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.