It was his idea, originally.
Christine couldn’t recall if she’d ever even been to a conservatory before, but Erik made the idea seem so delightful and magical that she practically begged him to take her. Thus, with a twinkle in his eye and those gorgeous long fingers held out to her in an invitation, Christine donned a light pink dress with silk roses sewn into it along with a parasol and a feathered hat, and accepted his invitation by slipping her fingers through his.
He was dressed rather like a dandy, she thought, as they walked along the river. With a top hat and cravat, he looked every bit the upright gentleman. If it weren’t for the porcelain mask covering the right side of his face, the scene would have been nothing short of a man taking his date out for a walk along the Seine. And, in a way, it was exactly that.
In the deep sunset of the Parisian August, as if the city itself understood that this was its last hurrah before the unforgiving chill of fall and winter, not a soul could be found. Save the few beggars and schoolboys roaming about, Erik had decided upon this time specifically so they could walk about virtually unseen. And as it neared nighttime, Christine was pleased to watch Erik transform as he became completely at ease in the night. She worried that if she was not careful, he might disappear completely. This was her reasoning for clutching so tightly to his side, at least. She chose not to look into the possible deeper meanings of that.
They eventually crossed the Seine, and as they walked through the outer gardens of the park, Christine had the oddest sensation that she had been transported to one of those fantasy novels Erik always read to her, the kind with swashbuckling heroes stranded on islands. She felt as though at any moment a brightly colored parrot or a sphinx would appear from the bushes, though the only strange and magical creature she encountered was the man beside her.
He was wearing gloves tonight, a development she wasn’t entirely pleased with. They were a white silk that felt soft between her fingers, though she couldn’t help yearning for more contact. His hands, the few times she’d felt them bare, were soft and had a practiced grace she loved to admire. Ah, well, she thought. If all goes well, the gloves will soon be a non-issue.
They soon stopped in front of an imposing glass building, barely lit by the last glimpses of sunlight. Behind it was another, white-bricked building with a copper-domed roof and several carved marble statues of various Greco-Roman gods near the roofline. The statue of Persephone in particular seemed to wink at Christine in a knowing way, as though the goddess shared a secret with her. Indeed, Erik was, in his own way, a kind of Hades.
Christine found herself staring at the imposing glass and wrought-iron doors of the building, and Erik situated himself behind her. He lightly rested his hands along her shoulders, and whispered sweetly in her ear, forcing a shudder of pleasure down her spine as he encircled her.
“What do you think, my dear?” he said lowly, as Christine struggled to take a full breath.
“Gorgeous,” she breathed, her cheeks pink despite the lack of cold. In fact, it was a rather humid summer night, and Christine suddenly felt the need to dispel her shawl, though pride wouldn’t allow her to admit defeat.
With a flourish and an action Christine was quite sure was illegal, Erik opened the doors for her and placed an arm across her back to lead her inside.
What she saw was beyond her every expectation. The ceiling, which was surely as high as the Palais Garnier itself, had large palm trees brushing the top. Lush greenery of every kind filled the space, and in the brightly moonlit night, it was positively surreal. Dainty white and red orchids poked out of crevices between large bushes with teardrop-shaped leaves. Off of ancient bark sprang colorful fungus that looked almost like stair steps leading up to the canopy. A vine with miniature orange flowers in the shape of stars wound its way across several trees, dripping sunset-colored petals onto the stone floor. An artificial waterfall splashed from a high wall of stones, winding down to become a small stream under their feet as they crossed a small bridge.
As Christine watched in awe at the spectacle of flora around her, Erik watched her face with a look of pure adoration; each facial expression saved meticulously in his mind. He had never seen her look more beautiful, he thought, then now when she was completely, blissfully enchanted.
“Oh Erik,” she said, turning to him at last, “it’s beautiful!” Her eyes were sparkling, and she clasped her hands together as a child would in excitement. Erik had never found her more endearing.
