tagBDSMThe Twelve Tables Ch. 29

The Twelve Tables Ch. 29


Authors Note: Thank you to everyone left comments or sent me feedback about previous chapters of this story. Thank you again to Margaret who continues to proofread for me. She's a lovely friend to have. ~ellie


It had not taken long to settle the children in from their big day out and all of them, even the older ones, had fallen asleep relatively quickly. Adding a loose skirt to the lingerie she had bought made it seem more appropriate for public viewing, and she had swooned appropriately as her heroes and the rest of the family had walked through the door.

It had been difficult to face Bridgette, who was unrepentant, declaring that she was the only one in this household who truly cared about Peri. She thought of her as a daughter and had been treated as a mother figure. She had the right to run this household as she saw fit, she had declared belligerently.

"Please stop," Peri had said distressed by the scene and the things Bridgette was saying to Antonia. "When you came to us I'd been through a great deal of trauma and was facing quite a few life changing experiences. I needed you to help me," Peri explained. "I probably let you do too much, because just like my mother, you made me feel useless and I felt bad that I couldn't look after my house or family to the same standard. The point is, I should have been stronger and not let you take over my home, as if I was incompetent, instead of helping me to do it myself. I should have asked you to help me, and show me what to do, but I didn't and now it seems it's too late for me even to try to do that with you. I need to start looking after my family my way, not your way or Antonia's way, my way. I can't do that with things the way they are now. I'm sorry Bridgette, I agree with Antonia. You need to return to the farm. You were only ever on loan to us, until we got settled into our lives. It was her that you signed your contract with, not myself or Josh."

Bridgette gaped at her as if stunned by a physical slap. The reality that Peri wasn't going to intervene on her behalf, knocking all of the argument out of her, as she seemed unable to believe that the woman she thought of like a daughter would treat her this way. She had collapsed on the floor then and wept, begging Peri to change her mind but it was all too late. Joseph and Antonia decided to return home immediately following dinner and had ordered Bridgette confined to her room once more until their departure.

The dinner was wonderful, and Zara showed why the exacting Lio had hired her as a cook. Peri ate little of it, though, her stomach turning over at the devastating affect her words had had on Bridgette. She felt guilt at how she had allowed her to take over and now that she was ready to take control herself, had to send the woman, who had done so much for her away. Maybe in time she would come back, and they could make peace again.

She'd spent a long time down in the nursery with the babies after dinner and talking with Heather about her plans for the children, if Ben agreed and the work on listing school requirements for each one that she had asked Bridgette to make and had not received. Heather accepted the responsibility given to her seriously and said she would have what Peri needed by lunch time tomorrow.

By the time Peri returned to the upper apartment, Antonia and Joseph had left, Ben had gone to the hospital to see Emily and Josh and Dante were firmly ensconced in the office. They were discussing details of the changes in the household staff and Josh's request that she hire a PA before she went back to work, as well as their schedules for the week ahead. She had kissed them both and picked up her journal before leaving them to talk freely. She would have plenty of time to argue about returning to work and the restrictions they would place on her.

After grudgingly giving in to Josh's stance on hiring a PA, she'd told them both what she wanted to do about work, the staff and the children and left them to discuss it along with their plans for the following weeks. They had to make a decision about where they would live as a permanent home base. It made sense particularly now with the extra family staying with them indefinitely to be in the semi-rural location of the house and keep the apartment here for when they had to be in town for business or family events.

Peri sat in the living room writing in her journal. She realised as she journaled that returning to work was not going to be as easy as she had hoped and once again having a purpose built library and office on the land surrounding her home was going to be the best idea. She could add on a cottage or townhouse as they had in the Battaglia village in case family representatives wanted to stay. She could design it from the floor up and make it exactly what she needed. Not just for the next few years but into the future.

She was musing over where it could be situated and wondered how serious Josh had been about acquiring the land surrounding their house, when Ben came back from the hospital looking serious and drawn.

"Can I get you a drink?" Peri said getting up from her position on the couch.

