LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 30

*steamy chapter- not for innocent eyes!*

Chapter 30

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No Alessandro, you are not responsible for my tears, not completely at least.“

Iris spoke softly, as she sat still on his lap, breathing his scent deep into her lungs. She sought the comfort he offered and laid her head on his chest. He held her tight, his hands spreading low over her back, soothing her, murmuring low in Italian, pressing his lips against her hair. Her tears subsided as a last huge sob shuddered through her body.

Her brain whirled at the sensations as she stilled in his arms for a second. Now that her misery had taken a backseat, she was aware of more basic feelings running through her body. Alessandro must have been sleeping. A tingling ran through her body as she moved her hand slowly on his torso covered, if she suspected right, only with a dressing gown. She must have woken him up and he had hurriedly put it on.

A wave of longing rushed through her as her heart shouted out for love. All she could think of was this moment, this time. It made her body ache to be in his arms and still stay passive. She wanted to kiss him and run her hands across his body, feeling the naked heart beating under her hand. She wanted to shower her love upon him, to show him how much she loved him. She wanted to take him inside her and make him a part of her for all her life. If she was going to leave him, should she not give herself to him and live with the sweet memory of belonging to him, even if they would never be together?

As if in a trance, her hand slipped inside the parting of his dressing gown She heard him take a deep breath, his voice coming from deep inside him in warning as he said her name. She looked up at him and they were so close their mouths could touch each other. He could easily press his lips against hers, and they could become lovers. But did he want that?

The green of his eyes was prominent as his piercingly keen eyes looked at her hungrily, as hungrily as perhaps hers must look, she concluded. Her voice was barely above a whisper, wobbling slightly after crying, as she said, “Kiss me.”

She heard him give a moan, as he shifted his body on the bed more comfortably, as he held her face between his hands and in a husky voice answered, “Are you sure? If I kiss you cara mia, I won’t be able to stop this time. “

She moved nearer, her heart beating loudly in her ears, her breathing fast and shallow. The need to kiss him and be kissed was paramount at this time, her senses on an overload. As she closed the distance between their lips, she closed her eyes and said against his lips, “Then don’t. Don’t stop this time.”

And the world exploded around them as she laid her lips gently against his.

Alessandro stayed still as she kissed him, hesitantly at first, as if testing waters, and then opening up to him completely. How could he stay away when she became the temptress, a seductive goddess at the same time? He pulled her close, one hand buried in her long hair. The kiss deepened, becoming so much more as his tongue moved between her lips, entwining with hers. Her arms slipped around his neck, sliding them into his dark hair and moving her head to fit against his as the kiss continued, leaving him in no doubt that she wanted him just as much as he wanted her.

Adrenaline pumped hard and fast into his body, fuelling the passion to heights he had never before imagined. He felt as if he was on fire, and she with him. He kissed her plump lips again, and then moved down leaving a scorching trail of kisses on her jaw and her throat. He heard her give a gasp, as he opened his mouth on her neck and sucked gently.

Ohh.. this is–” she groaned and stopped with his name, throwing her head back and arching her body in his arms.

He looked up to see her parted lips, and eyes glazed with desire as he sucked and licked on the other side of her neck again.

You burn me, tesoro- just as much as I burn you.” Alessandro said, his deep growl sending a thrill of shivers down her body. He claimed her lips once more, deeply and passionately as she wriggled to move closer still. She wasn’t sure what she wanted; no she was. She wanted him to quench this fire, to satisfy this hot need blazing inside her body.

Iris, mi enamorata, vita mia! Incontrarti era destino. Meeting you was my destiny. “

He whispered the words in her ear, kissing it and then going lower. Iris arched her back, leaning against the strength of his arm, her heart flying high at his words of amour. A sigh of contentment left her lips as he reached her breasts swollen with desire that the silk slip did nothing to hide. She said his name out aloud as he kissed her nipple through the slip, dampening the silk. As his lips nipped at the hard peak of her nipples, first one and then the other, she buried her fingers into his thick hair as she surrendered to such mastery.

You like it, tesoro? Do you like it when I kiss you here” Alessandro asked as his tongue laved her nipple. Giving it a quick flick, he sucked hard and then freed it with a plop. His voice was harsh, as was his breathing as he flicked it with his finger and said, “One day, you will feed our children here. “

His words sent a spark of urgent need straight through to her core as she gasped his name. He blew on the hard nub as she clutched at his hair and said urgently, “Oh please, Alessandro, my darling! Please!”

He moved to remove her from his lap and lay her down on the bed, continuing to kiss her shoulder, her mouth. His skilled hands removed her clothes quickly while Iris moved eagerly, matching her actions to his. He got up then, his eyes dark with desire as he looked at her from above, his body tense with need. She looked sensational with her hair spread across the bedspread, her eyes burning his body like wood fire, as he shrugged out of his dressing gown.

