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 16

Chapter-16

love.falling

The kiss was not just gentle but also a declaration of affection, if but she knew it, as she kissed him. Iris felt the answering warm and gentle pressure of Alessandro’s lips. She moved a little away and stretched herself further, with their bodies inches apart but mouths moving together, against each other.

It was a slow kiss, with no sense of urgency or passion that had gone out of control. And yet it was full of hidden fire and gentle affection, with her lips just moving at a lazy pace against his, as they explored the softness of hers. She kissed him slow and soft, touching her tongue to his lower lip and then kissing softly again, touching it to the upper lip, varying the pressure slightly from time to time as he did, but never the speed of the movement. In return, Alessandro gave as much as he got and at the same pace.

He had kissed many women but none like this. It was a “getting-to-know-you” kind of kiss; an exploration. It spoke of innocence, gentleness and yet contained hunger of romance. He felt almost like a teenager again, giving and receiving his first kiss that spoke of attraction and sweet promises, but mindful of touching and outreaching boundaries of that exploration too quickly. It was a kiss where they both tentatively gauged each other’s responses and answered it in kind, where they tried to see how their partnership could be worked out in the most intimate manner. Both could feel the tremors going through each other’s bodies but they still didn’t touch.

Alessandro didn’t gather her to him, but respectfully kept to her wishes. He didn’t even put his arms around her shoulders or her waist. She didn’t put her arms around his neck or caught on to his shoulders. Strangely they supported each other still… by their lips and felt a roar of desire go through them.

It felt as it had been an eternity but was only a few dreamy minutes, when Alessandro lifted his mouth from hers. He looked lost and bemused, as if not sure where he was. Iris licked her lips as he lifted his, eyes still closed. He looked at her and felt a wave of protective tenderness sweeping him. As if still not in possession of his complete senses, he muttered, “Your mouth is so surprisingly soft & sweet. It doesn’t at all give an indication of how flaying that razor sharp tongue of yours can be.”

Iris smiled and replied, eyes still closed, “What can I say? You bring out the shrew in me.”

Alessandro sounded amused as he chuckled loudly. He sounded so totally male then that Iris opened her eyes. Her belly quivered at the look on his face and her heart raced madly. He brought his hand up to cup her cheek, his thumb stroking her skin as he met her eyes, making love to her tenderly with them. “So innocent, so sweet.” He murmured.

Iris blushed hotly as she heard him. He had no idea how innocent she was. With Sunny, it had only ever been a few kisses and some touching around but she’d never been made love to by a man. She wondered if virginity was something that showed upon a person and then chided herself for her ridiculousness. She was a woman from twenty-first century, not some Victorian maiden who’d feel embarrassed about such matters.

Attempting to sound and look as normal as she could, as if she kissed men every day in such a manner, she put a hand on her hair and turned away to say, “Yes well, I must go back in. I’ve heaps of work to get through today if I’m to come to meet the boys on the weekend.”

Alessandro looked at her oddly and looked about to contradict her words, but then paused and nodded in acceptance. As Iris left, Alessandro hit his head lightly against the olive tree and sighed. He had no idea what was happening to him but he felt like jelly from inside, with his heart quivering. It was – an experience he could do without, he told himself. He had only planned on securing a caring mother for his children, not a wife who could make him fall on his knees. He feared Iris would do that, given a chance. He wanted her with an intensity, like he’d wanted nothing more before and he’d not need anything after her. He would have to be careful, he decided. Seduce her to fall in with his plan, but keep a distance when it came to emotions. Nodding at himself in agreement, he started his journey back to the farmhouse.

Iris didn’t see Alessandro alone for the rest of the afternoon. Granted, she knew he was around because she heard him at times, talking to one of the staff or the other. When she was in the vineyard, she heard him nearby, talking with the estate manager and gauging the next crop for better production levels. She moved away from his voice, trying to focus solely on her work. The incident in the morning had her shaken enough, she didn’t want her emotions to go out of control as long as he was around.

Late afternoon, Iris had retired to her room for a rest and it was almost time for coffee. She went downstairs, conscious that she had changed her clothes. She was now dressed in a pale blue skirt with small daisies embroidered on it and a cream white sleeveless top. Exactly why she wanted to change from her morning attire of jeans and checked shirt, she was not sure but she only knew she wanted to look better than she looked in the morning.

It was as she was on her second cup of coffee that Alessandro came into the room. He looked more tanned and tired, with his hair standing up like he’d been mussing it with his hands while working. There were some leaves stuck to his hair too although it didn’t look like he was bothered with his appearance. In truth, he still looked rakishly handsome-dashing- a sexy workman if you like. He looked at Iris, looking cool and collected, drinking her coffee and sat down beside her.

“Rested enough?” He asked, helping himself to coffee and sandwiches on the table.

“Yes, thank you. I shall get back to work after coffee though.” Replied Iris as she picked up the buttered toast on her plate and ate it.

“You would work in this?” Alessandro looked pointedly at her skirt and Iris blushed with annoyance.

“I’ve got to work in the office. This is pleasantly cool for sitting in the room and working.  Unless you want me to go back outside and work on something specific?” Iris replied, her calm almost deserting her.

“No, I don’t want you to go outside and work on anything specific. Do your work as you plan to do it.” And at her nod of agreement, he bent a little closer to her so that she sat back in her chair, eyes wide, “Don’t put thoughts in my head, Iris.” Alessandro muttered darkly, leaving her sitting there with her mouth open & staring after him.

Iris finished her work at about six-thirty and stretched her hands. She’d been working non-stop since about four, but she was happy that her report was ready. She emailed it to Felipe and Felice Bertoni and decided to call it a day.

“Work done?” Alessandro called from the doorway, startling Iris. She smiled back and said, “Yes Signor—“ and at his look, hastily amended, “Alessandro. I am done for the day. Tomorrow there is more office work for half a day and then I have meetings on the phone and online with Luigi-Signor Matteo and both Signore Bertonis.”

“Ah yes-about that. Felipe is going to come visiting next week and he has proposed that we go to Cortona to attend the Sagra della Bisteca. It is the almost the end of summer and there is the last of wine tasting that must be done. It would be educational tour for you as well as a kind of holiday from daily paperwork.”

