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 10

Chapter 10

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

“You are here!”

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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