LOVE CONQUERS-Chapter 7

Chapter-7

Iris had taken great pains with her appearance for this evening- mocked Vittoria Terzo, her room-mate for this weekend. Iris had looked at her coolly and taken her comments on face, without rising to it. She had simply shrugged her comments off and let her be. Lorenzo had already warned her that Vittoria; a former model, was bitchy. Iris knew she didn’t care for her opinion anyway and so nothing Vittoria said affected her. Vittoria was in the bathroom now, getting ready.

Outwardly looking composed, Iris was well aware that she was a  bundle of nerves. She had tried to fake a headache when Lorenzo had visited her earlier and asked if she could perhaps stay in the room this evening. Lorenzo had given her two pills and asked her to rest but also quietly suggested that it may be a bad idea to stay in. It may put others in mind that she was not just reserved but also snooty and not a team player. In the end, Iris had conceded that he was right and given herself up to the evening of razzle dazzle.

She sat by the bedside window and willed her heart to calm down. It had been galloping since afternoon, when she left Alessandro sitting by his table, sipping wine. She had paced around entire afternoon in her room, agitated by her own self and her own tumultuous feelings. She remembered how tempted she’d been when he’d asked her if she’d like to visit the private wing of Bertoni villa.  In an instant, her mind had conjured up an image of them in his bedroom, entwined together. It had rattled her; these thoughts that had come unbidden into her mind. She had blushed and then horrified at what she’d been thinking, she’d stiffened and refused. She closed her eyes in frustration. What was it about that man that brought her to the brink of madness?

A knock on the door put an end to self-reprimand. Lorenzo was supposed to escort her downstairs to the party. One quick look at the mirror and Iris felt muddled. She was not sure of her appearance. She wondered if she should simply invent a headache and stay put in the room. She looked at herself again and frowned.

Maybe it was all too black. Lorenzo had clucked his tongue and looked appalled as he’d seen the clothes she’d packed for this weekend and finally begged her to wear the last minute packed black tunic with lace on the hem and the sleeves. In Lorenzo’s opinion, it certainly helped in solving this evening party’s “what-to-wear” problem.  After almost twenty minutes of arguing, Iris had finally given in and agreed to wear the black tunic with black tights along with delicate silver heel sandals. Her long golden brown hair had been let loose for tonight instead of being tied in a chignon or worse a ponytail. Iris’s hands itched to put up her hair but aware that she would offend Lorenzo if she did that, she let it be. For accessories, she wore the multi strand pearl necklace; her great grandmother’s legacy.

Another round of knocking had her hastily moving towards the door to open it. She smiled softly as she partly opened the door, expecting Lorenzo and started to say, “Lorenzo, I don’t—“

She stopped abruptly as she gazed into deep pools of green-grey eyes. Her eyes dropped and traveled from downwards to upwards. Expensive tan loafers and cream trousers with cream collared Polo Shirt exposing tanned arms, with one arm accessorized with expensive make of the watch- Rolex if she wasn’t mistaken completed Alessandro’s look of the rich tycoon. A part of her mind registered that he really had a striking face along with those eyes that literally winded her up every time she met him.

She didn’t want to stare really but she just couldn’t stop herself from doing so. It wasn’t just his height that gave him an intimidating and powerful look, it was also his perfect features; well not really perfect since he had a chink on his nose as if he’d broken it in some fight; but the rest of him was actually perfect- his physique exquisitely sculpted with muscles at the right places. Alessandro definitely had an aura of power around him that made him arrogant and incredibly self-assured. A small voice at the back of her mind added, “don’t forget the dynamic sex appeal.” And Iris, annoyed with herself for thinking so much about him, gave herself a mental slap. She met his amused eyes and to her annoyance, blushed.

“You don’t –what?” Alessandro asked her in an amused tone.

“I’m waiting for Lorenzo to come escort me downstairs. I thought it was him.” Iris explained shortly and then a frown marred her features, “I thought you were in the private wing. What brings you here-a wrong turn?”

