Hello, all! I was in a big debate whether to post some of these older stories or not. But I love them all, and I thought maybe some of you might enjoy them. This one really is a what-if, romantic story. I wrote it ages ago, but when I was rereading it yesterday, I thought hopefully someone would love it as much as I do.

And thank you to everyone who has been so supportive of my novel, "Opera Macabre". Promoting has been exhausting, trying to find new ways to get it out there. You guys, my phantom phans, have been the best! Thank you! And to anyone else who is interested in Gothic, vampire romances, please check out my website. My novel may not be phantom, but as anyone who's read it will tell you, it has a taste of it here and there! What can I say? Phantom is my first true love! Anyway, I'm going to be doing a few giveaways coming up; check out my website for more information.

SUMMARY: Sometimes it takes a storm to bring hearts together.

"Fire and Ice"

Low, grey clouds hung with a mist in the air, and the scent of impending snow wafted on its frigid wind. It was surprisingly cold for mid-fall, bitter even, but Christine was numb to the chill, her mood somber as she walked a well-traveled path through the cemetery. Her black skirt tangled with fragmented leaves, her boots crunching them to pieces without thought, and her gloved hand clutched a small bouquet of roses, the only life in the cemetery's dead walls.

Finally, she halted before one particular headstone. Slipping to her knees, her free hand pressed against the cold stone as though by touching his name, she could touch him. Tears filled her deep blue eyes and made chilled paths down her pale cheeks. It hardly mattered that it had been years since his loss; it still felt like just yesterday. The pain was more bearable since then, but returning to his grave always brought the sharpness to the surface and reminded her of how empty her life often seemed without him.

Such a devoted father he had been, determined to play the roles of both parents when her mother had died. He had had fantastic dreams for her and her future, never allowing their poverty to diminish their happiness. She sometimes wondered how her life would be changed now if he were still alive. Would her choices have been different? Would fate have eventually led her to the same place anyway? …Perhaps it was truly a silly waste of effort to consider.

Christine's ears caught the sound of breaking leaves behind her, but she did not cast a single look to her companion. She simply focused her attention on her father, uttering a silent prayer in her head as she laid the roses before the headstone.

Erik watched her, mirroring her solemnity. It had been his offer that had brought them out on this frigid day to the cemetery. His thought had been only to please her, as was usually the impetus for his actions. He would do anything to make her happy. He knew that it had been months since she had had the opportunity to travel to her father's grave since it was a bit of a journey from the busy Parisian streets, and he knew how much she wanted to go, how she always said she felt close to him when there. So on this one, uncommon day off from rehearsals, he had insisted on this little trip, saddling a single horse and riding with her close to him, her arms timidly wrapped around his waist to this deserted place.

This was the grave of a pauper, Erik concluded with a rush of sympathy. It was a simple stone with a name carved onto it, nothing that revealed the sort of man Maurice Daaé had been. No, that truth was only written on the face of his crying daughter.

Though he didn't want to intrude, he also could not bear to see her in pain and compassionately moved closer, slowly crouching beside her as she lifted her tearful eyes to him.

"Tell me about him," Erik prodded in a gentle tone, turning his eyes to the headstone.

A smile tinged her lips as she spoke, her memories bringing both reminiscent happiness and bittersweet loss. "He was a good man, a hard worker. He always put me and my needs first, and no matter how little money we had, he never hesitated to surprise me with trinkets and toys, beautiful dolls, pretty ribbons. …He was the one who taught me to sing; he said he knew he'd see me sing in the Paris opera someday."

"I'm sure he does," Erik replied tenderly. "He watches you from heaven."

Christine did not say that she had once believed her father had sent Erik to her, when Erik had still been an angel, that her entire heart had been lifted with the belief that her father had communicated with her from beyond death. It had all been a lie, and even though she tried to convince herself that she was past the sting of such a deception, it still left an acute pain in her chest to remember it. Did it mean that her father had forgotten about her then? Or had his gift come not in the form of the angel she had expected but in the form of Erik instead?….

Suddenly, she lifted her eyes to him and softly said, "Thank you for bringing me here."

"Of course. I would bring you anywhere you'd like to go. Simply name the place."

