All right, people! I know we've been patiently awaiting this story for…ah, about a year now, and you all know that I've been VERY hesitant to even consider posting it. So let's just make it clear from point one: this story is not for everyone. It is very dark, so if you don't like dark stories, this probably isn't for you. Since I'm having an anxiety issue just to post and let you guys see something that is this intense from me, I thought it was best to post it in its entirety and not drag out posting chapter by chapter. I think it gives a better picture that way, and hopefully, it will show that there are many layers to this story and that every word written has a purpose. Please no harsh or cruel reviews. It's taken me a lot to let you guys read this, and I'd rather not be torn apart for it.

In lighter news, I will be in Colorado performing next week and selling and signing "Opera Macabre", "The Devil's Galley", and my Phantom collection of stories, more information on my website. Anyone in the vicinity, please come and see me! I'm so excited because I have a lifelong quest to be in every American Girl store in the US, and there is one in Denver. Yay! Also, now posted on my website and Facebook is the cover for book 2 of my angel series, "The Pirouettes That Angels Spin", out this fall! It's LOVELY! Take a look at it if you get a chance! :)

AND I just finished writing my 27th novel, which is a new and exhilarating Phantom story for all of you who have been asking for something LONG! Coming to posts near you this fall!

Onto the story!

SUMMARY: Beginning after Erik first takes Christine away, she still believes in angels, and he still has hope. But as hope fades, the darkness takes control.


Christine awoke from a delicious dream and found herself blissfully lost in another. This couldn't be reality, not when reality tended to be cold and dull, usually taking, never giving. But even as the final remnants of sleep let her free of their bindings, the images around her did not transform into those of her empty apartment with its peeling paint and dingy rug. No, they stayed brilliant and shiny, more than she felt worthy to have. Perhaps it was heaven, for had she not begged her darling angel to take her away the night before?

It equally felt like a dream to recall the details. Her angel finally coming to her, stealing her away, holding her in his strong arms… A smile played on her lips as she sat up beneath the ruffled, pink canopy of her plush bed and considered that this was his home. She felt like a princess from a fairytale, suddenly granted her heart's every desire and en route to the happily ever after that was always attached. Even if her gallant prince was an angel and not a mortal man, the ending had to be the same, for she would accept no other.

With an unceasing grin that danced along her face, she rose from the bed and glided across the soft carpet to the carved, whitewood armoire. Everything about this place felt as if it held an air of magic, some unearthly secret to make it uniquely special. The previous night she had only been granted a general perusal; today she longed to fully take in every fine nuance, to explore her new home and hope to gain an even deeper understanding of her angel.

Her angel…, her very own immortal prince… Every memory of him felt slightly fuzzy at its edges, but his voice, that beautiful, lyrical timbre had been singing in her head all night, drawing her in as it always did and wrapping her in a gloriousness far beyond the lackluster world. How she ached to be in his presence again! When he had been only the bodiless voice for so long, to touch him, to feel arms and torso against her, to see those mesmerizing blue and green eyes upon hers, such things were a bliss she knew she could not live without!

Still lost in the fantasy, she opened the doors of the armoire and exposed a rainbow of color. Had she ever had so many gowns to choose from? And all more elaborate than what she was accustomed to. She had been overwhelmed the night before to glimpse their rich fabrics while seeking a nightdress. Now to have the choice of which to select and wear! It was nearly too much! …And all for her. Every gown seemed tailored for her shape, her body and size, more gifts from her beloved angel. …She felt undeserving.

Deciding on pale petal pink, she collected the beautiful gown and necessary underclothes, all white silk, and carried them to her adjoining bathchamber. Marble tile, a large, iron-footed tub, gold-plated mirrors at every angle…, it was extraordinary when she had only known the shared bathroom of her apartment building, one that had a dozen people always vying for it and no hot water left. It enhanced her princess fantasy, and as she skipped to the tub to run the water for a bath, she giggled her delight, unable to contain and trap it within when it consumed in elation.

A princess in a fairytale… Yes, but what princess had a prince constantly watching from the shadows, eyeing her with blatant lust from the opposite side of a mirror as she ignorantly undressed?

