Damsel Under Stress (Enchanted, Inc. #3)

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04.03.2019

“Let’s hope so.”

“You know, that may be the way to deal with this,” I said as a thought crossed my mind.

“How?”

“Well, I’d imagine that whoever is making Sylvia bankroll him is doing so for a reason and isn’t likely to lose interest. If Idris gets sidetracked and moves on to something else, his boss isn’t going to be pleased. That’s bound to disrupt their operation. What we need to do is come up with something sure to distract Idris.”

Owen nodded and chewed on his lower lip, deep in thought. After he’d processed the thought, he broke out in a huge grin and grabbed me in an enthusiastic hug. “You’re brilliant!” he said before bending me back in a dip and kissing me thoroughly. A flashbulb went off, and I turned to see a tourist taking our picture. That was when I realized we’d more or less mimicked the pose from that famous photo of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square at the end of World War II. The deep blush on Owen’s face told me he’d just become aware of the same thing. He carefully pulled me back up to a proper standing position while I fought off a bad case of the giggles that I knew would only embarrass him worse.

“Let’s check out the store now,” he said, making a valiant attempt at looking calm. “I doubt we can get in, but we can see what’s going on outside.”

“Yeah, they probably have our pictures up behind the cash register, like they do with people known for writing bad checks.”

We passed one of those kitschy Broadway souvenir shops, and I tugged on Owen’s arm. “Let’s go in here a second.”

“Why?”

My main reason was to escape the tourists who were still giving us odd looks and to give him time to compose himself, but what I said was, “I need to get some postcards. Are you that desperate to get this over with and get back to the office? It’s practically New Year’s Eve. It’s even a short day.”

“Whatever makes you happy.” He didn’t say it in the resigned way that people usually said that sort of thing. He sounded more like he actually meant it.

I flipped through the posters and T-shirts for shows I hadn’t seen, and then I spotted something hanging on the wall. “I have an idea for a costume for you,” I told Owen, pointing to the white Phantom of the Opera mask. “You have a tux. All you do is wear that and the mask, and you’ve got a costume. You’d essentially be wearing evening clothes and a mask, but it would still count as a real costume. Rod would have nothing to complain about.”

“I don’t know,” he hedged, looking at the mask.

“It doesn’t involve wearing tights or makeup.”

“Very good point.” He bought the mask, and then we got coffee from a street vendor before wandering over to Fifth Avenue to stand across the street from the Spellworks store. I now saw nothing more than a vacant, boarded-up storefront. We stood there for a while, under a bus stop sign as though we were waiting for a bus, and watched the foot traffic around the store. I saw a few people stop to look in the window, and Owen said he saw them enter the store when they disappeared from my view, but the majority of pedestrians passed it by.

“Well, this is exciting,” I said after a while. “For this, I gave up my immunity. I think our work here is done, if you want to head back to the office.”

He turned as if to go, then did a double take. “Wait a second, isn’t that Ari over there? That woman looks exactly like the illusion she was wearing the other day.”

“I wouldn’t know. I didn’t see her illusion then, and I can’t see any distinguishing Ari features now.”

“Come on, let’s see where she goes this time.” He grabbed my hand as he took off, and I had no choice but to follow him.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” I said as I hurried to keep up with him. “Remember what happened last time? And I can’t look out for her if she decides to swap illusions or do something else to throw us off.”

“But that’s only if she notices we’re following her.” By the time we got across the street, though, it became apparent that she wasn’t actually going anywhere. She looked like she was spying on the store, like we were.

Idris soon came running out of the store. “What are you doing here?” he shouted. “Don’t you know it’s dangerous for you to be out? You’re supposed to be hiding.”

She rolled her eyes. In the human disguise I saw, she looked like a club kid who wasn’t used to being out in daylight. “Do you know how boring it is down there? I’m going crazy.”