Saturday, August 10, 2013

Gabriel's Rapture - Chapter 58

Just before sunrise, Julia awoke with a start.
Her handsome husband was by her side, his face boyish in sleep. It was the face of the young man she met on Grace’s back porch. She traced his eyebrows and the stubble on his chin, a tremendous feeling of love flowing through her. A tremendous feeling of contentment and joy.
Not wanting to disturb him, she crept from their bed. She picked up his discarded shirt from the floor and put it on before tiptoeing out to the balcony.
The faintest hint of light shimmered from the horizon, over the gently rolling hills of the Umbrian landscape. The air was chilly, far too cold to be outside in anything other than a hot tub, but the view was unspeakably lovely, and she felt the need to drink in its beauty. Alone.
Growing up, she felt so unworthy of having her deepest desires satisfied, of being loved absolutely. She didn’t feel that way anymore. This morning, expressions of gratitude bubbled up from her soul, wafting Heavenward.
Gabriel stretched out his hand to Julia’s side of the bed, but found only her pillow. It took a moment for him to awake, exhausted as he was with the previous evening and early morning’s activities. They’d made love several times and taken turns worshipping one another’s bodies with mouths and hands.
He smiled. All her fears and anxieties appeared to have vanished. Was it solely because they were married now? Or was it because
Gabriel’s Rapture
enough time had passed that she knew beyond doubt that he wouldn’t take advantage of her?
He didn’t know. But he was pleased because she had been pleased. And when she gave herself to him in a way that she’d never been able to before, he treasured that gift, knowing that it was given out of love and absolute trust.
Awaking to an empty bed made him nervous, however. So rather than indulge himself in these silent musings, he quickly went in search of his beloved. It didn’t take long for him to find her.
“Are you all right?” he called, as he walked out onto the balcony.
“I’m wonderful. I’m happy.”
“You’ll catch pneumonia,” he chided, slipping off his robe and wrapping it around her.
She turned to thank him and noticed that he was naked. “So will you.”
He grinned, positioning himself in front of her and opening the robe so it wrapped around both of them. She sighed at the pleasurable feeling of their naked bodies pressed tightly together.
“Was everything to your liking?” Gabriel rubbed her back through the robe.
“You couldn’t tell?”
“We didn’t have a lot of conversation, if you recall. Perhaps I kept you up too late. I know we were making up but…”
“I’m a little out of practice, but deliciously worn out.” She flushed. “Last night was even better than our first time together. And certainly, as you put it, more vigorous.”
He chuckled. “I concur.”
“We’ve been through so much. I feel as if our connection is deeper.” She nuzzled his shoulder with her nose. “And I don’t have to worry about you disappearing.”
“I’m yours,” he whispered. “And I feel the connection too. It’s what I needed. It’s what you deserve. When I touch you, when I look into your eyes, I see our history and our future.” He paused and lifted her face so he could see her better. “It’s breathtaking.”
Julia kissed him delicately and snuggled closer in his arms.
Sylvain Reynard
“I spent too long in the shadows.” Gabriel’s voice brimmed with emotion. “I’m looking forward to being in the light. With you.”
She placed a hand on either side of his face, forcing him to see her. “We’re in the light now. And I love you.”
“As I love you, Julianne. I’m yours for this life and the next.”
He kissed her lips once more and led her back into the bedroom.

