WELCOME!

Thank you for dropping in to check out my new story. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

A special HELLO to all my returning readers, I have truly missed hearing from each and every one of you!

A few warnings: This is rated M for adult theme and some violence. I will warn you when we get to those chapters so you will not be caught by surprise. I have kept this story mostly smut-light, but don't worry, there is no shortage of romance in this story, I just kept it all in good taste...or at least I HOPE I did. ha ha.

In this story, Christine is a bit different than my feisty versions of her in past tales. She is more naive and uncertain about how to handle her new situation...at first. She will get the hang of it soon enough. Just be patient.

Due to copyright reasons, the name of our favorite Persian is Amir Dessan. He is also the same age as Erik and smoking hot!

A special thanks goes out to my wonderful beta PoE99, for all her excellent help and willingness to tell me the truth when something did not sound right. Also, to my pre-readers and mistake correctors: Bensara91513, KittyPimms and Butterflybird. You had your work cut out for you!

Now...on with the show!

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Copyright 2014

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Chapter 1

England 1835

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The clicking sound of Christine Daae's shoes echoed off the walls of the abbey as she nervously made her way down the hall towards Sister Margret's office. When one of the novices had come to the classroom to tell her that her presence was requested by the Reverend Mother, she had at first feared she was in some sort of trouble. Yet, when Christine was informed that her uncle was there to see her…that fear turned into utter dread.

Her Uncle Max, which was short for Maximillian, was her only living relative and the one who had sent her to live at the school run by the sisters. Since then, Christine had only seen her uncle three times over the past nine years and each time it had not been a social call. Instead, his visits had been solely for the purpose of providing stacks of legal documents he demanded that she sign. All of which he had insisted were beyond her comprehension to understand. Yet, Christine was no fool. She knew exactly what the papers said and what it meant for her to place her signature on them. She was, in essence, signing away her future, giving her uncle legal control over more and more of her parents' fortune and her own dwindling inheritance. Yet what could she do? She was an underage orphan at the mercy of her uncle, and if he wished, he could have turned her out on her ear instead of funding her education at the abbey. Until she turned eighteen and could legally claim any money that might remain, Maximillian Daae could easily leave her to fend for herself. Christine's options were few - and more than likely, she would have been forced to beg on the streets…or worse.

So she gritted her teeth and did as her uncle instructed, setting her signature to each and every piece of paper he had put before her. Christine had never known just how wealthy her parents had been, but she could only imagine that her greedy uncle had long since squandered the bulk of their fortune. She would turn eighteen within the year and graduate from the school, forcing her out into a world she no longer understood, yet had always wished to be a part. It was true, she had felt safe while at the abbey, protected and sheltered since the tender age of eight. At the time Christine had needed that, for she had come under the care of the sisters as a broken child, in a near catatonic state after the brutal murder of her parents. The doctors had said her condition was from the trauma of having witnessed it, but the memory of that night seemed to be forever locked in her subconscious, unable to be recalled by her damaged mind.

However, those memories would come to her in flashes at night, flickers of the terror and pain that had ultimately left her alone. Each time she would see one more detail, one more instant of clarity that would cause her to wake up screaming, drenched in perspiration. If she had her way, she would never remember that night. Yet, while her heart wished for it, her mind had other ideas. And now, with another visit from her uncle, the young girl feared his presence would trigger another episode, leaving her in terror of the night that lay ahead.

As Christine neared the door to Sister Margret's office she could hear the stern woman's voice raised in anger. This was nothing new, for the sister was well-known for her exacting nature and temper. While she was feared by all the girls at the school, the sister had always been fair and was the closest thing to a mother-figure Christine could recall. Yet this time, the tone of her voice made Christine stop short. Something was wrong and she pressed her ear to the crack in the door, listening to what was being said before she dared make her presence known.

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"Christine is still just a child!" Sister Margret shouted. "One on the cusp of womanhood, to be certain, but still just an innocent in so many ways. You cannot expect her to do such a thing, especially not against her will!"

"I am her legal guardian and she will do as I say!" Uncle Max insisted, his voice equally harsh and unyielding. "It is a perfect match, and she would be hard-pressed to find a more affluent or established husband than he."

Husband? Christine's hand flew to her lips as she stifled a gasp of shock. Her uncle had betrothed her to some man without her knowledge? How could this be?

