tagNovels and NovellasThe Twelve Vitali Ch. 35

The Twelve Vitali Ch. 35

byxelliebabex©

Authors note: Hello everyone. Well this is the last chapter and I hope you have enjoyed this story! Thank you everyone for the positive feedback and comments they continue to mean the world to me and have brightened my days. Thank you once again to Paul who worked tirelessly on this series as my second set of eyes. ~ellie.

*****

Cat hung from intricate ropes, panting for breath, her eyes closed and perspiration making her skin glow. She had been woken early by the insistent kissing and nuzzling of the men she loved and taken into the playroom before the sun had barely cleared the horizon.

Now, as the restraints were finally being released and she was lowered to the floor, she felt the exhaustion of both last night and this morning fill her. The only saving grace was that she didn't have morning sickness for once. Maybe this was the cure, she gave a half laugh as she went to shower with Ricco and Matteo, who now treated her as if she was fragile and bathed her, towelled her dry and rubbed lotion into her marked limbs and torso. They hadn't held back, and just like the night before they had used her completely, with the addition of all the tools at their disposal in the red room.

Once dressed, they walked with her to the kitchen and sat at the small cosy table there. Lisa, Arturo and Bradbury waited for them, and Hugh came in a minute later. Matteo looked at Ricco and took a breath. He knew Cat wouldn't like what they were about to do, but Ricco had assured him it was necessary for Cat to move past her own guilt over what had occurred. She had been punishing herself, and now she needed some sort of acknowledgement, if not a real punishment from them.

"Great, we're all here then," Matteo started. "New rules for our Princess," Matteo grinned at Cat, who looked horrified at being called a Princess. "Mrs. Vitali, Cat, is pregnant. If she doesn't eat breakfast or only has toast, she doesn't go out until she has eaten something decent mid-morning or lunchtime. I won't have her fainting or collapsing again, regardless of the circumstances, and our baby needs more than a token mouthful of food if it is to survive and be healthy."

"Smoothies might be a good alternative, nutritious and filling without weighing her tummy down too much," Lisa suggested, not hiding her wide smile at the idea of a baby in the house.

"As long as it's sustaining. Cat let herself get run down to the point of exhaustion, and it took her from us for far too long. That won't be happening again, so, new rules where she is concerned. Any changes in her schedule must be passed through us for the next few weeks, and there will be time for resting in between events," Matteo continued. "While the immediate threat to her welfare is gone, there have always been threats to people who hold a certain celebrity, so Hugh and Bradbury will remain fulltime as personal security, regardless of Mrs. Vitali's feelings that she is able to look after herself."

"Why are you doing this?" Cat was shocked that they would do this to her. They had always been so careful of her feelings in front of the staff she felt awkward enough with. Now they were treating her like a naughty child in front of them.

"Because we trusted you to look after yourself while we were tending to business before the shooting and you didn't. You didn't sleep or eat properly, you weren't honest with me about how bad you were feeling, and you didn't confide in the people who would have helped you and made sure you got what you needed. You should have told me just how badly you were sleeping and sick you had become when we spoke," he said a little more gently. "It wasn't until Zee spoke to me that I realised you hadn't told me the whole truth."

Cat said nothing as she acknowledged that what he was saying was true, and lowered her head in shame and guilt. She hadn't been honest with him, and she knew how much that would have hurt him.

"If we can't trust you to put your own welfare or the welfare of our child first, we will do it for you!" Ricco said in hard tones that made her eyes widen. "No more secrets, Cat. You are carrying the next generation of the Vitali Table, and you need to stop hiding that fact from everyone, even yourself. How would you feel if you had lost the baby after you pushed yourself to physical and mental exhaustion?"

The thought hadn't even occurred to her at the time, and his harsh words startled her. He was angry with her, they both were, she realised. Had she really come home last night like a princess expecting them to be grateful that she had deigned to come home and not have to face any consequences? They had been happy and grateful, they had told her as much, but she didn't blame them for being angry with her. She had been angry with herself for how everything had played out on the jet. She didn't blame them for being angry with her; in fact, it was a relief that they were honest about it instead of trying to make her feel better by sweeping it away as they always had in the past. So she sat quietly while they told her how she was going to have to live her life for the next few weeks, if not months until she earned their trust back.

