Ensnared Page 59

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I barely notice the weight settling beside me on the bed’s edge.

“Al,” Jeb whispers, closer than he’s been since I first arrived at the mountain. His fingertips trace the edge of my wings.

“I want my family back. I want you and Morpheus safe, and I want to fix Wonderland.”

“I know.”

His empathy strips away my defenses and I lift my face to unleash my darkest fear. “But I’m terrified to let Red inside me again.” I stop short of telling him why—that my heart feels like it’s breaking, literally—because he looks away.

The mattress shifts as he stands. “I should go guard the entrances.”

Though it’s not the pep talk or comforting hug I was hoping for, I try not to be disappointed.

He heads toward the door. “Get some sleep, okay?”

I nod. My body, heavy with exhaustion, wants to do just that: curl up beside Dad. But as Jeb’s boots clomp down the staircase, it dawns on me why he didn’t try to talk me out of going through with Morpheus’s plan. Jeb feels responsible for Dad’s plight. He thinks he can get the cure himself so I won’t have to face Red’s possession at all.

Wonderland’s repair isn’t Jeb’s priority. Getting Dad and me to Mom safely is all he’s thinking about. But if he’s captured in that castle, they’ll use him as a vessel for their magic until there’s nothing left, just like Morpheus said . . .

I close the curtains around Dad and race down the stairs. When I pass through the empty kitchen, dread comes to a rolling boil inside my veins.

I shove through the door. “Jeb!”

He’s already at the lower quarter of the winding stairs, silhouetted by shadows and headed toward the shore and the rowboat.

“Jeb, wait!”

I spur my wings to fly and land in the same instant he drops from the last step. Sand grits under my bare soles as I plant myself between him and the boat, out of range of the lighthouse’s beam. “Don’t do this.”

He tenses, his T-shirt tightening around his muscles. “It’s my place.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“It’s not about whose fault it is. It’s about destinies. I’m the one who has the best chance against Red.”

I frown. “What are you talking about?”

“Give me some credit. We’re artists. We know colors, how they combine. Red’s magic and Morpheus’s.” He holds up his wrist where his tattoo glows. “There had to be a reason mine was purple.”

My jaw drops. “You knew?” I’m so astonished I don’t even move as he steps around me.

“I’ve known all along. When did you figure it out?” he asks, unwinding the anchor rope from the post.

“When I saw inside your rooms.”

He pauses. Exhaling loudly, he sits on the boat’s bow. Elbows propped against his knees, he winds the rope between his fingers. “So you understand why I can’t leave now. My creations, they need me.” His misplaced devotion makes me ache. “Besides that, this . . . hatred. It’s become too big for the human world. I could hurt someone. Jen, Mom. You. I’d be just like my old man.”

I tell myself the sting in my eyes is from the salty air. “No. You’ll never be like your dad. You’ve made conscious choices not to be. Even with Red’s venom feeding your soul, you’re still gentle with me.”

“According to Morpheus, I almost strangled you a month ago in our world. When I was strung out on Tumtum juice at the art studio. You were so desperate to hide it from me, you made an irrevocable deal with the devil.”

Anger crashes through me. So Morpheus did tell him. All because I wasn’t crafty enough to make him vow never to speak of it to Jeb. Well, I’m done being naive and careless with my words. From now on, I make life-magic vows that work to my advantage.

This is why Jeb couldn’t paint my portraits. It wasn’t Red’s hatred, but his own guilt for almost choking me. My insides shrink, empathy causing the feeling instead of an enchanted bottle inside a rabbit hole.

I watch the rope slide through Jeb’s fingers, his movements graceful despite his hands’ masculine shape.

“I didn’t want you to have to struggle with what happened,” I say. “I was wrong.”

He shrugs. “I’m not so sure, judging by the things I’ve created.”

“No. It’s this place. Red’s influence. We just need to get you through the gate. Cleansed of her power. Then you’ll be yourself again.”

He shakes his head. “I’ve suppressed this rage for years. Coming here and hiding in this mountain, it gave me an outlet, brought it all to the surface. Now that I’ve given it free rein, I don’t know if I can control it anymore.”

His face changes to that of the wounded little boy again. Morpheus was wrong. It isn’t me Jeb has given up on. It’s himself.

I step closer, sand sifting under my feet, as I realize another truth. “Wait . . . if you’ve known all along about Red’s magic, you’ve been playing Morpheus, letting him think he was playing you.”

“Yeah.” He smirks. “I tricked the trickster. Ironic, right?” A hint of pride shines through, making his eyes glimmer the color of spring leaves.

“You could’ve turned her power against him. Hurt him. But you didn’t. Why?”

“Because hurting him would’ve hurt you.”

The confession buckles my knees. I sink down beside him on the bow. My wings hang limp inside the hull of the boat and warm sand fills the spaces between my toes. “I don’t understand how you can’t see it.”

“See what?”

“I’m the priority, over your own feelings. You have complete control over your anger. So much so, you chose not to hurt Morpheus because he’s my friend.”

Jeb’s back stiffens. “It’s more than that. You want to be with him. To live with him in Wonderland. Forever.” He taps the rope against his thigh in a lighthearted manner, but there’s no hiding the heaviness in his shoulders.

A lump rises in my throat. “What are you talking about? That vow I made was just for twenty-four hours.”

“Prom night,” Jeb says, getting to his feet. “After I helped your mom with your dad. When I came back to your bedroom.” He nudges me off the boat.

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