Splintered Page 46

Jeb stops my palm at his muscled thigh. His eyes grow intense, the way they did when we embraced on the ocean floor.

I slide my hand free and he clenches his jaw.

Embarrassed, I concentrate on the rest of his uniform. The shirt is long-sleeved, made of something clingy. It’s silver with vertical black stripes made of semisheer fabric. I search for his cigarette burns, aching to see them, then notice his spattering of chest hair is gone. “You shaved your chest?”

He looks down at the sheer black stripes. “Actually, there wasn’t a mirror in my room. Gossamer did it after my bath, when she shaved my face. She said elves are hairless everywhere but their heads.”

Everywhere? I picture him naked—Gossamer touching his abs, among other places. “That sprite saw you in the nude?”

He clears his throat. “More than just her. I think there were about thirty of them climbing on me at one point.”

A surge of jealousy scalds me. My fists clench. “Thirty sprites touched your naked body?”

“Chill about the sprites, all right? Flying lima beans aren’t my thing. Now, come here. There’s something I want to show you.” He turns me to face the mirrored wall and stands behind me, chin resting atop my head as he lifts his hands to either side of my face. “Check out your eyes.”

My image stares back, transposed over the moth shadows. I noticed the makeup when I first came into the hall. The sprites did an incredible job making it look real. Black eye shadow dips like curvy tiger-stripes beneath my lower lashes. The lines resemble Morpheus’s tattoos, just a more feminized version.

“You’ve been like this the whole time. I noticed it when we first stepped out of the rabbit hole. I thought your makeup had smeared. But then, after the ocean, you still had it. I didn’t make the connection until I saw Morpheus without his mask a few minutes ago.” Jeb pauses, looking like he might be sick. His thumbs rub the edges of the black designs. “They don’t wipe away. And the glitter all over your skin? That’s not salt residue. You’re starting to look like my fairy sketches, for real.”

Feeling nauseated myself, I twine my tunic’s ruffles around a finger. That explains why the octobenus thought I was a netherling. “Why didn’t you say something?”

“We were too caught up in all the stuff going on.”

I turn from my reflection. “So, the curse is getting worse.”

“Worse than you think.” Jeb gets behind me and smooths his hands down the back of my shoulders. “There are slits in your costume . . . are wings coming next?”

His callused thumbs stroke the naked skin along my shoulder blades. I can’t answer. From what we’ve seen so far, only some netherlings have wings. The idea of something bursting out from my skin makes me woozy. In fact, thinking about the changes I’ve already undergone is enough to make me feel like I’m riding some kind of crazy, runaway carousel.

Jeb’s harsh scowl stares back at me in the reflection. “Why is it that this curse only affects the women in your family?”

“Alice was a female,” I answer, still in a spin over the wings question. “Only a female can undo her messes.”

“‘Messes,’” Jeb says, his frown intensifying. Gripping my arms gently, he turns me around and stares into my eyes. “When I was with the sprites, Gossamer mentioned what you did to the ocean. She didn’t call it fixing a mess. She said it was a test. And even weirder? She seems resentful that you accomplished it . . . that you’re here at all. Something’s not adding up. We’re not doing another thing to help bug-juice until he’s straight with us.”

“He’s already told me the truth. He told me the steps I have to take.” I tell Jeb what I learned in Morpheus’s room, though I’m not brave enough to share details about our “melding” moment or the magical chess piece puppet show.

“So, you’re just going to take his word?”

“He has noble motivations. His friend’s in trouble.”

“Stop humanizing the guy, Al!” Jeb slams a palm against the mirror wall. The moth shadows dart away as if startled. “He’s not of our world, okay? And he has this power to get inside your head. I watched you with him in the clearing . . . you can’t think straight when he’s around.”

The accusation revives my anger about London. “So, you’re going to play that card? Me not being strong enough to think for myself?”

“This is different. Look what’s happening to you!”

“But I can stop it by doing one more thing. That’s all.”

“Oh, yeah? From where I’m standing, the more you do for him, the more you become like him.”

“No. You’re wrong.” I tug on one of my braids, wishing I could convince myself as easily as I spout the words. Wishing I could deny that the longer I’m here, the more deeply this place is ingrained in my blood, or that Morpheus is the tourniquet, twisted tightly around my veins.

Jeb grinds his teeth so hard, his jaw jerks. “We’re not going to argue about this, Al. That’s what he wants. I won’t let him do it.”

“Do what?”

He wraps the hair I’m playing with around his wrist and tugs me close, bowing his head so our brows touch. “Come between us.”

My entire body goes soft and warm at the gruff possessiveness in his voice, but he doesn’t have a right to it. “Did you forget? There’s already someone between us. You’re moving with her to London.”

“I was an idiot. To think for one second that being on the other side of the ocean could give me any control.”

A fiery knot tightens in my chest and I take a step back. “‘Control’? Over what? My life? Reality check, Mr. Oblivious: I’m not your ‘kid sister’ anymore. I’m done being shelved with all your other responsibilities—somewhere between clipping toenails and changing dirty socks.” I shove him aside and start toward the glass chair, determined to wait there for Morpheus.

Without warning, Jeb snags one of the rings in my belt and spins me around. In one smooth motion, he lifts me onto the narrow, crescent-shaped table. My skin trembles beneath his touch as he scoots me all the way against the wall, his hips wedged between my thighs. We’re level—face-to-face. The fluttery feeling fills my head—and in the shadow of my darker side, a rush of satisfaction wells up, a perverse thrill that I can stoke his emotions to this gutdeep reaction.

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