At her hesitation, he spoke with amusement in his voice, “Do not worry Tesoro. I will not be there. I have to go Luxembourg for another wine festival.”

Iris lowered her eyes to hide her disappointment that he would be away, but her voice was no indication of her feelings as she said casually, “Very well. It would be fun going out and getting to know my boss better.”

“I am your boss, not he.” Said Alessandro, invading her space and coming closer to her, a little irritated at her casualness. She could at least look a little disappointed for missing his company!

“Noted. You’re both my bosses and you are my employer.” Iris said, her voice devoid of hurt she felt. So he considered her only as an employee. Why then did he kiss her? Did he do it frequently? Did he kiss female employees that he was attracted to or that he had taken a fancy to, she wondered. The questions in her head didn’t help her feeling any better. She excused herself and said, “I must go back to my room. I am tired and need to freshen up.”

“What are your plans this evening?” Asked Alessandro, not giving up, still looming. When she still didn’t meet his eyes, he put his finger under her chin and made her look up. He could see the pulse beating fast at the base of her throat. She avoided looking straight into his eyes, he noted. She said, “I plan to eat a quiet dinner, early and retire to my room with a book. The library here is full of literary delights.”

“I see.” He said and let her go. Iris was quick to leave the room, breathing a little fast as she walked up to her bedroom. Once she freshened up, she sat down & laid her head on the work table instead of laying down on the bed, still thinking about Alessandro. Sighing deeply, she closed her eyes and let her mind go blank for some time.

It could not have been more than a few minutes when there was a knock on her door. Iris opened her eyes, wondering what anyone could want from her. Normally the housekeeping knew the hours she kept. Most of them would  have already left the farmhouse to go back to their own homes, with the exception of Beppe and Maria who stayed until she had retired for the night. She called out, “Come in.” and straightened up in her chair.

The door opened to let Alessandro enter. Iris got up so quickly from her chair that she nearly fell over it. “Alessandro! What are you doing here?”

He came quietly further into her room, his mind taking in her personal touches given to the room. There was a vase of flowers on the bedside table and the window sill, photo frames with– he assumed, the photo of her family standing together during some function or the other and another with a woman standing in her wedding finery with her groom. Alessandro recognised her from the photos of his private investigator. That was Estelle, Iris’s previous flatmate, who’d married an Indian guy. The rest of the room looked well-kept and neat.

He came to stand beside her as she looked at him warily. “Have dinner with me this evening. We can go out into the city.” Said he.

“No- No, thank you.” Replied Iris, moving a little away from him and standing by the window.

Alessandro felt annoyed by her move as well as her reply. He tried to keep cool, “So let me get this straight. You won’t have dinner with me, you won’t go out with me despite the fact that you’re not involved with anyone at this time, not waiting for anyone. Why keep yourself so distant? Why this reluctance to give in to the attraction that flared between us right from the first time we collided with each other?”

Iris was shocked at his bluntness. “I- um- I-“ She tried to form words but she couldn’t. He stood up and moved to where she was, determination oozing out of every pore of his body as he stated, “I want you Iris. You know this, just as well as you know that you want me. It is inevitable that we will make love. But that is something I can wait for. I’m a patient man. But why not dine with me? I promise I will not eat you –until you let me.” The last bit came out in deep and husky tones, notifying Iris of how much he wanted her. It made goose bumps stand on her body, but she resolutely refused her body’s cravings. She was not weak.

She spoke, giving an indication of her intent and her muddled thoughts, “I think it’s a bit rude of you to talk like that. You are my employer and I’m just another employee in your big organisation. I don’t dare presume that you are like this with all women in our company, but I am sure you wouldn’t take them out simply because they catch your fancy. You came to the farmhouse on an errand, not to wine and dine me. So asking me out to dinner is a bit odd, you must see that. “

“Should I come here simply to see you? Would that have made you happy?” Alessandro asked, interested in her reply.

“Yes-no. No, that is not-“Iris gave a jumbled reply and then turned to him, “Look, I don’t want to go, to take this any further. I don’t want to go out with you.”

Alessandro quirked his eyebrow, “You’re not flattered that you’ve er-caught my fancy in such a short period that we’ve known each other. We’ve had lunch together twice now.”

Iris let her hands fly in the air in frustration as she moved forward and he backward, “Business lunch, yes. But it’s not the same thing! We do NOT know each other, short time or otherwise. We are not friends. You are my boss, I’m just another woman in your employ. I don’t know you at all. Don’t you understand that?”

“Why not have dinner with me then? We can rectify this situation and get to know each other better.” He noticed that somehow while they’d been arguing, she had manoeuvred him closer to the closed door; almost as if she was kicking him out.

Iris shook her head at him, her pale hand tightening on the door handle that she had in her grasp now. To his disbelief, she turned the knob and opened the door. He was correct! He, Alessandro Bertoni was being shown the door! Had it not been happening to him, he was sure he could have found the humour in the situation. He had never before come across a woman who could not only resist him, but also ask him firmly to get lost. He was aware that he was blessed with good looks, athlete body, brains and wealth; a combination that was irresistible to women. He couldn’t credit the fact that the woman standing in front of him was a huge exception to this rule. He tried again, “Consider it cara. I’ve never yet have to plead a woman to come to dinner with me.”

Iris was firm, her hand holding the door knob in a death grasp, “I don’t think so, but thank you for the invitation Alessandro.”

Alessandro pushed himself away from the door, not taking his eyes off Iris’s face. Despite the incredulous situation, all he could see was her. Her marvellous skin, almost translucent and bare of make-up, developing a rosy blush at his stare, the sincerity in her eyes, her golden brown hair shining in the light from the room. She was so far off from the blondes and ebony haired women he usually preferred to go out with. And yet, she was the only one he wanted.

He took her hand, catching  her by surprise with his gesture. He turned it, palm upwards and brought it close to his mouth, pressing a gentle kiss against her soft skin. The gesture was pure wickedness, so wickedly Italian in flirtation.

