Zach spent most of the work day with his head in a daze. He was still shocked and processing the heavy burden he had agreed to. Even the worst written smut wasn't enough to pull his mind from its panic induced stupor.
He edited with automatic reactions and his brain was very emotionally detached the whole time. He didn't wake from his daze until he was out of the office and was standing outside the flower shop that was around the corner from Harper Publishing's offices.
It was his favourite flower shop as it stood out from the sea of modern and sleek glass fronted office buildings in the city and looked like it had been pulled straight from a country painting with yellow brickwork and hanging baskets of flowers anywhere.
Zach hesitated outside and inspected the bouquets in one of the displays outside. The person who he shared his apartment with liked having a pot of flowers on the kitchen table to make their apartment look more homely. Zach also liked visiting the flower shop so it was a happy deal.
He picked out one containing a mixture of lilac freesias and primroses and walked into the shop. The bell tinkled over his head and the man who had been bent over a flower arrangement in the window beamed broadly at him.
"Zach, you're back again today," Austin said cheerfully.
This particular flower shop was his favourite flower shop because of the person who ran it. Austin was a very happy blond man a few years older and Zach had developed a minor crush on him over the past week. He was able to remember his face with ease as he only had happy memories associated with him.
There weren't many smiley people around in London. His commute to the office involved sitting on a bus with lots of grumpy looking people so finding someone who was always happy had been nothing short of a miracle.
He had picked up that Austin was likely to also be gay, but he was too shy to make the first move in case he was promptly rejected. If that happened, he would be too embarrassed to ever visit the flower shop again and that would mean missing out on a slice of sunshine. His crush would be kept to himself unless Austin showed an interest in him himself.
"I am," he replied and held out the bouquet of flowers.
Austin charged him for the flowers and their hands touched. Zach drew back awkwardly whereas Austin didn't seem to notice.
"How is your internship going?" Austin asked.
Zach had been unable to bring himself to tell Austin that he spent his day reading and editing smut. He had just said his internship involved a lot of editing.
"It's going… fine," he replied distantly.
He had believed he was going to be fired hours ago and now he had an agreement to spend a lot of personal time with the billionaire CEO. It wasn't going fine, but it could be worse. He could have actually been fired for making comments like that about Darien's personal life.
Austin frowned and leaned in to look at him carefully. Unlike Darien's cold evaluating gaze from earlier, Ausin's eyes felt warm and it seemed like he was concerned.
"It doesn't seem like it's fine," he observed. "Is someone bothering you?"
For a moment Zach was tempted to tell him everything, but he couldn't. Telling anyone about what was going on would be telling them Darien was a closeted gay man and he felt like Darien would somehow find out. It was also worth considering that he had only known Austin for a week, he didn't know if he could trust him with a secret like that.
"It's not like that, I just need to think some things over,"he replied and stepped back. "I'll see you another day."
"If you continue to have problems, you can talk to me anytime," Austin added quickly. "I don't like to see people unhappy."
Zach smiled back at him.
"I'll do that. Goodbye."
He walked out of the brightness of the flower shop and back onto the gloomy city street with a heavy heart. He really did have a personal problem that he was unable to share.
The other tenant of Zach's apartment was a girl who had been on his university course and was also doing an internship somewhere else in London. Unlike Zach she had a boyfriend and a blooming social life that meant she was barely at the apartment so he was surprised to find her sprawled out on the sofa.
Emilia looked up as he walked in and took one look at his face.
"Did something bad happen?" she asked in concern. "Did the flower shop cutie reject you?"
Zach placed the bouquet on the table and shook his head.
"I've never asked him out so no, that's not it," he replied.
Emilia flicked her brown hair and looked him up and down. Like Austin, her gaze was only worried, there was no coldness there.
"What is it then? Bad day at work?" she asked.
"Sort of," he replied and changed the subject before she could worry about him anymore. "Why are you here so early?"
Emilia pouted at him.
"Had an argument with the boyfriend," she lamented. "It started out over a disagreement about the perfect amount of ketchup to put on chips and before I knew it, we were in a serious argument."
She sat up on the sofa and patted the seat next to her.
"You could make some popcorn and we can watch some bad movies to feel better. You don't seem happy either."
Zach welcomed that suggestion, but he had also caught her ulterior motive.
"You just want my popcorn," he said with a raised eyebrow.
Cooking was one of the things that he was actually good at in life and it had always made him popular with whoever he was living with. Desserts and sweet things were his strong suit and most people liked sweet things so he had normally got on well with roommates.
