Baroness Elsa Schrader stopped for a moment to catch her breath. It had been a week since the party she had talked Georg into throwing for her, and she finally had to take an honest look at several things.

The Georg von Trapp she had known as a friend for some time was not the same man who had been so graciously hosting her for weeks. Things had changed. He had changed.

During the times he had visited her in Vienna in recent months, he had accompanied her to all sorts of different events, seeming to enjoy her company, if not the parties and other social events themselves. She knew things like that didn't really interest him, and she also knew that he would not have hosted the party last week if she hadn't encouraged – no, pushed – him. It had been clear all along that he had little interest in putting up a front to impress others, which was what such events were all about, she admitted.

Elsa knew that, seeing Georg here in his own home, she was getting a different side of him. Also, the incident that had occurred the day she arrived had obviously made him more of a family man than he had appeared before. After Fraulein Maria had confronted him by the lake that day, he truly had an interest in his children and wanted to spend time with them whenever he was able.

Earlier, she had assumed that he would simply put his children in the care of their governess and then continue to accompany her to all the high-society events they had been attending thus far. But it was clear now that that was not to be, if it had ever been a possibility.

Elsa tried to remember when she had first met Georg. It seemed that they had been friends forever. He, Max, and Helmut, her late husband, had been childhood friends and had served in the navy together. When Agathe and Helmut were still alive, the four of them had socialized together with other couples occasionally. And then when Helmut's death came not long after Agathe's, she had run into Georg when he had been in Vienna on business, and they had begun seeing each other socially. It had really been a continuation of their ongoing friendship, and simply because they were longtime friends and moved in the same social circles, many people assumed the two of them made a good match and would soon be married.

She had been looking forward to having Georg as a travel companion and an escort to all the big parties, believing he would happily leave his children at home in the care of their governess and give them little thought when he was away. But as she recalled all she had seen in the weeks she had been his houseguest, she realized she was seeing a clear picture of the way Georg now chose to live his life. He wanted to be the hands-on father he hadn't been when he had been drowning in his grief over Agathe. And she doubted that he would care to do much traveling with her, or that she could ever get him to throw another party. He was still a gracious host to her and Max, but he clearly preferred to be at home with his children, not traveling or attending events that she loved, but that she knew he found boring.

What am I doing? she asked herself. She had obviously been pushing Georg to do things he normally wouldn't have, and she had been trying to force something to happen that she now realized never would. Maybe for some people, a long friendship was a good basis for a marriage, but not for Georg von Trapp, and not for her, either, she slowly realized. She knew he had married for love his first time, and if he ever married again, his second time would also be for love.

Elsa tried to ignore the slight tinge of guilt that she felt, remembering what she had said to Fraulein Maria the night of the party last week. She knew she should have kept her mouth shut, and that Georg would be flaming mad if he knew how she had meddled.

She had watched Georg and Maria over the weeks, noticing how they would sometimes exchange glances or smiles, and had wondered if something was brewing between them. But it hadn't really hit her until she watched them dancing the Landler together that night. She saw how overwhelmed both of them had been when the dance steps had taken them close to each other, so close that neither had been able to speak or to continue the dance.

At the time, all Elsa could think was that it was her party, and that the attraction between Fraulein Maria and Georg was going to ruin it. So when Max had invited Maria to join the party as his dinner partner, Elsa had seen her chance to salvage things. But Maria had fled back to the abbey that night, and ever since, Georg and the children had been moping listlessly, almost as if they were grieving again. And now that she was finally being honest with herself about Georg and her relationship with him, she realized how wrong she had been.

Elsa knew that there was no point in keeping on trying to force things to be right between her and Georg. They hadn't been right the entire time she had been staying at his home. She knew what she needed to do, and just had to think things through and decide how best to do it.

Max Detwiler was doing something he didn't normally do. Oh, he was sitting in Georg's house, eating and drinking, so all appeared normal enough. But he was watching two of his oldest and dearest friends, as well as seven youngsters he had known since they were babies, and knew that he had been wrong. Admitting such to himself was rare. However, the past week had been excruciating. Since Fraulein Maria had left the night of the party, it was as if Georg and the children were in mourning again. And Elsa had been out of sorts almost since they had arrived, weeks ago.

