Sorry it's taken so long everyone. I hope you like it!

CHAPTER NINE

The rooms that Bradley led them to were spacious and beautifully done. Erik supposed the rooms were a little too feminine for him, but that could be remedied with a few subtle changes. The door from the stairs opened into a sitting area. The walls were an eggshell white, while the curtains and carpet were a lush burgundy. A plush cream-colored sofa and recliner were situated facing an entertainment cabinet made of dark cherry wood. All the wood in the room was of the same wood; the coffee table, end tables and writing desk that stood near the two windows on the wall opposite the door. Various paintings of quality hung around the room.

Each of the rooms was done in a different color scheme. The bedroom was a light dove gray with deep midnight blue curtains, carpeting and bed linens. The blue and gray theme was carried over into the small bath attached to the bedroom. The kitchen walls were a light buttery yellow, with curtains that were made from a daisy-print material, giving it a cheery air. Erik hated it. He abhorred yellow.

"So what do you think, Erik? Will the apartment be Ok for you?" Brad asked once the tour was complete.

"Oh, definitely. Oui. They are very nice rooms. The kitchen is a bit bright, perhaps, but otherwise they'll do nicely."

Bradley's relief was evident. "Great. Well, I have to be getting back to the hospital to check on some patients. Annie, can I count on you to give Erik a hand with his unpacking and show him around the rest of the house?"

"You got it, bro. No sweat. Erik's in good hands with me," Annie agreed readily.

"Erik, will you be Ok if I go?"

Erik resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "Bradley, go tend to your patients. I'll be just fine."

"Ok. Good. I'll be home in time for dinner. Where's Mom, Annie?"

"Oh, she had a Women's League meeting. She should be home for dinner, too," Annie answered and cracked her gum.

"Alright. I'll see you guys later," Brad pointed a finger at Annie. "Behave."

"Who? Me? Always," Annie said with a devilish smile.

Brad arched a brow at her and left the room.

Annie clasped her hands in front of her. "Well, let's get your things put away." She lapsed into French again.

Erik allowed Annie to take him by the hand and lead him back into the bedroom. He was too stunned to object. He couldn't believe that she would touch him voluntarily. Then he caught sight of himself in the full-length mirror that stood in a corner of the room. He almost turned around to see who had followed them into the room but stopped himself in time.

"I still can't get used to the way I look," he mused out loud.

"Yeah, well, you're lookin' good, let me tell you," Annie said with honesty.

"Really? Do you think so? I mean, I would value your opinion as a woman."

"Stand still. No, take off your shirt first," she instructed him.

"I will not!" Erik protested, shock widening his eyes.

Annie rolled her dark eyes at him. "Calm down. You're nowhere near my type. I want to critique you. I'm a photographer. I take pictures of people for a living."

"Not your type," Erik repeated. "What does that mean?"

"It means that although you're very pretty to look at, I'm not sexually attracted to you. So it's Ok for you to take your shirt off around me."

Erik shook his head, still not understanding. "Why do you need me to take my shirt off? Can't you look at me with it on?"

Annie sighed. "Because I need to see your physique, your muscle tone and so forth. It's a study of anatomy, if that makes you feel better."

Reluctantly, Erik took his shirt off, feeling like a scoundrel. He'd never been naked before a woman before, or really anyone else and he was extremely self-conscious about doing so now. Besides, this was Bradley's sister and he didn't want to do anything improper and anger Bradley after all he'd done for him. But curiosity got the better of him and he decided to see where Annie was going with this.

"Ok. Good. Now just stand still a minute," Annie instructed and walked slowly around him, taking him in from every angle. "Not bad," she said after a few minutes. "You definitely have potential."

Erik crossed his arms across his chest, not exactly pleased with her remark. "I gather you think there's room for improvement?"

"Well, you're extremely pale. I mean, unless you want to look like a vampire, you need a tan. And you're still a little on the skinny side. No offense. You asked my opinion and I'm giving it to you. You should bulk up somewhat."

"Yes. I've always been very thin. Eating has not been among my chief concerns in life. What exactly do you recommend I do?"

Annie considered a moment before answering. "You need to work out, do weight lifting and cardio training. You also should eat a lot of protein and carbs. And we should take you to a tanning bed. Even if you don't get really tan, that's fine. At least you'll look more natural."

Erik groaned and sat on the bed, covering his face with his hands. "What is cardio training? And what does a tanning bed do?"

Annie came to sit beside him. "Don't worry, Erik. I'll help you. You do realize that Brad told me everything, don't you? I know everything. Well, at least as much as Brad does. I have a feeling though that there's a lot more to you than we know at this point. Am I right?"

Erik looked down at Annie, trying to determine exactly what he wanted her to know and what he didn't. She was such a pretty girl, despite her odd garb. He suddenly understood what she meant by "not her type". She was not his type either. He felt no pull of attraction for her, no spark even though she had pretty dark eyes and full lips. And she was slender and round in all the right places, yet he just couldn't imagine himself… with her.

"How do I know I can trust you?" he challenged her. After all, he didn't know her very well and although he trusted Bradley, he wasn't sure about Annie.

"Because I'm used to keeping secrets. I was very good at it when I was in the Army. I did a few undercover assignments before I was hurt and sent home." Her dark eyes became darker, her mouth drawing down at the corners.

