ROSEDALE IN APRIL
Rose DeWitt Bukater stared intently at the cards fanned out in the palm of her hand before inhaling a long drag of the cigarette resting between an index and middle finger. Three Kings and a pair of Aces! Hot damn…I’m hot tonight! Pursing full coral lips as if pondering world peace, cool jade eyes met those of her male opponents then finally slid to rest on Sergeant Tommy Ryan. It was now past midnight and the rowdy tavern was still as noisy and bustling as ever. After Rose had left the Captain to sleep off his drunk, she had eagerly descended the staircase for a much needed drink and smoke. Suddenly, the entire hazy room had sucked in their breathes and fell silent at her unexpected appearance. Of course, the Rebel enigma never ceased to cause a stir wherever she went. And damned if she didn’t like it!
Slamming the poker hand down on the table top, "Full house, boys! Now give me all your money!"
"Miss Rose…you cheated!" Tommy and a few of the others at the table vehemently whined and complained.
"Aw, she just got lucky, Sergeant Ryan. Women can’t play poker!" Sven scoffed in disbelief.
"Fiddle dee, Tommy, you blue-bellies are just a bunch of sore losers, that’s all! You boys are really gonna piss and moan when the Confederacy whips your asses!" Then holding up a hand as if to ward off the rebuttals and jeers, Rose relented. "But being the fair person that I am…how about double or nothing, Yanks?"
The Union soldiers seated around the table enthusiastically agreed with the charitable proposal, eager to recoup their devastating losses, yet simultaneously chuckling at the Rebel lady’s harmless jabs and barbs. With a cigarette dangling out the corner of her mouth, Rose began expertly shuffling the deck to the stunned surprise of all. It wasn’t a clumsy amateur’s shuffle but fancy card play worthy of a crafty riverboat gambler’s tricks. The cards appeared to magically fly through the air from one hand to the other as the corners of Rose’s lips barely curled upward at the corners. The shocked men sat in awe…and sudden dread. Tommy cast Sven a slanted amused grin as if to say, We’re gonna get our asses whipped all right!
"I believe I just opened my mouth and inserted the old hoof!" Chuckled Sven rubbing his neck as if to ease the tension.
"What? You boys think a first class girl can’t raise a little hell by having some fun?" Rose teasingly chided while winking at Marie’s beaming proud countenance.
"What the hell are you doing now?" Came a familiar snarl from the stairway.
"Well…well…well…if it isn’t Captain Sunshine! Sleep well? I see you found all your clothes…at least those we can see." Rose sarcastically reminded him with just a hint of hardness in her tone before draining the amber contents in the shot glass and exaggeratedly holding it up for a refill. Cocking her head to one side, she laughed under her breathe at the disheveled appearance of the irritated Captain and nonchalantly continued shuffling the deck of cards.
"I’m ready to go home, Rose. Let’s go." Jack surly demanded as he precariously swayed on the stairs trying to keep his balance.
"You go on, Captain. I’m not through having my fun, yet. Besides, I promised your men here a chance to win their money back!" Rose gave Marie and Tommy a smirk, confident that she was intentionally lighting yet another fire in the ill-humored Captain Dalton and purposefully began dealing out the cards completely ignoring his gruff demand.
Her only answer was to be unceremoniously jerked up by her arm and practically dragged like a pouting child out the swinging doors by a grumbling swearing Captain Jack.
Shaking his head in bemusement, and with a deep guffaw Tommy mused out loud, "That Rose knows just how to yank the Captain’s chain. I’ve known him all my life and there’s never been another woman that effects him like she does."
"I can believe that, Tommy. As I’ve always said, Rosa is definitely a pistol…and your Captain Dalton is going to have a hell of a time handling her! But then again, I believe Rosa has met her match in your Captain!" Marie cackled in agreement.
"I totally agree, Marie. When those two are together, sparks are sure to fly to high heaven! Loving and fighting seem to go hand in hand where those two are concerned!"
"It’s never boring…that’s for sure! You know, I just never could picture Rosa married to that pompous ass Major Henley…but the Captain…"
"Well, Jack made damn sure of that!" Tommy suddenly fell quiet at his hapless slip of the tongue, positive he had spilled the beans about his best friend’s maiming the hated Major before Marie curiously pierced him with inquisitive then enlightened dawning eyes.
"Never mind…forget you ever heard that, Marie. Besides, it’s a long story."
Bending over the slightly tipsy Sergeant’s shoulder, Marie touched her tongue to Tommy’s ear before huskily murmuring, "Well, I’ve got all night and would so love to hear a fascinating bedtime story."
"But…oh hell, can you keep a secret till the day you die?" Tommy slightly slurred his words.
