Damsel Under Stress (Enchanted, Inc. #3)


“Moi?” She batted her eyelashes vigorously, as though she was both hurt and offended by my accusation, but she didn’t exactly deny it. “Rescuing a maiden from a dragon is a sure way to generate romance. It’s in all the stories. I can’t begin to count the number of couples I’ve known who met that way. But that doesn’t mean I had anything to do with it.”

“You were there. I saw you.”

“I was merely keeping an eye on my client. You were hard to keep up with when you were chasing your friend that way.”

I wasn’t entirely convinced of her innocence, but I could tell arguing would do no good. “Well, for the record, there’s nothing romantic about dragons. They’re ugly, loud, and smelly. And Owen thought someone was trying to lead us into a trap to kill us, so he spent the rest of the day wondering what our enemies might be up to. He probably wouldn’t have noticed if I’d swooned into his arms.”

“You didn’t swoon into his arms?” For once, she sounded unsure.

“No. I’m not really the swooning type. I’m also not very good at being a damsel in distress. I don’t like being rescued. I’d rather rescue myself. We already have a pretty skewed balance of power—literally—in this relationship. Him always having to rescue me doesn’t help matters.”

“It wasn’t romantic, then?”

“No!” For once, I didn’t play the good Southern girl and apologize when she looked hurt. I repositioned my bags and resumed walking toward home, making her flutter to keep up with me. “If you did have anything to do with it, or if you were thinking of doing something like that, please give it a rest. You’re really not doing me a lot of favors in the romance department. Not that I recall asking you for any favors in the romance department, beyond one little, tiny bit of information, which you didn’t have.”

“So falling through the ice didn’t give him the chance to warm you up?”

“Aha! I knew that was you! Yeah, there was some warming up and even snuggling, but it also ruined our date just when it was getting romantic. Who knows what might have happened if you’d let things play out naturally?”

“You think I had something to do with that? I’d never do anything to cause you harm.”

She looked so hurt that I almost relented. “Look,” I said, a little more gently, “things are complicated for us right now because of our work, so when something bad happens to us, neither of us is likely to think about romance as we rescue or comfort each other. Instead, we think that someone’s out to get us, so we worry, which isn’t too romantic, and since he’s very, very dedicated to his work, he tends to go right into work mode to try to solve the problem, and that totally kills the romance.”

She perked up. “Oh. Then I shall have to see what I can do to help you with that.”

“No! You don’t have to do anything!” I called out, but she disappeared before I got the “no” out. I could only begin to imagine what her next tactic might be if she was actually behind all the things that had happened to us lately.

The next morning, Kim reported bright and early to Owen’s lab to get her assignment from him. Being sent out into the field undercover must have been the most excitement she’d had in a long time. Her sallow skin almost had a healthy flush to it and she’d lost that pinched look around her mouth. Maybe all she really wanted was to feel needed and important. Or maybe she was just excited about getting that much more of a grasp on my job.

While we waited for her to return with the spells, Owen buried himself in a book that was almost bigger than he was, and I searched the Internet for advertising case studies that might have some bearing on our situation. When Kim had been gone an hour, Owen gave up on reading and started pacing. He seemed on the verge of calling out the cavalry when she finally returned with two large Spellworks shopping bags.

“He’s serious if he has good shopping bags,” I said as Owen took them from her. They were almost on a par with what you’d find at a high-end boutique, with a shiny logo on the sides and ribbon handles.

“They are good shopping bags, aren’t they?” Kim said. “Do you mind if I keep one when you’re done with them?”

“We’ll see,” Owen said distractedly.

“Okay, just let me know if you need anything else. I’m only a phone call away.” It was then that I realized her flushed look hadn’t been excitement. It had been makeup. She’d dolled herself up to meet with Owen. She’d moved in on my job, and now was she moving in on my man? Fortunately, Owen was too focused on the problem at hand to even notice her or her attempts at fluttering eyelashes. There were times when his focus on work and obliviousness about other things worked in my favor.