Unhinged Page 88

Underland’s rear doors open to a small locker room where employees store backpacks, jackets, and personal items while working. It also has a freight elevator used for carrying down weekly shipments of food and supplies.

That’s where Jeb is waiting to let us in. We’re going to take the elevator so we can enter behind the café and blend in easier.

Jeb’s still helping in spite of how I broke his heart. Not just because his sister could be in danger but because that’s what Jeb does. He protects the vulnerable.

Just like I was supposed to protect him, and failed.

I drive Morpheus’s Mercedes into the back parking lot with Mom riding shotgun and Morpheus fluttering in moth form outside my window. He’s attending tonight as the British exchange student. Taelor will be ecstatic. Not only has “M” returned, but Jeb and I are on the outs.

Best prom ever.

Under the black lights, Morpheus’s true appearance will look like part of a costume. In keeping with that, I’ve let my wings out again. Mom helped me wrap periwinkle netting around their base and pinned it in front with a sparkly brooch, like a shawl, to camouflage how they protrude from my skin. If I wasn’t so crushed over Jeb, I might actually get a kick out of showing off my wings and eye patches.

We park next to Jeb’s motorcycle. The sight of it tears my heart a little more.

He came early like we’d originally planned and had free run of the place before anyone arrived. He messaged me with: Nothing suspicious. Curt, concise, and emotionless. I deleted it. It had no place among the flirty, heartfelt, and romantic texts that make up the rest of his thread on my phone.

The wrist corsage stares up at me from atop my periwinkle glove, a taunting reminder of the ring he offered along with the rest of his life. The ring that’s now fused to the heart pendant and key. I clutch the metal jumble at my neck, then tuck it under my netted shawl.

I would cry, but this is so beyond tears. My eye sockets feel hot and scratchy, as if I poured desert sand into them, then shoved my eyeballs back in.

Suck it up, Alyssa. The voice in my head could easily be Morpheus’s, but it’s mine. I secure my air-brushed half mask with silver fringe in place, tying the band around my head.

Mom and I step out of the car. The rear parking lot is abandoned except for us. With one press of the key remote, the doors glide down. A cool gust flaps my wings and my gown’s scalloped hem. I bend to adjust my blue-gray platform boots, working part of the hem free from a buckle.

The storm from earlier has passed, leaving a peachy orange sunset. The gravel shimmers like neon sequins, but that’s only on the surface. There’s something dark, ancient, and menacing buried under this sleepy realm, and the humans can’t see it.

The bugs are back—no longer tossing out warnings but offering support. Their white noise unites into one whisper:

We’re here, Alyssa. Keep our world safe. If you need us … call.

Mom comes over to my side of the car to center my tiara and webbed veil. She smooths the silver wig Jenara lent me so it falls to my hips in straight, glossy strands. My real hair is tucked under an itchy wig cap.

Jeb told Jenara we were planning to attend prom incognito because he didn’t want me to miss it, pretending everything is okay with us. Jen was thrilled to go along with our charade and also brought over a backless cocktail dress for Mom, at my request.

The tea-length hem flatters her, as do the feminine layers of blushed chiffon that match the wispy cap sleeves. Jen helped her braid strands of hair at her temples and clipped mauve rhinestone barrettes in place so her hair glistens like her skin. She looks stunning. I wish Dad could see her.

Before we left the duplex, I put his truck in the garage next to Gizmo so it would look like no one was home. The thought of him being there alone makes me sad all over again.

“I know, Allie.” Mom’s intense sky blue eyes read me through her rose-tinted mask. “I hate tricking him like that, too. But I can’t see any other way.”

Morpheus swoops down in moth form to hover beside me, one of his wings brushing my cheek teasingly. I wave him off and bite back the anger I’ve been suppressing since we kissed. He changed that moment into something it wasn’t meant to be yet.

And I suspect he planned it. That he purposely let his wings fall so Jeb would see.

Morpheus transforms three feet in front of me. “Alyssa, there are no words for your beauty.” He bows graciously.

“Can it, Morpheus.”

He grins and straightens, wings high and regal behind him. I glare at his costume. It’s so typical him. A mix of medieval and rock star: brown leather forearm guards with studs over a ruffle-cuffed white shirt, and a cavalier doublet in burgundy with a gold lace overlay. The hem hits above his muscled thighs, so the skintight burgundy hose taper smoothly into knee-high brown boots, leaving nothing to the imagination. Worst of all, he has a crown.

He dressed as a fairy king. The irony doesn’t escape me.

I scowl.

“Problem, luv?” He looks down on me from behind a gold lace half mask while adjusting the ruby-jeweled crown over his blue hair with velvet-clad hands. Tiny moth corpses are suspended in the rubies, like stained-glass fossils.

I shake my head. “I’m pretty sure you’ll be the only one wearing anything tight enough to need a codpiece. Always have to be the showstopper, don’t you?”

“Oh, I assure you, what I chose to show is only the start.”

Mom and I roll our eyes simultaneously, and his grin widens. Together, the three of us dig out the duffel bags filled with supplies from the trunk and trek to the back door.

Jeb’s there before we knock, holding the door open. He’s morbidly beautiful with the fake webs, dusty streaks, and strategic rips Jenara incorporated into his tuxedo. The navy blue velvet-flocked jacket with frog closures makes him look even broader and taller, and his pants drape fluidly down his muscled legs. A periwinkle dress shirt and matching half mask complement his olive skin and dark wavy hair, playing off his green eyes with flecks of gray. The satin cravat at his throat combines all the colors in a paisley print.

He shaved and is wearing the brass-knuckle labret I gave him, but it’s not for me. It’s because he plans to kick zombie ass.

“Jeb …”

He looks through me. “You all need to hurry. We have plans to discuss.”

To have him address us as a collective stings like a slap. The familiarity of him is so painfully close I don’t want to move. Morpheus wraps an arm around me to nudge me along, and Jeb’s gaze flits to the connection before he looks away again, jaw tight enough to crack.

Prev Next