LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 30

*steamy chapter- not for innocent eyes!*

Chapter 30

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No Alessandro, you are not responsible for my tears, not completely at least.“

Iris spoke softly, as she sat still on his lap, breathing his scent deep into her lungs. She sought the comfort he offered and laid her head on his chest. He held her tight, his hands spreading low over her back, soothing her, murmuring low in Italian, pressing his lips against her hair. Her tears subsided as a last huge sob shuddered through her body.

Her brain whirled at the sensations as she stilled in his arms for a second. Now that her misery had taken a backseat, she was aware of more basic feelings running through her body. Alessandro must have been sleeping. A tingling ran through her body as she moved her hand slowly on his torso covered, if she suspected right, only with a dressing gown. She must have woken him up and he had hurriedly put it on.

A wave of longing rushed through her as her heart shouted out for love. All she could think of was this moment, this time. It made her body ache to be in his arms and still stay passive. She wanted to kiss him and run her hands across his body, feeling the naked heart beating under her hand. She wanted to shower her love upon him, to show him how much she loved him. She wanted to take him inside her and make him a part of her for all her life. If she was going to leave him, should she not give herself to him and live with the sweet memory of belonging to him, even if they would never be together?

As if in a trance, her hand slipped inside the parting of his dressing gown She heard him take a deep breath, his voice coming from deep inside him in warning as he said her name. She looked up at him and they were so close their mouths could touch each other. He could easily press his lips against hers, and they could become lovers. But did he want that?

The green of his eyes was prominent as his piercingly keen eyes looked at her hungrily, as hungrily as perhaps hers must look, she concluded. Her voice was barely above a whisper, wobbling slightly after crying, as she said, “Kiss me.”

She heard him give a moan, as he shifted his body on the bed more comfortably, as he held her face between his hands and in a husky voice answered, “Are you sure? If I kiss you cara mia, I won’t be able to stop this time. “

She moved nearer, her heart beating loudly in her ears, her breathing fast and shallow. The need to kiss him and be kissed was paramount at this time, her senses on an overload. As she closed the distance between their lips, she closed her eyes and said against his lips, “Then don’t. Don’t stop this time.”

And the world exploded around them as she laid her lips gently against his.

Alessandro stayed still as she kissed him, hesitantly at first, as if testing waters, and then opening up to him completely. How could he stay away when she became the temptress, a seductive goddess at the same time? He pulled her close, one hand buried in her long hair. The kiss deepened, becoming so much more as his tongue moved between her lips, entwining with hers. Her arms slipped around his neck, sliding them into his dark hair and moving her head to fit against his as the kiss continued, leaving him in no doubt that she wanted him just as much as he wanted her.

Adrenaline pumped hard and fast into his body, fuelling the passion to heights he had never before imagined. He felt as if he was on fire, and she with him. He kissed her plump lips again, and then moved down leaving a scorching trail of kisses on her jaw and her throat. He heard her give a gasp, as he opened his mouth on her neck and sucked gently.

Ohh.. this is–” she groaned and stopped with his name, throwing her head back and arching her body in his arms.

He looked up to see her parted lips, and eyes glazed with desire as he sucked and licked on the other side of her neck again.

You burn me, tesoro- just as much as I burn you.” Alessandro said, his deep growl sending a thrill of shivers down her body. He claimed her lips once more, deeply and passionately as she wriggled to move closer still. She wasn’t sure what she wanted; no she was. She wanted him to quench this fire, to satisfy this hot need blazing inside her body.

Iris, mi enamorata, vita mia! Incontrarti era destino. Meeting you was my destiny. “

He whispered the words in her ear, kissing it and then going lower. Iris arched her back, leaning against the strength of his arm, her heart flying high at his words of amour. A sigh of contentment left her lips as he reached her breasts swollen with desire that the silk slip did nothing to hide. She said his name out aloud as he kissed her nipple through the slip, dampening the silk. As his lips nipped at the hard peak of her nipples, first one and then the other, she buried her fingers into his thick hair as she surrendered to such mastery.

You like it, tesoro? Do you like it when I kiss you here” Alessandro asked as his tongue laved her nipple. Giving it a quick flick, he sucked hard and then freed it with a plop. His voice was harsh, as was his breathing as he flicked it with his finger and said, “One day, you will feed our children here. “

His words sent a spark of urgent need straight through to her core as she gasped his name. He blew on the hard nub as she clutched at his hair and said urgently, “Oh please, Alessandro, my darling! Please!”

He moved to remove her from his lap and lay her down on the bed, continuing to kiss her shoulder, her mouth. His skilled hands removed her clothes quickly while Iris moved eagerly, matching her actions to his. He got up then, his eyes dark with desire as he looked at her from above, his body tense with need. She looked sensational with her hair spread across the bedspread, her eyes burning his body like wood fire, as he shrugged out of his dressing gown.

Iris put out a hand, calling him to her- an ancient call, primitive as it ever was right from the first time a man and woman came together. He took her hand, and with a seductive look that spoke of a thousand promises without words, got drawn to her, with her pulling him down on the bed.

Iris sat up as he sat down next to her, and gently pushed her hands against his chest; the firm chest that shuddered as she touched him, moving her hand to his pebble hard nipple. Scraping it gently with one finger nail, she drew a painful moan from him.

Alarmed, she looked up. “Did I hurt you?”

Alessandro smiled, baring his teeth like a tiger on the verge of losing control as he said, “No, cara. You did not hurt me, but it feels amazing to have you touch me. “

Blushing, Iris shyly continued, “I have– that is, I am not very-”

Alessandro gently caught her roaming hand with his and said, “Iris, I know you are not familiar with love making, but trust me. Nothing you do will hurt me- and I will try to be gentle too. “

Her cheeks became a rosy pink at the mention of her inexperience and he bit back a groan. If he had his way, he would ravish her, take her now with little finesse.

But he remembered, he was initiating Iris into sex. It was her first time. His jaw clenched as he realised the mammoth control he will have to keep on himself if he were to see this through without embarrassing himself.

He gave a silent gasp as Iris leaned down on his chest and gave a tiny lick. His hands clenched into fists and his breathing became ragged as she continued her journey downward. She moved her hand over his hard pecs and marvelled at such physical perfection. She left a trail of kisses on his body. As she reached to flick her tongue below his navel, she heard him give a groan of pleasure and felt his hand burying in her hair.

He reached out and took hold of her waist as she ventured further to kiss him where he ached the most. He pulled her on top of him, leaving her in no doubt how hard he had become for her. As she tried to grab his shaft, he caught her hand and said, “Too much at this time, mi amore. “

Iris smiled seductively and pouted, “But I want to touch it. I promise I won’t hurt you. I am not a complete novice, you know. I did have a boyfriend.”

Alessandro gritted his teeth against the annoyance at the mention of any other man in her life having enjoyed her ministrations. He growled at her and said, “I am sure you do, but it will certainly kill me if you do. “

He looked at Iris, her face pink, her eyes sparkling, her movements telling him of a woman who is hesitant yet willing in the bedroom. He wasn’t sure if he had the control to wait patiently while she got ready for the taking. As her palm skated up over the hard muscular wall of his chest, he groaned deep in his throat. Catching her hand, his need obvious in his eyes, he brought her hand down to his erection, to the thick and long evidence of his arousal.

Iris’s eyes widened at the size of him, yet she pushed her hand against him. He was hard and eager. It fired her senses to the limit and her breath turned shallow. She wanted him and was eager to show it to him despite her lack of expertise in bed. She wanted him on top of her, pushing into her inner core, instead he was bent on playing with her body and it only made her need him more.

Alessandro couldn’t get enough of her. With impatient yet gentle hands, he pushed her back down on the bed, exchanging hard urgent kisses, that stoked his hunger higher and higher. He found the hard tips with his mouth with a skill that wrung a cry from her lips again.

Alessandro chuckled huskily against one of her nipples, “You are so very sensitive here, gioia mia.”

Iris trembled as his hand moved towards her wet centre, teasing her lips apart and playing with her folds. She arched under the heel of his hand, her hips lifting straight off the mattress. She groaned out his name loud as he eased a finger inside her, kissing her neck at the same time. When he inserted the second finger and rubbed the centre of her pulsing heat with his thumb, she bucked under his hand.

Amore mia, you are so tight, so wet- all for me. “

Iris felt her face burn at his words, an excitement that wouldn’t stop blooming between her thighs. Her awareness of everything else vanished as he stroked her clitoris again and again, reducing her insides to melting pulp. She pushed her body towards his, kissing him wildly and mutely demanding what her tongue couldn’t seem to.

Alessandro couldn’t wait any longer for fulfilment. All male, he freed his hands to lean over her, his eyes blazing green with desire, as he kissed her hard and fierce on the mouth, whispering against it, “I want you so much cara, I burn!”

Laughing as he tried to catch her mouth with his, Iris caught his head in her hands and kissed him back, urging him breathlessly with, “What are you waiting for then?” as her hips moved to meet him unselfconsciously and she closed her eyes.

Wait… I must-” Giving her a hard kiss, he got up and said, “Wait…I will be right back.”

Bewildered at his sudden movement, Iris opened her eyes to see him moving quickly towards his dressing gown, putting it on and getting out of the room. It was a mere thirty seconds before he was back, holding something in his hands and grinning.

Now we wait no more. “ Saying this, he moved on to the bed, kissing her again.

Curious, Iris asked, “What is it that was so important?”

I have to protect you, carissima. I wasn’t carrying it when I came in so had to go, get it.”

It took Iris a second to understand his meaning, and when she did, her eyes widened. Before she could think or speak any further though, she felt Alessandro’s hands back on her body, and she forgot all about it.

Tearing the packet open, Alessandro eased the condom on while she watched, her eyes hungry. Looking at her, he gave a growl and leaned towards her, strong and sure. Iris felt the tip of his penis against her slick, damp entrance as his finger came up to tease her clitoris back into movement. Slowly he entered her, his jaw tight with control so as not to hurt her.

But of course it hurt, and a moan of protest rose from Iris, to be captured by his mouth. He stilled his movement as he felt himself fully sheathed by her. He looked down, where she was under him, her eyes closed as she grunted a bit. He tried to ease himself above her, but she held on to him with her legs firmly entwined to his back now.

He kissed her gently and slowly, her movements became needy, urging him to continue. This time, he thrust into her and growled in a full bodied masculine voice. Sinking into her up to the hilt, he began to move as he felt Iris give a gasp of pleasure. God, her body was so attuned to his! The sweet torment started building up as he withdrew and then thrust deep again, eliciting a primal cry from them both. He could no longer rein back his response, as intense and all consuming pleasure built inside of him.

Iris held on to Alessandro for her dear life, as he thrust into her again and again, taking her on to higher paths of pleasure. Just when she thought she couldn’t bear it any longer, she found a peak and fell apart in an exquisite sensation, her lips opening in wonderment as she saw Alessandro feeling the same above her. He let out a loud pitch growl, taking her mouth in a bruising kiss as he emptied himself inside her, shuddering in the throes of his climax.

It was a few minutes, before Iris came to her senses. Alessandro lay beside her, totally spent. He had pulled the sheet over them both. And she, she felt wonderfully at peace. So this is what love making was; when one was in love and two souls came together along in a perfect physical merger. She pressed her lips gently against his satin-smooth shoulder, as he picked up her hand and lapped her wrist gently with his tongue. Then with a deeply satisfied sigh, he kicked back the sheet and got up to move.

