Gabriels redemption, p.14
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       Gabriels Redemption, p.14
 

         Part #3 of Gabriels Inferno series by Sylvain Reynard  
Page 14

 

  “No, I’m not. ”

  “Good. ” Katherine sat back in her chair. “My next piece of advice will be a little bit more difficult to hear. ”

  Julia braced herself for the words to come.

  “You need to be more assertive, academically. I understand that it’s your nature to be shy and that you’d prefer to avoid confrontation. But in the academic arena, you cannot do that. When you deliver a paper and someone challenges you, you have to challenge him right back. You can’t sustain misguided or malicious criticisms, especially in public. Do you understand?”

  “I don’t seem to have trouble speaking up in my seminars. Professor Marinelli has been pleased. ”

  “Good. My advice is to be yourself tomorrow. Be bright. Be excellent. And don’t let yourself be ravaged by wolves like some diseased moose. ”

  Julia’s eyes widened at the strange reference, but she said nothing.

  “You mustn’t let your husband defend you, either. That will make you look weak. You need to defend yourself and your ideas if you’re going to be successful. Gabriel isn’t going to like that. But you must make him see that when he comes to your aid, he makes you look helpless, and that does more harm than good. Chivalry in academia is dead. ”

  Julia nodded a bit uncertainly.

  Katherine finished her pint.

  “Now, let’s see if Gabriel has managed to charm the old bastards of the Oxford Dante Society into forgetting what they might have heard this morning. ” She winked. “For some of them, what they heard would only make him more appealing. I’m afraid your husband is far more interesting than any of them could have imagined. ”

  Gabriel spent his time apart from Julianne wisely. He visited with old friends and new acquaintances at the King’s Arms pub, putting his silver tongue to good use. By the end of the hour, he’d succeeded in giving a half a dozen Dante specialists reason to think that Christa Peterson was a jealous ex-student and that he and Julia were the victims of slander.

  So it was with a markedly improved mood that he joined Professor Picton and Julia for dinner. Katherine spoke fluidly as the wine flowed, while Gabriel kept up his end of the conversation.

  Julia was quiet, even more so than usual, her large eyes tired. She merely picked at her dinner and couldn’t even be tempted by dessert. It was clear that the events of the day had caught up with her.

  When she excused herself to go to the ladies’ room, Katherine gave Gabriel a concerned look.

  “She needs rest. The poor girl is worn out. ”

  “Yes. ” Gabriel’s expression was thoughtful, but he didn’t comment further.

  Katherine nodded at his empty wine glass. “You’ve stopped drinking. ”

  “I have. ” He offered her a patient smile.

  “Not a bad idea. I go through periods of teetotaling myself. ” She wiped her lips with her napkin. “Will you accept some maternal advice, from someone who is not your mother?”

  Gabriel turned to her abruptly. “About what?”

  “I worry sometimes about your ability to handle your detractors. Especially now that you’re married. ”

  He started to disagree but she interrupted.

  “I’m old, I can behave how I wish. But you cannot be Julianne’s champion at academic conferences. If you rise to her defense, you’ll make her look weak. ”

  Gabriel folded his napkin and placed it on the table. “The incident this morning with Christa Peterson was anomalous. She tried to destroy our careers. ”

  “Just so. But even in that case, I’m afraid you did more harm than good. ”

  Gabriel frowned, and Katherine decided to change tactics.

  “We’ve been good friends, you and I. I’d like to think that if I’d had a son, he would be your equal in intelligence and talent. ”

  His expression softened. “Thank you, Katherine. Your friendship is important to me. ”

  “I’ve given Julianne some advice. No doubt she’ll tell you all about our conversation. But before she returns, I’d ask that you consider what I’ve just said. She’s a nice young woman and very bright. Let her brightness shine. ”

  “That’s all I want. ” He looked down at his hands. His eyes were drawn to the way the light caught on his wedding band, and he found himself staring at it.

  “Good. ” Katherine tapped her finger on the table, as if to signal that the matter had been decided. “Now, I hope I’ll be invited to dinner at your house when I give my lecture series at Harvard in January. Greg Matthews always takes me to these appalling molecular gastronomy restaurants that serve you deconstructed entrées cooked in liquid nitrogen. I can never decide whether I’m having dinner or sitting for an exam in organic chemistry. ”

  After dinner, Gabriel insisted that they escort Katherine to her residence at All Souls, where they bade one another good night and agreed to meet for breakfast the following morning.

  “Eight thirty, sharp. ” Katherine tapped her wristwatch. “Don’t be late. ”

  “We wouldn’t dream of it. ” Gabriel bowed.

  “See that you don’t. ” With a wave, she disappeared behind the great wooden door of the college, which closed behind her.

  Left standing together, Gabriel took Julia’s hand, noticing that her fingers had grown cold. He tried to warm them, touching her wedding band and engagement ring.

