Gabriels redemption, p.21
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       Gabriels Redemption, p.21

         Part #3 of Gabriels Inferno series by Sylvain Reynard
Page 21


  A few more questions were asked and answered, and then the moderator thanked Julia. A round of applause that bordered on the enthusiastic filled the room, and Julia noticed several older professors nodding at her.

  When the moderator invited everyone to pause for tea and coffee, Julia watched in surprise as Professor Pacciani took Christa by the hand and led her away.

  Julia walked over to Gabriel, eagerly searching his face.

  He smiled and linked their pinky fingers surreptitiously.

  “That’s my smart girl,” he whispered.

  Chapter Sixteen

  Julia made the rounds during the coffee break, speaking to Professor Wodehouse and others about her paper. It was almost universally acknowledged that her research was very good and that she’d handled the questions admirably. In fact, more than one conferencegoer remarked that they were surprised she was only a graduate student and not a junior professor.

  While his wife enjoyed her academic triumph, Gabriel strolled outside, sipping his coffee in the Oxford sunshine.

  He was grateful for the fine weather and lack of rain. He was also grateful that Julia’s presentation had gone so well. Yes, she’d appeared nervous, and as always, there was room for improvement. But given her status as a doctoral freshman, many of the attendees had been duly impressed. He silently offered a prayer of thanks.

  Midprayer, Paul Norris approached him, his hands jammed into his pockets.

  They made patient, polite small talk at first. Then Gabriel noticed that Paul was regarding him with something akin to agitation.

  “Is there a problem?” Gabriel’s voice was deceptively soft. Soft like Scotch.

  “No. ” Paul removed his hands from his pockets. He was about to reenter the college when he stopped.

  “Fuck it,” he muttered.

  He squared his shoulders, facing his former dissertation director.

  “Professor Picton would like you to be an external reader on my dissertation. ”

  Gabriel regarded Paul coolly. “Yes, she mentioned that. ”

  Paul waited for the Professor to continue, but he didn’t.

  “Uh, is that something you’d consider?”

  Gabriel rocked back on his heels. “I’ll consider it. Your dissertation topic is good and I was satisfied with the work that you did for me. I passed you to Katherine for personal reasons, otherwise, I’d still be directing your dissertation. ”

  Paul looked away uncomfortably.

  “Julia did well. ” He changed the subject.

  “Yes, she did. ”

  “She even handled Christa. ”

  Gabriel’s face wore a look of pride. “Julianne is a remarkable woman. She’s much stronger than she looks. ”

  “I know. ” Paul’s eyes hardened into what could have been a glare.

  “You seemed to have a lot to say to and about my wife. ” Gabriel’s tone grew progressively cooler.

  “What are you doing to put a stop to the rumors? I was out at UCLA in March and people were talking about how Julia boinked you in order to graduate and get into Harvard. ”

  A muscle jumped in Gabriel’s jaw.

  “Those rumors are the fruits of Miss Peterson’s poisonous tree. She will be dealt with, I assure you. ”

  “Well, you need to step it up. ”

  Gabriel’s eyes narrowed. “What was that?”

  Paul shifted his weight, but he would not be deterred.

  “When I arrived yesterday, I overheard a couple of the old folks talking about Julia. They assumed she was a bimbo and that’s why she was on the program. ”

  “I think it’s safe to say she proved them wrong. Julianne’s paper was well presented and well received. There’s also the little matter that rather than simply boinking her”—at this, Gabriel waved his hand distastefully—“I married her. ”

  “She may be your wife, but you don’t deserve her. ”

  Gabriel took a menacing step closer.

  “What did you say?”

  Paul drew himself to his full height, which was an inch taller than his former professor.

  “I said you don’t deserve her. ”

  “You think I don’t know that?”

  Gabriel threw his china coffee cup in frustration. It smashed on the pavement.

  “Every night when I fall asleep with her in my arms, I thank God she’s mine. Every morning when I wake up, my first thought is that I’m grateful she married me. I will never be worthy of her. But I spend every day trying my damnedest. You were her friend when she needed one. But listen to me when I tell you, Paul, you do not want to push me. ”

  A long silence passed between them. Gabriel held on to his temper as the result of a Herculean effort.

  Paul was the first to look away.

  “When I first met her, she was so jumpy. I felt like I had to whisper just so I wouldn’t scare her. She isn’t like that anymore. ”

  “No, she isn’t. ”

  Paul hunched his shoulders. “She was telling me about her program at Harvard over lunch. She loves it. ”

  “I know that. ” Gabriel’s expression grew even darker. “And I know you want her. I’m telling you, you can’t have her. ”

  Paul met his gaze. “You’re wrong. ”

  “Wrong?” The Professor challenged him, taking a step forward. They were now mere inches apart, the Professor’s posture angry and threatening.

  “I don’t just want her. I love her. She’s the one. ”

  Gabriel stared at him incredulously. “She can’t be the one. She’s my wife!”