"A good match, you say? Well I say that a man of thirty-two taking a wife of seventeen is downright obscene!" the sister continued, not backing down. "This man is nearly twice her age! The very idea causes me to wonder what is so dreadfully wrong with him that he must obtain a wife by these means. Are there evils lurking in his past which have made him so undesirable that he would remain single until now? Would you expose your innocent niece to such horrors, that of a loveless marriage to a man she has never laid eyes on?"

"Arranged marriages are the custom in high society, sister," he told her, speaking her title as if it were a curse. "And while Christine might be an orphan and a timid little wall-flower, much in part to your mollycoddling, she is still from a well-respected and wealthy family and thus is expected to marry a man of the same station. Who would you see her wed to? Some pig farmer?"

"I had hoped she might choose to enter the convent, and dedicate herself to the service of the Lord," Sister Margret revealed.

Christine knew this was the sister's wish for all the young ladies at the school, an idea that was pushed quite frequently, yet this had never been her desire. While she appreciated all that the sisters had done for her, both in her upbringing and education, she did not see herself remaining at the abbey for the rest of her life. Christine had no idea what she wanted to do, or what would become of her once she turned eighteen, but she had long ago decided that taking her vows was not it.

"Let me assure you, that fantasy of yours will not be taking place," Max informed her with a slight scoff of derision.

Sister Margret urged. "Wouldn't it be only right to allow the girl to make up her own mind on the subject? To offer her a choice, since it is her future at stake?"

"NO! She has been under your care long enough! She is much older than many young women who have long since married and the match has been made. She will leave with me immediately!" Max then took a few deep breaths, trying to calm himself before continuing. "Your objections have been voiced as well as heard, yet they are of no concern to me. Now, will you produce my niece or must I search this facility myself in order to locate her? My time is valuable and I do not wish to be kept waiting any further!"

Christine knew that was her cue to enter, fearing her uncle's further rage should he be forced to seek her out like he threatened. So taking a deep breath to steady her nerves, she knocked twice on the door, then pushed it open and peeked inside.

"You sent for me, Sister Margret?" she asked, her voice hardly above a whisper.

"Yes child, come in," the abbess replied; yet her voice did not sound pleased.

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Maximillian Daae had never been a man of faith, and the nun's defiant attitude was certainly not endearing him towards any kind of religion. He had come here to retrieve his niece, a seemingly simple task, but instead, had been forced to endure a reprimand by the old bat! Every time he had come to the abbey he had left feeling upset and angry over the scathing looks and demeaning tone this woman had given him. He was extremely glad that this would, indeed, be their final encounter. With his offering Christine in marriage to the son of Lord Morant, Max would be sealing a deal that would make him rich - and that was exactly what he wanted to be. The money his older brother had left upon his death had been enough to keep him well off for a while but even with siphoning the money set aside for their only daughter, there never seemed to be enough. Too many business deals had fallen through, too many times wine and women had bled him dry and far too much of his fortune had been lost to an unlucky hand of cards. Until forcing his unsuspecting niece into an arranged marriage was now his only option to keep his desired lifestyle intact. He had always considered the troublesome girl a detriment to his dwindling fortune, but for once in her miserable life, Christine was about to do him a good turn.

Max turned to look at the girl who had just entered, setting eyes on her for the first time in over two years. He had meant to smile, to put on a pleasant face in order to deliver his obviously disturbing news, but the sight of her stopped him in his tracks. Where had the gangly, young child he had placed at this wretched school gone? For the girl that stood before him had indeed blossomed into a striking young woman. She had grown taller and her shape had filled out in quite a pleasing way. Her large blue eyes immediately drew attention to her delicate heart-shaped face and even Max had to admit that his little niece had become quite appealing. This idea might just work out better than he had planned.

His surprise must have been obvious, even to Sister Margret, for she pulled him from his thoughts with a loud clearing of her throat, continuing to speak with an accusing tone.

"Christine, your uncle here has expressed his wish that you leave the abbey with him…today," she told the frightened young girl.

"W-w-w-where will we be going?" she asked, looking up at her uncle with questioning eyes, though she already knew the dreadful answer.

"Christine, my darling girl," Max said, stepping forward in a false show of family affection. He quickly leaned forward and gave her an awkward embrace, not seeming to notice how she stiffened and did not reciprocate the hug. "I have found you a wonderful new home, my dear. A much better situation than you have become accustomed to here. Now, let me take a look at you," he told her as he stepped back and stared at her with a discerning eye. Reaching up he pulled off the little white bonnet all the students were required to wear, allowing her pent up curls to now fall across her shoulders and down her back in a wave of rich brown. This seemed to please him considerably but his smile was short lived when he noticed the unflattering grey dress she wore with the white bib-like apron over it. "Have you another dress to change into for the journey? Preferably something less…depressing?"

