Fifth Secret

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 missing out on good quality food to discuss their weird agreement for an hour was sad.

The other two members of the office arrived together and Zach started his proper work when the clock hit nine o’clock. The first draft he read was for a billionaire’s paid girlfriend. It felt a little on the nose for his situation, but he had a job to do so he read through it with a critical eye. He ended up rejecting it for being completely unoriginal and full of plot inconsistencies.

The second draft was for a well written story involving international spies and conspiracy theories. He didn’t blanch at the smut so he passed it to the next stage.

The third was a CEO romance pairing the CEO with his secretary.. That was very cliché and Zach could see an amnesia plot on the horizon. The smut was also very gratuitous and felt forced in to catch the reader’s attention. He hesitated over the reject button.

“Are you having trouble deciding?” Becca asked from her desk. “Your face says it all.”

“Just a little. This story seems to fall into a grey area,” he said.

Becca stood up and came to look at his computer screen. She read it all an impressive speed and patted his shoulder.

“This is one of the harder types to decide on. It’s clearly going to capture readers’ interest even if they can tell what’s roughly going to happen because it’s quite cliché. It’s tough in the fiction market- you can write the most brilliant and unique story, but readers will pass it up in favour of a cliché and substanceless story.”

Zach could understand the frustration of authors trying to write their magnum opus and having it continually rejected by different publishers in favour of much trashier stories. It was undeniably hard to make it as an author in certain genres.

“What’s your decision on this?” he asked.

He was keen to get the input of someone much more experienced than him.

“I would pass it and the editor to receive at the next stage will request them to rewrite those chapters so they flow better and to rework the plot to be less cliché. The aim of Harper Publishing is to sell books, but to have our logo and approval, they need to work to deserve it.”

That made sense. Harper Publishing wouldn’t be as successful as it was by just publishing anything that seemed like it would be successful. He was learning a lot about the publishing world so far.

“I see,” he replied. “Thank you for explaining it to me.”

Becca smiled at him and returned to her desk.

“Please ask me any questions you have related to your role and I’ll do my best to explain it all to you.”

Zach smiled back at her. He felt well looked after which was nice. Despite their initial appearances, everyone in the erotica department was kind in their own way. He might actually finish the year’s internship. He remembered his agreement with Darien and realised that he wouldn’t be able to end the internship even if he wanted to.

He returned to his inbox and opened the next writer application that was waiting. This story was set in an alternate science fiction universe which was interesting, but he felt that the author had focused the first five chapters on setting up the science fiction universe at the expense of introducing the romantic leads and establishing the hints of romance. There was also no real erotica in the provided chapters so he rejected it.

When lunchtime rolled around he was feeling more accomplished, but now he had a meeting with the CEO to get to. He hoped Darien would feed him at least. He didn’t like skipping meals.

“I heard the canteen is doing chocolate lava cake as a special dessert today,” Robert said to Rose as they were filing out of the office.

Zach pouted at the thought of missing out on a special chocolate lava cake. Hopefully the meeting would be short and sweet and he would have time to get to the dessert counter in the canteen before the hour was up.

He made his way to the top floor with a rumbling stomach and walked past the secretarial office which was completely empty and towards Darien’s office. He knocked on the imposing doors and opened them when he heard a reply.

Darien was sitting on an armchair in the entranceway and got up when he saw him. He was dressed in another well cut suit, this one was dark blue and his hair was arranged perfectly.

“Let’s start this as soon as possible. I don’t want this to trickle into your working hours as I will have to provide an explanation for your absence.”

Zach appreciated the desire to keep this meeting as clandestine as possible. He wouldn’t know how to explain away their meeting to other people either.

Darien led the way to a formal looking room with a long table surrounded by high backed chairs. It was likely to be a private meeting room. There was a stack of paper at one end and he just knew it was a contract for him to sign.

“Sit down with me, there’s lots of things to go through,” Darien said and sat down at the head of the table.

Zach took the seat nearest to him and saw that there was a non-disclosure agreement on top of the stack. That wasn’t too surprising. He knew Darien’s biggest secret. Darien would be an idiot if he just believed he would keep it secret out of obligation.

“Firstly, there’s the non-disclosure agreement. You can’t legally tell anyone about my true sexuality or about this entire agreement and contract. I will also sign one on your behalf as it wouldn’t look good for you if I told people about our contract,” Darien began.

He passed the top form over to him and Zach read it over. He always felt nervous reading legal things due to language used and how deep some of the clauses went. This agreement was brief and short as he had come to expect from Darien. He signed it without protest as he felt it was fair.

