A/N: She's alive! To all who were worried . . . I am not dead. I apologize for the delayed update (hence the insanely long Author's Note). I am a teacher and have been very busily occupied with my lovely little ones (all the while looking at my Erik plushie . . . thanks Indiefilm . . . using it as a reminder that it is not nice to kill people). Thanks to all my lovely reviewers, particularly indiefilm, BleedingHeartConservative, TruthQuestor, and broadwaygeek24601 (Who am I? . . . 24601! – sorry, I couldn't resist). You are the greatest. Thanks so much to new reviewers PhantomoftheBasket, L'Arcange, Keyklee, and aSqueeintheDistance! To Squee: You are sweet. Thanks so much for the encouraging reviews. I, too, appreciate well-written fanfiction, so that is what I strive for. I am glad to hear I have coined a new catch phrase: "It would be in poor taste to bludgeon one's dinner guest with a baked good." Hehe. As for Raoul being "Past the Point of No Return," that is exactly what I had in mind when I wrote that. Good job. To LaurieLovesErik (don't we all): I think Erik's diary could be very funny. Let's just say, my Raoul has some plans for him.  To all: anonymous reviews are now accepted, so please drop me a note!

Audience Participation: Alright, I live to please, so . . . who would you like to see appear in my story? Erik is a given. Don't worry. Be patient with me. He's coming, but Raoul just needs to get a bit more ridiculous first. So, who else would you like to see? The Persian? Carlotta? Mme. Giry? Meg? A manager? A character from one of your stories (BHC . . . I may kidnap Anton. haha)? Let me know what you think. Also, if you want to be in the story, let me know. Give me the reason you think you should be in it, the character name you would like, and in what capacity you would like to function -- other than Erik's new love interest. Sorry ladies, that's for the sequel. Yes, there will be a sequel. I could have your character talk/interact with Erik in this story if you like, but . . . you must review first!

Allusions: Bonus points (or Erik plushies, or whatever you like) if you can tell me what Raoul does that is very "Mr. Darcy-like" (other than what he says he is doing to be like Darcy).

Obligatory Disclaimer: Hmmm . . . usually writers say something creative here. Have any ideas for me? How about "I don't own PotO, but I have temporarily kidnapped the characters and am holding them for ransom?" Sound good?

Now, you are all wondering what Christine thinks of Raoul's behavior, so here we go . . .

Ch. 6: Lurking in Shadows

Last time . . . instead of the "bend and snap," Raoul attempted the "swish and spin." We also learned that vichyssoise is highly combustible .

Dear Raoul,

So this is what you have been up to! With all that yelling and then the incident at the restaurant, I was beginning to worry that Francoise's cooking was not sitting well with you. I thought we would have to hire a new cook! My darling, what were you thinking? You are trying to be more like Erik? Why would you do that? I chose you, you silly fool! I think you are adorable the just way you are, and I wouldn't change a thing about you.

Love,

Your wife Christine

P.S. Oh, and remember to leave your undergarments out for Nicolette to wash. If you don't have them ready, she will be gone for the weekend, and Claire will have to take care of everything. You know how you chafe if anyone other than Nicolette does the wash.

Monday, January 14, 18--,

Dear Diary,

I began the morning with a rather heated argument with my wife about reading my diary. I tried to explain to her that a man has the right to record his own private musings if he chooses, but she merely continued to gaze at me with a bemused expression. I also insisted that I, under no uncertain terms, chafe.

Though I was rather angered at Christine's invasion of my privacy, I cannot deny that the information I gleaned from her little intrusion was rather invaluable. My worst fears were confirmed. Christine's quiet reserve at our dinner parties revealed that she fancies me dull. Her laughter at Chateau de fromage revealed that she sees me as amusing. Now, I am . . . adorable.

