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IMAGINES


IMAGO, BOOK TWO






N.R. WALKER









BLURB


Jack Brighton and Lawson Gale have been together for six months and are very much in love. Lawson’s work ensuring the survival of the Tillman Copper is as demanding as ever, and Jack’s work with the regeneration of the bushfire-ravaged national park is just as hectic.

When Jack suggests they take a short trip, Lawson agrees. But then he is offered a two-week research position in tropical Queensland to help determine why the Ulysses butterfly is on the decline. Figuring they could combine work and pleasure, Jack and Lawson go on their first vacation together.

Working alongside renowned professor Piers Bonfils isn’t easy. But personal and professional differences aside, Lawson is offered a more permanent role in Queensland. Torn between his new life in Tasmania with Jack and a dying species of butterfly he feels compelled to save, Lawson has to decide where his fate lies.

But fate changes the rules. On a research expedition into the depths of the rainforest, suddenly it's not only the butterflies’ existence that hangs in the balance.

A butterfly’s life cycle never changes. From larvae to imago, their course is plotted by design. Jack and Lawson need to determine where they stand, if they live through it. Because the only thing more incredible than one imago is two.





Copyright:


Cover Artist: Harper By Design

Editor: Labyrinth Bound Edits

Imagines © 2017 N.R. Walker

Publisher: BlueHeart Press



First Edition April 2017



Smashwords Edition



All Rights Reserved:

This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission.

This is a work of fiction, and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or business establishments, events, or locales is coincidental.

The Licensed Art Material is being used for illustrative purposes only.

All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.



Warning:

Intended for an 18+ audience only. This book contains material that may be offensive to some and is intended for a mature, adult audience. It contains graphic language, explicit sexual content, and adult situations.



The author uses Australian English spelling and grammar.




Trademark Acknowledgements:


The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:



Google: Google, Inc.

Range Rover Defender: Jaguar Land Rover Limited

Esky: The Coleman Company, Inc.

iPad: Apple Inc.

Panadol: SmithKline Beecham Limited

Advil: Wyeth LLC

Watership Down: 1972, Richard Adams

Yogi Bear: Hanna Barbera

Carnation Milk: Nestle



GLOSSARY FOR AUSTRALIAN TERMS

Esky: a portable cooler

Kitchen bench: kitchen counter.

2iC: A person who is 2nd in command/charge.

Ute: (short for utility) Trayback utility

Rouse: (rhymes with house) To scold





Dedication


To the folks who watch butterflies, and wonder…







CHAPTER ONE


Lawson Gale



The landscape looked blackened and dead, charred beyond any possibility of resurrection. After six months, I would have thought I’d be used to it, but no. It still gave me a moment’s pause.

I almost died here. Rosemary too.

Jack almost died here when he’d come to save me.

And that caused my heart to squeeze.

Against all odds, though, like Jack promised it would, there were small signs of new life, new green shoots in the scorched earth. While some trees had sprouted new life, some were nothing but vertical pillars of charcoal, waiting for wind or time to crumble them to nothing.

This land had been cauterised.

All Bursaria shrubs were gone; the Tillman Copper butterfly’s only known natural habitat in this area had been singed off the face of the planet.

We still had our captive specimens, and they were breeding well. But it wasn’t the same. It would never be the same.

Jack came up from the edge of the gully. I could tell by his face but asked anyway. “Any luck?”

He shook his head. “Nah. There’s been no activity here since the fire.”

I sighed heavily, taking in the cloying scent of burnt earth. Still, after six months, it was all I could smell.

“You hate coming back here, don’t you?” Jack asked, putting his hand on my back.

I nodded. “It’s not my favourite place.”

“You know, for tens of thousands of years, the Aboriginal people used bushfires as a way to encourage new growth.” Jack’s gaze never left mine. “It’s a cycle, and it means new life will grow. It’s winter now, so it’s slow going, but come springtime, this place will come alive again.”