"Let’s put in this way, sweetie. I’d never do anything to jeopardize the lives of people I care for or those they might care about. And that certainly includes my cousin and you." Truthfully, Marie meant every word she uttered because honesty was the one thing in her life that stayed constant. And for some inexplicable reason, Tommy believed her as he led the way upstairs to the Diamond Room.
Meanwhile, Rose already had the Duke hitched up to Marie’s borrowed landau with the Captain’s roan tied to the back. Straining and tugging and after a few embarrassing stumbles, but with Rose’s assistance, Jack finally managed to collapse into the carriage before easing his splitting head back across the seat. Closing his eyes and expelling a deep groan, there was already a stab of intense pain between his temples and with each bone-jolting bump along the dark misty road, Jack winced. Of course, Rose was well aware of his obvious hangover and was unsympathetic to say the least. Inwardly musing, Well you deserve it…and more, damn, dirty Yankee!
As Rose silently cast the Captain a sideways glance, she nervously chewed her bottom lip pondering how to put the next vital question to the inscrutable man. To be tactful…or blunt? What the hell…just go for it, Rose and think about it later, so she carelessly shrugged.
"Captain…was Meesha good in bed?" Rose snidely commented.
Squinting one eye open, Jack gave her a mere glimpse and then completely ignored the question.
"Well…was she?" Rose jealously persisted with a jeer.
"Rose, just keep this carriage on the road and don’t talk. You’re giving me a headache!"
"I’m giving you a headache? Umpf…and I guess I also gave you h…"
Interrupting her vulgar comeback, "That’s enough, Rose. Just drive. We can talk later." Jack darkly threatened fighting the nausea rising into his throat and the effort that it took to talk at all for the intense knife blade of pain slicing through his throbbing brain.
With her lips curled into a self-satisfied smirk, Rose shook the reigns out careening down the narrow twisting path intentionally hitting every pot hole possible as the Captain viciously cursed and bounced. After she had punished him long enough, she mercifully slowed the horse to a smooth canter until the Captain had stopped groaning in discomfort and gradually his mouth hung wide open in a deep snoring sleep. However, she soon grew bored by the interminable silence, therefore not able to help herself, "Captain! Captain Dalton…you better wake up and close that mouth or a bug is gonna fly down your throat!"
Jarring Jack back into semi-consciousness, he agonizingly grabbed his head and grimaced. "Thanks for your concern, Rose. You really show it with your devil-may-care attitude and your crazy driving skills!"
Laughing under her breathe, "Go back to sleep, Captain. We still have a long way to go and I promise to be civil for the rest of the trip anyway. And I never break a promise." Staring askance she prodded, "Which reminds me, are your promises as good as gold, Captain Dalton?"
"Please, Rose. I’m not in the mood for your prattling chit chat." Jack sickly objected.
"Just a simply yes or no and I’ll hush for the rest of the way home. I promise."
"Yes." An exasperated Jack bit out.
"Really, you keep your word at all costs? Your promises are forever?" Rose gushed in surprise and elation.
"Let me remind you that you’re not keeping your promise, Rose. Now shut up! I answered your question, now let it lie! Shit!" Jerking his hat over an angry face and crossing his arms across his chest, Jack determinedly shut her out for the remainder of the journey home.
Nevertheless, Rose smartly saluted the Captain and grinned all the way to Rosedale. She wasn’t sure why she was in such a fantastic mellow mood…for Jack hadn’t actually promised her a damn thing. But he would, she mused, it was just a matter of time. And when she finally got that promise, it was nice to know that it would mean something and was taken very seriously….forever…promises meant forever. I like that, Captain Jack Dalton! Rose dreamily sighed.
Keeping with the Captain’s orders, the next day was a continuation of rest and relaxation mostly out of necessity due to the massive numbers of hangovers from the previous night of leisure and over indulgences. Several of the Union soldiers had been swimming in the lagoon and were now on their way back to their makeshift quarters. Captain Jack Dalton was standing on the verandah of the manor house leaning against a huge ivory column having a much needed smoke when he heard it.
"Tommy…Fabri…how’s the water out today?" Came the loud, piercing scream from the upstairs balcony directly overhead. Completely unaware that the Captain was directly underneath the gallery, Rose was so tempted by the possibility of a cool, refreshing swim that she wasn’t thinking clearly.
Jack didn’t know what made him cringe more. The unexpected shrill screech that still range sensitive to his pounding head or the all too familiar use of the Sergeant and Private’s first names. He couldn’t understand this abnormal desire he harbored to hear his name whispered from Rose’s lips. How would it sound? What did it really matter? It was just a friendly civil endearment…so why the big deal? And why did she refuse to use it? Because Jack desperately needed to hear her say it just once…so damnably much!