Iris put out a hand, calling him to her- an ancient call, primitive as it ever was right from the first time a man and woman came together. He took her hand, and with a seductive look that spoke of a thousand promises without words, got drawn to her, with her pulling him down on the bed.

Iris sat up as he sat down next to her, and gently pushed her hands against his chest; the firm chest that shuddered as she touched him, moving her hand to his pebble hard nipple. Scraping it gently with one finger nail, she drew a painful moan from him.

Alarmed, she looked up. “Did I hurt you?”

Alessandro smiled, baring his teeth like a tiger on the verge of losing control as he said, “No, cara. You did not hurt me, but it feels amazing to have you touch me. “

Blushing, Iris shyly continued, “I have– that is, I am not very-”

Alessandro gently caught her roaming hand with his and said, “Iris, I know you are not familiar with love making, but trust me. Nothing you do will hurt me- and I will try to be gentle too. “

Her cheeks became a rosy pink at the mention of her inexperience and he bit back a groan. If he had his way, he would ravish her, take her now with little finesse.

But he remembered, he was initiating Iris into sex. It was her first time. His jaw clenched as he realised the mammoth control he will have to keep on himself if he were to see this through without embarrassing himself.

He gave a silent gasp as Iris leaned down on his chest and gave a tiny lick. His hands clenched into fists and his breathing became ragged as she continued her journey downward. She moved her hand over his hard pecs and marvelled at such physical perfection. She left a trail of kisses on his body. As she reached to flick her tongue below his navel, she heard him give a groan of pleasure and felt his hand burying in her hair.

He reached out and took hold of her waist as she ventured further to kiss him where he ached the most. He pulled her on top of him, leaving her in no doubt how hard he had become for her. As she tried to grab his shaft, he caught her hand and said, “Too much at this time, mi amore. “

Iris smiled seductively and pouted, “But I want to touch it. I promise I won’t hurt you. I am not a complete novice, you know. I did have a boyfriend.”

Alessandro gritted his teeth against the annoyance at the mention of any other man in her life having enjoyed her ministrations. He growled at her and said, “I am sure you do, but it will certainly kill me if you do. “

He looked at Iris, her face pink, her eyes sparkling, her movements telling him of a woman who is hesitant yet willing in the bedroom. He wasn’t sure if he had the control to wait patiently while she got ready for the taking. As her palm skated up over the hard muscular wall of his chest, he groaned deep in his throat. Catching her hand, his need obvious in his eyes, he brought her hand down to his erection, to the thick and long evidence of his arousal.

Iris’s eyes widened at the size of him, yet she pushed her hand against him. He was hard and eager. It fired her senses to the limit and her breath turned shallow. She wanted him and was eager to show it to him despite her lack of expertise in bed. She wanted him on top of her, pushing into her inner core, instead he was bent on playing with her body and it only made her need him more.

Alessandro couldn’t get enough of her. With impatient yet gentle hands, he pushed her back down on the bed, exchanging hard urgent kisses, that stoked his hunger higher and higher. He found the hard tips with his mouth with a skill that wrung a cry from her lips again.

Alessandro chuckled huskily against one of her nipples, “You are so very sensitive here, gioia mia.”

Iris trembled as his hand moved towards her wet centre, teasing her lips apart and playing with her folds. She arched under the heel of his hand, her hips lifting straight off the mattress. She groaned out his name loud as he eased a finger inside her, kissing her neck at the same time. When he inserted the second finger and rubbed the centre of her pulsing heat with his thumb, she bucked under his hand.

Amore mia, you are so tight, so wet- all for me. “

Iris felt her face burn at his words, an excitement that wouldn’t stop blooming between her thighs. Her awareness of everything else vanished as he stroked her clitoris again and again, reducing her insides to melting pulp. She pushed her body towards his, kissing him wildly and mutely demanding what her tongue couldn’t seem to.

Alessandro couldn’t wait any longer for fulfilment. All male, he freed his hands to lean over her, his eyes blazing green with desire, as he kissed her hard and fierce on the mouth, whispering against it, “I want you so much cara, I burn!”

Laughing as he tried to catch her mouth with his, Iris caught his head in her hands and kissed him back, urging him breathlessly with, “What are you waiting for then?” as her hips moved to meet him unselfconsciously and she closed her eyes.

Wait… I must-” Giving her a hard kiss, he got up and said, “Wait…I will be right back.”

Bewildered at his sudden movement, Iris opened her eyes to see him moving quickly towards his dressing gown, putting it on and getting out of the room. It was a mere thirty seconds before he was back, holding something in his hands and grinning.

Now we wait no more. “ Saying this, he moved on to the bed, kissing her again.

Curious, Iris asked, “What is it that was so important?”

I have to protect you, carissima. I wasn’t carrying it when I came in so had to go, get it.”

It took Iris a second to understand his meaning, and when she did, her eyes widened. Before she could think or speak any further though, she felt Alessandro’s hands back on her body, and she forgot all about it.

