Read an Excerpt
"Stelle su Firenze" an outtake from "Gabriel's Redemption"
By Sylvain Reynard
"I think if we sat here long enough, the whole world would walk by." Julia's voice was wistful as she rested her head on Gabriel's shoulder.
It was their last night in Florence. They'd spent the evening dining at a romantic restaurant overlooking the Arno River. Then they'd wandered the narrow streets before arriving at the Loggia dei Lanzi. From this vantage point, they could watch the Piazza della Signoria come to life after dark.
Tourists and locals milled about the Piazza or enjoyed a drink at one of the cafés. Nearby, a string quartet played Verdi, filling the square with a beautiful melancholy.
Julia watched in fascination as street vendors launched glowing cylinders into the air, the toys sparkling like firecrackers against the ink black sky. But always, the objects would fall to the ground, their brief foray into the heavens ended by gravity.
A strange sadness crept over her. "We try to touch the stars, but we always fall back to earth."
Gabriel drew her closer, wrapping his arm around her waist. "That's true, but it isn't like you to despair."
"I'm not in despair. I just don't want to go back. Not after —" Her voice trailed off.
"I don't want to go back either, but summer has to end eventually."
He brushed a light kiss against her dark hair before pulling her to her feet. As the music continued, he walked her to the center of the Piazza. Then he took her in his arms and began to sway to the music.
She closed her eyes, floating over the stone beneath their feet as he expertly moved them.
He tightened his grip on her waist. "I'm sorry we've been fighting."
Julia opened her eyes. "Me too."
"I promise I'll make it up to you."
"You brought me here."
"I'm the reason you're constantly falling back to earth." Gabriel's blue eyes were earnest and searching. "I drag you from the stars — from where you belong."
She gave him a sad smile. "It's the human condition. We're bound to fall."
He stopped dancing, his eyes boring into hers. "You should never have to fall, Julianne."
He kissed her gently and they continued dancing, stopping only when the last strains of Verdi no longer echoed through the night.
They returned to the Loggia, sitting side by side on the stone bench. His fingers traced the folds of her silk dress in what he hoped would be a comforting manner.
"I wish I could sit in this piazza forever." She gazed at the elaborate fountain nearby, and the elderly couple who were standing next to it, holding hands. "We could grow old here."
Gabriel followed her gaze, the edges of his lips turning up.
"If you remained in this piazza, you'd be cold when winter comes."
"Not if I had you to warm me."
A smile pulled at his mouth. "I'm glad you find me useful, if only as a warming device."
"You're also an excellent tour guide."
"Another way in which I'm useful."
"And since your Italian is better than mine, you're an effective translator."
He brought his mouth to within inches of hers. "Shall I translate my favorite words? Labbra? Lingua? Seno?"
She traced the fullness of his lower lip with her middle finger. "Lips. Tongue. Breast.You're very provocative this evening."
"You've forgotten the most important way in which I'm useful."
"And that is?"
His gaze grew heated and he lowered his voice. "As your lover."
He nipped at her finger slightly, before drawing it into his mouth. He toyed with her for a moment, laving her skin with his tongue, before releasing her.
"I'm afraid that if you persist in staying in this piazza, my capacity as a lover will be sorely diminished."
She lifted her eyebrows. "Diminished?"
"For example, I couldn't possibly do this in a piazza." He brought their lips together.
Julia hummed her appreciation and Gabriel deepened their connection, his tongue stroking hers.
His hands moved to her face as Julia's slid to his shoulders, pressing him closer.
"And I couldn't possibly do this." Gabriel spoke against her mouth as his thumb glided down the side of her breast.
"Or this." His hand slid over the curve of her waist and around to her lower back. He ran a single finger just above the waistband of her panties, almost as if he were contemplating their removal.
"Or this." His eyes suddenly alight, he covered her bare knee with his palm before coaxing her legs to part.
Julia's skin grew warm at his touch.
"Move your hand any higher and we're going to get arrested," she whispered.
His eyes appeared to darken. "It will be worth it."
She placed her hand over his, stopping the slow, teasing ascent.
"I think we've been the subject of enough scandals, Professor."
"Then you're going to have to leave this piazza before I slip my hand under your dress and show you what comes next."
"Where would we go?"
"I know a much quieter piazza nearby."
She stifled a laugh. "Is that the best you can do?"
"There's always the hotel. I have a view."
She cocked her head to one side. "A view?"
He lifted her hand and pressed a kiss to her palm.
"The only sight worth seeing in this city is you. But the view from my hotel room isn't entirely unfortunate."
She lowered her eyes and blushed.
He squeezed her hand. "Florence has exceptional architecture and art. But Brunelleschi's dome lacks your compassion. And no painting in the Uffizi could ever capture the beauty and warmth of your love."
She lifted her gaze to meet his.
"Are you flirting with me, Professor?"
Gabriel brought his mouth to her ear. "This isn't flirtation, Julianne. This is seduction. And I won't rest until I enjoy the wonder that is your body, lying underneath me again."
He kissed the shell of her ear, before moving down to the side of her neck. He pressed unhurried kisses against her skin, brushing against her collarbone.
"This is just the beginning," he whispered, his hand caressing her side. "Think of the delights that await you."
She hummed softly. "I'd like to hear more about that."
He stood, holding out his hand.
"I'll do more than tell you. But I'm afraid you'll have to leave this piazza."
Julia glanced over his shoulder at the fountain. She sighed.
"It's hard for me to leave, knowing what awaits us at home."
"But we'll be together." He tugged her into his arms. "Tonight I'll help you touch the stars. And when you fall back to earth, I promise to catch you."
She looked up him, at his tender, intense expression, and lightly cupped his angular jaw.
"What about you, Gabriel? Don't you want to touch the stars?"
He smiled his slow, sweet smile.
"You're the only star in my sky."
She kissed him fiercely, before taking his hand and walking hurriedly toward their hotel.