Authors note: Hello everyone. I am sorry for my tardiness with chapter I have been a bit apathetic about writing this series since the theft of the first 22 chapters and Amazons delay in taking them down even after they took down the other series she stole from Literotica. Again, I am grateful to MsSensualiT for her continued help to be my second sets of eyes. I hope those of you who enjoy this series continue to do so. ~ellie.
Marcella had been overwhelmed by the sheer joy and relief of Olivia and Vivienne when they had finally arrived at the house during dinner. They were with Jessa's little boys, and she barely had time to take them in before she was pulled from her chair by Gideon. He had all but smothered her into his chest with his bear-like arms before handing around the small group for hugs and kisses to her cheeks. She briefly glanced at Noah between the embraces and saw him watching her carefully with an unreadable expression. She wasn't looking forward to having to explain herself to all of these people now, especially when she still needed to make Noah understand she couldn't stay. She couldn't take the risk that anyone else would be hurt because of her.
More food was brought for the late-comers, and the children were excused to go and show their cousins to the rooms they would be staying in during their visit with them. Marcella watched her nephews go with the Nanny and Auro, Jellybean leading the way and continuously talking in her excitement at having guests her own age. The three boys were quiet, even the baby. They looked more than a little apprehensive and Marcella knew that look. She'd worn it herself for much of her childhood. She hoped they would come out of their shells once they realised their father was no longer going to punish them for little more than making noise.
The rest of the dinner was populated with polite small talk. Everyone left what they truly wanted to say hanging in the air around them, making Marcella feel caged in and stifled by what she knew was coming. Connie and Vivienne talked about babies. Her friend glowed with happiness at the thought of becoming a mother as did Connie who acted as the wise friend for Vivienne when Marcella so obviously couldn't. She didn't have a maternal bone in her body and had no plans to have children of her own ever.
Olivia seemed quiet, which was typical for her, Marcella admitted. Still, it seemed more thoughtful this time as if trying to work out some complicated math problem in her head and coming up short. She turned toward her sister who sat on her right side, turning her shoulder and back to Noah. He was sitting way too close to her on her left side watching her eat, and coiled for action as if he thought she might up and bolt from the table rather than endure the strange oppressive vibe in the air.
"Olivia?" Marcella asked tentatively. "What's going on in that pretty head of yours that's making you frown so much?"
"You left. You left without even saying goodbye or checking that the AFP dropped the charges against me," Olivia sighed. She knew this was not the time or place to bring this up, but she could not help herself from saying what needed to be said. "You left all of us, not just me. Did you leave the yacht with this Game Master willingly or did he make you?"
"I didn't have a choice on the yacht. Konrad took me with him. There was no need to extrapolate and scare her with what she had seen that night and what a cold, ruthless, psycho the man was.
"In Brisbane, you had a choice, but you went with him anyway," Olivia accused.
"Yes, I had the impossible choice of putting you, Noah and everyone else in danger or going with him. I couldn't do that to you, not when you had just gained your freedom. You know Gen would have put you under house arrest again if he knew," Marcella said reasonably.
"If Massimo hadn't found you at the hospital would you have left with him again?" Olivia continued to probe.
"I had planned to go with him, initially anyway. I made a deal with Konrad for access to Jessa and Zia's funeral. I had to go back. But then I saw Jessa, and her pain at being separated from the one thing she lived for," Marcella sighed and looked up as if she could see through the floor to the children above. "I was angry and wanted to help her. I forgot at that moment how and why I was there and that Konrad was waiting in the rear car park for me. He was always ten steps ahead of anyone else in his games though, and he was probably long gone before Massimo even arrived."
"You made a deal with him?" Olivia frowned.
"Yeah, but it was out of necessity. For Konrad, all of this is a game of moves and counter-moves. People's lives mean nothing to him. He does what he wants and always has half a dozen contingency plans in place depending on how the pieces of his game react to situations he puts them in, me in particular. He gave me a choice and the freedom to leave in Brisbane, so I could come home to put all of my affairs in order before he came for me again. The threat to those who would stop him from getting to me was real. He doesn't want me, though, not really. He wants something the Tables have claimed as theirs as if it is some sort of contest to see who has the bigger balls. The longer you all stay with me, the more danger you are in. I'm the expendable pawn in his game, and he is after the higher value pieces."