Iris felt a thrill of excitement run through her body, despite her best efforts. She went red. She didn’t know why she was so adamant in her refusal of his invitation when she really craved his company, his touch. At the look in his eyes when he kissed her hand, she felt treacherous excitement curling inside of her, right from the tips of her toes to her dazed brown eyes, locked with his grey-green. She was nervous, yet fascinated with him.

“Come down at eight. I will be waiting.” He said softly and kissed her lightly on her mouth.

Before she could open her mouth however, he was gone, leaving her alone in the room with his touch on her hand and lips, and his scent in her nostrils.

LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 15

Chapter-15

love.falling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 14

Chapter-14

love.falling

“Good morning Signorina. Signor Alessandro requests you to join him for breakfast this morning.” Maria, the maid woke her up the next morning with these words, jolting Iris out of her sleep.

“Good morning Maria. I shall be down in a few minutes. Please give my regrets to Signore, but I shall be unable to join him. Could I have something on the tray while I get dressed please?”

“Si Signorina.” Maria departed hesitatingly, as if wanting to say something but not able to. Iris was too tensed to see that. She had shirked his company the evening before and eaten her dinner on a tray, pleading a headache.

The knowledge of her feelings had shaken her, to say the least. She had no idea Alessandro had planned to stay back. After her realisation yesterday afternoon, she’d spent the last night tossing and turning, her thoughts in turmoil. What was she going to do now? She couldn’t quit the job simply because she’d fallen in love with the boss. How would she meet his eyes the next time and control her expressions when they held ice or warmth? How would she keep her feelings in control when he was around or when he was with another woman?  But she knew she had to. Acknowledging her feelings to herself was one thing, letting him know would be extreme foolishness. And yet, neither could she face him nor avoid him. Iris realized, she couldn’t avoid him for ever. She was answerable to him for her action as an employee and if she would see him only in the capacity of an employer, not a man she would be alright. Telling herself that again and again while eating her breakfast on the tray Maria had brought her back, Iris decided to go down and start with her work day.

She saw him as soon as she went down. He had his back to her and was talking to a man from the administration staff, so he hadn’t noticed her. It gave Iris to compose her features and calm her nerves with a deep breath as well as observe him. It was not hard to acknowledge that he would draw eyes of anyone who wasn’t blind and race their hearts.

Today he was dressed in casual chinos with a pale blue shirt, emphasising his dark tanned looks. The other man seemed to be describing something and he was listening to it, his hands in his pockets, inadvertently stretching the fabric of his exclusively tailored trousers over his taut rear and his shirt over his chest and displaying a powerful physique and bringing forth a spark of sensual desire in Iris. He had the build of an athlete rather than workaholic businessman, well known for his ruthlessness in business.

“Just goes to show how looks can be deceptive.” Muttered Iris to herself.

As if he had heard the words, Alessandro turned and looked directly at her, making her thoughts stop in their track. For a moment, Iris forgot that she had decided to be aloof from him and a smile almost made it to her lips. Quickly she wiped it away with a frown, nodded at him and briskly turned away, to go into the opposite direction- towards the olive groves.

Alessandro’s breath quickened as he tried to control his annoyance. He knew the exact moment when Iris had come down, but hadn’t turned to look at her because – he couldn’t. The sight of her delighted him. He had seen the smile that had made it almost to her lips and then hastily snatched back. His eyes narrowed when she nodded at him and left to disappear into olive groves.

He took his leave from the guy he had been talking to and walked towards the exit, deep in thought. The feelings Iris invoked in him made him uncomfortable. He wanted to go after her and yet, he held back. He didn’t want her to know that he’d missed her presence yesterday evening. This feeling he had still to rein in, because it was new. He never missed anyone apart from his sons, especially not any woman. He had no idea what had spooked her, but something sure had. After that kiss they’d shared yesterday afternoon, Iris had become distant. She had avoided him for the rest of the day and even declined to join for dinner at the plea of a headache. Come today morning, she’d again pleaded prior work schedule and denied breakfast with him.

He felt like kicking something, but that would be childish and he was no child. Damn the phone call yesterday that broke their kiss! He couldn’t deny that he was delighted to hear from his cousin sister, but it had made Iris aware of her surroundings quickly and taken her out of her sensual daze, that he had still be captured in. It had taken quite a while for his body to cool down after that episode yesterday, and he had a feeling, every encounter with Iris made his body hotter for her as days passed by.

He remembered the last conversation with her- before the kiss. Was it possible that Iris carried a torch for another man, for it was the question that had brought forth anger in her eyes, and also pain? Did she have a man in her past that his private investigators had forgotten to tell him about? The thought of her with another man, laughing, cuddling, sharing kisses or being made love to made him very angry and uncomfortable. In fact, it made him sick with rage to think of her with anyone else. He may have attracted her physically, but emotionally he could see that she kept him at a distance. The distant was more pronounced yesterday and today.

Gut instinct told him, it was much more than embarrassment that she had actively participated in that kiss. No, there was something else; something he couldn’t put his finger on, but he was certain that whatever it was, she was avoiding him because of it. It was also the reason why she’d met his eyes just now and turned away.

It had angered him, but he was quick to control it. It would not do at this stage to be annoyed with her. Iris was proving to be a challenge of different sort- an emotional level challenge as well as mental. Slow anger burned in him with this knowledge that Iris didn’t want to see him or talk to him. His plan was definitely not going his way. He had expected to ensnare her senses with the physical attraction they both shared, seduce her & make her fall for him in the next four days. He would have then taken her back with him to his house, where the twins waited to meet her.

It may be arrogant of him to believe that he could make any woman fall for him and adhere to his wishes, but that was the truth. Why should then Iris be any different? – the cynical part of him had argued. Women were susceptible to his charm and Iris would be no exception. Or so he had thought. Now he was not sure, and he hated to be unsure about anything.

Annoyance and anger were powerful combinations. It gave flight to his feet as he walked towards olive groves where Iris had disappeared. His eyes gleamed with the light of war. He would win this challenge and make sure he got what he wanted.

