Unhinged Page 44

His black eyes soften to a depth of emotion that surprises me. He actually looks wounded. “Perhaps because you hold me to a different standard. You won’t give me the benefit of the doubt, as you do them. You act as if I’ve never done right by you.”

My attention drops to my gloved hands. He trained me to know the Wonderland creatures, to understand how to survive in the nether-realm. He stood by me in the car earlier, facing down a train … and it was not the first time he looked death in the face so I wouldn’t have to.

He has moments of courage, tenderness, even selflessness. But he’ll put anyone or anything at risk in a heartbeat if it gets him something he wants. I lift my eyes to meet Morpheus’s gaze. “Earn my trust.”

“How?” he asks.

“By telling me the truth. What went on between you and my mom? Did you seduce all the Liddell women? Did you tell them the same pretty words you told me?” I curl my legs beneath my dress, feeling small and vulnerable for even asking.

Morpheus scoots aside some glass with his boot and kneels. He takes my hand in his. “I’ve known but three generations of Liddell women. Counting the ones in London, there’s been twenty or so. Most were oblivious and unreachable—they didn’t hear the nether-call. The others weren’t strong enough to face their lineage without losing their minds. As for Alison, she and I were business partners. There has never been more than that between us. There’s only one Liddell I desire, only one who earns my undying devotion.” He works a fingertip into the lace at my elbow and drags off the glove. “The one who was my truest friend … who took my place and braved the attack that was meant for me.”

I hold my breath as he trails his thumb along the scars on my palm.

“But I didn’t know what I was doing,” I insist. “I was just a naïve kid who wanted to protect her pet bug.”

“I don’t believe that.” He holds my hand in his. “Self-sacrifice is innate in you. Your mum wanted the crown for the power, but you faced Wonderland’s tests to save your family; just as you faced the bandersnatch for Chessie; and then Red … you faced Red, all alone, for Jebediah. Can you not face her one last time, with me by your side, for Wonderland?”

I try to drag my hand free of his, but he holds me tighter. “Please, that’s enough.”

“It will never be enough,” he insists, guiding my palm to his chest so I can feel his pounding heartbeat. “I will not stop until you’re reigning over the Red court forever. Until you’re back with us where you belong.”

“I don’t belong there.”

“You do. Because of who you are. What you are. One half brimming with dark curiosities and a fierce appetite for all things mad. But the other half whimsy and light—filled with courage and loyalty.” He bites his lower lip, a gesture so minute I might’ve imagined it. “Nothing can break the chains you have on my heart. For you are Wonderland.”

The endless depth of his eyes is at once ominous and tranquil. Light glints off the glass around him on the floor, speckling his face as if he’s cloaked in stars. Somewhere there’s a memory of him like this—an enchanted child sitting beneath the nether-realm’s constellations and telling me the same thing: You are Wonderland. That is your whole; accept it, and you can rule our world…

The memory, like this moment, is a living thing—lapping at my soul, hot enough to burn, yet chilling to my blood.

“Alyssa,” Morpheus murmurs. “We were children together. I’ve waited for your return more years than your mortal knight has even known you existed.”

I can’t bring myself to meet his gaze again … can’t bring myself to face him or the temptation he’s awakened. I want to give in, to embrace him and Wonderland and its endearing yet macabre creatures, to seize all of the deranged beauty and power that waits for me there and never let go.

But that isn’t right. That isn’t the future I have mapped out. I belong with Jeb and the people I love, here.

I pull my hand out of Morpheus’s. Only the aquarium’s hum and the sound of bubbles racing up the filter break the silence.

Morpheus sighs. “Enough indecisiveness. It is time for us to go to Wonderland.”

“I won’t leave until I find a way to tell Jeb the truth,” I say. “I want my future with him to be based on honesty. He has to know why I’m gone … where I am. When I’ll be back.”

Morpheus’s frown is soft but stubborn. “You’ve already waited too long, trying to ignore what’s happening. If Red isn’t already here, she will be soon … and all the mortals you love will be in danger. Is that what you want?”

I groan and bury my face in my hands. “Of course not,” I answer into my fingers.

“It is your place to step up and be the queen. Red cannot win,” Morpheus insists. “It’s not a game this time. It’s life and death.”

It’s not a game this time.

This time.

I drop my hands to the edge of the bed and push myself up. He follows my lead, appearing puzzled. Although I barely come to his chest, a surge of resentment makes me feel taller by at least six inches.

“What you called a game last time was life and death to me.” I can’t suppress a snarl. “It was you and Mom who made me jump through all those hoops. The two of you together should have enough magic to fight Red. Why is it my responsibility to throw away all my plans and risk my life again?”

Morpheus’s mood flashes from gentle to formidable in a matter of seconds. He grasps my chin so I can’t look anywhere but at him. The touch surprises me, because Finley’s hands aren’t soft and ethereal like Morpheus’s usually are. They’re callused and human, like Jeb’s.

“You are just as responsible as we are,” Morpheus says. “For not following my instructions to the letter. You chose to listen to mortal sentimentalities over netherling genius. The same mistake she made when she chose your father. You disappointed me once, Alyssa. Dare not do it again.”

I drag my chin free. “I disappointed you?” I’m so tired of his arrogance. “You should go. I’m really done looking at your face.”

He grins—a malicious flash of white teeth. “You mean Finley’s face.”

I cringe, thinking once more of the human guy trapped down in Wonderland. “Get out,” I insist. “I want you gone before my dad gets here.”

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