IVY

Rain had begun to drizzle outside and Ivy let a sigh escape her lips, pleased that they were able to unload the supplies before the rain came down. She heard the moving crew leave. She was alone with Callum MacGregor, who slinked around the room, looking at everything and examining all of her boxed up equipment.

“What is this one?” he asked, his startlingly blue eyes glimmering in the low light of the ballroom.

“A heat lamp. I need to dry the water damaged pieces.”

He slid a finger over a canvas covered lump of metal.

“And this one?”

“A microscope. A very large microscope. For finding woodworms in the carvings.”

“Ah, I see.” Eyes the color of suburban swimming pools. He was breathtakingly gorgeous. That seemed the right word for him. Gorgeous. Handsome was too simple and old fashioned. Beautiful was too soft. Sexy was too simple, though he certainly had that in spades. “Your restoration studio is coming along well.”

“Hmm,” she put her hands on her hips, looking around the room. “A couple of items are missing.”

She looked at her iPad and scrolled down, looking at the inventory list. Yes, two important pieces of equipment had not come through.

“Can you do without them?” Callum asked.

“No, I’m afraid not.”

The sound of the huge double doors opening with a heavy thud made them both turn. Lord Malcolm Lachlan filled more of the door frame than any normal human being should. That smoldering charisma immediately filled the room, as big as the grand ballroom was.

“Cal, I thought I might find you here. Hello Dr. Croften.”

“Just Ivy, please.”

“Ivy. I see your laboratory is on its way to a good start.”

“Actually, I just discovered that two of my items didn’t arrive, and here…” she indicated her iPad. “I have an email from my colleague in Naples that states that those items have been loaned out to someone else. I may have to go to the Barrett estate and see about borrowing some things.”

“John and Theresa Barrett in Glasgow?” Malcolm asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Yes. They have an on site conservatory. Do you think I could have use of the supply van to go to Glasgow?”

Malcolm’s massive chest heaved as he took a deep breath.

“I’ve just come to talk to Cal about going to Glasgow actually.”

Callum perked up and stopped running a curious finger over a microscope slide.

“What’s going on?” Callum asked.

“Brother trouble,” the huge man said and that seemed to be all the explanation Callum needed to nod and roll his eyes.

“Well, in that case, maybe Ivy could come along with us. After all, driving that supply van is a pain in the ass on these roads.”

She suddenly felt the heat of both their eyes on her. Electric blue and liquid black. She felt an undeniable tingle just beneath the skin and a warmth between her thighs that made her clench her teeth. But this is pointless, she thought. They’re gay.

“Well, I do need to go to Glasgow. But… it might take me a couple of days to work with the Barrett Estate. I wouldn’t want to keep you waiting.”

“That won’t be a problem. I need to deal with my brother’s latest adventure in destruction and that might take some time. I have a flat in Glasgow we can stay at. I don’t mind at all if you join us. Actually, I would very much like that.”

Ivy’s hands fidgeted with her blouse and she tried not to stare at the two men who were beautiful contrasts to one another. She also didn’t want to deal with the fact that she was imagining them in bed together. That was a fantasy she knew many women had, but most would not admit to. The look they both gave her was an invitation, heated and raw, but held a softness to it as well. A kind of gentle flirtation. She did not fear them as she might have feared taking off for a weekend with other men who were almost strangers. Something about them was comforting. Yes, she thought, they’re gay. But the way they were looking at her hinted at something else.

“Then if you don’t mind me tagging along, I would appreciate it.”

“We’ll leave at seven in the morning,” Malcolm said with an authoritative tone that made her slightly weak in the knees.

She chided herself silently. She was not usually the kind of woman who went all fluffy at the sight of attractive men, but these two were doing bizarre things to her libido. It had been months since she had gone out and found herself a companion for the night. Always only for the night. She was now thinking she should have gotten it out of her system before leaving for Scotland. These two were a problematic distraction. She suddenly realized that her time at Castle Invergaren was going to be more stressful than she originally thought.