"They accept women in the military now?" he asked with amazement.

"Yeah. I was a captain when I got hurt. They offered me a desk job, but I'm not cut out for that. I need to be where the action is. So now I'm going through the police academy," Annie told him with a smile.

"Do you mean to tell me that you want to chase down thugs and throw people in prison?"

Annie laughed at Erik's expression of disbelief. "That's what I'm telling you. They let women do almost anything they want these days. Except become president. It'll be a while before that happens."

"President of what?"

"The United States of America, silly."

Erik scowled. He didn't like being laughed at. "I'm not silly."

"I was just teasing. You'd better toughen up, buddy. I like to tease. A lot."

"I guess I have a lot to learn about humor," he replied, relaxing once he realized that she meant no harm.

"And I'm the perfect teacher. So, how 'bout you put that shirt back on and I give you the grand tour?" Annie bounced up from the bed. "We can get you unpacked later. I want to see what you think of the place."

"I'd like that, Spike," he agreed and moved to put his shirt back on. "That is what you'd rather be called isn't it?"

"Yep," she said with a pleased smile. "We'll have to come up with a nickname for you."

"No. Erik is just fine. No one has called me by my given name for many years and it's nice to hear it again. So please call me Erik."

His request was so heartfelt and earnest that Annie couldn't refuse him. "Ok. Erik it is. C'mon. Let's take that tour."

Two hours later found Erik and Annie in one of the two attics that Maple Manor possessed. Erik had learned many things about the estate from Annie, including its name. Very fitting, Erik had thought as he remembered the numerous maple trees on the grounds.

"I haven't been up here in years, Erik. Feel like spooking around a little and seeing what we find?" Her eyes were alight with child-like delight at the prospect.

Glancing around at all the trunks and boxes that were stacked neatly, Erik caught her enthusiasm. Perhaps a little digging around would yield something interesting. What could it hurt to rummage around for a bit?

"Fine with me. Where shall we start?"

Annie clapped her hands and turned to a large wooden trunk on her left. "How about right here?" The lid creaked as she lifted it. Once she was sure it would stay open, she began to sort through the contents. "Wow, look, Erik. This stuff is really old."

He moved to stand beside her, gazing down on the clothing that looked to be from the last century. His century. He lifted out a blue taffeta dress with a bow in the back. It was a finely made frock that some seamstress from long ago had labored over for some woman of quality. He laid the garment down across another trunk.

"Ooooh!" Annie squealed in delight behind him. "Erik! Put this on!"

Erik turned back to see what had her so excited. The black, sable cape she held up was of superb quality, lined in satin and in perfect condition. He took the luxurious cape from Annie, swirling it expertly around his shoulders and settling it into place. As he felt the heavy material wrap around him, encasing him in a familiar sensation, Erik felt a power that had been absent for a long time flow back into his limbs. Up in the dark, slightly must attic, he could almost believe he was back in the Paris Opera house, walking high above the stage along the wooden catwalks, ready to take revenge on any that dared defy him.

Annie watched Erik as he wrapped the cloak closely around him and then spread his arms wide, the cape forming psuedo wings. The grin that was spreading across his face she could only describe as evil and she was torn between fascinated awe and fear. It seemed to her that he was growing in size, although she knew that wasn't possible. Suddenly he threw back his head and laughed and the sound was unlike anything Annie had ever heard in her life. She shrank back from Erik, her dark eyes going round with fear and yet there was a part of her that admired the darkness in the laugh that longed to be a part of what it promised. The sound reverberated off the rafters of the attic, enveloping Annie and paralyzing her. So great was her fright that she didn't remember when the sound had changed from laughing to singing.

Erik was advancing on her now, his sensuous mouth forming the words to the song in French, his unearthly beautiful voice sliding around her, rendering her motionless. She couldn't have moved if she tried. His azure eyes blazed with an unholy light that held her mesmerized as he drew closer, ever closer, until she could feel the heat from his body radiating from him. She swallowed once, twice, her throat working as she tried to protest; against what she did not know. No sound would come from her voice box, though and try as she might, she couldn't move her legs.

For Erik, Annie had ceased to exist. It was Christine before him now and he was wooing her with all his power. It was her face he saw, not Annie's. His lovely Christine was with him; the girl with the soaring voice and lovely face. She was here and she wouldn't get away from him again. It was the fear in Annie's eyes that finally brought Erik out of his fantasy. His haunting voice trailed off as he realized what he had been doing to the innocent girl before him. This wasn't Christine. It was Bradley's sister standing in front of him, shaking. Annie felt the strength seep back into her arms and legs with the absence of his voice. She choked out a sob, turned and fled before Erik could gather his wits enough to stop her.

Guilt crashed down on Erik, the weight of it forcing him to sit on one of the dusty trunks. What did he do? Why had he offended Annie in such a manner? It was as though something else had taken him over. The old Erik wouldn't have worried about it, wouldn't have really cared. What was happening to him? Was he changing? Had he changed? Did he want to change? The questions without answers swirled around in his foggy mind, causing his head to begin to ache. Erik raised his head and screamed at the peaked roof overhead in frustration, then descended the stairs from the attic and made his way to his suite, not realizing that he was still wearing the cloak that billowed about him as he strode down the hallway.