Gabriel's Rapture - Chapter 57

Without breaking the kiss, he picked her up and carried her back inside the house and up the stairs to the master bedroom. He twirled her around, admiring the way the full skirt of her purple dress flared out as she spun.
“I believe I owe you something.”
“And what’s that?” Julia laughed as Gabriel pressed himself up against her back.
He reached over her shoulder to whisper to her. “Make-up sex.”
The tone of his voice goose pimpled her skin.
He rubbed his hands up and down her bare arms. “Are you cold?”
“No. Excited.”
“Excellent.” He brushed her hair aside so his lips could find her neck, and he began plying her with kisses. “And just so you know, I have a lot to make up for. In fact, I think it will take me all night.”
“All night?” asked Julia, coughing slightly.
“All night and into the morning.”
She had already begun to melt into his embrace by the time he retreated, pressing his mouth and tongue eagerly to the curve of her shoulder before letting go.
“While you’re getting ready for bed I want you to think about all the ways I’m going to please you.”
He traced a single finger across her neckline in promise before releasing her with a provocative wink.
Julia gathered her lingerie from her luggage and disappeared into the bathroom. When she went shopping for something to wear on
Gabriel’s Rapture
their wedding night, she had been intimidated. She was unsure what to choose that he hadn’t seen before.
In a tiny shop on Newbury Street, she had found exactly what she was looking for — a long Merlot colored silk gown with a low neckline. But its crowning glory was the crisscrossing laces in the back, which plunged to an almost indecent level. She chose the gown knowing that he would delight in undoing her. In more ways than one.
She left her hair up and she swiped at her lips with a hint of sheer gloss before stepping into the black stilettos she’d purchased for their honeymoon. Then she opened the bathroom door.
Gabriel was waiting.
The master bedroom was bathed in candlelight, scented with sandalwood, and Julia could hear soft music playing. It was a different playlist than they’d enjoyed before, but she liked it nonetheless.
He approached her in his white shirt and dress pants, his shirt untucked and unbuttoned almost to his waist, his feet bare. He held his hand out, and she joined him, winding her arms around his back.
“You’re exquisite,” he whispered, his hands almost trembling as they traced the bareness of skin that peeked through her laces. “I’d almost forgotten how lovely you are by candlelight. Almost, but not quite.”
She smiled against his chest.
“May I?” He fingered her pinned up hair, and she nodded.
A lesser man would have taken out the hairpins all at once, if he could have found them, freeing the strands quickly so he could move on to something else. But Gabriel was not a lesser man.
Painstakingly, he combed his long fingers through her hair until he alighted on a hairpin and then he gently undid it, letting down a single curl. He repeated this procedure until Julia’s hair fell like waves against her pale shoulders and her body was alive with want.
He cupped her cheeks and looked deeply into her eyes. “Tell me what you desire. The night is yours. I’m yours to command.”
“No commandments.” Julia tasted his lips twice. “Just show me that you love me.”
“Julianne, I love you with all four loves. But tonight is a celebration of eros.”
Sylvain Reynard
Gabriel plied her bare shoulders with urgent, heated kisses before standing behind her and stroking the exposed skin of her back. “Thank you for your gift.”
“My gift?”
“Your body, alluringly wrapped up just for me.” He paused as his eyes swept down to her feet. “And your shoes. Surely after such a long day, they must be uncomfortable.”
“I hadn’t noticed.”
He began to toy with the diamonds in her ears. “And why is that?”
“Because all I could think about was making love with you.”
“I’ve thought of almost nothing else for days. For months.” Gabriel inhaled sharply and began running his hands up and down her bare arms. “I’m the only man to see you naked in all your glory and to know the sounds you make when you’re pleasured. Your body recognizes me, Julianne. It knows my touch.”
Beginning at her lower back, he undid the bow, sliding the satin laces painstakingly through his fingers.
“Are you nervous?” Gabriel reached over to lift her chin to the side so he could see her profile.
“It’s been a while.”
“I’m going to take my time. The — ah — more vigorous activities will come later, after we’re sufficiently reacquainted.” He pointed his nose in the direction of a blank wall, and Julia felt her skin heat in anticipation.
He slowly pulled the laces open until her back was completely exposed. Then he placed the palms of his hands flat against her skin and began to skim them up and down.
“I burn for you. All these months I’ve waited, waited to take you to bed.”
He turned her so she was facing him and without ceremony pushed the straps of her nightgown down her arms. His eyes followed the sighing silk as it slid down her form before dropping to the floor.
She stood before him naked, her hands at her sides.
“Magnificent,” he breathed, his hungry eyes appraising every inch of her with painstaking slowness.
Not content to be the center of attention, she began to unbutton his shirt. She pushed it off his shoulders and pressed her mouth
