LOVE CONQUERS-CHAPTER 23

Chapter 23

love.falling

Alessandro bit back words of frustration as he realised what he’d just said. He didn’t mean to blurt it out so simply. He had thought of proposing in the evening, after he’d  slowly germinated the seeds of this idea in her head. The pallor of her face reminded him of his boast of never getting married again unless he was sure of the pedigree of the woman. How was he going to explain to her that pedigree be damned, he wanted her more than enough to want to make her his wife?

There was nothing that could express the shock that Iris felt, upon hearing his simple declaration. Alessandro planned to get married- no doubt he had already in mind someone from his elite background, who would be ready to be his wife. But would she be a mother to Ernesto and Antonio? Her heart screamed in agony, shouting “I’d be a mother to them, if only you’d let me!” How was that possible, cried out her brain, mocking her heart. Had she not known that Alessandro was galaxies afar from her?

What was even the point of such thoughts, said she to herself. Still in shock at his words, she forgot to excuse herself, as she walked away from him, and into the house. She walked speedily, going straight to the playroom where Ernesto and Antonio were eating their dinner after their baths. They welcomed her profusely, which acted as a soothing balm to her aching heart. Forgetting everything else, she joined in the chatter, talking about this and that with both of them, until they reached their bedroom and demanded a bedtime story.

Normally not reluctant, Iris hesitated. Bedtime story time was a private time, something she had been sub-consciously doing for the children. Somewhere she had forgotten her boundaries and started treating them as a mother would- reading them a bedtime story, giving them the last cuddle and then kissing them good night. Switching the light off and turning back once to look at their faces as they slept. She shouldn’t have done all that! And yet, it had all felt so right.

Aghast at the crowding consciousness of her motherly treatment of them, Iris hesitated.

“Perhaps your Papa should do it today. I’m sure you don’t want him to feel left out, do you?”

“He wouldn’t. Not if you do it when he’s with you. How about that, eh?” Alessandro came to stand beside her, deliberately moving forward and holding her hand while saying this. The last question was directed towards children, who shouted in agreement.

“I don’t think—“ Iris began, but was shocked into muteness when Alessandro put a finger on her lips and said, “Don’t think, just do what you feel, tesoro mio. Come with me.”

Holding her hand, Alessandro entered the children’s’ bedroom. While he tucked in Antonio, Iris tucked Ernesto in his bed and then sat down beside him.

“Iris?” Whispered Ernesto

Iris bent down and said, “what is it sweetheart?”

Ernesto looked up at his father who was tousling Antonio’s head and then looked at Iris and said, “Would you lie down beside me and do what Papa is doing to Antonio? I will go to sleep quickly if you do it—like a Mamma does.’

Iris hugged him tight before she thought to make it clear, “I would love to cuddle you- as a mother, but you do know that your father—“

“-is already planning to make her your Mamma.” Alessandro spoke from the other side of Antonio’s bed, his voice firm. At a yelp from both the boys, he smiled at them and looked at Iris, “You don’t mind if I tell them, do you darling?”

At her initial shocked and then outraged look, he winked at the children, “She thought she was going to tell you but I beat her to it!”

And the kids burst into a fit of giggles. The next moment Iris could feel Ernesto snuggling into her and saying, “My mamma!” and Antonio slipping off his bed to join Ernesto with a wide grin on his face.

Strongly curbing the red mist of anger unfurling in her mind, Iris gave them both a kiss and hug and said, “Now off to sleep my dears. You’ve had quite enough excitement for the day. We’d make plans on what we do tomorrow in the morning.”

Ernesto and Antonio both smiled and said, “Si Mamma.” While getting under the covers. In a minutes the eyes were closed and they were sleeping. Iris looked at them both with quiet despair in her eyes and then turned to Alessandro. He was watching her, his eyes searching for reactions. Anger erupted within her and she moved close to him and hissed, “Outside where we can talk in private, if you please.”

“You mean where you can vent your anger out on me? By all means, let’s go into your bedroom—or mine?” Alessandro said, not an inch of him showing anything else other than superior male authority.

Iris gritted her teeth and said, “Let’s make it the back garden Signore before I murder you with my bare hands for that outrageous lie you’ve fed to the children.”