Stunned, Iris looked at him as he went into the bathroom. She could hear him grumbling about something. Slowly, she slid out of the bed and peeked into the bathroom. He was moving around unashamedly naked, and starting a bath! She gazed hungrily at his body and felt desire kick in her stomach again. As if he was acutely aware of her presence, he spoke, “I want to make love to you again, tesoro but I know that will not be possible. You most be sore. It will help you if you take a bath; relieve a bit of soreness you feel down there.”

Iris blushed at the mention of it, and then got annoyed at her own coyness. Why did she have to feel like this? She was a woman of this century, she should be able to take such references calmly. She smiled hesitantly and said, “Okay, if you say so. I-”

Alarmed, she stopped mid sentence as he came to her, looking so powerful. He looked so powerful, so vital without his clothes. She gulped as he took her hand in his and guided her to the bath. Picking her up, he got into it and sat down with her still ensconced in his arms. Turning her head to his side, she kissed the corner of his mouth, only to have her mouth taken in a burning kiss that lasted several seconds.

At last when he let go, they both were breathing hard. Alessandro lay her down in the bath, slowly sliding out himself from behind her. Iris looked at him through her haze filled gaze, as he smiled tenderly down at her. Getting out of the bath, he said, “Soak for a while cara, and ease your muscles. I will be back in a bit. And don’t go to sleep!”

Saying this, he exited the bathroom, leaving Iris feeling lost and alone, even when she knew it was silly to feel so. For now, she simply wanted to close her eyes and lose herself in the world where she and Alessandro will remain together for all their lives, in love with each other. For now, she wanted reality to recede.

LOVE CONQUERS – CHAPTER 29

Chapter 29

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When Iris reflected on the evening they had spent together, all she could remember was the warmth of their togetherness and the feeling that they were right for each other. As she plumped her pillow again that night in her bed, she smiled again. It was past three in the morning and she had been back in her bed since the last two hours, but sleep seemed far away. Happiness bubbled inside her, wanting to be let free.

What a wonderful evening they had had!

The food at Giuseppe‘s was, delicious to say the least. Iris had been surprised by Alessandro’s choice of dining place when he had parked his car and walked to the small place by the side street.

She had assumed he would take her to a richly lavished place, meant only for the “so and so” of the society; instead he had taken her right into the warmth of Siena friendliness and hospitality. The restaurant itself was close to the centre of the Piazza del Campo, on one of the side streets. You might miss it if you were not looking for it. Inside they had been welcomed warmly by the owner of the restaurant, who had personally ensured privacy by giving them a secluded table in one corner. The furniture was all wood, the fittings done in holly green, giving a mystical ambience to the entire place. A strategically placed candle at each table gave a magical glow, and placed in the centre of each table was a small bowl of red and yellow roses.

Iris gave a chuckle as she remembered how she had looked around everywhere at people laughing, chatting loudly and wondered how Alessandro fit in here. Where was his reserve, his severity of expression? Didn’t he say they needed to talk in privacy? She looked at him while she sat down and a smile curved her mouth. Alessandro looked the part of a typical hearty Italian, as he spoke to the owner of the restaurant, his hands and his eyes moving at lightening speed. He clapped the owner and hugged him, before sitting down and joining her. Iris had looked at him in amazement, glad to see this unexpected side to Alessandro’s character. He had smiled at her, and the evening had taken a friendlier turn. They had talked amicably, as they never had before.

Iris plumped her pillow under her chin and continued reminiscing. Not that Giuseppe’s could be called a place where privacy could be maintained for long, if the man was as famous as Alessandro Bertoni was. Time and again, he had been greeted by various acquaintances, male and female. Finally the flow had seem to ebb and they had ordered their dinner.

My son! What do you do here this evening?” A voice had boomed next to their table.

With an exclamation, Alessandro had got up and hugged him. “Uncle Sandro! What are you doing here?” They exchanged pleasantries and spoke a little more. Apparently his uncle was there with some old cronies, to enjoy men’s evening.

Then turning to Iris, Alessandro said, “Iris, come and meet my uncle and godfather, Alessandro Molinelli. He is also a very close friend of the family. Uncle Sandro, this is Iris Florence.”

No other explanation was given about who she was or what she was doing with him, Iris observed- just her name. But then, wasn’t that typical of Alessandro? He must do the same with all his women friends, she was sure.

Signorina Florence, what a beautiful name you have!” Signor Molinelli smiled warmly at her.

Buonasera, and thank you, Signor Molinelli.” Iris got up, and smiled warmly at this complimentary gesture, holding out her hand.

It had been taken and kissed as Signor Molinelli had looked up at Alessandro with shrewd eyes and said, “So finally, you have found a woman who has beauty as well as grace. I congratulate you, son.“

You may also congratulate me on my forthcoming nuptials, uncle Sandro. Iris has consented to become my wife. “ Alessandro said quietly, his announcement startling his uncle.

To give Signor Molinelli credit, he quickly gained his equilibrium and stared hard at his godson. Then, he smiled warmly and said, “Congratulations my son! Happy news indeed! I am glad things have worked out. “

Alessandro saw Iris frown at this statement and quickly said, “Yes indeed, things have worked out from the last time I saw you.” As he said this, he picked up Iris’s hand in his and gave a warning look towards his uncle, “Iris took her time but in the end, everything is alright.”

Saying so, he gave her hand a squeeze and saw the frown disappearing from her face, to his relief, to be replaced by a shy smile.

His uncle understood immediately, of course and made a show of clapping him on the back, saying “Very good! I am glad. Congratulations to both of you. Iris, welcome to the family.”

Saying so, he bent to give Iris a kiss on each cheek and said softly to her, “I am very happy for Alessandro and the boys. The house will now be home.”

Tears shimmered in her eyes at his warm words. Iris gave him a genuinely warm smile and nodded her thanks.

Signor Molinelli cleared his throat and said jovially, “Well now, Champagne is the drink of the hour then. I will ask Marco to get you his best bottle. On me, my dear boy! Enjoy!”

He bid them both good bye and went to join his friends.

Dinner was served by then. It had taken them a while to get through and finish the huge spread in the front of them. They had ordered garlic Prawns, Ravioli salad, green Gnocchi, chocolate pasta, Ribollita and for dessert, a Tiramisu with Amaretto liquor. It had been a feast fit for the Gods.

There had also been a bit of dancing, and Iris had laughingly joined in when Alessandro had held out his hand to her for a dance. She had been surprised when Alessandro had mocked her for thinking, Siena didn’t offer night life. Granted, it wasn’t anything like Florence, but hey, it was there! Oh, how carefree and handsome Alessandro had looked, with his grey green eyes sparkling with mirth! How he had thrown his head back and roared when Iris had booed his efforts at hip hop dancing when they had been walking back to the car. And how her heart had gone crazy, when he had so tenderly taken her face between his hands and kissed her good night, his hunger and passion evident but in control. He had murmured sweet nothings in her mouth as he kissed her and she – she had kissed him back with all abandon. He had kissed her once more, promising to never let her go, promising to become one soon, and then left her at the door. Oh, she would remember it all, for all her life.

And suddenly, a sob broke through her reminiscences. Astonished, she looked around and found no one. Only then did she realise, she had tears flowing down her cheeks. It was she who had let out a sob of pure despair, at the thought of never seeing Alessandro so carefree again, when she left him. As another sob broke free, Iris hid her face in the pillow and gave a little moan of pain. Why did things have to be like this? She punched the pillow and moaned his name.

Iris, tesoro mio, what is wrong?”

Iris was startled out of her misery by Alessandro’s voice so close to her. Raising her tear stained face, she saw Alessandro standing next to her bed, his eyebrow creased with concern. As another sob rented the air, she saw Alessandro curse and felt a dip in the mattress as he sat down. Next thing, she was picked up and placed on his lap as he cradled her face in his hands and looked into her eyes. He looked worried- for her.

His voice was husky too, as he spoke.

Iris, my darling won’t you tell me what is wrong? Why are you crying like your heart is broken? What has happened?”

To tell him why she was crying was so tempting then! But Iris closed her eyes and shook her head as tears rolled down her cheeks. She was silent now. She was grabbed close with her head against his chest as he leaned into her and spoke softly, “I wish you would tell me. I can’t bear to see you cry like this tesoro! “

Suddenly, he jerked upright and cupped her chin. As she raised her hurt eyes to look into his alert ones, he asked softly, “Was it something about this evening? Am I the reason for these tears? Did I hurt you even when I was trying to be gentle?”

Her throat dried up. What could she say? She tried to move away from him but he held her fast as he asked again, “Tell me Iris. Am I the reason for these heart rending tears?“

Iris looked away as if she couldn’t bear to look at him any more. Alessandro closed his eyes and silently despaired. He couldn’t remember doing anything that might have hurt Iris this evening. But then, – a thought stopped him cold and made him break out in sweat on the cold night. Had she somehow understood the meaning behind his godfather‘s words this evening? Had she suddenly realised how he had plotted and planned to get her to to this stage of their lives?

LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 20

CHAPTER 20

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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 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.

LOVE CONQUERS-CHAPTER 10

Chapter 10

As the clock moved closer to five o’clock, Iris felt the edgy nervousness taking hold of her. She had avoided everyone after lunch and on a plea of headache had excused herself. Lorenzo was the only one she had confided in about meeting Alessandro’s sons and then their request to her to come and see them in the evening. Lorenzo had made sympathetic noises and insisted that she should definitely keep up her appointment with those two little cherubs.

“I think it is most awful that their mother doesn’t care for them at all. Bless Alessandro for taking care of them completely by himself. His mother help him of course but I listen to gossip that she now insists he get married soon and bring a mother for the kids. It is so difficult! Of course no woman can say no to Alessandro and his wealth. Maybe that’s why he takes his time to choose his bride.”

Iris had little sympathy for Alessandro in this case. She didn’t want to think too deeply about why the little information about him being chased by many women irked her so much but she told herself it was because she didn’t like his womanizing ways in the first place. All her sympathy was for his sons. And they were the reason why at about five to five, Iris found herself walking towards the private wing of the Villa Bertoni.

As she crossed the reception area of the private wing, where she had been asked to go up to the nursery, Iris looked around. This part of the villa was just as large, built in stone with peaked roofs. She looked at the living rooms as she passed it. passed—a huge fireplace dominated the far end of the wall with windows flanking it. The furnishings looked oversize and comfortable. The sofas looked so plush that Iris felt as if one would probably be sucked into them if one sat on them. With that imagination to the fore of her mind, she grinned as she reached the nursery.

 

She found herself in a charming room on the second floor. The room-if one could call this huge space a room, was divided into two parts. One side of it looked like a playroom and dining room combined together for the children. Iris could see her favourite cars, superhero models and other lots of stuff that she had no idea about displayed in the shelves. The other side of the room overlooked the garden below and was charmingly furnished, with a narrow canopied beds, a dressing table under its window and two small easy chairs flanking a small round table. The colour scheme was a mixture of pastel colours and the furniture was of some pale wood she didn’t recognise.

 

There was a large cupboard and a little door led to a bathroom. Overall, Iris felt, it was homely; furnished as well as designed to be child-friendly and yet with the comfortable chairs at the side of the bedroom and dining room, it was also adult friendly.

 

She wondered where the children were, looking around. And instantly caught her breath. Alessandro stood in one corner watching her looking for boys. Next to him, sitting down were two boys playing some sort of board game. She looked at them with a tender smile that froze on her face when she met Alessandro’s eyes. She almost forgot to breathe.

