Unhinged Page 72

I shake my head dismissively, then make my way to the racks filled with funky and gothic clothes waiting to be wheeled out to the main floor. Persephone’s collection of window-dressing props adds a creepy air: a skeleton with only one leg occupies a busted antique chair, bony arms crossed over its chest like it’s a crypt-keeper; a roll of canvas for backdrops; a trunk filled with shattered masquerade masks and threadbare costumes; Styrofoam wig heads sporting an assortment of wig colors and styles; and some electrical items including more strings of lights and a miniature smoke machine.

I stop at a rack of damaged merchandise. Not my first choice for a trip to London, but since Persephone will be throwing most of them away after writing them off on her taxes, it’s the best choice, so I don’t feel like I’m stealing.

I find a three-quarter-sleeve minidress of stretchy purple velvet, with fitted bodice and flared skirt. Turquoise lace trims the cuffs and hem. It hits at my thighs, the perfect size for a tunic to go over my ripped jeans. There’s a tear in the left shoulder seam. I unravel it further until the slit will accommodate my wing and then tear the other shoulder on the right side to match.

After tossing a quick look at Jeb, I duck into the tiny bathroom off to the left, close the door, and set my backpack on the floor. I loosen my belt, and the drop cloth slips away, so I’m standing there in only my bra, jeans, and boots. Cold air rushes over me from a vent above the sink. The tiny fluorescent light barely illuminates the room and wreaks havoc with my reflection.

I skim my fingers through my tangles, shocked at how wild I look.

I’m every bit a netherling: eye patches, unruly, wavy hair that appears to move as if alive, and a sheen of glitter on my skin.

Most awe-inspiring of all is how my wings rise behind me, shimmery and frosted—a haze of jewels and gossamer.

Last year, I stood here, terrified of becoming who I thought my mom was—a crazed woman, bound in a straitjacket and occupying a padded cell. Now here I am, a completely different person than I was: half netherling, half human, but still wholly confused.

Who am I, really? Powerful but broken, like my mother? Or am I something more? A queen destined to rule Wonderland with the most enigmatic and frustrating of all netherlings at my side, to have a son who will in some warped way be a gift to that mad world?

I can’t. Not yet. I snap my gaze to my boots. No more staring in the mirror. No more conjecturing. It’s overwhelming, even terrifying, to know my life has already changed so much. I can’t imagine it changing so drastically again.

I need to be reminded of what’s normal. What’s safe. And Jeb represents all of that. I need to fix him, to get back to real life. A life with no more secrets between us.

Dressing myself with wings proves a challenge, but the stretchy fabric helps. When I finally step again into the storeroom, Jeb’s standing against the wall wearing a confused expression, though he doesn’t appear afraid or in pain.

My heart gives a little jump to see him awake and alert, even if it’s in a dream state.

Morpheus is missing, and The Crow display looks different. I try to place what’s changed, but a shuffling sound in the shop’s main room distracts me. I assume that’s where Morpheus went, probably to check out the mirrors on the walls. I should make sure he isn’t seen by any passersby through the front windows, but I’m so thrilled to finally have a chance to talk to Jeb, I can’t bring myself to leave yet. It was yesterday afternoon when we last had a lucid conversation, but it seems like forever ago.


He jerks to attention as he notices me. The black blazer fits him even better when he’s standing, pulling open across the front to display more of his chest. The fabric glides down the thighs of his jeans. He pushes off the wall, studying me like I’m a painting. I shiver under his appraisal—not sure how to react after our earlier encounter. I know he won’t hurt me, but …

He walks over, cautious, as if I’m a shy animal that might spook easily. Or maybe it’s him that could be spooked.

I stand my ground. I’ll have to camouflage my wings and eye patches somehow before we go to London, but I don’t want to hide them from Jeb. Not anymore.

I flinch as he reaches toward my neck.


I melt. There’s nothing but the gentleness and love I’ve come to expect in his voice. No murderous intent or crazed edge to his gaze. I tackle-hug him, just like I wanted to the instant he showed up at the cottage.

He stumbles backward two steps, but his sturdiness prevails. He steadies me and returns the embrace, hands searching for a place on my back that isn’t blocked by my wings.

“This is different,” he whispers, yet he doesn’t sound disturbed or freaked out. “Of all the times I’ve had this dream, we were never in the storeroom.”

I draw back and study him, smiling. Morpheus wasn’t kidding when he said he’d be in a dreamlike state.

He returns my smile, and his labret sparkles. Even in the dimness, I can see the red welts on his chin from the rabbit’s claws.

“I’m so sorry.” I stroke the raised lines with a fingertip, though I’m talking about so much more than his physical condition. “Does it hurt?”

He lets me fuss over him all of a nanosecond before pulling the macho act. “Nothing ever hurts when I’m with my fairy skater girl.” His gaze doesn’t leave mine as he grabs my hips and drags me close so there’s no space between us. “You know I love you like this.” He skims my eye patches with a fingertip, his breath hot on my face.

The confession is beautiful, but I wonder if he’ll feel the same when he’s no longer in a trance.

“I’m ready,” he says. There’s a sweet insistence in the words that makes my throat dry. He’s a toned-down version of the starving artist I faced before, and I’m once again the center of his world.

“Ready for what?” I ask.

“For you to wrap me in your wings,” he answers, voice gruff. “And for me to show you how to fly without ever leaving the ground.”

He nuzzles my neck, and a blush heats my skin. A quiver of pleasure surges through me, from my toes to my wing tips, but I push him to arm’s length, hands wrapped in his lapels. Morpheus said this dream state is temporary. We have to hurry.

“Listen, Jeb. This dream is different. There’s about to be a lot of weirdness.” I inch backward toward the entrance to the main floor where Morpheus is so we can go.

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