Scarlett allowed the train to lull her into a dream-like state. Nightmares were more like it. Never in her wildest imagination had she pictured setting foot in Savannah while that man was still breathing.
Scarlett had been well and truly put in her place for the first time in her almost thirty years of existence. Oh, Rhett had stayed true to his word over the past couple of years. He made sure to visit Atlanta often enough to keep the gossip to a minimum. Ashley knew, though. He knew Scarlett too well by now to be fooled by the false bravado she put on for others. Ashley was too honorable to say anything, though. Their relationship was precarious at best, so broaching the subject of Scarletts marriage - or lack of it at this point - was just not something that would be done. They didn't talk about anything significant, which bothered her in a way. If it wasn't about Beau or the children they said little during their visits. She was keeping her promise to Melanie and trying to look after Ashley.
Doing that while maintaining propriety and continuing to convince the old guard her marriage was not over was an interesting thing to accomplish. But she found ways. Mammy or a servant usually accompanied her. There were times she'd invite others as well, so that all could be a witness to the stuffy formality that existed between Ashley Wilkes and Scarlett Butler despite their many years of acquaintance.
She must have fallen asleep because the next thing she knew Wade was waking her up.
"Mother, we've arrived."
"We can't possibly be there already." Sure enough, though, when she glanced out the window, they were slowing down and Scarlett recognized the outskirts of Savannah.
"My goodness, Wade, you're right. Thank you. You were both so good to let me rest like that." She hadn't slept very well the past few days. Who was she kidding? She hadn't slept very well since the day Rhett had walked out. It had started before that. She'd had problems sleeping since the war, but they'd subsided drastically while married to Rhett. She'd never realized that until he was gone, though.
She'd tried visiting Tara, but she and Suellen were at each other's throats almost before she'd set foot through the doors. Evidently, the fact that Suellen and her husband were the ones actually doing the work seemed, in Suellen's eyes anyway, to trump Scarlett's monetary help in rebuilding Tara. It would never be like it was when they were children. She wasn't expecting that type of miracle. Even if Carreen believed in them, Scarlett had long ago given up hope of such things. She could at least do her part to ensure her father wasn't looking down, ashamed that all the years of blood, sweat, tears, and hard work for the land Tara occupied hadn't been for nothing.
Her children most likely knew that she needed the sleep and had wisely remained as quiet as could be to ensure they did not roust her from a much-needed nap. The train drew to a stop and Scarlett felt the sting of tears in her eyes as she looked over the city that her mother had called home until marrying Gerald O'Hara. She should feel something more than disdain, a fondness or connection perhaps, to the place where her mother got her beginning. She'd always admired her mother, had aspired to be like her. She never had succeeded, and it wasn't until very recently that she realized that was all right. Because, after all, she wasn't her mother and there was a reason she was Pa's favorite. She couldn't bring herself to think about all of that right now, though.
She hated that she'd had to drag out her mourning clothes. She had thought the time when she lived in perpetual mourning was over. She hadn't thought of her maiden aunts. Her Grandfather Robillard, well, that was a different story altogether. She wasn't sure she'd give him the courtesy of dressing in traditional mourning black. She'd envisioned at one time dressing in vibrant red, something worthy of a woman named Scarlett, and dance on his grave. Anyone who held onto grudges for as long as that man did, and held them against the innocent children that were the product of that grudge Scarlett had no time for.
She assumed her grandfather would let them stay with him, but she was taking no chances. She was prepared to stay at a hotel if need be. With that in mind, she told the gentleman at the train station that she would send for their bags when she knew for certain where they were staying. The gentleman had taken one look at Scarlett and the children dressed in mourning attire and had nodded sympathetically, telling her to take her time. The generous tip she'd given him to ensure her bags weren't stolen or gone through probably helped.
With Wade on one side of her and Ella on the other, the three of them rode in silence to Grandfather Robillard's house. Wade and Ella did not know much about their great grandfather. Scarlett, as much as she might resent the man, hadn't had it in her to fill the heads of her children with those same feelings. They were, after all, Robillard's, too. They had both Robillard and O'Hara blood coursing through them. She chose to ignore as often as she could the Hamilton and Kennedy blood running through them respectively.
"What's that, Mother?" Ella asked as they arrived at Grandfather's stately home. He certainly hadn't suffered too much during the war. His home looked intact and well cared for. She felt the resentment build even more, something she thought had been long forgotten or dismissed. Evidently, being told she and the others could as good as starve as far as Grandfather was concerned wasn't something she'd ever be completely over.