I do not wish to be adorable! Handsome? Yes. Adorable? Absolutely not! Adorable is not an adjective that implies manliness or power. That got me thinking . . . I consider myself manly, yet . . . I am keeping a diary. Erik would never say "Dear Diary." Diary does not sound manly or mysterious. "Journal" perhaps? Erik probably would not keep a diary or a journal. In order to work out his problems, he would simply talk to himself. Yes, I must stay focused. How would Erik handle this?

Honestly, I rather like keeping a diary. I find it very relaxing allowing my worries to flow freely onto a blank page. I can often devise a solution to whatever was troubling me by the time I have finished writing. I shall have to compromise and settle on calling this little book "journal" from now on. "Dear Journal." Alas, it just does not have the same ring. "Dear Diary" has such lovely alliteration. Ah, well.

I did not destroy the cape. My anger calmed, and, considering all the work that must have went into creating such a specimen, I felt that it was just too lovely to part with. It could prove useful later, and, as the cape shop proprietor said, wielding such a weapon would take practice. Erik has a good hundred years or so on me. Still, I decided to keep the object of my embarrassment safely locked away in our chest for the time being.

Perhaps, Chateau de fromage was far too public to achieve any significant romantic gains. A controlled environment in which I could carefully plan and execute every aspect of a romantic evening would be more fitting. Erik had the advantage of being on his "own turf." He could ensure that no outside distractions were present. He commands attention. I, too, will need to provide myself such an advantage.

I decided that it would be best to set aside a place for myself in order to work on my plan to romance Christine. I would need a place that would provide me with the utmost privacy yet would still provide me enough space to work. The gardener's shed was certainly out of the question. Too many rakes and other pointy things. Our attic space is far too small and dusty – I have allergies, you see. I decided that our wine cellar would be the best location to flesh out my plan. Not quite five stories below an opera house, but it will have to suffice.

Erik himself is a master craftsman and architect. His world is just as he wishes because he made it that way. Why cannot I create a world eternally appealing to my Christine? I too can create a world of romance from which she would never wish to escape. You see, Erik? I too can create. I decided . . . to build something . . . a feat of architecture right out of a fairy tale.

Late morning, I asked Willis to procure a large quantity of wood as well as drafting and building tools. After obtaining these items, Willis immediately brought them to our cellar. After all of the items were in place, I sat down at my old writing desk (also moved to the cellar) to begin drawing up a plan.

No one really realizes how dark it is in a cellar until one has to work by the glow of a single candle. Truly, it is a miracle Erik hasn't gone blind. The lighting conditions really are horrible. Still, if I recall, Erik had quite a few candles. Perhaps that helps.

After one hour of accomplishing nothing more than writing Christine's name one hundred times and drawing little hearts and various other doodles on a sheet of drafting paper, I decided that I would need a bit more information before determining what exactly I was to build for Christine. After all, what did I really know about her innermost dreams and desires? As I said, there would be no turning back, and I will need to do whatever it takes to achieve my objective.

Erik seemed to have the ability to know Christine's wants, needs, and desires even before she did. Sometimes it was frightening how well he knew her. Before she knew Erik the man, Christine could have easily explained that this was not surprising. Her teacher was an angel, and angels are supposed to know everything! However, this angel was all too fully human. How could a human achieve this psychic feat? The same way I vowed to – by spying.

I would have to be stealthy. Calculating. I wanted Christine to be completely surprised when my gift to her – whatever it would be -- was finished.

"I can see you."

"Merde," I cursed under my breath. Ducking behind a nearby curtain, I attempted to conceal myself from Willis as he arranged the calling cards left by our maid Claire in the sitting room.

"I can still see you," Willis remarked as he stacked the cream-colored cards in a neat pile on the oak table by the front door.

Noticing that the top of my head was still protruding from behind the curtain, I stretched my right arm out as long as I could to grab a nearby pillow from the chaise. Thrusting the burgundy pillow in front of my face, I queried in a muffled tone, "Now?"

"That's very good sir," Willis replied drolly. Was that a hint of a smile I saw?

"Willis, you are not taking me seriously!"

