A/N. Phew! I made it in under the wire! Don't all faint at once now. This is the last chapter, I do hope you enjoy it.
The early light of day had not yet begun to penetrate the heavy curtains of her bedroom when Scarlett awoke the next morning. Cat, her alarm clock for the past two months, was still sleeping peacefully in her crib, so Scarlett had no idea of the time. She lay unmoving for several minutes, her limbs heavy and loose with lethargy, luxuriating in the comfort of the bed and the feel of Rhett beside her. The solid warmth of his body next to hers, the scent of his skin, the protective arm draped loosely around her shoulder and the slow, steady-beating heart beneath her ear gave her a contentment she hadn't felt in years.
She shifted carefully onto one elbow, trying not to disturb him and looked down at Rhett's sleeping face in the soft light of the fire. God, how she'd missed him. A shadow of stubble covered his chin, and she couldn't resist stroking the back of her finger down his roughened cheek.
"Didn't your mother teach you that it's rude to stare?" he murmured quietly, his eyes still closed.
"You're supposed to be asleep," she grumbled, "and no, not that I recall. Besides, what's wrong with admiring a thing of beauty?"
He smiled slightly and opened his eyes to look at her. "I'm glad to see your tastes have improved, my dear." He put his arm back around her and pulled her closer.
"I've always thought you were handsome, Rhett, I just didn't like to give you the satisfaction of knowing as much," said Scarlett, as she settled her head once more on his chest. She sighed contentedly as he drew lazy patterns with his fingers on her shoulder.
"I do believe you're purring my dear," he said, his hand finding it's way into her hair.
"I believe you're right," she agreed. "And why shouldn't I? I haven't felt this good in years."
"Glad to be of service." He wrapped both arms around her. "Maybe we could do that again sometime."
"I think I'll hold you to that." He gave her a light squeeze. "So, now that you've sampled the merchandise are you planning on making a purchase?"
Scarlett laughed. "Is that your roundabout way of asking me to marry you?"
"I thought you already had."
"Not to my recollection. We simply discussed the possibility of my buying you a new ring."
Scarlett pushed herself back up and looked at him. "You mean I went to bed with a man who hadn't even promised to make an honest woman of me afterwards?" Rhett shrugged. She narrowed her eyes at him in mock displeasure.
"I think this is even worse form than the last time you asked me to marry you, Rhett Butler!"
"Yes, you're probably right," he conceded. "We might want to come up with a better story to tell the grandchildren. The first time Grandpa asked Grandma to marry him she was drunk and had just buried her husband. The second time, well…"
"I think we might just omit the whole thing altogether! I'm not terribly keen on anyone knowing we were divorced." She eyed him curiously. "How did you manage to do the impossible anyhow? Getting the divorce granted, I mean."
"I greased the right palms," he said with a hint of bitterness in his voice.
"Think they can be ungreased?" she asked quietly. "Could you at least try? For Cat's sake, as much as mine."
"It'll be top of my list when we get back to America. I don't know if it'll do any good," he could see the hope in her eyes as he ran his fingers through her hair in a gentle caress, "but it can't hurt to try. "
"Thank you. In the mean time," she said, taking his hand in hers. "I think we should get remarried anyway. Just in case."
"Three weddings weren't enough for you, my pet?" he teased.
Scarlett arched her brows at him. "Do you want me to turn you down?"
"Then you'd better behave and get back to business." She plumped up her pillows, then lay back down next to him, her arms crossed over her chest. "So tell me, what are the terms of this deal should I choose to accept?"
"Ah, well," he cleared his throat dramatically, "I promise to love, honour, and cherish you til death us do part."
Scarlett made a face. "Hardly convincing, Rhett. You said that last time."
"So did you, as I recall," he muttered before quickly continuing. "Alright, I'll be nice to you. I'll keep you warm at night, ply you with good food and wine-"
"Mrs Fitz likes to hide things from me on the top self of the pantry."
"I thought the way to a man's heart was through his stomach." He thought for a moment. "I'll move a chair for you so you can reach."
"That isn't exactly what I had in mind, but it'll do. What else?"
"I'll take you dancing,"
"I like dancing."
"Convenient, now stop interrupting. I'll buy you all the pretty things your heart desires, defend your honour,"
"What's left of it," she muttered.
"I thought I asked you to be quiet." She looked contrite and put a finger to her lips in a childlike gesture. "Good, now pay attention because this if the most important part. I'll tell you what I'm thinking when you want to know, I won't run away from you when times get rough," he kissed her gently on the lips, "and I'll love you with all my heart."
