Hello my dear readers, I'm actually updating pretty early so I shall do some much needed review responses. Mostly to new readers, but don't think I don't appreciate all you old reviewers as well, I love hearing from all of you.

Uhh, but first, a brief public service announcement, this chapter is MATURE, although not as mature as the other. My muse must be obeyed :grin:

Obsession is Love: Welcome! I love that you stayed up until 6:30 in the morning reading this. Defying sleep is a great compliment! No complaints, awesome! I'm glad you like my characterizations.

TheLizzy: Welcome as well. I'm glad you appreciate my Kay usage, gotta love the woman, I am now without a copy though, sadness. As to Belle, she actually isn't because of one little lady but rather because of many little ladies. I have worked with children a lot you see. She is more the child of my mind. Her fascination with faeries etc. reflects my childhood reading, Enid Blyton and excellent English author. As to the Raoul line, I was rather proud of that one, thank you very much!

LiltingBanshee: Welcome to you as well! I'm glad you like strong Christine, I wanted a background that would give her all the spine she couldn't have when she was sixteen.

Fishtoes: You are so complimentary! It gives me warm fuzzies. I love all your comments. As to Raoul, I've rather fallen in love with my Raoul, of course that's cause he is mine. I don't know if you people remember, but I rather loved Reggie as well, that utter scoundrel. And the sex, well I know people don't always come together, but it's a story and well it would be awkward for me to try and make it awkward. I rather think I need more experience first. Also it might have seemed more awkward if you had seen the original full encounter. coughatAriacough Anyways, thanks again.

Kaiba-queen: Welcome to you as well!

Riku Ree: Better . . .

Phruity: Your review made me so happy. The compliments just kept on coming! I reread it too, I love that you love it.

Fingolfia: Your review cracked me up. LOL. It was awesome. Glad its not boring anymore. Hehe. See how you like this chapter miss. :grin:

On that note, ON TO THE CHAPTER!


Erik

"Erik, I must speak with you," Antoinette said calmly upon discovering me in the parlor.

"Yes," I replied curtly, I was in a foul humor, the last few days had put a serious strain on my feeble relational skills.

"You have been acting rather strangely in the last couple of days."

"Really? You mean something different my usual strangeness. How interesting." I responded rather flippantly, in no mood to be manhandled by Antoinette.

At my words her lips thinned, and she turned a set of remarkably disapproving eyes on my face. I tried to appear nonchalant, but I must admit that I was not impervious to her disapproval. I felt some of my bravado fade away.

"Since I can see no reason for your actions, I must assume that it's simply a reaction to living with people."

She paused a moment, as if daring me to reply. I waited for her to continue, wearing an air of exaggerated interest, "However, I really do not think that is case; you appear to me to think you have been wounded in some way. Since with you the possibilities are endless I ask you to do us all a favor and speak to Christine about the issue." I almost winced under her acerbic words, if I hadn't felt wounded before I certainly would now, I thought indignantly.

Antoinette continued, her tone softened, "Unless you tell her what is wrong, you can never fix the problem."

I felt a rush of irritation; she needed to talk to me, not the other way around.

My lips curled upwards in a sneer, and I replied sardonically, "Thank you so much for your advice Antoinette. I shall store your wise words away for a time when I actually want them."

"Don't be an ass, Erik."

I watched Antoinette's receding figure with something akin to amazement. Had she actually just told me not be an ass? Unbidden I felt a real smile come to my lips; the woman never ceased to amaze me.

I threw myself onto a sofa; not only was this issue about Christine plaguing me, but the plans for our future were quite unsatisfying. I needed to speak with Christine about it, but that would require a conversation. It had been two days since the abominable letter had come to my hand, and I had hardly spoken to her since. I couldn't help but wonder if the two had had further contact.

At that moment, I felt, rather than heard, another presence in the room and looked up with a scowl.

At the sight of Belle's slight figure, however, I forced my expression to soften. I would not take out my anger on her.

She looked an angel in a light blue dress, her skirts floating about her, a large sash tied at her waist, and her hair pulled half back with a perfectly tied blue bow. Curious brown eyes looked out at me from thick lashes, and she asked "Is something wrong Father?"

Belle had never called me anything but father since she had been told she could do so. I found the word remarkably soothing.

"Nothing to worry about," I replied, "Now what is this you are wearing? Is it some your new finery?"

Her face lit up at my question, she definitely had a very feminine appreciation of clothing, "Oh yes! Do you like it?" she asked, twirling round twice, raising her hands above her head.

Abruptly my mind flew back in time—another little girl in a gauzy light blue tutu twirling and jumping. This girl had been older, but the two looked so much alike that it made my breath catch in my throat.

