Georg led Maria through the gates of the villa, as they walked around the drive she stopped. He felt the gentle tug on his hand, and he turned toward her.

"Maria, are you all right?" A true and very real affection was obvious in his voice.

"I'm not sure. I want to go back in, but..." she looked at him, distress in her eyes.

Georg understood immediately. "Come on, we'll go in through the side. We can go up the back stairs from the kitchen. You won't have to see anyone." He lifted their still-joined hands and gave hers a soft kiss. She smiled at him, and squeezed his hand in return.

She walked with him around to the side, where he opened the door he'd run through just a little while before, and stood back so she could enter. Maria waited while he closed the door behind him. He spoke to her quietly, so no one would overhear.

"I'll walk you up to your room, so you can unpack your things." Maria climbed the stairs, Georg behind her. As they reached the upper floor, she began to feel dizzy. She didn't realize she was holding her breath, afraid of seeing the Baroness, until the walls began to spin as she started to faint.

The moment he saw Maria sway and then lean against the wall, Georg dropped her bag, and reached out to her, hoping to catch her should she fall. She stayed standing, but just barely, and he wrapped his arms around her.

"I'm sorry, sir, I just got a little lightheaded. Seems I forgot how to breathe for a moment," she smiled at him, embarrassed.

Georg pulled her to him, and kissed her temple. They stood for a moment in a quiet embrace. Keeping one arm around her shoulders while with the other hand he stroked her hair, he told her, "Maria, I think you can call me Georg, now. And I know it will be nearly impossible, but do try to relax. No one and nothing will upset you like this ever again. I promise you that." He placed a second kiss on her forehead, then picked up the bag and her guitar, and continued down the hall.

Seeing the party guests still milling around in the main hall downstairs, they walked the longer route, passing the doors to the second floor balcony. Fortunately, there was no one in the hall upstairs, and they arrived at Maria's room without incident. As Georg's hands were full with her things, Maria reached past him to open the door. As they attempted to enter the room at the same moment, they brushed against one another, fanning the flames of attraction that burned within each of them.

Georg set the bag and the case down just inside the door, then took her in his arms. 'Maria, I want you to tell me everything Elsa said to you." He was curious, yes; but if he was going to end things with Elsa he needed to be prepared. While he'd not been a target of Elsa's anger before, he knew that she could be difficult to deal with.

Maria recounted their conversation, and when she reached the point where Elsa had told her Georg ' "would get over it soon enough. Men do, you know." ' he began to see red. Without her saying the words, Elsa had told Maria that Georg only wanted her in his bed, and would toss her aside once he got bored. No wonder she was running away. He held Maria closer to him, rubbing her back to offer her the comfort only he could provide.

"I'm sorry I have to return downstairs, Maria. I'll send the guests home as quickly as I can, and settle things. Will you be all right here? I would rather not leave you, but under the circumstances-"

"I'm sure I'll be fine, Georg. I'll wait for you." Maria smiled at him, then put her hand on his shoulder for balance as she leaned up to kiss his cheek. She couldn't help admiring how very handsome he was, still dressed in his formal wear, with the Maria-Theresien cross at his neck. A fine man, and a brave one, too were the words the Reverend Mother had used to describe him, just before sending Maria to the villa. Now Maria knew how right she'd been. Georg took her face in both his hands, reassured her that he'd come to her as soon as he was able, kissed her tenderly, then reluctantly left her room. Maria quietly closed the door behind him.

She picked up the carpet bag, and removed the few items she'd packed in her haste to leave. Her bible and rosary went back to the bedside table, her journal to the small writing desk under the window. Her nightgown and robe were hung once again on the back of the bathroom door, a few items into the drawer beside the sink. The worn carpet bag now empty, Maria placed it back on the bottom shelf of the armoire. All of her dresses were hanging there, and she swept her hand over them, watching them sway on their hangers. Well, if she was going to wait for Georg to return, she might as well change her dress. She smiled at the memory of his disdain for this particular one she was wearing, and reached for the pale blue chiffon that was her favorite. Maria entertained the thought it may be his favorite, too-since the Baroness seemed to think it had captured Georg's attention the night she'd first worn it.

