I wrote this story to fit in between two paragraphs of the real Maria Von Trapp's book. The italicized sections are directly quoted from The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Trapp. Three details those who haven't read the book should know before reading to clarify a few details: 1) Maria had been assigned to work for the Von Trapps for a year, and at this point in the story her year was almost finished. 2) Baroness Elsa Schraeder = Princess Yvonne. 3) The Captain was never cold or mean to his children, and so he and Maria never had a big fight - they always got along well from the start, and he was kind to her from the start.

The story begins here: Maria has just been told by the Reverend Mother that, after considering the matter in prayer, she believes it is the Will of God that Maria return to the villa and marry the Captain, thereby taking away Maria's dream of being a nun.

Please enjoy and review!

Slowly I wound my way home. It was a moonless night, and when I walked along the river, which I could not see, but only hear, the words of the psalm came to my mind: "The dark waters of the bitterness of exile threatened to drown me."

The children must be in bed by now, I thought, when I opened the big house door as quietly as possible to slip in unnoticed. But there stood the Captain.

"Well, and…" was all he said.

Timidly I went over; and all of a sudden there came all the tears I hadn't found before.

"Th-they s-s-said I have to m-m-m-marry you-u!"

Without a word he opened his arms wide. And, what else could I do – with a wrenching sob I buried my face on his shoulder…

…His arms were now wrapped tightly around me, holding me to him so that I could easily rest against him. I didn't resist, and I didn't want to. All I wanted to do was let out the river of tears that was now flowing out of me. My sobs racked through my body, and felt like explosions that scarred my insides, especially my heart and my soul. My hands grasped the lapels of his jacket, holding them tightly as I sobbed into his shoulder, as if he were a life raft in a storm. I let all of my anger, all of my bitterness, my sense of betrayal and hurt at God, out of my system.

Eventually, I was able to calm down, and my sobs subsided as my breathing evened out; I think his hands, which were rubbing my back in soothing motions, were a great help to that. As my breathing evened out, my senses became more sharply defined, and I became more aware of just how close I was to the Captain. I'd never been so close to a man before, and vaguely I wondered if it always felt like this; somehow I doubted it. He was warm, so very warm, and I felt warm in his embrace. I could vaguely hear and feel his steady heartbeat, and felt the rise and fall of his chest as he breathed. His scent was so unfamiliar, but very nice, a mixture of some kind of aftershave and what could only be his natural masculine scent. All of these sensations almost overwhelmed me, but I wasn't frightened at all.

When my breathing was back to normal, the Captain let one of his arms fall to his side and guided me to the kitchen. Feeling dazed and drained, I again offered no resistance. I leaned against his side, glad that one arm held me to him tightly in support. Once in the dimly lit room, the Captain led me to the kitchen table and helped me sit down in a chair. "I'll get you some water," he said softly before turning to the counter.

The kitchen was silent except for the sound of running water at the faucet for a while; he chose not to talk and I could think of no words to say. My cheeks felt as if they were on fire; I'd never felt more embarrassed. Never before in my life had I ever cried in front of anyone.I mean, obviously my mother must have when I had been a baby, but I couldn't remember that and babies are supposed to cry.

Why had it been so easy to be so vulnerable in front of him? Why had just the mere sight of him, the mere sound of his voice, been the final tiny stones that started the avalanche? Because facing him in reality made my entire situation real: I will never be a nun. The dream I wanted to be mine so much for so long can never be.

I thanked God for showing at least a little mercy by not providing me with any more tears to cry in front of the Captain.

Hearing the sound of the faucet quiet brought me out of my thoughts and back into the dark kitchen. The Captain walked back to the table and set down the full glass in front of me as he sat in the chair opposite mine.

"Thank you," I whispered; my voice was hoarse from crying. I took the glass eagerly and drank in long, slow sips, imagining that the water soaked into my vocal chords and the muscles of my throat, rehydrating them, soothing them, making them strong again. My current state didn't let me know if it really worked or not.

When I put the glass back down onto the table, I looked at the Captain. It was a little difficult to make out his features clearly in the sparse lighting of the kitchen, but I could see he was looking at me. "Do you want any more?" he asked, and his tone told me how his expression must be: concerned and cautious.

