LOVE CONQUERS – CHAPTER 27

Chapter- 27

love.falling

“Maybe I should book tickets for us both. I can go with you and meet them. How about that?” Alessandro propositioned while sitting her down again, and sitting next to her. His touch spread madness in her, but his words rapidly doused the fire of want in her.

Iris’s quick reply took him aback. His eyebrows rose at her emphatic “NO!” Iris back peddled a bit, continuing “I mean- I’d rather go there alone and break it to them gently. I am not sure of their response either. Plus, it might be better if one of us is with children. They seem to be a little anxious at this time.”

With a mind that could hold a horde of financial information from various stock markets at the same time, Alessandro didn’t miss the quick rejection of his idea. He let it go, realising he shouldn’t be pressing her at this time. He could see desperation and hurt of some sort in her eyes. It kicked him in the guts to see her in that mood and made him angry, without realising that it was not her family for once that was the cause of sadness, but he. He felt hopeless at not being able to help soothe her nerves. He would have liked to take her in his arms and comfort her, but he was well aware that at the time, it wouldn’t be welcome- he wouldn’t be welcome. For some reason, this realisation made his chest ache.

He nodded distantly and said, “If that is what you wish Iris. Or if you want to think about it, we can talk later this evening.”

Iris wanted to talk to him this instant; her heart wanted to scream out to him that she wasn’t going to marry him and that she will not come back unless he declares his undying love for her, unless his love conquers her. But that, she knew would never happen. What other choice did she have then?

She cleared her throat, moving away from his presence by getting up and walking towards the window overlooking the garden. “Well, the thing is- I think I need time to decide when to go. The license takes time, does it not? The entire procedure will take some time at least? ”

Alessandro turned in his seat to look at her and to inform her of the happenings. She looked strangely distant even though she was so close. He wondered if some inner part of his being was connected to her more than physically. He could feel her distance; this weird indifference in her this morning.

” The entire process will take about 2 months, tesoro. There is the Nulla Osta to be made, the declaration that you will need to sign and provide documents as a British citizen. ”

Silently thanking the stars for such providence, Iris said softly, ” That is perfect then. By the time all is done, things will have worked themselves out. ”

“What do you mean by that?” Alessandro’s sharp ears picked up her words and he went on an instant alert.

Startled from her thoughts by his question, Iris was stuttered into saying, ” I-I mean, it gives me enough time to think about when to go to my parents and work my notice out too. At the same time, I can spend time on finishing the project and sending the final reports to Felipe.”

At her words, he calmed down a little though not completely. This, Alessandro could understand. He decided to give the matter a rest. Maybe he was thinking too much, seeing too much in matters that were insignificant. The important deal was that they would be married and his children would have the mother they want, and he would have the woman he desired.

The phone vibrated in his pocket and he cursed softly when he checked it. He was running late for a meeting. He stood up and started walking towards the door. Turning back right before the exit, he said, “Alright, if that makes you more comfortable. Antonio and Ernesto will be well pleased with this too. We will talk more about it this evening. I will book a table at Guiseppe’s for seven. Be ready to be picked up at six.” Before Iris could voice her thoughts against it, he was out of the door.

Iris turned away and faced the window again, watching him leave the premises, tears in her eyes held back for the day when she would be bereft of his shadow altogether. Life had to go on even for the broken hearted ones.

And so the day went on, with Iris spending time with the boys and when they were taken away by Mrs Whittaker for their afternoon nap, she indulged in a long lunch with Signora Bertoni. At the table, she debated whether she should inform Clara Bertoni of her intentions, but then decided against it. Why should she burden the poor woman with her woes. Lunch done, she excused herself to go to the other house on pretext of wanting to fetch a particular dress for her dinner date that evening.

Once there, she sat down and wondered at her life. Where would life take her from here? Those who spoke about the wisdom of loving and losing had no idea what they were talking about! She had loved and lost- lost to the cynicism of the world and to Alessandro’s past prejudices. But she couldn’t be sorry for his past either, could she? It was his past that had brought two adorable children into this world. The man she had fallen in love with was such a man because of his past.  What did that make her, she wondered.

After a bit of mooning around, she realised it was time to go back. As she opened her wardrobe to pick up some more casual dresses, her eyes fell on the dress she had bought some time back, but had had no opportunity of wearing it. It was blue coloured floor length formal evening dress made of chiffon with a beaded bodice. The V of the neck was a little lower than she normally liked, but it was a dress to inspire confidence. And confidence was what she needed desperately today, when talking to Alessandro.  Picking up the dress, she made her way back to Bertoni villa.

