Damsel Under Stress (Enchanted, Inc. #3)


“Exactly. And that’s why I want you and Mr. Palmer to work together to either find her or learn what Ari and Mr. Idris are doing. You’ll be working closely with Sam on this, since a security breach was involved.”

There went my idea of being relatively stress-free for the holidays. “You want me investigating?” I asked.

“You were the one who figured out she was the spy,” Owen said. I wondered if he’d been the one to suggest working together. If he had, we’d have words about that later.

“You’re also the perfect investigative combination, with your magical immunity and Mr. Palmer’s abilities. I believe you also have an excellent personal rapport.” I detected a definite twinkle in Merlin’s eyes. Great, now even the boss was getting involved in our relationship. “Of course, I don’t expect you to work during the holidays, but I would like you to be thinking about it. Sam, you’ll have security personnel at their disposal.”

“But what about my other work? I got pretty far behind when I was working on the last investigation.” Not that I was trying to weasel out of this assignment, but it really wasn’t in my job description, and I wasn’t getting most of the stuff that was in my job description done.

“I’ll have someone else take on your more administrative and clerical duties. Anyone can take notes in a meeting, but you’ve proved you have the special skills for this task.” There was an edge of finality to his voice, like what he’d said had been carved into stone tablets on top of a mountain.

“That’ll be a big help, sir,” I said.

The meeting adjourned, and Owen caught my elbow as we left Merlin’s office. “Maybe we should strategize for a while. Are you free now?” He said it with a totally straight face and no hint of a blush, so I got the impression that he wasn’t finding a convenient cover for other kinds of activities. I suspected that while we were in the office, it would be strictly business between us, and that was fine with me, even though my elbow was already tingling from his touch. I’d never dated someone I worked that closely with, and had never worked this closely with someone I was dating. It seemed that the boss didn’t mind our personal relationship, but I wished there was a handy rule book for how to make this sort of thing work.

“Your office or mine?” I asked.

“Would you mind going to mine? I have more whiteboard space for thinking.”

“No problem,” I replied. As we passed Trix’s desk, I said, “I’m going to be down in R and D for a while.”

She gave us a sidelong look that said she thought she knew what we’d be doing down in R&D. “Okay. Want me to forward calls or send them to voice mail?”

“You can forward them, if I even get any calls. Thanks.” I didn’t bother correcting her assumption about us because I had a feeling that would only fluster Owen, and the more I protested, the more convinced she’d be.

Owen ran the theoretical magic lab in R&D. His job was finding old magic texts, translating the spells, figuring out what they did, testing them to see if they actually worked, and then finding a way to apply those spells to modern situations. His lab was full of old books, most of them shelved around the perimeters of the room, but a good number of them scattered around on tables, chairs, and even the floor. A couple of whiteboards on wheels were covered in textbook-perfect handwriting that was still unreadable because almost none of it was in English. Owen’s office, which opened off the lab, looked like it belonged in an English manor house. Being in his office always gave me an overwhelming craving for hot tea.

When we reached the lab, he erased one of the whiteboards and picked up a marker. I boosted myself up to sit on the big wooden table that filled the center of the room. “I guess we should start with what we already know,” he said. “I know Idris well enough to know some of his habits and patterns. You know something of Ari, and you know her friends. Let’s each see what we can come up with to analyze places where they might go or be found.” He wrote “Ari” on the top of one side of the board and turned to me.

“Well, let’s see,” I said, thinking out loud. “She’s kind of boy crazy and will chase just about anyone, but I think she’s in it more for the conquest than for any real romantic leanings. In fact, she seems to lose interest as soon as she catches one, but she manages to spin it so she’s the wounded party and she has an excuse for revenge. She has a lot of stamina when it comes to fun, knows all the hot spots and stays out all night. She never seems to go home alone after an evening out.”