"You know what I'd love?" Ben gave a half smile. "Someone to make me hot chocolate and put five little marshmallows into it."

"I think I can manage that do you want to come and help me count the marshmallows, so you know you got the right amount?" She said like she would to one of the children. "I'd hate for you to think I would give Josh and Dante more than you."

"Angie told me five was the perfect number, so it didn't get too sweet and didn't leave it bland," Ben smiled but once again it didn't reach his eyes. "I better supervise, it's too important to leave to chance." He walked with her to the kitchen and saw how at ease she was there. "Do you cook much?" Ben asked.

"I used to; I love to cook for the people I love. Life has been a bit crazy though over the last year so I haven't had as much chance to cook. I am planning to remedy that though once we are properly settled and in a routine again after the holidays." She spoke lightly as she gathered everything she needed. "Ben I know you are probably exhausted and don't want to think about anything else but could I talk to you about a few things?" Peri asked tentatively.

"If you can find me some cookies to go with my hot chocolate I will be all ears for as long as you want," he looked around hoping for a cookie jar of some description.

"It just so happens that Zara made some for the children tonight that haven't made their way downstairs, I'm sure they won't miss a few," Peri laughed and took a container from under the bench and opened it for him to see.

"Excellent," he picked one up and bit into it. "What would you like to talk about?" He asked.

"I was thinking that when Emily got better and came home, she may still need some help managing the day to day things and like to stay with us for a while. We have plenty of room for you and the children, and I think they like having Josh and Dante around to play with," Peri laughed fussing with the warming milk as she spoke, so she didn't have to face him directly. "It's just that school goes back soon, and it's a lot for you to manage alone and there is the sweetest little school out near our house that the children could go to rather than having to commute into the city. It's just something for you to think about," she said lamely feeling like she was intruding on his life. "Angie's orientation for Fairmont is this week, though, and we can't put that off, it wouldn't be fair to her. She's been so excited about it."

"Em always sent me reminders that we needed to do the school stuff," Ben said as if unsure about how to process what she had said.

"I can help," Peri suggested gently again. "Everyone needs some help sometimes. I know you are used to looking after everyone else, but you have to let us look after you sometimes. I can go with you to Fairmont or take her myself. Maybe Arianna would like to show her around. I expect she's been there for a year or two already."

Ben ran his fingers through his hair and turned an anguished look on her that tugged at her heart. He opened his mouth to speak but shut it again and swallowed noisily.

"I'm sorry, I know you probably don't want to deal with this right now, but I didn't want to make plans when you might have already decided what you wanted to do," she immediately apologised. She poured the warm milk into Ben's cup and stirred it slowly before slowly dropping five little marshmallows into the steaming brew.

"You have nothing to be sorry about," Ben murmured taking the cup she offered him with a half-smile. "I haven't made any plans and until tonight I had thought that Em would be home within a week or two. She won't be, though. She won't even acknowledge me when I am there. It's like she has exiled herself for what happened to D. The doctors said she speaks of the incident as if the worst case scenario had happened and we were all dead. She won't look at me even if I stand right in front of her."

"Oh Ben, I'm so sorry. She will get better, though. It will just take some time. You were all brought up with such a strong sense of duty to the family that it's understandable that she feels she has betrayed you in the worst way. You were the leader of your siblings for such a long time. Josh told me you were like a father figure to him here in the city," she tried to make sense out of Emily's actions for him. "You've always been the strong one for everyone else let us help you now. Stay with us, or at least let the children stay and I promise they will want for nothing."

"You don't have to do that," Ben said, "We have nannies, or they could go to the farm with Mama."

"The farm is too far for you to be commuting to and you don't want them to be missing both their parents, do you? Our house isn't so far away that you couldn't come and see them whenever you wanted. You could stay with us and commute into the city with D. We have so much room there. Josh built a house big enough for six families! You'd be miserable if they were on the farm, I want to help, please let me, Ben. I promise not to take over and always ask before assuming I know best," she said gently.

