Zach took a week at Harper Publishing to realise why he had been the only person to apply for the graduate internship.
The company might be well regarded, have millions of book titles under its belt and be run by a billionaire, but there was only so much smut an innocent university graduate could read in a day.
His current responsibility as the erotica department intern was to read applications from budding authors and decide if they should be passed to the next application stage. The applications consisted of a plot synopsis and the first five chapters.
So far he had become very cynical of the applications. Why did every prospective author think Italian millionaire playboys were the way to creating a bestseller?
The application he was currently viewing was another hopeful entry into the Italian millionaire playboy genre which was enough to make him roll his eyes. However, the first five chapters did have mostly impeccable grammar which was a miracle after all of the others he had read that morning so he was willing to pass the application onto the next stage of the vetting process.
"I wouldn't pass that one," a voice behind him said.
Zach looked up to see his supervisor, a permanently happy blonde woman called Becca standing behind his desk chair with a critical expression on her face.
"Why not? It wasn't a difficult read and the grammar was good," he pointed out.
Becca waved her pen at him.
"This is the erotica department, not the vanilla romance department- those sex scenes were too tame and were over too quickly. That's not what we want here."
Zach knew he had gone completely red in the face. As a gay boy who had never been in a relationship, he was like a lost fish floundering around on dry land with regards to the internship. Everything he was supposed to do was very far out of his comfort zone.
Becca's face softened when she saw his blush.
"I know you've only been here a week and you somehow didn't realise where your internship was going to be, so I'm going to do my best to teach you the ways of the erotica department. By the end of the year, you'll be an expert making perfect judgements about everything."
Zach wasn't sure if that was a good thing. Did he want to be an erotica expert by next September?
The biggest perk of this internship was the guarantee of a permanent job at the end of it- that was any university graduate's dream. He would have to find out soon if it simply meant a job at the company or if it meant he was chained to the erotica department for life. If it meant a permanent job in another department, he was willing to suffer through the smut for a year.
"Okay..." he said doubtfully.
Becca ruffled his hair.
"I bet you're regretting not reading the fine print on your application, it did say the internship was for this department and that no department transfers are to be permitted."
Zach nodded regretfully. He really should have read the application properly. There was no denying her accusation. He was the type of person who could never lie successfully, all his feelings were written on his face.
"You're a very sweet boy. Let's hope you complete the year unlike a majority of your predecessors."
That was quite a foreboding phrase. It caused him to ponder for the first time on the fate of other graduate interns in the erotica department.
"Has anyone ever completed this internship?" he asked.
He looked around the office and saw that he now had the undivided attention of everyone which was exceedingly unusual and he felt his face grow red again. Other than Becca, there were three other editors.
Meghan, the redhead editor at the next desk who he found extremely intimidating, smirked at him.
"The tale of interns in this department is extremely grand. One day one of us will write an epic story about it."
Robert at the next desk, held up a finger.
"The first intern survived a month before transferring to the adventure department- that was before transfers were blocked. We were left short that year thanks to that."
Meghan glared at him for stealing her spotlight.
"The second and third interns went practically the same way so we requested that departmental transfers should be not permitted. The fourth intern quit after six months. The fifth intern was a very unique case…" Meghan said dramatically.
Zach gulped. The dramatic retelling combined with his minor fear of Meghan was making him very nervous.
Becca patted his shoulder and mercifully continued the story.
"That particular intern completed the year and has gone on to become one of our bestselling erotica authors. Reading all the smut caused her to have an awakening and she tried her hand at writing it instead of editing it. The results were wonderful and we signed her on immediately."
Zach wasn't sure whether to admire that or be alarmed that reading smut had caused her to have an 'awakening'. Would that be his future?
"What about the next one?" he asked.
"Boring, they quit after a short time," Meghan said briefly. "Last year's intern was a complete disaster…"
"In what way?" Zach asked cautiously.
"It was a waste really. She was really good at everything and took all the smut editing in her stride. Then it all went tumbling down when she asked the CEO out. I don't know what she said to him, but the result was that we never saw her again," Meghan explained.
