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One Life To Lithograph

One Life to Lithograph
Ginny — 7 Oct 1998, 7:25 PM

At two minutes before six o'clock, Nick Locarno strode through the doors of the Ritz-Kradin. He scanned the lobby quickly, smiled, and ambled over to examine a painting on the wall across from the lobby staircase.

His back to the stairs, Locarno nevertheless saw Clare descend the steps and walk over to stand quietly behind him in the reflection in the glass covering the painting. Locarno casually rolled his shoulders and tilted his head back, as though working out a catch in his neck. Clare opened her mouth to speak, but Nick beat her to it. "Good evening, Clare. You're right on time." He turned to face her, grinning.

Clare lifted an eyebrow. "I'm a woman in a man's profession, Mr. Locarno. I have never had the luxury of being late for appointments."

"'Mr. Locarno', is it? You cut me to the heart, Lady." He clutched at his chest and then gave her a frankly assessing once-over. "You look wonderful, by the way. Do I pass?" He stretched out his arms and did a slow pirouette.

Clare considered him appraisingly. "You'll do," she said dryly. "I like the tie."

Locarno casually flicked the maroon and gray silk bow at his throat with long, graceful fingers. "I thought you might. He swept his arms back and bowed, then raised up and extended his hand. "Shall we to dinner, Lady?"

Clare tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow and looked up into the man's handsome face. "You're a trifle giddy, tonight, Nick. Might I ask why?"

Locarno placed a hand over his heart and slowly blinked his eyes at her. "The romance of the night, the fragrance of your perfume..."

Clare took a delicate sniff. "...the glass of chianti you had before you got here."

Locarno shrugged. "Two, actually, but hey, Larson's driving, right?" He leaned closer to her. "You really do smell nice."

Clare sighed and tugged him toward the Nemesis Room. "Let's get some food in you before you break into 'O Sole Mio'." Locarno good-naturedly allowed himself to be pulled into the restaurant and seated at a table next to a small waterfall.

After a dinner heavy on carbohydrates, Larson arrived to drive them to the dance. A fair-sized crowd had already gathered, so Larson let Clare and Locarno out in front of the building and went to park the buggy. The couple entered the ballroom, and Clare saw several people that she knew--Kathryn Janeway, with the very attractive Marshal Tuvok.

Hmmmm, thought Clare. He looks a little tense.

She also saw her new law clerk, Benson Vorick, with Tom Janeway and a pretty, but fierce-looking young woman in blue.

Must be B'Elanna Torres, thought Clare, her eyes narrowing.

There was Judge Riker, and Kes Janeway and her young gunslinger friend, who had, fortunately, bathed before the ball, and...Oh. My. God.

Clare caught her breath sharply and felt her knees buckle. She grabbed Locarno's arm to steady herself, and he inquired, with concern, "Clare? Is something wrong?"

Clare pulled herself together, and smiled shakily. "No, Nick, everything's fine. I just...caught my heel in my skirt. I am thirsty, though. Would you mind getting me something to drink?"

The young detective smiled. "Your wish is my command. I'll be right back." He hurried off to the refreshment table.

Clare found an empty seat, pulled out her fan, and started to fan herself slowly. Almost reluctantly, she looked back across the ballroom to the floor-length windows on the other side. He was still standing there--a vision in silver and black. Clare took a deep, shuddery breath, and suddenly, Kes Janeway appeared at her side.

"Miss Darrow. Are you all right?"

To be continued in The Bold and the Border Patrol