It took her a few minutes to get back into her cool mode but Iris was ready; calm and composed by the time Lorenzo came to escort her down. She felt quite mollified when Lorenzo gushed at her appearance. She remembered belatedly that Alessandro had not even looked at her properly or said anything about her appearance. She got angry with herself again and gave herself a lecture, “Stop it Iris! Don’t waste your time thinking about Alessandro Bertoni; the arrogant ass. Who cares what he thought of your appearance! You didn’t dress for him Iris, you dressed for Lorenzo. Go ahead and enjoy the party and if you see him, ignore him.”
And she almost followed her advice to the T. She complimented Lorenzo on his appearance and manners and stayed close to him all evening. She danced with him and other colleagues that she was friendly with but kept herself away from the part of the room where Alessandro kept his counsel. She had seen him when she had come down, with Vittoria draped all over him, glowered at his back and wished him to hell.
After that, she tried to ignore her senses that made her aware of his presence. She knew that he was on the other side of the room from where she was; talking to another blonde; a dumb head in her opinion from her staff. The blonde seemed to simper when he smiled and showed his predator like teeth.
Iris shivered as she imagined his teeth nipping her. To get rid of the feeling, she smiled brilliantly at the colleague she was dancing with so that the guy looked a bit dazed and offered her a glass of champagne. Iris accepted it with alacrity. Anything to keep her thoughts away from that odious Alessandro. She gulped down two glasses before she knew it and was still held in the arms of her colleague who’s name she’d forgotten. After that, it was easy to keep up the pretense of pleasure as she drank champagne and danced. She felt a little better now and smiled freely at the other guy who came up to ask her for a dance. She nodded enthusiastically and was about to put her hand in his when Alessandro’s drawl came from behind her, “I think she owes me this dance. If I may?”
He looked pointedly at the guy who held Iris’s hand and the guy immediately let go, looking at Alessandro’s mossy green eyes, sparkling with anger. Without much ado, he caught hold of Iris in his arms. He was unsurprised when she allowed him to hold her and felt instantly at peace.
Alessandro had danced with all the other ladies of the staff except- Iris. He had time and again this evening swiveled back to look at her and wondered at her impact on him. Perversely that was also one of the reasons why he had kept his distance. Iris snagged at not only his senses but also his feelings. He had noted the panic on her face and then also seen the panic subsiding when she started drinking without thinking. He had seen the worried look on Lorenzo’s face and her brilliant- over bright smile and still he had stayed away from her.
He had let Vittoria snuggle close to him; knowing he felt nothing for her. Vittoria knew the score and was no problem at all. Iris on the other hand, was not even ready to play. Maybe that was the challenge- the part of hunting the prey that lured him to her. He had told himself that until he had seen the leery look in the eyes of the last man who had asked her to dance and seen her oblivious to it.
Desire was one thing but to feel possessive about her was quite another. Desire he could handle, feelings he couldn’t. This was not a familiar response for the ruthless Alessandro, he acknowledged it reluctantly to himself. He had tried to tell himself that she was just another woman; an employee of his organization. He had his fun from time to time, sure he did- when women like Vittoria Terzo were willing and knew the score.
With Iris, he simply couldn’t control his want to have her all to himself. He cursed his cousins who had asked him to attend this weekend. According to them, it was a good time to mingle with the staff since the time for review and appraisals would soon begin. He had seen the logical side of the argument and come here.
The past few months after Iris had been hired by his organization, he had been so busy with his life and family matters that he had quite forgotten about her and the impact their meetings had had on him. It was only now that he remembered how it had kept him awake for many days before he had decided to recommend her to the human resource and hire her to come to Italy. He had kept tabs on her for some time– until the time he found his sons becoming a constant source of worry for the nannies and his mother. His mother had started telling him off recently and even gone as far as to say that he didn’t really care for his sons since he didn’t spend much time with them. These past few weeks had been hell what with constant arguments with his family who wanted him to choose a bride and get the boys a mother. He had quite forgotten all about Iris—until this weekend when he met her again.
This evening he had followed Iris with his eyes and realized that he had to come up with a plan to satiate his want. She had been ignoring him and avoiding the side of the room where he stood. He had felt fierce anger when she had let go of Lorenzo and started dancing with other men. He didn’t want her to dance with anyone else, didn’t like anyone else touching her.