Gabriel’s Rapture
to his tattoo, nipping and kissing across his pectorals before making short work of his trousers.
Soon he was naked also, and she saw evidence of his arousal. He moved to kiss her, but she stopped him.
With eager fingers she began with his hair and explored his body, paying homage with fingertips and lips. His face, his mouth, his jaw, his shoulders, his sculpted chest and abdominal muscles. His arms and thighs and…
He caught her hand in his before she could wrap it around him, whispering sweet things against her mouth. Words of devotion in Italian that she recognized as coming from Dante’s pen. He picked her up and carried her to the large, canopied bed, where he seated her on the edge. Then he knelt on the floor in front of her.
“Where shall I begin?” he asked, his eyes slightly darkened as his hands traveled across her flat stomach and down her thighs. “Tell me.”
Julia inhaled quickly and shook her head.
“Shall I start here?” He leaned forward to trace her lips with the barest touch of his tongue.
“Or here?” He caressed her breasts before letting his mouth take over, licking and teasing them. She closed her eyes and gasped at the sensation.
“What about here?” His finger slowly encircled her navel before he fluttered his mouth across her abdomen.
She moaned and tugged at his hair. “All I want is you.”
“Then have me.”
She kissed him, and he responded by enjoying her mouth slowly, setting a gentle, languorous pace. When he felt her heartbeat quicken, he took her left foot in his hand and began to remove her shoe.
“Don’t you want me to wear them?” she asked, looking down at him. “I bought them for tonight.”
“Let’s save them for later, when we christen the wall.” Gabriel’s voice was a throaty whisper.
He slowly removed her shoes and spent a few moments massaging her feet, paying special attention to her arches. Then he pushed her to the center of the bed and reclined beside her.
“Do you trust me?”
Sylvain Reynard
He gave her a soft kiss on the lips. “I’ve waited a long time to hear you say that and to know that you mean it.”
“Of course I mean it. The past is behind us.”
“Then let’s make up for lost time.”
Tenderly, he began using his hands to touch and to tease, his movements deliberate but passionate. He added his mouth, nipping and sucking to the tune of her sighs. His heart swelled in gladness at her sounds and the way her body writhed from side to side under his touch.
When her hands moved up and down his back urgently, finally coming to rest on his backside, he spread himself atop her, bringing their bodies into perfect alignment.
Staring down at her, he whispered, “Behold, thou art fair, my love; thine eyes are as doves…Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy mouth is comely.”
Julia reached up to press their lips together before she responded. “Don’t make me wait.”
“Are you inviting me inside?”
Julia nodded as a flash of heat raced across the surface of her skin. “My husband.”
“My brown-eyed angel.”
His tongue played with her mouth as their bodies melted into one another, and soon they were one, their collective sighs muffled by teeth and tongues.
Gabriel’s rhythm was slow at first, like the patient lapping of waves upon a beach. He wanted this experience to last forever, for in that moment, as he gazed into the wide and loving eyes of his wife, he realized that their previous experiences, exciting as they were, paled in comparison with the sublimity of their current connection.
She was bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. She was his soul mate and his wife, and all he wanted was to bring her joy. He was consumed by his adoration of her.
Julia traced his brows, wrinkled as they were in concentration, his eyes now shut tightly.
“I love that look,” she murmured.
“What look?”
Gabriel’s Rapture
“Your eyes closed, your eyebrows furrowed, your lips pressed together — you only look like that when you — come.”
He opened his eyes, and she saws sparks in their sapphire depths. “Oh, really, Mrs. Emerson?”
“I’ve missed that look. It’s sexy.”
“You flatter me.” Gabriel sounded embarrassed.
“I want to have a painting or a photograph of that face.”
He frowned playfully. “A picture like that might be too much.”
Julia laughed. “This is coming from a man who decorated his bedroom with naked photographs of himself.”
“The only naked photographs in my bedroom will be of you, my exquisite wife.”
His rhythm increased, catching Julia by surprise.
As she panted out her pleasure, Gabriel buried his face in her neck. “You’re so enticing. Your hair, your skin.”
“Your love makes me beautiful.”
“Then let me love you forever.”
She arched her back. “Yes, forever. Please.”
Gabriel moved apace, his lips playing across her neck, sucking and drawing the skin lightly into his mouth.
In response, her hands grasped his hips, pushing and pulling until she was close, very close.
“Open your eyes,” he gasped, moving more quickly.
Julia gazed up into the dark but tender eyes of her husband, so alive with passion and true affection.
“I love you,” she said, eyes widening and closing as the sensations overtook her.
This time, Gabriel didn’t close his eyes as his brows furrowed in concentration.
“I love you,” he breathed with every movement, every glide of skin against naked skin, until they were both sated and still.

