Product Search  |  Checkout  |  Login  |  Home  |  Track Your Order
   
Background
While Erik has tried to calm his anger and fear, Christine continues her explanation about her conflicting actions of the past. Some of her words have helped Erik to a degree, but some of them only make him fear that he won’t keep control of his emotions and actions for much longer.
 
Chapter Five

Understanding Her Love
____________________
 
Fearfully, I squeezed her hand and nodded for her to continue.
   “I felt as if I was being torn in two. I was so frightened, and I just wanted to run away. Since I knew I couldn’t, I went home to Mummy and tried to talk with her about what happened. But she had such an undying belief in my angel that I wasn’t sure if I could count on her advice.
   “Whenever I was frightened or unsure, as I was right then, she always told me to go to you, and that you would guide me on the right path. She told me if I ever decided to leave with my good angel and never came back to her, she knew you would take good care of me. If that day ever came, she felt she could go home, but until I was safe she couldn’t leave me alone.
   “Every time Raoul heard her say such things, he’d get so mad at her. When I told him I wasn’t sure how I felt about you, he’d say it was her fault for keeping the idea of an angel of music alive in me. By then, Raoul and I knew you were a real man, and he’d ridicule me for listening to the meanderings of an old lady who needed to be institutionalized. So you see, Erik, I had not only my own feelings tossing me back and forth but also others’ opinions twisting me in circles.
   “It wasn’t long after that conversation with Oded that you were shot. As I helped you remove your shirt and then washed your back, I didn’t know if I should feel shame for the way I was feeling about you or if I should be angry with you for making me feel the way I did.
   “I’d watch you sleeping, and I’d feel such deep love for you. During those times, I reasoned that if you were asleep you couldn’t be controlling my mind, so what I was feeling must be real. But then Oded’s words about your uncanny powers kept replaying in my head until I thought I was losing all control of my senses.
   “While I know now that you were right when you sent me away for those two weeks, at the time it was horrible for me. I missed you very much, and I longed for that mirror and what was beyond it. But then, when I looked into it, I’d fear you were on the other side of it and controlling my mind.
   “Confusion has been my constant companion since that first night on the stage when I felt the wonder of your voice. Confusion is what I was continually running away from. You might have, in a sense, been controlling my mind, but it was my love for you that was controlling my heart. That love kept pushing me forward toward this moment right now. At long last, I know with certainty that I love you, but you have to understand how frightening it was for me during that perplexing time.”
   I shook my head and squeezed her hand again. “Once more, Christine, I’m terribly sorry for all you’ve had to go through.”
   She squeezed my hand in response and continued, “That night on the rooftop with Raoul, I was both bewildered and terrified. I knew I didn’t have any time left to make my decisions before you left, and I couldn’t think anymore. I kept feeling your ring on my finger, wishing it was really mine. I couldn’t bear the thought of you leaving me, but with Oded’s and Raoul’s words about my mind being taken over by some spell, I felt I couldn’t trust my own feelings any longer.
   “I remember looking at the clouds that night and wishing I could be up there with them, without a care and floating away to nowhere. My mind and heart were tired, and I didn’t want to think or feel anything ever again. I had the desire to run—just run away from everyone. Have you ever felt that way, Erik—that you just wanted to run away from everything, even your own thoughts?”
   I nodded in agreement and wondered how many times I not only felt that way but also acted on my feelings and ran. How could I blame her for that feeling?
   After another sip of her brandy, she went on. “When Raoul held me in his arms, I cried. He tried to comfort me, without knowing how badly I needed your arms around me—not his. But I couldn’t tell him that. I couldn’t hurt him that way. I didn’t sleep at all that night. I paced in my room, with everyone’s expressions competing for my attention.
   “The only words I could hang onto were yours about the importance of the current production and my career. So I focused on that and thought of nothing more than my performance. Finally, my mind felt clear, so I sent a note to Raoul, telling him I had to talk to you after the performance before I made any final decisions.
   “Then the night came, and I was in costume and began my role as Marguerite. I sang for you, and I looked for you. I searched your box and the catwalks, but I couldn’t see you anywhere. I knew you were there though; I could feel you all around me. I even called out to you several times.
   “As I waited in the wings for my cue, I thought about what everyone had said, including you. During the prior days, the more I tried to understand my feelings for you the more confused I became. But, at that moment, with only the essence of your music in my head, instead of everyone’s voices, everything came together—everything harmonized—everything made sense.
