Ensnared Page 97

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So, this night is both a lesson and a test. He’s teaching me the politics of Wonderland, but at the same time, testing me to see if I can practice what I preach: trust him the way I expect him to trust me.

“Now,” he continues. “I brought the tea to relax you. But you are by no means obligated to drink it. Although, at the very least, after all we’ve been through, one would think you could sit and speak your heart to me. If it would make it easier, use the chess pieces, like when we were little.”

I take a deep breath, gather my skirt around my legs, and sit in the chair across from him.

Concentrating on the Alice figurine, I imagine her alive. She retains her teensy size, but begins to move, stretching out her arms and legs as if she’s been asleep for years. She prances over to the caterpillar and curtsies.

“How do you fare this evening, Mr. Caterpillar?” she says in a milky voice of innocence. “I should like to thank you for not crowning me earlier, for finding another way. It was quite noble.”

Morpheus grins. The blue light at his fingertips snaps out and wraps around the caterpillar chess piece, wriggling it in front of the Alice caricature as if it were moving. He’s the master puppeteer, exactly as he was in our games as children. Exactly as he was in the human realm. Exactly as he always will be.

“Far from noble, My Queen.” His voice is comical and high-pitched. “Self-serving, in fact. Without any memory of your humanness, you would not be the girl I shared a childhood with. And, I’m loath to admit it, living out your life with the humans you love will make you a better ruler here. You know I always do what’s best for Wonderland.”

Those words have never sounded more beautiful or poignant. I coax my tiny Alice to drag a foot along the board. “You said you were done waiting,” she mumbles under my command. “And you’re right. I cannot ask you to wait any longer. You should find someone else.” As much as it hurts to hear the words leave her lips, Morpheus deserves to be happy.

He dips his chess piece, as if it were slouching, and answers in that nasally lilt. “Bless it, little majesty, have you forgotten what I am? As a solitary fae, I do not require company. In fact, I find the constant give-and-take of companionship tedious on the best day. Although I expect to discover the charm in it, some sixty years or so down the line.”

Tears sting my eyes, but I won’t let them fall. Instead, minuscule streams trickle down Alice’s cheeks. “Then I should like to add that I’m sorry. I’m sorry you have to wait so long for so many things.”

Morpheus’s gaze flashes to mine, then back to the chess piece wrapped in his magic. “Stop crying,” his quirky voice scolds. “Queens don’t cry. I taught you better than that.”

I bite my quivering lip, and tiny Alice strokes the caterpillar’s face. “But you’re crying . . .”

Morpheus lowers a wing and shades his cheek along with the transparent glimmer of his jeweled markings. “Well”—his shrill voice cracks slightly—“contrary to my preferences for lace and velvet, I’m not the queen. So I can cry all I like.”

My answering snort is clipped with a sob. I cover my mouth with my fingertips, guiding Alice to dry her face with her pinafore. “I love you. I don’t want to hurt you,” I murmur behind my hand.

Morpheus’s jaw spasms, his magic tightening around the caterpillar until it twirls in place on the board like a top set to spin. “Your pity is misguided.” His childish voice lowers an octave. “As I’ve often told you, time has no constraints in Wonderland. Jebediah may have your days for now. But an eternity awaits me and you. He’s the one getting the short end of the stick.” The corners of Morpheus’s mouth twitch wickedly. “Which is fitting, considering he’s short in so many other aspects.”

“Shut up!” I say, laughing hysterically. Alice transforms back to an inanimate jade piece as I toss her. My aim is off and she plops into Morpheus’s tea, splattering him and the chessboard.

With a graceful sweep of his hand, he retracts his magic. Tea drizzles down his face as his inky eyes turn up to mine, alight with something both dangerous and daring, shifting moods faster than I can blink.

“Careful, plum.” It’s his deep cockney accent now. He wipes his face with a napkin. “Don’t start something you have no intention of finishing.”

“Oh, I’ll finish it,” I say—spurred by the dark confidence fluttering at the edge of my psyche. The side of me that knows I’m his match in every way. “And you know I’ll win.” I rise from my chair to scope out the room for weapons, vaguely aware of the prisms of glittery light reflected off my skin onto the surroundings.

“I know I’ll let you win,” Morpheus says, standing up. “I won’t even put up a fight.” His white-toothed smile spans to something forebodingly provocative, as though mimicking the spread of his wings. “Well, perhaps a small one, just for sport.”

I inch toward the middle of the room, wrestling the smile trying to blossom on my own face. My heart flutters in an effort to get closer to him, that same magnetic invigoration in my chest that I felt when Jeb hugged me. Yet Morpheus isn’t even touching me.

He studies me knowingly, as if he can see my heart’s reaction to him.

“On second thought, playtime can wait.” He snatches my wrist with his blue electrified strands before I can unleash my magic. “You’re too easily distracted, luv. That’s something we’ll work on.” He drags me over, picks me up, and carries me to the bed.

“Morpheus,” I warn, squirming in his arms. I know, with just a thought, I can bring the chandelier crashing down on him like a cage.

“Tut. Don’t do anything rash,” he scolds as if reading my mind. Swiping the waterfall aside, he lays me atop the fragrant, silky rose petals. “I’m only asking one thing of you tonight. And it will not compromise your human future. We’ll keep on our clothes. No hanky-panky.” He presses his palm over his heart in pledge fashion. “I vow on my life-magic never to come between you and Jebediah Holt again.”

I gasp. The profoundness of such a gesture, from a self-seeking fae, touches my soul. The only thing predictable about my future king is his unpredictability. “You once told me you wouldn’t be a gentleman. You lied.”

He leans over and caresses my cheek with his knuckles, so tender it hurts. “Oh, I stand by that statement, little blossom. For you see, there’s the chance you will break down and come between the two of you. Every night we’re together, I will tempt you to the edge of madness. I will tease you to torments. You will have to earn Jebediah’s happy life by being strong and unbending, as all good queens should be. Though this night, I’m giving you a lull.”

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