Gabriel's Rapture - Chapter 56

Later that evening, they changed into their honeymoon clothes, a dark suit for Gabriel and a purple dress for Julia, and sat side by side in a chauffeured car that he’d hired.
Soon the car was pulling up the drive that led to a villa near Todi. The very same villa that Gabriel had rented when they visited Italy the year before.
“Our house,” she whispered, as soon as she caught sight of it.
“Yes.” He kissed the back of her hand as he helped her out of the car. Then he was taking her in his arms and carrying her across the threshold.
“Are you disappointed? I thought you’d prefer some quiet time to ourselves, but if not, we can go to Venice or Rome. I’ll take you anywhere you want to go.” He placed her on her feet.
“This is perfect. I’m so glad you decided to bring us here.” She threw her arms around his neck.
At length, he pulled away. “I think I should carry our luggage upstairs. Are you hungry?”
Julia grinned. “I could eat.”
“Why don’t you see if there’s anything tempting in the kitchen, and I’ll join you soon.”
She leaned forward with a devilish look on her face. “The only thing in the kitchen that would tempt me would be you on top of the kitchen table.”
Her sultry suggestion hearkened back to their previous visit, when they’d christened that table several times. With a deep groan, he quickly carried their suitcases upstairs as if someone was chasing him.
Sylvain Reynard
In the kitchen, Julia found the pantry to be fully stocked, as was the refrigerator. She laughed when she saw several bottles of cranberry juice lined up on the counter, as if they were waiting for her. She’d just opened a bottle of Perrier and finished preparing a cheese plate when Gabriel returned. He seemed years younger as he raced into the kitchen, boyish even, his eyes bright and his expression cheerful.
“This looks delicious. Thank you.” He sat at her side, glancing at the kitchen table significantly. “But I have to say that I’d rather our first few times occur in bed.”
Julia felt her skin flush. “This table has happy memories for me.”
“For me too. But we have plenty of time to make new ones. Better ones.” He gave her a heated look.
She felt the flutterings of desire increase.
“Was the wedding everything you hoped for?” He gazed at her eagerly, pouring two glasses of sparkling water.
“It was better. The Mass, the music — having the wedding in the Basilica was incredible. I felt so at peace there.”
Gabriel nodded, for he’d felt that way too.
“I’m glad we only invited family and close friends. I’m sorry I didn’t have much of a chance to talk to Katherine Picton, although I saw you dancing with her twice.” Julia pretended to be offended.
He eyed her in mock surprise. “Really? I danced with her twice? That’s pretty impressive for a septuagenarian. I’m surprised she could keep up with me.”
Julia rolled her eyes at his pretentious choice of adjectives.
“You danced with Richard twice, Mrs. Emerson. I suppose we’re even.”
“He’s my father now too. And he’s an excellent dancer. Very elegant.”
“Better than me?” Gabriel feigned jealousy.
“No one is better than you, darling.” She leaned over to kiss away his pout. “Do you think that he will ever marry again?”
“Why not?”
He took her hand in his and caressed her knuckles gently, one by one.
Gabriel’s Rapture
“Because Grace was his Beatrice. When you’ve experienced a love such as that, anything less would seem like only a shadow.” He smiled sadly. “Strangely enough, it was the same in Grace’s favorite book, A Severe Mercy. Sheldon Vanauken never remarried after his wife died.
“Dante lost Beatrice when she was just twenty-four. He spent the rest of his life mourning her. If I were to lose you, it would be the same for me. There will never be anyone else. Never,” he emphasized, a fierce but loving look in his eyes.
“I wonder if my father will marry again.”
“Would it trouble you if he did?”
She shrugged. “No. It would take some getting used to, but I’m glad he’s dating someone kind. I’d like him to be happy. I’d like him to have someone kind to grow old with.”
“I’m looking forward to growing old with you,” said Gabriel. “And you are certainly kind.”
“I’m looking forward to growing old with you too.”
Husband and wife exchanged a look then finished their food in relaxed quietness. Afterward, Gabriel stood and stretched out his hand. “I haven’t given you your wedding gifts, yet.”
She took his hand and her fingers touched his wedding band. “I thought our gifts were our rings and the inscriptions inside them: I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine.”
“There’s more.” He led her to the fireplace and paused.
When they entered the house, Julia hadn’t noticed that the artwork that hung over the fireplace previously had been removed. In its place was a large and impressive oil painting of a man and a woman in a passionate embrace.
She took a step closer to the painting, transfixed by the stirring image.
The male and female figures were wrapped around each other, the male naked to the waist and slightly underneath the female as if he were kneeling at her feet, his head resting on her lap. The female figure was bent forward, naked and wrapped carelessly in what appeared to be a bed sheet, clutching the male’s back and sides and resting her head between his shoulder blades. In truth, it was difficult to tell where his body began and her body ended, so entwined they were, almost like a circle. Need and desperation leapt off the canvas,
Sylvain Reynard
as if the couple had just made up after a fight or found each other after an extended absence.
“It’s us,” breathed Julia as she blinked in shock.
The male’s face was partially hidden by the woman’s lap, his mouth pressed against her naked thigh. But it was Gabriel’s face, of that there could be no doubt. The female’s face was Julia’s, eyes closed in bliss, a small smile playing at the edge of her full lips as she faced the viewer. She looked happy.
“But how?”
Gabriel stood behind her and placed his arms around her shoulders. “I posed for the artist and provided photographs of you.”
He leaned forward to kiss the side of her neck. “Don’t you recognize your posture? It’s a study of some of the pictures I took of you in Belize. Do you remember the morning after you wore your corset for the first time? You were lying in bed…”
Julia’s eyes widened in remembrance.
“Do you like it?” Gabriel’s usually sure tone sounded surprisingly uncertain. “I wanted something — ah — personal to commemorate our wedding.”
“I love it. I’m just surprised.”
His body relaxed.
“Thank you.” She took his hand and gently pressed her lips to his palm. “It’s a lovely gift.”
“I’m glad you like it. But there’s one more small thing.”
He walked over to the mantelpiece of the fireplace in order to retrieve a familiar looking golden apple.
“How did that get here?” Julia smiled.
“Open it, Mrs. Emerson.”
She lifted the lid and found a large, old-fashioned key inside. She met Gabriel’s eyes quizzically. “A magic key? To a secret garden? Or to a wardrobe that leads to Narnia?”
“Very funny. Come with me.” He caught her wrist and brought it to his lips, hesitating against her skin.
“Where are we going?”
“You’ll see.”
Gabriel’s Rapture
He led her out the front door, closing it behind them. They stood on the porch, surrounded by darkness that was illuminated only by the lights that hung on the stone walls.
“Try the key.”
“What? Here?”
“Just try it.” Gabriel rocked back on his heels, trying to hide his sudden anxiety.
Julia put the key in the lock and twisted. She heard the lock click and with a flick of her wrist, it unlocked and the door swung open.
“Thank you for becoming my wife,” he whispered. “Welcome home.”
She looked over at him incredulously.
“We were happy here,” he said softly. “I wanted us to have a place that we could escape to, somewhere with fond memories.”
He reached out to lightly touch her arm. “We can spend our holidays here when we aren’t in Selinsgrove. You could write your dissertation here, if you want. Although I couldn’t bear to be separated from you for more than a day.”
Julia kissed him, thanking him over and over again for his lavish gift. They stood there for several minutes, reveling in one another’s touch, their heartbeats quickening.

