Ensnared Page 62

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As I start to take his hand, his eyes pass over my lingerie slowly.

“Where the hell did you get those?” He obviously recognizes the fabric. “How does that cockroach know your measurements, huh?”

I frown and drop my arm. “I could ask the same thing about your boxers. You can’t even sew a button onto a shirt. You’ve always had Jen around for that.”

He pauses, jaw clenched. Thankfully, the diary at my neck flickers and distracts him. He lifts its string. “This book . . . it has something to do with your great-great-great-grandmother, doesn’t it?”

“How do you know that?”

“You used it against her magic inside me. I saw it glowing red from across the ocean. It caused the surge. I—I even feel different.”

“You do?” I flip his wrist to study where his tattoo glows.

“Yeah. I still feel her power. It’s just . . . tamed.”

I furrow my brow. “These are memories she forced herself to forget. They’re enchanted. They hate her and want revenge.”

We both look at his palm where the diary left its imprint. He drops the string so the tiny book dangles at my neck again.

“Al, do you know what this means? You don’t have to let Red inside you to fix Wonderland. Maybe Morpheus hasn’t realized it yet—or maybe he’s too big of a jerk to care—but you have the key to reversing her destruction right there. And you’ve already learned how to master it.”

I inhale a sharp breath. Why didn’t I think of that? I can pit her memories against her damaging spell over Wonderland, use them to put everything back the way it was.

There’s a nudge inside my chest, a reminder that I have to face Red, fix my heart, and end this thing between us. But my top priority is healing Dad and leading him, Morpheus, and Jeb into Wonderland to help Mom. I’ll reverse Red’s spell on the landscapes, then come back and finish things here.

“Okay”—I sort out the new plan aloud—“all we have to do is get Dad’s cure, then we can get out of here.”

Jeb looks down on me. “You can get out.”

“Jeb, please.”

“I’ve got nothing to go back for.”

I want to scream ME! but it won’t make a dent. “You can just forget your mom and Jen? They need you.”

There’s no masking the sadness in his eyes at the mention of his family. “They’re better off with me here. I can still take care of them . . . be a liaison for the guards at the gates, protect the human realm from the inside.”

“So your plan is to stay and siphon magic off of Red forever?”

A muscle in his jaw spasms. “At least that way I get a forever.” He holds out his hand, unspoken insistence we head to the lighthouse.

A sense of enormity overwhelms me: Dad was spot-on. I’m the only one who can convince Jeb to leave this place. I have to show him that life is worth living outside this horrible realm, even if it comes with mortal limitations.

I lace my fingers through his and tug him down so we’re face-to-face. The gritty terrain jabs my naked knees.

He digs a fist into the sand. “What are you doing?”

“Reminding you that I’m still human enough to need you.” I rake my hands across his biceps and down his pecs. Water and sand crumble to shimmery, granular trails along his chest hair in my wake. As I touch him, his breath catches and his long, dark eyelashes close in exquisite agony.

I splay my fingertips and open my palm to match his cigarette burns to my scars. His muscles answer with tiny twitches, every part of him strong where I’m soft.

“Jeb.”

He opens his eyes and we lock gazes.

“This is why we fit. Because we’re both damaged, in a way that can’t be healed. Even by magic.”

His gaze holds steady.

“I love you,” I whisper. “Do you still love me?”

He leans closer, bracing his knuckles on the ground beside my hips. “I’ll never stop.”

My stomach somersaults. “Then come home.”

“What good will it do?” His mouth is inches away and the question scalds my lips. “Things can never go back to the way they were.”

My chin tightens. “You’re right. Because we’ve both grown and changed. Because we understand each other on every level now. I’ve seen all your secrets. You’ve seen mine. We can live for today. Not think about forever.”

He lifts a sand-covered hand and traces the red streak of my hair. “You’re being naive. Morpheus won’t let us. He’ll dangle your magical eternity in front of me, knowing it’s something I can never give you. Knowing, as a human, I have nothing to offer that compares to that.”

He starts to draw back, but I grasp the waistband of his boxers where it hugs his abs. I hear the husky intake of air as he looks down at my hand, then back up at my face.

“You’re wrong. There’s something you already offered that’s every bit as magical and rare as forever. You offered to grow old with me. That’s something Morpheus can’t do.” I stroke my fingertips over his whisker-rough jaw. “I didn’t get to answer that yes, I want to marry you.”

For an instant, Jeb’s eyes sparkle with a hopeful light.

“Do you still want that?” I ask.

His fingers weave through my hair, so tight they pinch my scalp. “There’s no one I’d rather spend my life with. Make a family with. But you made a vow to Morpheus. Twenty-four hours alone together. He’ll do anything to keep you from coming back to the human realm.” He presses our foreheads together. “I would fight for you, Al. Until the day I die. I just don’t know how to fight magic without magic. Not anymore.”

So I’m the reason Jeb doesn’t want to leave or give up his power. It’s been me all along.

His agonized expression scores my insides raw. Morpheus’s promise on the day I made that vow dances along the edge of my psyche: I’ll show you the wonders of Wonderland, and when you’re drunk on the beauty and chaos that your heart so yearns to know, I will take you under my wings and make you forget the human realm ever existed. You’ll never want to leave Wonderland or me again.

It’s not that Jeb doesn’t have faith in me. It’s that he’s seen the writing on the wall. Morpheus always finds a way to win. He’s the most manipulative and brilliant strategist I’ve ever known.

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