Mirrors, mirrors, always mirrors. It was a mirror that allowed him to watch from her dressing room, to spy on her day-to-day life as if it was another opera libretto enacted for his enjoyment. Now mirrors again, a large one in her bedroom and one in the bathroom that kept him the silent observer. From their windows, he had kept vigil as she slept like a peaceful child, the guardian angel… Only what angel lusted with a heat to sear through skin and bone? The mirror he gazed through gave an improper view that stirred the blood in his veins to something like a fever. Dear Lord, the beauty and the sheer innocence of her… A child and a woman combined in one and sent to drive him to insanity…

On the opposite side of the glass, Christine finished undressing, her gentle curves on display for her unknown audience, and as she stepped into a tub full of heated water and bubbles, Erik leaned close to the glass, his palms pressed to the surface. For too long, he had been outside looking in, wanting and needing more; last night had been a first taste, one he could not cleanse from his system, as addictive as a drug and far more dangerous. He had to wonder if ordinary people felt desire this potent or this dark at its essence. Or was it solely due to a lifetime spent denying and burying any hint of it? Perhaps that explained why it suffocated and streamed out of him at every turn, …all ignited by one girl.

Erik ran searing eyes over his obsession, …Christine. Ever since he had first seen her, she had become an absolute disease in his blood, a poison meant to consume him. He watched her raise one perfectly formed arm from the water's cocoon and bring a soaped sponge up its length to a smooth shoulder, humming all the while with that full, rich voice that had first caught his attention. His little protégée. It had been an added fortune that the girl attached to those beautiful tones had been equally as beautiful. His fervent stare was caught by the pink-tipped roundness of her breasts peeking above the water's surface, as flawless and perfect as the rest of her. How he ached to hold their weight in his palms, to swallow their peaks in kisses! No matter that his mouth was misshapen and deformed. In his fantasies, she never cared about such things. She wanted him, and that was enough to make even his ugly features appealing.

Oh, Christine… His body throbbed with need, aching for release, but he dared not indulge himself as he watched her, knowing it wasn't what he really wanted. No, he wanted flesh pressed to his, softness, wetness, her. His own hand seemed juvenile and pointless in comparison.

On the other side of the mirror, Christine rose from her bath, water shining along her creamy skin and dripping down her curves. Desire begged him to lick every drop from her body, to cover her in his mouth and tongue, lose himself in her. He felt sickened with the longing, a slave to it in a way he had never permitted anything to overpower him. An angel, he was supposed to be an angel! What would his innocent little Christine think if she knew that her seeming heavenly angel was currently lost in erotic fantasies of the perverse things he wanted to do to her virginal body? And yet he had no control, not until she was clothed and concealed and wandering back into her bedroom with her sweet humming to precede her.

Mercifully, Erik lingered where he was, desperate for calm before he glimpsed her again. He feared losing control when next in her presence. This was dangerous; it was playing with fire in bare hands. His one saving grace was the valid point that this was far more than lust; he loved her.

It was so new to him, so incredibly optimistic. It gave him a reason in a life that had been directionless for too long. Before he had given up his self-imposed solitude, he had been sure he would die in his crypt-like home alone with no one to care or mourn his loss, and life's pleasures were something he was simply not meant to know. Now…now he wanted more.

With a better grip on desire's leash, he strode from one secret window to the other, seeking her out with urgent eyes as she curiously wandered her bedroom, grazing the random things he had so carefully placed here and there for her enjoyment. He had wanted everything to be perfect when he had set up the room, buying all sorts of trinkets, anything he thought would make her smile, and he was pleased to see exactly that effect on full, pink lips as she sprayed an expensive perfume and took a whiff of its lavender and vanilla fragrance. He could remember a time during her lessons when she had confided in him the sort of life she had lived with her father: poor, without any sort of elegant belongings, and he had vowed to himself that day that she would never know such an existence again. He wanted to spoil her. His humble, little songbird, so cautious in every movement as she set the bottle back into place and moved to the next with wide, excited blue eyes.

