LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 12

Chapter-12

love.falling

There are very few regions in the world today that are rich in natural and architectural beauties as well as filled with history. Tuscany is one of those regions that has it all and if one lived here long enough, one would never want to venture out in to the world again. Be it the art of living or hearty eating, Tuscany is well cultivated in it all. And Siena to Iris, seemed like the major concentration point of all that is good in the entire region.

Surprisingly, she had been accepted readily into the fold by the gentle and friendly people of Siena. The vineyard itself was placed a little farther away from the main centre of the town. It was a huge piece of land; about 24,000 Hectares of vineyard, with another 12,000 Hectares of arable land for future planting and 20,000 Hectares of Olive groves. There was also a wide expanse of wilderness on one side of the land. The workers told her it was more than 5,000 Hectares of wood land that belonged to the Bertoni family as well.  She often went for long walks along the path but had been asked to not go beyond the gravel road that led to a couple of private houses and villa.

Iris had also been taken into the cellar for a visit during the first days and informed that this was where new bottles were kept to age. The wines were sold not only in the domestic market but were quite popular in the International market as well.  Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Vin Santo, Chianti Colli Senesi  and Rosato were some of the few wines that were well known from this vineyard.

This particular farmland produced not just wine but also Olive oil. It had been awarded too for producing the best organic Italian white wine some years back. She was also shown the small bottling plant, the refrigeration plant and the tanks that were insulated for vinification of white and red wine. There was also a storage room where aged and ready to be sold wines were kept and a huge staff room where everyone met for lunch and coffee.

No wonder Alessandro Bertoni was so arrogant; what with him being so rich, and having the world fall at his feet, thought Iris. He was a hundred folds far removed from her class of people. Somehow that thought had annoyed her and also saddened her. She had diverted the focus thus, to the place where she was putting up during her stay here.

The house could hardly be called small. She had been informed that the housekeeping and the working staff stayed not far away from the main farmhouse, in their own little cottages. The farmhouse was basically a villa with three floors that held 5 bedrooms, a huge drawing room, a study, work room, a library, a nursery and some other rooms that were undefined yet. A huge swimming pool in the back side of the house was surrounded by just as big a garden, with some space reserved for vegetables. An orchard on the side held lovely tropical fruits that bore fruit some time of the year. It had taken Iris an entire day to tour around the house with the housekeeper, Bepe.

Iris mused about the whole experience as she ventured out with her note book. It was really more of a holiday than work, thought she, when she had to roam about in the vineyards like this; learning more about cultivation and growth of the grapes and enjoying the warm weather. Every day spent in the sun had given her a healthy tan and a lovely glow to her skin. She was back out again today, learning dedicatedly the art of grape cultivation from the people who worked in it and lived in it, day and night.  Keeping in mind the warnings from the workers at the vineyard about the harsh sun, Iris kept to herself when swimming or tanning, but was always suitably covered and dressed when working, to avoid unnecessary fuss. Today she wore lovely green harem pants and a brown tunic top while working with the rest of the team.

Iris was happy to go into the town in her free time and explore the streets. She had been given a car; a Fiat and she loved to drive it across the town. Mostly she parked the car in one place and walked. It was fun. She loved going back to the central piazza “Il Campo” and gaze at the surroundings. The first time she had seen it, she remembered where she’d seen it before- she’s seen this very same place in the James Bond movie, “Quantum of Solace”.

Despite the initial hiccups, she thought she had settled well into the routine since the last two weeks. It is true that the first two days, she had been jumpy and wondered if Alessandro would show up unexpectedly to keep an eye on her. But when days turned into a week, she relaxed. She felt her fears with regard to her career and Alessandro’s attention had been baseless and she even scorned herself for it. Why would a man of such wealth and arrogance be interested in her anyway? She was after all, not into his class or society of people. She was just an employee and she had been asked to learn the ropes of wine industry so that she could move forward in her career. It had been silly to see things into it. She shook her head at her own stupidity and walked on towards the patch of land she was supposed to pay attention to.

The matter of fact was, she had not been silly at all to think that Alessandro would come to see her, for he did- the very next day. Had she but known it, she might have also wondered about his intentions. As such, she had no idea what was in store for her. She also did not know that Alessandro had in fact been living very close to where she had been put up. The gravel path, from where she had been deterred from, was the route to the villa where Alessandro lived with his two sons, his mother and his staff.