A snowflake tumbled down across his line of vision, then another and another until they were falling in a steady pace all around them.

"Home," she requested, her own attention drawn to the flakes.

"As you wish." Erik rose and offered her his gloved hand. She hesitated before taking it and allowing him to help her to her feet, a hesitation that he was disinclined to acknowledge still thrived within the majority of her reactions. Though he knew by better sense that he should release her hand right away, he didn't, instead setting it atop his arm as he led her back out of the cemetery in silent meditation.

By the time they reached their awaiting horse, the snowfall had gone from beautiful to an annoyance, blowing in thick pieces against their faces.

Erik cast ominous eyes up at the sky. "This isn't going to stop anytime soon. I had hoped we would miss it, but instead we will be right in the middle of it."

The wind picked up its intensity, blowing icy crystals into her hair as she shivered. The dampness was already seeping down to her skin.

"What are we going to do?" she asked as she permitted him to help her mount the horse.

He pondered his options a moment, and his eyes settled on her. If he had been alone, he would have chanced the storm and ridden through it, but with her, he feared for her health as well as their safety. Things were rapidly worsening, and he concluded this was just beginning.

As he leapt onto the horse in front of her, he answered, "I think it best if we seek shelter and wait it out."

Nodding, she hugged herself tightly to him, wrapping her arms around his waist and burying her face against his back as he urged the horse into a fierce run.

The snow was blinding, driving into them until he could barely make out their surroundings. He wondered how he was even going to decipher the silhouette of any structure to retreat to in this mess. His cloak was quickly becoming soaked, but he ignored it and the chill it brought, determined not to deter his pace. No, no, he couldn't worry now; he had to focus on the soft shape behind him, her every trembling breath putting him on the edge of anxiety.

Christine shook from cold, her hair a wet mass that hung in tangled waves down her back, and yet she wasn't afraid. She knew with absolute certainty that Erik would take care of her; he always did. And with that thought, she wasn't surprised as he called over his shoulder, "There's a cabin up ahead."

Erik silently offered thanks to a God he hadn't given thought to in years as he steered the horse in the direction of a shadowed outline he could barely discern. As they neared, he saw that it was small, wooden and dark, a bit at a loss for wear, leaving him to believe that it must be abandoned. Reining the horse, he quickly hopped down and turned to help her, clasping her hands firmly in his and pulling her after him to the cabin's door.

"What about the horse?" she shouted, casting looks over her shoulder at the awkwardly dallying shape behind them.

"Animals can take care of themselves in storms. Tying him up would only do him harm." Erik kicked violently at the wooden door. He acted with a ferocity brought by the frantic need to protect her until the lock gave way and the door burst open on its hinges. Without hesitation, he dragged her inside and closed them in away from the driving snows.

Christine's eyes roamed the dark room nervously. It was nearly empty save for a wooden chair and a small armoire in the corner. That was all; it was a single room, not a house. "Do you think anyone lives here?"

Erik had rushed to the fireplace and was attempting to get it to light. "Not for a long time by the look of things." After a moment's effort, a flame sparked and danced in the hearth as it built quickly to a fire. "There we go."

As he rose again, he turned to her, and his eyes grew wide with concern. "You're freezing!" Without consideration to consequence, he immediately rushed to her side and attempted to aid her, rubbing her upper arms vigorously. His actions ceased when he realized he was no better off and certainly not helping with gloves that were soaked.

Christine stared up at him with desperate eyes, shaking too hard to speak a protest. Her lips were already tinged blue, her smooth skin reddened from exposure and stinging simply with the motion of every quivering breath sucked into burning lungs. Her limbs felt heavy and numb as they drooped at her sides.

"Damn this," he muttered, ripping off his gloves and gathering her without hesitation into his arms, his hands running frantically up and down her spine as if friction alone would generate heat. "Dear God, you're soaked through!" Drawing back, he urgently commanded, "You have to undress! Now!"

"W…what?" she stuttered, her lips trembling and teeth chattering.

"Don't argue with me!" He was rarely so harsh with her, but desperation was overwhelming him. Rushing to the armoire, he threw open its wooden doors and was relieved and grateful to find blankets within.

