LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 20

CHAPTER 20

love.falling

Monday pushed Iris through her limits at work. By evening, she was tired and cranky, but satisfied. She had finished the last of the reports that had to be sent to Sienna office. Sitting in the chair for four hours had her stiff.

She wondered what Ernesto and Antonio would be doing. She regretted the fact that she won’t be seeing them this week. She  had remembered just in time in the morning to call Clara and inform her that she won’t be able to see the children this week. She would be attending the food & wine festival at Cortona with Felipe Bertoni, where their wines would be served to selective customers. Clara had assured her that she would let the children know. For sure they would be disappointed but they would look forward to her visit when she returned from Cortona. Clara had also begged her to enjoy herself, since this was one of the festival typical of Tuscan culture.

The thought of seeing them after she was back from the festival brought a smile to her face. She moved her neck to one side and found it aching. To relax her posture, she stood up, leaned forward and stretched back to relax her back muscles and neck,  and almost toppled on to the floor when a voice from the door observed, “I wonder how far back you could stretch.”

Regaining her balance at the last moment, Iris stood straight and scowled. Felipe Bertoni stood by the door, his eyes alight with laughter. He came in and greeted her by shaking her hand boisterously, as if they were long lost friends, “ Iris! How good it is to see you again! I do wish though you would take better care. Marvellous balance though.  Were you an acrobat at any time? ”

Iris shook hands with him and replied back in a dry tone,  “ Yes, it is good to see you again too Signor Bertoni. Not attempted as an acrobat yet, but I might soon if you make me jump like that. “

“Now now Iris, we’re acquainted enough. You can call me Felipe, as I’m going to be not just your boss, but also your guide at our sojourn to Cortona. And I was never one of those fearsome ogres that would eat your head when I caught you stretching about a bit. You know that!”

It was impossible to resist such charm. Iris smiled warmly, “That is true, indeed, Felipe. “

“Come, we must sit. I need to relax and I’m sure you do too, after a long day at work.” He gestured at the garden outside and Iris followed him out. There were chairs kept in the garden, with cool drinks at the table already served. Iris picked up one of those and said, “Ah, bliss! Bepe knows I love her mint lemonade at the end of the working day. Picks me right back up, it does.”

Felipe clucked his tongue, “Don’t let Alessandro hear you say that. You are in a vineyard and yet you prefer lemonade! He would rightfully stamp his foot in anger.”

The image of Alessandro stomping his foot in anger had Iris smiling. That smile however vanished in a second at the memory of his face last evening. She muttered while sipping her lemonade, “That’d be too human of him. Huh.. stamping foot and all.”

“Beg your pardon?” Felipe goggled at her, the look on his face showing his incredulity at her words. She shook her head, smiled sweetly, and took another sip.

“So all ready to depart tomorrow for Cortona? I know that a certain person in Cortona is very excited at the thought of your visit to his town.”  Felipe stated, taking his glass of wine in his hand, deciding to let go of the previous statement.

A smile broke through on Iris’ face at the mention of Lorenzo. How she missed his friendly & cheerful presence out here! She said, “I do hope I get enough time to visit Lorenzo.”

“I am sure you can be freed for an evening. “ Felipe said, slyly adding, “Alessandro had mentioned that you would need an evening off out there and arrangements, thus have to be made for it. Quite attentive my cousin is, to ensure his staff is able to relax.”

Iris tried to look nonchalant at this news and had a hard time controlling the blush that spread across her cheeks. Sure Alessandro would want her to have a good time; he himself was going to have a great time in Luxembourg, of that she had no doubt. Not giving too much import to his words, Iris said, “That’s kind of him. Do we have an agenda while attending Sagra della Bisteca?”

Felipe rubbed his finger over his chin and looked thoughtful.   He knew Alessandro had not been too happy to go to Luxembourg with Vittoria Terzo.  In fact, if he was right, Alessandro would have loved to send him; Felipe to Luxembourg while he accompanied Cortona with Iris. Something was cooking between these two !  It would be fun to see the mighty Alessandro on his knees for this lovely woman. He would take his time and draw his own conclusions. He had the whole week to confirm his suspicions. He would observe Iris and share his observations with his brother Felice. After all, it had been their idea to get them together and watch the fireworks!

