room and dress for the day. I can stay as long as you want me to, Scarlett."
As long as she wanted him to. What she would not give for a healthy pair of strong hands. Someone capable to do the things she just was not strong enough to do. There was fencing to be fixed, wood to chop, and so many other things she hated to think on it right now.
He took her hands in his and turned them palm up, kissing each of them. She tried to hide them, tried to ball her hands into fists but he was strong enough to stop her. "I know these past few months have not been easy. I can help if you let me."
He was offering her help. He was offering her salvation as far as she saw it. "I have to think about it," she said realizing the price in return would be a steep one.
"Of course you do," he said with a low chuckle. A distant baby's cry was heard down the hall. "It's almost dawn, the house will be stirring soon. I'll stay with you if you want me to."
"No," she said quickly. The horror of someone finding him in her bed was too much for her to imagine right now. She would not let herself feel guilty for what they had done but she could protect herself from the others at Tara thinking badly for her. Or even worse feeling sorry for her, which was something she could not bear.
He placed a tender kiss against her lips. "I'll see you at breakfast then."
"Yes, breakfast," she said, having a genuine appetite for the first time in months. It was a day for quite a few firsts it seemed.