"I…I c…can't…," she tried to argue, her blue eyes wide with horror at the very idea.

"You have to, or you will die," he told her plainly, his eyes flashing with unarguable fierceness. Pulling a blanket from the armoire, he offered it to her, ignoring the shaking of his own numbing limb, and insisted, "Here. Wrap yourself in this."

It took a great effort to make her fingers move and grasp onto the blanket. Everything was so numb, her finger joints stiff in their motion and unable to fully flex free.

Quickly turning his back to her, Erik hoped to make her more comfortable and give her some sort of privacy, however brief. He could not allow himself to consider that she was undressing only a glance away and mercifully busied himself with stripping away his sodden clothes, focusing on the task alone. He had not realized how cold he actually was until now, too worried over her welfare to consider his own, but his fingers barely moved as he struggled to unbutton his shirt. How fortunate that they hadn't frozen to death! A few more minutes of such blatant exposure might have proved otherwise.

The room was entirely silent save for the roaring wind outside, striking the roof and wooden walls as the small structure creaked and groaned beneath the power. Christine's hands were trembling so hard that she tried unsuccessfully again and again to unclasp her gown. It seemed unthinkable to ask for help, but she knew she had no other option, her fingers refusing to cooperate. Apprehension twisted in her stomach as she glanced over her shoulder in time to see him discard his shirt, revealing his chest to her curious eyes.

As his hands were going to the clasp of his pants, she found her voice and quickly stammered, "Erik, …I…I can't…manage to…."

He was at her side before she even finished her request, never considering his lack of shirt or what her reaction to such impropriety would be. Swallowing back a wave of nerves, she tentatively turned her back to him, giving him access to the clasps down her gown.

Erik lifted her heavy hair out of his way, commenting half to himself with concern, "Your hair is dripping wet." His hands fumbled with an uncommon awkwardness to work the clasps, unaccustomed to their intricacies, but he finally managed to free them, revealing to his suddenly curious eyes the wet silk of her chemise and the goosebump-covered, white flesh above it.

"Do you…need anything else?" he asked, his voice quivering for a very different reason than the cold.

"No," she replied, meeting his eye with a hesitant fluster and watching until he reluctantly moved away and turned his back to her again.

Christine undressed quickly, her skin so cold that it burned as it was bared to the frigid air of the cabin. As she removed her underclothes with a shy tremble, she cast a quick glance over her shoulder to make certain he wasn't looking. What she saw made her unable to look away again for a long moment. He was naked, his back to her, and her eyes lingered over the broad muscles of his back and the curve of his buttocks. It was odd to her considering his disfigured face that his body bore no marks.

As he unfolded a blanket and wrapped it around himself, she quickly turned away, embarrassed that she had looked. With hands that trembled from more than just cold, she finished undressing and pulled her own blanket around her body.

Finally turning, she was surprised that his back was still to her. Had he taken a peek as she had? She wasn't sure she wanted to know the answer.

"All…right," she called softly. "You can turn around."

Erik slowly complied, his eyes immediately seeking her out, and when they found her, he lost his breath for a moment. Bound as she was in only a blanket, it was a most intimate portrait of her he had ever had, one he was unaccustomed to ever being granted.

But his pleasantness faded abruptly as he muttered an inaudible curse, hurrying close to her again. "Your lips are still blue; you're still so cold."

Christine was too exhausted to make a reply, shaking continuously and unable to control its quakes.

With eyes scanning the room frantically, Erik hurriedly explained, "There is only one thing I can think to do. We have to get beneath these blankets…together and rely on the heat of our bodies to warm us…. I know it isn't proper, but-"

"I…I trust you," she interrupted, her eyes holding his with determination despite the internal protests of timidity.

There was one other blanket folded in the armoire, and grabbing it, he quickly arranged it on the hard wooden floor. Casting nervous glances to her all the while, he ordered, "Lie down."

She nodded consent and keeping her blanket clutched to her body, she lowered herself to the cold ground and shifted the blanket to cover her. Raising her wide, expectant eyes, she waited apprehensively for him to join her.