 

If she had off handedly thought of him as dashing in his business suit, looking sophisticated and dynamic, he was absolutely delicious looking in the casual attire.

Iris’s heart beat faster as she took in his appearance, absently noting that he was also returning the favour. He was dressed in navy crewneck sweater with dark cords and black boots; in short he looked unbearably sexy. His hair was a little disheveled, probably from playing with the kids but it only served to give him a breath taking look. His eyes were green emeralds and so intriguing! For a second, Iris wished she had come to him for a different reason and not for his children.

 

The thought fired her body up. What would it be like to be taken into his arms tenderly and be kissed ? No doubt his wife would have known the bliss of being loved in his arms. The thought was like ice cold bucket of water over the fire of her desire. She immediately chastised herself for her silly thoughts and assumed a calm face with a polite smile on it.

 

“Good evening. I hope I’m not too late.” Her voice sounded rusty and she cleared her throat.

“Not at all.” He replied. “You’re right on time. They’ve just finished with the board game; they’re playing junior scrabble.”

“Ah.” For the life of her, Iris couldn’t compose any other reply as he stood there, still staring at her. Anticipating the fact that children may like to play something energetic like football, Iris had put on plain lilac top over pale green tights. Iris could feel the air vibrating with sexual tension and she tried to break it. Before she could, however a voice exclaimed with joy and within a few seconds two mini tornadoes came rushing towards her, almost making her fall.

“You are here!”

Iris grinned at both of them and said, “Yes, here I am! What have you two been doing with yourselves?”

“We play scrabble. I win.” Said the boy who stood next to her, holding a side of her leg. Iris picked him up and smiled at him, “You must be really smart!” She grimaced and then made a sad face, “But I’m not so smart. I don’t know which one of you is Antonio and which one is Ernesto. Help me out per favore?”

 

The boy in his arms smiled and looked at his Papa. Alessandro had, in the meanwhile picked up the other one. At a nod from him the child spoke, “Papa holds Ernesto and I am Antonio. I am younger than Ernesto by 3 minutes.”

 

Alessandro added quietly, “If you look at him, Antonio has a small scar at the side of his forehead. He fell down from the chair when he was about two. This is how we can easily distinguish them.”

 

“How clever of you!” Iris exclaimed, beaming at Alessandro and then at Ernesto who smiled shyly back.
Iris put Antonio down as he started wriggling and said, “Now that you’ve got me here, what do you want us to do?”

Antonio grabbed her hand and took her to the play area with Alessandro and Ernesto following. As they stopped by the play area, Iris saw exactly what they wanted to do. There was a small area that was made into a football practice area for the children and beside it was a miniature football field.

Iris exclaimed with the right amount of delight in her voice at the small football field made with miniature footballers. There were various miniature footballers standing on one side as well, neatly lined with their country flag. She turned to give a smiling look to both Antonio and Ernesto, “You mean, I can join you two smart boys in playing with these amazing footballers?”

 

“Si!” Ernesto spoke up this time, sounding happy. A small shadow of doubt passed his face, “Will you really join us to play football in this?”

Iris looked at Ernesto with all seriousness and just a glimpse of a smile, her heart going out to the little boy plagued with doubts. She said firmly but softly, “If you have no objections, yes- I would very much like to play in this field. Of course you shall choose the country we play for, ne?”

 

Ernesto looked at her with a broad smile on his face for the first time, “Yes, we play. Papa?”

 

Alessandro nodded, very happy to see Ernesto responding positively to a gesture of friendship. He had never imagined his plan working well and with a bonus too! He looked at his eldest son, now busy in explaining to Iris the workings of the football field. She was listening to it with interest and seemed to be asking the right questions. A smile curved around Alessandro’s mouth looking at Ernesto so sincere and in such a talkative mood for once.

 

Ernesto was in essence not very different from his younger brother but about a year ago, he had suddenly become quiet and an introvert. Iris was the first woman of his acquaintance outside his family that Ernesto had spoken to or smiled at.

 

It was only when Alessandro had gently pursued in knowing the truth that it had come exploding out. His wife had threatened Ernesto, scared him so badly that he could never trust  anyone around him. For months after, Ernesto had had nightmares and cried out for his Papa in his sleep. He wouldn’t let anyone else, not even the nanny touch him or feed him until bless their grandmother, they had found a gem of a nanny in Mrs. Whittaker. Ernesto spoke to her apart from his Nonna and his aunts but that was the extent of his contact with women.

 

Alessandro had seen to it that his ex-wife would never be able to come near his children again. She had after a certain point of negotiation, signed off all rights to them in return for a few million Euros. She had no motherly bone in her body. He grimaced inwardly and then shook his head. Now was not the time to think about that. It was time to see Ernesto respond to a stranger, a woman. He sat by the window chair, watching Iris getting acquainted with both his boys. He’d wondered today morning after the kids met Iris if he was doing the right thing. He wasn’t so impulsive as a rule, especially where his sons were concerned. But now he felt as if he was on the right track. He marveled at the fact that both his sons seem happy in the company of a stranger for the first time and then shrugged. The women of his acquaintance were mostly interested in him and gave a side glance to the children so the children stayed reserved towards them. Iris being not really interested in him, showed genuine emotion and reactions to them, so it was no wonder that they were responding beautifully to her; laughing and generally having fun.

 

It irked him that she could talk freely and laugh with them but not him. He gave a start at that thought. Where had that come from? Sure he wanted her and if the plan worked well, his sons will have her company for a long time but feelings-his feelings surely didn’t enter into it! Suddenly she looked up and their eyes met each other. Alessandro felt his whole body tense with desire. He decided to join in the fun.

 

Iris was enjoying herself with Ernesto and Antonio. Both the kids were quite smart and sportive. Every time they laughed, her heart near melted. The boys possessed cleft chin like their father and when they smiled a dimple appeared in their left cheek. The boys had hair a shade darker than Alessandro. She wondered if their mother was dark haired. She glanced at Alessandro and instantly felt her heart race at the way he was looking at her. Still holding her eyes, he got up and came towards them. His voice was husky and curled her toes when he said, “I think I will also join in the fun. Would you allow me to play with you Iris?”

 

Iris felt her heart flutter. Obviously he didn’t mean playing together with the boys as was apparent from the meaning and huskiness in his voice. She decided it would be the best to not answer.

 

As it was about to be six, it would also be the right time to call the nanny and dinner served to the boys. As Alessandro joined his boys by kneeling down beside them, Iris got up. Three pair of green grey eyes looked at her questioningly.

Iris stuttered an explanation, “I-I-will c-call Mrs. Whittaker. It’s about to be six.”

Antonio sat close to where Iris stood. He said, “Just a few more minutes please! Play with us.”

Before Iris could say anything, he pulled her hand “Let’s all play together just this once.”

Iris gave a small squeak as she felt herself falling. When Antonio had pulled her hand, she had been caught unawares and her legs folded beneath her. She closed her eyes, expecting to meet the floor. Instead she found herself in Alessandro’s lap when she opened his eyes.

 

Her face turned bright red at the look in his eyes. He caught her closer and she gasped as their faces came very close to each other. He murmured, “ I’m glad I’ve been proven right. I told you one day you will come to the private wing yourself-not when called by me.”

She stiffened as she remembered what he’d said yesterday afternoon. Underneath the sexy timbre of Alessandro’s voice, Iris detected triumph. She instinctively felt the ruthlessness with which he normally operated; a man who was habituated to getting exactly what he wanted. She decided to take him down a notch.

 

“I-“ Iris came to a stop. She took a deep breath to control the tremble in her voice, “I came by myself yes-but not for you. I only came here for the boys.”

 

“Doesn’t matter why you came. The fact is, you did.” Alessandro’s lazy drawl annoyed Iris. She tried to get out of his grasp but he refused to let her go. She whispered harshly, injecting scorn in her voice and trying not to draw too much attention from the boys, “You think you have the world at your disposal, don’t you? Everyone around you is primed to agree with everything you say and do. One of the pitfalls of having too much money I guess.”

 

“Too much money? Is there such a thing?” Alessandro was amused, “I’ve never heard a woman expressing distaste for money.”

“Then you socialize with wrong kind of women.” Finally she was able to get out of his grasp and sit down away from him but she judged it was because he let her go easily. Uneasy, she looked at him from beneath her lashes. He looked privately amused. She looked away and focused on the football play in the miniature ground.

 

She was astonished to find that when he was not being arrogant and not trying to seduce women, he was quite nice. When he laughed, the cleft on his chin became prominent and made him look not just drop dead sexy but also younger by years. He was a natural with his sons, Iris noticed and not at all uncomfortable with how to handle them.

 

Mrs Whittaker arrived a few minutes later and directed the boys to the dinner table on the other side of the room. Urged by Ernesto and Antonio, Iris joined them. Alessandro excused himself and left them alone. Iris found herself missing his presence but shrugged it off and enjoyed with the two lovely boys. They declared that their dinner today was a feast because they had been given an ice cream after dinner.

Soon it was their bed time. They awaited with eagerness for the bed time story once they had their bath and had brushed their teeth. Iris, as directed picked up their bed time story book and read it out to them. Within minutes they were both asleep. She tucked them in and kissed them good night, a motherly feeling taking hold of her heart as she looked at them both sleeping. They looked angelic with no trace of reserve apparent. They looked –content.

 

“Thank you for everything you’ve done. I have never seen them so content before.” Alessandro spoke quietly into her ear, standing right behind her. Iris stiffened as she felt the air from his mouth brush her ear and then-she felt like leaning on him and sighing in peace. That thought was alarming enough for Iris to quickly put a distance between them. She moved away from the beds and him, quickly going towards the door leading her outside and away from here.  He didn’t try to stop her. She turned back and looked at him before leaving and said, “Thank you for letting me be with them this evening. I enjoyed it. You will join us-I mean, the staff this evening?“

Alessandro hid a smile at her nervousness of his reply. His face was a blank mask as she replied, “I’m afraid not. I have a video conference I must attend. It will keep me occupied the rest of the evening.”

 

Iris wasn’t sure why his reply upset her a little but she decided to ignore the feeling. She smiled a little and said, “Well then, it was nice meeting you Signore.”

 

“You shall be returning to Florence tomorrow and in another week leaving for Siena. You are going to be kept very busy Signorina Florence.” He observed.

 

“Yes, that is true. Well then, it was nice meeting –er-er-the boys. Say good bye to them from my side please. Good bye.”

 

He nodded his head in acceptance of her speech, hiding his smile when she hesitated and watched as she left the room. She was a fighter, Iris was. He was quite sure that she will not give in to his plan very easily. Judging from the way she avoided him right now, he was sure he was going to enjoy this challenge. His baser instincts were urging him to run after her and stop her but he controlled those. Time enough for everything. She would leave tomorrow to go to Florence, thinking she’d not see him again. He was going to let her ride with that idea. A shark like smile spread across his face as he knew what lay ahead.   Let the swords be crossed soon!

LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 9

Chapter – 9

“Buongiorno bella mia, Iris! Ready to take a tour of the wine cellar and the garden with me?”

Iris turned to face a chirpy Lorenzo standing by the door and smiled at him. Today she wore one of her short dresses with strappy sandals. A hat completed the attire since they will be out in the sun for long and she had no wish to get a sunstroke. She’d put on more make-up than usual today too, to hide mauve circles beneath her eyes. Vittoria had commented upon it; being bitchy wouldn’t cover it; before leaving the room, going away to lord knew where. Iris could only be thankful that she had been left alone.

