Unhinged Page 69

My head spins. None of this makes any sense. “How?”

“Just as you have two sides to yourself, you have two potential futures. One day, the mortals you love will grow old and die. You, also, will age outwardly, and will have to go through the illusion of death. But your crown grants you an eternity in Wonderland. You’ll be restored to the age you were when it was first placed upon your head. Your second future, your immortal netherling reign over the Red kingdom, will begin. And as you saw, Morpheus will play a very pivotal role.”

I feel like someone sucker-punched me. “I can’t be with someone I don’t trust. Who doesn’t trust me, either.”

She places a hand on my shoulder. “You will learn to understand one another, to read one another. Morpheus is rarely honest with his words. His actions are where the truth lies. There may be many, many years between now and the vision you viewed. Something will change the way you see him. Perhaps a bevy of small things along the way, or possibly another grand gesture you never thought him capable of. Whatever it is, it will alter your relationship forever.” Ivory steps back. “Alyssa, you’ve been given a chance at two lives and two loves. That is nothing short of a miracle. Cherish the gift for what it is. I shall see you soon, in Wonderland.”

Her wings arc above her head, high and beautiful. She folds them over herself, and then, in a poof of white light and sparkling powder, becomes a swan and soars gracefully out the door.

I clench my jaw, emotions reeling. My heart breaks to think of outliving Jeb and all the people I love: Mom, Dad, Jenara, and Jeb's and my children. It’s a mind trip I couldn’t grasp even on the best day. And today’s been the worst one ever.

Then, beyond the sadness that overshadows my future, there’s the terrible confusion of my present.

How can I truly be with Jeb, knowing that one day I’ll marry Morpheus? How can I give Morpheus the day I vowed to him and be true to Jeb, knowing what Morpheus knows?

I sit hard on the mattress. Morpheus bargained for those twenty-four hours because he doesn’t want me to have my mortal life. He doesn’t want to wait, or to share me with any other guy. He plans to start our future immediately.

I clasp the heart locket at my neck, struggling to separate its chain from the ruby-tipped key. I won’t let him take my time with Jeb away. I refuse.

There’s a rustle in the doorway. I stand and glance down to see Morpheus at the threshold.

“We should go,” he says.

“No,” I snap, too overwhelmed to say anything else. I want to hate him for all his lies, but Ivory’s vision keeps imprinting our child on my mind’s eye. Morpheus had motivations. They were pure—regardless of the lies and deceit it took to justify them. There is nothing black-and-white about him. He’s a chaotic portrait made of every shade of gray.

With a flourish of dark wings he appears beside me in the loft. “What do you mean, no? We haven’t time for nonsense, Alyssa.”

“Release me of my vow,” I say, forcing myself to meet his gaze. “We both know I’ll never have feelings for you. So why even play this game? There’s nothing between us.” If I can say it to his face, maybe it will be true.

He leans in so his wings cast us both in shade, and his jewels flash a blinding red. “I’ll prove you wrong. The moment this war is over, when I have you to myself for twenty-four hours. You’ll never again question what we have between us.”

“No. Deal’s off.”

“Fine. Break your vow. Lose your powers. Then you’ll have no one to blame but yourself when Sister Two takes Jebediah into her web.”

My nightmare flashes through my head: Jeb wrapped up, a corpse.

I growl and barrel into Morpheus. He catches me and backs me to the wall where the webs are thickest. He winds me like a top until my arms are pinned to my body by a sticky blanket. I struggle, but Sister Two’s web is as strong as twine.

Morpheus bends his knees so we’re at eye level. “Why do you insist on binding your heart within these chains? For once, just be still and listen. Listen to the nether-call.”

Before I can even ask what he means, he skims his licorice-scented lips across my forehead—just shy of touching—his warm breath dragging across my left eye patch, then down a cheek, toward my mouth. The corner of my mouth tickles as he passes over it; then his breath stops to hover across my chin.

His palms rest against the wall on either side of my head. He lets the web serve as his hands, his breath serve as his lips, holding me immobile and kissing me without ever touching me. My eyes flutter closed as his lips skim a hairbreadth away from my lids. His familiar lullaby ignites in my mind, but there's a new verse:

“Little blossom trapped in between, wearing malice like a queen; hide the truth, be cruel and tart, still all the more, you rule my heart.”

I try to shut him out, but the song drags me back to Wonderland, to landscapes now ragged and wounded.

Tears burn behind my eyelids as I witness the destruction.

The restlessness wakes within, that thumping in my head. The more I try to resist, the more my blood burns—anger for Wonderland’s ailing skies and terrain, compassion for its ragged soul.

Morpheus finally touches me, bringing my thoughts back to the loft. Hands cupping my face, he coaxes my eyes open with his thumbs at their edges. He pulls back, and his gaze meets mine, sending a message deep into my heart.

Release your chains, Alyssa. Set your magic free.

In reaction both to his silent plea and to my fury over Red’s rampage, my wing buds itch and pinch until the pressure is unbearable.

I cry out in startled surprise as they burst from my skin, ripping my shirt and slicing through the cobwebs. The webs cling to the wall and my chest—a draping of thick gossamer that serves as a shirt in place of the one I lost.

I’m free, and I step away from the wall, my wings both heavy and light.

Morpheus watches me. His jewels are the deepest purple I’ve ever seen—triumphant and proud. His mouth curves to a slow-burning smile.

“Beautifully done, My Queen,” he says, stepping back and adjusting his hat. “You are at your most powerful when you stop resisting what’s in your blood.” He walks toward my mosaics, then stalls next to them, glancing at me. “One thing more: Wonderland and I are the same. You love one of us, you love the other. You are Wonderland, too. Which means we are the perfect fit, in more ways than you can even imagine. On our day together, I’ll take great pleasure in showing you all of them.”

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