LOVE CONQUERS-CHAPTER 10

Chapter 10

As the clock moved closer to five o’clock, Iris felt the edgy nervousness taking hold of her. She had avoided everyone after lunch and on a plea of headache had excused herself. Lorenzo was the only one she had confided in about meeting Alessandro’s sons and then their request to her to come and see them in the evening. Lorenzo had made sympathetic noises and insisted that she should definitely keep up her appointment with those two little cherubs.

“I think it is most awful that their mother doesn’t care for them at all. Bless Alessandro for taking care of them completely by himself. His mother help him of course but I listen to gossip that she now insists he get married soon and bring a mother for the kids. It is so difficult! Of course no woman can say no to Alessandro and his wealth. Maybe that’s why he takes his time to choose his bride.”

Iris had little sympathy for Alessandro in this case. She didn’t want to think too deeply about why the little information about him being chased by many women irked her so much but she told herself it was because she didn’t like his womanizing ways in the first place. All her sympathy was for his sons. And they were the reason why at about five to five, Iris found herself walking towards the private wing of the Villa Bertoni.

As she crossed the reception area of the private wing, where she had been asked to go up to the nursery, Iris looked around. This part of the villa was just as large, built in stone with peaked roofs. She looked at the living rooms as she passed it. passed—a huge fireplace dominated the far end of the wall with windows flanking it. The furnishings looked oversize and comfortable. The sofas looked so plush that Iris felt as if one would probably be sucked into them if one sat on them. With that imagination to the fore of her mind, she grinned as she reached the nursery.

 

She found herself in a charming room on the second floor. The room-if one could call this huge space a room, was divided into two parts. One side of it looked like a playroom and dining room combined together for the children. Iris could see her favourite cars, superhero models and other lots of stuff that she had no idea about displayed in the shelves. The other side of the room overlooked the garden below and was charmingly furnished, with a narrow canopied beds, a dressing table under its window and two small easy chairs flanking a small round table. The colour scheme was a mixture of pastel colours and the furniture was of some pale wood she didn’t recognise.

 

There was a large cupboard and a little door led to a bathroom. Overall, Iris felt, it was homely; furnished as well as designed to be child-friendly and yet with the comfortable chairs at the side of the bedroom and dining room, it was also adult friendly.

 

She wondered where the children were, looking around. And instantly caught her breath. Alessandro stood in one corner watching her looking for boys. Next to him, sitting down were two boys playing some sort of board game. She looked at them with a tender smile that froze on her face when she met Alessandro’s eyes. She almost forgot to breathe.

 

If she had off handedly thought of him as dashing in his business suit, looking sophisticated and dynamic, he was absolutely delicious looking in the casual attire.

Iris’s heart beat faster as she took in his appearance, absently noting that he was also returning the favour. He was dressed in navy crewneck sweater with dark cords and black boots; in short he looked unbearably sexy. His hair was a little disheveled, probably from playing with the kids but it only served to give him a breath taking look. His eyes were green emeralds and so intriguing! For a second, Iris wished she had come to him for a different reason and not for his children.

 

The thought fired her body up. What would it be like to be taken into his arms tenderly and be kissed ? No doubt his wife would have known the bliss of being loved in his arms. The thought was like ice cold bucket of water over the fire of her desire. She immediately chastised herself for her silly thoughts and assumed a calm face with a polite smile on it.

 

“Good evening. I hope I’m not too late.” Her voice sounded rusty and she cleared her throat.

“Not at all.” He replied. “You’re right on time. They’ve just finished with the board game; they’re playing junior scrabble.”

“Ah.” For the life of her, Iris couldn’t compose any other reply as he stood there, still staring at her. Anticipating the fact that children may like to play something energetic like football, Iris had put on plain lilac top over pale green tights. Iris could feel the air vibrating with sexual tension and she tried to break it. Before she could, however a voice exclaimed with joy and within a few seconds two mini tornadoes came rushing towards her, almost making her fall.

“You are here!”

Iris grinned at both of them and said, “Yes, here I am! What have you two been doing with yourselves?”