"Do Josh and D. know you are inviting the kids and me to stay with you?" Ben asked with a frown.

"Yes, they are happy to do whatever you need," Peri answered honestly. "I wouldn't be doing it all on my own, I have help from your nannies and the enormous number of people who work for us now," she shook her head. "Carmen will be back soon, and you know she will want to help too." She added as an after-thought. "Emily will be back in no time and organising you and the children again.

"Where are they?" Ben asked not wanting to appear rude but knowing that if he sat here with this amazingly generous woman he would break down. He needed the dry, acerbic taunting of his brothers to bring him back to reality and make decisions unclouded by the emotions that ran through him at that moment.

"In the office making plans for the week," she smiled. "I imagine they are expecting you."

"Thank you, Peri. Thank you for caring so wonderfully for my family, I am grateful beyond words," he stood and leaned over the bench to kiss her cheek. "I need to see Josh and D. before making any decisions." He picked up his mug and a few cookies then gave her a lop-sided smile then walked to the office.

Peri watched him go with a heavy heart. He seemed like he was about to open up to her when he spoke of Emily and then just as quickly he had shut down and became flat and unemotional. She watched him walk away wondering if she had been too pushy and now he believed her to be an interfering busy-body.

Zara appeared out of nowhere and started to help her tidy up the remains of the chocolate making. She said nothing as she began to help and then got out a large bowl and placed it on the bench as if she was about to start cooking again.

"Can I help?" Peri asked seeing Zara go to the pantry for ingredients.

"Hot chocolate and cookies are always so comforting no matter what age you are," Zara said conversationally without any indication that she had heard any of the conversation Peri had just had with Ben. "I just thought it might be nice to have a batch of fresh cookies for the grown-ups as well as well as the children. My mother used to make the most delicious cookies for my father that we were never allowed to have. He would sneak one to us now and then, though. I think that's why they tasted so good, like contraband." She gave a soft laugh as she worked quietly.

"I can't remember my mother baking, she cooked, but just the basics," Peri said thoughtfully. "It must be nice to have such fond memories of your parents." Zara looked at the young woman she worked for and saw the sadness in her expression after speaking and decided to change the subject.

"Do you have a favourite cookie?" Zara asked. "Something you like with hot chocolate or coffee?"

"One of the first things I learned to cook at school was a simple chocolate slice. We used crushed up wheat bricks. You know the kind you had for breakfast and added cocoa and brown sugar and butter? I still make that sometimes. I learned all my cooking skills at high school I am afraid," Peri admitted.

"It sounds like they are still using the same cookbook I used at high school," Zara chuckled. "It didn't answer my question, though, do you have a favourite cookie?" She asked as she added ingredients to the bowl without measuring any of them.

"Not really, I like slices or small tea cakes. My home economics teacher used to have us make high tea for the faculty or special occasions. She always made these little vanilla patty cakes with the most amazing passionfruit icing. It's probably just as well I never learned how to cook them; I'd be as big as a house," Peri grinned. "Is that close enough to a cookie?"

It seemed like only minutes later that Peri was helping roll the dough into small balls and press her thumb into the middle flattening them to place a small piece of chocolate coated caramel on the top. Fifteen minutes after that Zara was lifting the first tray from the oven when Josh appeared in the kitchen.

"Something smells good," he grinned.

"Ben was stealing the kid's cookies earlier, so we thought we should make you and your brothers some of your own," Peri laughed as he burnt his fingers trying to pick up one of the hot cookies.

"Speaking of Ben, he'd like to talk to you. No need to tell him about the cookies, though," Josh said as he juggled a hot cookie between his hands.

"If it weren't for Ben you wouldn't have warm cookies straight from the oven," she admonished him and picked up the small plate on which Zara had placed a few of the cookies. "I thought we had the talk about sharing," she grinned.

"I wouldn't mind revisiting the talk we had last night," Josh shrugged making her blush and shake her head. "You know just to refresh my memory." Peri shook her head and walked to the office.