I shook my head in response, even though my throat still felt a little dry.

The Captain then set his elbows on his knees, leaned forward and hung his head. He didn't look at me. It seemed as if some great, invisible weight had been put on his shoulders. I suddenly felt very uncomfortable. I didn't know what to say, for I didn't know if he would speak or what he was feeling. I was also still very embarrassed by the way I had broken down and held onto him; what must he think of me? I wanted to quietly get up and walk upstairs to my room, but my entire lower body felt as heavy as stone.

Wanting to break the tense and heavy silence, I said the only words I could think of that matched my feelings, "I'm sorry for acting like that, I…I know it's terribly undignified."

The Captain still said nothing, but shook his head a bit. I started to become concerned: what was he thinking about? Was he disappointed in me? Why should he be upset? He was not the one who had his dream taken away from him. "Captain, sir…is something wrong?"

The Captain was still silent, but he got up from his chair and began to pace, his hands clasped behind his back and his head still bent low. I felt suddenly nervous, for I had no idea what he was thinking, what he was feeling, but it obviously could not be good. Finally, he stopped and looked at me. Though it was dark, I could see his eyes. "I can't do this."

His voice sounded as harsh as mine was. I became even more confused. "Can't…what?"

"I can't marry you if it causes you this much sadness and heartbreak. Even for the children's sake, I couldn't…" He ran a hand over his face. "I can't deny that I hoped, I truly hoped…that you felt something for me, too…but I love you too much to do anything that would knowingly make you unhappy."

His speech stunned me, and for a moment I couldn't say anything. One phrase kept ringing over and over in my mind: I love you…I love you…I love you…It was one thing to hear the Princess tell me this was so, but quite another to hear him say it himself. It made my heart feel warm and light for a moment, but hearing him say it made me remember the conversation I'd had with the Princess Yvonne.

"No, you don't," I said softly, feeling sad at the truth of my words. "She said you only liked me because I'm good with the children, and…" My voice faded as I watched the Captain's expression turn to fearful surprise, and I realized the mistake I'd made. "I…I mean to say…"

But it was no use; he'd heard my slip and now came back to the kitchen table. Without taking his eyes from mine, he took the kitchen chair closest to me, turned it towards me and sat down. "Who, Maria? Who told you that?"

His gaze was powerful, and I knew that nothing but the truth he would believe. "The Princess," I whispered.

It was impossible for me to look away from him and his midnight blue gaze. When he spoke, his tone was quiet but strong, dripping with authority he'd most likely possessed in his navy days, but also a need for answers. "All right…start at the beginning: When did she speak to you and what exactly did she say?"

After I took a deep breath to gather some courage, I managed to say, "The afternoon she came, I was sitting at my desk working on lesson plans, and she came in asking to speak to me. The next thing she said was, 'Do you realize that the Captain is in love with you?' I shot out of my chair as if a rattlesnake had bitten me, and tried to tell her how impossible that was, but then she stated, matter-of-factly, that you told her so yourself."

I saw something flash in the Captain's eyes, and I realized that it was anger. I had never seen him angry before – pained, lonely, and sad, but never angry. I wanted to gasp but bit it back. But he did startle me when he said, his voice low and rumbling like a distant thunder, "I told her no such thing."

I flinched at his tone, and also at what he said. I felt unbidden tears fill my eyes again, and decided it was only my womanly pride (what little I had). "Well…like I said, sir, I tried to tell you such a thing was impossible –"

"No," said the Captain, holding up a hand to stop me. "I mean to say that I never told her how I feel about you; it's none of her damn business."

Though I cringed when I heard him curse, one thing stood out in my mind: He's still saying that he loves you. But now that I had started my story, I felt I had to finish it. So I spoke again, "Well, I resolved then and there to leave and return to the Abbey. This surprised her and tried to talk me out of it, reassuring me that you only felt affection for me because of my report with the children. Then she started talking about how she needed me to stay on for the children's sake; that I had to give them a little party on the day of the wedding because they wouldn't be there, that they would all be sent to boarding school, and she would…fix how wild I had made them…"

I felt my jaw trembling as I spoke, and tears burning my eyes. I quickly wiped them away, not wanting to embarrass myself in front of him again. When my vision was cleared, I saw the Captain's eyes shining with more anger than before, and his jaw set tight. When he saw me hesitating to continue, he blinked in an attempt to make his expression more neutral, though his jaw only loosened slightly, and said, "She lied to you, Maria. How would I not want my children to be a part of my wedding? And how could I send them all far away when I've already lost their mother?" He took a deep breath in order to calm the anger in his voice, and said, "I'm sorry, please continue."

