\ 22:17 Meredith and Alison | unlimitedi.net
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This party was gonna be a total blow out, Meredith could just tell. After Cadee had excused herself and Meredith had knocked back her fifth free martini of the night, she’d not even had so much as a glimpse of the infamous author. Yeah, total bust. Gail was gonna have to do better than pizza, beer and a movie. Maybe a steak dinner, and margaritas, lots of margaritas, and a double feature.

Meredith tossed another canapé into her mouth and turned the page. She’d decided to see what the fuss was all about, especially seeing as there was a display full of books. When Alison had come to talk at NYU last year she’d done a little background research, that’s when she’d discovered that the Pulitzer nominated journalist was also bestselling novelist Lucinda Graves. She’d picked up one of her books, Darque Shadows but it hadn’t really been her thing. Apparently this was book number six in the same series… she couldn’t say the plot had improved any.

That wasn’t fair really, the writing was good, colourful and with a lively pace. But geez… what was with all the sex? Was the woman obsessed or what? Meredith snorted as she was launched into yet another steamy scene where the protagonist seemed to have an endless stamina. It was a good job vampires weren’t real, no man could compete with this guy. Meredith chuckled, her fingers blindly reaching for another of the spicy crab crostini.

“Oh man,” she snorted between giggles, “geez… I know it’s fiction but… bloody hell!”

“It’s not to everyone’s taste, that’s for sure. You wouldn’t be the first person who thought it was all a bit far-fetched.”

Alison was used to hearing her work being derided as outlandish and derivative. Since the surge in supernatural fiction over the past couple of decades there was little new to write about. But it sold books. By the truckload. And book six… well, the title wasn’t named Darque Desires for nothing. After five books of build up Donatien and Rachel had finally given in to their lust.

It would have bothered her once to hear someone giggling over her book, but these days it water off a duck’s back. So she paused by the young woman, clearly a little in her cups, and smiled warmly. “You don’t have to force yourself to read it, if you don’t want to. I really don’t mind.”

Meredith turned and copped a veritable eyeful that her pal Gail would have drooled over. And silk, lots of blue slippery silk. Meredith blinked, juggling the book with what must have been her sixth martini of the night, though in all honesty she’d stopped counting after the third.

“Right,” she mumbled awkwardly. She didn’t make a habit of getting drunk, at least not in public. That was the trouble with cocktails, you never realised just how much you’d knocked back until your head was woozy and the room was spinning. Meredith wasn’t quite at that point yet, but as she turned to the woman, the book slid out of her hands and landed on the floor with a loud THUD. Her cheeks reddened instantly as several people turned to look. Meredith dove for the book, glass still in hand, not even realising how her dress rode up even higher and certainly must have given a few of the other guests a first-class view of her ass as she scrambled around on the floor to retrieve it.

“You’re into this stuff huh? I mean, sure you’d have to be, but vampires, werewolves and an army of zombies? Really, isn’t it all a bit… trashy? Like-” Meredith picked up the book and finally got to her feet, getting her first proper look at the other woman. And she froze mid-sentence. Looking down at the book in her hands and turning it over to the picture of the author - Lucinda Graves. The same woman that stood in front of her now.

“Shit.” she swore, mortified beyond all belief. This was Lucinda Graves aka Alison Scruggs, respected reporter and Pulitzer nominee, and not only had she snorted and sneered over her book, she’d dropped it on the goddamn floor! “I mean, no, not that,” Meredith held her head, which suddenly felt very woolly. “I’m a…” her mind was blank, there was just nothing there. “Sorry,” she said finally with a sigh, “really, sorry Ms… Graves?”

Alison smiled. “Guilty as charged.” She glanced down at the book in the woman’s hand. “I’m willing to bet you’ve just read the descriptions in there of the earlier books, since the zombies only appeared in Darque Rising. If it’s the fantasy aspect that’s bothering you, at least they aren’t traditional shuffling undead. Unlike vampires and werewolves, there are real zombies in the world and I used those as my inspiration rather than the Romano model.”

She shrugged. “As for trashy, well… they pay the bills, and most people seem to like them. Just be grateful my vampires don’t sparkle,” she said with a grin. “But honestly, if it’s not your thing don’t worry about it. These books really aren’t to everyone’s taste.”

Taking a sip of her strawberry mojito, Alison examined the young woman. Perhaps she was the daughter of some dignitary at this party, or someone’s date. Her state of inebriation said to Alison that the woman was bored out of her skull, at any rate. “So if you’re not a fan of my books, who or what dragged you here tonight?”

