Splintered Page 41

Meld . . . that doesn’t sound like something my dad would approve of. Jeb, either, for that matter. I start to push Morpheus back, but the blanket slides down my body in the curl of his pale, elegant fingers. I’m left in a long, strappy nightgown of champagne lace and satin. It covers all the right places, yet I feel exposed. Morpheus had to see me naked to put me into this. I cross my arms over my chest, cheeks hot.

He smiles. “No worries. My pets undressed you. When they took your clothes to be burned.”

“Burned? But . . . I don’t have anything else—”

“Hush now, and be still.”

“You said something about a banquet. There’s no way I’m wearing this.” I tighten my arms around myself.

He shakes his head, then pushes the hem of my gown until it’s just above my ankle, exposing my birthmark. I sit up, about to jerk my leg away, but his deep, dark eyes turn to mine. “Trust me.”

The fluttery sensation in my mind prods me to listen. Here in this place, where I no longer have the white noise of voices distracting me, I can hear my thoughts distinctly for the first time in years. I can understand that beating in my mind. The fluttering feeling—that’s me. I have another side, beyond good girl and obedient daughter, that’s instinctive and wild.

It’s that side that chooses to trust him, despite our bizarre past . . . or maybe because of it.

Rolling his shirt’s cuff to his elbow, Morpheus exposes that matching birthmark at his inner forearm—the one I remember from my dreams. Intrigued by our likenesses, I grasp his wrist with one hand, tracing the lines with my other. The maze glows beneath my touch. His features shift, and a rumble escapes his throat—something between a purr and a growl. His arm tenses, as if it takes his full concentration not to move while I appease my curiosity.

He’s a contradiction: taut magic coiled to strike, gentleness at war with severity, a tongue as sharp as a whip’s edge, yet skin so soft he could be swathed in clouds.

Holding his gaze, I remember what meld means. I take the lead and press our birthmarks together. Heat sparks the joining like when Alison healed my ankle and knee, though this is a more volatile reaction. Warmth simmers through my entire body, leaving me flushed from head to toe.

Morpheus coaxes me to lie back and draws down the gown’s hem before spreading a blanket up to my chin. He places his hat on his head at an angle. His wings sweep high as he stands, and the water curtain lifts in an arch around him.

“Don’t budge from that spot until I return with something for your throat.” There’s a raw edge to his voice that makes my body even warmer.

As he backs up, the water curtain drops, blinding me to my surroundings. The minute I hear the door to the room shut, I scoot out from under the covers, press my spine to the headboard, and curl my knees under my chin, shivering as the cool air hits me.

I close my eyes and think of how it felt—the pulse of his magic against my finger, his flesh against mine. Rubbing my birthmark, I shake off the euphoria.

The more I remember of Morpheus and this place, the more I forget myself . . . or the self I thought I was.

Why didn’t Alison tell me? If she’d just been honest, I wouldn’t be confused out of my mind while Jeb’s locked up in another room.

Guilt stabs my heart. No. She was trying to protect me. She’s going to suffer unnecessary shock treatments if I don’t break the curse and get back soon.

Instinctively, I reach a hand toward the liquid curtain and will the water to react to me as it did to Morpheus. It lifts back like a living thing and leaves me dry. I grab a blanket, tie it around my shoulders in a makeshift cape, and leap through, landing on a plush rug. An echo of soreness remains in my muscles. Other than that, I’m pain-free.

I turn on my heel. The room’s decor feels vaguely familiar—wild and stunning, just like its owner. There are no windows or mirrors. Soft amber light falls from the giant crystal chandelier that takes up most of the domed ceiling. Gold and purple velvet hangings drape the walls, intertwined with strands of ivy, seashells, and peacock feathers.

A set of multitiered crystal shelves occupies the wall to my left. Half of them hold hats of all shapes and sizes embellished with dead moths; the other half holds what first appears to be clear glass dollhouses. Then I realize they’re terrariums.

Within the terrariums, moths fly from side to side and perch on leaves and twigs. Thick webs coat the glass panels in places, similar to the webbing in my Alice nightmare. They’re cocoons—caterpillars transforming into moths. Listening to the waterfall, I think of how Morpheus’s wing cut through the liquid earlier, and compare it to my dream in the rowboat, when a black blade was about to slice through the web.

It wasn’t a blade at all.

The door creaks open and I spin around, heart pounding.

Morpheus steps across the threshold and shuts us in. “Up and about, aye? And not a drop of water on you.” He carries a tray with a teapot and matching china cups. “Well done.”

“You.” I point a shaky finger toward the cocoons. “The nightmare I’ve been having for years. You put it into my mind, didn’t you?”

His jaw tightens as he sets the tray on a glass table. “What nightmare would that be? I’ve not been mentally connected to you since your mother was committed . . . not until yesterday.” He pours tea into a cup. Wisps of steam fill the room, carrying notes of honey and citrus.

“I’m Alice,” I say, “searching for the Caterpillar. They’re going to take my head. He’s my only ally.” I rub my neck. “Wait, no. There’s the Cheshire Cat, too. But neither one can help me. The Cat’s lost his body, and the Caterpillar . . .” I look at the glass cases. “It’s you, stuck inside the cocoon.”

Morpheus fumbles with the teapot’s lid with a loud clatter. When he turns to me, his eyes are wide. “You remember. After all these years, you retained the details.”

“The details about what?” My legs waver, and I clutch the blanket tighter around my neck.

Morpheus motions to the chair beside him. “Sit.”

When I don’t move, he takes my hand and leads me. He’s wearing black gloves now, reminiscent of the ones I dreamed of in the rowboat. I’m about to point that out when he hands me a cup.

“Have some tea, and we’ll revisit the story.”


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