"Heavenly, Miss Rose! You must try it! It’s all clear now; we’re the last of the stragglers! Nobody else left so you can have some privacy!" bellowed Sergeant Ryan in answer.
Unbeknownst to Rose, Jack purposefully swaggered back to the hallway. He could hear her noisy scrambling up above in the master’s chambers like a busy little rat building a winter’s nest. Soft hurried pitter pats of footsteps, an enthusiastic opening and closing of dresser drawers, every little move, he adeptly overheard…and he waited. Leaning up against the wall, arms crossed over his chest, one knee bent with his boot heel propped on the door jamb, he calmly waited. Finally a door opened and shut and a vision in white appeared at the top of the sweeping massive staircase.
The first thing he noticed was the enticing bounce of her breasts as she skipped down the stairs…along with the shapely calves and ankles set off with heathen leather sandals. The snowy white wrap dress was cinched tight at the waist that struck her just below the knees. Rose’s long silky hair was pulled up on top of her head with pearl encrusted combs. Of course, luxurious auburn strands were already stubbornly falling down her back in defiance of being tamed in any semblance of order. That copper fire with a life of its own! She never failed to take his breathe away with her wild, radiant beauty…and to top if off, Rose’s unique way of shunning southern society’s dictates regarding the all too revealing wardrobe that she chose to wear. A woman with a mind of her own and she damned sure wasn’t afraid to use it! La femme fatale!
"Where do you think you’re going dressed like that?" Jack demanded a bit too gruffly.
"Well, I’m going for a swim, Captain Dalton, if you must know." Rose sweetly offered.
"In that? It’s too short!" As blue orbs smoldered in jealousy albeit rising passion.
"Truthfully, I don’t plan on wearing it in the water, Captain. If it’s any of your business."
"Then what do you plan on wearing…"
Interrupting his sentence, Rose temptingly unbelted the dress and held it out open to the sides exposing delicate ivory short underpants and an embroidered matching lace chemise. Jack’s eyes widened before his breath locked in his chest and a lump formed in his throat.
"Care to join me, Captain?" Rose saucily invited with a demure grin on her lips.
Swallowing hard, "I think I can be talked into it…it is beginning to get hot in here!" Jack leered as he deliberately let his eyes slowly roam over her immodestly garbed body.
With an amused giggle, Rose glided up to the Captain and whispered in his ear, "You go get your things and I’ll pack us a picnic lunch. I’m sure we’ll be famished after a long, hard swim…yes?"
Before the ornate German-made grandfather clock in the hallway struck the half hour, Jack and Rose were giddily strolling down the path to the secluded pond hand in hand. Under the canopy of an ancient live oak, Tommy and Fabrizio admiringly watched the couple depart the plantation’s grounds.
"Captain Dalton is a lucky man, no?" Fabrizio dreamily sighed.
"He certainly is, Pup. But the hell of the matter is, he refuses to admit it."
"L’amour dis not logical, no?"
At the grassy banks of the serene inviting waters, Rose spread out a patchwork quilt before Jack sat the wicker picnic basket to the side. For some reason, Rose felt a hint of shyness intrude. Shrugging the uncharacteristic notion aside as if it were no more than an annoying insect, she untied the dress and slipped it from her creamy shoulders before it whispered in a heap to the ground. Casting the Captain a coy smile, she suddenly sliced through the water and swiftly swam out to the large ancient boulder in the center of the lagoon. Perching on top, she laid her head back to soak up the sun’s warm relaxing rays completely unaware of the angelic portrait that she made. After Jack finally caught his breathe and shucked his clothes, he agilely dove into the water eager to join her.
As he drank her up, he found himself thinking that Rose couldn’t have been more sexy or sultry if she was completely naked. The fine delicate wet material was now completely transparent and very little was left to the imagination. It reminded him of another time when she had shamelessly leaned over a hitching rail while two young Negro boys doused her with pails of water from an overhead tree limb. Shaking his wet tawny head at the explicit, stimulating reminder, he chuckled deep in his chest.
"What’s so amusing, Captain?" Rose wondered.
"Just a memory, mia." Jack reached up and twisted a drenched lock of auburn hair around his index finger. "I don’t have to tell you how delectable you look lying on that rock with your red hair all wet like this, resembling a silken web spread out around your shoulders." Jack’s throat turned dry, his skin hot despite the cool water lapping at his aroused body.
Blushing and not sure how to take such an obvious compliment, Rose changed the subject, "My real father, Rafael? He first saw my Mama sunbathing on this very rock seventeen years ago. Uncanny, isn’t it?" Rose reminisced while patting the rock as if to emphasize the same exact spot.
"If she was anything like you, she must have knocked him right off his heels." Jack hoarsely murmured.
