Unhinged Page 32

I press on my wrinkled skirt with my thumb, wishing I could iron out my emotions as easily as the fabric.

“Look …” I find my voice again. “I’m sorry for scaring you by driving so crazy. I shouldn’t have played on your fears like that.”

He opens his door. As it glides upward on its hinges, he sets his feet on the ground and looks over his shoulder.

“You wish to apologize?” He grins. “Whyever for? Everyone has something that can be used against them. You set aside your innate compassionate nature and used my weakness to get what you wanted from me. That was well played. You followed your instincts and let down your inhibitions without my even having to coach you. That is good. For the only way you’ll be able to defeat Red is by learning to be merciless. Compassion has no place on any battlefield … magical or otherwise.” He eases out of the car. He sways as if to get his bearings after the earlier drama. “You know how to manipulate me, and I know how to manipulate you. That makes us even.”

No. We’ll never be even.

We’ll always be trying to outdo each other. I won’t say it aloud, any more than I’ll admit that I like it that way; that some primal, powerful side of me craves the challenge and always has.

“Wait.” I get out of the Mercedes, grab my backpack, and press the remote to shut the doors. “Before we see my mom, we need to get our story straight. You’re an exchange student from school. You’re interested in seeing my art. That’s how we’ll bring up the mosaics she has.”

Forearms propped on the roof of the car, he stares across at me, a hint of the jewels under his dark eyes glittering beneath the shade of his hat. “And what if she sees the truth beneath the mask? She shares your blood.”

“We’ll deal with it,” I answer, although I know it won’t be that simple.

We start toward the garage, but a shout from next door stops us.

“Hey.” Jen jogs up with a dress bag over one shoulder and her sewing tote hanging from the other. I completely forgot we had plans to do last-minute alterations on the prom dress she made for me. She looks Morpheus up and down. “M?”

She appears puzzled but not mad, which means she still hasn’t heard about our supposed lunchtime liaison.

“Hey, Jen.” I play with the backpack’s strap on my shoulder, keeping my eyes averted from Morpheus. “Did you get my text?”

“Oh, sorry,” she answers. “My phone died during lunch. It’s charging at home.” Her attention wanders back to Morpheus, that curious glint still there.

“Good afternoon, green eyes.” He tips his hat and gives her a heart-stopping smile.

“Uh, hey.” When she turns back to me, her cheeks are flushed the same pink as her hair. “Wasn’t my bro picking you up today?”

At least I don’t have to invent an excuse and lie even more than I already am. “The magazine rescheduled his interview. Mor … M offered to drive me. He’s an old friend of the family.” Yeah, old is an understatement; and friend? That doesn’t quite cover it. “I mean, his family has known ours for years.” Plagued is more like it. My gaze drops to my feet. “I brought him by to say hi to my mom, okay?”

“What’s with you?” Jen asks. “You act like I caught you guys making out in his car.”

Morpheus laughs. “Timing truly is everything, isn’t it?”

“What does that mean?” Jen turns to him.

Morpheus holds my gaze. “Had you been just a few minutes earlier, you would have caught us. I had my hands in Alyssa’s skirt.”

Jen gives Morpheus a look that could kill, then frowns at the wrinkles around my skirt’s zipper. “What’s going on, Al? Why are you such a mess?”

I suppress the urge to punch Morpheus. “I found out that Mr. Mason lost three of my mosaics,” I say to soothe Jen’s accusatory scowl. “I was upset.” I swipe at my dried mascara tracks for emphasis.

Jen’s expression softens a fraction and she dabs at the smeared eye makeup with her thumb. “But what’s that have to do with your skirt?”

I glare so hard at Morpheus that heat radiates from my eyes. It’s my own fault. I made him promise to fix things between me and Jeb but not Jenara. Which means he can still use her to screw with my world. “It got stuck in the seat belt, and he had to help me get it out.”

“Oh.” Jenara snorts. “Hands in her skirt. That’s frackin’ hilarious.” There’s an edge to her sarcasm as she turns back to Morpheus. “Word to the wise. I wouldn’t use that joke with Jeb. He doesn’t have my sense of humor … in fact, he has a ‘pound first, ask questions later’ policy.”

“I’m aware of his overprotective tendencies,” Morpheus says.

“How’s that?” Jen asks, wrapping the dress bag around her neck like a feather boa. “You only met my brother once. And that wasn’t exactly on a good day. Al was halfway drowned.”

Morpheus takes off his hat and swirls the brim in his hands, an obeisant gesture. He pulls it off beautifully; only I know he’s faking. “Of course. What I saw was care and concern.” Morpheus’s gaze flits to mine. “It’s obvious he’d go to the ends of the earth for her.”

Nostalgia tightens my throat. “And I’d do the same for him.”

“That’s why you guys are so great together.” Jen smiles and weaves an arm through mine, my easygoing best friend again. “So, are you ready to see the dress? Fresh from the dry cleaner and waiting for the final touches.”

Morpheus returns his hat to his head and angles it, completely at ease. How can he be so calm? Jen being here complicates things even more. I’m going to have to corner my mom and convince her to go along with my lie about Morpheus being a family friend. And to do that, I’ll have to be honest about who he is. Pile on Queen Red’s possible presence in our world and the battle I’m totally unprepared to fight, and I’m almost at my wit’s end.

Sweat beads at my hairline as I lead the way to the garage, then punch the combination into the keypad. Morpheus pauses to look at the buckets filled with gardening items.

Jen stops next to him. “Al used those buckets to make traps, to capture insects for her mosaics. Back before she started working with glass gems.”

Prev Next