Shifting uncomfortably on his feet, he was acutely aware of his body and the uncontrolled reaction it had given to the very idea of laying so near to her, tightening and hardening, making desire a living, breathing thing between them. Embarrassment flushed his features; he couldn't let her innocent eyes see such an indiscretion. In the most gentle and persuasive tone he could manage, he commanded, "Turn to face the fire…. It will help warm you."

It was a feeble excuse on his part, and yet without hesitation, she did as requested. Only when her back was to him did he dare relinquish his blanket and climb beneath hers with her. He set his atop as well, and then with continuously awkward motions that were so unlike his usual stealth, he scooted near to her.

On instinct alone, Christine edged closer until he was only inches away, her back nearly to his chest. Sighing in silent acquiescence, Erik dared to slide his arm around her waist, tingling everywhere his flesh touched hers. Thankfully, her violent shaking overrode his every improper thought.

"Does it bother you…if I hold you like this?" he nervously asked, strangely terrified she would recoil and jolt away from any attempted contact.

"You…you're so warm." Her voice quivered, and without words, they both closed the lingering distance between their bodies until he was curled around her, skin to skin.

Far too overcome by such intimacy, he could not stop himself from lifting her thick, wet curls from the back of her neck and inching near enough to press his face tentatively to the nape of her neck.

Christine jumped, drawing away ever so slightly as she glanced over her shoulder at him. "Your…your mask is wet," she stammered amidst her shivering. It seemed odd that neither of them had even considered it, but the soft material was as wet as the rest of their clothing.

"It's all right," he argued.

"No, …you have to…to take it off." Her hand emerged from the blankets, reaching for it, and he immediately jerked beyond her grasp.

"Don't!" he shouted, clutching the mask fitfully as if she would indeed rip it away. "I can't. My face…. You are repulsed by it. I can't let you see it again."

"Erik, don't…be ridiculous…. You have to…take it off." When she saw that he was prepared to refuse, she insisted in desperate broken tones, "Please, Erik, ….I won't look…. I won't look…at you. Please…. Do it…for me."

He hesitated, but as she obediently turned her eyes back to the hearth and the flickering fire, he slowly reached for it and carefully drew it away from his disfigurement, watching her critically all the while; true to her word, she never looked. As soon as he set the mask aside and tentatively relaxed, she cuddled back close to him until they were flush together.

Within moments, Christine could feel heat building beneath the blankets, and her shaking began to calm until it was only a subtle quiver. It was blissful to feel any sort of warmth after so long chilled, and without thought, she wriggled against him, trying to get closer.

"Hold still," he hissed between clenched teeth, his hands grasping at her shoulders to stop her movements. Dear Lord, she obviously had no idea what this situation was doing to him! He was shamed and attempted to concoct some sort of explanation she would understand. How could he tell her that her nearness was arousing him to dizzying heights and that her every motion put him in agony to keep control?

"I…I'm sorry." But her attention was already fixed to the hardness of him as it pressed firmly to the small of her back. In her desperation for warmth, she hadn't even noticed its presence, but now she could think of nothing else. It was a surprise to realize that she was affecting him in such a way. Perhaps she was just innocently naïve never to wonder such things about him and their sordid, indefinable relationship. He was a man, after all, and it seemed a plain fact that if he cared so for her, he would desire her, but she had never entertained those notions. There was no avoiding them now.

Her mind focused on the sensation of his manhood against her bare flesh. Never before had she had any contact with the male body, and it surprised her that he was so hard and smooth. His sheer size was disconcerting, and as she pondered over the scant information she possessed on physical intimacies, she unconsciously squirmed with an alarming new feeling in her belly.

"Christine," Erik practically snapped. He needed to think about something else, anything else if only to distract himself from her closeness. "Are you…warmer now?"

She knew what he was doing, and gratefully, she conceded and went along with his intention. "Yes, …I think you saved my life."

Erik shrugged nonchalantly. "What sort of angel would I be if I didn't protect you?"

The subject was yet a sore one for her, his betrayal something she would have rather forgotten, but she softly replied, "You always protect me." Meditating to herself for a long minute as the wind howled and filled the silence, she suddenly revealed in a whisper, "There have been very few people in my life who I have trusted wholeheartedly, but I trust you. I can't say that I could endure this situation with anyone else."