“Not for everything. And that’s what I hate the most. I hate the loss. I get the regeneration argument, and I understand bushfires can serve a purpose, but it did nothing to help that poor Tasmanian devil mum and her babies.”

“The two you saved are doing well, so Paul tells me.”

“It didn’t help the butterflies.”

Jack pulled me in for a hard hug. “You saved them, remember?”

“Not all of them.”

“You did more than anyone else, Lawson. You’re not responsible for the bushfire. You are responsible for saving an entire species of butterfly. The Tillman Copper exists because of you.”

After a moment of silence, I looked up at him. “Take me home.”

He let go of me, pulled on the lapels of my winter coat, and drew me in for a kiss. “My home or your home?” Before I could answer, he added, “You know, it’d save us all this time deciding if you’d just move in with me.”

I rolled my eyes, but a smile won out. It wasn’t the first time we’d had this discussion, and I doubted it’d be the last. We walked back to his ute. He called Rosemary, who had gone sniffing about, and buckled her in once she’d jumped up onto the back tray. We climbed in, and Jack expertly reversed down the old track. It was much easier now with the lack of trees and shrubs.

“One day, Mr Brighton. One day.”

“But not now,” he said. I could feel his disappointment in the air between us.

“Are things not perfect enough right now?”

He looked from the road to me. “Yes. But they could be even perfecter.”

“Perfecter isn’t a word.”

“Not yet it isn’t, no,” he said. “Because you haven’t said yes yet. Once you’re living with me, it’ll be a real word.”

I rolled my eyes again but reached out my hand. He slipped his palm into mine and I brought his hand to my lips. “One day.”

“I’ll hold you to that.”

I smiled at him. “I should hope so.” We were quite a ways back to town, then I asked, “So, have you thought more on what you’ll do for time off?”

He was due to have two weeks annual leave; it was winter and it was the quieter time of the year. “Not really. Might just stay at home, get stuff done around the house. I think Remmy and Nico were looking at doing some work around their house, though last I spoke to them, they weren’t sure.” Jack sighed. “Unless I could convince my super hot boyfriend to maybe come away with me for a day or two. I know he’s busy with his work right now, and he’s doing some pretty important things. Not to mention he’s finishing up his doctorate externally because of his commitment to research. I haven’t asked him yet, though, because I don’t want him to say no.”

I was smiling at how nervous he was. At how adorable he was. “You should ask him.”

His eyes went wide. “Really?”

“Yes. His work might be important, but so is his boyfriend. I doubt he’d say no,” I said, playing along. Then I added, “And it helps that butterflies are typically dormant in winter.”

Jack’s grin was huge. “Yes, that helps.”

“Jack?”

“Yeah?”

“You still haven’t asked me.”

He laughed. “Lawson, come away with me for a day or two, or five, or whatever. We can go wherever you want. Melbourne, to see your family, or to New Zealand for some skiing.”

“I don’t think skiing is really my thing. Though I’m happy to stay at a chalet, drinking wine and reading books in front of a fire. I can be your official ski bunny.”

Jack laughed. “I’ve never had a ski bunny before.”

I lifted his knuckles to my lips for a smiling kiss.

* * *

I did love being at Jack’s house. It was peaceful there and felt like home. I did want to live with him, but the sensible part of my brain insisted on not rushing. If this was a permanent thing―and I did think it could be―then there was no need to risk moving in together before we were ready.

And the very last thing I wanted to do was ruin what we had.

Winter had well and truly arrived in Tasmania. The wind was biting, the clouds hung low, and the sun seemed like it was on half-watt. And I loved it. It meant big coats and scarves, boots and woolly socks. It also meant wood fires and blankets on the sofa, cuddles and sleepy TV, and stews for dinner.

And Jack loved my lamb and dumpling stew. Like “devoured it all and asked when I could make it again” kind of loved it. So while he was chopping wood in the backyard, I set a fresh stew to simmer and made him a cup of tea.