I felt so relieved as he told me these truths, because the thought of him pushing his children away, when they had grown so close and happy, broke my heart. I continued my story: "Well, hearing all of that just made me want to leave even more. Again, she tried to persuade me to stay but I had made up my mind. She left me and I started to empty my drawers. But then. later that afternoon, she came back with her own priest and confessor, Father Gregory. He told me that all you felt for me was a fatherly affection, but if I left so abruptly as I wanted to, there was a danger that what you felt would turn into something more and that wouldn't be right. The only thing that made me stay was when he said that it was God's will…" My voice faded as I spoke the words that had, three times, decided my fate to be with this family.

I looked again at the Captain, who now looked contemplative and less angry, which relieved me. His right hand cupped his chin as he looked at me. "That explains why you became so distant with me after Yvonne came…I couldn't understand why you suddenly hated me."

"No!" I said abruptly, interrupting him. "I've never hated you! I just didn't know how to act around you anymore, or what to think. I remember when I asked you to become engaged soon…the way you looked at me and asked if that would really be a favor to me…I wanted nothing more than to run away…" I found the bravery to ask a question I realized that I very much wanted to know the answer to. "Why are you not engaged to the Princess anymore? What made you come home like that after only spending three weeks with her?"

The Captain dropped his hand from his chin and sighed, still looking at me. The sadness had returned to his eyes, and no trace of anger remained in them. "I went to Vienna with Yvonne with the resolution to become engaged to her. After all, this had been my plan for over a year, and you seemed to want nothing to do with me. What changed my mind was that letter you sent me after about three weeks," he finished, the sadness heightened as he mentioned my letter.

That letter…I cringed inwardly, as I had done ever since he came home, when I thought of that letter. When the Captain was in Vienna, I would send him daily little letters saying that the children were all right and there were no problems. About three weeks after he'd left, I realized that my return date to the convent was just a little over a month away. I had promised the Princess I would stay until she and the Captain were married, and I did not want my return date to the abbey to be postponed in any way; ever since the Princess had arrived and cornered me, all I had wanted to do every minute of each day was run back there. So, in my daily note, after the usual statements I asked when he would be engaged. In his reply, the Captain had written, "…I wish I could see your eyes when you read the announcement of my engagement." I had no idea why, but those words made me so angry. So I wrote my own reply in my fury: "My eyes are none of your business. I thought you were a man and kept your word. I am sorry, I was mistaken." No beginning or end; just those three sentences that dripped with my unjustified anger and my frustration.

In response to what he said, as I remembered the letter, all I could say was, "Oh."

He continued, "I was about to propose when her butler arrived with your letter. I read it…and I knew I couldn't do it. I realized then what I know now: even if I spend the rest of my life alone, I cannot marry someone…when I am in love with someone else."

Now I was truly stunned, and I was truly at a loss for words. I'd never felt so speechless in my life, nor had I ever felt so stunned. If lightning had struck right in front of me, I would not have been more shocked than I was in that moment. Perhaps it was the words he said, or perhaps it was the truly sincere tone of voice he used.

Georg continued to look at me sadly, his voice as well as his eyes becoming even sadder as he spoke. "When I came back, like you, I didn't know how to face you, what to tell you. Part of me wanted to beg you on my knees to give me a chance, to ask if there were any hope that you could grow to love me too, and to never leave. But I remembered where you came from, and that stopped me; also your note and the way you had acted with me before I left stopped me further. When the children came to me with their proposed solution of a proposal, I answered honestly: I would love to, but I had no idea if you even liked me. And when they came back saying that you loved me and wanted to marry me…I felt my heart lift as it hadn't in over four years. And then…well, safe to say you surprised me…What exactly did the children say to you, if you don't mind me asking?"