He gave Iris a bright smile, ” Sorry, got distracted there for a moment. Let us discuss what we do out there.”

And they went on to do just that.

A WEEK LATER

Iris dropped her bag on to the floor in her room, exhausted. It was nearly midnight and she had just arrived back from Cortona. She sat down on the chair by her window and poured water  into the glass from the jug Beppe had kindly placed on the table, relaxing for the first time in the whole week.

Despite the fact that the week had been one of the best weeks for Iris, workwise and with regards to knowledge of wines, she couldn’t honestly say that her days had been peaceful. Or for that matter her evenings. Her evenings had been full of  meeting prospective clients, talking about non consequential things and generally smiling till her facial muscles ached. But she had been able to enjoy them all, despite all the activity, thanks to Felipe. He had been a great boss and a helping hand where ever she needed it. In fact she could even go to say that they were friends now; not the “secrets-can-be-exchanged” kind of friends, but definitely worth talking to.

A smile came up to her lips as she thought of her meeting with Lorenzo and his partner, Pieter. She had been able to spend an entire evening with Lorenzo, his partner and his family and had enjoyed it very much. Lorenzo had decided to stay put in Cortona and Pieter had agreed to join him, leaving Florence and it’s delights behind. It had surprised her to see Lorenzo’s parents accept his status so affably, but then, as Lorenzo said, his parents were nothing if not open minded.

The smile on her face vanished as she recalled the entire day she had spent before meeting up with Lorenzo. Felipe had been by her side, aiding her whenever she needed help. What she had not counted on then, was coming fact to face with Alessandro’s ex-wife, Flavia. Felipe had tightened his mouth, nodded at her and moved on, or tried to. But it had been Iris who had borne the brunt of that woman’s malice. At every turn, she had tried to provoke Iris into lashing out or responding badly, by provoking her and almost telling one of the prospective clients that she may be Felipe’s arm candy.

It had taken vicious mutterings in her ear by Felipe to shut her up. Iris assumed the mutterings were vicious since Felipe looked furiously angry. Flavia had given her killing looks and walked away with another party, venting her anger out on petty things.  Later that evening, Flavia had created a scene when a maid had accidentally bumped into her. Things had eased down after that, but Iris had realized exactly the sort of woman Alessandro’s ex-wife was. Iris was only thankful that the kids wouldn’t have to bear the brunt of her anger. She may have been a horrible influence on them, from all she had heard and seen by now.

She sighed as she recollected the entire day gone by. Today had been a disaster in all directions. The day that had started with a very angry and tensed Felipe flying out to England for a personal emergency, leaving her alone to cope with an irate customer that was hell bent on flirting with her. She had handled the best she could, but it was quite possible that her icy politeness and firm distance may well have lost her company a customer. As if that had not been enough, the day had ended with her lost while driving back, finding directions and finally reaching home, cranky and tired.

Deciding that a bath may be the right thing to relax her body of aches and pains of the day, she turned on the tap, and jumped at the sound of the telephone ringing in her room. Thinking it may be Bepe checking up on her, Iris picked up the phone and said, “It’s alright. I’m back safe Bepe, and will see you in the morning.”

“You will see me later in the morning cara, and I will pass on your message to Bepe. I’m glad you’re back safely.”

“Alessandro!” Iris was shocked into screeching on the phone, her senses on a spin. “You are in Luxembourg.”

She stated, her brain still trying to get a grasp over his phone call. He’d called up to ensure she had reached safely?  It was a minute before her brain finally processed his words and automatically added, “You will see me in the morning? You’re home? ”

“I will cara. I’m back home too.” Alessandro’s voice was warm as he said that, making Iris’ nerves tingle.

She stammered, “Good for you. You’re h-“ stopped and said, “Good night then. I will present my report tomorrow.”

“Iris.” Alessandro calling her name, stopped her from hanging up. She put the receiver back to her ear and said, “Yes?”

He breathed deep and said, his voice soft in her ears, “I missed you Iris.”

Simple statement, and yet it made Iris tremble from head to toe. Her tongue got tied into knots, her voice frozen.