"You are the mother, people run around after you, not the other way around. If you want to meet with Aria or Mia, or even all of the women's circle, they come to you, either here or downstairs in the restaurant. Maryanne doesn't get to summon everyone there just because she has a baby. She has nannies, for goodness sakes, not just one, but two!" Matteo said in a frustrated voice.

"You are a princess; your great-grandmother was a queen. You married into royalty within our family, its time to put the girl from Acacia Grove behind you and embrace being Mrs. Catriona Vitali," Ricco said. "The only people you have to obey and run around after are Matteo and me. Nobody else can tell you what to do, only suggest. This week, take the time to work out properly what you want to do. Yes, you have responsibilities, but you also want to paint. You can do both if you cut out all the things you don't want to do, and certainly don't have to do. Have we made that point clear now?" Ricco asked in the same hard voice. "Unless, of course, you want to leave Sonya running things, including your life within the women's circle," he smiled as he saw Cat stiffen at that news.

Cat had promised herself, over the last week or so, that if she came back and faced those women again they would know just how brave Theresa had been. How loving and forgiving toward Vanessa and how utterly amazing Cat thought she was. She knew her story would hurt Mia and Aria to hear about the betrayal of Vanessa, but they needed to know that Theresa was brave. Cat itched to ask about her and when she would be home from Darwin.

"Use the software Peri gave you, Zion says it will do most of the work for you," Matteo said in a conciliatory tone to offset the harshness of Ricco's words. "These people work for you, not just because they are contracted to, but because they want to, and they care about you and our family. You can tell them what to do, but for the next little while they'll be running that past us as well. Just until we are sure you are looking after yourself and our baby properly."

"I understand," Cat said softly. Cat knew she had done everything they accused her of, and more. She had gotten their mother and sister shot as well. She deserved a far greater punishment than this, and the people standing there looking at her didn't seem to be judging her, but rather looking at her with care and understanding. "I'll do it your way, my way obviously wasn't working," she said contritely.

Yesterday, after Sava and Vedran left, she knew this is where she wanted to be. She didn't want a new life where she could start over, she wanted this life with the men she loved, and she was ready to take whatever punishment they deemed fit for what she had done. She couldn't face the self-imposed exile she had been contemplating once it was made reality and offered to her by her cousins. The idea that she could have harmed her baby by being as neglectful as her mother had been upsetting to hear, but she determined not to show it. She would get some help, maybe talk to a counsellor or therapist. She made the decision to come back, and now she had to embrace everything that came with that instead of shying away from it, including motherhood.

"Why don't we try a smoothie this morning, Mrs. Vitali," Lisa suggested. "I have some lovely recipes from back in my training days."

"Thank you, Lisa, that would be lovely," Cat gave a small smile, then turned at a commotion coming from the living room.

"Don't even try and stop me, big brother!" Aria said to Matteo as she hurried into the kitchen to embrace Cat. "I am so glad your back, I missed you!"

"Sorry, Matt," Zion shrugged. "There was no stopping her once she knew Cat was home."

"Mr. Vitali," Knox said in a gruff voice from the doorway. "You might want to move to the dining room. It would seem Lucca and Logan are on their way up as well."

"Yeah, okay," Matteo chuckled and looked at Lisa, who had already sent one of the kitchen hands to set the table for them. Lisa merely nodded back with a rare smile for him.

Breakfast became a family affair, as most of the younger Vitali clan descended on the penthouse to the point where the large dining room table became overcrowded and people spilt out into other rooms in the penthouse.

Cat was overwhelmed by the fuss her home-coming incurred. These people, this family, honestly cared about her. She had barely known them more than six months, some of them much less than that, but they were all so happy to see her return to where she belonged. She knew part of that was because of Matteo and Ricco, but they genuinely seemed concerned for her as well after the trauma of what happened in the Kimberley.

