Morning brought with itself a modicum of sense and rid her of the dreams she’d been chasing all night in her sleep. Sternly lecturing herself for being a silly girl and reading more into the words of an experienced flirt like Alessandro, Iris focused on her work- or at least tried to, with one eye on the door. She would not be caught unawares by him and allow him to assault her senses again. She must keep her head.
As soon as he entered the villa, Alessandro saw Iris with her back to him. She was wearing a pale blue shirt with a white skirt that had little iris flowers all over it. She looked fresh, innocent and – more beautiful than anyone he’d ever known. He stood still, calming the hitch that her presence had generated in his heart. Never before had he so keenly felt someone’s presence in his mind.
The week away had been a testament to how strongly he was attracted to her. Last night when he’d called her, he’d felt such an urge to come rushing to the villa when he’d heard her voice, that he had to literally lock the door of his study for a while. He had instead sat down with a glass of cognac and satisfied himself with the knowledge that she thought of his house as home. He had wanted to beat his chest like a primal beast. He was home, back to his woman and his children and nothing else had sounded sweeter than those words. He kept on telling himself that his heart was still in his control, but day by day he seem to be losing that control. Fixing his mind on seducing her pained him because he’d rather seduce her with – not love- he hastily told himself. That was impossible since he could never again risk falling in love. But he would definitely like to share her life as a desirable mate and friend.
She had been constantly on his mind the entire week. He had gotten annoyed with himself for losing focus many a times during the meetings he had attended. Victoria’s glamorous presence had not even made a dent in those thoughts, not that it ever had. He had enjoyed her company some months back, on a mutual agreement of a pleasurable evening. Victoria had decided to take it further in her mind and pursued him. She had been coming on to him the entire week in Luxembourg and he had cursed his idea of taking her along as his assistant. On his last night out there, she had come into the room at night to seduce him. When he had icily shown her the door, she had threatened to go to the press with a sleazy story if he didn’t meet her demands.
His face took on a look of ugly distaste as he remembered it. He had put a stop to it by stating very plainly that if she didn’t control herself, and didn’t stop with her silly threats; he would ensure her true colours were seen by the society in general via a legal harassment case. She had gone down quietly after that.
Now looking at Iris standing there, ruffling through some file while biting her lips, her brows furrowed in concentration, brought in his heart a deep feeling of tenderness. He wanted to rush to her and crush her to his chest, kiss her until she agreed to be his. He ached for her, his heart whispering her name. Just the thought of her with any other man made him grind his teeth in anger. Something alerted Iris to his presence, he saw.
Iris stiffened in the middle of sorting a file. She thought she heard Alessandro calling her name. Slowly turning around, she almost stopped breathing. Alessandro stood there at the door, his grey green eyes devouring her, just as her eyes ate him up. She was seeing him after a week yet it felt as eons had passed after their last encounter together. She tried to speak, but it was only a squeak that came out.
She cleared her throat and tried again, “ Alessa—Signor Bertoni.” She flushed red as she realized she’d almost called him Alessandro. Calling him by his name brought him to her personal life. She kicked herself mentally for this mistake. And she’d promised herself she would be at her utmost professional when he showed up! Alessandro smiled as if he knew what she was up to, and that scared her witless. No, he must never find out how she felt about him. That would be grievous, since it would give him a tactical advantage.
His voice was husky when he spoke, advancing towards where she stood.
“Iris, bella mia. You look good enough to eat.”
Tingles shot up her spine as he said that. Quickly she moved away, to the other side of the table, keeping distance between them. His smirk was a killer when he saw her doing that.
“No kiss as per our Italian customs then?”
Iris glared at him, “Don’t you bring talks of Italian customs! You know why not.”
Alessandro laughed, making Iris quiver in her stomach, “Yes, I know Tesoro mio why you shy away from kissing me.” He reached the desk where she stood behind a chair on the other side. Sitting on the desk, with one leg dangling, he mused, “Is this desk in between going to help though?”
Alarmed at his question, Iris moved further away, “I sure hope so. I have no wish to follow any customs if they mean I must come close to you.”
His grey green eyes glinted with mockery, as he said softly, “Ah. But what would the children say if they saw you with me like this?”
Bewildered, Iris looked around. “Children? You mean you’ve brought Ernesto and Antonio with you?”
Alessandro chuckled, “They are very much like their father when it comes to you bella mia. They wanted to come along, but I promised them I will bring you to them in the evening. I hope you will come home with me, cara mia? ”
“Don’t call me that!” Iris muttered. Her heart fluttered at his words, every time he used an endearment. She knew it was typical of Italians to use it, but her heart took it personally and jumped with joy every time he did it.
Alessandro caught her hand as she bent to pick up the file from the desk, “Don’t call you my darling? What if I like to?”
Iris removed her hand from his with a jerk and said snappily, “Well don’t. I don’t like it.”
“Liar.” He said softly and then laughed, “But it is okay. I can wait for developments. Now tell me, how was the festival and what did you do there? New business prospects?” His brow furrowed with concern as he said, “Felipe seems to have disappeared for a while, but he did e-mail me to say you would present a report.”
Iris grimaced and produced the file she had been sorting. “This is the report, with the details of the last day not filled in yet. I was going to finish it by afternoon and leave it for you to check. The last day- er- was not very profitable.”