“Iris?” Alessandro enquired hesitatingly.

“I’m- here.” Finally she was able to squeak. Clearing her throat, she repeated, her voice still quivering, “I’m here.”

Iris, Tesoro mio, I—“ Alessandro started and then, it seemed to Iris whatever it was that he wanted to say, he gulped it down and said instead, “I’ll see you tomorrow. Good night Iris. Dream of me. ”

Iris heard him hanging up while she stood by the phone, her mind still reeling over the fact that Alessandro had called her and admitted to missing her. Was this for real?

As if already in a dream, she put the phone down slowly, turned off the tap, took a quick shower, and went through the night ablutions, before turning off the light and snuggling under the covers. Sleep seemed far off from her eyes and yet, she dreamed of a morning where Alessandro would come up to her and tell her how much he had missed her.

She closed her eyes, and quietly slipped into this dream, a small sigh of contentment escaping her mouth.

LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 19

Chapter-19

love.falling

The morning was spent with Iris playing football with Antonio and Ernesto  in the garden. She was a sport, that was for sure. The children played with stamina equal to that of two men, and yet Iris matched them kick for kick, enjoying herself to the full.

After lunch, the kids were encouraged to take a nap by Mrs. Whittaker, while Iris was showed the house around by Senora Bertoni. Iris realized it was a rare thing Senora would do, but she was glad of her company, since it would allow her more glimpses into Alessandro’s life. He may not be the man made for her, but her heart couldn’t help but love him. It hungered for more information about him.

She was given a detailed tour of the house, that included Alessandro’s bedroom and study area.  It was simple and elegant, with ample traces of masculinity.  She was told of the houses in Milan and Florence where Alessandro had spent most of his youth. His ex-wife had been the toast of Milan, in more ways than one. In a tragic voice , she was told about the sad state of affairs of Alessandro’s life since his divorce, where women and work dominated him. Thank goodness, he loved his boys enough to spend time with them whenever possible. Clara Bertoni’s voice reflected quiet pride as she spoke about how good a father her son was.  Iris knew her heart had grown heavy with sadness as the fact she knew was re-instated again. Alessandro Bertoni belonged to no one woman. She tried to keep her mind away from him and focus on the house instead.

It was when they reached the Master Bedroom that Iris really caught her breath at the grand decor of the house. According to Senora Bertoni, the room remained unoccupied, since Alessandro had never shared it with his ex-wife, and preferred his own room to the Master Bedroom. However, Iris paced about in the room and took it all in.

It was huge; almost double the size of other bedrooms, with a wood burning stove, fully beamed and of exposed brick walls. A door lead out on to a small balcony, with an external cast iron staircase. The room overlooked the swimming pool area and the garden.  The en suite bathroom was almost equal to another room, holding a large basin area, a dressing room, and cupboards for linen. It also held a roll top bath and a large shower area.  The furnishing were just as grand as the room of this nature would hold. With burgundy curtains and rugs, the room gave an aura of warmth.  Iris shivered despite herself as she imagined herself in the room with Alessandro, giving in to their passion in this private haven, sharing a life together. Quickly closing her mind to such thoughts, she got out of the room.

Evening passed with exchange of pleasantries, with Senora Bertoni and Iris getting to know each other and liking each other more ,as well as lots of time spent with Antonio and Ernesto. She tucked them in their beds in the evening, after a bath and a story and was hugged and kissed in return.

The next morning saw both the children slipping in early into Iris’s bed and staying there until Mrs. Whittaker came to shoo them away.  Antonio pouted prettily as boys his age do, and insisted that they were not a nuisance to Iris. His voice was indignant as he said,

“She likes us very much Mrs. Whittaker, more than anyone else. She doesn’t mind us in her bed. Do you Iris?”

His look could have melted the hardest of hearts. Nodding at Mrs. Whittaker to let her know that it was alright for them to be there, Iris hugged him tightly to herself and said, “Not at all poppet! But Mrs. Whittaker is right.  We’ve only got so much time together. I think we should dress quickly and eat our breakfast before we move on to more interesting things, don’t you?”