As much as he had pushed for Georg and Elsa to get together, he finally had to take a look at what was happening and see the truth. Though the two of them were dear friends, they were not in love with each other. And with the recent changes in Georg's attitude toward his children, they didn't even lead the same kind of lifestyle anymore. Georg was once again the family man he had been when Agathe was alive. Elsa enjoyed her world of parties and social occasions, and though she had made an effort to bond with the children, it hadn't worked. For Georg, at least, a dear friendship wouldn't be enough for a marriage, and their two different lifestyles would never mix.

What am I doing? Max asked himself. Maybe he needed to get his head out of the clouds and his nose out of other people's business for a change. If he were completely honest with himself, Max would have to admit that he had an ulterior motive in hoping to see his two dear friends marry. Sure, he thought they would make great companions for each other, or at least he had in the beginning. But he had also figured that, once married, Georg and Elsa would spend more time away than at home, and he could then work with the children and get them entered in the upcoming festival. Georg was adamant about not having his family sing in public, but if he was away, Max thought he could probably work things out for the children to have an exciting career in music.

Should he say anything to either of them about what he had observed? Max knew his own meddling had pushed Georg and Elsa together more than they probably would have been. And now it was so hard to watch two people he cared deeply for, knowing they really weren't happy.

Max had already tried to cheer the children up, but it hadn't worked. They all felt Maria's absence, and it was as if the light had gone out of their lives. Max hadn't mentioned this to anyone, but he strongly suspected that Elsa had done something the night of the party that had prompted Maria to leave. He might not ever know the truth, but all signs pointed to Elsa. Sitting back in his chair, Max sighed, determined to just keep watching for the time being.

Captain Georg von Trapp couldn't seem to collect his thoughts. With Elsa and Max as his houseguests, he had stayed busy trying to be a good host, but he finally retreated to his study just to think. What on earth was he doing?

He felt like his life was racing headlong toward disaster and that it was running him instead of the other way around. Where did I lose control? he wondered.

First, he took an honest look at his relationship with Elsa. Sure, they had been good friends for almost as long as he could remember. And when they had lost their spouses fairly close together, they had been able to share their grief and slowly regain some meaning in their lives. It had been nice, it had been fun, and he still saw her as a dear friend, but that was not enough of a basis for a good marriage, at least not for him.

Georg readily admitted that his own priorities had changed. The day he had come home to find that Fraulein Maria had introduced his children to fun, laughter, and music, and she hadn't been the least bit shy about telling him how he was failing as a father, something in him had shifted. Now, rather than keeping company with Elsa, he preferred to be at home with his children. It had been awkward at first, but he had persisted in getting to know them again. He was heartbroken when he thought of how he had pushed them away in his grief for Agathe, but he was determined to make up for lost time and truly be a family with them again.

He knew Elsa had been thinking of him as a good travel companion, imagining all the trips they would take together when they were married. And though he despised parties like the one she had talked him into hosting last week, he knew she enjoyed such events, and he had at one time been agreeable to accompanying her to them. But now he didn't think he could force himself to get through another one. He had hated every minute of the debacle at his house last week, except for hearing his children sing, and dancing with Fraulein Maria.

Fraulein Maria. He had tried not to even think about what had happened during their dance. At first, he had been just playing along when he had seen Maria trying to teach Kurt the Landler. It had been another way of reconnecting with his children, thinking he would show them how the dance was done. He had taken Maria's hand and easily stepped into the dance, remembering more than he had thought he would. It had been light-hearted fun, at least until the dance steps had brought him and Maria close to each other, so close that they couldn't avoid looking into each other's eyes, leaving them both breathless and unable to continue dancing.

Georg was still trying to figure out what had happened in that moment. Whatever it was, it had shaken him to his core. The young woman he had had little use for on her first day with his family had gradually become a friend and an ally, doing all she could to encourage him and the children to rebuild their relationship. Over the weeks, there had been times that the two of them would share glances and smiles, and though he hadn't realized it at first, her presence was warming his heart. He knew she truly loved his children, and he was finally having to face the fact that he truly loved her!

Though the note Maria had left for him last week had stated that she missed her life at the abbey too much, he was certain there was more to her leaving than that. She had shared with him and the children that she had been something of a misfit at the abbey, and wasn't entirely sure that life as a nun was right for her. Something had happened to send her away, he was sure, but he had no idea what. He was certain she had been as shaken as he had been when their dance steps had drawn them close together. Was that all it was? The Maria he had come to know never would have run away, even from something that overwhelming and confusing. After the dressing down she had given him in front of the lake that day, he knew she wasn't shy about standing up to anything or anyone. She was so honest and unafraid to speak her mind, definitely a breath of fresh air in his life of high society, dictated by restrictive rules of etiquette.