"Sounds reasonable I suppose," she said casually smoothing the covers around her but her calmness belied the effect his sincerity had on her, "but I may need some time to think it over."
Rhett took her by surprise, swiftly pulling her down in the bed, then moved on top of her and began kissing her neck.
"Say yes," he whispered, "or I'll never let you leave this room."
"I'm not seeing the downside to this plan," breathed Scarlett in a slightly strangled voice, trying to appear unaffected by his assault. "You're going to have to try harder than that, Rhett Butler, if you want me to say yes."
His hand found its way to her breast and brushed lightly over the nipple causing her breath to hitch.
"I think you'll find I can make quite a convincing argument when properly motivated," he murmured in a low voice that gave her goose bumps, before sucking her earlobe into his mouth.
"Oh, God, who's arguing?" she groaned in response. She could feel the beginnings of his renewed interest pressing against her legs, just as her own body was beginning to throb.
"Is that a yes then?" he pulled back and looked down at her, his eyes alert. Scarlett nodded. "You're not going to change your mind?"
She shook her head and smiled at the question, then cast her eyes downward. "Well, I am fond of you Rhett, in spite of your various misdeeds and shortcomings, and we do have a lot in common," she teased, wondering if he would remember her words from all those years ago, and was not disappointed as she saw the recollection behind his eyes. "Besides, you did tell me once that marriage could be fun, and I think I'm finally inclined to believe you."
"And about time too!" He rolled them over and lifted her a little higher onto his chest, staring into her eyes. She was lying on top of a naked man, her own nightgown bunched up around her hips, and it felt like the most natural thing in the world. He ran his hands down her back and cupped her bottom, pulling her tight against him.
"Wait!" Rhett groaned and shut his eyes as she pushed away from him and scrambled over to her side of the bed. She opened a small box on the bedside table and retrieved her wedding band, then held it out to him in the palm of her hand. "Will you put it on? I know it's only a symbolic gesture, but it would make me feel better wearing it again."
Rhett took the ring and slid it onto her finger, then bent his dark head and placed a gentle kiss on the gold band.
"I have a sneaky suspicion my fourth husband is going to be my favourite."
"Praise indeed when you consider the competition." Scarlett could hear the sarcasm in his voice.
"Don't be mean," she chided before leaning in for a kiss. As if on cue, Cat started to wail and both turned their heads in the direction of the crib.
"Someone's jealous, I think."
"I hope that's not a trend she's trying to set," Scarlett grumbled, moving off him to sit up. "Would you mind?"
Rhett rolled out of bed, pulled on his robe and went over to the crib to retrieve the baby. She ceased her crying as he lifted her into his large hands and reached her arms up to his face.
"Good morning, beautiful girl." He planted a soft kiss on an outstretched hand. "Are you hungry, my darling?" He handed the baby over to her mother.
"You're not the only one, Kitty Cat, Momma's starving too," said Scarlett as she retrieved her thumb from the tiny fist that held it captive before guiding Cat to her breast. The pair were silent for a while, enjoying the simple pleasure of watching their daughter nursing.
"Do you think your mother'd be willing to bring the children over with her if she comes?" asked Scarlett. "I want them here with us even if we don't stay for that much longer."
"I don't see why not."
"That's if they'll come," she said in a muted voice that was tinged with regret.
"Why wouldn't they?"
"Oh, I don't know, maybe because I've been a terrible mother to them and they hate me."
"They don't hate you, Scarlett."
"I farmed them off to Tara to live with my sister after Melly died and I've barely seen them since."
He was silent for a moment. "You've written them though, sent them presents-"
"Gifts hardly make up for years of neglect, Rhett."
"I know for a fact they miss you. Ella told me so herself."
"Really?" Scarlett asked, taken aback. "Have you seen her?"
"She wrote me last month to thank me for her birthday present."
"I didn't know you'd kept in touch," she said quietly. "I thought that after the divorce-"
He looked at her surprised. "I write them often. They're my children too, Scarlett. I couldn't forget them even if I wanted to. I'm still responsible for their welfare. Emotional if perhaps not financial, although they'd never have wanted for anything."
"Picking up the slack because I've been such a bad mother to them."
"You did the best you could at the time." He pulled her to him and smoothed her hair. He knew it was a sore spot.
"That's a nice change of tune from what you said yesterday."
"I'm feeling charitable this morning." He kissed the top of her head, then whispered, "Sorry."
