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The Twelve Tables Ch. 15

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

They had hired a ground floor function room that opened up into a private garden area that overlooked the river. While Peri had invited her friends, the huge guest list was compromised mainly from Josh’s family. She felt almost like a stranger at her own party as she was introduced by Josh to various groups of people knowing she would never remember names and how they were related to him.

The gift table was stacked high and the small wishing well they had agreed to for people who wanted to give them a card rather than a present overflowed. She was glad in the end that she had let Andie and Lucia talk her into doing a gift registry at two major department stores.

Josh had reassured her that aside of those directly involved in the incident with Nik, including his direct family, no one knew what had happened to her. She relaxed into the evening being happy to speak with those she knew but finding she liked the majority of the guests she met. Josh was kept busy with the family he didn’t get to see very often and she often left his side from to time to find a quiet seat with her friends.

She was standing with Dante and Louisa facing the door to the function room when a tall beautiful woman walked in. She was elegant and regal and when she turned to survey the room Peri froze.

“No, no, no, no, no!” She said rapidly the glass she was holding slipping from her fingers to shatter at her feet breaking the spell of the shock she felt. She turned to run and began moving through the crowd, almost pushing people out of her way to get to the back garden and make her escape. Dante had followed her closely grabbing her before she could get there.

“Peri stop!” he said loudly making her turn to look at him. “What the hell happened?”

“It’s Nik! Nik’s here!” she looked back over his shoulder and the woman was nowhere in sight.

“No, Nik is in Canberra, you know this,” Dante was saying reasonably as Josh appeared at their side looking worried.

“I saw her. She came in just then. I saw her Josh,” Peri whispered wide-eyed. “I have to go. I have to go home.”

“The woman you saw arriving late was Izabella,” Josh said calmly. “It was my sister Izabella,” he said a second time wrapping her in his arms. “She came home for the party I told you that I sent her invitation, remember? She wanted to surprise us so she hadn’t told us she would be here.”

“Bigger surprise than anyone counted on,” Dante chuckled relaxing. “I gotta admit though they do look alike, a bit of a heads up would have been a better idea for Peri.”

“But I saw Nik, she was there,” Peri repeated her fear refusing to believe what he was saying.

“Let’s get some fresh air and D can get Izzy once you meet her you will see that it’s not Nik,” Josh said soothingly and walked her out past the party goers to a quiet space.

“No,” Peri shook her head. “I don’t want to. I thought I could do this. I thought everything could go back to normal but it can’t, can it. I’m sorry Josh I love you but I can’t do this. Let me go. I need to go home.”

“You don’t mean that. It’s just the shock of seeing Izzy,” Josh tried to reason with her.

“As long as I am with you I will keep expecting to see her everywhere I go,” Peri said. “As long as I am with you I will never be free to move on. You weren’t there, not in the library, not in the courtroom. You don’t know what I know. You didn’t see her or hear her. I can’t do this, I tried I really did, I wanted it so much.” She began to cry and took the rings from her finger.

“You can’t be serious!” Josh exploded. “What about what I want?”

“Please Josh, just let me go. I’m sorry about all of this,” she waved a hand around indicating the party. “Maybe it was for the best though because now we know we were doomed to fail. Don’t follow me, please just let me go.” She put the rings in his hand and walked around the side of the building heading for her hotel room.

“What about what I want?” he asked her retreating form. He couldn’t let her go like this. He went after her and stopped her before she reached the side door. “I get it, I understand, but she’s in prison and not even eligible for parole for the next twenty years. That feeling will fade I promise, please just come and meet Izzy. She flew all the way from Italy to meet you. All of these people are here to meet you.” He wrapped his arms around her and held her tightly to him. “Don’t leave me,” he begged in a whisper.

“There you are,” Dante said in a loud voice approaching them followed by a tall stunningly beautiful woman.

“Oh gosh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know you’d been injured so terribly recently,” Izabella gushed. “I just wanted to surprise my baby brother and I scared you half to death you poor thing. This woman who hurt you must have been terrifying,” she said bahis siteleri and Peri realised she didn’t know that Nik had tried to kill her.