  “I know that you’re tired,” he said. “But I want to show you something. It will just take a minute. ”

  He led her around the corner to Radcliffe Camera, a great, circular building that had become an icon of the university. The sky was dark, moonless, but a few lights illuminated the impressive structure.

  He squeezed her hand as they approached. “I used to spend a lot of time walking around this building. I’ve always admired it. ”

  “It’s fantastic. ”

  Julia eagerly perused the architecture and its interplay of stone and dome and pillar. The sky was the color of ink, and the dome almost seemed to glow against its backdrop.

  Gabriel brought his hands to cup her cheeks. “I want to speak to you about what happened this morning. ”

  He felt her tense beneath his touch. His eyes sought hers and he moved his thumbs gently across her cheekbones. “I’m sorry for embarrassing you. ”

  “I know it was difficult for you to walk away from her at first. But you did. And I’m grateful for that. ” Her dark eyes glinted. “You still like to fight. ”

  Gabriel took her hands in his and pulled them into his chest.

  “I like to fight with people other than you. Christa is a bully. The only way to deal with bullies is to confront them. ”

  Julia lifted her chin. “Sometimes, you should let the nastiness speak for itself. Or at least, let her target decide for herself what’s to be done. ”

  “I can do that. At least, I can try. ”

  “That’s all I ask. ” Julia brushed her lips against his. “I’m sorry she brought up Professor Pain. I had no idea they knew each other. ”

  Gabriel closed his eyes. When he opened them, they were pained.

  “I confessed my past. I left it behind. Must I be reminded of it forever?”

  “I’m sorry. ” She wrapped her arms around his back, bringing their chests together.

  They were quiet for a moment and Gabriel pushed his face into her neck, clutching her tightly.

  “Caravaggio,” she said.

  “What’s that?”

  “I remember what you said about his painting of St. Thomas and Jesus—how our scars might heal but they never disappear. You can’t eliminate your past but you don’t have to be controlled by it. ”

  “I know that. But I doubt anyone would want their sexual encounters broadcasted to their work colleagues. ”

  “Anyone who would judge you based on old gossip isn’t a friend of yours, anyway. ” She pulled back so she could look into his eyes. “Those of us who know you will ignore the gossip. ”

 
Thank you. ” He pressed his lips to her forehead before meeting her gaze. “People and circumstances will conspire to alienate us from one another, Julianne. We can’t let them do that. ”

  “We won’t. ”

  “I didn’t mean to ignore you. You mean more to me than anything,” he whispered.

  “It’s the same for me. ”

  She breached the distance between their mouths in order to kiss him, her lips soft and ever moving.

  Some distance away, Professor Giuseppe Pacciani groaned his release and collapsed on top of his lover’s body. Sex with her was always magnificent, and this coupling was no exception.

  He mumbled a few phrases in Italian, as was his custom. But instead of welcoming his words, she pushed him aside and rolled away. Sadly, this was not unusual.

  “Cara?”

  Christa Peterson pulled the sheet over her naked body. “I need the room tomorrow night. You’ll have to stay somewhere else. ”

  With a curse, Giuseppe eased his bare feet to the floor. He walked to the bathroom to dispose of the condom. “This is my room. ”

  “No,” she called to him. “It’s my room. You always pay for my accommodations. And I’ll be entertaining tomorrow night. ”

  He returned to the bed and soon she was under him again, his forearms on either side of her shoulders.

  “You’d take someone to your bed so soon? The sheets will still be warm. ”

  Her dark eyes flashed.

  “Don’t judge me. You’re married. Who I fuck is none of your business. ”

  He bent down and kissed her, his lips insistent until she opened her mouth.

  “Such a dirty mouth, Cristina. ”

  “You love it when I’m dirty. ”

  He sighed, and his expression morphed into a wry smile.

  “Si. ”

  He moved to his back, taking her with him.

  “I want to get up. ” She pulled against his arms.

  “No. ”

  She struggled but he would not let her go. Finally, she relented, resting her head against him.

  He toyed with her hair. This was part of their arrangement. Afterward, she had to let him hold her.

  Perhaps he did so simply to satisfy himself that there was something affectionate about their fucking. Perhaps he did so because he was not an entirely ruthless adulterer. But whatever the reason, she always resisted for a moment or two, even though she secretly liked being held.

  “I was surprised to hear from you, Cristina. We were supposed to meet a year ago. You never answered. ”

  “I was busy. ”

  He lifted the ends of her raven hair to his nose, inhaling its fragrance.

  “I wondered why you insisted I bring you. You’re here for revenge. ”

  “We’re both getting what we wanted. ”

  His fingers stilled.

  “Be careful, Cristina. You don’t want Professor Picton as an enemy. ”

  “I don’t care. ”

  Pacciani cursed.

  “Don’t you understand the patronage system? Departments around the world are filled with her admirers. Your chair at Columbia was her student. ”

  “I didn’t know that. ” Christa shrugged. “It’s too late. I’ve already pissed her off. ”

 
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