Gabriels redemption, p.17
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       Gabriels Redemption, p.17
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         Part #3 of Gabriels Inferno series by Sylvain Reynard
Page 17

 

  “Hey. ” Paul’s hand shot out across the table to catch hers mid-rip. “Relax. ”

  She looked into his eyes and saw acceptance and kindness. She exhaled in relief.

  Paul withdrew his hand again, wrapping it around his cup.

  “We have a history and it’s a good one. But I don’t want to jump back into something with you. It would be too easy to do that. ”

  “I’ve never been easy, Paul. ” She sounded offended.

  He cleared his throat and looked her straight in the eye. “I never said you were. What I mean is it would be tempting to go back to what we had because it was comfortable. You deserve to be with someone who’s serious and not half in it. ”

  Paul lost himself in the momentary silence that followed before realizing that Allison was waiting for something.

  He blinked at her. “What?”

  “Nothing. So are we on for a movie sometime or what? I might even take you to dinner at Leunig’s, now that I’m pulling in the big bucks as a teacher. ”

  Paul found himself smiling, and his smile was genuine.

  “Only if you let me take you to breakfast at Mirabelle’s. ”

  “Great. When?”

  “Get your coat. ”

  He followed her to the back door and helped her with her coat. When she nearly toppled over trying to put her Uggs back on, he knelt on the sandy, salt-licked floor and slid them on her feet.

  “Half of you is better than the whole of anyone,” she whispered, if only to herself.

  Chapter Fourteen

  July 2011

  Oxford, England

  At the beginning of the conference’s lunch break, Julia excused herself to go to the ladies’ room, asking Paul to wait for her return. She was ascending the staircase on her way back to the lecture theater when a pair of Christian Louboutins came into view.

  Julia’s gaze traveled up a pair of legs clad in silk stockings to a black pencil skirt, to a fitted jacket, and thence to the face of Christa Peterson.

  Her expression was hostile but noticeably tense as she clutched the railing with whitened knuckles. She shifted her weight between her feet as if she were uncertain whether to proceed or to retreat.

  “I can’t wait to hear your paper. I’m sure I’ll have a few questions. ”

  Julia ignored her and tried to move forward, but Christa blocked her.

  Julia huffed impatiently. “What do you want?”

  “You think you’re so smart. ”

  “We have nothing to talk about. ”

  “Oh yes, we do. ”

  Julia screwed her eyes shut before opening them incredulously. “Seriously? You want to have this argument here, at a conference? Don’t you see how your actions are hurting your career? Gabriel says that Columbia made you enroll in the M. Phil rather than the PhD. You burned bridges in Toronto, and you’re burning them here. Don’t you think it’s time to let things go?”

  “I don’t give up that easily. ”

  “Your vendetta is ridiculous. I never did anything to you. ”

  Christa laughed darkly.

  “It isn’t about you. You aren’t worth troubling about. ”

  “Then why?”

  Christa tossed her hair. “You have something I want. I always get what I want. Always. ”

  “Let me go. ” Julia lifted her chin defiantly.

  Christa’s almond-shaped eyes passed over Julia from head to foot.

  “I don’t understand what he sees in you. You aren’t that pretty. ” She waved a contemptuous hand at Julia’s unassuming suit and less-than-designer shoes.

  “Gabriel is beautiful. He’s a legend. All the women at Lobby knew him and all of them wanted to fuck him. ” She looked at Julia scornfully. “Yet, somehow out of everyone, he ends up with you. But you won’t be able to keep him. He needs to be with a woman whose appetite is as voracious as his. ”

  “He is. ”

  Christa laughed, the sound tinny and brittle. “Hardly. I’m sure he enjoyed the conquest, at the beginning. But now he’s had you, his eye will wander and you’ll lose him. ” Her eyes flashed with a knowing light. “He’s probably cheated on you already. Or he’s planning to. ”

  “If you don’t let me go, I’m calling for help. Do you really want to be embarrassed in front of everyone? Again?”

  Christa hesitated, and Julia took the opportunity to brush past her. She was two steps from the top of the staircase before she stopped. She turned around.

  “Love,” she said quietly.

  “What?”

  “You’re wondering what Gabriel sees in me. The answer is love. I know about the other women. He hasn’t kept secrets from me. But they aren’t a threat. ”

  Christa put her hands on her hips. “You’re delusional. So you love him. So what? Look at yourself. Why would he want such a vanilla little mouse when he could have a tiger in his bed?”

  “Better a loving mouse than an indifferent tiger. ” Julia straightened her shoulders. “Those women didn’t see who he truly is. They didn’t care that he was miserable. They would have used him until there was nothing left and then thrown him away. I’ve loved him since I was seventeen. I love all of him—the light and the dark, the good and the bad. That’s why he’s with me. He left the others behind and he will never go back. So do your worst, Christa. But if you’re planning to seduce my husband, you—will—fail. ”

  Julia turned to walk away but stopped again, facing Christa one last time.

