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 very quickly to say the least.
Emilia’s probing expression didn’t change. He could imagine her on the other side of the table in an interrogation room very well.
“Who are you going with?” she questioned.
“Someone from work,” he replied and added the washbag to his bag.
She nodded like the answer had satisfied her and then her eyebrows raised. Of course he hadn’t fooled her, she wasn’t dumb.
“I thought everyone you knew at work was middle aged and you were feeling a generation difference.”
Zach didn’t have a smart reply to that. He had indeed said those words after his first day at the internship.
“I’m going with someone from work and nothing you ask me will change that,” he said firmly.
Emilia stepped back and pouted at him.
“I just want to make sure you’re safe and know what you’re getting into,” she replied. “You’re like a brother to me and I have to look out for you.”
Zach relaxed when he heard that. She was just asking out of concern for him. Emilia had been very protective of him since the masked ball incident that had occured in his second year of university. It was annoying he was unable to explain it all to her. Of course it would seem strange that he was going on an unexpected trip with someone else.
“I know the person I’m going with and I was asked to go because I know the area, it’s like a business trip,” he said and hoped that would be enough to get her to back down fully.
Emilia relented and let him get on with his packing in peace. Zach really did hate lying to people who cared about him, but he had to for the next year.
It was going to be a hard year for lying, but he would have to manage.
Darien had texted him which train they were taking and where his seat was. Zach wasn’t too surprised when he turned up on the train platform to find his seat had been booked in the first class carriage.
He had never travelled first class for anything before. Zach eagerly stepped onto the first class carriage. It was quite different to the other carriages, it was much cleaner for one. The carriage was very sparse on passengers. The seats were very wide compared to the ones in standard class and looked much comfier.
He reached his reserved seat and did a double take at the man sitting in the seat next to his. It was Darien, but he didn’t look like him.
Instead of his hair being straight and styled up into a quiff shape, it was wavy and pressed against his forehead which made his look more his age. His clothes were also very different to what he wore to the office. Instead of a dark coloured suit, he was wearing a graphic orange jacket and light brown trousers. Zach’s face blindness took a moment to readjust to the new style.
“You didn’t recognise me then,” Darien teased.
Zach hoisted his overnight bag into the overhead racking and sat down in the empty seat. It was much more comfortable than the ones in third class.
“I never considered what you would look like without the suit,” he replied.
The train began to move and he took note of all the empty seats around him. The nearest person was five rows away. It certainly felt more private in first class. There was no such thing as a private conversation in third class.
“The different look stops people recognising me as fast,” Darien explained. “You realised it was me because you were expecting to find me in this seat.”
That was definitely the experience of someone who had spent a lot of their life being stalked by the paparazzi.
“Wouldn’t it have been more discreet to go by car?” Zach asked.
“I thought you would like travelling by first class more,” was the simple reply.
Zach grinned. Darien knew his taste already.
“That’s nice of you. It’s very different in first class, even the air is different.”
He sniffed dramatically and got a whiff of Darien’s aftershave. It was nice and musky without being too heavy. Darien smiled back at him.
“Wait until the refreshments come,” he said.
That was enough to spark Zach’s excitement. He took his phone out and opened the ebook reader. He really wanted to finish the Damien Black story he had started two days before. There had been too much to do at work the previous day to find time to read the final draft. He opened up the ebook store and searched for the book.
Darien leaned over to look at his screen.
“...Are you a fan of Damien Black?” he asked hesitantly.
Zach leapt to the obvious conclusion that Darien was secretly a huge fan of gay romance.
“I don’t know yet, I’ve only read half a book. The other editors in the office felt sorry for me having to read straight romances so they recommended this author. Have you read their works?”
Darien reached over into his own overnight bag that was resting on the windowsill and pulled out the paperback version of the book he wanted to read.
“You could say that,” he replied. “You can read this one.”
Zach was touched by the gesture, but he did have a concern.
“Do you really want to sit next to someone openly reading gay erotica?”
