They had settled comfortably into Erik's apartments beneath the Metropolitan Opera and Ballet and Alex found all the preparations prior to auditions and rehearsals quite fascinating. In the early mornings, she and Erik would gather at one of the practice rooms where he'd refresh her self-defense training as well as show her new things he felt she should learn. So far, all she'd learned (in her opinion) was just how very many muscles she hadn't used in ages that were now screaming in agony and protest. After lunch, Da'ud would escort her to the firing range where she'd practice her marksmanship with the Beretta as well as a variety of other common hand guns. Neither man wanted her to be comfortable with only one kind of weapon.
Rehearsals were still in the earliest stages of choreography which made for long days and short tempers. Erik prowled around the opera house with a permanent scowl which had most of the stagehands and ballet corps scampering away in fear any time he stalked down the halls near them. Even the principals weren't spared from his wrath and, before the end of the second day, Carlotta had thrown a royal tantrum and Madame Giry had threatened to beat him over the head with her cane. Alex was thankful for her time at the firing range and with Charles Wilkinson, the Lead Set Designer, as she was certain she and Erik would have been at each other's throats rather quickly.
Charles had been an excellent teacher, both in the area of set design as well as art in general. She was amazed at all that went into what she'd always considered to be an 'easy' job. He showed her the original design storyboards and the process used to take the ideas from the paper to the stage. Alex helped with drawing the scaled up versions of the last few set pieces, careful to keep size ratios as accurate as she could. It took her two days and an extreme amount of paper before Charles was satisfied with both the size and the quality of a single piece. When she questioned why a computer program with a plotter wasn't used, Charles gave her a look of horrified disdain. She didn't ask again.
A week had passed and Alex was no longer sore from sparring with Erik in the mornings, on her last week of weapon safety classes prior to getting her CCW permit renewed, and had completed one set piece from start to finish to Charles' satisfaction. No one had heard from de Chagny/Zakharov but neither had the authorities managed to track him down which added additional stress to many in the opera house. And just to make things infinitely better, Michael Blankenship had claimed the rights of a patron to watch rehearsals. Erik had been in the process of throwing him out of the theater when the managers arrived and persuaded him otherwise. Angered beyond belief, her masked lover had stalked off and terrorized the ballet corps while they practiced. Alex was certain that several of them quit afterwards.
She'd finished early at the range and was sitting in the back row enjoying rehearsal when Blankenship strolled over and took a seat directly beside her. Alex could feel angry color rising in her cheeks but, not wishing to cause a scene and interrupt those on stage, did her best to ignore him. Of course, he wasn't in the mood to be ignored.
"Hey sweet cheeks, fancy seeing you here," he reached for her hand but she snatched it away like she'd touched something disgusting. He merely laughed. "Do you work here or something?" Alex nearly rolled her eyes at his oblivious persistence.
"Yes?" His confusion was priceless. If she hadn't already pictured throwing him in front of a speeding bus before, she leaped on the vision with ghoulish glee. "So, which is it? You can't just answer an either/or question with a 'yes,' doll."
"One, my name is Alexandra; not doll, not sweet cheeks, nor any other disgusting and degrading name you choose to use." Alex turned her icy pale green eyes on her unwanted companion and barely managed to keep her voice low as she vented her displeasure. "Two, the answer applies to both of your unwanted, prying questions. Yes, I work here as a set designer. Yes, I also have other reasons to be here. The primary one being my fiancé, Erik Devereaux."
"Fiancé? The sour-faced thing with the freaky eyes is your fiancé? Really, angel face, you could do better." Had Blankenship known her better, he'd have realized that he'd just crossed over from being annoying to being in very grave danger of her wrath.
"Get. Out." Alex stood, her hands clenched tightly into fists that so dearly wanted to connect with his smug face. "Erik is a wonderful, generous person and is worth a hundred of you even on his worst days. Now go away and leave me alone or I will do something rash and interrupt their rehearsal which I dearly do not wish to do."
"Fine, fine. If you want to play hard to get, that's alright by me. I love a good chase." Blankenship grinned with unconcerned assurance. "But you may want to rethink the engagement to the golden-eyed monster, sweet cheeks. I saw him and his leading lady playing 'tickle the tonsils' in his office just yesterday while he had a firm hold on her curves, if you get my meaning." He rose unhurriedly and gave a slight shrug. "If you like sharing your toys then who am I to argue? Maybe you'll even get to watch once, hmm?" Chuckling, he wandered out of the theater leaving a very shocked Alex in his wake.