"The white chocolate and raspberry one please,"she replied with a cheeky grin.
Zach washed his hands and started the preparations for popcorn. He pulled the always present bag of popcorn kernels from the cupboard and poured them into a pan with oil. He also took out a bar of white chocolate and melted it in a bowl over hot water. When the popcorn was ready he added it to a bowl and poured over the white chocolate before sprinkling crushed freeze dried raspberries on top.
When he carried the bowl carefully over to the sofa, Emilia had already started up Netflix on the television and was scrolling through movies.
"Teen drama?" she asked. "Teenage problems always seem so trivial when you're a working adult."
Zach liked the sound of that. Teenagers didn't have to worry about strange dealings with billionaire CEOs.
Emilia selected the one with the lowest rating and Zach found it was very easy to lose himself in. The acting was awful as was the storyline. By the midpoint, he was laughing along with Emilia and had mostly forgotten about his troubles temporarily.
Darien returned home to an empty and dark house. He might have paid many millions of pounds for an expensive and fashionable house, but he had never felt at home in it.
It wasn't like he had anyone to impress with it either. The only people to ever visit his house were his PA, the housekeeper and the cleaner. His fake girlfriends were never invited. They might get the wrong idea and think he was serious about them if he invited them to his palatial home.
He switched the lights on and unbuttoned his suit jacket. Should he change first or eat the dinner that would have been left in the kitchen for him? He wasn't particularly hungry, but he didn't have the desire to do much either.
As a billionaire, he should be full of things to do and enjoy as he could afford almost anything. Instead he was lonely and had nothing much to do.
His loneliness and frustration at his empty life must be the reason for his crazy actions earlier in the day. His offer to the intern had taken himself by surprise. The only other thing he had done in his life on impulse was to approach a cute man at a masked ball two years ago. That had ended with nothing so he had kept his impulses to himself.
Zach was his type of man in terms of appearance. He was cute and those big blue eyes had bored into his soul. He wasn't going to date him though. He just wanted to learn how to love life, not date an intern, no matter how cute he was. He did bring the cute student from the masked ball to mind, but he couldn't be the same person as Zach had showed no sign of remembering making out with him.
He would have to have a long discussion with Zach about how their arrangement was going to work for the year. As someone who had to have lots of legal dealings, his mind was full of loopholes and legal wording and non disclosure agreements.
Darien was almost certain that Zach would keep his mouth shut about his secret. He knew his type, the person who would do anything to prove they were a good person. There was still that small possibility that the intern would let it slip so signing a legal contract as soon as possible would benefit him.
When that part was done, he could focus on learning how to live his life with a happier mindset. Darien went to bed thinking of the happy future that Zach could provide for him.
The next morning at work Zach sat down at his desk and opened his work email account. It was likely that Darien would be communicating with him soon about their agreement. The CEO would probably choose a subtle method like email to hide the connection between them. As he expected, there was an email from Darien Harper at the top of his inbox. Zach looked nervously around him. It wasn’t quite nine o’clock yet so not everyone had arrived yet. Becca was at her desk looking at her phone and Robert was unpacking his bag. There was no one to see the contents of the email so he opened it. The email was short and to the point. Meet me in my office at lunchtime. There's a lot to discuss. -Darien Harper. Zach immediately moved it to a new folder so there was no chance of anyone catching sight of Darien’s email address in his inbox. He liked lunchtime at Harper Publishing. The canteen had unexpectedly good food so to know he would be mi
Zach returned to the erotica department office as the lunch hour ended and slumped onto his desk chair. He had just signed a legal contract. Their arrangement wasn’t just some unofficial thing that he didn’t have to keep to anymore, he was legally bound to it.At least there was light at the end of the tunnel. No matter what happened, if Darien never changed his ways, he still had a guaranteed job at the end of it. That was a relief to know.How was the arrangement even supposed to work out? He hadn’t been given any directions from Darien.They had exchanged basic contact information, but there had been nothing else decided. Zach had noticed that he didn’t have long to return to the office before the end of the designated lunch break and they had both been keen for him to pass by the secretarial office whilst it was still empty. The less witnesses to their meeting, the better.The other members of the office trickled in at that mom