True Iris drank more than her usual the previous night, but she had no hangover this morning. What was worse was, she woke up early and remembered with clarity her conversation with Alessandro after he had almost snatched her from the arms of another man. She had been embarrassed to acknowledge to herself that she didn’t remember any of the men she had danced with, apart from Alessandro.

Her resolve today was simple. She would give him no excuse to come to her; in fact she would stay close to other employees and not wander by herself. She would avoid him as much as possible. They would be leaving tomorrow morning anyway.

She looked at Lorenzo who was dressed stylishly in three fourths and a bright yellow shirt and giggled, “And who’re you out to impress here Lorenzo? You look dashing!”

“Why, can I not dazzle you?” Lorenzo pouted and Iris went to hug him affectionately.

“Of course you can but then, I’m just me-your amiga. You don’t need to dazzle me, do you?”

“Ne-si, that is true! I just felt like dressing up. You think people will realize it?” Lorenzo looked worried now, making Iris wish she hadn’t started this conversation.

“Oh no, you look very much the man you know. And even if they do know your status, what’s the harm? I don’t think it is anybody’s business which sex you prefer you know. Your parents know it and so do your friends. So why bother about anyone else?”

“To protect you from sharks bella mia, that’s why!” Lorenzo replied, startling Iris. He continued, “Do you know how many men you danced with and how many tried to flirt with you, without success yesterday evening?” At her blush, he continued, “I’m not criticizing you Iris but- Signore Bertoni kept an eye on you. I don’t know why though. You think he fancy you?”

The blush deepened as Iris remembered the kiss she had shared with Alessandro. She took a deep breath and said, “What utter nonsense you speak Lorenzo! Don’t you know I’m an ice maiden?”

“Pahh!! That is for people who don’t see the fire in you bella mia.”Lorenzo fluttered his hands in air and with a sly raise of his eyebrow said, “I think Signore Bertoni sees this fire.”

“Why are we even talking about him for Pete’s sake! Let’s move on to the tour please.” Iris said, irritated with the fact that she couldn’t control her cheeks turning pink and then red for this once.

Lorenzo tried to soothe her ruffled feathers by agreeing with her hastily and taking her downstairs towards the cellar where the tour was already in procession. The guide was explaining to the crowd about the wine cellar in Italian.

“The wine cellar has been carved from the same bedrock as Villa Bertoni is standing upon. Back in 11th century, it was a dungeon and the villa was a fortified mansion with a watch tower. The structure on which Villa Bertoni stood was the original structure of that time, with modifications done to the cellar and the rest of the place as per the time changes.

Today for lunch and then for dinner, you will be served wines from our special cellar. You see, many hard-to-find vintages and Tuscan wine icons such as Querciabella, Fontodi, La Massa and Poggio Scalette make it to the list of red wines, whereas amongst the whites, we strongly prefer to vote for the northern regions of Alto Adige and Friuli. You will taste it today and tell us how you like it. After all, customers come to you for opinion, si?”

Everyone nodded their heads in appreciation at the guide’s announcement. Iris tried to look enthusiastic. After all, she worked with an organization whose major business consisted of wines. Normally she would have loved to taste them one by one but today- after yesterday’s over drinking and her memory failing her on what happened with Alessandro, she had no enthusiasm for any sort of drinks.

Villa Bertoni restaurant was the next place of visit; the route to the private wing of the villa. Iris tried not to look at the private wing and feel a flutter of nerves. She held on to Lorenzo’s hand as they were explained about the paintings that decked the walls of the restaurant. There was also a large portrait of a haughty man whom the guide introduced as the man who built Villa Bertoni long time back. Iris was startled to realize that Alessandro looked exactly like his long gone ancestor. She averted her eyes from the portrait and walked on.

They went out to the garden that was set as a backdrop for the restaurant, perfumed by a bouquet of roses; Florentine roses as she was informed that twined themselves along the stone walls of the garden. The guide further went on to inform them that most couples loved to come here for a honeymoon and spend their evenings feeling romantic, dining under the stars or during Summers, watch the sun go down behind mossy green and beautiful looking Chianti hills.

Iris absorbed this information absent mindedly while a part of her mind was busy trying to divert itself from thinking about Alessandro. It was lunch time and he hadn’t shown up yet. And why should you care if he wasn’t around? An inner imp asked her the question. Annoyed with herself for not being able to stop thinking of him, Iris excused herself from Lorenzo by saying she wanted to walk around the garden for a bit while everyone else went inside for lunch.

She walked around for a bit, taking in the heavenly perfume of roses in the garden and then sat down by one of the loungers set in the garden. It wasn’t that she was tired but she did feel out of sorts. Maybe should could close her eyes for a bit and rest before joining others for lunch. She laid back her head, stretched her legs and closed her eyes, her hat shielding her from the rays of the Sun.

Something tickled her nose and she tried to swipe it away. It came back again, this time accompanied by chuckles. She opened her eyes to see two cherubic faces with grey green eyes and dark hair giggling at her. Each of them held a blade of grass in hand.

Those eyes!! Iris could barely comprehend what was in front of her in her still sleepy state of mind. Only one man she knew of possessed such eyes around here.  She knew all about Alessandro’s broken marriage and twin sons who lived with their grandmother most of the days.

“You make funny faces when you’re sleeping.” One of those cherubic faces said, laughing as she wrinkled her nose and pulled a face again. The other boy laughed as well at her expression and added, “Why do you sleep here? Have you no bed?”

Iris had barely opened her mouth when the first kid spoke again, “Now that you’re awake, will you play with us? Papa says we can play football if there is a grown-up around.”

That tone of directness was uncommon children so small. Iris judged them to be not more than three or four years old.  But what were these kids doing out here alone? And whose kids were they?

“Are you sleeping with your eyes open?” Another question from them and Iris shrugged her thoughts aside to reply to them mischievously.

“Well, I thought I’d better absorb some energy from the Sun, just in case I was asked to play with two young men. I’d need the energy then, wouldn’t I?”

The children seemed to consider this. They looked at each other and then nodded at each other. Two pair of grey green eyes stared at her curiously, “You would play with us? Our nonna says we are still piccolo and only Nanny can plays with us. Zia Arabella says she would play with us if she had legs. Only il Papa always plays with us.”

Iris felt like an intruder as she asked, “What about your madre?” and immediately wished she hadn’t asked as their faces fell, the smile wiped off their face. “She doesn’t like to play with us. She says we waste her time.”

Iris had nothing to say to that as shock held her speechless. What mother could ignore such adorable children? Why would she want to say that? As her thoughts chased each other around in her head, a voice growled out, “Antonio! Ernesto! What do you think you’re doing out here ?  Mrs. Whittaker has been frantic looking around all over the Villa for you.”

Iris stiffened as she heard Alessandro’s angry voice. She felt him coming closer. She looked at the children to find an expression full of delight on their faces despite his growling.

“Papa!” They ran to him as Iris watched on. He enveloped them in his arms and picked both of them up, a smile softening his features. Iris was arrested by this smile; soft and tender, it held a lot of love for his children. The children were beaming as they both spoke simultaneously, “Papa, let us stay in the garden please! She says she will play with us. She even absorbed energy from the Sun to do so.”

“Did she now?” Alessandro grinned at his kids and looked speculatively at Iris who sat on the lounger, blushing pink. She stood up as he neared her, looking flustered. His glance took in her attire. He did not know how she managed to look sexy, cool and innocent at the same time. She portrayed sexiness with those long sexy legs that he would love to wrap around his waist. Her pouty lips and the sleepiness in her eyes stirred his libido and he had to close his eyes for a second before he looked at her again, to focus on the confusion in her eyes, making her look aloof and at the same time innocent.

“I’m sorry- I-“

“Hello Iris, still hung over?”

Iris looked at him, her voice straight from the freezer, “I’m perfectly fine, thank you.”

He raised an eyebrow in disbelief. “You missed your lunch. I wonder, what were you doing in the garden all by yourself and how did you find these two urchins?” Alessandro observed.

Iris looked at her watch, shock very visible on her face She had indeed missed lunch. She had been asleep for the best part of an hour. Before she could say anything however, one of the children piped up, speaking perfect English as good as Italian they’d spoken earlier.

“She didn’t find us Papa! We found her. She was sleeping. We tickled her nose and she made funny face.” Their faces were wreathed in smiles, “She didn’t sc-scald us-“

“Scold” said Iris immediately and then flushed under Alessandro’s gaze.

The kid who had been explaining looked at her, his eyes serious and repeated, “-scold. She did not scold us and she said she will play with us. Can we play with her Papa?”

He said softly, “I would also like to play with her but she says no to me.” When Iris shot daggers at him with her eyes, he laughed softly and then addressed his son, “Not now Antonio. She has to go and join other grown-ups from the company right now.”

Looking at their wilting smiles, Iris felt bad. Before she could, she said, “maybe later? I-“ Alessandro smoothly intervened, “She can join you later in the evening if you want.”

“And will she read us a bedtime story too?” Three pairs of grey green eyes turned to look at her, each gaze questioning with the addition of Alessandro’s eyes also looking amused.

Iris squirmed under it with discomfort and rage. Damn the man! He had not even asked her if she was willing to spend time with his sons, just taken it for granted. No doubt his mistresses fell over themselves to please him and his sons, Iris thought and then felt mean for it. She could hardly blame the children for their father’s deeds but spending time with them? Not that she had any problem with spending time with children but, why did he have to superimpose his will on her. She looked at him and then at the children who looked at her with an expectant look on their faces. She could not disappoint children, no matter how much she disliked their father.

She ignored Alessandro, gave a radiant smile to the children and said, “If you want me to, I will come and join you for some time in the evening and also read you bed time story.”

The children gave her a wide smile and their father declared, “There Ernesto, now that you know she will come to you in the evening, will you go to your room and put Mrs Whittaker out of her misery?”

The kids nodded enthusiastically. Alessandro put them down and they ran towards the private wing entrance where Iris saw them being received warmly by an elderly lady in yellow overalls. She watched them go away with her and turned around, excuse ready on her tongue to be away from Alessandro.

“Will you join me for lunch? I missed mine too.” Alessandro asked her, smoothly stopping her in her tracks.

“No, thank you. I’m not really hungry.” Iris replied calmly enough but blushed when her stomach strongly disagreed with her by rumbling loudly. Alessandro looked at her, his face devoid of any expression though his eyes were alight with laughter.

“Looks like your stomach disagrees with your opinion Signorina.” He held out his hand, laughter gone from his eyes and he added quietly, “please Iris? I could really do with some undemanding company right now.”

“Vittoria-“ Iris started but was ruthlessly cut off.

“is a pleasant diversion but not important when I want some peace and quiet. I also wish to talk to you about your career prospects. I’m sure Felipe and Felice will talk to you soon about we’ve had some plans for you that require your opinion.”

Iris could hardly say no to him since he wished to speak to her as her boss and not as a man. A part of her was disappointed by this development but she turned that voice in her head off and nodded, “Alright. I’d be glad to join you in that case Signore.”

“You can call me Alessandro.” He said gruffly as they walked towards the side of the restaurant that was adjoined to the private wing of the villa.

“I’d rather not if it’s okay by you Signore.” Iris replied, her voice husky. Just the thought of calling him by his name evoked images in her head that had nothing to do only with his name. Speaking his name would mean intimacy of knowing him and Iris was not ready for such intimacy at all.