Alessandro meant to kept Iris in the dark about his plans for her—at least for some time. He had gone to meet his godfather and had been sternly advised to scrap his plan. According to his god father, even if his plan succeeded, he would regret the whole of it the day his intentions behind it and the deviousness with which he set it about would get revealed. Secretly Alessandro feared the same thing but he’d never admit to it of course. Somewhere he wanted Iris to keep on holding him in high regard. However, he had no intention of letting his plan slide, despite his godfather’s advice. He was going to ensure the truth would never out. And for that, it was essential that he kept his plans to himself, not making any one a partner to it.

He had obviously kept up with news of her. It was amazing news about her kept on trickling in; about how much the staff at the vineyard liked her.  He got good reports not just from his housekeeping staff about how neat and helping she was, but also from the working and the administration staff on how meticulously she was learning grape growing and wine production. He decided to pay a little visit knowing by now, she’d have relaxed and wouldn’t be expecting it. He grinned, quite resembling his young sons when they were up to something naughty.

And so it happened that he actually made Iris jump when he appeared. It was dark in the corner where Iris had been standing, inspecting the small vines that would one day produce luscious grape. She had been completely unprepared for his,

“So this is where I find you- in the mysterious dark.”

“Dear Lord!” Exclaimed Iris once she had shrieked and turned around. She hated him, absolutely! “You had no right to come up sneaking behind me and scaring me like that! What a silly thing to do!”

Iris sounded cross and Alessandro loved to rile her. He grinned now as he looked her up from head to toe. Her hair was disheveled, which of course is no surprise since he knew she’d been roaming about the place since morning, taking notes and working out things.  She had tied it on top of her head and now it looked untidy though not at all bad. The look suited her, he decided. She was wearing harem pants in brown with a half sleeve sky blue top and a hat lay on the ground. Her feet were sensibly encased in boots. In reply to her annoyed statement, he thought, “Not yet, I have no right but will- soon.”

Aloud he said, “I’m sorry to have startled you. I am very happy to see that you’re taking deep interest in vines and production side of the business. Have you been treated well here?”

Iris instantly became professional like. Her heart was thundering loudly but she ignored it. Though she wouldn’t admit it even to herself, she was happy to see him. His scrutiny had seared her insides but she’d rather not let him know that, considering he sounded polite and businesslike. She smiled gently and said, “Oh yes, thank you Signore. The staff here is the best and has helped me a lot in learning most things regarding production, planting, refrigeration and so on. The housekeeping is most attentive.”

“I’m glad to hear of it. I have asked Maria to lay the table outside on the patio. Would you care to join me for lunch?”

Though it had been posed as a question, Iris knew it was a demand of her boss. Probably he wanted to know what she’d learned and how far she’d progressed in her training. She nodded and said, “I’d like to, thank you.”

As they approached the patio, they saw Bepe and Maria hovering by the table. Bepe gave Alessandro a big smile and spoke in Italian, “It has been long since you came here to stay.”

Alessandro replied, sitting down, “Soon I will come to stay and bring Antonio and Ernesto with me. Mamma has been asking me to take a break and give her one too.”

Bepe chuckled, “More likely she wants you to take a wife to bring here. When do you marry Signore? Have you chosen a bride yet?”

Iris listened to the conversation, astonished that Bepe could talk to Alessandro in such an informal manner. Alessandro looked at her as if understanding her surprise and said, “Bepe was my mother’s special maid before she came here. She has known me since I was a boy.”

He looked at Bepe, smiling and said, “I have chosen the bride Bepe but it remains to be seen if she chooses me.”

Bepe flapped her hands in the air as if dismissing the question, “Nonsense, there is no woman who will reject you Signor Alessandro and you know it.”

Iris looked down at the plate in front of her as she tried to understand her feelings. All this talk of Alessandro getting married was getting to her. She had no idea why she should feel so sad all of a sudden but she couldn’t dismiss the feeling of desolation that swept over her as she heard Alessandro saying that he had chosen a woman for his bride.

