Damsel Under Stress (Enchanted, Inc. #3)


It was still about fifteen minutes before the appointed lunchtime, so I left the room in search of Owen. His room turned out to be almost directly across the hall from mine, and I noticed that the hallway floorboards creaked loudly. I doubted it would be a factor in this visit, but any nighttime crossing of the hallway would require great caution. We had a similar squeaky spot in our house back home, so I was used to treading carefully.

Owen’s room looked less like a showplace out of a bed-and-breakfast in a travel magazine and more like a room someone had actually lived in. There was a twin bed shoved into a corner. Most of the walls in the room were covered in bookcases, some of them with trophies lined up on top of them. Several books were already scattered on the bed and on the floor by the bed. Sometimes I suspected books automatically jumped off the shelf whenever Owen entered a room.

Owen sat on the bed, looking at two of the books as though he was cross-referencing something. His overnight bag stood open on the floor in front of the closet, a shirt hanging halfway out of it, like he’d been sidetracked while unpacking.

I tapped lightly on the door frame, and his head snapped up guiltily. Then he saw me and relaxed. “Oh, I thought for a second you might be Gloria. I guess I’d better finish unpacking.”

He got up to get back to work, and I took his spot on the bed. I glanced at the books he’d been reading, but neither was in English. From inside the closet he said, “I’d tell you not to worry about Gloria because she’s not always this way, but it wouldn’t be true.”

I knew I should tell him that there had been nothing to worry about, but that wasn’t true, either. Instead I said, “It seemed like she gave you a bit of a shock.”

“A big shock. She may have kissed me one other time in my life, but I can’t think of a specific incident.” He came back out into the room, his face stark white. “Oh God, you don’t think she’s dying, do you?”

As old as Gloria seemed to be, that probably wasn’t entirely out of the question, but the idea here was to reassure him. “I’m sure it’s nothing. You said things were better at Thanksgiving.”

He sat heavily on the bed, a necktie hanging from one hand. “Maybe that’s when she got the diagnosis.”

“Or maybe it’s what I said after Thanksgiving, that she knows how to deal with you now that you’re an adult.”

“You don’t know how weird this is.”

“I got the picture when James looked like he thought she’d lost it. And if he thinks this is odd, then surely there’s not something seriously wrong with her. He’d know, wouldn’t he?”

Some of the color returned to his face. “That’s true. She might not tell him everything that’s going on, but she doesn’t drive, so he’d be the one taking her to any doctor’s appointments.” He glanced down at the necktie he held, as if just realizing that he’d let himself be sidetracked again.

While he returned to the closet to finish unpacking, I decided to distract him. “Your dog seems like a real sweetie.”

“Yeah, we got him not long before I left home, when he was only a few weeks old. James is right, I did spoil him then, and they were stuck with a very attention-hungry puppy when I left.”

“He’s a Lab. He would have been attention-hungry no matter what you did. But he does seem a lot smarter than the dog I had. Cletus was as dumb as a box of rocks.”

He came back out into the room, grinning, and sat beside me on the bed. “Cletus? Seriously?”

“Seriously. Remember, I am from Texas, and that name really fit that dog.”

Still grinning, he stood and extended a hand to me. “Want the grand tour before lunch?”

I took his hand and let him pull me to my feet. He led me, still holding my hand, out into the hallway and toward the stairs. “Over on that end of the house is James and Gloria’s room and the other guest room,” he explained. Arawn perked up and started wagging his tail when he saw us coming down the stairs. “You’ve already seen the parlor.” At the bottom of the stairs, the dog joined us as we went to the back of the house. “And this is James’s study.” The study door was open, and I saw that James was in there, reading by the fireplace. The room looked a lot like Owen’s office, cluttered with books and papers.

James looked up at us. “Ah, you’re all settled in, then?”

“Yes, sir,” I said.

He addressed Owen, a slight twinkle in his eye. “I trust everything was the way you left it at Thanksgiving. I wouldn’t let her put away those books because I had a feeling you were onto something.”