22

Finally the atmosphere at breakfast was as it should be.

The children were thrilled that their father was back and it was lively again and everyone was talking out loud. As soon as he arrived, immaculately dressed, his hair combed and no trace of last night's mess, he first apologized to his children. And then he paid special attention to each child, discreetly assuring her that he was here again and that he would never neglect them again.

Max watched it all with great attention and amazement.

It must be that his friend had come back and he looked completely relieved, he must have finally talked to Maria. Georg's and Maria's happiness depended on each other, and the children of both of them. Full circle.

Although Georg was in a good mood and relaxed, while talking to the children and charmed them, he looked at Maria every now and then. She avoided his gaze the whole time and seemed to be annoyed with him. Max's observation was interrupted by Georg's gentle voice.

"Maria, do you agree that we skip studying today and go all the way to your mountain?" Everyone noticed that her title

"As you wish, Captain, these are your children and your rules!" Maria answered resignedly, with a discreet tone of sharpness. But that didn't seem to have any effect on Georg's good mood.

"Okay, then it's agreed. Our departure is at 10 A.M. except Fraulein Maria, hers is at 9 A.M," he said smirking.

"Why me at 9?" In spite of her ire, like many times with him, curiosity won again.

"That way I'll be sure you'll be on time," he said, teasing her, causing a burst of laughter all over the table.

Maria was fuming with anger, wondering how he always knew how to provoke her.

Maria did her best to be on time. But the atmosphere was different and the children looked at her strangely and grinning.

She knew them well enough to suspect some scheme and master plan. The suspicion was raised as she noticed whispering between the Captain and Max, and his slapping on the of the Captain's back, who laughed shyly.

Something was definitely going on, Maria mused.

And they finally arrived at her favorite place on the mountain. It was a beautiful vast field, dominated by white and yellow mountain flowers, with sporadic rocks. As the wind caressed their cheeks and brought them scents of freshness, everyone felt humble respect for the beauty of Mother Nature.

The Captain, in his style, immediately issued orders for the children to help Maria with the baskets and to spread the blankets, and to play afterwards. Then he stated that he was going for a walk.

A little later, while everyone was playing on the grass, a bird sound was heard, which Maria recognized as fake, but did not say anything out loud. She had suspected it before, but when everyone persistently sent her to the blanket to rest, it definitely looked like something was going on. Maria decided to play a long.

When she saw the Captain approaching with a huge bouquet of Edelweiss, she concluded that the fake bird voice was a signal to Max to send her to the blanket to have privacy she mused.

"Tell me, did you leave at least one edelweiss on the mountain or did you pick them all?" She knew they were growing high on the mountain and realized that was why it took him so long to get back.

"Well, I asked the mountain how many flowers are enough to pick for you and ask your forgiveness, for my jackass behaviour. She replied, you will need all the flowers of the world!'' So I picked as many as I could!" he said cheekily.

He was really the worst of the worst, she thought as she melted by his charm, as he managed to incorporate her favorite things, happy children, mountain and edelweiss.

Oh, God, she should be mad at him and not fall so easily under his spell. Maria rememberd that not so long ago she was scandalised by his charm towards Elsa, and look at her now.

"Maria, please accept my sincere apology. I was acting like a complete idiot, but please try to understand I was afraid I lost you. Please understand!" he said in his deep baritone voice, looking her directly in the eyes which clearly showed adoration and love.

Everything was spinning in Maria's head, they finally reached the point where all the masks fell and everything was plain and obvious.

"You will never lose me, my Captain!" she said with a smile, as she discreetly tried to pinch herself to see if she was dreaming.

Georg took it as an invitation and immediately sat down next to Maria, but not too close. As he amused her with his adventures from the Navy, all the way, Maria noticed that he had come completely close to her during their pleasant conversation. She wondered how he had managed that.

He really was a rogue.

Georg was on a life mission and very determined.

Finally he could woo Maria without guilt and doubt in her feelings. Entertaining her and constantly distracting, he managed to get completely close to her, intending to get her used to his presence and frequent touches. Yes, he was a man on a mission and nothing would stop him. It was enough for life time, dancing around each other.

He finally managed to take her hand during the conversation and caress her fingers, glad she didn't pull out. At one point, while she laughed heartily, Maria rested her head on his shoulder and they both felt content.