“We play scrabble. I win.” Said the boy who stood next to her, holding a side of her leg. Iris picked him up and smiled at him, “You must be really smart!” She grimaced and then made a sad face, “But I’m not so smart. I don’t know which one of you is Antonio and which one is Ernesto. Help me out per favore?”

 

The boy in his arms smiled and looked at his Papa. Alessandro had, in the meanwhile picked up the other one. At a nod from him the child spoke, “Papa holds Ernesto and I am Antonio. I am younger than Ernesto by 3 minutes.”

 

Alessandro added quietly, “If you look at him, Antonio has a small scar at the side of his forehead. He fell down from the chair when he was about two. This is how we can easily distinguish them.”

 

“How clever of you!” Iris exclaimed, beaming at Alessandro and then at Ernesto who smiled shyly back.
Iris put Antonio down as he started wriggling and said, “Now that you’ve got me here, what do you want us to do?”

Antonio grabbed her hand and took her to the play area with Alessandro and Ernesto following. As they stopped by the play area, Iris saw exactly what they wanted to do. There was a small area that was made into a football practice area for the children and beside it was a miniature football field.

Iris exclaimed with the right amount of delight in her voice at the small football field made with miniature footballers. There were various miniature footballers standing on one side as well, neatly lined with their country flag. She turned to give a smiling look to both Antonio and Ernesto, “You mean, I can join you two smart boys in playing with these amazing footballers?”

 

“Si!” Ernesto spoke up this time, sounding happy. A small shadow of doubt passed his face, “Will you really join us to play football in this?”

Iris looked at Ernesto with all seriousness and just a glimpse of a smile, her heart going out to the little boy plagued with doubts. She said firmly but softly, “If you have no objections, yes- I would very much like to play in this field. Of course you shall choose the country we play for, ne?”

 

Ernesto looked at her with a broad smile on his face for the first time, “Yes, we play. Papa?”

 

Alessandro nodded, very happy to see Ernesto responding positively to a gesture of friendship. He had never imagined his plan working well and with a bonus too! He looked at his eldest son, now busy in explaining to Iris the workings of the football field. She was listening to it with interest and seemed to be asking the right questions. A smile curved around Alessandro’s mouth looking at Ernesto so sincere and in such a talkative mood for once.

 

Ernesto was in essence not very different from his younger brother but about a year ago, he had suddenly become quiet and an introvert. Iris was the first woman of his acquaintance outside his family that Ernesto had spoken to or smiled at.

 

It was only when Alessandro had gently pursued in knowing the truth that it had come exploding out. His wife had threatened Ernesto, scared him so badly that he could never trust  anyone around him. For months after, Ernesto had had nightmares and cried out for his Papa in his sleep. He wouldn’t let anyone else, not even the nanny touch him or feed him until bless their grandmother, they had found a gem of a nanny in Mrs. Whittaker. Ernesto spoke to her apart from his Nonna and his aunts but that was the extent of his contact with women.

 

Alessandro had seen to it that his ex-wife would never be able to come near his children again. She had after a certain point of negotiation, signed off all rights to them in return for a few million Euros. She had no motherly bone in her body. He grimaced inwardly and then shook his head. Now was not the time to think about that. It was time to see Ernesto respond to a stranger, a woman. He sat by the window chair, watching Iris getting acquainted with both his boys. He’d wondered today morning after the kids met Iris if he was doing the right thing. He wasn’t so impulsive as a rule, especially where his sons were concerned. But now he felt as if he was on the right track. He marveled at the fact that both his sons seem happy in the company of a stranger for the first time and then shrugged. The women of his acquaintance were mostly interested in him and gave a side glance to the children so the children stayed reserved towards them. Iris being not really interested in him, showed genuine emotion and reactions to them, so it was no wonder that they were responding beautifully to her; laughing and generally having fun.

 

It irked him that she could talk freely and laugh with them but not him. He gave a start at that thought. Where had that come from? Sure he wanted her and if the plan worked well, his sons will have her company for a long time but feelings-his feelings surely didn’t enter into it! Suddenly she looked up and their eyes met each other. Alessandro felt his whole body tense with desire. He decided to join in the fun.

