tagBDSMThe Twelve Tables Ch. 28

The Twelve Tables Ch. 28


Authors Note: Thank you to everyone left comments or sent me feedback about previous chapters of this story. Thank you again to Margaret who proofread for me. ~ellie

Peri had enlisted the help of Bridgette, who had been overseeing both the nannies and cooks downstairs, as well as the upstairs staff. If she was honest, she hadn't wanted the woman in the kitchen with her as she cooked, feeling self-conscious about doing it in front of the woman who fed them, day in and day out. Bridgette ran the household as if it was her own and Peri often felt like an intruder in certain areas of her home, especially the kitchen.

She had sent Bridgette down to meet with the nannies and get the final list from Kathy, of which children needed to return to school and where, as well as what was needed to get them all back to school. She hoped when Dante came home she could make a case for going home to the country house and enrolling Emily's children at the small school there until they left for boarding school. Even if Emily recovered enough to leave the hospital, she would still need a lot of support before she was ready to take control of her family again.

She was fortunate that Angelina was the oldest of Ben's children and the only one to be going off to boarding school. When Ben returned, she would talk to him about being the one to take her to orientation day. It was important to Angelina, and he should be there. She had planned to call Rosanna, assuming that Arianna would already attend the boarding school and ask for help, but she knew it had to be Ben or herself, maybe even both of them that accompanied her.

She hadn't seen Josh for the entire afternoon and had assumed he was downstairs playing with his nephews. She had no idea that he was working in the study and having conversations with his parents, to negotiate the changes that needed to be made in his household. He had planned to tell his mother not to asked Peri to cook on the spur of the moment, like she had earlier. What he had discovered was his mother's disapproval of Bridgette's attitude toward the family she worked for, and that the woman acted like she was a lady of the house, to the point of making other staff, guests and even Peri uncomfortable. His mother pointed out just how much Peri would struggle with all of the demands placed on her as the year progressed and have little time for romance if the household staff was not taken in hand.

The pasta she had made for dinner had been enjoyed by both of her in-laws. They had lingered over coffee, despite Josh's obvious hints that he and Peri wanted to get downstairs to say goodnight to the children and help feed the babies before they went down for the night. Antonia chatted on happily until finally, Joseph practically ordered Antonia from the table, claiming they had plans for the following morning. Peri could see the question and confusion in Antonia's expression.

They'd taken their time downstairs making sure all of the children were settled. Particularly Angelina, who still seemed to be missing Emily and to some degree trying to take her place with her younger siblings and causing Kathy distress at the same time. Peri knew that Emily had grown up with a family of the tables and had trouble not being seen as the perfect mother, she employed the bare minimum of staff preferring to look after her house and children on her own. Peri knew this couldn't continue even if she regained her health. She had been contemplating how she could broach the subject with Ben. Carmen should return just in time for her children's return to school and Peri promised herself that she would make sure they were ready when Josh took her hand and led her out of the nursery.

"You've been deep in thought all night," Josh murmured. "Tell me what's going on in that amazing mind of yours. I want to know every little detail."

Peri took a deep breath and unburdened her worries onto Josh, who visibly seemed to relax before her eyes. She had been trying to protect him from the mundane worries of looking after the children in the absence of their mothers, and she realised he had misread her preoccupation after her phone call with Dante.

Josh embraced her and kissed her deeply. She could feel his need for her and his struggle to hold that back as he took her hand, again, after they had made sure the babies slept soundly. He led her upstairs and rather than going directly to the bedroom as she had assumed he would, they went to the office, and he sat her in one of the rich upholstered chairs and went to sit on the edge of the large timber desk, breaking the physical contact between them.

"Let's talk consequences for your actions today," Josh said in a serious voice making her look at him with widening eyes. She had assumed any punishment would be physical and sexual this was entirely different from the consequences Josh usually gave her and she turned her head looking around the room to get her bearings before focusing on him again with a worried expression.

"I spoke with Dante earlier, and he is in full agreement, given the current situation," Josh continued studying her as she entered new territory.

"I don't understand," she whispered. "What situation?"

"You are an intelligent, beautiful, capable woman who has always taken her responsibilities seriously and managed them independently. I have had to push you to accept household staff and trust the nannies to look after the babies, and I have realised today that you appear to defer to them rather than the other way around," his voice was stern as he spoke.

"I like to do things by myself, I'm not built to be a lady of leisure, and a little work around the house never hurt anyone," Peri said defensively.

"You do, I agree. I would never stop you from doing the things you enjoy, but it's come to my attention that you don't cook because Bridgette makes you feel like an intruder in your own kitchen," Josh's anger at the situation began to creep into his voice. His mother had been concerned about Bridgette's attitude throughout the day. "When was the last time she ran through a weekly menu with you? Has she ever done that?"

"Well, no, but she does such a good job that it's never been necessary," Peri said softly wary of the anger creeping into his voice.

"At work you are on top of everything. Each of the people working for you on the biographies reports directly to you, even when you're not physically there via emails, and you have a manager in Darius who you trust to oversee the team and give you a highly detailed run down on anything you haven't had a personal hand in doing. True?" he asked.

