Damsel Under Stress (Enchanted, Inc. #3)



The last thing I expected to see when I stepped through the door of the coffee shop was a fairy godmother. Not that fairy godmothers are normally high on the list of things I expect to see, even as weird as my life is. I work for a magical company, so running into fairies, gnomes, elves, wizards, and talking gargoyles is something that happens every day. But I’d never yet seen an honest-to-goodness fairy godmother, and I really wasn’t expecting to see one that morning because, for the first time in my life, I really didn’t need one.

As of the night before, I had my Prince Charming. At the company Christmas party, Owen Palmer, the wonderfully handsome, brilliant, powerful wizard who also happened to be an incredibly nice guy, had kissed me like he meant it and told me he’d always had an interest in me. Yeah, the guy who was the magical world’s answer to a movie star liked plain old nonmagical Katie Chandler, the ordinary small-town girl from Texas. That Saturday morning was our first official date as two people who’d admitted that we had feelings for each other. We were meeting for brunch at a snug little coffee shop on Irving Place, possibly the most romantic New York setting I could imagine for a casual first date.

Which meant, of course, that the fairy godmother had to be waiting for someone else. At least, I assumed she was a fairy godmother. I know making assumptions can be dangerous, but I was pretty good about seeing the truth, and she looked like Central Casting’s idea of a fairy godmother. She looked older than the eternally youthful fairies I knew, and her wings were a fairly good sign that she wasn’t just another eccentric New Yorker. A star-topped wand lying on the table in front of her was yet another clue. None of the other magical folk I knew used wands. Anyone else would surely have made the same assumption, if they saw what I saw.

I almost felt sorry for whoever her Cinderella was because she didn’t exactly look like the top-of-the-line fairy godmother. Unlike most of the fairies I knew, she was squat and round, but I couldn’t tell if that was flesh or if it was her clothes. She looked like instead of taking off the previous day’s clothes and putting on something new each morning, she just put on a new outfit on top of the old one—and she’d been doing that for centuries. In all the layers of clothing I caught glimpses of calico, tulle, patchwork, satin, and velvet. The top layer was old, dusty rose velvet, worn threadbare in places. A rusty tiara missing a few stones sat haphazardly on top of her gray sausage curls, and one of her fairy wings was bent.

Of course, no one in the coffee shop seemed to notice that there was anyone odd among them, and it wasn’t simply because they were all distracted by their newspapers and conversations or because the caffeine hadn’t yet made it to their brains. I’m immune to magic, so the spell she used to hide her magical appearance didn’t work on me. I saw what was really there, while I was sure the rest of the patrons probably saw only an elderly woman wearing a tweed suit and sensible shoes.

But as I said, it wasn’t any of my business. I was about five minutes early because I knew Owen was relentlessly punctual and I was sadly overeager, but I figured I could use the time to stake out a table. Unfortunately, the shop was crowded, and there weren’t that many tables to begin with. I lingered near the doorway, waiting either for Owen to show up or for someone to vacate a table.

“Yoo hoo! Katie!” I turned when I heard my name and saw the fairy godmother waving at me. I waved back halfheartedly, and she pointed her wand at the empty seat across from her. With a shrug, I went over and took the seat. There was always a chance I could talk her into leaving, and then I would have managed to snag a table before Owen got there. “Oh good, you’re right on time,” she said as I sat down.

“On time for what?” I asked.

“Our meeting, of course.” She gave a tinkling little laugh. “But silly me, I haven’t introduced myself. I’m Ethelinda, your fairy godmother. I’ll be managing your case, helping you find true love.”

“There must have been some kind of mix-up then. I don’t need any help right now. You would have really come in handy for the past ten years, but now things are finally working out for me.”

She waved her star-topped wand over the table and an elaborately decorated china tea set appeared. As she poured two cups and dropped in lumps of sugar, she said, “We don’t make mistakes. You probably need more help than you think, and that’s why I was sent your way. Milk or lemon?”

“Milk, please. But I’m actually meeting someone for a date here in a minute or two. So, you see, I don’t need help right now, for probably the first time in my life. I’ve found Prince Charming, he’s found me, and all’s right with the world.”