"That must be your grandfather's coach."
"Hello, Luc," Scarlett said, when the butler who had been with her grandfather for as far back as Scarlett could remember answered the door.
"Could you please tell my grandfather that Scarlett Butler, Wade Hamilton and Ella Kennedy are here?"
"Of course, Madame, we were expecting you."
"Yes, please come in, I'll show you to them now."
"Them?" Scarlett asked, though she wasn't expecting an answer. Luc was not an overly talkative man. Pork wasn't either, for that matter, except with those he served or knew well.
"That would be them now, I expect," she heard Grandfather's voice coming from the more informal parlor. She felt her back straighten, her pride coming to the forefront and glanced at Wade and Ella one last time to ensure they were presentable. Of course they were, they always were. Scarlett would tolerate no less.
"Grandfather," she said, giving him a slight curtsey. Residual from her childhood, when she thought her grandfather was something akin to a king. He had that regal air about him, carried himself in the way of those in the monarchy. As a child, it had been very overwhelming. As an adult, a woman who had been through her fair share of experiences, she found it pretentious. And was no longer fooled into thinking he was what he wasn't. "May I present my children? Wade Hampton Hamilton and Ella Lorena Kennedy."
"They both resemble their fathers, do they not?"
"I've been told so, yes."
Her eyes shifted to the other gentleman sitting in the room when he moved to stand. She'd recognize him anywhere. Of course, she'd known him for over a dozen years by now. They'd fought, they'd loved, they'd fought some more, eventually allowing the fighting to win out and come between the love she knew was there. There was no other explanation for the feelings she had for him. And for the years of abuse he had put up with from her.
"Papa Rhett," Wade said excitedly before Scarlett could speak. To say she was surprised to see him there was an understatement, but she could not let Grandfather know that. He would pick up on any faltering on her part.
"Hello, Wade Hampton," Rhett extended his hand to his stepson. "Miss Ella," he said, offering the young lady of the house a hug.
"Hello Rhett," Ella said, almost shyly. She was always shy around Rhett. Well, she was shy around most men that were charming. And Rhett could charm a team of snakes if he had reason to.
"Mrs. Butler," he said with a polite bow.
"Rhett," she said, still shocked to see him. What was he doing here? He had just visited in Atlanta not too long ago. To keep up appearances. They had even attended a dinner together, something to do with the bank's board.
"I was explaining to your grandfather that I was en route to Chattanooga when I received word. As the children were at home with you, I was sure it would take you longer than me to arrive."
"Just how long have you been here?"
"Since yesterday afternoon."
Rhett took a step toward her, and that was all the prompting she needed. She wasn't sure why he was here, how he got word of her aunt's death, or why he was opening his arms - and in some ways his heart - to her just now. The things Rhett knew and could accomplish had stopped amazing her years ago. He had after all gotten her to say the words she'd vowed to him once upon a time she'd never utter to or about him. He was the first man she'd ever said them to and truly meant them. Or even knew the meaning of the words.
The tears that were threatening to fall as she pulled into the train station came as he took her into his arms. He hadn't done this in a very long time, years. She wasn't sure why she believed this was a good thing, a portent of things to come, perhaps the chance finally at reconciliation.
Was the fact she'd come to her grandfather's without him a sign she had changed? The clothes she had worn? It wouldn't have been unheard of to travel in style on the train, changing into mourning clothes once she'd arrived. Instead, she had taken out dresses that were several seasons out of fashion.
He had to know how hard this was for her, to come to her grandfather's. Rhett was the only one who knew of Pierre Robillard's shunning of Scarlett when she and the others at Tara were in need. Rhett had never said much about it, but if Scarlett knew anything about the man she had married, allowing women and children to potentially starve would not set well with him.
"I'm so sorry, Scarlett," he whispered against her ear as she silently cried against his chest. It wasn't something she did often, let her guard down, but the fact he was willing to comfort her was her undoing.
"Thank you, Rhett." She drew away, hoping her eyes conveyed she was thanking him for more than the words he had just uttered. He was here. He had put aside their differences to help her in presenting a united front against her grandfather. Her family. Those in Savannah who were still shocked years later at the fact an Irish immigrant had claimed Ellen Robillard's hand in marriage. That was something that was not easily forgotten or accepted. Or even forgiven.