Peri looked at the woman with the sultry, accented voice. Up close she could see that the woman bore nothing more than a family resemblance to Nik. It was more the way she carried herself like a supermodel and the long dark hair that had made her panic the way she did. Josh was right she couldn’t walk out on her own party, and humiliate not only herself but him in the process. She felt the need to flee but she pulled herself together for the time being. She would make her apologies and claim fatigue and dizziness after a little while and leave the party in a more dignified manner.

“It was a shock, but no harm was done,” Peri said disentangling herself from Josh’s arms. “I just needed a moment to get my bearings again. It’s lovely to meet you,” she said holding out her hand and feeling Josh relax beside her.

“It’s lovely to meet you too,” Izabella smiled warmly. “Come and say hello to Mama and Papa, they were so worried when you ran off like that. They thought you hadn’t wanted to see them.”

“If you’ll just excuse me for a moment first I need to powder my nose, literally,” she smiled.

“Of course,” Izabella said. “I’ll see you back inside the party.”

“Peri?” Andie came around the corner. “I heard you…” She stopped in shock as Izabella turned with the others to look at Andie and Charles, who had followed her to find Peri.

“Andie this is my sister Izabella,” Dante said into the silence.

“My god, you look just like her,” Andie blinked. She looked at Peri and saw the brave false smile as well as the tear tracks in her makeup.

“Andie, can you help me find the bathrooms, I need to freshen up,” Peri said lightly moving toward the relative safety of her mother.

“I was going to ask you the same thing, let’s find them together,” Andie linked her arm through Peris. “Sorry to rush off, we’ll talk more inside,” she said to Izabella and walked away from the party toward the foyer of the hotel.

“You don’t have to follow us, Josh,” Peri said abruptly as he started walking behind the two women.

“He’s just worried about you,” Andie chastised her daughter. “No one expects you to be fully recovered. I got a shock myself. We’ll fix your makeup and go back to the party and everything will be fine.”

“I’m not fine, though, am I?” Peri said sadly. “I’m a nut case. How could I possibly have thought this was a good idea?”

“We’ll get you some help to work through it,” Josh said desperation colouring his voice. He could feel her slipping away from him again as she had at the hospital. Maybe he pushed her too fast, too hard but he had hoped once they were committed, married even, that she would stop running away from him and life would start returning to normal.

Peri had felt that she didn’t need the help Pete kept encouraging her to get. The nightmares had begun to ease and she was sleeping better in the last two weeks. Working through her list of things that would make her feel normal again, she had felt she was getting back to her regular life again. Until tonight, she had been feeling good about how she was handling everything. The urgent need to flee the situation was dissipating as she walked into the bathroom with Andie leaving Josh waiting outside.

In a calmer way, she told Andie the same things she had said to Josh. “I thought I could do this but I can’t,” she began. “As long as I am with him I will keep expecting to see her everywhere I go,” Peri said. “I will never be free to move on. I can’t do this despite wanting it so much.” She said sadly. “We are doomed to fail because I will always be waiting and worrying for her to show up again. I gave him back the rings,” she said with a trembling voice.

“Stand right there,” Andie said and checked the stalls of the quiet out of the way bathroom. Then she went to the door and opened it surprising Josh who stood nearby. “Get in here,” she said and motioned him into the ladies’ bathroom.

“I can’t stay out of this anymore,” Andie said as Josh warily walked into the bathroom. “You apologise for acting like a crazy woman,” she pointed at Peri. “And you,” she pointed at Josh, “Give her back her rings.” She saw Peri hesitate but Josh sighed in relief. “I’m not a doctor, but I have spoken to far too many over the last couple of months not to pick up a thing or two. Baby, it’s perfectly reasonable to admit you have post-traumatic stress and need help. I should have made you see the counsellor but I was enjoying the fact that you were treating me like your mother again.”

“You are my mother,” Peri said shaking her head.

“We both know you hadn’t thought of me as your mum for years before all this, because I didn’t act like it, I guess,” Andie admitted. “Now admit you had a panic attack and apologise to Josh for taking off that ring. You love him and he loves you. The family is neither here nor there. canlı bahis siteleri You can love them or hate them because you don’t have to live with them you only have to live with him.” Andie took on a lecturing tone.

