Unhinged Page 87

“I made a life-magic vow.”

“No. I asked my mom about that vow. The wording never specified protecting Dad’s identity.”

He looks down, as if searching for some rebuttal.

I lift his chin with my fingertip. “I’m trying to tell you that if you keep following the good impulses, no matter how insignificant they might seem, I won’t let you down like the others. I’ll come back to you.” I bite my tongue, careful not to show all of my hand. He can’t know I’ve witnessed our future, only that I’m keeping a tally of his past.

Morpheus laughs. “Come back to me?”


“Perhaps I won’t want you then. Perhaps I’ll tire of waiting.”

I swallow my pride. “Then it will be my turn to win you. I’m up for the challenge.”

His sneer is sardonic if not impressed. “Of course you are.” He pulls me closer with my necklace charms, tightening his fist around them. “But I’m not surrendering our day together after we defeat Red just because of a few pretty words and empty promises.”

I bite my tongue, tempering my impulse to lash out. That would only feed his ego.

“Then you’re not doing the right thing,” I say evenly.

He pouts. “No? Because my good impulses are telling me that the right thing is to make you honor your vow. You’re just going to have to bite the bullet and tell your mortal toy about our accord.”

I slap his wings in an attempt to get out. They don’t budge. “You make me crazy!”

His eyes light up, glittering onyx against a backdrop of violet jewels. “And you inflame my soul.” He squeezes my necklaces, blue light pulsing from inside his fingers. “Ask yourself, Your Majesty. Are you truly angry at me, or at the fact that your little ruse to sweet-talk me backfired?”

I blink away the burning sensation under my lids. “It wasn’t a ruse. Everything I said is true.”

He huffs and attempts a glare. But underneath, I see the same doubt and vulnerability I heard in his voice when he sent me to the train without him. I also see something more: a damaged and enchanted fairy who pushed aside his selfishness and faced the bandersnatch for me, who looked a train dead-on, who put himself between Jeb and Sister Two, and who saved my dad from having his life sucked away.

I’m overwhelmed with compassion and gratitude and another emotion I don’t dare put a name to. I have to convince him that there’s a place for him in my heart, too.

Just not yet.

I glance at the wings covering me, at his body, immovable in front of me, then rise up on tiptoe and take his smooth face in both my hands. He tenses for an instant—suspicious—but relaxes slowly, each muscle surrendering bit by bit as I stroke his jaw.

“I’m just asking you to wait a little while,” I whisper. “Isn’t forever worth that?” Not giving him the chance to answer, I press my mouth to his cheek, a promise for someday. One pulse of my lips for my childhood friend, and one for the man I’m only starting to know.

Morpheus gentles beneath me, for once letting me take the lead. His free hand rests in the hair at the nape of my neck, the other grows hot where he holds my pendants.

It’s a peck on the cheek, innocent and heartfelt, until he turns his face without warning, catching my mouth under his. His lips are warm and silky, flavored with tobacco. He groans and sinks into me, sweeping me into the current of his passion.

Before I start to drown, I push him away, my lips throbbing and speechless. His jewels are like fireworks, a prismatic array of emotions. He studies me with astonishment, so like the boy from my dreams those rare times I defeated him in a game or a challenge. His wings are lax, no longer a wall around us.

A muffled curse comes from the doorway. I jerk my head to find Jeb there, blood drained from his face. His gaze is fierce yet dejected, a deep and gut-twisting wound I haven’t seen since his dad was alive and tormenting him.

My stomach falls. “Jeb.”

He doesn’t yell. He doesn’t even attack Morpheus. What he does is so much worse.

He leaves.

“Jeb, wait!” I feel as if my insides have been gored—a pain so powerful my legs give out.

Morpheus’s fist at my sternum holds me pinned to the wall, keeps me from going after him.

“There’s a pity.” Morpheus glides his free knuckles down my cheek. “I am sorry he had to be hurt, luv. But it’s better this way. It would’ve driven him mad to give you up to me for a day. Things would never have been the same between you after that. And he could’ve been killed tonight. You probably just saved his life.”

My cheeks flame. “No. This isn’t how it’s supposed to end. This time was supposed to belong to us!”

Morpheus releases me and steps back. “Time. You’ll have no such constraints in Wonderland. Let that be your silver lining. Now pull yourself together. We must prepare for Red.”

On the way out, he stops and strokes the pearls on my prom dress where it hangs on the chair. He smiles tenderly, and I know he’s thinking of Ivory’s vision—of a wedding and a child with hair like his and eyes like mine, who will bring dreams to Wonderland and make stealing human children obsolete.

With a final glance at me, Morpheus leaves.

I slide to the floor. Warmth radiates between my collarbones where my necklaces glow, bright blue and hot from Morpheus’s magical grip. The key, heart, and ring are melded together—a scrap heap of metal as useless as any explanation I could offer Jeb.

I never saw it coming. It was me all along. Me who would betray myself in the worst possible way.

It’s not so easy to pull myself together.

I make us late leaving the house, and by the time we stop off at my dad’s sporting goods store for some supplies Jeb wrote down—two sets of walkie-talkies, ten soccer-ball carrying nets, four pairs of night-vision hunting goggles, and two paintball guns, along with a couple of boxes of white and yellow paintballs—Mom and I pull up in Underland’s lot only thirty minutes before prom is scheduled to start. The student council and some chaperones have already arrived. There are at least a dozen cars here, and one of them is Taelor’s. This night just gets better and better.

The activity center is a huge underground cave with a rock ceiling stretching as high as forty-eight feet in places. There’s a ground-level entrance outside: a small structure that looks like a dome with the letters U-N-D-E-R-L-A-N-D blinking in neon orange, red, and purple above the gym-style double doors. Once through the doors, a ramp curves down to the main floor where the glow-in-the-dark activities are laid out: a skateboard bowl, a miniature-golf area, an arcade, and a raised café. There’s also a place for dancing, about the size of the school gym, with wall-to-wall mirrors. It’s an improvement on the gym at school, since in lieu of traditional lighting, it uses black lights illuminating fluorescent murals. The perfect setting for fairy tales and masquerades.

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