London, 1890

Mary knocked softly on Madame Carpentier's door, and to her relief there was no response. Timidly opening the door, she peeked into the room before entering. Although usually Madame Carpentier was the sweetest soul imaginable, gentleman callers always left her in a black mood, irritable and depressed.

Despite her sweet nature, Madame Carpentier was somewhat of a mystery, even to her servants. She disappeared for hours or even days—sometimes no one saw her leave. When discussing her mysterious behavior, as they often did, the servants came up with several fantastic explanations, but in the end they just attributed it to her French origins—everyone knew the French were odd.

The butler, Brooke, was perhaps the only servant in Madame's confidence—but he never lowered himself to gossiping with the other servants.

Mary sighed as she picked up the pieces of clothing strewn about the room. Madame usually left right after she had "enjoyed" a gentleman's company, and she insisted that the room be back to its customary order by the time she returned. She wished no evidence of her activities to remain. Sometimes this was quite irritating, since Madame was hardly ever here when she was not entertaining a gentleman.

Sir Perry, Madame's new protector, was quite a lusty gentleman with no wife to hide his mistress from, so he visited Madame frequently—much more than she liked.

Of course he was extremely generous to her—men paid lavishly in order to enjoy Madame's skilled charms. And Madame was no ordinary mistress; unlike others she insisted her protectors visit her in her own house in an unfashionable quarter of town, instead of allowing them to lease her a house in a more modish part of London.

One of Madame's first lovers had paid for her to have this house built, and, if rumor was to be believed, she had overseen the design herself—a very unusual undertaking for a lady. The end result was a perfectly elegant house, but it was hardly extraordinary, and Mary often wondered why Madame insisted on living here.

Shaking her head, Mary gave one last tug to the bedspread before leaving the room.

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Paris, 1881

"Christine!"

An urgent voice pierced my clouded mind, jerking me out of the shocked daze I had been in ever since we left in the boat. Searching for the voice, I looked up vaguely and discovered the face of Raoul, but I did not respond to him.

In the distance I could hear the angry voice of the mob as it searched for Erik.

Erik!

Was I really leaving him? Had he really told me to go?

Back there he had seemed frightening, mad even, but as I had gazed into his eyes the remembrance of a gentle, loving angel had stirred the love, yes the love, in my heart to fight with the fear gripping my confused mind.

Hoping to reveal my loving angel once again, I had kissed him, sincerely and passionately. And I had! For a moment he had seemed like my angel of old.

But then, just as I was accepting that I would never leave him, he had ordered me to go. And between my own confused thoughts, Erik's shouting, and Raoul's insistent grasp on my hand I had allowed myself to be led into the boat and carried away, away from my angel. What had I done!

Abruptly I turned and looked back, "Raoul, I have to go back! We can't just leave him there to mercy of the mob!"

"Christine, No! If anyone can take care of himself it's the Phantom. You are the one I'm worried about. We have to leave now!"

With that he jerked me out of the boat, dragging me up the stairs.

At first I struggled against him, pulling back. But almost immediately I realized we could never reach Erik in time and that even if we did, I would just hinder him.

So I relented and directed Raoul to my dressing room, a far easier route than the way Madame Giry had shown him.

We left the Opera Garnier stealthily and Raoul took me to his town house saying, "It's just for one night Christine. I shall put you in a hotel tomorrow, but tell no one you stayed here, it could ruin your reputation."

I did not respond to him. After all, I knew I was only staying there one night. I had made my decision, I would find my angel and if he would still have me, I would marry him.

The next morning I woke up, and immediately remembered my task. Anxiety filled my heart, fear settling in my stomach like a bad meal. What if I couldn't find him? But I would not, could not, allow myself to think of that, right now all I could do was return to the Opera Garnier.

Since I was too much of a coward to tell him in person, I wrote Raoul a note explaining my decision and ordering him not to follow.

Poor Raoul! I had loved him, but as a dear friend. When I had first seen him again he had reminded me of a happier time—of innocence and childhood—of a time when my Father was still alive.

Then, as my angel seemed to change into some frightening, unknown creature, Raoul had been there to hold me. Raoul had been so . . . safe. But now I realized safe would not make me happy.

The moment my lips had touched Erik's I had known the difference between his kiss and Raoul's. Erik's kiss had caused me to tremble with passion and fierce longing, while Raoul's kisses had merely been pleasant caresses. Raoul's kisses had certainly never made me feel the way Erik's had, and even if I never saw Erik again I could not stay with Raoul. The memory of that one kiss would haunt me forever.

But I would find Erik. I could not imagine any other possibility.

I had passion, but I had no money, so I walked to the Opera Garnier—head down, eyes on the sidewalk. When I reached the Opera I gasped at the wreckage I saw there, and yet it was not nearly as bad as it could have been.

Coughing, I made my way through the charred hallways, towards my old dressing room. Once I was in the dressing room, I went straight to the mirror, my heart pounding as I began the search for the mechanism that would open it.