“Most people aren’t going to recognise its genre, the cover doesn’t hint much and I booked all the surrounding seats for privacy anyway.”
Zach rolled his eyes. No wonder there were so many seats empty. It was Darien’s doing. He opened the book and quickly navigated to where he had left off two days before.
“There’s a really hot scene coming up in 20 pages,” Darien said.
Zach knew he was blushing. He ignored Darien and continued reading. True to his word, there was a hot and heavy smut scene 20 pages later.
“Are you enjoying it?” Darien teased.
The younger man nudged him with his elbow and hid his face in the book. It was mortifying to read smut in front of his very attractive boss who was also gay.
“I haven’t had a chance to because you keep interrupting,” Zach protested.
There was a brief silence and he felt a pat on the head from Darien.
“I’ll leave you in peace then. I’ll read a book myself and I won’t pay you any attention,” Darien said.
Zach moved the book away from his face to check if Darien was still teasing. Darien was true to his word, he had pulled out another book and was already reading the first page. Zach checked the cover and saw it was another Damien Black book.
It seemed safe to continue reading the rest of the book without feeling embarrassed. The writing maintained its high quality throughout, but the tone became sadder as the story came to a close. When he read the last page to find a sad ending for the couple, he wasn’t too surprised.
“What did you think about the ending?” Darien asked without looking at him.
The intern evaluated the storyline. It was set in a time where being gay wasn’t accepted and anyone gay was shunned by society. It made sense that the main couple hadn’t ended up happily together.
“It did seem like the main leads’ romance was doomed to failure,” he replied. “Do all Damien Black books end like this?”
Darien turned to look at him with his full attention.
“I think it’s about half and half…” he answered hesitantly. “It seems to depend on how the author was feeling when he wrote the endings.”
Zach wasn’t sure if he wanted to read another gay focused story with an unhappy ending. He was always an optimist so it was disheartening to read about people of the same sexuality as him ending up alone or in unhappy straight marriages.
“Can you give him a pay rise so he gives his next book a happy ending?” he requested as a joke.
Darien’s lips twitched and he burst into a smile.
“Only you would make a request like that. I’ll do my best for your case.”
“Thank you,” Zach said happily.
He closed the book and handed it back to Darien. The billionaire took it back and passed him another book by the same author. Zach was faintly suspicious now.
“Are you a superfan of Damien Black? How come you seem to have a whole library of his books in your bag?”
Darien leaned in very close to him and whispered softly in his ear.
“I am Damien Black.”
He drew back and Zach took a moment to process that revelation. The bestselling gay erotica romance novelist under Harper Publishing was secretly the CEO.
No wonder only half the books had happy endings. Darien probably didn’t like having fictional characters being in successful relationships when he couldn’t be in one himself.
“I guess it makes sense,” he answered.
He took another moment to realise he had read smut scenes written by Darien himself. That felt strange. It was like he had an insight into Darien’s mind. After two weeks of reading erotica novel submissions he had started to realise that writing was often a way of coping with struggles for some people. It was probably the same for Darien.
“I need to submit something before any editors from your department start contacting me,” Darien explained. “I like to read all my previous works before creating a new one to make sure I’m not repeating anything.”
Zach nodded and remembered he was now speaking to an author he admired.
“What do you have in mind for a new novel?”
“Titillation and revenge,” Darien replied simply.
That confirmed Zach’s suspicion that Darien was projecting his feelings when writing.
“Will it have a happy ending?” was Zach’s next question.
There was a very long silence this time. The look on Darien’s face was unreadable and there was something about the conflicted look on his face when their gazes met.
“I… hadn’t been initially planning on it, but I might change my mind.”
An hour later the train rolled into their destination. Zach returned the book he had been reading back to Darien and reached up for his bag on the overhead racking. His hands kept just missing it and he went onto tiptoes in an attempt to reach it.
A hand pushed past his and Darien retrieved his bag for him.
“You’re so short,” he said with a smirk.
They got off the train with no further issues. Zach looked up at the sky and was pleased to see that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. This weekend was probably the last sunny weekend before the nights started to draw in.