"I'll show the children to their rooms," Luc said from the doorway. "If that's all right with you, Madame?"
"Yes, thank you, Luc," Scarlett said, still clutching to Rhett as if her life depended on him. And, for all she knew, at this moment it did. God, she loved the smell of him. Cigarettes, cologne, leather and something that was distinctly Rhett. Her husband. The man of her dreams.
If only she had realized sooner her nightmares for years had really been prognostications of the man who was to capture the heart of Scarlett O'Hara. She might not have believed it anyway. She was the belle of three counties, after all.
"I'll show Scarlett to our room, Monsieur Robillard," Rhett said with a bow in Grandfather's direction. It was a bow Scarlett recognized as one that betrayed Rhett's disdain for the person he was directing it at. She doubted Grandfather knew that, Scarlett only knew it from observing him so closely for so many years. The thing was, people seemed to want to believe Rhett was sincere so they saw what they wanted to see. "I'm sure she's exhausted after traveling."
"Yes, I've heard traveling with children can be rather exhausting."
"Yes, it can be," Rhett offered in agreement.
"Grandfather, it's nice to see you're well," Scarlett said simply. She had nothing else to say.
Rhett placed his hand at the small of her back, escorting her out of the room. He shushed her before she had the chance to speak. Scarlett realized, gratefully, that it wasn't due to a lack of interest in hearing what she had to say. There were servants everywhere and they had to watch their tongues. She'd forgotten what that was like. They had servants aplenty at their home, but they were servants she trusted and no longer worried so much about what they might overhear or see.
"Our room, Mrs. Butler, I hope it's to your liking."
"Our room, Rhett?"
"Yes. I couldn't come here under any false pretenses, Scarlett. You needed me."
"How did you?"
"Does it matter?"
"No, I suppose it doesn't. I'm glad you're here."
"Oh God yes. I wasn't sure Grandfather would even let us stay here. The children might offend him."
"Yes, he doesn't seem one to tolerate the pitter patter of young feet."
"I agree with you there. It makes me very glad that Pa was my father."
"Yes. I wasn't meant to have this life, Rhett. I wasn't meant to be the matriarch of all of Clayton County. Being confidante, delivering babies, helping to solve problems. I was just meant to be Scarlett. And if that isn't good enough for those old peahens. Well, so be it. I am who I am."
"Just what exactly are you saying, Scarlett?"
"As if you didn't know."
"Spell it out for me."
"I'm Scarlett O'Hara."
She held up her hand, silencing him. She could see the gesture surprised him and she smiled, glad to have caught Rhett off guard at least once of late.
"I'm also Scarlett Hamilton. And Scarlett Kennedy. As much as I hate to admit to being those women, I am. But most importantly, I'm Scarlett Butler."
"Yes, Rhett. Life is too short. I realize Eulalie wasn't exactly born yesterday, but she wasn't Grandfather's age either. I don't want to die knowing that my own stupidity cost me something important."
"And just what, prey tell, would that be?"
"You, Rhett. I'm not going to beg or plead or resort to using my womanly virtues to attempt to prove it. But, if you know nothing else about me, you know that I have been an upstanding, virtuous wife in your absence."
"Yes, I've heard tell you've gone out of your way to ensure you and Ashley."
"Are chaperoned at all times. That's not for you, Rhett, and it's not for me. It's for the children. They, particularly Wade Hampton, don't need to live with those rumors. Ashley is his uncle after all even if it is by marriage."
"What if the idea of your womanly virtues, as you called them, wasn't so offensive to me, Scarlett?"
"Rhett, what are you suggesting?"
"I want another Bonnie."
"There will never be another Bonnie, Rhett."
"I know, but I want another one. Another child. Our child. The result of those strong Irish O'Hara roots and my blackguard Charlestonian ones."
"You can't be serious?"
"Rhett, it's been years."
"Are you suggesting you forgot in that time, Scarlett? I'd be happy to remind you, would that were the case."
"No, Rhett, I haven't."
"The blush flatters you, Scarlett."
"Rhett. A baby. You're serious? Is that all I am to you? The chance for an heir?"
He walked up to her and cupped her cheek with his hand. Hands rough from use and wear. Years of sailing, manual labor, and handling of weapons she didn't want to know about had caused that. She loved the feel of his hands, anywhere on her body.
"I assure you, Scarlett, that is not all you are to me."
"Oh? You could have fooled me."