It was almost too much to believe she was real, that she was in his home after so long spent imagining that very thing. She was not the mirage of a lonely brain and would not vanish away; she was living, breathing flesh and heart and soul beneath.

For only a moment more did he keep his silent observation, fighting an urge to go to her. But no, that pleasure would come soon enough. He was confident that she would find the note he had left near her bed. It promised that he would join her for supper and bid her to make herself comfortable in his home.

The supper he was planning would be monumental. He intended to reveal his true mortal makeup, to explain why he had lied, to beg forgiveness and vow his eternal love and devotion. In his head, he saw it acted out to perfection with an ending he yearned to be his. Hopefully, luck would be on his side and grant it.

With one last glimpse of her to tied him over, he quickly left his small, hidden room and the house altogether, thinking of buying her something as a sign of his adoration. Something beautiful…just like her.

In her room, Christine never heard him leave, never knew any presence had been spying on her as she lifted the note from her angel in hands so laden with her delight that they shook. The tips of her fingers trailed across his pen strokes as if she were touching him instead. Supper…, she could hardly endure her anticipation!

A dead body looked nothing like a sleeping, living person; that had been Christine's first thought before reality had the chance to catch up to the scene and settle in. Living people looked…alive. She had recognized this immediately as a dead body, empty, lacking the spark that maybe was considered the soul.

…And that had been hours ago, plenty of time in between for the shock to dull its razor edges and become only the truth, staring blatantly from the eyes of a dead man. Piece by piece, the puzzle had come together, every lie and deceit, every manipulation, and every time she had naively believed. An angel…, it seemed pathetic to fathom such a title now. Common sense should have told her how farfetched the concept truly was. Perhaps it had, and she had turned a blind eye, preferring the lie to the truth that she was actually forgotten and alone. Could she be blamed for choosing the pleasant alternative instead, one brimming over with images of gold-trimmed, white wings and the clouded majesty of heaven? Well, she was certainly being punished for her folly!

Where was she…? She still had no concrete answer. The nearest she had come to guess was some sort of prison or…torture chamber, but did such places exist? She had heard of rooms built specifically to murder, to drive a victim to insanity, to inflict pain, but they were always in the context of fictional stories. A version in real-life would have been inhumane. …It would be the product of a madman. Dear God, what had she gotten herself into?

Angel, …no, he was the devil. Opera Ghost and phantom, murderer. Meg had warned her to stay on her guard, not to trust anyone, but she had neglected every word, so certain that she knew every facet of her heavenly angel. What a fool she had been! And now if she died here in this place of agony, she had no one to blame but herself. Torture chamber, room of death, and trapped far away from aid in the dragon's lair…

With time's slow passage and tormented thoughts, she found herself praying for escape and imagining rescue, only to have every fantasy fall to the bitter reality that she would likely die in this room. She wasn't supposed to be here. No, it had been purely an accident that she had stumbled upon it in her exploration of the house and managed to trap herself inside. She had expected another bedroom, another music room perhaps, never considering that there was a reason the door was concealed, almost overlooked as it blended with the wall. She would have argued her mistake and begged forgiveness for her intrusion when he returned, …had she not stumbled upon the dead body of a random missing stagehand she recognized from the opera.

It was funny to consider that had the body been removed, evidence gone, she would have never suspected anything odd and continued in the rose-hued daze of childish innocence. She would have jumped with anticipation at the sound of her angel returning and would have clung to his every word, every movement, every look like a lovesick schoolgirl. Perhaps the mask should have given him away, but his mesmerizing voice and dazing spell had made it blend in the background, and it was only recalled now as she fought for her memories. …Mask, Opera Ghost, and she had placed herself in his bloodstained clutches willingly!