“Are you ready to help me experience a seaside holiday?” Darien asked as he pushed a pair of sleek sunglasses on his face.
Zach took one last look at the sky and pulled his backpack on. He wanted to enjoy the sun while it lasted. He was also determined to show Darien how to have fun in a way that didn’t involve expensive things.
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
Darien couldn’t believe what he had done when he returned home. He had fallen asleep on Zach’s shoulder on the train and had to be woken up. Zach had probably been inconvenienced by that. He had apologised once he realised where his head was. Zach had accepted the apology and had denied being bothered by it like the kind and polite person he was. His stomach rumbled and drew his focus away from his transgression on the train. Eating like he had over the past day had messed with his schedule. Darien strode to the kitchen and made himself a protein shake. Darien’s eating habits had materialised in his early twenties when he had taken over Harper Publishing. Every second of his day back then had been focused on learning how to run the business and once he grasped those skills, he had changed to trying to drive the company to new heights. There had been no time for proper meals unless it was to lure in new business partners. He had compensated by changing to supp
Zach sat down at the well polished table opposite the billionaire. The strange feeling in his heart had gone. Perhaps it had been his first instance of heartburn. Darien looked as good as always. His hair was primped to perfection. Zach liked his wavy hair from the weekend more than his neatly arranged straight hair. Maybe it was because of the implication that he was one of a very small number of people to see him with wavy hair. The billionaire was currently engaged in a quiet conversation with the waiter who came across as efficiency incarnated. “Was that your order?” Zach asked once the waiter had left. “That’s right,” Darien confirmed. “I want to surprise you.” Zach resisted the urge to get his phone out under the table and do some internet research about this particular restaurant. He had a feeling he had seen the name somewhere before so it was probably another top rated restaurant in London. “Is your hair naturally straight or
Darien turned away from Zach and despondently walked off to where he had parked his car. He needed to be somewhere quiet so he could settle his heart.He drove home as fast as the speed limits would allow and swore during every traffic jam. The city centre was terrible for car drivers.Once he reached his multi million pound house, he poured himself a bottle of wine and sat outside in the garden.He had fallen for Zach. There was no denying it now. He didn’t just like him, he was in love with him.There was no turning back now.The contract he had created to chain Zach into improving his life, came to mind the second he thought about acting on his feelings.He had put in the clause that neither of them could fall for the other.Darien put his hand into his hands and groaned.He had ruined his own chances at happiness with that contract. Why was it even in the contract? He could have left it out and he would be feeling muc
Darien wanted to bang his head against the steering wheel. He had shown his hand too quickly to Zach. He just hadn’t been able to control his feelings of annoyance when he had seen Zach talking to Austin for so long through the front window of the flower shop. They had looked happy together and well, he’d always had something against Austin. Why had the dim blond decided to open his damn flower shop so close to his offices? It wasn’t even like he could bribe Austin to leave, the blond was rolling in money. He could tell that the intern was annoyed with him for saying those things. There was a tight set to Zach’s jawline and he felt very sorry already. He knew Zach wasn’t in love with Austin, he hadn’t looked flustered with the blond at all from what he had seen. He had the air of a person putting up with someone dumb. He also knew that Zach had no intention of going against the contract by asking Austin out. He knew all that, yet he had done h
Zach was confused by the sudden hand holding. Darien came across as a person who didn’t like to be touched and here he was holding his hand.Then he saw the look of complete pain on the billionaire’s face and he softened. Clearly Darien was holding onto him for help. Spicy noodles weren’t something Darien could withstand.He slipped his hand out of Darien’s grip and patted his head.“I’ll get you something cold,” he said. “You can give up now, I’ve clearly won this challenge.”Darien nodded weakly and Zach smiled to himself. He was most likely to be the only person who had ever seen the billionaire in a state as fragile as this.He quickly grabbed the tub of ice cream from the freezer and two spoons. The shop he had visited to get the noodles hadn’t stocked the largest selection of ice cream due to the time of the year so he had just picked the one he expected Darien to despise the l