Damsel Under Stress (Enchanted, Inc. #3)


“It’s tedious,” he said, but I could tell from his tone that it was the kind of methodical, painstaking, analytical work he enjoyed. “She definitely had help, but I’m not recognizing the fingerprints. Something’s odd about it all. We’ve got the security team searching the city, and I’ll probably be here all day. How’s your Saturday going?”

“Not bad. One of my friends dropped by, and I did some shopping, so it all worked out.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” he said. “Do you have dinner plans tomorrow night?”

“Not at all.”

“How does six sound?”

“Works for me.”

“Good, then I’ll come by and get you. I told you I’d make it up to you.”

“I believed you,” I hurried to assure him.

“I just hate to start on the wrong foot.”

“You didn’t.”

“Well, I’d better get back to work,” he said, and I could practically hear him blushing over the phone.

“I’ll see you tomorrow night. Don’t work too hard today.”

“I won’t.” But if I knew him, he would. I’d have bet money that he’d have dark circles under his eyes when he came to pick me up for our date.

By the middle of the next afternoon, I was in serious danger of having some dark circles, myself. I hadn’t slept much as I’d continued to worry about what to give Owen for Christmas—if I should give him anything at all so soon after starting to date him—and, of course, what I should wear to go to dinner with him.

After church and a quick lunch, I’d headed out shopping, presumably to consider gifts, but in large part to look for ideas of something to wear. I’d lectured Owen on not worrying about making a good first impression on me, but I was doing the same thing as I fretted about this first real date.

As I walked up Broadway in SoHo, looking more at the shop windows than at where I was going, I bumped into something soft. I yelped and jumped backward. I hadn’t exactly been paying attention, but I surely would have seen another person that close to me. When I got my bearings and realized who the person was, I knew I hadn’t lost my peripheral vision. It’s easy to bump into someone who’s just materialized right in front of you.

“Didn’t mean to startle you, dear,” Ethelinda said. “Just popping in where and when I’m needed.”

“I don’t really need you right now.”

“Don’t you? You’re having quite the dilemma at the moment.” She tilted her head to one side. “I know you don’t want my assistance with your affairs, but could I offer you one gift?”

Suspicious, I asked, “Like what?”

“A little wardrobe advice. For your dinner tonight. Wardrobe is part of my job.”

Looking at her and her weird, mismatched layers of clothes—today with an outer layer of dark green washed silk trimmed in yellowed lace, yesterday’s rose velvet peeking from underneath—I wasn’t so sure she was qualified, but what could it hurt? I could always ignore what she said, and I did desperately need wardrobe advice. “Okay, sure. What should I wear tonight?”

She tapped her wand against her lips and pondered. “Based on his profile, I believe you’d do best in something classic, not showy. He appreciates function over form. Good material, good workmanship, that’s what impresses him, although he won’t be consciously aware of it.” I had to admit, she had Owen pegged. Not that I owned anything like that or could afford to buy it. I supposed I could borrow something from Gemma or Marcia.

“Thanks, that’s good advice,” I said, but then before I could react, she’d waved her wand at me. I felt a tingle all over, then I looked down and saw myself wearing a red satin dress with a hoop skirt. I couldn’t say anything in protest because the corset was so tight I couldn’t breathe.

“Oh, no, that won’t do at all,” Ethelinda said, shaking her head. “Wrong century, and possibly the wrong season.” She waved her wand again, and I gasped to catch my breath once the restriction around my chest was gone. Whatever she’d put me in this time, at least it was more comfortable, although it scratched my neck. I looked at my reflection in a nearby shop window and saw that I was wearing a high-necked, starchy Victorian blouse and long skirt. “Now, that is fetching on you,” Ethelinda said, “but I don’t think it’s quite right for the occasion.” This time when she waved the wand, I went back to the outfit I had been wearing. I glanced around worriedly, even though I was pretty sure nobody could see me changing outfits while standing on the sidewalk. Then again, in that neighborhood, it might not even raise an eyebrow. They’d think it was a photo shoot for a fashion magazine.