Damsel Under Stress (Enchanted, Inc. #3)


“I don’t think I’m a snob, and it’s not like I’m ashamed to take him with me to work functions, but I’m not sure I can stay with him. I just think we’re fundamentally incompatible on a long-term basis. I’m a grown-up, and he’s like an overgrown frat boy. Do I sound horrible?”

“No. You sound sensible,” Ethelinda said. “If you’re not happy, then there’s no need to keep at it. It’s not as though you’re married.” Which was pretty much what I’d planned to say. Why could Ethelinda give such sane advice to my friend when she only messed things up for me?

“Gemma would say I’m avoiding intimacy, that I’m not letting anything into my life that’s not in perfect order.”

“Then Gemma can go out with him. It’s your life,” I said.

“I’m not convinced you’re meant to be together,” Ethelinda said.

Marcia sighed, and I could practically see the tension leaving her body. “I’m glad you see it that way, because I broke up with him last night. I guess that means I’m the fifth wheel for the New Year’s Eve party, since I’ll be going solo. But don’t tell Gemma yet, okay? I know she’d say I should at least have a date for New Year’s Eve.” She chuckled. “It does make me sound like a man, breaking up right before a major holiday.”

“But it also means you really didn’t want to be with him, if you were willing to go dateless at New Year’s,” I said.

“True. And did you say that gorgeous friend of yours is going to be at the party?”

It took me a second to realize who she was talking about, since I normally didn’t think of Rod as gorgeous. “Oh, yeah, he’s the one hosting it.”

“Is he seeing anyone?”

“Uh, Manhattan? And maybe even some of the outer boroughs. Oh, and definitely a few foreign airline flight crews. He’s kind of a player. I love him to death as a friend, but I’m not sure I’d encourage anyone I cared about to date him. It would be a recipe for heartbreak if you actually liked him enough to want to go out with him more than once or twice.”

“He’s going through a phase,” Ethelinda said. “A phase he should have outgrown by now, but I don’t believe it reflects his true personality. Still, he may not be ready yet to move out of that phase.” There she went again with the sane advice.

Marcia twirled her hair around her finger. “Hmm. Sounds like a challenge.”

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” I looked up, and wouldn’t you know it, Rod was walking through the door. There had to be some unconscious spell that made the person you were talking about show up, it happened so often. “Speak of the devil,” I muttered.

“Why, what a coincidence!” Ethelinda said gleefully. “Here that very young man is.”

Marcia turned to look, and while her back was to the table, Ethelinda waved her hand and a soup-and-salad lunch for four appeared. Rod saw me and came straight to our table. “How are you ladies today?” he said smoothly. Marcia batted her eyelashes at him flirtatiously, and I tried not to gag.

“Just great. Marcia, you remember Rod, don’t you? And this is Ethel. I was just telling Marcia that she’s like the fairy godmother of the office.” I gave the words “fairy godmother” particular stress and hoped he’d sense her magic and figure it out.

“Yeah, that’s what we say,” Rod said, giving me a sly wink and the barest hint of a nod.

“Won’t you join us for lunch?” Ethelinda said. “We already have food for you.”

“Hey, when did that get there?” Marcia asked.

I shrugged. “The waitress brought it when you weren’t looking.” At that moment, the waitress came out of the kitchen with a tray, saw our table, frowned, and went back into the kitchen. The sound of raised voices filtered into the dining room as the kitchen door swung in and out.

“What romantic advice have you been giving?” Rod asked Ethelinda. I wondered if it was my imagination, or if he’d done something to alter his illusion. He was still very handsome, but it didn’t seem quite so over-the-top as it usually was. Maybe I was getting used to it, or maybe the contrast with his usual appearance wasn’t so strong now that he was making an effort.

“Marcia here has decided to break up with her boyfriend,” Ethelinda said smugly, as though it had been her idea. I was getting the feeling that Cinderella and her prince had already worked things out, and it was in spite of the glass slippers and pumpkin coach rather than because of these things that they got together, while Ethelinda took credit and coasted on that laurel for centuries.