Aria, Mia and Kari stole her away from the rest of the crowd to fill her in on what was happening in the women's circle since Theresa's injuries and Cat's absence. They sat together in a small group out on the deck in the sunshine.

"Sonya has not been good, especially because Marina was so badly injured and won't be calling her on her bullshit for a while," Mia said, sounding more assertive than usual.

"I'm so sorry," Cat said. "The truth is that I have not been doing what I should have been for a while, I've just been so sick with the pregnancy, and I don't have anyone to ask what worked for them that might help."

"Oh my God! That's why Lucca was so worried about you?" Aria asked amid the gasps of joy from the other women. "You should have told us!"

"I don't think we can keep a secret for much longer," Cat said nervously and pulled a face.

"You should have asked, this is a highly fertile family, in case you hadn't noticed," Mia laughed. "The trick is to just snack all day, no large meals, so you don't have the full feeling making you sick, or the acid build up. Take all your vitamins at night, including magnesium and a good shot of ginger."

"How do you know this stuff?" Cat frowned at her.

"I'm the oldest of all my siblings and cousins, I know everything about having babies, which is why I'm not planning to have any of my own," she laughed lightly again. "I'll be the cool Aunty Mia who does all the fun things and hands them back when they're tired and cranky."

"Seriously?" Aria asked, looking at her sister as if she had grown two heads. "I thought you and Kalam would already be trying."

"No, I love this family and its traditions, but I married a warrior," Mia grinned. "That means I am not responsible for populating the next table. That would be Cat and Kari's job until the other brothers find the woman of their dreams who will be happy to have a big family. Besides, you'll meet someone one day and leave us for another family."

"No, you're stuck with me. Even if same-sex marriage is law now, none of the families will condone it," Aria laughed at the look on her sister's face. "It's more than just a phase, Mia, trust me. The only guy I have ever been into is Zion, and let's face it, that would be even worse for everyone!"

Cat relaxed and let the chatter of her sisters-in-law flow around her, enjoying their banter until she was pulled back into the conversation with talk of Sonya and Angela.

"A leader is only as good as the people who follow them," Cat said quietly. "Not that I am claiming that I am the leader, I would much rather have a democratic circle, because I could use all the help I can get, but..." she took a breath and soldiered on. "If no one does what Sonya wants she can issue as many orders as she likes, because they won't be worth anything if no one acts on them, and, seriously, it's been two weeks, there was no need for her to be doing anything."

"I agree with that," Kari spoke up when no one else did.

"Look, I know this is going to be as hard for you to hear as it is for me to tell you, and I don't know how much you were told about what happened at the Papillo airport," Cat began. "But I will be telling the circle, so it's probably better that you hear it here from me when you have the people who love you close by."

"No real detail, just that there was a gunfight and you and Theresa were injured, and Vanessa..." Mia couldn't say the words and closed her eyes.

"When I boarded the plane without Maria, Giovanni and Mario were angry and had been subdued by the Suebi men on board. Vanessa's last words to Theresa were "You are not my mother", and Theresa argued that Vanessa was her daughter in every way that counted and told her she loved her. Theresa also told the leader of the Suebi that it didn't matter if they killed her and me or all of the mothers, because there were always stronger, bolder, better women to step up. She told him that you, Mia, or Aria, could step up into the role and help the family to cope with their losses. You all think she isn't a great leader because she is a second wife, but she is. The reality is that she loves you all so much, there isn't anything she wouldn't do for you, including trying to save the daughter who had delivered her, and me, to the men who meant to kill us. Theresa was shot trying to save Vanessa, begging her to see what she had done and save herself right to the end."

Cat stopped, seeing that Mia had begun to cry and Aria had gone pale and her bottom lip trembled. Still, she continued, feeling the conviction of her words. New life, new rules starting today, Cat reminded herself. She had a shitty mother, and she wasn't about to let anyone think of Theresa that way. She would be tougher and stronger and step up and be the leader that would make Theresa proud.