  “I know. ”

  Paul looked over the Professor’s shoulder at Woodstock Road, shaking his head.

  “I met a pretty, sweet, Catholic girl. The kind of woman I could introduce to my parents. The kind of woman I’ve been looking for my whole life. I treated her right, we became friends, and when an asshole came along and broke her heart, I was there. She cried on my fucking shoulder. She fell asleep on my fucking couch. ”

  Gabriel snapped his jaw shut furiously.

  “The semester ended and she followed her dream to Harvard. I helped her move. I found her a part-time job and an apartment. But when I finally told her how I felt, when I finally asked her to choose me, she couldn’t. Not because she didn’t care about me, or didn’t feel anything. But because she was in love with the asshole who broke her heart. ”

  Paul laughed without amusement.

  “And this guy, he’s bad news. He fucks around. He treats her like dirt. He drinks too much. For all I know, he seduced her for kicks. He was involved with a professor who hits on her students and is into BDSM. So who knows what he does to my girl behind closed doors? When he leaves her, I’m ecstatic, thinking now she has a chance to be with someone who’ll be good to her. Someone who’ll be gentle with her and never, ever make her cry. Then, to my fucking astonishment, the asshole comes back. He fucking returns. And what does he do? He asks her to marry him. And she accepts!”

  He kicked at the pavement in frustration.

  “That’s my life, in a fucking nutshell. Find the perfect girl, lose the perfect girl to an asshole who broke her heart and will probably break it again and again. And then get a fucking invitation to their big-ass wedding in Italy. ”

  Gabriel ground his teeth together. “In the first place, she is not your girl and she never was. I don’t have to justify myself to you or to anyone else. But out of respect for my wife, who seems to care about you, I’ll admit I was an asshole. I’m not that man anymore. I never fucked around on her, not even once, and I’m sure as hell not going to break her heart again. ”

  “Good. ” Paul shuffled his feet. “Then let her finish her program. ”

  “Let her?” Gabriel’s voice dropped to a near-whisper. “Let her?”

  “She might decide to give up or take time off or something. Encourage her to continue. ”

  Gabriel’s eyes flashed. “If you have information you want
to share, Mr. Norris, I suggest you spit it out. ”

  “Julia feels guilty about making her grad program such a high priority. ”

  Gabriel scowled as the import of Paul’s words became clear.

  “She told you this?”

  “She also said that she doesn’t have any friends. ”

  “How convenient for you. Are you interested in continuing to be her friend?”

  Paul grimaced. “This isn’t fucking convenient. Don’t you get it? I love her and because I love her, I have to listen to her worry about making you happy. You, the asshole who left her. ”

  “I’m not exactly happy she chose to confide in you. ”

  “If she had friends in Cambridge, she wouldn’t need to. And anyway, my friendship with her has to end. ”

  Gabriel rocked on his heels, momentarily taken aback.

  “Did you come to this decision yourself?”

  “Yes. ”

  “Have you told her?”

  “I wouldn’t do that to her before her lecture. That would be cruel. ”

  “When are you planning to tell her?”

  Paul sighed deeply. “That’s the problem. I can’t say it to her face. When I get back to Vermont I’ll write to her. ” He gave Gabriel a resentful look. “I’m sure that will make you happy. ”

  “I don’t take pleasure in her suffering, despite what you think. ” Gabriel looked down at the platinum band on his left hand. “I love her. ”

  Paul’s dark eyes shifted to the wedding ring.

  The Professor continued, “Your friendship is important to her. She’ll be hurt. ”

  “It’s time to move on. ”

  “Will you tell her that?”

  “I’m not going to lie. It’s going to kill me to tell her the truth, but I will. ”

  “That’s very noble. ” An admiring tone crept into Gabriel’s voice. “Perhaps I should persuade you to change your mind. ”

  “You can’t. ”

  A long look passed between Paul and his former professor.

  “I’ve misjudged you, Paul. And for that I’m sorry. ”

  “I’m not doing this for you. I’m sure as hell not doing this so you’ll read my dissertation and write me a recommendation letter. I’ll tell Katherine that I spoke to you and you declined. ”

  Paul nodded at Gabriel and began to walk toward the college.

  “Mr. Norris,” Gabriel called.

  He stopped and slowly moved to face the Professor.

  “I always intended to be an external reader, whether you continued your friendship with Julianne or not. Your research stands on its own merits. ” He extended his hand.

  Paul considered this for a moment, then strode toward him. They shook hands.

  “Thank you. ”

  “You’re welcome. ”

  A look passed between the two men that was reminiscent of the look that warriors gave after a battle in which both sides took heavy losses.

  Paul was the first to speak.

  “I’m not going to interfere in your marriage. But if I learn that you’ve broken her heart again, we’re going to have a problem. ”

  “If I break Julianne’s heart, I’ll deserve it. ”

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