Damsel Under Stress (Enchanted, Inc. #3)

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04.03.2019

“This is that really hot guy you know who’s hosting it, right?” Marcia asked.

“Yeah, he’s Owen’s best friend.”

“And what’s his job again?”

“He’s head of Personnel.”

“Oh.” There was something about the way she said it that made me wonder if she was going to bother passing the invitation on to her boyfriend, Jeff.

The next morning, I put on Owen’s necklace as I got dressed. I might have to take it off once I got to the office, but if there was any chance my immunity might be dimmed, I wanted to be sure to know that magic was in use around me. Owen met me on the sidewalk in front of my building with a cup of take-out coffee. “Let me guess, this is your own special blend,” I said as I took the cup from him.

“A very special blend, indeed. You’re wearing the locket.”

“Yes. I thought it might come in handy.”

“That’s not the purpose I intended it for, but it works, I suppose.”

I took a sip of the coffee. It tasted like plain old coffee to me, the way I took it with cream and sugar. I couldn’t detect whatever drug or potion he’d put in it. “So, this is the dose that’s really going to do it, huh?” I asked.

“You probably won’t notice the effects until late today. We’ll give it a test this afternoon, then I’ll give you a final dose before we leave work. Tonight I thought you could take a look at the subway ads, and then we could have dinner at my place and watch for TV ads. That is, if you don’t have other plans?”

“No, nothing else planned.”

“Great. Then tomorrow we can visit Times Square and run by the store.”

My neck began to tingle from the necklace as we boarded the subway, and sure enough, there were the Spellworks ads. I still saw them the same way I had all week, so I must have been fully immune. Although I knew we needed me to do this, I couldn’t help but feel relieved that I still had my immunity. It had been a scary, helpless feeling the last time. Maybe it wasn’t too late to tell Owen I’d changed my mind. He’d be all for stopping the potion and coming up with a plan B, since he’d been opposed to this in the first place. But I knew it was important. We needed all the information we could get, and this was the quickest and easiest way to go about getting it.

When we approached the MSI office building, the necklace began to vibrate. I realized I wouldn’t be able to wear it at work at all. By the time I decided to take it off, it was almost painful. I was ready to grab it and break the chain, just to get it off my neck, but Owen stepped in and unfastened it for me. “Sorry about that,” he said. “I may need to rethink this. There may be a better approach. But for now, it would probably be best if you avoid wearing it around the office. Power is so amplified in this building that it will drive you crazy.” He handed it to me, and I could still feel it buzzing in my hand, so I quickly dropped it into my purse.

We got to Owen’s lab and then both of us stopped short. One of the largest bouquets of flowers I’d ever seen sat in the middle of one of the lab tables, the piles of papers shoved aside.

“I wonder if those are for you or for me,” Owen said.

Fifteen

I stepped forward and dug through the foliage to find a card. There was one with my name on it, but the inside said merely, “Thank you for everything, with my deepest devotion.” It wasn’t signed.

“They’re apparently for me,” I said, “but it looks like I have a secret admirer. I don’t know who sent them.” I gave Owen a sidelong glance to gauge his reaction, but he just frowned. I knew he was physically incapable of playing it cool in a situation like this, so that was a good sign he hadn’t sent the flowers. If he’d been involved at all, he’d have been blushing furiously and unable to look at me.

He half closed his eyes and walked around the table, holding his hands out. Then he shook his head. “There’s no magic here. The flowers themselves aren’t magical in origin, and I don’t detect any hidden spells.” He sneezed violently. “However, there does appear to be some pollen.”

My eyes watered at the strong, sickeningly sweet scent of the stargazer lilies in the arrangement. I tended to think of those as funeral flowers. “Yeah, the lilies are going to make me queasy if we keep them in here. Maybe that was the dastardly plan of whoever sent them.”

“If you don’t mind, I can get rid of them.”

“Please.”

He waved a hand, mumbled a few words, and the flowers vanished. Then he set about putting the piles of papers that had been rearranged back into place. “I wonder who sent those,” he mused out loud as he worked. “It wouldn’t have been any of your friends, would it?”