"Very pretty," I said with effort.

I missed Christine. Maybe I should speak to her about the letter after all. I didn't want this estrangement between us, not now after we had been through so much.

I felt Belle climb up on the couch beside me and I pulled her close, luxuriating in the comfort holding a child can provide. She laid her head against my chest with a little sigh, and started playing with the buttons on my coat.

We lay there for a minute just like that, before I heard Belle's soft voice, "Father . . ."

"Yes Belle?" I said, feeling a premonition tickle along my spine.

"Why does your face look like that?"

I almost laughed, despite the gravity of the situation, how like a child to believe that this was, in fact, my face, rather than believe I was covering something up.

"Belle this is not actually my face . . . its something I use to cover my face," I said using my free arm to gesture to the mask.

"Oh . . ." she said, her brow knitting in thought, "Why would you want to cover your face?"

"Well," I said, taking a deep breath and trying to ignore the nervous knots in my stomach, "I don't like this side of my face at all, and neither did my mother, so I covered it up."

She looked at me again, as if trying to process this information, then her face brightened, "Your mother covered it up? Like a bandage? Is it a scrape then? Look I have a great big scrape on my elbow," she declared sitting up and twisting her arm around in various awkward positions until she could see the wound.

When she found it she thrust it up in my face, "Look, isn't that a nice scab? I want to pull it off so bad, but Momma says it's not lady-like."

"Does that keep you from doing it?" I asked, amused and more than happy to change the subject.

"No, not really. I was going to anyway, but Aunt told me that if I did it would get infected, and turn green, and rot, and make my arm fall off. I don't want that to happen!"

"A horrible fate indeed," I replied, "You are a very wise young lady to exercise such restraint."

"What does restraint mean?"

"When you don't do something that you want to do very much."

"Oh, well then you must be very very wise and exercise a whole bunch of restraint," she said, pulling the strange words out slowly on her tongue and looking adorably proud for having said them, "You know why?"

"Why?"

"Because you haven't taken that bandage off for a very very long time. If your mother put it on it must be really old."

"Well I suppose it's pretty old. How old do you think I am Belle?"

"Ummm . . . eighty-eight!"

"I'm not that old!"

"Twenty?"

"Or that young. I'm older than your mother and younger than your Aunt, that's all I'm going to tell you."

"That's okay . . . I'd rather see your face."

"Well I don't know about that Belle."

She regarded me solemnly for a few moments and then said, "If it's like a bandage it'll get better some day. Right? Then you can take it off."

I sighed, Belle's innocent words held more meaning than she realized, "It's not the sort of thing that gets better Belle, my face will always be like this. I'll always have to wear this mask, that's what it is . . . a mask."

"But can you take it off sometimes? Not for long . . . just to ummm give it some air." Belle asked, obviously drawing on her knowledge of cuts and bandages. "If you could, then maybe one day you could show it to me."

"Maybe I will show it to you someday Belle, but not right now, you'll just have to wait."

"How about at Christmas? I have to wait at Christmas a lot."

I almost winced, I couldn't imagine a less fitting holiday, Holloween would be far more appropriate.

"Yes, well, its like you have to wait for Christmas, but I'm afraid I can't make any promises."

"Ah, we'll see." Belle said, drawing out the words in what I surmised to be her "grown up" voice.

"Yes, we'll see you little imp."

She giggled at this, and replied, "I am not an imp! Imps are nasty little black creatures that create lots of mischief."

"Oh? And how do you know this?"

"I saw one," she said, in the voice she used to convey secrets, "It stole my hair ribbon, which is why I couldn't find it when Momma asked."

"I see, imps are terrible little creatures. Should we set traps for them?"

"Oh no!" she replied, shaking her curls vigorously, "You could never catch an imp! They are far too clever for that."

"Ah, but I am also very clever. I venture to believe that I could outwit the imps."

She giggled again, replying "Yes, Father" in the manner of one humoring a madman.

"Will you tell me a story?" she then asked, and I settled down to the surprisingly soothing occupation of fabricating tall tales.


Christine

I walked down the stairs, a feeling of discontent settled in the pit of my stomach. Erik's behavior had been driving me crazy, like a puzzle I repeatedly failed to solve. I hated this . . . whatever this was, and I wanted to be done with it!

I paused halfway down the staircase, at this angle I could see directly down and into the parlor, and what I saw there evoked a terribly bitter sweet feeling in me.

