From the author of the New York Times bestsellers Gabriel’s Rapture and Gabriel’s Inferno comes the epic conclusion to the captivating romantic trilogy.
Professor Gabriel Emerson has left his position at the University of Toronto to embark on a new life with his beloved Julianne. Together, he’s confident that they can face any challenge. And he’s eager to become a father.
But Julianne’s graduate program threatens Gabriel’s plans, as the pressures of being a student become all consuming. When she is given the honor of presenting an academic lecture at Oxford, Gabriel is forced to confront Julianne about the subject of her presentation—research that conflicts with his own. And in Oxford, several individuals from their past appear, including an old nemesis intent on humiliating Julia and exposing one of Gabriel’s darkest secrets.
In an effort to confront his remaining demons, Gabriel begins a quest to discover more about his biological parents, beginning a chain of events that has startling repercussions for himself, Julianne, and his hope of having a family.
Professor Gabriel Emerson stood in the doorway of his study, hands in his pockets, gazing on his wife with no little heat. His tall, athletic form was striking, as were his rugged features and sapphire eyes.
He’d met her when she was seventeen (ten years his junior) and fallen in love with her. They’d been separated by time and circumstances, not least of which was his indulgent lifestyle.
Yet Heaven smiled on them. She became his graduate student in Toronto six years later and they’d rekindled their affection, marrying a year and a half after that. Almost six months into their marriage he loved her even more than before. He envied the very air she breathed.
He’d waited long enough for what he was about to do. It was possible she’d need to be seduced, but Gabriel prided himself in his expertise at seduction.
The strains of Bruce Cockburn’s song “Mango” floated in the air, casting his memory back to their trip to Belize before they were married. They’d made love outside in a variety of places, including the beach.
Julia sat at a desk, oblivious to the music and his scrutiny. She was typing on her laptop, surrounded by books, file folders, and two boxes of papers Gabriel had dutifully carried from the downstairs of what had been his parents’ house.
They’d been resident in Selinsgrove a week—a respite from their busy lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Gabriel was a professor at
Boston University while Julia had just finished her first year of a PhD at Harvard, under the supervision of a brilliant scholar, formerly of Ox- ford. They’d fled Cambridge because their home in Harvard Square was in upheaval, as an addition to the house was under construction.
The Clark house in Selinsgrove had been renovated to accord with Gabriel’s exacting standards prior to their arrival. Much of the furniture left behind by Richard, Gabriel’s adoptive father, had been placed in storage.
Julia had chosen new furniture and curtains and persuaded Gabriel to help her paint the walls. Whereas his aesthetic ran to dark wood and rich, brown leather, Julia preferred the light colors of a seaside cottage, with whitewashed walls and furniture, accented with various shades of Santorini blue.
In the study, she’d hung reproductions of paintings that were dis- played in their house in Harvard Square—Henry Holiday’s Dante Meets Beatrice at Ponte Santa Trinita, Botticelli’s Primavera, and Madonna and Child with Angels by Fra Filippo Lippi. Gabriel found himself staring at the latter painting intently.
It could be said that the paintings illustrated the stages of their relationship. The first figured their meeting and Gabriel’s increasing obsession. The second represented Cupid’s arrow, striking Julia when he no longer remembered her, and also their courtship and subsequent marriage. Finally, the painting of the Madonna represented what Gabriel hoped might be.
This was the third evening Julia had spent at her desk, writing her first public lecture, which she would deliver at Oxford next month. Four days ago, they’d made love on the bedroom floor, covered in paint, before the furniture had been delivered.
(Julia had decided that body painting with Gabriel was her new favorite sport.)
With memories of their physical connection in mind, and the music increasing its tempo, Gabriel’s patience had come to an end. They were newlyweds. He had no intention of allowing her to ignore him for an- other evening.
He prowled over to her, his footfalls silent. He moved her shoulder- length hair aside, exposing her neck. The slight stubble of his unshaved face rasped against her skin, intensifying his kisses.
“Come,” he whispered.
Goose pimples rose on her skin. His long, thin fingers traced the arch of her neck as he waited.
“My lecture isn’t finished.” She lifted her pretty face to look at him. “I don’t want to embarrass Professor Picton, especially when she invited me. I’m the youngest person on the program.”
“You won’t embarrass her. And you’ll have plenty of time to finish the lecture.”
“I need to get the house ready for your family. They’re arriving in two days.”
“They aren’t my family.” Gabriel gave her a blazing look. “They’re our family. And I’ll hire a maid. Come. Bring the blanket.”
