A/N: Hello again, you dear, patient readers! I truly appreciate all of your support and encouragement, especially since my chapter posts are progressing at such a painfully slow rate. Please know that I fully intend to finish this story, but I have no idea how long that's going to take. Lately, I've had very little in the way of free time, and this has meant pretty much zero time to indulge in writing pursuits.

My love and gratitude goes out to you all, dear readers. As always, this story and its writer owe everything to kwak and LMM.

~ Lots of love from FKAJ x

Chapter Thirty Seven

When classes started up again, Gilbert's time was immediately consumed with study for the Cooper Prize. He was determined to win the generous cash prize, which would be more than enough to repay his family's debt to Green Gables, with perhaps a little left over to assist with his medical degree.

Gilbert said nothing of his resolve to use the Cooper to pay the debt, since he was far from certain that he could win an award not granted for five years, but he was unwavering in his aim to work as hard as he could for it. His Blythe pride could not allow such a debt to remain outstanding, and he had decided that he would do whatever he could to make sure he paid back every penny to the Green Gables folk.

As January drew to a close, Gilbert began to spend more and more time at Professor Stuart's library and would spend most of his evenings there, often only returning to Mount Desirée to sleep.

Knowing that her husband was working hard to achieve his long-held ambitions, Anne did what she could to support him, although she couldn't deny that she missed his presence in their tiny apartment. She also refused to ask him whether perhaps Christine was ever at her uncle's house. Nevertheless, every evening Anne had supper warming in the oven for him. She knew Gilbert often ate at Professor Stuart's, but somehow it warmed her heart that he always ate every morsel of the food she'd prepared for him.

"Thank you, Anne," he said one evening as he polished off a plate heaped with fish stew. "I can't tell you how ravenous all this studying makes a fellow."

"I like cooking for you," Anne said. "I feel like it's all I can do to help you with the Cooper."

"Food always helps me," Gilbert grinned. "And your cooking is marvellous. Much better than the fare at Professor Stuart's, for all he has a paid cook."

"We're only telling each other the truth now, remember?" Anne smiled.

"It is true," Gilbert's eyes found hers to reinforce his words and he was lost in their sparkling depths. Before he could stop himself, he found himself continuing. "Your cooking reminds me of Avonlea, so I really do prefer it."

"I'm glad," Anne's cheeks pinkened charmingly at his compliment before she tried to hide a yawn behind her hand.

"But, you don't have to wait up for me, you know," Gilbert said, appraising her drooping eyelids.

"I don't mind," she said sleepily. "Phil insisted I study with the girls at Patty's Place tonight, so I think I'm a little worn out today, that's all."

"You look tired, and I know you're studying hard, too," Gilbert said, although he didn't want her to go so soon. He'd begun to cherish these few precious minutes in the evening with Anne. "I'm glad you're spending time with the girls while I'm gone. I hope they're all well?"

"Mmm, yes," Anne nodded. "It's always nice to see the girls, but…" she peeked at him shyly through long, coppery lashes. "I do miss studying with you."

Before Gilbert had a chance to answer, she stood up.

"Well, good night, Gilbert."

Anne's wrapper gaped open a little as she bent to drop a light kiss on his cheek. For that brief moment, Gilbert's head was filled with her fragrance and he couldn't stop himself from staring at that luscious cleavage which she'd unconsciously revealed to his hungering gaze. It was all he could do to stop himself from leaning forward to kiss her breasts.

"I miss you, too," he murmured hoarsely. His cheek was still tingling from the brush of her lips and his heart was pounding as he stared into those mesmerising pools of grey for a long moment.

"You look tired," Anne said with a soft smile. "You should get some rest."

Slowly, she straightened before she reluctantly withdrew to her bedroom.

Anne's conscience pricked her as she snuggled under the downy quilt. For all she and Gilbert resolved to be truthful to each other she couldn't help dwelling on the evening she had spent with the girls. It had become something of a habit for them to share bits of gossip and news with each other before they hit the books. Tonight had been no different, except this time Anne had heard some unwelcome news.

She told herself that she didn't want to bother her husband with such trivial matters when he was studying so diligently. Why should Gilbert care that Phil had run into Roy?

