Sitting atop the Metropolitan, Alex watched the traffic and the lights below her and wondered if the people she could see scurrying about had it as difficult as she. She thought things would be so much easier now that they were engaged. He loved her, she loved him, why then couldn’t they move on to the ‘happily ever after’ part? Wiping the last of the tears from her cheeks, she huddled deeper into the thick coat and thought of what she’d seen on the stage that afternoon. Yes, Erik had been closer to the diva than Alex would have liked but, when he wasn’t yelling at them, he’d spoken to all the principals in the same manner. Individual pep talks geared towards the actors’ likes and dislikes; sometimes going so far as to use their feelings for their fellow performers in an effort to get the emotion he wanted. Was she being foolish and creating problems where none existed? Angelique seemed to think so. The only way to know for certain would be to confront Erik but she didn’t think he’d appreciate the lack of trust her questions would reveal. Sighing, Alex buried her face in her knees.
“It’s rather cold up here don’t you think, ma petite chère?” Erik’s golden voice washed over her and surrounded her with its warmth just seconds before his arms followed suit. He lifted her from the statue she’d been using as a seat and, taking her place there, sat her on his lap.
“Yes, it is.” Alex could feel his body heat through the layers that separated skin from skin and snuggled close. “I needed to think, that’s all, and the view is quite amazing from up here.”
“Hmm…” Erik’s noncommittal answer seemed to encompass more than just mere acknowledgement of what she’d said and she risked a glance at his face. In the darkness, only his eyes were visible and glowing a fiery orange that signaled he was angry or upset at something. “Would you care to share your thoughts, my dear? If they were important enough to send you to the roof where you were alone and out of my sight, then it is obviously something that needs be discussed.”
“N…no, Erik,” Alex winced at the tightly controlled anger in his voice. “It’s nothing that you need to worry about, love.”
“Nothing I need to worry about? Oh, but I beg to differ, Alexandra!” When she tried to move from his lap, he tightened his grip until it bordered on painful. “You will remain until we are finished! Running away from this won’t make it go away and we will discuss this, petite.”
“There’s nothing to discuss, Erik, now let me go!”
“Never, so cease your struggling.” In an effort to hold her still, his hands slipped into her coat where one closed at first accidentally but then possessively around a breast. Alex hissed from the contact, shivering for more reasons than the weather, and tried not to melt against him. When he murmured softly into her ear between the softest of kisses and love bites, she knew her efforts were in vain as she relaxed against him. “Much better, ma petite. Now, you will tell me what had you scurrying up here and away from my protection and don’t say it was nothing. I can see the remnants of tears on your lovely face.”
“I was simply foolish, love, and let my fears run away with my common sense. I know things are different in the theater world; it just takes some adjusting, that’s all.”
“What kinds of things are different, Alexandra?” She tilted her head to the side when he left her ear to rain a trail of kisses along her neck. Why must they talk about insignificant things when they could be doing something infinitely more enjoyable?
“Things…Erik…” Alex whimpered softly when his hand eased under her sweater to unclasp her bra granting him full access. With his teasing fingers and lips, she was having trouble remembering where she was, much less why she’d come here. “Things like relationships, touching, kissing…the theater is more open than I’m used to.” She’d tensed in eager anticipation when his other hand joined the first beneath her sweater before beginning a slow, torturous trek down the flat plane of her stomach towards her waistband that suddenly halted at her words.
“Alexandra,” her name was a dangerous growl on his lips and she knew without a doubt that she’d angered him somehow. “Just what are you accusing me of, ma petite?”
“Nothing, Erik, nothing at all. I’m sure it was just a silly rumor anyway; you know how it goes.”
“A rumor. A rumor you believed enough to abandon common sense and protection in order to ‘think’ on the roof. A rumor you believed enough that you didn’t even allow me the opportunity to know of what crime I was accused in order to defend against it. You will tell me this rumor, Alexandra.” When she shook her head, he tightened his hold to the point of pain once again.
“It’s nothing, Erik, really.”
“Then you shouldn’t be so reluctant to enlighten me, is that not correct? I will have my answers, Alexandra.”
“I didn’t believe it at first. I didn’t want to but then…then I saw you. And her. And…” The image of the diva’s triumphant smirk as she kissed him flashed before her once more and she could feel her own temper start to rise. “I saw you! Whispering in her ear and letting her touch you and kiss you and…dammit, Erik, stop laughing at me!”
“I shouldn’t laugh, petite, but if you only knew how desperate I’d have to be to even entertain the mere thought of bedding Carla Goldman...” He buried his face in the warm, sensitive skin at the junction of her neck and shoulder before biting her none too gently there. “Let me guess…you were told I had been caught in a compromising embrace in my office with that very same diva and, after seeing what you thought was more of the same on stage, you believed I would risk everything by cheating on you.