It had started to rain by the time she reached back to the boys.  Antonio insisted he wanted to go out for a walk, despite the rain. When Iris declined his idea, he stamped his foot and started with a tantrum. Gently amused by his attitude, Iris picked him up from the floor and gave him a tight hug and a kiss.

He looked at her and unexpectedly broke into a grin. Iris laughed, “My handsome little prince. You throw a fine tantrum and look very much like your father when you do it too! But it is not going to cut with me.” Looking at the oncoming tantrum she quickly put forward her solution, “Okay here is a solution. How about we play your favourite snakes and ladders before dinner?”

Not the son of a hasty decision maker, Antonio put his finger on his chin and thought for a minute. Then consented to agree to Iris’s suggestion by saying, “Okay Mamma. I do this for you today. But tomorrow, we will go for a walk.”

They played snakes and ladders until it was time for their dinner. When Antonio won, his glorious smile lit inexplicable warmth in her heart. He demanded to be picked up, and she did so. In the next second, Ernesto tugged on her skirt too, demanding to be picked up, hugged and kissed with the same arrogance that his father portrayed at all times.

Blushing at the thought, but laughing softly, Iris said, “Poppet, I can’t pick up both of you at the same time. But give me a second. She held Ernesto’s hand and led them to her bedroom. Sitting down by the bed, she picked up both the boys and sat them both down beside her. Not content, they both snuggled their way up into her lap. Two pairs of grey green eyes grinned mischievously at her with two identical grins. Iris couldn’t help but grin back and hug them both. Ernesto gave a neck spraining hug to her softly saying, “My Mamma now.”

A pain started deep in her chest at his words. Iris ignored the pain. There would be time enough in life to acknowledge the pain and emptiness of a future without Ernesto and Antonio, but not today. Today was all about being their mother in the true sense of the word. She kissed them both and said softly, “Yes.”

Mrs Whittaker came in at that moment to take the children away for dinner and their bath, smiling broadly. She had heard their conversation. Now she quietly offered her greetings and observed that it was exactly what the children had wished for. Iris smiled at her and accepted her wishes gracefully, in her heart dying a little for the lie that it was.

And so it was, that Alessandro came back and found both his children asleep, with a smile on their faces. They looked radiantly happy. Mrs Whittaker came quietly into the room while he was in it and whispered softly, “They look so happy Sir. It is because of Ms Florence. She is their mother in every way and loves them so. ” She told him all about the evening’s incident and added, ” Congratulations Sir.”

“Thank you Mrs Whittaker. ” Alessandro said softly and then asked, “Would you be so kind as to ask Ms Florence to join me in the drawing room for an aperitif before we leave?”

Mrs Whittaker nodded and went away to inform Iris of Alessandro’s request.

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LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 24

Chapter-24

 

love.falling

 

Restraint was not something Alessandro was good at, but he always thought he could control himself. However in this instant, control seemed to have slipped him by completely as he kissed Iris hungrily. She in turn, shared his hunger, returning his kiss with equal fervour. As if her agreement to marry him had broken all the bars he’d placed on himself, Alessandro ravaged her mouth, and she clung to him, welcoming the invasion of his tongue in her mouth. Iris arched her back and wound her arms around his neck, as he moved to her throat, his tongue slipping out to lick her jaw, the base of her throat.

 

“Oh Tesoro, it has been a pain all these weeks not being able to touch you the way I want.” Alessandro groaned as he continued kissing his way down. He removed her short jacket and found her almost bare shoulder to nibble on.

 

As he moved the shoe string strap of her top out of the way, Iris held his head in her hand and moaned his name, her need for him apparent. He looked into her face and felt the grip of an insatiable hunger tightening around him.

 

“This is not happening.”

Even as she said this, Iris’s head automatically fell backwards to meet his gaze.

 

Eyes locked on each other, she leaned into him, the tug of attraction so strong, impossible to resist. Like a fish on the hook, she was reeled in by him. Lust as she knew it was in power today, annihilating all her sensible thoughts. Trying to break the hypnotic hold of Alessandro’s burning grey-green eyes was not on the agenda today. Did she even want to succeed?- she asked herself.

 

The debate remain unresolved as her heart rate quickened to a rapid thud when he cupped her breast in his hand, his thumb rubbing the hard nipple. Iris moaned his name while Alessandro watched the reaction, his eyes glazed, hunger roaring in his blood, the muscles in his throat working visibly, as he took laboured breaths. All intellectual debate right now fled his mind; the reasons why he thought he would he wouldn’t seduce her, but woo her. He looked at her mouth, her lips raspberry red and swollen with his kisses, and thought, she was his obsession, a craving that had to be filled.