###

It was raining hell bent when the black Range Rover exited the long, tree shadowed private lane of the castle. She wasn’t sure if the Range Rover belonged to Malcolm or Callum, but in any case, Malcolm was driving and Callum had insisted on taking a back seat, giving Ivy the passenger front seat. Rain pelted the car windows and she was grateful that someone who was far more practiced on the winding roads of the Scottish highlands was taking the wheel. She wasn’t even sure she could focus on the road with the two men distracting her eye every time she glanced their way. Lord Malcolm looked every bit the part of a country lord in a Harris tweed coat and Burberry scarf that he insisted Callum had picked out and made him wear. His shaggy dark hair was pulled back into a knot that only a man of his imposing size could pull off without looking femme. On him, everything looked masculine. One dark wavy lock of hair fell into his eye and he kept tucking it behind his ear before it fell again. And his lips. He had lips that she felt a dark urge to reach over and bite.

Callum gave her a point and look tour of the Scottish highlands, through the rugged beauty of the Cairngorms National Park and down through the postcard perfect villages of Perthshire. He pointed out the spectacularly imposing Stirling Castle that rose high up on a rock and the giant sculptures of water horses along the highway through Falkirk. Halfway to Glasgow they stopped for lunch at a low key cafe in the village of Pitlochry, as picturesque as a film set. She hoped she would have time to explore Scotland while she was there. The work schedule was tight but she hoped she could find time to get out once in a while.

As soon as they walked into the busy little cafe, she noticed the reaction of everyone in the room to both of the men. Particularly to Malcolm. His imposing size drew stares and his rugged physical beauty made those stares linger. Women leaned in to whisper to each other. Men looked intimidated, like wild animals sizing up a lion. They took a table by the window and a cheerful waitress with a bouncing pony tail came to take their orders. Malcolm was the very epitome of a gentleman with how he treated everyone around him. He was polite and sedate, smiling a quiet little smile at the pretty young waitress who was clearly a bit flustered by him. She even switched duties with another young waitress to allow the other girl to get a good look at them. The second waitress looked disappointed when Malcolm took Callum’s hand for a moment and held it in his on the table, stroking the palm of his hand lazily, an affectionate gesture that only lovers would do. Ivy overheard the girl huff,

“Of COURSE they’re gay.”

Ivy stifled a private laugh at that, but it was rather disappointing. Malcolm asked her about her work, about her life in America and about her family and that sparked lively conversation about a multitude of subjects. Art, history, architecture, music, life. Both men seemed genuinely interested in knowing more about her. In her life, she had experienced that very rarely. Most men she met outside of work were more interested in her breasts, which despite her not trying to flash, she had a reputation for. They garnered her a lot of attention, much of it unwanted, without her trying. Her mother had told her once,

—“Ivy, they’re never gonna take you seriously, PHD or not. You’re all boobs and hips. It runs in the family.”—

And it certainly did. Her older sister Violet had the same figure though she had grown thick in the middle after having three kids. She wondered what her mother, a very conservative Catholic, would think of her going away to spend a weekend with a couple of men she just met. Of course, her mother didn’t know about the men she sometimes picked up and brought home for one night stands. It wasn’t often. Just when she felt the need. It had always felt more like taking a pill to get rid of an itch than it did sex. A quick and logical relief from loneliness if only for one night. No, her mother would not like that at all. Her mother had insisted on Catholic school, a women’s college and mass every Sunday until Ivy turned seventeen and stopped going. Her mother assumed she would save her virginity for marriage. She wondered if her mother thought she was still a virgin.

“Your sister saved herself for marriage, and she married at twenty-five.”

