Tuesday, June 28, 2011

One Love, One Lifetime - Chapter 7

January 1

Swatting at something tickling her arm, Alex frowned and grumbled in her sleep. When the light, tickling sensation came again, this time across her bare breasts, she muttered something unsavory and rolled over to press against a warm body. Confused, she opened her eyes to see a man’s very muscular, very naked chest mere inches from her face. She let her gaze roam appreciatively before looking into the golden eyes of her lover. Her fiancé. Her smile was radiant. A gentle hand guided her to her back where Erik once more began to trace her naked body with one long stemmed red rose. The touch, so light it was frustrating, had her whimpering and begging for more. Golden eyes a-glow, Erik was more than happy to accommodate her wishes.

Much later, she staggered off to take a shower while Erik started the coffee and found them something to eat. Letting the cool water run down her heated body, Alex lathered up and began to wash when the door opened and large, strong hands took the sponge to take over her bathing. Soapy and slick, her body slid against his as she leaned back onto his chest to give him better access to all her womanly delights. And access them he did. Talented fingers that could coax the purest of sounds from any instrument now coaxed passion’s song from Alex’s lips. With one arm holding her tight against him as his hand twisted and teased her nipple, Erik’s other hand had snaked between her thighs to stroke and caress her to ecstasy. Shuddering and leaning heavily against his body, she tried to find the strength to finish her shower but her legs simply wouldn’t cooperate. If she hadn’t been so damn happy and sated she’d wipe that smug smirk off his face. Instead, she simply gave him a kiss that curled his toes and stumbled out to wrap a towel around her and hunt down the coffee she smelled.

Alex was sitting in the bed wearing his white costume shirt from the ball and worshiping her coffee when Erik sauntered out of the bathroom. Her heart jumped into her throat and her entire body pulsed with desire; he was naked, damp, and half-hard from their bath time rendezvous. “Erik,” though she attempted to be stern, it came out as more of a breathy whisper of appreciation than scolding, “do cover yourself. I need to eat and rest a bit and you are simply too entirely delectable for words.” Immediately concerned, he wrapped a towel around his waist and sat by her side.

“Have I over-tired you, Alexandra? Are you feeling well?” He tucked a wet strand of hair behind her ear before cupping her cheek.

“No, my virile love, you haven’t over-tired me and yes, I’m feeling well. Wonderful in fact. Just starving and a tad…sore.” She couldn’t stop her blush so tried to hide it in her coffee mug. She grew even redder at his chuckle. “Oh, shut up.” Her giggle removed any force from her words and they settled down to breakfast in joyful contentment.

After breakfast, he retreated to the Music Room and she returned to the Library to see if she’d gotten any replies back on the job search website. Alex was writing down all the pertinent information in order to set up several interviews when Erik stepped behind her. She noticed his frown when he saw she was once again checking job sites and sighed.

“What’s wrong, Erik?” She reached up and placed a hand over his where it rested on her shoulder.

“You’re looking for a job? I thought you had one, ma petite.”

“I know and I’d love to work at the opera house. But I have a student loan to repay and a car to pay off and…” She stopped when he kissed her quickly and placed a large manila envelope on the desk in front of her. “What’s this, my love?” She eyed the envelope with suspicion.

“Open it and see, Alexandra.” His smile was hidden in the curve of her neck where he was placing feather light kisses.

“If you don’t stop that, I won’t be able to do much of anything but drag you back upstairs.” He chuckled softly and moved to perch on the corner of the desk, watching her with a faint smile.

Alex looked at the envelope which was blank other than her name. The handwriting was elegant and refined and indisputably Erik’s. Glancing up at him revealed little; his eyes were intense and focused on her but there was a certain glow of excitement about him now that confused her. Frowning, she pulled a large stack of papers from the envelope and began to rifle through them. Starting over, Alex slowly looked through them once more before staring at Erik with shock.

“When…? Why…?”

“Alexandra,” he set the papers aside and took her hands in his, “do you remember when you were in the hospital and I went to your apartment to gather your belongings and close the lease? Your landlady turned over your mail that had been collecting since you first stayed at my Estate. As I was sorting the obvious junk mail from items that needed to be dealt with in a timely manner, I came across the notification that your student loan payments would be due to begin soon.”

“But…Erik…this is too much…” He leaned forward and silenced her with a brief kiss.

“Let me continue, ma petite chère. While you were laying in that hospital room fighting for your life, I felt so helpless. I could do nothing for you there other than stay beside you and hope that you’d awaken. But this,” Erik nodded at the stack of papers, “this was something I could do. The money means nothing next to your piece of mind and recovery. I am wealthy after all and have little to spend it on. Let me spoil you, Alexandra.” His last words were soft, almost pleading, and Alex’s pride crumbled under her fervent desire to make him happy. Putting the papers away for now, she rose from the desk and closed the distance between them to hold him close.

“You never cease to amaze me, my love.” A wicked smile crossed her face as she reached over and closed the laptop. She was already unbuttoning his shirt when she whispered against his lips, “However shall I repay you?”

“I’m sure we can think of something,” Erik chuckled as he lifted her into his arms and carried her back to his bedroom.


The meeting in the office of the CEO of Omni Microchips ran so late that the secretary was beginning to worry. There were others, clients and business partners, waiting to see Michael Blankenship and yet he’d been sequestered with this unknown visitor for several hours. Apologizing once more to those waiting, she dialed the office to see if she could find out when the meeting would be finished. She needed something to tell those who were still waiting. By the fifteenth ring, she gave up and asked if they would like to reschedule. The business partners did; the clients did not.

Inside the office, Blankenship was hoping the meeting would finish soon as well. He’d not spoken to Robert Chaney in over three years and had hoped he’d not ever have to again. This morning, however, he’d received the phone call and cleared his morning calendar and now he was staring into those cold, dead eyes as he received his orders. His orders!! For three years, he’d been CEO of Omni; he didn’t take orders from anyone. But then Chaney had placed several files on his desk: photographs, bank statements, the actual toxicology report of his father’s death, everything that had put him in that office lay before his eyes and he knew he had no choice.

The initial assignment had been delivered by telephone not long after Christmas. He was to rekindle his old relationship with Alexandra Roberts, pulling her away from Erik Devereaux. Blankenship, not one for the arts, had never heard of the masked composer but felt confident Alex would come back to him. He was rich, handsome, wealthy, good in bed, and had a wonderful career; what had happened when they were barely out of high school was nothing more than a prank. Surely she understood that now that they were older? So, he played at being overawed by the theater, promised a hefty check should he be impressed, and arranged to get invited to the masquerade ball at the opera house.

That was when things failed to go according to plan. Alex had been…less than thrilled to see him at the ball and refused to even talk civilly. Chaney was entirely unsympathetic with his failure and stressed the importance of separating the two. She didn’t have to actually form an attachment to Blankenship, he just had to convince the composer she had. Devereaux seemed the jealous type, controlling and unforgiving. Maybe he should poke a bit at that jealousy? Several years ago, he’d converted all his VHS tapes to digital format on his computer. With a little bit of manipulation…oh yes, he’d make Devereaux quite jealous indeed. When he dropped Alex, Blankenship would be there waiting to pick up the pieces and bring her back where she belonged. Chaney had been satisfied with the plan but warned him not to let it go too long before implementation. He needed them both distracted and at odds quickly.

Blankenship knew he’d need help on this project; his expertise wasn’t in video manipulation. Thankfully, he’d recently discovered one of his employees was a heavy gambler and was now embezzling in order to cover his losses. This man would help him create the videos or face both jail as well as the leg-breakers the mob bosses would send for reneging on his bets. Now to decide how to ensure Devereaux saw them…


Carla Goldman was angry. No, she was more than angry; she was furious and everything in her dressing room that could break had paid the price. For two years she’d been trying to bed the elusive Erik Devereaux but he always declined. Oh, he was disgustingly polite about it, citing an abhorrence for workplace relationships, needing to dedicate all his free time to his latest composition, even saying he wouldn’t want to distract her during rehearsals. Lies, lies, lies! Instead, he was banging that red-haired nobody who the Girys fawned over like she was the freaking Queen of England. There was no way she was letting this person take Erik from her. He was hers and was always meant to be hers. She just needed to make Erik see the truth.