“You make me feel old every time you call me Signore. My father was called Signore. I’m known mostly as Alessandro by my management staff.”

Iris had no reply to that so she decided to keep quiet. Alessandro grunted in response to her silence and they reached the table that had been prepared for him. He pulled a chair for her and she sat down. Well, Iris concluded, at least she couldn’t fault his table manners.

They concluded their lunch talking companionably. Iris to her surprise found that they had a lot of interests in common including their taste in music and books. Soon dessert was served in the form of cheese and biscuits and then coffee. Iris had started to wonder if this was all just a pretext or if he really wanted to talk to her about her career. She was a little anxious and a little worried. She had been working like a Trojan on her last project but maybe she had erred somewhere. Why else would the CEO of the company specially pick her to talk to her about her career, when appraisal time was still a month away.

“Your worries are needless as far as your last project performance is concerned Iris. No one could have done it better than you.”

Iris was surprised at how good she felt hearing Alessandro praising her work and yet she was puzzled. She looked at him questioningly and he continued,

“You have gained complete knowledge of Olive side of our business but you’re still a novice when it comes to wines. To handle our international clientele, it is important that you understand and are knowledgeable about all aspects of our business. You agree to that surely?”

At her nod, he said “This is why we have been thinking of moving you out of Florence for some time and bringing you the main center of our wine business in Siena.”

Iris looked at him, panicking inside yet outwardly calm, “And when am I to do that? And the other arrangements?”

Alessandro sipped his coffee and looked at her, “In about three months’  time appraisals will be over and promotions will be declared as you know. Felipe is of the opinion that you should learn something about wine business before this so that you have fair prospects of promotion in your team. Without you knowing or understanding our business completely like the rest of your team does your career cannot grow.

You go back tomorrow and in about a week’s time arrangements will be made for you to travel and stay in Siena for the next three months.  You will stay in our vineyards there and tour around our other vineyards to learn everything there is to know about wines. Capisce?  If you have any objections now would be the time to raise them. If you agree, then I will ask Felipe to speak with you tomorrow.”

Iris sat there in silence, digesting it all. Of course she would have to agree to the proposal that the bosses were keeping in front of her, if she wanted her career to grow. She didn’t really care much where she stayed; as it is she was staying in a foreign country with hardly any friends. She must look at this as an opportunity to learn something more not just for the sake of her career but also country wise. She took a deep breath and said, “Yes, I understand Signore.”

“Alessandro.” He said, the determined glint in his eyes strong now, “Say it Iris.”

“Alessandro.” Iris repeated huskily, not able to look away from his eyes that held her captive. He took a sharp breath as if it hurt and then looked down into his coffee cup, “May be it is best we stick to formality if that is how you plan to call me every time.”

Iris gulped and nodded. She had to get away NOW! She said, “If that is all, I’d like to go up to my room please.”

Alessandro seemed distant and cool as he said, “Yes, of course. Have a pleasant riposino.”

He stood up with Iris and bowed a bit in farewell, “Come to the private wing at five o’ clock. The children have their dinner by about six and go to sleep by six thirty. You can return to sane adult company after that. I will see you with the children.”  At her startled glance, his eyes turned green with fire “I will be there with the kids Iris- to play with you.”

Barely able to give a coherent reply, Iris mumbled a good bye and walked away as fast as her legs could take her, her heart beating a tattoo in her chest.

LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 6

 

Iris knew there was a reason why she was such good friends with Lorenzo. Had it been anyone else, gossip would have spread like wild fire. Her mind was still digesting the fact that her stranger and her boss were the same hateful man. And the nerve!! Wanting a kiss- as if they were on kissing terms! Iris fumed and thumped the pillows of the bed she had been laying in, for her siesta.

Everyone had been informed during luncheon that evening celebrations would be elaborate and formal since their CEO had decided to join them on this weekend. Not only were they going to have a good time out here but they will also be learning more about the well-known vineyard, not very far from where they were located. It was informed to all staff that the vineyard they would be visiting could well be a definite collaborator with the organization in the near future.

Iris had watched Alessandro as he had roamed about among the staff, greeting everyone suavely and sedately, ignoring those women who were drooling over him and trying to catch his eye. Iris squirmed as she remembered the confrontation that had shaken her in the afternoon.

She had been talking to Luigi about the wine production this year. She had been so engrossed in talking about the figures that will be put on the balance sheet that she had been quite startled when Alessandro had spoken just from behind her, “ Still taking shop I see. I’m glad to see that my staff is so dedicated to its work but this is an off, a weekend holiday-Si, Luigi?”

Luigi Matteo looked startled for a miniscule of a second and then his features were calm as he smiled slightly and put his hand on Iris’s shoulder, “Signore is right Iris. You need to enjoy this weekend. You worked hard enough on the last project and I’m sure you will be brilliant again in the upcoming project but for now, enjoy.”

He smiled at her and hugged her, smiling as he left; leaving her in the company of Alessandro.

“So Signora Florence, how do you like the organization? I of course, have only heard good things about you but I’m sure there must something you wish to say to me about my organization. Have you been happy with us?”

Iris kept her eyes lowered to the glass of white wine she had been holding as she replied, “But of course, I am happy working with Bertoni. Had I not been, I’d have made it a point to talk to Luigi- Signor Matteo about it.”

“I hear my male staff admires you greatly. I trust you know how to keep your professional and personal lives compartmentalized or have you been exploring what makes Italian men tick?”

“Why don’t you ask them? I’m sure they’ll tell you all about it.” Iris replied through clenched teeth, the glass in her hand held tight. She so wished she could throw the wine on his face along with the glass but she knew good manners dictated that she behave properly with the boss of the organization. It wouldn’t do to show the chink in her armor that he seemed to have caused. She smiled coolly, her eyes wide open,” If you will excuse me Signore, I must go and talk to—“

“No.” His one word stopped her in her tracks as she looked up at him questioningly, “Excuse me?”

“I said, no. You must stand here with me and talk to me.”

“And why should I do that?” Iris asked, her temper barely in control now. Any moment now, if she didn’t get away from him, she would explode. As if he was aware of her boiling rage, he took her arm and said, “Not the right place to talk, this one. Let’s go to my table.”

“I –“ Iris started protesting but he was already moving towards his table, placed a little away from the crowd, in a secluded area. She tried to pull her hand away but he only kept on walking, his grip on her arm tightening. Iris was sure she would be looking at a red patch on her arm once he let go. She dug her heels in and stood still as soon as they were a little away from everyone. He stopped and looked at her with impatience.   Iris tried to get herself free by pushing his hand with her other one, her nails digging into his hand, “How dare you—!!! Just because you’re the boss doesn’t mean you can manhandle me like a Neanderthal. Be kind enough to leave my arm right now.”

As her nails dug into his hand, he hissed, “Behave yourself, you hell cat!”

Iris looked at him with cold eyes as he held her tight and dragged her with him.

“I have not even begun behaving like a Neanderthal, I am simply taking you to the place where I know we can talk peacefully. I will let you go once you listen to me. ” Alessandro growled quietly and continued, “I hate ugly scenes and I know you do too. Come quietly with me to my table so that we can talk. After I have said what I want to, you can go and do whatever you wish to do.”

Iris hated him for saying it yet knew to create a scene in front of all would look very bad indeed. She clenched her teeth and said, “Fine. Let go of my arm and I’ll follow you to your damned table.”

When they reached the table, he pulled a chair for her to sit in. Iris sat down, without saying thank you to him.

“Stop looking so grumpy. You’re not  being taken hostage. You will be free to go as soon as you’ve listened to what I have to say.”

Iris glowered at him as he ignored her and ordered red wine for both. When the wine came, she ignored the glass and looked straight at him, “Cut the bullshit Signor Bertoni. I don’t want to sit with you and drink wine. Come to the point.”

“You’re one hell of a woman you know that?” His comment coming with a side grin disarmed her. He looked positively edible when he grinned like that, his eyes more green than grey. Iris unconsciously concluded that when he was angry or icy in behaviour, his eyes were steely grey but when he was amused or happy, they turned more green. Then she lowered her gaze to his mouth, still holding the grin and remembered how it had felt like upon her lips.  Iris sat staring at his mouth until he lifted his eyebrow  in question and she blushed deep pink.

“Charming. It’s been a long time since I saw a woman blush.” He said and then continued, as if he had not made a heart stopping comment.  His grin disappeared and his gaze was undefinable, “I want to know how do you like the International Business Management team and also wish to know your point of view on how the team can be grown.”

“Why me?” Iris asked bluntly, thrown suddenly by the change in his manner and the topic and then cursed her wayward tongue! What way was that to talk to your employer when your career prospects could be affected? His question and her reply could well be the door to her promotion!

“I recommended you for the team because I knew you were capable of handling large projects by yourself as well as with the team.”

Her jaw dropped as the penny fell. “You reco—recommended me? The phone call—“

“It was my secretary that had made the phone to the HR with the recommendation after the results were out. Mind you, I had already checked your credentials, spoken to people, checked out your coaching institution and so on.”

“You had me investigated?!” Iris was enraged.

“But naturally. I wanted to know if you were good for my company or not. I had to get you checked out.”

Iris couldn’t really fault the logic even though it was quite horrifying to know that he had had her checked. What else had he found out about her, she wondered. She didn’t have to wonder for long though.

“You speak excellent English; not like other Italians. You don’t have an accent either.” Iris observed. He bowed his head in agreement.

“Si, this is right. I am a child of two countries. My father is Italian but my mother is from Berkshire, England. I went to Cambridge to study International Business and Finance and of course you know where I qualified for my Masters.”

Iris absorbed this bit of information about him. No wonder he’d looked so much at home in her country.

“How is your family?” He asked quietly, his green grey gaze steady on her. Iris paled and then coloured as she realized what the question implied. Of course, he knew about her relations with her family. She cleared her throat and gave a composed reply, to her own astonishment, “Since you already know it, I don’t think there’s any point in me telling you, is there?”

Alessandro nodded and said, “So no contact what so ever?”

Iris shook her head, tears not far away. Her family had not spoken to her, despite the fact that she had told them she would be moving to Italy along with the job. They had wished her well and informed her that she need not come from so far to attend Marguerite’s wedding. She had been glad though when Marguerite had secretly called her and asked for her forgiveness. Iris had promised to visit her next year and that was that. Marguerite had changed to a loving, gentle creature or so it seemed. Love working its way through her heart, guessed Iris.

She took a deep breath and asked, “Is this what you wanted to talk to me about?”

Alessandro sighed and picked up his glass, “Partly. What are your plans for your future? May I call you Iris?”

Iris looked at him sharply but had to accede that it would be silly for him to call her Miss Florence when he addressed all others of her position with their first names. She nodded and he continued, “Thank you. Tell me about your plans for the future.”

Iris looked away from him and beyond where she could see the grandeur of the private wing’s entrance not far away. She wondered for a second what it would be like from inside and then shrugged the thought away. She needed to focus on her reply. She looked at him, her eyes serious as she said, “I have no immediate plans made for the future Signore. I- I am quite content with my job and I see a good career life ahead of me.”

Alessandro sipped from his glass and asked, “And marriage? Children?”

Somewhere in her mind, Iris remembered her cherished dream of a loving man, a happy family, white picket fence house and laughing children. That dream had fizzled away with her decision of not wanting anything to do with men for a long time. Her mind shied away from the fact that she had had dreams of a man like him being her loving husband and protecting her for all that was harsh in life. To compose herself before answering the question, Iris picked up her glass and sipped from it. Her eyebrows raised in appreciation of the wine.

