He was a terrible man in London. Ranulf MacEachern drank too much, spent too much and fucked too much. But he was able to return to Gallahide Castle with a relatively clear conscience because everything that happened in London was part of Ran’s sacrifice. He could never have what he wanted, he could only take what he needed. That sacrifice took its toll and the only way they could survive was for Ran to purge the frustration and lust while he was away. He was voracious until he hated himself because he was a man in love in Scotland.
But his head and his heart weren’t as clear as he turned into the courtyard at Gallahide and parked his Mercedes then handed the keys to a footman. It was getting harder to leave the guilt behind when he returned home. Ranulf took a deep breath then ran up the steps and flashed the footman at the door a quick grin as he strode into the main hall.
“Welcome back, Lord Lachlan,” Pearson said as he took Ran’s coat.
“Thank you. Anything I need to know about?” He asked as he gripped his butler’s arm and he shook his head.
“Everything with the household is as it should be, the staff is very happy to have you home,” he said and Ran turned as Niall ducked out of the study at the end of the hall.
“You’re back!” He said as he hurried toward him and Ran’s heart ached with joy and peace as he caught him. “I was starting to think I’d have to go after you,” Niall complained as he buried his face in Ran’s shoulder and breathed him in.
“I’m sorry. Some things got shuffled and I wanted to sit in on that initiative to open those schools in Africa. I needed to see some details sorted out before I came home,” he explained as his hands clung to Niall’s back and shoulders. He rubbed his cheek against Niall’s hair and he smelled like home.
“It’s settled and they’ll start building soon?” Niall asked hopefully as he leaned back in his arms.
“I think so but we’ll have to wait and see,” he said then shrugged it off. “But I’m home now and I brought you something,” Ran said as he pushed his hand into his pocket and removed the handkerchief. “I had this made for you,” he stated as he gave it to Niall. His fingers brushed along the back of his hand and he felt Niall tremble as he traced the embroidered butterfly then smiled up at Ran.
“You shouldn’t have,” he scolded but his eyes were softer than the sky as they touched Ran’s.
“I know,” Ran said as he traced his jaw.
“It’s about time, you old whore,” Simon drawled as he skipped down the stairs. Ran released him and swore under his breath. Niall rolled his eyes as he slipped the handkerchief into his pocket.
“Is there something you need?” Ran asked as he pinched the bridge of his nose and braced himself.
“Heard you had quite a time with a very gorgeous wannabe rock star this weekend. There are pictures on the internet!” Simon gasped dramatically and Ran offered him a hard smile and silently encouraged him to get to the point “Can I have a new car?” He asked and Ran blinked back at him.
“All that sex and you’re still a dick,” Simon said and Ran’s eyes flicked upwards as he nodded.
“And you’re still a cunt with no marketable skills or any income of your own, fuck off and stop trying to ruin my day,” he said and Simon pulled a face as he hopped off the last step and headed for a drink, knowing him. Ran sighed and offered Niall an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry,” he stated simply and Niall squeezed his eyes shut as he shook his head.
“Let’s move on. Anything exciting or weird you want me to hear about?” He asked bravely and Ran chuckled softly as he pulled him close and kissed his hair. The dark waves were getting into his eyes again but Ran would nag him to get a trim later.
“No. How are things in the conservatory?” He asked and Niall grinned and his eyes brightened again.
“The chrysalises are even more beautiful than I expected,” he said and Ran turned him.
“Show me!” He insisted and his hand rested against Niall’s back as he led him away from the stairs. Ran didn’t actually care about chrysalises and butterflies but Niall lived for them. And nobody would disturb them while they were in the conservatory. Ran forbid Simon and Isla from entering without Niall’s permission and supervision because it was his sanctuary.
“The chrysalises are even more beautiful…” Isla mimicked nasally as she came from the kitchen. “I swear, I married the most boring man in all of Britain,” she complained. “I changed the dinner menu. I’m not in the mood for lamb anymore,” she said and Ran groaned.
“It’s so late in the morning to do that. They’re preparing lunch and they have to undo everything for dinner and start over. You’ve created so much extra work and stress. I’m going to tell Ms. Brundage you’re not allowed to change menus if you do that again. Finalize everything at breakfast,” he scolded and she pushed her lip out.
“I wish you cared about your family as much as you cared about your staff,” she said and Niall glared at her.
“You’re lucky he cares at all,” he argued dryly and Ran gave him a pointed look. It was never a good idea to provoke her. She’d either have a huge tantrum or take it out on Niall later. Isla was stunning, with hair like a raven’s wing and dark green eyes, like Simon. But she was tiny and vindictive where her twin brother was tall and petulant.
“Whatever. Where’s Simon?” She demanded and Niall waved impatiently in the direction he’d wandered. Isla put her nose in the air and sauntered off, leaving them weary and irritated.
“I tell myself my father had a plan, when he married their mother, but it gets harder to deny he might have just been taken in by a nice set of tits,” Ran admitted then shook his head dismissively. “Come on, I’m excited! They were still crawling around when I saw them last,” he said and Niall relaxed as they walked.
