Ensnared Page 95

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The gathering is proper and refined.

I suspect that one day, if Morpheus and I rule together, I’ll have to attend such things by myself, given the flighty-wicked side of him that both annoys and entices me.

Something tinkles above my head. I glance up at some cherry-flavored chimes made of sugared icicles, suspended in midair by fairy enchantments. All it would take is a stretch of the arm to capture one. But that’s not nearly as challenging or fun as chasing a roasted duck with a death wish around a table, mallet in hand.

“I’m getting hungry,” I say to my spriteling companion.

“I already told you. The master wishes to share a picnic. It will be worth the wait.” Her glimmering eyes zero in on me, scolding.

“You’re misreading her implication, pet.” Morpheus’s deep voice warms the top of my head from behind. I turn to find him peering around the doorway, wearing that smug smirk. He hands me a long-stemmed rose that matches the ones in my hair. “Alyssa was referring to her hunger for a walloping good adventure. Isn’t that right, luv?” He offers a palm, his jeweled eye patches flickering between violet and pink.

Instead of admitting how well he reads me, I silently take his hand. As we start out the door, I glance over my shoulder in search of my parents, who are now lost in the crowd.

“Gossamer,” I begin. “Would you mind—?”

“I will tell everyone you have gone for the night.” She flashes Morpheus and me a mischievous smile. “Fennine es staryn, es fair faryn.” Then she flitters away.

Morpheus leads me past the elfin knights and out of the glass castle into the evening air. I make a marked effort not to notice how debonair he looks in his white tailcoat suit and the black and red pin-striped vest underneath, or how high and proud his wings rise behind him.

Instead, I take in our surroundings. The sun and moon twist together in the purple sky. Their combined light coats everything with an ultraviolet hue. In the distance, past Ivory’s icy domain, plants of all kinds flourish in psychedelic colors—pink bushes, yellow flowers, orange trees, and rainbow ground cover.

I bask in the beauty of it all. Threading my fingers through Morpheus’s, I ask, “So, what did Gossamer say?”

He leans in to hear me over the scuffle of some fashionably late dust bunnies who sneeze as they pass us on their way to the entrance. “An ancient blessing from our realm. May the fairy goddess light your footsteps with stars, and may your travels be fair, however far you roam.”

“And how far are we planning to roam?” I ask, my netherling side almost salivating upon the sight of our carriage. It’s a reasonable facsimile of the moth “hot air balloon” he’d intended us to use in AnyElsewhere. Although this giant mushroom basket is enclosed to keep us warm, and is drawn by thousands of moths harnessed to glowing blue strands of magic. The same magic forms luminescent wheels. They remind me of the glass tubing on neon signs, molded in circles and spokes.

“Every part and parcel of your kingdom will be laid at your feet tonight,” Morpheus answers. “With so many of your subjects here at the castle, it is the perfect opportunity to take the tour. From the checkerboard deserts to the chaotic cliffs to the overgrown wilds. We shall make a few special stops along the way. I had Jebediah paint some scenes from the past as I remember them. The cave Alice was held in . . . birdcage and all. The cocoon from whence I was born anew. They’re part of the history we share. And now they’re preserved forever.”

I’m touched by the sentiment and move close enough to get a good look at his top hat in the moonlight. “You’re wearing your Seduction Hat. Why am I not surprised?”

He offers a pirate’s smile. “Did you notice . . . I’ve a new embellishment?” He makes a show of adjusting an owl’s tail feather in the band.

I bite back a giggle. “Vegetarian barn owl, I presume?”

“Won’t be bothering me again for some time.”

“I can guarantee it’s not the only one out there.”

He loops my arm through his. “Good. I’m always up for a worthy chase.”

I shake my head. “Which brings us back to the Seduction Hat.”

He smirks. “I’m wearing it because it matches your dress.”

“Sure,” I say, even though his top hat—one-half crimson and one-half white, with black moth garland and rosebuds at the brim—actually does match me, perfectly.

“It appears Gossamer found your parents.” Morpheus motions to one of the towers, where Mom and Dad are watching us leave. “Hope she told them not to wait up,” he quips.

My parents have made peace with Morpheus after he proved how much he cares for both my human and netherling sides, but they weren’t thrilled to learn of my vow. Then they saw Jeb’s example, how he’s trusting me to make my own choices. After that, they only wished me strength of mind and heart. I assured them I had both in spades because of their examples.

Morpheus helps me climb into the carriage. The compartment is big enough to accommodate his wings, and the seats are made of red velvet. Striking purple curtains hang across the window, and animated fluorescent swirls move along the walls. The interior is like Morpheus in every way . . . elegant and polished, yet at the same time jarring and mesmerizing. I settle into the seat opposite him, clutching my lace-clad hands around the rose he gave me. Hookah smoke hugs every breath. Two hurricane-style candelabras are mounted on either side of the window, filled with fireflies that cast an ultraviolet glow, bluing the paler shades of our clothes and Morpheus’s porcelain skin and lovely lips.

“So, where to first?” I ask. “Bear in mind, we only have twelve hours.”

He pulls the door shut and leans forward, elbows on knees. “About that. When I went back to my manor to prepare, I had some time to think about your vow. You deliberately left out the ‘after we defeated Red’ clause in your recollection. Which, technically, doesn’t quite encompass our hours in the looking-glass world, now does it?”

My arrogant bubble bursts. “Um . . .”

“Precisely,” Morpheus says, pulling white gloves into place on his hands. “However, to prove I can be every bit as conciliatory as your mortal prince, and to reward you for the effort of manipulating me, I’m going to let it slide. You shan’t be held accountable but for one night.”

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