Today, I’m (Enn) at Book Bash in Orlando, FL. Thanks to Berkley, those that stop by SR’s table (manned by me, not SR) will get a copy of the new “Adult” Sampler with excerpts from SR, Erin McCarthy, Tammara Webber, Samantha Young, Emily McKay, M. Leighton & Shaunta Grimes!
But, Enn, what about those of us that can’t be at Book Bash in Orlando (to see you and give you a hug)? Well, SR decided that everyone should be able to enjoy Chapter Two from Gabriel’s Redemption.
This is an unedited excerpt, it may or may not change prior to publication.
Please do not share without linking to original post.
All rights reserved, 2013 Sylvain Reynard, Berkley Penguin
Julia startled awake very early the next morning, the remnants of her nightmare choking her. Dawn had yet to break and the bedroom was dark and quiet, the silence broken only by the sound of Gabriel’s rhythmic breathing.
She clutched the sheet to her naked chest and closed her eyes, forcing her heart rate to slow. But the act only brought the scenes from her nightmare into stark relief.
She’d been back at Harvard, running across campus to find the location of her general exam for her Ph.D. She asked person after person for help, but no one seemed to know where the exam was being held.
She heard the sounds of crying and was shocked to find an infant in her arms. The baby was hungry but she didn’t have a bottle. She clutched the child to her chest, trying to shush him, but he wouldn’t stop crying.
Suddenly, she was standing in front of Professor Matthews, the chair of her Department. He knew where the exam was being held, but told her she wouldn’t be allowed to take it. He pointed to the baby and said that children weren’t allowed. Then he turned away and walked down the hall.
She ran after him. She promised she’d keep the baby from crying. She begged him to give her a chance. All her hopes and dreams of completing her Ph.D. and becoming a Dante specialist rested on the exam. Without it, she’d be dismissed from the program.
She hugged the child, shushing him, but he began to scream.
Julia wrapped her arms around her chest. Even now, the nightmare seemed real. She was close to a full blown anxiety attack, her body trembling.
Somehow, she stumbled to the bathroom and was able to turn on the shower. The hot water would comfort and soothe her. The lights of the bathroom certainly helped dispel some the darkness.
As she stood under the spray, she tried to forget the nightmare and the other worries that were trying to breach the surface of her consciousness – her lecture, their family’s impending visit, Gabriel’s sudden urge to have a baby …
She focused on the silver necklace clasped around her throat, fingering the three charms. She knew that Gabriel wanted children. They’d discussed it prior to their engagement last year. But they’d agreed to wait until she graduated before they started a family. Graduation was still a good five or six years away.
Why is he bringing up the topic of children now?
She was anxious enough over her studies. Come September, she’d be completing her coursework and preparing for her general exam, which would have to be completed the following year.
Even more pressing was her lecture, which was to be delivered at a prestigious conference at Oxford in a few weeks. Julia had completed a paper on Guido da Montefeltro in Professor Marinelli’s graduate seminar that past semester. The Professor had liked the paper so much, she’d mentioned it to Professor Picton, who encouraged Julia to submit an abstract to the conference.
Julia had been overjoyed when her paper proposal was accepted. But the thought of standing in front of a room of Dante specialists and lecturing them on topics they were far more expert in, was daunting in the extreme.
Now Gabriel was talking about having his vasectomy reversed when they returned from Europe in August.
What if the vasectomy reversal is successful?
Guilt washed over her for even formulating the question. Of course she wanted to have a child with him. And she knew that undoing the vasectomy was more than just a physical procedure. It would be a symbolic gesture – that he’d finally forgiven himself for what happened with Paulina and Maia. That he’d finally begun to believe that he was worthy of fathering and parenting children.
They’d prayed for children. After their wedding, they’d approached the tomb of St. Francis and said spontaneous, private prayers, asking for God’s blessing on their marriage and the gift of children.
If God wants to answer our prayers, how can I say ‘wait’?
Julia worried she was being selfish. Maybe she should prioritize having a child over her education and aspirations. Harvard wasn’t going anywhere. And lots of people went back to university after starting a family.
What if Gabriel doesn’t want to wait?
He was correct to point out that life was short. The loss of Grace was testament to that fact. Once Gabriel knew he was able to father a child, he’d probably want to do so. Immediately. How could she say no?
Gabriel was a consuming fire. His passion, his desires, all seemed to overtake the desires of those around him. He’d told her once that she was the only woman who’d ever said no to him. He was probably correct.
Julia worried about her ability to say no to his deepest longing. She’d be overwhelmed with the desire to please him, to make him happy, and in so doing would be giving up her own happiness.
She hadn’t had much growing up. She’d been poor and neglected when she lived with Sharon in St. Louis. But she’d distinguished herself in school. Her intelligence and discipline had served her well through Saint Joseph’s University and the University of Toronto. Her first year at Harvard had been successful. Now was not the time to quit or drop out. Now was not the time to have a child.
Julia covered her face with her hands and prayed for strength.
A few hours later, Gabriel walked into the kitchen, carrying his running shoes and socks. He was clad in a Harvard t-shirt and shorts and was about to retrieve a bottle of water from the fridge, when he saw Julia sitting at the kitchen island, her head in her hands.