 

His hand slid down her back, pulling her deeper into him while his mouth worked on hers, nipping softly at the pink fullness of her lower lip. Iris gasped and closed her eyes as she felt the rock hard impression of his erection grinding into the soft flesh of her stomach. She was ready for him, here and now.

 

Suddenly Alessandro put himself away from her, breathing hard. Shocked Iris opened her eyes and found him cursing colourfully in Italian. Her stomach still ached from the impression of his hard male length, her heart and body in pain at this rejection. She moved away, self-conscious and straightened her clothes. Looking at him, she found Alessandro shaking slightly, his eyes closed. As if he could feel his gaze on her, he opened his eyes. They were pool of grey storms this moment, as he moved away and said, “Give me a moment.”

 

But he knew it would take more than a moment to subdue the painful arousal. She had shredded his control with her unconditional surrender. He would have taken her here, in the back garden without a second thought, if he had been a man without conscience. As he came to terms with his lack of control, he turned to look at Iris and paled. Tears slid down silently her cheeks. He groaned, “Cara mia!”

 

Iris flinched and moved a little further away from him, “I’m f-fine. I understand. I’ll just go in and-“

Alessandro swore silently, “Iris, don’t. Don’t walk away. I forgot who you are – I am sorry I rushed you.”

 

Iris shook her head, not sure what she was saying no to at the moment. She simply turned away and walked inside the house.

 

It was later in the evening when she finally came face to face with him again, at the dinner table.

A muscle clenched beside his mouth, his frustration at not being able to talk to talk to her alone was evident. His mother sat calmly, sipping her wine and eating while chatting to Iris, who it seemed to him looked as if nothing untoward had happened at all. She didn’t resemble the woman who had shed tears earlier in the evening. Instead she looked calm and – icy cold. She had not even looked at him yet.

 

Wishing them both a good evening, Alessandro sat down at his seat at the head of the table. He picked up the serviette and filled his plate with food. He didn’t speak until he was finished while the women kept on talking. He wasn’t sure what was being discussed but it sounded nothing more than fashion trends.

 

He thanked Tomasso as he finished his dinner and they adjourned to the drawing room for coffee. Clara and Iris sat next to the fire place while he went and stood by the window. And then he cleared his throat. Both women looked up, their talk interrupted. And that was when Alessandro knew Iris was fiercely angry. The eyes said it all. The brown gaze was fiery and accusing before Iris lowered her eyes.

 

“What is it my son? Do you wish to say something?”

 

Abruptly, he looked away and at his enquiring mother, his voice harsh when he blurted out, “I have asked Iris to marry me and she has consented.”

 

At Iris’s gasp of disbelief, Alessandro looked at her enquiringly. She squirmed in her seat and sat silent, her eyes promising retribution. Alessandro grinned inwardly. He would welcome her anger if it meant she would speak to him. Clara looked from one to the other and sighed. Then she placed her hand on Iris’s and said, “Child, would you go into the kitchen and get me some milk to go with my coffee? It seems Tomasso forgot to get me more.”

 

Glad to escape, Iris smiled at Clara and went away. Clara patted the seat beside herself and said, “Sit with me Sandro. “

“What is it Mamma?” Alessandro sat down beside his mother and took hold of her hand in his.

Clara Bertoni patted his hand and sighed heavily. She looked at him and said, “You are like your father in many ways, but when it comes to life you forget one important emotion that should rule your hearth and heart both.”

At her son’s frown, she said, “Love, my son. If love is the basis of marriage, the relation lasts forever.”

Alessandro snorted, “Mother, you had an exceptional relationship with Padre. It doesn’t mean everyone is so fortunate. I have learnt well from experience. It is not love, but a relationship based on mutual attraction, financial security and understanding that lasts in the world today.”

Clara sighed as she looked at her son, making him frown. “Has she agreed willingly or did you seduce her into it Sandro?”

Alessandro, with his cheeks tinting with the faintest of pink tightened his mouth. What could he say? He didn’t wish to lie to his mother, and yet—he had his doubts. Clara Bertoni sighed deeply. “My son, you must learn to trust again, especially if you wish to make a woman your wife.”