"Honestly, Roy's such a bore now," Phil had declared. "That boy didn't stop wailing about all the dreadful well-bred girls his mother had been match-making him with over the holidays."

"I haven't seen him at all since…" Anne's voice trailed off as she tried to recall when she'd last seen Roy. "Why, I think it was before Gilbert's birthday," she finally admitted. She almost felt guilty that she barely thought of Roy at all.

"Oh, you wouldn't have," Phil said. "He told me he's been avoiding you because he can't bear to see you married to another man. I suppose it would be difficult knowing that Gilbert Blythe was your competition."

"Did he - did he say anything about Gilbert?"

"Not directly, but I could tell he was still pining after you," Phil sniffed disdainfully. "Well, he had his chance with you, and now he has to suffer the consequences. I don't know if I'll ever forgive him for leaving you in your hour of need, Queen Anne. No, the divine Mr Blythe was a much better choice all round. How is that gorgeous husband of yours, anyway?"

Phil peered at her friend closely.

"He's very busy studying for the Cooper," Anne said, trying not to sound peevish. "I hardly see him at all except in the mornings."

In truth, mornings had become Anne's favourite time of day, since this was the only opportunity when she knew she would have a few minutes with him. She sighed.

"He's always been ambitious," Phil said, patting Anne's hand soothingly. "You know, I do admire a mannie who knows his own mind and who can chop wood. Such a useful, manly man."

Anne flushed guiltily at the number of times she'd caught herself thinking about how very manly her husband truly was. She was shocked to discover that her knowledge of his sensual past somehow had made Gilbert even more attractive to her. Combined with that fascinating glimpse she'd caught of his naked form in the bath, Anne's daydreams were becoming increasingly more lurid.

"Unlike Royal Gardner," Phil said pointedly, mistaking Anne's silence for some kind of regret over her past beau. "I hope you don't think you made a mistake there?"

"Oh, no," Anne rushed to explain. "I don't bear Roy any ill-feelings, although I do feel a little remorse for hurting him."

"I'll be sure to tell him that next time I see him," Phil said scornfully. "Although, I wouldn't be that charitable if I were you."

The very next week, Anne was surprised to see Roy striding across the Redmond campus straight towards her. She looked around hurriedly for her chums, but they were nowhere to be seen.

"Hello, Anne," Roy looked sheepish as he approached. He held out his hand awkwardly in greeting.

"H-hello, Roy," she stuttered, shaking his gloved hand. "How are you?"

"I must apologise for my discourteous behaviour when last we spoke," Roy began without preamble. "Can you forgive me?"

Anne was slightly taken aback by this information. She bit back a sarcastic remark that it had taken him nine months to offer her his apology, and tried a smile instead.

"I understand," she murmured politely. "You have - obligations."

"I knew you would understand," Roy said, his tone dripping with tragedy. "Phil said you weren't bitter about it, although you could be so easily."

"No, I'm not bitter." Anne was surprised to discover this was true, and she was almost grateful that Roy had refused her.

"Oh, it makes it so much worse," Roy's voice was anguished. "Knowing how wonderfully brave you are."

"I'm not brave, really," Anne protested.

"I've been heartbroken ever since," Roy reached out to grasp her hand between both of his. "Mother's been trying to impose all manner of substitutes on me these past months. But none of them can compare with your own angelic self."

"Please, Roy," Anne tried to withdraw her hand from his.

"Say you'll meet me at the gazebo tomorrow," Roy's dark eyes were beseeching. Anne remembered a time when she couldn't resist that velvety gaze. "Our gazebo. Remember, where we first met?"

"Yes, of course I remember," Anne said uncomfortably. "But I'm afraid not."

"Please, I have so much to tell you," Roy whispered.

"I'm a married woman," Anne finally managed to pull her hand away. "It wouldn't be appropriate."

"Somewhere more private then?"

"Roy!" Anne was genuinely shocked now. "Absolutely not."

Over Roy's shoulder she could see Priss and Stella approaching.

"Oh, there's the girls," Anne said in relief, waving to her friends. "I promised to meet them for lunch. Good-bye, Roy."

Before Roy could say another word, Anne hurried away.

"What on Earth was Roy saying to you?" Stella asked.

"Nothing, really," Anne tried to sound casual. "He just wanted to apologise."

"It's about time!" Priss huffed.