Marcella looked up from where she had been twisting her fingers in her lap as she spoke quietly with Olivia when she heard her sister gasp. Olivia looked at Marcella wide-eyed with a small hand covering her mouth. Then she looked around the now silent dinner table and shook her head.
"You all have to let me go now. I'll find my own way back to Perth. I've finally got myself in way over my head just like you all knew I would, and now I have to face the consequences, alone," she said as if brooking no arguments and stood up as if to walk out.
"Fuck that!" Noah said. He stood to block her way and looked at her intensely. "If you think we are letting you face this alone then you're delusional."
"Noah, stop. You don't understand," she moved to push past him, but he was immovable.
"Marcella, wait, please," Xavier said calmly watching his cousin and the woman who had caused him so much angst. "There is more going on here than you know; and whether you stay with us or not, we will still pursue Konrad. He has gone too far this time and crossed the wrong family in full view of those who care. Yes, he is using you in his twisted game, but the game will go on regardless of whether you give yourself over to it or fight for the life you want. You have always struck me as a strong fighter, Marcella. Was I wrong?"
She turned to face Xavier processing everything he said slowly as if looking for the lies and manipulation in his words. She stayed silent, almost willing him to add more and be caught in a lie.
"Could we use your office for a bit, Mo?" Xavier asked.
"My home is your home brother," Massimo said in his deep rumbling bass.
"Will you come and talk with me please Marcella?before making up your mind between fight or flight?" Xavier asked gently.
"Do I have a choice?" Marcella grumbled.
"With Mo and I, there is always a choice. With the man standing beside you, those choices you once had are possibly not as forthcoming as they once were. Trust me; you will want to hear what I have to say," he encouraged.
"Fine, I know the way," Marcella sighed. Noah allowed her to push past him. Then he followed her closely as she led the way to the office with Xavier, Massimo and Carmelo after asking the others at the table to stay and enjoy dessert without them.
Marcella sat in the office with the four men and at their request told them everything about her time on the yacht and her time with Konrad. They wanted to know every detail, including the deals she had made as well as those she hadn't followed through with, that kept her out of his bed and the biggest bargaining chip she had in her pocket.
Then she turned the tables and began to grill them about why they believed the game had very little to do with her. She learned of the various Suebi powerplays leading up to the attack on all of the Tables' mothers, and the subsequent arrest of all of the Suebi power players across the country that could be identified. She was horrified to think that one man had orchestrated the downfall of so many tables and the Suebi clans who now had leaders easier for Konrad to manipulate. Not that she had any sympathy for Suebi or the Battaglia who needed to tighten up their processes so that what happened to her and even Veronica and Peri couldn't happen again. Still, as she grilled them, she could see everything they said was reasonable given the facts, but they had no real proof Konrad was behind it all and had been playing the long game up until this point.
"If what you say is true, then why me? Why didn't he kill me along with everyone else on that yacht? You weren't even aware of his interference until that point, true?" she asked, thinking over the facts critically and wishing she had taken notes.
"I have a theory about that," Carmelo said, leaning forward his elbows resting on his knees as he spoke.
"Okay, dazzle us," Xavier said, turning to look at the Farnese Oracle who had been silent until now.
"Well let's face it, Marcella is a beautiful woman who can hold her own when in a room of strongly opinionated alpha types. That would appeal to him on every level. From what she has said, they had a good time together before the speeches and massacre. Had he killed her; he could have gotten away with no one the wiser that there was a second party aboard the yacht. Still, I think he was quite taken with the feisty woman he found as the Suebi captive. Perhaps he even saw her as someone who could be his equal or a least a match for his intelligence," Carmelo began. "Once he had her; however, he was faced with a dilemma, woo her so she would go to his bed willingly or play more of his games to get her there by her own choice and guarantee that she wouldn't run straight to the authorities with her account of what happened on the yacht, not that it would matter as the Varangians are all ghosts and have no digital footprint."