Her eyes scanned the small quarters again in anxious unease. Not much larger than a closet and bearing little light to see by. What she could decipher were pipes and nozzles sticking out of stone walls; the morbid part of her wondered what substance they exuded when ignited. Gas? Fire? Poison? Her wayward mind took her down every path and formed gratuitous scenes of her own demise. She had not perused the body beside her to find out how he had met his end, but she glimpsed no blood, no telltale injury. Perhaps death in a torture chamber was more peaceful than first perceived…

Footsteps, she heard their approach before the click of the door being opened from the other side, and the breath fled her in a wave of terror. Oh God, …he was back…

Erik's eyes sought her out immediately as the door opened with a resounding, ominous creak. It amused him that she made no attempt to hide, pointless as it would have been. No, she was a small shape, huddled to the floor beside the remnants of an interfering stagehand. Pink skirts of knees drawn tight to her chest, large, accusing blue eyes rimmed in trepidation, dried tear paths down paled cheeks, loose, dark curls like a curtain all around her. She was the very image of the child he often thought her to be beneath womanly graces. …Child, child no longer.

"What are you doing in this room?" he demanded, feverishly raking another blazing gaze over her.

Words seemed to flee her lips when in the path of such a growing inferno; it flared menacingly and only brightened and stole more of her inaccurate claim of angel. Angel…, no, he was no angel.

"You ignorant fool," he spat furiously, and before she could ascertain his intentions, he was standing mere inches from her, catching her arm in a viselike hold and dragging her to her feet without care to gentleness. "You've ruined everything!"

Christine stared at him as if she'd never seen him before. …Hadn't she? No, not this man; this man was a complete stranger to her. His eyes, those eyes she had fantasized, recalling the awe that had plagued them the previous night; now they were laden with bitter resentment, hating her as much as they had once seemed to glorify her.

…And the mask. Her stare held and locked on its guarding presence. Beneath it, the features were supposedly mangled; a horror was what the other ballerinas had called it in their gossiping tales of the Opera Ghost. …A horror… Before this, she would have giggled with them and insisted they exaggerated, but now with the body of a dead man too close to her side, horror was suddenly reality.

Erik knew no surprise that she was fixated on the mask. Oh, weren't they all? It was the oddity of it, the unknown answers that lay beneath its protective confines. They were as intrigued by the mask as disconcerted. …But she…she was supposed to have been different. Damn her!

Keeping an unbreakable hold on her arm, he brought his free hand to the mask's edge. "So curious," he almost purred, malice dripping from golden tones. "Always so damn curious… And how long would it have been until you performed this act on your own? Stripped me of my mask without a care? I might as well retain some semblance of dignity and save myself the shame of further degradation at your hands. Fill in the blanks on my own terms, if you will. You want to see the monster, do you? The visage of the devil himself? The terror in the night?"

His fingers were uncharacteristically clumsy in their attempt, but finally, he pried the mask free and ripped it from his features, putting himself on display in all his grotesque majesty.

A gasp tore from Christine's lungs, her eyes widening and body violently trembling in his unyielding hold. Dear God… No, she was suddenly sure God wasn't listening to her anymore, not when she was trapped with the devil. …That face. It was more dead than alive, a corpse, half a skeleton's head. The skin was thin, translucent at best, exposing bone beneath and a sunken eye socket housing what she had once considered a sparkling emerald in an absurdly romanticized version of the same face. No nose could be hinted at, only two holes through which harsh breaths were passing, loud as her own terrified gulps of air and creating the only sounds in a stagnant room.

Her continuously shifting eyes landed on his mouth. It should have been perfection; it encompassed the most beautiful voice she had ever heard. A bitter twist of irony then that those lips through which it flowed were so vibrantly misshapen. The upper swelled disturbingly on one side, the bottom not much better, and if he would have never spoken again, never another word from those golden cords, she would have believed it a trick of her mind, that the voice could not be that beautiful or that unearthly. But his next utterance was cruelly just as ethereal as an angel's despite the mixture of pain and rage lacing it.

"Where are your screams?" he demanded, seeming aloof to her horrified examination. "And the tears? The pleadings for your life and for the repulsive freak to keep his hands off you? …I'm waiting. I would wager that even the most heinous of insults sound like something I'd want to live up to when they are on your lips. Go on then. Don't deny me of a single one when I am already eager to hear them. Tell me how disgusting I am, how ugly. Well? Don't try to be polite. We'd both knew it to be a lie. Come on, Christine. Insult me. Degrade me with your words. Have a little more of a backbone than I've given you credit for. At least give me something worth killing for, a reason to strangle that beautiful neck of yours."