Erik and Belle sat together on the couch, her powder blue gown a sharp contrast to his black suit as she nestled next to him. Her curly head rested against his chest, and one of his arms wrapped around her, his fingers absentmindedly stroking her hair. I could just faintly hear his voice, like a hum, but I could imagined he was telling her a story and her eyelids were drooping in response to the soothing quality of that mesmerizing sound.

I loved it and hated it at the same time.

My heart warmed to the sight of my daughter and the man I loved sharing such a moment, but at the same time I felt excluded from the picture. Erik was only cold towards me, towards Belle he was warm and loving, and I felt envious of Belle in a way that made my spirits drop even further. Not only was I envious, but I felt guilty about feeling that way.

I needed to talk to Erik; I would just have to ask him what was wrong later today. Why did my heart shrink a little at the thought? You are not the scared little girl you once were, I told myself sternly, stop cowering and speak to the man!

An hour or so later, I marshaled my forces and went up to his room to confront him. Belle had been summoned to the kitchen to help Antoinette cook dinner, so I knew we would not be interrupted for a little while. I stood in front of the door, just staring at the woodwork, attempting to fortify my spirits.

I was very firmly raising my arm to knock when I was abruptly taken out of my suspense by the door opening.

Erik stood there, towering above me as always, divested of his coat, his white shirt unbuttoned at the throat. My mouth went dry.

"Christine?" he said, a question clear in his voice, and I realized that I must have been gawking; however, I took heart in the fact that his tone seemed warmer than it had been.

"I need to speak with you Erik," I said, "May I, ah, come in?"

I thought I saw a flicker of something like relief in his eyes, and he stepped back, gesturing for me to enter.

I walked in, and turned, twisting my fingers as I waited for Erik to close the door and look at me.

"What do you want to tell me Christine?" he asked, his face watchful but not uninviting.

"Well, I just think that in the past few days I have felt a certain amount of reserve from you . . . that's unusual," I said slowly, "I just wanted to say that if something is wrong I wish you would tell me."

I looked up at him through my lashes to see his reaction. It was not encouraging. He folded his arms across his chest upon my words, his face seeming to harden.

"Christine why don't you tell me what is wrong," he replied, his tone taking on the sardonic quality I hated so much.

What did he think I knew? Did he think I had done something?

"Me? Erik, I don't know what you are talking about! What is it that you think I know?"

"Madam, there is no need for this pretence, I suggest you just admit to your subterfuge and be done with it," he said with a sneer.

I could feel my surprise being replaced by a steadily increasing anger, I didn't deserve this! "Subterfuge! It is not I who speaks in riddles! Speak plain Erik, I wish to know what nonsense you have dreamed up now."

"I haven't dreamed up anything—it is already quite plain. God, I should have known you hadn't changed; you can't teach an old dog new tricks. You are still playing the same childish games with the same boy."

I gasped, did he just compare me to a dog? "You are impossible! I'm not the one playing games you are! How can you expect me to admit to something when I have no idea what you are talking about?" I bit out at him, my voice rising on every word.

Erik's eyes narrowed, and he unfolded his arms, beginning to advance toward me, I must admit I felt some qualms, but I held my ground, "It must be more serious than I thought if you persist on denying it. Have you renewed your eternal vows of love? Perhaps you find the lure of a title too much to resist after all?"

Fury welled up in me, and I felt my hand shoot out before I even knew my own intent, it was stalled in its path by Erik's tight grip.

"I wouldn't suggest you do that, I might be angry if you ruined the one good side of my face."

"Damn you," I said in a low voice, "Erik I can't believe you are acting like this. After all we've gone through; after all we've said to each other."

"I can't believe that you would conspire . . . tryst with that boy when you know how I feel about him," he growled back at me.

"Tryst? You think I'm trysting with Raoul?" I was so flabbergasted that I found myself stuttering, "You . . .you . . . bastard!" I finished, in a flash of brilliance.

"I am many things Madam, but a bastard is not one of them . . . even if my mother thought I was demon spawn," he replied with a brittle laugh. "I was willing to think you mostly innocent, that you had good intentions, but now you force me to think otherwise . . ."

"How generous of you! Now maybe you would extend your generosity and gift me with just what you base these ridiculous accusations on!" I took a deep breath, anger still throbbing through my veins, "Or maybe I should go ask Raoul, since you are determined to be utterly impossible."

If I had had time to reflect, I would have realized that this was not a wise move.

"You will never see that damned boy again!" he snarled.

"I can do as I please Erik. I am a grown woman and you have no hold over me!"

"I don't? I seem to have a very firm hold on you at the moment," he taunted, his fingers tightening about my wrist, his other arm snaking around to grasp my waist.

Ever wise, I replied, " 'moment' being the operative word."