It had taken a lot of effort to drag her mind back from Alessandro and focus on work, but she had finally achieved it. She was busy taking notes on the type of olives that were grown in this particular farm when a lazy drawl stiffened her posture and made her lose her thoughts. Her pencil skidded to a halt as he said,

“Preparing for a clandestine meeting, tesoro mio? Anyone I know? ”

LOVE CONQUERS-CHAPTER 13

Chapter-13

love.falling

It was when they were done with lunch and on to dessert of freshly made Ice-cream that Alessandro raised the topic.

“Antonio and Ernesto have been asking for you. They wish for you to visit them since you’re so close to us in Siena. I have told them I will bring you with me this weekend.”
Iris nearly spluttered the water she had been drinking. She looked up at him and without thinking said, “You’re crazy, you know that, don’t you?”

Alessandro looked at her with interest, his eyes betraying his amusement. “Why is that?”

Iris got up from her seat, her eyes flashing fire. “Excuse me while I go and get a gun to shoot your arrogance.”
Alessandro laughed softly, “So angry, eh?”

Iris shook her head and mocked him, “Anger is wasted on you Signore. I simply feel scorn for you, assuming things and making decisions you have no right to make.”

Alessandro got up too and looked at her, his emerald eyes hard, the smile gone. “What would you have me do Iris? Tell the children that you’re too full of yourself to come and visit them? That I may need to ask you first and you may actually think about it and reject their request?”

Iris visibly melted, “I never said I—it’s not that I don’t – look, why couldn’t you have asked me first before going ahead and accepting their request all by yourself?”

Alessandro bowed his head in acceptance, “I agree. I –er was hasty in acceptance. So I shall tell them now that you wish to visit them but may be not this weekend? “

Iris sat down again, a little calm now that he had accepted his mistake. “I didn’t say I wouldn’t like to meet them this weekend. But I have no idea where you live or how would I go to meet them?”

“If you wouldn’t jump with annoyance again, I may suggest that you can spend the weekend at my place with them. “ At her alarmed look, he continued smoothly, “No need to be alarmed. I’m going to be away for much of the time and you would have a chaperone- my mother.”

He chuckled at her visible relief at his statement and enquired, “So what is your decision?”

Iris smiled a little, “Yes, I’d like to visit them and spend the weekend with them, thank you.”

“Bene. I will make the arrangements and let you know.” Alessandro said and left it there. They talked about other things as they sipped their coffee. Iris was inwardly surprised to find that she found it easy to talk to him when he was not being arrogant or acting the boss. It was disturbing in a way since she’d never been so comfortable with any one. He asked questions cunningly and gently and before she knew it she had told him all about her problems with her family and the present situation.

“So Marguerite is the golden child of the family and you’re the odd one out.” Alessandro surmised quietly, his blood boiling with rage at the family’s treatment of Iris. He thought she was beautiful. He had dated many supermodels and actresses but he couldn’t remember a single face that had etched itself in his memory like Iris did. A little surprised to find himself thinking so deeply of her, he excused himself. After all, he was planning a future where she was included. Why should it be surprising that his body and his brain remembered her and ached for her? He would soon have to find a way of bringing her to his way of thinking. But not yet.

Iris looked at him and wondered what he was thinking about. Probably he was wondering why he was wasting time with the likes of her when he could have many women like Marguerite at his beck and call? Iris shook her head as if to disperse the thought of Alessandro with other women. It was no business of hers what he did.

Frantically, she searched what they had been talking about. Finally she caught the thread and said, “ Yes. She is quite beautiful you know. And now she is blissfully happy too, to be married to the man she loves.” She smiled as she said this although the smile held a hint of sadness. Alessandro wondered at that and he found a chance to put his question forth.

“And you Iris? Have you no plans ? No dreams to get married and have a horde of babies? No plans to fall in love? ”

He was astonished to see her face close quickly; before he could discern any expression on her face or recognize it. Her voice was cold and her manner stiff as she said, “I dream of forwarding in my career. I have no dreams of getting married Signore. Love is but an illusion and I can’t run after it.”

“Why not? Do you hold a broken-heart?” Came Alessandro’s curt question.

Iris looked at him, her eyes wooden brown and blazing with anger, “None of your damn business!”

Alessandro swiftly got up and took hold of her arm as Iris got up and tried to walk away.

“Why so edgy? Are you in love with someone who will not love you back?”

Iris tried to free her hand but his grip was firm. She struggled and gritted her teeth, “Let me go, you-damn you to hell!”

“You and me both.” Muttered Alessandro before capturing her mouth with his.

Iris could fight with him, argue with him and curse him but she had no weapons to slay him when he kissed her like that. Her body melted in his arms and she kissed him back, her arms holding his shirt as the kiss deepened. They forgot the time and the place; nothing existed but each other and their lips. Alessandro held her tight and close to him, his mouth moving over hers, seducing her senses; his tongue playing along with hers in an age old dance of passion.

How long the kiss continued, Iris wasn’t sure but it was the discreet call of the mobile that roused them both from their passionate slumber. It was Alessandro’s mobile. Shocked at her own wild response to him, Iris pushed him and turned away from him, her eyes filled with tears.

Alessandro cursed softly as he picked up the phone from an unlisted number. “Si?” His voice was abrupt but it softened as he heard the voice at the other end. Iris heard his excited voice saying, “Bella mia! How are you? It’s been quite some time since you were gone.”

Two tears fell down her cheeks and Iris wiped them away angrily. She had been foolish by responding to him. It was then that the realization seeped in. She loved him!!

How it had happened she knew not, she only knew now that she loved him. And hadn’t she told him that love makes one disillusioned ? That was exactly how she felt right now. He had kissed her not a moment back and here he was- talking to someone over the phone, a woman no doubt,  that he was happy to hear from. Jealousy reared its head and she swatted it away. Even if she had been stupid enough to fall in love with a play boy, she would not be so foolish as to ever let him see how she felt. She could now only kick herself for kissing him so enthusiastically and letting him see her attraction for him visibly.

A part of her argued- his kisses didn’t feel alien; they felt not just passionate but – they felt as if there was passion mixed with affection and something stronger. She shook her head at her own foolishness. She swallowed her tears. How could she have thought—she walked away from him as he still talked enthusiastically over the phone, oblivious of her departure.

LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 12

Chapter-12

love.falling

There are very few regions in the world today that are rich in natural and architectural beauties as well as filled with history. Tuscany is one of those regions that has it all and if one lived here long enough, one would never want to venture out in to the world again. Be it the art of living or hearty eating, Tuscany is well cultivated in it all. And Siena to Iris, seemed like the major concentration point of all that is good in the entire region.

Surprisingly, she had been accepted readily into the fold by the gentle and friendly people of Siena. The vineyard itself was placed a little farther away from the main centre of the town. It was a huge piece of land; about 24,000 Hectares of vineyard, with another 12,000 Hectares of arable land for future planting and 20,000 Hectares of Olive groves. There was also a wide expanse of wilderness on one side of the land. The workers told her it was more than 5,000 Hectares of wood land that belonged to the Bertoni family as well.  She often went for long walks along the path but had been asked to not go beyond the gravel road that led to a couple of private houses and villa.

Iris had also been taken into the cellar for a visit during the first days and informed that this was where new bottles were kept to age. The wines were sold not only in the domestic market but were quite popular in the International market as well.  Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Vin Santo, Chianti Colli Senesi  and Rosato were some of the few wines that were well known from this vineyard.

This particular farmland produced not just wine but also Olive oil. It had been awarded too for producing the best organic Italian white wine some years back. She was also shown the small bottling plant, the refrigeration plant and the tanks that were insulated for vinification of white and red wine. There was also a storage room where aged and ready to be sold wines were kept and a huge staff room where everyone met for lunch and coffee.

No wonder Alessandro Bertoni was so arrogant; what with him being so rich, and having the world fall at his feet, thought Iris. He was a hundred folds far removed from her class of people. Somehow that thought had annoyed her and also saddened her. She had diverted the focus thus, to the place where she was putting up during her stay here.

The house could hardly be called small. She had been informed that the housekeeping and the working staff stayed not far away from the main farmhouse, in their own little cottages. The farmhouse was basically a villa with three floors that held 5 bedrooms, a huge drawing room, a study, work room, a library, a nursery and some other rooms that were undefined yet. A huge swimming pool in the back side of the house was surrounded by just as big a garden, with some space reserved for vegetables. An orchard on the side held lovely tropical fruits that bore fruit some time of the year. It had taken Iris an entire day to tour around the house with the housekeeper, Bepe.

Iris mused about the whole experience as she ventured out with her note book. It was really more of a holiday than work, thought she, when she had to roam about in the vineyards like this; learning more about cultivation and growth of the grapes and enjoying the warm weather. Every day spent in the sun had given her a healthy tan and a lovely glow to her skin. She was back out again today, learning dedicatedly the art of grape cultivation from the people who worked in it and lived in it, day and night.  Keeping in mind the warnings from the workers at the vineyard about the harsh sun, Iris kept to herself when swimming or tanning, but was always suitably covered and dressed when working, to avoid unnecessary fuss. Today she wore lovely green harem pants and a brown tunic top while working with the rest of the team.

Iris was happy to go into the town in her free time and explore the streets. She had been given a car; a Fiat and she loved to drive it across the town. Mostly she parked the car in one place and walked. It was fun. She loved going back to the central piazza “Il Campo” and gaze at the surroundings. The first time she had seen it, she remembered where she’d seen it before- she’s seen this very same place in the James Bond movie, “Quantum of Solace”.

Despite the initial hiccups, she thought she had settled well into the routine since the last two weeks. It is true that the first two days, she had been jumpy and wondered if Alessandro would show up unexpectedly to keep an eye on her. But when days turned into a week, she relaxed. She felt her fears with regard to her career and Alessandro’s attention had been baseless and she even scorned herself for it. Why would a man of such wealth and arrogance be interested in her anyway? She was after all, not into his class or society of people. She was just an employee and she had been asked to learn the ropes of wine industry so that she could move forward in her career. It had been silly to see things into it. She shook her head at her own stupidity and walked on towards the patch of land she was supposed to pay attention to.

The matter of fact was, she had not been silly at all to think that Alessandro would come to see her, for he did- the very next day. Had she but known it, she might have also wondered about his intentions. As such, she had no idea what was in store for her. She also did not know that Alessandro had in fact been living very close to where she had been put up. The gravel path, from where she had been deterred from, was the route to the villa where Alessandro lived with his two sons, his mother and his staff.

Alessandro meant to kept Iris in the dark about his plans for her—at least for some time. He had gone to meet his godfather and had been sternly advised to scrap his plan. According to his god father, even if his plan succeeded, he would regret the whole of it the day his intentions behind it and the deviousness with which he set it about would get revealed. Secretly Alessandro feared the same thing but he’d never admit to it of course. Somewhere he wanted Iris to keep on holding him in high regard. However, he had no intention of letting his plan slide, despite his godfather’s advice. He was going to ensure the truth would never out. And for that, it was essential that he kept his plans to himself, not making any one a partner to it.

He had obviously kept up with news of her. It was amazing news about her kept on trickling in; about how much the staff at the vineyard liked her.  He got good reports not just from his housekeeping staff about how neat and helping she was, but also from the working and the administration staff on how meticulously she was learning grape growing and wine production. He decided to pay a little visit knowing by now, she’d have relaxed and wouldn’t be expecting it. He grinned, quite resembling his young sons when they were up to something naughty.

And so it happened that he actually made Iris jump when he appeared. It was dark in the corner where Iris had been standing, inspecting the small vines that would one day produce luscious grape. She had been completely unprepared for his,

“So this is where I find you- in the mysterious dark.”

“Dear Lord!” Exclaimed Iris once she had shrieked and turned around. She hated him, absolutely! “You had no right to come up sneaking behind me and scaring me like that! What a silly thing to do!”

Iris sounded cross and Alessandro loved to rile her. He grinned now as he looked her up from head to toe. Her hair was disheveled, which of course is no surprise since he knew she’d been roaming about the place since morning, taking notes and working out things.  She had tied it on top of her head and now it looked untidy though not at all bad. The look suited her, he decided. She was wearing harem pants in brown with a half sleeve sky blue top and a hat lay on the ground. Her feet were sensibly encased in boots. In reply to her annoyed statement, he thought, “Not yet, I have no right but will- soon.”

