As promised here's my winning entry for the Challenge at the Writer's Circle. Not crazy over the title but I only had a few days to think of something to slap on there. And I think of Jack as a devil. I hope to someday turn these two into a full length romantic suspense. Piece of cake since the first 1,000 words are done that leaves only at least another 70,000 to go. Ok, the final count was 978 but, hey, who's counting? Oh, the challenge was to have a "wet male chest".
Word Count: 978
Maggie Reilly’s fist curled around the thumb drive. A triumphant smile stretched across her face. What was that phrase about snatching victory from the jaws of defeat? The information contained on this little device represented vindication.
Behind her the noise escalated First the obnoxious scrape and ping of metal, then the harsh hiss of the fire extinguisher. She kept her eyes focused straight ahead as she strode down the darkened hallway. The kitchen staff had discovered the small fire she started as a diversion. Milo, the sous-chef, barked orders as everyone scrambled to douse the blaze.
When the building’s sprinkler system kicked on, the chaos and clatter increased. Maggie narrowly avoided getting wet as she shoved the rear door open. Exiting the building onto the alley, she paused to pull on her wool coat as her vision adjusted to the midday sun. She turned left, tossed the pink bow tie and black vest into an over-flowing dumpster, spared one quick glance over her shoulder and hurried toward the anonymity of the busy street. Foot traffic along the sidewalk would be heavy with the noontime crowd. She could blend right in.
As she neared the busy street, Maggie buttoned up her coat against the March chill. Almost there, a dozen more steps. Snatches of conversation drifted to her from office workers on their lunch break.
A hand clamped down on her shoulder, stopping her dead in her tracks. Her heart stuttered to a momentary stop, then galloped ahead at warp speed.
The hand spun her around as effortlessly as a lazy susan. The thoroughly soaked but no less impressive male chest blocked the bright sun. The white cotton that must have been pristine minutes ago clung to his chest, emphasizing the banded muscles underneath.
Maggie had no need to look into his face. She knew that under the expensive, water-logged fabric a light spray of dark hair covered the rock hard chest, knew an apostrophe shaped scar above his left nipple marred the perfection.
“You’re in an awful hurry. Where’s the fire?” Even the soft Irish lilt couldn’t mask his sardonic tone.
While her heart continued its drum solo in her too-tight chest, she gave in to the inevitable and lifted her head. Her gaze collided with eyes as blue and deep as the waters of Killary Harbor.
“Your reputation isn’t an exaggeration,” she observed, grateful her voice didn’t betray the conflicting emotions tumbling through her. She reminded herself she and Jack were through. Finished. Put a period on it.
Jack’s blue eyes sparkled with amusement. “I assume you’re referring to my ability to blend in with my surroundings. Which, of course, would explain how I escaped even your keen detection skills.”
She rolled her shoulder to shake off his hand, but couldn’t budge it. “Actually, I was referring to your reputation as an unprincipled son of a—”
“Tut, tut, keep that up and Father Francis will have you saying Hail Marys…on your knees.”
She cursed the tell-tale heat rising in her cheeks. “I hope you don’t think you fooled anyone with that pathetic disguise.”
He sneezed, sending water droplets flying off his thick, black hair. “Actually it was quite successful, but then not everyone knows me as well as you do, Mary Margaret.”
Maggie opened her mouth for the automatic correction, but the words died on her lips. How did he manage to make her old-fashioned, parochial name sound so sexy? She grit her teeth. “What do you want?”
“Aww, luv, you know what I want. You have something that belongs to my employer and I’m going to need it back.” Strands of wet hair stuck to his forehead.
He shivered and she buried the automatic flare of concern. Good, maybe he’d catch pneumonia. He sneezed again.
“What you need is to get out of those wet clothes.” What happened to snatching victory from the jaws of defeat?
In a flash, he let go of her and ripped open the wet shirt, sending buttons ricocheting every which way. When he tugged it down his arms, gold cufflinks clinked and skittered across the pavement.
He toed off his shoes, unbuckled his belt and hesitated. “I may need your assistance with these pants.”
Her gaze followed a fat droplet of water as it traveled down his chest until it disappeared under his waistband. Her throat went dry. Unable to swallow, she croaked, “In your dreams.”
“Oh? You know about those?” Never lifting his gaze from her, he pulled his pants down, tossed them aside. Standing in nothing but black boxer briefs plastered to his sinewy body, he leaned toward her and lowered his voice. “Don’t tell me you have those dreams too. Care to share? I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.”
Don’t look below the waist. Don’t look below—Aw, geez, you looked. Obviously the cold hadn’t affected him.
When she lifted her gaze, he had the audacity to wink. Her hand tightened around the thumb drive. He might treat this like a game, but she didn’t have that luxury. But then, Jack treated everything like a game, even when his own life was on the line.
She refused to be deterred from her goal by traitorous, unwelcome emotions. Careful, or you’ll be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
“Not interested in sharing?” He reached out and traced a finger down her cheek as he whispered, “Grá mo chroí.”
The endearment washed over her, daring her to trust him, take a chance and —No! She cut those thoughts off before they could blossom and grow. Her battered heart wouldn’t survive another betrayal. “You’re a real swine, you know that?”
“Ouch.” He clutched his chest. “You wound me, Mary Margaret.”
She ground her back teeth and plastered a smile on her face. “Oh, when I wound you, Jack Reilly, I guarantee it won’t be with words.”