The Music of the Night

By: Amanda Ashley

Moving deeper into the room, she found another, smaller door. This one opened onto a stairway that descended into a pit of blackness.

Heart pounding, she tiptoed down the stairs. The candle cast dancing shadows on the walls as she descended the stairway. At first, she saw nothing but an empty room. And then she saw it: a black coffin sitting on a raised platform. The thought of Erik lying inside, his hands folded on his chest, his long black hair spread across white satin, sent a shiver down her spine.

She stared at the casket for a long moment, then she turned on her heels and ran up the stairs, any lingering doubts she might have had about what he was vanquished by the sight of the solitary coffin.

She could tell by the look in Erik’s eyes when she saw him that night that he knew she had seen where he took his rest. Though he didn’t speak of it, the knowledge hung between them.

Does it matter? He didn’t speak the words aloud, but she heard them clearly in her mind.

Did it matter? To Christie’s surprise, she realized it changed nothing between them. At any rate, it was of no consequence now. Her time in this dark, almost magical world was almost at an end.

As the last few days went by, Christie found herself increasingly reluctant to go. How could she leave him there, alone, in his dark underground lair? But, of course, she couldn’t stay. Her old life, friends and family, awaited her at home. They did not speak of the fact that their time together was almost over, but she saw the awareness in his eyes.

Their last night together came all too soon. After dinner, Christie asked him to play for her, and as he did so she sat down on the bench beside him and kissed his cheek.

Startled, his hands fell away from the keys. “What are you doing?”

“I . . . nothing. It was only a kiss.”

“Only a kiss.” He repeated her words slowly, distinctly. “No woman has willingly touched me in over three hundred years.”

She blinked at him. Three hundred years? It was inconceivable that he should have lived so long. “I should like to do it again, if you don’t mind.”

He stared at her in profound disbelief. “You don’t mean it?”

“But I do.” She kissed his cheek again, and then, very lightly, she kissed him on the lips. They were warm and soft, untouched by the fire. Her gaze searched his. “Let me see your face.”

“No!” He drew back as if she had slapped him. “Why would you ask such a thing? No one, No one, should have to see it.”

“You said you would grant me anything I wished. I wish to see your face before I go.”

He stared at her, his eyes narrowed, his breathing suddenly erratic. “Very well.” He ripped the mask from his face and tossed it aside. “Is this what you wanted to see? His voice was almost a snarl.

It was horrible. The skin on the right side of his face and down his neck was hideously puckered where it had been ravaged by the fire. Did the rest of his body look the same? She couldn’t imagine the pain he must have suffered, the anguish of seeing people turn away from him in revulsion. No wonder he hid in this place.

“Are you satisfied?” he asked brusquely.

“Do you want me to run screaming from your presence?” she questioned him.

“You would not be the first to do so,” he said, his voice tinged with bitterness.

Cupping his face in her hands, she kissed him again. “I expected you to be a monster, but you’ve treated me with the utmost kindness and respect. You could have taken me at your pleasure, yet you did not.” Rising, she took his hand in hers. “This is our last night together. Let us have something to remember.” Pulling him to his feet, she led him towards the bed.

He followed her as if in a trance, unable to believe that any woman would willingly give herself to him. He was no stranger to women. He had bedded many in his lifetime, but never had a woman come to him so willingly, or made love to him so tenderly. Never had he allowed any of them to see him without the mask, nor did he let them caress him. His lovemaking had been one-sided and accomplished in total darkness, assuring that the women couldn’t see his ruined flesh.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, they undressed each other. Erik held his breath, certain she would be repulsed when she saw him, but if she found him repugnant, she hid it well. She kissed each scar and, as she did so, they no longer seemed important. She explored his body as he explored hers and, when they were poised on the edge of fulfilment, he asked for that which he craved.

“A taste,” he whispered, his voice husky with longing. “Let me taste you.”

She stared up at him, her eyes wide. “Will it hurt?”

“No. It will only heighten each touch, each sensation.” She wanted to refuse, he could see it in her eyes. “Please my sweet,” he begged softly. “One taste, freely given.”

With a sigh, she closed her eyes and offered him her throat.

It was the most generous thing anyone had ever done for him. Whispering endearments, he trailed kisses along the length of her neck before his fangs gently pierced her tender flesh. Ah, the joy, the ecstasy, the wonder of that first taste! Warm and sweet, it flowed over his tongue like the finest nectar, filling him with the very essence of life.