 

Iris was enjoying herself with Ernesto and Antonio. Both the kids were quite smart and sportive. Every time they laughed, her heart near melted. The boys possessed cleft chin like their father and when they smiled a dimple appeared in their left cheek. The boys had hair a shade darker than Alessandro. She wondered if their mother was dark haired. She glanced at Alessandro and instantly felt her heart race at the way he was looking at her. Still holding her eyes, he got up and came towards them. His voice was husky and curled her toes when he said, “I think I will also join in the fun. Would you allow me to play with you Iris?”

 

Iris felt her heart flutter. Obviously he didn’t mean playing together with the boys as was apparent from the meaning and huskiness in his voice. She decided it would be the best to not answer.

 

As it was about to be six, it would also be the right time to call the nanny and dinner served to the boys. As Alessandro joined his boys by kneeling down beside them, Iris got up. Three pair of green grey eyes looked at her questioningly.

Iris stuttered an explanation, “I-I-will c-call Mrs. Whittaker. It’s about to be six.”

Antonio sat close to where Iris stood. He said, “Just a few more minutes please! Play with us.”

Before Iris could say anything, he pulled her hand “Let’s all play together just this once.”

Iris gave a small squeak as she felt herself falling. When Antonio had pulled her hand, she had been caught unawares and her legs folded beneath her. She closed her eyes, expecting to meet the floor. Instead she found herself in Alessandro’s lap when she opened his eyes.

 

Her face turned bright red at the look in his eyes. He caught her closer and she gasped as their faces came very close to each other. He murmured, “ I’m glad I’ve been proven right. I told you one day you will come to the private wing yourself-not when called by me.”

She stiffened as she remembered what he’d said yesterday afternoon. Underneath the sexy timbre of Alessandro’s voice, Iris detected triumph. She instinctively felt the ruthlessness with which he normally operated; a man who was habituated to getting exactly what he wanted. She decided to take him down a notch.

 

“I-“ Iris came to a stop. She took a deep breath to control the tremble in her voice, “I came by myself yes-but not for you. I only came here for the boys.”

 

“Doesn’t matter why you came. The fact is, you did.” Alessandro’s lazy drawl annoyed Iris. She tried to get out of his grasp but he refused to let her go. She whispered harshly, injecting scorn in her voice and trying not to draw too much attention from the boys, “You think you have the world at your disposal, don’t you? Everyone around you is primed to agree with everything you say and do. One of the pitfalls of having too much money I guess.”

 

“Too much money? Is there such a thing?” Alessandro was amused, “I’ve never heard a woman expressing distaste for money.”

“Then you socialize with wrong kind of women.” Finally she was able to get out of his grasp and sit down away from him but she judged it was because he let her go easily. Uneasy, she looked at him from beneath her lashes. He looked privately amused. She looked away and focused on the football play in the miniature ground.

 

She was astonished to find that when he was not being arrogant and not trying to seduce women, he was quite nice. When he laughed, the cleft on his chin became prominent and made him look not just drop dead sexy but also younger by years. He was a natural with his sons, Iris noticed and not at all uncomfortable with how to handle them.

 

Mrs Whittaker arrived a few minutes later and directed the boys to the dinner table on the other side of the room. Urged by Ernesto and Antonio, Iris joined them. Alessandro excused himself and left them alone. Iris found herself missing his presence but shrugged it off and enjoyed with the two lovely boys. They declared that their dinner today was a feast because they had been given an ice cream after dinner.

Soon it was their bed time. They awaited with eagerness for the bed time story once they had their bath and had brushed their teeth. Iris, as directed picked up their bed time story book and read it out to them. Within minutes they were both asleep. She tucked them in and kissed them good night, a motherly feeling taking hold of her heart as she looked at them both sleeping. They looked angelic with no trace of reserve apparent. They looked –content.

 

“Thank you for everything you’ve done. I have never seen them so content before.” Alessandro spoke quietly into her ear, standing right behind her. Iris stiffened as she felt the air from his mouth brush her ear and then-she felt like leaning on him and sighing in peace. That thought was alarming enough for Iris to quickly put a distance between them. She moved away from the beds and him, quickly going towards the door leading her outside and away from here.  He didn’t try to stop her. She turned back and looked at him before leaving and said, “Thank you for letting me be with them this evening. I enjoyed it. You will join us-I mean, the staff this evening?“

Alessandro hid a smile at her nervousness of his reply. His face was a blank mask as she replied, “I’m afraid not. I have a video conference I must attend. It will keep me occupied the rest of the evening.”

