Flash Fiction Challenge 2010: Challenge #1, Round 1
Genre: Romantic Comedy
1,000 word limit
Tess ignored the fact that her handcuffed companion had stopped running.
She charged past him to reach the end of the alley, her momentum pulling him forward and her back, their bodies colliding and sending him sprawling, off-balanced into the side of a dumpster as her shoulder connected abruptly with the bricked wall of a building.
“What the hell are—” Jack gasped.
Tess contorted herself, twisting around until she faced him, her hair slipping loose from the knot she’d tied at the nape of her neck and clinging to the sweat marking a trail down the side of her face.
"Do you want to get shot? Is that it?" Jack growled, jerking her cuffed arm roughly and pressing her against the wall. “We have to get to the ferry, Tess.”
“The ferry is obvious,” she argued.
The barb of the rough-hewn bricks poked through her thin T-shirt. Her jeans felt weighted, heavy against her thighs. The tang of sweat, dirt, and old garbage wafted around them.
And Jack was standing too close.
“Exactly,” he nodded. “An obvious place to hide.”
“Or get caught,” she retorted, pulling her arm from his grip. “We need to go to the bridge.” She bit off the end of each word.
Brow puckered in a frown, Jack darted a look around the corner of the building Tess leaned against, then ducked back, shaking his head.
“The bridge is out,” Jack pointed out. “There are cones and orange barrels everywhere.”
“Exactly,” Tess countered.
Jack’s glance was incredulous. “And this helps us how?”
“If we get on the other side of the barricades before they find us,” she lifted a shoulder, “we could lose them in the city.”
“Listen,” Jack said, his voice assuming an air of authority. “I’m fairly accustomed to bringing my witnesses back alive.”
“Fairly?” She scoffed. “Not exactly a confidence builder, Counselor.”
“You’re my witness,” Jack said through clenched teeth. “It’s my case. And my job to get you back.”
“This is my life,” Tess snapped, rattling their cuffs.
“Tess,” Jack said softly, grabbing her attention. His eyes seemed to turn her to glass. “We need to work together on this.”
“Then trust me.” She matched his stare.
Tess had resisted the confines of a conventional lifestyle for too many years to relinquish her perception of control to the reasoning of this man. No matter if that damn half-grin of his caused a tick in her gut every time he dug it out.
He wasn’t grinning now, though.
Her gaze took in the set of his mouth, lines drawing the edges down in a bow of worry. The events of the day had tarnished his polished appearance. Strands of his impeccable brown hair had fallen across his forehead, giving him the illusion of innocence. His tie was askew, he’d left his suit jacket back in his car, and he was missing a cufflink.
The fact that he even wore cufflinks made her want to laugh.
The fact that she liked them on him made her want a stiff drink.
Jack was the first to look away, reluctant surrender evident in the roll of his shoulders. “The bridge? You’re sure?”
He pulled his lower lip against his teeth, biting it in what she’d come to recognize as nervous habit. She struggled to ignore the irrational desire to bite it for him.
“The bridge,” she asserted, trying to keep her voice even. “Get on the other side, slip into some pub, and call for back-up. Or whatever.”
“The ferry’s still a better idea,” Jack grumbled.
“Well, if I’m wrong,” Tess said, glancing at him askance, “feel free to gloat.”
Jack’s grin hit his eyes and clenched her stomach. “You can count on it.”
They stepped clear of the alley, moving with casual swiftness toward the barricaded bridge, avoiding curious eyes, Jack’s arm around her waist, her arm behind her back, their bodies close.
As they approached the last crosswalk before the bridge, the plaintive sound of a guitar drew Tess’ attention. A man sat slouched in a doorway, eyes vacant, dirty fingers gathering rhythm. Next to him, leaning against the door as if waiting for its cue, was a tarnished saxophone. Pulling Jack to a halt, Tess dug into the pocket of her jeans and retrieved a bill, dropping it into the overturned tambourine near the street musician’s feet.
“Why’d you do that?” Jack asked, slightly breathless from keeping pace.
“Everyone deserves a second chance,” Tess replied softly.
“Even lawyers?” Jack asked.
Tess didn’t allow herself to glance his way. “Almost everyone.”
They walked in silence for several beats until Jack suddenly rolled her roughly against him. Before she could protest, he’d guided her toward an alcove doorway, tucked her into the corner, and blocked her from sight. Her heart shivered at his touch.
“Quiet,” he whispered urgently, his lips close to her ear. “I saw them. Heading toward the bridge.”
Jack looked over his shoulder. “Pretty sure.”
Tess peeked out from beneath his protective arm. Near the orange cones that blocked the bridge entrance stood two men whose imposing figures were frighteningly familiar.
“Maybe we should try the ferry,” Tess said in a small voice.
Jack’s quiet laugh was quick and unexpected.
She blinked up at him. “What’s so funny?”
“I had plans to meet another attorney at Chez Marius tonight,” Jack said quietly, his grin coating the words in honey. “Looks like I’m not gonna make it.”
Tess pursed her lips, daring another glimpse around Jack’s arm. The men were still there. “Sorry to ruin your plans,” she muttered.
Jack lifted their cuffed hands and rested his palm on her jaw. “You were wrong about the bridge.”
His lips hovered close to hers, his breath ghosting her cheeks.
“What are you doing?” she asked against his mouth, her eyes slipping shut.
“Gloating,” he replied.