The crunch of glass under her feet was ignored while she plotted a way to rip the very powerful, very wealthy Devereaux away from Alex. She’d watched the two closely and it was clear the woman was crazy for him but no one could read the composer’s true feelings even without the costume mask. Perhaps it was one sided? A smile began to form on her lips for the first time that night; a most unpleasant smile. The ginger twit would be working at the opera house. If she just happened to walk in while Carla was providing Erik with a bit of mid-day sexual relief…


Detective Da’ud al-Zahir had been retired for nearly a month. After the incidents in October, he’d decided he was too old to go chasing after criminals; besides, he didn’t heal as fast as he once did in his younger days. His face bore more lines than before and his black hair was peppered with grey. Some said it made him look distinguished; he thought it simply made him look old. His heritage had also started to create problems in the precinct that he simply didn’t want to address. Rather than continue to work in a hostile environment both outside the station as well as in, he turned in his paperwork and was gone by Christmas. He had invested well since his days in the Agency and, though he could never hope to match Devereaux’s wealth, he could live quite comfortably without having to put his life on the line. He’d also met a lady who he wished to pursue and didn’t want to expose her to the dangers that are always present in a policeman’s life. Now if he could just gather the nerve to call her…

He was reading his morning newspaper when the telephone rang. Something told him that he didn’t want to answer it; he had a gut feeling he’d not like what he’d hear. When the answering machine picked up, the caller simply hung up and immediately called back. Urgent, then. Sighing, he checked the caller ID and groaned at seeing the police commissioner’s phone number. Didn’t these people understand what retired meant?

“Yes, Commissioner?” As he listened, his annoyance turned to shock and then concern. Raoul de Chagny had escaped.

One Love, One Lifetime - Chapter 6

January 1

Erik growled low and captured her lips in a soul-stealing kiss. He’d make her forget everything but their love and passion.

Alex surrendered eagerly to his talented lips in hopes of another glorious night in his bed. He kissed his way down her neck to nibble her shoulder and whisper softly against her skin. “I want to see you, mon amour, wearing nothing but the jewelry you have on now; I want to see your gorgeous hair spread out upon my pillow as you whisper my name in passion. I want to touch and taste every inch of your beautiful body and give you such pleasure that you weep from it.”

She moaned her approval of his erotic words. Good God, he was going to make her forget her own name at this rate. Reaching under her voluminous ball gown, he tugged sharply on the lacy panties breaking the string-like band. Erik captured her mouth, his tongue darting in to taste her at the same time his fingers slid deep inside her. God, she was so wet and eager for his touch. Both moaned at the contact they’d been denied for so long. Tongue and fingers moved in rhythm as he urged her on to ecstasy. When he felt her stiffening in his arms, her breath coming in desperate gasps, he whispered his encouragement, begged her to let go. Kissing her deeply once more, he muffled her scream with his mouth as he felt her tight muscles contracting around his fingers. He gradually slowed his strokes to more gentle caresses as Alex came down from her orgasmic high. With a whimper of protest when he removed his hand from her body, she collapsed, drowsy and sated, against his chest. Smoothing her skirts, Erik wrapped both his arms around his love and held her close to his heart.

“God, Erik,” Alex’s voice was barely a whisper against his neck, “I…you…oh God.” Another shudder shook her frame and, at a loss for words, she merely kissed his neck gently as he stroked her hair.

“I do hope I accomplished my goal, mon amour,” his voice was hoarse with his own barely contained need. “Be aware, however, that is but a sample of what is to come when we arrive home.” She chuckled softly and nibbled her way up his neck to lick his ear.

“I’m not sure I can survive more, love,” Alex dared to run teasing fingers over the hard bulge that pressed against her thigh, “but it looks like you can.”

“Alexandra…” Erik laid his head back on the seat with a groan as her fingernails scraped him through the material. “Do you know what you’re doing to me, my fiery little minx? If you don’t stop…”

His beautiful voice caught in his throat at the sound of the zipper slowly opening. When his manhood was finally freed of the painful constriction of his trousers, it was hard, throbbing, and eager for her touch. Erik barely kept from embarrassing himself when her small hands closed around his painfully throbbing shaft. His fingers left her hair to grip the edge of the seat when she slid from his lap to the floor. Her pale green eyes, made almost emerald with desire, locked onto his molten amber ones as she ran her tongue slowly up the length of him. The groan that left his golden throat brought heat to her body to know that she was pleasuring him as much as he had pleasured her.

Erik couldn’t believe just how beautiful and erotic she looked as her lips and hands worshiped his aching member. He knew he wouldn’t be able to last long if she didn’t stop. Her seductive smile as she ran her tongue over the smooth skin nearly made him lose what little control he had left. She knew exactly what she was doing to him, the little tease. With a low growl, he grabbed Alex’s waist and pulled her harshly to his lap. Shoving aside her many skirts, he quickly sat her astride his thighs and impaled her in one smooth motion. He could feel the bite of her nails even through his thick costume as she whimpered at the sudden invasion. And then she began to move. Holy hell, was there anything more erotic than watching a woman riding her man to her ultimate pleasure? He could only watch for a few moments before his control shattered beneath her impassioned cries. Aroused to the point of madness, Erik gripped her hips and held her still as he thrust almost viciously into her warm body. When she leaned back, he released one of her hips and slipped his hand under her skirts to tease the super-sensitive bud that lay at the center of her womanly pleasure.

“Now, Alexandra!” His beautiful voice was strained but commanding. “Come for me, mon amour.” His touch, his voice, and the relentless thrusts of his demanding shaft caused an explosion of pleasure so intense that Alex sobbed his name. It was so much, too much. With a roar, he brought her savagely down on his thick shaft until he, too, reached the ultimate peak.

Weak, shaking, and with her skin hyper-sensitive, Alex curled up against his chest and wept from more love and passion than she could hold inside. Erik stroked her hair and back with a trembling hand, planting small kisses on the crown of her head as he, too, sought to calm his raging emotions. After many long, quiet minutes of trying to steady their breathing, a tiny giggle from the red-haired beauty who still sat astride his flagging manhood had Erik tilting her chin up to his questioning gaze. When he saw that her cheeks were nearly as red as the rubies in her jewelry, he tilted his head and raised his brows in enquiry. He almost missed her soft, embarrassed whisper.

“Do you think…the driver heard?” Stroking her reddened cheek, he grinned at her question.

“Alexandra, mon amour, do you want the truth or do you want me to salvage your pride?” With a squeak of embarrassment, she scrambled off his lap (much to his dismay) and made an attempt to straighten her skirts and hair. Erik, on the other hand, took his time adjusting himself and fastening his trousers. When the limo pulled up to the house and the driver opened the door, Alex’s face flamed again. She did not want to look at the driver or she might simply die of embarrassment. With a chuckle, Erik stepped out and swept her into his arms, into the house, and towards the stairs to his bedroom.


It took them a while to actually make it to his bedroom. Their first delay was against the front door where Erik pinned her while wrestling the skirts off her body. When Alex wrapped her legs around his waist and returned his heated kisses with enthusiasm, he unzipped his trousers and released his aching manhood to bury it deep inside her warm, intoxicating body. It was fast and explosive and pure heaven. Remaining inside her, Erik carried her up the stairs as his fingers worked at the laces of her bodice. He discarded the offending material carelessly and lowered his mouth to one rock hard nipple. Alex’s guttural moan set his very blood aflame and he felt himself hardening once more. Would he ever grow tired of having her? With a growl of animalistic desire, he feverishly removed the rest of her clothing as they stumbled the rest of the way to his room. He undressed in record time and quickly buried himself in her warm, wet body once more. Their coupling was heated, rushed, and nearly violent in its intensity.

“Mmm…mine,” As they drifted down from the exhilaration of their lovemaking, Alex’s soft voice was little more than a drowsy whisper against his bare neck.

“As you are mine, mon amour,” Erik laid a light kiss on her forehead, brushing her damp hair from her eyes. “I do believe, however, that you are missing a piece of the jewelry set I purchased for you.” His glowing golden eyes betrayed just the barest hint of his nervousness as he watched her check the earrings, necklace, and bracelet she still wore.

“Oh no! Wait…what do you mean, Erik? They’re all here.”

Reaching under his pillow, his hand shook as it closed on the ring he’d hidden there before leaving for the ball. He rose to one elbow to gaze lovingly down at this woman who’d made him whole once more. Erik kept the ring hidden as he ran a gentle finger along the line of her jaw, down her neck, across one delectable breast, and to her left hand. His voice shook as he slid the ring onto her finger. “You’re missing the ring, mon amour.”

“Erik?” Alex’s eyes widened as she felt the cold metal slide over her finger. Was this what she thought it was? Please God, yes.

“I love you, ma petite chère,” he lifted her hand to his lips to place a kiss just below the ring that sparkled there. “I think I have since that first day in the Library when you quickly put me in my place. You understand my music, stand up to my temper, and even seem to accept my horror of a face. You fill my heart with laughter and my bed with passion and love and I would be honored if you would agree to share a home, a love, a lifetime with me.” Erik gazed down at the woman who could bring him misery or ecstasy with her next words and didn’t even try to hide the fear in his eyes. “Be my wife, Alexandra?”