Julia turned and saw a familiar-looking plaid blanket resting on the white overstuffed chair that sat under the window. She peered out into the woods that bordered the backyard. “It’s dark.”
“I’ll protect you.” He helped her to her feet, clasping his arms momentarily around her waist and bringing their chests together.
She felt his warmth through the thin material of her sundress, the temperature comforting and alluring.
“Why do you want to visit the orchard in the dark?” she teased, pulling his glasses from his face and placing them on the desk.
Gabriel fixed her with a look that would have melted snow. Then he brought his lips to her ear. “I want to see your naked skin glow in the moonlight while I’m inside you.”
He drew part of her earlobe into his mouth, nibbling it gently. He began to explore her neck, kissing and nipping as her heart rate increased.
“A declaration of desire,” he whispered.
Julia gave herself over to the sensations, finally becoming conscious of the music in the air. Gabriel’s scent, a mixture of peppermint and Aramis, filled her nostrils.
He released her, watching her the way a cat watches a mouse, as she picked up the blanket.
“I suppose Guido da Montefeltro can wait.” She glanced down at her notes.
“He’s been dead over seven hundred years. I’d say he’s practiced at waiting.”
Julia returned his smile, shifting the blanket so that she could take his proffered hand.
As they journeyed downstairs and across the yard, his expression grew playful.
“Have you ever made love in an orchard before?” Her eyes widened and she shook her head.
“Then I’m glad I’m your first.”
She tightened her grip on his hand. “You’re my last, Gabriel. My only.” He quickened his pace, switching on the flashlight as they entered the woods behind the house. He led the way, navigating over roots and uneven ground.
It was June in Pennsylvania and very warm. The woods were thick and the canopy of leaves blocked much of the light from the moon and the stars. The air was alive with the evening song of birds and the sound of katydids.
Soon they were entering the clearing. Wildflowers littered the expanse of green. At the far edge of the area stood several aged apple trees. Extending back into the remains of the old orchard, the new trees that Gabriel had planted were spreading their boughs toward the sky.
As they walked to the center of the clearing, his body relaxed. Something about this space, sacred or otherwise, always soothed him.
Julia watched as he spread the blanket carefully over the thick grass, then turned off the flashlight. Darkness wrapped around them like a velvet cloak.
Overhead, the full moon shone, its pale face occasionally muted by wisps of cloud. A clutch of stars twinkled above them.
Gabriel brushed his hands up and down her arms before tracing the modest neckline of her sundress.
“I like this,” he murmured.
He took his time admiring his wife’s beauty, visible even in the shadows: the arch of her cheekbones, the pout of her mouth, her large, expressive eyes. He lifted her chin and brought their lips together.
It was the kiss of an ardent lover, communicating with his mouth that he desired her. Gabriel pressed his tall body against her petite one, his fingers tangling in her soft brown hair.
“What if someone sees us?” she panted, before slipping her tongue into his mouth.
She explored him earnestly until he retreated.
“These woods are private. And as you mentioned, it’s dark.” His hands found her waist, spanning her lower back.
He traced the space where her dimples lay, as if they were land- marks that pleased him, before sliding up to her shoulders. Without ceremony, he slowly removed her dress, dropping it to the blanket. Then he unfastened her bra with a mere flick of his fingers.
She giggled at his practiced move, while holding the bra up to cover herself. It was made of black lace and was attractively transparent.
“You’re very good at that,” she observed.
“At what?” His large hands moved to cup her breasts over her bra. “At removing bras in the dark.”
Gabriel’s silence echoed around them. He didn’t like being re- minded of his past.
She reached up on tiptoes to press a kiss to his angular jaw.
“I’m not complaining. After all, I’m the beneficiary of your skill.” At this, he traced her breasts through the lace.
“While I appreciate your lingerie, Julianne, I prefer you naked.” “I’m not sure about this.” She peered over his shoulder, scanning the perimeter of the clearing. “I keep expecting someone to interrupt us.”
“Look at me.”
Her eyes met his.
“There’s no one here but us. And what I see is breathtaking.”
With another provocative move, his hands left her breasts to trace the hills and valleys of her spine before covering her hips. His thumbs hovered over her skin. “I’ll cover you.”
“With what? The blanket?”
“With my body. Even if someone were to stumble upon us, I won’t let anyone see you. I promise.”
The edges of her lips turned up. “You think of everything.”
“I simply think of you. You are everything.”
Gabriel took her offered lips and with great restraint slowly peeled the lace bra away from her body. He kissed her deeply, languidly exploring her mouth, before tugging her panties down.
Now she was naked before him in their orchard.
O gods of all orchard sex, she thought. Please don’t let anyone interrupt us.