“There you are.” He dropped his shoes and socks to the floor and greeted her with an insistent kiss. “I wondered where you’d gone.”
He remarked her tired eyes and the purple smudges below them. She looked distressed.
“Nothing. I just finished cleaning the kitchen and the fridge, and now I’m making a list for the grocery store.” She pointed to a large piece of paper that was covered in her flowing script. It sat next to a cup of coffee that was stone cold and half empty, along with another equally long list of to do items.
Gabriel looked around at the kitchen, which was sparkling within an inch of its life. Even the floors were immaculate.
“It’s seven o’clock. Isn’t it a bit early for housekeeping?”
“I have a lot to do.” She didn’t sound enthusiastic.
Gabriel took her hand, stroking his thumb across her palm. “You look tired. Didn’t you sleep well?”
“I woke up early and couldn’t get back to sleep. I need to make up the rooms upstairs and clean the bathrooms. Then I need to go shopping and plan the meals. And …” She heaved a shuddering sigh. She knew there was more to do but somehow she couldn’t remember the rest.
“And?” he prompted, lowering his head so he could meet her eyes, which had moved to the long to-do list.
“I need to keep moving. I’m not even dressed.” She tugged the edges of her bathrobe together and moved to stand.
Gabriel stopped her.
“You don’t need to do anything. I said I’d find someone to come in and clean the house, and I will.” He gestured to the grocery list. “I’ll go to the store after my run.”
He cupped her cheek with his hand. “Go back to bed. You look exhausted.”
“There’s too much to do,” she whispered.
“I have this, darling. I was expecting you’d need to work on your lecture today, and that’s precisely what I want you to do. But catch up on your sleep first.” He offered her a half-smile. “A tired mind doesn’t work very well.”
He kissed her once again and led her upstairs. He pulled the covers back on their bed and watched her settle, before tucking her in.
“I know this is the first time we’ve had houseguests together. But I don’t expect you to be the maid. And I certainly don’t want our relatives to keep you from meeting your deadline.
“You can work in the study for the rest of the day. Forget about everything else.” He pressed his lips to her forehead and turned out the light, leaving Julia to her slumber.
Gabriel usually listened to music while he jogged, but on this morning his mind was distracted enough. Julianne was overwhelmed; it was obvious. She wasn’t usually an early riser and from the looks of her this morning, she’d been awake for hours.
They probably shouldn’t have invited their relatives to visit. But since they were going to Italy for most of the summer, this was the only time everyone could be together.
He’d forgotten how time consuming it was to have company. He’d never entertained more than one or two people at a time, and then only with the support of a housekeeper and a bank account that permitted him to take his guests out for meals.
Poor Julianne. Gabriel recalled his own years at Harvard; how vacations were never truly holidays since there was always more work to be done, languages to learn, reading to do, and exams to prepare for.
He was relieved to be tenured at Boston University. He wouldn’t trade places with Julia for anything. Especially since he’d coped with the pressures of grad school by drinking, doing cocaine and P-
Gabriel stumbled, pitching forward as the toe of his shoe caught on the sidewalk. He righted himself quickly and regained his stride, forcing himself to concentrate on his steps.
He didn’t like to think about his years at Harvard, when he’d allowed Paulina to enable his addictions. Since his move back to Cambridge, he’d experienced drug flashbacks so vivid, he would swear he could feel the cocaine entering his nostrils. He’d drive down a street, or enter a building on the Harvard campus and he’d feel a craving that was so sharp it was painful.
Thus far, with the grace of God, he’d resisted. Certainly, his weekly Narcotics Anonymous meetings had helped, as had his monthly appointments with his therapist.
And then, of course, there was Julianne.
If Gabriel had found his higher power in Assisi last year, Julianne was his guardian angel. She loved him, inspired him, made his house a home. But he could not shake the fear that heaven had smiled on him only to bide its time before snatching her away.
Gabriel had changed in myriad ways since Julianne was his student back in Toronto. But he had yet to abandon his belief that he was not worthy of sustained happiness. And as his therapist had warned, Gabriel had a pattern of self-sabotage.
His adoptive mother, Grace, had died of cancer almost two years previous. Her untimely death symbolized the shortness and uncertainty of life. If he were to lose Julianne …
If you had a child with her, you’d never lose her.
A still, small voice spoke in his ear.
Gabriel quickened his pace. The voice was right, but it didn’t express his primary motivation for wanting a baby with Julianne. He wanted a family that included children – a life filled with laughter, and the knowledge that he could right the wrongs done by his own parents.
He’d kept his internal struggles from his wife. She was burdened with her own concerns and he was loath to add to them. She’d worry about his addictions and his fears and he’d already given her too much anguish.
While Gabriel jogged the familiar circuit of his old neighborhood, he began to wonder why she’d been so dispirited this morning. They’d spent an incredible night together, celebrating their love in the orchard and later, in their bed. He racked his brain, trying to figure out if he’d done something to hurt her. But their lovemaking had been, as usual, both passionate and tender.
