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'Two shots of tequila and keep them coming.'
Aleisha Gregory groaned at Kat's choice of Friday-night poison as she reluctantly plonked herself on the bar seat next to the leggy blonde. Saturday night was usually tequila night and she knew from experience that the Mexican liquor had a nasty habit of making her friend's clothes fall off, usually with wildly inappropriate men.
Which was fine. Kat was a grown woman after all. Until the panicked phone call she always received at the crack of dawn the next day asking to be picked up from a strange address and the ensuing couple of days of vocal self-loathing.
'Think I'd rather have something with an umbrella.'
After years of drinking sessions with Kat, Aleisha had learned that cocktails went down slower. Besides, it was still Happy Hour and eight-dollar cocktails could not be sneezed at.
Kat glanced at her friend and tisked. 'Ali, Ali, Ali. You city girls, no stamina.' She turned back to the boy/man behind the bar. 'Make it two daiquiris instead. And if you could make them all pretty and pink you will hold a special place in my heart for ever.'
Ali watched as Kat batted her eyes at the bartender. His pronounced Adam's apple bobbed convulsively once, twice, before he practically fell over himself to fill Kat's orders.
Ali wouldn't mind betting he could make a daiquiri with polka dots if Kat had requested it.
She rolled her eyes at her friend. 'He's a child, Katarina.'
Kat ignored her. 'Right,' she said, looking around the dimly lit, halffull bar, her keen eyesight scanning the offerings, probing into corners, assessing tonight's selection of possibles. 'Let's get you hooked up.'
Ali shook her head. 'Kitty Kat, since when have I ever hooked up?'
'Precisely!' Kat poked Ali in the shoulder. 'Maybe if you'd hooked up a little more often you might not have ended up with Terrible Tom.'
Ali winced. Kat's insights could be a little brutal from time to time. 'Well, I didn't end up with him, did I?'
'That's only because Two-Timing Tom is a jerk. Trust me, you had a lucky escape.'
Ali blew a persistent curl out of her eye. Funny, she didn't feel lucky. Tonight she was surprised to realise she still felt a little raw. Even a year down the track.
Admittedly, it has been a particularly heinous year.
The bartender placed their cocktails before them with a flourish and Ali watched him blush as Kat bestowed him with her you're-such-a-big-clever-man smile and then totally ignored him.
'What happened to your hand?' Ali asked the besotted bartender.
He looked down at the small red laceration gracing the back of his hand. 'I was trying to break up a dog fight this arvo.' He smiled at Kat. 'One of them took exception.'
Ali rolled her eyes at the lame attempt to impress. 'Did you get a tetanus shot?'
The bartender dragged his gaze to Ali. 'Er no. Should I?'
Ali gave a brisk nod. 'Absolutely.'
He glanced at Kat, who shrugged. 'Okay, I will thanks,' he said, before withdrawing to take another order.
Kat shook her head at her friend. 'You're hopeless.'
Ali sighed. 'Sorry, can't help it.'
Kat grinned, then lifted her glass and clinked it against Ali's. 'Here's to getting lucky.'
Ali clinked automatically but knew in her heart she'd settle for just getting through. Getting through this night without completely breaking down and ending up curled in a foetal position on her bed. Mostly she'd been able to put the hurt aside and get on with things. But knowing what was going on over on the other side of town brought it all back into sharp focus.
She looked into the creamy pink swirl of alcohol and figured that a few of these might just do the trick. She matched her friend's giant-sized swig with one of her own and felt the almost immediate slug as the alcohol hit her square between the eyes.
Ali placed the glass back on the bar. 'I can do this,' she said.
Kat nodded. 'Of course you can.' And she took another swig. Then she nudged Ali's shoulder. 'Guy over the other side of the bar, he's checking you out.'
Ali thought it highly unlikely anyone would be checking her out when she was sitting next to God's-gift-to-mankind. Seriously, why would a guy settle for Ms Average when he could take a shot at Ms Holy-Cow? But, used to humouring her friend, she followed Kat's line of vision anyway.
Okay-looking man. Nice suit. Nice eyes. Nice smile.
Nice. Nice. Nice.
Tom had been nice. In the beginning. Ali sucked in a breath. Tom's betrayal with a sultry twenty-year-old redhead had shaken her perennial selfconfidence and left her feeling oldat the advanced age of almost thirtyand ugly.
Before that particularly awful experience she'd known, the way a woman did, that she was attractive. Sure, not in Kat's league, but she hadn't been blind to the fact that men checked her out. She had good hair, nice skin, a size-twelve figure and a set of D cups.
