Chapter Twenty-One: Andante

Putting on his vest, he fastened on cuff links and looked at his reflection in the mirror. Going to the wardrobe for his coat, he stopped to sit on the edge of the bed. On his dresser rested a black lacquered Chinese box. Turning it around, he pushed one edge while using another finger to press on one of the mother-of-pearl carvings on the face. From the back, a small door swung open, he withdrew a velvet covered box. Opening it, he retrieved Christine's ring. He turned it in his fingers a moment, then wrapped it in his palm and placed his hands together over it, touching them to his forehead as a man would in prayer.

"Christine," he whispered softly, "if you can hear me, I need you to help me." He paused a moment, picturing his thoughts leaving the room, winding their way through the air to where she was. "I've found someone Christine," he opened his hands and spoke to the ring. "She's what I think I have searched for. She's coming here today, and I want to tell her. I want to keep her, I want to marry her." He closed his eyes, "Help me, if you can. I don't want to die alone, Christine."

He sat the ring in its case, turning it towards him so he could still see it as it rested on the velvet. "Her name is Emily. She threatened to shoot me the first time I saw her. She kissed me, Christine. And she calls me Dar-lenn. Of course, that took several weeks. And I did carry her off, but that was for her own good." He swore for a moment the ring became brighter, "Are you laughing at that? She laughs at me, too." He touched the case again, "Thank you, angel." He closed the case and held it for a moment, before slipping it back into the secret door.

Erik glanced at the clock as he entered the study, by now Giles, Blaise and Alain Trahan would be on their way to their first port. He had found that Jules Gaultier was a fair man, and he agreed to an almost obscenely small amount for the boat, in exchange for teaching his son a lesson.

Experience being an apt teacher, they would come away with calluses on their hands, tired backs, and a better opinion of the men who did it as a living. They would understand from the inside the intricacies of why contracts were bid as they were, and how to keep the crews working. Within three months they should come away better men than had stood in the warehouse last night. Better men that would hopefully learn to be loyal to him.

He had talked briefly to Jules Gaultier. Since he was paying a ridiculously small amount for the boat he had been magnanimous and offered Gaultier one of the unsold typewriters from the next shipment. It was the least he could do, and if Gaultier's office personnel liked it, perhaps Emily would have some more converts to her typewriters.

Madame Griggs. In a little over an hour she would be arriving.

Emily put on the same skirt and blouse that she had worn the first night to De La Shaumette's house for their meeting. She pulled her hair back into a ribbon, and added a pair of small ear rings and a bracelet. After dressing, she called for a cab.

Arriving on time, she popped into the house and greeted Etienne and Agnes. As always they seemed glad to see her. She couldn't help but think it was probably because things had gotten interesting around the house since her arrival.

She followed Etienne up to the study, and waited for him to usher her through the door. As usual, Erik was seated at his desk, and arose when she entered. "Good Afternoon," she said.

"Madame," he gestured towards the chair before the desk. Once again the elegantly attired gentleman, his dark frock coat relieved by a jewel toned blue vest, the white mask in place. "I have asked you here so that I could inform you of the events yesterday at the warehouse."

Emily glanced down at her hands, "That isn't necessary."

Erik searched her eyes, "You are not the least bit curious? And here I believed all women were curious creatures."

"I didn't say I wasn't curious," she replied, "only that it wasn't necessary."

"I see. You must have great faith in my judgment then, Madame Griggs."

She lifted her hands in a helpless gesture, "The damage was to your property, Monsieur."

"Yes, but you want to know what I did with those three gentlemen don't you?" He affected an insinuation into his voice. She had to be curious.

"Not really," she replied blandly.

For a moment he was speechless, but there was something in the way she was looking at him. "What game is this?" he asked with narrowed eyes.

Her eyes went a little wider, "Game? Are we playing a game?"

He rested his chin on his fist a sat examining her. "You are far too casual about this, Madame. This is some sort of retribution for my not hearing your opinions isn't it?" His voice was getting louder.

Like the old ships meeting on an ocean, Emily silently noted that her last shot had crossed his bow and the war was on.

Erik knew she was curious, very well. "You naughty little minx," he purred slowly.

She watched his eyes change from annoyance to an almost sensual challenge. Oh, drat! The first cannon shot, and the boat was already taking on water.

She let out a protracted sigh. "If you want to tell me, I'd be more than happy to listen," she said. Ha ha! The ship may be sinking, but the crew shall leap across and take yours!

He started to speak but she cut him off, "Of course, you keep sooooo many secrets. Here I sit just never capable of keeping up with you." Avast you dogs! Beware the hat pins!

His eyebrow quirked and he opened his mouth again, "Go on!" she said lifting a hand. "Don't be shy! I'm prepared to listen," she said with a knowing nod. That's right, surrender your sword, the ship is ours!

Erik waited to see if she was going to interrupt again. He let out a dramatic sigh, "I suppose you will extort chocolates out of me for this."

That's right! Chocolates for the entire crew, and throw in a bottle of Brandy! Emily smiled genuinely, "Maybe you should invest in a chocolate shop."

The room seemed to be heating up, his mouth was getting dry. Emily was in her playful mood. Playful was good wasn't it? She would be more receptive, wouldn't she? It was time. Taking a deep breath he stood and gestured towards the piano, "Would you please sit here?"

