Operation Prince Charming(9)

By: Phyllis Bourne

“Come on, man. You know I can hold my tongue. But charm school?” Pete sucked in a gulp of air as he pounded the paved trail. “What’s next, ballet lessons?”

“First off, it’s not charm school, it’s a school of etiquette.” Hunter emphasized the word as if putting some bass behind it would make it manlier.

“Whatever,” Pete harrumphed.

“Secondly, I’ll bet you didn’t run your mouth to Sandy about it.”

His friend nearly stumbled over his own feet, confirming Hunter’s suspicion. At six foot four and over two hundred pounds, Pete’s intimidating build and booming voice made him a cop most criminals didn’t want to tangle with. But when it came to his wife and three young sons, the grizzly bear was more like a koala bear.

“Didn’t think so,” Hunter said, perversely grateful to see the smug smile wiped off Pete’s face at the mention of Sandy’s name. “Since you’ve made it common knowledge, I might as well clue her in.”

“Don’t!” Pete’s tone held a touch of pleading.

They rounded a thicket of bushes signaling the half-mile mark, and Hunter kicked up the pace. “Last time I ate dinner at your place, didn’t she mention how your barbaric table manners were rubbing off on your sons?”

“Come on, Hunt. You tell Sandy and she’ll have me and my boys over at that school before you can say no elbows on the table,” he said. “You wouldn’t do that to your godsons, would you?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s just too good to keep to myself,” he taunted.

“Okay, you made your point. I promise not to tell another soul.”

Hunter nodded as he ducked to avoid a lowhanging tree branch. Lulled by the steady beat of his heart pumping and his sneakers slapping the ground, his mind drifted. He glanced over at a mother lifting her toddler up to the water fountain for a drink.

By now, he’d thought he and Erica would have been married and talking kids. At the rate they were going, he wondered if he ever would propose.

“So, what made you go through with it?” Pete broke the silence. “Last week you were fed up with her wannabe act, then yesterday you sign up for charm school.”

How could he explain it to his friend, when he wasn’t sure himself? All he knew was he was tired of coming home to his empty town house. At thirty-five, he was ready to give up his bachelorhood for the kind of family life Pete enjoyed. Yet after investing two years in his relationship with Erica, he wasn’t eager to start over with someone new.

“The more I fight Erica on this socialite business, the more she digs in her heels,” he said. “So I’ve decided to go along with it, until she can get it out of her system.”

“How long do you think that will take?”

“I don’t think it will be much longer. She’s been at it for months and isn’t any closer to getting in with them,” he said. “Honestly, I doubt she ever will. She may have cash, but lacks an old-money pedigree.”

“Then why bother with the manners brushup?”

“Erica and I had a good thing going before the money. Let’s just say I owe her some effort and patience.”

“Yeah, Erica used to be a great gal, but now…” Pete shook his head.


“Nothing, man.”

“You can tell me.”

Pete heaved a sigh. “Sandy saw her yesterday at that fancy new restaurant downtown, when she was taking her mother out for a birthday lunch. She said she went over to Erica’s table to say hello, and she acted like she barely knew her.”

Hunter’s mind flashed to Erica’s comment about dumping deadweight, and he wondered if Sandy was one of her causalties. He opened his mouth to say something in her defense, but closed it. He couldn’t defend the inexcusable.

“She and Sandy go back to nursing school. They’ve been friends a long time,” Pete said.

Hunter swiped at the sweat rolling down his face with his forearm. “I don’t like the way she’s been acting either, but like I told you, I’m trying to be patient.”

“I’m not sure her friends will be as understanding as you.”

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