Alessandro got up, going back up to window to look out, and spoke in a firm voice, “No mother, this will not happen. I can’t trust any woman completely- even the one who becomes my wife. Iris will have everything else- my respect, my passion, and be mother to my children, but I can’t promise love even though I care for her very much. ”

A sound of distress from his mother had him turning around. Iris stood by the door, with a stricken look on her face. He could’ve sworn he saw pain in her eyes, before her expression became completely wooden. She looked at his mother, straight through him and said, “Clara, if you don’t mind, I will say good night. “

Clara looked at Iris keenly, gave an inward sigh and said, “Of course, my child. Good night.”

 

Before Alessandro could speak up, Iris turned away and left the room. Her heart had torn itself into shreds at his words, slowly bleeding itself to death. He may have proposed to her out of passion, but she now knew that he didn’t feel the same way. Her mind was numb with shock; refusing to think any more on it, while a part of her brain was constantly castigating her for ever having thought he might have had some tender feelings for her. She should’ve known better. She should’ve listened to the cautious voice in her head that had kept on warning her to stay away from him. Tonight, she refused to listen to the reprimanding voices and quietly turned off the light, after getting into bed. That’s when the tears arrived.

LOVE CONQUERS-CHAPTER 23

Chapter 23

love.falling

Alessandro bit back words of frustration as he realised what he’d just said. He didn’t mean to blurt it out so simply. He had thought of proposing in the evening, after he’d  slowly germinated the seeds of this idea in her head. The pallor of her face reminded him of his boast of never getting married again unless he was sure of the pedigree of the woman. How was he going to explain to her that pedigree be damned, he wanted her more than enough to want to make her his wife?

There was nothing that could express the shock that Iris felt, upon hearing his simple declaration. Alessandro planned to get married- no doubt he had already in mind someone from his elite background, who would be ready to be his wife. But would she be a mother to Ernesto and Antonio? Her heart screamed in agony, shouting “I’d be a mother to them, if only you’d let me!” How was that possible, cried out her brain, mocking her heart. Had she not known that Alessandro was galaxies afar from her?

What was even the point of such thoughts, said she to herself. Still in shock at his words, she forgot to excuse herself, as she walked away from him, and into the house. She walked speedily, going straight to the playroom where Ernesto and Antonio were eating their dinner after their baths. They welcomed her profusely, which acted as a soothing balm to her aching heart. Forgetting everything else, she joined in the chatter, talking about this and that with both of them, until they reached their bedroom and demanded a bedtime story.

Normally not reluctant, Iris hesitated. Bedtime story time was a private time, something she had been sub-consciously doing for the children. Somewhere she had forgotten her boundaries and started treating them as a mother would- reading them a bedtime story, giving them the last cuddle and then kissing them good night. Switching the light off and turning back once to look at their faces as they slept. She shouldn’t have done all that! And yet, it had all felt so right.

Aghast at the crowding consciousness of her motherly treatment of them, Iris hesitated.

“Perhaps your Papa should do it today. I’m sure you don’t want him to feel left out, do you?”

“He wouldn’t. Not if you do it when he’s with you. How about that, eh?” Alessandro came to stand beside her, deliberately moving forward and holding her hand while saying this. The last question was directed towards children, who shouted in agreement.

“I don’t think—“ Iris began, but was shocked into muteness when Alessandro put a finger on her lips and said, “Don’t think, just do what you feel, tesoro mio. Come with me.”

Holding her hand, Alessandro entered the children’s’ bedroom. While he tucked in Antonio, Iris tucked Ernesto in his bed and then sat down beside him.

“Iris?” Whispered Ernesto

Iris bent down and said, “what is it sweetheart?”

Ernesto looked up at his father who was tousling Antonio’s head and then looked at Iris and said, “Would you lie down beside me and do what Papa is doing to Antonio? I will go to sleep quickly if you do it—like a Mamma does.’

Iris hugged him tight before she thought to make it clear, “I would love to cuddle you- as a mother, but you do know that your father—“

“-is already planning to make her your Mamma.” Alessandro spoke from the other side of Antonio’s bed, his voice firm. At a yelp from both the boys, he smiled at them and looked at Iris, “You don’t mind if I tell them, do you darling?”

At her initial shocked and then outraged look, he winked at the children, “She thought she was going to tell you but I beat her to it!”

And the kids burst into a fit of giggles. The next moment Iris could feel Ernesto snuggling into her and saying, “My mamma!” and Antonio slipping off his bed to join Ernesto with a wide grin on his face.

Strongly curbing the red mist of anger unfurling in her mind, Iris gave them both a kiss and hug and said, “Now off to sleep my dears. You’ve had quite enough excitement for the day. We’d make plans on what we do tomorrow in the morning.”