“This is very good!”

Alessandro’s smile nearly floored her. He said, “I’m glad you like it. It shows good taste. This is Poggio Scalette, the best of red wine. It is collector’s item of course.  The yearly wines are aged for 10 months in aged cemented vats and sold after. This is a 20 year old wine. “

Iris sipped it again in appreciation. She knew the wine connoisseurs would love to taste this one. As if he had read her thoughts, he said, “You are right. Wine connoisseurs love it. The Ruffoli vineyard, not far from here, where it is made invites them along with wine collectors and vendors every year to taste and decide the rating of the wine quality.”

He then told her more about the surrounding area and Chianti classic region in particular. Bertoni had been a name to be reckoned with since very long, he said, when it came to wines, olives and cured meat. Similar name and fame was shared by some vineyards in Greve and Panzano, especially Fattoria di Calcinaia owned by the Capponi Counts.

Iris swirled her wine and sipped it at length. Then she pointed to the decanter. “Why has the wine been poured into the decanter?”

“To aerate it, I have to put it in decanter.” Explained Alessandro, continuing, “ You see, a young, intense, tannic red wine is like a young woman in youth; shy and reserved when you first meet them- young red wines need at least 2 hours to open up their flavor.  Like the woman in full flush of her youth, a mature red wine needs to aerate for an hour to get into its complex red, mature and full-bodied mode. A wine like this that is old must be poured into the decanter to contain the aroma and then drunk immediately thereafter…like joys of life that if you don’t enjoy at the right time, may forever disappear. ”

Alessandro was not sure what was happening but somewhere, explaining Iris about the wines had turned him on. As she sipped the wine, her tongue moved over her lips to savour the taste and he felt his groin tighten.  He wanted to pull her onto his lap and kiss her senseless. He wanted to take her to bed-pure and simple. How could a simple, unconscious action of hers inflame him so much?

He looked at the woman sitting opposite himself and wondered what exactly was it that pulled him to her again and again. He had been told by gossip mongers about her since the last few months; of how she kept men at bay, how cold and icy she could be if one attempted a conversation with her that bordered on personal or any kind of flirtation. The only person whom she spoke with freely, the only male was Lorenzo Fachinelli. Alessandro was well aware of Lorenzo’s preferences and he had no problems with Iris being friends with him.

He remembered how enraged he felt when Luigi had patted her shoulder and put his arms around her to hug her. He had wanted to snatch her away from him and beat Luigi to pulp. It had surprised him; his reaction. But then, he had concluded that he desired her and wanted her for himself; Alessandro Bertoni didn’t share his women. He was not sure how she came into the category of his woman but he knew he wanted her.

He wanted to understand what drove him to her. He normally kept his business and private life very different. With Iris, he wanted to break the barrier. Maybe she intrigued him? What other reason could be there ? From the first moment he had met her, he had felt the exploding chemistry between them. He wanted to explore this attraction that hovered everywhere between them.

It had been years since he had been so aroused by a woman. Of course he had lots of female friends-partners; he was hardly a monk. But his partners came to him with perfect understanding that the affair was just what he said it would be- temporary. Lately with the pressure from his family, he had started thinking of a wife who could handle his family and be a good hostess. For himself, he didn’t expect anything much than good sex from her. He didn’t want any more children; he already had two and they were hell on wheels. Romance and love would be kept aside when he married. He had taken that path before and been bitterly disappointed.

“Would you like to visit the private wing?” he asked suddenly and watched as Iris stiffened.

Damn it, he hadn’t meant to come out so bluntly. However, now that the shot had been fired, he waited to see the result. She looked down, blushing and closed her eyes as if controlling her instant response. Then she looked up again; her face composed.

Her eyes were cold and flat with dislike, her voice just as cold as she said, “No thank you. I wish to return to the others.” She got up gracefully and said, “Have a pleasant afternoon Signore.”

Alessandro looked at her for a second and his own eyes went cold grey that made Iris shiver. He nodded his acceptance of her reply and said, “Until later then, Iris.” As she walked away, he called out, “Iris?”

Iris turned towards him, her gaze puzzled. His voice gave nothing away as he nonchalantly sipped his wine and said, “You may run away but remember this- there is something between us that will not go away and you know it too. You will visit me in the private wing yourself. I will not ask you again- this I promise. With her back ramrod straight, Iris left without giving him any response while Alessandro sat at his table, sipping his wine, his thoughts and feelings hidden under the inscrutable mask of his bland face.

LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 5

Iris went into back into the ladies room once her good sense took hold of her. She was shaking; initially with horror and then with remorse self-disgust. How could she have behaved like a slut- kissing that stranger like that! She’d kissed and been kissed before but never like that. Never had she responded to anyone like that. Damn that man! While she refreshed her smeared lipstick after washing her face thoroughly and gargling with tap water a few times, self-disgust was joined by rage. How dare he kiss her like that- as if she was ripe and his for the taking? What right had he to manhandle her like that!

Conveniently forgetting that she had not objected to the kiss then, in fact participated enthusiastically, Iris concluded in her rage that she was right in her assessment of men- and she was right to want nothing to do with them. All of them, especially that one man were lusty pigs and nothing more!

She got out and went straight to the table where people had got up and gathered to say good bye to each other, until the next morning when they would meet at work. Iris bid a cool good bye to all and walked towards the door with Lorenzo.

“What’s got your feathers frazzled mia bella?” Lorenzo whispered, making Iris grin at him.

“Not frazzled, ruffled and no, my er-feathers are fine and in place. They’re not ruffled at all.”

“Excuse my English Tesoro but I don’t believe you. You looked upset when you came back from powdering your nose. What upset you?”

“Not what-who” muttered Iris inaudibly and then said aloud, “Nothing upset me Lorenzo. I wish to go home and rest now. Would you be kind enough to drop me home before you go back to Pieter’s place?”

“Ma certo! But of course darling.”

They nodded good night to the manager who stood on one side of the desk by the door, talking to the guard and were about to get out when their names were called aloud. They turned back to see a harried Luigi rushing up to them. He turned to Iris as he came to them.

“Iris, there’s something I forgot to tell you. The two directors Felice and Felipe Bertoni are going to come down tomorrow to the office. They wish to discuss the new project we are going to work on and take a look at the marketing presentation we have prepared for the promotion of Bertoni Olives.’

Iris was at once businesslike, “Which one Luigi? “Pieno di olio” or “piene di gusto”?

Luigi beamed at her, “Bravo, you pronounce this like a true Italian! I want the presentation of castavetrano olives “Pieno di Olio” tomorrow and maybe later if they ask for it, cerignolas olive presentation-“Piene de Gusto. Si?”

“Bene. I’ll be there in the office a little early to ensure all is as it should be.” Iris informed her immediate superior and with a smile, wished him good night.

Once Lorenzo had dropped her home, Iris worked until later in the night to ensure that the presentation was flawless. She still needed some improvement with her Italian but as long as they understood her and the presentation, it should be alright. She had been told that the twin brothers were very important for the department that she worked in, as the main owner never looked in much into their side of work. It was left to Felice and Felipe Bertoni to be the marketing face for the organization.

She laid out the clothes for herself in the morning that were brisk and businesslike. Checking herself in the mirror, she couldn’t fault the make-up that made her look mature and cool, her attire being soft pleat black trousers with a Nieman Marcus silk shirt in charcoal grey. Slipping on her soft suede made Gucci heeled pumps in black with thin heels, she felt herself getting into the brisk, businesslike mode. The heels gave her height and made her intimidating as she was already tall. Iris found that height became an added advantage in Florence not only in fashion sense but also when it came to looking businesslike and dynamic.

Felice and Felipe Bertoni were two good looking, young and sharp as a tack brothers, assessed Iris when she met them at the meeting. They were also quite incorrigible with their blunt comments on women in the office. They flirted with all women light heartedly yet they didn’t leave the impression of being heart breakers. Perhaps that was one of the reasons why the brothers were the marketing face of the organization.  They were both highly qualified and during the presentation they had asked questions that were directly related to the ad campaign that would follow with the approval of this presentation and its effects. Iris confidently replied to their questions, saw their admiring glances and hoped they approved her language ability and presentation skills along with her ideas. It seemed as if they did for when she had finished explaining the entire campaign, they sat back and Felipe said, “We’re satisfied. You’ve been a good asset to the company so far Miss Florence.  My brother and I agree that you will make a success of this campaign too like you did with the other two before.”

“Thank you Mr Bertoni, to the both of you. I can only say that I like working here and I find the work challenging, interesting and very much to my liking. The team is also very cooperative.”

“Yes, especially Lorenzo, eh?” Sniggered Felice Bertoni and received a quelling look from his brother.

“Forgive my brother Miss Florence. He is quite prone to being straight forward even when he should not be.” Felipe grinned at her as if he knew she would excuse his brother’s behaviour.

Iris smiled coldly and said coolly, “Of course. I realize he’s perhaps the face that keeps everyone grinning and smiling, eh?”

Felice winced and Felipe laughed, “Too true! Our brother and boss Alessandro says the same thing.”

Iris gasped inwardly as she heard the name and then got annoyed with herself. Just because the stranger had the same name, she had no cause to be so upset. She already knew that that was the name of the CEO so why did she have to think of that stranger? This was Italy and there must be thousands of Alessandro everyone out here, including that guy and this one. She smiled and excused herself as both the brothers looked on admirably. When the door closed, they looked at the closed door and smiled broadly.

Felipe said, “I understand why Alessandro thought she’d be good and why she was chosen. She’s intelligent and smart, she’s dedicated to the work and the team respects her but brother, I swear I could see an axe coming down your neck when you tried to be funny with her. I wonder how her and Alessandro met. He handles everything with the sensitivity of a water buffalo most days. Wonder what caught his fancy–”

Felice said, “Do you think—“

Both the brothers grinned at each other. Felice rubbed his hands together with the glee of a naughty child, ”Diamond cutting diamond would be a sight to watch!” They laughed together and immediately started making plans.

By late afternoon a circular was making rounds in the office informing everyone that it had been decided that the team would go to Chianti region the following weekend to attend the festival on Sunday. Everyone was excited. Iris smiled for it would give her a chance to relax after the rigorous weeks at work while finishing the last project. It was being said that a villa was being booked for the team that had a huge garden, swimming pool and was miles away from the hub-dub of the city.

The week went past quickly and Iris was kept busy at work, with very few thoughts to spare to her stranger. Night time was the one time that brought out his thoughts to the fore, when she was asleep. She had been restless and waking up quite early the last few mornings, with her sheets in a tangle and her body wet with sweat. She wished she’d never met the guy and more so that she’d never kissed him back. Trying to push the incident at the back of her mind only worked when she was busy so Iris exercised a lot more, went for long walks with Lorenzo when he had the time and went to the market to window shop.

It was on Thursday; two days before they were due to leave for Chianti, when she  saw a small boutique at the end of the street while walking away from Piazza della Repubblica. She stopped and went to look inside the window, squinting to catch the glimpse of the dress that had stopped her in her tracks And then she saw it- a fabulous creation in apple green. She went inside and enquired after the evening dress. The saleswoman was quite enthusiastic and encouraged Iris to try it on.