The CEO of the company was a billionaire named Darien Harper. He had inherited the company from his father and kept it at the top of the publishing world. That was all Zach knew about him. He had a vague awareness that he was often in the news for something, but Zach didn't read the celebrity gossip news so he had no idea of the details.
"The boss might be sex on legs, but I wouldn't have the guts to ask him out," Meghan said enviously. "His charisma is so overpowering. I thought I was going to melt into the floor when he asked me a question at the gala this year."
Robert rolled his eyes.
"No, you did melt into the floor. You fell over and I honestly believe he thought about sacking you for a hot second. Your skill at turning the worst written smut into something spicy is the only thing that saved you."
Zach was now feeling even more lost with the sudden overload of information about his boss' boss. The CEO sounded like someone he should never cross or even go near.
"Is he scary?" he asked.
Meghan's hands flew across her computer keyboard and she turned her screen around so he could see it.
"I guess you aren't the type to read trashy news so you don't know what he looks like. Isn't he just dreamy?"
On the screen was a photo of an undeniably attractive man. He had neatly arranged straight black hair, a very chiselled tanned face and a pair of very charismatic blue eyes. It was quite a package. Zach dismissed his hotness in seconds.
He looked like the type of person that only dealt with flings and one night stands. Zach was after someone caring and in it for the long term. Darien Harper looked like the type to sleep with him and pay him off the next day.
"How long do you think his latest girlfriend is going to last?" Meghan asked.
"Another week,” Becca replied sagely. “She's blonde and ditzy so she should last a little longer."
Robert saw his confused look and took pity on him.
"Mr Harper has a very high turnover of girlfriends. They often come here to visit him and if they come out crying, it's fairly logical to assume he's just broken up with them. I think the longest has been a month since I started here."
The other occupant of the office, a very quiet girl with glasses spoke up for the first time.
"I don't think it's very nice of him to make that many people upset," Rose said softly. "It's done so publically as well."
Meghan had something to say about that.
"You always think too highly of people. They're all gold diggers and were just out for his money. They get some time with him and we get entertainment."
Zach was inclined to agree with Rose rather than Meghan. It wasn't nice to constantly dump girlfriends and leave them in tears. He would hate it if he thought he had a loving boyfriend only to find himself dumped in a week.
Becca clapped her hands.
"That's enough gossip now. Back to work," she said loudly. "We’ve got smut to edit. Zach, continue going through the applications and do your best to separate the gold from the muck."
Zach focused on his computer screen again and resigned himself to a morning of reading through smut and grammatical errors. He would just do his best to avoid going anywhere near the CEO for the whole year. Due to his minor face blindness, he tried his best to commit the CEO's face to his long term memory just in case they ran into each other at some point over the year.
He had no inkling that he would find himself the subject of Darien Harper's fullest attention the very next day.
Zach walked into the erotica department office the next day with a more relaxed spring in his step. He had gone home the previous day and decided that he did want to be the next intern to make it through the year without quitting. After all, all he was doing was editing story drafts, he could use those skills in another job that wasn’t related to erotica. He sat down at his desk and switched on his computer, ready to take on any challenges waiting in his inbox. “Good morning,” Becca called out from her desk. “You look like you’ve decided to accept your fate as an erotica department intern.” That was certainly one way to term it. “I’m just considering the editing skills and experience I will gain,” he replied. “It’s just editing someone else’s work. The fact that it’s mostly smut doesn’t make much of a difference.” Becca gave him a thumbs up. “That’s the spirit. I’ll start forwarding you some applications.” The contents of the f
“Follow me,” the CEO ordered and addressed the entire office. “If any word of this gets out, I will sack the lot of you.” Zach turned back to see nods from all of the secretaries. Then he saw that Darien had already moved away. Zach’s short legs followed the CEO down the long corridor. Despite his quick walking, he was having trouble keeping up with the long strides of the CEO. Darien didn’t bother holding the door open for him and Zach rushed into the office before the door closed. The office was everything he would expect from the office of a billionaire. It was very spacious, everything gleamed and the interior design had definitely cost a bomb. Darien strode through the entryway and through another door to a room with a desk and a long sofa across one wall. It overlooked a stunning view of the city. The CEO sat down behind the desk and gestured at the chairs in front of it. “Sit down.” It was definitely an order and not a choice.
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 visitin
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