But she couldn't. Perhaps it was the shock from too many dreams shattered at once like bubbles being popped out of existence, or perhaps it was an inability to breathe beyond gasps that only intensified with his words. Because the image before her of a speaking corpse, began to blur at its corners, and then the world was spinning… Or she was spinning? Perhaps he was killing her already. And she couldn't even find the will to protest as the darkness came and took her away, stealing the face of the devil. …Maybe God hadn't forgotten her after all…

It was with a degree of awkwardness that Erik caught her in his arms as she fainted. He certainly had not expected such a reaction, but as abruptly as he had wanted to hurt her as brutally as she had hurt him, his anger faded to a terrified need to hold on to her. How could anger survive when she was a bundle of warm softness, limp limbs, and disheveled, silken curls in his arms? He wanted to rescue her from any evil. …Pity that he himself was the evil.

This was different than the way he had held her the previous night. Then hope had been alive and thriving as an ever-present light in the background. Now it had dimmed and nearly gone out, suffocating every sugarcoated fantasy to its untimely demise. She didn't love him and never would. She'd never be the wife he had envisioned, the one who would adore him in spite of his scars. He had sustained himself on that fantasy, living with the determination that it must come to pass. And now…what were his options? Kill her and then himself because he would have no will to go on without her? Let her live and release her only to see her run from him like the plague and never return? Or…? Or… She wouldn't love him; that much was a certainty, but he could love her. Not in the way he'd planned, of course, but at least he'd have something. …And it was better than nothing at all…

Christine awoke from a horrendous nightmare in the pink, fairytale bedroom of an underground tomb. …Nightmare, if only it had been. And then from one nightmare to the next. Her heart raced in her chest with realization's arrival. She was not only laying in her canopy bed; she was tied to it, caught around her thin wrists and ankles and bound to the bedposts with little room to move and no chance of escape. The breath halted in her chest, her entire frame starting to shake of its own accord. And then her horror intensified as she noticed that she was clothed in only her silk, white underclothes, her pink gown a wrinkled mess of fabric on the floor. …Dear God, he had undressed her and bound her to the bed, …and she had little doubt what that meant.

No sooner had the thought crossed her mind than her door opened, and her captor, masked and concealed yet again, strode into the room, his eyes immediately seeking hers. He was arrogantly poised as if his countenance had never been shaken, and between his hands, he idly twisted a sharp dagger, its blade glinting silver in deceptively gentle firelight. Her frantic gaze moved between the weapon and his mismatched eyes, but the dagger's threat was never stated, his stare apathetic and slightly inquisitive.

"Surprised you're still alive," he said flatly as he halted his approach a fair distance from her bedside. "You must have assumed I would have killed you already… You're probably wishing I had. And I can't blame you for that."

Erik's emotionless act was so convincing that he almost believed it himself, almost believed that he didn't care about her, that he would simply take what he wanted as if she were just another of the many faceless who had harmed him in his life. But then he glimpsed the shimmer of tears over blue eyes and had to restrain himself from falling to gentleness instead. She wouldn't want his comfort anyway. No, because monsters were unfeeling, right? Murderers could not care and certainly could not expect compassion or love. No, murdering freaks must be denied such things.

"It wasn't supposed to happen this way." His guilt justified for him despite his wish to bury it, and just as quickly as it was revealed, he hid it again and reapplied his malicious coldness as his eyes raked over her, lingering over the feminine silhouette her underclothes accentuated.

"I'm not going to pretend with you," he insisted firmly. "You know what I want. I'm sure it is obvious. And it may not be what I dreamed, but this will have to do. I mourn the loss, but… This is in my character, isn't it? I'm the murdering Opera Ghost; I take what I want with no care to anyone or anything. This is my expected role, and I'll play it to perfection."

