Operation Prince Charming(8)

By: Phyllis Bourne

Ali forced back the ugly memories. Her focus should be on her client right now. His girlfriend was paying them a lot of money to get him country club ready, the funds they’d already put toward repairs on the school’s dilapidated building.

She swallowed the lump of emotion lodged in her throat, before speaking. “I think our Manners Makeover for Gentlemen will smooth out some of your rough edges,” Ali said.

She explained the details of the school’s training for men, which would be handled by her aunt. “The flexible one-on-one coaching covers everything from greetings to table manners to socializing, especially with difficult people,” she added pointedly.

“Your class sessions will be followed by real-life dress rehearsals,” Ali said. “For example, after the formal dining lesson, you’ll demonstrate your skills at a four-star restaurant.”

“Well, I guess I’m in good hands,” he finally said.

“Okay, let’s get you signed up.” She opened the folder on her desk and extracted a registration form. Once he filled it out, he’d be her aunt Rachel’s problem.

He looked up from the form. “So, what’s your success rate?” he asked, shifting in his seat. “Do you ever have students drop out or maybe even get kicked out?”

“You don’t have to worry. My aunt Rachel will be your instructor, and in over forty years of teaching she’s only had to expel two students,” Ali said, “but that was years ago.”

“Whoa!” He abandoned the form and raised his hands in a halting gesture. “I thought you would be my teacher.”

Ali shook her head. “No, but I’m sure you’ll be pleased with my aunt.”

“I don’t want her.”

Ali cringed, taken aback by his blunt tone. “Excuse me?”

His dark brown eyes locked in on hers.

“I want you,” he said slowly, making each word sound like a sentence on its own.

Goose bumps erupted on her arms, and she couldn’t stop the small gasp that escaped from between her lips.

“What I mean is I’d prefer a class you taught,” he said hurriedly.

She swallowed hard, her mouth suddenly dry. “Sorry, but I’m only teaching youth classes right now.”

When she joined the school, one of the first things she’d done was take over the children’s classes. Aunt Rachel’s stern, no-nonsense teaching style didn’t go over well with today’s kids.

Hunter shook his head. “I knew this was a dumb idea,” he muttered under his breath. He rose from his chair. “Thanks for your time.”

Panic mounted in Ali’s chest as he strode toward the door. If she allowed him to leave like this, his girlfriend would demand a refund. Even worse, word could circulate around town that the school refused to accommodate him.

Ali couldn’t chance either scenario.

“Wait! I’ll be your instructor,” she blurted out before she could think about it.

He stopped and slowly walked back to her desk. “Great,” he said, visibly relieved. “How soon can we start? I want to get this over with.”

Hmmph, Ali silently fumed. He wasn’t the only one.

“So, you actually went through with it?”

“Yep.” Hunter pulled his heel to his backside and held it until he felt the stretch in his quadriceps. He dropped his foot to the ground and repeated the prerun stretch on the other side.

Looking up, he caught his longtime friend and fellow detective’s incredulous stare. “Close your mouth, Pete. It’s not that big of a deal.”

But Peter Jameson continued to gawk at him as if he’d turned down tickets to the Super Bowl to host a Tupperware party.

Hunter pushed off, beginning the pair’s early morning run along the five-mile trail winding through the wooded park near Hunter’s town house.

Pete fell into step beside him. “Damn, I thought for sure you’d punk out,” he said. “Now I owe Bishop and Morrison twenty bucks.”

“Don’t tell me you told those two? They’ve got the biggest mouths in the precinct.”

“It might have slipped out,” Pete said with mild shame.

“Thanks a lot,” Hunter said, wishing he hadn’t confided in his friend. The other night, when he’d shown up at Pete and Sandy’s house for poker without Erica, the whole story had tumbled out.

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