After splashing cool water on her face, and brushing her hair, Maria slipped on the dress. The evening was warm, but not terribly so, and the fabric was just the right weight. She perched on the edge of her bed, trying to relax as Georg had suggested. Ha! Her stomach twisted in knots, and there was no way that she would be able to sit still and wait. She walked over to the window which overlooked the circular drive and the gate to the villa. There was quite a bit activity below; it seemed that the party was at last coming to an end.

Maria picked up her bible, and settled into the chair beside the bed. She tried reading, but couldn't focus. She looked out of the window, the night was clear and the moon nearly full. Deciding that fresh air would do her some good, she left her room and headed for the doors to the balcony.

XxXxXxXx

Georg made his way down the stairs, his hand on Maria's note, which he'd tucked in the breast pocket of his tailcoat. If it was necessary, he'd confront Elsa. But first he wanted to see what she'd say. He wanted, needed, this to be a clean break. Numerous instances came to mind which should have opened his eyes before now. That Elsa never seemed interested in meeting his children. Never even wanted to come to Salzberg, until she thought it would result in a proposal. Though to be fair, he hadn't discouraged her from that idea. How she made excuses for friends and acquaintances that had sided with Nazi ideas. She even defended that horrible boy that was tossing pebbles at Liesl's window. Then the final straw of inviting not just sympathizers to Hitler's cause, but his stooge, Zeller, to his home.

Elsa saw Georg enter the hall immediately, and he watched as she seemed to drift across the floor to him in her gold lame gown with the ivory whatever-the-hell kind of fabric bunched over one shoulder. Earlier in the evening he'd told her she looked wonderful. Now with the vision of Maria still in his head, he thought the gown just seemed gaudy and vulgar.

"Georg, where did you disappear to? You missed dinner entirely, and the guests have been inquiring as to your whereabouts." Elsa looked at him suspiciously, already doubting whatever answer he was going to provide. "I've been quite concerned."

"We will talk about that later. For now, let's just end this extravaganza, shall we?" The Captain walked to the leader of the small ensemble providing the music, and instructed him to finish with one final song. Next he sought out Franz and Frau Schmidt, and asked them to bring the festivities to a close.

He took his place by the door, ready to bid his guests farewell, and the band's leader announced the last song of the evening. Elsa climbed the stairs and stood next to Georg.

"It really won't be necessary for you to stand here, Elsa. Why don't you mingle a bit longer with some of the visitors as they finish their drinks?" His voice was steady, his face stony.

Elsa, though she was none too pleased at being dismissed in such a manner, agreed. Recognizing that this was neither the time nor the place to discuss what was bothering Georg, she went back down the stairs, then out to the terrace, to let the remaining guests know the evening was drawing to a close.

XxXxXxXxXx

Maria stood on the balcony, breathing in the fresh, night air. She was more content than she'd been in weeks; ever since the night of the puppet show, really. That evening she'd known something had changed between herself and the Captain-Georg. It would certainly take some time to get used to calling him by his given name. Just the idea of it, of him, made her smile.

She thought of the glances they'd shared that night after the puppet show, when he'd finally been convinced to take the guitar and sing, the way he'd looked into her eyes. Then earlier this evening, when she'd felt sure that he was about to lean down and kiss her; she'd backed away, pretending she couldn't remember the rest of the folk dance. There were many moments in between those times, that now seemed far more significant than they had at the time. Shared glances across the table; smiles at something amusing one of the children said; hands brushing together fleetingly as they walked by the lake, going over the events of the day. She'd dreamed of this, of being with Georg, but never imagined that those dreams could come true. Maria looked out into the night sky, glittering with stars, and thanked God for finally showing her his plan for her life.

She didn't see the Baroness Schraeder watching her from the lower terrace.

XxXxXxXxXx

Elsa told the last of the guests that the party was winding down, and as she turned to head inside a movement from the balcony above caught her eye. She looked up to see the governess, leaning against the stone railing, staring up at the sky. Fraulein Maria. Why is she still here? She was packing when I left her! She should have been back at that blasted convent by now, even if she'd had to walk the entire way on foot. Elsa moved further back into the shadows, so she wouldn't be seen while she tried to collect her thoughts. That governess needs to go, now. Elsa headed for the balcony, intending on getting Maria to leave, once and for all.