One man battling his demons…
Erik thought he’d put the manhunt for The Phantom of the Opera to rest while building a normal life with Anna and his family–but his nemesis Raoul, the Comte de Chagny, has other thoughts. When Anna’s secret past is revealed, and Raoul’s bounty hunter captures her, Erik races to Paris to avenge her before she is shipped off to prison. This time, however, the madness of the Phantom cannot be freely unleashed. Erik must rein himself in and rely on unlikely allies for the sake of his genius son and hideously deformed daughter. The choice makes his madness only more volatile.
One woman desperate to hide her secrets…
The manhunt is finally drawing to a close but Raoul’s wife, Christine, is desperate to keep it going. Should Erik be captured alongside Anna, he may be put to death, and her heart can’t allow that to happen. With Anna in custody and years of Christine’s lies rapidly surfacing, something must be done before the Chagny name is ruined forever. Desperate to keep Erik out of prison, but panicked that doing so may expose her scandalous secrets Christine does the unthinkable. After striking a deal with the bounty hunter that goes against everything for which her husband has battled, can Christine live with the results her jealous heart has wrought?
One heart-wrenching ending no one saw coming…
The frost on the window glinted in the early dawn light, blinding Erik to seeing anything but brilliant white. Nonetheless, he stared through the cottage’s modest window and toward the direction of the monastery.
The charred wood had been hauled away, and the fire-scarred stones cleansed, but still, the stench of acrid smoke lingered in the air. It would be months until the pillar of the village rose again to shelter its flock. For now, the monastery’s church wafted its untimely fate on a gentle breeze, and the persistent scent crept through a crack in the windowpane. Clasping his hands behind his back, Erik stood there, back ridged and mind tumbling over the idea that nothing in life was simple, least of all the unresolved mystery of why a fire would ever touch such an innocent place. Not to mention why a man such as him—a certain sinner—would be forgiven his past and given a peaceful, nondescript life in a German monastery.
“For someone who isn’t a man of God, you’ve been down to the church more in these last few weeks than in all the years I’ve known you.”
Erik turned and coolly regarded the monk sitting contentedly, and a touch arrogantly, in his chair by the morning fire. Erik preferred to dismiss socializing and had learned to put up with Brother Lukas’ ever-persistent need to mention his lack of faith. Erik was satisfied with the same eerie solitude and beliefs that had always been his companion. He wasn’t about to soul-search and change them. Still, Brother Lukas had put up a good fight for his salvation over the years so Erik couldn’t blame him for trying. What Erik could do without, however, was the monk looking so smug in his favorite chair.
“Should you not be in private prayer before Lauds instead of bothering me?” Erik half-jokingly rumbled. Truth be told, he didn’t mind the monk’s early morning company and did his best not to let that be known. “Being your personal cause for redemption is getting stale.” Beneath his mask, he lifted a brow Brother Lukas couldn’t see. The only thing he could see was the curl to Erik’s lip that betrayed his jest.
“Personal causes aren’t old, you are.” Brother Lukas said nodding toward the window. “You shouldn’t be sulking over a lost organ, Erik. Everything happens by God’s design.”
“I never believed in your God, and I dare say I am a better designer.”
The monk chuckled, prompting Erik to smile. He turned back toward the frosted window and the ice crystals shimmering in the light. A master architect in addition to a brilliant maestro, Erik had crafted his way through this new, quiet life of his. The monastery brought him a place to call home and a community of which to be a part. Brother Lukas had spent his afternoons in the carpentry shop, silently praying and tending to repairs for the monastery and church—until Erik arrived and took over, insisting that not even Christ was a better carpenter than he. So for the home and the simple things to occupy his time, Erik was thankful. Not that he’d wear that on his sleeve.
“Erik doesn’t sulk; he broods,” Anna replied.