Her posture rigid she walked fast and ahead of him and got out of the villa. As soon as they were out of the earshot of the house, she said, “What the hell were you thinking about damnit! How could you say—how dare you!”

“Calm yourself down Iris. You’re getting hysterical.” Alessandro stood by the trunk of the tree, hatefully calm himself.

“I will be hysterical if I want to, damn you! To say such things..” Iris swallowed a sob, her heart broken. How could Alessandro have said something as important as making her his wife in jest? A horror crept up in her heart as she wondered if he’d seen her feelings for him and used them to mock her. Tears were not far away as she considered her actions and the fact that she might have betrayed herself.

Taking deep breaths, she spoke, her voice softer and full of sadness, “How could you Alessandro? Do you not know that saying things like that would be catastrophic? What if the children expect—“

Alessandro left the side of the tree to come and stand beside her. “Iris, look at me.”

When she didn’t, he turned her to face him and lifted her chin up with his long, tapered fingers. His eyes were stormy green, his expression serious, “Do you think I would joke about a thing like that? “

“I don’t know you, do I?” Iris said, her voice broken.

Alessandro looked in to her eyes, “Don’t you Iris? You know I love my children, and I know you like them just as much as they do you. I did tell you I wanted to get married this morning, did I not?”

Iris moved away from him, glaring at him, “And so what? Should I have thought you were propositioning me? “

She turned her back on him and abruptly he said, “Don’t do that! I hate it.”

Bewildered she turned back to him, “Do what? “

“Turn away when I’m talking to you.” Said he.

“Well, that’s too bad because I am turning away from you Alessandro. I work for you and I will wait for a man to come and propose to me because he loves me, not because he wants a substitute mother for his children.”

“You are turning me down?” Asked an incredulous Alessandro.

Iris, with tears that wouldn’t be held back anymore said firmly, “Yes, I am turning you down Alessandro. We don’t have anything that will ever make a marriage work.”

“Yes we do.” Saying this Alessandro pulled her close. Iris wriggled in his arms, but his hands were like steel vice.  Holding her face in his hands, he wiped her tears, his eyes tormented. “How can you say there is nothing between us? Can you not be honest for once and admit that no matter how hard we try, we can’t douse this attraction we feel. I can’t fight it any more, I don’t want to. We can want each other without having to restrict ourselves and make a life together.”

“Sex.” Iris struggled in his arms, “That is never enough and you know it. Marriages have to be based on stronger foundations. What when you tire of me, or I of you?”

He let her go then, to her astonishment. When she stood still, without trying to move away, he said, “There’s more to us than just attraction, don’t you think?”

Iris opened her mouth and closed it. What was he trying to say? Her heart beat rapidly like a tattoo in her chest. Was he saying he loved her? She waited.

Alessandro tousled his hair and looked at her, his eyes grey and solemn. “Love is something I don’t think I can do. But I do care for you. We could have a good life together. I like you. I can give you financial security, all the material things you may want from life. We could be friends outside the bedroom –“ his voice turned husky with desire, making the hairs on her arms stand up as he came closer again, “- and in the bedroom we could share our passion.”

Iris looked away then, unable to hide her own want for him. He took her chin in his hand and said, “Tell me you don’t feel the same.”

Unable to speak Iris shook her head. Gathering her closer to him, Alessandro leaned into her, kissing her jawline & whispering,” Tell me you don’t like me.”

His lips moved to her cheek,” Tell me we can’t be friends.”

He moved closer to her lips,  “Tell me.. tell me you don’t want me.”

Pecking at her lips, sipping slowly from them, while Iris opened her lips for more of his touch, he murmured, “Tell me, tesoro mio, tell me.”

Iris could only moan his name before his lips took hers completely. They kissed passionately, moving together, until Iris stood with her back to the bark of the tree. They kissed and kissed as if they had hungered for these kisses for a life time. Eyes closed, all Iris could think of was Alessandro, his scent surrounding her; his warmth, his lips, his legs entwining with hers.

Again he whispered, “Amante, mi amore. I want you so much. It has been a torment staying away from you. End my torment cara mia! Marry me.”

Defeated by her own heart and her feelings for him, Iris couldn’t deny her feelings any more. She would make do with what affection she could get from him and she would be with his sons she now adored. The hope that he may fall in love with her one day after marriage made her only whisper while she put her hand on his heart, “I’m yours Alessandro. Take me.”

