Their engagement was destined to be brief, but Maria couldn't help wish it would go just a little faster. At least in the parts between the moments that she and Georg could steal away and be alone together. Those moments she wanted to slow down time, stretch it like an endless summer day, and revel in the warmth and comfortability that his presence and touch gave her. There were calm and unhurried, loving times where they got to know each other - reading on the terrace, a leisurely stroll, him joining the family at a picnic and while the children played catch and tag, dueting her with guitar and voice. Those moments, tender and gentle though they might be, inevitably gave way to fast, breathless encounters in the hallway or unoccupied room of the house, before one of their many chaperones could expect them to be somewhere else. And it was those moments that Maria was desperate to create more of.

He knew the house and the movements in it from practiced routine, and it didn't take her long to start expecting him to pop around a corner and fix her with that disarming smile just when she was alone. Gradually she started becoming more confident in knowing and paying attention to where the various players were, and like a strategic game of chess, positioning herself in an unoccupied square where she was usually discovered by him. The first time, he was a little shocked to find her in his study unannounced, and was even more pleased when she interrupted his pre-breakfast lake swim by rising early (an unheard-of feat for her) and wrapping him in a warm towel and an even warmer embrace.

And yet somehow she felt there was still more to learn about loving him. Oh, she loved being taken in his arms and the kissing was something she could never get enough of. But as for touch - he often left her trembling with a light stroke down her back and she could never get close enough or knew exactly how to reciprocate. He was always in jackets and vests and shirts, and the one time she had managed to catch him at the lake he held her at a distance not wanting to dampen her dress or have her fall ill in the chill morning air. Her remonstrance of her having previously fallen into that same lake several times went unheard between kisses, and that was all right. And she had been able to see, finally, his tanned chest and back, and that was all right, too. But the way he made her feel was so delicious, and she knew there was something more she could do to make him understand that she was as hungry to give him love as she was to receive his touch.

So in their meetings, she would file away the little things, the way he grabbed her wrists once and held them in one large hand, to keep her from tickling him, and kissed her soundly in the sweet grass. She thought about the sensitivity of her neck behind her ear, and the way he used his mouth and tongue there, and the way it made her shiver. She remembered how he touched her, even in places that she didn't think could ever make her think the wickedest things - a thumb rubbed over her knuckles, a gentle caress of her hair that ended in a light brush of fingertips down the whole length of her neck - and stored them secretly in her mind for the time she was brave enough to return his favors and steady enough to not succumb to the heady rush of his caresses. There were a few times she had left him struck with arguments or hard truths, and now she longed to have him as stunned by her touch, as malleable in her arms as she had been in his. She wanted to leave him no doubt that she could be his match in all things. And privately, she wanted to see the look in his eyes that she had seen when he apologized to her at the foot of the stairwell. The same look had been on his face at the gazebo, when he had told her, petulantly, that it was "all wrong" when she went away. He had looked so young and desperate for consolation, raw emotion, dependent on her. In their brief moments of love, he had been attentive and devoted, but very in control of the situation. Could she be blamed for being stubborn enough to want him to let go a little more? Was it wrong to want to leave her future husband more than a little breathless and disheveled in return?

She was brave enough to attempt it on a late summer day. He had finished his daily reading on the terrace, and she met him in the alcove coming back through the doors. She caught him off guard easily, sliding from behind a pillar into his path, and instead of letting herself melt into his embrace and open her mouth for his kisses, she fixed him with a determined stare and gripped his shoulders, pushing him into the back corner of the hallway and roughly into the wall.

"Maria?" He got half of the word out before she pushed up on her tiptoes and leaned into him, intercepting his hands as they reached for her, her long fingers encircling his wrists. She grinned, nuzzling into his neck, her mouth insistent and searching.

"Hello, my love" she murmured into his ear, and she felt more than heard his sharp intake of breath.

"This is new." his voice was low but unsteady, rough. He didn't move, hands still in mid embrace, her thumbs pressing circular strokes into his wrists.

"I wanted to surprise you"
"You have."

She pulled back a little, guiding his one hand to her hip, pressing it slightly against her body with a firm stare. His fingers dug in, but didn't stray from their position. She smiled slowly.

"Good." Her voice was soft, and she could hear him breathing audibly, see his chest rise and fall. His eyes were on her, and she knew she had him. But could she hold him?

Her attention turned to his other hand, and she undid his cufflink, slipping it from his starched cuff. She slid it into her pocket deftly as she rucked up his sleeve, exposing his forearm. Her hands explored it, nails raking up the soft skin underneath, and her mouth closed on the pad of flesh beneath his thumb, nuzzling into his palm. He stared, spellbound.
"What brought this on?"

"I've been watching you. I know how you create moments for us. I was trying to …." she pressed open-mouthed kisses up the inside of his arm to the crook of his elbow. "I was trying to give one to you."

She heard his breathing grow more ragged, and leaned her body against his, kissing him passionately. His mouth moved under hers but she could tell he let her direct, and she grew more bold, nipping at his lower lip before burying her face in his neck.

"I wanted to be the one to take your composure for once, since you're always taking mine. I wanted to touch you and overwhelm you in sensation, and make you crave me the way i crave you." She slid her hands over his chest greedily, feeling his body in a way she wouldn't have dared even a few weeks ago. He shivered as she gripped him around the waist, her hands moving strongly over his back, holding him against her.

"I wanted to make you shiver with my voice in your ear," she murmured huskily, and he trembled again. She felt wild, released, hungry. She kissed the hollow of his throat, and he leaned his head back, melting into the wall behind him. A low sound escaped his lips, one she had never heard him make before. She wanted more. Her long fingers crept up to encircle his throat, and there it was again, louder. She pressed her fingertips into tender skin. Again. She brushed her other hand over his lips, and his eyes met hers, wide, searching. She regarded him calmly.
"Open your mouth."
He did, and her fingers slid inside. He closed the heat of his mouth around them, and she marveled at how beautiful he was like this. Devoted, desperate, obedient, and at the edge of something she herself struggled to understand. She was quickly aware how tempting it was to take him deeper and farther, and knew she couldn't let herself get out of hand. Reluctantly she removed her fingers and leaned up to kiss the stunned expression from his lips.

"How do you feel now, Georg?"

His fingers flexed at her waist, and he had to clear his throat before he answered in a low, hoarse voice. "Wrecked."

"Good." She beamed, then spun out of his arms, making her way across the hall.
"Maria?"
"Yes Georg?" She slowed but didn't even turn around.
"Could I - could I have my cufflink back, please?"
She smiled over her shoulder at him.
"Come and get it."