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"So what's a private detective doing at a shindig like this?"

The white-haired gentleman with the goatee and sequined bow-tie nudged her arm, sloshing her glass of champagne and earning himself a glare that could refreeze the melting ice-cubes in his glass of scotch.

"Oh, I don't know." Olivia Lively signalled to the waiter for another glass of champagne. "Perhaps I just got tired of spying on gangsters, hanging out on the docks with smugglers, and tailing Mexican drug lords through the streets of Portland." She gave him a mocking smile.

The short Colonel Sanders look-alike, who happened to be one of Maine's most celebrated poets, honked out a drunken laugh and wagged a finger at her. "Funny girl," he said, slurring the words.

The bartender set the flute of golden champagne in front of her and gave her a sympathetic smile.

"Excuse me." Liv slid from her bar stool. So much for socializing.

She smoothed the green fabric of her Halston gown, bought used online for a song, and looked around for Ashleigh. Liv spotted her friend near one of the silent-auction tables where a gorgeous modern art painting was on display.

Darn, Liv thought. She wanted that Andre Volinski piece for herself!

Weaving her way through the well-heeled crowd, mindful of her champagne flute, Liv headed toward Ashleigh.

The event planners had outdone themselves, she thought. Glittery decor transformed the venue into an Art Deco fantasy.Twinkle-lights looped in long strands across the ceiling. Slim, gold bud vases held single white roses on tables draped in black and white linen. Several young couples, dressed in Roaring Twenties finery, jitterbugged on the parquet dance floor in the corner.

Unlike the stuffy social affairs she'd been dragged to by her parents as a young adult, the Glitterati Ball attracted a much more laid-back, affable crowd. Her mind jumped to the the drunken poet at the bar. Maybe a little too affable.

Swaying through the room in the Halston, Liv caught several admiring glances. A few people she recognized nodded and smiled. She waved acknowledgment but didn't stop to chat. That Volinski would look perfect hanging above her bed, and she wasn't about to let anyone, not even her best friend, outbid her.

She'd almost reached the painting when someone grabbed her arm.

She tensed, turned.

She was surprised to see the bartender who'd served her champagne. He was in his mid-twenties, kind of cute with curling brown hair and a dimple in his chin, but nervous. He glanced around the room, dropped her arm. "I need to talk to you," he said. "It's about, um, a private detective thing. A job."

"Seriously?" Liv narrowed her eyes. Was this Ashleigh's idea of a practical joke?

The guy looked around again, his eyes wide, fearful. "Yeah. Can we just, you know, go somewhere a little less crowded?"

"Okay, okay." Liv glanced regretfully at the Volinski. "This sounds like a cliche, but the only place I can think of at the moment is the coatroom. Blame it on the champagne. Let's go."

She headed for the coat-check area which was shielded from the ballroom by some potted plants decorated with white twinkle lights. She felt a slight prickle of excitement. The evening had certainly taken an unexpected, somewhat delightful, turn.

"Hi, there. We need a moment." She winked and flashed a smile at the coatroom attendant who gave her a suspicious look but accepted the twenty and stepped aside. Liv and the bartender slipped into the walk-in space filled with furs and capes and wool overcoats.

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