Splintered Page 89

“Before I leave,” Morpheus says, as if reading my mind, “you need to know. When I killed the bandersnatch, there was no sign of Red.”

My pulse stalls as realization dawns. “You don’t think she’s still out there looking for me . . .”

“It’s possible she crawled off and withered away somewhere, having no body to inhabit. But, if she did find someone, the portals are very heavily guarded now. I would ne’er have made it here if not for Gossamer’s guilty conscience. She and the spritelings distracted the elfin knights for me. I’ve alerted the Twid Sisters, and I’ll keep an eye out myself. I’ve fought the witch once for you. I’ll do it again if I must.”

I have no doubt he would. I place a palm at his chest. His heartbeat knocks rapidly against my skin. “I never would have guessed.”

“What’s that?” he asks on a hoarse whisper.

“That you’re one of those netherlings who has a rare penchant for kindness and courage.”

“Tut.” He presses his glove over my hand. “Only when there’s fringe benefits.”

Smiling, I rise to my toes, grip his lapels, and kiss each one of his jewels until they change to a captivating dark purple—the color of passion fruit. I ease back to the balls of my feet. “So beautiful,” I whisper, tapping one of the sparkling gems.

Morpheus catches my palm and kisses the scars there. “I couldn’t agree more.”

We stare at each other, an invisible cord drawn tighter between us—a bond strengthened.

The doorbell rings, startling me. I flash a look at the clock in the kitchen on my way to the door. Motioning for Morpheus to be quiet, I steal a glance through the peephole.

“Jeb!” My heart races as I tuck the necklace’s key into my cleavage and scramble to unlock the latch. “Could you”—I gesture to Morpheus’s wings—“you know?”

He moves behind me, breath warm on my nape. “I’ll be watching over you. We bent the rules. Outsmarted magic.”

“And now there’s a price to be paid?” I whisper against the sick nudge in my stomach.

“Perhaps. Then again, it could be that we’re already paying the price.” There’s a hint of sadness in those words. He steps back and bows, wings forming a beautiful arch. “Ever your footman, fairest queen.” He takes one last look at me, then transforms into the moth and flutters at the threshold, waiting.

The minute I open the door, he swoops out, trying to take Jeb’s head off.

Jeb ducks. “Hey!” He stares at the moth hovering behind him. “Isn’t that the bug from your car’s air freshener?”

Amazing. He really doesn’t remember . . . anything.

“Do you want me to catch it for you?” Jeb asks when I don’t respond.

“Nah. I’m hoping it’ll hit a windshield.”

Liar, Morpheus whispers in my mind, then drifts away on a warm breeze. I bite back a smile.

“An insect like that would’ve been a great focal point for a mosaic,” Jeb says, his voice demanding my full attention. That velvety, deep timbre is like music to me now, knowing I could’ve lost it forever. I have to fight back the urge to leap into his arms.

The breeze wraps his scent around me. He’s wearing a ragged T-shirt and oil-stained carpenter shorts long enough to brush his shins. His hair is pushed back with a torn bandana, and his face is scruffy. He’s here to work on Gizmo. Taking care of me, like always. My elfin knight.

I study his tanned arms, drinking in those scars. The night on the rowboat, how it felt to sleep locked in his strong embrace. All these memories are mine alone now. Something I have to keep from him, and I’m not comfortable with secrets between us anymore.

Kiss him, kiss him. You know you want to kiss him . . . A grasshopper lands on my shoulder. I tune into the white noise coming from the yard, picking out whispers where I can. They’re all saying the same thing.

Kiss him . . . But I can’t, because I want to do this right. I want to be sure he’s broken up with Taelor first. That he’s mine in every way.

“Al?” Jeb picks the grasshopper off me and sets it free.

The movement shakes me from my stupor. “Oh, sorry.”

“Yeah, you were really deep in thought there. You okay?”

I shrug. “I was thinking about my mosaics. I’m done killing things. It’s time for a change in mediums. Rocks and broken glass maybe. Beads and wires, ribbon.” Why not? I have a full reserve of Wonderland landscapes reawakened in my memory, waiting to be immortalized.

“Sounds great,” Jeb says. “I’m ready for a change, too.” He draws something from behind his back: a bouquet of white roses wrapped in pink tissue paper. He must’ve had them tucked in his waistband. A sweet smile frames his crooked incisor as he hands them to me.

“Thank you.” I sniff the delicate scent. “Where’d you find a florist open this early?”

He shoves his hands into his pockets. “Uh. I actually kind of borrowed them from Mr. Adams’s bushes over there.” His elbow gestures to the duplex across the street, where a rosebush suffers several obvious bald spots.

I snort. “You’re so bad.”

“Eh, I’ll mow his lawn for free or something. Hey . . .” He lifts a thumb to my wrist, rubbing it. My entire body lights up with sensation. “I tried to come by to see you before prom last night. No one answered.”

“Oh … is this about Hitch?”

“It was last night. Since I couldn’t reach you, I made Hitch swear to let me know if you showed up. When you didn’t, Jen told me what happened with your mom at Soul’s. That’s what the roses are for.”

“White ones,” I whisper, eyes filling with tears.

His eyebrows pinch in concern. “Please, don’t cry. If you don’t like white roses, I’ll paint them red for you.”

“No, never do that.” My blood sprints too fast through my veins; I feel dizzy.

“I meant like in the Alice story.” He winces. “Sorry. That was stupid. I know you hate that book.”

I grasp his arm. We both stare at the point of contact when his muscle twitches. “Actually, I’m starting to see the charm in it. And the roses are perfect.”

“Good.” He shuffles his tennis shoes on the porch. “So, am I forgiven about the London thing, for keeping the part about Tae from you?”

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