"No, Uncle," she informed him. "I have only one other dress and it is the same as this one." All the girls at the school were required to wear this drab color, supposedly to promote uniformity and discourage vanity. Christine however had long ago decided that it was simply to rob them of their individuality and joy. She had lost count of the times she had wished for a simple pink ribbon or a flashy red pair of stockings. Yet such things would have certainly been confiscated immediately, with severe punishment quickly to follow.

"No matter I suppose. It will have to do, for there is no time to stop and purchase something different," Max said with a sigh of resignation. "Go and gather your things, girl, and I will meet you outside by the carriage. Do not keep me waiting!" With that, he gave a curt nod to the abbess and exited the room.

Christine was literally speechless, but her eyes spoke volumes as she turned to look at Sister Margret before her.

"I am sorry, Christine," she told the stunned girl. "I tried my best to dissuade him but your uncle has made up his mind. It would appear that your future is now set in stone and I fear there is no way to break it."

"I…I overheard what you two were saying before I came in," she admitted, lowering her head in shame over the sin of eavesdropping. "I am to be…married?" she questioned, hoping that she might have misunderstood.

"It appears that way, my child. To the son of a rich lord in the neighboring province." She walked over and ran her hands over the girl's hair, smoothing it out in a kindhearted gesture. "I told your uncle that you were still just a girl, too young to undertake such a burden, yet now I can see that perhaps I was wrong. You have, indeed, grown up right before my eyes. I only hope you will not find married life too terribly dreadful."

"I…I don't know how to be a wife," Christine almost sobbed, placing the back of her hand to her lips as a tear escaped her eyes. "I know nothing of marriage or what is expected of me…how will I know what to do?"

"Eve knew no more than you when she was first presented to Adam," she said, trying her best to comfort the distraught girl, while never having experienced this situation herself. "Just pray that he is the kind and gentle sort and do as he tells you. It is a woman's duty to be obedient to her husband and submit to his direction in all things. You will learn in time what it means to be a good wife and how to please your mate." Cradling Christine's face between the palms of her hands she kissed her on the forehead. "You have always been a very sweet and dutiful child, continue to be so and you will win his respect. In time, he may even come to have a measure of affection for you."

Affection…but never his love? Was a chance for that even possible when faced with an arranged marriage? Christine's mind was awhirl with so many questions and fears that all she wanted to do was run. Run away and never stop. But where would she go? The abbey was all she could remember and even though she did not wish to remain there forever, she had at least felt she had more time to decide where she would go next. Her life was quickly spinning out of control and she feared she would never regain the mastery over it.

"Come now, child. As much as I loathe the man, it would not be wise to keep your uncle waiting," Sister Margret consoled as she took Christine's shaking hand and headed for the dormitory rooms to pack her meager belongings.

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Half an hour later, Christine watched through tear filled eyes as the abbey and the sisters disappeared into the distance while the carriage rambled down the country road. The old saying, 'you can never go home again' sprang to her mind, reminding her that even though she had never intended to stay at the abbey forever, it truly was the only home she could recall. When it was at last lost from view, she turned her eyes from the window and looked down at her lap. Besides the satchel with her few articles of clothing, her only other possession was a small wooden box that rested on her lap, housing a few precious belongings. Inside, lay a pair of earrings that had belonged to her mother, a cravat pin of her father's, as well as an object neatly wrapped in a handkerchief and hidden beneath the false bottom lining. It was an item that sent shivers down her spine just thinking about it. It had been years since she had looked at it, yet she could still describe it with alarming accuracy – the frightening symbol forever imbedded in her memory.

"Christine!" her uncle said once again, this time more forcefully. "Are you listening to me?"

Her head snapped up, she had been so lost in her misery that she had apparently not heard him.

She stammered, "F-f-f-forgive me Uncle, I…I did not hear you,"

"Well pay attention, for this is of vital importance!" he told her sternly. "I will not have you embarrassing me when we reach Summercrest Hall, do you hear?"

"Summercrest?" she asked, looking him directly in the eye for the first time since she set foot in the carriage.

"Yes, that is the name of the manor that you will be living at from now on," he informed her, continuing on as if this was all ordinary information, not the life altering declaration it truly was. "For you see, my dear, I have a wonderful surprise waiting for you there. I have arranged for you to be wed to a fine nobleman. We shall arrive sometime early this evening, giving you enough time to meet your future husband before the wedding tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" Christine squeaked, her voice cracking at the very thought of marrying so quickly.

