Damsel Under Stress (Enchanted, Inc. #3)


He stared at me, his mouth hanging open. “What?” I asked. “That’s what women talk about. We tend not to get into our world domination plans on your typical girls’ night out or office lunch. Sorry, that’s all I’ve got.”

“No, I was actually surprised you knew that much. I’ve known Rod since I was little, and I don’t think I know quite that much about him.”

“That’s because you’re guys. You talk about things, not how you feel about things. I take it, then, you don’t have a lot of scoop on Idris.”

“Not like you’ve got on Ari. I usually tried to avoid talking to him about anything, if I could help it. I know he likes testing the limits to see what he can get away with. He never liked taking the accepted path. If he’d been willing to stay away from darker magic, he could have been a real asset here, but he got bored easily by the usual things and wanted to try something as different as possible.”

“Sounds like Ari and men,” I quipped. “They’re a match made in heaven.”

“Why do you think she’s with him?” From the expression on his face, I couldn’t tell if he was baffled by Ari being with Idris, or by Idris being with Ari.

“It’s hard to say. I can’t be sure how much of what she told me was real and how much was part of her act all along. I suspect he gives her an outlet for her less admirable qualities. She can take revenge and use people, and he considers it a good thing. I doubt she set out to find him and join the side of evil. He probably recruited her gradually, and then she got in too deep.”

“Which might mean we could recruit her back. She’s sure to have a falling-out with him, if what you’ve observed about her dating patterns is accurate.”

“If we could find her. Which brings us back to the initial problem. Idris was worried about her and didn’t know she was free. I think he might actually like her, when he isn’t being distracted by something else. He took off pretty quickly when he found out she was free, so he might have had an idea where she’d be. Meanwhile, who’s that other person who may or may not be working with Idris? Think about who he was close to when he worked here. I know he and Gregor were tight. Anyone else?”

He looked intensely uncomfortable, and when he spoke, he dropped his voice to little above a whisper. “He got along really well with my boss.”

“You mean the frog guy?” I asked, barely remembering to keep my own voice low. The head of R&D had been turned into a frog in an “industrial accident” years ago and seldom left his office. “You know, there are a lot of industrial accidents in this department, what with the frog thing and Gregor’s ogre problem.” Gregor, now head of Verification, wasn’t always an ogre, but he tended to turn green and sprout horns and fangs when he was angry. That actually made him easier to deal with than my boss at my old job, who didn’t have such obvious physical clues when she was in evil mode.

“They used to take a lot of risks in experimentation under the former management.”

“Do you mean former as in before Merlin?”

He nodded. “But I never got the sense of anything dark from it, just pushing the envelope.”

“What happened to the former boss?”

“He retired. I don’t recall any hint of scandal associated with him.” I took that statement with a large grain of salt. Owen was so clueless about the company rumor mill, they could have tarred and feathered the former CEO and chased him out of the building with the staff brandishing pitchforks and torches, and he might not have noticed. Until he found himself the point man in the fight against Idris, he’d apparently stayed hidden away in his lab, happily translating ancient spells and oblivious to anything happening elsewhere in the company.

On the other hand, I’d been picking up a lot of the corporate grapevine, thanks to my last task of finding a mole, so I was sure I’d have heard about it if there had been any breath of scandal associated with the former boss. It was yet another dead end.

“You didn’t recognize the magical fingerprints, did you?”

He shook his head wearily. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t always work. You can only figure out who did a spell if you have a basis for comparison. I guess it works like real fingerprints—just finding one doesn’t solve the crime unless you have a copy of the criminal’s prints and can put the two together. All I can say is it wasn’t someone whose magic style I’ve worked with before.”

“Can people change their style, kind of like wearing gloves hides fingerprints?”