Operation Prince Charming(10)

By: Phyllis Bourne

“It hasn’t been easy,” Hunter admitted.

“Erica’s lucky. Another guy might only be with her for the money,” Pete said. “I still can’t believe you turned down the new Mercedes she’d bought for you.”

“I don’t want her money. If and when I get a Benz, I’ll be the one buying it.”

“But that was one sweet ride.”

Hunter thought back to the sleek black luxury car he’d refused. “Working this job shows me enough of how low some people will sink to get their hands on things that don’t belong to them.”


“Speaking of work, anything new?”

“Got a call from Morrison. Two new residential break-ins, same as the rest.”

Frustration washed over Hunter at more houses being robbed by a suspect or suspects they always seemed to be one step behind. “Damn, I’ll be glad when we catch these ass—”

“Whoa!” Pete interrupted. “Now, that doesn’t sound very charming. Looks like you may need to stay after class.”

Images of Ali Spencer and her pink pelican-print dress floated through his mind. For some reason, staying after school didn’t seem so bad.

Ali inhaled the curls of steam rising from the china teapot, hoping the fragrant scent of jasmine would put her aunt in a compromising mood.

“Do you have time for tea?” She stood at the threshold of the older woman’s office holding a silver tray, already knowing the answer to the question. No matter the temperature, her Anglophile aunt never turned down hot tea.

Rachel Spencer Holmes looked up from the paperwork scattered across the antique desk that had once belonged to Ali’s great-great-great-grandmother. She was dressed in a starched gray suit accessorized with pearls at her ears and around her slim neck. Despite the unseasonably warm spring weather and the building’s lack of central air-conditioning, the olderwoman looked as she always did. Impeccable.

Her aunt’s penetrating brown eyes darted from the tray to Ali’s face and back again.

“Of course, dear.”

Beckoning Ali inside, she tidied up the papers she’d been reviewing and tucked them into a drawer.

Ali set the tray on top of the weathered walnut desk. She bit the inside of her lip to keep from mentioning the untouched laptop at the opposite end. Using it would have helped her aunt accomplish the work more efficiently, but she’d stubbornly refused.

Baby steps, Ali reminded herself as she poured hot tea into the delicate, hand-painted cups. She moved a Queen Anne chair from across the room and seated herself on the other side of the desk. She’d drag this antiquated school and Aunt Rachel into the twenty-first century, she thought, sitting down, one baby step at a time.

“Oh my, another colorful ensemble.” Her aunt squinted at Ali’s pink seashell-print skirt and matching pink blouse. “I practically need sunglasses to look at you.”

It wasn’t the first time Aunt Rachel had pointed out her vibrant fashion choices. The bold colors of her Lilly Pulitzer–dominated wardrobe, which had flown under the radar in south Florida’s lush tropical landscape, stood out like a pink elephant here in Nashville.

“I’m not buying new clothes, Auntie,” Ali said, not that she could afford to these days anyway.

Fortunately, her aunt changed the subject.

“Impressive spread, Alison,” she said, surveying the offerings on the desk. Pure delight brightened her sixty-nine-year-old, still-unlined face. “Jasmine tea, macaroons, strawberry scones, cream puffs. All of my favorites.”

Her aunt bit into a cream puff and her eyes rolled heavenward. “Scrumptious,” she said, and dabbed the corner of her mouth with a starched linen napkin from the tray.

“I remember you serving high tea every afternoon when Dad dumped me off on you for the summer.”

“Don’t be silly,” her aunt said. “I loved having you. If John hadn’t brought you, I would have come down to Florida and picked you up myself.”

Ali sipped her tea. Back then, she hadn’t wanted to leave her widowed father alone, but he’d insisted. After she’d lost her mother at four years old, he’d thought his tomboy of a daughter would benefit from his older sister’s feminine influence.

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