Damsel Under Stress (Enchanted, Inc. #3)


It took all my strength to act like I hadn’t heard anything as I walked away. This was yet another one of those times when it would have been nice if the universe would have set things right for me, but the fact that the universe had allowed itself a rare moment of balance by getting back at Kim did not mean I suddenly was going to get everything I wished for. Still, I wouldn’t have objected if the ceiling caved in on them. I then heard a thud and some screams, and I turned to see a hole in the ceiling in that part of the hallway, with ceiling tiles lying broken on the ground. Two men seemed dazed and had bits of tile in their hair. This was starting to get freaky. Aside from karma kicking into gear, I couldn’t help but wonder about the things those men had said about me. Maybe Gemma and Marcia hadn’t been playing games with me. And that meant that maybe Owen hadn’t been neglecting me but rather had been hurt deeply. I needed to figure out what was going on, and there was one person I was sure I could trust to tell me the truth without judging me.

I headed straight for Rod’s office. It was ironic that a guy who habitually wore a face that wasn’t his own was the person I felt I could trust, but enough had happened between Rod and me that I was sure he’d be honest with me, and although he was Owen’s best friend, I felt like he could be a neutral party in this.

Isabel was out when I got there, but Rod was at his desk. “Can I talk to you?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said, gesturing me to a chair. “How are you feeling?”

“I have a splitting headache, but other than that I’m okay. I just wanted to ask you, what did I do at your party? For real. Don’t exaggerate, and don’t try to spare me. I need the truth.”

“Are you sure about that?”

The unease on his face made me think twice, but I said, “You don’t have to give me gory details. A big-picture overview will do.”

“Soon after midnight, it was like you became another person. You were very, um, flirtatious. You were loud, and you said some mean things.”

I groaned and sank back into the chair. “So, it’s true. Gemma and Marcia told me, but I thought they were putting me on, since I never act like that. I kept waiting for them to say ‘gotcha.’ But they didn’t.”

“Your immunity was still down during the party, wasn’t it?” I nodded. “It’s possible you were under a spell. Someone other than your roommates may have been playing a prank on you.”

“You think that’s it?”

“I know it is. You’re not mean. You’d never act that way if you were in control of yourself.” He gave me a warm smile and added, “Don’t worry, Owen knows that, too. He’ll brood and sulk for a while, but he’ll get over it. In fact, I bet he’s researching possibilities right now.”

When he smiled that way, he really looked nice—even nicer now that he was doing something with his hair and was taking care of his skin. I realized then that his real face and his illusion weren’t all that different. His illusion just looked like someone had Photoshopped his real face to remove his worst flaws and make everything look just a little bit better.

With a deep sigh, I stood up. “I have a killer headache, and I’m feeling utterly humiliated, so I’m going to go home early. Would you mind telling anyone who needs to know? About the headache, I mean. Not about the humiliation, though I suppose that goes without saying. I want to make sure this has all worn off before I face the office again.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.”

I gave him a quick hug before I left. “You’re a real pal, you know? You might even be good enough for Marcia.”

“I’m glad you approve, because I was going to ask her out anyway,” he said with a pat on my back.

Owen was in his office when I went back to the lab for my purse and coat, so I didn’t try talking to him. That could wait until I felt a bit better. I left the building and trudged across the park by City Hall to get to the subway station, my head feeling heavier with each step. When a train arrived, I boarded and managed to get a seat. The woman sitting across from me wore what had to have been the ugliest shoes ever. Although she was well dressed, her shoes were repulsive—and probably the expensive kind of repulsive. In other words, they looked like someone had pulled them out of the trash and patched them up, but they were designed to look that way. There were even silvery bands across them that were probably inspired by duct tape. Staring at the shoes, I wondered what she’d think if she had the real thing instead of the designer version. Real duct tape holding her shoes together wouldn’t be nearly as nice, especially if she’d spent hundreds of dollars to buy faux-trashed shoes.