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Gabriels redemption, p.37
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       Gabriels Redemption, p.37

         Part #3 of Gabriels Inferno series by Sylvain Reynard  
Page 37

 

  As Julia scanned the crowd, one face stood out. A young-looking, fair-haired man with strange gray eyes stared unblinkingly in her direction, his expression one of intense curiosity. His reaction was so different from the other guests, Julia couldn’t help but return his stare, until Gabriel nudged her, drawing her attention back to their host.

  Dottore Vitali painstakingly traced the provenance of the illustrations from the Emersons back to the nineteenth century, where they seem to have appeared out of nowhere.

  The Uffizi was proud to display images that had not been viewed in public since, perhaps, their creation.

  The audience murmured appreciatively and broke out into enthusiastic applause as Vitali thanked the Emersons for their generosity.

  Gabriel moved his arm in order to take Julia’s hand, squeezing it. They nodded and smiled their acknowledgments. Then he walked to the podium and offered a few words of thanks in Italian to Vitali and the Uffizi.

  He turned his body sideways, his eyes fixed on Julia’s.

  “I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my wife, Julianne. The lovely lady you see before you is the reason why this evening came about. Without her, I would have kept the illustrations to myself. Through her words and her deeds, she has shown me what it is to be charitable and good. ”

  Julia blushed, but she could not look away. His magnetic gaze was focused entirely on her.

  “This evening is only one small example of her philanthropic work. Yesterday, we spent the day at the Franciscan orphanage, spending time with the children. Earlier today, my wife was on a mission of mercy with the poor and homeless, in the city center. My challenge to you this evening is to enjoy the beauty of the illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy, and then to find it in your hearts to celebrate beauty, charity, and compassion in the city Dante loved, Firenze. Thank you. ”

  The crowd applauded, with one exception. No one seemed to notice the fair-haired man’s cynical reaction to Gabriel’s call to virtuous living, or the contempt he expressed when Dante was mentioned.

  Gabriel returned to Julia and kissed her cheek chastely before facing the applauding crowd. They posed for photographs and cut the ribbon that was strung across the doors that led into the exhibition. The exhibit was declared open, to the sound of much applause.

  “Please. ” Vitali gestured to the room, indicating that the Emersons should be the first to view the collection.

  Gabriel and Julianne entered the room and were immediately awestruck. The space had been renovated, its normally pale walls painted a bright blue to better display the pen-and-ink illustrations, only some of which were in color.

  The illustrations were arranged in order, beginning with Botticelli’s famous Chart of Hell. In viewing the collection, one was able to witness the journey of a man’s soul from sin to redemption. And of course, there was the inevitable reunion of Dante with his beloved Beatrice.

  “What do you think?” Gabriel held Julia’s hand as they stood in front of one of their favorite images, Dante and Beatrice in the sphere of Mercury. Beatrice was wearing flowing robes and pointing upward while Dante followed her gesture with his gaze.

  “It’s beautiful. ” She linked their pinky fingers together. “Do you remember the first time you showed it to me? When I came to dinner at your apartment?”

  Gabriel lifted her hand to his lips, pressing a kiss to her palm. “How could I forget? You know, I showed them to you on impulse. I hadn’t even told Rachel about them. Somehow, I knew I could trust you. ”

  “You can trust me. ” Her dark eyes grew serious.

  “I know. ” He appeared conflicted and for a moment Julia thought he was going to confess his secrets, but they were interrupted.

  The attractive, fair-haired man approached, angling to view the illustration.

  As if in a dream, Julia watched the stranger move. His body almost appeared to float across the floor, his footsteps light and fluid. He appeared tall but was actually an inch or two shorter than Gabriel. Julia perceived that although the man was trim, his elegant black suit hid muscles that rippled beneath the fine material.

  The Emersons politely retreated, but not before Gabriel locked eyes with the other guest. Wordlessly, Gabriel placed his body between the stranger and Julianne, blocking her from his view.

  “Good evening. ” The stranger addressed them with a British accent, bowing formally.

  To Gabriel’s trained ear, the accent sounded Oxonian.

  “Evening,” Gabriel clipped, his palm sliding down Julia’s wrist in order to grasp her hand.

  The guest’s eyes followed the path of Gabriel’s hand, and he smiled to himself.

  “A remarkable evening,” he commented, gesturing at the room.

  “Quite,” said Gabriel, gripping Julia’s hand a little too tightly.

  She squeezed back, indicating that he should release the pressure a little.

  “It’s generous of you to share your illustrations. ” The guest’s tone was ironic. “How fortunate for you that you acquired them in secret and not on the open market. ”

  The stranger’s eyes traveled from Gabriel’s to Julia’s, pausing briefly. His nostrils flared and then his eyes appeared to soften before he turned to the drawing nearby.

  “Yes, I count myself lucky. Enjoy your evening. ” With a stiff nod, Gabriel moved away, still gripping Julia’s hand.

  She was puzzled by Gabriel’s behavior but elected not to ask him about it until they reached the opposite end of the gallery.