Iris felt a jolt of awareness going through her, piercing the happy fog that a few drinks had spread on her. He looked up at him and into his eyes and her heart lurched. His hot glance was stuck to her mouth; plundering her. It so much felt as if he’s simply seized her lips with his own; possessing her by the sheer force of his magnetism. She looked away, aware of her shallow breaths and his deep ones.
“Look at me Iris.”
His soft command made her look up and Iris almost forgot to breathe. Time seemed to stand still as he took in his fill of her and she of him as they moved gracefully on the dance floor, oblivious to all others. He looked at her eyes that were brown pools of want; she was at this moment incapable of hiding it; the same golden brown reflected by her long, shiny hair, creating a stunning contrast to the creaminess of her skin. He could sit for hours and count the tiny freckles by the side of her nose that added freshness to her beauty instead of marring it. Her body was amazing, lushly curved where it should be; slender but full breasted with hips one would want to hold on to. She had kept him at bay from the day they’d met and given him a taste of her sharp tongue; something he found refreshing. She was not just another attractive face; she was devastating and she was meant for him. This thought rang as clear as bell in Alessandro’s head as he moved her closer towards the exit from the party hall.
Iris had put her head on his chest and closed her eyes, listening to the beating of his heart. It was as if it was a call of drums; asking her to join him in a dance so ancient yet new.
“Are you alright?”
Iris opened her eyes and found herself out of the party hall, away from the crowd, with Alessandro standing disconcertingly close to her, still holding her in his arms. She gave him a light push and he let her go. She was flustered and breathless but she tried to bring her voice under control as she said, “Fine. I’m fine. I just want to go up to my room and sleep this madness off.” She moved away from him a bit. Alessandro frowned, irritated by her gesture of flight. He retained the distance in his voice too as he said, “You were becoming drunk and I had to move you away from the guys before you did any real harm to your—“
“I can take care of myself, thank you very much!!” Burst out Iris, her eyes blazing at him. “I don’t need your help, you –“
“Careful Iris. Be careful with what you say to me, my sweet or you may learn to regret it later.” Alessandro’s soft growl warned her.
Iris, still under the bravado of alcohol, looked at him airily, “Don’t bother with the threats Alessandro. I want to go up to my room and that is where I will go. Away from you. So there. Good night.”
She started to walk away from him, her steps faltering when she realized that she had indeed drunk more than she should have. Her legs were shaky. She closed her eyes and felt dizzy for a second. Instantly, she became aware of the warmth behind her and knew that Alessandro stood there, holding her steady by the waist. He cursed in Italian and said, “You’re in no fit state to walk by yourself. I wonder how you stood up between all those men and danced with them!”
“You keep away from me. I can take care of myself- always have. Okay?” Iris snapped at him, trying to move away but his hold on her waist was firm.
“I will take you up to your room. You can sleep it off and thank me tomorrow for saving you from disgracing yourself.” Alessandro picked her up as if she was light weight and dainty and started walking towards the stairs, away from the party hall and towards her room.
“I disgrace myself? Impossible. Don’t you know what they call me? I can’t be disgraced, you big man you!”
Alessandro looked down at her and grinned, “I know what they call you. You’d have ruined your reputation of ice maiden had you stayed any longer, mia bella. And yes, I am a big man but you’re no dainty flower either, are you? We make a good pair.”
“Over my dead body!” Iris flailed her hand in the air in defiance, “I’d rather fight you to death than be anywhere near you Al-saandro. I know men like you. Ruthless and heartless.”
“Indeed.” Alessandro murmured as he opened the tiny purse that hung around her waist and took out the key. He inserted the key in the lock and opened the door, holding her in his arms still. She now clutched at his shirt and said, “Put me down. I can walk.”
“No way am I putting you down to fall on your face, mia bella.”
Alessandro held her tighter and she involuntarily snuggled to get closer but said, “I’m not your beautiful. You didn’t say anything about my appearance this evening before. I don’t care either. I will close my eyes and open them and this dream will be over.”
Her voice was wistful when she said it. Alessandro gently laid her on the bed and looked at her, his voice gentle, “You are a beautiful creamy English rose among fiery Italians. Sleep it off princess. I’ll see you tomorrow- when you’re sane again and ready to listen.”
Iris barely could keep her eyes open but she couldn’t resist asking, “Listen to what?”
“On how I’d make you my bella, Iris. Good night.” Alessandro said to the softly snoring, already asleep Iris. He kissed her on her soft mouth slowly and smiled. His smile, if he had known it was full of tenderness as he covered her up and left her room. He had a plan.