“Oh God, yes!” Tears of joy were rolling down her cheeks as she brought their joined hands closer so she could return his sweet caress on his own elegant fingers. “I knew you were something special the moment I met you, my love. You are so talented, so intelligent, and so incredibly sexy that I wanted you with a desperation that unnerved me. You drew me to you like a flame does a moth and oh how I gloried in the burn. To share a lifetime with you wouldn’t be nearly long enough but it will have to do for now.”

Tears and laughter mingled together as they sealed their vow with happy kisses. Alex desperately wished to see the ring, however, and pulled away to sit up and switch on the bedside lamp. Erik sat up to lean back against the headboard and watched her with a smile. Her jaw dropped to see the bedroom filled with bouquets of roses on every conceivable surface. Even the bed was covered in petals that, in their enthusiasm, she’d failed to notice until now. A strong but gentle hand nudged her jaw closed and she turned to Erik with fresh tears in her eyes.

“When did you do all this?”

“Today while you were chatting with Lizzie.” He cupped her cheek and caressed the soft skin with his thumb. “I wanted tonight to be perfect for you, mon amour. I wanted so desperately for you to say yes.”

“How could I say anything else when I’ve loved you for so long?” Moving to sit between his thighs, Alex lay with her back to his chest and admired the ruby and diamond ring. She sighed happily when his arms wrapped around her waist and held her in a gentle embrace. “It’s beautiful, Erik.”

“So are you, mon amour, so are you.” Happily exhausted, the couple slid down amongst the rose petals as sleep took them into its comforting embrace.


In the cold, stark hospital room of a maximum security federal penitentiary a male patient awaited his doctor’s routine visit with a little surprise of his own. As the man approached the bedside to read one of the monitors, the patient – supposedly in a drug-induced coma – grabbed him by the throat, wrestled the pen from his hand, and buried it several inches into the doctor’s left eye. He quickly removed the white coat before it could be stained with blood, grabbed the clipboard and ID badge and threw the doctor onto the cot. Whistling a jaunty tune, the patient waved to the tired guards at the door and bid them a good night before turning the corner and ducking into the supply closet. There, hidden behind a false wall, was the entrance to the tunnel that would lead him to freedom. And vengeance.

One Love, One Lifetime - Chapter 5

Chapter 5

December 31

The masquerade ball was already in full swing by the time the sleek, black limo pulled up to the curb. The driver, one of the security guards from the Estate, opened the door for the two impeccably dressed occupants. Erik stepped out in a formal nineteenth century black tailored opera suit with a crisp white shirt, blood red waistcoat and matching red cravat. He complemented it with a black cape lined with red satin, black fedora, and mahogany walking stick topped with a silver skull glaring out with ruby eyes. He wore a specially made white porcelain mask that gleamed from beneath the fedora and the overall effect was breath-taking. When she first saw him, Alex couldn’t help it; she gaped like a fish. It took her more self-control than she thought she possessed not to drag him up the stairs to his room to spend the night exploring the secrets of her mysterious Phantom.

Once he had his hat in place, Erik turned to help his lady out of the limousine. Alexandra was wearing a matching period ball dress with a pure white sleeveless form-fitting bodice embroidered with red and silver flowers. The skirt was white satin over tulle with a small train in the back and a trim of red and silver embroidery to match the bodice. The jewelry he’d given her on their picnic gleamed on her alabaster skin while long white satin gloves and a faux fox-fur wrap completed the ensemble. When Erik saw her waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs of his home, he felt as if he’d been kicked in the gut. She was more than lovely; she was radiantly beautiful! And this goddess had chosen him. He didn’t have words to describe how he felt in that moment. Alex smiled her thanks at their driver before taking Erik’s arm to climb the stairs to the elaborate foyer.

The moment they entered the grand ballroom, Alex was spellbound. It was decorated like the decadent boudoir of Erik’s Don Juan and they matched its black and red décor perfectly. The orchestra, on a discrete signal from Erik, began playing Point of No Return. Bowing elegantly to a fiercely blushing Alex, who had immediately remembered the first time she’d heard the song, the Phantom pulled her into his arms for a dance.

“That couldn’t have been a coincidence, Erik,” she tried to give him a stern frown but ruined it with a giggle.

“You wound my sense of timing, ma petite,” his golden eyes twinkled with mischief as he held her closer than necessary. “But if I had arranged for that particular song to be played,” he pulled her even closer and softly purred in her ear, “I would prefer it to be when we are alone so we could reminisce properly.”

Alex wondered if pure desirous need could be fatal. The song, combined with Erik’s arms around her and the memories of their night together, shot liquid fire through her blood and she trembled in his arms from the force of it. She knew Erik was fully aware of what he was doing to her for his eyes had turned to molten amber and his lips were curled in the tiniest of smug grins. Perhaps what he needed was a taste of his own medicine? Heedless of the ball, of the guests, of anything but the man in her arms, Alex pulled his lips to hers for a passionate kiss that promised heaven once they were alone. When she would have stepped back he held her close with a soft chuckle.

“Not yet, ma petite, unless you wish everyone to be aware of where we’d prefer to be.” He shifted slightly and her eyes widened as she felt the rock hard evidence of his arousal. After several moments of rather close dancing, Erik felt confident he was presentable and escorted Alex off the ballroom floor. They were immediately joined by Angelique and Meg Giry who were eager to be reacquainted with the lady who’d stolen the heart of their masked friend.

When the managers approached to discuss the upcoming opera season with Erik, the Girys pulled Alex away for a chat. She’d grown to care deeply for Erik’s family in the short time she’d known them. Angelique, though outwardly stern, had a dry sense of humor that sometimes showed itself at the strangest times. She was everything a mother should be to Erik, even on those times when she gave him a piece of her mind. Her daughter, Meg, was equally charming though in a different way. The ballerina was bubbly and full of energy to the point of being annoying at times. She enjoyed an easy, open relationship with Erik that Alex envied. The only thing that made her uneasy was her own precarious position in Erik’s life and thus in theirs as well. Letting her eyes drift back to her handsome Phantom, she told herself once more to take it day by day and be satisfied with that.

“Erik tells me you’re going to join us at the opera house as a set designer,” Angelique’s cultured voice pulled her attention away from her lover.

“Oh! Well, in a way, I suppose. I’ll be working with the designer when I can as a type of internship. I sketch as a hobby and I fear Erik has exaggerated my skills.”

“You’ve not seen him at work, have you?” Meg, a petite blond with startlingly green eyes, ginned and revealed a pair of dimples. “Trust me, if you weren’t any good there’s no way he’d let you anywhere near his opera. Even I had to audition and I’m his sister, for heaven’s sake! If he wants you in such a position then you must be an amazing artist.”

“She is an amazing artist,” two strong arms wrapped around Alex’s waist and she leaned against Erik with a smile. “Maman, you’ve seen her sketchbook. What do you think? Is my Alexandra worthy of a job with the opera house?” Alex shot a surprised look at him; she didn’t know anyone else had seen her sketchbook besides him and Da’ud.

“No, mon fils, she is not worthy of the opera house,” Angelique teased her adoptive son, “she deserves a show in a gallery.”

Alex felt like her dress was a more than appropriate color for her face had to match the red embroidery perfectly. A gallery? No, she was a hobbyist not a professional. Besides, she couldn’t have the financial uncertainty of an artist; she had obligations. An additional thought came unbidden that she would need something steady when Erik grew tired of her and she had to leave. She shuddered which earned her a questioning look from warm golden eyes. Forcing a smile, Alex shook her head to let him know it was nothing. He didn’t look convinced but he let it slide.

“Let me arrange one thing at a time, maman,” Erik chuckled softly and planted a light kiss on Alex’s cheek. “I am but a man, after all.”

“Excuse me? Don’t I have a say in all this?” Feigning irritation, Alex slid from her lover’s arms to glare at him with her hands on her hips. The smile that twitched her lips and the laughter that threatened to break through totally spoiled the effect, however.

“No, ma petite. You do not.” Grinning wickedly, her beloved Phantom pulled her back into his arms and whispered softly in her ear. “But I will allow you to punish me later.” His golden eyes burned with desire as her color rose once more. Dammit, why did he always have that effect on her?