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LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 22

Chapter-22

love.falling

“Iris, so glad you could make it this evening child. How are you?” Clara Bertoni welcomed her with open arms, kissing her in Italian tradition and then making her sit beside herself.

“I’m very well, thank you Signora—Clara.” Iris smiled a warm smile at Alessandro’s mother. She really was a darling. Looking around for the children, Iris found and met Alessandro’s broody eyes. Hurriedly moving away from them, she came back to Clara, who was observing both her son & herself, her eyes amused. Trying to get the attention back on the boys, she asked,

“Where are the children? I thought they’d be here with you.”

Clara gave Iris a smirk which reminded her very much of the man standing close by. “Indeed! If they had their way, they’d not have had their siesta or done anything much today, what with the prospect of seeing you in the evening. They spoke of you all morning, making plans among themselves. Even Ernesto took time to be persuaded for Siesta. Mrs Whittaker will be waking them up and bringing them down soon.” She put her hand on top of Iris’, saying warmly, “My grandchildren have really taken to you Iris.”

Blushing at such an open compliment, Iris could only smile and say, “You’re too kind Clara. They’re nice kids and all they need is—“

“Mother.” Said Alessandro absently, startling Iris. Clara looked up at her son, not surprised at the interruption at all. She nodded her head in agreement speaking before he could say anything further. “Ah yes, those children do need a mother who would love them like her own. I’m getting too old. ”
Iris turned to stone at her words. She kept her face away from Alessandro’s scrutiny and bent her head, focusing on her skirt, her mind not on anything else but his reply. Had Alessandro been thinking of getting re-married?, wondered a terribly jealous Iris. Her heart tore itself into shreds at the thought of Alessandro married to another woman. If that was the case, she’d—she’d not be able to bear to be close to him at all.

As if reading the thoughts swirling around in her head, Alessandro spoke, “Yes, I’m beginning to realise that Mamma, but—I apologise for rudely interrupting you Iris. What I wanted to say was that I shall be in my study if there’s anything you want.” Her head shot up at that, he noted with savage satisfaction, checking out her expression. He read jealousy clearly enough. Playing it cool, he nodded distantly at her and left the women alone.

Iris gulped down the bitter bile rising in her throat and smiled at Clara.

“Are you alright child? You look a little pale suddenly.” Observed Clara with concern.

“It is nothing. I’m fine, really.” With mammoth effort, Iris controlled her head banging emotions and gave Clara a smile, adding “Shall we take a stroll around the garden? It is quite pleasant today. ”

Signora Bertoni smiled as if indulging Iris, “Why not? I am not so old that I can’t take a leisurely stroll on this bright day.”

And so, both women walked together in the garden, sharing gardening tips and so forth. Tommaso had arranged chairs in the garden, close to the cherub fountain, along with a couple of loungers. It was when they sat on the loungers with hats that Clara insisted they wear, that Iris closed her eyes and fell asleep.

 

Clara Bertoni looked at sleeping Iris and sighed. It seemed as if things were coming to a head between Alessandro and Iris, and yet something was not right. She sighed, sipping her lemonade. She replayed what she had observed earlier and Sandro’s talk about realisation of the need of a mother for his children. He had looked at Iris’s down bent head as he had spoken.

 

Her son had been restless these last few weeks and had spent many evenings either working hard or visiting the villa where Iris lived on one pretext or the other.  Clara Bertoni had no problems with her son’s choice of bride,  if indeed Iris was his choice for himself and the boys, and not simply a conquest he was eager to acquire. She sighed inwardly. If only Alessandro could find the same happiness that she’d found with his father! There was hope, in the form of Iris sitting right next to her right now. If only the boy would be sensible enough to fall in love!

Senora Bertoni, not the one to laze around, decided to bring the matter ahead.

It was not more than ten minutes of napping, but Iris woke up refreshed, appalled that she had slept. She took off the hat and looked at Signora Bertoni, with a rueful smile, “I’m sorry for dropping off like that. It’s this blasted Sun. It makes me sleepy.”
Clara gave way to tinkling laughter and said, “No need to apologise, my dear. I myself do the same many times. The smell of sage and other fruits of the season is heady enough to make you sleepy. How about I order some tea while you freshen up? I’m sure the children would be here soon too.”

