Chapter 224 Closer and closer

Erik nestled his tools beneath the seat across from the one he would occupy. His hand involuntarily shuddered as his mind flashed to the last time he'd done that very thing…though circumstances were decidedly different on this occasion. Today he would be guarding, protecting the woman he loved, and the promise she held within her womb. The last time he'd done such a thing he was riding across from a woman whose very presence gave him a putrid sour in the very pit of his innards. How very strange a paradox…the last time he'd touched those implements he'd never dreamt that he'd one day wish beyond wish that he'd be using them to fend off the very woman he now protected. Erick made swift work of his hidings and turned toward the carriage door just at the moment that Christine was leaving the house. He stood enamored by her beauty and grace. She was radiant as she entered the last part of her confinement. The love that grew within her shown never so brightly as it did now that her belly was swollen with the evidence of their passions. Oh how he so wished he could spare her any further discomforts of the physical kind, but he knew he could not. Though she appeared delicate and young, she had handled far more than women ten years her senior could ever have managed. She moved with the grace of a trained ballerina toward the carriage; and on toward Paris. She showed not the fear she should have been feeling, but the utter trust as she gazed at Erik, it was so intense his eyes fell toward the ground for a fleeting moment. Oh the love and adoration she held for him was so unwarranted. He looked up…her gaze had not wavered, he was the sole focus of her eyes. She was so filling he knew that he'd walk over the fiery coals of death just to spare her…spare her anything.

Christine walked to Erik's side. Pausing she stood before him, her eyes still locked with his. Her hand slowly rose to his chest and the other gently to his cheek. She blinked, just once, and inhaled. "Erik, we shall go, and I will do whatever you bid me."

Erik's eyes welled slightly as he knew he could not share with her the depth of the danger that lurked in those outer worlds that they would cross…what treachery she might have to bare witness too…and he for now would spare her those details.

"Erik, I love you, I have followed you nearly all of my life…trusted you nearly all of my life. I would follow you to the very gates of hell if that is what is required of me." She paused and inhaled once more. "Let us be gone from this place." She never looked away from him now. "This," she nodded her head back toward the structure she'd just left, "this is but a building made of stone and mortar, glass, and all manner of other things that pass away with fire and time." She reached out for his hand. Taking it and laying it on her abdomen. "This is where home is my dearest Erik." She smiled at him as she stretched to press her soft lips against the side of his cheek, whispering the last words. "And this we take with us wherever we go…right until the last."

Erik slid his arms around her, and though his love grew to the strength of a thousand horses, he held her most tenderly. "I love you my darling Christine…and as God as my witness I shall not let you near the gates of hell…nor they near you."

Carefully he released her as he guided her hand and led her into the carriage. Erik thought to himself as he stared across at Christine…greater love hath no man than this.

Raoul maneuvered the corridors of the Opera House with seemingly new eyes. He'd never much thought about the upper levels, or those who inhabited them. It was as if great fairies appeared from mysterious places, masquerading as ballerinas for each production, and then just as mysteriously the whimsical creatures would disappear into the unknown until their presence was commanded again. These rooms, these newly hewn stairs, the props, all parts of the whole that was put together for the entertainment of those whose station in life allowed them to be observers of the culmination of such efforts, absent the thought of the toil it took to produce it.

His hand slid allowing the railing as he made his way to the lower offices, stair after stair, floor after floor. Once on the main he made his way to the offices, more specifically to the one door where he was certain he would find Nadir. His hand rose to knock on the newly finished wood, and he jumped back just as the door opened.

"Nadir, my good sir, just the man I was hoping to find."

"Raoul, I rather thought you might be enjoying the company of those enchanting women." He chuckled as he slapped Raoul's shoulder, nodding that he should walk with him. "Ah yes the making of such plans is a bit dizzying. Consider yourself blessed that women seem to have a bent for it, taking great pleasure in the finer details of such things." He smiled at Raoul. "How very fortunate it is that all we as gentlemen really need do is to appear at the end of a carefully laid way, awaiting the most beautiful creatures arrival at the end to become our wife!"

Raoul smiled as he followed Nadir. The man walked with purpose toward the back of the Opera House. Having no plans other than to talk with Nadir, Raoul was happy to follow.

Andrea carefully slid around the end of the bed, pulling the cover just slightly up over Lady C. He positioned himself between she and the door as he watched closely to door handle turning first this way and that. The lock held fast even as he heard the woman's hand press against it. Then just as suddenly the handle was released and he heard the footsteps quicken away in the hallway. He moved toward the door. Then he heard another set of footsteps swelling from the other end of the corridor.

Andre sighed. The woman had been frightened off by someone's approach. He turned his attentions once more toward Lady C.

He startled as there was a slight rap at the door. "Mum, I have some tea for you." He heard someone say from the other side.

Andre's voice cracked to his surprise as he spoke, "the lady shan't have need of tea presently, but if you could fetch a basin of cool water, and perhaps the doctor of the house?"

"Straight away sir." The gentle voice replied.

Andre heard her walk away in earnest. Turning back once more to Lady C. She was so pale. It was an odd time of day he thought for her to be beckoning tea, and indeed most often he himself would have been the one to do so for her if she'd had want of it. Then the hair rose on the back of his neck. The nefarious thought entering his mind. What if indeed she'd not called for it…what if it was to be delivered for some other reason…at the request of someone else? He felt the anger rise within him. He was most often the rationale sort, but indeed these last hours had been anything but simple, and no trickery nor treachery could be ruled out…with such a vile creature roaming the house.

The seamstress skipped not a beat in her step as she left Meg and Raoul's sister in the sitting room, and made her way toward the kitchen to brew a pot of tea. The hot water was always on the stove, and the tea would be readied in short order. She called out to the women as she arranged tea cups and lumps of sugar and a plate of biscuits on a tray. "What time of year will be this splendid event?" Certain that such an elaborate occasion would be months in the planning.

Raoul's sister smiled as she looked at Meg whose face was glowing. "It has yet to be determined as to the certain date, but my brother's love doth grow so exponentially, that I dare say he'd marry within the month if circumstances permitted it!"

Meg blushed and glanced down. How true were the words of the woman who would soon be her sister. Raoul indeed would like nothing more than to marry quietly and quickly. But because of society and position, such things would not be possible lest rumor and scandal befall their abbreviated courtship.

The seamstress' brows rose above her eyes. "So soon" she said under her breath. First her beloved young man, and now Raoul married too? She smiled. Such happiness for these young men. What wonder of love. She'd been so focused on the garments for funerals, that this was a happy reprieve from that sentiment.

She poured the water over the tea leaves, and rested the hissing tea ball into its bath. Lifting the tray she made her way to the company of the young women. Smiling as she entered. "What color my dear?"

Meg's head rose in question, "mum?"

The seamstress smiled as she rested the tray on the table between the chairs.

Raoul's sister smiled too. "She's wondering what color you fancy Meg."

Meg laughed a bit nervously. She'd much to learn, but she'd no doubt she'd come to the right place, and was in the company of the right women.