Alessandro looked at Iris’s down bent head and then at Bepe. She, a woman of wisdom watched Alessandro in return, nodded her head when he looked at her and softly said, “Yes, perhaps there is someone who can put you in your place if she says no and then yes? It will all work out in the end.”

Alessandro smiled at Bepe as she left them to go into the kitchen. He hoped so too that it will all turn out to be well in the end.

LOVE CONQUERS-Chapter 7

Chapter-7

Iris had taken great pains with her appearance for this evening- mocked Vittoria Terzo, her room-mate for this weekend. Iris had looked at her coolly and taken her comments on face, without rising to it. She had simply shrugged her comments off and let her be. Lorenzo had already warned her that Vittoria; a former model, was bitchy. Iris knew she didn’t care for her opinion anyway and so nothing Vittoria said affected her. Vittoria was in the bathroom now, getting ready.

Outwardly looking composed, Iris was well aware that she was a  bundle of nerves. She had tried to fake a headache when Lorenzo had visited her earlier and asked if she could perhaps stay in the room this evening. Lorenzo had given her two pills and asked her to rest but also quietly suggested that it may be a bad idea to stay in. It may put others in mind that she was not just reserved but also snooty and not a team player. In the end, Iris had conceded that he was right and given herself up to the evening of razzle dazzle.

She sat by the bedside window and willed her heart to calm down. It had been galloping since afternoon, when she left Alessandro sitting by his table, sipping wine. She had paced around entire afternoon in her room, agitated by her own self and her own tumultuous feelings. She remembered how tempted she’d been when he’d asked her if she’d like to visit the private wing of Bertoni villa.  In an instant, her mind had conjured up an image of them in his bedroom, entwined together. It had rattled her; these thoughts that had come unbidden into her mind. She had blushed and then horrified at what she’d been thinking, she’d stiffened and refused. She closed her eyes in frustration. What was it about that man that brought her to the brink of madness?

A knock on the door put an end to self-reprimand. Lorenzo was supposed to escort her downstairs to the party. One quick look at the mirror and Iris felt muddled. She was not sure of her appearance. She wondered if she should simply invent a headache and stay put in the room. She looked at herself again and frowned.

Maybe it was all too black. Lorenzo had clucked his tongue and looked appalled as he’d seen the clothes she’d packed for this weekend and finally begged her to wear the last minute packed black tunic with lace on the hem and the sleeves. In Lorenzo’s opinion, it certainly helped in solving this evening party’s “what-to-wear” problem.  After almost twenty minutes of arguing, Iris had finally given in and agreed to wear the black tunic with black tights along with delicate silver heel sandals. Her long golden brown hair had been let loose for tonight instead of being tied in a chignon or worse a ponytail. Iris’s hands itched to put up her hair but aware that she would offend Lorenzo if she did that, she let it be. For accessories, she wore the multi strand pearl necklace; her great grandmother’s legacy.

Another round of knocking had her hastily moving towards the door to open it. She smiled softly as she partly opened the door, expecting Lorenzo and started to say, “Lorenzo, I don’t—“

She stopped abruptly as she gazed into deep pools of green-grey eyes. Her eyes dropped and traveled from downwards to upwards. Expensive tan loafers and cream trousers with cream collared Polo Shirt exposing tanned arms, with one arm accessorized with expensive make of the watch- Rolex if she wasn’t mistaken completed Alessandro’s look of the rich tycoon. A part of her mind registered that he really had a striking face along with those eyes that literally winded her up every time she met him.

She didn’t want to stare really but she just couldn’t stop herself from doing so. It wasn’t just his height that gave him an intimidating and powerful look, it was also his perfect features; well not really perfect since he had a chink on his nose as if he’d broken it in some fight; but the rest of him was actually perfect- his physique exquisitely sculpted with muscles at the right places. Alessandro definitely had an aura of power around him that made him arrogant and incredibly self-assured. A small voice at the back of her mind added, “don’t forget the dynamic sex appeal.” And Iris, annoyed with herself for thinking so much about him, gave herself a mental slap. She met his amused eyes and to her annoyance, blushed.

“You don’t –what?” Alessandro asked her in an amused tone.

“I’m waiting for Lorenzo to come escort me downstairs. I thought it was him.” Iris explained shortly and then a frown marred her features, “I thought you were in the private wing. What brings you here-a wrong turn?”