His eyes darkened, and began slowly backing me up to a wall, biting words out as he moved, "Not this time, I'm afraid you've sold your soul to devil now and there is no turning back."

"You insist on making yourself out to be . . ." I was spiritedly replying, when he hissed, "You're mine," lowering his head to mine in a bruising kiss.

Still caught up in the flames of my anger I protested, refusing to open my lips and pushing at him with my free hand. With a growl he grabbed both my wrists and pinned them above my head, continuing the brutal pressure of his mouth, his tongue seeking entrance, but I held my lips tightly pressed together in stubborn revolt. Suddenly he nipped my bottom lip gently with his teeth, and I gave a little gasp. In a flash his tongue darted inside my mouth, plundering, possessing.

Heat rose up in my body unbidden and I gave a little moan, inwardly furious at myself, I couldn't believe that he had such control over me. I, who had made a career out of this! In response to me he softened his kiss, coaxing now, drawing my reluctant participation, and I pushed my own tongue into his mouth, deepening the kiss.

Sensing my capitulation, he released my wrists, bringing his hands down to my waist, and I wrapped my arms around his neck, craving him more deeply than I thought possible—even a few days ago. I pushed one hand into his hair, holding his head even closer to mine, wanting him, all of him.

I felt his hands roving over my body, and I was frustrated by layers of clothing between us. I moaned low in my throat, and I felt him pull away his hands searching for the bottom of my skirts, "God I need you Erik," I muttered, my words seeming to drive him on, my skirts now pushed up, his hand searching for the slit in my drawers.

Eager to hurry the process, my hands went to his pants, years of practice helping find just the right buttons to release his erection. Then I felt his fingers inside me, testing my readiness, and I gave a low moan of approval urging him on.

He needed no further encouragement; he positioned himself, before filling me with one swift thrust. I tightened my arms around him, pulling my legs up around his waist with his assistance, and then he was filling me over and over again, filling me with quick upward thrusts, his hands on my hips bringing me down on him.

I was lost in a world of sensation, desperately searching for the release only he could give me, barely conscious enough of reality to muffle my sounds of pleasure. Our hips churned faster and faster, and I dug my nails into the linen on his back as he plunged into me again and again. I could feel the storm inside me quicken, swirling higher and higher, straining to be set free.

He lunged inside again, frenzied now, frantic for the relief we were both reaching for, and again, before his shuddered his own release, flooding my womb with warmth and in response waves of pleasure flooded through my body, as if they were bursting through a dam.

We held onto each other, still feeling the tremors of our passion before he withdrew, and I looked up into his eyes to see a surprisingly dark look in them.

I put my hand up to his cheek, stroking it gently, inviting him to speak.

"This should never have happened."

I frowned, "Erik . . ."

"I never meant . . .God I have no control," he said, in a tone of self loathing.

"Did I look particularly in control to you?" I retorted, still leaning rather weakly against the wall. "Erik I wish you could tell me why you think I betrayed in some way?"

He seemed to fight some inner struggle, and then said, "It was a letter from that boy, speaking of a previous meeting between you just you two. Let's just say he was very affectionate."

My brow furrowed. Could it refer to tea? But no, Erik had said between just Raoul and me. "Erik believe me there never was such a meeting. I swear it! Do you have this letter?"

"No I don't . . . it was . . .ruined."

We definitely needed to speak about how he had read this letter and how it had been ruined but for now I just wanted him to believe me.

"Erik, believe me. Please?"

"Christine, I want to believe you but then where . . ?"

He left the sentence unfinished, but I knew he was referring to the origins of the letter. He gave a sigh, turning from me to redress himself. I watched him wash his hands, and fully clothe himself, hoping he was thinking through things while he worked. As he finished I started, "Erik . . ." but he did not allow me to continue.

"Christine, I don't know what to think, I'm going out," he said opening the door, his voice sounding more frustrated than anything.

He walked out the door, and a few seconds later I followed, stopping at the top of the stairs, my eyes following his dark figure out of the front door as he disappeared into the night.

"Well, I suppose he won't be joining us for dinner," I heard in Antoinette's stringent tones.

I looked down to see her standing in the hall, glancing up she met my eyes saying, "You better come down now, the food will be getting cold."

I could only be glad she had spared me her sarcasm as I went to my room to wash up.


Max

I saw Erik stride quickly out the doorway, the streetlight illuminating the expression on the visible side of his face. He didn't look too happy.

Looks like all is not well between Erik and Christine I thought with satisfaction—time to launch the next and final stage of the plan.


Okay so the last talk was in the bedroom . . . whatever. :singsong voice: Review, review.