"Let's just say, the announcement of your maiden aunt's demise perhaps got us thinking much the same thing. I don't want to be estranged, Scarlett. There's a reason you're the first, and only, woman I asked to marry me."
"What reason is that, Rhett?"
"Do you really need me to say it?"
"Yes, every woman needs to hear it, Rhett. Especially from a cad like you."
"Ah, yes, such flowery and poetic words coming from my wife."
"I can't help it if the truth hurts, Rhett."
"Let's rest, Scarlett. You've gotten a shock, perhaps not completely unexpected. I know how death effects you, though, particularly I'm sure when you hadn't thought you'd have to deal with it again so soon after Melanie's passing."
He stepped behind her, letting his hand skim along her cheek, the side of her neck, lifting her hair and rubbed there. She felt the tension ease out of her and she moaned softly. Traveling with the children, no matter how old, anticipating a difficult visit with Grandfather, knowing she'd have to face all of Savannah alone. And Savannah's old guard was worse than Atlanta's! It had all made her feel just awful. And Rhett seemed to know just what to do for her. "How did you ever get to know me so well?"
"We're not that different, you and I. You know as well as I do that's true. We're not the same, I wouldn't claim such a thing. But I know how I'd react if someone died unexpectedly. And I'd want the one person who'd seen me through most of it nearby."
"You realized that, too?" The question was almost breathless. His fingers were magic against her skin. She could feel the fear, the anguish, and her misgivings fly out the window as he probed and rubbed gently along the nape of her neck.
"That through it all, you've been there. In one way or another. For a lot of things in my life."
"There were a few I missed." He began to work the buttons at the back of her dress. She didn't need to a mirror to know what he was doing. She'd missed the feel of his touch, the intimacy between them. She'd missed it so much.
"Yes, but I was another man's wife for them." It wasn't what she wanted to say, or talk about right now.
"I'm aware of that. Ella wouldn't be here otherwise."
"I'm your wife now, though, Rhett."
"Yes, I'm aware of that, too. It's posed a bit of a problem to me over the last few years."
"Rhett, about other children."
"Scarlett," he whispered against her neck.
"No, I need to say this. If Eulalie dying has taught me anything it's that I can't let things continue undone, unsaid."
"I'm sorry. I was a fool. About all of it. I should have known, you should have explained to me what Ashley's feelings for me were."
"Would you have listened?"
"No, I suppose not. I would have been insulted and insisted you didn't know any better because you didn't know anything about love. But now."
"Yes," he said, and she could hear the anticipation in his voice.
"I know that you do know how to love. It was me that couldn't. Wouldn't. I held onto a young belle's fantasy. The past. I'd never before been denied something I wanted. It never occurred to me that Ashley wasn't what I wanted. Not really. Until the night Melanie died. The dreams I had, Rhett. It all became clear to me that night. I had been dreaming of that night. For years. But until that night, the fog never cleared, I never saw whom it was I was frantically chasing after. It was you. All along, Rhett, it was you. Since before I knew you it was you."
"You believe that?"
"It's not a matter of believing. It's a matter of knowing. I know, Rhett. I know it with my heart. And I should hope the fact that I haven't wandered around Atlanta like a simpering fool. Or chased after you from port to port, city to city, should tell you that it isn't a foolhardy obsession like Ashley was for all those years. All I could do is wait, hope, and pray that one day you'd realize I finally grew up. I was no longer the sixteen-year-old girl who thought she knew everything but in reality knew nothing."
"You were very young."
"Yes, I was, but not really. My mother was married by the age I was when I first met you."
"You, as you so appropriately pointed out, are not your mother and were not meant for her life. No disrespect to your mother intended."
"Do you think she knew? Was she sad that I'd married the wrong man for the wrong reasons?"
"I imagine she knew, Scarlett, and she hoped that like her you'd grow to love your husband as she did your father."
"You think she loved Pa?"
"We're getting into tricky territory here, Scarlett. We're talking about things I'm not sure either of us have all the facts on. But, yes, from what I know of your mother and your father. She loved him. As much as she was able."
"I don't want to be like she was, Rhett. I don't want to go to my grave knowing that I lost the one man I truly loved. Unlike her, I do have a say in the matter."
"Yes, you do."
She turned then to face him, allowing her dress to fall to her feet now that he was no longer holding it in place for her.
"I want you, Rhett."
"Are you sure, Scarlett? I can't do it again. I can't go through the anguish, the hurtful words we never ceased to run out of towards the end."