"Yes," she said confused by where this conversation had gone. "That is work, though, and I have to be on top of every little thing, because we are dealing with the other families and I don't want any mistakes that might reflect on you or your families standing within the tables. It's important to manage those interactions and progress down to the last detail."

"You couldn't do it on your own, though, you put people you trust in key positions, and you have managed it even from a distance. You're able to do that because you know exactly how you want it to run, and you have been able to share that vision with your team," Josh led her down the path of enlightenment seeing the confusion on her face.

"Yes," she nodded. "It works well, and the team is very good at doing the reports and updates for me." She was proud of her team at work and what they were accomplishing in her absence. Each time she talked about them she couldn't wait to go back and start working on the biographies herself.

"Isn't our family and household just as important?" Josh asked startling her.

"They are hardly comparable Josh," Peri shook her head.

"Let's see about that, shall we? We have a staff that needs to be managed. We have kitchen staff testing out recipes from the family cookbooks. I imagine there are volumes there that need to be edited and sorted through with preference given to those favourites that Dante and I enjoy," he let a small smile tug at the corners of his mouth, "Like the pasta we just ate. Then there are the volumes on interior design and housekeeping, so that those who do the work know what needs to be done and the standard that needs to be maintained. Also a whole range of childcare books, again so things are done the way we want, not how the people doing the work think it needs to be done." Josh looked at her shocked face and softened his voice marginally.

"You can't do all this by yourself, Peri. You aren't the wife of a tradie or a man who works nine to five in a boring office job. You are Peri Donati, the mother of a vast family and the demands on your time and attention are only going to increase. If you don't put key people that you can trust in place, you will end up burnt out within a year, and I won't let that happen," despite the softening of his voice she could still hear the hard edge of it as she tried to process what he was saying.

"Bridgette helps me with so much that it's manageable," Peri said softly.

"If manageable means having to leave our home and children to have any quality time with each other then you and I have very different understandings of the word," His tone had become hard again with a trace of bitterness. "We should have been able to retire to our rooms this afternoon, but you had no one in place to delegate what needed to be done to," he accused.

"I sent Bridgette down to make sure the information I asked for was being compiled," Peri said becoming defensive again.

"Did she come back with the information you needed and report to you or did she come back having made decisions for you?" Josh knew the answer but needed her to say it. He needed Peri to realise that Bridgette had placed herself in the role of lady of the house and was running it behind Peri's back and wielding authority she didn't possess. She may even think she was helpful to Peri, but all she was doing was undermining her position and eroding the respect the household staff should show Peri.

"She had the information I asked for and made some suggestions," Peri said carefully trying to get a handle on whether she had given Bridgette too much authority and gotten the woman in trouble.

"She has to go, Peri. You need someone with more experience at running households like ours who will keep you informed and ask for your opinion, not make decisions for you. Bridgette is acting as though she is the lady of the house with full authority over the rest of the staff and you. We took her out of the nursery because she had become overbearing with the babies, particularly Eden. I will admit she was what you needed when we began assembling the people who we would trust to run our house and help raise our children, but she has crossed the line, and she can't stay," Josh said in a tone that said he was not going to argue that point.

"Oh Josh, you don't mean it, do you?" she said with a sinking heart knowing the tone of his voice told her otherwise. She felt guilt at having caused this problem by relying too heavily on the woman.

"She signed her contract with Mama, not with us, and it was Andie who had championed the woman when Mama had reservations about her suitability. She will return to the farm with Mama tomorrow, and a temporary replacement will fill in until we interview for more staff. You will also need a personal assistant as well as a household manager. Over the next year, D. and I are going to be busier than ever, and I can't be worrying that you are overdoing it and wearing yourself out trying to take on too much for too many people," he lectured her. "This is not negotiable, D. and I are in full agreement." He had spoken to D. a second time that afternoon after speaking at length with his mother about Bridgette and her attitude to the family, as well as the staff she ruled over as if she owned their contracts.

Peri felt the tears prick at her eyes as she realised how ill-equipped she was to be the mother of this family. She knew the moment he had admitted he worried about her not coping with the responsibility that she had let him down, and she blinked trying to will away the tears that threatened to spill from her eyes.

Josh fought an inner battle with himself. He wanted nothing more than to go to her and wrap his arms around her and give in to what she wanted but he knew that he needed to be firm about this. He was doing this to make her life easier, better, happier in the long run. He admitted he had more selfish reasons for putting new measures in place. He hated having to share her with the family, but that was their life now, but when he was home, he wanted her attention focused squarely on him and to a lesser degree Dante.

"I'm sorry," Peri whispered into the silence feeling miserable and overwhelmed by everything he had said. She wasn't from his world and not for the first time she felt totally out of her depth. A tear rolled down her cheek as she hung her head, realising this was the first time Josh had made her feel that he was disappointed in her. These consequences were hard to take, and she longed for the harsh punishment that gave them both release, mentally and physically. It was their love and need for each other that made nothing seem insurmountable. With the physical distance between them, she felt the weight of being his overwhelm her.

