Gabriels redemption, p.7
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       Gabriels Redemption, p.7

         Part #3 of Gabriels Inferno series by Sylvain Reynard
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Page 7


  Gabriel’s brother, Scott, arrived that afternoon with his wife, Tammy, and their son, Quinn. Everyone, including Julia’s father, Tom, and his girlfriend, Diane, sat down to an early dinner.

  Diane Stewart was an attractive African American woman, with flawless skin, large dark eyes, and shoulder-length curls. At forty, she was almost ten years younger than her boyfriend. She’d known him a long time, having lived in Selinsgrove her entire life.

  As dessert was supposed to be served, Diane happened upon the Emersons dancing in the kitchen. Gabriel had wired the house with a central sound system, and the strains of soft Latin jazz filled the air.

  The newlyweds were wrapped around one another, swaying softly to the music. Gabriel whispered something in Julia’s ear. She seemed embarrassed and turned away, but he chuckled and pulled her close, kissing her.

  Diane backed away, intending to return to the living room, but the aging hardwood creaked beneath her feet. The Emersons stopped abruptly and turned to face her.

  She grinned.

  “Somethin’s cookin’. And it ain’t the apple pie. ”

  Gabriel laughed, a loud and happy sound, while Julia smiled and rested her forehead against him.

  Diane nodded approvingly. “You took so long to make coffee, I thought you’d forgotten how. ”

  Gabriel ran his fingers through his hair, which was mussed because of his wife’s earlier explorations. “Darling?” He looked down at her.

  “The coffee is ready and the pie is cooling. It won’t take a minute. ” Julia reluctantly stepped away from her husband, who surreptitiously patted her backside.

  At that moment, Rachel and Tammy joined them. Tammy was the newest member of the family, having married Gabriel’s younger brother Scott a month previous. At five feet eleven inches, she was tall and curvaceous, with long strawberry blond hair and pale blue eyes.

  “What’s the holdup?” Rachel looked suspiciously at her brother, as if he were the sole cause of the delay.

  “We were just making coffee. ” Julia hid her embarrassment by pouring the beverage into a series of mugs.

  “I bet you were. ” Tammy winked slyly.

  “I don’t think it was coffee they were making. Mm-hmm. ” Diane wagged a finger in their direction.

  “Right. I’ll leave you ladies to it. ” Gabriel kissed Julia chastely before escaping to the living room.

  Rachel examined the apple pies on the center island, testing their temperature with her finger. “Grab a knife, Jules. Let’s sample these pies. ”

  “Now you’re talking. ” Diane declined Julia’s offer of coffee and parked herself on one of the kitchen stools.

  “So what was cooking out here? And please tell me you didn’t use the counters. ” Rachel eyed the granite upgrades that Gabriel had insisted on purchasing.

  “Too cold. ”

  Julia clapped her hand over her mouth, but it was too late.

  The women burst into peals of laughter and began to tease her unmercifully.

  “Is it hot in here, or is it just me?” Diane fanned herself with a paper napkin. “I’m going to start calling this the house of love. ”

  “My parents were like that. ” Rachel looked around the room. “Not on the counters that I know of. But they were very affectionate. It must be something about the kitchen. ”

  Julia didn’t disagree. There was something warm and comforting about the space and the house itself. She and Gabriel had trouble keeping their hands off each other, except while she was working on her paper.

  “So has my big brother made up for yesterday?” Rachel looked at Julia.

  She blushed a little. “Yes. ”

  “Good. I need to have a talk with him, though. He’s supposed to buy flowers after a fight. Or diamonds. ”

  Julia looked at her engagement ring, which featured a large center stone surrounded by smaller diamonds. “He’s given me enough. ”

  “That’s a good-looking ring, honey. ” Diane turned to Tammy, her eyes focusing on her left hand. “And so is yours. How’s married life?”

  Tammy watched the halogen lights catch the facets of her engagement ring. “I never thought it would happen. ”

  “Why not?” asked Rachel, her mouth half full.

  Tammy’s eyes darted toward the doorway. “Shouldn’t we serve dessert?”

  Rachel swallowed. “The men have working legs. If they want pie, they can come and get it. ”

  Tammy chuckled and picked up her coffee, cradling the mug in both hands.

  “Before I started dating Scott, I lived with someone. He was my boyfriend in law school. We talked about getting married, buying a house, the whole white-picket-fence thing. Then I got pregnant. ”

  Julia shifted uncomfortably on the bar stool, her eyes on the floor.

  Tammy gave her friends a wistful look. “Scott told me that he was a surprise, but his parents were happy about it. I wish I’d had the chance to meet Grace. She sounds like a wonderful woman. ”

  “She was,” said Rachel. “Gabriel wasn’t planned either. My parents took him in after his mother died and later adopted him. It isn’t the planning that matters. It’s what happens after. ”

  Tammy nodded. “We’d talked about having kids. We both wanted children. Then, all of a sudden, Eric decided he wasn’t ready. He thought I got pregnant to trap him. ”

  “As if you got pregnant all by yourself. ” Diane waved her fork in the air.

