Maria could tell she was sleeping in a strange position, but other than that, she felt warm and safe and surrounded by love. Slowly opening her eyes, she saw Georg asleep on the sofa next to her and smiled. It would have been all too easy to have believed that last night had been a dream, but the proof was right next to her, still holding her close to him.

Taking the opportunity to observe Georg, Maria gazed at his handsome face. He looked relaxed and peaceful, much the way she herself had felt upon awakening. Shifting slightly, she reached out and stroked his cheek. His lips curved into a small smile, bringing his dimples into view.

"Maria," he murmured, still asleep.

"Yes, darling. I think you'd better wake up. We fell asleep here in your study and it's almost daybreak now."

Georg's eyes cracked open. Focusing on Maria, he blinked a few times before sitting up straight. "You mean last night was real?"

Maria chuckled. Leaning over to kiss Georg, she whispered, "Very real! Good morning, my darling."

Georg enjoyed their kiss before pulling back to respond, "Good morning to you, too, my love. And it is a good morning when I can wake up holding you in my arms!"

Blushing slightly, Maria laughed again as Georg tightened his arms around her. "Yes, it's a good morning, but I don't think we need to be caught here by Max or the children."

Georg stretched his arms over his head and slowly stood. "You're right. Do you want to go up to your room and go back to sleep for awhile?"

Maria shook her head. "I slept beautifully in your arms last night and I feel completely rested. I'll go upstairs and shower and change and then be back down here for breakfast early for a change! I'd like to be in the dining room before the children come down so I can surprise them!"

Reaching for Maria's hand, Georg helped her to stand before kissing her again. "Sounds wonderful! They are going to be so excited!"

Knowing they had to go their separate ways to get ready for the day, they still didn't want to let go of each other. They walked upstairs together, and Georg gave Maria another lingering kiss as they stood outside the door to her room.

"See you at breakfast. I love you."

Breathless from the kiss they had shared, Maria still somehow managed to respond, "I love you, too, Georg. See you at breakfast."

An hour later, both Georg and Maria were showered and changed, Maria wearing the blue dress she knew Georg liked. She was a little on edge; though Georg had assured her that the children would be overjoyed to have her back, she was slightly uncertain. And how were they going to explain their new relationship, not only to the children, but also to Max?

Maria needn't have worried. Upon entering the dining room, she found both Georg and Max already seated at the table. When Georg stood and greeted Maria with a kiss and "good morning, darling," she knew he had obviously already explained things to Max.

Max gave her a knowing smile. "I knew you would be back. And early this morning I knew you were back. I just told Georg about seeing the two of you asleep in his study just before dawn."

Maria gasped, blushing. "You did?" She sounded almost horrified. Though she and Georg had both been fully clothed and had done nothing more than hold each other and sleep, the idea of them sleeping together before marriage still sounded immoral.

"Relax, darling," Georg rushed to assure her. It was clear that we were doing nothing but sleeping, and our secret is safe with Max!"

Georg pulled out the chair next to him for Maria. She took her seat, and then asked, "How have the little ones managed to get themselves ready in the mornings while I've been gone? I feel like I should go see if they need any help, but I really want to surprise them when they come in here."

"Liesl and Louisa have helped Marta and Gretl every morning. Brigitta and the boys are pretty well self-sufficient. You obviously taught them all a lot when you were here before." Georg smiled, thinking of how perfect Maria was, not just for him, but for his whole family. She had been exactly what all seven children had needed and still needed.

Maria beamed at his compliment. "Thank you, darling. They are such a joy!"

At that moment, they all heard loud footsteps on the stairs and children's voices coming closer. Kurt, Gretl, and Marta were the first to enter the dining room, followed by the other four.

"Fraulein Maria!" they yelled together and ran around the table to where Maria sat. Maria stood, and was promptly grabbed into a huge hug by almost all the children at once.

The children all started trying to talk to Maria at the same time.

"When did you come back?"

"Why did you leave?"

"Are you going to stay forever?" this from Gretl.

"We missed you!"

"I'm so glad you're back!"

"Please don't ever leave us again!"

Once she had hugged and kissed each child, Maria smiled as they all tried to shout over each other. "If you'll all sit down, I'll try to answer you." She laughed, loving their enthusiasm. She was so happy that she had been able to surprise them!

"I came back late last night," Maria answered. "As for why I left, it's a long story that I'll have to explain later. I missed all of you, too, and I'm very happy to be back! And as for how long I'll be staying," she turned to smile at Georg, "you'll have to ask your father."

"Can she stay forever, Father?" Gretl asked.

Georg smiled as he stood and looked around the table at his excited children. "Well, children, that depends somewhat on you. All of you know that Baroness Schrader left last night to go home to Vienna to stay, and that she and I will not be seeing each other anymore. However, if it's all right with all of you, I would like very much to court your dear Fraulein Maria." He took Maria's hand and kissed it, causing her to blush as they heard another round of excited gasps from the children.