Gabriel's Rapture - Chapter 54

Despite the fact that Tom gave his blessing to Julia and Gabriel (albeit begrudgingly), conflict ensued when the happy couple announced the destination of their wedding.
While the Clarks were only too glad to spend a week in Italy during the winter, Tom, who had never traveled outside of North America, was less than enthused. As the father of the bride, he’d intended on paying for his only daughter’s wedding even if he had to mortgage his new house in order to do so. Julia wouldn’t hear of him doing such a thing.
Though the wedding would be small, the estimated costs were high enough that they would effectively damage Tom financially if he paid for everything. Gabriel was more than comfortable covering the costs, much to Tom’s chagrin. It was more important to Gabriel that Julia have the day of her dreams than for her father to be placated.
Julia tried to smooth over the conflict between the two men by pointing out that there were things that her father could pay for, such as her wedding dress and the flowers.
In late November, she was on Newbury Street in Boston when she saw the dress in the window of an elegant boutique. The dress was ivory silk organza with a v-neck and little wisps of sleeves that sat high on the shoulders. While the top was covered in lace, the skirt was full and layered like a cloud.
Without further thought, she walked into the shop and asked to try it on. The shopkeeper complimented her, saying that Monique Lhuillier’s gowns were very popular.
Julia didn’t recognize the designer’s name, and she didn’t look at the price tag because there wasn’t one. When she stood in front of
Sylvain Reynard
the mirrors in the dressing room, she knew. This was her dress. It was classically beautiful and would complement the color of her skin and the shape of her body. And Gabriel would adore the fact that much of her upper back would be exposed. Tastefully, of course.
She sent a picture of herself in the gown to Tom via her iPhone, asking him what he thought. He called her immediately, telling her that he’d never seen a bride as absolutely beautiful as she.
Tom asked to speak to the boutique manager, and without Julia discovering the substantial price, he made arrangements to purchase the dress. Knowing that he was able to buy his only daughter the dress of her dreams enabled him to accept the fact that Gabriel would be paying for most of the wedding.
After saying good-bye to Tom, Julia spent several hours shopping for the rest of her trousseau. Among other things, she chose a veil that was almost ankle length, a pair of satin heels that she could walk in successfully, and a long, white velvet cape that would protect her and her dress from the January weather in Assisi. Then she went home.
Two weeks before the wedding, Tom called Julia to ask her an important question. “I know the invitations have been sent out but would there be room for one more?”
Julia was surprised.
“Sure. Is there a long lost cousin I wasn’t aware of?”
“Not exactly,” hedged Tom.
“Then who?”
He took a very deep breath and held it.
“Dad, spit it out. Who do you want to bring?” Julia closed her eyes and silently begged the gods of daughters whose fathers were single to intervene on her behalf and keep Deb Lundy from attending her wedding or worse — getting back together with her father.
“Um, Diane.”
Julia’s eyes flew open. “Diane who?”
“Diane Stewart.”
Gabriel’s Rapture
“Diane from Kinfolks restaurant?”
“That’s right.” Tom’s gruff reply immediately telegraphed to Julia far more than he realized.
Her jaw dropped in shock.
“Jules? You still there?”
“Yeah, I’m here. Um, sure, I’ll add her to the guest list. Uh, is Diane a — special friend of yours?”
Tom fell silent for a moment. “You could say that.”
“Huh,” said Julia.
Tom ended the conversation quickly and Julia put down her cell phone, wondering which blue plate special had precipitated her father’s new romance.
Definitely not the meatloaf, she thought.

Gabriel's Rapture - Chapter 55

On January twenty-first, Tom paced nervously at the entrance to the Basilica in Assisi. He was nervous. And the fact that Julia and her bridesmaids were late didn’t help matters. He tugged at his bow tie as he waited. Then, a vision in white velvet over organza floated through the front doors like a luminescent cloud.
He was speechless.
“Dad,” Julia breathed, smiling with excitement as she walked toward him.
Tammy and Rachel helped divest her of her cape and adjust the layers of her skirt, unfolding the train that extended behind her. Then Christina, the wedding planner who was hovering nearby, handed Rachel and Tammy their bouquets, which were a mixture of irises and white roses, designed to match their iris-colored dresses.
“You look pretty,” Tom mumbled, pressing a shy peck to Julia’s cheek through her long veil.
“Thank you.” She flushed, looking down at her bouquet, which consisted of two dozen white roses and a few springs of holly.
“Could you give us a minute?” he asked the others.
“Of course.” Christina pulled Tammy and Rachel to stand at the entrance to the sanctuary, signaling to the organist that the processional was about to begin.
Tom smiled at Julia nervously. “I like your necklace,” he said.
Julia’s hands flew to the pearls that hung around her neck. “They were Grace’s.” She fingered the diamonds in her ears too but elected not to reveal their source.
“I wonder what she’d think about you marrying her son.”
Gabriel’s Rapture
“I’d like to think that she’d be happy. That she’s looking down on us and smiling.”
Tom nodded again and shoved his hands into the pockets of his tuxedo. “I’m glad you asked me to walk you down the aisle.”
Julia looked puzzled. “I didn’t want to get married without you, Dad.”
He cleared his throat, shifting awkwardly in his rented shoes. “I should have kept you when I took you away from Sharon the first time. I never should have sent you back.” His voice cracked.
“Daddy,” she whispered, tears overflowing.
He reached over and hugged her, trying to show her with his embrace what he couldn’t say in words.
“I forgave you a long time ago. We don’t ever need to speak of it again.” She paused, looking up at him. “I’m glad you’re here. And I’m glad you’re my Dad.”
“Jules.” Tom gave a strangled cough, then released her with a smile. “You’re a good girl.”
He turned so he could peer down the long aisle that led to the altar, to where Gabriel was standing with his brother and brother-in-law. All three men were dressed in black Armani tuxedoes, with crisp white shirts. However, Scott and Aaron had eschewed Gabriel’s choice of bow ties in favor of regular ones because bow ties were, as Scott put it, “for old men, Young Republicans, or professors.”
“Are you sure about this?” Tom asked. “If you have any doubts, I’ll call a cab and take you home right now.”
Julia squeezed his hand. “No doubts. Gabriel might not be perfect, but he’s perfect for me. We belong together.”
“I told him that I expected him to take care of my little girl. That if he wasn’t prepared to do that, we’d have a problem. He said that if he treated you as anything less than the treasure you are, that I should come after him with my shotgun.” Tom grinned. “I said that suited me fine.”
“Are you ready?”
Julia took a deep breath. “Yes.”
“Then let’s do this.” He offered Julia his arm, and they nodded to the bridesmaids to begin the processional to J. S. Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze.”
Sylvain Reynard
When Julia and Tom entered the Basilica, to the melody of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” Gabriel’s eyes caught hers and a wide smile spread across his features. The January sun peeked through the doors, illuminating the bride from behind and making her look as if a halo shone around her veiled head.
Gabriel couldn’t stop smiling. He smiled through the entire Mass, including his vows to worship his wife and the performance of selections from Bach’s Sleepers Awake and Mozart’s Exsultate, jubilate by a solo soprano.
After the ceremony, he placed trembling fingers on Julia’s veil and lifted it carefully. He swiped his thumbs underneath her eyes, wiping away the happy tears that had trickled down, and kissed her. The kiss was soft and chaste, but full of promise. Then they walked to the lower church and down to the crypt.
They hadn’t planned to do so. Somehow, hands entwined, they found themselves approaching the tomb of St. Francis. In the quiet darkness where Gabriel had his ineffable experience months earlier, they knelt in prayer. Each silently thanked God for the other, for the many blessings He had given them, for Grace and Maia, for their fathers and siblings.
When Gabriel finally stood and lit a single candle, each of them asked God for one more blessing. One small miracle out of the lavishness of his grace. As they ended their prayers, a strange but comforting feeling wrapped around them like a blanket.
“Don’t cry, sweet girl.” Gabriel took her hand to help her to her feet. He wiped her tears away, kissing her. “Please don’t cry.”
“I’m so happy,” she said, smiling up at him. “I love you so much.”
“It’s the same for me. I keep wondering how this happened. How did I ever find you again and convince you to become my wife?”
“Heaven smiled on us.”
She reached up to kiss her husband next to St. Francis’s tomb without shame, knowing that her words were truly spoken.