“Erik! Where have you been hiding, my love?” Though she was certain the words were meant as a loving plea, they came out as shrill and whining instead. Frowning, Alex watched as an extravagantly dressed lady approached with her hands stretched out towards the composer. Too much was the impression she got from the woman who grasped Erik’s hands and pulled him from her arms. The lady, planting two noisy kisses on each of his cheeks, commanded attention with too much make up, too much bosom overflowing her dress, too many flowers in her hat, simply too over-the-top. But Erik doesn’t seem to mind, she silently fumed as he let himself be led away from their group. Her temper was stoked even more when the woman looked Alex up and down and then smirked in amused dismissal.

“Child, don’t worry about Erik and that…person,” Angelique’s face and voice held barely hidden contempt. “He’d rather lay in a pit of angry vipers than even consider spending more time than necessary with her.”

“Who is she, Mrs. Giry?” Alex was embarrassed that she’d been so obviously jealous. She was going to have to be more careful or Erik would find out how she feels.

“Angelique, please, we are practically family after all.” Alex wondered what she meant by that as an arm draped loosely around her waist for a motherly hug. “She was born Carla Goldman in some small New Jersey town. Now that she’s a big opera star, she prefers to use Carlotta Guidicelli and fancies herself Italian. Pretentious twit.” The older lady stared daggers at the diva who merely glared back. “She’s aging, and not gracefully at that, which spells the beginning of the end of her career. She’s been dangling after Erik for some time but he wouldn’t touch her with a ten foot pole.”

“It doesn’t look like he’s all that repelled by her,” Alex knew she sounded like a petulant child but couldn’t help it. A woman like this, someone from his world, was her greatest fear.

“She’s the leading soprano for his opera house. For now, at least. He has to be somewhat civil if he doesn’t want to rely on the understudy. Regardless of what she wants, Erik maintains a professional relationship with the woman. He definitely wouldn’t want any other kind of relationship; he doesn’t know where she’s been.”

“He doesn’t…?” Alex couldn’t stop her giggle.

“Yes, well he might know some of it which only reinforces that thought.” Angelique looped her arm through Alex’s and walked to an abandoned corner to put some distance between them and the other guests. “My dear, let me assure you of one thing; when Erik gives his heart, he doesn’t do so lightly. I wouldn’t worry about the prima donna inspiring anything but exasperation in him.”

“But…” Alex let her eyes wander back to the masked man and the diva, “he hasn’t, Angelique. Given his heart, that is. We have no understanding, made no promises beyond this moment and…”

“Nonsense!” Angelique waved her words away. “I’d taken you for an intelligent girl, Alexandra, but if you can’t see how much that man loves you then you are a fool. The question is…do you love him?”

“More than life itself.” Her answer was immediate and little more than a whisper as she fought the hope the lady’s words stirred to life. Erik chose that moment to look over at them and his slow, seductive smile only stirred her hope more.

“Then you have nothing to worry about, dear. Now, go stake your claim so that Carla knows the score.”


Erik had stopped listening to the diva’s demands the moment he turned to find Alex staring at him with love shining from her eyes. He wondered what Angelique was saying that allowed her to drop the walls she’d put in place since he’d brought her home from the hospital. Whatever it was, he had to remember to thank her when his Alexandra seemed to float to his side. Not caring who was watching, he wrapped his arm tightly around her waist and gave her a brief, hard kiss as a promise for later. Introductions with the diva were quick and stilted and both were relieved when Carlotta chose to storm off to sulk. Erik was just about to pull her back to the dance floor when the managers appeared with an unknown gentleman in tow. Well…unknown to him; Alex had stiffened and unconsciously tried to step behind him. Curious.

“Erik!” The jovial, booming voice belonged to Andre Montgomery, one of the managers. “I’m glad you haven’t left yet; it seems we have a new prospective patron. Michael Blankenship, let me introduce you to Mr. Erik Devereaux, the owner of this fine establishment and its primary composer. With him is the lovely Ms. Alexandra Roberts. Erik, Ms. Roberts, meet Mr. Blankenship, CEO of Omni Microchips.”

Glancing down at the pale and unusually quiet lady at his side, Erik stepped forward to shake the man’s hand. The suit, the cuff-links, even the signet ring were all designed to impress. This man had made a lot of money and wanted the world to know his value. He watched as the patron’s doe-brown eyes slid over to Alex with far too much familiarity and had to restrain himself from seriously injuring a very tender part of the man’s anatomy.

“Alex! I haven’t seen you in ages, my dear, where have you been hiding yourself?” Michael stepped forward as if to take her hand but stopped when she stepped back from him, crossed her arms over her chest, and glared. Erik’s curiosity grew. “Oh come on, you can’t still be mad? That was years ago. Let me take you out to dinner and…”

“Have you lost your fucking mind, Blankenship?” The shock on Alex’s face would be comical if not for the fury in her lovely green eyes. Mindless of the other guests at the ball, however, she kept her voice to a low hiss. “I wouldn’t piss on you if you were on fire much less try to stomach eating at the same table with you.”

“You always were a fiery one, sweet cheeks,” his condescending tone had Alex grinding her teeth. Michael smirked at her heightened color. “Now what do you say we get some drinks and relive old times?”

Smothering a most unladylike curse, Alex turned and stalked to the relative sanctuary of the ladies’ room. Catching his adoptive mother’s eye, Erik motioned for her to follow his beloved. He had to take out the trash.

“It appears the lady doesn’t want to renew your acquaintance, Blankenship.” The steel in his golden voice was sharp enough to split a hair and even Michael had sense enough to recognize the menace in the tone.

“She’s just playing hard to get,” the man had the gall to laugh! “She’ll come around like she did before. Her type always does.”

Erik’s hand was on Blankenship’s throat holding him two inches off the floor before he could blink. Carrying him the few strides necessary, he slammed the man into the wall and held him there taking murderous delight in the many colors the man’s face was turning before it took on a more purplish hue. “Listen closely to me, Blankenship,” The words were the hiss of a cobra ready to strike and the fear that grew in his victim’s eyes brought an equally frightening smile to his masked face. “You are not to attempt any contact with Alexandra from this day forward. No phone calls, no lunches, no casual meetings…nothing. She belongs to me now and I protect what’s mine!” With a final shake to emphasize his point, Erik threw the man into a crumpled lump on floor gasping for air while he went in search of his Alexandra.

Arriving at the ladies’ lounge, he knocked lightly on the door. There was the click of a lock before Angelique opened it a crack to see who it was. Relieved, she gestured for him to come inside as she closed and locked the door behind him. At the far end of the sofa, Alexandra was calmly and carefully dabbing at her hand with a damp paper towel.

“You’re not supposed to be in here, Erik,” like her motions, her voice was calm. Too calm. “If there is anything you are not, love, it’s feminine.” Erik sat beside her and noticed, for the first time, the shattered mirror above the first sink lightly splattered with blood. That explained why she was nursing her hand.

“I won’t let him hurt you, ma petite chère. I won’t let anyone hurt you ever again.” He pulled her stiff body into his arms and plotted all the things he could do to one Michael Blankenship. It was many minutes before she relaxed into his embrace.

“Just…take me home, please?”

Escorting her to gather their cloaks and his hat, Erik asked Angelique to inform the management that they had been called back to the Estate unexpectedly. The older lady agreed and gave each a hug and kiss on the cheek before watching them leave. Alex was quiet as they descended the stairs to the waiting limousine which worried Erik. He’d rather she rant and rave and scream than hold it in like she was doing. Pulling her back into his lap once the limo pulled away from the opera house, he gently removed the paper that covered her hand to see what kind of damage she’d done. Relieved that there were only minor cuts that had already stopped bleeding, he pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and tied it around her hand just in case the wounds reopened.

“Talk to me, ma petite chère,” Erik begged softly as she remained still and quiet in his arms. “What did that man do to hurt you so?”

“Oh, Erik,” Alex sighed and laid her head on his shoulder, “it was so long ago that I thought I’d forgotten all about it. I was barely out of high school. He was my boyfriend and the first to…well, you know.” His growl let her know he understood and didn’t approve. “Yes, well…my parents had recently been killed, my brother was in prison, and I was lonely and gullible. Mike used that against me. And then he threw a bachelor party for a friend of his and I found out that…that…he’d videotaped us. Together. And was showing the tape to his buddies during the party. He didn’t even have the balls to tell me himself; I had to find out by accident. After dropping my keys and searching for them under the sofa, I found a nicely written critique of my ‘performance’. I have never been so mortified or felt so violated in my life.”

“I’ll kill him.” Erik’s cold voice sent a shiver down her spine as she knew that, in his current frame of mind, he quite possibly would do just that.