Aloud he said, “I’m sorry to have startled you. I am very happy to see that you’re taking deep interest in vines and production side of the business. Have you been treated well here?”

Iris instantly became professional like. Her heart was thundering loudly but she ignored it. Though she wouldn’t admit it even to herself, she was happy to see him. His scrutiny had seared her insides but she’d rather not let him know that, considering he sounded polite and businesslike. She smiled gently and said, “Oh yes, thank you Signore. The staff here is the best and has helped me a lot in learning most things regarding production, planting, refrigeration and so on. The housekeeping is most attentive.”

“I’m glad to hear of it. I have asked Maria to lay the table outside on the patio. Would you care to join me for lunch?”

Though it had been posed as a question, Iris knew it was a demand of her boss. Probably he wanted to know what she’d learned and how far she’d progressed in her training. She nodded and said, “I’d like to, thank you.”

As they approached the patio, they saw Bepe and Maria hovering by the table. Bepe gave Alessandro a big smile and spoke in Italian, “It has been long since you came here to stay.”

Alessandro replied, sitting down, “Soon I will come to stay and bring Antonio and Ernesto with me. Mamma has been asking me to take a break and give her one too.”

Bepe chuckled, “More likely she wants you to take a wife to bring here. When do you marry Signore? Have you chosen a bride yet?”

Iris listened to the conversation, astonished that Bepe could talk to Alessandro in such an informal manner. Alessandro looked at her as if understanding her surprise and said, “Bepe was my mother’s special maid before she came here. She has known me since I was a boy.”

He looked at Bepe, smiling and said, “I have chosen the bride Bepe but it remains to be seen if she chooses me.”

Bepe flapped her hands in the air as if dismissing the question, “Nonsense, there is no woman who will reject you Signor Alessandro and you know it.”

Iris looked down at the plate in front of her as she tried to understand her feelings. All this talk of Alessandro getting married was getting to her. She had no idea why she should feel so sad all of a sudden but she couldn’t dismiss the feeling of desolation that swept over her as she heard Alessandro saying that he had chosen a woman for his bride.

Alessandro looked at Iris’s down bent head and then at Bepe. She, a woman of wisdom watched Alessandro in return, nodded her head when he looked at her and softly said, “Yes, perhaps there is someone who can put you in your place if she says no and then yes? It will all work out in the end.”

Alessandro smiled at Bepe as she left them to go into the kitchen. He hoped so too that it will all turn out to be well in the end.

LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 11

Chapter-11

Iris tossed and turned in her bed, trying to get her thoughts in order. It had been two days since she had come back from the Villa Bertoni.

She had already met Felipe who had informed her that she was to leave for Siena in about a week once she had handed over and explained some project details to the person taking over it. She had also been told that she would be traveling when required. Iris had no objection if she could travel. In fact she felt it would give her an opportunity to stretch her wings more.

Lorenzo had exclaimed over her move to Siena and decided it was probably not such a bad thing since he would be going away to Cortona himself. He was already laying down plans to come and see her but Iris had no idea how that would pan out. So far things seem to be going well.

She turned to the other side of the bed, trying to eliminate a certain image that had been, since the last two days superimposing itself on her brain in the nights. No matter how hard she tried, no matter how exhausted she felt, her body refused to go to sleep; her mind for ever playing the scenes that had already taken place. Tonight was no different than the last two. Annoyed with herself, Iris switched off the night lamp and snuggled under the covers.

It felt like it must have been just a minute but it was in fact nearly morning when Iris woke up gasping. She looked at the watch disbelievingly. Her sleep didn’t seem to have done her any good at all.  She was breathing hard like she had been running. Which she had—in her dream. She got up to pour herself a glass of water and washed her face too. She felt as if her body was on fire. She vividly remembered her dream and a string of strong curses broke out from her mouth. Damn Alessandro Bertoni!

Her face turned red when she remembered how he had been stroking her body in her dream. Worse was, she had been encouraging him to touch her, moaning for his touch. She remembered how real the touch felt, as if he was there in her bed, stroking her. He had been whispering sweet nothings in her ear. When Iris tried to move away from him and create a bit of space between their bodies, he had pulled her into his body and whispered, “Run all you want but you won’t be going far. I shall claim you.”

And it was on this note that she had opened her eyes, gasping for breath.

Telling herself not to be foolish, Iris tried to calm herself. There was no cause for her to be threatened or to feel as if deeper forces were at work, moving her towards where he was. Nonsense of course. She had been living in Italy for quite some time now and had not seen Alessandro for all this while. Last weekend had been a chance meet; he was the boss of their huge organization and there was very little possibility that they would meet again. Besides, from what she had found out he didn’t live in Siena. He traveled a lot and had a house somewhere else. She had no cause to fear meeting him again.

“And why exactly should I be scared of meeting him again? I don’t like him yes- but I don’t have to be scared of him. Come on Iris, this is not you. You’re brave and you can manage your life without any interference. Just remember your policy of “No men” and you’ll be happy ever after.” Iris tried to give herself pep talk and almost believed it too. A part of her though kept on taunting-reminding her of time spent with Alessandro, in his arms-his kiss…

Iris put a hand over her eyes but the scene of their kiss kept on continuing in her mind, as if it was happening that very instant.

“For heaven’s sake!” Very angry with herself, she flounced off the bed and went to take a cold shower.

 

“What is it you are plotting in your head my son?”

Alessandro was roused from his thinking by his godfather; Alessandro Molinelli. He smiled at him and shrugged saying, “Always something that is challenging.”

His godfather gave a booming laugh and said, “You are so much a man after my own heart. I think your father didn’t realize how many qualities of mine will be passed on to you along with my name. “

They both grinned at each other and then went back to drinking wine. Alessandro had come to his uncle and godfather for a visit.  He visited his uncle every month and brought with himself the best bottle of his vineyard. This was one ritual he never missed since he knew his uncle was not just an aficionado of the wines that his vineyard made but also a shrewd businessman. Alessandro came to him when he was stuck in a particular deal for advice. Today he planned to do the same although it wasn’t business this time.

