Meeting a Masked Stranger at the Paris Opera
In the Eye of the Beholder
Sharon E. Cathcart
When French equestrian Claire Delacroix loses her fiancé in a tragic accident, she comes to live at the Paris Opera during its 1890s heyday. Life is not easy for a woman in fin de siècle France, where her rights are determined by a male guardian. Claire, both intelligent and independent, chafes under the strictures of her time.
Whilst working at the opera, she meets a mysterious, masked stranger: Erik. Is it possible that the two of them will heal the pain of each other's past?
Updated for 2015 with glossaries of equestrian terms and French words used in the text.
I felt a little swept away and once I started reading, it was hard to stop. - Romance, Old School
The characters captivated me. I ended up thinking of Claire as an actual person. - J. Timothy King, author of "From The Ashes of Courage"
“You like beautiful things,” he whispered.
“Of course,” I responded in surprise. “Most people do.”
“Then how can you bear to look on me,” he responded, still whispering. As the carriage moved away, he opened the drape to let the light in and reveal his unmasked face to me.
The left side of his face, his entire mouth, and jaw ... all were so handsome that they would take the breath away from an angel. The right side, though, was discolored and twisted. A port wine birthmark discolored skin so thin and fragile that lumps of misshapen bone and delicate blue veins could be seen through it. His left eye was fringed with thick black lashes; the right was barely lidded and sunken in the socket, but was the same soul-filled green-gold as its twin. The right side of his nose was also damaged, the soft nare non-existent.
“Look on this monster, and tell me again how you care more for the soul than the face,” he said in a ragged voice.
“One moment,” I said. I rapped on the roof of the carriage to get the driver’s attention. “Instead of going on the green-grocer’s just now, could we take a drive around the Tower site? I have so few opportunities to go for a drive. I should like to take my time.”
The driver called his assent, and I looked back at Erik. I did not drop my eyes, nor did I cower in fright.
“Well?” His mouth was twisted in that cynical smile again.
“Erik, I don’t know where to start. I know about Madame de Chagny ...”
The moment I mentioned the comtesse, I was sorry. Something in his face closed away from me, and yet I could not take the words back.
“She was beautiful ... is beautiful. And she was a child. I have seen so much more of life.” I reached out to touch the damaged side of his face. “This does not frighten me, Erik. Not in the slightest.”
He leaned his cheek into my gloved hand, and surprised me by pressing his lips to my wrist through the buttonhole of my glove. I emitted a small moan of pleasure at the gesture.
“You enjoyed that.” He drew away from my touch and slipped his mask back into place. “I have never known a woman, but I have read many texts from the Middle East. Some of them tell of ways to pleasure a woman.”
He moved to the other side of the carriage then, and the moment was gone. Unfortunately for me, the feeling of his mouth on my wrist was not.
“The Tower,” he mused as he looked out the window. “Eiffel’s monstrosity will be the ruination of this City. Mark my words, mademoiselle; when the twenty years for this permit is gone, the people of Paris will demand that this eyesore be razed to the ground.”
Award-winning author Sharon E. Cathcart (she/her) writes historical fiction with a twist!
A former journalist and newspaper editor, Sharon has been writing for as long as she can remember and always has at least one work in progress. She is a member of the Archaeological Institute of America, Sisters in Crime and the Historical Novel Society.
Sharon lives in the Silicon Valley, California, with her very patient husband and several rescue cats.