I still felt so stunned, so, for the first time, it was a real effort to find my voice. And when I spoke, my voice was hoarse, hollow, something I didn't even recognize. "Well…the maids and I were spring cleaning, and…I was standing on a ladder, cleaning a chandelier when the children came in…they said you didn't know whether I liked you at all…I was concentrating on not falling and the cleaning, and I replied a little absently while I washed, 'Why, of course I like him.' Then they ran out again without a word…All of that couldn't have taken more than ten seconds…They never mentioned anything about marriage…"

My voice faded again as I watched his eyes, his beautiful eyes fill with tears. The sight felt like a knife going straight through my chest, and I had the sudden impulse to reach out to him, but do what? Touch his face? Hold him like he had held me? But before I could wonder where these impulses came from, the Captain had gotten up from his chair and went across the kitchen to the counter. His back was to me, and his shoulders slumped again as he placed his hands on the counter. When he lifted a hand to wipe his eyes, I bit back a gasp. Was he as ashamed of tears as I was?

It seemed forever until he spoke again, and I could hear the tears he was trying so hard to destroy with gentle firmness. "No…I can't do this…I've said it before, I…as much as I want it, I can't force you to marry a man you don't love. Not even for the children's sake; after all, children grow up and leave and then we would be alone. If you want to be a nun, I will do whatever I can do to help you do that…I'll speak to the Reverend Mother, anyone at the abbey I can talk to…"

As he took a deep, shuddering breath, he blurred in my eyes because they were suddenly full to the brims with hot tears. My throat closed up so I couldn't speak even if I could find my voice. All I could do was hear him speak again, in the voice of a man who has given up his greatest dream. "You should get some sleep now, Fraulein. You've had a long day and two long walks. We'll sort this all out tomorrow."

With that, and without turning towards me or looking at me, he left the kitchen noiselessly and quickly. Now my tears fell, and I forced myself to get to my feet, using both the table and chair for support. My legs felt as shaky as those of a newborn colt's as I walked up the back staircase to my room. I wanted to scream. I wanted to be sick. I wanted to collapse. I wanted to cease to be.

Finally, when I was safe behind the closed door of my room, my mind seemed to be working again. Why do I feel so horrid? He's just told me that he will help me achieve my dream of being a nun. Surely that is a sign that the dream is not lost. I should be so happy! But I could feel no happiness. How could I when all I could see in my mind's eye were his beautiful eyes sad, in pain, and full of tears?

I sat on the edge of my bed, thinking I should change into my nightgown, that I should get into bed and try to sleep. But I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep, as tired as my feet felt and how heavy my head felt. I knew I would never be able to sleep until the storm that was raging through my head and heart calmed. But how?

Wiping my eyes, my vision cleared and fell on my bedside table. On top of my Bible was a book that the Captain had given me before he'd left for Vienna about housekeeping. He'd ask me to take over the duties of housekeeper while he was away, and given me the book to help me, for I knew next to nothing about running a villa. It had been a great help to me. Gingerly, I picked it up and looked at the cover:

The Golden Book for Housewives: A Guide Through the Year, Together with Five Hundred Recipes and One Thousand Advices.

I gasped as one word stood out clearer than all of the others: housewives. Wife…I dropped the book on the floor and fell back onto the bed, as a catharsis washed over me.

Looking back, I find words to describe this catharsis extremely difficult. All I know is that, when I sat back up, my mind had never been more clear. Words that the Reverend Mother had once spoken to me rang loudly in my mind: When the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.

Looking at my reflection in the mirror, I realized how blind, how selfish I'd been, what a beast I had been. All I could think about was myself, my own pain, my own betrayal by God…What betrayal? Even if God did not want me to be a nun, He had guided me to this place, to a family who had welcomed me and now wanted me to become a part of it, something I'd never had before. He had led me to seven beautiful, wonderful children whom I had grown to care for as my own, and who wanted me, me, for their mother. And He had led me to a man who had, from the very start, treated me with kindness and respect, whose patience with me was as strong as the foundation of my mountain, who always saw the good in me before the bad unlike so many others, who listened to me and spoke to me without looking down or patronizing…A man who was sacrificing his own happiness for what he thought was mine…A man I had just broken the heart of…A man who'd already suffered unbelievable heartbreak but was willing to love again, love me, and I had cried over marrying him while he held me!

