Ch 1 – An Engagement, Not a Crime

Paris, 1871

I am driven to commit to paper that which I dare not reveal in public, but which occupies my thoughts both night and day. Once I have completed my tale, I intend to conceal this manuscript and speak portions of the truth to a few carefully chosen individuals. May the rest be lost to history.

I wish that my story had a simple, happy ending: "Reader, I married him," or "They lived happily ever after." But such uncomplicated finales are for books. Real life is more complicated by far, as I have recently learned to my joy and sorrow.

For too long I lived in a sheltered, fairytale world. Although I am in my late teens and of marriageable age, I lived in the dream world of the Paris Opera House for 11 years. Actresses and women on the stage may have a reputation for improper behavior, but for those of us in the Ballet Corps, the life was more like that in a convent.

Rising early – lessons – practice – more lessons – rehearsals – fittings – routines, and always keeping to a strict schedule – then to bed early, exhausted by the day's efforts. Life was especially constrained for the younger members of the Corps, like Meg Giry and I, who fell at all times under the watchful eye of Mme Giry, Meg's mother.

Raoul took me away from all that. Away from home, from a life on the stage…and away from him. I thought that was what I wanted. I thought that was all I wanted. I was convinced of it.

Until it became a reality.

Raoul is a good man. Honest, brave, kind, and generous. But his experience of the world has been so vastly different from mine (which has really amounted to no experience at all), that, in hindsight, some problems were inevitable.

I had the first inkling that all was not well in my world; that my soul was now divided, in Raoul's carriage immediately after the Opera House fire.

We had escaped from the burning building to a scene of chaos and confusion. Not only was the Opera House on fire, but Paris was a city in the middle of a great uprising, and currently at war with itself. People were running in all directions, shouting, screaming, firing shots. The Fire Brigade had been called but the Opera House still burned.

Raoul's main thought was to get me as far away as possible. He was soaked to the skin, the wound on his shoulder had opened again, and I was still wearing the Phantom's wedding dress. On the outskirts of Paris, Raoul turned to me, and his words were not what I was expecting – but then, people in shock can do and say strange things, I am told.

"Why did you go back?"

At first I was not certain what he meant.

"What? Back where?"

"To him. After he let us go."

"I told you…to give him back his ring."

"That was my ring. Your ring. Ours. The one I gave you."

Until that time, it hadn't occurred to me that R. might be hurt by the gesture. I realized how thoughtless I'd been, and I felt defensive, which was unfair of me.

"I thought he should have a keepsake."

"Whatever for?"

I stared at him. "You have me. He spent countless hours coaching me, training my voice. Was it wrong to give him a token to remember me by?"

His fine jaw tightened. "The man tried to kill me."

"I know." I put my hand on his arm. "I'm so sorry."

We sat in silence for awhile.

"Was it him you were hiding the engagement from?"

It had been. I hadn't known why at the time. I was frightened and confused, and not used to conflicting emotions. I was still frightened and confused.

"Raoul…are you jealous?"

"I don't know." Tersely.

"It was wrong of me," I admitted. "But now things are all right, aren't they?"

The cloud on his brow broke, thank heaven, and he looked over at me, his expression full of love and hope once again.

"Yes. Things have never been more right."

I leaned on his shoulder, gently, and he kissed the top of my head. He was smiling again, and my mood lifted. We continued to drive out to the country, to his mother's chateau, but a tiny seed of worry had entered my mind.