“Si! That is a good idea. “ Ernesto supplied. “We must get dressed and get ready to play again. What should we play today Iris?”

Iris tucked him against her shoulder as he laid his head there and wondered, “Hmm.. I wonder, do you know of the game called Cricket? “ At the shaking of their heads, she said, “I suppose I could teach you. They play it a lot in England you know.”

The idea was much made of and so the day passed with Iris teaching the boys how to play Cricket. Before the day was over, they all found themselves exhausted with all the running around. The boys had enjoyed it very much and shared quite a few laughs, since even Tommaso had been unwillingly included in the play at first and then more of the staff had joined.

Now they were tucked in bed, with Iris kissing them good bye. Antonio was already asleep. Iris looked at him fondly and turned off the light. Only a small light remained in the room now. She turned to go when Ernesto grasped her hand to whisper in the darkness, “Will you come back Iris? I- I want you to.”

“I don’t know sweetheart,  if I can come back the next weekend.” Iris whispered back, bending towards him,  her voice troubled. “I am not sure if your father would approve.”

“Don’t you like us? Please, won’t you come every day? Could – could we come to the villa to see you ? I know Tommaso can bring us to you. ” Ernesto insisted, holding her hand tight.
Iris soothed his hair from his forehead, kissing his brow and replied, “I do like you very much Ernesto. You and Antonio both. But I’m – not sure if –“

“I know Nonna likes you too. She would let you come here. And Papa-“ Ernesto was interrupted mid-sentence with a voice from behind.  The hair at the back of her neck bristled as she heard a movement behind her.

Alessandro moved silent as a cat and stood beside Iris, in front of Ernesto’s bed. “Papa would also say yes, Ernesto, if you want her to come visiting again.”

Even in the darkness, no one could fail to see the smile that sat on Ernesto’s face. He leaned up to kiss his father and then hug Iris, saying, “I knew it! I knew Papa would not say no. Now you can come here every day Iris and play with us.”

Not to put a dampener on his feelings, Iris smiled at him and kissed his cheek, “Okay poppet, now how about going off to sleep? I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

“Yes.” Ernesto then did something that he never had, according to Alessandro. He kissed Iris, smiled and laid back in bed, saying, “Now I can count sheep in sleep.”

Iris chuckled and adjusted his cover to tuck him back firmly again into bed, “You do that sweetheart. Good night.”

Ernesto closed his eyes and went off to dream good dreams. Slowly the smile that graced her face disappeared, as refusing to look at the man standing beside her, Iris turned to go.

“Wait.” A softly whispered command halted her step as she put her foot outside the door. She turned around to see Alessandro kissing his son. Just the sight of him all masculine and fatherly made Iris short of breath. She closed her eyes to gain her composure and opened them again. He stood beside her now. For a few seconds, he didn’t speak. He simply stood there, staring at her as Iris refused to look at him.

Iris felt her face pinken and addressed the top button of his shirt, “What?”

Alessandro felt a tumult of emotions inside him as he looked at Iris. She wore a knee-length pale pink tunic with frills around the neck and shoulders.  Evening’s activities with children had made her a bit disheveled of appearance, but for him, she had never looked more beautiful. Time with his children had given her pleasure, and it showed in the form of a rosy glow on her face. Not to mention the fact that she blushed lightly even now, knowing he was looking at her.

A part of him simply oozed tenderness. He wanted to hold her tight in his protective embrace,  and kiss her till Kingdom come. It alarmed him how similar to love was this emotion he felt towards her. But he knew he was not going to fall for that deceptive trap again. No matter how much they banged at the door of his heart, he was never going to open up to that particular emotion. He had to keep his focus on his goal- mother for his children and a pliable woman in his bed. He didn’t want emotions clouding his head while he calculatedly moved ahead in his plan to make her his wife. For now, his attention would be on seducing her to become his.

Getting into the mode, he took hold of her hand, which he noticed startled her enough to jerk. She tried removing it from his grasp, but he simply held her firm and kept a finger on his lips to indicate silence. Fuming, Iris kept silent until they were out of the children’s room.

As soon as they were outside though, Iris bit out, “Let go of me. I’ve told you before, I hate you manhandling me.”