She removed his shirt eagerly, her fingers playing in the few strands of chest hair before sliding over his abdominal muscles to unbuckle his belt.
When they were both naked, he wrapped his arms around her and she breathed out a sigh.
“It’s a good thing it’s warm tonight,” he whispered. “We only brought one blanket.”
With a smile she lowered herself to the ground and he covered her with his body. His blue eyes bore into hers as he placed a hand on either side of her face.
“ ‘To the Nuptial Bowre I led her blushing like the Morn: all Heav’n, And happie Constellations on that houre.’ ”
“Paradise Lost,” she whispered, stroking the stubble on his chin. “But in this place, I can only think of Paradise found.”
“We should have been married here. We should have made love here for the first time.”
She ran her fingers through his hair. “We’re here now.”
“This is where I discovered true beauty.”
He kissed her again, his hands gently exploring. Julia reciprocated, and their passion kindled and burned.
In the months since their marriage, their desire had not abated, nor had the sweetness of their coupling. All speech melted into motion and touch and the bliss of physical love.
Gabriel knew his wife—he knew her arousal and excitement, her impatience and release. They made love in the night air surrounded by darkness and the greenness of life.
At the edge of the clearing, the old apple trees that had observed their chaste love in the past politely averted their gaze.
When at last they’d caught their breaths, Julia lay weightless, admiring the stars.
“I have something for you.” He felt around for the flashlight and used it to locate his trousers. When he returned to her side he slipped something cool around her neck.
Julia glanced down to see a necklace made of individual rings. Three charms hung from the necklace—a heart, an apple, and a book.
“It’s beautiful.” She breathed, fingering the charms one by one.
“It came from London. The rings and charms are silver, except for the apple, which is made of gold. It represents when we met.”
“And the book?”
“Dante is engraved on the cover.”
She looked at him coyly. “Is there a special occasion I’ve forgotten about?”
“No, I just enjoy giving you things.”
Julia kissed him deeply and he moved her to her back, once again putting the flashlight aside.
When they separated, he placed his palm against her flat stomach and brought his lips to the indentation that lay just beyond his thumb.
“I want to plant my child here.”
As his words echoed in the clearing, Julia froze. “What?”
“I’d like to have a child with you.” She caught her breath. “So soon?”
His thumb moved over her skin. “We never know how much time we have.”
Julia thought of Grace, his adoptive mother, and of her biological mother, Sharon. Both died at younger ages, but under very different circumstances.
“Dante lost Beatrice when she was twenty-four,” he continued. “Losing you would be devastating.”
Julia reached up to touch the slight dimple in his chin. “No morbid talk. Not here, after we’ve celebrated life and love.”
Gabriel spread repentant kisses across her abdomen before reclining on his side.
“I’ve almost outlived Beatrice and I’m healthy.” She placed her hand on his chest, over his tattoo, and touched the name on the bleeding heart. “Is your anxiety because of Maia?”
Gabriel’s features tightened. “No.” “It’s all right if it is.”
“I know she’s happy.”
“I believe that too.” Julia hesitated, as if she were going to say something more.
“I was thinking about Sharon.” “And?”
“She wasn’t a good role model as a mother.”
He leaned forward to brush his lips against hers.
“You’d be an excellent mother. You’re loving, patient, and kind.” “I wouldn’t know what I was doing.”
“We’d figure it out together. I’m the one who should be worried. My biological parents were the definition of dysfunctional, and I haven’t exactly lived a sterling moral life.”
Julia shook her head. “You’re very good with Tammy’s little boy. Even your brother says so. But it’s too soon for a baby, Gabriel. We’ve only been married six months. And I want to finish my PhD.”
“I agreed to that, if you remember.” He traced the arch of her ribs with a single finger.
“Married life is wonderful, but it’s been an adjustment. For both of us.” He paused his movements. “Agreed. But we need to talk about the future. It would be best if I began having conversations with my doctor sooner rather than later. It’s been so long since my vasectomy, a reversal might not be possible.”
“There’s more than one way to make a family. We can discuss other medical options. We could adopt a child from the Franciscan orphan- age in Florence. When the time is right.” Her expression grew hopeful.
He smoothed a lock of hair away from her face. “We can do all those things. I intend to take you to Umbria after the conference, before we go to the exhibition in Florence. But when we get back from Europe, I’d like to speak to my doctor.”
He pulled her on top of him. A strange charge seemed to jump be- tween their skin as he gripped her hips.
“When you’re ready, we’ll start trying.” She grinned.
“We should probably practice a lot in preparation.” “Absolutely.”
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