But this last year, for the first time everthanks to Tomshe'd felt downright unattractive. His infidelity had hit her right in the libido.
The guy pushed off the bar and headed towards them. 'Oh, no,' Ali groaned, having another swig of cocktail. 'He's coming over.'
Kat laughed. 'Okay now,' she said hurriedly, reinforcing the ground rules. 'Tonight is about hooking up. About moving on. It's not about falling in love or happily-ever-afters. It's about you getting back up on the horse. About getting out there again.'
Ali sighed. 'I hated being out there.' And she had. She'd never been more content than when she'd been part of a couple. 'I loved being off the horse.'
'And how'd that work out for you?'
Kat saw her friend's face fall and was instantly contrite. She squeezed Ali's hand and dropped her voice lower.
'I'm sorry, babe, but you have to get past this. Terrible Tom is' Kat checked her watch 'right at this moment, saying I do to the woman slash child he cheated with while he was engaged to you and you were pregnant with his baby. The very same Tom who broke up with you the day you miscarried, when you were lying in a hospital bed bleeding and sobbing, telling you he never wanted it anyway.'
Ali played with the frosty stem of her glass, barricading her heart from the emotional tumult threatening to consume it. She had to admit, as the guy moved closer, Kat made a very good argument.
'So I'd say you're well past due for a little moving-on sex. It's time, Ali. Tom cut you off at the knees. But it's been a yearstop letting him win.'
Stop letting him win.
Kat's advice, brutal as ever, ricocheted around her head. Did she really want to spend the night bumping bits with a stranger? No. But she really didn't want to spend the night thinking about Tom doing it with his brand-new wife either. 'Okay,' she sighed. 'Okay.'
Kat grinned and nudged her with her shoulder. 'Just try, Ali, okay? That's all I ask. And do not, I repeat, do not, diagnose some obscure medical problem the second he sits down.'
'Okay, okay. I'll try. I promise.'
Just try. Just try. It chanted in Ali's brain as Mr Nice plonked down on the bar stool beside her.
'Hello, ladies, how are we doing tonight?'
Kat squeezed Ali's hand and plastered a bright smile on her face. 'Fabulous,' she beamed. 'Even better now you're here.'
'And what are two gorgeous women such as yourselves doing sitting all alone at a bar?'
Ali shuddered at the easy patter. The guy was obviously well versed in pick-up lines. She braced herself for the inevitable where-have-you-beenall-my-life and studiously ignored his deviated septum and associated nasally inflection.
And she did. For five minutes it was all going well. He'd even bought them another daiquiri each. And then he asked the fateful question.
'So, Ali, what do you do?'
Ali spoke before even thinking the answer through. 'I'm a brain surgeon.' She felt Kat tense beside her as Mr Nice threw back his head and laughed. 'No, really, I am a brain surgeon.'
Or at least she had been until recently.
'You know, a neurosurgeon?' she clarified for the grinning man, irritated by his obvious disbelief.
Mr Nice's smile wavered and then fell and she sensed rather than saw Kat's shoulders droop.
'Oh, right, really?' he said, checking his watch and downing his drink in one swallow. 'Well, um nice meeting you ladies but I gotta uh, rush.'
Ali watched Mr Nice retreat as if she'd just confessed to having Ebola. Kat gave her an exasperated look. 'What?' She spread her hands. 'I never mentioned his obvious sinus problems, not once.'
Kat raised an eyebrow. 'Neurosurgeon?'
'I am a neurosurgeon. Why does no one believe me when I say that?'
Kat sighed. 'Because it's a cliche, babe.'
'Being a neurosurgeon is a cliche?'
Good to know that a decade of study and killer shifts had been reduced to a cliche. Well, wasn't that par for the course for the way her life had been running lately?
Not that it mattered because she was never going back. Ever.
'No, babe. The line's a cliche.' Kat looked at her friend and sighed again. 'Ali, you gotta know that intimidates men.'
Ali rolled her eyes. 'I don't have time in my life for cavemen, Kitty Kat.'
'Tonight you do, babe. Tonight you do.'
Ali shook her head. 'Oh, I don't know Kat I've never been very good at this.'
Kat grinned. 'Well, lucky for you, I am. Now trust me on this, let's just stick with your current occupation, okay? Remember, the coffee shop?'
Ali hesitated pulling her bottom lip between her teeth. How could she forget?
'You promised you'd try,' Kat implored.