 

Iris wasn’t sure why his reply upset her a little but she decided to ignore the feeling. She smiled a little and said, “Well then, it was nice meeting you Signore.”

 

“You shall be returning to Florence tomorrow and in another week leaving for Siena. You are going to be kept very busy Signorina Florence.” He observed.

 

“Yes, that is true. Well then, it was nice meeting –er-er-the boys. Say good bye to them from my side please. Good bye.”

 

He nodded his head in acceptance of her speech, hiding his smile when she hesitated and watched as she left the room. She was a fighter, Iris was. He was quite sure that she will not give in to his plan very easily. Judging from the way she avoided him right now, he was sure he was going to enjoy this challenge. His baser instincts were urging him to run after her and stop her but he controlled those. Time enough for everything. She would leave tomorrow to go to Florence, thinking she’d not see him again. He was going to let her ride with that idea. A shark like smile spread across his face as he knew what lay ahead.   Let the swords be crossed soon!

LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 9

Chapter – 9

“Buongiorno bella mia, Iris! Ready to take a tour of the wine cellar and the garden with me?”

Iris turned to face a chirpy Lorenzo standing by the door and smiled at him. Today she wore one of her short dresses with strappy sandals. A hat completed the attire since they will be out in the sun for long and she had no wish to get a sunstroke. She’d put on more make-up than usual today too, to hide mauve circles beneath her eyes. Vittoria had commented upon it; being bitchy wouldn’t cover it; before leaving the room, going away to lord knew where. Iris could only be thankful that she had been left alone.

True Iris drank more than her usual the previous night, but she had no hangover this morning. What was worse was, she woke up early and remembered with clarity her conversation with Alessandro after he had almost snatched her from the arms of another man. She had been embarrassed to acknowledge to herself that she didn’t remember any of the men she had danced with, apart from Alessandro.

Her resolve today was simple. She would give him no excuse to come to her; in fact she would stay close to other employees and not wander by herself. She would avoid him as much as possible. They would be leaving tomorrow morning anyway.

She looked at Lorenzo who was dressed stylishly in three fourths and a bright yellow shirt and giggled, “And who’re you out to impress here Lorenzo? You look dashing!”

“Why, can I not dazzle you?” Lorenzo pouted and Iris went to hug him affectionately.

“Of course you can but then, I’m just me-your amiga. You don’t need to dazzle me, do you?”

“Ne-si, that is true! I just felt like dressing up. You think people will realize it?” Lorenzo looked worried now, making Iris wish she hadn’t started this conversation.

“Oh no, you look very much the man you know. And even if they do know your status, what’s the harm? I don’t think it is anybody’s business which sex you prefer you know. Your parents know it and so do your friends. So why bother about anyone else?”

“To protect you from sharks bella mia, that’s why!” Lorenzo replied, startling Iris. He continued, “Do you know how many men you danced with and how many tried to flirt with you, without success yesterday evening?” At her blush, he continued, “I’m not criticizing you Iris but- Signore Bertoni kept an eye on you. I don’t know why though. You think he fancy you?”

The blush deepened as Iris remembered the kiss she had shared with Alessandro. She took a deep breath and said, “What utter nonsense you speak Lorenzo! Don’t you know I’m an ice maiden?”

“Pahh!! That is for people who don’t see the fire in you bella mia.”Lorenzo fluttered his hands in air and with a sly raise of his eyebrow said, “I think Signore Bertoni sees this fire.”

“Why are we even talking about him for Pete’s sake! Let’s move on to the tour please.” Iris said, irritated with the fact that she couldn’t control her cheeks turning pink and then red for this once.

Lorenzo tried to soothe her ruffled feathers by agreeing with her hastily and taking her downstairs towards the cellar where the tour was already in procession. The guide was explaining to the crowd about the wine cellar in Italian.

“The wine cellar has been carved from the same bedrock as Villa Bertoni is standing upon. Back in 11th century, it was a dungeon and the villa was a fortified mansion with a watch tower. The structure on which Villa Bertoni stood was the original structure of that time, with modifications done to the cellar and the rest of the place as per the time changes.