Ernesto and Antonio both smiled and said, “Si Mamma.” While getting under the covers. In a minutes the eyes were closed and they were sleeping. Iris looked at them both with quiet despair in her eyes and then turned to Alessandro. He was watching her, his eyes searching for reactions. Anger erupted within her and she moved close to him and hissed, “Outside where we can talk in private, if you please.”

“You mean where you can vent your anger out on me? By all means, let’s go into your bedroom—or mine?” Alessandro said, not an inch of him showing anything else other than superior male authority.

Iris gritted her teeth and said, “Let’s make it the back garden Signore before I murder you with my bare hands for that outrageous lie you’ve fed to the children.”

Her posture rigid she walked fast and ahead of him and got out of the villa. As soon as they were out of the earshot of the house, she said, “What the hell were you thinking about damnit! How could you say—how dare you!”

“Calm yourself down Iris. You’re getting hysterical.” Alessandro stood by the trunk of the tree, hatefully calm himself.

“I will be hysterical if I want to, damn you! To say such things..” Iris swallowed a sob, her heart broken. How could Alessandro have said something as important as making her his wife in jest? A horror crept up in her heart as she wondered if he’d seen her feelings for him and used them to mock her. Tears were not far away as she considered her actions and the fact that she might have betrayed herself.

Taking deep breaths, she spoke, her voice softer and full of sadness, “How could you Alessandro? Do you not know that saying things like that would be catastrophic? What if the children expect—“

Alessandro left the side of the tree to come and stand beside her. “Iris, look at me.”

When she didn’t, he turned her to face him and lifted her chin up with his long, tapered fingers. His eyes were stormy green, his expression serious, “Do you think I would joke about a thing like that? “

“I don’t know you, do I?” Iris said, her voice broken.

Alessandro looked in to her eyes, “Don’t you Iris? You know I love my children, and I know you like them just as much as they do you. I did tell you I wanted to get married this morning, did I not?”

Iris moved away from him, glaring at him, “And so what? Should I have thought you were propositioning me? “

She turned her back on him and abruptly he said, “Don’t do that! I hate it.”

Bewildered she turned back to him, “Do what? “

“Turn away when I’m talking to you.” Said he.

“Well, that’s too bad because I am turning away from you Alessandro. I work for you and I will wait for a man to come and propose to me because he loves me, not because he wants a substitute mother for his children.”

“You are turning me down?” Asked an incredulous Alessandro.

Iris, with tears that wouldn’t be held back anymore said firmly, “Yes, I am turning you down Alessandro. We don’t have anything that will ever make a marriage work.”

“Yes we do.” Saying this Alessandro pulled her close. Iris wriggled in his arms, but his hands were like steel vice.  Holding her face in his hands, he wiped her tears, his eyes tormented. “How can you say there is nothing between us? Can you not be honest for once and admit that no matter how hard we try, we can’t douse this attraction we feel. I can’t fight it any more, I don’t want to. We can want each other without having to restrict ourselves and make a life together.”

“Sex.” Iris struggled in his arms, “That is never enough and you know it. Marriages have to be based on stronger foundations. What when you tire of me, or I of you?”

He let her go then, to her astonishment. When she stood still, without trying to move away, he said, “There’s more to us than just attraction, don’t you think?”

Iris opened her mouth and closed it. What was he trying to say? Her heart beat rapidly like a tattoo in her chest. Was he saying he loved her? She waited.

Alessandro tousled his hair and looked at her, his eyes grey and solemn. “Love is something I don’t think I can do. But I do care for you. We could have a good life together. I like you. I can give you financial security, all the material things you may want from life. We could be friends outside the bedroom –“ his voice turned husky with desire, making the hairs on her arms stand up as he came closer again, “- and in the bedroom we could share our passion.”

Iris looked away then, unable to hide her own want for him. He took her chin in his hand and said, “Tell me you don’t feel the same.”

Unable to speak Iris shook her head. Gathering her closer to him, Alessandro leaned into her, kissing her jawline & whispering,” Tell me you don’t like me.”

His lips moved to her cheek,” Tell me we can’t be friends.”

He moved closer to her lips,  “Tell me.. tell me you don’t want me.”

Pecking at her lips, sipping slowly from them, while Iris opened her lips for more of his touch, he murmured, “Tell me, tesoro mio, tell me.”