Sure, she thought. But the truth was that Violet gave it up to Bobby Flannery in tenth grade. Malcolm asked if she had any siblings. One, she explained. Violet. Divorced, conservative, very Catholic, reformed Catholic. Worked as a check out girl at a PJ’s Grocery in Baltimore, ex was a drunk, kids were three miniature terrors. She left those parts out. Callum talked about his family, a middle class, very stable family in Aberdeen. Father owned a small construction company. Mother was a happy housewife. He had two brothers and two sisters, all older than him. He was the baby of the family. They were all a little goofy. He had charming stories about them. She envied him for enjoying his family so much. It wasn’t that she didn’t love her family. They were just… difficult. She did not plan on telling Malcolm and Callum anything really personal about her family, but they made her feel so comfortable that she found herself talking about the problem.

“Do you miss them?” Malcolm asked, black eyes as dark as onyx.

“I… wish I could say yes. The truth is, it’s a relief to be away a while. They mean well, but… my dad is a workaholic, so I didn’t see him much growing up. He’s a good man. He tried hard. But he was always in the same daily grind and I watched it make him miserable. My mom teaches piano at a middle school in Baltimore and she is… well, to put it mildly, she is a closed minded person. She believes that women have a proper place and should never leave it, and that place is in a kitchen and a maternity ward. She is not too happy that her rebellious daughter, the bad-girl one, didn’t choose that life. According to her, I am supposed to be settling down, getting married, having children and dutifully serving my husband. She was actually upset when I went for my PHD. She felt it would make me unattractive to men, since in her world, men do not like ‘overeducated’ women.”

“That must have been tough to live with,” Callum said.

“I love her though. She’s my mom. I just have little in common with her.”

“I completely understand,” Malcolm said, then promptly changed the subject.

By the time they finished, they had talked for two and a half hours and it had seemed like only minutes. Ivy realized that she really liked both of them. It wasn’t just that they were attractive. They were good conversationalists and had intelligence and wit.

The rain let up for the rest of the drive. When they got to Glasgow it was early afternoon and they drove straight to Malcolm’s flat. The flat was a fourth story warehouse loft near the river in a part of the city that had once been largely industrial but now hosted quite a few neat little shops and loft conversions. The elevator up was an old open cage elevator and the door to the loft was an industrial slide down metal door that looked like it weighed a hundred pounds. Malcolm pulled it up with little effort and Callum ducked in with her following. Callum looked completely at ease with the place, as he had been there so many times before, but Ivy was quite stunned. It was modern, but not flashy. The walls were exposed brick. The pipes exposed copper piping. The entire plan was open and she saw that the bedroom was a raised platform with a low flat slab bed. The space was huge, but the furnishings were sparse and elegantly minimal. Callum flopped into an oversized leather chair and watched Ivy explore the room. She was very aware that he was watching her. He wasn’t very discrete about it.

“Susan, I need you to put Charlie on the phone…”

She heard Malcolm on his cell phone, sounding agitated.

“Charlie, what the hell are you doing? Are you mad? Yes, of course I expect to be informed of these things… how bad is it? How could you possibly think that is a good idea? Charlie, those places are run on the latest trend… most of those places fail in the first year… you have no experience running a business… and you took on partners… Jesus, how much do you owe them? Fuck, Charlie! Is there any way out of this? Can you sell it? I can’t believe… I can’t deal with any more of this, Charlie… it’s one huge mistake after another… so, now you’re stuck with it and you have to find a way to make it work… of course Cal told me, he’s my partner… so, when is this opening party? Tomorrow night? Charlie, you can’t fail at this one. You cannot fail, you hear me? If you let this fail, I swear that will be the end. I will find a way to cut you off. Don’t fucking toy with me.”

Ivy had a feeling that anyone who toyed with Malcolm Lachlan didn’t do it a second time. Perhaps his brother was the exception. He hung up and looked at Callum with an exasperated sigh.

“Charlie bought a nightclub.”

“What the hell?”

“He got into this deal with two partners and they bought a warehouse and converted it to a nightclub. The problem is, he was sloppy with the contracts and now Charlie is stuck with all the bills. The partners got scared and backed out and now Charlie has to make this nightclub work out. It’s too late to sell the place or back out. He has too much invested.”

“Can we have him committed to a nutter house?” Callum offered.