“Did I cover everything or did I leave something out? Oh yes, I left out that I very nearly threw that same diva across the stage when she dared presume to lavish her affections where they were not wanted. Did you wait to see that before you’d condemned me as a rotten, cheating bastard? Did you ever once think to ask me about the incident in my office which, by the way, never occurred? Why, Alexandra, would you believe such slanderous lies?” By the time he was finished, laughter had given way to insulted pride and he was shaking her to make his point.
“Because she’s everything I could never be!” Again she struggled to flee and again she was held fast. “She’s beautiful and talented and a part of your world and your life in a way that I am not. Music is at the heart of everything you do, Erik, everything you are. You walk with such grace that I wonder if you’re not hearing something the rest of us can’t. You compose and sing like an angel sent straight from heaven and, as much as I’d like to, I can’t understand it like she can. I can’t share that love with you. I can listen, yes, but I can never be a part of it. But she can…” Alex fell silent, cursing herself for losing control and telling him one of her biggest fears. Well, apart from living a life without him, that is.
“Alexandra, why did you never tell me this before, ma petite?”
“Because there’s nothing that can be done, Erik,” her voice was tired and resigned. “I’m not musically inclined and never will be. I can’t help but be jealous of those who share your passion for music for they will always have a part of you that I do not.”
“Just because you cannot sing or play, ma petite chère, doesn’t mean you cannot share my music. You listen and you hear. No, don’t shake your head there is a difference and it’s an important one. Most only listen to music; they may sing along or even have lovely voices but the music is never real and alive for them. You, however, actually listen and hear. You can hear the emotions and the stories it tells; you can feel it like a living, breathing thing and that is a precious gift, Alexandra. Do not discount the ability to both listen and to hear, mon amour, for I would take one person who can hear the music over a dozen who merely listen.”
Leaning back against his chest, Alex thought of what he’d said. She’d always been moved by his music; the raw emotion that she could feel in every note either lifted her to the skies or tossed her into the abyss. If she closed her eyes, she could picture the story as it unfolded with each resonating note. Others couldn’t hear that? They couldn’t see the loneliness and the pain and the joy and the love that was so plain to her in every song he wrote? Suddenly, she pitied those who only listened and was so very glad that she could hear.
“I’m sorry, my love. I hadn’t thought of it that way.” Capturing one of his hands, she brought it to her lips to place several gentle kisses along the callused fingertips. “Why would someone say you’d done something when you hadn’t, though? What did they possibly hope to gain by causing unhappiness between us?”
“I have no proof as of yet, mon amour,” relaxed now, Erik’s free hand resumed its worshipful caresses under her sweater, “but I believe Carlotta and your Mr. Blankenship are in collusion. Whether they are merely aiding one another for selfish purposes or have other, more sinister reasons, I do not know. Yet.”
“Sinister? What do you mean, Erik?” A shiver ran down the length of her spine as his other hand joined in the teasing of her skin. If they didn’t retire to his apartments soon…
“I mean they may have a mutual friend who’d like nothing more than to see us both suffer, Alexandra. No more talk about the screeching diva or the annoying patron, ma petite chère. I believe it is normal to make up after a fight, correct?” He nipped her neck softly before rising with her in his arms and carrying her to the elevator that led to his rooms.
Much later that night, Erik gazed down at the sleeping woman at his side and wondered if they’d ever have a chance to simply be a couple. First there was Christine and Zakharov, then Alexandra’s hospitalization and recovery, and now there was Blankenship… It cannot simply be a coincidence that he’d reentered Alexandra’s life just as Zakharov escaped prison. Erik didn’t believe in coincidences and his persistence in his pursuit of his former girlfriend after years without contact simply didn’t measure up. He hoped he still had some friends in the Agency who’d be willing to do a bit of digging on his behalf. It was time to gather information on one Michael Blankenship and Omni Corporation.
As for the rumors, it wouldn’t surprise him if Carla herself had started them. He’d known the aging diva had been trying to capture both his attention and his bank account for several years but only lately had she begun to get aggressive with it. Was she working for something other than her own selfish gains? Her past wasn’t exactly spotless being riddled as it was with drug use and prostitution. Had Zakharov contacted her as well or was he simply jumping at shadows? Erik ran a hand over his unmasked face and sighed; he didn’t have time for this! The opera would have its premier performance at the end of the next month but, until then, his days were swamped with rehearsals.
Easing from the bed, he pulled on a pair of lounge pants and sat at the desk holding his laptop. He kept the screen angled slightly so as to not wake his sleeping lover as he typed up some emails. He hoped that something could be found in the Agency’s database that would shed some light on the involvement, if any, of Carla and Blankenship with Zakharov or each other. In the meantime, he would pull the understudy aside tomorrow and start working with her on the role of Aminta. Even if no connection could be made between Carla and either man, she was in dire need of a reminder that he was engaged to be married and it wasn’t to her.