“I wasn’t aware I was doing anything of the sort.” Alessandro replied, amused at her attempts to free herself. He pulled her towards him, failing to keep his hands off her.  He caught her in his arms as he reminded her,

“ I kept my promise Iris. I wasn’t around the entire weekend while you stayed here.”

“And where did you stay? In whose arms were you? “ Were the jealous questions that erupted in Iris’s mind but she kept her mouth wisely shut and pushed those questions away. Instead she put a hand on his chest and tried to push him back from her, saying sarcastically, “ I suppose I should thank you for keeping your promise.”

“Now that’s a good idea. Thank me.” Alessandro let her hand go free. She moved, but he was quicker. In the next second, he had her pinned against the wall, with his arms holding her captive from both sides.

“Let me go Alessandro. I –“

“Thank me first Iris and I shall let you go.” Said Alessandro, leaning into her.

Speechless, Iris stared at him and found herself lost in that green gaze of his. His eyes burned green as if emeralds on fire. She couldn’t speak, only shake her head.  Alessandro sighed, his tone warm with seductive threat as he leaned closer to her ear and whispered,

“Well then, if you won’t thank me properly, I’ll just have to find another way of extracting my thanks from you.”

Iris trembled from head to toe at such brazen tone of seduction. He sounded like a hungry jaguar who was ready to pounce on his prey and satiate himself on her flesh.  And yet, she was helpless as his head came close, close enough for his lips to touch hers. Acquiescing, she closed her eyes and waited for his warm dry lips to touch her softly trembling in anticipation ones. And found herself free of his restraint. She opened her eyes in astonishment and closed them again, when he touched her lips with his.

He had barely kissed her when he moved away and reached for her ear instead. Electricity zinged through her body at his kissing her erogenous area. She grasped his shirt in her hand as she felt his lips planting butterfly kisses  from her ear to her jaw line. She moaned softly, making his body tighten with want.

Alessandro could barely restrain himself now that Iris was so close to him. A part of him wanted to take her right there, make her his in all ways a man could a woman; instead he indulged in torturous seduction play. His breath grew as heavy as hers, as he reached her lips once again and said against them,

“I take your thanks and welcome you always.”

Saying this, he kissed her properly this time around, his mouth possessing hers. With nothing left to defend herself with, Iris gave in and wound her arms around his neck as she stood on her tip toes and kissed him back, passion for passion. Mouth dueled in a long known dance of the mankind, until they both could barely breathe. He held her by the hips, letting her the feel his aching length. Iris breathed his name as one of her legs came to twine itself around his thigh, rubbing herself on him. It only fuelled their passion to a higher level as Alessandro pinned her to the wall this time and devoured her.

Alessandro gave himself completely into this few moments of passion. God, but he ached for her! If he had his way, he’d tie her to him right now, eliminating any possibility where she could leave him. Such possessiveness was alien to his nature and yet, Iris was the one woman who could ignite his emotions so intensely. Slowly, oh so slowly, he withdrew from the honeyed nectar of her lips and looked at her.

Her eyes were closed still, her mouth swollen from his kiss. He groaned out aloud, his desire for her threatening to become out of control again as she licked her lips, as if she hungered more for the taste of him.

“Basta!” Alessandro moaned, his hand going back to clutch her and then, dropping down by his side. He was not sure if he was begging her or himself, to control this want. Cursing himself for being so powerless when it came to Iris, he distanced his body from hers, and while she was still coming out slowly from the fog of their passion, he walked away. He had no more patience. One more week, he told himself. After that, he would act on the final part of his plan.

LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 18

 

 

Chapter 18

love.falling

Next morning when Iris woke up, her first thought was – today she was to go to Alessandro’s family home, to meet Ernesto and Antonio. A smile broke through her lips as she thought of the twins and their laughter that rang in her ears. That smile however didn’t stay for long when she thought about their father and her on-going struggle to overcome her emotions for him.

