Damsel Under Stress (Enchanted, Inc. #3)

37,498
04.03.2019

I braced myself as I came up the stairs and hoped Gemma and Marcia were out, or at least sidetracked. No such luck. They both stared at me as I stepped through the door. “Oh, my God,” Gemma breathed. “Where did you get that?”

“It’s a knockoff I found in Chinatown,” I lied. “It’ll probably disintegrate overnight, but I didn’t pay that much for it, and it worked for this one date.”

She was across the room in a heartbeat, fingering the material and inspecting the seams. “It’s the best knockoff I’ve ever seen. This is couture detailing.”

“Oh no!” I said, dredging up some tears, “I bet some poor little girl in a sweatshop made this by hand, and she got paid nothing, and by buying something like this, I helped oppress her. But all I wanted was a nice dress.” With my tears in full force, I ran for the bedroom and shut the door behind me, then I took off the dress, wadded it up and hid it in my footlocker, where I was pretty sure I’d find my work skirt and blouse the next morning.

Then I remembered that’s what had happened to the dress Ethelinda had given me for my first date with Owen. Could she have been up to her old tricks, engineering her idea of a romantic evening, or was Owen right about Rod’s interference?

At work the next day, while Owen and Jake continued testing Idris’s spells, I got caught up on my other work that Kim hadn’t taken over from me. I was out taking care of some paperwork when I ran into Rod in the hallway. “Hey, I’m glad I caught you,” he said.

“What’s up?”

“I’m having a New Year’s Eve soiree and I was hoping you and Owen might make it if you don’t already have plans. I left Owen a message, but he hasn’t gotten back to me yet. Bring your friends, too—anyone you can think of. It’s an impromptu bash, but I’m trying to make it as big as possible.”

“Do you really want them there? They aren’t in on the magical secret.”

“That’s the brilliant part. It’s a costume party. That way, nobody will think anything of us having fairies, elves, or anything else running around, in case they don’t want to veil themselves.”

“Okay, sounds fun. I’ll check with Owen and my roommates and let you know.” I realized then that this was my chance to figure out who was behind our adventures of the night before and added casually, “Oh, and thanks for last night. It really was a special evening.”

“Last night?” he looked blank. “I thought you and Owen went out to dinner last night.”

“We did. But didn’t you upgrade his plans for him?”

“No. I know better than that. You don’t shift Owen out of his comfort zone without fair warning. He doesn’t take well to that. Why, what happened?”

“Nothing. Just a little misunderstanding.” As in, a fairy godmother who failed to understand that we really did not need her meddling in our lives. I was going to have words with her, and I was going to do it before this nonsense went any further.

I went straight back to Owen’s lab to get my coat. “I’m going out for lunch,” I declared. “Want me to bring you anything?”

He looked up from his work. “I could conjure you whatever you want.”

“No thanks. Not today. I’ve got errands to run. You know, post office and stuff like that. I may be awhile.” I took off before he had a chance to respond.

Life would have been easier if I’d brought Ethelinda’s locket with me to work, but as I hadn’t been planning to summon her anytime soon, it was still locked in my nightstand. That meant I had to go back to my apartment. Fortunately, the subway trip was pretty quick, and I lucked out with a train coming almost as soon as I entered the station. I got off at Union Square and then ran the few blocks to my apartment. There I grabbed the locket.

Ethelinda had said all I had to do was open the locket, and then I’d know what to do. It sounded simple enough. I held the locket in my palm and flipped it open. Words scrolled across the lower portion of the locket, almost like text messaging on a cell phone. “Would you care to arrange a meeting with Ethelinda?” the words said, spelled out in a fancy, flowing script. “Press your thumb inside the lid to say yes.”

I pressed my thumb on the inside of the locket’s upper portion. Then more words appeared: “Welcome, Katie. Ethelinda will meet with you at her earliest possible convenience. Press your thumb again if this is agreeable.” What do you know, fairy godmothers had the magical equivalent of a voice-mail system. This seemed almost like calling my bank. I pressed my thumb as directed, then the words “thank you” appeared before the locket went dark. I closed it, then slipped it into my purse, wondering when her earliest possible convenience would be. I hoped it would be soon.