Damsel Under Stress (Enchanted, Inc. #3)

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04.03.2019

“Not that I can recall, but I wasn’t really looking. I was a little distracted by trying to remain vertical. It does seem like their style, though.”

“You have been attacked a few times since you joined the company.”

“I think I’d have to take off my socks to count the times, but my feet are too cold for that right now.”

“Are you still cold? I could warm the house up a little more or get you another blanket.”

I had to fight myself to keep from laughing at his tone, which was so concerned it was almost frantic. “I’m fine, really. In an hour or so, I’ll even be ready to go home and get packed for tomorrow. Relax.”

We ordered a pizza for dinner and ate in front of the fire, Owen tossing Loony the occasional bite of meat as he briefed me on the upcoming holiday. “I know I make them sound terrifying, but James and Gloria really aren’t that bad. They’ll be nice to you. I don’t think you have anything to worry about. I did tell you they dress for dinner, though, didn’t I?” I nodded. “And they don’t believe in hanging around the house in your pajamas. They’re fully dressed before they leave their bedroom.”

“That’s good to know,” I said, omitting the fact that Rod had already briefed me on that detail. “Y’all don’t have any weird traditions I need to know about, do you?”

“Nothing I can think of, but then I don’t know what you might think of as weird.” I knew if our positions were reversed, my brothers would be likely to invent traditions to put him through and make him think were a normal part of our holidays, but somehow I doubted his foster parents would do anything like that.

When I couldn’t delay getting home anymore, he insisted on walking me to my door, in case the sidewalks decided to swallow me. I was late getting to bed after wrapping up my packing. I doubted I’d get much sleep, anyway, what with my nervousness about the next day and the likelihood I’d end up reliving the day’s adventures.

Sure enough, as soon as I tried to shut my eyes, I was right back on that ice rink, enjoying the blissful moment when I felt like I was living a scene from a favorite romantic Christmas movie and then reliving the sudden terror of plunging through the ice. The memory was vividly painful, and as it flashed before my eyes, I could swear I recalled a hint of silvery sparkles in the air just before I fell.

I sat bolt upright in bed, shouting, “Ethelinda!” Fortunately, my roommates were out of town so I didn’t have to explain that. I wanted to bang my head against the wall in frustration at it having taken so long to dawn on me. It was the kind of semi-disastrous thing she might try, given what I’d seen from her at the tavern the other night. To give her credit, it had worked, in a way. Me falling through the ice had given Owen the chance to play both rescuer and comforter, and we’d had some quality snuggling time in the aftermath.

On the other hand, it could have been dangerous for both of us, and what was the deal with setting up a situation where I became a victim and he had to rescue me? Besides, hadn’t I told her I didn’t want her interfering?

I was tempted to get out the locket and call her so I could give her a piece of my mind, but I didn’t know if she worked nights, and it would be just like her to answer my summons while I was at Owen’s foster parents’ home. No, it was best to leave her out of this until after the holiday. In the meantime, I’d keep my eyes peeled for any signs of silvery sparkles.

Late the next morning, after a train ride during which Owen grew more and more jittery, we stepped off the train onto a platform in a bare-bones station that consisted of little more than cement platforms on either side of the tracks. Owen carried our bags down a flight of steps, then paused to look around. In a parking lot across the street, someone standing by a car waved. Owen nodded and headed over.

The car was a Volvo wagon, several years old but in mint condition, without so much as a door ding. Beside it stood a tall, slender man wearing a dark hat and coat. He looked like the Hollywood stereotype of the perfect, proper English butler, the kind who runs the household and keeps his clueless employer out of trouble. Owen hadn’t mentioned servants, but I shouldn’t have been surprised, as rich as these people supposedly were.

But then Owen reached him and the man shook his hand fondly. It looked like that was as close to a hug as this man ever got. Up close, I could see that he was quite old, with pale, watery blue eyes and skin that looked almost translucent with age.

“Katie, I’d like you to meet James Eaton,” Owen said. “James, this is my friend and colleague, Katie Chandler.”