Damsel Under Stress (Enchanted, Inc. #3)


He must have still been feeling the champagne, given the way he laughed at what I didn’t think was a very funny joke. “I think I like you a little bit drunk,” I said.

He rubbed his temples again, like he was willing his wits to return fully. “Gloria would be disappointed in me. She’s a confirmed teetotaler.”

“No wonder you can’t hold your liquor. Wait a second, how did you manage the champagne at the office party?”

“Did you see me drink much of it? Besides, I ate a full meal before I went. This is on an empty stomach. I think I forgot to eat lunch.”

This may have been the most relaxed we’d ever been together as a couple. We weren’t talking about work, and although the situation was far from normal, disaster hadn’t yet struck. I was afraid to even think about it, lest I jinx us. “I don’t think Gloria would expect you to turn down champagne in the back of a limo. She’d want you to have a little fun.”

“Did you meet the same Gloria I know? No, you probably didn’t. She was practically cuddly at Christmas. But she doesn’t believe at all in losing control. With power like this at your beck and call, you must always be in absolute control of it. One slip can have serious consequences.” Then he winced. “And I guess I blew that with my stunt in Times Square. I should know better than to act that rashly.” There went the relaxation. I knew I shouldn’t have thought about it.

I peered through the palm fronds again, trying to take note of any celebrities I saw and what they were wearing because I knew Gemma would be dying for details. Then I saw someone I recognized. Sylvia Meredith was sitting at a table on the other side of the room. The man she was with had his back to me, so I wasn’t sure who he was. There was a bottle of champagne chilling in an ice bucket on a stand by their table, so they must have been celebrating something. Or maybe people who came to this kind of place regularly drank champagne like it was iced tea and didn’t have to be celebrating anything.

I ducked back behind the camouflage. “Sylvia Meredith is here,” I hissed to Owen, even though the room was noisy enough that I doubted anything I said would carry all the way to her table. “You know, the one we think is teamed up with Idris.”

Owen immediately looked about as alert as he could manage with champagne still in his system. “Where?”

“Over on the far side of the room—the blonde who looks like she’s got a touch of shark blood in her.” He craned his neck to see, and I snapped, “Don’t look! At least, don’t be so obvious about it.”

“Who is that with her?”

“I don’t know. I don’t recognize him from the back of his head.”

An alarmingly skinny girl who I thought I recognized as the heiress to something, or maybe a pop star, or possibly both, walked past Sylvia’s table. She wore a filmy blouse that gave her even less coverage than my dress did, and the spaghetti strap kept slipping off one of her shoulders. That wasn’t too unexpected, since she was basically a hanger with legs and didn’t really have shoulders to hold up straps. But then the strap went clear to her elbow, so that she flashed the entire restaurant with her unspectacular but totally bare chest.

Sylvia’s dining companion turned to watch as the girl struggled to pull her blouse back up, and I was then very glad I hadn’t been eating anything or I might have choked. “It’s Idris!” I said. He was dressed in a nice suit instead of his usual ratty black trench coat, and it looked like he’d had a haircut since I’d seen him last. No wonder I hadn’t recognized him from behind.

“Yeah, and what do you bet he was the one who pulled that girl’s blouse down?”

The waiter arrived then with our food, distracting us as he laid out plates with a flourish, then carefully arranged a bed of salad greens and finally added what looked like a small McDonald’s hamburger in the middle of each plate, the top bun slightly askew to show the purplish sauce on top.

“This is it? It’s a hamburger.” I said when the waiter had gone. It didn’t look like more than a mouthful of food. I guessed that was probably how the restaurant’s patrons stayed so skinny.

Owen poked suspiciously at his burger with a fork. He looked up at me and opened his mouth to speak, but another voice interrupted him. “Owen Palmer. Well, well, well. They’ll let anyone in here these days.” Of course, it was Phelan Idris. He must have come over to our table while the waiter was busy artistically arranging our hamburgers.

“I take it you’re celebrating the launch of your new company,” Owen said with the cool he usually showed under pressure. Meanwhile, I tried to shrink back into the banquette and hide behind the potted plant because Idris had brought Sylvia over with him. I hoped she wouldn’t recognize me out of my disguise as Sue Ellen.