Gabriels redemption, p.11
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       Gabriels Redemption, p.11

         Part #3 of Gabriels Inferno series by Sylvain Reynard
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Page 11


  Julia blushed and he pulled her into his side, chuckling.

  He still had the ability to make her blush, a feat in which he took no little pride. And he’d done more than make her blush a few days previous when they’d tangoed against a wall in the British Museum.

  (The Elgin Marbles had yet to recover from their shock. )

  The Emersons arrived at St. Anne’s College just prior to the beginning of the first session. Inside, a group of fifty academics were milling about the refreshment tables, sipping tea and enjoying cookies while chatting about the extraordinary world of Dante studies.

  (For indeed, that world was much more interesting than it appeared to outsiders. )

  Gabriel poured Julia some tea before helping himself to coffee. He introduced her to two prominent Oxford professors of his acquaintance as they sipped their drinks.

  When it was time to enter the lecture theater, Gabriel placed his hand at the small of Julia’s back, urging her forward. She took two steps before she stopped.

  A familiar and careless laugh filled her ears, the source of the laughter visible a few feet away. In the center of a group of old and young men dressed primarily in tweed was a raven-haired beauty, holding court. She was tall and lithe, her attractive form clad in a fitted black jacket and skirt. Four-inch heels made her long legs even longer.

  (For once in his life, the Professor regarded a pair of elegant designer shoes with something other than appreciation. )

  The woman’s laugh was curtailed when a man with black hair and very tanned skin began whispering something in her ear, his eyes focusing on the Emersons.

  “Fuck,” said Gabriel, under his breath.

  He offered Christa Peterson and Professor Giuseppe Pacciani a thunderous look, while Julia catalogued the reactions of the men who stood nearby. As her eyes drifted from one to the next, a terrible and sinking feeling washed over her.

  More than one man stared back at her, their eyes resting longer than was appropriate on her breasts and hips. She released Gabriel’s hand and buttoned up her suit jacket so that it covered more of her chest.

  A look of visible disappointment marked several of the men’s appraisals. Clearly Julia didn’t live up to their expectations of a young and delectable graduate student, a woman who’d slept with her professor and become enmeshed in a scandal.

  “I’m settling this once and for all. ” Gabriel surged forward, but Julia dug her fingers into his arm, pressing into the wool of his suit as well as his flesh.

  “Can I talk to you for a minute?” she whispered.

  “After. ”

  “You can’t,” Julia hissed. “Not here. ”

  “Trouble in Paradise?” Christa’s smug voice reverberated in the room. “I guess the honeymoon didn’t last very long. ”

  She fixed her eyes, catlike, on Julia, her attractive mouth curling into a sneer. “Not that I’m surprised. ”

  Julia tried to pull Gabriel away, but he stood his ground, his body vibrating with anger.

  “I’d like a word, Miss Peterson. ”

  Christa inched closer to Professor Pacciani. She made a show of appearing to be intimidated by Gabriel.

  “Not after what happened in Toronto. If you have something to say you’ll have to say it in front of witnesses. ”

  From the safety of Pacciani’s side, she leaned forward, dropping her voice. “It isn’t in your interest to make a scene, Gabriel. I found out a few things after you resigned, such as your involvement in BDSM. I didn’t know that Professor Ann Singer was your Domme. ”

  A hush fell over those closest to the antagonists, their eyes shifting from Christa to Gabriel.

  Julia took his hand in hers and tugged. “Let’s go. Please. ”

  Despite Gabriel’s fury he was conscious, all too conscious, of the now rapt attention of his peers. Still, it took every ounce of his self-control not to lunge forward and seize Christa by the throat.

  Stifling a curse, he turned abruptly and took a single step away from his former student.

  “I’m looking forward to your paper, Julianne. ” Christa lifted her voice so more people could hear. “It’s unusual for a first-year student to be included in such an important conference. However did you manage it?”

  Julia paused, looking at Christa over her shoulder.

  “Professor Picton invited me. ”

  “Really?” Christa appeared puzzled. “Wouldn’t it have been better to invite Gabriel to speak? I mean, you’re probably repeating things you learned from him. Or maybe he simply wrote your paper for you. ”

  “I do my own research. ” Julia’s voice was quiet but steely.

  “I’m sure you do. ” Christa made a point of glancing at Gabriel’s back. “But your ‘research’ can’t help you write a lecture. Unless you’re planning to tell us about all the professors you slept with in order to get into Harvard. ”

  Gabriel swore and released Julia’s hand. He turned around, casting furious eyes in Christa’s direction.

  “That’s enough. You don’t speak to my wife. Do you understand?”

  “Temper, temper, Gabriel. ” Christa’s dark eyes shone with perverse amusement.

  “It’s Professor Emerson,” he snapped.

  Julia blocked his path with her body.

  “Let’s go. ” She placed a light hand on his chest, just under his bow tie.

  “Get out of my way. ” He looked like a dragon preparing to breathe fire.