"He looked so earnest," Stella said.

Anne glanced to where she'd left Roy and to her surprise, her eyes were captured by the unwavering hazel gaze of her husband who was standing on the other side of the quadrangle. She watched as a smile curved his delectable lips and he tipped his hat in greeting before he turned and strode away towards the library.

She blushed and wondered if he'd witnessed her exchange with Roy. As the girls pulled her in the direction of their favourite tea rooms, Anne stole another glance over her shoulder towards Gilbert's retreating back. His tall form and sure stride made her heart give a quick, queer little beat. Anne sighed, wishing she could run after her husband and talk to him before she realised Stella and Priscilla were still asking her questions about Roy.

"Anne Shirley, I don't believe you've heard a word we've said," Stella admonished.

"No, I think she's a bit distracted by her husband," Priss said with a sly grin as she nudged Anne. "You know I'm much more interested in hearing what you've got to say about him than stuffy old Roy Gardner."

"Yes," Stella agreed when she saw Anne's flushed cheeks. "Let's hurry so you can tell us allll about it."

"I thought we were meeting to hear about Stella's date with Mr Cassidy," said Anne turning her attention to her friend's face. It was Stella's turn to blush.

"Oh, yes, she's still going to tell us about the gorgeous Mr Cassidy," said Priscilla, threading her arm through Anne's. "Ooohh, I think this is going to be a very interesting luncheon."

That evening, Anne was warming Gilbert's supper in the oven as she tried to read a text for her Literature paper. However, she was finding it difficult to concentrate and her mind kept wandering to a particularly vivid daydream about her husband. These daydreams were occurring more and more often.

In the fantasy, Gilbert had entered their little apartment with his shirt off and his muscular arms filled with wood for the fire. He then threw the logs into the box beside the hearth, turning to Anne with a smouldering look in his hazel eyes as he strode purposefully towards her. Anne's breath caught in her throat as she watched Gilbert's glistening arms pulling her roughly towards him as her hands ran over the broad contours of his muscled chest.

"I want you, Anne-girl." The rich timbre of Gilbert's low voice sent a shiver down her spine as she wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed against his hard body—

Anne was jolted abruptly from the scorching vision when she heard the familiar rattle of his key in the lock of the front door of the building. She gasped in surprise and rushed over to the stove, hastily tying an apron about her waist. Perhaps her flaming cheeks could be blamed on the heat from the oven. But Anne knew the disconcerting hardening of her nipples and insistent pulse between her legs were not caused by the heat from the fire.

To Anne's surprise, Gilbert did not immediately enter their apartment, but she could hear him talking to someone out in the hall.

After a few moments, the door opened and Anne turned to give her husband a welcoming smile.

He placed his hat and coat on the hook by the door as he smiled back at her. The genuine warmth of his smile nowadays never failed to set her heart a-flutter, especially as she was acutely aware of the shivery warmth still dancing over her skin.

"You're home early," Anne observed. "How was study this evening?"

"Professor Stuart had guests, so I decided to leave a little early. Is that chicken pie I smell?"

"I haven't eaten yet," Anne admitted as she placed two steaming plates on the table. "So I might take a bite with you."

As Anne perched on her stool at the end of the table and smoothed her skirts, Gilbert's mind was immediately filled with an image of Anne's little teeth gently biting the skin on his neck and running her tongue along his —

"I met Royal Gardner at Redmond today," Anne broached the subject that had been uppermost in her mind for most of the day, leaving Gilbert feeling like she'd thrown a bucket of cold water on him.

"Oh?" Gilbert tried to sound casual as he placed a mouthful of pie into his mouth.

"Yes, it was the first time I'd seen him in a while," Anne rambled on. "And Phil saw him the other week and I forgot to tell you about that then. So, I - I just wanted you to know. I mean, now that we're friends again, we promised to tell each other everything. That is, I didn't want one of the gossips to tell you, and of course you're my husband and you should know —"

"There's no need to tell me everything that happens to you," Gilbert interrupted. He definitely did not want to hear the details of Anne's encounter with Gardner. "Besides, there's something else I wanted to discuss with you."

"Oh," Anne was feeling strangely disappointed that Gilbert didn't seem curious about her conversation with Roy.

"I've just been speaking to Wilson outside."

