Splintered Page 88

“I like it. Well, there are doughnuts on the table. I’m going to spend the day at the asylum. Will you come by after work?”

“Nothing in this world could stop me,” I promise.

It hits me that Dad hasn’t asked about his recliner. I look toward the chair, expecting to see the appliqués torn and frayed. Instead, they’re just as they always were. Which makes no sense at all, because that’s another thing I forgot to fix . . .

Dad heads out the front door, turning once. “Oh, you might want to check your traps today. I found a monster moth in one of them. Must’ve come in looking to get out of the storm last night. It’ll make a great addition to your mosaics. Never seen one so big.”

Monster moth . . . a brick chucked at my gut would hurt less than those words.

I lay the jade caterpillar on the coffee table and have to force myself to wait until Dad’s truck pulls out of the driveway.

In the garage, I open three buckets before I find him, lying atop a pile of assorted bugs. The stench of Kitty Litter and banana peel stings my nose. I lift him out—glowing blue body and black satin wings unmoving and lifeless.

He escaped somehow . . . he escaped the bandersnatch’s belly and made it back here, only to be suffocated by me.

Cradling him, I walk numbly into the living room, wavering with a sick sense of guilt and loss. I place him on the coffee table next to his carved counterpart and nudge his wings with a shaky finger.

“What were you thinking?” I murmur. “Why did you fly into the pipe? You had to know better.” It hurts to see him, once so pompous and full of life, now as hollow as the caterpillar carving. I pet his cold blue body. “I believe you now, okay? I believe that you cared. And I won’t forget what you did for me . . . in the end.”

I won’t let you forget. Morpheus’s voice slides into my head. I jump back as the moth body begins to vibrate.

The wings fold over and grow, opening to reveal Morpheus looming atop the table, in all his freakish glory. He’s wearing a modern suit in sapphire silk that matches his jeweled teardrops. And, of course, a spectacularly eccentric hat.

I stand, struggling to mask my happiness. A smile breaks out against my will.

“I knew you’d miss me.” He lights on the floor and moves in close, pinning me to the wall with his body.

“How did you escape?”

“It would seem”—he blots my tears with his sleeve—“that the bandersnatch’s hide is indestructible from the outside in. Not the inside out.”

Realization dawns. “Oh, my gosh . . . you had the vorpal sword in your jacket.”

“I did indeed.” He polishes his fingernails on his lapel. “Of course, all the other victims escaped with me. Now they’re following me around like lollygagging pups. They’ve proven useful enough. Fixing things. I had one of them return the stolen money to the purse while you were sleeping.”

“You . . . what?”

He gestures to the recliner behind him. “Then I put several in charge of stitching up daisies on the chair.”

A wave of disbelief and gratitude washes over me. “Thank you.”

“Ah, I deserve better than a thank-you.” His dark eyes simmer with seduction.

I cross my arms at my chest. “Huh. You owe me at least that. You preyed on my mind when I was a child. Forced my mom to leave her family and be boarded up in an asylum so she could protect me. Then you lured me into Wonderland so I could fix everything for you but be left with nothing in return.”

Raising one hand, he tilts his hat to that sexy slant. “You want me. Admit it.”

Even if he’s partly right, I’ll never tell him. “Why would I want you?”

He lifts three fingers to countdown. “Mysterious. Rebellious. Troubled. All those qualities women find irresistible.”

“Such an optimist.”

“My cup is never empty.”

“Too bad your brain is.” The words bite, but my smile softens with affection.

His answering smirk is edged with respect. “So …” He traces the necklace’s chain where it glides over my collarbone, igniting little fires on my bare skin. “You left Grenadine minding the store?”

“With Rabid as her advisor. I told everyone I had unfinished business here.”

“Such as?”

“Family and friends. Senior year and graduation. My art.”

Morpheus raises an eyebrow. “And your knight?”

I glance down at my socks. “Right now, he belongs to someone else.”

Morpheus grazes a fingertip down my temple. “Much as it warms me to the depths to hear that, I don’t believe it. The blood already won.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The boy bled for you—a whole body’s worth of blood. There’s no love greater than that. He belongs to you alone.”

His words are surprisingly beautiful and kind, and somewhere in my heart, I know he’s right. But how long will I have to wait for Jeb to have the courage to admit it to himself?

Morpheus touches the scars on my palm. “But let us not forget that you bled for me. So to whom do you belong, Alyssa?” The reminder evokes a tangle of emotions. He’s a pro at unbalancing me. “I’ve chosen the mortal realm.”

“You’re evading the question.”

“I learned from the master.”

He chuckles; then his inky gaze looks me up and down. “Fine, then. Play with your toy soldier. But you are a woman now, with the fire of the nether-realm coursing through your veins. You’re a savage at heart, and you’ve tasted the ambrosia of power. One day you’ll want to fly again. And rest assured, I’ll be waiting in the wings. Pun intended.” His wings swoop over us, enfolding me in a black cocoon and pulling me toward him.

I’m not sure if it’s the woman he’s awakened or the blossoming Wonderland wildness in my soul, but I surrender to the embrace. His warm mouth grazes my nose, leaving a hint of licorice behind. I prepare to push him off before he can taste my lips—I’m not about to betray Jeb again, even if we’re not together—but instead, Morpheus kisses my forehead, warm, chaste, and gentle. Then he lets me go.

An uncomfortable silence settles between us. Fishing some gloves from a pocket, he slips them on. I sense good-bye in the action. It twists my insides into a bittersweet tangle.

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