LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 25

Chapter-25

love.falling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mamma! No Antonio! “

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 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 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 15

Chapter-15

love.falling

Iris looked up into dangerously gleaming eyes of Alessandro and unconsciously took a step back. Alessandro watched her move with an eyebrow raised mockingly, “Scared of me Iris? Is that why you’ve been avoiding me?”

“Rubbish! Why should I be scared of you or avoiding you?” Iris huffed back, offended that he could read her so easily. She ignored his grin at her reply and steeled her heart against his charm- or at least tried to, as she said, “I have been working like all your other employees do. I get paid to work in the day time, not to while my time away, Signor Bertoni.”

When he didn’t respond to her statement, she couldn’t help but ask, “Why are you here? I thought you’d have left to go back to the city yesterday itself. Don’t they need you at the office there?” Then as another thought struck her, she looked up at him, “Are you checking up on me?”

Alessandro was enjoying himself, seeing the expressions flitting past Iris’s face. She couldn’t keep a single thought in that pretty head of hers when he was around, could she? The thought made him grin inwardly. He was right. She will fall in with his plans, sooner or later.

Outwardly his face was a bland mask as he asked back, “Should I be checking up on you?”

Iris was confused and offended. Her work had always been a source of pride for her. “Of course you don’t need to check up on me. I work with complete sincerity. If you have any doubts on it, you may ask Luigi or even Signore Flipe or Felice.” She remembered their sass from the last time and smiled.

“I don’t need to ask the boys whether they find your work suitable or not. I was the one who recommended you for the job, remember? I know you’d do your work well.” Alessandro said, his mouth tight with annoyance. She smiled while thinking about his cousins and he didn’t like that. What could they do that could make her smile like that with fondness? A new emotion, this one, almost like he was jealous. His face took on an incredulous expression for a fleeting second before he put on the bland mask back, but his mind was whirring with the thought. Could it be that he was jealous of his cousins because Iris smiled while thinking of them? He frowned so heavily, that Iris was taken aback and instantly asked, “Cosa c’è Signor Bertoni?”

“Nothing is the matter Iris. And I’ve told you before, I’d like it if you’d call me Alessandro. Signor Bertoni makes me feel like my father.”

He sounded so surly that Iris found a smile making its way to her lips before she could stop it along with the words. “You sound like your son Ernesto right now.”

She bit her tongue the moment these words were out. Alessandro would not take it kindly to being compared to his two year old son, she was sure. She closed her eyes and cursed herself for her stupidity in provoking him and opened them, all ready to apologise only to gasp in shock at the look in his eyes. She wanted to run and hide somewhere where this hunger wouldn’t be able to touch her. She tried to move her feet away from him but they wouldn’t obey. She tried to take her eyes off his but he wouldn’t let go of the hold on her. Iris felt deer caught in headlights. Like a panther, he advanced on her slowly, the heat in his eyes nearly melting her on the spot.

Finally some part of her brain jangled loud in alarm as he came too close and she moved sideways, making some space between them, stuttering, “I must get back to the house. There’s – there’s..”

Alessandro caught her deftly by the waist and she collided against his body, her own catching fire. She closed her eyes at the sensation, trying to grapple to her sanity.

“Open your eyes and look at me Iris. Look what you do to me. Feel it.” And he moved his lower body against her, his arousal evident. Iris gasped and struggled, “Don’t—let me go Alessandro. I don’t want to-“

“Yes you do.” He said and brought his head down, close to her own. His eyes were at level now with hers, the green in them burning bright. Iris closed her own to reduce the impact of those eyes. He kissed her forehead then and she shivered. Next he kissed her, a fleeting touch, as he whispered against her ear, “I get so turned on when you talk like that. As if you know me and my sons intimately- as if you’ve known us all forever.”

One of his hands held her chin up as he rained kisses on her jaw, “I feel as if I’ve been in that body of yours, right inside your heat, giving them to you.”

His words short circuited her brain as images superimposed themselves on her sanity. Erotic images, where she herself being loved and made love to by Alessandro, taking Alessandro deep into her as he shot his seed, she saw herself giving birth to his sons and the joy of their being. Reality slipped back in then, like a bowl of ice cold water thrown on her face. She pushed him back hard, making him nearly rock on his heels, breathing fast and heavy as she said, “Don’t touch me !!! You—I will not fall for this. Never.”

