Damsel Under Stress (Enchanted, Inc. #3)


“That sounds like a good idea. A cab will be fine. They usually have their heaters up to eleven this time of year.”

When we got to the street, he did his taxi-summoning trick, and soon I was safe in the back of an overheated cab that smelled faintly of curry and incense. “We’re going downtown,” Owen told the driver, then he turned to me. “Would you rather go to your place or to mine?”

“Yours,” I said without hesitation. “You’ve got a fireplace and a cat, and I recall that you have at least one sweat suit that fits me.”

“Mine it is, then.” He gave the driver the address, then he turned his attention back to me. He tugged my gloves off and wrapped his hands around mine, rubbing them to restore the warmth. Of course, since this was Owen, it had far more than the desired effect on me. Soon my whole body verged on uncomfortably hot. Before I had a complete meltdown, I pulled my hands away from his, but then I leaned my head against his shoulder and let him cuddle me so he wouldn’t think I was rejecting him. The terrifying memory of falling through a hole in the ice that shouldn’t have been there faded rapidly. In retrospect, it was a small price to pay for feeling this cherished.

We reached Owen’s place, and a concerned Loony met us at the door, meowing loudly. Owen hushed her with a glare, then in short order there was a fire blazing in the living room fireplace and he was holding an armful of clothes that seemed to have appeared out of thin air. “There should be some towels in the bathroom under the stairs, if you want to finish drying off. I’m sorry, but I was only able to affect your clothes. I couldn’t dry your skin very well.” As I took the clothing from him, he added, “If you want to warm up with a hot bath or shower, you could do that, too.”

I shook my head. “No thanks. I’m not eager to be wet again for a while.”

It was the same old pair of sweatpants and sweatshirt he’d given me to wear the last time I ended up cold and damp at his place. This was getting to be a very bad habit for me. I stripped off my mostly dry clothes, toweled off, then hurried to put the dry sweat suit on. A pair of thick socks was sheer heaven to my still-chilled feet.

When I emerged from the bathroom, Owen was waiting for me in the living room with two steaming mugs in his hands. He gave one to me. It proved to be a hot groglike drink, full of spices and probably a bit of something else. It reminded me of a drink my grandmother made when we had colds. I sat on the rug in front of the fireplace, and Owen wrapped an afghan around my legs before sitting beside me.

With the hot drink inside me, the fire, Loony in my lap, and Owen’s shoulder to lean against, I finally felt like asking, “What exactly happened back there?”

“I’m really not sure,” he admitted. “One minute we were skating along—and you were doing pretty well—and the next thing I knew, you’d fallen through the ice.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but that really isn’t an iced-over pond, right? I’ve been there in the summer, and that’s a concrete slab they set an ice rink up on in the winter. I shouldn’t have been able to fall more than a few inches, even if the ice melted or broke.”

“It was definitely magic, but I didn’t recognize the spell. Not that it’s a kind of spell I’d want to spend a lot of time with. Then again, it might be useful if you were in a situation where you needed water, depending on whether it requires ice to make it work…”

“Owen,” I said, giving him a little nudge to jolt him back to the present.

The tips of his ears turned red. “Sorry. Anyway, when you fell, it pulled me down, too, but I didn’t go through the ice. I barely managed to hold on to you, but I couldn’t get enough leverage to pull you out. I must have tried every spell I could think of that might have been remotely useful in that situation, but nothing worked. I’m not sure if it was your immunity or something to do with the spell on the ice, or what, but I was getting worried.”

“I imagine you’re not used to being helpless like that,” I mused.

“No, not really,” he said softly, staring into the fireplace. I thought I detected the tiniest flicker of a shudder in his shoulders.

“But you did get me out with some help, and you got me warm and dry, and now I’m okay, so it worked out.” I left out the part about how spending the rest of the day snuggling with him wasn’t such a bad thing. “I guess the usual suspects are behind this, huh?”

“Very likely. I didn’t notice anything odd, but then, I often don’t when they’re using magic to hide. Did you see anything before you fell?”