“I think they’ll emerge in about ten to twelve days. When they do, it’ll be the first time anyone’s bred them outside of South America. They’ve never been seen outside of the Amazon and they were nearly extinct,” he explained as he became more animated and his face filled with color and warmth. He pulled the handkerchief from his pocket and his teeth dug into his lip as he studied the embroidered butterfly. “This looks like an R on the wing,” he accused but his lips twitched as Ran craned his neck to look.
“Does it?” He said. “That’s very odd,” he murmured then opened the door to the conservatory for Niall. He became too warm as Niall loosened his top button and rolled up his sleeves. It was so early for Ran to start feeling tense and aroused, he just left a “Niall” completely fucked and covered in his cum in a hotel room. Ran sighed as he wrapped his arm around him and squeezed his shoulder. He felt more taut and lean beneath his shirt. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here to take some of the heat off of you but you have to eat. Don’t let them get to you like that,” he begged and Niall shrugged as he pulled away then waved for Ran to follow him along the path to the back corner by the pond.
“Have you ever considered that I might just miss you and don’t feel like going to the dining room when you’re not here? They’re miserable company but I also mope quite a bit,” he teased. It was true but Niall didn’t want to be dependent on Ran and never made him feel guilty. He hated when Ran apologized. ‘It is what it is but it’s better than nothing and that’s all I deserve.”
“I’ll see if I can get Isla to go on one of her spa weekends. The whole house could use a break from her,” Ran said and Niall paused and slid him a slightly horrified look then cleared his throat.
“I think this corner gets just the right amount of sun and the extra humidity from the pond might make this more like the rainforest. If you close your eyes, plug your ears and ignore all your other senses and the fact that it’s obviously Scotland,” Niall explained cheekily as he held aside the mosquito net he used to separate and protect his most recent specimens from the rest of the conservatory’s inhabitants. Butterflies of nearly every variety floated among exotic ferns and flowers in the damp, soothing peace of Niall’s sanctuary. Ran loved him most there but it was also where he ached for him the worst. Niall was comfortable in his skin and free from the strain of living with Isla and Simon when he was in his conservatory. It was why Ran could listen to him talk about larva and pupa and cycles despite not giving a single damn about butterflies. They gave Niall hope and purpose so they were priceless to Ran.
“That makes sense,” he said and arousal and delight swelled within him as Niall pulled him around a tree then pointed at a branch. He was startlingly beautiful and incredibly magnetic when he could relax but Niall was extremely introverted and a little too intellectual. He never flaunted his intelligence or used it to his advantage though. If anything, he overanalyzed and took things too literally. He could be naive now and then but he was more afflicted by self-consciousness and guilt because of his habit of overthinking everything.
Isla and Simon believed Niall was fragile and weak but Ran always felt it was more self-flagellation. Like many Irishmen, Niall grew up in a deeply devout Catholic household. On top of the religious guilt, Niall struggled with the pressure of having a title and the expectation of marrying well and producing an heir. Niall and Isla’s marriage never sat well with Ran but his father agreed to it and it didn’t take long for him to understand. He poured over the legal documents whenever he couldn’t sleep or when his heart hurt the most. Ran’s father was relieved to have Isla off his hands and Niall made sure his estate was settled then left it in the care of his younger brother and sister. Niall’s shame and guilt were named Isla and Simon. He believed he deserved them for hiding his homosexuality and marrying for money. And, dear God, did they punish him. Ran knew Niall wasn’t fragile because he never snapped. He couldn’t imagine what Isla had on Niall, and Ran knew there was something, but any other man would have snapped years ago.
Niall definitely wasn’t weak. Ran did everything he could to tempt him. The first year of Niall and Isla’s marriage was hell for Ran and he spent most of it living in London, at Lachlan House. He wanted Niall from the moment he laid eyes on him and he knew it was all very wrong but no one would listen so he stayed away. After his father died, Ran moved back to Gallahide to keep a closer eye on Isla and Simon and protect Niall. He fell in love so hard and so fast and their connection was so intense, Ran was willing to do anything to save him. He begged him but Niall refused to even discuss his marriage to Isla. After six years, Ran couldn’t understand how anyone would think Niall was fragile and weak. Somehow, he found a way to survive and do real and fulfilling research in brutal captivity.
“I haven’t decided which one’s my favorite yet,” Niall joked as Ran looked at the rows of fragile chrysalises dangling from the branch. They were like delicately curled leaves and trembled with life but Ran was fascinated by the faint dent in Niall’s lip from where he always bit into it and the sparkle in his eyes. Nothing could be more beautiful than Niall in his conservatory. If their lives were different and Ran could truly have whatever he wanted, that was when he’d pull Niall into his arms and kiss him senseless. It was moments like this that made Ran’s life hell and made him flee to London every four or five weeks. He drank and laughed until he’d catch a glimpse of someone out of the corner of his eye who caused him to take a second look. If his brain could be fooled for just a moment into thinking he was Niall, Ran could pretend for a weekend and purge the weeks of pain and stifled lust on that poor soul. But he didn’t give a damn about any of them, Ran already had the perfect husband and soulmate at home. It was just terribly unfortunate that he was married to Ran’s unmitigated bitch of a sister.