Damsel Under Stress (Enchanted, Inc. #3)

36,756
04.03.2019

He leaned forward and rested his chin on my shoulder so he could whisper back. If it hadn’t been so cold, I was sure I’d have melted into a puddle of goo on the sidewalk from having him next to me like that. “Yes. They work in shifts. It’s one of the more popular seasonal jobs in the magical world.”

“Are any of the other windows magical?”

“I’d say there’s a little magic involved in all of them.”

“Real or figurative?”

“Ah, that’s the big question.”

We continued walking up the avenue and enjoying the seasonal sights until we reached the big FAO Schwarz toy store. “Ready to regress to childhood?” he asked.

“Always!”

The doorman dressed as a toy soldier ushered us inside, where we were surrounded by every kind of stuffed animal. “The good stuff is upstairs,” Owen said, and I knew what he meant as soon as we reached the top of the escalator. That was where the giant piano kids could play by running around on it was, but that wasn’t what caught Owen’s attention. He was focused on the display of magic kits, which were being demonstrated by a young employee. I bit my lip to keep myself from laughing. Not only was Owen a genuine wizard, but he also had a knack for stage magic. You had to know your magic to be sure whether he was using sleight of hand or real magic. If the demonstrator picked the wrong audience volunteer, I knew this could get interesting.

We stood near the back of the cluster of shoppers that had formed around the demonstration table, then as the employee finished a trick, that group trickled away and we moved to the front. The next volunteer was a little boy, who could never properly guess which card would be drawn, while the demonstrator got it right every time. The demonstrator then turned to Owen, who guessed correctly. That took the demonstrator aback. He turned to get another trick from his case, and Owen bent to whisper to me, “I’ve got the same set.”

From there, it turned into a game of magical one-upmanship, each of them trying to stump the other. As far as I could tell, Owen wasn’t using real magic. I could usually sense the tingle of power in use if I was paying attention. A larger and larger crowd formed as the show grew more and more spectacular. The demonstrator finally pulled out a silk top hat, showed everyone that it was empty, then pulled a plume of feathers out of it. He handed the hat to Owen, who shrugged and reached inside. That time, I felt a tingle. Owen pulled a live rabbit out of the hat, to much applause. While everyone was applauding, the rabbit turned into a stuffed toy, which Owen handed to the little girl next to him.

We slipped away in the commotion as the shoppers surged forward to buy magic kits. The still-baffled employee kept shouting that the rabbit trick wasn’t included in the kit. On the way down the escalator, I elbowed Owen. “You cheated.”

“I couldn’t let a college student beat a real wizard,” he said with a grin and a blush. “It would be bad for my reputation. And he’s going to sell a lot of magic kits.”

“Nice justification. But don’t you feel bad that he’ll be spending months trying to figure out how you got a rabbit out of that hat?”

“He’d be better off working on his technique so he can fool your average ten-year-old. Ready for lunch?”

I was hungry enough in spite of the big breakfast that I didn’t mind him changing the subject that way. We found a deli nearby, and it felt incredibly good to sit down after all the walking we’d done. “How have you enjoyed the day so far?” he asked.

“It’s been wonderful. I saw some of these places before when I was with Mom at Thanksgiving, but at the time I was so worried about what else we might run into that I barely noticed them. It was nice to be able to take our time and enjoy it all.”

“I’m glad it hasn’t been a total waste of time.”

“Oh no! It’s been great.”

“It’s not over yet,” he said with one of those sly grins of his that woke up the butterflies in my stomach.

After we finished our meal and were leaving the restaurant, he said, “And now, our final adventure of the day.”

“What is it?” I asked, feeling like an eager, excited child.

“Haven’t you learned by now that I’m not going to tell you?”

I soon figured out that we were heading toward Central Park. He led me down the path alongside the pond, where I’d once kissed frogs with some co-workers on a very wild girls’ night out. And then we were at the plaza overlooking Wollman Rink. Skaters twirled beneath us on the ice. We watched for a moment, then he said, “Come on.”