Iris could only moan his name before his lips took hers completely. They kissed passionately, moving together, until Iris stood with her back to the bark of the tree. They kissed and kissed as if they had hungered for these kisses for a life time. Eyes closed, all Iris could think of was Alessandro, his scent surrounding her; his warmth, his lips, his legs entwining with hers.

Again he whispered, “Amante, mi amore. I want you so much. It has been a torment staying away from you. End my torment cara mia! Marry me.”

Defeated by her own heart and her feelings for him, Iris couldn’t deny her feelings any more. She would make do with what affection she could get from him and she would be with his sons she now adored. The hope that he may fall in love with her one day after marriage made her only whisper while she put her hand on his heart, “I’m yours Alessandro. Take me.”

LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 18

 

 

Chapter 18

love.falling

Next morning when Iris woke up, her first thought was – today she was to go to Alessandro’s family home, to meet Ernesto and Antonio. A smile broke through her lips as she thought of the twins and their laughter that rang in her ears. That smile however didn’t stay for long when she thought about their father and her on-going struggle to overcome her emotions for him.

She wondered if Alessandro would accompany her to his house and then go about his business. The thought of him coming to call her like yesterday evening made Iris scramble from her bed and rush into the bathroom to do her morning chores. She carefully dressed into a roll-up sleeve formal yellow tunic with skinny jeans, knowing the boys would expect her to play football with them the moment they’d see her. For the weekend, she packed clothes that were sports-worthy. As a second thought she also packed a frilled tunic in pale pink with a wide belt.

Just as she was tying her hair with a piece of ribbon, there was a knock on the door. At her behest to enter, Maria entered the room. Iris wasn’t sure if she was disappointed or relieved that it was not Alessandro. She surely felt a twinge of disappointment though when Maria informed her that Signor Bertoni had left the place early morning to go about his business in Sienna. His personal assistant; Senora Sandra Milano would be taking her to Signore’s house and would introduce her to Signora Bertoni; Alessandro’s mother.

Nervous at the thought of meeting Alessandro’s mother for the first time, Iris soothed her hands over her jeans and walked to the car. Alessandro’s personal assistant sat in the front of the car, typing on her laptop. As Iris approached the car, she kept her laptop aside and came out. A dragon of a creature, she was as tall as Iris and middle-aged. Though she looked formidable, the smile she bestowed upon Iris was nothing as such. Upon receiving such a warm smile, Iris smiled back at her as she shook hands.

“Come Signorina, from what I know, the children are dying to see you.”

Iris smiled once again as she said, “I’m sure it will be great fun to spend the weekend with them Senora Milano.”

 

“Call me Sandra and I will call you Iris, if I may?” Senora Milano said.

At Iris’ nod, she sat down in the car as Iris opened the door to sit in the back. And stopped.

Just by the seat, sat a lovely bouquet of yellow and red roses. Keeping hold of her nerves, Iris sat down and picked up the bouquet, mentally chiding herself. They couldn’t be from Alessandro surely. He wouldn’t consider her good enough for this, especially after she had rejected him the last time. It must be the work of nice Senora Milano.  She buried her head in it and inhaled its heady perfume. These weren’t hothouse roses!

“Indian roses!” Iris exclaimed. “Thank you Seno-Sandra, they are beautiful. You are very kind to have gone through this trouble. I had no idea you can even get Indian roses here.”

“Indeed.” Came a wry retort from Sandra. She turned back and smiled to show she acknowledged the compliment.  “But the appreciation of this goes to Alessandro, for he found out the one local vendor who sells it and got them for you.”

 

Roses bloomed in Iris’s cheeks as Sandra imparted her the information and looked at her. Trying to sound casual, Iris said, “Oh- how kind of him. Please pass on my thank you.”

“I will. I think there is a card attached to the bouquet.” Sandra said.

With hands that trembled despite her control, Iris picked up the card nestled inside the flowers. It said, “Hope you like them better than you like me. Have fun cara. A”

“All okay?” Sandra asked without looking back, for which Iris was thankful. Her eyes were tearing up and she had to take a deep breath before she replied calmly, “Yes, all okay.”

The car moved forward, but Iris closed her eyes to the world as she tried to calm herself. Oh the wretched heart! Alessandro’s words has pierced her. How could she tell him how much she liked him- loved him without letting him trample all over her? It hurt her to think that he thought he was not in her good books and lamented the fact. On the other hand- a small but sensible voice in her head spoke up- it was good for her because he would realize that she will not play his game.

 

“And here we are!” Sandra said all too soon as the car stopped. Astonished, Iris looked around. They hadn’t gone very far away from the villa where she stayed. In fact, it felt as if it had been mere minutes far. Confused, she looked around.