At first I forced myself to be calm, but soon my lack of success set my hands trembling as my motions grew more and more frenzied.

After what seemed like an eternity to my nervous mind, my fingers pressed down and the mirror slowly opened.

With a sigh of relief, I entered the passage and traveled down once again. The passage was, no doubt, just as long, dark, and dusty as before, but it seemed so much longer now, so much worse.

Finally I reached the lake and my eyes searched the darkness for the boat, but with a sinking heart I realized that the mob had either destroyed the boat or taken it to the other side, for I did not see it.

I sank to the ground with a frustrated sob as I contemplated crossing the lake without a boat. I could hardly swim across!

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a slight movement; there in the shadows was the boat. With a glad cry, I waded into the lake and pulled the boat to shore.

Unsteadily, I managed to stand at the end of the boat, before awkwardly trying to pole her along, attempting to imitate Erik's graceful movements.

By the time I reached the other side, my arms ached and my hands felt blistered, but I did not care. All my attention was focused on finding Erik, and before the boat even hit the wall I cried out his name.

My shout reverberated off the walls, mocking me in its abundant solitude.

Despite the silence, I refused to believe Erik was not there, and jumping out of the boat I ran up the shore and through the gaping chasm that was the doorway to Erik's home, the door hanging haphazardly on its hinges.

Once inside, I was greeted with frightening disarray, and I ran from room to room in a mad rush, tripping over broken furniture as I frantically called out Erik's name over and over again.

But there was no answer. Finally I abandoned my futile cries, collapsing in an exhausted, sobbing heap upon the floor.

When I awoke later to the unfriendly stone floor of Erik's home, I had no idea how long I had slept. In the darkness of Erik's house there was but one way to tell the time, and the mob had destroyed even that, stalling the face of the mantle clock in a broken reminder of the night before.

I could only be certain of one thing, that Erik was not there, but perhaps he would come back. I resolved to stay in his underground house and wait for him. I did not know how long I would wait, but wait I would.

XXXXXxxxxXXXXX

London, 1890

My mind wandered as James, my business partner, droned on and on—talking of potential projects, and the success we had already achieved.

In celebration, James had convinced me join him for luncheon at his club, and we were now walking home. The crowded streets and James' cheerful tone of voice were doing nothing for my mood.

I should have been happy, elated even, considering we had just finished the construction of a magnificent home in the English countryside. However, the completion of a project always left me feeling empty and dissatisfied. When I was working on a project I had something to live for, something to pour my smoldering energy into. Now I felt hungry, like a wolf searching for its prey. And my wandering gaze lit upon a forbidden piece of game.

Walking down the street arm in arm with a gentleman I did not know, was a lady I knew very well indeed.

At the sight of Christine, my heart seemed to seize up, but I ignored it—reminding myself that this woman had almost caused my destruction once before. Quickly though, almost reflexively, I asked James:

"Tell me James, who is that beautiful woman in the pink dress."

Glancing over to the other side of the street, where Christine and the unknown were lingering in front of a jewelry shop, James' face lit up in recognition.

"I see you have discovered one of London's most beautiful and most sought after ladies, Madame Elise Carpentier."

Elise? That was definitely Christine across the street; her face was branded upon my soul.

"Sought after? Is her husband dead then?"

"No one knows of the whereabouts of the mysterious Monsieur Carpentier, but it matters not—Madame is not in the business of marriage."

"What?" I almost shouted.

"Whoa! Erik you alarm me. One would think you were Monsieur Carpentier."

"I am sorry, I was merely shocked. I should have thought that such a lady would have secured her fortunes through marriage long ago."

"Indeed? Well, if you wish to be introduced to Madame I could do the honors tonight—if you accompany me to the Charlbury's soiree." James said, eyes twinkling at the opportunity to lure his reclusive business partner to a social function.

But I could not share in his amusement, my mind was whirling, and I could feel the familiar rage start to rise. Was this what she had chosen over me? I felt an uncontrollable urge to see her, to discover more about her current situation.

"Well James, I think I am feeling quite social tonight. I do believe I will accompany you to that soiree." I replied, attempting to sound nonchalant.

James grinned, "I see the lady has bowled you over, I must warn you though, she cares for naught but money. You must have very deep pockets indeed to win her over. I will pick you up at your lodgings at ten. Here is my street, 'til then my friend."

As James turned down his street, I continued on my way—dark thoughts churning in my mind. I must have looked a fearsome sight to any passerby, the stormy expression on my face made ten times more alarming by the mask I wore.

So it was Madame Carpentier was it? And she sold her favors to the highest bidder. I chuckled humorlessly; well, I could certainly afford it.

If that is what she wanted I could have obliged long ago—perhaps she had not known what I was worth. Had she left her Vicomte as well? Perhaps his fortunes had taken a turn for the worse.

Question upon question seethed in my mind. I could not answer them now, but soon I would see Christine again and then, by God, I would have my answers.

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(a/n) No offense to the French . . .I love the French, but 19th century British servants did not(a/n)