"Alright then," continued Scarlett, steering away from one unpleasant subject, "since you're in a good mood for some reason," Rhett smiled and gave her a squeeze, "what about your sister?"
The smile was replaced with a frown.
"Well, what do we do? I can't go round hating both your siblings. I think," she said slowly, "that for the sake of family unity-"
"What's wrong with Ross?" he interrupted, "besides him being a drunkard and a layabout?" When she made no reply he assumed that was the answer to his question. "I can't believe you're not more angry about this, Scarlett."
"I'm plenty angry, Rhett, but I can also understand why she did it, trying to save her beloved brother from the clutches of his evil witch of an ex-wife. I've certainly done things I'm not proud of to protect my family. Can't you appreciate that? Rhett?"
He sighed. "Of course I understand her thinking. I was married to you for seven years, wasn't I?"
"Don't be hateful," Scarlett reproached quietly, although she had to admit it did sound like something she might have done.
"But knowing why doesn't stop me wanting to smother her with a pillow," he muttered bitterly. Scarlett took his hand in hers.
"Do we invite her over or not? I'd rather not have this unpleasantness and resentment hanging over our heads, Rhett. Putting things off until tomorrow doesn't make them go away. I've tried it often enough that I should know."
He weighed his options for a moment. "Alright then, Rosemary can come with Mama if she wants to. But she's going to have to bend over backwards to earn back my trust. I'm not planning on making it easy for her either."
"Agreed. She puts a foot wrong, she's going in the stables with the ghost."
Rhett chuckled and shook his head. "I've missed you," he said tucking her hair behind her ear as she shifted Cat to her shoulder. "Moving on to a more pleasant subject," he edged a little closer, and stroked the down covering his daughter's head, "when can your cousin marry us?"
Scarlett frowned. "He can't."
"Changed your mind already, my pet?"
"No," she elbowed him in the ribs, "Colum can't do it, he doesn't perform those kinds of ceremonies. Sacraments. He visits the poor and the sick or something. Cat was christened by the local parish priest, weren't you darling," she cooed to the baby as she rubbed her back.
"I'm guessing he'll probably be busy today."
"In a hurry, aren't you?" she laughed. "It's not Sunday, is it?"
"No, but it is Christmas."
Her eyes went wide. "Lord, I completely forgot!"
"My work here is done." He said dramatically and grinned at her.
"Oh, hush up you conceited man! There are things to do. We're going to Uncle Daniel for dinner. You have about a hundred people to meet today." She tried to get up off the bed but was prevented by a pair of strong arms wrapping around her waist.
"Scarlett, wait. What do you want to tell them?" he asked. "About me, I mean."
"I don't know." She thought for a moment. "That it was all a mistake? You didn't die, you were just in some sort of catatonic state," Rhett raised his eyebrows at that, "and the letter informing me otherwise was misdirected or went astray and you weren't well enough to travel til just now to come and find me?"
He looked sceptical. "Sounds a bit thin to me."
"Do you have a better idea?"
"We could always go with a sugar-coated version of the truth."
The look she gave him would have withered lesser men. "Colum won't like it either I know, but I'm sorry Rhett, I just can't bare everyone knowing."
"Alright then, a lie it is. Lets just keep it simple and hope no-one asks too many questions." She nodded in agreement.
"Speaking of sugar, I'm-."
"Starving. I heard you the first time, my dear. I'll go down to the kitchen and bring us up something to eat while you finish with Cat." He got up off the bed and tightened the belt on his robe. "See, I'm already making good on my promise to ply you with food." He winked at her, before disappearing out the door.
"Good to know you're a man of your word," she called after him and heard his laughter echoing with his footsteps down the hall.
A faint light was beginning to filter into the room as Scarlett stood and walked over to the window, drawing back the curtains. She wiped the condensation from the glass with her sleeve and held the baby to look out with her. No mist shrouded the grounds, the sky was clear, the frost still white on the lawns. It was the beginning of a beautiful new day.
A/N. Wow! 6 months and done! Forgive me for saying so, but I'm rather proud of myself, lol. For someone who hadn't written anything creative since high school - more than a decade - and only did so back then because she had to, I consider finishing this quiet an achievement. I thought when I started it would be about 10k words and 5 chapters. Clearly my fingers ran away with me! At least I'll know better for next time.
A big thank you to everyone who has been so kind as to review my story. I've loved getting every single one. Happy 2009 to all you Windies, and as always, thanks for reading. J.