Ensnared Page 38

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Red’s fingerprint—that splitting sensation behind my sternum—punches me. I clutch my hands in my lap to keep from doubling over. “That’s not what I’m doing,” I grit out. “I’m trying to find a balance.”

“How’s that possible?” Dad asks. “Madness is the antithesis to balance. I’ve seen the other side taking over you. And frankly, it scares me. You’re drawn to the darkness, to the lawlessness. Drawn to . . .”

Morpheus.

Even if Dad doesn’t say it out loud, I hear the name echo in the silence.

“He has insinuated himself into your life,” Dad continues.

“Some could argue that Mom’s choices had a hand in that.”

The boat slams into the shore, jarring us. Anger radiates off my dad, which only feeds the sense of right rising hot inside of me.

“I didn’t mean that like it sounded.” I attempt to placate him. “I’m just saying Morpheus didn’t plan to use anyone. Not in the beginning. He and Mom had a deal—mutually beneficial—until she backed out.”

Dad tosses the oars into the boat with a thunk. “Don’t ever accuse her of making a cavalier decision. She did the right thing even when it was difficult. Left behind a world that promised her power and immortality, all because she couldn’t stomach stealing human children for their dreams.”

“All because she couldn’t stomach leaving you as one of the stolen.” I regret the words instantly. I know it was so much more than that.

Dad shakes his head. “I’m going to forget this conversation, Allie. You’re tired and obviously not thinking before you speak.” He climbs out of the boat, wading through the shallows to pull it in.

He’s mistaken. I am thinking, proven by how I didn’t tell him the most inconceivable truth of all: That I can actually put a stop to stolen childhoods. That by having a future with Morpheus and sharing a son, I could fix everything between our worlds.

I couldn’t tell him even if I wanted to. I can’t afford to lose my powers by reneging on a life-magic vow of silence. To defeat Red, find Mom, and put Wonderland back together, I need my magic intact.

Dad secures the boat to the shore by winding its rope around a post. I clamber out before he can offer to help me.

I hate that there’s friction between us. I hate feeling so far from Jeb while he’s haunting the rooms in this mountain hideaway, facing his nightmares and heartache alone. I hate how jumbled my emotions are when it comes to Morpheus: hurting for him that he’s powerless, angry he holds a vow over my head—yet fascinated by him, endlessly.

Most of all, I hate that Mom and my netherling subjects are trapped in a crumbling Wonderland, wondering if I’ll ever come to save them.

Something nudges me on that thought . . . something quiet yet hopeful. I saw how strong Mom’s magic was on prom night; I learned how much she already knows about Wonderland’s inner workings. She was once almost a queen. She can survive in that world.

I keep my thoughts to myself because they feel like hunches and I have no proof. But still, they comfort me.

Led by starlight, Dad and I climb a steep, winding stairway made of stones that leads to the lighthouse. Inside, hurricane-style lamps float along the ceiling and follow us as we move, casting a soft amber glow. The walls are stone, the floor squares of black-and-white sand—miniature versions of the dunes Jeb and I surfed across in Wonderland over a year ago. I take off my plastic boots and dig my tired toes into cool grittiness. At the top of the tower, there’s a turret bedroom with a canopied bed and an open porthole that overlooks the ocean, letting in moonlight, the sound of waves, and salty air.

Dad insists I should sleep there and opts for the couch downstairs. Back in the kitchen, we eat the dried flowers. They’re stringy, like beef jerky, but a deep golden color. The taste is sweet and waxy, reminiscent of honeycomb in the human realm. We wash the meal down with rainwater sipped from mugs made of rock-lobster shells. Dad and I are both so drained, not another word passes between us.

I duck into the bathroom to take a shower and wash my long underwear so I can lay them out in my room to dry overnight. There’s everything I could possibly need: a toilet, a razor, a toothbrush, and citrus-scented soap. On some level, Jeb is still living a human life, however he tries to deny it.

As I head toward the stairs, I stop where Dad is spreading a quilt out on the couch. Even though we’re at odds, we hug before parting ways to sleep.

In the tower, I open a wardrobe against the bedroom wall and find a plaid flannel shirt. I shed the clothes Uncle Bernie provided and think about the guards at the Wonderland gate, hoping they’re okay after being there so long without supplies. I also worry about the message we were supposed to send via the metal pigeon. It’s doubtful, even if Jeb’s sea horse finds our duffel bag, that the mechanical bird will function after being submersed. I don’t even know if the beacon feature will work, so Uncle Bernie can find his way to us.

I shrug into the flannel shirt, rolling the cuffs to make the sleeves fit. The hem hangs to my thighs. A pair of sweatpants with a drawstring waist is folded neatly at the bottom of the wardrobe. I set it aside for morning.

I’m about to crawl into bed when a glittering green light perches on the opened porthole.

Nikki curtsies daintily. “From Master Morpheus.” The tiny sprite’s bell-like voice drifts along the breeze. She offers a white box wrapped with a shiny red ribbon. It’s about three times her size. She’s stronger than she looks, to carry it all this way.

The instant I take the gift, she flitters up into the night sky without another word. Unlike Gossamer, she’s not much for talking.

Inside the box are two exquisite pieces of lingerie: a bra and matching boy shorts made of white cotton beneath a glistening gold lace overlay. The metallic lace looks vaguely familiar.

A blush heats my face as I imagine Morpheus’s elegant hands folding the items, and placing them inside. There’s a note on black paper, no doubt written by the very quill he plucked off the osprey earlier.

The ink looks like silver foil, shimmery in the starlight:

Dearest Alyssa,

I am sending apologies for not welcoming you properly today. I wanted to lift you above me and swing you in circles until we were both dizzy and laughing. I wanted to kiss your lips and share your breath. And I wanted to dress you in threads befitting a queen. Tonight, I shall settle for the humble beginnings to your royal wardrobe. I imagine what you’re wearing beneath your clothes is as unworthy of you as the clothes themselves. But know that I will give you armoires filled with lace, satin, and velvet one day when you reign in Wonderland. All you need do is ask.

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