We spent the rest of the day with me reading the spells out loud while Owen read over my shoulder so we could compare what he saw to what I saw. That was more than a bit distracting, and if Jake hadn’t been hovering to see what we’d found, I might not have been able to stop myself from tackling Owen and throwing him down on one of the lab tables. After clearing it of clutter first, of course.
When I’d read at least six spells and had to take a break because my throat was raw, Owen buried his face in his hands with a groan. “We are in huge trouble,” he declared.
“Why? Is there something dark hidden in there?”
He shook his head. “No. There’s nothing veiled that I can tell. They’re all perfectly legitimate, straightforward spells. Not particularly good ones, granted. They take far more energy than necessary to do that kind of work, and I don’t see these spells as all that valuable for day-today life. But there’s no reason here for us to stop him or go after him. I can’t believe he’s really trying to compete with us directly.”
“Are we sure he is? Maybe he’s just trying to establish credibility so his company will be more acceptable when he wants to introduce something else.”
He leaned back in his chair and ran a hand through his hair. “You know, you could be right. He was able to get to the people who’d be looking for darker spells with his old way of selling through less reputable outlets, but he’d never gain any kind of market share if he went into business on this scale selling darker stuff. But this way, he gets customers, then he has a group of people who might be open to the next round of spells he offers.”
“It’s like boiling a frog,” I said, nodding.
“Well, supposedly you can’t throw a frog into a pot of boiling water because it’ll jump right out. But if you put it in a pot of cold water and gradually turn up the heat, it’ll be boiling before it knows it needs to escape. Not that I’ve tried this myself, of course.”
“I can see how the analogy works, even if it is kind of disgusting,” he said with a grimace.
By the end of the day, Owen looked as tired as I felt. “Are you up for dinner?” he asked, coming around the side of the whiteboard that constituted my office wall. “Since our lunch yesterday got interrupted, I thought we could go out tonight.”
“I know I’m not up to foraging for my own meal. Someone to bring it to me would be nice.”
“Then do you want to go home, change clothes, and let me pick you up for a proper date, or do you just want to stop somewhere on the way home?”
“I couldn’t begin to pick out an outfit. Let’s just stop somewhere.”
“Good, I’d hoped you’d say that,” he replied with the first genuine smile I’d seen on his face all day. “There’s a great Italian place near my house. I can call before we leave and make a reservation.”
“That sounds ideal.” While he moved all the sensitive material into his more secure office, I hurried down the hall to the bathroom to at least attempt to touch up my makeup and put on some lipstick. I might not have been dressing up, but that didn’t mean I didn’t want to inject a little glamour into the evening. Before I left the bathroom, I undid one more button on my blouse, taking the outfit from work-appropriate to just the least bit sexy. Well, as sexy as one of my work outfits ever could be.
When I got back to the lab, I saw that I wasn’t the only one who’d loosened up for the evening. Owen was in the process of taking off his tie and stuffing it in his jacket pocket. “Ready to go?”
“Let me get my coat.”
As we walked from the Union Square station up to the restaurant, he took my hand, which was a shock in and of itself. It was the kind of gesture I often hoped for from him but that he never seemed to think of. “Tonight, let’s forget about work, okay?” he said. “I know it’s hard for us to get away from, but let’s try it for once.”
“That’s fine with me,” I said, even as I wasn’t sure we could pull it off. What were the odds that we could manage a few hours without something weird and work-related happening?
The restaurant was small and narrow, with crisp white tablecloths, frescoed walls, and heavenly scents coming from the kitchen. As soon as we stepped through the door, my mouth started watering. The host approached us and Owen said, “We have a reservation. The name’s Palmer.”
The host checked his reservation book, then frowned and said in heavily accented English, “My apologies, signore, but there has been a mistake. We should not have given you a reservation when you called.”