Closing the lingering gap so that he loomed like a shadow and gazed desirously down at her, he bid, "How shall it be? Shall I threaten you then? Give you further reason to hate me before I violate you? I'm not certain my grotesque appearance is enough. You must not only be disgusted by me; you must abhor me as well. I'm the opera demon, and I'm going to steal your virginity. Hate me for it, Christine. Please hate me; I beg it of you. If I can't have your love, then all I want is hatred, …hatred to fuel the crime."

He knew she couldn't understand; after all, the Opera Ghost was a rapist, wasn't he? It should have been easy to follow through with it in her eyes. She didn't know that for all his soul-damning crimes, he had never raped a woman, never even touched a woman. And to consider raping Christine, the only woman he'd ever loved… He needed her to hate him, but one look in her tear-filled blue eyes showed fear and nothing else. And dear Lord, did it shake his determination!

With a fierce growl, Erik leaned close and set the flat coldness of the blade to one soft, pale cheek, and he watched with a mixture of satisfaction and self-loathing to see her shrink and recoil as much as she could. "So beautiful," he breathed as the smallest whimper escaped her. "So very beautiful. Have you any idea how long I have envisioned this? I've wanted you as I've never wanted anything in my life. It's…consuming, prevailing over sanity. My God, and to have you laid here to my every whim…"

Christine silently sobbed, tears sliding from blue eyes and striking the smooth luster of the blade on their path. Her entire body shook, her eyes shifting from his mask to the dagger and back again as he guided it in a slow, feather-light trek along her jaw and traced the tip down the side of her throat, never causing damage yet never touching with hands.

Without a word or the flaring apology on the back of his tongue, he gripped the neckline of her chemise in one hand and viciously yanked the dagger through its center, his eyes riveted to its parting but his ears concentrating on the small cry she gave in protest. His heart ached because she was crying and he was the cause, but he couldn't make himself stop. It was far too late for that. He had to love her, and he had no other way to show it.

Erik's stare devoured the fullness of her breasts before he forced himself to finish with his task, making long slices down the center of her petticoat and pantaloons and only half-aware of white silk trapped by tied arms and legs. It didn't matter; he wasn't going to untie her, and so he let her underclothes hang in tattered remnants from futile limbs.

Goosebumps rose and layered the surface of her skin; he watched them erupt, intrigued by their inherent conception, as mesmerizing as the tears that continued to pass seamlessly from the corners of her eyes.

If she had cared to take note beyond her fear, she would have noticed that he wasn't breathing. Breathing seemed the most mundane thing to remember, not with such exquisite perfection before him. Admiring from afar was trivial, a blurry version of reality. It was nothing compared to silken, creamy flesh laid out at his fingertips. His body responded in violent waves of desire, shaking his stability as he throbbed with the ache. …But then he met her blue stare, and the accusation there twisted in his gut and pierced through everything else. Any illusion he wanted and any fantasy he yearned to act out shattered to broken shards.

"Damn you," he suddenly hissed, and she cringed as if awaiting the backlash of his rage. But instead, a better idea came to mind, and he suddenly stalked to her armoire and jerked open its doors with a force so great that they practically tore from their hinges. He wouldn't let her catch sight of what he was doing, even as she craned her neck from the bed to try and glimpse. Not until he ventured back to her side in calculated steps, and then he let her see the dark, cashmere scarf he clutched in his fisted hands.

Erik did not explain, knowing he wasn't entitled to it. Instead, setting his dagger aside, he bent over her, not yet allowing himself to dwell on her beauty. No, not with those eyes on him. Not with their constant blame. Pulling the scarf taut between his hands, he stretched it like a blindfold over her eyes, knotting it behind her head as she gave a cry of discontent.

"Sshh," he crooned, instinctively gentle and granting one more long look to her face without those eyes to reward him with his guilt, he reverted his focus to her body. And he was lost, willingly so, and he knew it. It became no longer about raping her; the idea fled him with the realization that in spite of everything including her disgust, this was the woman he loved.