“I did have a panic attack, I’m still having it in fact,” she said softly. “I’m sorry I took off my rings.” She apologised responding to her mother’s authority.

“No more running away,” Josh said. “If you need to leave you need to take me with you but you don’t run from me!” The emotion was still thick in his voice as he slid the rings back on her finger.

“You know you need help just as much as she does,” Andie told Josh gently. “Kiss and make-up then I can redo her makeup. I’m the goddam makeup queen at the moment,” she laughed trying to lighten the mood.

“No running away,” Josh murmured.

“Don’t leave me alone in there,” she whispered and accepted his kiss despite still feeling their relationship remained doomed. It wasn’t that she didn’t love him as much as she always had, but she felt overwhelmed by the idea that she could never truly escape Nik and what she had done while she was with him.

They returned to the party and Peri had numbly smiled and engaged in small conversations for the remainder of the night. She had been apologetic to Izabella and her husband for her reaction to their arrival and refused to let the woman take any of the blame. Izabella had explained that they had not known the details of the family emergency she had been asked to come home to discuss. She and her husband had been on tour with an orchestra and had not been able to come any earlier and had happily been able to arrive just in time for the engagement party.

“It’s a shame our surprise entrance caused you such distress,” Izabella said in a condescending tone.

It was Lucia who had cut the conversation between Izabella and Peri short, linking arms with her sister and steering her away from where Peri stood beside Josh. “Izzy, you have to trust me, stay away from Josh and Peri tonight, okay?” She had whispered quietly. “I’ll explain everything later, I promise. Just stop being critical of her and stay away from them.”

“No, explain it to me now, Lucy?” Izabella became increasingly worried. “So I look like someone who assaulted her. She looks fine to me. I can’t help it if she is a drama queen who can’t share the spotlight for five minutes.”

“I can’t explain it now, not here,” Lucia responded seriously.

“Fine, I’ll just find D., he’ll tell me what the fuck is going on here,” Izabella said her voice coloured with the frustration and rising anger that her homecoming was not as joyously received as it always had been.

“No one will tell you, not here,” she looked around at the large crowd of guests meaningfully. “Get Giovanni and tell Mama you’re jet lagged or something. We can go up to your room, assuming you are staying here tonight. I doubt you will want to come back down afterwards,” Lucia said seriously. “I’ll get D.” She knew he would still have the photo of just how badly injured Peri was on his phone. Looking at her now, six weeks later, it was hard to believe how close to death she had seemed.

“No!” Izabella shouted incensed at the way she was being treated.

“I think you should go now Izzy,” Ben said appearing behind Lucia with Angelo.

“Let me find Giovanni and D. first,” Lucia said quietly. “She will believe D. if he tells her.” Lucia went over to where the men stood near Josh and Peri.

“I will let mama know you felt tired after your big flight and have retired early,” Angelo said his deep rumbling voice, making it clear this was not a choice Izabella could make any longer.

Lucia and Dante had quietly escorted Izabella and her husband from the party and gone up to the suite they had taken. Without any preamble, Dante opened his phone and brought up the picture he had been sent by Ben, the morning they had found Peri.

“This is Peri six weeks ago,” he handed Izabella the phone and she gasped, “Who do you know for a fact that looks like a carbon copy of you?” He asked making her think.

“No one, Catherine Zeta-Jones, when she was skinny,” Izabella looked up from the photo as she compared herself to celebrities.

“Think closer to home,” he said with an edge to his voice. “You are just as vain and self-important as she ever was.” He saw her look at him in confusion so he spelt it out for her. “That photo was taken after Nik tried to kill Peri and very nearly succeeded.”

“It was Nik? Nik did that to her?” Izabella repeated not able to believe what she was seeing and hearing.

“Nik also murdered one of the Battaglia men,” Dante said holding nothing back and watching his sister reel with the shock. “Maybe next time when one of us tells you we will explain later you will trust us instead of demanding answers immediately like a spoilt princess. That girl down there may look physically fine but she is barely holding it together for Josh’s güvenilir bahis sake at this point. She is far from the “little drama queen” you called her in front of everyone down there at the party.”

“Hey, that was uncalled for. She didn’t know, a little heads-up might have been helpful,” Giovanni stood up and faced Dante.

