LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 26

Chapter-26

love.falling

“Buongiorno bellissima! “

 

A soft touch on her shoulder, a kiss on her head along with this softly speaking endearment had Iris sitting rigid in her chair at the breakfast table.

 

She had been enjoying her morning with the children until now. Breakfast had begun a few minutes back, with Antonio and Ernesto vying for who could eat the most strawberry jam on their toast. Iris had requested for some toast and coffee when asked what she’d like for breakfast. Both children had already had milk under Mrs. Whittaker’s supervision. The old darling, bless her, had left children and Iris alone after this, knowing that children wanted some time with their to-be-mother.

 

Iris hadn’t expected Alessandro to join children and her at the breakfast table at all. Thus when she felt a hand on her shoulder, along with a kiss on her forehead and a greeting, she felt shaken to her core. She was not prepared yet, she thought, panicking. She couldn’t face him at this time, that was all she knew.

 

She nodded in his direction, not able to speak a word, as he sat down next to her and the children. He spread his napkin on his lap and said softly, “We must talk.”

 

Without looking in his direction, Iris spoke softly so as not to disturb the kids with the harshness of her voice.

“Not now Alessandro. I agree we must talk, but it has to be away from here. I wish to spend the day peacefully with the boys.”

 

Something cold spread through his stomach as Alessandro heard Iris speak softly yet firmly. Her voice was expressionless. He wasn’t sure why but he had this feeling in his gut that things were as wrong as they could be; his plan might be in jeopardy. His grey green eyes rested upon her bent head for a long moment, processing her body language. Deciding he didn’t wish to push his luck at the moment and thinking he’d find a way to work things out by evening, he picked up his espresso cup and drained it in one gulp, saying “As you wish tesorino. I must go to Sienna today for work. I shall be away all day and return in the evening. We will go out for dinner.”

 

At her nod, he turned away from her and began a teasing conversation with Antonio, who delighted in his father’s attention. Ernesto looked up from his plate and glanced at Iris first and then at his father. A boy too mature for his age, his eyes immediately picked up something of the atmosphere and he anxiously piped up, “Is Mamma angry with you, Papa? Are you going to fight? ”

 

It took all her wits for Iris to not burst out in anger at Alessandro for coming down to breakfast. Instead she smiled at Ernesto and caught his hand in hers, gently reassuring him, “I am not angry at all, poppet and there is no fighting. Do you see any boxing ring? “

 

Normally Ernesto would have smiled at her reference to boxing; one of his favourite sports (as Iris had found out), but he didn’t. Iris squeezed his hand and smiled into his eyes, trying to keep her own sadness at bay. “How could I be when I plan to spend the whole day doing fun things with you and Antonio?”

 

Ernesto didn’t look assured despite Iris’ words. She looked up finally and directly into Alessandro’s stormy grey eyes. Her heart beat fast as he caught her doe like eyes with his, and stared back. Then he dropped his gaze from her and looked at his son, who was looking at him anxiously, his voice holding the old stutter, “C-che cosa, Papa?”

 

Alessandro beckoned Ernesto to get down and come to him. Ernesto got down from his chair and came to stand beside his father. In a smooth move, Alessandro picked him up and sat him on his lap. Ernesto looked at his father, his expression serious. Antonio had quietened down too; his earlier exuberance disappeared, and now stood next to his father, sucking his thumb. Alessandro picked him up too and sat him on the other side of his lap. Three pairs of grey green eyes looked at each other, surveying each other.

Looking at all of them together, regarding each other so seriously, Iris knew she had made the right decision. How would she bear to see them hurt; she couldn’t – ever! Her decision to let Alessandro know that she wouldn’t marry him this evening was a step in the right direction. What’s more she would also let him know that she was going to quit and move away. It may anger him and make him hate her, she knew but it wouldn’t have a devastating effect, as it would on the twins. It was best she moved out and away before she did them any harm emotionally.

 

She closed her eyes at the pain of it all and then opened them up, to see Alessandro gazing at her, his eyes dark and gleaming as green pools of ice. She lowered her own and forced herself to eat a bite of toast from her plate.

 

“Papa?” Antonio’s voice wobbled and Alessandro turned his gaze back to his children.

“Si, mio figlio.”

“I am scared Papa.”