"I'm sure, Rhett. I've never been more sure of anything, and the fact you're here tells me you feel something akin to the same thing."
"Yes, I do. I admit I wanted to see how you handled yourself, presented yourself, the children. I wondered if you'd be brave enough to show up here. The fact that you are here, that you came to this man's home tells me that the woman I fell in love with. The Scarlett I know is still in there. I knew you wouldn't like coming here, but the Scarlett I fell in love with wouldn't have cowered, wouldn't have let him know his words stung. The Scarlett I know and love would want him to see she had survived despite his ill wishes."
Tears flowed again. So many had fallen near this man. Some were caused by him, some she caused herself, and some neither had any part of causing.
"You love me?"
"You know I did, Scarlett. You had to."
"I didn't. I was too stupid to see it. Until you were gone."
"You know now?"
"It's not something I should give you, that power to wield such an emotion over me. Over my heart."
"I know, and I appreciate it." She reached up to kiss him then, tentatively. She had never been one to initiate things between them. "That day you left, the day after."
"Yes, I remember."
She smiled then, realizing he probably thought she was about to chastise him. "I was so mad you left."
"Yes, because I woke up so happy and felt so good. For the first time in years. Ever maybe. You unlocked something in me that night, but then you left so I had to hide it again."
"You could have said something."
"And humiliate myself? Never."
"That O'Hara pride."
"It's a terrible curse."
"Oh, I don't know. As I said once, I think we've always been at cross-purposes to some extent. But now, it would seem that's not so anymore. I really didn't enjoy making love to just the shell of you, Scarlett. Had you told me that morning what you just admitted, I'm not sure I would have believed you to be honest."
She sighed softly, her eyes falling closed. What kind of woman was she that she made a man like Rhett doubt the fact it had always been him in their bed? She might have thought of Ashley, daydreamed of the man, but she knew that Charles and Frank had never awakened the feelings in her Rhett had. She doubted, even though she believed she loved him, that Ashley could either.
"Rhett," she whispered, not knowing what else to say. She began with the stickpin and proceeding from there until standing there in her chemise she had more clothes on than he did.
It was a new experience, being the aggressor. She was an assertive, confident, able, shrewd, and intelligent businesswoman but until today she had never thought about reaching out to her husband. Seducing a man.
It was much later when Luc knocked on the door announcing dinner. Scarlett didn't want to get up. She never knew lovemaking could be what she'd just shared with Rhett. When heart, soul, and body were all involved it made for the most intense experience. She had missed out on so much being an idiotic fool.
"I love you, Rhett," she whispered from her spot alongside him. She toyed with the scar at his midsection. Reminded of the hard life he'd led, the difficult path he'd taken to find her. To get to her. To make her life complete.
"It would seem that we've finally found something to agree on, Scarlett."
"Will you come back to Atlanta with us?"
"If you'll have me."
"Well, since we already started the process of making a baby, I'd say it would be necessary at this point."
He chuckled. "Indeed." His arm around her, he shifted her on top of him. "Let's be sure we do a very thorough job. We certainly don't want to think it was lack of effort on our part that failed to produce a child."
"A child from love. Whatever will we do with it, Rhett?"
"Love it, Scarlett. But with boundaries. If I learned anything from Bonnie, children don't need things. It doesn't make up for the important stuff that's lacking. Like love. Together, I think we can have a beautiful child that grows into a beautiful woman like her mother."
"Or handsome, charming as a snake and a cad like his father," Scarlett whispered, her breath hitched as she slid over his length.
"There is that option, yes. Though I'm not sure I like the idea of you thinking about snakes at a time like this."
"Oh? Why is that?"
"Mm, my dear, last I knew snakes were not stiff and hard as a rock."
"I'll take your word for it, Rhett."
"Finally, she bows to my wisdom." He stopped her from responding with a kiss. It was wonderful, echoing the intimate joining of their bodies.
"I think we should thank my aunt."
He chuckled. "Indeed, Scarlett. I think she would be very happy to see us now."
"Perhaps it was Mother and Pa at work. Any sooner we wouldn't have been of the mind to reconcile. Any later, we might have been past the point of willing to try again."
"We'll say a prayer to thank them." She raised herself off him and took him deep inside again. "Later," he hissed as she repeated the act. "Much, much later. I have better things to pray for right now."
Dinner with her grandfather could wait. And wait. And wait as far as Scarlett was concerned.