Anne always blushed furiously whenever they met their upstairs neighbours, Constable Wilson and his wife. Mrs Wilson's protruding belly was evidently the result of their noisy nightly activities and that buxom lady never failed to give Anne a knowing grin.

"Soon it'll be your turn, eh, Mrs Blythe?"

Anne would mutter something in discomfort and look away, further adding to Mrs Wilson's mirth.

"He mentioned to me this morning that there's been reports of some unsavoury types lurking about the neighbourhood," Gilbert went on. "It's part of the reason I decided to come home early tonight. I didn't want you to be left at home alone."

"Unsavoury types? What does that mean?"

"There's been some burglaries," Gilbert replied. "Wilson just told me that earlier this evening he saw a man loitering on the corner of our street. I've decided I'm not going to Professor Stuart's until the matter has been resolved. I want to make sure you're safe."

Anne's heart thrummed in her chest at the protective tone in Gilbert's voice. Nevertheless, the determined glint in her grey eyes matched her husband's.

"Gilbert, I won't have you stop studying because you think you need to protect me. It's too important."

"And your safety's not?"

"I'll be fine," she retorted. "Constable Wilson's right upstairs and I'll keep all the windows and doors locked."

"No," the firm set of Gilbert's jaw showed his resolve. "I shall bring as many text books home as I can carry and I'll study here."

"That's ridiculous," Anne protested. "You can't go lugging those huge texts about the streets of Kingsport."

"I've made up my mind. Besides, Wilson might catch the fellow in a few days, so it may not be for too long."

"What if I go to Patty's Place on the nights you study?" Anne suggested. "Spofford Avenue isn't far from Professor Stuart's and you could collect me on the way."

"You know how late I finish studying, Anne. And it's a long walk back here. You'll be exhausted."

"No, I won't!" Anne declared stoutly. If Gilbert meant to imply that she was any less resilient than him… "I can do anything you can do, and you know it."

"I'm your husband." At this, Anne's heart fluttered queerly again. "It's my responsibility to protect you. So, that's final."

Now Anne really had her dander up. Green flecks were starting to darken her eyes.

"Oh, I see!" Anne was furious. "So you've just decided, and that's it?"

"Yes," his full lips were set with all the Blythe stubbornness.

She felt insulted to the quick and her breasts were heaving indignantly. Gilbert was trying to stay focused on the conversation at hand and restrain his impulse to reach out and caress those enticing mounds.

"I thought we were friends - partners now?" she huffed. "Why won't you even discuss this with me?"

Gilbert himself felt suddenly bone-weary and the strain of studying was taking its toll, although it was only the second week of February. He had another three months of hard work like this ahead of him. Not to mention the rising strain of keeping his hands off his wife. He rubbed his temple to relieve the headache he could feel building.

"There's nothing to discuss," he sighed wearily. "You should go to bed, Anne. I'll clean up when I'm finished."

"Ooooh!" Anne gasped in outrage, spinning from him to flounce away into her bedroom. The hinges rattled as the door was closed with undue alacrity.

As she sat down on the edge of her bed, Anne began to unbutton her blouse, still fuming.

Did Gilbert really think she was like some delicate flower, too fragile to look after herself? Or worse, a little girl who had to be sent off to bed early. Anne was mortified to think that he needed to change his study plans for her.

Although… she had been so lonely and missed having his comforting presence about the apartment these past weeks. Anne remembered how her heart had skipped a beat when Gilbert arrived home earlier tonight. Wasn't it quite sweet that he was thinking of her and concerned for her welfare? Wouldn't it be pleasant to have him near in the evenings again?

Then, she remembered how tired he had looked this evening. His face was a little pale and even though his eyes still sparkled with their usual warmth, they looked a little hollow and drawn.

Suddenly she felt remorseful. Gilbert had been studying so hard for the Cooper and working so late in the evenings these past months. And yet, he was still taking his wife into consideration, even changing his schedule to look after her. Anne felt selfish and ungrateful as she heard the clatter of plates in the next room.

Slowly, she opened the bedroom door and peeked into the next room.

Gilbert's back was turned to her and her eyes roamed admiringly over his tall form. His shirtsleeves were rolled up to his elbows and the muscles of his broad shoulders were rippling with his movements as he emptied food from the dishes into the scrap bucket.