"He never planned to keep her long-term though," Massimo said. "I'm more inclined to think that once he had her, he began to look at her as more of a game piece like Marcella believes. Imagine if she had taken the help the Donatis would have offered and returned to Perth rather than Darwin to tie up the loose ends of her life as she was instructed. Given Peri's knowledge of what happened with the Battaglia, they could have helped her hide, causing another rift between the tables if the Zenati found out. The same with coming here. Perhaps he was banking on her being here as more of an issue than it is. The Farnese and Zenati have not always had the easiest of alliances within the tables. Even Oscar might have baulked at returning her to Darwin to be with her sister causing a rift there if the Zenati had pushed their claim on her."
"So, what's the bottom line here?" Marcella asked. "He told me he would come for me, his last message to me was that he would see me soon. Even if his games are about destabilising the tables enough to implode their alliances, wealth, power, etc., the fact is he is coming for me. Those who try to stop him will be in danger. I won't do that, my sisters have been through enough, and I won't put Gideon, Noah or Genesis in harm's way, because that will affect the few women I love in the worst way. Vivienne is pregnant for God's sake! You have to let me go and play your games without me."
"No," Noah growled in immediate response to her words. "That is not an option for you anymore."
"That's true," Xavier cut in as he saw Marcella about to argue the point with Noah. "Like it or not Konrad put you right in the middle of his game, and now we all have to play the hand we've been dealt. Not just us, but every table. We will meet with the others in our close circle tomorrow in Perth, and they will need to hear your story. Oscar will be there, and he will no doubt shelter you if you request it, but I strongly urge you to return with us to Darwin where you and those you love will be the safest."
"You don't understand how psychotic this guy is. He can justify the death of fifty people he had just concluded a contract with and been paid for only the moment before his men opened fire. He can flip the switch between the charming gentleman and a cold, brutal killer in a heartbeat," Marcella tried to explain again. "He has his own inner circle and wider circle of psycho's who follow his commands without question. You can't see them coming because they are ghosts just like you said."
"Even ghosts disappear in the darkest of shadows," Xavier said gently.
"And in the brightest of lights," Massimo added with a chuckle. "Our families know what they are up against and we have a secret he doesn't know which will be his downfall."
"Enough!" Noah said, having been quiet for most of the conversation. "You will be returning home with us. You can hate me if that makes you feel better about it, but you've made it impossible for any of us to trust you with even the smallest freedoms. It's time to face the consequences of rushing off into danger alone all the time."
"If you think I am going anywhere with you..." Marcella began to argue, but Noah just picked her up and threw her over his shoulder in a fireman's hold while she screeched at him to put her down and walked out of the office and the house ignoring anyone who tried to intercept them. He heard his brothers and Xavier soothing the others worries as he made his way to a solid-looking pool house in the huge back yard. He considered throwing her into the pool to cool her off but didn't want any other public displays that might upset their hosts, so he marched into the pool house locking the door and throwing her onto a double-sized daybed.
"Now it's your turn to stop and listen. We are grown men; we do not need a little kitten spitting and scratching to fight our battles for us. You don't always have to be the warrior princess or martyr or protector or whatever the fuck notion you have that makes you think you can protect anyone aside of yourself," Noah seethed. The fury he had drowned deep within himself over the last two weeks coming out in full force as he lectured the woman he loved on why he wouldn't ever let her go again no matter what she said. He had been speaking the truth when he told her that she could hate him for what he was about to do, but there was no way she was slipping away from him in the middle of the night or a crowd again.
Marcella watched him incredulously as he ranted and raved at her. She was used to the cajoling teasing Noah who wormed his way into her plans and still gave her some sense of control. This man in front of her had utterly lost his mind over everything she had done since she had walked out on him. She watched him silently, caught between feeling all of the emotion he mirrored back at her and being frightened of just how furious he was with her.