Tearing the packet open, Alessandro eased the condom on while she watched, her eyes hungry. Looking at her, he gave a growl and leaned towards her, strong and sure. Iris felt the tip of his penis against her slick, damp entrance as his finger came up to tease her clitoris back into movement. Slowly he entered her, his jaw tight with control so as not to hurt her.

But of course it hurt, and a moan of protest rose from Iris, to be captured by his mouth. He stilled his movement as he felt himself fully sheathed by her. He looked down, where she was under him, her eyes closed as she grunted a bit. He tried to ease himself above her, but she held on to him with her legs firmly entwined to his back now.

He kissed her gently and slowly, her movements became needy, urging him to continue. This time, he thrust into her and growled in a full bodied masculine voice. Sinking into her up to the hilt, he began to move as he felt Iris give a gasp of pleasure. God, her body was so attuned to his! The sweet torment started building up as he withdrew and then thrust deep again, eliciting a primal cry from them both. He could no longer rein back his response, as intense and all consuming pleasure built inside of him.

Iris held on to Alessandro for her dear life, as he thrust into her again and again, taking her on to higher paths of pleasure. Just when she thought she couldn’t bear it any longer, she found a peak and fell apart in an exquisite sensation, her lips opening in wonderment as she saw Alessandro feeling the same above her. He let out a loud pitch growl, taking her mouth in a bruising kiss as he emptied himself inside her, shuddering in the throes of his climax.

It was a few minutes, before Iris came to her senses. Alessandro lay beside her, totally spent. He had pulled the sheet over them both. And she, she felt wonderfully at peace. So this is what love making was; when one was in love and two souls came together along in a perfect physical merger. She pressed her lips gently against his satin-smooth shoulder, as he picked up her hand and lapped her wrist gently with his tongue. Then with a deeply satisfied sigh, he kicked back the sheet and got up to move.

Stunned, Iris looked at him as he went into the bathroom. She could hear him grumbling about something. Slowly, she slid out of the bed and peeked into the bathroom. He was moving around unashamedly naked, and starting a bath! She gazed hungrily at his body and felt desire kick in her stomach again. As if he was acutely aware of her presence, he spoke, “I want to make love to you again, tesoro but I know that will not be possible. You most be sore. It will help you if you take a bath; relieve a bit of soreness you feel down there.”

Iris blushed at the mention of it, and then got annoyed at her own coyness. Why did she have to feel like this? She was a woman of this century, she should be able to take such references calmly. She smiled hesitantly and said, “Okay, if you say so. I-”

Alarmed, she stopped mid sentence as he came to her, looking so powerful. He looked so powerful, so vital without his clothes. She gulped as he took her hand in his and guided her to the bath. Picking her up, he got into it and sat down with her still ensconced in his arms. Turning her head to his side, she kissed the corner of his mouth, only to have her mouth taken in a burning kiss that lasted several seconds.

At last when he let go, they both were breathing hard. Alessandro lay her down in the bath, slowly sliding out himself from behind her. Iris looked at him through her haze filled gaze, as he smiled tenderly down at her. Getting out of the bath, he said, “Soak for a while cara, and ease your muscles. I will be back in a bit. And don’t go to sleep!”

Saying this, he exited the bathroom, leaving Iris feeling lost and alone, even when she knew it was silly to feel so. For now, she simply wanted to close her eyes and lose herself in the world where she and Alessandro will remain together for all their lives, in love with each other. For now, she wanted reality to recede.

LOVE CONQUERS – CHAPTER 27

Chapter- 27

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“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.

LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 26

Chapter-26

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“Buongiorno bellissima! “

 

A soft touch on her shoulder, a kiss on her head along with this softly speaking endearment had Iris sitting rigid in her chair at the breakfast table.

 

She had been enjoying her morning with the children until now. Breakfast had begun a few minutes back, with Antonio and Ernesto vying for who could eat the most strawberry jam on their toast. Iris had requested for some toast and coffee when asked what she’d like for breakfast. Both children had already had milk under Mrs. Whittaker’s supervision. The old darling, bless her, had left children and Iris alone after this, knowing that children wanted some time with their to-be-mother.

 

Iris hadn’t expected Alessandro to join children and her at the breakfast table at all. Thus when she felt a hand on her shoulder, along with a kiss on her forehead and a greeting, she felt shaken to her core. She was not prepared yet, she thought, panicking. She couldn’t face him at this time, that was all she knew.

 

She nodded in his direction, not able to speak a word, as he sat down next to her and the children. He spread his napkin on his lap and said softly, “We must talk.”

 

Without looking in his direction, Iris spoke softly so as not to disturb the kids with the harshness of her voice.

“Not now Alessandro. I agree we must talk, but it has to be away from here. I wish to spend the day peacefully with the boys.”