When he came in with his arms full of logs and kindling, his nose was red and his cheeks flushed. He stacked his burden by the wood fire and pulled his beanie off, and my god, he smiled at me in a way that made my heart stutter.

I held up his steaming tea. “I made you a cup.”

He took the tea and sipped it gently. “Mmm,” he hummed appreciatively. He put the cup on the counter, then encased me in his arms, giving me a hug. It made me hum. “I love it when you hug me like that.”

He nudged his nose to my ear. “Like what?”

“Like it feeds your soul.”

He chuckled, warm and breathily. “It does.” He pulled back and looked into my eyes. “That’s exactly what it does.”

“I love you, Jack,” I said. I’d told him a hundred times in the last six months, and it still gave me a thrill to say it.

He pressed his lips to mine softly. “And I love you.” He reached over and lifted the lid on the pot of dinner and peeked inside. “And I love your stew.”

It made me laugh. “So, have you given more thought to this holiday we’re taking?”

“I’ll have to get online and have a look,” he said, settling back against me, smiling down at me. “I wasn’t expecting you to say yes, actually.”

“Well, you go look. I’ll finish dinner. My laptop’s on the table. Just use it to Google whatever you want.”

I set about making dumplings for the stew, and Jack disappeared into the lounge room. Just as I was finishing up adding the balls of dough to the stew, Jack called out. “Uh, Lawson? You got an email.”

“Who’s it from?”

“I didn’t open it.”

I slid the casserole dish into the oven. “Well, open it.”

I set the timer and washed my hands. I was wiping them on a tea towel when I walked back into the lounge room.

Jack was squinting at my laptop screen. “It’s from the Cairns Butterfly Conservatory.”

I frowned. “What does it say?”

He held my laptop out. “You read it.”

I sat beside him and took my laptop, reading the email.

Dear Mr Gale,

We have followed your work closely, with regards to the Tillman Copper…

I scanned through the rest of the email, then read it again, slower this time.

“Lawson, what is it?”

“I’ve been invited to assist on a study of the Ulysses butterfly.”

Jack blinked. “Is that good?”

“I don’t know. It’s in Cairns, Far North Queensland, Jack.”

I could see the moment it dawned on him. “How long does a study take?”

“It says the initial invitation extends to two weeks.”

“Can you leave your work right now on the Tillman?”

I nodded slowly, thoughtfully. “Two weeks is fine. Everything is established, and Warner could supervise…”

Jack frowned. “When would you leave?”

I stared at him. Clearly he’d missed my intention. “Correction, Jack. When would we leave is a more pertinent question.”

It took him a second, then a smile pulled at his lips. “We?”

I chuckled. “I think I just solved our holiday destination problem. We’re not going to the snowfields. We’re going to the tropics.”



CHAPTER TWO


Jack Brighton



Getting organised to go on a ten-day working vacation with Lawson was as funny as it was frightening. To say he was pedantic was an understatement. He had lists. Lots of lists. He had lists for his work equipment―which I understood―but he also had lists for everything else. Including me.

When we asked Remmy and Nico if they could babysit Rosemary, or dogsit as it were, for the duration of our trip, Lawson insisted on giving them a list of foods Rosemary preferred and desired exercise routines. Mercifully, Remmy accepted the list seriously, thanking Lawson but smiling at me.

She found him adorable.

So did I. But the list thing was driving me insane.

I was more of a “pack on the day you leave” kind of guy.

When I told Lawson that, he couldn’t speak and his eye twitched.

We compromised by, for his sake, me packing earlier than the morning we were to fly out to Melbourne and, for my sake, not needing a list.

He had work to finish up with Professor Warner Tillman on Friday, and I told him I’d meet him at his place in Launceston. We were flying out to Melbourne on Saturday morning, so it was logical I drop Rosemary off at Remmy’s on my way Friday afternoon and meet him at his place in time for dinner.