“Believe me, I’ve considered it. Charlie is a dunce when it comes to running any kind of business. Even my father knew that. And so, my dear friends, there is an opening party tomorrow evening at this place… he named it Likwid, with a fucking K. Pardon my language, Dr. Croften.”

“Just Ivy.”

“Dr. Croften is sexier,” Malcolm tossed off, then bit his lip and gave her an apologetic look and a shrug, but the fact that he had said it at all gave her a shiver.

“Well, hopefully you two will manage to find something promising about the place,” she said, trying to hide the effect Malcolm had on her.

“I was rather hoping you would join us, actually. I would love to have an outside opinion, and my brother will be less likely to cause a scene in front of a beautiful woman.”

Beautiful. Another shiver.

“Um… I guess I could… I didn’t exactly come prepared with nightclub attire. I mean, I wouldn’t be dressed up.”

Callum butt in and shot her a 10,000 watt smile.

“With that hair, you’re always dressed up.”

Nervously, she touched the mass of auburn curls that were over one shoulder and tried to maintain her composure. She suddenly noticed there was one bed. No bedroom actually. It was one big open room.

“Where am I sleeping?” she asked.

“Wherever you want,” Callum said.

“Cal and I will take the sofas. You can take the bed.”

“Oh, no, I couldn’t do that. I’ll take the sofa. No problem at all.”

Callum was staring at her with that beautifully unnerving look he had, studying her. Almost daring her.

“Dr. Croft… pardon me, Ivy, I can speak to John and Theresa Barrett for you. They may be able to make things move quicker for you.”

“Thank you, that would help a lot.”

###

An hour later, Malcolm had gone to meet with his brother, Charlie, and Callum and Ivy were left behind to do their own business. Malcolm left the car with Callum. A Lord that takes the tram, Ivy thought with a smile. Callum offered to drive her to the Barrett Conservatory and she gladly took him up on the offer.

The Barrett Conservatory was a baronial 18th century estate just outside the city limits of Glasgow. Two hundred acres of lush parkland just outside the city center made for a popular recreational area for locals and tourists alike. Glasgow’s industrial layer of modernity made it surprising to most people that a baronial estate like the Barrett was right there in a dark and gray tinged city. John & Theresa Barrett were brother and sister, the direct descendants of Nolan Barrett, the famed art collector and eccentric. Nolan Barrett had built a 90,000 square foot gallery and conservatory to showcase and preserve his vast collection of art and artifacts. His grandchildren maintained that legacy.

Ivy and Callum  walked through labyrinth halls of exhibits. Suits of fifteenth century armor. Han dynasty china and jade. French porcelain. Medieval furniture. Enormous tapestries. Callum stopped to admire a display of 16th century architectural plans for a fortress in Portugal. Ivy was impressed with Callum’s knowledge of art and history. He had a genuine passion for both subjects and displayed that passion with the enthusiasm of an enthralled schoolboy. He talked about art without trying to impress her, which was unusual. Most of the time, men were trying to impress her. Callum, despite his flirtatiousness, did not seem to care a bit if she was impressed by him or not.

A representative for the Barrett conservatory met them in the tapestry room as planned. Ivy would get what she needed on loan from the conservatory, thanks to a good word from Lord Malcolm Lachlan. The man, a tall, rail thin man with lips as thin as paper and old fashioned coke bottle glasses pushed his glasses up on his nose and smacked his hands together, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet as he spoke.

“You’ll have to sign for the equipment of course, and eh… I have been instructed to inform you that a favor is requested by the Barrett family in exchange for the most generous loan of very, very expensive equipment.”

Ivy gulped. She had not expected that. Tit for tat, as they say.

“Oh?” she asked. “And what might that be?”

The man looked uncomfortable bargaining. She felt sorry for him. He was clearly a technician and this was not exactly in his wheelhouse.

“Eh, well… the Barretts are hosting an exhibition gala to welcome the Japanese ambassador Mioka Sito. The gala will be at the family’s home in Skye. The presence of an important man such as Lord Lachlan would be helpful in securing support from some of our high profile guests. The public finds him most enigmatic, as I understand it. Of course, if Lord Lachlan would prefer to not attend, that won’t prevent us from lending you the equipment. No, no. Of course not. It’s just that it would help immensely.”

