Operation Prince Charming(2)

By: Phyllis Bourne

“Look, Erica, I know this socialite thing is a big deal to you, but is it worth alienating the people who were there for you before the money?”

She turned away from the mirror and fastened him with a contact-enhanced, hazel-eyed stare. “I’ve outgrown them.”

Hunter shook his head, feeling the intimacy of their morning tryst as well as their once solid relationship slipping away. He stared at the woman preening in the mirror as she brushed another layer of powder across her cheekbones.

Six months ago, he’d been on the verge of proposing to the private-duty nurse. Then her longtime employer died and left her that damned money. Since then she’d dedicated herself to reaching the top of the city’s social ladder, and she apparently didn’t care who she had to step on to move up a rung.

“Have you outgrown me too?” he asked carefully. “Is that why I haven’t heard from you in two weeks?”

Tossing back the covers, he swung his legs over the side of her canopied bed and grabbed his pants from the floor. He was beat. She was annoyed. It was best he got dressed and headed home.

“Of course not.” Erica abandoned the mirror, and Hunter felt her arms slip around his waist. She pressed a kiss to his back. “You know better.”

“Do I?” He spun around and stared into her eyes, wishing he could remove the tinted lenses and once again see the warm brown gaze of the woman beneath the layers of makeup and diamonds. The woman he hoped would soon return to her senses once the excitement of her newfound wealth wore off.

“So what if I dumped some deadweight?”

Hunter winced at her characterization of the longtime relationships that once sustained her.

“It doesn’t change how I feel about you. I love you.” Erica’s gaze drifted to the rumpled bed. “Didn’t I show you just how much all morning?”

He heaved a sigh, releasing the tension trapped between his shoulder blades. Maybe he was being too hard on her. They’d both been busy lately. A spike in burglary cases had him putting in long hours on the job, and Erica had been equally occupied trying to break into the tight-knit country club set.

They just needed to spend more time together, he thought. And for Erica to work this nonsense out of her system.

Hunter hauled her against him. Her sharp hipbones dug into his skin, and again, he noted how thin she’d grown. The first few pounds she’d dieted off her nearly six-foot frame had given her the ultralean look of a fashion model.

Now she just looked and felt painfully skinny.

“Well?” Erica asked.

“How about you show me again tonight after we play poker with Pete and Sandy?”

“Poker? That was tonight?”

“Yeah, Pete says Sandy’s been out for revenge ever since she lost her pedicure money to him last time,” Hunter chuckled. “He claims he’s going to let her win tonight because her feet are like sandpaper, but don’t tell her he said that.”

Erica averted her eyes. “Um…uh…Hunter. Honey, I already have plans for this evening.”

His arms dropped to his sides as he looked at her, not believing she was pulling this on him again. “We can’t bail on them again. We canceled last week because of some party. Besides, they’ve already booked a babysitter.”

“It wasn’t a party, it was a wine tasting,” she clarified, as if it would make a difference.

“So what’s tonight’s excuse?”

“An exhibit for an emerging artist. He’s all the rage with the elite…”

Hunter frowned, and she stopped midsentence. She reached out to him, but he stepped away and shrugged into his shirt.

“Cut the bullshit, Erica. This is me. Since when do you care about art?” he said. “Up until a few months ago, your only piece of art was an oil painting of Prince wearing purple butt-out pants.”

Hunter glanced around the lavishly decorated bedroom. Like with her astronomically priced penthouse, designer wardrobe, and personal sushi chef, Erica’s interest in art was simply something else she hoped would impress the town’s socialites enough to gain entry into their rich bitch clique.

“I forgot about poker night. I’m sorry,” she said hurriedly. “But I’m one of the exhibit’s sponsors. I have to be there.”

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