Damsel Under Stress (Enchanted, Inc. #3)


“Oh, I know just the thing,” Ethelinda said, her eyes lighting up with delight. She waved her wand, and suddenly my coat was a lot nicer. It fit me perfectly, it was made of fine material, and it didn’t have that stain on the lapel that came from trying to drink coffee while walking to work. Intrigued, I unbuttoned the coat and saw a beautiful silk jersey dress underneath.

“Wow, thanks, this is gorgeous,” I said, still reeling slightly from the rapid changes of wardrobe. I probably would have gone through just as many outfits at home as I tried to decide what to wear, but I wouldn’t have gone through such extremes or ultimately found anything so nice. Then I remembered the way these things tended to go in the stories. “Does this outfit have an expiration date? Am I going to turn into a pumpkin at midnight or suddenly be nude, or anything like that?”

“It’s supposed to last until the next day, though to be honest, I’m not sure if that’s defined as midnight or sunup. You’d probably best be home by midnight, to play it safe. Not that you should be out later than midnight on a first date,” she added with a “tsk-tsk” gesture from her wand.

“I wasn’t planning on it. I have to work tomorrow.”

She studied me critically. “I wish I could do something about your hair and face, but your magical immunity makes that problematic. I can change your clothing, but I can’t change any part of you. Make sure you powder your nose and brush your hair before you go out.”

I gave my hair a self-conscious pat as I wondered what was wrong with my face. She sounded like she was channeling my mother, who never stopped telling me to put on brighter lipstick. “My roommates will help me get ready,” I assured her. “Thanks again for your help.”

I turned to go, but before I got very far, she called out, “Your shoes!”

I looked down and saw that I was still wearing the comfortable flats I’d worn shopping. She raised her wand, but I held up a hand to stop her. “I’ve had a bad experience with magical shoes. I have some shoes at home that will go with this, if you don’t mind.”

“Oh yes, I remember seeing something about that. Quite understandable, though I do recall that it worked out rather well for you.”

“In the long run, yeah, I guess.” You’d think that a pair of shoes that made you utterly irresistible would be a good thing, but in reality it’s a totally different story. They had sent me running into Owen’s arms, which turned out to be good eventually, but along the way the enchanted shoes had caused me plenty of woe before I got the happy ending.

“Have a good time tonight, dearie, and you know you can call on me if you need help.” She vanished in a puff of sparkly dust, and I headed up Broadway toward home, already trying to think of a way to explain to my roommates how I came home from a shopping trip in obviously expensive designer clothes, with no sign of my old clothes. They’d know I was too practical to just throw away what I’d been wearing.

I’d barely made it a block before I nearly bumped into someone else. This time it wasn’t because the person had just popped into existence, but because he’d suddenly come to a dead stop in the middle of the sidewalk. It was none other than Phelan Idris, the rogue wizard who was the reason Owen was having to work so hard. I barely sidestepped him and kept moving so that no one behind me would bump into me, and he hurried to turn around and fall into step beside me. I couldn’t quite stifle a groan.

It would have been easy to underestimate Idris. He looked like a geek with inflated ideas as to his own power and intelligence, and I knew I was immune to any magic he wanted to use on me. I would have bet I could also take him in a physical fight because he didn’t look like the type who had ever learned to fight with anything other than magic, while I’d grown up with three older brothers, so I knew a thing or two about scuffling. But I’d also been through some really frightening attacks by all kinds of creatures controlled by Idris, so I didn’t take his presence lightly. He was either up to something or passing on a message. If I handled this well, I might come away with some useful information.

“You look nice today,” he remarked. He sounded almost normal, which immediately made me suspicious.

“Thanks,” I replied automatically. I couldn’t seem to turn off my old-fashioned Southern manners.

“I guess you’ve got a hot date tonight with the boyfriend.”

“That’s none of your business. What do you want?” When I didn’t get an answer, I turned to see that he was no longer beside me. He was standing in front of a shop window, staring openmouthed at a mannequin in a slinky dress. Idris was notoriously short in the attention span department. It didn’t take much to sidetrack him. I debated with myself for a moment: Did I want to take advantage of this opportunity to get away from him, or would I get anything useful out of him?