 

Something cold spread through his stomach as Alessandro heard Iris speak softly yet firmly. Her voice was expressionless. He wasn’t sure why but he had this feeling in his gut that things were as wrong as they could be; his plan might be in jeopardy. His grey green eyes rested upon her bent head for a long moment, processing her body language. Deciding he didn’t wish to push his luck at the moment and thinking he’d find a way to work things out by evening, he picked up his espresso cup and drained it in one gulp, saying “As you wish tesorino. I must go to Sienna today for work. I shall be away all day and return in the evening. We will go out for dinner.”

 

At her nod, he turned away from her and began a teasing conversation with Antonio, who delighted in his father’s attention. Ernesto looked up from his plate and glanced at Iris first and then at his father. A boy too mature for his age, his eyes immediately picked up something of the atmosphere and he anxiously piped up, “Is Mamma angry with you, Papa? Are you going to fight? ”

 

It took all her wits for Iris to not burst out in anger at Alessandro for coming down to breakfast. Instead she smiled at Ernesto and caught his hand in hers, gently reassuring him, “I am not angry at all, poppet and there is no fighting. Do you see any boxing ring? “

 

Normally Ernesto would have smiled at her reference to boxing; one of his favourite sports (as Iris had found out), but he didn’t. Iris squeezed his hand and smiled into his eyes, trying to keep her own sadness at bay. “How could I be when I plan to spend the whole day doing fun things with you and Antonio?”

 

Ernesto didn’t look assured despite Iris’ words. She looked up finally and directly into Alessandro’s stormy grey eyes. Her heart beat fast as he caught her doe like eyes with his, and stared back. Then he dropped his gaze from her and looked at his son, who was looking at him anxiously, his voice holding the old stutter, “C-che cosa, Papa?”

 

Alessandro beckoned Ernesto to get down and come to him. Ernesto got down from his chair and came to stand beside his father. In a smooth move, Alessandro picked him up and sat him on his lap. Ernesto looked at his father, his expression serious. Antonio had quietened down too; his earlier exuberance disappeared, and now stood next to his father, sucking his thumb. Alessandro picked him up too and sat him on the other side of his lap. Three pairs of grey green eyes looked at each other, surveying each other.

Looking at all of them together, regarding each other so seriously, Iris knew she had made the right decision. How would she bear to see them hurt; she couldn’t – ever! Her decision to let Alessandro know that she wouldn’t marry him this evening was a step in the right direction. What’s more she would also let him know that she was going to quit and move away. It may anger him and make him hate her, she knew but it wouldn’t have a devastating effect, as it would on the twins. It was best she moved out and away before she did them any harm emotionally.

 

She closed her eyes at the pain of it all and then opened them up, to see Alessandro gazing at her, his eyes dark and gleaming as green pools of ice. She lowered her own and forced herself to eat a bite of toast from her plate.

 

“Papa?” Antonio’s voice wobbled and Alessandro turned his gaze back to his children.

“Si, mio figlio.”

“I am scared Papa.”

 

Alessandro’s mouth tightened when he heard this. He had had enough troubles with Ernesto and his anxiety. Now, Antonio also felt insecure, thanks to his big mouth and Iris’s reaction to his words. He kicked himself for spoiling it all. The cynical side of him wondered if Iris had planned this scene- her upset face, her cheerful attitude going silent as soon as he was around- as a revenge for how he had made her feel yesterday evening. Bitterness that he had kept at bay returned, making his eyes cold chips of ice. She could go on plotting but he would ensure his children never felt unsure and anxious due to a woman ever again. Even if it meant letting go of Iris. A woman who wanted revenge and used children for it was not for his household, no matter how much his body lusted after her.

 

He wrapped his arms around both his sons and met their eyes, “Ascolta me, mio figli. No matter what happens, you will always my love. “

“And mine.” Said Iris softly, making both the boys smile for a second, before they became serious again, when their father continued,” No person on this Earth can make you feel unsure when you have the love of your family, like I have of mine. Your mother didn’t wish to become a part of the family, and she is not our family, because she didn’t love you. Just because she didn’t love you doesn’t mean I don’t either. I will do everything in my power to give you no reason to be uncertain of my love, no matter what I have to do.” He said the last with a steely look at Iris, who had had her eyes fixed on the children.

 

With each word that came out of Alessandro’s mouth, her heart had sunk further and further, even the tiniest glimmer of hope dashed. His last statement though brought her head up, recognising his words for what they were- a father’s vow to go through any compromise in life, for the sake of his children and their happiness. They were not the words of a man who wanted to assure his children of their parents’ love; of the love of both a mother and father. They were the words of a man who didn’t trust her to love his children enough.

 

The children nodded solemnly at their father’s words. Antonio looked up with a bright smile at his father and said, “I love you Papa.”

Ernesto said equally fervently, “Me too Papa.”

Alessandro smiled at both his sons and kissed the top of their heads. Then he patted them lightly on their shoulders and said, “Enough with this now. Go on and get Mrs. Whittaker to take you to your room. Iris will join you in a bit.”

 

Both the boys looked at Iris, and at her nod, came up to her, hugged her, got hugged in return and left the room talking amongst themselves.