“No, love, you will not,” Alex kissed him softly. “He’s neither worth the effort nor the consequences. But I know what you can do for me…” She eased his mask off his face with a small smile before brushing her lips across his scarred cheek. “Make me forget.” Erik growled low and captured her lips in a soul-stealing kiss. He’d make her forget everything but their love and passion.

One Love, One Lifetime - Chapter 4

Chapter 4

December 31

The rest of the morning was to be spent on the ground floor of the house as Erik claimed he didn’t want her to tire herself before they left for the ball. He even had her gather anything she’d need from the room, such as her makeup, jewelry, and underwear, and place them back in her old bedroom. Though he did worry that Alex would overdo things before they even left the Estate, he was more worried that she would stumble onto the other surprises he had in store for her after they returned. For her part, she was aware he was up to something; he’d not been this adamant about her remaining on the bottom floor since her first days in his home. His barely concealed delight at whatever scheme he was setting into place eased her mind and had her believing she’d enjoy whatever he had planned.

In order to pass the day in a leisurely fashion without giving in to her ever-growing curiosity, Alex spent the morning on the computer chatting with Lizzie. Her friend had recently sold her house and moved to a gated community as a result of Christine’s and Raoul’s invasion of her home. When questioned about her relationship with Erik, Alex neatly side-stepped the issue by telling her all about her new position as a set designer. She described his Don Juan Triumphant and, though she was blushing deeply, explained why this particular opera would always hold a special place in her heart. Before she signed off for lunch with her sexy composer, Lizzie brought up one disturbing thought: Alex’s student loans. Now that she had graduated, the payments would begin soon and she’d been out of work for nearly three months. With a sigh, she brought up a few job search sights. It looked like she’d be an accountant after all.


Lunch was usually a quick and simple affair but Erik had other plans. A picnic basket with a neatly folded blanket on top was placed on the table and held all they’d need. There was a lovely place just through a line of trees that overlooked a small pond; far enough away they wouldn’t be able to see the house but not too far for Alexandra to walk. Though the December air still carried the bite of winter, the sky was clear and the wind was calm. With a good coat and a blanket over their legs, they should be able to enjoy themselves with minimal discomfort. And if they did get a bit chilled, there was much to be said for body heat. After calling the main gate to let them know he wouldn’t be at the house and to call his cell if he was needed, he went in search of Alex. He found her in the Library poring over job sites which immediately resurrected all his concerns that she planned to leave him.

“Have you changed your mind about working at the opera house, ma petite?” He kept his voice smooth with effort as his stomach was churning. He couldn’t let her leave him, not now…not ever.

“Of course not,” Alex smiled but her glance was quick and didn’t meet his eyes, “but I remembered that I’ve got some serious financial obligations and no income since early October. So, I’ll actually use my degree and be a hobby artist once more.”

Relieved that she was simply worried about finances, Erik reached over her shoulder and closed the laptop. A gentle finger on her lips stopped her protests as he helped her from her chair and escorted her into the kitchen. “Would mademoiselle do me the honor of her presence on a picnic?” He bowed elegantly and offered her his arm as he picked up the basket. Her smile was genuine this time and she took his arm after planting a swift kiss on his cheek. At the door, Erik helped her on with her coat before donning his own.


“Yes, ma petite chère?”

“Where did this come from?” Alex touched the faux fur collar to indicate the winter coat. “I know it didn’t come from my apartment.”

“Yours wasn’t thick enough for the winter, petite, so I took it upon myself to purchase you a new one.” He wrapped a scarf around her neck and sat a matching hat upon her head before guiding her out the door. “You do like it, don’t you?” He was slightly nervous as he didn’t know how she’d react to his gifts; his Alexandra could be a stubborn woman who too often let her pride get in her way. With a wry smile, he acknowledged how alike they were in that respect.

“Of course, I love it, but you shouldn’t have…”

“Shush. If I wish to spend my money on you, I shall.” Erik’s smile as he interrupted her protests took the bite out of his gentle chiding. He was pleased when she simply shook her head and muttered something that sounded suspiciously like “stubborn mule” though it held more humor than irritation. He chuckled softly and kissed the top of her head before guiding her through the short trail between the trees. The rest of the walk was filled with companionable silence as both became lost in thoughts of the other.

“Oh, Erik!” Alex’s eyes were wide as she surveyed the hilltop and its lovely view of the surrounding meadows. The lake below them sparkled in the sun like one of Mother Nature’s diamond brooches and the effect took her breath away. Behind her, Erik laid out the picnic blanket and basket before approaching and wrapping his arms around her from behind.

Mademoiselle approves of the venue?” He tightened his hold briefly when she melted against him and buried his unmasked face in her neck. Grinning and placing a gentle nibble on her sensitive neck when she shivered at his low murmur in her ear, Erik then stepped back and guided her to the blanket. After draping the second blanket across their legs, he prepared both of their plates with the simple fare of sandwiches and fruit, pouring them each a cup of hot cocoa from the insulated thermos.

“You never told me you were such a romantic, my love,” Alex chuckled as she leaned against the trunk of a large tree with her hands wrapped around the warm cup.

“I’ve never had reason to be until you tumbled into my life.” He kept his tone light to conceal the depth of his feelings for now but could not resist the temptation to spoil her. “Alexandra…”


She clutched her mug of cocoa tightly as she cursed her runaway tongue. She’d sworn she’d not complicate their relationship by letting him know how much she loved him and yet, at the first opportunity, she blurted it out without thinking. She prayed he thought it a simple term of endearment with nothing more than a lover’s affection behind it. Alex didn’t want him to stay with her out of guilt or a sense of obligation. If he only wanted her as a lover, she would try her best to be satisfied with that and hide her pain from his piercing eyes. His next words, however, ripped open the cage she’d so carefully constructed around the hope in her heart.

“I’ve never had reason to be until you tumbled into my life.” His words were spoken so lightly that she had to dismiss them as teasing. But oh how she wished it to be true! When Erik said her name, and she heard that slight catch to his voice, her heart nearly stopped beating. In her most secret fantasies, Alex had dreamed of a moment like this. The romantic setting was perfect with just the two of them close and intimate; he’d take her in his arms and ask her to stay with him always. She longed for such a moment and yet…squashing her foolish dream, Alex took a deep breath and tried to remain calm.

“I have a gift for you, ma petite chère.” Erik took the mug from her hands and replaced it with a long, black velvet box. Alex kept her eyes averted; frightened he’d see her unreasonable disappointment that the box wasn’t smaller and more square. She hoped he dismissed her shaking hands as excitement as she pried open the lid. Her gasp, however, was genuine at the beautiful ruby and diamond necklace, bracelet, and earring set. This had to have cost a fortune; there was no way she could accept this!

“Erik…I can’t…this is too much…” Oh but she wanted to. The gems were set in platinum, one of her favorites as yellow gold clashed with her skin tone, and were impressive but not gaudy. The focal gem was an emerald cut stone that had to be at least five carats with two dainty chains dangling from the bottom lined with tiny baguette cut diamonds. The chain which held the main stone consisted of three delicate Figaro chains braided around alternating diamonds and rubies. The bracelet matched the chains’ braided design while the earrings were smaller mirrors of the focal stone. Together, it was an astonishingly beautiful set.

“You can, mon amour,” he leaned over and kissed her softly, “and you will. It will also look wonderful with your costume for tonight.”

“But…Erik, you’ve been so wonderful to me and I have nothing to give you,” Alex glanced up at him before her eyes were irresistibly drawn back to the gems. A gentle finger nudged under her chin and she was amazed at the happiness in his golden eyes.

