AN: Hello, dear readers! Surprise! I know, I know, it's been a shockingly long time between updates. All I can do is apologise to you profusely and hope that you forgive me enough to read this chapter.

My undying love and gratitude goes to every single one of you for reading and staying with this story. As always, this story owes everything to Maud and katherine-with-a-k, who have each written some of the very best stories I've ever read.

~ J x

Chapter Thirty Five

To Anne's surprise, she was met at the Carmody station later that evening by Diana Wright, whose hand was placed on her stomach in a way that made Anne realise her suspicions about her bosom friend's condition were right.

"Oh, it's so nice to have you home again," Di exclaimed as Anne was enveloped in her friend's fulsome embrace. "I asked Mrs Blythe if I could collect you because I just couldn't wait to tell you…"

Di took a small step back and she smiled happily as she smoothed her hands over her abdomen.

"Oh, Di," Anne whispered tenderly. "I'm so happy for you, darling. I hoped as much from your letters. Congratulations."

Anne hugged Diana again, a hug that spoke of all the joy she felt for her dearest friend. Yet she could not deny the small pang in her heart. Perhaps this dream would never come true for her?

Di settled herself into the waiting sleigh while Anne struggled with her case. She recalled how Gilbert had effortlessly carried her luggage onto the train at Kingsport. The fleeting touch as he said goodbye still burned upon her cheek.

"How is Fred?" Anne asked as she climbed into the sleigh and picked up the reins.

"He's so excited to be a father. He simply hasn't stopped fussing over me ever since we found out. I'm forbidden from climbing the step stool or churning the butter or cleaning out the hen house. Josie says he's becoming a perfect slave!"

"Well, he always did adore you, Di."

"I'm sure it's no different with you and Gilbert." Di nudged her. "I imagine he just loves looking after you, and your apartment in Kingsport sounds so cosy. Will you still be able to finish your B.A. if anything … happens?"

Di nudged her friend again, but Anne did not feel it. A picture of Gilbert seared into Anne's mind and her heart skipped a beat at its sweetness. He was cradling a tiny infant in his strong arms and smiling. Anne blinked and the vision blurred as she realised tears were welling in her eyes.

She knew she must tell Di the truth eventually, but now was not the time.

"The only baby I want to talk about right now is yours, Diana Wright. How are you feeling, darling?"

Diana needed little encouragement to talk about her pregnancy and was still chatting happily as the horse lead the sleigh down the Avenue. Anne's soul thrilled to be back in her beloved Avonlea, and she drank in the beauty around her as they drove home together under star-sown depths of wintry sky. Every snow-laden tree seemed to welcome her back, and the White Way of Delight lived up to its name, with little festoons of stars seeming tangled in its branches. The moon was rising behind Lover's Lane as they neared the Blythes' and a friendly silence settled over the two young women.

Anne sighed contentedly. It was so good to be home.

The contentment did not last, however. By the time Gilbert was due to arrive in Avonlea on the following Thursday evening, Anne was ready to jump out of her skin. She had spent the past few days at the Blythes' trying not to imagine her husband kissing Christine or gazing longingly into those alluring violet eyes. And yet...whenever she remembered the intensity of Gilbert's lingering glance on the train when she'd left Kingsport, a shivery warmth tingled over Anne's skin.

John had gone to collect Gilbert from the station, so Edie and Anne were preparing the supper together. The dining table was decorated with pine cones and a wreath that Anne had woven with red ribbons had been carefully placed in the centre.

"How was Marilla today?" Edie was trying to engage Anne in conversation, aware of the girl's nervousness.

"She's very well," Anne replied, remembering the warmth of Marilla's comforting hug as she wrapped her arms around her girl when she left Green Gables earlier that afternoon. "Oh, I forgot to say, we're all invited to Green Gables for supper on Boxing Day."

"That's very kind of her," Edie said. "Of course, we'd love to come. Rachel's mince pies are a pure treat."

"Gilbert loves them," Anne said with a smile.

"Does he?" Edie peered carefully at her daughter-in-law's face.

Anne nodded as she remembered a youthful Gilbert sitting at the Green Gables kitchen table that first winter after they'd become friends. Mrs Lynde was visiting and had brought a batch of her mince pies. Gilbert had turned to Anne with a wink and grinned impishly as he leaned forward and reached for yet another of Mrs Lynde's delicious tarts at that doughty lady's insistence.