She wondered if Alessandro would accompany her to his house and then go about his business. The thought of him coming to call her like yesterday evening made Iris scramble from her bed and rush into the bathroom to do her morning chores. She carefully dressed into a roll-up sleeve formal yellow tunic with skinny jeans, knowing the boys would expect her to play football with them the moment they’d see her. For the weekend, she packed clothes that were sports-worthy. As a second thought she also packed a frilled tunic in pale pink with a wide belt.

Just as she was tying her hair with a piece of ribbon, there was a knock on the door. At her behest to enter, Maria entered the room. Iris wasn’t sure if she was disappointed or relieved that it was not Alessandro. She surely felt a twinge of disappointment though when Maria informed her that Signor Bertoni had left the place early morning to go about his business in Sienna. His personal assistant; Senora Sandra Milano would be taking her to Signore’s house and would introduce her to Signora Bertoni; Alessandro’s mother.

Nervous at the thought of meeting Alessandro’s mother for the first time, Iris soothed her hands over her jeans and walked to the car. Alessandro’s personal assistant sat in the front of the car, typing on her laptop. As Iris approached the car, she kept her laptop aside and came out. A dragon of a creature, she was as tall as Iris and middle-aged. Though she looked formidable, the smile she bestowed upon Iris was nothing as such. Upon receiving such a warm smile, Iris smiled back at her as she shook hands.

“Come Signorina, from what I know, the children are dying to see you.”

Iris smiled once again as she said, “I’m sure it will be great fun to spend the weekend with them Senora Milano.”

 

“Call me Sandra and I will call you Iris, if I may?” Senora Milano said.

At Iris’ nod, she sat down in the car as Iris opened the door to sit in the back. And stopped.

Just by the seat, sat a lovely bouquet of yellow and red roses. Keeping hold of her nerves, Iris sat down and picked up the bouquet, mentally chiding herself. They couldn’t be from Alessandro surely. He wouldn’t consider her good enough for this, especially after she had rejected him the last time. It must be the work of nice Senora Milano.  She buried her head in it and inhaled its heady perfume. These weren’t hothouse roses!

“Indian roses!” Iris exclaimed. “Thank you Seno-Sandra, they are beautiful. You are very kind to have gone through this trouble. I had no idea you can even get Indian roses here.”

“Indeed.” Came a wry retort from Sandra. She turned back and smiled to show she acknowledged the compliment.  “But the appreciation of this goes to Alessandro, for he found out the one local vendor who sells it and got them for you.”

 

Roses bloomed in Iris’s cheeks as Sandra imparted her the information and looked at her. Trying to sound casual, Iris said, “Oh- how kind of him. Please pass on my thank you.”

“I will. I think there is a card attached to the bouquet.” Sandra said.

With hands that trembled despite her control, Iris picked up the card nestled inside the flowers. It said, “Hope you like them better than you like me. Have fun cara. A”

“All okay?” Sandra asked without looking back, for which Iris was thankful. Her eyes were tearing up and she had to take a deep breath before she replied calmly, “Yes, all okay.”

The car moved forward, but Iris closed her eyes to the world as she tried to calm herself. Oh the wretched heart! Alessandro’s words has pierced her. How could she tell him how much she liked him- loved him without letting him trample all over her? It hurt her to think that he thought he was not in her good books and lamented the fact. On the other hand- a small but sensible voice in her head spoke up- it was good for her because he would realize that she will not play his game.

 

“And here we are!” Sandra said all too soon as the car stopped. Astonished, Iris looked around. They hadn’t gone very far away from the villa where she stayed. In fact, it felt as if it had been mere minutes far. Confused, she looked around.

Perhaps Sandra guessed her confusion, for she chuckled and said, “Ah- you did not know?”

Bewildered, Iris looked at her and asked, “Know what?”

Sandra got out of the car, so did the chauffeur who took her bag out of the back of the car. At Sandra’s nod, he left in a few seconds, leaving them there. Sandra linked her arm in Iris and turned her around, “Let us take a walk, not very far but a short walk.”

Before Iris could argue or mention her bag, she said, “Leave the bag. It will be taken care of.”

Iris had no choice but to walk along. It was not more than 10 minutes or so when they came across a familiar signpost, that Iris had seen before. Still trying to wrap her head around the truth, Iris looked at it and then at Sandra.

