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Gabriels redemption, p.33
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       Gabriels Redemption, p.33

         Part #3 of Gabriels Inferno series by Sylvain Reynard  
Page 33

 

  He watched as she played games with the children, blowing bubbles and batting around balloons. A dark-haired, dark-eyed toddler took a shine to her, and soon Julia was carrying the boy on her hip and wresting her hair from his chubby fists, while avoiding a slight trickle of drool.

  Gabriel was seized with a realization so strong it hurt.

  Julianne was born to be a mother. She’s loving and giving and patient. She has what my biological mother lacked, and what Grace had in abundance.

  Maybe she even has enough to compensate for my own shortcomings.

  To keep his melancholy at bay, Gabriel helped with the ponies, lifting children on and off their saddles. Julia had been correct. The ponies were the highlight of the event. Children lined up to pet and feed them in between rides.

  When it was time to hand out presents, Gabriel stood behind the gift table with Julia.

  Brother Silvestro made an announcement to the children, thanking Zio and Zia Emerson for their generosity. Gabriel and Julia nodded to polite applause. Then Julia began handing out the presents, still holding on to the toddler.

  Gabriel would have joined her, but a little boy pulled at his trousers in an effort to secure his attention.

  “Hello,” said Gabriel, in Italian. “How are you?”

  “Are you him?” the boy asked.

  “Am I whom?”

  “Superman. ”

  Gabriel gave the child a puzzled smile. “Why do you think I’m Superman?’

  “You look like him. Can I see under your shirt?” The boy pointed to Gabriel’s white oxford button-down.

  He smiled wryly. “I don’t have my suit on today. ”

  “You’re wearing Clark Kent’s glasses. ”

  Gabriel removed his glasses and frowned at them. He thought his Prada frames were a good deal smarter than the horrific pair that Clark Kent wore.

  (Perhaps he’d been mistaken. )

  Gabriel didn’t have time to be offended, however, because as soon as he took off the glasses, the boy gasped. A small crowd of other children soon gathered around.

  “It’s Superman,” the first boy whispered, triumphantly.

  Gabriel replaced his glasses, then reached out to ruffle the boy’s hair.

  “I’m afraid I’m not Superman. I’m Zio Gabriel from America. Zia Julia is my wife. ”

  The children looked over at Julia, who was continuing to call out names and dispense brightly colored presents. She caught their eyes and smiled prettily.

  “That’s Lois Lane. ” A little voice piped up.

  “Yes,” said the first boy. “We recognize her. That’s Lois Lane. ”

  Gabriel examined Julia with new eyes.

  “I thought Lois was taller,” he mused, half to himself.

  “I have a picture. See?” A boy held up a comic book and pointed to the drawing of Lois Lane on the cover. “It’s her. ”

  “She cut her hair,” said another boy, eyeing Julia with disappointment. “I liked it longer. ”

  “Tell me about it,” Gabriel muttered.

  “Can you do any tricks?” a girl interjected.

  “What kind of tricks?” The Professor fought to hide his amusement.

  “Lift something heavy, see through walls, fly. ”

  “Oh, yes, fly!” The children began to jump up and down.

  The Professor looked at the ever-increasing crowd of youngsters moving around him and sighed. He held his hands out to quiet them.

  Then he leaned forward, dropping his voice.

  “No one knows Clark Kent is Superman. ”

  “I know,” said one of the boys, lifting his hand high in the air.

  Gabriel grinned. “Yes, you know. But none of the adults know. Lois and I are here for the party. So I need you all to help us keep this a secret. Understand?”

  Some of the children gazed at him skeptically, but many of them nodded.

  “Now Lois has a present for all of you. Why don’t you go over and say hello and pick up your gift?”

  With a somewhat mixed reaction, the children began to disperse, soon distracted by other pursuits.

  Julia, who had been half-listening to the exchange nearby, caught his eye and winked.

  Superman? she mouthed.

  He shook his head. He’d been called a lot of things in his thirty-five years, but no one had ever accused him of being Superman. Although he had to admit, Julia would make a damn fine Lois Lane.

  He wondered if there was a costume shop in Florence that he could visit.

  He was contemplating that (and other naughty things) when he felt someone’s eyes on him. He looked down and saw a small blond girl. She had her fingers in her mouth and was staring up at him.

  He smiled. “Ciao, tesoro. ”

  She took her fingers out of her mouth and extended her arms.

  At first, he didn’t understand what she wanted. She lifted her arms higher and waved them slightly.

  “She’s asking you to pick her up, Man of Steel. ” Julia was suddenly beside him.

  Gabriel lifted the girl into his arms and she smiled briefly before placing her fingers back in her mouth.

  It was at this moment that Julia’s eyes met his and a long look passed between them. She greeted the child and patted her on the back. Then she returned to the gift table.

  “Maria doesn’t speak. ”

  Gabriel turned to face Elena, Brother Silvestro’s most capable assistant.