"Is that your fifth pie?" Anne had been shocked at how much he'd eaten.

"Sixth," he replied with satisfaction as he nodded at Rachel. "Mrs Lynde's pies are award winning, you know, Anne."

Anne gasped as he took a huge bite of the pastry but Mrs Lynde watched him with delight.

"I do like to see my cooking being appreciated. Perhaps I'll bring some round for your family, Gilbert."

"So can I have another one, too?" Davy had extended his chubby hand out eagerly.

"You've had more than enough," Mrs Rachel declared.

"But I ain't had as much as Gilbert! You said you like to see your pies being 'preciated, and I sure do."

"Maybe we can share?" Gilbert had whispered conspiratorially before he noticed Marilla's stern frown. "Or … maybe not, Davy-boy. I tell you what, we'll go ice fishing tomorrow, will that make up for it?"

"Well," Davy pursed his lips as he considered this offer before giving an emphatic nod of his tousled head.

Even in those days, Davy had worshipped Gilbert. And Gilbert had been so good with him...

"At last," Mrs Blythe interrupted Anne's thoughts. "They're here!"

Anne dropped the pinecone she had been needlessly rearranging as she heard the pony's whinny. She smoothed down her skirt with a trembling hand and rushed to the front door.

She caught her breath at the sight of her husband as the Blythe's sleigh drew to a halt. With his thick overcoat, woollen scarf, and his hat pulled low over his eyes, she could barely see his face. Nevertheless, he seemed even more handsome than she remembered, and a warm shiver spread throughout her body.

Gilbert noticed her at once and his heart thudded at the cheery smile on his wife's beautiful face. God help him, how he'd missed her. Was it only a few days since she'd left Kingsport?

Anne had hastily wrapped a shawl over her dress, which was a pretty shade of blue-green overlaid with a delicate floral print. Gilbert had complimented his wife on the dress when she wore it to college the week before. It clung to her slender waist perfectly before flaring out into a daintily pleated ruffle skirt. The pointed toes of her boots were peeking out beneath and Anne's slim figure was framed by the light behind her. Gilbert drank in the vision before him as he strove to recover his powers of speech.

"Hello," his voice sounded husky as a smile curved his lips.

"Hello," Anne breathed as she stared at her husband.

She still couldn't see much of his face, save those glittering hazel eyes, which seemed to have a laser focus as they searched her face. Another shiver ran down her spine at his intense scrutiny and Anne pulled her shawl closer about her shoulders. The way he was looking at her made her feel almost naked.

Anne was immediately transported to that moment when he'd farewelled her on the train in Kingsport.

John glanced between them for a moment before he cleared his throat as he nudged his son.

"I'll fix up the pony, Gil. You get yourself inside and say hello to your mother. She'll be wantin' to see you."

"Yes, please come inside," Anne said. "You must be freezing."

"I think I got home just in time." Gilbert leapt from the sleigh and easily lifted his suitcase from the back. "It looks like there's more snow on the way."

"I'm glad you're here," Anne said before she could stop herself.

Gilbert was stomping the snow from his boots and didn't notice her flushed cheeks. Although she knew her husband likely would have preferred to spend the holidays with his sweetheart in Kingsport, Anne couldn't deny that her heart was racing at the sight of his broad shoulders as he bent to remove his boots.

"It's good to be back in Avonlea," Gilbert replied as he swept his hat off and unwound the scarf from about his neck. His teeth flashed in a broad grin as he called out cheerily. "Mother! We're home!"

Anne froze and her eyes widened in surprise. Gilbert was clean-shaven for the first time in many months, and she stared slack-jawed at the sight of his splendid chin and jaw.

"Oh, you shaved," she murmured, and of its own volition her fingertip moved to trace the strong line of his jaw.

Gilbert's skin tingled beneath the light touch and he watched as Anne's eyes turned that enticing shade of green before she withdrew her hand abruptly.

"Well, I did want to make a good impression to meet Professor Stuart," he mumbled, rubbing his chin self-consciously before a rueful grin spread across his face. "And Mother would no doubt give me a proper dressing down for looking unkempt in public."