Christine's tears wetted the material of the scarf. She could only see blackness, but she heard his uneven breaths beside her and knew he was looking at her as if his eyes made haphazard caresses as tangible as fingers. A flush passed beneath goosebumps, pink and ashamed to know he desired her, to have only a vague idea of what was to come. Her only knowledge of intimacies was based in gossip backstage at the opera, incomplete details at best. Part of her wanted to beg him to explain first, even if his intent was unchanged. Perhaps if she knew, she would be less afraid. …Perhaps if this was her angel and not the Opera Ghost…

All thought fled her as one cold fingertip made a slow, languid path across her collarbone. She shuddered, and a straggled cry escaped as that finger grazed lower until it found her breast.

Erik was relieved that her vision was stolen so that she did not see how his hand trembled. He was supposed to be the one in control. If she only knew that it was her body controlling him, her warmth and softness, her perfection. He adored this woman! He had lost her already, and if this were all he was going to have, it would be his fantasy brought to life, and he would please her as he yearned to. Please her, …and to do so, he would have to remove his mask. She couldn't see his face; the blindfold would prevent that, and he could pretend that she wasn't disgusted.

And yet he shook as his hand lifted to his mask and hesitantly stole its protection. Scars stung as they hit the air, sensitive and afraid in a way he longed not to show as he reminded himself that she couldn't see. And he could love her through shadows.

One finger encircled her nipple, its pad teased by soft skin and a racing heartbeat beneath. She was a mass of shaking limbs and tears, and yet he savored a small gasp set free as his fingertip passed the pink peak and enticed it to harden. Oh God, she was perfection!

With an uncontained moan, he bent and took that nipple between his misshapen lips, feeling her tense and arch beneath him. In his mind, he played assurances. No, no, she couldn't see; this wasn't horror presenting itself beneath an unacceptable mouth. It was desire; it must be desire.

Gentle and hungry, Erik sucked one flawless breast, burning through his veins with every motion. The tip of his tongue teased while fingertips imitated on its match, growing more fevered by the second. She writhed, cries escaping lips that could not stay pursed, but he never heard a word to cease, a begging for mercy, anything to say stop. And he knew he had won.

His mouth was busy, so his fingers moved ahead, grazing a path along her flat stomach, delicate enough to raise more goosebumps. Onward, and it thrilled him that her legs were intuitively parted, inviting without knowing it. He took it as concession and brushed a fingertip along her silken folds.

Christine stiffened, fear appearing in a violent burst. It destroyed passion's pleasant haze and only intensified as that probing finger slid within. She cried out and for the first time, gave struggle, jolting against bindings that would not give. But he was undeterred and ran his fingers along her length, moaning against her breast.

"Dear God," he huskily breathed between fevered kisses, and she shuddered to hear that beautiful voice so twisted with longing. "You want, Christine; you're so wet… Fear is inconsequential when your body knows who it belongs to. It opens and welcomes me, made for my touch alone. …I've never had such a gift."

The tenderness in his words touched something in her heart, something that had been sparked to life for a nonexistent angel. She could almost pretend without sight to betray her that this was her angel, coaxing her to passion for the first time, adoring her as much as he wanted more. And that made her body's response guiltless and acceptable. She loved her angel; if this was her angel, love was an excuse for them both.

All at once, he lifted off the bed and left her cold and aching, her body throbbing its disappointment, but she stifled a beseeching behind a bit lip and refused to mutter a single word. She could feel his eyes upon her, searing her again in that mismatched stare and caressing even more intimately than fingers. Eyes, and then suddenly, the mattress shifted with added weight, and before she could guess his intentions, urgent hands parted her legs wide. She yearned to break free, terrified what he would do and blushing shame to be so exposed. But to her astonishment, a kiss was placed and held to her womanhood, and it was the most unexpected and most intimate shock that she went rigid and allowed without protest.

Erik shivered with delight, overcome as voices in his head condemned his violation. It must be a sin greater than any other to place his misshapen mouth upon something so glorious, so exquisite, so beautiful. For the first time, genuine regret washed through him and an irrational fear that a mouth so ugly must tarnish this most sacred part of her, leave traces of contamination behind because he was so unworthy. But her scent and her softness, the wetness that said she ached, such things plucked guilt out of his hands and bid him to make it something beautiful instead. Yes, …pleasure was beautiful.