Today for lunch and then for dinner, you will be served wines from our special cellar. You see, many hard-to-find vintages and Tuscan wine icons such as Querciabella, Fontodi, La Massa and Poggio Scalette make it to the list of red wines, whereas amongst the whites, we strongly prefer to vote for the northern regions of Alto Adige and Friuli. You will taste it today and tell us how you like it. After all, customers come to you for opinion, si?”

Everyone nodded their heads in appreciation at the guide’s announcement. Iris tried to look enthusiastic. After all, she worked with an organization whose major business consisted of wines. Normally she would have loved to taste them one by one but today- after yesterday’s over drinking and her memory failing her on what happened with Alessandro, she had no enthusiasm for any sort of drinks.

Villa Bertoni restaurant was the next place of visit; the route to the private wing of the villa. Iris tried not to look at the private wing and feel a flutter of nerves. She held on to Lorenzo’s hand as they were explained about the paintings that decked the walls of the restaurant. There was also a large portrait of a haughty man whom the guide introduced as the man who built Villa Bertoni long time back. Iris was startled to realize that Alessandro looked exactly like his long gone ancestor. She averted her eyes from the portrait and walked on.

They went out to the garden that was set as a backdrop for the restaurant, perfumed by a bouquet of roses; Florentine roses as she was informed that twined themselves along the stone walls of the garden. The guide further went on to inform them that most couples loved to come here for a honeymoon and spend their evenings feeling romantic, dining under the stars or during Summers, watch the sun go down behind mossy green and beautiful looking Chianti hills.

Iris absorbed this information absent mindedly while a part of her mind was busy trying to divert itself from thinking about Alessandro. It was lunch time and he hadn’t shown up yet. And why should you care if he wasn’t around? An inner imp asked her the question. Annoyed with herself for not being able to stop thinking of him, Iris excused herself from Lorenzo by saying she wanted to walk around the garden for a bit while everyone else went inside for lunch.

She walked around for a bit, taking in the heavenly perfume of roses in the garden and then sat down by one of the loungers set in the garden. It wasn’t that she was tired but she did feel out of sorts. Maybe should could close her eyes for a bit and rest before joining others for lunch. She laid back her head, stretched her legs and closed her eyes, her hat shielding her from the rays of the Sun.

Something tickled her nose and she tried to swipe it away. It came back again, this time accompanied by chuckles. She opened her eyes to see two cherubic faces with grey green eyes and dark hair giggling at her. Each of them held a blade of grass in hand.

Those eyes!! Iris could barely comprehend what was in front of her in her still sleepy state of mind. Only one man she knew of possessed such eyes around here.  She knew all about Alessandro’s broken marriage and twin sons who lived with their grandmother most of the days.

“You make funny faces when you’re sleeping.” One of those cherubic faces said, laughing as she wrinkled her nose and pulled a face again. The other boy laughed as well at her expression and added, “Why do you sleep here? Have you no bed?”

Iris had barely opened her mouth when the first kid spoke again, “Now that you’re awake, will you play with us? Papa says we can play football if there is a grown-up around.”

That tone of directness was uncommon children so small. Iris judged them to be not more than three or four years old.  But what were these kids doing out here alone? And whose kids were they?

“Are you sleeping with your eyes open?” Another question from them and Iris shrugged her thoughts aside to reply to them mischievously.

“Well, I thought I’d better absorb some energy from the Sun, just in case I was asked to play with two young men. I’d need the energy then, wouldn’t I?”

The children seemed to consider this. They looked at each other and then nodded at each other. Two pair of grey green eyes stared at her curiously, “You would play with us? Our nonna says we are still piccolo and only Nanny can plays with us. Zia Arabella says she would play with us if she had legs. Only il Papa always plays with us.”

Iris felt like an intruder as she asked, “What about your madre?” and immediately wished she hadn’t asked as their faces fell, the smile wiped off their face. “She doesn’t like to play with us. She says we waste her time.”