Slowly, she sat back down but her mind was racing. Blankenship was lying; he had to be. Erik wouldn't do something like that. He loved her! He didn't care anything about Carlotta; Mrs. Giry said so. Yes, whispered an evil little voice, she said so, but did he? You saw how he welcomed her touch, her kiss, and they have so much in common, don't they? No, no, no! He wouldn't do something like that to her. He wouldn't! He wouldn't….would he? Watching the rehearsal with renewed interest, Alex saw her fiancé approach the statuesque singer, lean down, and whisper something in her ear causing that lady to laugh and place a hand possessively on his arm. Her heart was breaking when Carlotta leaned forward to whisper her reply and, catching Alex's eyes with her own glowing in triumph, kissed Erik softly on the cheek. With a muffled sob, Alex bolted from the theater with Carlotta's annoying laughter in her ears.
Feeling the brush of Carlotta's lips on his skin, Erik jerked back as if he'd been burned. "What the hell do you think you're doing, Ms. Goldman?" Furious eyes glared down into her oddly triumphant ones as he hissed his anger. "If you have forgotten, I happen to have a fiancée and you are not she."
"Really, Erik? No one pays attention to that sort of thing in theater." Carlotta shrugged unconcerned and stepped back. "Besides, I just saw your fiancée leave with your new patron. Trying to secure a donation, maestro?" Only once he'd turned to stalk off the stage in search of Alexandra did Carlotta allow herself a malicious grin. "You will be mine, Erik Devereaux." Her soft murmur was lost in the orchestra's warm up exercises.
The scowl on his face sent the performers scurrying out of his path as he stalked through the halls looking for his fiancée. Logically, he knew he had nothing to worry about. Alexandra loved him, had chosen him, and would never betray him in such a way. But there was always that doubt, that fear, that she'd one day regret tying herself to a monster and seek to sever the bonds between them. He stormed into their apartments looking for a fight only to find it empty. With a frustrated growl, Erik checked each of the practice rooms, the costume room, set storage and design…all empty. Anger was fading to worry the longer he couldn't find her; what if Zakharov had taken her? Heading for his office, he nearly ran over Angelique in his distraction.
"Erik François Devereaux!" His adoptive mother's furious tone and use of his full name gave him a moment's pause. Turning to meet her gaze, he suddenly felt thirteen again and wondered what he'd done this time. "You and I have to talk, mon fils, and I don't want to hear that you're busy or any other such nonsense." Grabbing his arm, the ballet mistress pulled him into her office and closed the door behind them.
"What's wrong, maman, and do make it quick. I'm looking for Alexandra."
"Oh, I'm sure you are now that you're done with your little tart on stage. Mon Dieu, Erik, why would you dally with that…that woman when you have someone as lovely and sweet as Alex?" Erik looked at her like she had grown a second head with poison dripping from its fangs and having snakes for hair.
"Erik, I am not a fool so don't treat me like one. You were seen kissing and groping Carla in your office and later Alex saw you both in a rather intimate embrace on stage." Angelique paced the small office to relieve frustrated energy before she took it out on her son. "What I don't understand is why you'd hurt her that way? And in front of everyone at the theater!"
"Have you lost your mind? I've never kissed that woman nor have I groped her in my office or anywhere else! Whoever told you that little fairytale has got a sick imagination. I can barely tolerate her, maman, you know that! I was looking for Alex since she decided to run off with a man she claimed to loathe; her bastard of an ex-boyfriend."
Angelique was silent as she stared thoughtfully into his clear amber eyes. Erik was an excellent liar but he'd never been able to lie to her, not even after he'd started working for the Agency. Something was very wrong here and she had a feeling she knew just what it was.
"Did you see Alex leave with Blankenship?"
"I saw her talking with him and the next time I looked up they were both gone."
"But you said she'd 'run off' with him; couldn't they have left separately since you didn't see them leave?"
"What are you getting at, maman? They were seen leaving together." Erik held his temper in check but just barely. He'd never forgive himself if he took his anger out on his mother but he saw no point in these senseless inquiries.
"Seen by whom? Let me guess…would it be the same woman who's tried to get you in her bed for the past three years? The very same woman who deliberately gave her rival flavored water before a performance knowing the girl was allergic to the flavoring? Or perhaps the same woman who…"
"Yes, it was Carlotta…" his voice trailed off and his eyes narrowed slightly. "Who told you I had been seen with her, maman?"
"Alex told me she'd seen you on stage but the person who saw you and Carla in your office was…"
"Blankenship." Erik interrupted in a cold voice. "It seems we are being played, maman. I need to speak with Alexandra and quickly; she may be in danger."