"We're in public," William protested with a very red face. Then he realised he should be protesting about Noah wanting to kiss him.
"No one's looking," Noah whispered seductively.
William looked around. It was true, there weren't many people around in the gardens and they were looking at other attractions. He turned back at Noah again, his childhood acquaintance was still staring deeply into his eyes.
Noah obeyed the order and gently gave him a kiss on the lips. It was surprisingly soft and he didn't take it any further.
"I won't take it too far," he explained. "I'm your first kiss after all."
William felt his cheeks were calming down gradually and managed to look Noah in the eye without blushing again. It was hard to considering he had just admitted to liking him and been kissed.
"Thanks," he said and held out his hand. "We can look around some other places."
Noah's reaction was to smile widely and take his hand.
William's fears returned to the forefront of his mind after an hour of walking around the gardens. He let go of Noah's hand. What if someone saw them?
"What's wrong?" Noah asked. "Is my hand too sweaty? This is nerve wracking for me as well."
William smiled at the thought of Noah being nervous to go on a date with him, but it didn't last.
"Is that not it?" his childhood friend questioned with a smile.
William shook his head. How could he say, 'I don't want to be seen being romantic with you and don't tell anyone'? It was unfair on Noah.
"I can't do this," he admitted.
Noah didn't react negatively and led him towards the nearest bench. He didn't speak for a few minutes which allowed William to calm down.
"I noticed that you seem to want to keep your sexuality a secret. Is this the problem?" Noah asked gently.
Was it that obvious he was gay?
"It is," he admitted. "My family were old fashioned from what I remember and Eliza's parents were the same."
"I got lucky. My parents guessed before I told them and said they didn't mind," Noah replied. "You weren't so lucky."
"You did," William said quietly.
Noah patted his shoulder comfortingly.
"You're 22," he reminded him. "You live with your butler. No one can tell you you're wrong if you tell them you're gay."
That was true. He hadn't quite appreciated that. It was just not that easy.
"It's not that," he answered hesitantly. "I have a company to run. I can't have everyone knowing I'm gay."
"Why not?" Noah asked bluntly. "You are in the highest position, no one can go against you. In any case, it's the 21st century, if they do you can sue them for discrimination."
That was also true. His mind searched for another flaw.
"Our shareholders might pull out if they find out I'm gay," he replied.
Noah responded immediately. "Then they aren't worthwhile shareholders. Why should they care anyway? Eliza Quinn is the publicly known company figure, not you."
"You're right," William said slowly. "I shouldn't have to worry."
It was hard to adjust his mindset after feeling so guilty for years. If only his parents were alive, wouldn't feel as lost as he had been.
Noah pulled him in for a hug.
"You've been torturing yourself for too long. Let it go."
William was close to tears and settled into Noah's chest to hide his face. It was comforting to hug another person. He hadn't hugged anyone since his parents died. Eliza's family knew he didn't like to be touched and had always kept a respectful distance. That had probably not helped him cope with his parents' death.
"Are you going to be all right now?"
William pushed Noah away, but kept hold of his hand.
"It's going to take time. Thank you for liking me."
"I'm willing to wait for you to be okay with it. We don't have to tell anyone we're together."
"Just for the moment," William said. "I can't keep it secret for the rest of my life."
He was feeling more ready than he had ever been to stop being in denial and be more out there about his sexuality. He couldn't lose his courage now.
In the afternoon Noah had to return to Quinn's Cakes for his late shift. William was torn between wanting someone efficient in the kitchen at the pâtisserie or allowing his new boyfriend to have a day off so he could be with him more. In the end the money won out.
Dave saw them walk in together and looked over the moon for a mysterious reason. It all become clear to William when he rushed over to them and whispered in William's ear.
"Are you two together?"
Dave looked delighted and William couldn't bring himself to say no.
"Perhaps," was the answer he settled for.
"Dave has been one of our biggest supporters," Noah whispered discreetly. "You don't have to worry about telling him."
William looked at his chain-smoking bearded employee again who was smiling widely at him and gave up.
"Don't spread it around," he ordered. "We're keeping it quiet."
Dave beamed at them in a fatherly way.
"I knew you two were right for each other."
Wait, did that mean Dave knew he was gay? How many people knew he was gay? His mind began to go into overdrive again and it took a light nudge from Noah to bring him back to reality.
"I'm going to the kitchen, you can watch me if you like," his boyfriend told him.
"Will it affect your efficiency?" William questioned. He still had profit to think about.
"I'll work harder under your unnerving gaze," Noah promised. "You'll just be my boss watching me."
William didn't want to say goodbye and part with him this soon so he accepted the offer. He followed Noah to the kitchen and watched him start preparing by lining cake tins and preheating the oven. Noah looked up at him once he had finished preparing.