I let myself into his house. I had a key like he had a key to my house. It made sense, given that we might arrive at each other’s houses while the other was at work. Yes, having each other’s keys was kind of a big deal, but it felt right. So did having some clothes at his place, and not just a toothbrush, but all toiletries. I had some books of mine on his coffee table, like one of his reference books sat on mine. I liked the fact there were reminders of him in my house, and I really liked the fact there were pieces of me in his.

And I had to admit, I really liked the direction our relationship was going.

Which is why I was nervous about the envelope I brought with me, the one I slid onto his kitchen counter. The exact same one that matched the letter addressed to him in a pile of unopened mail near the fruit bowl.

Lawson was an enigma, that was for sure. Insanely particular about some things―such as his lists and his data collation and his appearance―but then there was his messy pile of unopened mail and his ability to run late to almost everything.

Leaving the envelope on the kitchen counter, I took my bags into the bedroom and smiled when I saw his perfectly made bed and, at the foot of it, all his perfectly lined up bags, storage tubs, and research gear. Then I looked into his walk-in closet, and I briefly wondered if he was injured at all when the clothes-bomb went off in there.

Just thinking about him made me smile. And hearing his car pull up out front made me smile even harder. Well, it wasn’t really a car. It was a Land Rover Defender. Yep, that’s right. The hire car he bitched and whinged about when he first got here was the exact kind of vehicle he chose to lease. And he loved it.

He came in carrying a heavy bag of something and, looking all flustered and gorgeous, slid it onto his dining table. I stood back and watched him, just for a moment. The winter suited him, being all coated up and wearing a woollen beanie, his cheeks and the tip of his nose were flushed pink. He looked good enough to eat.

He turned to me, sighed, and walked over, greeting me with a kiss. “Hello. Was your trip okay?”

“It was fine.”

“And you got Rosemary dropped off okay?”

“Yep.”

“Was she sad?”

“Nope. Remmy had made her fresh doggie cookies, and Luca was already showing her his winter garden. They had their heads down in the dirt, tails up in the air, and I barely even got a goodbye.”

Lawson smiled, then unwrapped his scarf, pulled off his beanie, and undid his coat. He dumped them all on the dining table and started to rifle through the bag he’d brought inside with him. “Sorry I’m late. I had to organise all my research gear to be collected in the morning. It’s getting shipped ahead of us and will be in Cairns when we get there. It’s so much easier than trying to take it myself. Then I called into the deli on my way home and grabbed us some dinner. I didn’t fancy cooking or going out. Is that okay?”

“What are we having?”

He held up a takeaway container. “Mediterranean vegetable lasagne, greek salad, and a chianti.”

“Perfect.”

He slid the lasagne onto the kitchen counter when he noticed the envelope I’d left there. He picked it up. “What’s this?”

“It’s my letter from pathology. I see you haven’t opened yours either.”

“I got it yesterday,” he said quietly. “I thought I’d wait for you.”

“And I thought we could open them together.”

Lawson nodded. “We could.”

He was clearly nervous, and truthfully, so was I. We’d discussed this at length and agreed that full blood tests were a natural step forward for our relationship. He didn’t want to use condoms anymore. He said he wanted me and nothing else inside him.

Now, I’d never not used protection, ever. But I’d never been in love with someone like I was with him before either. I also couldn’t see myself wanting anyone but him. And when he put it like that, about me being the only thing inside him, I couldn’t argue.

So we’d gone together to have blood tests, and the results sat, unread, folded in white envelopes. Lawson was still holding mine, nervously licking his lips and turning the letter over in his hand, so I picked up his. “Why are you so nervous?”

“I don’t know. Because this can’t be undone, and I want this but I’m also equally fine with it if we don’t. Don’t ever use condoms, that is.”

