Damsel Under Stress (Enchanted, Inc. #3)

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04.03.2019

“You’ll be even more bored if they get you. Then you won’t have any visitors.”

“Like they’ll catch me. I’m in disguise.”

“They have immunes, remember?”

“I thought you were taking care of that.”

“It’s not as easy as you think, and as I recall, you weren’t even that successful at it. Now, go. I have work to do.”

“You’re no fun anymore. It’s that Sylvia bitch, isn’t it?”

He sighed in exasperation. “I’m not getting into this with you again.” Then I had to blink because the woman I’d been watching talk to Idris had vanished. “Not a smart move!” Idris shouted. The pedestrians on the sidewalk just kept pushing around him.

Owen edged me away from the store. When we were a block away, I said, “Looks like there’s trouble in paradise.”

“I’m surprised at how businesslike he was,” Owen said. “He’s got to be exhausted at the end of the day from the effort of maintaining that.”

“I bet it only lasts a few minutes at a time and we caught him during one of his spells of businesslike activity. In a few minutes, he’ll be off playing video games or trying to think of ways to make his employees dance the can-can.”

We headed back downtown, and as we crossed City Hall Plaza on our way to the office building, he asked, “Do you want to get together again tonight?” Before I could answer, he shook his head and added, “And I just realized how that sounded. I know I shouldn’t assume you never have any other plans. I should think to ask you a few days in advance. But I didn’t really mean it as a date. You don’t have your immunity and I’d feel better if I could keep an eye on you.”

“As I recall, you warded my place,” I said. “And I’d eventually have to go home, like I did last night. I’ll be okay.”

He looked away for a second, and when he looked back at me there were bright pink spots on both of his cheeks. “Okay, then. It’s not just for your safety. I’d like to see you. Last night may have been the first entirely uneventful time we’ve ever spent together, and I’d like more of it.”

“That does sound tempting, but I do already have plans with my roommates. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” he said with a shrug, but his ears had turned pink. I hoped he didn’t take it as a rejection, but I did have plans, and I didn’t want to be the kind of girl who ditched my friends as soon as a man came into my life.

We dropped coats and his mask off in his office, and I took off the necklace before it drove me insane inside the magically charged office building, then we went upstairs to find Merlin. Unfortunately, we found Kim first, sitting at Trix’s desk. She must have been filling in while Trix took the day off, but even so, she’d already made that area her own, much as she’d taken over my office. She’d moved her pictures and plants and had even put a nameplate with her name on it on the desk.

“Did you have an appointment?” she asked curtly as we approached the desk.

“No, but I imagine Mr. Mervyn is expecting us,” Owen said with the calm he usually displayed in situations like that. He may have struggled with his inner Humphrey Bogart in his personal life, but at work he often managed to be just that cool.

“I’d better check with him, anyway,” she said, attempting a flirtatious look at Owen, who remained utterly oblivious. In fact, he ignored her entirely, walking toward Merlin’s office doors.

She was opening her mouth to protest when the doors opened and Merlin greeted us with a smile. “Ah, you must have a report for me,” he said, ushering us inside. I resisted the impulse to throw a gloating look over my shoulder at Kim as we went inside. Merlin gestured us to take seats on his sofa before he went to the counter on the far side of the office. “I’ve just made a pot of tea, so your timing is excellent,” he said as he poured. He solved the problem of having three cups and two hands by letting one hover alongside as he carried the other two over to us. The third cup settled itself on the small table next to the wing chair he took. “Now, what have you seen with your immunity gone?”

I described what I’d noticed about the subway ads, television commercials, and Times Square billboards, as well as the appearance of the store. “It’s possible they haven’t necessarily spent as much money on advertising as we thought because the media companies may not even have noticed that there are ads. Still, it would have been an impressive logistical operation just to get those ads up physically, and that would have taken money.”