"I’m not quite sure how you meant that, Captain Dalton. One can take that remark two entirely different ways!" Rose humorously laughed while Jack suddenly pushed himself upon the boulder to sit beside her grinning from ear to ear stark naked.
Deeming not to clarify his true meaning, Jack suddenly lifted the St. Mary’s medallion nestled in the valley of her generous breasts. His tanned knuckles grazed the soft alabaster flesh, and Rose abruptly flinched. Perhaps from the jolt of hot sparks searing her cool skin or from the recent tenderness that had developed there…she wasn’t quite sure. While it took the Captain by surprise, Rose prettily flushed and dropped her eyes from his probing gaze.
"This necklace…why do you wear it so much? Is it just your favorite or does it hold some kind of sentimental meaning?" Jack curiously queried while smoldering blue orbs stared intently into the lovely visage of the woman that had stolen his breathe…and his heart away.
"Both actually…it was a gift from my father to my mother. She wore it constantly and as a matter of fact, he gave it to me just a few days before you got here. It’s very special." Rose softly answered, gingerly placing her slender fingers on top of his, prompting Jack’s stomach to turn completely over while rendering him completely speechless. His thoughts were so jumbled, he couldn’t say a word.
"I knew you were coming, you know." Rose mysteriously hinted.
"You mean General Grant informed you beforehand? But I thought…"
"No, not in that way, Captain. Obviously, I received no letter of introduction from your General. What I meant was that my gypsy Grandmother foretold of you coming to Rosedale."
"Pray tell…you’ll have to explain that one." Jack skeptically asked with an arched brow yet intrigued just the same by her forthcoming explanation.
"That same night at the gypsy encampment when I found out about Rafael being my true father and he returned this necklace to me…Madame India Bouvier read her tarot cards and predicted a mysterious Yankee with moonstones was coming…for me." Rose softly whispered with a catch in her throat.
"What are moonstones?" Jack lightly chuckled while his insides tingled and the hair stood up on the back of his neck.
"Your eyes, Captain. Pearly, translucent, pale blue gems…feldspars, actually. The gypsies claim they hold ancient magical powers." Rose’s eyes burned directly into his.
"Oh really…and what kind of mystical powers do they possess?" Jack huskily probed as they were both held spellbound by the other.
Silence but for birds singing melodic songs of peace and grace. Trance like, as two hearts throbbed and twisted, the two lovers magnetically came together in spirit and in body. Lips slowly met and blended. It was a kiss rivaling all kisses. Tender, urgent, tasting, lingering…a kiss that went on and on…neither wanting it to end. It was a magical captivating kiss that tore down all barriers…all reservations…bared both seeking souls to the other. Kindred spirits uniting in harmony…bound by an eternal enraptured love.
Jack loved her right there in the water until tears formed in Rose’s limpid glowing eyes. He brought her the power that was Jack. She brought him the magic that was Rose. And as they both in unison reached the pinnacle of passion’s peak, their sighs of blissful ecstasy blasted through the April breezes matching the songs of all God’s heavenly creatures.
Neither said a word…none was necessary. Both content to just hold the other and touch. And when caressing was not enough any more, they made love yet again. Theirs was the romantic fairy tale of surging desires of the heart, the spirit, and the flesh. A man that burned to possess his Rose and a woman that dreamed of being her Captain’s one and only.
Sometime later, as Jack laid his head in Rose’s lap upon the quilt munching cold chicken salad sandwiches and drinking chilled tea, Rose nervously cleared her throat as she worriedly perused the bronzed half naked man that never ceased to make her heart swell with each tiny glimpse.
"Captain…you never answered my question last night." Rose hesitantly reminded him as her brow creased into a frown.
"Oh…and what question was that, mia. I don’t seem to remember much of that homebound ride from hell last night." A lop-sided lazy grin twitched at his sensuous kiss-swollen lips.
"Did you enjoy making love to Meesha?" There…she said it, yet not really sure that she wanted to hear the truth.
Blue crystals and green stars collided and fused. "Believe it or not, mia…I never made love to that woman. While she did try to please me in another way, my heart wasn’t in it for some reason." Jack guiltily reflected yet his gaze never faltered.
"I’m glad, Captain." Rose smiled as her ivory cheeks blushed with sudden color.
"Did you enjoy being touched and kissed by Fabrizio?" Jack unexpectedly rebutted as his jaw line tensely quivered from clamped teeth and his heart twisted painfully fearing the answer.
"Honestly, I wanted to like it. I even felt last night that I needed to like it. But…my heart wasn’t in it for some reason." Rose emphatically parroted.
"I’m glad, mia. So very, very glad." Jack throatily murmured as he reached up and pulled her kiss-bruised mouth down to his…sealing their unspoken love…forging their souls’ destinies forever.