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Gabriels redemption, p.36
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       Gabriels Redemption, p.36

         Part #3 of Gabriels Inferno series by Sylvain Reynard  
Page 36

 

  Much as she wanted to help Maria, she simply couldn’t agree to adopt her. Not now. Perhaps in two years when they were better acquainted with her, and Julia was in her fourth year of graduate school. The fourth year was devoted to preparing her dissertation prospectus and then writing her dissertation. Julia could simply work on her research and be a mother, at the same time.

  (Or so she thought. )

  Still, she worried about her husband—about what secret demons tormented him and why he was so determined to be secretive.

  She lifted her iPhone from the nightstand and quickly sent him a text.

  G,

  I missed waking up with you this morning.

  Thank you for your note and the poem.

  Looking forward to the opening tonight.

  I love you too,

  J.

  xo

  Then, in an effort to exercise her compassion, she dressed and spent the day on her own quest—trying to find the homeless man she’d given money to during her first visit to Florence with Gabriel.

  She searched the city center, but no one seemed to know the man she was referring to, and certainly none of the people she asked had seen a man answering his description.

  While Julianne was burying her sorrows in a lemon gelato at Bar Perseo, Gabriel was finishing his meeting with Dottore Massimo Vitali at the Uffizi. He returned to the hotel to find an empty suite, but the scent of orange blossoms filled the air, remnants of her perfume.

  He had happy memories of their first visit to Florence. There was a wall in the suite that he would have liked to enshrine. He thought back to the early days of their relationship and how he’d worked so hard to earn Julianne’s trust. He was seized of a sudden by a glimpse of what his life would be like without her—empty, naked, cold.

  He had to deal with his problems head on, or the gap between them would grow ever wider until eventually, he lost her.

  He picked up his phone and dialed the number for his therapist’s office. Then he left a long message.

  After he’d hung up the phone, he opened his laptop and pulled up the Google search engine. He typed the following search phrase: “Owen Davies. ”

  A few hours later, Julia was standing in the bathroom, applying makeup, while Gabriel stood at the sink next to her, shaving. As her fingers stroked over part of her throat, she found herself wincing. She could no longer see where Simon had bitten her. But every time she touched the spot, she felt his teeth.

  A gentle hand caressed the back of her neck. “He won’t hurt you again. ”

  She met Gabriel’s eyes in the mirror. “I wish I could believe that. Somehow I suspect he and Natalie aren’t finished with me. ”

  “They wouldn’t dare. ” He kissed her forehead.

  “How can you be so sure?”

  Something flickered across his features, but it was eclipsed by his smile.

  “Trust me. ”

  “I heard from my dad today. ” She traced the marble topped vanity with her finger.

  “What did he say?”

  “They want to get married Labor Day weekend. It will be a small wedding. Dad feels more comfortable with Diane at his place and Diane doesn’t want to move in with him without being married. ”

  “And the baby?”

  “Nothing has changed. Diane seems to be doing well, and the baby is about as good as could be expected. They’re keeping an eye on both of them. ” She shook her head. “Dad feels pretty helpless. ”

  “Of course he does. He wants to protect them and there’s nothing he can do. ”

  She nodded, looking down at the marble with a fascination unwarranted by its appearance. “I’m sorry about Maria. ”

  “So am I. ” He leaned against the vanity, contemplating his bare feet. “But at least I tried to help her. ”

  “Maybe one of the families you contacted will change their mind. If they could just meet her, I’m sure they’d fall in love with her. ”

  He nodded, wriggling his toes.

  “I won’t say that I understand, Gabriel, because I don’t. I wasn’t adopted and so I don’t share that special affinity you have with the children at the orphanage. But if you could just give me until my fourth year, I—”

  “We’ll have plenty of time to talk about that. There’s no rush. ” He smiled at her gently.

  A feeling of relief mixed with dread washed over her.

  Gabriel returned to his shaving, while she watched with rapt fascination.

  “This reminds me of our first trip to Florence. We were getting ready together before going to the Uffizi. ” She seemed wistful. “I was just your girlfriend, then. ”

  Gabriel stopped.

  “You were never just my girlfriend, Julianne. You were my lover. And we’re still lovers. ”

  “How could I forget?” She gestured in the direction of the bedroom, pausing for a moment to remember their first time together. “I was so happy here.

  “But tonight I’m going to accompany you to the Uffizi as your wife. We get to open the exhibition of your illustrations together. ”

  “They’re our illustrations. And I love you even more now than I did before. I didn’t think it was possible. ”

  “I love you more, too. ” She peered down at her toes, admiring the way the red nail polish shimmered in the light. “I think your love has healed me, in many ways. ”

  Gabriel placed his razor on the counter.

  “I don’t know why you persist in being sweet when I’m shaving. ” He tried not to get shaving cream on her silk robe, but failed. “We’re going to have to have sex now. ”

  She laughed. “We can’t. We’re due at the Uffizi at seven. The guests of honor can’t be late. ”

  “It wouldn’t do for one of the guests of honor to be cross all evening because he’s hard and wanting. We had a fight. We made up. You owe me makeup sex. ”

  Julia reached out a hand to test his arousal.