 

“Iris, look at me.”

Iris looked up and saw herself reflected into his eyes. The eyes that had first captured her when he had saved her from falling on the road mesmerised her with their intensity when they had met accidentally at the University; the eyes that always looked at her with fierce passion, the eyes that were a window to his soul and made her fall in love with him. Today those eyes reflected nothing of the kind. All she could see was his steely determination and no emotion.

 

“I want us to get married as soon as I get the license. I have already applied for a special license. Do you want anyone from your family to come to our wedding?”

At the shake of her head, he looked at her as if puzzled, then tried again.

“You don’t want anyone from your family to be present at our wedding?”

 

Iris shook her head again, not saying anything, controlling the dam of tears that could burst if she was not careful. She wanted to be as cold with him as he was with her. Taking a deep gulping breath as slowly and carefully as she could, she said, “No, I don’t want anybody.”

 

Alessandro looked at her intently. He knew how much she still cared for her family- the family that didn’t care for her. It would be tearing her apart from inside, he was sure, but his Iris was strong. If that was her wish, he would not ask her again and upset her anymore. So he shrugged and said,

“Okay, if that is what you wish. “ Then he paused and said, “I am not sure how you felt yesterday evening, when you came in and heard what you did, while I was talking to Mamma.”

 

She still didn’t look up, so he continued, “I apologise if I have hurt your feelings in any way. I wouldn’t wish to hurt you Iris. But it is the truth.” He gave her a look hot enough to melt her body as he said, “I still want you—badly. In fact if it were not for the respect I have for you, I would have already made you mine.”

Her eyes became hard chips of wood. She stood up and snapped, “I’m not that easy, and you know it Alessandro.”

 

Alessandro laughed softly as he got up to come towards her. With each step he took forward, Iris’s heart beat faster, her insides trembling with anger and perhaps excitement too, but she held her ground, her chin up.

 

He came close to her, his breath caressing her hair as he bent down to growl quietly in her ear, “Si, amore. You are not easy. I will wait until our wedding night, though it is bloody hard to keep my hands off you when you are so close.”

 

As she turned to move away from him, he caught hold of her arm, irritated. “Don’t walk away from me when I am talking to you. “

“You don’t order me around Alessandro Bertoni! Not unless we are at work, and you become my boss. And that perhaps is something that I wish to amend.” With a jerk, Iris got her arm free from his hand. She had a sneaky suspicion her words had surprised him enough to let her go so easily, but she was glad of it.

 

“Meaning?” Alessandro asked, his eyes narrowing.

“Meaning I wish to give my one month notice now. I don’t wish to work for Bertoni anymore.” Iris said quietly. “Also I would like to go to my parents’ place for two days. I don’t want them to come to the wedding, but I do wish to let them know in person.”

LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 25

Chapter-25

love.falling

One should never have to wake up feeling sad and heartbroken, but that is exactly how Iris felt when she woke up the next morning.

Her tears from the previous night had dried on her cheeks, her neck felt like it had sprained, and she felt sick of life in general. But the softest of hearts must become strong and hardy, because life must go on despite broken hearts. She must pick up the pieces and move on. Or so she told herself, as she got out of the bed and went around doing her morning chores.

Dressed up early in slacks and a pale pink shirt, she went down and out into the garden. She had promised the children that she would break fast with them. Running away was not her style, however highly she was tempted to do it. Plus her heart broke, if it could break any further, at the thought of denying Ernesto and Antonio her love and affection. They were both such adorable boys!

As if thinking of them had conjured them up, both the boys came running out into the garden, with Mrs. Whittaker following them with a beaming smile.

“Good morning Ms. Florence. Congratulations, the boys told me the good news.”

Iris gathered herself to speak with a calm smile, “Thank you Mrs. Whittaker.” And then she turned to the boys who had wide smiles on their faces, while they clung to her legs. She bent down to their height and gave them each a smacking kiss, before saying, “And why are you both up so early? I thought I would come to wake you up.”

Ernesto gave her a shy smile, “We wanted to be with you Mamma.”

Her heart gave a little lurch at Ernesto’s words, and his calling her his mother. Iris knew he meant it from his heart. Iris wanted to claim the title and yet she knew she would be denying it. Before she could say anything to him though, Antonio also spoke up. “Papa came to us today morning and said you may have to leave today, because you have work to do. He said, until you become our Mamma, you are working and so we must respect this. “

Iris couldn’t help but hug both the boys, who spoke earnestly from their hearts.

“Oh my dears!” said she, “lets go for a small walk. Then we’ll come back and breakfast together- if that’s alright Mrs Whittaker?”

At her nod, she took each of their hand in hers and walked off towards her favourite area; that bit of wilderness that covered the distance between the villa she lived in and this one. On the way, both the boys kept on chattering about various things they could do when she next came to see them. They hoped it wouldn’t be too long before she really became their mother and came to stay with them forever. Ernesto voiced out his thoughts aloud shyly, while Antonio joyously and loudly echoed it. Iris, at a loss to understand how she would tell them that she wasn’t going to become their mother after all, felt depressed.