Georg realized that he had been nearly as despondent as the children had been after Maria had left. He knew he needed to try to get her to return to the villa for the children's sake. And he was slowly realizing that Maria was the only one who could fill the empty space in his own heart.

One thing at a time, Georg decided. First, he needed to have an honest talk with Elsa and put an end to their farce of a romance. He cared for her as a dear friend, but that was as far as it went, and he believed the same was true for her. And no matter how hard she tried, he was certain he would never again be able to force himself to attend another of those parties she enjoyed. Their lifestyles just did not match anymore, if they ever had.

Once he settled things with Elsa, then he would try to contact Maria and get to the bottom of what had sent her running. And he knew he would do everything in his power to get her to return. He and his children needed her, much more than any of them had realized until she left.

Maria Ranier looked around her small room at Nonnberg Abbey, a little shaken from the conversation she had just had with the Reverend Mother. The elderly nun had point-blank asked Maria if she was in love with Captain von Trapp, and had gone on to assure Maria that the love between a man and a woman was holy, too, and encouraged Maria to return to the von Trapp home.

It had been clear to Maria and most of the other nuns at Nonnberg for some time that she was simply not cut out for the kind of life they led. She was such a free spirit, so honest and expressive. The cloistered life of a nun just wasn't a good fit for her, as Sister Berthe had been insisting for a long time.

But did that mean that marriage and a family was the right path for her? Maria couldn't even think that far ahead. She had spent the past week in seclusion, praying as hard as she could, but still had no answers. She knew what the Reverend Mother thought she should do, but she just wasn't ready.

Was it time to give up her dream of being a nun? There were times she had wondered what she was doing, trying so hard to force herself to fit into the way of life at the abbey. While she had been a bit nervous about going into the outside world to serve as governess to the von Trapp children, once there, she had felt like she was finally in her element. Caring for the children, teaching them to sing, and even reminding their father that he needed to actually be a father to them had felt right. She hadn't had to force anything.

And she definitely hadn't forced whatever had happened between her and Captain von Trapp. Maria had very little experience with romantic relationships, outside of a few casual dates during her teen years, so she hadn't understood what was happening between her and the captain. She had been horrified at first at the way he had treated his children, but she had come to respect and admire his sincere efforts to reconnect with them. It still amazed her that he had actually listened to what she had said that day by the lake.

But the feelings she dealt with now went far beyond admiration and respect. She had noticed how her heart had warmed whenever he would smile at her, but at the time, she hadn't really thought much about it. Dancing the Landler with him the night of the party, though, had knocked her completely off balance.

Maria had enjoyed trying to teach Kurt what she could remember of the Landler. And when Captain von Trapp had stepped in to help her show Kurt the steps, she had been caught off guard, but played along. The dance was supposed to just be something fun to show the children, certainly nothing serious. Dancing in his arms had felt so natural. But when their dance steps had drawn them close together, Maria had been shocked. She was unable to avoid looking into the captain's eyes, and was left breathless by the intense feelings she saw there.

When Herr Detwiler had insisted that she join the party, she had been flustered even more, knowing she did not own anything appropriate to wear. Still, she had gone upstairs to her room to at least try to find something she could change into. But minutes later, she was startled by a knock at her door, and opened it to find Baroness Schrader.

At first, the woman had come across as simply wanting to help Maria choose an appropriate dress to wear. But as their conversation went on, Maria slowly began to realize that the baroness clearly didn't want her at the party. And once she had accused Maria and the captain of being in love with each other, Maria had cringed with embarrassment. Feeling even more uncomfortable, she knew she had to leave. She had quickly packed her few belongings, written a short note to the captain to explain that she was returning to the abbey, and darted out of the villa before she could embarrass herself further.

Maria knew she had acted impulsively that night. No doubt the children had been hurt when she had disappeared, and she also knew it was very unprofessional of her to walk out on the job she had taken. But all she could think about was getting out of there, and getting back to the abbey, where she felt safe.

It had only been a week since she had left, and she knew that sooner or later, she needed to try to make things right with the von Trapp family. She felt better after her conversation with the Reverend Mother, but still not ready to go back to the von Trapp home. She decided she would sleep on it tonight, pray a bit more, and decide how to handle things in the next few days.