Ben seemed more at ease and was smiling like his usual self when Peri entered the office bearing the small plate of cookies. "I'll take those for you," he offered.

"You take the cookies. I'll take her," Dante chuckled pulling Peri into his lap and wrapping his arms around her making her laugh. "I missed you," he buried his face in her hair and kissed her shoulder.

"You might have mentioned that already," she teased conscious of the fact that Ben was sitting across from them missing Emily. "There're more cookies coming out of the oven if Josh doesn't eat them all," she offered.

"Don't mind me," Ben smiled seeing her look at him guiltily. "Dante would probably just tell us you're sweeter than cookies anyway."

"I wouldn't be lying," Dante chuckled and kissed her neck.

"I've had a chat with Goofy here, and the king of the kids, and I can see that this year is going to be particularly busy for all of us. I'm just not sure that moving the kids away from everything they're familiar with is the best thing to do, right now. Em could snap out of it by then. Can we meet sometime tomorrow and have a talk about it, after I've seen the doctors again?"

"Maybe talking to Carmen will help, she and Emily were close, and maybe she would like to help with the children, so they don't have to make any big changes," Peri suggested. "I'm sure Marcus would organise that for you if you called the facility. I wasn't trying to take over for Emily or anything. I was just suggesting one solution. I'm sure there are other options that you might be more comfortable with, and Carmen may come up with things I haven't thought about, because she has children at school too," Peri smiled showing that she didn't mind what he decided to do.

"That's not a bad idea," Ben mused thoughtfully.

"I'd still like to take them out to the house this week. Let them run around and have some adventures before school goes back for the year, if that's okay? I will still have Carmen and Romey's children with me as well, and it will be fun after being cooped up downstairs for so long," she asked hopefully.

"Yeah," he said. "Romey's boys probably need it more than the girl's, they were energetic today, to say the least," he chuckled.

"There's no hurry to make any decisions, aside from the orientation day for Angie," Dante interrupted their careful conversation. "You have to go to that one big guy, but Rosanna and Arianna will probably jump at the chance to go with you, as would Carmen if she could. Don't feel pressure to take Peri anywhere. You know how grumpy the kid gets when she goes anywhere without him."

"She went out today without me, and I was pretty happy with the result," Josh said smugly walking back into the room eating cookies with Romey following him.

"Really? I hadn't noticed," Ben said with a perfectly straight face. "Where've you been?" he asked Romey.

"Had a bit of a nap while Davey read me a bedtime story," Romey scratched the stubble on his cheek.

"So Peri wants to kidnap our children and torture them by making them run around in the sun and have an adventure or two before school goes back," Ben said casually.

"Yeah I heard a rumour about that," he nodded. "I can do the commute if she's prepared to torture them. I can't be both parents. I can't keep up with it all. The nanny is good, but the kids need us both. Carmen's the driving energy in our house, without her I'm a bit flat to tell you the truth," he said honestly knowing Ben was struggling with the need to look after everyone the way he always had but without the quiet support Emily had always given him to manage the day to day things.

Ben looked at his brother in surprise. Romey was the last person he had expected to hear self-depreciation from and he worried that the loss of the chair and then his twin moving overseas had taken a greater toll on him than just Carmen's involvement in Emily's betrayal. He seemed to have mellowed over the last few weeks since Christmas, he seemed less driven and on edge now, and Ben considered him curiously.

"Today was great, thanks for that Josh, the boys had a ball," Romey added. "I don't know that Mark was altogether happy when you made him walk the plank, though," he chuckled.

"We were rescuing you, geez. Someone had to walk the plank, why not the Captain?" Josh rolled his eyes as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

"Well gentlemen, I'm going to call it a night," Peri said interrupting their banter. "Call me tomorrow about when you would like to meet tomorrow. Anything I can do to help, just ask," she reached out and touched Ben's hand. She kissed Dante and stood to face Josh. He seemed to be considering her quietly.

"I just read Gerrard's report from today," he held up his phone with the email on it. "You seemed to have glanced over the part about running into an old friend."

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