Gabriel's Rapture - Chapter 53

A few days later, Paul received an email from Julia announcing
her engagement. It made him ill. Reading and re-reading her words didn’t ameliorate his situation. Not one bit. But he did so anyway, if not to torture himself then to have her new status indelibly impressed on his mind.

Dear Paul,
I hope this email finds you well. I’m sorry it took me so long to answer your last message. Grad school is kicking my butt, and I feel so behind in everything. But I’m loving it. (By the way, thank you for the recommendation of Ross King’s books. I don’t have much time to read these days, but I’m going to pick up Brunelleschi’s Dome.)
One of the reasons I don’t have much time to read is because I’m engaged. Gabriel has asked me to marry him and I said yes. We’d hoped to get married quickly, but were unable to book the basilica in Assisi until January 21st. Gabriel has personal ties with the Franciscans, which is the only reason we were able to book the basilica in so short a time.
I’m very happy. Please be happy for me.
I’m sending your invitation to your apartment in Toronto. We’re also inviting Katherine Picton.
I’ll understand if you can’t or don’t want to attend, but it was important to me to invite the people I care about. Gabriel has rented a house in Umbria for the wedding guests to stay in before and after the wedding. You’d be most welcome. I know my father would be happy to see you again too.
You’ve been nothing but a good friend to me, and I hope that someday I’ll be able to repay the favor.
With affection,

P.S. Gabriel didn’t want me to mention this, but he’s the one who persuaded Professor Picton to supervise your dissertation. I asked her but she refused. Surely he isn’t as bad as you thought?
Paul’s gratitude for Gabriel’s generosity didn’t erase the sudden sharp pain he felt at the realization that he’d just lost Julia. Again.
Yes, he’d already lost her, but before Gabriel’s return there was the possibility that Julia would change her mind, even if that possibility was remote. Somehow the knowledge that she was going to marry him smarted so much more than if she had been marrying, say, some other schmuck called Gabriel. Like Gabriel-the-plumber or Gabriel-the-cable-guy.
Shortly after she emailed Paul, Julia received a package in her mailbox at Harvard. Seeing that it was postmarked in Essex Junction, Vermont, she opened it eagerly.
Paul had sent her a limited edition copy of The Velveteen Rabbit. He’d written a short inscription to her on the flyleaf, which tugged at her heart, and enclosed a letter.

Dear Julia,
I was surprised by your news. Congratulations.
Thanks for inviting me to your wedding but I won’t be able to attend. My father had a heart attack a few days ago and is in the hospital. I’m helping out on the farm. (My mother says hello, by the way. She is making something for you as a wedding present. Where should she send it? I’m assuming you won’t be living on campus once you’re married)
From the first time I met you, I wanted you to be happy. To be more confident. To have a good life. You deserve these things, and I’d hate to see you throw them away.
I wouldn’t be your friend if I didn’t ask you if Emerson is what you really want. You shouldn’t settle for less than the best. And if you have any doubt about it, you shouldn’t marry him.
I promise I’m not trying to be an asshole.

With sadness, Julia folded up Paul’s letter and placed it back inside the book.