There was at least one other possibility and Gabriel cursed himself for not having thought of it sooner. Julianne always carried with her a degree of anxiety about being back in Selinsgrove. A year and a half ago, her ex-boyfriend, Simon, had broken into her father’s home and assaulted her. Subsequently, his current girlfriend, Natalie, had confronted Julia at a local diner, threatening to release lewd pictures of her if she didn’t withdraw her assault complaint.
Julianne had convinced Natalie that it was not in her interest to release the pictures, since they’d implicate Simon, as well. His father was a U.S. Senator who was running for President and Natalie was working for his campaign.
Gabriel had kept his doubts about Julia’s success to himself. He knew that once a person acquired a taste for blackmail, he or she would keep trying to draw from that well.
Gabriel cursed again, now running at a punishing rate of speed. He’d never told Julia what he’d done. He didn’t want to do so now. But if she was worrying about Simon and Natalie, then perhaps it was time to tell her the truth …
When Gabriel returned from his run, Julia was sleeping. He chuckled, noticing that her bare feet were sticking out from under the covers. Julia didn’t like it when her feet grew hot and so she’d bare them to the air, while snuggled under several blankets.
Leaning over, he tucked the covers around her feet, and walked to the shower. After he dressed he checked on her, but she was still asleep. He hurried down the stairs, grabbing her lists from the kitchen and heading out to the Range Rover. With any luck, he’d be able to complete the shopping and make a head start on her to do list before she awoke.
At eleven o’clock that evening, Julia finally descended the stairs from the second floor. She found Gabriel seated in the living room, reading. He was in his favorite leather club chair, his feet resting on a footstool, his eyes moving behind his glasses.
“Why, hello there.” He greeted her with a smile, closing his book.
“What are you reading?”
He showed her the cover. The Way of a Pilgrim.
“Is it good?”
“Very. Did you ever read J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey?”
“A long time ago. Why?”
“Franny reads this book and it troubles her. That’s where I first heard about it.”
“What’s it about?” She picked up the book, glancing at the back cover.
“It’s about a Russian Orthodox man who tries to learn what it means to pray without ceasing.”
Julia arched an eyebrow. “And?”
“And I’m reading it to discover what she learned.”
She looked at the book again. “I suppose we’re all on our own spiritual journeys.”
“Some of us are further along than others.” He smiled.
She put the book down and climbed into his lap. “I don’t think of myself that way. I think we chase God until He catches us.”
Gabriel chuckled. “Like The Hound of Heaven?”
“One of the things I admire most about you is your compassion for human frailty.”
She kissed him lightly. “I have my own vices, Gabriel. They’re just hidden.”
She looked around the room, noting the vacuum marks in the carpet and the freshly dusted furniture. The air smelled of lemon and pine.
“The house looks great. Thank you. I was able to get a lot of work done today.”
“Good.” He looked at her over the rims of his glasses. “How are you feeling?”
“Much better. Thanks for making dinner.” She rested her head on his shoulder.
“You weren’t hungry when I brought it up to you.” He ran his fingers through her hair.
“I finished it eventually. I ran into a problem with my paper, so I had trouble leaving it in order to eat.”
“Is it something I can help with?” He removed his glasses, placing them on top of his book.
“No. I don’t want people thinking that you’re the brains behind my research.”
“That wasn’t what I was offering.” Gabriel sounded offended.
“I need to do this myself.”
He sniffed. “I think you worry a little too much about what other people think.”
“I have to,” she said sharply. “If I present a paper that sounds like you wrote it, people will notice. Christa Peterson has already been telling stories about us. Paul told me.”
“Christa is a jealous bitch. She’s going backward in her career, not forward. Columbia made her enrol in the M.Phil program in Italian. They wouldn’t admit her directly into their Ph.D.
“I’ve already spoken to the head of her department at Columbia. She slanders us at her peril.” He shifted in his chair. “And when were you speaking to Paul?”
“He emailed me after the conference he went to at UCLA. That’s when he saw Christa and heard the rumors she was spreading.”
“You haven’t even let me read your paper. Although, we’ve discussed Guido so much I’m sure I know what you’ll say.”
Julia chewed on the edge of her thumbnail, but said nothing.
He hugged her more closely.
“Has my book been helpful?”
“Yes, but I’m taking a different tack,” she hedged.
“That can be a double-edged sword, Julianne. Originality is admired, but sometimes established methods are established for a reason.”
“I’ll let you read it tomorrow, if you have time.”
“Of course I’ll have time.” He began rubbing her back, up and down. “In fact, I’m looking forward to it. My goal is to help, not hurt. You know that, right?”
“Of course. Thank you.” She kissed him again, before burrowing against his chest. “I just worry about what you’ll think.”
“I’ll be honest, but supportive. I promise.”
“That’s the best I can hope for.” She smiled up at him. “Now I need you to take me to bed and cheer me up.”
He laughed. “What would cheering you up entail?”
“Taking my mind off my troubles by tantalizing me with your naked body.”
“What if I’m not ready for bed?”
“Then I guess I’ll have to go to bed by myself. And maybe cheer myself up.” She stood and stretched, glancing at him out of the corner of her eye.
In a flash he was behind her, scooping her into his arms and racing for the stairs.