Damsel Under Stress (Enchanted, Inc. #3)


“You’re being a difficult case, you know.”

“I had to pick some area in life to be high-maintenance. Maybe the drugs lose their potency on you after a while. Or maybe it’s harder to lose your immunity each time.” That could also mean it would take longer to get the immunity back. I didn’t like the idea of essentially losing a sense for very long while we had enemies out to get us.

“Do you still want to give things a try tonight, or would it be a waste of time?”

I looked up at his worried blue eyes and remembered the feeling I got the first time I met him, when he’d been almost too shy to speak to me at all. “Being with you is never a waste of time,” I said as butterflies formed in my stomach. “That is, if you don’t care how much work gets done tonight.”

He pinkened slightly, but he held my gaze instead of looking bashfully at the floor. “It’s all just a ruse to get you alone with me, anyway. Anything we might accomplish is a bonus. The way I see it, if we’re in my very heavily warded house, that makes it nearly impossible for anyone to put us in danger or tinker with our plans and we might actually be able to spend time together without too many distractions.”

“So, we’re both on the same page, then. That’s good.” Even better, if things went more smoothly for us this evening than on any of the occasions in which Ethelinda had interfered, then I’d know she was wrong about us not being suited for each other.

By the time I left the office, the butterflies in my stomach had spawned offshoot flocks that had taken up residence in my heart, my head, and my knees. I wasn’t sure what had me so keyed up, facing the thought of being magically blind or looking forward to what might happen with Owen without any major disasters to mess things up—or to break the ice (in a figurative way this time, I hoped).

Owen walked me through the building corridors toward the exit with a protective hand at the small of my back. You’d have thought I’d been stricken suddenly ill or frail, the way he was acting. As much as I’d meant what I said to Ethelinda about not liking it when I needed to be rescued all the time, I rather enjoyed this protectiveness. Come to think of it, what I was really enjoying was his proximity. He wasn’t a touchy person, so I was up for anything that gave him a reason to touch me.

On the stairs to the building lobby, we ran into Rod—or rather, the handsome man I’d learned to see as Rod the last time I’d lost my magical immunity. The fact that I now saw his illusion instead of his real face was a good sign that the potion had finally kicked in. “Hey, I’m glad I caught you two,” Rod said. “I take it you’ll be at the party?”

Owen glanced ever so slightly at me before replying, “Yeah, we’ll be there. But you aren’t serious about costumes, are you?”

“If you want to be boring, you can wear evening clothes and a mask, but I’d hope you have more imagination than that.”

“I told my roommates, and they’re excited about it,” I said. “And don’t worry, I’ll see to it that he comes up with some kind of costume.” That was awfully big talk coming from me when I had no idea what I was going to wear, but dressing me was Gemma’s mission in life, and I figured I’d leave it to her.

“I can’t wait to see what you come up with,” Rod said with a laugh. “I should warn you, though, that you’re dealing with the kid who wore the same Robin Hood costume for Halloween every year until he outgrew it. Getting him into a costume will be a real challenge.”

When we’d said good-bye to him and continued on our way to the lobby, I couldn’t resist asking, “Robin Hood?”

“I liked the movie.”

“The one with Errol Flynn?”

“The Disney one, where Robin Hood’s a fox. Gloria questioned the moral lesson of robbery ever being good, regardless of who was being robbed, but she thought the cartoon presentation was benign enough in its anthropomorphizing of the animal characters, as long as I also learned the true history of King Richard and Prince John.” Then he gave a crooked, rueful grin. “I just wanted to be able to shoot a bow and arrow.”

“I liked that one, too,” I admitted. “I went as Maid Marian for Halloween one year, but nobody knew who I was supposed to be and I got very frustrated. And by the way, the immunity is gone. I saw Rod’s illusion, full-strength.” Now that I thought about it, I hadn’t noticed the usual effects of his attraction spell. Either he hadn’t wasted the effort of using it on me, or Owen’s nonmagical spell on me was too strong for me to notice anyone else when he was around.