   “I no longer questioned if I loved you or not. I didn’t think about how you’d be hurt if I didn’t go back to you, but I did know how much I missed you and how much I’d be hurt if I didn’t go back to you. When I thought about never seeing you again, my heart ripped apart.
   “Then I thought about how I felt when I knew Raoul was going away on expedition, and I didn’t feel the same way about him. I would miss him, yes, but it wasn’t a feeling I couldn’t deal with. It was then that I realized I’d never be able to handle you being out of my life.
   “When the scene came and I was in Foust’s arms, I wanted them to be yours—not Raoul’s, but yours. Then I pictured you in the audience watching me in another man’s embrace, and, knowing you loved me, I didn’t know how you could watch me that way and not go mad. I knew I would if I saw you in another woman’s arms.
   “My thoughts returned to Raoul and how I’d feel if he was in another woman’s arms, and I smiled; right there in the middle of a scene when I wasn’t supposed to be smiling. It became clear to me how the two ways I felt about you and Raoul were different.
   “I could watch on, even at his wedding, and I could be happy for him. I would still love him, but I could see him with another woman without jealousy. Now you, on the other hand, were a much different story. It would tear my heart out to see you married to another. I realized right then, with the chorus dancing and singing all around me, that what I’d been feeling for you was real love—a love such as I’d never known.
   “I almost missed one of my lines with that realization, and I turned and looked toward your box. I wanted to shout out my love to you and run to you. But then, it was your voice in my ear that kept me focused on what you wanted for my career. So I made the decision to sing my heart out for you and then run to you after the performance.”
   She looked down at my ring on her finger, fondled it, and then looked purposefully in my eyes.
   “You were right, Erik. You showed such wisdom when you sent me away for those two weeks. It was because of them that I realized my love for you, and that realization flooded in on me on that stage. Finally, I knew I needed you more than anything else in my life; not my music, not Raoul, not even my father. It was only you I wanted.”
   “Oh, Christine,” I whispered while forcing back tears. “If I’d only known.”
   She smiled softly at me and then went on. “Then the prison scene came, and I thought I must have passed out. But, when I came to in your home, I was completely baffled with the way you were acting. It was as if I didn’t know you. You were entirely different. Then all my doubts came in on me again, and I once more thought about Raoul’s and Oded’s warnings about the powers you possessed.
   “When you started showing me those powers, I again became perplexed and frightened. But then you swayed in and out of being the kind and loving Erik I’d come to love and the frightening and powerful man I’d feared. Everything Oded said swam around me as I watched firsthand your rage unleashed. The struggle between my heart and mind was torturing me more than you were.
   “Confusion isn’t a sufficient word to describe how I really felt during those hours. It was as if I was in the middle of a monstrous nightmare where I couldn’t hold onto anything, not even one sensible thought. I felt I’d gone mad and what was happening to me was only in my head.
   “I wanted to leave this earth and be with my father and mother in heaven. Thinking I could make that happen, I repeatedly slammed my head against the bricks. Then I heard Raoul and Oded in the next room, and Oded started instructing me on what to do and say. He kept telling me he knew you well, and, if I did what he said, we could all be saved.
   “As you know, once you discovered they were in your home, things escalated to a point that I thought for sure our world was coming to an end. But then you were on your knees in front of me like a little child begging for mercy. With the look in your eyes and the sound of your voice, I could tell you were being tortured as well. I knew then that what I was feeling was true and abiding love, and I had to touch you and to kiss you.”
   She paused and took a deep breath, and I also closed my eyes as I relived those special moments of realization. After another sigh, she continued.
   “I was terribly bewildered, but became even more so as I watched you work for hours to save both your friend and your enemy. I first watched your anguish and then your tenderness, and, even though you’d done such terrible things to us all, once you were calmed, you became my Angel again, and I still had those feelings that I couldn’t lose you no matter what you’d done.
   “But then things got worse when you told me you were dying, and I feared the nightmare was going to continue on and on forever. All I could do was cry. I couldn’t believe what you were telling me. I couldn’t believe that I’d at last found true love and that it was going to be lost. I couldn’t bear the thought of being without you; even if it was only for a short time.
   “Then you asked me to wear your ring again, and I couldn’t speak, my heart was breaking for you and your evident pain. I could only comply with your wishes, since those were mine as well. Except, I didn’t want to leave you, I wanted to spend what days you had left with you as your real wife. But your words were so masterful that I had to obey them.
