Gabriels redemption, p.39
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       Gabriels Redemption, p.39

         Part #3 of Gabriels Inferno series by Sylvain Reynard
Page 39


  Her eyes darted around the room, relieved to discover that they were not alone. Several couples were nearby, also admiring the art.

  He held up his hands. “I have no wish to disturb your evening. All I require is a moment. ”

  Julia’s eyes flickered to his. “In a moment, my husband will return. ”

  “In a moment, my wife will return. I had better speak quickly. ” He grinned, exposing his teeth. “I regret what happened in Oxford. If you will recall, I was not the one behaving badly. ”

  He stepped closer.

  Julia took a step back.

  “I remember. But I must be going. ” She tried to walk around him, but he sidestepped her.

  “Another moment, please. Professor Picton was unhappy with my friend’s behavior. So was I. ”

  Julia observed him incredulously.

  “I told Christa to stay away from you. But as you know, she didn’t listen. ”

  “Thank you, Professor. If you’ll excuse me. ”

  He stood in front of her again, far too close.

  Julia had no choice but to step back.

  “Perhaps you could mention this to Professor Picton. I am applying for a job with Columbia University in New York. A former student of Katherine’s is the chair of that department. I wouldn’t want any—bad feelings to interfere. ”

  “I don’t think Katherine would interfere in another department’s search process. ”

  “I would consider it a favor. I’ve already done you a favor. ”

  Julia’s eyes flew to his. “And what would that be?”

  “I prevented my friend from sleeping with your husband. ”

  Julia felt the world grind to a halt.

  “What?” Her question was far too loud, and so the other attendees turned to stare in their direction.

  Julia’s cheeks flamed.

  “I’m sure you wish to express your gratitude. ” He leaned closer.

  “Are you kidding?”

  “Your husband was going to meet Christa at her hotel. I persuaded her to turn her attention elsewhere. Favor done. ”

  “How dare you,” Julia hissed. She leaned forward at the waist and Pacciani took a surprised step back. “How dare you come to this place of beauty and say these ugly things to me. ”

  Pacciani’s face clouded in confusion, as if he were witnessing the impossible transformation of a kitten into a lion. He lifted his hands in surrender.

  “I mean no harm. ”

  “Oh, yes you do. ” Her voice grew louder. “You and your friend, or whatever she is to you, mean nothing but harm. I don’t care what she told you or what her plans were. You didn’t prevent my husband from doing anything. Do you hear me?”

  Pacciani scowled, as he became conscious of the fact that all eyes were on them. Julia’s exclamation could be clearly heard by the other guests.

  Then his angry expression morphed into a condescending smile.

  “All men require a little—how do you say? Recreation. It is too much to expect one woman to be enough. ” He shrugged his shoulders as if he were reciting a commonly known fact.

  “Women are not items on a buffet. And my husband doesn’t share your misogyny. ” She lifted her chin defiantly. “I won’t be telling Professor Picton anything, other than that you accosted me with lies. Now go away and leave me alone. ”

  When he made no movement to comply with her instructions, she pointed an angry finger toward the door.

  “Get out. ” Her steely voice filled the room.

  (It was, perhaps, not the most polite strategy for removing a guest at a lavish event. )

  Julia ignored the looks of incredulity and censure, glaring determinedly at Pacciani, whose face was a mask of fury.

  He lunged toward Julia but was caught at the last moment by a woman who took hold of his arm with an iron grip.

  “I’ve been looking for you. ” Mrs. Pacciani scolded her husband, but not before giving Julianne a hostile glance.

  Pacciani cursed in Italian, trying to shake off his wife.

  “Let’s go. ” Mrs. Pacciani tugged at her husband’s arm. “There are important people we need to speak to. ”

  With a threatening look, Pacciani turned and accompanied his wife to the hallway.

  Julia watched their retreating backs with no little relief. And more than a little anger.

  (Which effectively ruined her afterglow. )

  “Darling?” Gabriel smiled as he entered the room, striding confidently in his tuxedo. As usual, all eyes were on him and his handsome form as he moved smoothly across the floor.

  A few whispers were exchanged by some of the other couples as they watched Gabriel rejoin his wife.

  His smile disappeared. “What’s wrong?”

  Julia pursed her lips, trying to control her anger. “Professor Pacciani cornered me. ”

  “That bastard. Are you all right?” Gabriel placed a light hand on her shoulder.

  “He offered an apology for Christa’s behavior in Oxford. I lost my temper and made a scene. ”

  “Really?” Gabriel squeezed her shoulder as he fought back a smirk. “Tell me more. ”

  Julia began to shake, the aftermath of a rush of adrenaline.

  “I called him a misogynist and told him to go. And I pointed at him. ” She lifted her index finger, staring at it in disbelief.

  “Excellent. ” Gabriel brought her index finger to his lips, where he kissed it.