Iris had nothing to say to that as shock held her speechless. What mother could ignore such adorable children? Why would she want to say that? As her thoughts chased each other around in her head, a voice growled out, “Antonio! Ernesto! What do you think you’re doing out here ?  Mrs. Whittaker has been frantic looking around all over the Villa for you.”

Iris stiffened as she heard Alessandro’s angry voice. She felt him coming closer. She looked at the children to find an expression full of delight on their faces despite his growling.

“Papa!” They ran to him as Iris watched on. He enveloped them in his arms and picked both of them up, a smile softening his features. Iris was arrested by this smile; soft and tender, it held a lot of love for his children. The children were beaming as they both spoke simultaneously, “Papa, let us stay in the garden please! She says she will play with us. She even absorbed energy from the Sun to do so.”

“Did she now?” Alessandro grinned at his kids and looked speculatively at Iris who sat on the lounger, blushing pink. She stood up as he neared her, looking flustered. His glance took in her attire. He did not know how she managed to look sexy, cool and innocent at the same time. She portrayed sexiness with those long sexy legs that he would love to wrap around his waist. Her pouty lips and the sleepiness in her eyes stirred his libido and he had to close his eyes for a second before he looked at her again, to focus on the confusion in her eyes, making her look aloof and at the same time innocent.

“I’m sorry- I-“

“Hello Iris, still hung over?”

Iris looked at him, her voice straight from the freezer, “I’m perfectly fine, thank you.”

He raised an eyebrow in disbelief. “You missed your lunch. I wonder, what were you doing in the garden all by yourself and how did you find these two urchins?” Alessandro observed.

Iris looked at her watch, shock very visible on her face She had indeed missed lunch. She had been asleep for the best part of an hour. Before she could say anything however, one of the children piped up, speaking perfect English as good as Italian they’d spoken earlier.

“She didn’t find us Papa! We found her. She was sleeping. We tickled her nose and she made funny face.” Their faces were wreathed in smiles, “She didn’t sc-scald us-“

“Scold” said Iris immediately and then flushed under Alessandro’s gaze.

The kid who had been explaining looked at her, his eyes serious and repeated, “-scold. She did not scold us and she said she will play with us. Can we play with her Papa?”

He said softly, “I would also like to play with her but she says no to me.” When Iris shot daggers at him with her eyes, he laughed softly and then addressed his son, “Not now Antonio. She has to go and join other grown-ups from the company right now.”

Looking at their wilting smiles, Iris felt bad. Before she could, she said, “maybe later? I-“ Alessandro smoothly intervened, “She can join you later in the evening if you want.”

“And will she read us a bedtime story too?” Three pairs of grey green eyes turned to look at her, each gaze questioning with the addition of Alessandro’s eyes also looking amused.

Iris squirmed under it with discomfort and rage. Damn the man! He had not even asked her if she was willing to spend time with his sons, just taken it for granted. No doubt his mistresses fell over themselves to please him and his sons, Iris thought and then felt mean for it. She could hardly blame the children for their father’s deeds but spending time with them? Not that she had any problem with spending time with children but, why did he have to superimpose his will on her. She looked at him and then at the children who looked at her with an expectant look on their faces. She could not disappoint children, no matter how much she disliked their father.

She ignored Alessandro, gave a radiant smile to the children and said, “If you want me to, I will come and join you for some time in the evening and also read you bed time story.”

The children gave her a wide smile and their father declared, “There Ernesto, now that you know she will come to you in the evening, will you go to your room and put Mrs Whittaker out of her misery?”

The kids nodded enthusiastically. Alessandro put them down and they ran towards the private wing entrance where Iris saw them being received warmly by an elderly lady in yellow overalls. She watched them go away with her and turned around, excuse ready on her tongue to be away from Alessandro.

“Will you join me for lunch? I missed mine too.” Alessandro asked her, smoothly stopping her in her tracks.

“No, thank you. I’m not really hungry.” Iris replied calmly enough but blushed when her stomach strongly disagreed with her by rumbling loudly. Alessandro looked at her, his face devoid of any expression though his eyes were alight with laughter.

“Looks like your stomach disagrees with your opinion Signorina.” He held out his hand, laughter gone from his eyes and he added quietly, “please Iris? I could really do with some undemanding company right now.”