"Yes, everything has been arranged by me and Lord Cedric Morant, your intended's father. I will stay tonight and give you away in marriage on the morrow. Then Lord Morant and I will be leaving for France on business, giving you two newlyweds time to become…better acquainted." Christine did not like the way he phrased that as he sat back with a greedy smile on his face. "Cedric and I have recently become partners in a lucrative venture and he was quite grateful when I told him I had a young and virtuous niece, fresh from a convent, who was of similar social standing. Apparently he has begun to question the young man's ability to choose a proper bride. So he decided to take the matter into his own hands, seeing to it that his title and legacy were carried on through the producing of an heir."

"I…I am expected to bear him children?!" Christine gasped, unable to contain her outrage any longer. "What have you done, Uncle? Sold me like common goods to a man I do not know and who may not even desire a wife? You cannot do this! I will not consent…I refuse!" Her voice had begun to rise with her anger, the very idea of her being the sacrificial lamb so that her uncle could gain favor and prominence with this foul lord was just too much.

Before Christine could blink, Max Daae reached out and delivered a vicious slap across her face for her insolent remark, causing her head to whip to the side from the force of the blow.

Christine's hand quickly covered her burning cheek as she looked at him in horror. No one had ever struck her this way. Sure, she had been reprimanded by the sisters when she had been mischievous, but never had anyone treated her so indignantly before! Her heart cried for vengeance, screaming for her to retaliate against such abuse. Yet one look at the anger in her uncle's eyes halted any words or actions she would have attempted.

"Why you ungrateful little brat!" Max hissed. "I have seen to it that you were looked after and wanted for none of life's basic necessities all these years, and here you throw my kindness back in my face? This is a golden opportunity for the both of us and I will be damned before I let your wilful spirit mess this up for me. You will do as you are told, or so help me, I will recoup the money I paid out for your worthless education by selling you to a brothel! I hear that Madam Bordeaux is always looking for new girls to entertain her customers." His hand shot out once more but this time he grabbed her by the arm and pulled her forward until his wicked face was only inches from hers. His vile breath and crushing hold on her caused Christine to wince and look away, but there was no escaping his threatening voice. "You have been nothing but a millstone around my neck since your parents died, and you will silence your tongue and do as I say, or there will be consequences – both swift and severe! You are still my ward until you turn eighteen, and if I hear one more complaint out of you I swear that you will be paying me back by turning tricks for every drunken man in England who has the coin to buy you for the night, do you understand me?" He yanked on her arm once more, shaking her hard enough to cause her precious box to slip from her lap, clattering to the floor as if to emphasize his threat. "Do you?!"

"Y-y-yes… Uncle, I…I understand," she whimpered, shutting her eyes and doing her best to hold back her tears, which were more from anger and frustration than his painful grip.

Yet did she truly understand, Christine asked herself. The threat yes, but the implications of the words were somewhat lost on her. She was familiar with the biblical explanation that a husband and wife were to become one flesh, but the mechanics of the union had certainly never been discussed in detail by the sisters at the abbey. However, a few of the girls at the school had spoken in hushed whispers about brothels, explaining how fallen women worked there doing unspeakable acts, at the request of men, for money. Something Christine never wanted to learn the details of – especially not first-hand!

"That's more like it, my dear," Max sneered, adopting a sickening sweet tone that made Christine's skin crawl. Then, just as quickly as he had grabbed her, he released his hold, shoving her back into her seat with a jarring force. "Just remember what I said once we arrive and keep your mouth shut! I will do all the talking and you need only stand there and look…appealing."

Christine shivered at his suggestive words, making her feel like a prized cow at auction time. Was this to be her life now? Married to a man for no other reason than to produce him a son to carry on his family name? She shivered as she tried to imagine the terrifying act she would be forced to perform in order to achieve this goal. She felt her stomach turn as frightening images danced before her eyes. Yet if she refused, her uncle had threatened to turn her into a whore, forcing her to perform the very same acts, but with multiple partners, instead of just the one. Of the two evils, marriage seemed the least heinous.

After a few minutes of silence, she slowly bent down and retrieved her wooden box with trembling hands, noting that it had only suffered a slight scuffing in the fall. The lid had thankfully remained closed, keeping her treasures securely inside. As she stared out the window once more, something suddenly occurred to her. During his entire tirade, her uncle had yet to divulge one key piece of information.