“That’s the point; she didn’t know. She didn’t know Peri or the situation and yet she felt justified in judging her as a drama queen. You know who else judged her too quickly, Nik,” Dante spat. He wasn’t letting Izabella off the hook so easily. “Nik judged her as not being good enough for her brother and never gave her a chance despite that fact that Josh loved her,” Dante said angrily.

“I didn’t know,” Izabella yelled back at him.

“It shouldn’t have mattered! You walked into her engagement party expecting it to be all about you and your homecoming and when it wasn’t you criticised her to anyone who would listen. She shouldn’t have had to share the spotlight with you. It wasn’t your welcome home party, it was her and more importantly, your brother’s engagement party you were trying to hi-jack.”

“I wasn’t trying to hi-jack anything!” Izabella raged back indignantly.

“I heard you complain that Peri was too much of a prima donna to share the spotlight with you for even five minutes,” he accused. “She thought you were Nik coming to finish what she started! She ran like any sane person would do.”

“D. stop,” Lucia stood in front of him and placed her hands on his chest. “She gets it. She didn’t know but now she gets it.” She said calmly. She turned to Izabella and shook her head sadly. “We did try to get in contact with you but all we could do was leave messages and send emails. Nik lost it, she murdered a man and almost killed Peri. Everyone is still a little on edge. Peri only got her cast off today and all that makeup is hiding more than just bruises.”

“We were travelling a lot with the orchestra,” Izabella sat back down and sighed heavily. “I had no idea it was so serious or I would have come back earlier. Where’s Nik? Not here obviously, is she back at the farm?”

“She’s in prison,” Dante said in a hard voice and seeing the horror on his sister’s face continued. “Peri aside she murdered a man in cold blood, Izzy. You can’t possibly believe she would be at home as if nothing happened.”

“I guess not,” she said uncertainly. Her view of the world and her place within it shifting dramatically. She knew Dante himself had been up on a charge of assault in his younger days and had never set foot inside a jail. He hadn’t murdered anyone, though.

“I think you should go now,” Giovanni said sternly to Dante.

“Yeah, your right,” he was still angry. “Look, Izzy, we probably could have told you in a better way, but you were a full blown bitch downstairs. Josh has been through enough. You have no idea how badly Nik screwed with him and Peri before she went too far,” Dante sighed. “Stupid thing is we let her, just like we always have and because of that, the Donati princess routine you pulled downstairs will put all of us on edge. You saw how Ben and Angelo came down on you when you yelled at Lucy, who was just trying to help you.”

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Izabella said softly.

“You know Nik still says those exact same words even though she’s been convicted,” Dante shook his head. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he sighed and left the room.

“She murdered someone, like dead?” Izabella asked finally letting the words sink in.

“Nik did a lot of things, drugs, assault, manipulation, and yes murder,” Lucia said softly. “Papa protected her and sent her to the Battaglia for rehab. She murdered her guard, and tried to kill Peri, almost succeeded too,” Lucia filled in a few more of the gaps in a soft kind way. “Peri’s lovely and sweet and Josh loves her to bits, no one will like you bad mouthing her, especially not tonight.”

“It’s been so long since I was home I just wanted to surprise everyone,” Izabella said still trying to make sense of everything.

“Mission accomplished,” Lucia laughed, “But you can’t blame Peri for her reaction and I guarantee she doesn’t blame you for frightening her. She will be blaming herself for panicking the way she did. You might have to apologise to Josh for calling his fiancé a drama queen, though,” she smiled and hugged her sister.

*****

Peri had reluctantly agreed to have breakfast with Antonia and Joseph when the invitation had been extended to include Andie and Charles and she lay I bed that morning feeling sick about it. She still felt that cloud of impending doom over them and when they had come back to the room last night she hadn’t wanted to talk about it.

“I can hear you thinking,” Josh murmured into her neck and she rolled in the circle of his arms to look at him.

“I love you,” she reached up to place a hand on his cheek. “I just don’t know if it’s enough,” she said sadly. “Andie’s right, I need help, I’m a crazy woman now and you deserve so much better.”

“I have exactly what I want, and Andie was right, I think we both need help to get past this,” he said softly holding her close. “I can’t bear the thought of losing you again, not when we have just come back together after everything.”

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