 

Alessandro’s mouth tightened when he heard this. He had had enough troubles with Ernesto and his anxiety. Now, Antonio also felt insecure, thanks to his big mouth and Iris’s reaction to his words. He kicked himself for spoiling it all. The cynical side of him wondered if Iris had planned this scene- her upset face, her cheerful attitude going silent as soon as he was around- as a revenge for how he had made her feel yesterday evening. Bitterness that he had kept at bay returned, making his eyes cold chips of ice. She could go on plotting but he would ensure his children never felt unsure and anxious due to a woman ever again. Even if it meant letting go of Iris. A woman who wanted revenge and used children for it was not for his household, no matter how much his body lusted after her.

 

He wrapped his arms around both his sons and met their eyes, “Ascolta me, mio figli. No matter what happens, you will always my love. “

“And mine.” Said Iris softly, making both the boys smile for a second, before they became serious again, when their father continued,” No person on this Earth can make you feel unsure when you have the love of your family, like I have of mine. Your mother didn’t wish to become a part of the family, and she is not our family, because she didn’t love you. Just because she didn’t love you doesn’t mean I don’t either. I will do everything in my power to give you no reason to be uncertain of my love, no matter what I have to do.” He said the last with a steely look at Iris, who had had her eyes fixed on the children.

 

With each word that came out of Alessandro’s mouth, her heart had sunk further and further, even the tiniest glimmer of hope dashed. His last statement though brought her head up, recognising his words for what they were- a father’s vow to go through any compromise in life, for the sake of his children and their happiness. They were not the words of a man who wanted to assure his children of their parents’ love; of the love of both a mother and father. They were the words of a man who didn’t trust her to love his children enough.

 

The children nodded solemnly at their father’s words. Antonio looked up with a bright smile at his father and said, “I love you Papa.”

Ernesto said equally fervently, “Me too Papa.”

Alessandro smiled at both his sons and kissed the top of their heads. Then he patted them lightly on their shoulders and said, “Enough with this now. Go on and get Mrs. Whittaker to take you to your room. Iris will join you in a bit.”

 

Both the boys looked at Iris, and at her nod, came up to her, hugged her, got hugged in return and left the room talking amongst themselves.

 

“Iris, look at me.”

Iris looked up and saw herself reflected into his eyes. The eyes that had first captured her when he had saved her from falling on the road mesmerised her with their intensity when they had met accidentally at the University; the eyes that always looked at her with fierce passion, the eyes that were a window to his soul and made her fall in love with him. Today those eyes reflected nothing of the kind. All she could see was his steely determination and no emotion.

 

“I want us to get married as soon as I get the license. I have already applied for a special license. Do you want anyone from your family to come to our wedding?”

At the shake of her head, he looked at her as if puzzled, then tried again.

“You don’t want anyone from your family to be present at our wedding?”

 

Iris shook her head again, not saying anything, controlling the dam of tears that could burst if she was not careful. She wanted to be as cold with him as he was with her. Taking a deep gulping breath as slowly and carefully as she could, she said, “No, I don’t want anybody.”

 

Alessandro looked at her intently. He knew how much she still cared for her family- the family that didn’t care for her. It would be tearing her apart from inside, he was sure, but his Iris was strong. If that was her wish, he would not ask her again and upset her anymore. So he shrugged and said,

“Okay, if that is what you wish. “ Then he paused and said, “I am not sure how you felt yesterday evening, when you came in and heard what you did, while I was talking to Mamma.”

 

She still didn’t look up, so he continued, “I apologise if I have hurt your feelings in any way. I wouldn’t wish to hurt you Iris. But it is the truth.” He gave her a look hot enough to melt her body as he said, “I still want you—badly. In fact if it were not for the respect I have for you, I would have already made you mine.”

Her eyes became hard chips of wood. She stood up and snapped, “I’m not that easy, and you know it Alessandro.”

 

Alessandro laughed softly as he got up to come towards her. With each step he took forward, Iris’s heart beat faster, her insides trembling with anger and perhaps excitement too, but she held her ground, her chin up.

 

He came close to her, his breath caressing her hair as he bent down to growl quietly in her ear, “Si, amore. You are not easy. I will wait until our wedding night, though it is bloody hard to keep my hands off you when you are so close.”