“That would be lovely, thank you.” Iris smiled and excused herself, saying that she must freshen up. By the time she came back, Antonio and Ernesto were sitting by Signora Bertoni, drinking milk and chatting. They ran towards Iris as she came into the view, chatting nineteen to a dozen.

Iris heard them out, hugging them and giving them appropriate responses. After a while, under her supervision,  both the kids started on building a block castle that their father had bought for them. A present from Luxembourg, informed Signora Bertoni dryly.

The backyard garden that they had been strolling in held an organic garden, an orchard and a vast variety of flowers and trees. It was while they sat there, drinking tea that Senora Bertoni spoke out loud,

“Do you like my son Iris?”

Startled, Iris choked on her tea. Carefully so as not to break the porcelain cup that rattled alarmingly in the saucer, Iris put it down and looked at Clara Bertoni. The words of formality already on her tongue dried up in her mouth. With such an straight, intense gaze putting her on the spot, Iris could barely form a lie in her thought. She made do with a nod instead. Senora Bertoni sighed and said,

“If I dared, I would entertain the hope that you like him more than you admit, that you cared about him as much as I can see you care about the boys. “

Iris wrung her hands together in anxiety, “But I mustn’t. I can’t Clara. Surely you can see that!”

Clara sighed, “He is not yet ready I know. My son is very clever and a very successful businessman; but a little dim-witted when it comes to matters of the heart. And yet, I have hope for him.”

Iris closed her eyes, tears very close. What was the matter with her? She felt like crying day and night these days! Taking a deep breath, she opened her eyes again. Her voice was a whisper, “ I have none, not with me. He may like me, desire me even, but – I can’t give in to that. I’ll – I want a man who loves me.”

As if a decision had been made, Clara said stoutly, “And so you should, my dear. You’ll be selling yourself short if you accepted him for anything less than that. However, I do ask you to keep an open mind. He’s not very good with words when it comes to feelings, my son is not. He will need all the encouragement in the world. Will you at least consider that?”

“You really think—there’s –that he would-“ Iris couldn’t think coherently, hardly daring to let herself hope.

“Give it time child.” Clara said softly and then winked. Aloud she said, “Ah there you are my son!”

“Mamma.” Alessandro kissed his mother and sat down on the nearest lounger beside her.

Tomasso got him his coffee. He laid back, rubbing his hand over his neck.

“You look tired.” Observed his mother.

Iris, feeling restless now that he was here, got up and walked to where the kids were building blocks. She had seen the tired lines around his eyes and mouth. She wished she could ask him about it, but it was not her place to do so. Knowing she may give in to the impulse of asking if she could help, she had directed herself towards Antonio and Ernesto, who welcomed her with smiles. She gave in to their demands of help. It was best to ignore what Clara had said regarding Alessandro, at least for now.

 

Alessandro regarded Iris as she played with his children, her back to him. So- she was still mad at him probably or simply avoiding him. He had worked like a Trojan and cleared his schedule for the next two days to woo her. He was determined that he would wait no longer. He still had to work out how he’d woo her, but he felt certain none of his previous experiences with women would help him with Iris. He had paced about in his room for half an hour in vain. Finally he had accepted that he would think on his feet this evening and see how things go.  For now, he sat in silence next to his mother and drank his coffee.

 

“Sandro.’ His mother rarely called him that these days, unless there was something worrying her.

He looked at his mother and smiled, “Si Mamma?”

“What plans are you hatching my son? I know this look on your face. “

“Nothing that would make you worry. I am thinking on your suggestion.”

“About getting a wife, a mother for Ernesto and Antonio?”

“Si.”

Clara cleared her throat before taking the bull by its horns, “So you think that Iris could fill the position?”

Alessandro looked up at his mother, his expression blank. “What makes you think so Mamma?”

Clara shook her head, clucking, “I’m your mother Sandro. I know something about you surely. Do you care for her?”

“I –“Alessandro hesitated, then replied, “I like her of course. The best part is, she is good with Antonio and Ernesto. It is only with her that Ernesto is so open.”