"Of course I am, sir." Grabbing my coat from its position on the chaise, Willis began to dust the garment with the back of his hand. Remnants of dry, caked vichyssoise.

"You were laughing at me," I replied with a pout as I tossed the pillow, emerged from behind the curtain, and plopped onto the chaise.

"On the contrary, sir. I never laugh. A good chortle now and then is acceptable, but laughing? Never."

"Then you admit to chortling!"

"I admit to nothing other than my name."

"You're no help at all," I whined.

"What would you have me do, sir?"

"Some constructive criticism would help."

"You wish for my advice?"

"Yes."

"I say abandon the whole thing."

"Absolutely not!"

"You have a beautiful wife who adores you and . . ."

"She chortles at me as well!"

"You are an entertaining fellow," Willis said with that irritating, bemused grin of his.

"Willis . . ." I could feel my temples pulsing as anger built inside of me. Oooh . . . very Eriky.

"Do not become overworked, sir."

"Overworked! Overworked!" I rose from the chaise and began to pace the room angrily . . . until Willis looked at me with a knowing expression. I sat immediately back down.

"Sir, your wife loves you. Why change anything?"

"This means a lot to me."

"I know, sir. And I will support my master in anything. I just . . ."

"You will support me without question?"

"That I will, sir."

"Then let that be the end of it."

"As you please, sir. I just do not wish to lose the man I have come to love and respect."

"I'm fine, Willis," I returned with a degree of frustration. Hearing someone descend the stairs, I turned to see my wife.

Christine was dressed in a lovely peach-colored dress with matching jacket and gloves. As always, she was an angelic vision of loveliness.

"Raoul, darling, Claire and I are going to take a walk to the church. Nicolette will have dinner ready for when we return."

"That's fine, dear," I returned lovingly, a plan forming in my head.

Coming towards me, Christine placed a quick kiss on my cheek and left with Claire. Quickly grabbing my coat from Willis' hands, I made my way to the door.

"Where are you going, sir?" Willis questioned with a hint of concern in his voice.

"To the church."

"You'll escort the ladies, sir?"

"Of course not! That will defeat the point of sneakiness!"

"Sneakiness, sir?" Willis asked as he arched on bushy, gray eyebrow.

"Yes."

"You will spy on the ladies, sir?"

"It sounds so bad when you say it that way!"

"It is none of my business, sir."

"That't right. It's not," I answered with satisfaction.

Throwing a quick nod in Willis' direction, I left on my mission to "spy" on my wife. Now would be the time to put my stealth to the test.

Running down our front steps, I made my way into the Parisian streets. The Rue de Montmorency was normally quite peaceful this time of year. However, this January was unusually warm, and numerous families and amorous couples lined the street, out for a walk before dinner. I spotted Christine and Claire half a block ahead of me. Turning in their direction, I set out in a jog to catch up.

"Watch where you're going!" A stout little elderly woman shouted as I plowed into her, sending her armload of fruit and vegetables flying into the air.

Stooping to retrieve the woman's purchases I apologized, "I'm so very sorry! I did not see you there."

"Obviously not! If you would watch . . ." looking up from her bent posture for the first time, "Oh, pardon me, Monsieur le Comte! I did not realize it was you!"

Examining the woman, I noticed that she wore the attire of a household servant. She assumed the groveling posture of one who realized she had spoken out of turn to one of higher rank.

"The fault is mine, Madame. I should have paid more attention. I was simply in a hurry to catch up with my wife who walks ahead," I pointed to Christine, now far down the block. "If you would allow me to pay for your damaged goods, I will be on my way."

Thrusting a few coins into the bewildered woman's hand, I sped down the street.

When I reached my wife, Christine and her petite maid were sitting with their backs to me on a bench in front of St. Michael's Church. Ducking behind the rectory, I was able to get within five feet of my wife without her seeing me. So far, so good.

"Yes, I think we need to do something about the positioning of the settees in the garden this year," Christine remarked to her maid.