He looked over fondly at his godfather. Turning 72 next month, Alessandro could see no hints of his uncle backing down from an active life.  A former race car driver, his uncle had always lived a life of leisure; women, parties and in general what her mother fondly yet scathingly termed as “wasting” his life. It was only after he met the love of his life when he was about forty that he settled down. Now his world was actively full of laughter and happiness and his eyes plainly said that he adored his wife and three children.  He still worked hard enough to ensure a more secured future for his children. Alessandro was in turn godfather to his youngest daughter.

Alessandro knew that his uncle was a shrewd businessman too for he had wisely invested his earnings from race car driving days into a chain of restaurants. He catered well to all classes of people and it was no wonder that his restaurants and cafes were now famous all over the world as well as in Italy No tourist who went to Venice, Rome or the Tuscan region would pass by it without visiting either one of his expensive restaurants or budget cafes.

His uncle was not only his father’s loyal friend; they were like brothers. It was rumoured that there was not a single thing that they both hadn’t done together in youth, including competing for his mother’s affections. Only his mother had chosen his father and Alessandro had conceded defeat. Since then he was just as dedicated to her as to his friend. As long as Alessandro could remember, their family never spent Christmas without uncle Alessandro’s presence. When he was born, he had been baptised and named after him by Alessandro’s grandmother  who always thought of him as her other son. Alessandro Molinelli lived in a huge villa close to Siena and looked over his business from there. He was Tuscan at heart and always said, “To be born Tuscan is to be born lucky.” Alessandro quietly agreed with this but never said it out loud.

It was his uncle after all who had taught him most of the things in his life. While his father was affectionate, he was always immersed too deep in business to spare time for his son. It was uncle Alessandro who had taught him how to enjoy life, how to be hard at work, how to succeed in business and after his disaster of marriage, how to keep sane. Today Alessandro was back to him because he felt his sanity threatening. He needed his uncle’s advice again.

It had been three days since he was back from Villa Bertoni but he couldn’t find peace. At work, he kept his thoughts at bay knowing Iris would soon be right in front of his eyes, with his plan working seamlessly and successfully. It was at home that his peace was threatened, so much so that he had even considered his own plan foolish and was re-thinking all of it, including Iris’s move to Siena. His sons; although they’d spent only an evening with her raved on about her so much that his mother had questioned about Iris.

Alessandro had declined answering any of her questions yet couldn’t help but hear her comments on how suitable she could be for his sons’ welfare. To his disgust he realized his plan went along the same track but not quite. He wanted to bed her first and then think about using her for his sons. The thought of her being used in any way made him feel guilty and restless. He was used to using people and their services for his own means so what was different this time? He didn’t have an answer to that. Also, Iris kept on intruding on his senses and thought at the most awkward times. The last three days had been a headache where he found his thoughts straying to how Iris tasted when he kissed her during important meetings.

To keep thoughts of how Iris felt in his arms and to curb his desire, to be patient until his plan was in motion, he had taken a known model who knew the score out yesterday evening. She was beautiful but she had been unable to retain his interest past dinner time. He had politely declined her offer to join her for coffee in her apartment and left her pouting in frustration. Back home he had turned to work and phone calls abroad where it was day time when he found himself unable to sleep. It was today morning that he suddenly felt the need to talk things over with his uncle who, he was sure would be able to guide him and get him back into his senses.

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 8

It took her a few minutes to get back into her cool mode but Iris was ready; calm and composed by the time Lorenzo came to escort her down. She felt quite mollified when Lorenzo gushed at her appearance. She remembered belatedly that Alessandro had not even looked at her properly or said anything about her appearance.  She got angry with herself again and gave herself a lecture, “Stop it Iris! Don’t waste your time thinking about Alessandro Bertoni; the arrogant ass. Who cares what he thought of your appearance! You didn’t dress for him Iris, you dressed for Lorenzo. Go ahead and enjoy the party and if you see him, ignore him.”

And she almost followed her advice to the T. She complimented Lorenzo on his appearance and manners and stayed close to him all evening. She danced with him and other colleagues that she was friendly with but kept herself away from the part of the room where Alessandro kept his counsel. She had seen him when she had come down, with Vittoria draped all over him, glowered at his back and wished him to hell.

After that, she tried to ignore her senses that made her aware of his presence. She knew that he was on the other side of the room from where she was; talking to another blonde; a dumb head in her opinion from her staff. The blonde seemed to simper when he smiled and showed his predator like teeth.

Iris shivered as she imagined his teeth nipping her. To get rid of the feeling, she smiled brilliantly at the colleague she was dancing with so that the guy looked a bit dazed and offered her a glass of champagne. Iris accepted it with alacrity. Anything to keep her thoughts away from that odious Alessandro. She gulped down two glasses before she knew it and was still held in the arms of her colleague who’s name she’d forgotten. After that, it was easy to keep up the pretense of pleasure as she drank champagne and danced. She felt a little better now and smiled freely at the other guy who came up to ask her for a dance. She nodded enthusiastically and was about to put her hand in his when Alessandro’s drawl came from behind her, “I think she owes me this dance. If I may?”

He looked pointedly at the guy who held Iris’s hand and the guy immediately let go, looking at Alessandro’s mossy green eyes, sparkling with anger. Without much ado, he caught hold of Iris in his arms. He was unsurprised when she allowed him to hold her and felt instantly at peace.

Alessandro had danced with all the other ladies of the staff except- Iris. He had time and again this evening swiveled back to look at her and wondered at her impact on him. Perversely that was also one of the reasons why he had kept his distance. Iris snagged at not only his senses but also his feelings. He had noted the panic on her face and then also seen the panic subsiding when she started drinking without thinking. He had seen the worried look on Lorenzo’s face and her brilliant- over bright smile and still he had stayed away from her.

He had let Vittoria snuggle close to him; knowing he felt nothing for her. Vittoria knew the score and was no problem at all. Iris on the other hand, was not even ready to play. Maybe that was the challenge- the part of hunting the prey that lured him to her. He had told himself that until he had seen the leery look in the eyes of the last man who had asked her to dance and seen her oblivious to it.