Anne crossed the room and gently nudged him aside.

"Here let me do that," she murmured. "If it's your job to protect me, then surely it's my job to wash the dishes for you."

She turned to smile at him, forgetting that her blouse was still unbuttoned and revealing the lacy edge of her chemise. The enticing swell of her breasts had completely diverted Gilbert's attention and he wondered if he might catch a glimpse of her corset if he just leaned an inch closer…

"I'm sorry for losing my temper, Gilbert," she said. "I forgot how hard you've been working and I truly appreciate you thinking of me like that."

"Anne, I …" his voice trailed off and he gulped as Anne leaned forward to wash the dishes. Her bosom was threatening to topple out from her lacy chemise.

"It's very gracious of you, but I don't want you to feel you have to carry all the burden. We're in this marriage together and I want to help you all I can. Please, will you let me help you?"

Thinking of at least a thousand ways she could help to alleviate the throbbing in his trousers, Gilbert nodded dumbly.

"Good," Anne nodded in approval. "In that case, I shall go to Patty's Place two nights a week, so that you may still go to Professor Stuart's on those nights at least."

"I think that's too much," Gilbert protested hoarsely, trying to concentrate as her breasts bounced with her movements. It wasn't just her suggestion that was too much. It was too much to expect that he could resist touching her creamy skin. "Let's try Monday evening and see how you feel."

God help him, but he wanted to see how her breasts would feel…

"Very well," Anne agreed cheerfully. "I'm sure the girls will be thrilled. Maybe later we can come up with another solution, if it makes you feel better. Besides, you even said yourself, that man might be detained soon, so it could be moot anyway."

"Erm, I'd better get us some more wood," Gilbert mumbled, reluctantly dragging his eyes away from her jiggling breasts as he strode for the door.

When he returned a few moments later, it was like Anne's earlier fantasy had come to life. Gilbert's biceps were bulging as he carried an armful of chopped wood and dropped it into the basket by the fire. Her mouth went dry and Anne's eyes were fixed on his splendid chin beneath the new growth of beard before her gaze wandered lower to admire his muscled torso. He turned and Anne couldn't resist reaching out to brush at a few stray chips that clung to his chest.

Suddenly aware of her proximity, Gilbert's breath caught as he raised his eyes to stare into those limpid grey depths and he grasped the slender hand still lingering on his chest. Her sweet face was upturned and her tempting mouth was begging for his kiss. They stared at each other for a long moment until slowly, almost involuntarily, he bent his head towards those luscious pink lips.

A deliciously soft sigh escaped from her a moment before their lips met. Anne's eyes fluttered closed and she leaned into him when she felt the gentle caress of his warm mouth. Gilbert's hand slid around her waist, pressing her even closer when he felt Anne's hot breath on his lips. Her free hand slid upwards along his arm until her fingers were resting at the nape of his neck. A sound much like a purr came from Anne's throat, warming Gilbert's blood as his tongue teased the contours of her parted lips. Suddenly, the sharp whiskers of his beard were scratching against her skin and Anne's eyes flew wide as she snatched away abruptly with trembling fingers touching her chin.

"Oh, you poked me!" she gasped, her cheeks reddening at her brazen response to his kiss as she stared into those glittering hazel eyes. "That is, I felt a prick - or rather - your beard is quite prickly - and I didn't mean to - what I mean to say is - uh, good night, Gilbert."

With that, she turned and fled to her bedroom, horrified by her embarrassing outburst.

But she needn't have worried. Gilbert, who had been distracted by his wife's heaving breasts, had barely heard what Anne was saying. Her gaping chemise had slipped lower as she struggled to catch her breath, exposing her breasts even further to his hungering gaze.

"Wait, Anne..." He finally roused from his stupor when he heard her door close.

The memory of her slender form pressed against him was still throbbing through his body. Although he hadn't planned to kiss her, Anne's fleeting response had left a lusting ache deep in the pit of his belly.

Gilbert blew out a shaky breath and contemplated his wife's closed bedroom door, wondering if he could control the urge to follow her in there, throw her on that big, soft bed and make love to her all night.

Thanks so much for reading! More just as soon as I can. I really can't thank you enough for all your love and patience, dear reader.

Until next time.

~ Much love from J xxx