Maria jumped at the sudden bang of the ballroom doors.

"Fraulein, in the future, you will kindly remember that there are certain rooms in this house which must not be disturbed."

"Yes, Captain."

He closed the ballroom doors firmly behind him, and stood, staring at her. She stared back at him, her eyes wide, a blush creeping up her cheeks. Georg took several steps closer to Maria, so that they were standing toe to toe, he looking down at her; she looking up into the eyes from which she could not tear her gaze.

"I'm sorry, I just thought..." her voice trailed off; she knew what he was going to say before he could utter the words.

"You needn't bother cleaning up, darling. That's what I pay the household staff to do." He looked her over once again; this time, he noticed she was no longer wearing the lovely pale green dress she'd had on at dinner but was now in her dressing gown with, he assumed, her nightgown underneath, though he saw no outward indication that that was so.

"I guess I'm just not used to not being your employee yet. After all, it has only been a month since you proposed." He took her in his arms, and she kissed his cheek.

"Maria, you never were supposed to be cleaning up the ballroom after the evening's festivities." He looked at her quizzically. "You haven't been doing that all along, have you?"

"Well, not exactly...only when I couldn't sleep." Georg smiled at her, and she shrugged, blushing and even deeper pink.

"I'm glad for that. Besides, I have a better idea in mind." He took her by the hand and led her to the antique courting chair that had found a home in the corner near the piano. It had been discovered in the attic, hidden amongst the other furnishings stored away after Agathe's death. Furnishings that had been returned to the ballroom since Maria's arrival earlier that summer. Georg didn't remember that specific piece ever being in the ballroom, or any room for that matter, but when Maria had seen it her face lit up, and his heart melted. She hadn't known what it was for, and when Liesl explained she again had blushed furiously. It was at that moment Georg decided to have it brought down and reupholstered. That was before he admitted he loved her, before he knew she loved him. What he had known was that his household, his family, and yes, even he himself, had been changed forever by this beautiful young woman; and if he could do something so simple as to place a chair she fancied in the house, then he'd do it.

It was newly covered in a rich, peacock blue velvet, the elaborately carved wood having been restored to its original, rich, mahogany tones. The colors played marvelously against the red and gilt walls of the ballroom, and in the soft lighting from the wall sconces the chair was partly hidden in shadow. He led her to the seat, and took his place on one side while she took the other.

"You see, my love, this chair you were so intrigued by is just like having a chaperone. But it can't listen to us, and it can't interrupt us. For the next little while, it will be you," he punctuated his sentence with a kiss on her cheek, "and me," he paused to kiss her other cheek, "in this lovely, empty room all alone." He nuzzled her cheek with his, and quickly his lips found hers. Georg ran his hands through her soft, golden hair, pulling his fiancee closer. Softly, he licked her lips, and Maria parted them, allowing him to deepen their kiss. She responded in turn, meeting the intensity of his passion with her own.

After a few blissful minutes, Georg pulled away to speak. "Oh, my love, I cannot wait until we can be alone and not have to be content with just a few stolen kisses." Maria rested her head on his shoulder, and he placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. She closed her eyes, relishing this time alone with Georg. With seven children, a full household staff, and now five chaperones in the house, any moment the two of them could find away from the ever-watchful eyes was precious.

"We're alone now." Maria turned her blue eyes up to his, her gaze wordlessly telling him of her desire to express their love more fully.

Georg felt the heat rising in his own body. "Mmmm, you shouldn't tempt me so, Fraulein. It is quite difficult to keep my hands off you as it is." He leaned over to kiss her neck, and Maria ran her hand through his thick, dark hair.

"Then don't," she whispered, "I'm yours, and I love you. A few touches..."

"I'm afraid I won't be able to stop. No, I know how important it is for you, for us, to wait, Maria. I don't want you to have any regrets, about anything. Even that. Especially that." Georg looked at her, not sure whether the expression on her face was disappointment or frustration. "My darling, no one ever wanted anything more than I want you. I need you to know that."