Perhaps Sandra guessed her confusion, for she chuckled and said, “Ah- you did not know?”

Bewildered, Iris looked at her and asked, “Know what?”

Sandra got out of the car, so did the chauffeur who took her bag out of the back of the car. At Sandra’s nod, he left in a few seconds, leaving them there. Sandra linked her arm in Iris and turned her around, “Let us take a walk, not very far but a short walk.”

Before Iris could argue or mention her bag, she said, “Leave the bag. It will be taken care of.”

Iris had no choice but to walk along. It was not more than 10 minutes or so when they came across a familiar signpost, that Iris had seen before. Still trying to wrap her head around the truth, Iris looked at it and then at Sandra.

Sandra clucked impatiently and said, “Look around Iris. See where you are.”

And Iris gasped. For not too far away, she was sure was the villa where she stayed. She remembered seeing the sign post  on the gravel road that led into a private estate. She had been told not to take the path that led to it, but she had not been informed who owned the private estate. Now she knew. She looked around, her mind still trying to gather and process all the facts.

This was where Alessandro lived? He was but just a few minutes away from her, every second of the day and she had not known. A tidal wave of emotion rose in her. Iris wasn’t sure if it was hurt or anger. She could have met the twins & spent time with them every day after work, had she been informed of their home so near to her, instead of spending the weekend. However, she knew saying anything to Sandra would not be wise so she kept her mouth shut and smiled brightly.

“This is nice indeed! It means I can spend more than a weekend with the boys if they wanted to spend time with me again.”

“Indeed yes.” Sandra acknowledged this statement with a nod and a smile, and continued, “We must go back to the villa. Senora Bertoni is, if I’m not wrong, already waiting for you along with the boys.”

And so together, they went back  to the traditional red brick house where Alessandro lived with his mother and sons. The house was house, consisting of the main house and a barn where Iris suspected, animals were kept. The main house accommodated three floors, as Sandra informed her like an estate agent, comprising of living room that had a huge fireplace, kitchen, laundry room, dining room, study and a guest room on the ground floor, seven double bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, playroom, nanny’s bedroom and the nursery occupying the top two floors.

 

There was also another house behind the main house, that accommodated Senora Bertoni, with three bedrooms and bathrooms, a dining room and a kitchen. Iris was informed confidentially,  that though Senora Bertoni liked spending her time at the main house, she liked her privacy and thus preferred the house at the back.

 

The barn, as Iris had rightly suspected, housed livestock and was also used as a granary. The entire property in total was spread over 9000 square meters of land that also held gardens in the front and back and the forest, parking spaces as well as a Olympic sized swimming pool, a small swimming pool for children and a small pond.

 

A man old enough to be her grandfather greeted them as they were ushered into the house. He was introduced to Iris as Tommaso; who held the position equivalent to that of a butler in the house. He smiled very little but had warm eyes, concluded Iris while she shook hands with him. Iris took in the surroundings as they entered the living room.

 

A spacious room draped with pale ivory walls, heavy curtains looked as if it was a part of a home magazine, with original wooden beams & arches, terracotta tiled ceilings and floors that held cherubs and angels, with a grand fireplace in the centre of the room. The room was very tastefully furnished as well, with bright coloured carpets and cream coloured sofas. Two lounge chairs were placed next to the fireplace  and some by the sides of the sofa.

 

On one of the chairs sat Senora Bertoni, with a piece of she must have been knitting next to her. Beside her sat the twins with huge grins on their faces, with Mrs. Whittaker close by. Iris realized that Senora Bertoni was a petite gentle woman. Alessandro got his eyes from his mother then, for they were just as sharp and of the same grey-green shade. His hair must be his legacy from his father, for Senora Bertoni was a blonde.

Her nervousness dissipated as Senora Bertoni smiled warmly at herr. They were introduced to each other by Sandra.

 

“So- you’re Iris the angel that the boys keep on talking about, who will play football with them.  Welcome Signorina Florence.” Senora Bertoni said, her smile warming Iris.

 

She shook hands with her and smiled back, saying, “They’re really too sweet to say so. My countrymen love football as much as Italians do.”

Then realizing her mistake, she corrected herself, “Forgive me, I forgot that you’re—I mean, you were also once English.”

 

Senora Bertoni gave a gentle laugh at this and gestured Iris and Sandra to sit down.  She leaned forward and said, “Ah yes! I was once. Now I think I’m as Italian as any other Italian mother would be. I’m sorry it has taken so long for us to be introduced to each other. No doubt Alessandro thought it prudent that you be given time to get adjusted to your work out here before you can meet the boys.”

