Ensnared Page 65

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He limps out of the bathroom fully dressed, rubbing a towel over his wet hair.

“Anything to eat? I’m starving.”

Jeb told me this would happen. It’s a side effect of the dream state. I load up a plate with the honeycomb-flower and rabbit jerky and take a couple of pieces for myself. The floating lanterns cast amber light and shadows around us as I silently watch him wolf the rest down. I wonder if he was this ravenous when Mom rescued him from Wonderland. After all, he’d been sleeping for years that time.

Dad has started on his third helping when Chessie and Jeb return.

Jeb carries Dad’s duffel and the garment bag that contains my scorpion-winged dress. I can’t stop replaying Morpheus’s reaction when I loosened the drawstring. How he teased and joked to make light of the incredibly sweet gesture. How he dismissed all the cuts from the razor-sharp edges he must’ve endured before he finally had the centipede legs sewn in place as protective fringe.

“Are the simulacrum suits in the duffel?” I ask, trying to hide the tremor in my voice.

“We could only find two.” Jeb wipes paint from his hands on a towel. “Morpheus’s room was a wreck. All of them were. There were a couple of bats tangled in the graffiti. That’s how the goons got through the entrance. They came up through the ocean and sacrificed some of their rides for a distraction. I’m not sure how they found their way to the mountain in the first place. I never saw any signs of CC. Also not sure how they knew to use rainwater on the doors and rooms to melt everything away.” He tries to appear nonchalant, but his face is pale.

I know too well what it’s like to watch something you created die. A month ago, I breathed life into flames, then had to be the one to douse them to save my peers at school. It hurt, like losing a piece of myself.

Maybe it’s for the best. Maybe those dark and damaged parts of Jeb’s soul will at last be put to rest, and he can abandon this world and all the bitterness and doubts . . . leave everything behind without a second thought. With the exception of the dreams in the willow room. I hope he holds on to those.

“The only other thing left in Morpheus’s room was this garment bag,” Jeb says, stirring me from my thoughts. “Do you know about the dress inside?”

“Armor,” I whisper, feeling numb as Morpheus’s words taunt me: I rather hoped you’d wear it to face Red. It is the only coat of armor worthy of your dangerous beauty.

My netherling intuition rouses, a theory taking shape. It’s no coincidence that only one invisible suit is gone, that the goons knew how to destroy Jeb’s artwork, or that when everything melted away, the duffel and the garment bag were the two things that remained . . . because they’re real, not painted. It’s also no coincidence the goons had been sent for me.

I bite my lip.

“Al, what are you thinking?” Jeb presses.

Dad stands up from the table, favoring his left leg.

I drag my fingers though my damp hair to hide that they’re trembling. “Morpheus always has an escape plan. That’s why he took a simulacrum suit. For him to be captured, he had to let himself be captured. Something made him alter the original plan. Maybe he even let a few things slip on purpose. Everything that’s happened in this mountain tonight has been a strategic move to get us to come after him. For some reason, it’s important that we go to that castle tomorrow, and that one of us . . . me . . . is fully visible.”

Dad slams his fist on the table, rattling the plate. “That’s suicide! We should head straight to the Wonderland gate while everyone is preoccupied at this monster fest.”

“I’m going.” I scoop up the garment bag. “It doesn’t matter why he was captured. Intentional or not, he’s been captured, which means his suit has been confiscated, too. He’s put himself in real danger. I won’t leave him there. And he’s counting on it.”

I don’t finish my explanation . . . that I have to save him because the netherling side of me has fallen in love with him. I don’t have time to deal with the fallout of admitting that aloud.

Dad slaps his gimp leg. “We should at least try to get real backup. Without a suit for me, I’m worthless. We weren’t able to send the pigeon back, so Bernard is probably halfway here, looking for us. We could find him, enlist his help.”

“That could take a full day,” Jeb says.

I shake my head. “Morpheus doesn’t have that much time.”

Dad’s eyelid twitches. “You are not putting your neck out for that manipulative—”

“Dad!” I try to overlook his prejudice. He didn’t see firsthand how Morpheus assisted when he’d been stung, or any of the other courageous things Morpheus has done in the past—all incredible feats for a solitary, selfish fae.

He also can’t see that deep inside, my netherling instincts are telling me the reason Morpheus has arranged this is somehow related to Wonderland’s best interests. Though I still don’t completely trust his methods, I understand his motives. And one thing I will never doubt is his loyalty to his beloved home.

Our home.

“I agree with Al,” Jeb says, shocking me and Dad both. “You know I’m the last person to jump on the Bugs‘R’Us bandwagon.” He casts me a dark scowl, ensuring me of his everlasting disdain for Morpheus. “I don’t like his tactics, but he’s protected me while we’ve been here. He could’ve exploited me for prestige and power. For whatever reason, he did the right thing. Because of that, we owe it to him to see him back to Wonderland.”

Earlier, I explained to Jeb what Morpheus said about him being a vessel, and he’s still not backing out. He trusts my strength and judgment that much.

“Thank you,” I whisper.

Something flickers in his eyes before he tears his gaze from mine: anguish. It cuts as deftly as a blade. I know it’s because of my unspoken feelings for Morpheus. Even with all that’s settled between us, I’m starting to understand that asking Jeb to live a life with me, while knowing I’ll have a future with another, might be too much for any mortal man to endure. I only hope it doesn’t keep him from walking through the Wonderland gate when it’s time, no matter what it means for us.

That intense tearing sensation digs deeper into my heart. I turn my back to mask my wince and press my thumb to my sternum, starting toward the stairs.

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