  Elena reached out to tuck a blond curl behind the child’s ear. “I’m surprised she went to you. She usually avoids strangers. ”

  “How old is she?” Gabriel asked.

  “Three. ” Elena switched to English. “But she hasn’t spoken since she arrived almost a year ago. ”

  “Why not?”

  “Too much trauma. ”

  Gabriel looked at the cherubic face of the child and suppressed a series of curses.

  “Will she ever speak?”

  “We hope so. She needs a family, certainly. ”

  Unconsciously, Gabriel held the child more closely.

  “Is it difficult to find families?”

  “Sometimes. ” Elena smiled at Maria and spoke Italian, asking if she was enjoying the party.

  Maria nodded and pointed in the direction of the ponies.

  “Ah. I think you would like a pony ride. Shall I?” Elena gestured as if to take the girl, but Gabriel shook his head.

  “I’ll take her. ”

  He walked over to the ponies and asked her in Italian which one was her favorite. She pointed to the smallest one, a black pony with white patches on his coat. He had a braided tail with a red ribbon tied to the end of it. He was called Cioccolato.

  Carefully, Gabriel placed Maria on the saddle and rested his hand on her back while the pony’s owner began to lead them in a circle.

  Maria smiled and clutched the pony’s mane between her tiny fingers.

  As Gabriel walked the circuit with the child and the pony, he mused on the fact that his life could have turned out very differently. He was not an orphan, but a man with a family. And he had a family because Grace and Richard had opened their home and their hearts to him.

  Although the darkness that was currently eating away at him had not abated, he found himself grateful for the hope that had shone in his life. And he vowed to share that hope with others. Somehow.

  Julia watched her husband with the crowd of children and later, with the little girl, and found herself transfixed. Something about the sight of a tall, handsome man explaining why he wasn’t Superman warmed her.

  She hadn’t had many opportunities to watch Gabriel interact with children. She never accompanied him on his volunteer work at the Italian Home for Children. She’d seen him interact with Quinn, of course, but only on a few occasions.

  Seeing how Gabriel was protective and sweet with Maria tugged at her heart.

  The Professor was intimidating. He had his moments when he could be cold and prim. Certainly, there were times such as when she’d found him smoking on the balcony in Umbria when she worried about him. But the surprising gentleness with which he treated children made her wonder what he would be like with their child. He’d ruffle their son’s hair and talk about Superman. He’d carry their daughter in his arms and treat her like a princess.

  As she saw Gabriel smiling and chattering to the silent child, Julia realized that what Tammy had told her was true—children bring out a special side of a good man.

  And Julia desperately wanted to give Gabriel that opportunity.

  Someday.

  At the end of what had been a fulfilling but long day, Julia sat with Gabriel on the terrace of their favorite room at the Gallery Hotel Art. The terrace and the room itself held so many memories for them. It was the place Julia had given him her virginity, and the place he returned to when he felt himself in danger of succumbing to his addictions after their separation.

  He was lying on the banquette, hands behind his head, looking up at the star-studded sky. She was next to him, sipping a glass of San Pellegrino.

  “You could have wine,” he said, pointing to her glass.

  “I’m fine with water, Superman. ”

  His mouth twitched. “That was an interesting conversation. I’ve been called a lot of things in my life. But no one has ever called me Superman. ”

  She ran her fingers up and down his arm.

  “Only because they haven’t got the nerve. I rather like the idea of you being the handsome but slightly nerdy professor by day, and the sexy Man of Steel by night. ”

  “What did I say about calling me a nerd?” Gabriel caught her wrist, pulling her so she was lying half on him.

  The water sloshed in her glass, so he took it from her, setting it aside.

  He brought their noses together.

  “I can show you some steel tonight. ”

  “I’m counting on it,” she whispered.

  “I never thought of you as Lois Lane before. But there’s a remarkable likeness. ”

  Julia rolled her eyes heavenward. “All this time, I thought you were in love with Beatrice, when really, it was Lois Lane. I need to switch literary genres. ”

  “Hardly. But a little role-playing might be interesting, Miss Lane. ”

  “We’ll have to have a Halloween party so we can dress up. ”

  Gabriel traced the line of her jaw with his finger.

  “We don’t have to wait until Halloween. ”

  A thrill coursed up her spine at his tone.

  “I look forward to that. Did you have a good time at the party?”

  “Of course. ” He released her, his gaze returning to the stars.

  She sighed, picking up her glass again. She sipped the water as she contemplated how to broach the subject.

  “Something happened today, didn’t it?”

  “Yes. ”

  She waited for him to comment further, but he didn’t.

  She put her drink on the table and went to him, placing her arm atop his abdomen.

  “Do you want to talk about it?”

  He shook his head.

  Her heart sank. “The list of things you won’t share with me is becoming longer. ”

  “My silence isn’t meant to hurt you. ”

  “It does. ” She huffed in frustration. “How can I be your partner when you won’t talk to me?”

  “Julianne, I’m going to talk to you. I promise I won’t do anything without discussing it with you. I just need to—figure out a few things first. ”

 
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