 

As she turned to move away from him, he caught hold of her arm, irritated. “Don’t walk away from me when I am talking to you. “

“You don’t order me around Alessandro Bertoni! Not unless we are at work, and you become my boss. And that perhaps is something that I wish to amend.” With a jerk, Iris got her arm free from his hand. She had a sneaky suspicion her words had surprised him enough to let her go so easily, but she was glad of it.

 

“Meaning?” Alessandro asked, his eyes narrowing.

“Meaning I wish to give my one month notice now. I don’t wish to work for Bertoni anymore.” Iris said quietly. “Also I would like to go to my parents’ place for two days. I don’t want them to come to the wedding, but I do wish to let them know in person.”

LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 25

Chapter-25

love.falling

One should never have to wake up feeling sad and heartbroken, but that is exactly how Iris felt when she woke up the next morning.

Her tears from the previous night had dried on her cheeks, her neck felt like it had sprained, and she felt sick of life in general. But the softest of hearts must become strong and hardy, because life must go on despite broken hearts. She must pick up the pieces and move on. Or so she told herself, as she got out of the bed and went around doing her morning chores.

Dressed up early in slacks and a pale pink shirt, she went down and out into the garden. She had promised the children that she would break fast with them. Running away was not her style, however highly she was tempted to do it. Plus her heart broke, if it could break any further, at the thought of denying Ernesto and Antonio her love and affection. They were both such adorable boys!

As if thinking of them had conjured them up, both the boys came running out into the garden, with Mrs. Whittaker following them with a beaming smile.

“Good morning Ms. Florence. Congratulations, the boys told me the good news.”

Iris gathered herself to speak with a calm smile, “Thank you Mrs. Whittaker.” And then she turned to the boys who had wide smiles on their faces, while they clung to her legs. She bent down to their height and gave them each a smacking kiss, before saying, “And why are you both up so early? I thought I would come to wake you up.”

Ernesto gave her a shy smile, “We wanted to be with you Mamma.”

Her heart gave a little lurch at Ernesto’s words, and his calling her his mother. Iris knew he meant it from his heart. Iris wanted to claim the title and yet she knew she would be denying it. Before she could say anything to him though, Antonio also spoke up. “Papa came to us today morning and said you may have to leave today, because you have work to do. He said, until you become our Mamma, you are working and so we must respect this. “

Iris couldn’t help but hug both the boys, who spoke earnestly from their hearts.

“Oh my dears!” said she, “lets go for a small walk. Then we’ll come back and breakfast together- if that’s alright Mrs Whittaker?”

At her nod, she took each of their hand in hers and walked off towards her favourite area; that bit of wilderness that covered the distance between the villa she lived in and this one. On the way, both the boys kept on chattering about various things they could do when she next came to see them. They hoped it wouldn’t be too long before she really became their mother and came to stay with them forever. Ernesto voiced out his thoughts aloud shyly, while Antonio joyously and loudly echoed it. Iris, at a loss to understand how she would tell them that she wasn’t going to become their mother after all, felt depressed.

She had come to the conclusion while she had been dressing for the day that she wouldn’t marry Alessandro, after what she had heard him say the previous evening. She just couldn’t. Along with it, she had also reached to the conclusion that working for him would be impossible for her. She must quit her job and leave Italy. The question of where to go remained unsolved, but she didn’t care about it at this stage. She might have a holiday somewhere far away, where no one would remind her of Alessandro.

“Mamma! No Antonio! “

Startled at the high pitched command from Ernesto, Iris looked down to see Antonio picking up some soil from the ground to eat it.

Quickly Iris bent down and caught Antonio’s hand before he could put it in his mouth. It was a second too late however, since he ate it anyway. A wide grin broke on his face as she said, “It’s tasty!”

Iris laughed softly and cleaned the palm of his hand. Then she kissed it and said, “Oh well, we’ll just have to feed you with some seeds now. And then you’ll have small plants growing in your stomach.”

At the look of horror on Antonio’s face, she ruffled his hair teasingly, “How do you like the idea?”

Looking at her with the faith only a child could bestow upon an adult, Antonio grinned, “Then I will not have to eat vegetables to grow into a strong man. “ Looking at Ernesto, he said, “See? Mamma will always have nice solutions. I will have strawberry seeds Mamma.”