And if Malcolm says no, it would make him look like a dick, she thought. She cast Callum a glance and saw him smile that irresistible smile. He reached out to shake the man’s hand and said,

“That’s my birthday, so it will be an easy party. He’ll be there. Put us on the guest list for three. ”

“Three?”

“Yes. Lord Lachlan, Dr. Croften and myself.”

“I suppose I will see you in two weeks then,” the man nodded and looked pleased with the outcome of his negotiations. “I’ll have the equipment brought down and you can sign for it in the conservatory.”

Callum followed her up to the conservatory and whistled an Amy Winehouse song along the way, clearly mildly annoying Dr. Amos Reed. Callum didn’t seem to care. He seemed to be an eternally cheerful person, laid back and cool, and didn’t let the more sedate attitudes of other people dampen his sunny disposition. Ivy had known very few people like him, who could be cheerful without being obnoxiously perky. With Callum, it was a cool, smooth kind of happy.

“Will Malcolm be upset that we… well, YOU agreed to have him go to this gala thing?” she asked in a hushed voice in the conservatory.

Callum shrugged, only pausing his soulful whistle long enough to shrug and whisper back,

“He needs to get out more.”

Ivy thought that was probably true. Despite his charm, the smoldering Lord Lachlan did not seem to be the most social man.

The equipment was loaded into the back of the Range Rover with quite a bit of help from Callum, who had loaded most of it himself. She struggled not to stare at the finely toned biceps that peeked out from the sleeves of a black tee shirt when he shrugged his jacket off and tossed it into the front seat. She saw the hint of a tattoo, but with only a small fraction of it exposed, she could not make out exactly what it was. She resisted an urge to reach out and push up the sleeve to see exposed skin and ink. She was certain he saw her staring several times and her attention did not seem to bother him or effect him in any way. Where most people would be shy, or maybe go the other way and show off, he did neither. He just smiled and went about his business.

“There,” he announced, brushing his hands off on his jeans. “All packed and ready to go. Mal’s going to be in a foul mood tonight. His brother always gets on his last nerve.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, what is the problem with his brother?”

Callum sighed and slipped into the driver’s seat.

“Charlie has been a problem his whole life. He’s not a terrible person, not really. I mean, he has a heart to him. He just… can’t help himself. Charlie was drinking by age thirteen, and by the time he entered university, he had a pretty well defined cocaine habit. And there are the money problems. Charlie doesn’t know when to quit. It’s drugs, women, high risk investments that never pan out. Charlie is just constantly fucking up.”

“I’m sorry to hear it.”

“I blame their father, James. He indulged both Mal and Charlie. Mal never subscribed to the craziness. Mal’s father was as reckless as Charlie in his own way. Had a serious alcohol problem. He treated his wife and daughter like property. His sons though, they were supposed to carry on this macho man legacy of his. Big game hunting in Kenya with the millionaire club of twits he spent most of his time with. Completely out of touch people who lived in their own worlds. James expected Mal would take up the reins as the next patriarch of the family, the stern and respectable one, and Charlie would bang his way around the world, proving that Lachlan men had the biggest balls of them all. It was some kind of machismo idea James had. He could have the eldest son be the king of the castle and the younger son be the family player. Two ends of the spectrum. An image of who James was, or at least wanted to be.”

“Impossible to live up to without disaster,” she added.

“Exactly.” He paused for a long, silent moment, put the Range Rover in gear and sighed. “It’s been hard on Mal. He’s had to take responsibility for everything. James found out that Mal was bisexual when Mal was seventeen. Mal was seeing some guy from that cushy private school he went to, and James found out. As you can imagine, James completely went mad, threw Mal out on the street and banned him from the household. No son of mine, you know. And that was the last time Mal saw his father until three years ago.”

“What happened three years ago?” she asked.