She had come to the conclusion while she had been dressing for the day that she wouldn’t marry Alessandro, after what she had heard him say the previous evening. She just couldn’t. Along with it, she had also reached to the conclusion that working for him would be impossible for her. She must quit her job and leave Italy. The question of where to go remained unsolved, but she didn’t care about it at this stage. She might have a holiday somewhere far away, where no one would remind her of Alessandro.

“Mamma! No Antonio! “

Startled at the high pitched command from Ernesto, Iris looked down to see Antonio picking up some soil from the ground to eat it.

Quickly Iris bent down and caught Antonio’s hand before he could put it in his mouth. It was a second too late however, since he ate it anyway. A wide grin broke on his face as she said, “It’s tasty!”

Iris laughed softly and cleaned the palm of his hand. Then she kissed it and said, “Oh well, we’ll just have to feed you with some seeds now. And then you’ll have small plants growing in your stomach.”

At the look of horror on Antonio’s face, she ruffled his hair teasingly, “How do you like the idea?”

Looking at her with the faith only a child could bestow upon an adult, Antonio grinned, “Then I will not have to eat vegetables to grow into a strong man. “ Looking at Ernesto, he said, “See? Mamma will always have nice solutions. I will have strawberry seeds Mamma.”

Iris laughed loudly this time and said, “There is no escaping vegetables little man. Carrots, Tomatoes, Cabbage, Peas, –” She stopped at the look on their faces and grinned, “Which reminds me, we need to get back to the house for break fast. “

“Can I also have Strawberry seeds Mamma?” Ernesto asked shyly.

Iris grabbed hold of him with her other hand and said, “Yes, you can poppet. In your strawberry jam.”

And so they went back to the house, smiling-hand in hand. This is how Alessandro saw them from his window, while he was taking a meeting on the phone meeting.

He had got up in the morning, recalling the incident from yesterday evening, and the look on Iris’ face before she had turned away from him. He didn’t like the thought of Iris being hurt in any way. His eyes turned stormy grey at the thought of anything hurting Iris. And then he grimaced. He had a feeling he had hurt her. He had no idea how he would make things right back between them again, but he knew he had to.

The sight of his children and Iris together made him stop mid-sentence over the phone.  Stormy grey turned glinting green in seconds as a fierce wave of possessiveness and pride grabbed him from the scruff of his neck. Iris looked enchanting in her pale pink shirt. And she was a natural mother, for she treated his sons as her own. He groaned, feeling blood draining south at the thought of giving her his seed- at the thought of fathering another daughter or son.  He muttered something and ended the call. Long strides made their way down. He was going to breakfast with his children and his future wife.

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 22

Chapter-22

love.falling

“Iris, so glad you could make it this evening child. How are you?” Clara Bertoni welcomed her with open arms, kissing her in Italian tradition and then making her sit beside herself.

“I’m very well, thank you Signora—Clara.” Iris smiled a warm smile at Alessandro’s mother. She really was a darling. Looking around for the children, Iris found and met Alessandro’s broody eyes. Hurriedly moving away from them, she came back to Clara, who was observing both her son & herself, her eyes amused. Trying to get the attention back on the boys, she asked,

“Where are the children? I thought they’d be here with you.”

Clara gave Iris a smirk which reminded her very much of the man standing close by. “Indeed! If they had their way, they’d not have had their siesta or done anything much today, what with the prospect of seeing you in the evening. They spoke of you all morning, making plans among themselves. Even Ernesto took time to be persuaded for Siesta. Mrs Whittaker will be waking them up and bringing them down soon.” She put her hand on top of Iris’, saying warmly, “My grandchildren have really taken to you Iris.”

Blushing at such an open compliment, Iris could only smile and say, “You’re too kind Clara. They’re nice kids and all they need is—“

“Mother.” Said Alessandro absently, startling Iris. Clara looked up at her son, not surprised at the interruption at all. She nodded her head in agreement speaking before he could say anything further. “Ah yes, those children do need a mother who would love them like her own. I’m getting too old. ”
Iris turned to stone at her words. She kept her face away from Alessandro’s scrutiny and bent her head, focusing on her skirt, her mind not on anything else but his reply. Had Alessandro been thinking of getting re-married?, wondered a terribly jealous Iris. Her heart tore itself into shreds at the thought of Alessandro married to another woman. If that was the case, she’d—she’d not be able to bear to be close to him at all.

As if reading the thoughts swirling around in her head, Alessandro spoke, “Yes, I’m beginning to realise that Mamma, but—I apologise for rudely interrupting you Iris. What I wanted to say was that I shall be in my study if there’s anything you want.” Her head shot up at that, he noted with savage satisfaction, checking out her expression. He read jealousy clearly enough. Playing it cool, he nodded distantly at her and left the women alone.

Iris gulped down the bitter bile rising in her throat and smiled at Clara.