"The Vicomte?" he offered with a swell of jealousy at the very thought of that boy in his place, holding Christine's naked body against his.

"Raoul is a dear childhood friend," she said. Was it wrong to actually find a bit of delight in his jealousy? "…But he has led quite a selfish and privileged life. His first concern has never been for me and my welfare." Silence once again filtered in as she wondered if she could speak freely, but after a minute, she hesitantly confided her secret. "Raoul told me that he loves me."

"Oh." Erik felt words and coherency flee him.

Her eyes studied the fire absentmindedly as she softly continued, "And I could not say it in return. It would have been a lie." Even as hope surged within him, she never gave him the chance to press the issue further, quickly asking, "Do you intend for us to stay the night here?"

"It is our safest option. Even if it lets up, I am not sure where exactly we are, how far off our course. Better to have daylight on our side." His arm was casually thrown across her waist, his mind fighting not to acknowledge her soft skin and heavenly scent, but as he shifted a bit, his forearm brushed her breast.

Christine shivered, her eyes widening at the intense surge of emotion that pummeled her with that one accidental brushing. It frightened her. How could anything be so powerful especially considering that he had hardly even touched her at all? And as his body gave a responding throb behind her, she concluded that he equally recognized his unintentional touch.

Swallowing hard, Erik felt dizzy with need. Had he ever wanted anything more? Had anything ever been so close and yet so far beyond his reach?

"You…you're shaking again," he stammered.

"So are you," she replied.

"I'm not cold."

"Neither am I."

What could she mean? He was at a loss, terrified to misunderstand, terrified that he wanted her so badly that he was creating feelings within her as well.

"Perhaps I should move over if you are no longer cold," he proposed even as he prayed she would refuse.

"No, please don't." She wanted to look at him, but she remembered her promise and kept her gaze on the fire as she bid, "I feel safe with you like this."

He sighed to himself. Likely, things would have been better if she had put an end to this, or at least less dangerous. But conceding to her request, he instead attempted, "Then maybe we should rest for awhile."

"All right."

Even though Christine quieted and feigned sleep, she continued to lay awake in his hold. Her body was so warm and tingling everywhere he touched her, her mind taking in the difference in his skin texture to hers, the curved muscles of his chest, the evidence of his desire, undiminished and wanting. She felt it must be wrong of her to be enjoying this so much, to have a strange heat settling in her most feminine places, cascading through her limbs. It had to be desire; it must be, and yet she couldn't be certain, having never been its victim before.

Erik was lost in thoughts of his wanting; he could think of nothing else, and he definitely could not hope for sleep. Wondering if she found rest and concluding as the silence lengthened that she must be asleep after what they had endured, he slowly edged his exposed face closer to her until with a steadying breath, he dared to press his disfigured cheek to her bare shoulder.

Christine went rigid with surprise before relaxing and continuing to pretend sleep, urgent to keep from scaring him. It was an odd sensation to feel those scars and their foreign textures and shapes. They were bitter reality, and their existence with and without the mask formed the barrier between. They reminded her what Erik was, but they did not disgust her as he so thought.

She wanted to turn, to look at him and that face, but she could not, determined to keep her vow. In a hushed whisper, she called, "Erik?"

She was not surprised when he leapt back from her shoulder as if burned, stammering with a rush of terror, "Y…yes, Christine?"

"May I touch your face?" The question was spoken so simply and unthreatening to dangle enticingly in the air between them.

His first instinct was to refuse, but his curiosity begged him to concede as he wondered what her touch would feel like. Her soft fingertips against his scars…. Would she be disgusted? If she did not look at him, then at least he could avoid seeing it in her eyes.

"Yes," he agreed on the rushed exhalation of a breath he had not realized he'd been holding, "but you mustn't look." Capturing her offered hand in his, he slowly guided it behind her and up to his cheek.

Christine closed her eyes, trying to envision in her mind what she was touching. Her fingertips wandered every scar gently, marveling over their foreign design, and then circled that sunken eye socket. The layer of his skin felt thin and strangely silken, unlike anything she had ever touched.

