Ensnared Page 34

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I shake my head. “I don’t care what’s on your hands. Please look at me. I missed you. I was so worried about you.”

“Really? Which one of us are you talking to?” His attention crosses to Morpheus, who smirks conspiratorially.

Even more unsettling than seeing the guys on the same side of anything is having them gang up on me. That sharp pain tears inside my heart again, as if Red is there, antagonizing it, relishing my misery.

I squeeze my eyelids shut, damming up the tears that knock behind them. Suck it up, Alyssa. You’re a queen. Act like one. I stiffen my shoulders and open my eyes.

“I’ll find Dad on my own.” I shrug out of the drop cloth and start to slide down from the table.

Morpheus places a palm at my collarbone. “You’re not ready to be running any marathons, luv. You’re still shaky.”

“I have to find him.”

“He’s already been found, like I said,” Jeb answers, his attention on the hand pressed at my neck. He narrows his eyes, and with a subtle flick of his fingers, Morpheus’s shadow rises from the floor and wrestles Morpheus away from me.

Growling, Morpheus shoves the dark silhouette aside, then glares at Jeb. “Amateur. Cheap parlor tricks.”

Jeb gives him a vicious grin. “A pupil is only as good as his tutor.”

I stare at them both, speechless.

Jeb turns back to me. “Your dad just needs to sleep. He’s tired.”

Morpheus’s creepy shadow sniffs at my tangled hair like a dog. I scoot back as Morpheus forces it behind him.

“I want to see for myself,” I say to Jeb.

Jeb squints. “Why? Don’t you trust me? Do you seriously think I would hurt Thomas? He’s the only real father I’ve ever had. The only one in your family who hasn’t stabbed me in the back.”

I refuse to let him see how deeply he’s cutting me. “It’s not you I don’t trust. It’s that . . . thing you painted.”

He steps all the way into the room, head cocked. “You told her.”

His gaze and accusation are directed at Morpheus, but I answer. “My dad was captured and dragged away. I’m pretty sure it was that same thing that attacked me in the hallway. Did it show you where it took him? It had to, didn’t it? Because you’re its creator.”

Jeb’s lashes lift my direction and in that moment, I see my best friend again. Weary shadows under his eyes reveal the vulnerability he’s trying to hide. He’s human and unguarded. All I need is to drop to the floor, walk over, and close the space between us. But then he looks away, and I’m hit with the reality that the span of steps from me to him is nothing compared to the walls I’m going to have to climb to get to his heart.

“How does she know so much?” Jeb asks Morpheus. “What have you been telling her?”

Morpheus grimaces. “Put your little novelty away and we’ll talk.”

Jeb tips his head, and the shadow sinks into the floor again, nothing but a dark shape at Morpheus’s feet.

Morpheus leans his hip against the table’s edge and drags a corner of the drop cloth over Chessie and Nikki, who are dozing soundly. “As always, you underestimate our Alyssa’s ingenuity. She figured it out on her own after being attacked by your graffiti army in the entry tunnel.”

Jeb looks my way. “They attacked her?” For an instant, I could swear there’s concern in his eyes. Then it’s gone. “They’re not usually violent toward living things.”

Morpheus purses his lips. “Well, since most of your creations are unequipped to leave this mountain, and since we’ve never had living visitors here, we’ve not exactly tested that theory. Besides, this isn’t just any visitor. Alyssa is the object of your rage.”

“That’s not true,” Jeb murmurs, yet he averts his eyes.

Morpheus sighs. “Much as you’d like to deny it, it’s obvious your creations are retaining your anger toward her. Feeding off those negative feelings.”

“Jeb?” I ask on a whisper.

He doesn’t answer.

“Perhaps it’s time for you to erase everything and start anew.” Morpheus speaks quietly, gentle helpfulness and measured wisdom, though it’s obvious he’s egging Jeb on.

Jeb meets his gaze. “I think it’s time for you to stop talking.”

“Why? Alyssa will figure it all out soon enough.”

I’m feeling nauseated again. “I want you both to stop talking about me like I’m not here. What happened to you, Jeb? Was it when you went through the gate? You mutated?”

Morpheus laughs. “‘Mutated.’ The word you’re looking for is evolved, luv. He has shed his monkey mortal state and donned the robes of netherling immortality. That’s a step up, not a step down.”

Jeb growls from beside one of his easels. “Just shut it, Morpheus. I’ll decide how much she needs to know and when to tell her.”

“Well, let us hope you decide before she’s torn to bits, aye?”

I gulp.

Jeb tugs a drop cloth into place over a painting and moves to cover another. “Your dad is worried about you.” He addresses me without even a glance in my direction. “I’m going to take you to him . . . so you can rest together.”

It’s Jeb I need to be alone with, even if it’s for a short walk down a corridor. “Thank you.”

Morpheus scoops up Chessie and the sprite and strides across the room. He pauses at the door, his wings and back facing us. “Sleep safely, Alyssa. When you wake, I’ll help you strategize your battle plans. Bear in mind, I haven’t forgotten the vow you made to me. Nor do I intend to let you forget.”

I stare at the empty corridor after he leaves. Help me strategize my battle plans? He knows I’m going after Red. His earlier fascination with the diary . . . somehow, he’s figured out that I plan to use what’s on the pages to destroy her. The war’s not even won and he’s already collecting on the spoils.

“So, are you going to tell me what kind of deal you made with the cockroach?” Jeb watches me as he buttons the black shirt, covering his circular scars before I can count them. I’m tempted to use my magic to impede his progress, to expose his skin to the evening light around us. My fingers itch to seek out the flawed parts of him . . . the damaged, authentic places that prove he’s real—that he’s the boy I’ve trusted and depended on since my fifth-grade summer. That the human I love is still somewhere inside.

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