"No Marcella, just no!" Noah seemed to come to the end of his rant and scrubbed his hands over his face as if trying to get control of himself. "Did you know that Olivia had convinced herself that you were being held in a place like Hermione's? That you were being tortured like she had been because the alternative that you had just left without even saying goodbye after she begged you to stay was too heartbreaking for her to take?"
Marcella opened her mouth but couldn't say anything to that. She hadn't even thought about Olivia as anything but happily in love and finally free to enjoy it. She had felt the same about Vivienne. They wouldn't miss her, not really; they were just going through the motions everyone expected of them.
"Vivienne is not having an easy pregnancy so far, and you think it's okay to cause her even more stress by just walking out on us all again?" Noah asked harshly trying to make her see that this was not just about her anymore. "I get that you haven't had anyone in your life to answer to for a long time if ever, but you made us all love you, and that means you can't just make decisions that affect us all without considering what that will do to the rest of us. Say you manage to escape us in Perth and disappear again. Have you considered what that would do to Olivia and Vivienne, my brothers or me? You have responsibilities now, people who love and care about what happens to you. Not the least of which are those three petrified little boys up there whose mother is in no fit shape to care for them and will need all the love and compassion they can get until they all recover from what they endured."
Marcella finally sagged at the weight of his words. Her anger dissipated as she remembered the three quiet boys who entered the house huddled together, following Auro and Gideon like they were the Pied Pipers. What could she do for them anyway? Their mother had told her to stay away from them. She was no good for anyone and Noah had to see that. Disaster and tragedy followed her around like a dark cloud, and even now, it loomed over her shoulder. There was no point trying to reason with him at this stage. She needed space and time to think. Turning her back on his fuming rage, she lay down on the day bed he had thrown her onto when they arrived and closed her eyes, blotting Noah and the rest of the world out. She just couldn't deal with any of it anymore, and she was grateful when Noah became quiet and stopped his ranting lecture.
"Maybe someone should go out there and make sure they haven't killed each other," Auro said quietly once the muffled voice of Noah had ceased its continuous stream of ranting.
"Trust me he would rather cut off his own hand than hurt her with it," Gideon said equally as quietly. "The Zenati are passionate and demonstrative, we only fall in love once in a lifetime, and it's the forever after kind of stuff. He's out there fighting for her love."
"Can't say that we see love any differently, that doesn't mean there aren't hurts that take time to heal," Carmelo said joining the two men at the window overlooking the back yard. "I'm going to check on Xavier and Mo; they haven't left the office since our little meeting. If Mo is smoking cigars inside the house, Connie will kill him," he chuckled.
"I'm going to check on the womenfolk, but I am sure Gen would love to know what's going on more specifically," Gideon said indicating his younger brother who was busy researching on his phone as always lately.
"Yeah, I think I have a lead on Konrad, but it would be good to get X to look at it," Gen said in a distracted response to Gideon's words. "Also, Marcella is a flight risk, so if your watchmen could be on alert during the night, that would be great. Not that I think Noah will let her out of his sight again, but she has proven to be very resourceful in the past."
"I'll organise it," Auro nodded thoughtfully and walked off, digging his phone from his pocket, grateful to have something constructive to do. He wasn't sure exactly what was going with the Zenati. Still, after the attacks on the mothers of the tables, he was wary of the strife plaguing the three sisters and drawing at least four of the families into some sort of mystery.
Gideon watched Gen walk towards the office with Carmelo before turning and heading up the stairs. It wasn't difficult to find the children's wing of the great house and his beautiful wife sitting in a rocking chair in one of the rooms. He stood in the doorway, watching the scene before him. Olivia sat on one of the beds cradling the youngest of her nephews in her lap while managing to keep the older two boys close. She was speaking quietly, and they had serious faces as they appeared to be listening in rapt fascination to what she said. Not wanting to disturb the scene he signalled for Vivienne to stay where she was and watched on from the doorway. He listened to the story Olivia was telling the boys featuring an imperfect princess and the Ogre King.