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 idea of hers 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 renege 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 was a good thing young Charles Hamilton was dead, Rhett realized. Or maybe not, the young chap was probably going to come haunt him in his sleep and make him swallow his 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 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 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 was going to think she was 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.
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 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. Hopefully she wouldn't think Scarlett was there for a job. That's all she needed. She looked at the girl's clothes, then at her own clothes and her thoughts grew dark. She was dressed prettier than Scarlett. 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. 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. All were 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 and Beau 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, 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.
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 are here, I hope."
She glanced up at him quickly; hoping her surprise wasn't overly evident. He was asking her 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. 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 wass better to get it done with before she remarried. 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."
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. 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 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 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 was 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 and 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 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 were warm and intense on her cheek, lips, jaw, neck, ears, shoulders, collarbone, and 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. The look remained 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.