Oh, Holy Mother, what have I done?!

And then it seemed that God himself put new life and energy back into my body. I practically ran out of my room and down the back stairs. The only thought now in my very clear mind was to find him, to see him again, although I had no idea what I was going to do when I did. My heart still had a storm raging inside that would not be quelled; I didn't know what would calm the storm, but I did know that the first step was seeing the Captain again.

The back stairs led me back into the deserted kitchen. I knew he wouldn't be there, but I could retrace his steps from there. I was so full of energy that I would have burst into his private rooms upstairs if that's where he had gone. I went out the door he had exited from, and soon found myself in the front hall. Only one door was open, and that led into a private hallway. Of the few doors there, all were closed, but from under one I saw firelight dancing on the floor. This was the door to the Captain's study. I had no thought of rudeness, so I went straight to the door and opened it.

I had been in this lovely room only once or twice before, and had liked it right away. I could see the Captain everywhere in what he called "his sanctuary": the volumes of books, antiques from abroad, the ornate fireplace, the rick Oriental rugs, his mahogany desk that was never clear of papers…But I had no eyes for the beautiful room right now; I only had eyes for the man who was standing at his window, looking like he had the burden of the world on his shoulders.

Upon hearing the door open, the Captain had turned quickly around, and when he saw me he looked completely surprised. I couldn't really blame him; looking back, I must have looked an absolute fright, with my tear-streak face and red eyes, but at the time I could only think of him – his face and eyes also reflected a sadness that had been released in tears.

The sight of this man caused my heart to fill and grow as it never had before; the sensation was almost painful in my chest. Softly, I closed the door behind me and timidly walked to him until I stood by his side. We faced each other. I didn't know what to do, and I begged God silently for help. He answered it by bringing back a memory from Christmas…

When I was about to leave the house for Midnight Mass, the Captain had come out of his room and, taking my hand in both of his, had said: "I always feared Christmas more than any other day. But this year you have made it very beautiful for us. Thank you." There was a warm light in the beautiful eyes which, for the first time since I had known him, did not look pained and restless…

How I longed to see those eyes like that again. The memory gave me my answer, and I knew I had to trust my heart and let it take the lead – even if I could not understand what it was saying to me so loudly.

So I took his big, warm hand in both of my smaller ones, and said, "I never wanted to hurt you. Please believe that. I only ever wanted you to be happy, with all of the blessings you have in your life – your home, your family, everything. I can never forgive myself for the pain my actions caused: being distant, that awful letter…I-I was just so frightened, so confused."

The Captain lowered his eyes to our joined hands, and he raised his free hand to rest over mine. When he spoke, his voice was still hoarse and sad, and it seemed difficult for him to speak. "I do believe you, Maria…but if you are telling me this out of only pity, then please –"

"No!" The word came out so forcefully, and I was surprised how much I meant it. The Captain raised his head quickly to look back in my eyes, just as surprised as I was. "I grew up an orphan, and all I ever got was pity from everyone; I would never say this if I only felt pity for you…"

"Then what do you feel, Maria?" he quietly pleaded, his eyes reflecting all that was in his heart, especially the hope he so wanted to believe in.

But I still could not understand what my heart was telling me; I couldn't find the words to put with this extraordinary feeling that had my heart so full. I had an idea of what it was, what I really hoped it was, but because of the life I had led devoid of it, I didn't feel right saying it unless I was absolutely sure. And I knew I wouldn't tell the Captain anything like this unless I was absolutely sure. But how can I find out?

God gave an answer to that also, and put the words right on my tongue and out of my mouth. Only God's Will could have made me say those words and only after I said them did I realize it was not only God's Will, but mine, too.

"Kiss me." He looked as shocked as I felt. He opened his mouth to speak, but I was faster. "Please. I need to know what I feel, and no one can help me but you."

Looking back, I realize why I said those words. All that I knew about love, especially of this kind, consisted of what I had read in books. I thought of Shakespeare, Schiller, Goethe, and all of the love stories I could remember. A kiss was always written as a symbol of that love, something extraordinary that signified a true love between a man and a woman.