Darien signed his copy and checked over Zach's.

“That’s the easy one over with,” he said. “Now comes this contract. Please tell me if you object to any of the clauses.”

The contract had actually been the pile of paper that had been making up most of the stack and he inwardly groaned at the thought of reading through that amount of legal language especially on an empty stomach.

He checked his watch discreetly. So far ten minutes had passed since lunch break had started. He would probably just have enough time to finish going over the contract before it was time to return to the office.

The first important clause in the contract was the agreement that he would become a normal employee after his internship had ended no matter what had passed between them. That was reassuring to read that he would always have a job waiting at the end of the year.

Next was Darien’s agreement to not have any romantic partners over the course of the year. That was fair as it would be difficult for him to change his life if he was still dumping women at the same impossibly fast pace.

Then came his promise to also not have any romantic partners. He hesitated over that. It felt unfair for him to pass up any opportunities to date the person of his dreams. A year was a long time.

“Why can’t I have a boyfriend?” he asked frankly.

Darien looked at him like he had low intelligence.

“You have a full time job and you will be spending a lot of time with me outside of that. You can’t fit all that in as well as a boyfriend. It’s obvious. You’ll only make yourself unhappy if you try to juggle all three things at once.”

That was a point. He hadn’t considered how he was going to fit in his private time with Darien into his personal life. He bit his lip and moved onto the next clause. Neither of them were allowed to fall in love with the other party. That was fair as it would make everything awkward. Darien would never fall in love with him and Darien was just too intimidating for him to fall in love with. Zach turned the next page and continued reading.

There wasn’t anything special for a while until he came to the penalty section. His penalty for breaking the agreement was to pay a very hefty fine to Darien. The fine was the entire contents of his bank account and then more. Even borrowing money for his parents wouldn’t bail him out fully.

“The penalty is unnecessary, I’m not going to tell anyone,” he griped.

Darien gave him a cool glance.

“I know that, you’re a good boy, but in business you can’t go on verbal promises. You always need to have everything in writing.”

Zach wasn’t sure if Darien was complimenting or insulting him by calling him a ‘good boy’. It was also worth remembering that Darien had got to billionaire status because of his business sense. It wasn’t wrong for Darien to ensure that he really never revealed his secret.

The rest of the contract was standard and at the bottom was the space for his signature. Darien had already signed. Zach’s usual standard for contracts was to read it twice in case he had missed something important the first time. After the fiasco of not reading the documents for his internship properly, he was even more keen to read it twice over. He flipped the pages over back to the beginning and as he did so, his stomach rumbled.

Darien looked at his watch.

“I guess you are missing your lunch break for this. Did you want me to order something for you?”

Zach checked his own watch. There really wasn’t much time left now.

“I’ve only really got time for dessert. I heard there’s chocolate lava cake for dessert today so if you could order that, it would be much appreciated.”

“Chocolate lava cake?” Darien repeated in confusion. “What on earth is that?”

“Cake,” Zach replied. “Order it and you will see.”

Darien raised his eyebrows, but got out his phone to order it nonetheless. Zach read through the contract again in the time it took for someone to knock on the door with his cake. Darien left the meeting room to get his cake and Zach’s stomach rumbled again.

The chocolate lava cake certainly looked to being up to the usual canteen standards. He cut into it with the provided fork and grinned when he saw the chocolate oozing out. He looked over to see that Darien was staring at it with complete bemusement.

“I guess you don’t like sweet things,” Zach commented.

He tried a forkful and evaluated the taste. It didn’t quite make up for the missed lunch, but it did come close. He read through the rest of the contract as he made his way through the cake.

He noticed that Darien was watching him this time instead of the cake.

“I don’t eat sweet things anymore,” Darien said unexpectedly. “I’m open to trying a piece before you devour it all though.”

There was only a small piece of cake left so Zach divided it into two and ate one before spearing the other with the fork and handing it to Darien.

As expected an attractive billionaire still looked deathly attractive whilst eating cake. Darien blinked a few times and put the fork down.

“That was quite sweet. You’ll learn what I usually eat over the next year,” he said.

Zach signed the contract after finishing his second reading and slid it back across the table to Darien who checked over it with a keen eye.

He held his hand.

“I look forward to working with you.”

They shook hands and Zach wondered how their relationship would change over the course of the next 12 months.

Comments (1)
goodnovel comment avatar
Lynnburger Morris
Cake yummy

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