"You are not pleased with them, Mum?" questioned Claire in her best French, though hints of her foreign accent could still be heard. I must hand it to the girl. Leaving her native Ireland only two years before as a nanny for a wealthy British family that relocated to Paris, Claire was picking up on our language rather quickly.

"Oh, no, they are lovely, Claire! Your work on the cushions is exquisite! They just face the sun too much. One cannot enjoy the beautiful flowers without a danger to one's eyesight!"

"I see, Mum," Claire answered politely. When the children of the Warren family, Claire's former employers, were sent to boarding school this past fall, Claire came to work for us. The official story was that her services were no longer needed. However, Claire's flighty, nervous manner and almost obsessive desire to please her new master and mistress seems to suggest that she did not leave the Warrens on pleasant terms.

"That's all, Claire. I would just like to be able to sit in a bit more shade," my wife explained.

So, Christine wants more shade. Could it be she prefers the darkness? I would have to file this bit of information away for later.

"Enough of my whims!" Christine laughed as she tossed a strand of blond hair from her eyes. "I still feel as if I know so very little about you!"

"Me?" Claire questioned uncertainly.

"Yes, of course!"

"There's not much to tell, Mum," Claire gazed at the ground and her long, red curls began to obscure her face.

"I'm sure that is not true. What sort of things do you like?"

"You wish to know what I like?"

"Yes! Do you have any favorite books? Or perhaps you enjoy music or the theatre?"

Laughing to herself, Claire replied, "I've hardly had time or the resources to attend much theatre."

"Oh, I'm sorry," Christine said, undoubtedly realizing she had, in her eagerness to show kindness towards her new maid, momentarily forgotten the vast differences in social standing and opportunities between herself and Claire.

"Not your fault, Mum. We only know how to respond based on our own experiences. Our actions, speech, and behavior stem directly from our own sphere of knowledger."

"'Sphere of knowledge?' You speak as if you have had access to a vast 'sphere of knowledge.'"

"Well, I do like to read."

"At last, something we can talk about!"

"I must admit, my experience with classic literature is limited. I was taught to read as a child. I read the Bible mostly, as that is what we had access to."

"It sounds as if you have read more than just the Bible!"

"My father would bring my brother and I books once in awhile. Philosophy mostly. My father was an educated man, you see! He just fell on hard times. Still, he wanted his children, even his daughter, to be educated." Claire's countenance fell, and she grew pensive for a moment.

Sympathetically, Christine leaned in, and laid a hand on Claire's shoulder, "I miss my father, too. Your father seems to have been a good man."

"Oh, he was." Sniffing, Claire's face immediately brightened. "But enough sadness! Tell me of your favorite books, Mum!"

"I enjoy Hugo, though my favorite novel is Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice."

"Oh, I have read that one, Mum! It's the one with the Darcy lad, isn't it?" Claire exclaimed, with her eyes uncharacteristically bright.

"Yes, though I have never heard of him referred to as 'that Darcy lad!'" Christine replied as she strained to hold back her laughter.

"And what was your favorite part, Mum?" Claire continued.

"Well, I like how the book is about second chances. Taking a second look at those we disregard with only a first glance. I think we can all relate to that."

"Aye, Mum."

Aye, indeed. I, too, had read the book. The wise and witty Elizabeth Bennet rejects the initial advances and proposals of the distant, proud, and haughty Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. However, Elizabeth comes to regret her rejections of the man and her early positive impressions of the charming Mr. Wickham.

It is worse than I thought. Christine finds solace and inspiration in the tail of a woman who learns that she misjudged her original suitor. My wife enjoys stories that champion the underdog. Oh, Christine! Could you be planning to return to the man you originally rejected!

"Achoo!" Oh, no. I looked up quickly to see if the two ladies had heard my rather boisterous sneeze. They had. Luckily, they could not place the exact source of the noise and merely strained their necks in the general vicinity of where the noise had come from.

