\ 20:43 Alison and Pablo | unlimitedi.net
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Pablo downed the shot at the bar. Let's get this party started, he thought. When the bartender came back he ordered a strawberry mojito for Alison and a Hell-Firetini he'd heard someone else order. Something with cinnamon he suspected.

He glanced over his shoulder and saw ‘Lucinda’ swimming through the crowd. He had to make sure not to lose her. Again, he thought.

Soon the drinks were up and he started the juggling act that was moving through a crowd with drinks. It only took him a few minutes to cross the twenty or so feet to get to her.

“Oh, thank you.” “Yes, you're too kind." Titter delightfully at a lewd joke. "Yes indeed, I have a whole new trilogy in mind.” “Absolutely. Lots more sex.” “Oh, Pablo, thank God.”

Alison reached the end of a string of well-wishers to find Pablo holding the promised drink for her. It was, indeed, red. She reached for it, then realised she was still holding the glass of champagne that Romano had given her. She juggled the two for a moment before thrusting the champagne into Pablo's free hand. Taking a sip of the drink she sighed in appreciation. "Ah, strawberry mojito. Perfect."

Pablo looked nonplussed and Alison felt a pang of guilt. "I'm sorry," she said, leaning her head close to his so they could talk without too much chance of being overheard. "I have a tough enough time at these things, but I've had time to get used to them. I shouldn't have been so selfish as to drag you here. I knew you wouldn't want to hang off my arm while I worked the room." She pecked him on the cheek knowing that it was entirely inadequate as thanks, but it was all she could do right now.

He kissed her bare shoulder and spoke back into her ear. "I understand, I really do. I just promise to make you pay for it one night when duty calls."

He sipped the Hell-Firetini. Nasty, just like the other one. Sooner or later, he'd find one he liked.

“Fair enough, I suppose. If we’re keeping score, we’re one-all at Slàinte, and you owe me one for tonight. Shall I get out the blackboard?” She grinned and took another sip of her mojito. “Try the champagne, if you don’t like that… whatever the hell that is.”

“Ok, ok, we won’t keep score, how's that? Except for keeping track of drinks. Where'd you get a champagne? More specifically a non-red champagne?”

Alison wrapped an arm around Pablo’s waist and turned slightly so they both faced back more or less the way she’d come. “That’s a whole story in itself,” she said. “I was introduced to this guy who got champagne to arrive as if by magic. Seriously, the waiter was there in about five seconds flat. How he did it in this crowd, I have no idea.”

Pablo gave her a look, so she sipped more of her drink and continued. “Anyway, it started out like a normal conversation, but as soon as he found out I was a reporter, he gave me the brush-off. Real fast. He’s supposed to be some sort of businessman, but he got awfully nervous – ever heard of a guy named Romano?”

Pablo looked like the champagne had turned to vinegar. "Balthazar Romano?" he glanced around the room, "He's here?"

Alison nodded. Somehow she wasn’t surprised at Pablo’s reaction. Just a few minutes in the man’s presence had left an oily aftertaste. “Yeah, he was over there,” she indicated with her head. “But that’s not the best part. You’ll never guess who was with him. Romano introduced him as an associate, but I got more of a bodyguard vibe. I tell you, my reporter’s instincts are screaming at me that something weird is going on.”

Pablo looked back at her intently, "Did he gesture at you, or give you anything? This champagne came from him?" His wild-eyed look and frantic tone was more than a little alarmed.

"Uh, yeah..." Alison stepped back a pace to really look at Pablo. "Are you okay? Whatever he's up to, I'm sure he didn't put anything in the drink." She shook her head, as if to clear it. "Look, the other bit I wanted to tell you about was who he was with. It's too much of a coincidence. It was that guy... whoa."

A couple descended on her, sweeping her away from Pablo. "Lucinda Graves! Oh god, it really is you. We just love your books!" the man enthused. "When is the next one coming out?"

As she stumbled back a couple of paces to keep her balance, she waved to Pablo. "I'll tell you later, okay? Try not to drink too much."

"Watch out for..." but it was too late. She was out of earshot and perhaps even out of reach. He saluted with the Hell-Firetini and casually dumped the champagne onto a nearby tray. Then he headed off the floor. He needed some air.

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