LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 19

Chapter-19

love.falling

The morning was spent with Iris playing football with Antonio and Ernesto  in the garden. She was a sport, that was for sure. The children played with stamina equal to that of two men, and yet Iris matched them kick for kick, enjoying herself to the full.

After lunch, the kids were encouraged to take a nap by Mrs. Whittaker, while Iris was showed the house around by Senora Bertoni. Iris realized it was a rare thing Senora would do, but she was glad of her company, since it would allow her more glimpses into Alessandro’s life. He may not be the man made for her, but her heart couldn’t help but love him. It hungered for more information about him.

She was given a detailed tour of the house, that included Alessandro’s bedroom and study area.  It was simple and elegant, with ample traces of masculinity.  She was told of the houses in Milan and Florence where Alessandro had spent most of his youth. His ex-wife had been the toast of Milan, in more ways than one. In a tragic voice , she was told about the sad state of affairs of Alessandro’s life since his divorce, where women and work dominated him. Thank goodness, he loved his boys enough to spend time with them whenever possible. Clara Bertoni’s voice reflected quiet pride as she spoke about how good a father her son was.  Iris knew her heart had grown heavy with sadness as the fact she knew was re-instated again. Alessandro Bertoni belonged to no one woman. She tried to keep her mind away from him and focus on the house instead.

It was when they reached the Master Bedroom that Iris really caught her breath at the grand decor of the house. According to Senora Bertoni, the room remained unoccupied, since Alessandro had never shared it with his ex-wife, and preferred his own room to the Master Bedroom. However, Iris paced about in the room and took it all in.

It was huge; almost double the size of other bedrooms, with a wood burning stove, fully beamed and of exposed brick walls. A door lead out on to a small balcony, with an external cast iron staircase. The room overlooked the swimming pool area and the garden.  The en suite bathroom was almost equal to another room, holding a large basin area, a dressing room, and cupboards for linen. It also held a roll top bath and a large shower area.  The furnishing were just as grand as the room of this nature would hold. With burgundy curtains and rugs, the room gave an aura of warmth.  Iris shivered despite herself as she imagined herself in the room with Alessandro, giving in to their passion in this private haven, sharing a life together. Quickly closing her mind to such thoughts, she got out of the room.

Evening passed with exchange of pleasantries, with Senora Bertoni and Iris getting to know each other and liking each other more ,as well as lots of time spent with Antonio and Ernesto. She tucked them in their beds in the evening, after a bath and a story and was hugged and kissed in return.

The next morning saw both the children slipping in early into Iris’s bed and staying there until Mrs. Whittaker came to shoo them away.  Antonio pouted prettily as boys his age do, and insisted that they were not a nuisance to Iris. His voice was indignant as he said,

“She likes us very much Mrs. Whittaker, more than anyone else. She doesn’t mind us in her bed. Do you Iris?”

His look could have melted the hardest of hearts. Nodding at Mrs. Whittaker to let her know that it was alright for them to be there, Iris hugged him tightly to herself and said, “Not at all poppet! But Mrs. Whittaker is right.  We’ve only got so much time together. I think we should dress quickly and eat our breakfast before we move on to more interesting things, don’t you?”

“Si! That is a good idea. “ Ernesto supplied. “We must get dressed and get ready to play again. What should we play today Iris?”

Iris tucked him against her shoulder as he laid his head there and wondered, “Hmm.. I wonder, do you know of the game called Cricket? “ At the shaking of their heads, she said, “I suppose I could teach you. They play it a lot in England you know.”

The idea was much made of and so the day passed with Iris teaching the boys how to play Cricket. Before the day was over, they all found themselves exhausted with all the running around. The boys had enjoyed it very much and shared quite a few laughs, since even Tommaso had been unwillingly included in the play at first and then more of the staff had joined.

Now they were tucked in bed, with Iris kissing them good bye. Antonio was already asleep. Iris looked at him fondly and turned off the light. Only a small light remained in the room now. She turned to go when Ernesto grasped her hand to whisper in the darkness, “Will you come back Iris? I- I want you to.”

“I don’t know sweetheart,  if I can come back the next weekend.” Iris whispered back, bending towards him,  her voice troubled. “I am not sure if your father would approve.”

“Don’t you like us? Please, won’t you come every day? Could – could we come to the villa to see you ? I know Tommaso can bring us to you. ” Ernesto insisted, holding her hand tight.
Iris soothed his hair from his forehead, kissing his brow and replied, “I do like you very much Ernesto. You and Antonio both. But I’m – not sure if –“

“I know Nonna likes you too. She would let you come here. And Papa-“ Ernesto was interrupted mid-sentence with a voice from behind.  The hair at the back of her neck bristled as she heard a movement behind her.

Alessandro moved silent as a cat and stood beside Iris, in front of Ernesto’s bed. “Papa would also say yes, Ernesto, if you want her to come visiting again.”

Even in the darkness, no one could fail to see the smile that sat on Ernesto’s face. He leaned up to kiss his father and then hug Iris, saying, “I knew it! I knew Papa would not say no. Now you can come here every day Iris and play with us.”

Not to put a dampener on his feelings, Iris smiled at him and kissed his cheek, “Okay poppet, now how about going off to sleep? I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

“Yes.” Ernesto then did something that he never had, according to Alessandro. He kissed Iris, smiled and laid back in bed, saying, “Now I can count sheep in sleep.”