  “I wouldn’t want you to be uncomfortable, Professor. But I really need to get ready. Look at my hair. ”

  He pulled back to see the dark strands, which were now streaked with shaving cream on one side.

  “Fine,” he huffed. “But don’t be surprised if I spirit you off to a corridor and have my way with you. ”

  “I’m counting on it, Superman. ” She nipped his ear with her teeth before escaping his arms. “And just for the record, I like my body when it’s with yours, as well. ”

  A short while later, Julia exited the washroom, walking over to where Gabriel was seated in the living area of their suite.

  “What do you think?”

  He stood up and removed his glasses, tossing aside the book he’d been reading.

  He took her hand, spinning her in a circle. Her Valentino dress was very feminine, with a boat neckline, cap sleeves, a slim bodice, and a full skirt. The fabric was a rich red taffeta.

  She pulled at the hemline, which sat above her knees. “I think I should have bought something black, instead. ”

  “No. ” His eyes traveled from her exposed collarbones, across her breasts and down to her long and shapely legs. “Red is perfect. ”

  He peered down at her black Prada peep-toe stilettos.

  “You’ve been holding out on me, Mrs. Emerson. I don’t recall seeing those before. ”

  She arched an eyebrow at him.

  “You aren’t the only one with secrets, Professor. ”

  Gabriel’s smile slid off his face.

  She looked down at her shoes.

  “But I can arrange a private viewing. ”

  “In a dark corner at the Uffizi?”

  Their eyes met and she nodded.

  He kissed her cheek. “You look lovely. The guests won’t be looking at Botticelli. They’ll be looking at you. ”

  “Oh, don’t say that, Gabriel. I’m nervous enough. ” She brushed imaginary lint from his shoulders and then straightened his black bow tie. “You’re handsome. I don’t have the pleasure of seeing you in a tuxedo very often. ”

  “I can arrange a private viewing. ” He pressed his lips to the inside of her wrist, closing his eyes and inhaling her scent.

  “Roses. ” He opened his eyes. “You’ve changed your perfume. ”

  “The Noble Rose of Afghanistan. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? It’s fair trade and it encourages development in that country. ”

  “Only you would choose your perfume because of the company’s commitment to fair trade. What did I do to deserve you?” Gabriel whispered, his eyes dark and searching.

  “You deserve happiness. Why can’t you let yourself believe that?”

  He gave her a long look, then took her hand in his and led her to the door.

  All the while, Julia’s heart nearly cracked under the weight of her realization that her love had not healed him.

  “Professore. Signora. ” Lorenzo, Dottore Vitali’s assistant, greeted them at the entrance to the Uffizi.

  “We shall gather with the media. You will be invited to open the exhibition. Then we will view the collection, enjoy a reception and later, dinner. ”

  Gabriel acquiesced in Italian, squeezing Julia’s hand.

  Lorenzo led them to a hallway where a crowd of about a hundred people were gathered. Julia recognized many familiar faces from Gabriel’s lecture a year and a half ago. All the men were in tuxedos, save the members of the press; all the women were wearing gowns, many of which swept the floor.

  Julia looked down at her bare legs self-consciously.

  Soon they were surrounded. Gabriel shook hands and exchanged pleasantries, introducing Julia as his beautiful wife. She watched as he greeted guests in Italian, French, and German, working the room fluidly and comfortably. But he never let her leave his side; his arm remained wrapped around her waist.

  They were just about to follow Dottore Vitali to the doorway to the exhibition when Julia stopped short. Staring at her, not fifty feet away, was Professor Pacciani, with a tall, dark-haired woman on his arm.

  Julia’s eyes widened.

  For a moment, she thought the woman was Christa Peterson. But on sustained inspection, she realized that although there was a resemblance, Pacciani’s companion was older than Christa by about ten years.

  Gabriel felt Julia stop, but he’d been speaking with Vitali, getting last-minute instructions on what was to take place. His eyes followed hers and something akin to a growl escaped his chest.

  “Ah, you know Professor Pacciani, I assume. ” Vitali spoke in Gabriel’s ear. “We invited the professors from the universities, on your instructions. ”

  “Right,” said Gabriel. He rued the fact that he hadn’t been more explicit about who should not receive an invitation.

  “Shall we?” Dottore Vitali gestured, and the Emersons walked to the doorway.

  They stood side by side, facing the crowd and blinking amid the cameras and commotion, while Vitali made his introductions. Julia tried not to fidget, but she felt very conspicuous.

  The director spent a long time explaining the history of the sixteenth-century illustrations—how they were copies of Botticelli’s original images of Dante’s Divine Comedy, and how, although eight of the originals had been lost, the Emersons had possession of the full complement of one hundred.

 
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