“And yet, that is not the basis to marry. It is not only for children that you will marry. You will have a wife who will need your love and care. You must feel something for her too.” Clara said softly. She looked Iris and said, “She’s a girl who would dream of a husband who cares for her, loves her, gives her more children. She will be a good wife to a man who would be lucky enough to get her love. Can you offer her that?”

Alesssandro, irritated at his mother’s vision of Iris falling in love with a man and having his babies; someone other than himself, shook his head, “Mamma, I know what you are trying to do. Stay out of it. I want a mother for my children. She will get financial security and a family in return. I will look after her interests and protect her. Surely she can’t ask for more than that.”

Clara looked at her son with disapproval. She got up and laid a hand on his shoulder, “Then you have a lot to learn about women my son. A warning. Tread carefully. One poisonous woman’s deeds can’t be laid at the door of another innocent woman.”

Alessandro looked in astonishment at his mother as she walked away. Of course he didn’t look upon Iris as a second Flavia. He only meant that falling in love with Iris, like his mother wanted him to, was not in his books. His eyes drifted to where she played with the children. Ernesto said something and she laughed, replying back to him and ruffling his hair. He saw how Ernesto and Antonio crept closer to her as she said something, with wide grins on their faces. He may not love her, but he definitely desired her more than anything else. And he was confident that she wanted him just as much. Hearing another bout of laughter, he got up, deciding to join them in their fun.

“Can anyone else join in the fun?” Alessandro’s lazy drawl brought shrieks of laughter from the boys. Iris kept her head firmly fixed on the blocks with which she was building a wall.

“Papa, you can join us in the fun. Right Iris?” Ernesto said smiling, as his father came to sit beside them.

Iris was forced to look up, right into those stormy grey green eyes. They were more of grey right now than green. She looked at the boys who were waiting for an answer and smiled, “Of course. More workers means the castle will build quickly.”

“You’re very good at putting up walls.” Said Alessandro softly as they worked together in symphony, talking to the kids who sat on either side of them.

“No more than you.” Muttered Iris, then made a window in the wall.

Soon the castle was built and ready, extracting awed exclamation at their own handiwork from children. Iris shooed them off to wash their hands and get ready for dinner. Too late she realized she should have gone with them when she found herself alone with Alessandro. Before she could think of an excuse, Alessandro caught her hand and said, “Sit with me Iris. I want to talk to you.”

Knowing it was useless to resist, Iris sat on the edge of one lounger he had guided her to, and looked at him warily. Instead of sitting on the lounger opposite, he sat beside her, not touching her.

“What is it?” Iris asked, not wanting to, yet not being able to resist.

“I understood from Felipe that you met my ex-wife on your trip.”

Iris stiffened. She had not thought it prudent to mention it to him before. Now she nodded soberly and said, “I can understand now why you didn’t want the boys to be influenced by her, or even be near her in any way.”

“Yes. She is a threat that has been almost eliminated from my sons’ lives and yet, sometimes I fear she may try to – get more from this debacle of a relation.”

“What do you mean?” Iris asked, puzzled.

Alessandro looked far off in the distance and said, “She will try to contact the kids sooner or later, playing the “I’m your poor mother” card. Since I’m not married and my children have no mother, it could be easy for her to confuse their feelings.”

“Surely not! She can’t do that! “Aghast at this information, she looked at Alessandro with horror and uncertainty. “Can she Alessandro? “

“I don’t know for the moment cara. But I think in future, it is possible.”

Iris closed her eyes in despair for him as well as children. Oh, to be cursed with a woman who would use you only for your riches, even stooping low to manipulating her own children.  She whispered, “You can’t let her Alessandro. Stop her.”

“There is a way she can be stopped.” Alessandro stated quietly, making her eyes fly open.

“How?” asked Iris.

“I get married.” Alessandro stated simply.

LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 21

Chapter-21

love conquers1

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.

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.

LOVE CONQUERS – CHAPTER 17

Chapter 17

 love.falling

 

 

“Come down at eight. I will be waiting.” He had said, and yet when the dinner gong sounded, Iris was still in her room.

A mass of nerves, she had dressed in the apple green dress she’d found at a boutique in Florence. The satin material of the dress slid silkily over her body, its broad neck emphasising her collar bone and the narrow shoulders. The ruched bodice gave her a seductive look with diamonds glittering right under the side of her under-breasts. The slit at the side of the dress made her look sexy, emphasising the long length of her legs. Her golden brown hair flowed smoothly over her smooth & silky shoulders, playing hide and seek with light.