She mentally replayed the memory of lecher hands of the client who had tried to flirt with her, and closed her eyes, barely repressing a repulsive shudder.
“What happened on the last day to make you look so – what happened ?” Alessandro tensed. Her expression had been one of intense revulsion. He felt anger wrapping its wings around his brain as Iris related the incident with the prospective client and concluded by saying, “I might have busted that account completely. I’m sorry.”
Controlling the urge to smash something, because he had not been there to protect her from such advances, Alessandro nodded distantly, his mind still busy on finding the whereabouts of the man in question. Thus it was that his voice was icily cold when he spoke, “It’s alright Iris. You did the right thing. We do not expect you to bring in the accounts by sleeping around.”
Iris got stung by such coldness. Here she was, expecting some sympathy from him at having dealt with a tricky situation. She might have expected him to be angry on her for losing the account, but such coldness was absolutely not what she’d expected. Losing her cool would not do it, so she opted for sarcasm instead. “Well, I’m glad I don’t have to sleep my way around for promotions, Signore. Excuse me. I need a cup of coffee and time to work alone. ”
And before Alessandro could stop her, to correct her mistaken meaning, she left the room.
Alessandro could have kicked himself for sounding so cold and distant. When she had wanted his caring, his sympathy, he had been thinking of squeezing the man’s throat and become cold with her instead. He certainly didn’t blame her for losing that account, if indeed it was lost. Cursing himself for not being clear, he thought of going after her. Second thoughts stopped him however. She did need time to get back her cool. He got back to the vineyard instead and started on his share of work.
The day continued. Alessandro went ahead with his meetings and phone calls, even left the villa to go Siena for a meeting. It was late afternoon when he returned. By then Iris was done with the report. It was waiting for him at his desk. He flicked a glance at it, his expression grim and determined, and then left his office, leaving instructions with his secretary that he was out for the day and the next.
Iris had cooled down a bit since morning, but a part of her still fumed. Another part of her remained glued to sadness. Alessandro had spoken like he was only the boss, and nothing more. She had to get it into her head and firmly fix it in her heart that she was only an employee. Despite the fact that they flew sparks off each other, there was nothing more than could come out of such an attraction. Maybe she should change jobs?
“Iris.” Startled out of her thoughts by Alessandro’s voice close by, Iris looked up from her computer. Her thoughts clamed shut from her face and a serene expression she had practiced for hours took over, “Si Signore?”
Alessandro gritted his teeth silently. Iris spitting fire was more preferable than this calm statue sitting and working. He was determined, today he would get his own way. This evening, he wouldn’t let he go; in fact- he decided, he would talk about his proposition to her today after dinner.
“It is time Iris.” He said, as if to himself.
Bewildered, Iris looked at her watch and then at him. “Time for what?”
Alessandro came to her with his silent tread. Iris kept sitting, knowing how his presence affected her. Her heart beat a little faster with each step advancing towards her. Still confused as he picked up her hand and made her stand up, she said, “Signore—“
“Alessandro.” His single word statement was husked out as she tried to move away from him. Alas, there was only a wall behind her. She was cornered with his hands on both sides of her. Licking her dry lips out of nervousness, she tried again, “Alessandro, what-“
She never got to complete her question, as he leaned down and took her mouth with his. The kiss was unlike the ones he had given her before. This kiss demanded her cooperation. This kiss was a definition of hunger that refused to be satisfied. Desperately, she clutched at his shoulders, opening her mouth into his kiss. Sighing she gave in completely. It felt good to give in, to surrender her will to him, she thought as she leaned deeper into the kiss, touching his jaw and moulding her body to his. At the back of her mind, a voice screamed at her, reminding her why this was a bad idea. None of the kisses would be able to change the basic fact that there was only desire between them and nothing permanent would come out of it.
Taking shaky breaths, she wrenched her mouth from his and pushed him away. Tears were close by. She shivered and wrapped her arms around herself to console herself as she asked him softly, “Why do you keep on persisting Alessandro? It’s not helping me.”
“Why?” Alessandro caught her from behind by the waist and held her there, with her back to him. He rained kisses on her hair and rubbed her arms. He could feel her goose bumps.
“Why would you not let this happen? Why not let it take its natural course and see where it goes?”
Iris closed her eyes and prayed she wouldn’t start bawling, as she said, “Because I want a lot more than what is on offer.”
“Why don’t you give what is already on offer a try and then decide if you can take more?” He asked her, turning her around and holding her chin to make her look up. The look in her eyes made him yearn to give her all she wanted. But he knew there were some things that would never be on offer; no matter how much she looked at him with those doe eyes.
Moving away from her, he ran his hands through his hair and said, “The boys wish for you to spend some time at the casa. I told them you’ll be with them before their play time. I’ve already informed everyone that you may be staying back at the casa. The decision of course, is up to you.”
Iris took a deep breath. Yes, focusing on the boys would be a better idea. She said, “Thank you. I’d like to stay back with them. I’ll- go and pack an overnight bag.”
Alessandro nodded as she rushed out of the room. Quickly she stuffed her night dress; a silk nightie in pale green and a dressing gown, a pair of short and jeans and two T-shirts, along with some undies. In about five minutes she was ready to go. All the while she kept telling herself, she wanted to go to the Casa only because of the boys, but she knew their father was also one of the reasons. Whether she wanted it or not, she couldn’t help herself with a little close time with him.