  Julia said nothing, ashamed of the fact that she sympathized with Eric’s lack of readiness, although she deplored his actions.

  “Eric gave me an ultimatum—the baby or him. When I hesitated, he left. ”

  “Asshole,” muttered Rachel.

  “I was devastated. I knew the pregnancy wasn’t my entire responsibility, but I felt like I should have been more careful. I considered an abortion, but Eric was already gone. And deep down, I was happy about being a mom. ”

  Once again, Julia squirmed, struck by the sincerity of Tammy’s tone.

  “I couldn’t afford the rent on my own, so I moved back with my parents. I felt like such a failure—pregnant, single, living at home. I used to cry myself to sleep thinking that no man would ever want me. ”

  “I’m so sorry. ” Julia’s eyes began to water.

  Tammy reached over and hugged her.

  “Things got better. But I’ll never forgive Eric for signing away his parental rights. Now Quinn will never know his father. ”

  “Sperm donors aren’t fathers,” Rachel interjected. “Richard didn’t contribute genetic material to Gabriel, but he’s his father. ”

  “I don’t know who contributed genetic material to Gabriel, but he must have been good looking because that boy is fine. ” Diane gestured toward the living room. “Not as fine as my man, but then, no one is. ”

  Julia giggled uncomfortably as she contemplated the notion that someone found her dad to be “fine. ”

  Tammy continued. “I was lucky I had a job. I worked at the district attorney’s office with Scott. We went out a couple of times while I was pregnant. We were just friends, but he was so sweet to me. I thought that once I had the baby, I wouldn’t hear from him again. But he came to see me a few weeks after Quinn was born. He asked me out and I was smitten. ”

  “He was smitten with you too, as I recall. ” Rachel grinned. “He was in deep smit. ”

  Tammy touched her engagement ring, moving the band back and forth on her finger. “I was breast-feeding the baby, so I had to pump before he picked me up. My parents babysat. But Scott never made me feel awkward or weird. He saw me as a person, a woman, instead of simply a mom. I guess he had a little crush on me when I was with Eric. ” She looked at her friends and smiled.

  “I was so nervous about meeting you all. I was worried about what you’d think. But you were so welcoming. ” She glanced at Julia. “I didn’t meet Gabriel until later, but he was nice, too. Even when Quinn ruined his suit. ”
  “You should have seen him before he met Julia. ” Rachel made a face. “He would have handed Quinn the dry cleaning bill. ”

  Julia was about to protest on Gabriel’s behalf, when Tammy spoke again. “I can’t imagine Gabriel doing that. He’s wonderful with Quinn. And Scott? Well, fatherhood does something to a man. To a good man,” she clarified. “Scott gets down on the floor and wrestles with Quinn. He’s playful and gentle. It’s a whole different side to him. ”

  Julia pondered Tammy’s remarks, wondering what Gabriel would be like as a father.

  “I can’t wait to have a girl. ” Tammy smiled to herself. “Scott will treat her like a princess. ”

  “You want more kids?” Rachel asked, her eyebrows lifting in surprise.

  “Yes. I think two kids will be enough for us, but if I have another boy, I’d like to try for a girl. ”

  At that moment, Scott entered the kitchen, carrying a sleepy twenty-one-month-old boy. He nodded at the other women before walking over to Tammy. “I think it’s bedtime. ”

  Julia smiled at the contrast between Scott, who was six foot three and strongly built, and the small blond angel he cradled protectively.

  “I’ll help you. ” Tammy rose to her feet. She kissed her husband and they went upstairs.

  Rachel looked at the stack of dessert plates and at the pies. “I guess I’d better take the men their dessert. ” She cut two slices of pie, plated them, and carried them into the living room.

  Diane looked at Julia and fidgeted with her cup.

  “Can we talk for a minute, honey?”

  “Of course. ” Julia shifted her weight on the stool and turned to give Diane her full attention.

  “I don’t know how to say this, so I’m just going to say it. I’ve been spending a lot of time with your father. ”

  Julia gave Diane an easy smile. “I think that’s great. ”

  “He met my mama and the rest of my family. He’s even started coming to church with me on Sundays, to hear me sing in the choir. ”

  Julia hid her surprise at the thought of her father in a church.

  “When Dad asked if he could bring you to my wedding, I knew things had to be serious. ”

  “I love him. ”

  Julia’s eyes widened. “Wow. Does he know that?”

  “Of course. He loves me too. ” Diane smiled tentatively. “We’ve been talking about the future. Making plans . . . ”

  “That’s great. ”

  “It is?” Diane’s dark eyes searched Julia’s.

  “I’m happy he’s with someone who loves him. As much as I don’t want to bring Deb up, I’m sure you know they were together for a long time. Nothing seemed to come of it. And I really didn’t like them as a couple. ”

  Diane was quiet, as if she were mulling something over.

  “Your dad and I are talking about making things permanent. I want you to know that when we do that, I won’t try to take the place of your mama. ”

  Julia stiffened. “Sharon was not my mama. ”

  Diane placed a comforting hand on Julia’s arm. “I’m sorry. ”

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