Georg was determined. It would never be enough just sitting near Maria, he took the initiative and lowered his head to kiss her. Slowly he lowered his head, looking her directly in the eyes, then at her lips, he silently asked permission and got it.

He was close enough that they shared the same breath. While approaching close enough to kiss her, he heard the barking of a dog. The spell was broken.

"AV, AV, AV, AV" Max was imitating a puppy, with great delight and amusement, while the older children laughed shyly.

Georg was annoyed about his interferance and ridicule.

"I am going to kill him" he angrily jumped up and ran towards Max to catch him, while Max seeing him climbed a nearby rock.

The scene was ridiculous, up on the rock Max was desperately trying to get Georg to calm down, while he barked under him and promised to kill him just "a little". Maria was in wonderment of the comical situation and quickly came to save Max.

As Georg angrily persuaded Max to come down to strangle him with his bare hands, he felt a gentle grip on his elbow, turned and looked at Maria who was looking at him with pleading eyes.

"Please Georg, let him go, don't forget it's our charming sponge!" she said softly.

It was the first time she had called him by name and it sounded wonderful, there was nothing he would not do for her, he realized.

Max went down from the rocks and kept a decent distance from Georg but that didn't stop him from scolding Max for being childish. While Max was encouraged with Maria's protection he continued to joke and stab Georg along the way.

When they finished lunch and prepared plates and cutlery, they decided to rest.

Maria was amazed at how Georg managed to shoo the children from her side, change the schedule and squeeze in next to her. Of course Max didn't fail to notice this so the two of them continued to bark at each other like an old married couple. They really were hilarious.

Finally, everyone calmed down and lay to rest in the mountain sun.

Maria had her back turned away from Georg and hugged Gretl who was snuggling into her. Soon everyone fell asleep from fatigue and fresh mountain air except George. It was obvious he was restless.

"Georg, you're going to wake all of the "eight" children!" Maria whispered.

"I think I'll fall asleep easier if I hug Gretl!" he purred, knowing he would actually hug Maria, he thought smugly.

Maria laughed lightly at his cleverness and realized what his plan was. But how to tell him that she would like it too, while avoiding him thinking less about her. She decided to play it safe for now. She had never been in a relationship before, and judging by his behaviour, it would happen very soon, and she was not familiar with the rules, so it was best to go slowly.

"Okay, if you have to, just calm down," she whispered to him. Cunningly waiting for him to hug her.

Smirking, she realized even before she finished her sentence, he turned to her and immediately hugged her, before that he placed a quick kiss on her neck and sighed contentedly. Tired and sleepless from the last days, he immediately fell asleep. In his embrace she completely relaxed and let go, the feeling was divine.

Georg was in a deep sleep when he heard, as if from a great distance, a patronising voice begin to wake him, scolding him.

Then he felt someone hit him in the sole of his shoe, saying:

"You're a scoundrel, ha, this was your plan from the beginning!" it was Max who couldn't believe how Georg was determined to win Maria, not wasting a single moment. For God's sake, he'll scare the poor girl.

Georg was annoyed with Max's lecture, hoping he would not scare Maria, but he couldn't help himself, he just had to be close to her. However, he was soon relieved when Maria jokingly thanked Max for his father's instinct.

They were returning from the mountain and again Georg managed to be close to Maria, sometimes ignoring Max's teasing, and sometimes defending himself with a counterattack. Sure, he could have fought better, but he was distracted and intent on finding a way to take Maria's hand.

As Georg developed his strategy, Maria stumbled and she almost fell, but he quickly grabbed her arm, then took her hand, looking at her with a smile. She smiled back.

As they walked with linked hands, they were in their own world, when Marta's voice brought them back.

"Father, why are you holding Fraulein Maria's hand?'' Of course, everyone noticed that and giggled, only for the younger children nothing made any sense, including Marta.

"I am keeping Fraulein Maria safe, she can be clumsy sometimes, and we don't want to her to get hurt, do we? So it's best to hold her hand!" said Georg as he proudly held Maria's hand and pointed at Marta. Who was pleased with the explanation, it made sense to her, Fraulein was sometimes clumsy.

Georg looked at Maria, who was smiling at his ingenuity, and he took advantage of that and held her hand all the way back.

xxx

"So do you like this chapter? Does Georg lost his touch ? :-) AV, AV, AV :-D