epilogue, A few months later

After a long day, it was finally time the children went to bed. Maria went through the usual bedtime routines-speaking with Liesl before leaving her in her room; making sure the boys had remembered to wash up and brush their teeth; listening to Brigitta and Louisa's prayers; then reading a story and singing a lullaby to Marta and Gretl.

For the last few months, Georg had joined Maria in this ritual. At first, it was so Maria could encourage him to have a personal moment with each of his children every day. Soon, it became a special time for the two of them as well. Georg so admired Maria's easy manner with the children. The way they had responded to her both fascinated him and, truth be told, had made him almost jealous. Maria knew this, even without him saying anything, and prompted him to take the lead early on. Soon he was feeling as comfortable with them as he'd ever been, and her selflessness made him love Maria even more.

This night was the first since they'd returned from their honeymoon that Maria was doing bedtime on her own. Georg had had an urgent phone call to return, so she'd gone through the routine alone. Now, she was sitting in the rocking chair in Marta and Gretl's room, Marta tucked in her bed, Gretl making herself comfortable on Maria's lap.

His call finished, Georg climbed the stairs hoping that he wasn't too late to at least wish goodnight to some of his children. He was delighted to see the light still on, coming through the partially open door to the little girls' room. Peeking in, his heart warmed at the sight before him. Marta had already fallen asleep, and it appeared Gretl had as well, nestled in Maria's arms. He could hear his wife's sweet voice softly singing a lullaby to their youngest daughter. He watched as she stroked Gretl's hair away from her face, and gently kissed her forehead.

When Maria tried to stand while holding the sleeping girl, Georg made himself known and entered the room, taking Gretl from his wife's arms, and waiting while she pulled back the coverings on her bed. He placed her gently, her head on the pillow, and kissed her cheek as Maria tucked her in. Their eyes met and they smiled at one another, Georg reaching over the sleeping six year old to take her hand. The walked to the door silently, each hoping the girls would stay asleep once the light was turned off.

Maria walked into the hall, Georg following, closing the door quietly behind them. He took her hand, and she turned to face him. Placing a tender kiss upon her temple, Georg pulled his wife into an embrace.

"Thank you."

"For what, darling?"

"For being such a wonderful mother, that's what." He kissed her again on her cheek, then a third time, on her lips. It was a soft, sweet kiss of gratitude and devotion. Maria responded in kind, and brought her hand up to gently stroke his cheek.

"Well, you gave me seven wonderful children. I had to show I was worthy, didn't I?" She caressed his face with her thumb.

"More than worthy, my love, so much more."

"Worthy of more children?" she laughed softly, and looked deeply into his eyes. He gladly lost himself in her eyes every chance he got.

"Worthy of anything I have within my power to give you, my love." He pulled her closer, smoothing her hair with one hand, rubbing circles on her back with the other.

"Mmm, that feels nice." She started playing with the buttons on his shirt. "There is one thing I'd like you to give me," she looked up at him, and kissed his chin.

"Whatever you wish, darling" Georg dropped his arms down to take both her hands in his. She turned, and began leading him down the hall to the master suite.

"Come on, then. Let's go make a baby."

THE END