Author's Note: Sniff! My longest fic to date...Writing this story was an incredible challenge, and a sincere pleasure, and I would like to give a huge thanks to my beta and friend, grannydaisytoo, who was a tremendous help with ideas, wording, research, editing, and general encouragement. No doubt she helped me make this story into more than I'd ever even hoped. Thank you so much, Kim! Thank you thank you thank you! Also, thanks to mrsphan who had given me the encouragement to post chapter one when I had doubts about it, and for her friendship and feedback. Many thanks as well to Timeflies, for reviewing every single chapter- I have looked forward to every single one and appreciate them so much! Also, a big hug to Lainersss for her wonderful feedback and support. More big thanks to Terbear, Passed Over, Who'sThat, GerrysJackie, MJMod, Montaquecat, and Mominator for your meaningful feedback that has praised, second guessed, questioned, and commented frequently, inspiring me to do better. Of course, a huge thanks to everyone who reviewed period, your comments were always well-received and appreciated as well. Thanks again, you all for hanging in there with me through my endless cliffies. I hope that you have enjoyed my story and please leave a review, and even if you didn't like the story, I hope that you review anyway. Merry Christmas and I hope that you all have a wonderful new year!

Chapter 30


She smiled and clapped as the boys and girls exited the stage dressed festively in black, white, and red, wearing Santa hats atop their heads. "Let's give our choir a hand for their fine performance." Clearing her throat, she waited for the applause to die down. "Now, just in time for Christmas, thanks to Mrs. Morrison, you are all in for a treat. I'd like you all to be on your best behavior…" the stern woman's eyes turned to Ricky Munro, raising her eyebrow with a warning, and then with a smile she addressed the whole crowd. "And give a warm welcome to Glasgow's own masked magician… Monsieur...Erik," the headmaster looked to Lizzie to be sure she had the name correct, and with a smile and nod, she continued, "and here to assist him, our own Frankie Morrison." The older woman cleared her throat and set the microphone back on its base, gesturing their attention towards the stage.

Immediately, Frankie and Erik appeared in a large cloud of red smoke, emitting ooh's and ahh's from the children, who promptly erupted into loud applause.

Lizzie stood against the back wall in the cafeteria, nervously chewing her fingernails. She couldn't remember the last time she had ever felt this nervous…and she was not even onstage! Her eyes fell to her charismatic masked man, who commanded the audience with his powerful presence. His engaging voice rang through loud and clear, his movements graceful, and his elegant hands captured the youngsters' imaginations with his tricks and illusions. Her gaze fell to her son who stood beside Erik, watching him carefully for cues, following his every lead, he was every bit the lively assistant, and seeing Frankie up onstage with a confident smile filled Lizzie's heart with pride. She had been nervous, but she had no reason to be. Every student, every teacher, every faculty member were enthralled by the gifted performer.

Lost in the pure magic of the show before her, she was startled when Miss Mackenzie, Frankie's teacher, gave her elbow a gentle nudge.

The expression of delight showed plainly on the woman's face. "The Masked Magician is quite talented, isn't he?"

If only she knew, Lizzie thought devilishly. She cleared her throat and nodded. "Thank you for letting him perform."

"On the contrary, Mrs. Morrison, thank you. The children seem to love him." Miss Mackenzie gave Lizzie a quick wink, and returned to the front where her class was seated.

Almost all eyes were focused on the masked man and Frankie, and laughs and cheers were heard throughout, except for a rush of whispers in the second row.

"Wow!" one boy exclaimed to the boy next to him, "That's Frankie's da," he said, pointing to Frankie onstage.

One right after the other shared the news with their neighbor until it finally reached the horrified ears of Ricky Munro. Open mouthed, he turned to Catriona beside him.

"Catriona?" he whispered repeatedly, trying to get the girl's attention.

She turned angry brown eyes at him. He seemed intent on annoying her."What?!" she hissed, trying to keep her voice low.

"Is he really Frankie's da?"

Catriona rolled her eyes to the ceiling. "No, you eejit. Frankie's real da died. This man, the Masked Magician is going to be Frankie's stepfather."

Ricky shot a confused look at his classmate.

Exhaling an impatient breath, she continued, "Frankie's mum and Erik are getting married tomorrow." A smile soon overcame the young girl's disturbed features. "Isn't Erik dreamy?"

Ricky turned his eyes back to the man onstage. He could recall months ago when this very same man had scared him off in front of Frankie's building. His eyes formed narrowed slits as he recalled what the strange, scary man had said. If I see you around here again, I'll take care of you myself.