Iris laughed loudly this time and said, “There is no escaping vegetables little man. Carrots, Tomatoes, Cabbage, Peas, –” She stopped at the look on their faces and grinned, “Which reminds me, we need to get back to the house for break fast. “

“Can I also have Strawberry seeds Mamma?” Ernesto asked shyly.

Iris grabbed hold of him with her other hand and said, “Yes, you can poppet. In your strawberry jam.”

And so they went back to the house, smiling-hand in hand. This is how Alessandro saw them from his window, while he was taking a meeting on the phone meeting.

He had got up in the morning, recalling the incident from yesterday evening, and the look on Iris’ face before she had turned away from him. He didn’t like the thought of Iris being hurt in any way. His eyes turned stormy grey at the thought of anything hurting Iris. And then he grimaced. He had a feeling he had hurt her. He had no idea how he would make things right back between them again, but he knew he had to.

The sight of his children and Iris together made him stop mid-sentence over the phone.  Stormy grey turned glinting green in seconds as a fierce wave of possessiveness and pride grabbed him from the scruff of his neck. Iris looked enchanting in her pale pink shirt. And she was a natural mother, for she treated his sons as her own. He groaned, feeling blood draining south at the thought of giving her his seed- at the thought of fathering another daughter or son.  He muttered something and ended the call. Long strides made their way down. He was going to breakfast with his children and his future wife.

LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 24

Chapter-24

 

love.falling

 

Restraint was not something Alessandro was good at, but he always thought he could control himself. However in this instant, control seemed to have slipped him by completely as he kissed Iris hungrily. She in turn, shared his hunger, returning his kiss with equal fervour. As if her agreement to marry him had broken all the bars he’d placed on himself, Alessandro ravaged her mouth, and she clung to him, welcoming the invasion of his tongue in her mouth. Iris arched her back and wound her arms around his neck, as he moved to her throat, his tongue slipping out to lick her jaw, the base of her throat.

 

“Oh Tesoro, it has been a pain all these weeks not being able to touch you the way I want.” Alessandro groaned as he continued kissing his way down. He removed her short jacket and found her almost bare shoulder to nibble on.

 

As he moved the shoe string strap of her top out of the way, Iris held his head in her hand and moaned his name, her need for him apparent. He looked into her face and felt the grip of an insatiable hunger tightening around him.

 

“This is not happening.”

Even as she said this, Iris’s head automatically fell backwards to meet his gaze.

 

Eyes locked on each other, she leaned into him, the tug of attraction so strong, impossible to resist. Like a fish on the hook, she was reeled in by him. Lust as she knew it was in power today, annihilating all her sensible thoughts. Trying to break the hypnotic hold of Alessandro’s burning grey-green eyes was not on the agenda today. Did she even want to succeed?- she asked herself.

 

The debate remain unresolved as her heart rate quickened to a rapid thud when he cupped her breast in his hand, his thumb rubbing the hard nipple. Iris moaned his name while Alessandro watched the reaction, his eyes glazed, hunger roaring in his blood, the muscles in his throat working visibly, as he took laboured breaths. All intellectual debate right now fled his mind; the reasons why he thought he would he wouldn’t seduce her, but woo her. He looked at her mouth, her lips raspberry red and swollen with his kisses, and thought, she was his obsession, a craving that had to be filled.

 

His hand slid down her back, pulling her deeper into him while his mouth worked on hers, nipping softly at the pink fullness of her lower lip. Iris gasped and closed her eyes as she felt the rock hard impression of his erection grinding into the soft flesh of her stomach. She was ready for him, here and now.

 

Suddenly Alessandro put himself away from her, breathing hard. Shocked Iris opened her eyes and found him cursing colourfully in Italian. Her stomach still ached from the impression of his hard male length, her heart and body in pain at this rejection. She moved away, self-conscious and straightened her clothes. Looking at him, she found Alessandro shaking slightly, his eyes closed. As if he could feel his gaze on her, he opened his eyes. They were pool of grey storms this moment, as he moved away and said, “Give me a moment.”

 

But he knew it would take more than a moment to subdue the painful arousal. She had shredded his control with her unconditional surrender. He would have taken her here, in the back garden without a second thought, if he had been a man without conscience. As he came to terms with his lack of control, he turned to look at Iris and paled. Tears slid down silently her cheeks. He groaned, “Cara mia!”