Meredith was still cringing on the inside and fought against the martini-induced fog that threatened to turn her brain to mush. “A so-called friend had a, uh, thing…” and really it was all Gail’s fault, if she hadn’t ditched her she wouldn’t have run into that French bint, or Logan and she wouldn’t have drank nearly so much, or be in such a bad mood to bag the very book that was being launched.

“…with a girl who works here, she kinda blagged me an invite. I mean, yeah this…” she held up the book, “isn’t exactly my thing, but… you actually gave a guest lecture at NYU last year, on your career as an investigative reporter? I did a bit of research and found out that you were…” she held up the book with the picture of Lucinda Graves facing out, “also her.”

Alison grinned. “Ah, yes. My agent decided nobody would buy an urban fantasy written by an author named Scruggs, so we used the name Lucinda Graves. It’s amazing how many people think that’s my real name.” She glanced down at herself and made a wry face. “Or that I’m really this slutty in real life. It’s all part of the marketing, though.”

As grateful as Alison was for her success at writing – and selling – vampire romances, it was her career as a journalist that gave her the most satisfaction, and she was pleased to have met someone who was entering the field. “So, are you still at NYU or are you out working now? Have you written any pieces I might have seen? What’s your by-line?” She paused, aware that only about one word in two was making it through the woman’s alcoholic haze.

“Sorry,” she said, more slowly. “I get excited when I meet another journalist. I’ve been freelance for so long that I don’t get to mingle with them much anymore.”

*Wow, this is amazing!* Alison Scruggs of the New York Times was actually talking to her as a ‘fellow’ journalist. If she hadn’t been so tipsy and wearing six inch heels, Meredith might have done a little jig of happiness. Or maybe not.

“Bell,” she said finally, “my name, it’s Meredith Bell. But I doubt you would have seen it on any by-line, unless you read the university press. But I’m trying, you know, if I could just manage to be in the right place at the right time and not a day late and a dollar short. Like that fire, at the Slante bar? With the homeless guy? I was there that afternoon, and then all that kicked off a few hours later? Goddamn I was so fuc- er, disappointed I missed out on that one. I read your piece in the Post.”

“You were there?” Alison blinked and glanced over her shoulder to where, just an hour or so ago, she’d met up with the very subject of that news story. “What a coincidence. And yes, you’ll find that although most of the time it’s hard work and research that gets you a good story, sometimes one will just fall right into your lap. This time it was sheer luck that it happened when I was there and not you.”

She chuckled. “I was there on a date, but I always carry my recorder with me.” She fished into her small clutch purse and pulled out her digital recorder. “Even tonight – just in case. Rule number one: always be prepared for a story to break right under your nose.”

Meredith quickly dug around in her purse and whipped out her trusty notebook and pen. “Snap!” she said gleefully, “sort of, if not a little more primitive.”

Alison’s grin broadened. “Awesome. Primitive isn’t an issue. Technology’s just a tool. It’s our eyes and brains that make us reporters. Gods, listen to me! You don’t want to have another lecture tonight, I’m sure.”

As she put away her recorder, she grabbed one of her cards. Her real cards with her actual phone number on them, not her Lucinda Graves ones that only had contact details for Connie’s office. She started to hand the card to Meredith, but thought better of it and slipped it into the front of her notebook so that she wouldn’t lose it. “If you ever need help with anything, please give me a call. Sometimes a reporter can find themselves in a hairy situation. Don’t be afraid to contact me, okay?”

“Wow,” she hadn’t meant to say that out loud, but no doubt she looked suitably fan-girlish even if it was for a different reason to everyone else who met the famed author that night. Meredith wasn’t about to ask if she meant it, or anything like that. Besides, Alison hadn’t offered to introduce her or take her under her wing - which was good, because even though she wasn‘t above the odd helping hand, Meredith had made it this far on her own, she wasn’t about to take a free ride now. She wanted the rights to her own success. Even if it took another twenty years.

“I mean, thanks. Say, I don‘t suppose-” she had been about to ask about the moral implications in getting a story. The ‘hairy situation’ remark had made her think about Magdalena DeLuca, and how she’d broken into the girl’s home and rooted around in her belongings. Not to mention actually stealing some of them. But she was too late, someone had obviously decided she’d had her 15 minutes of fame with Lucinda Graves and her time was up. In mid-sentence in fact, as a mob of fans descended, their arms laden with books. Meredith was practically shoved aside as the group fought for their share of the author’s time.

“Ow! Fuckin’ hell! Hey!” Meredith scowled but finally relented, stepping back. She settled for giving Alison a little wave of thanks before she disappeared from view. Then she was gone.

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