LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 20

CHAPTER 20

love.falling

Monday pushed Iris through her limits at work. By evening, she was tired and cranky, but satisfied. She had finished the last of the reports that had to be sent to Sienna office. Sitting in the chair for four hours had her stiff.

She wondered what Ernesto and Antonio would be doing. She regretted the fact that she won’t be seeing them this week. She  had remembered just in time in the morning to call Clara and inform her that she won’t be able to see the children this week. She would be attending the food & wine festival at Cortona with Felipe Bertoni, where their wines would be served to selective customers. Clara had assured her that she would let the children know. For sure they would be disappointed but they would look forward to her visit when she returned from Cortona. Clara had also begged her to enjoy herself, since this was one of the festival typical of Tuscan culture.

The thought of seeing them after she was back from the festival brought a smile to her face. She moved her neck to one side and found it aching. To relax her posture, she stood up, leaned forward and stretched back to relax her back muscles and neck,  and almost toppled on to the floor when a voice from the door observed, “I wonder how far back you could stretch.”

Regaining her balance at the last moment, Iris stood straight and scowled. Felipe Bertoni stood by the door, his eyes alight with laughter. He came in and greeted her by shaking her hand boisterously, as if they were long lost friends, “ Iris! How good it is to see you again! I do wish though you would take better care. Marvellous balance though.  Were you an acrobat at any time? ”

Iris shook hands with him and replied back in a dry tone,  “ Yes, it is good to see you again too Signor Bertoni. Not attempted as an acrobat yet, but I might soon if you make me jump like that. “

“Now now Iris, we’re acquainted enough. You can call me Felipe, as I’m going to be not just your boss, but also your guide at our sojourn to Cortona. And I was never one of those fearsome ogres that would eat your head when I caught you stretching about a bit. You know that!”

It was impossible to resist such charm. Iris smiled warmly, “That is true, indeed, Felipe. “

“Come, we must sit. I need to relax and I’m sure you do too, after a long day at work.” He gestured at the garden outside and Iris followed him out. There were chairs kept in the garden, with cool drinks at the table already served. Iris picked up one of those and said, “Ah, bliss! Bepe knows I love her mint lemonade at the end of the working day. Picks me right back up, it does.”

Felipe clucked his tongue, “Don’t let Alessandro hear you say that. You are in a vineyard and yet you prefer lemonade! He would rightfully stamp his foot in anger.”

The image of Alessandro stomping his foot in anger had Iris smiling. That smile however vanished in a second at the memory of his face last evening. She muttered while sipping her lemonade, “That’d be too human of him. Huh.. stamping foot and all.”

“Beg your pardon?” Felipe goggled at her, the look on his face showing his incredulity at her words. She shook her head, smiled sweetly, and took another sip.

“So all ready to depart tomorrow for Cortona? I know that a certain person in Cortona is very excited at the thought of your visit to his town.”  Felipe stated, taking his glass of wine in his hand, deciding to let go of the previous statement.

A smile broke through on Iris’ face at the mention of Lorenzo. How she missed his friendly & cheerful presence out here! She said, “I do hope I get enough time to visit Lorenzo.”

“I am sure you can be freed for an evening. “ Felipe said, slyly adding, “Alessandro had mentioned that you would need an evening off out there and arrangements, thus have to be made for it. Quite attentive my cousin is, to ensure his staff is able to relax.”

Iris tried to look nonchalant at this news and had a hard time controlling the blush that spread across her cheeks. Sure Alessandro would want her to have a good time; he himself was going to have a great time in Luxembourg, of that she had no doubt. Not giving too much import to his words, Iris said, “That’s kind of him. Do we have an agenda while attending Sagra della Bisteca?”

Felipe rubbed his finger over his chin and looked thoughtful.   He knew Alessandro had not been too happy to go to Luxembourg with Vittoria Terzo.  In fact, if he was right, Alessandro would have loved to send him; Felipe to Luxembourg while he accompanied Cortona with Iris. Something was cooking between these two !  It would be fun to see the mighty Alessandro on his knees for this lovely woman. He would take his time and draw his own conclusions. He had the whole week to confirm his suspicions. He would observe Iris and share his observations with his brother Felice. After all, it had been their idea to get them together and watch the fireworks!

He gave Iris a bright smile, ” Sorry, got distracted there for a moment. Let us discuss what we do out there.”

And they went on to do just that.

A WEEK LATER

Iris dropped her bag on to the floor in her room, exhausted. It was nearly midnight and she had just arrived back from Cortona. She sat down on the chair by her window and poured water  into the glass from the jug Beppe had kindly placed on the table, relaxing for the first time in the whole week.