   “I felt as if I was being carried along by a swift current, and I had no way to stop it. I could only sit there helplessly as I watched in wonder while you rescued Raoul and Oded and then nursed them as a loving mother would a small child. Even Raoul, who I knew you considered an enemy, you cared for with great gentleness.
   “None of what I was feeling or seeing made any sense. You were treating them so gently with those caring hands that only minutes earlier had wreaked destruction on your music room. If the remains of that devastation weren’t still in sight, I would have convinced myself that I’d only imagined it. But it was there, and I couldn’t ignore the contrast.
   “As I watched you, I felt this couldn’t be happening. One person couldn’t be capable of being so entirely different within just minutes; it wasn’t possible. But then I again thought of Oded’s words about your drastic contrasts.
   “Once more, I was incredibly confused, and I could do no more than what either you or Raoul told me to do. My mind and thoughts were no longer my own. I can’t explain how I felt inside my head. I couldn’t think any longer. I was sad and exhausted in every respect. Therefore, I simply followed your instruction to leave with Raoul.”
   I closed my eyes and shook my head in disgust at all the hurt I’d caused her. “There’s no need to continue, I understand completely how confused you were.”
   “But you also need to understand why I went to the lake to find you, and, more importantly, how I’m no longer confused and never will be again. Please, let me finish. I promise my explanation is almost over.
   “Once I was back with Mummy, I fell into a deep depression, and I didn’t leave my bed for two days. I couldn’t eat, and I wouldn’t see or talk to anyone; not Mummy and not Raoul. When I finally did agree to see him, he was beside himself with anxiety, and he just couldn’t understand my depressed state. He felt I should be happy and relieved to be rid of you. I couldn’t explain to him why I was so despondent. I didn’t even try.
   “He was determined to take my mind off of what had happened and to make things better for me. He stayed in a good mood despite his occasional glances at your ring on my finger. He took me on carriage rides and to dinner and to visit friends and museums, but nothing worked. He even took me to Oded’s flat, hoping the truths he knew about you would help me realize that what was happening was for the best. But everything he told us about you made me hurt even more.
   “Then Raoul showed up at Mummy’s early this morning and told me to prepare for a nice breakfast and a day that was going to be so special that it would wipe all my cares away. He asked me to pack a bag with a change of clothes that would be appropriate for a picnic later on that day. I didn’t want to do anything other than sleep, and I told him so. But he was insistent and begged me to give him just one more day to make me feel better. Too exhausted to argue or care about anything, I finally did what he’d asked.
   “I cried at breakfast when he ordered omelets. All I could think about was how much fun it was when you taught me how to make yours. After breakfast, we went for a ride along the Seine, and I cried the entire way. My heart only heard you telling me about a beautiful river in Russia. He didn’t even ask me why I was crying.”
   She cocked her head and looked into my eyes. “But you know the real reason for my tears. You know without asking me, don’t you?”
   I nodded, remembering all our rides along that river and all our conversations.
   “When we went to his home, he showed me around the estate and where I could change for the picnic. Again, I did what he said without argument. We went for a ride in the country and had a picnic under a tree, while he talked about the plans he’d made for our wedding and honeymoon.”
   My hands were beginning to tighten around my knees as I pictured Raoul’s arrogance, so, while trying to control my tone and without looking at her, I asked, “Christine, are you sure you want to tell me this?”
   She rested her cheek against the back of the divan, and I could tell she was watching me. Then, taking an exhausted breath, she responded, “Yes, Erik. It’s necessary for you to understand everything. I’ll try to be quick. Please try to be patient.”
   Knowing that patience wasn’t my strongest quality, I had to remind myself that she deserved whatever she needed from me. If it was patience she wanted, that’s what I’d give her.
   “He had everything all planned, with the exception of the date. I agreed to everything he said. It didn’t matter to me what the details were. I felt dead inside and as if I was in some type of void. The only spark of life I felt was from memories of our conversations during our carriage rides. I looked at the trees and remembered all the things you told me about them, and I pictured the life in your eyes that made me start to cry again.
   “Eventually, we went back to his home, and he showed me where I could rest and prepare for the evening. He gave me a large box that had that dress I was wearing earlier in it, and told me to put it on for an evening of music and dining. A few hours later, I was dressed, but I couldn’t bear to spend more time with him, so I decided to tell him to take me home.
   “By the time I reached the bottom of the stairs, he was standing in the foyer with Marcel, his butler. His back was to me, and he was reading a letter in his hands. I remember grabbing my heart, fearing it was the notification about your death.