“You have given me something worth far more than anything that can be bought, Alexandra. You’ve accepted me: my face, my horrible temper, even my odd habits. All of the gold and gems in the world cannot compare to such a treasure.” Caressing her cheek softly, almost reverently, Erik leaned forward and captured her lips in a soft, gentle, soul-stealing kiss.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

One Love, One Lifetime - Chapter 3

Chapter 3

December 31

             The week after Christmas seemed to crawl slower than a snail to both of the occupants of the Devereaux Estate. New Year’s Eve was the traditional date for the opera house’s annual masquerade ball, a grand affair that brought patrons and artists together for a night of entertainment to kick off the upcoming opera season. After Alex’s last medical review, Erik had consulted with the doctor and, as long as she didn’t over do it, he’d be able to truly escort her to the ball on his arm instead of in the much-despised chair. He was trying to keep it a surprise but it was difficult when the doctor had approved all physical activity as long as she got plenty of rest.
             Erik barely slept the night before the ball; instead, he held his Alexandra and watched as she slept. Her hair framed her face like a fiery halo made all the brighter by the inky blackness of his satin sheets; he was pleased that she was letting her hair grow long for he loved its brilliant color. Unable to resist touching her, he brushed the back of his hand lightly across her cheek and felt his heart fill to overflowing when she smiled and whispered his name. She was beautiful and tonight, after the ball, she will be his once more. He faced the coming night with as much trepidation as eager anticipation. The ball represented all he sought to avoid during the rest of the year; the posturing and fawning and deal-making of the management, actors, and patrons was enough to turn his stomach. Let the managers deal with that side of things, it’s what they were hired for anyway. But tonight he wished to attend if only to show off the lovely creature at his side and in his heart.
            Eager to get their day started, Erik woke his love with gentle, feather-light kisses that deepened with the passion that was never far from the surface. When they finally broke for air, he buried his face in her neck and held her tight as he struggled for control. He sat up, bringing her with him, and placed a final kiss upon her brow before rising. They had fallen into a comfortable routine in the month she’d lived with him so he started down the stairs to start the coffee while she headed for the shower. As the door closed behind him, however, he missed the stricken look on Alex’s face as she saw his costume hanging on the closet door. With a suppressed sob, she darted for the bathroom where she could let her tears flow unchecked.
            Oblivious to her pain, Erik returned with a tray containing coffee, fruit, pastries, juice, and a single red rose tied with a black silk ribbon. Beneath the rose was her invitation to the ball, he’d show her the costume he’d chosen after she’d eaten. His first hint that all was not well with Alex was the length of time spent in the bathroom. She’d never been one to fuss over her morning ablutions and already she’d taken twice as long as normal. He became worried that she might have fallen and knocked lightly on the door. His concern grew when she failed to answer and he knocked again with more force while calling her name.
            “Alexandra, are you alright, ma petite?” He tried the knob and was astonished to find it locked. Worry soon grew to full-blown panic; she’d never locked him out before. He kept his voice even only with great effort. “Please open the door, ma chèrie, your coffee shall get cold and I have a surprise for you.”
            “I may be a while, Erik. Go on without me and I’ll join you later in the Music Room.” He frowned at the lack of emotions in her voice. Was she angry? He couldn’t think of anything that could have happened to spark her temper. Maybe she had been crying instead? If she was in pain, she needed to tell him.
            “Open the door, Alexandra.” His concern was quickly turning to anger at her stubbornness; the silence stretched between them and fueled his temper. “That was not a request.”
            “I’m a big girl, Devereaux; I can get myself out of the bathroom, thank you very much.” Ah, so it was anger. At least he didn’t have to worry about her health.
             “I’m sure you can, ma petite, but if you do not do so quickly I will be compelled to come aid you. I feel certain you don’t want that to happen, now do you?” His golden voice was silky smooth and as sharp as a freshly honed razor blade.


            The stress and uncertainty of the last few weeks had all come to a head when Alex realized that they wouldn’t be forfeiting the ball, just her. Erik had never once said he loved her or that their relationship, however it was defined, was a monogamous one. Perhaps he already had a date, a beautiful singer who was able to share his love for music in a way she never could. She continued to torment herself with such thoughts - picturing a beautiful woman in his arms while they danced, his golden eyes smiling down at her with love and desire, their kiss as they succumb to their passion – and her despair was giving way to anger. If he was just going to abandon her for an easy romp at the ball, then he can go and good riddance. She’d be better off without him. In order not to collapse into hysterics at the prospect of having to leave Erik, she welcomed the anger and stoked it.
            The click of the lock sounded unusually loud and she risked a glance at the man she loved. He blocked the doorway with his tall, imposing frame; his eyes molten amber with fury and a set of odd tools in his hand. Her heart beat quickly at the sight of his angry magnificence. My God he was irresistible when furious. Unwilling to back down from his temper and show her misery, Alex merely crossed her arms and arched a brow as she stared at him.
            “Bravo, Devereaux, you’ve slain the demon named Door and made your way to the lady it held captive. Don’t you feel special?” She prayed the sarcasm hid her nervousness; he looked positively dangerous.
Erik tossed the tools into a corner and stalked towards her, his eyes pinning her in place as surely as any physical bonds. The closer he came, the more nervous she got and she hid her shaking hands behind her. When he was mere inches from her, he stared into her eyes and Alex felt he was looking into her very soul. In that one brief moment, her defenses cracked and revealed all her pain and sadness before she managed to tear her gaze from his. She tried to resist the firm but gentle hand that guided her eyes back to his face but he would brook no opposition. Once more she was caught in his liquid pools of amber fire.
“I will have my answers, ma petite,” his voice was a sensuous purr that caressed her skin and made her blood run hot. The fingers that glided across her cheek left a trail of tingling fire and she wanted nothing more than to fall into his arms and to hell with the future. The corners of his lips curled up in the barest ghost of a smile. “You do not want to be angry, Alexandra; in fact, you are not. Are you? No, the anger is but a mask to hide your true feelings. It was you who demanded that there were to be no masks between us, ma petite chère. I’ve left off wearing mine; it is time you do the same.”
As much as she tried to fight it, Alex couldn’t stop the tears that came to her eyes nor control the trembling of her body beneath his gentle hand. “Why didn’t you tell me you were attending the ball without me, Erik?”
“Come with me.” Suddenly, he stepped away and she felt the loss of his body heat keenly. Feeling numb, she followed him and sat on the edge of the bed at his gesture. “Look on the tray, Alexandra.”
Biting her lip and risking a glance at his impassive face, she inched over to the night stand and looked at the breakfast he’d prepared for them. The rose brought tears to her eyes once more and she caressed its soft petals before inhaling its lovely fragrance. She took the envelope that had lain beneath the rose and opened it. Alex brought a hand to her mouth to stifle a sob; the envelope contained her invitation to the ball. He had planned to take her all along. Gentle hands on her shoulders turned her into his embrace as Erik ran his fingers through her damp hair.
“Shhh…no more tears, ma petite chère.” He murmured against her hair. “I didn’t mention it as I wished to surprise you. Your costume is now hanging in your closet. Oh, no, ma chère,” he tightened his hold on her to keep her from rising, “you can see it later. Right now you will tell me, please, why you didn’t let me know this had been bothering you.”
“It seemed so petty…” Alex stopped when he shook his head. Damn, he wasn’t going to accept that. “Um, well…”
“The truth, Alexandra.”
“I…I didn’t want to presume…I mean, we’ve made n…no commitment to each other.” She gave a shrug, “I figured if…if you wanted me there, you’d have asked by now.”


            Erik stared at her in shock. Did she truly have no idea how he felt? But no, he could see it in her eyes; she thought she was nothing more to him than a pleasant interlude. All this time…
            “Alexandra, ma petite chère…” He longed to set her mind at ease but didn’t want to spoil the surprise he had in store. But perhaps he could give her a hint. Leaning down, Erik brushed her lips with his and smiled tenderly. “I didn’t ask because I thought you knew I’d have no other at my side tonight. And you will be at my side, ma petite; the doctor says you may leave the chair at home as long as you don’t overtax your strength. I have…plans…for tonight after the ball so I will ensure you do not grow too weary.”
            A faint blush stained her cheeks as she imagined all sorts of things he could have planned. Grinning wickedly, Erik pulled her closer and nibbled his way up her neck; all the while wondering how he was ever going to be able to wait until after the ball. He teased her mercilessly, placing light kisses on her face but studiously avoiding her lips. When she whimpered in frustrated protest, he finally let her guide his lips to hers. Sighing in delight, Alex eagerly accepted his kiss, even deepened it, but ever in the back of her mind remained a single, heart rending thought: he still had said nothing about love.