"For real, Father?" Brigitta asked. "You mean…?" The young girl understood what her father was saying, but evidently wasn't quite sure how to express her question.

Georg saved her the trouble. "I know all of you love her, and I finally realized that I love her, too. We are not going to rush into anything and will just take things slowly. Your Uncle Max will stay on with us, too. The summer will soon come to an end, and I very much need Fraulein Maria's help to get all of you back in school when the time comes. And all of us, even with school starting, should have plenty of time to just enjoy being together."

Maria looked around the table at the beaming faces. She knew the little ones probably didn't quite get what was going on, but hopefully they would come to understand over the next several weeks. All they cared about was that their fraulein was back, and all was right in their world again.

Georg and Maria eventually got the excited children to calm down enough to eat breakfast. Both were reasonably sure that the children were going to monopolize Maria's time all day long, so as soon as breakfast was finished, Georg leaned over and quietly said to Max, "Keep them occupied for a few minutes, will you?"

Max nodded as Georg took Maria's hand and both stood up from their chairs. "Excuse us for a moment," Georg said as he led Maria from the dining room.

Inside the parlor, Georg pulled Maria into his arms for a deep, lingering kiss, which left her breathless.

"I was about to go crazy if I couldn't kiss you again," he admitted.

Maria chuckled as she tried to catch her breath and rested her head on his shoulder. They held each other for a few moments, not needing to say anything.

"I know they're going to want every minute of your time today," Georg finally said. "Which is why I thought we should steal a few minutes while we can."

Drawing back slightly so she could look into his eyes, Maria smiled. "Georg, I'm a bit torn, I'll have to admit. I would love nothing more than to spend all day with you, but I also want to spend it with the children. I have missed all of you so much!"

"It goes without saying that we missed you, too. Terribly. Go enjoy your day with them, and we can talk later. I love you."

"I love you, too, Georg. So very much!" They kissed again and parted. Maria headed back into the dining room to collect the children, and Georg went to his study.

Back in the dining room, Maria found all seven children still very excited. "How about a picnic today?" she asked, figuring they needed plenty of exercise to run off some of their excess energy.

The children responded with delighted cheers. Maria asked the cook and Frau Schmidt to put together a picnic basket for them, then suggested they should all change into play clothes since they would be spending the day outside. "Not the ones I made from the drapes, though," she added, laughing. She was certain that Georg would laugh now, too, if he saw them in those clothes again, but they all now had plenty of other play clothes and didn't need to use the ones she had made.

"Can Father come with us?" Gretl asked.

Maria would have loved nothing more than to have Georg join them for the day, but he had seemed determined to give her and the children this day to spend together.

"We can ask him," Maria answered, so before going upstairs to change clothes, they sought out Georg in his study.

His eyes lit up as he saw Maria and his children, so happy to be together again. "What are the plans for today?" he asked.

"A picnic," Maria responded. "The weather is so nice, and I thought a day of running and playing would be good for all of us."

"Will you come with us, Father?" Gretl asked.

Georg smiled at his youngest child. "I would love to, but I got very behind on a lot of my work last week, so I'm going to spend the day in here catching up. We will have many more opportunities to go on picnics together, so I will join you another time."

"We're going upstairs to change into our play clothes now," Marta added.

Georg couldn't stop the smirk that caused his mouth to twitch. Maria blushed and swallowed a giggle. "Not the ones I made from the drapes," she assured him. They all had a big laugh at that, and Georg grabbed Maria for another kiss before she and the children headed upstairs.

The day turned out to be perfect for a picnic. Maria took the children up into the mountains, where they played, sang, ate the lunch the cook and Frau Schmidt had packed for them, and tried to make up for the past week, when they had been apart. Liesl tried a time or two to quietly talk to Maria about Rolf, but it wasn't easy to get time alone with her, as all the others were wanting Maria's attention as well. Maria promised Liesl that the would have a longer, private conversation at home later on. Louisa, Brigitta, and the boys played ball, while Marta and Gretl, settled on the picnic blanket on either side of Maria, just happy to be with her again. Eventually, Maria took out her guitar and they sang some of the songs she had taught them earlier in the summer, then tried some new ones. All of them were tired but very happy when they headed back home late in the afternoon.

Georg and Max greeted the group when they arrived back at the villa. Maria's eyes locked with Georg's, and, not caring who was watching, she ran to him and threw her arms around him as he kissed her. As much as she had loved spending the day with the children, she had missed Georg terribly.

"If that's the kind of greeting I'm going to get, maybe I should send you away more often," Georg teased.

Maria blushed. "I missed you!"

"I missed you, too, darling, very much."