What Gilbert didn't tell Anne was that he had enjoyed shaving in the little washing nook at Mount Desirée these past few days. The faint fragrance of his wife's perfume lingered there and although it made him acutely aware of her absence, he somehow felt a little closer to her.

When he grasped Anne's hand and stepped inside, the frisson from the touch of his gloved fingers took Anne by surprise. The gesture seemed so natural on his part, and he squeezed her fingers gently as he shut the door behind them. Anne's heart fluttered crazily in her chest as he pulled her into the kitchen with him.

"It smells good in here," Gilbert said as he wrapped his mother's tiny form in a bear hug. "I've never been so hungry in my life!"

"I've never known you not to be hungry," Edie admonished with a smile. "Anne's been cooking all your favourites."

Gilbert's eyes flickered briefly towards his wife over his mother's head. Although his wife cooked for him every day at Mount Desirée, it warmed his heart to know she was preparing family meals with his mother.

"Thank you, Anne," he said in a low tone.

"Now wash up quickly and supper will be ready for you in no time," Edie said.

Although her daughter-in-law had said very little about Gilbert, Edie had noticed Anne lingering in Gilbert's room on several occasions in the past few days. So, she had been watching their interaction with interest and thought that perhaps some of the frostiness between them had thawed over these past few months at Redmond.

It was a cheery meal and Gilbert was full of news from the past few days. Anne noticed he made no mention of Christine.

"Professor Stuart was most encouraging," he told them. "He's offered me the use of his library whenever I wish. It's one of the finest Classics collections in the country and will be invaluable to my studies for the Cooper. I plan to study there as often as I can."

"That's very generous of him, darling," Edie said. She had noticed Anne's face falling at this announcement, and wondered why this should upset the girl. "Anne, of course you'll enjoy using it, too."

"Oh - no, I wouldn't want to intrude at the Professor's home," Anne mumbled as she leapt to her feet. "I'll get the pudding."

As she rushed into the kitchen, Anne blinked at the tears pricking her eyes. She knew that studying at Professor Stuart's library was only a ruse to see Christine more often. Anne knew she was being foolish, and reminded herself that Gilbert had every right to see whomever he wished. She drew in a deep breath as she picked up the maple syrup pie and the jug of cream.

"Remember Marilla," she whispered to herself as she straightened and threw her shoulders back. "I can do this for her."

When Anne returned to the dining table with a bright smile on her face, Gilbert couldn't help but notice her breasts straining against the fabric of her bodice, trying not to stare at her cleavage as she bent to place the pudding on the table.

Anne's hip brushed against his arm and her fragrance enveloped him as she sat down beside her husband and Edie began to serve. Gilbert had to resist the urge to reach out, pull Anne roughly into his lap, and bury his face in her soft white breasts. Luckily his mother spoke before he acted on his lustful impulse.

"Anne said we're all invited to Green Gables for Boxing Day," Edie announced.

"Yes, and Diana's invited us to Lone Willow Farm for New Year's Eve," Anne said.

"We always spend New Year's Eve at home," John replied, smiling warmly at his wife. "But you young folk should go and have a good time."

More snow arrived before Christmas and every house in Avonlea was cocooned in its depths. Once upon a time Gilbert would have found it torturous to be stuck indoors for hours on end with Anne. But living in the close confines of Mount Desirée had hardened his resolve - along with everything else. And there were other benefits to the heavy snow, too. While all the residents of Avonlea remained indoors it meant there was no chance that Gilbert and Anne would need to face any busybodies - or worse, the Sloanes. Even the church was closed.

Nevertheless, all the Blythes were able to make their visit to Green Gables on Boxing Day, and the following Friday evening, Anne and Gilbert arrived at Lone Willow Farm just as the sun was setting and the white hills turned amethyst.

"The old year is going away beautifully," Anne sighed as they drew up to the Wrights' house.

Glancing sideways at his wife, Gilbert could only agree. Her face was upturned and her profile was perfectly framed by the soft pinks and greys of the sky overhead.

"Yes, beautiful," he murmured before he leapt from the buggy to help his wife down.

A beaming Diana was waiting for them on the front porch.

"Welcome!" she waved. "Fred's just getting some more firewood from the barn."

There was something so infectious about their hosts' mood, that any tension between Anne and Gilbert seemed to fall away and the hours bloomed into mirth. Gilbert found himself under his wife's spell as she laughed and chatted with their friends. It truly was just like old times, and he almost forgot about their complicated marriage.