With a groan of surrender, he loosed his eager tongue to taste her and savored her uninhibited cry. He heard no refusal or blame, only overwhelming desire. Teasing his tastebuds, he lapped at her womanhood, unsure but learning from her every instinctual response. Her cries were urgent, her hips arching off the mattress, and he refused to end his endeavors, moving his tongue faster, circling the spot that made her jolt with contact.

His eyes watched her, gazing in adoration at the expanses of creamy flesh spread to his whim. He had to touch; it felt imperative, and one hand roamed back up to her wanton nipple, pinching its peak. She cried out, raw and desperate, fringed in a sob with pleasure's arrival as her body went stiff and shuddered. Pleasure, beauty, and he prolonged its aftermath, stroking languidly with the tip of his tongue.

From bliss to despair. Her eyes were stolen, but still, they haunted as guilt found a new way free. Tears soaked grey cashmere, a few slipping from its edge to smear her cheeks. Their shimmer cut into him like a knife, and with a muttered curse, he jerked away, leaping to his feet and hiding his face with his mask once again. Dear God, her flavor still lingered on his tongue as temptation! And how he ached without fulfillment! But desire suddenly felt like a death sentence.

With a growl so fierce that she gasped, he tore at her bindings, ripping them apart as her limbs dropped to the mattress. Immediately, she curled into herself, covering her body with the tattered remnants of her underclothes even before she removed the blindfold and found his rage-filled features with terrified eyes.

Christine couldn't catch her breath, tears cascading in currents down her face as she hugged her body and hid as much as she could beneath shredded silk. How could she have possibly forgotten in the midst of passion that this was the creature touching her without her consent? This was no angel; this was a man, …a murderer and monster, and she hated him as much for his violation as the ecstasy he'd given. It was just as much a manipulation.

Any tenderness she had seen in traces was gone as he regarded her coldly and spat, "You could have been a queen in this hell; well, now you are a prisoner. Don't waste your time seeking a way out. This is your punishment for being a deceptive, heartless little chit. There is no escape for the unwanted, Christine, and the likes of you and I are meant to suffer in this crypt alone. …You ruined everything." It was the only lapse in a malevolent temperament, one crack to show damage within before he turned bitter again. "You are mine. Make no mistake about it, and you will either be a willing slave or a dead body. What is more blood on my hands? I care not which fate you choose."

She knew he was lying, but she could not speak a word against him with tears clogging the back of her throat. Better to stay silent if it meant keeping her life. And yet what life would this be? A prisoner…, she had once held dreams of angels, of a life on the stage, of a future filled with love. This was no life at all.

For one last moment, he held her stare, and then so abruptly that she jumped, he abandoned her, charging out of the room with a slammed door in his wake. Her attuned ear did not miss the click of a lock before tears overwhelmed and drowned her in their sob. A prisoner, her body left to the mercy of a murderer who had spent months deceiving her into fairytales. She felt like a fool, cursing her naïveté. She had put herself in this place, chasing dreams with never a doubt or question. An angel…, she was ignorant to have believed such a sugarcoated illusion. …And now it was shattered, and she had nothing…

Erik watched her from behind another mirror, crying the same tears and stifling sobs behind a clenched fist. Dear Lord, his skin still smelled of her, her taste tingling his lips; he felt as much a prisoner as she was, a prisoner to her innocence and beauty, to a heart he knew he had lost any chance to possess. He mourned broken dreams and suffered the undulled edge of lust, throbbing with its ache through his body. He had touched her! He had taken liberties as if they were his! Why was there such self-loathing churning through his veins? It made wanting seem a sin. He hadn't taken her, hadn't stolen her virginity, and yet he felt just as ashamed. Not even the knowledge that he had been gentle and had given her pleasure was enough to make it less a damning act. …And to watch her cry, …sob as if her life were over… He truly was a monster.

His fingertips grazed the glass between them, abhorring smooth and cold when he'd learned what soft and warm felt like. Nothing would ever suffice; their pads craved heaven. And despite every ugly detail in between, he knew this was just the beginning for them. He was convicted; he was not going to lose.