 

At the mention of Alessandro, Iris felt her cheeks going pink but she held on to her composure as she said, “I’m sure Signore knows the best for his sons. “

 

“Yes, I’m sure he does. May I call you Iris?” Clara Bertoni murmured, satisfied at what she saw.

 

“Of course, Senora Bertoni. ”

 

“You may call me Clara, Iris.” At Iris’s nod, she continued, “And now, I will let the twins come forward.“

 

At her nod, the twins got up from their places and moved forward towards Iris eagerly. “They have been awake since early morning with the hopes of seeing you today. They tell me they have many plans.”

 

Iris took a step forward herself and kneeled down on the floor to come at an eye-to-eye level with the boys. Antonio, with his usual vigour hugged her tightly while Ernesto waited for his turn.

Iris hugged both of them back and ruffled Antonio’s hair, “ So you have many plans, eh?”

 

Antonio nodded enthusiastically and turned towards his brother, “Don’t we Ernesto?”

 

Ernesto nodded and volunteered, “We know you can play with us the whole day today, Papa said so.” Then hesitatingly, “Will you?”

 

Iris gave him a wide smile along with her verbal acceptance to their offer, “Of course!! I’ve missed playing with two energetic young boys.  I’ve absorbed a lot of energy from the Sun these past few days. I’m sure I will beat you both at Football.”

 

“Hah! We will beat you!” Ernesto said with gusto.

 

Iris frowned a mock-frown. “Then I will just have to try harder tomorrow if you beat me today.”

 

“You will stay here for two whole days and spend them with us? You will not want to be with Nonna or Papa?” Ernesto questioned, as if doubting that anyone would want to spend so much time with them.

 

Iris felt her heart squeezing. She knew Ernesto had his problems, but she would make sure this little guy knew she was on his side. She squeezed his hand gently, looked into his eyes and said, “I’m here only because I wanted to be with you and Antonio.”

 

Giving Senora Bertoni an apologetic look, Iris added with a twinkle to her eye, “Of course when you sleep, I will spend time with your Nonna, and find out just how naughty you two are!”

 

“Yes! Nonna can tell you all!” Antonio shouted laughing. Ernesto nodded with a broad smile and started giving ideas of  what they could do in the evening.

 

Senora Bertoni listened to them and looked at the happy faces of her grandsons, approving the way Iris handled them. She seemed to genuinely like them, and even Ernesto seemed to be less hesitant with her. She also seemed compassionate. Yes, she will do very well indeed.

 

She cleared her throat pointedly and addressed her grandsons, “Now my dears, it is time you went into your room and changed for all the fun, while Iris is shown to her room.”

 

Mrs. Whittaker was the one who came forward, saying, “I shall guide you to your room Signorina. It is on the same floor as the boys.”

 

“Oh good.” Iris said and after taking her leave of Senora Bertoni and the boys, went along with her.

 

While on the first floor, she was given a whirlwind tour of the floor, that had three guest bedrooms, the nursery with a small room for the nanny and play room for the boys. The second floor consisted of a master bedroom, a dressing room of sorts, children’s bedroom and next to it, Mrs. Whittaker’s room. Next to Mrs. Whittaker room was another bedroom that Iris was to occupy.

 

Iris loved the room on sight. It was truly a beautiful room; very feminine. The window curtain were a creamy lace and the table and chair under it just as elegant. She supposed, she could sit there and write a few letters while she looked out into the garden and the green hills beyond from the window. The bed was a queen size, with the bedcover of powder blue with white daises printed on it, fluffy pillows and blue satin quilt on top of it. The dressing table looked to be equally royal, rosewood perhaps.

“How do you like your room madam?” Asked Mrs. Whittaker.

Iris couldn’t help but gush, “Oh it’s absolutely delightful Mrs. Whittaker! I wonder who designed it so?”

Mrs Whittaker gave a small smile, “It was meant to be the room for Senora Bertoni once, but she never occupied it. She never liked coming to this house;  preferred to live in Milan and Florence, she did.”

 

“Ah.” Iris couldn’t formulate a reply for this, while her mind tried to sought out answers on why she was being boarded her. Then she shrugged her thoughts. Obviously, this was the only room apart from Mrs. Whittaker that was close to the kids. This was the only reason why she’d been given this room to stay in.  Freshening herself up quickly, she went downstairs again, where Antonio, Ernesto and Senora Bertoni waited for her.

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.