Iris chuckled and adjusted his cover to tuck him back firmly again into bed, “You do that sweetheart. Good night.”

Ernesto closed his eyes and went off to dream good dreams. Slowly the smile that graced her face disappeared, as refusing to look at the man standing beside her, Iris turned to go.

“Wait.” A softly whispered command halted her step as she put her foot outside the door. She turned around to see Alessandro kissing his son. Just the sight of him all masculine and fatherly made Iris short of breath. She closed her eyes to gain her composure and opened them again. He stood beside her now. For a few seconds, he didn’t speak. He simply stood there, staring at her as Iris refused to look at him.

Iris felt her face pinken and addressed the top button of his shirt, “What?”

Alessandro felt a tumult of emotions inside him as he looked at Iris. She wore a knee-length pale pink tunic with frills around the neck and shoulders.  Evening’s activities with children had made her a bit disheveled of appearance, but for him, she had never looked more beautiful. Time with his children had given her pleasure, and it showed in the form of a rosy glow on her face. Not to mention the fact that she blushed lightly even now, knowing he was looking at her.

A part of him simply oozed tenderness. He wanted to hold her tight in his protective embrace,  and kiss her till Kingdom come. It alarmed him how similar to love was this emotion he felt towards her. But he knew he was not going to fall for that deceptive trap again. No matter how much they banged at the door of his heart, he was never going to open up to that particular emotion. He had to keep his focus on his goal- mother for his children and a pliable woman in his bed. He didn’t want emotions clouding his head while he calculatedly moved ahead in his plan to make her his wife. For now, his attention would be on seducing her to become his.

Getting into the mode, he took hold of her hand, which he noticed startled her enough to jerk. She tried removing it from his grasp, but he simply held her firm and kept a finger on his lips to indicate silence. Fuming, Iris kept silent until they were out of the children’s room.

As soon as they were outside though, Iris bit out, “Let go of me. I’ve told you before, I hate you manhandling me.”

“I wasn’t aware I was doing anything of the sort.” Alessandro replied, amused at her attempts to free herself. He pulled her towards him, failing to keep his hands off her.  He caught her in his arms as he reminded her,

“ I kept my promise Iris. I wasn’t around the entire weekend while you stayed here.”

“And where did you stay? In whose arms were you? “ Were the jealous questions that erupted in Iris’s mind but she kept her mouth wisely shut and pushed those questions away. Instead she put a hand on his chest and tried to push him back from her, saying sarcastically, “ I suppose I should thank you for keeping your promise.”

“Now that’s a good idea. Thank me.” Alessandro let her hand go free. She moved, but he was quicker. In the next second, he had her pinned against the wall, with his arms holding her captive from both sides.

“Let me go Alessandro. I –“

“Thank me first Iris and I shall let you go.” Said Alessandro, leaning into her.

Speechless, Iris stared at him and found herself lost in that green gaze of his. His eyes burned green as if emeralds on fire. She couldn’t speak, only shake her head.  Alessandro sighed, his tone warm with seductive threat as he leaned closer to her ear and whispered,

“Well then, if you won’t thank me properly, I’ll just have to find another way of extracting my thanks from you.”

Iris trembled from head to toe at such brazen tone of seduction. He sounded like a hungry jaguar who was ready to pounce on his prey and satiate himself on her flesh.  And yet, she was helpless as his head came close, close enough for his lips to touch hers. Acquiescing, she closed her eyes and waited for his warm dry lips to touch her softly trembling in anticipation ones. And found herself free of his restraint. She opened her eyes in astonishment and closed them again, when he touched her lips with his.

He had barely kissed her when he moved away and reached for her ear instead. Electricity zinged through her body at his kissing her erogenous area. She grasped his shirt in her hand as she felt his lips planting butterfly kisses  from her ear to her jaw line. She moaned softly, making his body tighten with want.

Alessandro could barely restrain himself now that Iris was so close to him. A part of him wanted to take her right there, make her his in all ways a man could a woman; instead he indulged in torturous seduction play. His breath grew as heavy as hers, as he reached her lips once again and said against them,

“I take your thanks and welcome you always.”

Saying this, he kissed her properly this time around, his mouth possessing hers. With nothing left to defend herself with, Iris gave in and wound her arms around his neck as she stood on her tip toes and kissed him back, passion for passion. Mouth dueled in a long known dance of the mankind, until they both could barely breathe. He held her by the hips, letting her the feel his aching length. Iris breathed his name as one of her legs came to twine itself around his thigh, rubbing herself on him. It only fuelled their passion to a higher level as Alessandro pinned her to the wall this time and devoured her.

Alessandro gave himself completely into this few moments of passion. God, but he ached for her! If he had his way, he’d tie her to him right now, eliminating any possibility where she could leave him. Such possessiveness was alien to his nature and yet, Iris was the one woman who could ignite his emotions so intensely. Slowly, oh so slowly, he withdrew from the honeyed nectar of her lips and looked at her.

Her eyes were closed still, her mouth swollen from his kiss. He groaned out aloud, his desire for her threatening to become out of control again as she licked her lips, as if she hungered more for the taste of him.

“Basta!” Alessandro moaned, his hand going back to clutch her and then, dropping down by his side. He was not sure if he was begging her or himself, to control this want. Cursing himself for being so powerless when it came to Iris, he distanced his body from hers, and while she was still coming out slowly from the fog of their passion, he walked away. He had no more patience. One more week, he told himself. After that, he would act on the final part of his plan.

LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 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 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.