“Vittoria-“ Iris started but was ruthlessly cut off.

“is a pleasant diversion but not important when I want some peace and quiet. I also wish to talk to you about your career prospects. I’m sure Felipe and Felice will talk to you soon about we’ve had some plans for you that require your opinion.”

Iris could hardly say no to him since he wished to speak to her as her boss and not as a man. A part of her was disappointed by this development but she turned that voice in her head off and nodded, “Alright. I’d be glad to join you in that case Signore.”

“You can call me Alessandro.” He said gruffly as they walked towards the side of the restaurant that was adjoined to the private wing of the villa.

“I’d rather not if it’s okay by you Signore.” Iris replied, her voice husky. Just the thought of calling him by his name evoked images in her head that had nothing to do only with his name. Speaking his name would mean intimacy of knowing him and Iris was not ready for such intimacy at all.

“You make me feel old every time you call me Signore. My father was called Signore. I’m known mostly as Alessandro by my management staff.”

Iris had no reply to that so she decided to keep quiet. Alessandro grunted in response to her silence and they reached the table that had been prepared for him. He pulled a chair for her and she sat down. Well, Iris concluded, at least she couldn’t fault his table manners.

They concluded their lunch talking companionably. Iris to her surprise found that they had a lot of interests in common including their taste in music and books. Soon dessert was served in the form of cheese and biscuits and then coffee. Iris had started to wonder if this was all just a pretext or if he really wanted to talk to her about her career. She was a little anxious and a little worried. She had been working like a Trojan on her last project but maybe she had erred somewhere. Why else would the CEO of the company specially pick her to talk to her about her career, when appraisal time was still a month away.

“Your worries are needless as far as your last project performance is concerned Iris. No one could have done it better than you.”

Iris was surprised at how good she felt hearing Alessandro praising her work and yet she was puzzled. She looked at him questioningly and he continued,

“You have gained complete knowledge of Olive side of our business but you’re still a novice when it comes to wines. To handle our international clientele, it is important that you understand and are knowledgeable about all aspects of our business. You agree to that surely?”

At her nod, he said “This is why we have been thinking of moving you out of Florence for some time and bringing you the main center of our wine business in Siena.”

Iris looked at him, panicking inside yet outwardly calm, “And when am I to do that? And the other arrangements?”

Alessandro sipped his coffee and looked at her, “In about three months’  time appraisals will be over and promotions will be declared as you know. Felipe is of the opinion that you should learn something about wine business before this so that you have fair prospects of promotion in your team. Without you knowing or understanding our business completely like the rest of your team does your career cannot grow.

You go back tomorrow and in about a week’s time arrangements will be made for you to travel and stay in Siena for the next three months.  You will stay in our vineyards there and tour around our other vineyards to learn everything there is to know about wines. Capisce?  If you have any objections now would be the time to raise them. If you agree, then I will ask Felipe to speak with you tomorrow.”

Iris sat there in silence, digesting it all. Of course she would have to agree to the proposal that the bosses were keeping in front of her, if she wanted her career to grow. She didn’t really care much where she stayed; as it is she was staying in a foreign country with hardly any friends. She must look at this as an opportunity to learn something more not just for the sake of her career but also country wise. She took a deep breath and said, “Yes, I understand Signore.”

“Alessandro.” He said, the determined glint in his eyes strong now, “Say it Iris.”

“Alessandro.” Iris repeated huskily, not able to look away from his eyes that held her captive. He took a sharp breath as if it hurt and then looked down into his coffee cup, “May be it is best we stick to formality if that is how you plan to call me every time.”

Iris gulped and nodded. She had to get away NOW! She said, “If that is all, I’d like to go up to my room please.”

Alessandro seemed distant and cool as he said, “Yes, of course. Have a pleasant riposino.”

He stood up with Iris and bowed a bit in farewell, “Come to the private wing at five o’ clock. The children have their dinner by about six and go to sleep by six thirty. You can return to sane adult company after that. I will see you with the children.”  At her startled glance, his eyes turned green with fire “I will be there with the kids Iris- to play with you.”

Barely able to give a coherent reply, Iris mumbled a good bye and walked away as fast as her legs could take her, her heart beating a tattoo in her chest.