Ensnared Page 96

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“How gracious,” I grumble.

His jeweled markings sparkle, the color of orchids in spring. “It is, in fact. Considering that originally, before our tour of Wonderland, I was to take you dancing in the clouds and serenade you with the wind. Then dining on candied spiders and sipping dandelion wine, so we could appease your sadistic tendencies regarding flowers and bugs.”

I fake a pout. “Are you ever going to let me live that down?”

“Not in this lifetime. Perhaps in the next.” He pushes back the purple curtains, revealing a window big enough for us both to look through. “We’ll have to forgo the dancing. I packed a picnic and we’ll eat as we explore.”

We lift to the sky and I watch Wonderland’s majesty pass below.

I give in to my stomach’s rumblings and try a candied spider. It’s not too bad, other than that it wiggles going down and leaves a faint soapy aftertaste. Morpheus rewards my daring effort with moonbeam cookies and dandelion wine. The wine tickles my throat with effervescent bubbles, giving me the hiccups. Each time my mouth pops open, the carriage’s interior blinks from the moonbeams coating my tongue.

Morpheus laughs deliriously and I can’t help but join in.

Within four hours we’ve seen so much of Wonderland, my mind is spinning in resplendent ultra-violet hues and bizarre terrains. I can’t wait to capture them in my artwork. Sadness chases that thought, thinking of Jeb and his orphaned muse.

Our last stop before Morpheus’s manor is the flower garden outside the rabbit hole’s door. Most of the flowers are away at Ivory’s castle. Those that aren’t cower when they see me, having heard of my victory over Red and the slaughter of hundreds of prisoners in AnyElsewhere at my hand.

With Morpheus’s patient coaching, I embrace the chaos within and command the wraiths that live in the soil to reverse their damage to the rabbit hole. In a maelstrom of ear-shattering wails and black inky cyclones that whip through our clothes, they obey, putting everything back as it was in the beginning, little-boy sundial statue and all.

“What will the human realm think when they wake up to the change tomorrow?” I ask Morpheus as we board our carriage once more, my awareness heightened and my nerves still skittering. I’m half manic after joining forces with the wraiths. My skin feels hot and my face flushed.

“Perchance that some Good Samaritan came in the night and replaced the sundial,” Morpheus answers. “You were once like them . . . easily lulled to complacency.”

“That’s because believing you’re alone in the universe is less terrifying than admitting you might have an otherworldly audience.”

Morpheus studies me appraisingly. “And that is a human weakness. Use it, when it’s time to clean up all the messes your absence from the human realm has made over the past few days. When it’s time to explain where your mum and Jebediah have been for a month. Your duality gives you an advantage in this world, Alyssa. But also in the other. Never forget that.”

We arrive at his manor and he deposits me in his windowless chamber, promising to be back shortly with tea.

I turn on my heel to view the wild and stunning decor. Soft amber light falls from the giant crystal chandelier spread across the domed ceiling. Velvet hangings drape the walls in shades of gold and purple, intertwined with strands of ivy, seashells, and peacock feathers.

The multi-tiered crystal shelves catch my eye. I touch one of the many hats embellished with dead moths. When I was a girl, I was fascinated watching him string the garlands.

I turn to the tiny glass-dollhouse terrariums. Cocoons coat the panels—caterpillars transforming. In other places, moths flit and perch on leaves and twigs.

Their graceful antics remind me of how Morpheus affects me now as a woman and a netherling. Being here works like a tonic . . . taking me back to that monumental moment over a year ago when he transformed me—awoke my darker side with afternoon tea and a living chess game.

The waterfall that serves as his bed’s canopy trickles behind me. I step toward it and reach out a hand. The liquid curtain reacts to me as it did then, lifting back like a living thing so I can see the mattress. Velvety golden quilts and pillows cover the expanse, and hundreds of red rose petals are scattered across, filling my nose with their delicate scent.

I back up, letting the curtain fall, and bump into the glass table that doubles as a black and silver chessboard. The jade chess pieces must be put away in their box, all but Alice and the caterpillar, newly carved, because I have the original at home.

A sentence hovers atop three of the silver squares as if by magic, in tiny glowing script: Sleep with Alyssa.

“Let me clear the dust away, luv.” Morpheus’s hand appears from behind and sweeps across the glass, smudging the words.

Tense, I turn to face him. He’s taken off his jacket, vest, and gloves. His toned, pale chest peers out from the half-buttoned frilly white shirt. He’s breathtaking, and far too alluring for my comfort.

My jaw clenches. “I won’t do this.”

“What, have tea and crumpets?” He balances a tray with cups and a kettle on his other hand and places it on the empty end of the table. “Why ever not?”

I stand my ground. “Jeb wants to grow old with me. The human in me wants that, too. To experience what Alice never did in the mortal realm. He was willing to risk his one life and face Red so I could have a future with you. My happiness was more important to him than his own. Yet you’re asking me to walk away from him after all he’s given up for Wonderland?”

“What makes you think I am?” Morpheus hangs his hat on the arm of his chair as he pours cranberry-colored liquid into one cup. Wisps of steam fill the room, carrying notes of mint and lavender.

“The sentence you wrote.”

“Ah. That . . .” He motions for me to sit. When I don’t budge, he seats himself, crossing his legs at the ankle. His wings hang wide on either side of his chair. “Alyssa, think. Have I ever taken advantage of your innocence?”

“No.”

“Have I had means or opportunity?”

“Many, on both counts.”

“All right. You’ve learned so much on your journey. Surely you haven’t already forgotten the most important lesson: how words can say one thing, but mean another.” He lifts his cup and regards me over the rim while sipping, then sets it on his saucer with a clink. “It’s crucial, as queen of the Red Court, for you to keep that upmost in your mind in all situations. You must always consider every angle of every statement before you react emotionally.”

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