Operation Prince Charming(3)

By: Phyllis Bourne

“Whatever,” Hunter managed to get out through his clenched teeth. Talking to her lately had been like talking to a brick wall, one he was tired of beating his head against.

“Come on, don’t be mad. How about I take everyone out to dinner next week? I’ll hire a nanny for Pete and Sandy’s boys and have Tanaka do the cooking? Just pick a night.”

“No, thanks.” Hunter stuffed his wallet into his back pocket and grabbed his keys. He could just imagine what Pete, his best friend and fellow detective, would think of sitting down to a plate of Erica’s sushi chef’s rice and raw fish. “If you change your mind, I’ll be with our friends.”

“You could always come to the exhibit with me,” she said hesitantly.

He raised an eyebrow. The last time he’d accompanied Erica to one of those highbrow functions, it had been a complete disaster. He’d sat in silence while their dinner companions tried to top each other with endless boasts about their latest high-priced acquisition, dozing off somewhere between the DuBois’ beauty of a sailboat docked in Palm Beach and the Cortlands’ new twin-engine Cessna.

A furious Erica had awakened him with an elbow to his rib cage.

“You’re joking about my coming along with you, right?” he asked.

Erica’s lips firmed into a line.

“That’s what I thought,” Hunter said.

He turned to leave, but she clamped a hand on his arm. “Don’t you dare try to make me the bad guy here,” she said.

“What?” Hunter spun around, wondering how she could utter those words with a straight face.

“How many times have you bailed on me at the last minute because of some robbery across town or those stupid burglaries?”

She wouldn’t think they were so stupid if she were the victim, he thought, but he refused to get into a side disagreement with her on top of the one they were already having.

“Oh, come on, you can hardly compare the situations. I’ve only broken a date when something—”

“Important came up,” she finished.

“Exactly,” Hunter said.

“I never nagged you about work because I’ve always understood how important your job is to you,” Erica said, anchoring a fist on her bony hip. “How come I don’t get the same consideration about something significant to me?”

This time it was Hunter who fell silent. Not once could he remember her complaining when he ran out in the middle of one of their dates.

“I deserve better from you,” she said softly.

Hunter opened his mouth to argue, but guilt slammed it shut. She was right. He wasn’t being fair, and she had a right to expect more from him.

He blew out a weary sigh. “What do you want me to do?”

Erica flashed a victorious smile as she retrieved a cream-colored envelope from the nightstand and handed it to him. “After our last outing, my new publicist suggested this and I think it’s a fabulous idea.”

He broke the gold seal on the back of the envelope and pulled out an embossed card.

“A Manners Makeover at the Spencer School of Etiquette?” he read aloud. His gut clenched as if he were bracing for a punch. The urge to tell her exactly what he thought of the idea, her publicist, and the Spencer School of Etiquette bubbled up, but he managed to squelch it.

He glared at the paper in his hand for a long time, before releasing a long sigh. “Okay, when do we start?”

“Don’t be silly. The lessons aren’t for us.” Erica spoke slowly as if he were new to the English language. “They’re for you.”

Ali Spencer donned the Polite Princess hand puppet for a quick review of the manners lesson she’d given the four-year-olds in her Perfectly Polite Tea Party class.

“So again, fellow princesses, what do we do if we’re having dinner at a restaurant and accidently drop our fork on the floor?” Ali asked, using her hand to move the puppet’s mouth.

“I know! I know!” Samantha, the only girl in the class not dressed in a ruffled or embroidered dress, stuck her hand in the air.

Ali smiled at the jeans-clad tomboy and nodded encouragingly.

“Pick it up and lick it clean!” Samantha shouted, her cheeks bulging with the sugar cookies she’d grabbed off her pink place setting and jammed into her mouth.

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