Georg rose with the sun as he normally did, but instead of hopping out of bed and directly into the shower, he rolled onto his side toward his bride- to- be. She had turned to face him sometime during the night, but was now still asleep, her long, dark eyelashes resting on cheeks dusted with freckles, her soft, pink lips parted ever so slightly. He was sorely tempted to wake her with a kiss, but refrained, knowing how badly she needed her rest. He'd been a fool to not realize the toll the stress of their situation had been taking on her, and he silently offered a prayer of thanks that she and the baby were not harmed last night. As he moved to get up to begin the day, Maria's eyes fluttered open. She greeted him with a yawn, followed by a shy smile.

"Good morning, darling," he crooned, stroking her cheek with his index finger. She kissed it when he reached her lips.

"How long have you been in here?" she asked, her voice ragged with sleep.

"Almost all night, I think. The children come to you when they have nightmares, so I did too," he confessed with a bit of a pout.

Maria ran her fingers through his hair. "You should have woken me," she offered, sliding her hand past down the side of his face. He turned to kiss her palm as it passed his mouth.

"No, darling. You need your rest. Doctor's orders." Georg reluctantly rolled away from her and stood up. "I'll see to the children this morning. Go back to sleep." He kissed her softly before watching her roll back to a more comfortable position.

XxXxXx

After showering, shaving, and dressing, he made his way down to the kitchen, where the cook was preparing the morning meal. He asked for a tray to be prepared for Maria, which he planned to bring up himself after he made sure the children got off to school. On his way back out, he nearly collided with the housekeeper.

"Oh, Captain, I do apologize," Frau Schmidt uttered, surprised to see him in the kitchen.

"An apology isn't necessary," he replied.

"I'll get your coffee and newspaper right away, sir, it took a little longer than expected to wake the children." She lowered her voice. "I assumed after last evening that Fraulein Maria would be sleeping in this morning?"

"Yes, and I thank you for taking care of the children, I had been heading up to get them ready myself."

"My pleasure, sir. Are there any other special instructions I can give the staff for you?"

Georg thought for a moment. "Yes, please inform everyone that from now on, Maria has taken up residence in the master suite, and is to be treated as mistress of this house. I will be moving into the guest room across the hall until the wedding. Please have her things moved today."

"Yes, of course, sir." Frau Schmidt continued in to to the kitchen, as Georg headed to the dining room. The boys and Brigitta were seated, waiting for the others.

"Where are your sisters?" he asked.

Brigitta answered. "Liesl is helping Gretl and Marta, and Louisa is still in bed. Where is Fraulein Maria?"

He frowned. "Did she say why?" he asked, ignoring the question of Maria's whereabouts.

"I told her she would be late and she said she didn't care, she wasn't going to school." Georg could see his middle daughter trying to figure out why her older sister would say such a thing. He hoped to head off the questions he could see in her eyes.

"Don't worry about Louisa, I'll go take care of her. You children go ahead and eat when breakfast is served, so your food doesn't get cold." He turned and left the three of them behind to wonder what was going on.

Taking the stairs two at a time, he rapped his knuckles on the door to the bedroom Louisa shared with Brigitta. "Louisa? What's going on?" No answer from inside made him knock again, more loudly. "Louisa?" He tried the knob, but found the door was locked.

"Louisa! Open this door right now," he demanded, while trying to keep his voice steady and low.

At last a voice from inside the room. "No."

Georg could feel his blood pressure rising my multiple points at a time. "Louisa, open the door. You need to get dressed for school."

"No."

"Excuse me?" He was rapidly losing what patience he still had.

"I'm not going to school." Just as he was about to bang on the door for the third time, he heard the tumblers click and the door cracked open. He pushed his way inside to find Louisa perched on the edge of her bed, still in her nightclothes, her arms crossed defensively across her chest.

"Get dressed now, or you'll be late."

"I can't be late if I'm absent." The glint of defiance in her eyes did not go unnoticed.

You commanded an entire fleet of men, Georg, you can deal with one petulant teenage girl, he told himself. "Of course you are going to school. Get dressed."

"I'm not."

He entertained the thought that perhaps Elsa's suggestion of boarding school hadn't been such a bad one after all.

"Why not?"

"You know why." It was infuriating, the way she kept flashing her angry, steel gray eyes on him. He'd always suspected Louisa was the child most like him in temperament, and in this moment he hated being right.

"Stop with the nonsense, Louisa, and just tell me why you won't go to school." He waited for her to respond. Just when he thought she never would, she shouted out to him.

"Because it's too humiliating, Father. I told everyone they were wrong with what they were saying about you and Fraulein Maria, but they were right, and they will find out, and then everyone with think I'm a liar, or stupid, or…." the dam burst, and hot angry tears streamed down the thirteen year old's face. "It isn't fair!" She threw herself face down on the bed, sobbing.

Georg's heart broke for his daughter. This was the exact thing he and Maria had tried to protect against, and yet . . .

He had the sudden urge to use the name she'd called herself as a toddler. "Isa? Come here, sweetheart." He sat on the edge of the bed and patted Louisa's shoulder. Once her breathing evened out, Georg encouraged her to sit up beside him. He hugged her to him, and kissed the top of her head.

"I'm sorry this will be so rough on you. . . I'm sorry that the things the children at school made up turned out to be true. But as I said last night, that is not a reason to come and have the outburst you did. Hate is a very strong word…"

"Papa, I didn't mean it!" she cried. "I truly didn't, I just ... I just…" she left her thoughts hanging.