Alessandro was a little taken aback by pert question; not that it reflected on his face. He took in the delicate lines of her face, the minimal make-up, slightly glossed pink full lips and the mass of long golden brown hair that tumbled down almost to her waist. She was definitely striking, not more than any other woman he knew but still-she made his blood pump a little faster with desire. He decided to ignore her question and wondered what she was wearing. Something black, yes but what? She hadn’t opened the door fully to him yet and he wondered why.

His tone was quietly amused, “You sounded ready with an excuse to skip the party. Are you planning to invent an headache and hide this evening Signorina Florence?”

Iris paled but quickly caught her composure while her mind raged with thoughts. How in the world did he know what she had been thinking? What made him so self-assured that he was right. Time to cut him down to size. She smiled coolly and said, “Now I wonder why you would think that? I have a million acquaintances down there and two good friends. I would not wish to hide from them.  But you didn’t answer my question. What are you doing here?”

Alessandro watched the fleeting emotions on her face, fascinated by the paleness and then the tide of pink that coloured her cheeks. She was unlike women he knew; that was certain. Usually women responded positively, purring at his presence, with smiles and coy signals. Iris indicated no interest in him, except he had caught the darkening of those wood brown eyes when she had been checking him out.  All this pretense of non-interest amused him and yet intrigued him too.

His voice was deep, lazy and confident as he replied enigmatically, “Yes-your question. I know my hotel too well to take a wrong turn.” He looked at the pink disappearing from her face and paleness taking its place and wondered if she was scared of him. She looked at him as if he may leap on her and attack her. Not that he ever thought she’d be scared of him but the thought did make him uneasy. Maybe that was why his tone was abrupt when he said, “Is Vittoria ready? I’ve come to escort her down.”

Shock held her mouth open for two seconds before she stammered, “Vittoria? Sh-she is-“

“I’m here darling, all ready to party! How do I look?” Vittoria’s voice came from behind Iris and Iris turned around. Vittoria truly looked sensational. Iris felt like a pale flower in black in front of her. Vittoria was dressed in blood red short cocktail dress, with indecently low halter neck, that clung to her curves at the right places and ended a little below her hips. Iris felt an instant dislike for the girl in that moment.

She muttered under her breath, “What’s the need to wear anything if that is what she’s going down in.”

Alessandro chuckled silently as he heard her comment. So the so-called ice maiden had cat like claws that unsheathed when she felt bitchy enough. He moved further in to the room, smiling like a predator, pushing the door open so that Iris had no choice but to let it go. Alessandro noted her black attire and approved of it without making it obvious. He brushed past her, rubbing against her arm as he came into the room and Iris was jolted by a powerful current of desire.

She was bewildered by the rush of emotions flowing in her body. She wanted to make mincemeat out of Alessandro and claw the eyes out of Vittoria’s face who looked at him as if she was a cat that had caught the canary. More unlike Canary kind of man was hard of find, thought Iris viciously and then aghast at such thoughts, scrambled away from them.

Alessandro smiled at Vittoria, bending to kiss her on the mouth and Iris’s entire body shook with murderous rage. She turned away from them and got out of the room, her breathing erratic. She didn’t want to witness anything they did. When he’d brushed against her, she’d felt this rush of desire she didn’t want to feel. Even now her skin tingled, her throat was drying up and her breasts felt heavy and hyper-sensitive; her nipples hard and aching.

Iris, quite angry at herself tried to calm herself down by standing by railings of the balcony, taking deep breaths. She was quite unprepared thus, for the onslaught of sensuous attack that came in the form of Alessandro’s husky voice, close to her ear-so close that it seemed he had kissed her ear as he said, “I feel the same in case you’re thinking you’re the only one feeling all this.”

Iris shuddered as he whispered again, “Enjoy the evening. I know I will enjoy watching you, even from afar and keeping my distance.”

She closed her eyes as she felt him move away from her and decided that it was just her imagination. None of this was real; and then opened her eyes again, furious with herself for being so foolish. She heard his chuckle and then heard Vittoria’s voice saying pettishly, “I’m ready now to go down. Let’s go Alessandro.”

She felt them leaving and released her pent up breath. This was going to be a long evening.

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.