"If you care about my efficiency, come and help me."
William was less fond of that idea. Being someone that loved cake, he had tried many times over the years to replicate his favourites. The most recent attempt had ended with James banning him from using the kitchen. He wasn't fond of the idea of ruining Quinn's Cakes' state of the art kitchen that he had paid for.
"I can't bake," he mumbled.
"I know- that's why I'm only entrusting you with the ingredients."
Noah really did know him well. William glanced over at the other kitchen workers who were attempting to discreetly stare at them and were failing miserably. He gave them a sharp glare and they all moved further away.
"Can't your minions do it for you? They need something to do, I'm not paying them to stand around."
"Pretend you aren't their boss' boss and just help me," Noah instructed. "I'll give them something to do in a moment."
William let himself be helped into an apron and Noah handed him a white hat. Noah sent the other workers out with a list of ingredients and William breathed a sigh of relief. He felt less self-conscious now.
He followed the amounts he had been given and between them they made a red velvet cake. William admired its neat and colourful appearance for a moment and went to find a cake slice so he could try it.
"You're depriving yourself of profit," Noah reminded him when he came back with it. "Just ask and I'll make it for you anytime."
"Will you come over to my house at any time? I get random cake cravings."
"Of course," Noah agreed. "Should we make a pinky promise?"
"You look refreshed," Eliza observed the following week.
William's week of holiday had passed annoyingly fast. He had spent some time every day with Noah. Sometimes it had been only the evening or his lunch breaks due to Noah's work hours. He had plucked up the courage and introduced him to James as his boyfriend. James had simply greeted him and asked if he was staying for dinner. That was one hurdle over with.
"I feel better," he replied.
He hadn't told her about Noah yet. The antagonism between them hadn't been missed by him.
"You should tell Noah to stop leaving love bites above your neckline," she said. "You have a meeting today. I'll get some concealer."
"I told him not to," he groaned and then realised what she had said.
How did she know they were love bites and that they were from Noah? Did she know he was gay?
He looked at her carefully. She didn't look disgusted with him and was digging around in her make up bag instead.
"How did you know it was him?" William asked.
Then he remembered that she would have also known about the promise because like James, she had been present at the same party 12 years ago. He vaguely remembered that her family had arrived a little after Noah's and he'd ignored her completely because he had been enthralled with him.
"I told Noah that he couldn't tell you about the promise and if you never remembered, he would have to start from the beginning," she informed him.
William realised that Noah had cheated her. He had given him hints instead with the new pinky promise and the Victoria sponge. He definitely couldn't tell her that.
Then he asked the much harder question.
"That was considerate of you," he replied. "Do you approve of him?"
He wasn't ready to ask if she minded him being gay.
Eliza laughed. "You don't have to ask me for approval. I personally wouldn't have matched you two together, but he makes you happy so I'm happy."
William's heart warmed. She just wanted him to happy.
"You don't have a problem with me being gay?"
Eliza shook her head fervently.
"Of course not and even if I did, I wouldn't do anything about it- I'm not your parents."
Unknowingly her comment had brought one of William's insecurities about his relationship with Noah right back to the surface.
"Would my parents approve of him?"
"They knew about the promise. Everyone at the party overheard it. You two weren't exactly quiet. Your father said it would never happen and your mother thought it was cute."
Neither of those sounded like approval from his parents. He frowned and became aware that Eliza was giving him a pitying look.
"William, don't take that to heart. You were 10 at the time, no one would have expected either of you two fulfil the first part of the promise let alone the second. In fact, I think if he was still here, your father would approve."
"Because it's profitable," Eliza giggled. "Noah's the main star of Quinn's Cakes and the profits are still steadily rising. Your father would have loved that, you know what he was like about making money."
She was right. His father would have cared about the money he was making first. It was a relief to hear that put in perspective. He was glad he came out to Eliza.
"Can I hug you?" she asked suddenly. "You look more approachable now."
William allowed her to wrap her arms around him and did the same. He was now quite fond of hugging thanks to Noah. She released him after a moment and changed the subject a little.
"Are you seeing him today?"
"He's coming around this evening. What's the meeting about?" William asked and started looking through the untidy pile of paperwork Katherine had left on his desk. "I haven't had a chance to catch up."
"It's about going forward with the plan to open other branches of Quinn's Cakes," Eliza told him. "Everyone is pleased with the profit trajectory to consider opening other ones."
William took a brief look through the paperwork and smiled when he saw the steady rise in profits. Noah was going well. Their promise had been very fruitful for both of them.
The chapters after this are the second volume which follow a different to this volume.
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