Gabriel's Rapture - Chapter 52

After dinner, Tammy and Scott cleaned up while Rachel and Aaron
practiced their parenting skills with Quinn. On the back porch, Richard and Tom smoked cigars and drank Scotch, while watching old Mr. Bancroft carry things from the garage into the woods. Richard gave Tom a knowing look, and the two men clinked glasses.
Inside the house, Gabriel took Julia’s hand and led her upstairs. “Wear something warm,” he said as they walked into her room. “I want to take you for a walk.”
“It isn’t that cold out,” she remarked, as she pulled on one of Gabriel’s old cashmere cardigans.
He’d divested his wardrobe of cardigans after Julia informed him that they made him look like a grandfather.
(Or a PBS host.)
Upon hearing that, Gabriel was only too glad to donate his cardigans to the Salvation Army, with the exception of one or two that Julia rescued.
“I don’t want you to catch cold,” he protested, tugging playfully on her sweater.
“I have you to warm me,” she countered, winking at him.
After winding her Magdalen College scarf around her neck, Gabriel escorted her downstairs, through the kitchen and outside.
“Going for a walk, Emerson?” Tom’s voice surprised them.
“With your permission, Mr. Mitchell.”
Tom patted the Swiss Army knife in his coat pocket. “If you make her cry, I’ll gut you like a fish.”
Gabriel’s Rapture
“I’ll take good care of her, I promise. And if I make her cry, I’ll dry her tears.”
Tom snorted and muttered something under his breath.
Julia gazed between Gabriel and Tom quizzically. “What’s going on?”
“Gabriel is taking you for a walk, with my blessing.” Her father spoke with only the slightest of scowls.
“And mine,” interjected Richard, his gray eyes alive with amusement.
“You two need to lay off the Scotch.” Julia shook her head at the men as Gabriel pulled her into the dense, thick trees.
“What was that all about?” she asked as they trudged hand in hand toward the remains of the old orchard.
“You’ll see.” Gabriel kissed the top of her head before quickening their pace. He grinned as he inhaled her scent. “You smell like vanilla.”
“I got sick of lavender.”
“So did I.”
Within minutes they were at the edge of the orchard. Despite the fact that the trees were very thick, Julia saw light streaming through the branches.
“What’s going on?”
“Come and find out.” He led her through the trees.
There were small white lights decorating some of the branches of the trees overhead and lanterns scattered on the ground containing flameless flickering candles. Amidst the gentle light, which cast a warm glow over the stark, bare trees and the old grass, there stood a white tent. Inside, a bench was spread with a familiar looking blanket and decorated with cushions.
“Oh, Gabriel,” she whispered.
He walked with her to the tent, encouraging her to sit down.
“You didn’t have to go to so much trouble. I would have been happy with this old blanket and the ground. That’s what we used before.”
“I like spoiling you.” His eyes caught hers, and she lost her breath as a simmering intensity shone from their blue depths. “Would you like a drink?”
Sylvain Reynard
He withdrew, walking over to a low table on which rested a champagne bucket and two champagne flutes. She nodded and watched as he expertly opened the champagne bottle and poured two glasses. He returned to her side. “Shall we toast?”
“Of course.” She glanced at the alcohol in his hand. “We could drink something else.”
“Just a sip for me. To Julianne, my beloved.” He raised his glass.
“I think we should drink to us.”
“That too. To us.” He smiled, and they toasted one another before sipping their champagne.
“How did you do all of this? It must have taken hours.” Julia gazed at the spectacle around them.
“Old Mr. Bancroft has been taking care of the house and grounds while I’m away. I asked him to arrange everything while we were eating dinner. May I?” He reached into a bowl of strawberries and chose the largest, ripest one and held it out to her.
Gabriel brought the red fruit to Julia’s lips, smiling widely as she took half of it into her mouth before biting down. “You’ll find that it complements the taste of the champagne.”
Julia laughed as some of the juice from the berry escaped her mouth. She moved to wipe it with her hand, but Gabriel’s fingers were faster. He traced her lips slowly, capturing the juice, and transferred his fingers to his own mouth before sucking on them.
“Delicious,” he murmured.
As he repeated this ritual, Julia began to feel strangely light-headed. Gabriel’s sensuality, even bridled, was dizzying in the extreme.
She reached over to return the favor and was stunned when, after swallowing, he drew one of her fingers into his mouth, swirling his tongue around it before sucking it.
“Sweet like candy,” he mused, his voice throaty and thick.
He sat next to her on the bench and placed his arm around her, drawing a single finger across her trembling lower lip.
“Do you have any idea what you do to me? The flush of your cheeks, the warmth of your skin, the speed of your heart…” He shook his head. “It’s beyond words.”
Julia unbuttoned her sweater and placed his palm flush against her chest. “Feel my heart beat. You do this to me, Gabriel.”
Gabriel’s Rapture
He glanced down at where his palm was placed. “I intend to elicit that reaction for the rest of my life.”
He captured her lips with his in a fiery kiss before withdrawing his hand to hover at her cheek. “I brought you here because this is where it all began. You changed my life that night. I’ll never be able to thank you.”
“Your love is thanks enough.”
He kissed her sweetly.
“Where is the music coming from?” Julia looked around for a stereo system but couldn’t find one.
“Mr. Bancroft provided the means to have music.”
“It’s lovely.”
“Not half as lovely as you. You brought beauty to my life the instant I met you.” Gabriel tightened his grip around her. “I still can’t believe I have you in my arms after all these years, and that you love me.”