"Does it hurt you?" she asked curiously, unsure if he would take offense in her prying.

"No," he answered after a pause, unable to keep from reveling in her touch. "But it is sensitive, more so than any other part of my body." He was not exaggerating that fact. From a lifetime of neglect, the delicate flesh responded to every stimulus with heightened intensity.

Her palm pressed flat to cup the extent of that ravaged cheek, her fingertips barely grazing the thin hair at his temple. In a hesitant whisper, she asked, "What does it feel like…when I touch you?"

Sighing as he fought to put it into words, he finally said, "Like fire and ice at the same time. It burns me, and it freezes me. It would be trite and understated to say that it thrills me, but I am not sure that there is a way to fully describe how it makes me feel. I just know that I never want it to end."

She was humbled by what she perceived to be only a touch, realizing that to him it was far more. "And…what if I kissed your face?"

A muffled moan escaped his lips at the very idea. "You could tempt an angel to fall from grace without regret with such words."

"But you are no angel." She could not stop herself from making the remark.

"No," he replied with a twinge of guilt. "I am not. To the rest of the world, I am more devil than angel. I have only ever been an angel to you, and that was a lie."

But was the lie really so horrible to believe? she pondered. Wouldn't she rather know the lie than the truth? …But then again, angels couldn't be touched…or kissed…. Her fingers slowly traveled over his scars again, this time tracing the misshapen swell of his upper lip. She derived some inkling of bravery that was only present because she could not meet his eye and softly asked, "Have you ever been kissed before, Erik?"

He almost didn't answer, cringing with embarrassment to say. But her bravery inspired him to be candid. "No, …never."

"Never?"

"A face like mine doesn't create such romantic opportunities as I'm sure you'll agree." His eyes trailed over the nape of her neck, cherishing its flawless curve as reluctant to hear the answer, he dared pose back, "And you, Christine? Have you ever been kissed?"

She gave a slight nod. "Raoul kissed me once, but I pushed him away. Would it then be considered a kiss if it was unreturned and unwanted?"

"Unwanted?"

"Raoul seems to think that because he is a Vicomte, I should be willing and grateful to have his attentions. He doesn't understand that to me, he can only ever be the little boy I once played childhood games with and nothing more."

Erik was tempting fate, he knew, by continuing down such a path, but he couldn't stop himself. "And…if I kissed you, …would it be unwanted?"

"Not unwanted." She wondered if he would follow through on his thought, but that must mean she would see his face.

On a whim, he tentatively leaned close and pressed a feather-light kiss to the nape of her neck. And as she shuddered in response, he believed she was disgusted.

"I'm sorry," he stuttered, drawing back. "I…I shouldn't have done that."

"The things you make me feel I've never felt before," she admitted plainly. "My skin tingles everywhere…. Is this desire?"

Words evaded him as he registered what she said. What could he possibly reply? Was it even a realistic idea that she could desire him? He had to take the chance if it meant knowing for certain. Leaning in again, he found her nape with another kiss, this one slower and savoured. When she shuddered again, he added another and another, whispering against her skin, "Tell me the answer yourself, Christine. Is this desire?"

"Yes," she replied, her eyes closed as heat spiraled within her. "It is."

His body responded immediately. Already so hard and aching, it throbbed with the power of his need. "We must stop this. I can't bear it," he begged even as his fingertips trailed down the side of her neck and over her shoulder.

Christine could not help but squirm against him, and he groaned. "Erik," she called urgently, "I want to see you. Please let me look at you."

Desire made him hope, and he hesitantly agreed. "As you wish, but…please don't be disgusted." It was something he knew could not be controlled, and yet he felt compelled to plead for it anyway.

Tentative, she turned around in his embrace. Her eyes sought his face, entranced by what she had only just touched. It was as she remembered and as her mind's eye had seen, the scars so blatant and marring his cheek completely.

Before he could gauge if she was disgusted, she leaned forward and pressed her lips to his cheek in a gentle kiss. Erik gasped, his skin searing with an intensity that shook him to his core. Her lips were soft as they made a path over the mess of malformed features as if it were any ordinary face.

