Harold Hill hoped the story about his run-in with the Wells Fargo driver over shipping costs was the last lie he'd ever have to tell his wife.

He had gone to pick up a package on the morning of their wedding, but he had nowhere near the difficulty he described to Marian. The reason Harold took so long on his errand was that after receiving his parcel – the final item he had ordered for Marian's music room – the gravity of the situation fully hit him: Harold Hill, who had always gloried in his independence, was about to irrevocably tie his life to someone else's.

Instead of going straight home, Harold had set off on an aimless walk as he tried to sort out the disquieting thoughts whirling around in his head. It wasn't that he didn't love Marian, it was that – for the first time since he had decided to stay in River City for her sake – he wasn't certain he was doing the right thing.

Sure, Harold had cheerfully scrimped and saved and worked and planned for this day ever since that fateful night in July. But he also knew that a leopard couldn't just change its spots. For Harold, the thrill of a relationship had always been the chase. Of course, the culmination of the hunt was always enjoyable, but after things came to their inevitable conclusion, he had always lost interest and moved on to the next pursuit.

At four months and counting, Harold's "chase" after Marian had been the longest of his life. He wanted Marian more than he had ever wanted any woman, but he wondered if he would feel the same after their wedding night. Perhaps that was why, despite the opportunities that arose, he never took things too far with Marian. At the time, Harold thought he had held back out of a sense of duty to his beloved, but now he had the unpleasant suspicion that he had been motivated chiefly by a desire to stretch out the excitement for as long as he could.

And perhaps he was not so much in love with Marian as he thought – perhaps abject lust was a larger part of his feelings for her than he cared to admit. It wouldn't be right (and it still astonished him to think of how much he had changed, if he was worried about such things as right and wrong) to marry her if he was just going to lose interest as soon as they had consummated their union. Better to end things today than leave her the sadder-but-wiser girl tomorrow.

At some point in his musings, Harold became aware that he was standing on the footbridge and staring at his reflection in the creek. He had to laugh – while his mind was in a dither, his heart had been quietly making his decision for him. Right or wrong, there was no way he could ever give up Marian.

Maybe he wasn't making a mistake, after all. Nothing was certain – that's what made life so enjoyable and interesting in the first place! Professor Hill was just taking another exciting risk. And who knew? Perhaps he would be pleasantly surprised by the outcome. Bolstered by the return of his usual optimism and confidence, Harold set off for home.

And then, wouldn't you know it: God, or the universe, or whatever one wanted to call the mysterious cosmic forces that occasionally took pleasure in wreaking havoc in a man's life, had delivered Marian to him! Here it was, an hour before their wedding, and they were alone together in his house without a chaperone. And Marian had looked deliciously tousled. Harold was struck by the wicked idea that he could find out, right then and there, whether it was worth going through with the wedding. Ironically, it was this that most reassured him he truly loved her – he recoiled at such a repulsive thought.

But Harold reflected that even a man with a purer heart than he would have had difficulty resisting the temptation that had presented itself. A couple who was very much in love and found themselves alone together just before their wedding – it would have been all too easy for things to get carried away. Yet in her innocence, Marian still clung to him, not even realizing the danger they were in. When she kissed Harold, it had taken all his self-control not to respond – a Herculean task, indeed!

But perhaps it was fortunate that Marian had made this unexpected visit. As Harold comforted the woman he loved, he realized he had come too close to making the biggest mistake of his life. He had barely been able to contain his anger: What had he been thinking, mulling over the very notion he knew his beloved had always secretly dreaded, however valiantly she tried to hide her fears? Those damned pesky wedding-day jitters almost ruined everything!

Still, Harold was grateful for the little smack to his conscience. When he stood at the altar and exchanged vows with his dear librarian, there were no nasty, lingering doubts in the back of his mind. Marriage to Marian was a risk he would freely and gladly take. Even if his fervor dimmed, that would be okay, too. The two of them enjoyed a wonderful friendship, and they understood and respected each other. Not a bad foundation for a life-long partnership at all! And Harold resolved never to swerve in his efforts to make Marian happy. It was the least he could do for her, after everything she had done for him. If it required him to sacrifice a little excitement, then so be it.

And now, three weeks after they had married, Harold was just as enamored of his wife as he had been on their wedding day. During their first wonderful night together, he discovered that he had barely scratched the surface of his desire for Marian. Whenever he looked at his wife, he still felt the same excitement and anticipation. And since it was no longer accompanied by the constant frustration of unfulfilled longing, life had become much more pleasant. They no longer had to steal off to the footbridge for a few clandestine moments of romance – though they still occasionally liked to go there for sentimental reasons.

As his wife slept contentedly in his arms, Harold could also admit – as strange a concern as it was for a man of his experience – he had been a bit nervous that Marian would find their intimacy unsatisfying. But judging from the small, secret smile that often curved her kissable lips these days, they were having no trouble on that score.

As Harold gazed fondly at his wife, she stirred and awoke.

"Good morning," Marian said shyly when her eyes met his.

It amazed and charmed Harold that after three weeks of sharing a bed together, she still blushed to wake next to him. "Good morning, Mrs. Hill," he said in the low, velvety voice that never failed to mesmerize her.

But Marian only gave him a brief kiss before moving out of his embrace.

Harold caught her hand before she could get up. "Say, where are you going in such a rush on this cold and snowy Saturday morning?" he asked, disappointed.

"We promised to visit Mama for lunch today, remember?" she reminded him with an exasperated smile.

Harold glanced at the clock on his bedside table. "Well, that's not for an hour yet! Come back to bed, darling."

As he tugged insistently on her arm, Marian laughed and swatted at him with her free hand. "You're incorrigible, Harold! If we don't get up now, we'll be late!"

"I think your mother will understand," he said, pulling her back into his arms.

"And we've shamefully neglected our Christmas chores and errands… " Marian went on. But she snuggled into his embrace.

"Then we should have waited until after Christmas to get married," Harold said playfully. Before she could retort, he leaned in and gave her a long, slow kiss. "Now, what's that you were saying, my dear little librarian?" he asked when their lips had parted.

"Saying?" Marian echoed, gazing dreamily at him.

Harold grinned and leaned in for another kiss.

XXX

And they lived happily ever after! (And yes, they were late to lunch, but as Harold predicted, Mrs. Paroo was not at all annoyed. Oh, and if you haven't already, see the epilogue at the end of "Being in Love" for an additional glimpse into Harold and Marian's future.) Thanks again to my lovely reviewers and, to those who read without comment, I hope you enjoyed the story!