“I always loved you, Gabriel. Even when you didn’t recognize me.” Julia pressed her head to his heart as he hummed along to the music.
When the song was replaced by a new one, Gabriel murmured against her skin. “I have a gift for you.”
“Just kiss me.”
“I’ll rain kisses on you once you let me present my gift.” He pulled something out of his jacket and handed it to her. It was an announcement written in Italian on very expensive card stock.
“What is it?” She looked up at him.
“Read it,” he urged, his eyes alight.
The announcement was from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and it declared the opening of an exclusive exhibit of an extraordinary collection of Botticelli illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy, some of which had never before been seen in public. The announcement went on to declare that the exhibit was on loan to the Uffizi from Professor Gabriel Emerson, as a gift to his fidanzata, Miss Julianne Mitchell.
She gaped at him in surprise. “Gabriel, your illustrations. I can’t believe it.”
“My happiness has made me generous.”
Sylvain Reynard
“But what about the legal issues? And how you bought them?”
“My lawyer hired a team of experts to trace the provenance, which ends in the late nineteenth century. After that, no one knows to whom they belonged. And since they were always part of a private collection, I own them legally and rightfully. Now I want to share them.”
“That’s wonderful.” Julia flushed and looked down at the ground. “But my name shouldn’t be attached to the exhibition. The illustrations are yours.”
“I’m only sharing them because of you.”
Julia reached up a hand to touch his jaw. “Thank you. What you’re doing is very generous. I always thought that those pictures should be available for people to see and to enjoy.”
“You taught me not to be selfish.”
She moved to kiss him, eagerly tasting his mouth. “You taught me to accept gifts.”
“Then we’re a matched set.” He cleared his throat as he pushed a lock of hair away from her face. “Will you accompany me to the exhibition? We’ll schedule it for the summer. Dottore Vitali would like to host a reception for us, similar to the one he held last year for my lecture.”
“Of course I will.”
“Good. Perhaps we’ll be able to find a private corner of the museum so we can…”
“I’d like nothing more, Professor.” She winked.
Gabriel tugged at his collar involuntarily.
“Do you want to get married in Florence next summer? We could have the wedding while we’re visiting the exhibition.”
His eyes sought the ground as disappointment spread across his face.
“Next summer would be far too late. What about next month?”
Gabriel’s eyes flew to hers. “I’d marry you tomorrow, if I could. But are you sure? It doesn’t leave us much time to plan a wedding.”
“I want our wedding to be small. I’m tired of living alone. I want to be with you.” She brushed his ear with her lips. “And it isn’t only because I want to have you warm my bed.”
Gabriel’s Rapture
A growl escaped Gabriel’s chest, and he kissed her firmly. She sighed into his mouth, and the two embraced warmly before he pulled back.
“What about your studies?”
“Lots of graduate students are married. Even if I only see you in bed at night it will be more than I see you now. Please don’t make me wait.”
He stroked her cheek with the back of his hand. “As if the waiting wasn’t killing me as well. Where should we get married?”
“Assisi. It’s always been an important place for me, and I know it’s important to you too.”
“Then Assisi it is, as soon as possible. Honeymoon to be determined?” He lifted his eyebrows suggestively. “Or is there somewhere particular you’d like to go? Paris? Venice? Belize?”
“Anywhere would be wonderful as long as I’m with you.”
He squeezed her tightly. “Bless you for that. I’ll make it a surprise, then.”
She kissed him again and within moments, felt the world spinning around her. Everything fell away as she melted in his arms.
“I have something else I want to show you,” he said at length, dragging his lips from hers.
He clasped her hand in his and walked over to the old apple tree that stood on the edge of the clearing.
He turned to face her, eyes full of feeling. “The first time we met, I picked an apple from this tree.”
“I remember.”
“The apple represented what my life was like at that time — carnal, selfish, violent, a magnet for sin.”
Julia watched as he sank to one knee, pulling a golden apple out of his pocket.
“This apple represents what I’ve become — full of hope. And love.”
She looked at the apple before her eyes sought his.
“Has a man ever asked you to marry him before?”
She shook her head, covering her mouth with her hand.
“Then I’m glad I’m your first.”
Sylvain Reynard
He opened the apple like a magic box and Julia saw a sparkling diamond ring nestled against a fold of red velvet.
“I want to be your first and your last. I love you, Julianne. I offer you my heart and my life.
“Marry me. Be my wife, my friend, my lover, and my guide. Be my blessed Beatrice and my adored Julianne.” His voice wavered slightly. “Say you’ll be mine. Forever.”
“Yes,” Julia managed, before the tears overtook her.
Gabriel removed the ring from the apple and placed it gently on her finger before caressing her hand with his lips.
“I chose this ring a long time ago, when I picked out the wedding bands. But it can be returned.” His voice was wistful. “I know you might want to choose your own rings.”
Julia examined the two-and-a-half-carat, cushion-cut diamond in its platinum setting. The ring was old-fashioned with smaller, bead set diamonds that surrounded the central stone and graduated side stones that decorated the band. Although it was far larger and more ornate than she had ever dreamed of, it was perfect because he chose it for her.
“I choose this one,” she said.
He stood up and she flew into his arms.
“I’ve wanted you forever. Since I first saw your picture,” she said as her happy tears spilled onto his chest. “I wanted you even before I knew you.”
“I wanted you when I didn’t even know your name — just your goodness. And now I get to keep my Beatrice forever.”