   “Raoul began giving Marcel instructions, but I only heard one word, honeymoon. I gasped and dropped my satchel. That one word made me feel sick inside, not at all what I knew a bride should feel. It, and fear of what that letter contained, caused more tears, and I asked Raoul to take me home. ‘Nonsense,’ he said as he put the letter on the entrance table and walked toward me. ‘All you need is an evening out. So stop these tears and let’s have fun.’
     “I remember looking at him and shaking my head. He had no idea the amount of pain I was in, and, from his tone, he didn’t care about it either. He took my arm and started directing me toward the door. I looked at the letter and asked him what it was about. He put my cloak over my shoulders and told me it was only a business matter and not to worry about it. I looked at him and the letter as Marcel handed Raoul his hat and gloves, and I knew he was lying to me.
   “He took my arm again, and, after telling Marcel to remember his instructions, we started down the path toward the carriage. But I planted my feet and told him I wouldn’t go any farther until he stopped treating me like a mindless child and told me the truth. I could tell he was angry with me for my outburst, but he smiled and asked me not to spoil his surprise. He said after we had our special dinner he would tell me about the surprise that would lead to our splendid future. I was terrified to hear that the letter was announcing your death, so when he sounded so optimistic about what the letter contained, I went along with whatever he wanted to do.
   “He took me to a Shakespearean play and then what was to be a romantic dinner where he ordered my favorite foods. Knowing I loved the music from Romeo et Juliette, he had the musicians play most of the score. But when they played the wedding night duet, I couldn’t stop crying. I considered that piece our duet, but he couldn’t understand.
   “I looked away from him, trying not to let him know how much I was hurting. Then I couldn’t hide the tears, but, by the expression on his face, I don’t think he had any idea why I was crying. I think he must have thought I was simply touched by the evening and the music. He was so wrong, and it was then that I fully realized he never really understood me; my needs or my music.
   “I watched, as if I was in another world, when he pulled my engagement ring from his pocket. He slid it on my finger, and I mindlessly gazed as your gold band disappeared beneath the large stones. But the final breaking point was when he said, ‘See, my ring overshadows his simple gold band just as my love will overshadow the memory of him.’”
   My eyes had been closed for some time, while I listened not only to her words but also my increasing breaths. However, with her last words, I could hold my tongue no longer.
   “Christine, I certainly hope this tale will take a turn soon, because, at this moment, I’m not feeling anything good.”
   Her words were gentle as she pleaded, “Patience, Erik, please.” Then she tried again. “I looked at the stunningly handsome man before me, with his eyes full of love, and at his fingers as they slid the beautiful ring on my finger. I was looking at him, but all I could see was you. I saw his lips smile and move, but all I could hear was your voice talking to me, singing to me. I saw you in the reflection in the mirror.
   “My hand was in his, but all I could feel was your strong and yet gentle hand holding mine each time you helped me out of your boat. I looked in his eyes, so happy and gay, but all I could see was the wonder in yours as we talked and sang.
   “He squeezed my hand and spoke my name, knowing I wasn’t paying attention to him, but all I could hear was my name being spoken by you—from the very first time to the very last time. No one could ever speak my name the way you did. I could see the string quartet playing, and all I could hear was your violin and your music.”
   By that point in her explanation, I was no longer looking down at my fingers twisting themselves. I was once again looking right into her eyes as she expressed her deep feelings that brought her back to me, and my own eyes began to moisten.
   “I love you, Christine.”
   I reached for her hand again, allowing our fingers to intertwine while she finished her story—taken from the pages of a poetic opera.
   “I knew then that I had to be with you. The thought of you being down here all alone and dying, or, worse yet, dead, was more than I could take. If you were still alive, I had to spend as much time as I could with you, so I jumped up and ran out of the restaurant, without a word of explanation to Raoul.”
   Her words melted me, and I wanted to grab her and hold her tightly, but I felt I didn’t have the right; not then, not after what I’d done to her. Then the thought of Raoul bursting into my home again sunk in, and I began to question her.
   “Then we should expect him here at any time, don’t you think, Christine?”
   With a soft sigh, she replied, “I don’t know. He’ll probably look for me at Mummy’s first, but then, I don’t know. Well, maybe. I guess so, but it doesn’t matter, Erik.”
   I got to my feet and moved toward the door leading to the lake, not remembering if I’d closed it securely, then I turned toward her. “It matters if you want both him and me to live through this night. You do want that, don’t you, Christine?”