  She shook her head. “Not excellent. Embarrassing. Everyone heard me. ”

  “I doubt very much that anyone would blame you. The female guests probably despise him for his lechery, and the male guests probably despise him because he’s slept with their wives. ”

  “He wanted me to tell Katherine that he dealt with Christa. He’s after a job at Columbia and Katherine is a friend of the chair. ”

  “He’ll never get it,” Gabriel scoffed. “Katherine was Lucia Barini’s supervisor. She’s a friend of mine, as well. She’ll see through him.

  “Perhaps Pacciani wants the job at Columbia in order to be with Christa. ”

  Julia appeared disgusted. “I wonder what his wife thinks about that.

  “He also told me that he prevented you from having a tryst with her. ”

  “With whom?” Gabriel’s tone was sharp.

  “Christa. He said you were going to meet her at her hotel, but that he distracted her. That’s why I lost my temper. I’m afraid the other guests heard everything. ” She glanced around the room uncomfortably.

  Gabriel cursed, shifting his gaze toward the door. Pacciani and his wife were nowhere to be seen.

  “There’s something I need to tell you. ” Gabriel linked their hands and piloted her to a quiet corner. He looked over her shoulder to be sure that no one was eavesdropping.

  He brought their faces close together, dropping his voice. “Christa propositioned me right before your lecture. I should have said something at the time, but I didn’t want to upset you. ”

  Julia gazed at him reproachfully. “And afterward?”

  “I didn’t want to upset you. ”

  “Which is why you didn’t tell me about your secret conversation with Paul. ”

  A muscle jumped in Gabriel’s jaw, and he nodded.

  Julia released his hand. “You should have told me. ”

  “Forgive me. ”

  “I’m not fragile. I can handle disturbing news. ”

  “You shouldn’t have to. ”

  Julia rolled her eyes heavenward, taking a moment to examine the gallery’s ceiling. “Gabriel, until we enter the next life, things will disturb us. It’s part of the human condition. When you keep things from me, it puts a wedge between us. ” She gave him a look, heavy with meaning.

  When he didn’t respond, she gestured to the room. “Others can exploit that wedge. ”

  He nodded, his expression tight.

  “I think I deserve to know who is making a play fo
r my husband. And when. ” She arched an expectant eyebrow.

  “Agreed. ”

  She watched him for a minute, taking in the expression in his eyes and the tightness around his lips. He looked very unhappy. But he also looked protective, and that was not a posture she wanted to disappear.

  “You are going to tell me things, aren’t you?” Her voice grew soft.

  “Yes. ” He was being truthful, but they both knew he was holding on to his secrets. At least for the present.

  “So,” she said brightly. “You’re forgiven. But since my good mood from my first foray into museum sex has been ruined, you’re going to have to fix that. ”

  Gabriel bowed, not taking his eyes off hers. “I am yours to command. ”

  “Good. ” She leaned forward, grabbing his silk bow tie. “Because my command is pleasure. And I think I’d like it now. ”

  He pushed her hair behind her shoulders and brought his lips to her ear.

  “Then come. ”

  Chapter Thirty-seven

  August 2011

  Cambridge, Massachusetts

  When Julia and Gabriel returned home the last week in August, they arrived to find a plethora of unopened mail. Gabriel gazed at the envelopes that Rebecca had stacked neatly on his desk and decided he’d forgo opening them in order to unpack instead.

  While he was in the bedroom, Julia remained in the study. She glanced at the open door apprehensively before quietly moving to close it.

  She knew that what she was going to do would be a violation of Gabriel’s trust. But, she reasoned, her actions were justified by his silence and his continued reticence to disclose what was troubling him. She’d hoped he would talk to her while they were in Florence. But he hadn’t.

  Simply put, she was afraid and she was having difficulty coping with the fear.

  There was a drawer in his desk that he never opened. She was vaguely aware of it, although she’d never had the nerve to look through its contents.

  Gabriel had caught her opening it one day while she was in search of some printer paper, and he’d closed it under her hand, saying there were memories in that space that he did not wish to relive. Then he’d distracted her by pulling her onto his lap on the red velvet chair and making love to her.

  Julia hadn’t touched the drawer since. But today, frustrated and concerned, she sat behind his desk, examining its contents. If Gabriel would not give her answers, perhaps his collection of memories would.

  The Botticelli illustrations, which he’d kept in a locked wooden box in that same drawer, were no longer there, displayed as they were now in the Uffizi. Julia quickly and quietly retrieved the first item, holding it in her hand.

  It was his grandfather’s pocket watch. He’d worn it on occasion, back in Toronto, but since they’d moved to Cambridge it had remained in the drawer. The watch was made of gold and attached to a long chain that had a fish-shaped fob on it. She opened it carefully and read the inscription:

  To William,

  My beloved husband

  Love, Jean

  She closed the watch, placing it on top of the desk.

  The next item she retrieved was an old cast-iron train engine that had clearly seen better days. She imagined Gabriel as a little boy, clutching his train, perhaps demanding that he take it with him when he and his mother left New York.

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