Excerpt from Payback

© Clare London


Miles paused, his back turned to Zeke. He didn’t go out into the hallway to look for anyone. Instead, he pulled the door of the room closed, shutting them both in, twisting the handle until it clicked sharply.


Zeke thought that sounded suspiciously like a lock. It was strange, thinking of Miles and suspicion in the same context. The hairs rose on the back of his neck.


Miles turned back around to face him, his back obscuring the door handle. “Zeke, while we’re waiting, would you please read the memo in that file on my desk?”


“Sure.” Zeke frowned, confused, but he got up from the chair and strolled over to the desk. Out of the corner of his eye, he was aware of Miles moving in the opposite direction. By the time he’d picked up the blue file on Miles’s desk and opened it, Miles had crossed the room to the chair. When Zeke turned around to question him, Miles had sat down.


He sighed softly, settling himself comfortably into the soft leather cushions. “I can’t remember when I last sat in my own visitor’s chair. Thanks for keeping it warm.”


“Yeah,” Zeke said. “Right.” He glanced at the clock again. The lawyers were way too late now. “Look, is this meeting going to happen or not? What’s this all about?”


“Read it,” Miles said.


Zeke peered down at the file. The documents inside looked like a copy of the lease he was due to sign tonight. Whatever protests he made aloud, he paid plenty of attention to matters concerning his precious gallery, at least nowadays. Dammit, if he’d done the same in the past, he might not have lost it in the first place. On the top of the documents rested a small slip of crisp white paper. His eyes skimmed the brief note. “Miles?”


“Read it aloud,” Miles said. The fierce tone of his voice was startling.


“It says…” Zeke licked his lips. “Strip.” He stared at Miles. “What is this?”


“It’s one word. I know you can read perfectly well.”


Miles spoke calmly, but Zeke thought he could see the pulse throbbing in Miles’s neck. He laughed, though it sounded a little shaky. “How’re you going to explain that to the suits?”


“No one is coming,” Miles said. He didn’t move from the chair, but crossed his legs carefully, his palms flat on his knees. “None of them can make it. I must have forgotten to tell you. What else does the memo say?”

Zeke felt momentarily dizzy, like the ground shifted below him. Maybe he had been hit by that cab after all, and all this—the odd note, the meeting that never was, Miles’s cold manner—was a weird dream.


“Pay attention,” Miles snapped at him. “Tell me what else it says.”


Shocked, Zeke felt a shiver of distress. It seemed a hell of a long time since he’d surrendered to his blacker moods, but maybe he hadn’t shaken them off as well as he’d hoped, even though he’d settled with Miles as his partner. Yet it was Miles who now shook that foundation. Miles had never spoken out of turn to him, had never tried to bully him in any way. Yeah, they argued—often—and Miles could give as good as he got. But had he ever tried to dominate like this?


“Listen to me,” Miles said. There was an odd strain in his voice. “Zeke?”


Zeke shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts.


“Zeke, I don’t mean to upset you.” Miles was speaking urgently. “I promise you. Do you trust me?”


Zeke swallowed hard. Of course he damn well did. “Yes.”


A burst of relief flickered in Miles’s eyes. “You looked… I mean, if you really want to leave….”


“No.” Zeke caught Miles’s gaze and held it steadily.


Miles nodded and his expression hardened again. “So do what you’re told. What else does the memo say?”


Now, it says. No questions, no protests. No discussion will be entered into.” Zeke felt a rush of excitement overriding his initial discomfort. “Hey, man, I must say you have a cute way—”


“Be quiet,” Miles barked. “You can read, I believe, and it says no discussion. Just do it.”