   She looked at me peaceably and smiled contentedly, but I was far from contented. I was irritated with his arrogance, and it showed in my tone.
   “I picture him getting angrier by the minute. I suppose I’ll really have to watch my back now. One of his bullets in it is enough.”
   Her head came up quickly and she shook it. “He won’t do that. He said he was only acting in self-defense. He said you were in his home and preparing to kill him.”
   “What?” I shouted. “I wasn’t in his home and I wasn’t going to kill him. I was outside and walking away. I’d hardly call that self-defense.”
   “Then why were you there?”
   While still standing at the door, I lowered my head and took a deep breath. “I don’t know. I have to claim temporary insanity—I guess. I’d been gone from the city for four days, and I began imagining all sorts of things. I couldn’t find you here, and you weren’t with Madame Valerius. I couldn’t even find you at any of the nice restaurants, so I began thinking Raoul had used his time alone with you and seduced you into his bed. I was going…”
   She actually growled and cut me off. “Men! Oh! You all anger me so.” She slammed her fists down into the divan, jumped to her feet, and stormed toward the dining table, all the while twisting the fabric of her skirt and grumbling with intermittent exclamatory words in between.
   “You all act as if all women are weak-minded and weak-willed. Do you all think that little of us? Oh! I get so angry. We’re not that easily seduced. I’ve known about that look in a man’s eyes from the time I was a child, and no man has ever been successful at seducing me. Oh!” she grumbled again.
   “All right, Christine. I’m sorry. You need to sit back down,” I said while walking toward the divan.
   “See! You’re even doing it now. Telling me what I need to do, as if I have to have someone tell me when to stand and when to sit. Oh! Why do you treat us this way? Do you think you’re the only ones with a brain—the only ones who can make decisions?”
   I spread my arms out from my sides, not knowing how to respond without her biting my head off, so I shrugged my shoulders. “What do you want me to say?”
   She looked harshly at me and kept pacing, while I sat quietly, waiting for her to calm down. Gradually, her steps slowed, then she huffed and sat, but not on the divan with me. She sat in my chair and slowly shook her head.
   “Men!” she finally, exclaimed. “Well, are you going to respond to anything I said?”
   “Only if you want me to,” I answered guardedly.
   She lowered her eyes to her hands in her lap and spoke calmly. “I’m sorry for losing my temper, but sometimes I get so angry with men and the way they treat women—as if we’re nothing more than a piece of property that they can place here or there and expect us to stay put.”
   Guardedly, I responded. “I can understand your anger but not its degree. I sense you’re speaking from personal experience—painful personal experience. I’m almost afraid to ask what planted these angry seeds so deeply in you.”
   She looked in my eyes for a few moments and then slowly shook her head. “It was so long ago. I think it’s my farthest memory. I remember being at a fair and watching my father playing his violin in front of a group of people. I was holding my mother’s hand, and then a man appeared beside her and began talking to her. I looked up into his face and felt fear. I clutched my mother’s leg as she told him to go away.
   “He looked down at me, and the look in his eyes frightened me terribly. Then he started touching my mother’s arm. She yelled at him and grabbed my arm so tightly it hurt. Then she started pushing me in front of her through the crowd. But the man grabbed her arm and began pulling her, and me, toward some trees.
   “My mother began screaming so loudly it hurt my ears, and I also began screaming. The next thing I knew the man was on the ground and my father was on top of him, hitting him in the face repeatedly. He kept hitting him until there was blood everywhere, and then I heard a loud whistle. After that, another man pulled my father away from that scary man.
   “I don’t remember much more, except for my mother and father talking with black bars between them. Then I remember sitting with my mother in a room that smelled really bad and her telling me I was a good girl for screaming. She said my voice was my best weapon, and to always use it if I was frightened. I remember her saying that clearly because I couldn’t understand how my voice could be a weapon. The last thing I remember about that occasion was watching my father walk toward us, but I see that man’s eyes in my nightmares often.”
   “What a horrible experience for a little girl,” I offered. “I’m sorry.”
   She nodded and continued, “Years later, after my mother died, I asked my father what she meant about my voice being a weapon, and he concurred. He explained how there might be men who wanted to harm me, and that I should always scream if I was frightened. I never forgot those instructions or the look in that man’s eyes.
   “I can remember the first time I saw a similar look. It was after my father died and I started attending the conservatory. At that time, there were certain older students and eventually even teachers who had a similar expression in their eyes when they looked at me. I was repulsed by it and shunned them. As I got older, it got worse. I’d try to stay away from the ones who had that look. I preferred staying in the company of the other girls, even though I didn’t like the way they treated me either.