One Love, One Lifetime - Chapter 2

Chapter 2


            Alex waited for the click of the bedroom door before turning the taps. She was dying to take a shower and wash her hair and knew Erik would scold her for standing too long. Erik…he was as much an enigma to her now as when she first met him. He’d sat with her every day at the hospital, bringing a small portable keyboard so he could work on his opera, or simply talking to her about anything and nothing. Now that they were back at the Estate; however, he’d shut himself away in the Music Room and barely remembered to eat. When she mentioned it to him, he had simply shrugged and told her that he was highly focused right before rehearsals started. Alex had understood but a niggling doubt in the back of her head had her wondering if he had grown tired of her already.
            Sitting on the edge of the bed to lace up her sneakers, Alex heard Erik’s light tread on the stairs and wished her heart didn’t race so at the mere thought of him. It was quite disconcerting to imagine him naked every time she saw him, especially when he refused to let her do anything about it. As annoyed as she was with her natural reaction to his nearness, she nonetheless gave him a smile of gratitude for the cup of hot, black coffee he placed in her hands. They spoke of commonplace things until their cups were empty and Alex felt a bit more human. Erik scooped her into his arms and carried her to the hated chair at the bottom of the stairs. She couldn’t wait to be rid of the blasted thing and sitting in it did nothing for her mood.
            Erik had returned from placing their cups in the sink and caught the handles of the chair before she could wheel herself into the Library. Instead, he told her that he had a surprise for her and pushed the chair towards the Music Room. When they entered, Alex didn’t immediately notice anything different. The grand piano still took up most of one corner of the room and the walls were lined with built in book cases. Behind the piano, however, in the corner of the room with the best natural lighting in the house sat an easel complete with canvasses of many sizes, paints, pencils…everything she’d ever dream of needing or wanting in a studio. At first, she was rendered speechless. Was this why he wouldn’t let her in the Music Room? Turning in the chair to look up at him, she could see how nervous he was and couldn’t resist rising to throw her arms around him.
            “Thank you, thank you, thank you! God, Erik…this is…wow. Amazing.” She pulled his head down to place a heated kiss on his lips, sighing happily when he slid his tongue along the seam of her mouth begging entrance.
            Pulling back slightly with a shaky breath, Erik laid his forehead on hers and smiled down into her eyes. “You must let me know if there is anything I’ve forgotten, ma petite chère.” Alex nodded eagerly and pulled from his embrace to inspect the supplies he’d bought her.
            Everything was of the highest quality, from the smallest erasers to the giant canvases. There were brushes in sizes she never even knew existed and the sheer variety of paint colors took her breath away. The lighting was perfect and the positioning of the supplies to the easel was precise and convenient. With another squeal of excitement, Alex threw herself into Erik’s arms again.
            “Merry Christmas, Alexandra, mon amour chérie,” She gasped at the brilliance in his golden eyes and then she was drowning in his kiss. Unlike the heated passion they’d shared before, this time his lips touched hers gently, reverently, drawing her heart fully into his keeping and she gave it to him eagerly.


            Erik pulled back slightly and caressed her cheek with the tips of his fingers, content to hold her and lose himself in her eyes. What was it about this female that tugged at his heart so desperately? She was almost as stubborn as he was, so full of fire and passion, and unbelievably, heart-wrenchingly beautiful. He could bask in the glow of her inner light for a lifetime and beyond and hoped he’d have the chance to do just that. With a final, gentle kiss, he guided his Alexandra back to her chair and sat at her desk holding her hands.
            “You are an amazing artist, ma petite, and should have the opportunity to explore your talent as fully as you wish. I have cleared one of the spare rooms on the top floor for you to set up as a full studio should you so desire it. You may equip it with anything you feel you will need.” He smiled at her shock and couldn’t resist raising her hands to his lips. “I placed this small station here, however, out of pure selfishness. I simply cannot have you closeted away from me for hours at a time. I also hoped that you would be willing to work with me on my Don Juan as a designer and artist.”
            “What?” Alex’s voice was little more than a whisper.
            “There are several set pieces that will have to be custom made and I’d like for you to design them…”
            “But, Erik, I don’t know a thing about designing for the theatre! I’m hobby artist, not a professional.”
            “You, ma petite, are an amazing artist,” he smiled gently and tucked an errant strand of hair behind her ear, “and I don’t want to hear another word to the contrary. You won’t have to work alone, either. The lead set designer and I will help you with whatever you need.”
            Watching her nibble her lip as she mulled over his offer, Erik was tempted to kiss her until she agreed. He didn’t want to return to the theatre and leave her here during rehearsals; he greatly feared she’d not be here when he returned. If he could show her what his life was like when people weren’t shooting at them, perhaps she’d be more inclined to stay long enough for him to convince her they belonged together. And if that failed, he wasn’t above spiriting her away until she agreed.
            “You flatter me, Erik, but…” she gripped his hands tight and would no longer meet his eyes.
            “But nothing,” he frowned at her constant resistance, releasing her hands to stand at the window with his back to her. “You don’t want to work with me, is that it? I suppose now that the danger is over you’re ready to return to your life; a life without the monster. What waits for you there, Alexandra? A tiny apartment with faulty heating, a car that should have been sent to the junk yard years ago, and a job you will despise within weeks. Why can’t you…”
            “Why can’t you shut up and let me get a word in edgewise!” Alex’s angry words drowned his out as she grabbed his arm and turned him around to face her. “Listen to me, Devereaux, and listen to me good. You. Are. Not. A. Monster!” Although it was like trying to move a cement pillar, she did her best to shake him as each word left her lips as a frustrated growl. “And if I ever, ever hear you call yourself that again, I will personally kick your sexy, toned ass. Do I have your attention now? Good. I would love to work in an artistic field, Erik, and it would be divine to work on something as incredible as your Don Juan; but I’m not a professional artist! I’ve had no training beyond what I’ve taught myself and absolutely no experience designing sets for a theater.” Taking a deep breath she released his arms to cup his cheeks in both her hands. “I simply don’t want to be placed in such a prominent position so very close to production when I have no idea what I’m doing. Let me understudy, or whatever set designers do, and advance as I gain confidence.”
            Gazing into her pale green eyes, Erik acknowledged that she had a point though he was eager for everyone to be aware of her astounding talent. A smile played along the corners of his mouth as he pulled her into his arms, pressing her fully against the hard planes of body. His smile grew when she felt his body’s reaction to hers and blushed a bright red. His hand traced up and down her spine slowly, enjoying the feel of her.
            “Very well, ma petite chère, I will see to an internship of sorts for you if you wish. I simply…I just want you with me, Alexandra. I don’t want to spend as much time as is needed during rehearsals without you by my side.” His voice was hesitant as he confessed one of the wishes in his heart.
            “Oh, Erik!” Alex wrapped her arms tightly around him and buried her head against his chest to hide her tears of joy. She’d been so afraid he planned to leave her on the Estate nursing a broken heart while he went to the theater and into the arms of the beautiful actresses eager to be seen with such a handsome, successful composer. Perhaps if she went to the theater with him, worked with him, he’d see how good they were together. If not, at least she would have had more time with him. “I want to be with you, too.” He was thankful for his incredibly keen hearing; else he’d have missed her soft whisper. “For however long you’ll have me.”

One Love, One Lifetime - Chapter 1

Prologue - November

            The room was filled with roses when Alexandra Roberts awoke that morning; their deep red petals contrasting sharply with the stark white of the hospital room. She hadn’t dreamed him, then. Erik had really been here. Just yesterday she’d come out of the coma she’d retreated into as a result of her emotional anguish, high fever, and gunshot wounds and doctors had been in and out of her room ever since. Yet, the man she wanted to see, the man she was certain was beside her yesterday, was nowhere to be found. Gazing at the dozens of roses, she sincerely hoped these weren’t a farewell gift. Her red hair, now slightly past her shoulders, fanned out on the pillow as pale green eyes stared up at the ceiling. She couldn’t help the dreamy smile that brightened her features as she thought of the man she’d known for less than a month and yet had still stolen her heart. Their night together…that one glorious night she got to hold him in her arms would always be precious to her. She’d never experienced such closeness, such a strong connection, with any man and thought he’d felt the same. With the events that followed, however, she couldn’t be sure she hadn’t imagined it to soothe her troubled mind.
            Outside the room, Erik Devereaux paced and waited for visiting hours to start. He’d been driving the nurses up the wall for over an hour and they were more than happy to direct him towards the doctor when he emerged from Alex’s room. If it hadn’t been for his agitation and constant questions, the nurses would have been extremely pleased to have him in their waiting room. He was handsome and tall, towering over everyone at over six feet; his dark hair, neatly combed when he entered that morning, now lay in disarray from running his fingers through it as he paced. He was slim but muscular and had a natural grace about him that appealed to the nurses’ baser urges. When he paced, he stalked and prowled like a caged panther; one of the ladies even swore he growled when checking the clock. And those eyes! As golden as the big cats they compared him to, none had seen anything like it. But for all his sensual good looks, they breathed a sigh of relief when the doctor allowed him in his lady’s room. His worry and impatience had begun to set them on edge.
            The door swung open quietly but Alex didn’t look away from her silent study of the ceiling. As often as the doctors had been in recently, she wondered why they closed the door at all. It wasn’t until her hand was gathered tenderly in another’s that she dragged her gaze to her visitor and gasped in delighted surprise. He’d come back.
            “You came back.”
            “Of course I did, ma petite.” His smile was oh so tender as he wiped a happy tear from her cheek. “Ne pleur pas, Alexandra. It’s all over; you’re safe now.”
            She knew he meant to reassure her but his words pierced her heart. Safe she may be from those who killed her family and relieved to be done with that nightmare. But what if he meant they were over as well and it was safe for her to return to her cold apartment alone? Closing her eyes, she turned away only to have his hand gently cup her cheek to return her gaze to his. The brilliance and fire in his amber eyes took her breath away and she feared if her heartbeat accelerated any more the doctors would be in to investigate.
            “You will come back to the Estate to recuperate, ma petite chère. I go today to close your lease and fetch your mail while you nap. No, do not argue this is not a suggestion nor is it open for debate. You will heal much faster under my care than alone in that depressing little apartment.”
            “But…Erik,” already she could feel sleep beckoning once more. “My lease won’t be up for another six months….”
            “Sshh, let Erik take care of these insignificant things, Alexandra. Your sole job is to get better quickly.” Leaning forward, he brushed a light kiss across her lips and smoothed the hair from her face. “Dormir maintenant, mon amour. Je serai de retour bientôt.”
            Not understanding the beautiful language, Alex nevertheless responded to the soothing tone and drifted off into healing sleep. One final caress upon her porcelain skin and Erik quietly left the room to ensure all was in readiness for his Alexandra to return home. He’d already arranged for a moving company to meet him at the apartment later today to pack her things and deliver them to his Estate. All that was left was to dispose of that atrocious death trap she called a car and to buy her out of the lease. Once she was safely recuperating in his home, he could work on persuading her to stay. Preferably forever.