Emily moved to the bench and waited for him to start telling the story of the warehouse meeting. Erik struggled to keep his breathing even. First we must remove the reasons for her arguments, he thought. Without those reasons to support her, she must agree to his pursuit. "Tell me why you will not re-marry."

Emily couldn't have been more surprised if he had reached out and slapped her. She tried to collect her thoughts, where could she start? "I suppose I can answer that." He stood as rigidly still as he had the first night that she had been here in the darkened study.

"Madame, it is my intention to court you." It sounded like someone else's voice. This was going wrong, unraveling. He had hoped for some logic he could adapt to his advantage. For some reason he could not pull enough air into his lungs. He realized it was because he had stopped breathing. He had no way of knowing that Emily was suffering the same symptom.

Javier, you were right, she told herself. In the back of her mind, something prodded her to speak. "Oh." That's just perfect Emily. "My." Why isn't my tongue working? She touched her hand to her lips hoping some higher power would give her back her ability to speak.

He saw her shaking hand. His body felt as if he was turning to stone. Downward into the darkness, this time a darkness with no hope of light. He had done this wrongly; he was going to die alone.

Erik felt something inside dying, a slow, sad change that drained his soul out of him leaving a numbing cold in its wake. Summoning what courage he had left he spoke, "I am sorry, I am frightening you." He turned away from her, facing the window. His hands were locked at his sides.

"No," she said, coming back to some semblance of consciousness. She shook her head, "Yes, I am frightened." He had turned away from her, putting the masked side of his face between them. Emily only realized at that moment that it was one of the things she had noticed before. It was his shield. When he was angry, or when he took on that impersonal look, he turned the mask towards the person. She got to her feet, stepping towards the other window.

Was this what she wanted? She'd had taken a chance coming to France, was it time to take another? She turned towards him. The mask made it next to impossible to read his expression, except for the firm line of his lips, and the eye, fixed out the window. "Look at me," she pleaded softly. He might have been carved of stone; he was refusing to look at her. She reached out tentatively, "I want to talk to Erik. Not the mask." His head swung sharply, his eyes glittered dangerously. "You talk to people when you're courting, not shut them out," she said gently.

The words tumbled out of the darkness, when you're courting….. He heard it again and again, it pulsed in a rhythm with the beating wings of hope as it hovered inside him, trapped but buffeting the dark walls to break free.

When he said nothing, she continued, "You know when people fall in love they don't do it thinking that it will ever end. I didn't when I met William." She clasped her hands together hoping they would stop shaking. "We started changing, somehow, and then it was so clear that we had been two different people. After that it just seemed like watching actors on a stage, it was happening to someone else, not to me."

She closed her eyes, hearing her heart beating so loudly. "That is what frightens me," she looked at him, hoping he could read what she felt through her eyes rather than rely upon the meandering words she was saying. "I was so sure."

Erik had never seen this expression on her face before. His Madame Griggs was not this lost, helpless looking woman. He didn't want to ever see that look on her face again. He wanted to wrap her in all the protection he could offer her.

She smiled for a second, "I'm kind of a fearless idiot sometimes, but falling in love again is what really scares me. I need time."

Erik could see it in her eyes. An emotion so close to his own after his loss of Christine, it threatened to shackle him and leave him incapable of thought or action. The feeling of being cut adrift, vulnerable to the whims of an ocean on the edge of eternity.

He was watching her now, accepting what she was saying. It was time to pose the one problem that was the real cause of not marrying again. "There is one thing that I must tell you. In all those years of marriage I never conceived. I don't think I can give you any children." If he was going to balk at not being a father, she wanted to give him the chance to decide now to withdraw his suit.

He knew now why Javier had refused to tell him. A barren woman was like a well with no water. To most men she would be useless. She would not have the quality that would make her worthy of being loved. His heart twisted at the unfairness of this loving woman never having the chance to be a mother. How she must suffer in quiet misery in a world that would consider her less than a woman for a condition that was not her choice. Like my face.

"Emily," he began quietly, "I don't care." He didn't. With her kiss and the casual touch she had bestowed upon him up to this moment, she had already given him a treasure beyond price. He reached for one of her hands, "Your love will be enough."

She had sent him a note, a note that contained a single word. Now it was his chance to give her a similar reply, the term for a slow pace. He gestured towards the keys of the piano, "Andante?"

She smiled. "Yes, Andante," she agreed.

Like iron purified by fire, he had finally become what he desired the most. He had become someone worthy of being loved. The full reality of her acceptance came on a rising tide of emotion. He lifted her hand, turning it to place a kiss on the inside of her wrist, "Macharmante'."

Emily felt the distance between them was closing somehow. His eyes were beautiful, as he looked back at her. The mask seemed to be something like another skin, no longer just an unyielding object.

He placed her hand on his shoulder. He reached to run his fingers up the column of her throat, he tilted her chin upwards. Her eyes closed slowly, and he felt the pull of her lips. Leaning down, he brushed his against hers with exquisite slowness, as light as the touch of a butterfly. He kissed her again and Emily's lips parted, he took possession of her mouth.

She felt his hands circle around her waist, the hunger growing in the lips moving on hers. And then there was a knock at the door.

(Macharmante'—my charming one)

A/N Thank you so much to my reviewers and all of you who have stuck with Erik and Emily through their first adventure. Their story continues…….Look for the next installment, The Shell Game, coming in September.