Despite the fact that the week had been one of the best weeks for Iris, workwise and with regards to knowledge of wines, she couldn’t honestly say that her days had been peaceful. Or for that matter her evenings. Her evenings had been full of  meeting prospective clients, talking about non consequential things and generally smiling till her facial muscles ached. But she had been able to enjoy them all, despite all the activity, thanks to Felipe. He had been a great boss and a helping hand where ever she needed it. In fact she could even go to say that they were friends now; not the “secrets-can-be-exchanged” kind of friends, but definitely worth talking to.

A smile came up to her lips as she thought of her meeting with Lorenzo and his partner, Pieter. She had been able to spend an entire evening with Lorenzo, his partner and his family and had enjoyed it very much. Lorenzo had decided to stay put in Cortona and Pieter had agreed to join him, leaving Florence and it’s delights behind. It had surprised her to see Lorenzo’s parents accept his status so affably, but then, as Lorenzo said, his parents were nothing if not open minded.

The smile on her face vanished as she recalled the entire day she had spent before meeting up with Lorenzo. Felipe had been by her side, aiding her whenever she needed help. What she had not counted on then, was coming fact to face with Alessandro’s ex-wife, Flavia. Felipe had tightened his mouth, nodded at her and moved on, or tried to. But it had been Iris who had borne the brunt of that woman’s malice. At every turn, she had tried to provoke Iris into lashing out or responding badly, by provoking her and almost telling one of the prospective clients that she may be Felipe’s arm candy.

It had taken vicious mutterings in her ear by Felipe to shut her up. Iris assumed the mutterings were vicious since Felipe looked furiously angry. Flavia had given her killing looks and walked away with another party, venting her anger out on petty things.  Later that evening, Flavia had created a scene when a maid had accidentally bumped into her. Things had eased down after that, but Iris had realized exactly the sort of woman Alessandro’s ex-wife was. Iris was only thankful that the kids wouldn’t have to bear the brunt of her anger. She may have been a horrible influence on them, from all she had heard and seen by now.

She sighed as she recollected the entire day gone by. Today had been a disaster in all directions. The day that had started with a very angry and tensed Felipe flying out to England for a personal emergency, leaving her alone to cope with an irate customer that was hell bent on flirting with her. She had handled the best she could, but it was quite possible that her icy politeness and firm distance may well have lost her company a customer. As if that had not been enough, the day had ended with her lost while driving back, finding directions and finally reaching home, cranky and tired.

Deciding that a bath may be the right thing to relax her body of aches and pains of the day, she turned on the tap, and jumped at the sound of the telephone ringing in her room. Thinking it may be Bepe checking up on her, Iris picked up the phone and said, “It’s alright. I’m back safe Bepe, and will see you in the morning.”

“You will see me later in the morning cara, and I will pass on your message to Bepe. I’m glad you’re back safely.”

“Alessandro!” Iris was shocked into screeching on the phone, her senses on a spin. “You are in Luxembourg.”

She stated, her brain still trying to get a grasp over his phone call. He’d called up to ensure she had reached safely?  It was a minute before her brain finally processed his words and automatically added, “You will see me in the morning? You’re home? ”

“I will cara. I’m back home too.” Alessandro’s voice was warm as he said that, making Iris’ nerves tingle.

She stammered, “Good for you. You’re h-“ stopped and said, “Good night then. I will present my report tomorrow.”

“Iris.” Alessandro calling her name, stopped her from hanging up. She put the receiver back to her ear and said, “Yes?”

He breathed deep and said, his voice soft in her ears, “I missed you Iris.”

Simple statement, and yet it made Iris tremble from head to toe. Her tongue got tied into knots, her voice frozen.

“Iris?” Alessandro enquired hesitatingly.

“I’m- here.” Finally she was able to squeak. Clearing her throat, she repeated, her voice still quivering, “I’m here.”

Iris, Tesoro mio, I—“ Alessandro started and then, it seemed to Iris whatever it was that he wanted to say, he gulped it down and said instead, “I’ll see you tomorrow. Good night Iris. Dream of me. ”

Iris heard him hanging up while she stood by the phone, her mind still reeling over the fact that Alessandro had called her and admitted to missing her. Was this for real?

As if already in a dream, she put the phone down slowly, turned off the tap, took a quick shower, and went through the night ablutions, before turning off the light and snuggling under the covers. Sleep seemed far off from her eyes and yet, she dreamed of a morning where Alessandro would come up to her and tell her how much he had missed her.

She closed her eyes, and quietly slipped into this dream, a small sigh of contentment escaping her mouth.

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 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.