“Are you alright child? You look a little pale suddenly.” Observed Clara with concern.

“It is nothing. I’m fine, really.” With mammoth effort, Iris controlled her head banging emotions and gave Clara a smile, adding “Shall we take a stroll around the garden? It is quite pleasant today. ”

Signora Bertoni smiled as if indulging Iris, “Why not? I am not so old that I can’t take a leisurely stroll on this bright day.”

And so, both women walked together in the garden, sharing gardening tips and so forth. Tommaso had arranged chairs in the garden, close to the cherub fountain, along with a couple of loungers. It was when they sat on the loungers with hats that Clara insisted they wear, that Iris closed her eyes and fell asleep.

 

Clara Bertoni looked at sleeping Iris and sighed. It seemed as if things were coming to a head between Alessandro and Iris, and yet something was not right. She sighed, sipping her lemonade. She replayed what she had observed earlier and Sandro’s talk about realisation of the need of a mother for his children. He had looked at Iris’s down bent head as he had spoken.

 

Her son had been restless these last few weeks and had spent many evenings either working hard or visiting the villa where Iris lived on one pretext or the other.  Clara Bertoni had no problems with her son’s choice of bride,  if indeed Iris was his choice for himself and the boys, and not simply a conquest he was eager to acquire. She sighed inwardly. If only Alessandro could find the same happiness that she’d found with his father! There was hope, in the form of Iris sitting right next to her right now. If only the boy would be sensible enough to fall in love!

Senora Bertoni, not the one to laze around, decided to bring the matter ahead.

It was not more than ten minutes of napping, but Iris woke up refreshed, appalled that she had slept. She took off the hat and looked at Signora Bertoni, with a rueful smile, “I’m sorry for dropping off like that. It’s this blasted Sun. It makes me sleepy.”
Clara gave way to tinkling laughter and said, “No need to apologise, my dear. I myself do the same many times. The smell of sage and other fruits of the season is heady enough to make you sleepy. How about I order some tea while you freshen up? I’m sure the children would be here soon too.”

“That would be lovely, thank you.” Iris smiled and excused herself, saying that she must freshen up. By the time she came back, Antonio and Ernesto were sitting by Signora Bertoni, drinking milk and chatting. They ran towards Iris as she came into the view, chatting nineteen to a dozen.

Iris heard them out, hugging them and giving them appropriate responses. After a while, under her supervision,  both the kids started on building a block castle that their father had bought for them. A present from Luxembourg, informed Signora Bertoni dryly.

The backyard garden that they had been strolling in held an organic garden, an orchard and a vast variety of flowers and trees. It was while they sat there, drinking tea that Senora Bertoni spoke out loud,

“Do you like my son Iris?”

Startled, Iris choked on her tea. Carefully so as not to break the porcelain cup that rattled alarmingly in the saucer, Iris put it down and looked at Clara Bertoni. The words of formality already on her tongue dried up in her mouth. With such an straight, intense gaze putting her on the spot, Iris could barely form a lie in her thought. She made do with a nod instead. Senora Bertoni sighed and said,

“If I dared, I would entertain the hope that you like him more than you admit, that you cared about him as much as I can see you care about the boys. “

Iris wrung her hands together in anxiety, “But I mustn’t. I can’t Clara. Surely you can see that!”

Clara sighed, “He is not yet ready I know. My son is very clever and a very successful businessman; but a little dim-witted when it comes to matters of the heart. And yet, I have hope for him.”

Iris closed her eyes, tears very close. What was the matter with her? She felt like crying day and night these days! Taking a deep breath, she opened her eyes again. Her voice was a whisper, “ I have none, not with me. He may like me, desire me even, but – I can’t give in to that. I’ll – I want a man who loves me.”

As if a decision had been made, Clara said stoutly, “And so you should, my dear. You’ll be selling yourself short if you accepted him for anything less than that. However, I do ask you to keep an open mind. He’s not very good with words when it comes to feelings, my son is not. He will need all the encouragement in the world. Will you at least consider that?”

“You really think—there’s –that he would-“ Iris couldn’t think coherently, hardly daring to let herself hope.

“Give it time child.” Clara said softly and then winked. Aloud she said, “Ah there you are my son!”

“Mamma.” Alessandro kissed his mother and sat down on the nearest lounger beside her.

Tomasso got him his coffee. He laid back, rubbing his hand over his neck.

“You look tired.” Observed his mother.

Iris, feeling restless now that he was here, got up and walked to where the kids were building blocks. She had seen the tired lines around his eyes and mouth. She wished she could ask him about it, but it was not her place to do so. Knowing she may give in to the impulse of asking if she could help, she had directed herself towards Antonio and Ernesto, who welcomed her with smiles. She gave in to their demands of help. It was best to ignore what Clara had said regarding Alessandro, at least for now.

