The Music of the NightBy: Amanda Ashley
Grabbing her handbag, she ran to the water’s edge, her fear of the man who called himself the Phantom of the Opera stronger than her fear of the water. She removed her shoes with a sharp stab of regret at the thought of leaving them behind. Manolos were hard to come by, especially on a teacher’s salary, but her life was worth more than a pair of shoes. Stuffing her handbag inside her blouse, she waded into the water. It was dark and cold and she had gone only a few feet when she realized she had made a horrible, perhaps fatal mistake. Not only was the lake deeper than she thought, but a swift current ran under the water’s calm surface. She shrieked as it caught her, carrying her away from the Phantom’s lair, sweeping her along like a cork caught in a rip tide. Helpless, she flailed about as the waterway grew narrower, darker and as the light from the Phantom’s lair grew faint and then disappeared.
Weighed down by her clothing, her arms and legs quickly tiring, she screamed for help one last time before she sank beneath the dark current.
Erik cursed as the sound of Christie’s cries reached his ears. Foolish woman. Why hadn’t she waited for his return? Foolish man. Why had he refused to let her go? And yet, how could he? Her face, her voice – so like Christine’s of old, and yet uniquely her own. He had lived in solitude for so long. Surely he deserved a few years of companionship? If she would but stay with him, he would grant her every desire, fulfil her every wish. If she would love him. He laughed bitterly. There was little chance of that. A woman like Christie, so young and so beautiful, could surely have her pick of handsome men. Men who walked in the sun’s light without fear.
He raced towards the lake with preternatural speed. He had no need of illuminations to find her. He followed her scent and when he found her, floating face down, he plunged into the lake and drew her into his arms. Relief surged through him when she coughed up a mouthful of water. A thought took him to his lair. A wave of his hand lit a fire in the hearth.
Cursing his selfishness, he placed her on the bed and quickly removed her sodden clothing. If she died – no! He would not let that happen. Wrapping her in a thick quilt, he gathered her into his arms and carried her to the rocking chair located in front of the fire. Sitting down, he held her close, his hands massaging her back, her arms and her legs. The scent of her hair and skin filled his senses, the throbbing of the pulse in the hollow of her throat called to his hunger, tempting him almost beyond his power to resist. But he would not take advantage of her, not now, when she was helpless. Nor, he realized, could he let her go – not when fate had been kind enough to send her to him; not when she knew what he was (though if she told the tale, he doubted anyone would believe her).
Awareness returned to Christie a layer at a time. She was warm. It was quiet. Soft music filled the air. A gentle hand was stroking her brow –
With a start, Christie came fully awake to find herself cradled in the Phantom’s arms, staring upinto his dark eyes.
“Please,” she murmured tremulously. “Please, let me go.”
His knuckles caressed her cheek. “Please stay,” he urged softly. “Be my Christine, if only for a little while.”
Fear made her mouth go dry. What would he do if she refused to stay? She closed her eyes for a moment, remembering how she had always hated Christine for leaving the Phantom and going away with Raoul. Christie frowned. Hadn’t she always said that if she had a choice, she would have stayed with the Phantom? But this wasn’t a play, and this Phantom was a vampire.
His voice rumbled in her ear. “A month, my Christine. Won’t you stay with me that long? The world you know will still be there when you return.”
“And if I refuse?”
He had meant to keep her against her will, if necessary, but looking at her now, seeing the fear in her eyes, he knew he would not. “No harm will come to you,” he said. “I will take you back to the theatre where I found you.”
Relief washed over her, but only for a moment. How could she refuse him? Never before had she seen such pain, such utter loneliness, reflected in anyone’s eyes. And yet, how could she stay? How did she know she could trust him to keep his word? What if he only wanted to drink her blood, or worse, make her what he was? The mere idea filled her with revulsion.
“I will take nothing you do not wish to freely give,” he said quietly. “I want only your company for a time.”
Christie glanced at her surroundings. She had come to Paris looking for excitement. Was she going to turn her back on it now? She was in a place no one else had ever been, with a man no one believed existed. Think of the stories you’ll have to tell, she thought, ignoring the little voice in the back of her mind that warned her she was being a fool to accept the word of a vampire.
“Will you stay?”
“Yes.” The word seemed to form of its own volition. “Yes I’ll stay.”
He smiled at her then, and she thought she would promise him anything if he would only smile at her like that again.