Alessandro was a little taken aback by pert question; not that it reflected on his face. He took in the delicate lines of her face, the minimal make-up, slightly glossed pink full lips and the mass of long golden brown hair that tumbled down almost to her waist. She was definitely striking, not more than any other woman he knew but still-she made his blood pump a little faster with desire. He decided to ignore her question and wondered what she was wearing. Something black, yes but what? She hadn’t opened the door fully to him yet and he wondered why.

His tone was quietly amused, “You sounded ready with an excuse to skip the party. Are you planning to invent an headache and hide this evening Signorina Florence?”

Iris paled but quickly caught her composure while her mind raged with thoughts. How in the world did he know what she had been thinking? What made him so self-assured that he was right. Time to cut him down to size. She smiled coolly and said, “Now I wonder why you would think that? I have a million acquaintances down there and two good friends. I would not wish to hide from them.  But you didn’t answer my question. What are you doing here?”

Alessandro watched the fleeting emotions on her face, fascinated by the paleness and then the tide of pink that coloured her cheeks. She was unlike women he knew; that was certain. Usually women responded positively, purring at his presence, with smiles and coy signals. Iris indicated no interest in him, except he had caught the darkening of those wood brown eyes when she had been checking him out.  All this pretense of non-interest amused him and yet intrigued him too.

His voice was deep, lazy and confident as he replied enigmatically, “Yes-your question. I know my hotel too well to take a wrong turn.” He looked at the pink disappearing from her face and paleness taking its place and wondered if she was scared of him. She looked at him as if he may leap on her and attack her. Not that he ever thought she’d be scared of him but the thought did make him uneasy. Maybe that was why his tone was abrupt when he said, “Is Vittoria ready? I’ve come to escort her down.”

Shock held her mouth open for two seconds before she stammered, “Vittoria? Sh-she is-“

“I’m here darling, all ready to party! How do I look?” Vittoria’s voice came from behind Iris and Iris turned around. Vittoria truly looked sensational. Iris felt like a pale flower in black in front of her. Vittoria was dressed in blood red short cocktail dress, with indecently low halter neck, that clung to her curves at the right places and ended a little below her hips. Iris felt an instant dislike for the girl in that moment.

She muttered under her breath, “What’s the need to wear anything if that is what she’s going down in.”

Alessandro chuckled silently as he heard her comment. So the so-called ice maiden had cat like claws that unsheathed when she felt bitchy enough. He moved further in to the room, smiling like a predator, pushing the door open so that Iris had no choice but to let it go. Alessandro noted her black attire and approved of it without making it obvious. He brushed past her, rubbing against her arm as he came into the room and Iris was jolted by a powerful current of desire.

She was bewildered by the rush of emotions flowing in her body. She wanted to make mincemeat out of Alessandro and claw the eyes out of Vittoria’s face who looked at him as if she was a cat that had caught the canary. More unlike Canary kind of man was hard of find, thought Iris viciously and then aghast at such thoughts, scrambled away from them.

Alessandro smiled at Vittoria, bending to kiss her on the mouth and Iris’s entire body shook with murderous rage. She turned away from them and got out of the room, her breathing erratic. She didn’t want to witness anything they did. When he’d brushed against her, she’d felt this rush of desire she didn’t want to feel. Even now her skin tingled, her throat was drying up and her breasts felt heavy and hyper-sensitive; her nipples hard and aching.

Iris, quite angry at herself tried to calm herself down by standing by railings of the balcony, taking deep breaths. She was quite unprepared thus, for the onslaught of sensuous attack that came in the form of Alessandro’s husky voice, close to her ear-so close that it seemed he had kissed her ear as he said, “I feel the same in case you’re thinking you’re the only one feeling all this.”

Iris shuddered as he whispered again, “Enjoy the evening. I know I will enjoy watching you, even from afar and keeping my distance.”

She closed her eyes as she felt him move away from her and decided that it was just her imagination. None of this was real; and then opened her eyes again, furious with herself for being so foolish. She heard his chuckle and then heard Vittoria’s voice saying pettishly, “I’m ready now to go down. Let’s go Alessandro.”

She felt them leaving and released her pent up breath. This was going to be a long evening.