   “By the time I came to the opera house and saw everything that went on here, I understood exactly what that expression meant, and I again felt so repulsed by it. I saw men treat some of the chorus girls just like that man had treated my mother, and I watched them take them by the arm and lead them into another room—like chattel.”
   She actually shivered, scrunched her shoulders, and wrapped her arms around her chest after that description, and I also felt repulsed by it.
   “Some of those men were prominent in the city; government officials, business men, even married men, and I hated all of it. That’s why I rarely went to any of the after performance gatherings. That’s when I saw that disgusting behavior the most, and I wanted nothing to do with it.”
   There was silence in the room for a few moments. I didn’t know what to say. Her story left me without words.
   “Even Raoul has treated me that same way, but I knew him and considered him a friend, so I could handle it. I’d simply change the subject and move away from him when he’d looked at me or touch me that way.”
   She looked at me, and, when she continued, her tone had changed. “And then there was you. You also looked at me that way, but not at first. Your first looks were similar to my father’s, and that’s one reason why I was so confused by you. Then by the time you started giving me those looks, that at one time repulsed me, I no longer recoiled from them. I wanted them, and I wanted you.
   “I wanted you to take me by the arm and lead me to my room. I wanted to be your chattel. I wanted you to kiss me passionately. At that time, I knew I was deliberately trying to seduce you, but you never responded the way I wanted you to. I mean, look what just happened by the lake. I actually asked you to take me and you still didn’t. I guess I wasn’t good enough at seduction to capture you.”
   I shook my head adamantly and chuckled. “Oh, no, Christine, you were very good at it, and it’s taken everything I’ve had not to take advantage of you at those times. Those cold baths in the lake—they were to cool down my passion, not to clean my body. Oh, no,” I said as I shook my head again.
   “What!” she exclaimed as she sat forward. “You lied to me?”
   “Not exactly. The idea of a bath was your idea—not mine. I just went along with it. At any rate, you’re very good at the art of seduction, but I love you too much to let us satisfy our passion before the right time.”
   “When will be the right time, Erik?”
   I nodded toward her hands in her lap. “When you’re wearing that ring for the right reason. There’s been times when I couldn’t help but overhear some of your prayers. I can tell you have a strong belief in God, and I know what the Bible says about fornication. I couldn’t and I can’t do anything to give you a troubled conscience. It’s too precious. I’ve seen and experienced personally the sad effects of a bad one. I love you too much to do that to you.”
   “Hmm,” she said in thought while gazing at me. “We’ve talked so much during these months, and yet that one important subject we steered away from. That’s a shame. I can see where things could have been different if we had.
   “That day when I was putting the combs in my hair and you were standing behind me, I almost brought it up. That day is the day when I knew I loved you and wanted to spend the rest of my life with you. For you, I’d gladly bow my head and become your chattel. You were the only man I’ve ever wanted to be with—the only man who could look at me that way without me feeling sickened. When you looked at me that way, I wanted you to take me in your arms and kiss me. I wanted you to take me to my bed and make love to me. You made me want to carry your child within me.”
   I closed my eyes with a deep sigh and visualized what those precious words meant. Then, with my heart beating only for her, I gazed at her for a few moments.
   “Would you think I was demeaning you if I asked you to come over here and sit by me?”
   She smiled and shook her head. “Asking and telling are two different things.”
   So she got up and moved next to me, curling up under my arm and against my chest. She looked so small and helpless curled up there—my poor Christine. I looked deeply into her beautiful blue eyes and ran my fingers down her soft cheek.
   I was extremely concerned about another confrontation with Raoul; not because of him or me but because of her. She’d been through so much in the past few months, and the thought of her witnessing any more harsh words or hatful actions was unthinkable. I knew we had to make a decision about our next move quickly, but, when she expressed her love for me in that way, my only thoughts were to hold her and tell her how much I loved her.
   My fingers, that could have snapped her delicate neck while on the other side of the lake, once more found their way to her slender throat and guided her silent lips to mine where they stayed for some time. My earlier feelings of lust were replaced with nothing but warm and comforting love for her. I held her gently in my arms and smothered my face in her neck, while my lips tried, unsuccessfully I’m afraid, to express what I was feeling in my heart.
   There weren’t words to convey how much I loved everything about her—my savior—my Christine.