Iris felt the satin slide over her body and her legs as she put it on. It had a broad neck and the A-line sweetheart evening dress was supported by two wide straps; ruched and embellished with tiny diamonds, right under the sides of the under-breasts. The dress was slit from one side right up to mid-thigh. The dress curved Iris’s body at the right places and moulded to it like second skin. It complemented her hair and eyes, making her skin glow. Looking into the mirror, she could see a sexy, attractive woman standing, looking at herself with joy. It was tempting to forget that she wanted to look businesslike and not sultry.

She took off the dress and affirmed that she would buy the dress. Iris normally didn’t go for an evening dress, especially one that would make her look sexy but this one, she couldn’t resist. The saleswoman oohed and aahed over her appearance in the dress and Iris felt quite happy with the way she looked. She had no idea when she’d wear it- maybe never, but she just had to buy it. Maybe she’d wear it when she was alone in her flat, simply to give boost to her confidence.  She paid a small fortune for the dress and the satin silver slippers with pointed heels that accessorized well with the dress and came out of the boutique.

On Friday evening, Iris packed clothes keeping in mind that this was an informal event. Summer was here and the weather had already turned warm. She picked up some short dresses to pack and chose two of them to take away. One was a cotton dress with colours like Maroon, purple, white, blue and pink  in block print and the other was geometrically pattered in greyish blue and black. Together, she packed shorts, two light T-shirts and a silk halter neck top in pink along with black silk trousers. In went her toiletries and make-up kit and the bag was packed and ready.

Saturday morning saw her dressed in jeans and a sunny yellow tank top with a wide brim hat to keep the sun away. She was to meet Lorenzo and a few other colleagues and together they will be driving towards Chianti wine region in the cars Luigi had arranged for them. The drive was not more than an hour or so but the way to their destination was amazingly picturesque. Iris had bought a small rough guide to acquaint herself with the Chianti wine region.

When they reached their destination, Iris could only look around awe struck at the beauty. Their destination was just a small distance away from Greve, in the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany.  The place gave the viewer an extraordinary vantage point. She saw green, red and brown vineyards, terraced olive groves and miles of forest around. The villa standing tall- 16th century building unless Iris was mistaken, was where they were to stay.  This country house that had been turned into a hotel since some years fit in like hand in glove. Looking at it, Iris felt as if the villa had been made centuries ago, keeping in mind the vineyards surrounding it and season’s changing colours.

They looked around inside, while Luigi was talking to the hotel manager and the rest of the staff was moving into their rooms. Iris would share the room with Vittoria Terzo, a colleague of hers. Lorenzo made a face when she told him that. At her puzzled expression, he said, “Darling, you’ll see soon what I mean. She’s a bitch, that one. She thinks she’s the only pretty woman around and the others are in no comparison to her beauty.”

“Does it look like I care Lorenzo? If she thinks that, I can happily let her live with that.” Iris shrugged her shoulders, moving towards a painting and examining it.

Lorenzo’s hands moved up and down as he said, his voice anxious, “Yes but Iris, she is bitchy because she always put all other women down. When you wear something, she comment bad on it and then you go –you know, mad.”

Iris laughed and caught his arm again, “I promise you I will not be upset if she says anything. She is hardly going to be interested in my clothes Lorenzo. Aren’t I called the icy one? Why would she bother?”

“For the fun of it?” Guessed Lorenzo.

Iris walked along to the main door and outside, replying, “Even if she does, I have no cause to rise up to the occasion. I dress simple and am happy with being the way I am. Screw anyone else’s opinions.”

Lorenzo grinned, “Si, that is true.”

“This is Bertoni property?” Iris asked Lorenzo who now had his hand entwined with hers and was looking at the hotel and declaring it to a wonderful structure.  At her question, he cocked one eyebrow up and opened his mouth to say something, but then put his hand over his mouth.

“Oh my! I didn’t think he’d be here!” Lorenzo whispered.

“What? Who?” Iris looked at him questioningly.

Lorenzo couldn’t seem to tear his gaze away from the view that had caught his attention as he answered, “Alessandro Bertoni, mia bella Iris. O mia madre, I am going to melt when I see him! Him in his limited edition car that is as sexy as he is- as sin.”

Iris looked at the car that had stopped and literally drooled over it. It was certainly one of the limited edition cars from Lamborghini. The LP 570-4 SUPER TROFEO STRADALE was a model in the lineup of Gallardo and the design was based on one of the most successful race car from Lamborghini; Blancpain Super Trofeo. There were only 150 cars that had come out of the factory in the colour called Rosso Mars.  The guy who must own it must be stinking rich, thought Iris.

The subject of her thoughts got out of the car; looking taller than ever, wearing a crisp suit in grey with a dotted tie in dark blue and a light blue shirt inside, Ray Ban Predator 8 sunglasses and walked towards the villa—towards them.

Iris nearly shouted a “NO” out aloud, such was her shock. Her mind refused to believe the image in front of her eyes. Her brain was not able to compute the fact that the stranger of her acquaintance was in actual fact, the head of her organization- Alessandro Bertoni. Maybe he was not? She turned to ask Lorenzo, “He is the company CEO?”

“Si-si! Oh look at the way he walks! Mamma mia!” Iris stood there dumbfounded, watching him stride towards them slowly. He was very close now and Iris could feel her heart booming with fear-anxiety-excitement?-she didn’t know. He took off his glasses and pointedly looked at Iris’s hand that was still holding Lorenzo’s hand and then looked up at her. She forced herself to not snatch her hand away from Lorenzo’s and stood tall. His eyes burned holes in her, as if he couldn’t bear her presence around.  He smiled but it held no warmth as he came forward and said, “Buon giorno Lorenzo. Come stai Signor Fachinelli?”

“Io sto bene, mille grazie Signor Bertoni. Benvenuti a Villa Bertoni.” Lorenzo beamed his welcome to Alessandro Bertoni. Alessandro nodded, acknowledging the welcome and his gaze caught Iris.

“Signorina Florence, I have heard all good things about you. Welcome to Villa Bertoni. how do you like it?”

Iris raged inwardly. He was actually behaving as if they’d never met before! Fine, if he wanted to act like a lofty employer, she would be the employee. She didn’t meet his eyes as she replied, “Thank you for the welcome Signor Bertoni. As for the villa, there is nothing to dislike in Villa Bertoni, Signore. I can only say I have liked very much what little I have seen of it.”

“Bene. You shall have a grand tour of the villa later on. There is a private wing and the rest is converted into the hotel for guests and turisti.”

At this, Iris looked up sharply into his eyes. Her breath hitched into her throat at the look he gave her and she looked away immediately. She felt goose bumps rising all over her body, her composure almost certainly in tatters. He surely couldn’t look at her like that- with so much unleashed hunger!

Her brain screamed at her to move away before she started gasping for breath and Iris immediately reacted upon it. She smiled at Lorenzo, put her hand on his shoulder and said,   “Uhh—Lorenzo, I will return to my room now and change. Meet me later. Si?”

“Ok, buono. I will meet you later.” He turned towards her and kissed her cheek.

“Nice meeting you Signore.” Iris mouthed the formal statement and turned away to go.

“Un secondo, Signorina Florence.” As she turned around to look at him, all suspicious and cautious, he bared his tiger teeth, “You are in Italy. We kiss and part.. like you did with Lorenzo. I must be given the same privilege at least.”

Iris looked at him, her eyes opaque blocks of wood and fire. A lesser mortal would have frozen on the spot and died. Alessandro did nothing of the sort. In fact he looked quite undaunted with her gaze. He looked back nonchalantly, waiting for her to come to him.

Short of making a scene, Iris knew there was nothing she could do. She took a deep breath and came towards him. He bent down; after all he was about six to eight inches taller than she was. She reached up on her toes and barely brushed her lips against his cheek, her heart racing. Unfortunately her feet were not steady and she lost her balance.

She heard Lorenzo gasp as Alessandro caught her by her tiny waist and pulled up to him while she struggled to gain her balance back. His body brushed against her and Iris closed her eyes in agonizing frustration, going red. Her brain had no control over her body where this man was concerned. Her body burned up in his arms, her breasts peaking up and brushing against his chest.  She had to move away from him before she made a fool of herself!

“I’m sorry.” Iris said loud enough and pushed herself away. He let her go instantly, becoming cool and distant as he said, “It is nothing. Not really your fault.”

She didn’t look up but turned around and walked away from the scene as fast as her legs could carry her inside.

“Close your mouth Fachinelli or you’ll catch flies.” Alessandro murmured into Lorenzo’s ears; his lips twitching, his tone amused. Lorenzo went beet red and nodded furiously at him. Alessandro gave a nod and left him there by the door, moving towards the private wing of the villa himself.

 

LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 4

A FEW MONTHS LATER

Iris tapped her foot in annoyance as she looked at her watch. This was the heights. Lorenzo was late as usual. “Italians!” muttered Iris as she locked up her car and decided she’d wait for five more minutes for him and then join the rest of the party in the restaurant.

Her team of co-workers was waiting for her in the “Ristorante Accademia”; they were celebrating the completion of a critical project and Iris was waiting for her close friend and colleague, Lorenzo.

That one phone call on a fateful afternoon had been a door to escape for Iris. She had been invited for an interview at one of the most prestigious and globally recognized Italian companies. Bertoni Ltda was famous for their wines, olive oil, plastic manufacturing, apparel and cured meat companies. The word in the international market was that whoever was fortunate to be offered employment in Bertoni was sure to be never lacking of money and position – if they worked hard and were good at what they did.

Iris had thought it was very good luck when she had applied for the job interview.  They had been looking for a candidate for their European International Business management team with her exact qualifications; M.B.A. with International Business and knowledge of at least two European languages apart from English. Iris had learnt Italian, Spanish and German when she had been in college.

She remembered Estelle’s reaction when Iris had hung up the phone and looked at her with a big smile. Estelle had definitely been a little taken aback. Not that Iris had been mooning about or going around with a long face. She was nothing if not cheerful and her philosophy of “Everything happens for the best.” was something she followed to the T.

It had only been the day before when Estelle had remarked on some changes she had seen in Iris. She had complained that Iris had been wearing no shorts and skirts; they all seemed to have been put away in hiding.  Estelle had seen her in nothing but formal clothes. When she rested, she wore jeans and the old faded T-shirts. Her glorious golden brown hair was never left open anymore but could be seen in a braid or tied into a bun. Iris always smiled at everyone; even strangers. Lately that had changed as well. She avoided looking at the strangers altogether and was always highly acidic if a man approached her. She had been asking the reason for these changes. Iris had simply evaded her questions by throwing the red herring of her own fast approaching wedding.

*flashback*

Estelle had exclaimed, “Whoa there, Sunshine! What has got you so pepped up?” It was late evening and she had just come back from work, to be handed a glass of wine and Iris’s cheerful face.

Iris told her about the phone call and they both whooped with joy. The interview was scheduled for the day after and if selected Iris would be moved to one of their Italian offices.

“That’s lovely. Italy and this job both sound amazing and I know you would love it there.” Estelle declared while hugging Iris and said, “And if you go to Italy.. the men there..ooohh!!”

“You’re going to be married soon and to no less than a traditional Indian guy. How do you think he’s going to take your enthusiasm towards drooling on other men?” Iris grinned at her housemate and friend.

 Estelle waved a hand in the air, “Bah! It doesn’t matter since I am not the one going there. You would be and I’m sure Rajiv wouldn’t begrudge me a little bit of drool on my chin for drool worthy men.”