Alessandro tried to hold her in his arms and explain, but she slapped them away, “How dare you talk like that—as if I was not an employee but your bit of fluff on the side!” She wrapped her arms around herself, shaking, “You are callous! You were married to their mother and yet can dismiss her without a single thought, but I can’t. How many times have you told a woman that while trying to seduce her Alessandro? This is sick!”

Alessandro caught her firmly this time, his eyes flickering grey steel, “Sta zitto! I have never needed to say anything like this to any woman. Women come to me knowing they are only going to be pleasure partners. “ At her scathing look, he continued, “I have never- ever said that to any woman before, you idiota!”

He let her go and turned away as he continued in a quiet voice, “ I was married to Flavia; Antonio & Ernesto’s mother -yes, but there was not a single day when I thought she could be called that. She was an upcoming model and came from respectable family. I married her because I was arrogant and I wanted the best looking girl on my arm. She was that for sure! But our marriage fell apart right from day one, when I realized that I was nothing but a bank balance to her. I stayed put until I found her drugged out of her head one day and trying to harass one of the male staff in the casa.

I threatened divorce. She became pregnant to keep me trapped in the marriage, so that I wouldn’t throw her out. The pre-nup was water-tight and she knew she wouldn’t be able to afford her extravagant lifestyle if I severed her from my money. She wanted just that- her extravagant lifestyle and she certainly had no interest in becoming a parent.  She gave birth to them and then ditched them for her parties and boyfriends.  I bore her for the sake of the boys, knowing they needed a mother. But she had no love to give them. When I finally filed for a divorce and got it, she went crazy. Worse, she threatened and scared Ernesto so badly that the boy still has nightmares. She will never darken the door or come near my sons again.”

His voice while he had been confiding in her had been quite emotionless and pain-free. But now he turned around and she could see the anger in his eyes- anger directed at her, “ Do you think they deserve a mother like that? Do you think I deserved a woman like that though I was foolish enough to marry her?”

Iris was dumbfounded at his angry outburst and his revelation. Her heart hurt at the pain that she and the boys had gone through.

She said, “No, I don’t think the boys deserve that.”

“But I do?” Alessandro smiled at her, mocking her sympathies and shrugged, “I can live with it. Love for a woman has no place in my life. I am happy having them as pleasure partners, but I will try to make sure, if I ever re-marry, the woman will love my sons as her own. They don’t deserve to be without a mother.”

It hurt her very much to know that he didn’t believe in love. There was no chance then, that he could ever fall in love with her or love her. Putting her own misery aside, she focused on his pain. He deserved to know what she meant. In quiet and gentle tones, she said, “No, I meant, I don’t think you or the boys deserve that. But be thankful for what you have.” At his questioning look she said, “The boys. Had you not married her, you’d never have had Ernesto and Antonio. Some good at least came out of it, yes?”

Alessandro looked at her, disbelieving his ears. He had all but accused her for being insensitive and she was trying to show her good in what had been bad all the way? Yet, he couldn’t deny that his sons were one of the best things he valued in his life. He nodded his head and said, “Yes. Si, that is true. But I wish I could give them the happiness they crave. They see mothers of their friends and become sad and I feel powerless. I can’t help but feel sorry for the lack of mother’s love in their lives.”

Iris was astonished to see this side of Alessandro. He sounded sad, but more than that, he sounded helpless. Her heart ached for him. She couldn’t help herself . She went closer to him and laid her head on his chest, saying, “They are lucky to have you Alessandro. Fathers are very important to sons.”

Without replying, Alessandro wrapped his arms around her while she stood with her head on his chest. He felt – at peace. He kissed the hair on her head and said, “Si.”

Iris looked up, trying hard to hide the love that overflowed from her. She stood on her tiptoes and kissed his jaw, a butterfly kiss. Alessandro stood still as she continued giving him butterfly kisses all along his jawline, her tongue hesitantly coming out to lightly lick the cleft on his chin and kissing it. Fire of desire roared high and loud in him but he had the sense to keep still. He knew this was not his moment. This was her moment.