Erik looked across the modest kitchen they had all gathered in and cocked his head at the petite woman seeing to his morning meal. The dawn attempting to peer through the window caught her hair, making it glimmer like a copper kettle peppered silver. The light trapped there drew him from the window like a macabre hummingbird to nectar. He slid behind her, walking his extraordinarily long fingers up her spine. The mask he wore spared the world all but his lips allowing him to gently touch that spot on her neck that he knew always made her knees soften.
“You may brood over a lost organ yet one side of you certainly has no problems with inspiration.” Brother Lukas stopped worshiping the fire and tilted his head in Erik’s direction.
“Consider it the least your fine God could do for me.” Erik passed a hand over his mask. “I would offer to teach you the art of seduction, but I feel it would be lost on you.”
“The art of seduction?” A cold blast of air swirled through a side door and around a grinning youth appearing in the doorway. He rippled his fingers through his hair building upon his roguish appearance before leaning his elbow on the doorframe. He shrugged his eyebrows. “Don’t stop such conversation on my behalf. I assure you my curiosity is peaked.”
Erik glowered. “Philippe, it is an ungodly hour. You never rise early. What are you doing roaming about?”
His son folded his arms and strolled into the kitchen. Unusually tall for fifteen, he dwarfed his mother as he passed. He yanked at the strip of leather holding his shoulder-length, brown hair in a neat queue, adjusted it, and tied it again. The brow he lifted accented eyes the color of a stormy Caribbean sea.
“I was looking for something.” He rubbed the back of his neck.
“Looking for what?” Erik countered.
“Something I lost.”
He didn’t have to. The missing item tore through the door behind him, squealing gleefully at her freedom. The whorl of honey curls burst into the kitchen, her laughs a vibrant upheaval to the peace of any monastery. Her bare feet and the hem of her nightdress were hopelessly covered in cobwebs and dust. Her ever-present violin and bow were, as usual, clutched tightly in one hand. No-one understood why she carried the silent instrument; she didn’t know how to play it. It was her security and went unquestioned. Slamming a hug into Erik’s leg, she tilted her head as far back as she could and flashed a mischievous grin. The pungent, mildewed aroma hovering around her, reminiscent of Erik’s years living in the cellars of the Opera Garnier, caused him to shoot a hot look to his son. Exactly where had his daughter been playing?
“Philippe Georges Marie.” A protective growl grew in his throat and penetrated his words. “You are supposed to keep Simone in check.”
“She wasn’t beside me when I woke,” Philippe shrugged. “I found her in the catacombs sitting by Pappy’s tomb rambling about singing horses and dancing dogs.”
Beneath his mask, Erik’s cheeks heated to an uncomfortable level. If there was one place he didn’t like his daughter playing, it was in cellars. Keeping his past as The Phantom of the Opera hidden from his children was already a challenge, yet he couldn’t blame her for visiting the tomb of that old curmudgeon who had traveled with them year after year. Pappy had been as a grandfather to her.
Simone’s cheeks plumped with her smile, softening the edges of his ire. That smile was capable, for now, of drawing the attention away from the stark ridges of visible bone and twisted areas of muscle marring her face. Her tiny voice was tinged with an unusually haunting timbre, its resonance defying her seven years.
“Papa, I have a flower for you.” She thrust it forward, her small fist landing squarely in his gut.
Erik suppressed a groan and knelt. He brushed a wayward curl from her forehead and watched her eyes cross as it sprung back into shape. Simone’s untamed hair cascaded around her shoulders and tumbled down her face hiding some of it from his view. With her hair lying that way she was as beautiful as any little girl until she flipped it off her face revealing the cruel hand fate had dealt her. Her hair could hide her missing ear but ultimately did nothing to conceal her misshaped bones or the yellowed, paper-thin flesh stretching across three-quarters of her face. She had his looks, his voice, and the fantastic quality of his eyes. All Erik had to do was shift their position slightly into a shadow, and her eyes would flash an eerie, yet captivating shade of gold. Erik’s fingers rippled across her deformity as if doing so would brush away the guilt he carried for creating that part of her. Little girls should look like angels, not bear the curse of a face of Death.