Laughter and merriment filled the room as the two couples sat before the blazing fire enjoying the festive mood. Di was delighted to see the way Gilbert's eyes seemed to spark to life whenever he glanced at his wife, and she noticed how happily Anne joked with him as they sat close together on the sofa. Moreover, the way Anne's slender hand seemed to be always brushing his arm. Diana knew it was only a matter of time before the Blythes, too, made a happy announcement.

Anne was warmed by a wave of contentment as the evening progressed until she found herself pressed close to her husband's tall form. It felt good to relax and laugh for a change instead of always feeling that someone was waiting to catch them out. The stress she'd been feeling over Christine had all but gone.

Gilbert's heart was racing. His wife's light caresses all evening had been affecting his ability to think straight. Anne's arm was now pressed to his and the sound of her tinkling laughter sent shivers down his spine.

"Neither of you noticed the special decoration I arranged for you," Di said with a smile as she pointed to something above Anne and Gilbert who both looked up.

There, dangling from the ceiling, was a tiny sprig of mistletoe. Anne and Gilbert stared at it for a long moment, dumbfounded.

"Yes, you've spent long enough ignoring it," Fred continued jovially. "I had very strict instructions from my wife on its exact placement."

Slowly, Anne turned to her husband and her skin prickled with anticipation. Her lips parted slightly as she realised how close she was sitting to Gilbert.

Just then, the clock chimed midnight and Diana threw her arms around her husband's neck.

"Happy New Year!" she exclaimed as she kissed him passionately.

Fred returned his wife's kiss so enthusiastically that Anne and Gilbert didn't know where to look. Finally, the Wrights drew apart and Fred looked at their friends expectantly.

"Go on then," he urged. "Don't you want to wish your wife a happy new year, Gil?"

"Fred, why don't you help me in the kitchen for a moment?" Di said before she turned to her guests. "We'll be right back with some more eggnog."

Di stood up and grasped her husband's hand, then she dragged him into the kitchen with her.

Gilbert nodded imperceptibly before he turned to face Anne and raised his hand to cup her cheek gently. Anne's eyes were captured in that intense hazel gaze.

"Happy new year," he murmured.

Unable to speak, Anne watched as Gilbert drew closer until finally his lips were caressing hers. Anne's mouth parted beneath his and her head was spinning. She reached up to grasp his broad shoulders for support.

He'd only intended to give Anne a chaste kiss, but when Gilbert felt his wife's hands sliding to the nape of his neck, and he tasted her heavenly breath on his lips, he couldn't stop himself. Before he knew it, his arms were sliding around her waist and drawing her even closer to him. His tongue sought hers and suddenly the sweet kiss had ignited a burning volcano in his body as his mind was filled with a thousand images of what he wanted to do with her next.

Anne was aware of the throbbing pulse between her legs as their tongues met and she pressed herself brazenly against his broad chest. She could feel Gilbert's hot breath in her mouth and it seemed like her skin was on fire. Until the moment was interrupted by Diana's voice from the doorway.

"Oohhh, they're so in love," she whispered.

Fred cleared his throat and guffawed.

"Well, it certainly looks like a happy new year for us all," he chuckled. "I forgot you two lovebirds don't need any encouragement."

Gilbert abruptly drew his lips away as Fred's voice penetrated the haze of lust he was feeling. It was a long moment before Gilbert could recover himself and he realised that he'd lost control of his senses again. He stared into Anne's wide eyes, now turned a delicious shade of green and heaven help him, all he wanted to do was kiss her again.

"Oh," Anne's voice was a mere whisper as she gazed into his mesmerising hazel eyes.

Aware that their friends were watching, Gilbert reluctantly drew his hands away from Anne as he glanced sheepishly at Fred.

"Ah, I'm - that is, we're, uh —" he began.

"No need to explain," Fred put his hand up to stop Gilbert's sputtering as he turned to his wife. "We understand, don't we, darling?"

"Mmm," Di smiled and nodded as she took in Anne's flushed cheeks. "Perfectly."

Thanks so much for reading. I hope you will understand my reluctance to promise you when the next chapter will be posted, dear reader. But I can definitely promise, there will be more.

Love and kisses to you all from J xxx