The location of their first meeting was a very fancy restaurant in London. Zach had read about it in articles about the best places to eat in London and it was most certainly outside of his price range. Darien had sent him a text beforehand telling him not to bother about what he was wearing as they had a private room booked. That didn’t do much to settle his nerves. Zach looked down at his coat, smartest black trousers and shoes and knew they probably wouldn’t pass at close inspection. There was nothing much he could do anyway. He took a deep breath and pushed open the door to the restaurant. A long mirrored hallway greeted him and he carried on down until he came to another door. A smartly dressed man was waiting on the other side. Zach felt the appraising glance and internally cringed. “Do you have a reservation?” he asked respectfully. “I’m here to meet Darien Harper,” Zach replied. Darien hadn’t found the need to book under an assumed nam
“Where did you get all those desserts from?” Emilia asked the following morning. Zach looked up innocently from his bowl of cereal. He had forgotten to consider that Emilia would have some questions about the sudden appearance of a plethora of desserts in neatly packed boxes in the fridge. The fridge had been fairly empty so there had been plenty of space to fill. “I went somewhere last night and picked up a lot.” He knew it sounded extremely implausible the moment he said it. He just wasn’t cut out for being a good liar. “Right,” she said very skeptically. “Sure.” He carried on eating his cereal and hoped she would drop the subject. Emilia snagged the jar of strawberry jam out the fridge and came to sit opposite him at the kitchen table. “Did you not want to make me any desserts ever again or something?” she asked. “I wanted someone to share them with,” he replied quickly. “I’ll take some to work today to free up some space.”<
Zach didn’t predict that he would have to undergo an interrogation from Emilia about his going away bag in the hallway. He was in the bathroom looking for things to pack when he heard her come to a stop in the hallway. “Where are you going?” she asked sharply and came to stand in the doorway. “You don’t go anywhere that requires an overnight stay. It can’t be for work.” Zach put his toothbrush in his wash bag and wracked his brains for an excuse. Emilia was so keenly observant, nothing but the truth or something close to the truth was going to convince her. “I’m having a short weekend holiday,” he replied and came out of the bathroom with his washbag. “It’s been a long two weeks.” That was an understatement. In two weeks he had started his internship, signed a hefty contract with the CEO and had been to a very expensive restaurant with him. Now he was going to the seaside with him for an overnight stay. His world had been turned upside down ve
Their first stop was the hotel to check in and deposit their luggage. Zach wasn’t too surprised to find that Darien had booked at the most expensive hotel in town. He could tell just from the exterior that it was a five star hotel. “I booked the room in your name,” Darien said as they walked through the plushly carpeted entrance. “I’m paying though.” Zach opened his mouth to complain about his name being used without permission and closed it again. It was for the best that Darien didn’t use his own name. He was a well known person after all. Something very important came to his mind suddenly. “Are we sharing a room?” he asked suspiciously. “No,” Darien said shortly. “We have rooms next to each other. I’m a private person and the thought of sharing a room makes me feel ill.” Zach didn’t mind that. The thought of sharing a room with Darien was weird. They weren’t close enough to be comfortable sleeping in beds next to each other or using
Darien continued to stare at Zach as his heartbeat increased rapidly in speed. Either he was on his way to an early heart attack due to the amount of ice cream he had consumed or his heart was responding to Zach. Which was the more preferable option? The billionaire was feeling lost. Instead of being on a quiet beach stuck staring at Zach, he was losing his way in the wilderness. Memories of his one night of freedom at a masked ball were coming thick and fast. He normally tried to keep those memories at bay. “...Are you tired?” Zach’s soft voice made itself known. That was enough to jerk Darien out of his lost state. He could control himself. He wasn’t a romance struck teenager, he was a 27 year old billionaire. “Just a little, let’s go back to the hotel and have dinner. It’s got a five star level restaurant.” Zach perked up noticeably which caused Darien to smile. The intern was very precious. Anyone who ended up dating him would be v
Zach opened his door and found Darien waiting outside as they had agreed. He was feeling excited about breakfast whereas Darien was sporting dark shadows around his eyes and looked like he hadn’t slept well. “Were you up all night working?” he asked. Darien covered his mouth whilst he yawned. Zach took that to be a reply to his question. Despite his visible fatigue, the billionaire was still sleekly dressed in another colourful jacket and blue trousers. His hair was freshly wavy and he was wearing a simple necklace that probably cost more than Zach’s monthly rent. “I finished reading my back catalogue and finished the plot outline,” the billionaire replied. “It took longer than I thought. It’s fortunate we’re leaving this morning so I can sleep when I get back.” They fell into step together and this time Zach elected to take the lift. Darien didn’t look like he would appreciate walking down all those stairs. The breakfast area was ever