"I do, believe me, I do know that. It's just...I...oh, I just wish the wedding were tomorrow instead of two weeks from now!"

With that, Georg started to laugh. "As do I, my darling, as do I. But for right now, we'll have to content ourselves being together, here, while the rest of the house is asleep."

Before Maria could respond, his mouth found hers once again, this time more hungry and insistent. He brought one hand up through Maria's hair again. The other he let travel, first to her jaw, down her neck, across her shoulder, then down her chest, seeking the soft roundness hidden beneath her gown and robe. Caressing her through the fabric wasn't enough for him, though it was enough to elicit a sigh from Maria. Georg knew that sound; the sound of her desire and her pleasure, a sound that was meant for his ears only. It moved him, at the very core of his being. He never imagined that he would find love again, let alone a love so intense that just looking at her took his breath away.

Georg pulled at the neck of Maria's dressing gown, sliding it down off her shoulder; his fingers brushing her bare skin. Maria's own hands ran across her fiance's broad shoulders, coming to rest on his chest, inside his jacket. This time it was Georg who allowed a sound to escape his throat; a low, husky moan which called to Maria at a primal level.

"Oh, damn this chair! I can get closer to you when there are actual people watching our every move," Georg swore.

"Ha, I don't think so, darling. Even Max doesn't let you get this close to me," Maria laughed. Georg toyed with the buttons on her nightgown, and she playfully swatted his hand. "Now, Captain, what do you think you're doing there?"

"Making myself at home, Fraulein," he confessed, as he opened the three buttons on the bodice of her gown. He kissed her lips once more, as his hand crept inside the crisp, white gown dotted with blue flowers. It only took a moment before he found what he was looking for, and as he caressed Maria's breast he could feel her respond. She dropped her head back, reveling in his touch. An electric pulse ran through her, culminating in a warm sensation between her legs. She clutched at Georg's other hand, and whispered his name.

"Georg..." his name was barely audible, but fanned the flame of his physical need for her.

"Maria, my love...you have no idea what you do to me. Come on, I'll walk you to your room." His hope was that putting two doors and a long hallway between them might help him keep his head about him. Georg reluctantly broke away from her, stood, and held his hand out to help her up. Maria took his hand and headed out of the room, as he followed her to the large double doors.

As she reached for the doorknob, Georg pulled Maria to him. She backed up against the doors to the ballroom, Georg's hands holding her hips, his lips finding hers again. He pressed himself against her, and Maria moaned softly when she felt the physical indication of how much he desired her.

"Oh, darling, I had no idea. I'm...I..." she stammered, not knowing quite what to say, or do, or touch.

His lips moved to her cheek, her chin, her throat, and as he moved toward the neckline of her nightgown she laced her hands through his hair.

"No, don't say anything. I just want to feel you next to me." He clung to her, as if she were a life ring and he was adrift in the sea. Indeed, she had proven to be exactly that; the one who saved him from the ocean of his grief and despair.

They now were pressed together, every inch of them, from head to toe. Georg's face nuzzled into the soft curve of Maria's neck, inhaling deeply of her natural perfume. He slowly ran his hands from her hips to her back, moving from the soft inward curve of the small of her back to the equally soft curve of her bottom, where he let his hands move in slow circles. Maria instinctively moved her hips forward, as her own hands reached around Georg's waist and pulled him even closer.

They stood like that, completely still yet entwined with one another, for a moment that was both too long and ended too quickly. Georg was the first to move, exhaling deeply, lifting his head to look deeply into the eyes of the woman he loved so much.

"I'm sorry, Maria, I shouldn't have let things get that far." He was silenced by her finger to his lips, as she shook her head gently.

"No, no apologies. I could have stopped you, but I didn't want you to stop. I love you, Georg, and I am ready for us to be able to express it that way," She smiled, and added, "and now I realize why we need those chaperones."

"Well, perhaps we should put at least one of them on night watch?" He smiled back at her, then kissed her forehead. Opening the door, they walked arm in arm toward the stairs.

"But I do think I'll have that chair moved upstairs to our room after the wedding."

THE END