  “Who was that?”

  “I have no idea, but stay away from him. ” Gabriel was visibly agitated, and he passed a hand over his mouth.

  “Why? What’s going on?” Julia stopped, facing him.

  “I don’t know. ” Gabriel’s eyes were sincere. “But there’s something about him. Promise me you’ll stay away. ”

  Julia laughed, the sound echoing across the gallery. “He’s a bit odd, but he seemed nice. ”

  “Pit bulls are nice until you put your hand in their cage. If he moves in your direction, turn around and walk away. Promise me. ” Gabriel dropped his voice to a whisper.

  “Of course. But what’s the matter? Have you met him before?”

  “I don’t think so, but I’m not sure. I didn’t like how he was looking at you. His eyes could have burned holes in your dress. ”

  “It’s a good thing I have Superman to protect me. ” Julia kissed her husband firmly. “I promise to avoid him and all the other handsome men here. ”

  “You think he’s handsome?” Gabriel glared at her.

  “Handsome the way a work of art is handsome, not the way you are. And if you kiss me now, I’ll forget him entirely. ”

  Gabriel leaned forward and caressed her cheek with the backs of his fingers before pressing their lips together.

  “Thank you. ” She chewed at the inside of her mouth. “I’m afraid you embarrassed me in your introduction. I don’t like the attention. ”

  “You’re the true benefactor. I’m merely your escort. ”

  Julia laughed again, but this time the sound barely echoed. The room had filled with other guests, who were waiting a respectful distance away.

  “You make a charming escort, Professor. ”

  “Thank you. ” He leaned over to whisper in her ear. “I’m sorry I embarrassed you with my introduction. I was hoping to motivate some of our guests to consider donating to the orphanage. ”

  “Then embarrass me all you like. If one person decides to support the orphanage, this entire exhibit will have been a success. Even if they hate the illustrations. ”

  “How could anyone hate something so exquisite?” Gabriel gestured at the room.

  Julia couldn’t argue. Several different artists had illustrated Dante’s work over the centuries, but Botticelli had always been her favorite.

  They continued through the room, pausing in front of each picture. Gabriel noted with satisfaction that the stranger seemed to have disappeared.

  When they’d reached the one hundredth and final illustration, Julia turned to her husband.

  “An incredible exhibit. They did a fantastic job. ”

  “It isn’t finished. ” Gabriel tried to smother a smile, his sapphire eyes sparkling.

  “Really?” She looked around, confused.

  He took her hand in his and led her to the second floor and into the Botticelli room.

  She stopped short, as she always did, when she passed through the doors. Seeing The Birth of Venus and Primavera in the same room always left her breathless.

  It was the location of Gabriel’s lecture during their first visit to Florence. He’d spoken of marriage and family then, things that at the time seemed as ethereal as a dream.

  As she stood in front of Primavera, she felt happy. Something about the painting comforted her. And it was never as magnificent to view a copy as it was to see the original.

  If she closed her eyes, she could feel the silence of the museum, hear the echoes from the distant corridor. If she concentrated, she could conjure Gabriel’s voice, lecturing on the four loves of eros, phileo, storge, and agape.

  All of a sudden, she opened her eyes, her gaze drawn to the image of Mercury on the far left. She’d seen the painting a thousand times. But at this moment, his figure disquieted her. There was something about his appearance, something about his face that seemed strangely familiar . . .

  “They’ve made an addition to this room since your last visit. ” Gabriel’s voice interrupted her musings.

  “Where?”

  He grasped her elbow, moving her to the right so she could see a large framed black-and-white photograph that hung on the wall opposite The Birth of Venus.

  She covered her mouth with her hand.

  “What’s that doing here?”

  Gabriel tugged her until she was standing in front of a photograph of herself. She was in profile, her eyes closed and her long hair held up by a pair of man’s hands. She was smiling.

  The picture was one that Gabriel had taken back in Toronto, when she’d first agreed to pose for him. She looked at the tag underneath the photograph and read the following,

  «Deh, bella donna, che a’ raggi d’amore

  ti scaldi, s’i’ vo’ credere a’ sembianti

  che soglion esser testimon del core,

  vegnati in voglia di trarreti avanti»,

  diss’io a lei, «verso questa rivera,

  tanto ch’io possa intender che tu canti.

  Tu mi fai rimembrar dove e qual era

  Proserpina nel tempo che perdette

  la madre lei, ed ella primavera».

  —DANTE, PURGATORIO 28. 045-051.

  “Ah, beauteous lady, who in rays of love

  Dost warm thyself, if I may trust to looks,

  Which the heart’s witnesses are wont to be,

  May the desire come unto thee to draw

  Near to this river’s bank,” I said to her,

  “So much that I might hear what thou art singing.

  Thou makest me remember where and what

  Proserpina that moment was when lost

  Her mother her, and she herself the Spring. ”

  “Those are the words Dante speaks when he sees Beatrice for the first time in Purgatory. ” Gabriel touched her face, and his eyes met hers with searing intensity.

 
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