 

Alessandro regarded Iris as she played with his children, her back to him. So- she was still mad at him probably or simply avoiding him. He had worked like a Trojan and cleared his schedule for the next two days to woo her. He was determined that he would wait no longer. He still had to work out how he’d woo her, but he felt certain none of his previous experiences with women would help him with Iris. He had paced about in his room for half an hour in vain. Finally he had accepted that he would think on his feet this evening and see how things go.  For now, he sat in silence next to his mother and drank his coffee.

 

“Sandro.’ His mother rarely called him that these days, unless there was something worrying her.

He looked at his mother and smiled, “Si Mamma?”

“What plans are you hatching my son? I know this look on your face. “

“Nothing that would make you worry. I am thinking on your suggestion.”

“About getting a wife, a mother for Ernesto and Antonio?”

“Si.”

Clara cleared her throat before taking the bull by its horns, “So you think that Iris could fill the position?”

Alessandro looked up at his mother, his expression blank. “What makes you think so Mamma?”

Clara shook her head, clucking, “I’m your mother Sandro. I know something about you surely. Do you care for her?”

“I –“Alessandro hesitated, then replied, “I like her of course. The best part is, she is good with Antonio and Ernesto. It is only with her that Ernesto is so open.”

“And yet, that is not the basis to marry. It is not only for children that you will marry. You will have a wife who will need your love and care. You must feel something for her too.” Clara said softly. She looked Iris and said, “She’s a girl who would dream of a husband who cares for her, loves her, gives her more children. She will be a good wife to a man who would be lucky enough to get her love. Can you offer her that?”

Alesssandro, irritated at his mother’s vision of Iris falling in love with a man and having his babies; someone other than himself, shook his head, “Mamma, I know what you are trying to do. Stay out of it. I want a mother for my children. She will get financial security and a family in return. I will look after her interests and protect her. Surely she can’t ask for more than that.”

Clara looked at her son with disapproval. She got up and laid a hand on his shoulder, “Then you have a lot to learn about women my son. A warning. Tread carefully. One poisonous woman’s deeds can’t be laid at the door of another innocent woman.”

Alessandro looked in astonishment at his mother as she walked away. Of course he didn’t look upon Iris as a second Flavia. He only meant that falling in love with Iris, like his mother wanted him to, was not in his books. His eyes drifted to where she played with the children. Ernesto said something and she laughed, replying back to him and ruffling his hair. He saw how Ernesto and Antonio crept closer to her as she said something, with wide grins on their faces. He may not love her, but he definitely desired her more than anything else. And he was confident that she wanted him just as much. Hearing another bout of laughter, he got up, deciding to join them in their fun.

“Can anyone else join in the fun?” Alessandro’s lazy drawl brought shrieks of laughter from the boys. Iris kept her head firmly fixed on the blocks with which she was building a wall.

“Papa, you can join us in the fun. Right Iris?” Ernesto said smiling, as his father came to sit beside them.

Iris was forced to look up, right into those stormy grey green eyes. They were more of grey right now than green. She looked at the boys who were waiting for an answer and smiled, “Of course. More workers means the castle will build quickly.”

“You’re very good at putting up walls.” Said Alessandro softly as they worked together in symphony, talking to the kids who sat on either side of them.

“No more than you.” Muttered Iris, then made a window in the wall.

Soon the castle was built and ready, extracting awed exclamation at their own handiwork from children. Iris shooed them off to wash their hands and get ready for dinner. Too late she realized she should have gone with them when she found herself alone with Alessandro. Before she could think of an excuse, Alessandro caught her hand and said, “Sit with me Iris. I want to talk to you.”

Knowing it was useless to resist, Iris sat on the edge of one lounger he had guided her to, and looked at him warily. Instead of sitting on the lounger opposite, he sat beside her, not touching her.

“What is it?” Iris asked, not wanting to, yet not being able to resist.

“I understood from Felipe that you met my ex-wife on your trip.”

Iris stiffened. She had not thought it prudent to mention it to him before. Now she nodded soberly and said, “I can understand now why you didn’t want the boys to be influenced by her, or even be near her in any way.”

“Yes. She is a threat that has been almost eliminated from my sons’ lives and yet, sometimes I fear she may try to – get more from this debacle of a relation.”

“What do you mean?” Iris asked, puzzled.

Alessandro looked far off in the distance and said, “She will try to contact the kids sooner or later, playing the “I’m your poor mother” card. Since I’m not married and my children have no mother, it could be easy for her to confuse their feelings.”

“Surely not! She can’t do that! “Aghast at this information, she looked at Alessandro with horror and uncertainty. “Can she Alessandro? “

“I don’t know for the moment cara. But I think in future, it is possible.”

Iris closed her eyes in despair for him as well as children. Oh, to be cursed with a woman who would use you only for your riches, even stooping low to manipulating her own children.  She whispered, “You can’t let her Alessandro. Stop her.”

“There is a way she can be stopped.” Alessandro stated quietly, making her eyes fly open.

“How?” asked Iris.

“I get married.” Alessandro stated simply.