Sandra clucked impatiently and said, “Look around Iris. See where you are.”

And Iris gasped. For not too far away, she was sure was the villa where she stayed. She remembered seeing the sign post  on the gravel road that led into a private estate. She had been told not to take the path that led to it, but she had not been informed who owned the private estate. Now she knew. She looked around, her mind still trying to gather and process all the facts.

This was where Alessandro lived? He was but just a few minutes away from her, every second of the day and she had not known. A tidal wave of emotion rose in her. Iris wasn’t sure if it was hurt or anger. She could have met the twins & spent time with them every day after work, had she been informed of their home so near to her, instead of spending the weekend. However, she knew saying anything to Sandra would not be wise so she kept her mouth shut and smiled brightly.

“This is nice indeed! It means I can spend more than a weekend with the boys if they wanted to spend time with me again.”

“Indeed yes.” Sandra acknowledged this statement with a nod and a smile, and continued, “We must go back to the villa. Senora Bertoni is, if I’m not wrong, already waiting for you along with the boys.”

And so together, they went back  to the traditional red brick house where Alessandro lived with his mother and sons. The house was house, consisting of the main house and a barn where Iris suspected, animals were kept. The main house accommodated three floors, as Sandra informed her like an estate agent, comprising of living room that had a huge fireplace, kitchen, laundry room, dining room, study and a guest room on the ground floor, seven double bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, playroom, nanny’s bedroom and the nursery occupying the top two floors.

 

There was also another house behind the main house, that accommodated Senora Bertoni, with three bedrooms and bathrooms, a dining room and a kitchen. Iris was informed confidentially,  that though Senora Bertoni liked spending her time at the main house, she liked her privacy and thus preferred the house at the back.

 

The barn, as Iris had rightly suspected, housed livestock and was also used as a granary. The entire property in total was spread over 9000 square meters of land that also held gardens in the front and back and the forest, parking spaces as well as a Olympic sized swimming pool, a small swimming pool for children and a small pond.

 

A man old enough to be her grandfather greeted them as they were ushered into the house. He was introduced to Iris as Tommaso; who held the position equivalent to that of a butler in the house. He smiled very little but had warm eyes, concluded Iris while she shook hands with him. Iris took in the surroundings as they entered the living room.

 

A spacious room draped with pale ivory walls, heavy curtains looked as if it was a part of a home magazine, with original wooden beams & arches, terracotta tiled ceilings and floors that held cherubs and angels, with a grand fireplace in the centre of the room. The room was very tastefully furnished as well, with bright coloured carpets and cream coloured sofas. Two lounge chairs were placed next to the fireplace  and some by the sides of the sofa.

 

On one of the chairs sat Senora Bertoni, with a piece of she must have been knitting next to her. Beside her sat the twins with huge grins on their faces, with Mrs. Whittaker close by. Iris realized that Senora Bertoni was a petite gentle woman. Alessandro got his eyes from his mother then, for they were just as sharp and of the same grey-green shade. His hair must be his legacy from his father, for Senora Bertoni was a blonde.

Her nervousness dissipated as Senora Bertoni smiled warmly at herr. They were introduced to each other by Sandra.

 

“So- you’re Iris the angel that the boys keep on talking about, who will play football with them.  Welcome Signorina Florence.” Senora Bertoni said, her smile warming Iris.

 

She shook hands with her and smiled back, saying, “They’re really too sweet to say so. My countrymen love football as much as Italians do.”

Then realizing her mistake, she corrected herself, “Forgive me, I forgot that you’re—I mean, you were also once English.”

 

Senora Bertoni gave a gentle laugh at this and gestured Iris and Sandra to sit down.  She leaned forward and said, “Ah yes! I was once. Now I think I’m as Italian as any other Italian mother would be. I’m sorry it has taken so long for us to be introduced to each other. No doubt Alessandro thought it prudent that you be given time to get adjusted to your work out here before you can meet the boys.”

 

At the mention of Alessandro, Iris felt her cheeks going pink but she held on to her composure as she said, “I’m sure Signore knows the best for his sons. “

 

“Yes, I’m sure he does. May I call you Iris?” Clara Bertoni murmured, satisfied at what she saw.

