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 the same bathroom.
Darien led the way to the front desk and Zach hung back awkwardly whilst Darien booked them in. The lobby was large and felt expensive with all the fancy lighting and wallpaper.
“Do I want to know what it costs to stay one night?” Zach asked when Darien handed over his room key.
Darien put his finger to his lips.
“It’s a secret, you’ll faint if I tell you.”
After dumping his bags in his room and investigating it thoroughly, Zach was ready to go out. He wanted to feel the familiar feeling of the sea breeze on his face and eat ice cream. This town wasn’t where he had grown up, that one was half an hour away.
He toyed with the idea of getting a local train to his hometown and visiting his parents for a few hours, but he knew it wasn’t wise. They would ask too many questions about his random visit and like with Emilia, he wouldn’t be able to answer their well meant questions truthfully.
It would just be something to consider in the future.
He stepped out into the hallway and found Darien leaving his own room.
“Are we going to the beach now?” the billionaire asked.
“I’m ready to,” Zach said and took out his phone. “I just need to look up the route to the beach.”
Darien walked on ahead and turned back to look at him.
“This hotel is expensive because it’s a very short walk to the beach,” he informed him with a smirk.
Five minutes later Zach found that Darien had been completely correct. The beach really was that close to the hotel.
He stood on the sand and felt the sun and sea air on his face. It was bliss after two weeks of living in London.
“Is this part of the ‘enjoying the seaside’ routine?” Darien asked, amusement evident in his voice.
Zach didn’t let Darien dampen his mood.
“The sea air is so much better than smoggy city air. You’re just not letting yourself enjoy it.”
Darien came to stand next to him and breathed in deeply.
“I guess you’re right,” he commented a moment later. “The air does feel different. This must be why people pay so much to live near the beach. There’s something in it.”
The tide was currently in and the waves weren’t high due to the light wind. It was a perfect day for going to the beach. As it was the very end of the tourist season and children were back at school, there was only a smattering of people on the beach.
The less people there were, the better. He didn’t want Darien to be recognised. He glanced at Darien. His sunglasses hid his eyes and his wavy hair made him harder to recognise. He should remain unnoticed.
“What’s next?” Darien asked. “Are we going to make sandcastles?”
Zach’s mind immediately conjured up an image of Darien on his knees with his sleeves rolled up trying to make a sandcastle. It didn’t feel right.
“I didn’t pack a bucket and spade,” he replied. “Let’s skim stones instead. The loser has to pay for ice cream.”
Darien followed him to the shoreline willingly enough. Zach picked out the flattest stone he could find and tossed it across the water. It managed a paltry two bounces before sinking. Darien sniggered and picked up a stone for his own attempt. He also ended up with two bounces.
They exchanged looks and Darien responded by rolling up his sleeves.
“This is actually fun. Best of three?” he enquired.
“You’re on,” Zach agreed.
Zach carefully lined up his first official shot and succeeded with four bounces. He had been good enough in his childhood to get six bounces regularly, he was very out of practise now. Darien’s attempt was three and Zach allowed himself to feel like he could win. Then Darien managed five bounces to his four on their second attempts.
On his final attempt he completed five bounces whereas Darien managed seven. The winner was clear and Zach didn’t have any hard feelings.
Zach looked around for a place to get ice cream. Any beach popular with tourists had at least one ice cream stand. He spotted one up on the walkway at the other end of the beach and nudged Darien.
“I’ll get the ice cream then. What flavour do you prefer?”
He remembered Darien’s enjoyment of the lemon meringue ice cream a few nights before. He wasn’t sure if something like that would be available.
“I’ll trust your judgement,” the billionaire replied. “I’ll wait here.”
The intern walked across the beach with quick strides towards the ice cream hut. A very wide choice of ice cream awaited him. Zach eyed up the picture selection with a critical eye. There wasn’t anything like lemon meringue available.
“Do you need more time to decide?” the woman at the window asked.
Zach smiled politely at her. She might be able to recommend the perfect ice cream for someone like Darien. He could see a very appetising looking ice cream for himself, but it was clearly too sugary for Darien.
“What would you recommend for someone who doesn’t really like sweet things?”
The woman leaned out and pointed to an item on the ice cream menu.
“This one is still a little sweet, but it hits the right savoury notes,” she explained.
The ice cream in question was seasalt and honey. Zach was highly intrigued by that combination and ordered it immediately. For himself he selected the mint ice cream with chunks of homemade brownie.
He carried the two ice cream cones carefully back across the beach and glared at any approaching seagulls. Darien was still skimming stones where he had left him.
“You have to guess what flavour I got for you,” Zach announced when he handed over the ice cream.
Darien raised his eyebrows, but he licked the ice cream nevertheless. Due to the sunglasses, it was hard to read his face. Zach could see a frown though. He licked his own ice cream and smiled in satisfaction as the combination of creamy mint ice cream and gooey brownies hit his tongue.