  “You’re right about one thing, though. ”

  “And what’s that?” Christa sounded contemptuous.

  Julia smiled knowingly. “My husband is an exceptional lover. He’s attentive, creative, and absolutely mind-blowing. And tonight and every night, the woman enjoying his adventurous nature will be me. ”

  She gave Christa a long look.

  “Not bad for a mouse. ”

  “I’m sorry you had another run-in with Christa. ” Paul’s tone was sympathetic as he escorted Julia from St. Anne’s to a small Lebanese restaurant that was within walking distance. “I guess she’s only here to harass you. ”

  Julia fidgeted with her wedding ring, moving it back and forth with her thumb.

  “She told me she was going to ask questions after my paper. She’s going to try to make me look stupid. ”

  Paul wrapped his arm around her shoulders.

  “She can’t make you look stupid because you aren’t stupid. You stand your ground. You’ll be fine. ”

  He squeezed her before removing his arm.

  “You look good. Much better than the last time I saw you. ”

  She shuddered, recalling when she’d said good-bye to Paul outside her apartment in Cambridge the summer before. She’d been thinner and sadder, but cautiously optimistic that life at Harvard would suit her.

  “Married life agrees with me. ”

  Paul grimaced. He didn’t want to think about what Julia’s married life included, because he couldn’t stand the thought of her sleeping with Professor Emerson. He hoped to God Emerson had given up his penchant for BDSM and treated Julia with gentleness.

  An image of Emerson tying Julia up flashed through his mind. His stomach rolled.

  “Are you all right?” Julia peered up at him. “You look a little green. ”

  “I’m fine. ” He forced a smile. “I’ve just noticed that the Rabbit is gone. ”

  “It was about time, don’t you think?”

  “I’ll miss her. ”

  Julia focused her attention on the sidewalk in front of them.

  “She returns at tense moments. My legs are wobbly just thinking about standing in front of all those people. ”

  “You can do it. Just pretend you’re presenting your paper to me. Ignore everyone else. ”

  Instinctively, Paul reached out to take her hand but stopped himself.

  He gestured to her awkwardly, trying to disguise his movement.

  “Uh, y
ou cut your hair. ”

  She tugged one of the dark locks that fell short of her shoulders. “I thought it would look more professional. Gabriel doesn’t like it. ”

  “I’ll bet he doesn’t. ”

  (Paul neglected to mention the fact that he agreed with the Professor. )

  He gestured to her left hand. “That’s quite a rock you have. ”

  “Thank you. Gabriel picked it. ”

  Of course he’d buy her a big-ass ring, Paul thought. I’m surprised he didn’t have his name tattooed on her forehead.

  “I would have married him with a ring from a box of Cracker Jack. ” Julia looked at her hand wistfully. “I would have married him with a tie from a garbage bag. I don’t care about this kind of stuff. ”

  Exactly. I could have never given her a ring like that. But Julia is the kind of girl who would be happy with next to nothing, provided she loved the guy enough.

  “He paid off my student loans,” she offered quietly.

  “What, all of them?”

  She nodded. “I was going to consolidate them and start making payments, but he insisted on paying them. ”

  Paul whistled. “That must have cost him. ”

  “It did. It’s taken some getting used to—the fact that we share everything including a bank account. I had a very small checking account when we got married. He had . . . more. ”

  “How do you like living in Cambridge?” Paul changed the subject, far from eager to learn how much more the Professor had.

  “I love it. We live close enough to Harvard so I can walk. Which is good, because I don’t drive. ” Julia sounded sheepish.

  “You don’t? Why not?”

  “I kept getting lost and ending up in sketchy neighborhoods. I called Gabriel from Dorchester one night and he had a fit. And that was after I’d used the GPS. ”

  “How did you end up in Dorchester?”

  “The GPS screwed up. It didn’t recognize one-way streets. It even told me to do an illegal U-turn while I was driving through one of the underpasses. So I ended up farther and farther away from my house. After that, I quit. ”

  “You don’t drive at all?”

  “Not in the greater Boston area. Gabriel’s Range Rover is difficult to park and I was always worried I was going to hit someone. Boston drivers are crazy. And don’t get me started on the pedestrians. ”

  Paul resisted the urge to itemize Gabriel’s myriad failings, and settled on one.

  “Why doesn’t he get you a new car? Obviously, he can afford it. ”

  “I want something small, like a Smart car or one of those new Fiats. Gabriel says they’re like driving a can of tuna. ” She sighed. “He wants me in something bigger, like a Hummer. ”

  He bumped her shoulder playfully. “Planning on invading Baghdad? Or just Charlestown?”

  “Very funny. If I can’t parallel park the Range Rover, how the hell am I going to park a Hummer?”

  Paul laughed, opening the door to the restaurant.

  Before he could ask the host for a table for two, a commotion emerged from a nearby table. A little girl, who was probably three or four years old, was hitting a button on her book repeatedly, generating a few bars of a song over and over again.

 
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