Now, you must know, that I am not easily afflicted with colds and the like. However, I do have rather nasty allergies, as previously mentioned. Wondering what could have caused my outburst, I felt a slight rubbing against my calf.

"Shoo! Go away!" I whispered frantically to a little tabby cat that had suddenly and inexplicably taken a liking to me. "Go now! You'll spoil everything!"

"Meow!" The cat bellowed loudly.

"Shush!" I gently pushed the cat away from me with my foot.

"Meow! Meow! Meow!" The cat would have none of my reproofs. She was coming with me. Rubbing her head affectionately against my leg, the tabby let out one more "Meow!" for good measure.

I tried to back up away from the enthusiastic and love struck feline, and, as I did, managed to entangle my legs in a rake that was leaning inconspicuously against the rectory. Now, I have seen the pastor of St. Michael's, and it appears it has been a long time since the man has done gardening or any other kind of physical labor, if you know what I mean. Therefore, my encounter with the rake proved doubly disconcerting. So much for my desire to stay far away from rakes and other pointy things.

Unable to detangle my feet, I went tumbling head first into a pile of . . . well . . .

"Merde!" I shouted front my face plant in the pile of nastiness. Really, I have never seen this man garden!

Turning over, I looked up to see Christine and Claire gazing at me with a mixture of concern and amusement.

"Love, let me help you up!" Christine guided me up with a loving touch as Claire detangled my legs from the evil rake.

"My darling, what were you doing?"

"I well . . .um . . . was coming to check on you?" I offered.

* * * *

After returning home, my wife retired to her sitting room and I to my new "lair" as we awaited dinner. What a disaster the day had been. Ah, well. Not all was lost. I learned more valuable information to help me in my quest to win Christine once and for all. Apparently, the woman liked darkness. Well, that will save money on oil and candles. Also, she enjoyed stories with dark, brooding, misunderstood heroes. Just another bit of evidence that women are a complete paradox. Do they like security or danger? Apparently, my wife enjoys the later. But what to do about it?

"Meow!" the little tabby replied to my silent question. Now, I tried to rid myself of the little creature back at the pile of . . . back at the rectory. However, the little beast would have none of it. She has claimed me for her own and will not hear reason to the contrary. She followed me home and has insisted on remaining with me in my lair.

"Meow!"

"Will you be quiet! I can't think!"

"Meow?" the tabby responded timidly.

"Oh, all right. Come on up."

I gestured to my lap, and the cat immediately jumped into my waiting arms.

"What shall we do about Christine?" I asked my little friend.

"Meow?"

"I know! I can think of nothing either!"

I paused for a moment, realizing that I was talking to my cat. Where is Willis when I need him?

As if on cure, Willis appeared from the shadows, "Dinner is ready, sir."

"Thank you, Willis." Rising, I followed the old butler to dinner.

* * * *

I enjoyed a lovely dinner with Christine. However, as desert arrived, I decided to put some of my newfound knowledge to the test. Leaning closely into the table, I tossed what I thought was a seductive glance in my wife's direction.

"Will you please stop that!" Christine exclaimed.

"Stop what?" I questioned innocently.

"You're glowering at me!"

"Am not."

"You are! You been staring at me from across the table like that all night. I can't take it anymore!"

"Can't I gaze upon my beautiful wife?"'

"You are just making me nervous."

Okay. Glowering was not what I had in mind. How did Mr. Darcy do it? He brooded about all day and still got the girl. I myself would find such behavior terribly annoying, but it seemed to work for him.

"I'm sorry, my love," I apologized.

"You're doing it again!"

Flustered beyond a doubt by Christine's response to my attempts to be like the dark and brooding heroes of literature she seemed to love, I did what any dark and brooding hero of literature would do: I went and stood by the window.

Yours,

Raoul

A/N: Okay, all. Any suggestions for Claire? I have some plans . . . Also, Raoul's furry friend needs a name. Any ideas?