He found a trail of melting ice cream and hurriedly licked up the ice cream cone to prevent it from dripping on his hand. He glanced over at Darien to see if he had made any progress in guessing his own ice cream flavour. Darien appeared to be staring at him instead.
“What flavour do you think it is?” Zach asked to prompt a response.
“...It’s salty,” Darien answered distantly. “Do you eat ice cream like that in front of anyone?”
Zach took a moment to realise he was referring to his hasty long lick up the ice cream. It probably did look a little sexual. He felt his face grow hot as he remembered that he was in front of a very attractive gay billionaire who also wrote gay erotica.
“I don’t usually,” he said in the calmest tone he could muster. “It just didn’t want it dripping on my hand.”
With the awkward tone, even that innocent reply sounded dirty.
“Of course,” Darian said with a tinge of awkwardness. “I can’t work out the flavour.”
“It’s seasalt and honey,” Zach replied and turned away so he could eat his very delicious ice cream without feeling self conscious.
“I can taste it now,” the billionaire said. “You can face me, I won’t say anything else about your eating habits.”
Zach turned back and sat down on the sand. Darien sat down next to him and they ate their ice creams watching the sea. Zach finished the last bite of the cone with a sigh of satisfaction. He would have to find a similar ice cream somewhere in London. It was too good to only have once.
Darien finished his own a few seconds later.
“I think it was a good choice, I liked it,” he commented. “Should I buy the place so I can get a franchise in London for both of us?”
That comment was a sharp reminder that they both lived in very different worlds. He was a very average person with a heavy student debt and Darien was a billionaire. Darien could buy up a lot of things with a snap of his wrist.
“I think that’s a little excessive,” he said guardedly. “We can come here again instead.”
“That’s true,” Darien acknowledged. “I wasn’t being serious. My only business interest is publishing. I don’t want to buy up random things to become even richer. My only side hustle is writing.”
Zach considered how the editors in the erotica department would take the news that Damien Black was really their intimidating boss. Meghan would be on the floor, Becca and Rose wouldn’t be surprised knowing them and Robert would be in some state of shock.
“Why did you start writing?” he asked.
He had tried to write properly for himself a few times outside of university assignments, but it never felt like it was something he had talent with. He was much better at improving other people’s work and picking up mistakes. That had led him to decide on becoming an editor at a publishing company. That in turn had led to him sitting on the beach with a billionaire who had been voted the UK’s sexiest man at some point.
“I felt… closed in. I wanted to express myself so I wrote my first book. I sent it to my own company under an assumed name on a whim and it passed through immediately. It felt good to have people like it and give it glowing reviews so I’ve continued. That’s all I will say for now.”
Zach appreciated his honesty. They hadn’t known each other for very long. It would be strange if Darien opened up completely on their fourth encounter.
“That’s fine, I understand,” he replied softly.
“What’s next on our itinerary?” Darien questioned in an obvious attempt to change the subject. “We’ve skimmed stones and eaten ice cream, is that all?”
The intern shook his head and pouted in mock offense. As someone who had grown up going to the beach practically every day in the summer, he had an almost endless list of beach activities.
“We need to work up our appetite for lunch,” he said and pulled out a frisbee from his backpack.
They spent most of the day at the beach. By the time the sun began its descent across the orange flecked sky, Darien had eaten ice cream again, played lots of games, eaten fish and chips and even gone paddling.
The beach was now empty apart from them and one couple at the other end of the beach. The tide had gone back out and they were walking across smooth sand. Darien looked out at the calm sea which was reflecting the setting sun and analysed how the day had gone.
To say it was the most fun he had experienced in years was an understatement. He was relaxed and had laughed a lot. Zach had been kind enough not to comment on his personality changes.
He glanced down at Zach who was looking straight ahead. The intern had been the right decision, he felt much happier in his presence. Everything today had been a new experience.
Darien noticed how attractive Zach’s round face looked in the sunlight and his lips were appearing quite delectable. Then Darien realised his heart had started to beat weirdly and his face was heating up.
Had he just fallen in love?
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
Darien couldn’t believe that he had the bravery to invite Zach around to his multi million pound house. No one aside from his personal assistant and cleaner had ever been there. He poured himself a glass of milk from the fridge and drank it in one shot. His tongue was still tingling from those demonic noodles and he had only eaten two mouthfuls. How it was considered a fun pastime was beyond him. Maybe he was out of touch with the youth now. He had been so set on becoming the perfect leader of Harper Publishing at 22 that he had tried to be more mature to make business dealings easier. Now he knew he should have appreciated his youthful years more. At least he had managed to have some fun at university before everything had gone downhill. There was also the making out with a stranger at a masked ball two years ago, but he didn’t like to remember that. Darien’s kitchen contained every modern device possible from an airfryer, an instant boiling water ta