He took her gift, somewhat remorseful over the flower’s untimely demise. Perhaps accepting it would lessen the blow of what he was about to tell her. Born without breath in her body until a dedicated doctor saved her life, she thought and reacted differently than most children. “Simone,” he gently explained as he rose, “horses cannot sing.”
“Yes, they can.” The violin thumped against her thigh as she made a Maypole of his legs.
He looked at Anna. She carried plates from the counter to the table and shared a laugh with Brother Lukas. They shrugged in unison, unwilling to touch such a statement. Simone was a mystery, a little enigma that had everyone wrapped neatly around her pinky.
“Horses sing Alouette,” she insisted. “And dogs dance to it. They did so in the church before the spooky man lit it up with fire.”
Plates crashed to the floor in a thunderous explosion circling a target of clay throughout the kitchen. Erik’s eyes darted from his daughter’s yelp to Anna in time to see her face blanch.
“Philippe, take your sister,” he snapped. “Bathe her and get her a clean frock. I need to speak to your mother alone.”
“I think not.” Philippe’s voice felled the room silent. “If Simone saw something—”
“Simone saw nothing,” Brother Lukas quietly assured. “Children are to obey their elders, Philippe.”
“But we’ve been trying to uncover what happened to the church for weeks now. How do you know she didn’t see anything? She clearly heard something.”
“It’s likely her imagination,” the monk replied. “Do as your father asks.”
Erik was inches away from losing his patience. Philippe could challenge him on any topic under the sun; disobey him on thousands of battlegrounds, but not this one. Not with the gravity of what Simone just said.
“Her imagination?” Philippe pursed his lips and shook his head. “Simone, did you make that up?”
Simone had stopped rounding her father, one hand still on his leg the other clutching the violin to her chest. She ignored the question and instead stared intently at the pattern of clay chips on the floor. “Broken plates tingle my toes.”
Philippe rolled his eyes. “Simone?”
Shaking her head, Simone shrugged and looked up. “The horse sang off key. I know because I saw brown.”
As Simone rounded her father’s leg once more, Anna’s hand shot out to her side to steady herself with a nearby chair.
“What Simone heard is obviously linked to my father’s colored past, judging from my mother’s reaction.” Philippe pointed out, folding his arms in a victory stance.
The air burst out of Erik’s lungs as he pivoted toward Philippe, breaking Simone’s grip on him. Erik hunched into his shock, approaching his son with undisguised curiosity. For years he had made it a point to keep all details of his past away from his children. Though he regretted ever telling the monk of his history, he knew the man of God would never betray him to his kin. Saving the village from illness years prior had been Erik’s saving grace and security. There wasn’t a man in the village that wouldn’t protect Erik and his family. His son continued to speak s with the arrogance of a king causing his eyes to narrow.
“My colored past?” He chanced a look at Anna. Her scowl had deepened.
Philippe scoffed. “You don’t think I believe we wandered from vagabond camp to vagabond camp across France all those years because it was the life of comfort you so sought for me?”
The corner of Erik’s lip twitched as he tried to govern his shock.
“So, you will continue this conversation with me present,” Philippe instructed. “It involves the church and Chagny as evidenced by the mention of Alouette.” He made a casual gesture toward Simone who was staring again, perplexed by the pottery on the floor.
The silence in the room could have made hair stand on end.
“Chagny?” Anna gasped incredulously. “What know you of Chagny?”
“I know enough; anytime men with rifles arrived at a camp, we had to run. You and Father switched from German to speaking French. I caught on years ago that there was something you didn’t want me to know. Simone may not speak a lick of French, but I taught myself it quite easily. I’m fluent.” Philippe spread his hands. “Surprise.”
The only movement in the room was Simone as she kicked a wayward shard back into place near the rest of the shattered plates. The scrutiny of Philippe’s unblinking eyes bore into Erik, yet he was too shocked to do anything other than listen in a dumbstruck and smoldering silence. The carefully constructed secrets of his past had suddenly cracked open out of the blue, spilling the letters of disaster at his feet.