"May…may I ask Uncle," she began, daring to speak as he shot her a withering look. "What is my…my future husband's name?" She cringed slightly, half expecting another punishing slap for her curiosity, but it did not come. Instead she heard him give an exasperated sigh before uttering the two words that would change her life forever.

"Erik Morant."

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The journey did, indeed, take most of the day, the carriage pulling up a long driveway just as the sun was beginning to set behind the hills. Yet, as Christine dared to take a peek out the carriage window, she felt her breath catch in her throat at the sight before her. Summercrest Hall was spectacular! In her wildest dreams she could not have imagined a more magnificent manor; the stately building more resembling a castle than a home. It was mostly constructed out of large grey stonework with spiraling towers and pointed roofs creating an almost medieval appearance. Ivy grew up the face in several places, framing windows and alluding to the fact that this was a well-established place of residence. She absently wondered how many generations had graced this veritable palace down through the ages.

The grounds were immaculately groomed, with the spacious lawn and shrubbery, showing that much time and attention had been afforded to caring for the landscape. In the front of the home, surrounded by the circular drive was a beautiful marble fish pond, with intricately carved statues all around. Was this truly to be her home now? If it were not for the fear of who waited within, she would have actually been looking forward to seeing inside the place. Yet as it was, when the carriage stopped in front of the large stone steps, and the driver opened the carriage door, fear of the unknown kept her rooted in place.

"Get out of the carriage," her uncle ordered, grabbing her by her forearm and pulling her from her seat.

Christine stumbled slightly as she exited, grabbing the waiting hand of the servant mere moments before she fell, righting herself just in time. She recalled her uncle's warning not to embarrass him, and she was certain that taking a tumble into the dirt would have most definitely fallen under that category. Christine stood there, clutching her box to her chest as she let her eyes gaze upwards, overwhelmed by the grandeur of all that lay before her.

"Good evening, Master Daae," a very well dressed and stoic man greeted them, bowing slightly out of respect. "I am Mr. Bower, the butler here at Summercrest. Lord Morant is expecting you. If you will follow me, I will take you to him."

Once more, Max gripped Christine by the arm just above the elbow and pulled her along, her mind and attention still on the size of the mansion. Once inside the main foyer, they followed the man down a long hallway until they stopped at a large wooden door.

"The young miss can wait in here for now," the butler instructed, pushing the door open to reveal a large sitting room with a fireplace and several pieces of elaborate furniture. "Lord Morant wishes to speak with you in private and is waiting in the library."

"Certainly," Max agreed, placing his hand on the small of Christine's back and all but shoving her inside, following close behind. His back was now to the butler, Mr. Bower, so he missed seeing the disapproving look the older man gave him for his obvious mistreatment of the poor girl. Max then turned his niece around to face him, his eyes taking on that threatening look once more. "Wait here, and do not even think of running! If you do, make no mistake, that I will find you and make you pay dearly for your disobedience. I will be back soon." And with that, he left the room, shutting the door behind her.

Christine was alone. Alone, afraid and wishing with all her might that she was still back at the abbey! All the students would just now be finishing up dinner, followed by quiet time for reading and meditating on Bible verses and then off to bed for an early start the following morning. Yet here she was, in a strange house in a faraway place where she knew no one. She truly had never felt so lost.

She shivered slightly, but soon realized it was due to the lack of heat in the room and not solely attributed to her nervousness. Laying her box down on a decorative end table, she moved to the fireplace and grasping the metal poker she did her best to stoke the embers, adding on a few more logs that lay nearby. She was down on her knees in front of it, blowing on the coals to help them ignite when the approaching sound of angry boots made her stiffen up.

Suddenly, she heard the distinct voices of two men as they entered the room, the loud slam of the door shutting behind them easily betrayed their fury. Christine remained on her knees, knowing from where she crouched she was not visible to the new occupants due to the high backed lounge that stood between them. If she remained very quiet and did not move, perhaps they would not see her and eventually leave. She held her breath and listened as the two men began to speak.

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OH MY...who could the two men who just came in possibly be? (as if you didn't already know, ha ha)

Please send me a review and let me know what you think about it so far. You KNOW how much I love reviews...love them, love them, love them, love them!

I am always in competition with myself to see if my latest story can top my previous one in reviews, so you can help me with that!

AND since some of you already read part of this chapter when I posted the sneak preview months ago, if I get some nice feedback, I MIGHT be tempted to post chapter 2 early. My regular posting schedule will be twice a week - Sundays and Thursdays - and we have many, many chapters to go. So buckle up and get set for a long ride (don't' worry, we WILL stop at rest areas!)

Now...please review...