I would have chuckled at how cute he was if he wasn’t being so serious. I stood before him, leaned against him until he was backed up against the kitchen counter, and lifted his chin. “Lawson, we’ve both been tested before and it was fine. This is just a formality, really. A peace of mind.”

He looked intently into my eyes. “Jack, please know that whatever the results are, nothing will change how I feel about you.”

I kissed him softly. “Same, Lawson. I love you, that won’t change.”

He finally smiled. “Thank you.”

“How about you read mine, and I read yours?”

He frowned for half a second, then nodded. “Okay.” But just as I’d slid my finger through the envelope seal, he said, “Wait!”

I froze. “What?”

“Should we eat dinner first?”

I barked out a laugh but quickly realised he was being serious. I knew him well enough to know he needed some time. I took the envelope from his hand and, along with the one I was holding, slid them back onto the kitchen counter. I kissed him again, soft and lingering. “We can worry about that later.”

So, we ate our dinner, then ended up on the sofa under a fleecy throw blanket, wine glasses in hand. “I know reverse cycle heating is convenient, but I do miss my wood fire,” I mused.

“There’s a lot to be said about wearing sweatpants and socks and snuggling with you under a blanket,” he said, sipping his wine. He bent his leg and slid his socked foot along my thigh under the blanket.

I chuckled. “True. It is nice.”

“It’ll almost be a shame to go to Cairns. Though I’m not opposed to seeing you all sweaty, wearing next to nothing.”

“You can see that here. Anytime you want.”

He laughed and hummed an impatient sound, then without breaking eye contact, he downed the rest of his wine in one mouthful and put his glass on the coffee table. He stood up and held out his hand. “You shouldn’t put explicit imagery in my mind. I have no self-control when it comes to you.”

“Explicit imagery? All I said was that you could see me half-naked and sweaty here. You were the one who mentioned the half-naked and sweaty first.”

Lawson rolled his eyes. “Your argument is subjective.”

I snorted out a laugh, put my wine glass next to his, and stood up. I gripped his jaw and tilted his face up so I could flutter my eyelashes along his cheek. I only did it because it made his breath catch. I waited for his eyelids to slowly open, revealing unfocused eyes. “I’m going to take you to bed, Lawson.”

He swallowed hard and nodded. He waited two beats of my heart before sliding his fingers over my hand that was still pressed to his jaw. He squeezed my fingers, and without a word, he led the way to his room.

He walked as far as his bed, then turned to face me. There was worry in his eyes. “What about the test results?”

I opened the top drawer of his bedside table and took out a condom and the small bottle of lube. I threw them onto the bed and kissed him softly. “Not until you’re certain.”

I could feel the relief roll off him.

I smiled. “Now, I want you naked, on the bed, on your hands and knees.”

He let out a slow breath and his pupils blew out. But he did exactly as I asked, and I gave him everything he demanded.

* * *

“Are you nervous?”

“No.”

“Why aren’t you nervous?”

“Because I’m not.”

“How can you not be?”

I snorted. We were in the backseat of a cab, having just arrived in Melbourne, on our way to his parents’ house. “Lawson, I’m completely fine. You, on the other hand, seem to be very worried. Is that something I should be worried about?”

“No, of course not. It’s just that…”

“It’s just what?”

“Well, I’ve not taken anyone home to meet my family before.”

Oh. “Are you worried they won’t approve of me?”

His eyes went wide, horrified. “Oh, good gracious, no. They’ll love you, I’m sure of it.”

“Then what’s the problem?” But as I asked this question, it dawned on me what the answer was. “You’re worried about what they’ll see in you.”

Lawson opened his mouth, promptly shut it again, then sighed dramatically, and I knew I was right. “You don’t understand. I’ve never been with anyone… I care deeply for in their company. I don’t know how to act accordingly. Mackellar and Paterson never had such problems, of course. Their partners are lovely, but they’re very… heteronormative. If you know what I mean.”

He was so endearing. “Lawson, they know you’re gay, right?”

“Yes, of course.”


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