Damsel Under Stress (Enchanted, Inc. #3)


I yawned. “You know, sleep sounds like a really good idea right now.”

“Good, the sedative must be working,” Merlin said. “Now Mr. Palmer, perhaps you should go prepare the immunity loss potion. We need to take care of this as soon as possible. I don’t know what damage might be done by forcing magic into a person who has an immunity.”

Owen took off, and I missed his reassuring presence, even if he was still being a little weird around me. Not that I could blame him. I must have scared him to death, based on what I’d heard. I wasn’t sure I ever wanted details of what Ari had done at the party with my body.

I closed my eyes and let myself drift as my head grew heavier and heavier. Just when I thought I was going to conk out, my head suddenly cleared. For the first time since the year began, I could think straight, with no interference from within my head. “Oh yeah, that’s better,” I said, sitting upright. I saw then that Owen was back, holding a beaker of potion. I must have really dozed off for a while.

Owen handed me the beaker. “I don’t suppose this would work faster if I took more of it at a time?” I asked after drinking it.

“No, sorry. It’s something that has to build up in your system. I’ve tried to adjust it to be more effective, based on our experiences last time, but it will still probably take a day or two.”

“In the meantime,” Merlin said, “you should be watched carefully. We don’t want our enemies taking further advantage of your lost immunity, and while we can continue dosing you with the sedative, I’m still concerned about what might happen.”

“You should stay with me,” Owen said. “My house is secured and private, and you wouldn’t have to worry about explaining any oddities to your roommates. They’ve seen too much as it is.”

I didn’t feel like arguing with him. I knew he was right, and I also knew that this wasn’t going to be the cozy snuggling in front of the fireplace we’d had not so long ago. This would be uncomfortable and tense in the worst way. “Okay,” I said. “I’ll invent a business trip I have to go on. We can go to my place and I can pack a bag and get over to your place before my roommates get home from work.”

“Excellent plan,” Merlin said. “And the two of you should stay there until this is resolved. I’d rather you not take any chances while going to and from the office.”

Great. Even more forced togetherness with a guy who was looking at me like I’d grown a second head. He wouldn’t touch me while there was any hint of Ari about me, even if he wasn’t mad at me. Come to think of it, I didn’t want to touch him while she was there and possibly eavesdropping. I was lucky she was such a bitch she couldn’t resist showing herself. If she’d behaved herself at the party when she first got put in my head, it could have been a while before I figured it out, and then there was no telling what she might have seen—both work-related and personal.

I forced myself out of the chair. “I guess we’d better get going.” Owen immediately went to my side, a protective hand at my back.

I felt like my fate had been taken out of my hands. Having magical powers, no matter how unorthodox and temporary they were, should have made me feel strong rather than vulnerable. Here I was, finally able to zap stuff for myself, and I had men rallying around me and treating me like I was made of glass.

Owen and I went down to the lab to collect the things we’d need to work from home until all this got fixed and then headed to my apartment. I threw a few things in a bag, then wrote a short note explaining that I’d had to go on an unexpected business trip where my boss needed my help. I didn’t think they’d believe it. They’d think I’d run away to avoid them, but at least they wouldn’t guess the truth.

When I was ready to go, Owen picked up my bag without a word, and we walked in silence from my building to his town house. Loony was waiting for him inside his front door, but instead of rubbing against my ankles in greeting as she usually did after first welcoming Owen, she hissed at me and arched her back. “Eluned!” Owen scolded. I supposed that using her real name instead of her nickname was the cat equivalent of when my mom called me Kathleen Elizabeth.

“It’s okay,” I said wearily. “She’s probably confused. They say animals pick up different kinds of vibes and scents about people, and I must feel strange to her.” I nodded my head toward the stairs. “The usual guest room?”

“Yeah. Make yourself at home.”

While I climbed the stairs, he picked up his cat and took her back toward the kitchen. Up in the guest room, I changed out of my work clothes and into something more comfortable, but not the old sweat suit of his that still lay on the guest bed. As oddly strained as things currently were between us, it might have been weird to wear his clothes.