"Christine," he whimpered desperately. "I need to…. I need to…." He suddenly captured her lips with his, fervent and demanding, and to his elation, she kissed him back, moving her mouth gently against his misshapen one.

After only the briefest moment, he pulled back and justified, "You said a kiss would not be unwanted."

Her head was spinning, her eyes hazy. "Not unwanted," she repeated with breathless consonants.

"And is this unwanted?" he asked as his fingers made a trek up her arm from fingers to shoulder, over her chest, and to her breast, lightly circling her nipple beneath the blanket.

Christine gasped, shivering, and her body was so eager to respond, her nipple hardening as his finger flicked across it. "No," she replied in a desperate whimper.

"And this?" His voice was becoming husky with desire, and watching her carefully lest she refuse, he pushed the blanket down enough to reveal her breasts to his fiery stare. Bending down without pause, he closed his lips over one stiffened peak.

She could not give a coherent answer. All she could do was arch to his lips, the desire assaulting her willing body in violent waves.

Drawing his mouth away for only a moment, he went on asking, "And this?" His fingers continued down her flat stomach and gently slid between her legs, and he shuddered down the length of his spine at her wetness. In a hoarse tone, he demanded again as he stroked her, "Is this unwanted, Christine?"

"No!" she gasped out, melting into his touch.

Erik was overcome and eagerly a victim to his wanting, lost all the more as her slick wetness and heat surrounded his fingers. She truly desired him; he had the proof coating his fingertips, and he was entirely astounded.

And yet, with a certain abruptness, he pulled away and met her hazy eyes. "I…I can't. I am aching so badly to have you, but I can't, I won't until you are certain. You have to realize that this is far more than just desire for me. I have loved you for so long, and I have wanted you for even longer. If I make love to you…. I would love you forever, Christine; I would never let you go…."

She suddenly covered his mouth with her palm to silence him, and as her reply, she inched nearer and nearer to him until she could press her body flush to his. He moaned and pushing her hand aside, caught her lips in a passionate kiss as his hardness pressed urgently to her belly.

Clutching in tight fists, he devoured her with hungry kisses, his tongue plunging between her lips to taste and tease her. And when he gently laid her back, she parted her legs as if inviting his invasion. One swift thrust, and he entered her. She went rigid against him with a cry.

Erik held still, frozen in place even as every instinct in his body begged him to move. His hands cupped her face with the most tender of touches. "Christine, I'm sorry…. I didn't intend to hurt you…. If you wish, I will stop."

Christine was consumed and overwhelmed at first, but as the moments passed, she could feel her body relaxing and adjusting to accommodate his size. As pain settled to a dull ache, she met his compassionate eyes and suddenly kissed him, hoping that one act would assure him that she had no regret. Moaning against her mouth, he gently moved within her as her continued kisses encouraged him onward.

Desire built to dizzying heights between heated bodies, and as it overflowed in a blissful wave of ecstasy, they lost cries against each other's lips, a symphony of timbres entwined so completely as one glorious sound.

"Erik," she gasped, her heart fighting to find its regular beat, "don't let go of me."

"Never, never." He kissed her brow and her hairline, his fingers trailing up and down her spine, still sheathed within her. "I love you. I love you so much."

"I can't bear to be without you," she replied with equaled fervor. "Whenever I am not with you, I feel lost, …incomplete."

"You'll never be without me again," he promised, combing through her tangled curls as he shifted off her and drew her body close to his. "Rest now, my love, and when you wake, I'll be here with you."

She would have argued, but she was too tired, so warm and secure with his skin pressed to hers. Closing her eyes obediently, she found the haven of sleep after only a few brief moments, her fingers curled around his torso.

Erik watched her sleep for a little longer, a few random tears spilling down his cheeks as he reveled in her closeness. Outside their little cabin, the storm raged on, the wind howling and snow blowing, but inside, there was only warmth and the sweetest stirrings of love. It was new, and it was trepid, but beneath all the fear and pain, it had thrived and was growing. He knew that even if she didn't realize that she loved him yet, she would in time, and until then, he would wait patiently, harboring the hope she had only just given him. And with his happy ending in mind, he closed his eyes and fell into a deep slumber.