“One of the armed gents, a bizarre, detached sort of fellow, always hummed Alouette.” Philippe’s causal comment sank Anna into a chair. “I’ve wondered about your secrets for too long. I understand more than you realize. The Brothers here have been my family, so if I can help solve what happened to the church, I will.”
Erik had a pounding headache on the prowl. “Someone remove my daughter from this room immediately. I will not have her innocence manipulated. My son’s already is.”
“Stop overprotecting her, father, and cease treating me like an infant. Simone isn’t able to comprehend a word we’re saying no matter the language we speak. You know how backward her mind is. If you’re in trouble, I can help. I spent years without a home, listening to you whisper about Chagny. I’m not stupid. I could see the rifles as clearly as you could. This is my opportunity to know why finally.”
“Philippe, I am warning you.”
“Warn me all you want. I demand to know.”
That was his mother’s ever-defiant spirit shining through, and Erik would tolerate it from her but not Philippe. Erik didn’t think before the tone of his voice switched to one, which was sharp as a bell and hushed as a whisper, able to level the strongest of men into submission. “You demand?”
His freakish voice manipulation yanked Simone’s head up from her scrutiny of the floor. She rubbed her ear and swat at the air in front of her. “That wasn’t nice. Why did you turn the room red?”
Erik gritted his teeth and prodded her toward Philippe. “Philippe, I am a simple carpenter. Play with your sister.”
Philippe was unmoved. He looked at him in such a way Erik couldn’t decipher his next move. If he didn’t obey so Erik could tend to the shade of white Anna had turned, Erik was going to drag him out of the room by his perfect nose. Instead, Philippe looked from one parent to the other.
“The simple carpenter excuse again, father? Does that explain why you built a pipe organ in the first place and so painstakingly carved it? Does it explain why locked in a trunk in a secluded room of a monastery there’s an opera cloak of the finest quality and a score written in your hand?”
How did he find that trunk? Erik spoke from the side of his mouth. “Are you going to continue this, Philippe?”
“Furthermore there’s the matter of that violin Simone carts around.” He gestured to the instrument thumping on against her thigh as she looked up between the two of them.
Large puffs of breath broke rhythmically through the nose Erik lacked as he walked closer to Anna. He extended a hand to her silently asking her to keep him calm. Erik looked down at her grip on him, surprised at how cold she had gone. He had not played his violin since before Philippe was born. A different time, a different place. Playing, composing, and being one with the magic in his soul had been too risky on the run. It was a silent ghost of his past accidentally found and adopted by Simone.
“No simple carpenter has a violin capable of making the music that one can,” Philippe said wondrously. “It has a tone richer than the heavens themselves.”
Those words formed a lasso and looped around Erik’s neck. They yanked his attention from the grip he had on Anna’s hand to his son. “How do you know what that sounds like?”
“I’ve played it on several occasions.”
“You have what?” The walls nearly crumbled. His heart pounded in his ears, and he couldn’t tell if it was from fury or joy.
“I tried to teach myself with the score in that trunk. But music is damn near impossible to understand. Every note is jumbled upside down and looks backward.” He tapped his temple giving his father the first indication of his frustration. “Neither here nor there anyway. Just answer my questions.”
Dropping Anna’s hand prompted a worried glance from her. Philippe struck a chord, and it vibrated painfully through every bone in Erik’s body. The exchange that happened next flew around the room like a mouse before a cat. There was no place to hide.
“You’re not a simple carpenter, Father. With a voice as unique as yours, a score like no other, and the finest of violins? I’ve heard you and Mother speak of the Opera Garnier.”
“That cloak, the violin, they were all in this monastery when we arrived.”
“No, they weren’t.”
“Philippe, I will not tell you again.”
“You’re a maestro aren’t you?”
“Philippe, I am warning you.”
“You had an ingénue—”
“I am a carpenter! Now—”
“You’re that living myth, that murderer, and maestro, the Phantom of the Opera!”