Now I saw the hope flame in his eyes as it hadn't before; they seemed to beg me for something, and I was becoming more and more confident and hopeful that I could, indeed, give it to him.

The Captain took a step closer to me, so close I could feel his body heat. Then he lifted one of his hands to caress my cheek. His touch was so warm and gentle; no one had ever touched me like this. I couldn't help but lean into it a little. Then his thumb caressed my lips, and I felt my entire body shiver, but I was far from cold. My lips parted slightly under his touch, and my eyes closed as I sighed, just before the thumb disappeared.

And then I felt something else on my lips, something wonderful. Just like his hands, his lips were warm and firm, kissing me tenderly. From the moment his lips touched mine, I didn't think; my heart completely took over. For the first second, I stood stationary, and then my own lips responded. My hands rose of their own accord and rested on his shoulders, unconsciously strengthening our kiss. My action seemed to loosen something in both of us, for the next thing I knew he was kissing me desperately and my responses equaled his. I'd never felt anything like this before: my whole body felt on fire, and I felt as if I could melt into him.

When our lips finally parted for breath, his arms were around my back and my hands were in his thick, dark hair. Both of us were breathing heavily, and looking at each other in astonishment. "Maria…" he breathed, reflecting his surprise and fear.

When he said my name, my mind woke up, and it could suddenly translate all that my heart had been saying for months. It was like I was seeing him for the first time – I saw my world, and it was beautiful. My hands descended from his hair to his cheeks. I could only say four breathless, happy words, but it was more than enough:

"So this is love."

The beautiful eyes became even more beautiful as all of the pain disappeared and the hope there turned to joy…and love. At last I could see it for what it was. "Oh, Maria…" he said, his quiet voice filled with great emotion. There was still one insecurity in his eyes, and I really couldn't blame him, after everything that had happened and everything I'd done. His hold around me tightened a bit and he softly pleaded, "Please, say it again, and give me my name. I don't want this to be a dream."

I felt a smile spread across my face, realizing that not only did I have the power to make him happy, but that his happiness equaled mine. This really is love. However happy Juliet felt on that balcony can't compare to how happy I feel now. Wanting to leave him in no doubt about my newly-discovered feelings, I cupped his face with my trembling hands and said, my voice firm and clear, "I love you, Georg."

Upon hearing my words, the most radiant smile spread across his face, and his eyes lit up brightly. In the next moment, his lips were on mine again, and I welcomed them, drowning in the happiness we both shared. Although I had never kissed a man before now, I was surprised at how natural, how wonderful, it felt, and somehow I knew it wouldn't feel either if it were with any other man. My arms again wrapped around his neck, trusting him completely and more than willing for him to take the lead.

Just as our first kiss had started gentle and ended passionately, this second started passionately and ended gently. My face was flushed and I tried taking a deep breath. "I think I might faint…" I murmured.

The Captain – no, Georg – smiled at me and brought me closer for an embrace. "Then hold onto me."

"Oh, forever," I whispered, my hands gripping his lapels as my head rested against his chest. I could feel his heartbeat beneath my ear; the steady sound was wonderful. We stood like that for a long minute in comfortable silence. When I didn't feel as dizzy, I said softly, "I'm sorry it took me so long to learn the truth, and the pain you suffered for it."

"Shh," he said, kissing my head as his hands rubbed my back. "All that matters to me is now, the both of us here, together."

I nodded, feeling a little better. An insecurity came to mind, and I knew I could trust to voice it with him. "This is all so new to me…you will tell me if I make a mistake, or do anything wrong, won't you?"

He held me closer, and I snuggled against his chest. "Of course I will," he murmured into my ear. "But don't ever worry about that, and don't try to change yourself for me. I fell in love with you, exactly as you are."

Now his declaration brought tears to my eyes, because for the first time I heard it and truly, happily, believed it. "No one has ever done that before."

"I can't imagine how that can be, Maria, after all of the good you have brought into the lives of my children and myself."

"Someday I will tell you about my life before the abbey and you will understand," I said, lifting my head so I can look into his eyes. He only nodded, his eyes glowing with compassion.