Chapter 1 - December

            Nearly two months had passed since the events at the abandoned opera house. Alexandra had managed to convince her doctors to allow her to be discharged before Christmas; and, for the first time, the Devereaux Estate hosted a family Christmas dinner. Another first was the decorations that lent a festive air to the elegant home as well as the tall tree that stood in a corner of the Library. Alex knew Erik’s views on religion but after many arguments, tantrums (his and hers), sulks (his), and tears (hers), he conceded and the plans were made. Still not overly enthused over the idea of celebrating the holiday, he couldn’t refuse anything that put so much happiness in Alex’s eyes. As for Alex, she kept the guest list extremely small, family and close friends only. Angelique, Da’ud, and Lizzie all arrived together and early so as to help with the final touches. Meghan brought her boyfriend, Russell, a fellow dancer at the opera house, who was terrified to meet the famous composer who was notorious for his temper. Erik didn’t help matters when he pulled the boy aside and pointed out that he thought of Meg as his little sister. With an air of mock congeniality, he then went into vivid details of what would happen to the individual who dared to make her cry. Alexandra shot him an exasperated look, rescued the boy, and returned him to Meg. Erik merely smiled; he had accomplished what he set out to do.
            Due to her early release from the hospital, Alex was confined to a wheel chair in order to prevent her from over exerting herself. Until her strength fully returned, the doctors were concerned about a relapse of her fever and stressed the importance that she rest to Erik. Due to recent events he knew how very trustworthy she was in staying off her feet and vowed to keep her close to him so he could monitor her health, thus, the wheelchair. Alex, though happy to spend time with Erik, was not happy with the restriction but preferred it to spending the holidays in a stark, sterile hospital room. Her biggest disappointment for the season, other than Samuel’s absence, was not being able to cook the meal herself; instead, Erik hired a chef who answered only to Alex as to the menu and any other requirements she might have. Now that their guests had arrived, she could relax and enjoy the party. Unwilling to admit how tired she already was, she wheeled herself off to the side to watch her friends. She let her eyes drift back to the man who had stolen her heart and for whom she’d been willing to give up her very life. Standing with the other three men, only he drew her eye like a moth to a flame and oh how she loved the burn. As if he felt her gaze, he turned and gave her a slow, seductive smile that spoke of promises for when house was empty once more. She could feel the blush that tinted her cheeks yet couldn’t help but smile back.  
            When she awoke in the hospital for the first time after the ordeal at the Populaire, she’d been ecstatic to find Erik beside her and mostly uninjured. On one of the rare visits when her masked lover was elsewhere, Da’ud had informed her of what had happened to Raoul and Christine. Erik didn’t speak of what had happened and she couldn’t help but wonder if he regretted any of it. To love someone so deeply, so faithfully, and for so long and then be instrumental in her death had to be hard on him no matter where he bestowed his affections now. She wasn’t even sure he’d bestowed them upon her but still she remained. Alex, having faced her own mortality, was quite willing to accept whatever he could offer her but she couldn’t help but dream that one day… She sighed and pushed that dream into the deepest recesses of her heart. How could she hope for forever when he’d never claimed to love her?
            “Why didn’t you tell me you were tired, ma petite?” Erik’s voice was laced with concern as he knelt by her chair. He’d heard her sigh and rushed over. “Shall I take you upstairs so you can rest?” His hands were gentle as he felt her forehead and cheeks as if she had suddenly become feverish. 
            “Not yet, please,” Alex smiled and took his hands in hers and kissed each. There were times she thought he was over protective to the point of smothering and it chafed at her independent spirit. Though she understood that he’d been worried she would never wake from the fever and the gunshot that grazed her head, she often had to remind him that she was an adult who could make her own decisions. “I’m fine until dinner, Erik, I’m sure. You worry too much.”
            “Never.” Though his whisper was soft, his eyes captured hers and begged her to understand. Leaning forward to brush a soft kiss upon his lips, she reassured him once more.
            “I promise I’m fine. I’ll let you know when it gets to be too much.” Though it was plain he wasn’t happy, he nodded and rose to his feet. For the rest of the evening, he refused to stray far from her side in case he was needed
            After dinner, Erik played while Meg treated them all to an impromptu performance. It was the first time Alex and Lizzie had seen her dance and they were instantly enchanted with her grace. While everyone congratulated the young dancer, their host played a few more tunes, some from his newest opera, when the subject of caroling was brought up. With much coaxing, they finally got him to play several of the more popular Christmas carols and the house rang with the sounds of the season. Alex hated to bring the celebration to an end but she could no longer deny her fatigue. Lightly touching Erik’s arm, it took but a look for him to understand her needs and he politely but quickly ushered their guests from the house. Lifting her carefully in his arms, Erik carried his lady up the stairs to help her prepare for bed.

The next morning…

            Brushing her hair from her face, Erik worried about the fiery minx asleep in his bed. Over the last few weeks, Alexandra had become more and more withdrawn and it frightened him. He’d tried to get her to talk to him, to share whatever was bothering her, but she’d brush it off as being tired or bored. In an effort to build trust between them, he’d promised not to influence her mind again but he was growing desperate. Was she planning to leave him once she was well? He thought he’d lost her once; he wouldn’t survive if he lost her again. Suddenly her lashes fluttered and he was staring into her pale green eyes.
            “I apologize, ma petite chère.” Erik murmured softly, the silkiness of his voice caressing her cheek as lightly as his fingers. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
            “Ah but you did,” Alex grinned saucily. “You’re now required to pay a fine.” Her eyes drifted to his lips and set his blood aflame.
             His eyes turned into molten orbs of desire as he slowly lowered his head. “A fine, petite?” Growling low and seductively, he let his lips brush hers as light as a butterfly’s touch. Erik had to suppress a wicked grin as she strained to capture his kiss. “I think not.” Quickly he sat up and smirked down at her eyes, nearly emerald green in passion and frustration.
            “ERIK!” Alex reached for him but he used the opportunity to grip her wrists firmly but gently and pin them above her head. When he grinned at her grunt of frustration, she stuck out her lip in the cutest pout he’d ever seen.
            “You, ma petite,” he leaned down to kiss the tip of her nose, “are a lovely enticing minx and I would like nothing more than to spend the day in bed discovering all your secrets but that is not to be. You are still recovering and I have to work on my opera if rehearsals are to begin in January.” Erik released her and rolled off the bed. “Do you want to bathe first?”
            “I suppose so if you’re going to be stubborn.” He narrowed his eyes at the genuine annoyance in her voice as well as something else he couldn’t name. He studied her face silently and then he knew…rejection. She thought he was turning her down because he wanted to? He helped her sit up before kneeling in front of her to hold her hands.
            “Alexandra, this is hard for me, too. I want you so badly I ache but I will not hinder your recovery for anything. You go for a follow up after the holidays, ma petite. Let us wait to see what the doctor says, first.” Standing, Erik helped Alex to her feet and held her close, molding her body to his so she can feel how the enforced celibacy was affecting him. She hugged him tightly and then pulled away to give him a small smile.
            “I know, Erik, I’m just sick of it interfering with everything.”
            He watched her move to the bathroom and still could not shake the feeling that something was bothering her. Deeply troubled, Erik tossed on his robe and headed for the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. She couldn’t evade his questions forever. Could she?