No matter the problems that had arisen between them she had always felt his love and admiration but as he kept his distance and continued to speak in a lecturing tone, she knew she'd let him down badly. She'd only been playing at being the wife of the new leader of the family, letting others take the lead instead of supporting him in all facets of their life. He shouldn't be having to worry about the running of the house or looking after the children. He had so much that weighed him down already without having to shoulder her responsibilities as well. She let out a sob, and her tears began to flow freely. Josh was there then, kneeling beside her and cradling her in his arms.

"I love you. I need you more than you could ever possibly know, and I can't do this, any of it without you. You are the reason I am where I am today, and I would die if anything happened to you. You can't let yourself be run ragged. You need help from good people who will support you like you support me. You can't do it all on your own and be there for me the way I need you to be," he kissed her wiping the tears from her face. "I'm trying, Peri. I don't want to share your love and attention with everyone, but I have to even though I need you like I need oxygen," He spoke softly rubbing her back and kissing her tears away.

"I'm so sorry Josh, I love you so much, and I just don't know what I'm doing. It's so much to take in, and I never want to let you down or have you be disappointed in me," she cried softly, her heart heavy in her chest. "I'll do better, I'll fix it," she promised.

"You are amazing, and you haven't let me down. You've placed your trust in the wrong person, and we are going to remedy that, together. I know you love Bridgette, but she's taking advantage of your friendship to boost her sense of self-importance. This isn't about me," he lied. "This is about you and being able to trust people to do what you have asked without deciding that they know better. Your team at work would never do that, running this household is no different."

Peri blinked. She had been so overwhelmed by his tone and lecturing that she hadn't made the obvious connection he had outlined when he had brought up her work team earlier. She'd never in her wildest dreams thought of her home as a workplace, but she had the staff to manage, and she could suddenly see what he was saying. She'd made Bridgette part of the family. She loved her like she would a close aunt if she had ever had one and deferred to her age and experience rather than treating her like an employee. She treated Madeline and Heather the same way, but she could see in her mind's eye the respect they still showed her which was lacking in Bridgette's conversations unless Josh or Dante were present.

She understood what Josh had been lecturing her about, and she realised she needed to have more control over this part of her life. Her work team needed very little supervision once she had put all of the structures in place to make it run exactly as she wanted and it had freed her up to have her babies without worrying about what was happening there in her absence. More control in the household would have the same effect she realised, and she would have less anxiety about upsetting Bridgette with any changes to their routine. She acknowledged that Josh was right, and she had allowed Bridgette too much latitude to expect to take it back from her now.

Josh saw her eyes become distant as she worked over the consequences of being too busy with family to spend the afternoon with him. If she had a head nanny, head cook and Butler to oversee them all life would become infinitely easier for her and in turn him. Once she had a professional assistant to tie all the various facets of her life together, she would be able to make him, Dante and the triplets her priority again. There would be no need to run away for weekends in the chalet, no matter how appealing that was to him tonight, rather than given her this lecture as a consequence of becoming overwhelmed by the needs of the extended family.

"Does Bridgette know?" Peri whispered dreading that she would have to be the one to speak to her about leaving their household, but feeling responsible knew that she should do it.

"Not yet I wanted to talk to you first. Mama will remind Bridgette of the definitions of her contract and inform her of her return to training on the farm tomorrow after breakfast. If you wish she will add that she may reapply to return to our household after that training time," Josh said soothingly knowing this was difficult for Peri who preferred to think of the staff as employees rather than servants who were contracted to serve the family within its traditions and laws.

"It's my fault," she admitted. "I understand what you said about her taking advantage of our friendship, but it was me that treated her like family instead of an employee. Now she must suffer the consequences of my mistakes."

"You know that's not true," Josh admonished. "You treat Heather and Madeline the same way, yet they know their place and haven't put themselves above the other nannies who have taken up residence downstairs. They respect your wishes and although Madeline is young she has taken on everything Heather has told her as the more experienced of the two. Bridgette never respected Heather's experience and knowledge of the family and what it means to be looking after the heirs to the Donati table."

Peri nodded having had the same thoughts. She had friends and a huge family she didn't need to make the people who worked for her as close as family, but she did need friendship with them on some level. She had that with her team at work, now she had to do that with the people who worked to keep their home ticking over like clockwork, whether here or at the country house as she had begun to think of it.

"Upstairs and downstairs," she mumbled almost to herself making Josh cock his head and frown. "There is this old television series called Upstairs Downstairs," she explained. "It was about a rich family in the Victorian era. Upstairs were the family, the ladies' maids, valets, and Butler. The Chef and Housekeeper went between both up and downstairs, I think nannies were the same. Then downstairs were the rest of the staff, like maids and footmen and chauffeurs." She explained. "The names of the positions may have changed, but I guess the hierarchy hasn't, I just hadn't thought about regarding our house and its growing staff."

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