"I know, darling. And Maria knows, as well. But you still need to apologize. Now, get dressed, hmm?" Hearing her sniffles, he reached in his pocket and handed her his handkerchief. She took it, nodding her assent.

By the time Georg had gone down to get Maria's breakfast tray and bring it up to her, Liesl had been in to visit Maria and apologize for the night before. She quickly said goodbye to both Maria and her father, and dashed out of the room to gather her siblings for the walk to school.

As Georg was pouring Maria her tea, Louisa appeared in the doorway, looking uncomfortable and unsure of herself. Maria simply held her arms open to the girl. Louisa ran straight to her, allowing her governess to embrace her, as the teen hugged her in return. They stayed that way for a few long minutes, until Liesl called up that the rest of the children were leaving for school.

XxXxXx

The next several days Maria spent in bed as the doctor had ordered. With the wedding so close, however, everyone was very busy and there was no one to keep her company until Gretl would come home in the early afternoon. The little girl would join Maria on the bed, piles of story books with her, until her siblings arrived home much later.

After the third day of strictly following the doctor's orders, Maria had tired of reading aloud to Gretl and Marta, of reading silently to herself, of knitting, of looking out the window across the room. She had always been active and she was certain that being cooped up was going to raise her blood pressure more than moving would. The children had all gone off to bed, and Georg had yet to appear to wish her good night. Her muscles were sore from staying in bed, so she decided that a bubble bath was what she needed.

On her allowable trips to the washroom, Maria had noticed with great interest the enormous bathtub contained within. It was deeper and wider than any tub she'd ever seen before, and she could hardly wait as she sat on the wide, rolled edge and watched the taps fill it with steaming water, the rose scented soap she'd added turning to frothy, fragrant white foam as the water churned it around.

She slipped her naked form into the water, the aches and pains from the fall and then the enforced rest loosening and leaving her body. The scent of the bubbles filled the room. Maria leaned back, a small towel behind her head, and drifted into a semi-dream state.

Georg was in his study, finishing up some paperwork, when he heard the clock chime ten times. He hadn't realized the hour, and he was late going up to sit with Maria. He felt terrible that she had two more days to stay in bed. She had always been so physically active, even when standing still she seemed to almost vibrate with energy, and being on strict bedrest was a cruel penalty. He put away the work he'd been doing, turned off the light on the desk, and made his way up to his room. As had become his routine, he knocked but didn't wait for a reply before opening the door.

Upon entering and seeing the bed empty, his heart jumped up into his throat. Just a moment later, he noticed the light on, and the sound of quiet humming coming from the washroom.

He walked over and stood in the doorway, not wishing to disturb his love. Her eyes closed, her hands moving the water back and forth creating tiny ripples under the bubbles, humming a little tune he couldn't readily identify. For the first time, he noticed how her face had changed with the pregnancy-not simply the so-called 'glow', which Maria had always exuded, but a bit more angular, more womanly. She was simply more beautiful than ever.

Maria opened her eyes, having the odd feeling of someone watching her. Her gaze landed on Georg, and she gave him a small, contented smile. They held eye contact as Georg removed his jacket and tie, tossing them on a nearby chair, unbuttoned the top buttons of his shirt, and rolled up his sleeves.

He knelt next to the tub. taking a cloth from the edge and dipping it in the still-warm water. Maria sat up and leaned slightly forward, to allow Georg to rub the cloth across her shoulders. Slowly and silently, he used the flannel to gently massage her, first her back, then down each arm ending with a kiss on the inside of each wrist. Grabbing a towel from the rack, he stood, then held out a hand for Maria to use for balance as she rose from the water. He held the towel in front of her so that she could wrap it around herself, then knelt again and used a second towel to dry her legs for her.

"Come back to bed," he said, his voice rough with desire. Georg took her hand and led her back into the larger room. He left her briefly, checking the hallway before closing, and this time locking, the bedroom door. Maria had gotten a clean nightgown from the bureau where Frau Schmidt had placed her things, but Georg took it from her and set it on the foot of the bed. "Not yet."

Maria looked at him quizzically, and the storminess in his blue eyes answered the question she hadn't yet spoken. She sat on the edge of the bed, still wrapped in the soft, white towel, curious to see what he was going to do next. With some amusement, she watched as he fluffed the pillows and urged her to lay back on them, kicked off his shoes, and climbed up beside her.

Georg grabbed a lotion bottle from the bedside table, warmed a dollop of the lavender scented silky cream between his hands. and began to massage her, beginning with her feet, moving slowly up her legs. Maria's soft moans and sighs as he worked his way to her inner thighs, her voice taking on a deeper, huskier sound and he knew immediately the effect he was having on her. Finally he reached the sweet warmth between her legs, tenderly brushing his fingers against her entrance.

He was surprised when Maria grabbed his hand, pushing him inside; with her other hand pulling him by his shirt collar and joining his mouth with hers in a kiss so intense it took his breath away for a change. When she finally spoke, it was music to his ears.

"Make love to me, please, Georg," she sighed, her voice breaking with passion. "I can't wait any more."

They practically fought over removing her towel and his clothes, hands reaching for buttons and belt buckles getting tangled, quiet laughter mixing with the sound of their ardor. Once undressed, Georg lay in front of Maria, both on their sides, legs entwining as he slowly entered her. He moved lightly, grinding against and within her until they melted together in love's ultimate joy.