Operation Prince Charming(5)

By: Phyllis Bourne



In what seemed like slow motion, the man extended his arms and a laughing Samantha fell into them, seconds before she would have slammed onto the hardwood floor.

“You okay, kiddo?” He set the child back on her feet.

“Yeah!” Samantha said. “Wanna catch me again?”

“I think you’d better save your climbing for the monkey bars. You don’t want to give me or your teacher here a heart attack.”

Still shaking, Ali recovered enough to snatch Samantha into a hug. “You scared me.” Ali gave the little girl a tight squeeze.

“Hey! Those are my cookies,” Samantha yelled over Ali’s shoulder at another child, oblivious of the near miss. She squirmed and Ali reluctantly released her.

“I told you he was Prince Charming,” Tiffany said. Hero worship shone in her eyes as she looked up at the detective.

Ali followed her gaze and for a split second wished she could indulge the same childlike belief, but her ex had forever tainted any romantic fantasies of handsome princes or happily-ever-after.

“Seems you have your hands full,” Detective Coleman said, moving in the direction of the door. “I’ll just let you get back to work.”

Oh, no, you don’t.

Ali had no intention of letting him get away or returning the fat payment for his classes already deposited in the school’s account.

She spotted some of the girls’ mothers walking through the door.

“My office is the second on the left, Detective,” she said pointedly.

The corner of his mouth tugged upward in the hint of a smile.

“Wow! Who was that?” Tiffany’s mother asked, practically drooling as he walked past her.

“My next appointment,” Ali said.

The mom beside her raised an eyebrow. “Lucky you.”

Lucky? Ali nearly laughed aloud.

In her experience, fine men didn’t bring luck. All they’d ever brought her was trouble.





What in the hell are you doing here?

Hunter dropped into a chair in Alison Spencer’s office.

“Trying to keep your relationship from going up in smoke,” he muttered, ignoring the tiny voice inside him whispering it might already be too late.

Lingering irritation from the other morning sparked up in him, but he mentally extinguished it. Erica’s good sense would eventually return.

Clinging to the memories of the old Erica, his Erica, was the only way he could justify returning to the Spencer School of Etiquette, almost three decades after he and his brother had been kicked out.

He’d braced himself for the unpleasant task of facing the strict, no-nonsense woman who’d run the school for as long as he could remember, but luckily she hadn’t been there.

Unfortunately, his chance to escape had been thwarted.

Resigned to his fate, he glanced around the office. Sunshine streamed through windows so clean they practically sparkled, bathing the small space in light. The office, as well as the rest of the old building, was immaculate. The worn hardwood floors gleamed, and the faint scent of lemon cleanser tinged the air.

His eyes roamed over a shelf of books behind an antique, polished wood desk. Several bearing Alison Spencer’s name on the spine caught his eye. His curiosity aroused, he walked over and plucked one from the shelf.

“Manners Count”, he murmured.

He flipped it over and a photograph of the woman he’d just met smiled serenely at him from the back cover. Her hair fell in glossy curls around her shoulders, and a string of pearls encircled her neck. She wore a sweater in a shade of pink so bright it seemed blinding. However, something about the rich, honey tones of her caramel skin made it work for her.

Hunter skimmed the short bio beneath the photo.

Author and south Florida lifestyle columnist, he read, and wondered what had brought her to Tennessee. He shrugged as he placed the book back on the shelf and picked up the one beside it.

“Manners Count II: Turning Men into Gentlemen.” He read the title aloud and began thumbing through it. He stopped at a chapter on television protocol. The words relinquish and remote control jumped out at him, along with the phrase turn off the sports channel.

Hunter snapped the book shut and took another look at Alison Spencer’s likeness on the cover jacket. “How am I going to get through three weeks of this shit?”

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