After dinner that evening, the tired children were happy to go upstairs and get ready for bed. Maria helped Marta and Gretl bathe and change into their nightgowns, then left the older ones to get ready for bed on their own. Georg came upstairs and helped her tuck the little ones into bed, and once Gretl and Marta were asleep and the older ones were ready for bed, Maria and Georg kissed them all goodnight and went back downstairs to Georg's study.

Snuggling together on the sofa, they simply enjoyed each other's company without saying anything for a few minutes. Maria was amazed at how naturally they seemed to do that; they were able to communicate so much to each other without saying a word.

Finally, Maria looked up at Georg and chuckled slightly. "They were all exhausted. I think I wore them out today."

Georg smiled at her. "And unless I'm wrong, they wore you out, too."

Maria laughed. "Yes, but it's a good kind of tired. We had a wonderful day. I hope next time you'll come with us."

"I will," Georg promised. "But I had a lot of work I needed to do, and I also knew they would want you to themselves for the day."

The next few weeks passed quickly and before any of them could realize it, it was time for school to start. Maria was glad she was there to help, since it seemed that all seven of them had challenges adjusting to the new school year. Georg was thankful she was there, too.

"I never would have managed all their issues by myself," he told Maria, a few days into the new school year. "I am so thankful you are here and that they all trust you so much!"

Maria squeezed his hand. "I am very happy to be here and am just as thankful that they all feel safe confiding in me. But you sell yourself short. I believe you would have done beautifully on your own."

"Do you seriously believe Liesl and Louisa would talk to me about boys?" Georg laughed.

"Well, probably not." Maria laughed along with him.

With the children back in school, Georg and Maria now had a lot of time to themselves during the weekdays. Max was always around, of course, but he knew when the couple needed time to themselves, as there was much they needed to discuss.

True to his word, Georg did not rush or pressure Maria into anything, but he was indeed very serious about intending to marry her at some point. For the time being, he just eased her into more of a role with the children than she had had before, and also had Frau Schmidt teach her a bit about how things were done in running the house.

And they spent a lot of time just holding each other and enjoying being together. Maria didn't ask Georg again where their relationship was going, as he made it clear daily with his affectionate attention to Maria and frequent declarations of love. She, too, eventually began to envision marrying Georg and spending the rest of their lives together.

One evening in late October, Georg called them all into the parlor after dinner. Maria got her guitar out and they sang a few songs. But before Maria put the guitar away, Georg, who had been sitting next to her on the sofa, got up and stood in front of her, then went down on one knee.

Taking Maria's hand, Georg began, "Maria, you have made me the happiest man in the world in recent weeks and months, and I love you more than I ever imagined was possible. Will you marry me?"

There was a collective gasp from the children, and though Maria had had an idea this was coming at some point, she was caught off guard. Still, she knew what her answer would be.

"Yes, Georg, I will marry you!"

They stood and kissed as the children cheered.

The next weeks and months were filled with wedding planning, and though it made things a bit rushed with the planning, Georg and Maria were married a few days after Christmas. Maria had especially wanted to marry during the Christmas season, as it was such a festive and special time of year.

The wedding was beautiful, with Max as Georg's Best Man, Liesl as Maria's Maid of Honor, and Gretl and Marta as the flower girls. Maria was a beautiful bride, and Georg was breathtakingly handsome in his naval uniform. After a reception during which the bride and groom were finally able to complete the Landler dance they never got to finish all those months ago, Max took the children home, and Georg and Maria left on a month-long honeymoon.

A couple of weeks into their honeymoon, Maria silently watched her husband as he was sleeping. Though they had learned a lot about each other during the time they were courting, they were still learning new things about each other every day.

After that first night, when they had fallen asleep in each other's arms in Georg's study, Maria had loved the way Georg had smiled at her the next morning when she had touched his face. Now, she knew, that was his normal reaction anytime she touched him when he was sleeping. She loved his smile and seeing his dimples appear.

Another habit of Georg's that Maria loved was his total inability to sleep if he didn't have his arms around her. And yet another was that he wouldn't even walk into the next room without telling her he loved her. Thinking back to her first day at the von Trapp villa, Maria never would have imagined that Georg would be such a sweet man, with such adorably cute ways about him.

Reaching out, she stroked Georg's cheek and watched his dimples come into view as he smiled. His eyes cracked open, and he smiled broader as he focused on her face.

"You're so cute," she told him.

His eyes widened. "Cute?" he asked in mock horror.

Maria laughed. "Yes, you are absolutely adorable when your dimples show, which they do every time you smile," she declared. "And I love it that most of your smiles are reserved for me!"

"Definitely, my darling. You deserve every smile, every kiss, everything good I can possibly give you."

Pulling Maria into his arms, Georg kissed her lingeringly. Both knew that they were exactly where they were supposed to be – together!

END