She wondered if she’d made a wrong choice with the dress. This was the only one she’d got with her on this trip. Maybe she should have gone shopping last week. But how could she have known Alessandro would – no, she shook her head. It was no use lying to herself. She had known he would be here, just that she didn’t know when. And now – with no other option she had to wear it.

What if Alessandro found this dress to be a signal that she welcomed his advances? She didn’t want him to think she was a cheap tart. What if he thought, she was similar to other women who came running into his arms, displaying their bodies, ready for the taking? But most of all, she was scared that if he touched her, he would know how she felt. She was putty in his hands every time he touched her. She had to keep him at arms’ length.
Before she could change the dress however, there was a knock on the door. Iris opened the door thinking it may be Maria to announce the dinner. Instead she found Alessandro, standing there looking like dark haired Adonis.  He wore a dove grey suit that screamed rich, giving him the look of what he was- an arrogant billionaire who knew he looked good and wouldn’t give an inch to anyone.

“What?” Muttered a startled Iris, in her nervousness completely oblivious to the way he was staring at her. She turned her back to him and picked up the hair brush adding, “I was just about to send Maria to you. I’ve –“

“-not got a headache, surely?” mocked Alessandro, his voice belying the way his body and brain had responded to seeing her. She looked absolutely gorgeous in the dress she wore.
Iris stiffened at his words, putting the hairbrush down. She gritted her teeth, mentally frying him in hot oil for putting her through this situation. She spoke, her voice right with annoyance, “I was merely stating that since we have nothing to talk about, it’s best I take my dinner on a tray.”

“After being dressed up the way you are, it would be criminal to eat your dinner on a tray, holed up in your room. Not that food holds any attraction to me after looking at you. “ he came close to her, and before she could suspect what he was up to, pulled her to him, caging her in his arms.

Iris gasped at the contact and struggled in his arms, “Let me go Alessandro. This has to stop!”

“Why?” bluntly asked a husky voiced Alessandro, as he pushed a strand of hair away from her face and cupped it in both his hands, looking intently into her eyes.

Iris forgot what she wanted to say as she met his eyes that glowed like emerald fire. She forgot all else, except him. She closed her eyes as she saw her hunger reflected in his. His breath caressed her face. Slowly he bent towards her and asked again, placing a butterfly kisses on her lips, her eyes, her lips again.

“Why? Why should it stop Iris?”

With difficulty, Iris spoke, her eyes still closed, “Because-“

“-because?” Alessandro whispered against her mouth, kissing it softly, swiftly. Iris moaned at the loss of his lips from hers. Alessandro groaned, “You take my breath away Iris. Do you have any idea how much I want you? “

Not letting her speak, he took complete possession of her lips, kissing her with a hungry urgency. Iris responded in kind. Mouth fused explosively, as they kissed each other, holding on to each other.

Alessandro kissed her throat, murmuring her name again and again, “Iris, Iris. I’ve been thinking about this for months! There’s been not a single night when I’ve slept peacefully since I’ve met you. I want you so much.”

Her insides beamed at the thought of power over him. She wanted him too, right here and right now. All her worries, her anxieties could take a back seat for now. All was forgotten as she fell deeper under Alessandro’s spell, as he molded her body to his, his hands splayed widely on her bottom now. His clean, fresh male scent filtered through her nose and went straight to her head. She felt his hard arousal against her body and shivered with the thrill of it. She had the power to make him mad with desire, just as he had this power over her. They were equals.

She tried to speak, “Dinner-“

His voice was low and husky as he said, “Dinner be damned. I have much better delights to taste.”

It should have given Iris an indication of the things about to come, but she had no inkling of it, as she continued raining soft kisses on his jaw, her mouth trying to capture his wandering one. Seeing her growing wild with want, Alessandro groaned deep in his throat, his feet moving slowly towards the bed.

Unhurriedly he moved her hair on to one shoulder, sliding the strap off  and kissed it as he eased her on to the bed and moved sideways to be with her. She moaned his name as his mouth moved lower, kissing the collar bone and then moving towards her breasts.