Yes, he remembered the man well, and now he was going to marry Frankie's mum… Unbelievable.

It seemed as though the illusionist could read his thoughts as his sharp blue eyes met Ricky's. It was but a split second, but the terrifying glare that the masked man shot him sent chills down Ricky's spine. Ricky's eyes widened in fright, and as the rest of the schoolchildren laughed and applauded, Ricky sunk lower into his chair.

She was a vision.

Her cheeks were rosy, and her face glowed. A simple smile rested on her lips. Her steps were feather light as she ascended the aisle, white and red rose petals scattered on the floor beneath her feet. Her hair was pinned on one side with a spray of white heather and fell into silky tresses at her collarbone. The long sleeves of her ivory gown swept just off the milky skin of her shoulders, and the beaded, trimmed bodice fell into a delicate v at her chest. The form-fitting satin draped her curves and ended at her ankles, brushing her legs with every step, and the long train trailed elegantly behind her.

The sweet sound of violins resounded throughout the small chapel, and her fingers gripped the stem of her bouquet gently. The crimson roses were a dazzling splash of color in her hands, contrasting with the paleness of her gown.

Unlike the first time she had married, Lizzie was now perfectly calm. Her mother smiled at her, tears welling in the older woman's eyes, and her arm laced tightly through her daughter's. On her other arm was her new stepfather, Nadir, who felt honored, and wore a proud smile as he accompanied Lizzie and Nell down the aisle, his arm holding hers softly.

Behaving as tearful bridesmaids, Cindy and Marie took their places at the altar, both dressed in burgundy tea length gowns, and watched in awe as the blushing bride approached.

He felt like he had no breath in his body, as the sight of his exquisite bride had stolen it from him. His jet black hair was swept back neatly, and in his custom tailored black tuxedo, Erik was the extraordinarily handsome groom, his deep blue eyes shining at Lizzie. His heart had never felt so full, his soul so complete, as he impatiently awaited the moment when he could take her hand in his.

Reza elbowed him, casting an approving smile to Lizzie, baring gleaming white teeth beneath an olive complexion. Erik's best man was happy to be there, happy to witness this moment in his friend's life. For Erik there had been too much pain, and grief, and sadness. Finally the masked man had found love, and as he studied the chocolate brown color of Lizzie's eyes gazing at Erik with loving warmth, Reza had no doubts. He had formed a fast kinship with the ten-year-old beside him, the youngest groomsman he'd ever seen, dressed as sharply as he was in a black tuxedo that mirrored Erik's.

Frankie could not wipe the grin from his face. At that moment, he could not conceive of anything more perfect than the joining of his mother and his good friend and idol, soon to be stepfather. His mother had never been happier, and in their new home by the ocean they would be a family.

Two blissful months had passed since the first time he had made love to her.

It had always been a thing of beauty, the way their two bodies joined together in love. Lizzie's former shyness had become but a distant memory. Her passion and hunger for Erik had equaled his own. But, on this night, this gloriously special night, their bodies and souls celebrated the union of man and wife as though they had been a world apart, finally being reunited, finding enraptured completion within each other's grasp.

Now as they lay together in their wedding bed, sated and exhausted, Erik stroked the silky brown hair of his sleeping bride. It had been an eventful day for them both with the ceremony and a small reception, but as tired as he was, sleep eluded him. Absently his hand moved to the smooth skin of her arm, caressing it lovingly as he found himself lost in his thoughts.

Erik had once been the opera ghost, haunting and frightening the Paris Opera house inhabitants. He had once been a ruthless murderer and a drug addict. Too many pathetic and unspeakable acts had marred his years. His life had been meaningless, and he had thought his penance would be to die a lonely old man.

He had come to Glasgow to start a new life, but never expected nor hoped for anything but the routine deadness in his heart. But, as he recalled the vows that had emerged so eloquently from Lizzie's mouth, it was in a mere millisecond as he lay there beside his beloved beauty when Erik had an epiphany.

Once, he had wondered when it was that his tortured soul had finally found some reprieve; at what precise moment his heart was allowed to be freed from its torturous chains and given a second chance; when was it exactly that fate and God granted him love…

It was the only moment up until then that really mattered to him…

It was when Erik met Lizzie.

A satisfied smile crossed his lips as he cuddled his wife closer, setting a soft kiss upon her cheek. His eyelids began to feel heavy, and as he held her tightly, their breathing soon fell into unison. Erik could not help but whisper to Lizzie that he loved her, and her only response was a contented sigh. And in that moment, he thought himself to be the luckiest man in the world, and with the woman he loved in his arms, he fell gently to sleep.

The End