 

Iris flinched and moved a little further away from him, “I’m f-fine. I understand. I’ll just go in and-“

Alessandro swore silently, “Iris, don’t. Don’t walk away. I forgot who you are – I am sorry I rushed you.”

 

Iris shook her head, not sure what she was saying no to at the moment. She simply turned away and walked inside the house.

 

It was later in the evening when she finally came face to face with him again, at the dinner table.

A muscle clenched beside his mouth, his frustration at not being able to talk to talk to her alone was evident. His mother sat calmly, sipping her wine and eating while chatting to Iris, who it seemed to him looked as if nothing untoward had happened at all. She didn’t resemble the woman who had shed tears earlier in the evening. Instead she looked calm and – icy cold. She had not even looked at him yet.

 

Wishing them both a good evening, Alessandro sat down at his seat at the head of the table. He picked up the serviette and filled his plate with food. He didn’t speak until he was finished while the women kept on talking. He wasn’t sure what was being discussed but it sounded nothing more than fashion trends.

 

He thanked Tomasso as he finished his dinner and they adjourned to the drawing room for coffee. Clara and Iris sat next to the fire place while he went and stood by the window. And then he cleared his throat. Both women looked up, their talk interrupted. And that was when Alessandro knew Iris was fiercely angry. The eyes said it all. The brown gaze was fiery and accusing before Iris lowered her eyes.

 

“What is it my son? Do you wish to say something?”

 

Abruptly, he looked away and at his enquiring mother, his voice harsh when he blurted out, “I have asked Iris to marry me and she has consented.”

 

At Iris’s gasp of disbelief, Alessandro looked at her enquiringly. She squirmed in her seat and sat silent, her eyes promising retribution. Alessandro grinned inwardly. He would welcome her anger if it meant she would speak to him. Clara looked from one to the other and sighed. Then she placed her hand on Iris’s and said, “Child, would you go into the kitchen and get me some milk to go with my coffee? It seems Tomasso forgot to get me more.”

 

Glad to escape, Iris smiled at Clara and went away. Clara patted the seat beside herself and said, “Sit with me Sandro. “

“What is it Mamma?” Alessandro sat down beside his mother and took hold of her hand in his.

Clara Bertoni patted his hand and sighed heavily. She looked at him and said, “You are like your father in many ways, but when it comes to life you forget one important emotion that should rule your hearth and heart both.”

At her son’s frown, she said, “Love, my son. If love is the basis of marriage, the relation lasts forever.”

Alessandro snorted, “Mother, you had an exceptional relationship with Padre. It doesn’t mean everyone is so fortunate. I have learnt well from experience. It is not love, but a relationship based on mutual attraction, financial security and understanding that lasts in the world today.”

Clara sighed as she looked at her son, making him frown. “Has she agreed willingly or did you seduce her into it Sandro?”

Alessandro, with his cheeks tinting with the faintest of pink tightened his mouth. What could he say? He didn’t wish to lie to his mother, and yet—he had his doubts. Clara Bertoni sighed deeply. “My son, you must learn to trust again, especially if you wish to make a woman your wife.”

Alessandro got up, going back up to window to look out, and spoke in a firm voice, “No mother, this will not happen. I can’t trust any woman completely- even the one who becomes my wife. Iris will have everything else- my respect, my passion, and be mother to my children, but I can’t promise love even though I care for her very much. ”

A sound of distress from his mother had him turning around. Iris stood by the door, with a stricken look on her face. He could’ve sworn he saw pain in her eyes, before her expression became completely wooden. She looked at his mother, straight through him and said, “Clara, if you don’t mind, I will say good night. “

Clara looked at Iris keenly, gave an inward sigh and said, “Of course, my child. Good night.”

 

Before Alessandro could speak up, Iris turned away and left the room. Her heart had torn itself into shreds at his words, slowly bleeding itself to death. He may have proposed to her out of passion, but she now knew that he didn’t feel the same way. Her mind was numb with shock; refusing to think any more on it, while a part of her brain was constantly castigating her for ever having thought he might have had some tender feelings for her. She should’ve known better. She should’ve listened to the cautious voice in her head that had kept on warning her to stay away from him. Tonight, she refused to listen to the reprimanding voices and quietly turned off the light, after getting into bed. That’s when the tears arrived.