  “For me,” she begged, her expression pleading.

  Before Gabriel could open his mouth, an authoritative voice sounded at his elbow.

  “What is the meaning of this?”

  Katherine Picton stood to his right, her white hair short and impeccably styled, her gray-blue eyes flashing behind her glasses. She eyed Professor Pacciani with distaste before turning her attention to Christa.

  “Who are you?”

  Christa’s posture shifted from defensive to ingratiating. She extended her hand.

  “I’m Christa Peterson, from Columbia. We met at the University of Toronto. ”

  Katherine ignored the proffered hand. “I’m familiar with the faculty at Columbia. You aren’t one of them. ”

  Christa reddened, withdrawing her hand. “I’m a graduate student. ”

  “Then don’t present yourself as anything else,” Katherine snapped. “You aren’t from Columbia. You attend Columbia. I repeat, why are you here?”

  When Christa didn’t respond, Professor Picton stepped closer, raising her voice.

  “Are you hard of hearing? I asked you a question. What are you doing at my conference, insulting my guests?”

  Christa almost faltered, feeling the energy in the room shift under Professor Picton’s antipathy. Even Professor Pacciani took a step back.

  “I’m here to attend your lecture, like everyone else. ”

  Katherine straightened to her full five feet and looked up at the much taller and half-century younger graduate student.

  “Your name isn’t on the guest list. I certainly didn’t invite you. ”

  “Professor Picton, excuse me. The young lady is a friend. ” Professor Pacciani smoothly interceded. He bowed and moved to kiss Professor Picton’s hand, but she waved at him dismissively.

  “As a companion of yours, Giuseppe, her attendance might be excusable. But barely. ” She glared at him. “You need to teach her some manners. ”

  Katherine turned to address Christa directly.

  “I know the havoc you wreaked in Toronto. Your lies almost destroyed my department. You’ll follow the rules of decorum here, or I’ll have you removed. Do you understand?”

  Without waiting for a response, Katherine began scolding Pacciani in fluid Italian, pointing out in no uncertain terms that if his friend made her guests’ visit unpleasant in any way, she would hold him personally responsible.

  She added that she had a perfect and unforgiving memory.

  (It s
hould be mentioned that she was correct. )

  “Capisce?” She glared at him through her glasses.

  “Certo, Professor. ” He bowed, his face drawn and angry.

  “I’m the injured party,” Christa protested. “When I was in Toronto, Gabriel—”

  “Codswallop,” Katherine spat. “I’m old, not senile. I recognize a woman scorned when I see one. And so should everyone else. ” At this, Katherine directed her scathing expression to the men who had surrounded Christa, eager to give ear to her gossip.

  “What’s more, inviting yourself to an invitation-only event is unprofessional in the extreme. This isn’t a fraternity party. ”

  Professor Picton looked around the room once more, pausing as if to challenge anyone to contradict her. Under her withering stare, the prurient onlookers began shuffling their feet and backing away.

  Seemingly satisfied, she turned her attention back to Miss Peterson and lifted her chin. “I believe I’m quite finished. ”

  With that, she favored Christa with her back. The other occupants of the room stood by, somewhat shell-shocked by just having witnessed the academic equivalent of a mud-wrestling match, handily won by a small (but feisty) septuagenarian.

  “My dear friends, it’s good to see you. How was your flight?” Katherine placed her arm around Julia’s stiff shoulders, giving her a fraternal squeeze, before shaking Gabriel’s hand.

  “The flight was fine. We spent a few days in London before arriving by train. ” Gabriel kissed Professor Picton’s cheek. He tried to force a smile but failed.

  “I’m not impressed with the fact that they’ve admitted riffraff. ” Katherine sniffed. “I must speak to the conference organizers. It’s bad enough that you young people should be subjected to such a person, but to have to endure her in public. What a ridiculous girl. ”

  Professor Picton’s aged eyes quickly took in Julia’s expression of distress, and her demeanor softened.

  “I’ll buy you a drink this evening, Julianne. I think it’s time for us to have a little chat. ”

  The professor’s words jarred Julia out of her quietude. A thinly veiled expression of terror flashed across her features.

  Gabriel grasped her around the waist. “That’s very generous, Katherine, but why don’t you join us for dinner, instead?”

  “Thank you, I’d enjoy that. But I’ll speak to Julianne first. ” She turned to her former student, her expression kind. “Come and find me after the last lecture and we’ll walk to The Bird and Baby. ”

  Professor Picton took her leave and was immediately surrounded by several academic admirers.

  It took a moment for Julia to regain her composure, but when she did, she leaned against Gabriel.

  “I’m so embarrassed. ”

  “I’m sorry Katherine interrupted when she did. I would have liked to say a few words. ”

  Julia began wringing her hands. “I never should have answered Christa. We should have walked away. ”

  Gabriel’s expression tightened. He looked around, then brought his mouth close to her ear. “You stood up for yourself, which was the right thing to do. And I’m not going to stand there and let her call you a whore. ”

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