Something in her had broken down when he had told her how much he’d wanted her, how he’d spent sleepless nights like her. Her love it seemed, all the antagonism they showed on the surface for each other had caught up with them, leaving them bereft of good senses. All she could think of right now was that she wanted him to make love to her, whatever the consequences.

Alessandro began caressing her breasts, playing with them through the silk of the dress, kissing her at the same time, teasing the nipples into hard pebbles.
“Alessandro.” She moaned weakly, a vestige of common sense trying to make its way through her desire fogged brain. “ We mustn’t!”

“Stop me now if you can Iris. I can’t do it myself.” Alessandro said even as his lips burned a path along her neck, moving to suck her breasts through the silk, capturing first one and then the other in his mouth. She cried out his name, gripping his head as her fingers tangled in his hair, as if urging him to suck harder, while she writhed under his exploring mouth. All this was new but so unbearably erotic ! No one had had the power to arouse her to such an extent in her entire life. She knew she couldn’t stop him even if she wanted to.

His hand moved lower as did his lips. He kissed her stomach reverently and then came back to catch her lips again, while his hand pushed the dress higher up, climbing up her thighs. She gasped in his mouth, as he touched her feminine core through the flimsy slip of cloth covering her femininity. His fingers worked their magic on her as she clung to him desperately, wanting him to give her the release.

The dress rose higher up and his hands pushed aside the flimsy material to feast on her. She said his name again and again like a chant as he devoured her, her body writhing under his mouth, as he held her firm by the thighs. He took her higher and higher, pleasuring her  until finally she bit her hand to mute the scream that rose in her throat, as she exploded.

She was still getting her breath back, as he kissed her there once again before coming up and laying down beside her. She turned to him and laid her head on his chest, listening to his thundering heartbeat, before she moved up to kiss him.

Alessandro could barely keep his control intact. He so badly wanted to tear his trousers off and find solace in her heat. But he must get his breath back first. When Iris rose up to kiss him, he almost lost it. His tongue mated with hers, as his hands roamed over her back, holding her to him, as they began getting lost again.

His loud curse was a shock to her system as he removed his hand and mouth from her body in a swift movement, moving away from her. Her dazed brain registered the knocking on the door and all he desire was washed away in an instant. He got up from the bed and said, “Someone is at the door. You must respond. Or should I? ”

Shame engulfed her at her own actions, her wantonness. She decided to ignore it for the moment, shook his head at him and got up from the bed. Maria was at the door, wanting to know if she would be coming down to dinner. Iris replied in a shaky voice that she would be down soon and they heard Maria moving away.

Iris wouldn’t look at Alessandro as she  adjusted her dress and trying to blank out the chaos going on inside her mind. Her hair was a mess. She picked up the brush with shaking hands and started soothing out the knots. She heard Alessandro take a deep breath, but she didn’t pay him much attention, trying not to think at all.

“Iris, I-“ Alessandro started, but Iris interrupted him, “Please Alessandro, you need to go down. I shall be down presently. I just need some time.”

Alessandro’s mouth tightened as he heard shame clouding her voice. He caught her from behind and turned her towards him, tightening his hold as she tried to push his hands away,  he said, “NO! Listen to me Iris. What we did was natural. We’re two people, passionate by nature,  who’re attracted to each other. We’ve been fighting this for a long time now.  Why should we not let it happen?”

Iris refused to look at him, lest the tears she had in her eyes betrayed how she felt, as she said, “Let me go Alessandro, please!”

He softened his hold but didn’t let her go. She took a deep breath to control her breathing and said softly, “I know what you’re saying about—about attraction is true. But I do not wish to give in to it. It means nothing and it will only complicate things. It is best to leave this alone.”

Alessandro put his finger under her chin and made her look up. Seeing her tear wet eyes, he swore, frustrated with this entire situation. “Don’t do this to yourself, to me! What do you want me to do? “

Iris pushed him away and he finally let her go. She said, “Go down please. I’ll come down presently. I just want your word that you will keep to your schedule of going away, not come back and certainly not try to touch me again when we- when I spend the weekend – go there tomorrow. I will come there only because I want to see Ernesto and Antonio.”

Alessandro nodded and quietly walked out of the room, closing it behind him, leaving Iris free to let the tears flow down her cheeks.