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?