“I’m glad you like it, mon ange ,” he practically purred, stepping closer to her. “But the full surprise is yet to come.”
He winked at her then, lifting his arm up in silent invitation for her to take it. He led her through the maze of greenery, traipsing through like he’d built the place. And knowing Erik, he probably had. He led her through to another section of the conservatory, where the glass walls gave way to marble, and a large reflecting pool was centered in the middle. Candles and rose petals floated along the water, unlit but still beautiful. Christine was mesmerized by their gentle movements, watching the flowers bob along to an invisible current.
Erik, who had been standing at her side, turned his head so that his lips nearly brushed her ear, and Christine fought back against the sudden shivers that shook through her.
“That’s not all,” he whispered, “my dearest Christine.”
He set a single finger beneath her chin and lifted it slowly, the movement so sensual and intimate she let out a small gasp. He lifted her head till she spotted what he meant, sucking in a breath as she looked.
At the other end of the reflecting pool was a wall made entirely of plants. Large vines and smaller trees wound their way to the top, with white and purple and red flowers like gemstones speckling the constant green. Birds, which softly cooed and chirped to each other, fluttered about, each one with wings of silk. They flit between branches, some climbing the wall while others milled about at ground-level. A few baby peacocks that would no doubt one day be released into the larger gardens someday, walked on the stone floor, occasionally dipping into the pool and rapidly shaking their tiny, feathered heads.
The ceiling, she soon realized, was glass, allowing moonlight to filter through. As she turned to Erik, she thought he had never looked so handsome. With a ravishing smile, she took deliberate steps closer to where he had moved across the room. This was a very precious gift he had given her indeed, and she intended to pay him back in full.
He seemed ready for her, watching with a captivated gaze as she slowly dropped her hat, parasol, and shawl, leaving her neckline exposed. She methodically plucked all the pins from her hair, allowing them to fall to the floor with a plink as she looked him straight in the eye.
“Thank you,” she began, speaking deliberately and slowly, drawing out the words; “for taking me here.” She got closer to him then, leaning up to whisper in his ear as he had done to her, earning herself a satisfying shiver from him. “It’s beautiful.”
Whether she was talking about the night or him was anybody’s guess, but they soon had no room for any more wordplay as Erik claimed a kiss from her. He nipped at her bottom lip, taking his time to savor her as one would a particularly good dessert. And indeed, the way she moaned as his fingers buried themselves deep in her hair was utterly beguiling.
He kissed his way along her neck, pushing her against the cold marble wall and placing a knee between her legs. She nudged his head back to hers, stealing a kiss before grasping his hands, bringing them up to her mouth. She slowly pulled the silk gloves off his long fingers, kissing the tips of them as she did so. Then she placed his hands on her cheeks, reveling in the comfort and warmth as he kissed her once more.
“Christine,” he whispered, letting his forehead rest against hers, “You are bewitching tonight. I fear I may fall too deep under your spell.”
“Would that be so bad?” she asked innocently, looking up at him with curious, wide eyes in feigned naiveté. He growled and kissed her neck once more, speaking into her ear.
“ No .”
He lifted her against the wall, making her gasp in delight as he kissed a trail across her neckline. He kissed each shoulder, sensually trailing his fingers down her spine all the while. Christine was so overwhelmed with sensation she had no choice but to allow him to all but ravish her against the marble.
He eventually set her down gently on the floor, more for comfort than out of tiredness, placing another reverent kiss that lingered on her lips. He carefully climbed into her lap, kissing her softly, slowly, deliberately.
“Christine,” he said again, her name sounding like a plea on his lips.
“Yes?” she whispered back, still breathless.
“You have ruined me forevermore. I fear I shall never be able to love another so long as you exist in my mind.”
She tilted her head at him then, asking a silent question he knew the answer to.
“But I can’t find it in me to care,” he growled, kissing her once more.
The rest of the night went leisurely, languidly, lovingly . For, under that full moon and surrounded by the fruits of the earth, they had all the time in the world.