"Maria," he said after a silent moment, raising a hand to caress my cheek, "I do not blame you at all for the way you were with me the past few months. I know how difficult it would be for you if you truly gave up your dream of being a nun. But I need to know that if you do truly want to be a part of this family, a part of me, that you wouldn't come to regret it."

I saw a vulnerability in his eyes, and though I understood why he said it, it still made me sad. I thought of how heartbroken I had been when I first realized I would never be a nun. Now…I only felt an echo of that sadness, the faintest echo. I answered him, choosing my words carefully but truthfully, "The abbey was my home, the first true home, I'd had for a long time. It may take me some time to let my sadness go, but I know now that I could never, ever regret being a part of this family, by your side. I realize now that loving you does not mean I love God any less." I took the hand that was caressing my face, and timidly kissed his fingers. "You and the children could help me by reminding me that it is not only God who is capable of loving me."

Now he kissed my fingers in return, his eyes never leaving mine. "I will make sure to remind you every day, at the very least." Still holding my hand, Georg lead me to his desk. I missed his warmth but said nothing. He let go of my hand to unlock one of the bottom drawers of his desk. "There is something I want you to have, Maria."

He straightened, holding a small, velvet box. He opened it and showed me what was inside. I gasped when I saw a beautiful necklace with a gold cross encrusted with tiny diamonds. "Oh, Capt–I mean, Georg, it's lovely!"

"I'm glad you like it," he said, taking it out of the box. "It belonged to my grandmother…May I?" He held up the necklace.

I nodded, speechless. Carefully, he put the necklace on and clasped the chain round my neck. I shivered pleasantly at the sensation of his fingers brushing my neck. Then he took both of my hands in his, easily encasing them, and looked into my eyes with a powerful gaze.

"Maria…will you marry me?"

The tone of his voice told me that he was addressing my heart, my mind, my soul. No longer was he asking through the children, so I would not answer through the decision of the nuns or God. He spoke from his heart to my heart only, and so that was how I answered.

"Yes, Georg…I will marry you."

I wanted to assure him that my answer came straight from my heart, which was full of love for him, so I went on my tiptoes and gently kissed his lips, hoping I was doing it right. I must have been, for he responded ardently, and then held me in his arms as he murmured, "Oh, my love…"

I thought I would drown in the glory of it all.

For a while, we remained quiet, as we snuggled on the sofa before the fire. Both of us knew that we had a lot of time ahead, time when we would talk about everything: how and when our love began and grew, our lives before they led to each other, plans for our future starting with our union. All of that could wait. For now, for tonight, after everything that had happened, all we wanted to do was be with each other, at peace, in love.

When midnight chimed, I could no longer stifle my yawns, and he noticed. So we got up from the couch, walked out of his study, and stopped at the top of the stairs, where our paths to our rooms separated. Both of us were tired, had been tired for a while, but only now did we feel we could fall asleep and be at peace.

The Captain and I kissed lingeringly but gently. "Goodnight, Maria," he whispered.

I smiled sleepily at him. "Good night, Georg."

One last loving look, one last caress of the hands, and we walked to our rooms. Before falling asleep, I said a prayer to God: "Dear Father, I'm sorry I doubted Your will and Your love; I know now that you have always been looking out for me. Thank You for leading me to this family, and for letting me be a part of it, to be the mother of these wonderful children. And thank You for bringing me love and being loved in return, and for healing his pain. Please help me be the best wife and mother I can be. Always will I look to You, O Lord."

I fell asleep with a full heart and a mind at peace.

The next day after breakfast their father told his children that they had been right; only if he married me I should have to stay forever. And for that reason he was going to marry me. It was touching and heartwarming to feel behind all the kissing and squeezing that followed, the genuine joy and relief of the children – my children.

Soon afterward the Captain left for a long journey which would keep him away until fall. He explained to me that he had to do this; otherwise, people would talk.

"Talk? About what?" I said.

"Well, about us."

"But why don't they talk now?" I wanted to know.

But the Captain was somewhat mysterious, and insisted that it was for the best. If he and I had only known how terribly busy many tongues had already been all these days.

"I shall come back two weeks before the wedding. Then you will go to Nonnberg, where we shall meet again on our wedding day." Then he added, almost passionately, "And then I shall never leave again."

And he was right.