 

“Of course, Senora Bertoni. ”

 

“You may call me Clara, Iris.” At Iris’s nod, she continued, “And now, I will let the twins come forward.“

 

At her nod, the twins got up from their places and moved forward towards Iris eagerly. “They have been awake since early morning with the hopes of seeing you today. They tell me they have many plans.”

 

Iris took a step forward herself and kneeled down on the floor to come at an eye-to-eye level with the boys. Antonio, with his usual vigour hugged her tightly while Ernesto waited for his turn.

Iris hugged both of them back and ruffled Antonio’s hair, “ So you have many plans, eh?”

 

Antonio nodded enthusiastically and turned towards his brother, “Don’t we Ernesto?”

 

Ernesto nodded and volunteered, “We know you can play with us the whole day today, Papa said so.” Then hesitatingly, “Will you?”

 

Iris gave him a wide smile along with her verbal acceptance to their offer, “Of course!! I’ve missed playing with two energetic young boys.  I’ve absorbed a lot of energy from the Sun these past few days. I’m sure I will beat you both at Football.”

 

“Hah! We will beat you!” Ernesto said with gusto.

 

Iris frowned a mock-frown. “Then I will just have to try harder tomorrow if you beat me today.”

 

“You will stay here for two whole days and spend them with us? You will not want to be with Nonna or Papa?” Ernesto questioned, as if doubting that anyone would want to spend so much time with them.

 

Iris felt her heart squeezing. She knew Ernesto had his problems, but she would make sure this little guy knew she was on his side. She squeezed his hand gently, looked into his eyes and said, “I’m here only because I wanted to be with you and Antonio.”

 

Giving Senora Bertoni an apologetic look, Iris added with a twinkle to her eye, “Of course when you sleep, I will spend time with your Nonna, and find out just how naughty you two are!”

 

“Yes! Nonna can tell you all!” Antonio shouted laughing. Ernesto nodded with a broad smile and started giving ideas of  what they could do in the evening.

 

Senora Bertoni listened to them and looked at the happy faces of her grandsons, approving the way Iris handled them. She seemed to genuinely like them, and even Ernesto seemed to be less hesitant with her. She also seemed compassionate. Yes, she will do very well indeed.

 

She cleared her throat pointedly and addressed her grandsons, “Now my dears, it is time you went into your room and changed for all the fun, while Iris is shown to her room.”

 

Mrs. Whittaker was the one who came forward, saying, “I shall guide you to your room Signorina. It is on the same floor as the boys.”

 

“Oh good.” Iris said and after taking her leave of Senora Bertoni and the boys, went along with her.

 

While on the first floor, she was given a whirlwind tour of the floor, that had three guest bedrooms, the nursery with a small room for the nanny and play room for the boys. The second floor consisted of a master bedroom, a dressing room of sorts, children’s bedroom and next to it, Mrs. Whittaker’s room. Next to Mrs. Whittaker room was another bedroom that Iris was to occupy.

 

Iris loved the room on sight. It was truly a beautiful room; very feminine. The window curtain were a creamy lace and the table and chair under it just as elegant. She supposed, she could sit there and write a few letters while she looked out into the garden and the green hills beyond from the window. The bed was a queen size, with the bedcover of powder blue with white daises printed on it, fluffy pillows and blue satin quilt on top of it. The dressing table looked to be equally royal, rosewood perhaps.

“How do you like your room madam?” Asked Mrs. Whittaker.

Iris couldn’t help but gush, “Oh it’s absolutely delightful Mrs. Whittaker! I wonder who designed it so?”

Mrs Whittaker gave a small smile, “It was meant to be the room for Senora Bertoni once, but she never occupied it. She never liked coming to this house;  preferred to live in Milan and Florence, she did.”

 

“Ah.” Iris couldn’t formulate a reply for this, while her mind tried to sought out answers on why she was being boarded her. Then she shrugged her thoughts. Obviously, this was the only room apart from Mrs. Whittaker that was close to the kids. This was the only reason why she’d been given this room to stay in.  Freshening herself up quickly, she went downstairs again, where Antonio, Ernesto and Senora Bertoni waited for her.