Iris laughed and then sobered, “Yeah but I’ve decided I wish to go off. Be it men from any part of the world, I wish to steer clear of them. No headaches, no messes.”

Estelle looked at Iris with her mouth open. She stuttered, “B-b-but-but-but”

Iris looked at her with one eyebrow raised mockingly, “-but what? I didn’t say I shall stop being straight. But, if I have to stay a spinster all my life to be happy, I’d rather stay that way than be a miserable married woman looking for extra marital affairs by the way of excitement in life.  I’d rather focus on my career than any male worth nothing more than the balls on his body. Staying clear of emotional entanglements is my mantra.”

Estelle’s brow cleared and she coughed, “Uh—any particular reason or just because what happened with Sunny—“

Iris laughed and sat down, “Sunny has not been a part of my thoughts for a long time now. I was serious and meant it when I said I’m glad we never went ahead and planned the future. It would have been a disaster. Besides, I realized I never even loved him. Nah- I think I wish him well with Rose and that’s that.”

“So what—why-“ Estelle was cut off with the wave of her hand as Iris looked irritated to be reminded of something. “Never mind why I’ve decided upon it, I think it’s the best idea I’ve had recently. No more meeting men, especially strange men and no more talks on them.”

Soon after she had given the interview and heard back from the company to know that she had been offered the job and had been selected to be one of the candidates to go to Florence. Iris had attended Estelle’s wedding and left soon after.

 *Flashback ends*

“Ah there you are mia bella Iris!” Lorenzo came strolling in. He elaborately kissed Iris on both cheeks and the mouth and said, “Mi dispiace darling, I’ m  late I know. But what is an Italian without a grand entry, eh?”

Iris ignored the appalling English Lorenzo spoke and said, “ This is the fifth time you’re late since we’ve been to this side of Florence Lorenzo. Not good. And you were going to show me L’Academia today; instead you disappeared!”

Lorenzo bit his tongue between his teeth and put his hand over his head, “ Sono orrible! I am so sorry Iris that I forget to take you to L’Academia today. I went to Mercato Nuovo to buy some gifts for friends back home. Pieter took me to this delightful café out there after we were done shopping.” Lorenzo smiled as if he had achieved the impossible. “He comes to Cortona soon to meet my family.”

Iris forgot her annoyance and smiled at him, “Lovely! You forget everything when you’re with him, eh?”

“But of course! Now let us go join others. They must be waiting, eh?” Lorenzo declared delicately wrinkling up his nose. He put his arm around her waist and they walked into the restaurant to join the waiting party.

Iris smiled as she looked around, talking to her colleagues while a part of her wondered what should she gift Lorenzo. He was quitting the job soon and planning to go join his family business in Cortona. She sipped her wine and thought of her first days in Florence.

Florence; the city of fashion where art and culture breathe together, the city where greatest architectural treasures of the world are located. Iris had been delighted to be in Florence even though initially it tickled her silly that her family name belonged to the city. Slowly she had decided it was fait accompli that she landed here. She loved living here. She had already been many times to the Cathedral, the Baptistery, the Uffizi, the Bargello, and the Accademia.

Not really religious by nature but fascinated by the art that the churches of Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce stored, Iris had been there many times too; to gaze at their  veritable art galleries. She frequented the library of San Lorenzo ; where magnificent exhibition of Michelangelo’s architectural genius could be seen. She may have been off men but she was certainly not dead!

When Iris had joined the company, she had been very reserved towards her team of co-workers that mainly consisted of men. Italian men are quite verbal in their appreciation of beauty and Iris had found it becoming a headache; the constant offers to go out and some very forward ones too. Not that she had been downright cruel with anyone but slowly men around her got the idea that she was unavailable in the dating market and the offers had gradually stopped. Now she was respected for her work, enjoyed team outings with her colleagues and was generally considered “friendly until you start hitting on her” sort of person.

Lorenzo had made friends with her the day he had saved her from the amorous advances of a colleague. Lorenzo being the way he was, he had made way into Iris’s affections and accompanied her most days to her explorations. He would wander with her into the streets of the city. They would walk right up to Arno river or go to Boboli Gardens and even climb the hill up to the church of San Miniato al Monte and share their work and life experiences while gazing at the delightful city.

It was rumoured in the office that they had a thing going but Iris knew better. Lorenzo was a sensitive, male loving guy who had kept his preferences secret and was yet to find a good partner in life. Him and Iris spent many a evenings together because Iris couldn’t really say no when Lorenzo asked her to keep up the pretence.

It was a party of 15 that sat at the table; drinking and talking. Italians were quite noisy- Iris had thought initially with annoyance. Gradually though she had learned to accept it.

The food when it arrived was tasteful and delicious. It began with Bruschetta al pomodoro fresco e basilica for starters and moved to salad with rucola, mozzarella, avocado, zucchini in citron salsa dressing. Lasagnette di grano saraceno al ragù d’agnello e mandorle tostate was ordered for their first course, which in plain English meant Lasagna with buckwheat lamb ragout and roasted almonds. Everybody decided to choose their own main course. Iris decided upon meatloaf with zucchini and for dessert of course, nothing but Tiramisu would do for her.

Discussions were going on about what to do on the weekend since the last Sunday of May was coming up. Iris was unaware of the connection until Luigi Matteo, Iris’s immediate head proposed an outing to Chianti, the wine region of Italy. He explained to her that the last Sunday of May was “Cantine Aperte” day; an “Open Wineries” day in English. It took place everywhere in Italy, even in Florence but it was especially the Chianti region people visit on this day. One could taste local wines and have fun. Also business wise it was a good day since you could meet a potential buyer or a seller.

It looked as if the proposal was gaining more nods by the second. Iris shrugged her shoulders, looked at Lorenzo for approval and at his nod said yes. She smiled warmly at Lorenzo as a way of thanks. The smile froze on her face as her eyes met a pair of grey-green eyes. The shock of meeting the stranger she had long ago bumped into and had words with wore off within seconds though when she realized that he was amused at her reaction. He lifted his glass in salute that was accompanied by that much hated mocking smile of his. Her brown eyes caught fire at the gesture as she met that gaze and gave him a chilling stare. He raised his eyebrow in the manner that was hatefully familiar to Iris.

Taking a deep breath, Iris decided to look away first and then ignore him. Her nerves tingled and she felt hot..hot with anger, concluded Iris. Though she tried to calm herself down, the anger that had been brought to the boil by the stranger was still on a high, so much so, that when she turned to the colleague sitting next to her, he choked on his wine and asked her if she was alright.  Iris assured him she was; only she had to go to the ladies. She excused herself and went away from the table to the far end of the room where the ladies room was situated.

“Swine.. mocking me. Why me God!! Why did I have to see him of all people!! Wonder what is he doing here of all places? And that hateful smile of his–always looks at me as if he’s my superior and I’m his slave. Arrogant bugger.”Iris carried on a monologue and then upset with herself for thinking about him, exclaimed, “Stop it Iris! That’s quite enough of thinking about the vile stranger, damn the man! Forget him and ignore him if he’s still sitting outside. Yes, that’s the best way. “ Convincing herself, she patted her cheeks with cool tissue, refreshed her lipstick and was out of the room. She was still trying to mentally convinced herself as she walked to the table one moment when the next she found herself walking into someone’s waistcoat. She immediately pushed the man away and said,

“Mi dispiace, per favoure Scusi Signore. Iris automatically apologized and excused herself to begin to walk away.

“Abbastanza bene! Buona sera Signorina. I see you have learnt my language- and you’ve again bumped into me. Quite the bad habit we have, eh?” Iris would recognize the scent of the man and his hateful drawl anywhere. Of all the bad luck- and that’s when she was trying so hard to get over her already frayed nerves, the shock of seeing him here and the anger at his earlier behaviour!!

She looked up at him now; she had look quite far up. Iris was by no means petite but this guy was just so tall! With an icy glance, Iris mocked him back, “Yes, seems you’re quite the bumper yourself. Do you do this with all women you meet or do you especially do it to annoy me everytime?”

He laughed softly, his eyes more green than grey. Iris shivered; they were by no means warm. He evaded her question and asked, “So what brings you to Florence?”

Iris smiled sweetly though her eyes were blazing as she said, “Excuse me if I don’t stand here and let you chat me up. I’m not in the habit of talking to strangers who annoy me.”

As she began to walk away, he said, “We are destined to meet I think until we start talking to each other properly. I’m ready to talk to you. Are you?”

Iris looked back at him, her eyes colder than ever as she replied, “Not in this lifetime Signore. Capisce?”

He laughed again and then while she was still standing there, he came closer to her and murmured in her ear, causing every hair of her body to rise up, “You can’t run from fate for long Signorina. If we’re to –er be bumped into each other again, we will meet. Enjoy your evening. “

Iris stood there, as still as a statue for a few seconds until rage took hold of her. How dare he!!!! She wanted to march up to him and slap him senseless. So immense was her rage that she decided it would not be safe to go join others lest she lost control. She decided to go back into the ladies room to calm herself down.  She turned around to go back and had almost reached the dark corner when she was caught and swung around swiftly.

Before she could even squeak, her chin was caught hold of and she was made to look up- straight into the eyes of the “becoming-familiar” stranger. She opened her mouth to give him her piece of mind for manhandling her but did not get far. He took advantage of her open mouth, swooping down on her and closed his mouth on hers before she could speak. The contact caught her senses unawares. His tongue traced the seam of her lips, and she closed her eyes, fire of desire licking her senses. Their bodies were not touching each other anymore, it was just the lips. Her focus was centred on the silky slide of his lips over hers, the stroke of his tongue and his breath mingling with hers. Basically it was a leisurely entry that was meant to entice her senses.

The pulse in her throat skittered and her thoughts and focus became blurred when the kiss turned from exploring to passionate. Iris responded to him in kind, bringing out a groan from his lips as he kissed her deeper, his body moulding her to his. His hands rested on her hips as he drew her closer still, her breasts touching his chest now.  He devoured her while she kissed him back with the same passion and hunger, as the taste of him exploded through her. She pressed against him, trying to get out of his grasp so that she could touch him too.

He slapped the palm of his hand on the wall behind her and leaned further into her, pressing his body down on hers as they continued kissing. His free hand went into her hair, freeing it from the tight knot it had been tied in. Pins fell down with a clink and her hair was bare on her shoulders now, creating a golden brown curtain in which he pressed his face into for a bit, smelling her hair while she breathed deep, her head on his shoulder. He caught a fistful of her hair and gently pulled it to make her look up as he nuzzled her throat.

‘Scusi.” A smothered cough and Iris felt reality return with a crash. Iris pushed him away from her with a jerk, horror mounting every second as she realized what she had been doing with this-this stranger.

“Look at me Iris Florence.” He spoke as he none to gently lifted her chin this time to meet his green-grey flare. “It is better to take your anger out this way- with passion rather than with words or keep it bottling up inside. This was destined to happen the first time we bumped into each other. So no harm done.”

She wrenched her gaze away from him and moved away to create some physical distance as she spoke, her voice shaking but cool, “Speak for yourself Signore! For my part- I just hope we never meet again.”

She looked up to meet his gaze with her defiance and wished she hadn’t done so. He smirked and said, “Since  I already know your name, it is fair that you should know mine. Alessandro is the name, in case we meet the next time. And we are bound to- soon actually. Arrivederci..for now.” On that enigmatic note, he left to join others at his table while Iris stood there, still as a statue, digesting what had just happened. She would reflect on what he said later.