"I told you that because if one woman on that table dismisses Theresa in front of me again, they will hear that story, and more. I won't put up with it ever again, regardless of what Theresa says or allows those other women to do. She has taught me so much in the last few months about loyalty and sacrifice. Honestly, what Sonya is doing is nothing of importance, and if she talked to her husband or sons, she would know that," Cat said decisively. "If she challenges me she won't be welcome in the circle, it's that simple, and I will be the one talking to her husband and sons. Theresa is one of the most amazing women I know, and I have no time for people who would criticise her just because she was a second wife or a stepmother."

"Thank you for telling me that about my Mama," Aria said softly and reached out to take Cat's hand.

"It's difficult to know Vanessa betrayed us like that, but the meeting in January affected her more than the rest of us. I was just too wrapped up in my own happiness to notice," Mia admitted. "I have always had a good relationship with Theresa; she never forced any of us girls to seek out relationships with the other families. She always believed in letting us live our own lives, which maybe came across as untraditional and against the family laws our Papa's lived by."

"Yeah," Aria said sadly. "I can't imagine her being so brave after watching the other women cow her for years. I'm so proud of her."

"I'm the new kid on the block," Kari admitted, "But it sounds like you were pretty brave as well, Cat," she said softly. "It's a shame Maryanne wasn't here to hear that story, but her little one has a cold, and it's hard with a newborn to keep them settled when their little noses are running or blocked. They have trouble eating and everything. Do you mind if I fill her in on what you said?"

"If you like, but I imagine it won't be the first time I tell people about Theresa's bravery and love of this family," Cat said. "Maybe you could find out from Zachary when Theresa will be allowed to travel home for us so we can do something really nice for her."

"I can do that," Kari said with a smile. "With pleasure."

*****

"Do you think we were too harsh this morning?" Matteo asked Ricco quietly as they watched Cat sitting with the three other younger women of her circle out on the deck.

"No," Ricco shook his head. "Part of the reason she ran away was that she blamed herself for what happened to Theresa and Vanessa. She was unwell physically, and mentally exhausted, she had a gunshot wound, and she had just seen Theresa die, or so she thought. How could she face us thinking she caused that devastation by sending Maria away from the jet? She was prepared to sacrifice herself, not the others. The fact that she lived when others didn't was the main reason she stayed away so long. She didn't feel she deserved it. She needed us to punish her in some way to be able to put that guilt aside and atone for it in some way. What we did this morning in front of people who genuinely care about her was nothing compared to what she had been doing to herself. Now we can all move on."

"I hope you're right," Matteo said, watching Mia cry openly as Cat spoke.

"What's up out there?" Kalam asked, concerned that Mia was crying and frowning as he spoke.

"Not sure, but neither of us is brave enough to interrupt secret women's business, so we nominate you, oh great warrior," Matteo said with a perfectly straight face. "Go see what's going on."

"I knew there'd be a catch to this job," Kalum grumbled and walked slowly out onto the deck.

Matteo and Ricco watched as Kalum approached the small group of women and tried not to notice when the women all turned to look at them.

"We're going to have to talk to him about not throwing us to the she-wolves," Ricco chuckled, watching as Kalum backed away with his hands up in front of him and came back inside.

"Cat just told them what Theresa did and said on the plane," Kalum said in a low voice as he came back to join them. "She is claiming Theresa is the hero of the story, as if she wasn't the one to turn the Martino's against the Suebi and start the chaos that got them out of there alive."

"We probably shouldn't have tried to protect them from the reality of what Vanessa did," Ricco nodded as Matteo contemplated why Cat would do that.

"I think they are planning a hostile take over of the women's circle. Cat sounds pretty determined, and she has those three firmly behind her now. Whatever she did while she was away, she seems to have come back stronger and more resolute about what she wants," Kalum shrugged.

Those words caught at Matteo. Ricco had warned him not to go to her and plead his case, and he had done what his brother suggested, although it had been the most difficult thing he had done in his life to just let her stay in that retreat alone. Ricco had said she needed to make and accept the decision to come back and all it entailed on her own. She had been forced into one situation after another by their family, this time they needed to give her a choice and be confident enough that she would choose them and their love for her. She had chosen them, and it had changed her in ways he was only just beginning to see.

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