“James was diagnosed with lung cancer. It took him a long and painful year to die. I guess when you’re faced with death like that, you reevaluate your choices in life. James decided it was more important to get the responsible son to take over the family legacy than the son who can’t stay out of rehab. Mal and I were living in Edinburgh at the time, and Mal got the call from his mother.”

“Lady Catherine.”

“Yes. She had left the whole circus years before to look after Emma in peace and quiet. She asked Mal to go back to Invergaren, to take up the family fortune, or at least to try and prevent Charlie from mucking it all up. James sure as hell made it hard to succeed. He wrote all these outrageous clauses in his will that give Charlie too much power. It’s like herding cats. We gave up a lot to go back there. Our businesses are down here. Our lives were down here. We had a normal life. No drama. No bullshit. But Mal couldn’t just let his family heritage slide away like that and I couldn’t really blame him. So, we packed up and moved to Invergaren and took up this half life. We come down here to deal with business when we have to. And to deal with Charlie.”

“Bisexual,” she said, thinking out loud. “Not gay.”

She actually covered her mouth, regretting it instantly. But Callum laughed and nodded,

“Mal likes women too.”

“Oh.”

“I do too.”

“Oh.” She tried to sound casual though her stomach was fluttering.

“I’ve never actually been with one, but I do like them.”

It was too personal, she realized, talking to a client like this. He was, technically, a client. He was looking at her and then grinning that flirt of a smile before turning his attention to the road again.

###

The lights were out and the flat was only lit by the street lights from the city that glowed outside the floor to ceiling windows. Callum let her borrow the Range Rover to do some errands without him. She drove to the National Arts Academy and spent hours discussing the Lachlan restoration project with the curator there, getting advice and taking notes. She had not realized it was almost ten o’clock at night when she left the Academy.

At the flat, Ivy was quiet, not wanting to wake Malcolm and Callum, who were likely tired from a long day… if Callum ever got tired. She slipped the key into the lock and tiptoed into the loft, setting her handbag down on the kitchen counter. Her earbuds were still plugged into her cell phone and Roisin Murphy sang a thumping tune on her playlist. She turned down the volume just a little before heading around the corner from the kitchen to the living room which was backed by the area that would be a bedroom, the area with the platform bed. She stopped dead in her tracks, eyes as wide as saucers. On the platform bed, Callum was on all fours, and behind him, Lord Malcolm Lachlan was pounding him hard in the ass. It was raw and animalistic and sent a rush of wetness straight to her panties.

Callum looked like he was taking quite a bit of pain, but the light was not bright enough to see much except for the general movement and Callum’s face with a streak of streetlamp light across his features. A wincing, open mouthed look of pleasure mixed with pain. She could see him rocking back and forth and the huge silhouette of Malcolm behind him. Then she realized that she wished she could see more. She slipped her hand into her jacket pocket and turned the volume of the music all the way down. There were wet noises and the sound of heavy breathing and Callum’s painful groan.

“I know you’re thinking about HER. Go ahead, fuck me the way you would fuck her,” Callum whispered hotly.

The scene changed. The enormous man flipped Callum over onto his back in one swift movement, then opened his legs and was inside him again, on top of him, with Callum’s legs around his hips. The figures were two shadows in the lack of light, but she could see the movement and she heard Callum’s gasping moans.

“I would love to fuck you all night, but we need to finish this up before she gets back,” Malcolm managed to say between grunting thrusts.

“If you insist.”

The hulking dark shadow of Malcolm bowed over the more lithe figure of Callum and any pretense of soft romance was gone. Malcolm drove into him, ruthless and powerful. She could not move. She was transfixed by the sight in front of her.

And then… Callum opened his eyes and he saw her. He looked right at her. She felt her body freeze, unable to move, despite the urge to flee from embarrassment. She had been watching. For how long? She had no idea. Callum’s eyes fixed on hers and she felt her stomach leap somewhere near her heart. So, this is it, she thought. This is the moment they decide to fire me. I will be on the next plane home.

And then, he smiled.

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