Desire was one thing but to feel possessive about her was quite another. Desire he could handle, feelings he couldn’t. This was not a familiar response for the ruthless Alessandro, he acknowledged it reluctantly to himself. He had tried to tell himself that she was just another woman; an employee of his organization. He had his fun from time to time, sure he did- when women like Vittoria Terzo were willing and knew the score.

With Iris, he simply couldn’t control his want to have her all to himself. He cursed his cousins who had asked him to attend this weekend. According to them, it was a good time to mingle with the staff since the time for review and appraisals would soon begin. He had seen the logical side of the argument and come here.

The past few months after Iris had been hired by his organization, he had been so busy with his life and family matters that he had quite forgotten about her and the impact their meetings had had on him. It was only now that he remembered how it had kept him awake for many days before he had decided to recommend her to the human resource and hire her to come to Italy. He had kept tabs on her for some time– until the time he found his sons becoming a constant source of worry for the nannies and his mother. His mother had started telling him off recently and even gone as far as to say that he didn’t really care for his sons since he didn’t spend much time with them. These past few weeks had been hell what with constant arguments with his family who wanted him to choose a bride and get the boys a mother. He had quite forgotten all about Iris—until this weekend when he met her again.

This evening he had followed Iris with his eyes and realized that he had to come up with a plan to satiate his want. She had been ignoring him and avoiding the side of the room where he stood. He had felt fierce anger when she had let go of Lorenzo and started dancing with other men. He didn’t want her to dance with anyone else, didn’t like anyone else touching her.

Iris felt a jolt of awareness going through her, piercing the happy fog that a few drinks had spread on her. He looked up at him and into his eyes and her heart lurched. His hot glance was stuck to her mouth; plundering her. It so much felt as if he’s simply seized her lips with his own; possessing her by the sheer force of his magnetism. She looked away, aware of her shallow breaths and his deep ones.

“Look at me Iris.”

His soft command made her look up and Iris almost forgot to breathe. Time seemed to stand still as he took in his fill of her and she of him as they moved gracefully on the dance floor, oblivious to all others. He looked at her eyes that were brown pools of want; she was at this moment incapable of hiding it; the same golden brown reflected by her long, shiny hair, creating a stunning contrast to the creaminess of her skin. He could sit for hours and count the tiny freckles by the side of her nose that added freshness to her beauty instead of marring it. Her body was amazing, lushly curved where it should be; slender but full breasted with hips one would  want to hold on to. She had kept him at bay from the day they’d met and given him a taste of her sharp tongue; something he found refreshing. She was not just another attractive face; she was devastating and she was meant for him. This thought rang as clear as bell in Alessandro’s head as he moved her closer towards the exit from the party hall.

Iris had put her head on his chest and closed her eyes, listening to the beating of his heart. It was as if it was a call of drums; asking her to join him in a dance so ancient yet new.

“Are you alright?”

Iris opened her eyes and found herself out of the party hall, away from the crowd, with Alessandro standing disconcertingly close to her, still holding her in his arms. She gave him a light push and he let her go. She was flustered and breathless but she tried to bring her voice under control as she said, “Fine. I’m fine. I just want to go up to my room and sleep this madness off.” She moved away from him a bit. Alessandro frowned, irritated by her gesture of flight. He retained the distance in his voice too as he said, “You were becoming drunk and I had to move you away from the guys before you did any real harm to your—“

“I can take care of myself, thank you very much!!” Burst out Iris, her eyes blazing at him. “I don’t need your help, you –“

“Careful Iris. Be careful with what you say to me, my sweet or you may learn to regret it later.” Alessandro’s soft growl warned her.

Iris, still under the bravado of alcohol, looked at him airily, “Don’t bother with the threats Alessandro. I want to go up to my room and that is where I will go. Away from you. So there. Good night.”

She started to walk away from him, her steps faltering when she realized that she had indeed drunk more than she should have. Her legs were shaky. She closed her eyes and felt dizzy for a second. Instantly, she became aware of the warmth behind her and knew that Alessandro stood there, holding her steady by the waist. He cursed in Italian and said, “You’re in no fit state to walk by yourself. I wonder how you stood up between all those men and danced with them!”

“You keep away from me. I can take care of myself- always have. Okay?” Iris snapped at him, trying to move away but his hold on her waist was firm.

“I will take you up to your room. You can sleep it off and thank me tomorrow for saving you from disgracing yourself.” Alessandro picked her up as if she was light weight and dainty and started walking towards the stairs, away from the party hall and towards her room.

“I disgrace myself? Impossible. Don’t you know what they call me? I can’t be disgraced, you big man you!”

Alessandro looked down at her and grinned, “I know what they call you. You’d have ruined your reputation of ice maiden had you stayed any longer, mia bella. And yes, I am a big man but you’re no dainty flower either, are you? We make a good pair.”

“Over my dead body!” Iris flailed her hand in the air in defiance, “I’d rather fight you to death than be anywhere near you Al-saandro. I know men like you. Ruthless and heartless.”

“Indeed.” Alessandro murmured as he opened the tiny purse that hung around her waist and took out the key. He inserted the key in the lock and opened the door, holding her in his arms still. She now clutched at his shirt and said, “Put me down. I can walk.”

“No way am I putting you down to fall on your face, mia bella.”

Alessandro held her tighter and she involuntarily snuggled to get closer but said, “I’m not your beautiful. You didn’t say anything about my appearance this evening before. I don’t care either. I will close my eyes and open them and this dream will be over.”

Her voice was wistful when she said it. Alessandro gently laid her on the bed and looked at her, his voice gentle, “You are a beautiful creamy English rose among fiery Italians. Sleep it off princess. I’ll see you tomorrow- when you’re sane again and ready to listen.”

Iris barely could keep her eyes open but she couldn’t resist asking, “Listen to what?”

“On how I’d make you my bella, Iris. Good night.” Alessandro said to the softly snoring, already asleep Iris. He kissed her on her soft mouth slowly and smiled. His smile, if he had known it was full of tenderness as he covered her up and left her room. He had a plan.

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.