Ensnared Page 72

“Would you stop that? I wasn’t faithless. You and I aren’t committed to each other yet.”

“Yet.” His face lights up. “So you have envisioned a future with me.”

I fight a wave of tenderness. How can this ageless fae creature be so wise about war and strategies and politics, yet so like a child about relationships and love? “Give me the details of your plan, because I know you have one.”

His chin twitches. “It isn’t exactly a plan. ’Tis more a bargain.”

“That involves me without my consent.” I narrow my eyes. “Strange how often that happens.”

He loosens his tie and clears his throat. “First, let me assure you your relatives are fine. Manti used CC to stage an uprising in the dungeon.”

“Wait . . . so Manti has Jeb’s doppelganger?”

“Yes, the queen gave it to him as a gift. Manti was eager to accept, as elfin knights make the best soldiers. And this one, being a painting, is even more a robot than most. During the confusion in the dungeon, Manti helped your uncle and his comrade escape before the queen could cut out their hearts. Fortunately, they harbored only one medallion between them. Unfortunately, Hart had already confiscated it. She gave it to her guards and told them to hide it, so even she doesn’t know which one hid it or where it is. That way, Red doesn’t know, either. So Hart no longer needs anyone’s help to cross the border to Wonderland. But Red controls half her body and is willing to outsmart her and get the medallion in exchange for certain . . . demands.”

The jewels along Morpheus’s eyes flash to a pale tea green, the color of satisfaction. No surprise, since the demands apparently involve a wedding. Yet I’m still in the dark as to if the ceremony is fake or real.

“Details, Morpheus.”

He leans close to the table and takes the plate of diamond-shaped tarts, offering me one topped with dripping red fruit that resemble pomegranate seeds. “You should eat. You still look too anemic for my liking.”

I groan at his stalling tactics. “We were told not to bother the tarts.”

Morpheus takes a delicate bite and chews. “Pilfered pastries,” he says between swallows, “are the least of Hart’s worries at the moment.” He sets the plate aside and dabs his lips with a napkin. “She has a traitor in her midst.”

“Manti.” I frown. “I’m confused. I thought you two were enemies.”

“Enemies make the most loyal compatriots, if they share a common goal.” He touches my bottom lip, leaving behind a smear of fruity glaze. He watches as I suck away the bittersweet residue, then he licks the rest of the glaze from his fingertip. At the appearance of his tongue, heat blossoms in my face.

He smirks. “Look at that. I revived the color in your cheeks.”

I scowl. “Can you dial back the seduction? This isn’t the time for romance.”

His answering grin is irrepressible. “On the contrary, any hope for escape hinges on romance. I’ve been watching Manti since I fell into this hellhole. He’s terribly in love with Hart. He had wooed her for centuries, unsuccessfully, until they both landed here. In this world, he has no interference from royal suitors. Not only that, she can be herself . . . Her cruel obsessions, her degradation, they’re embraced by the barbaric denizens. She’s revered for the very actions that resulted in her being shunned from our world. Manti believes it would break her spirit if she went back. And he fears he’d lose her to another king. He won’t let that happen, even if it means tricking her.”

I glare at him. “The parallels are striking.”

Morpheus blinks at me, unfazed. “Aren’t they? Since I know how the lovesick fool thinks, he was easy to manipulate.”

“Which means you were behind the raid on the mountain.” Just like I suspected.

“For the most part,” Morpheus admits. “I told Manti how to get there, what to take, and what to leave standing. You and Jebediah managed to thwart my plan to have you hand-delivered. But I knew . . .” His dark eyes glitter and he caresses my cheek. “I knew you wouldn’t leave me to die. So I told Chessie the queen was planning to gut out my chest.”

My entire body bristles with a mix of frustration and fury. I start to stand, but Morpheus holds me down.

“For the record,” he says, “I was at death’s door. Red was debating whether to kill me herself or feed me to the eels beneath the drawbridge. It took some fast talking to convince her I had anything to offer in exchange for my pitiful life. And had you not come to fulfill that trade, I would be eel fodder as we speak.”

I shake my head. “So, the antidote for my dad. That was insurance.”

“Your human conscience wouldn’t let you leave me here after saving Thomas, even if it managed to overpower your darker side’s love for me.”

I’m about to berate his tactics, to deny any feelings for him, when he cups the nape of my neck and presses his lips to mine, velvety soft. It’s nothing but a peck, yet the flavor of the tart he sampled lingers like a warm, savory bruise—an irresistible torment to the netherling within.

He draws back and my skin glistens, radiant prisms reflected off his face and the cushions. I’m gripping his jacket lapels, yet I don’t even remember reaching for him.

“No more denials,” he says as he presses his left hand over one of mine. “I’ve seen the love in your eyes and in your actions. I felt it yesterday when I held you in my arms, and today, when you came to save me. Which is why my arrangement with Red for the medallion should not be thought of as a ploy or a bargain, but as the next logical step of our relationship.”

I release his lapels. “Logical? A wedding? So we’re going to fake it, right?”

“How can we fake it if Red is inside of you? No, it must be authentic. And eternal.” He smiles blissfully—all boyish naiveté and worldly charm in one exquisite being.

I must have a pained expression on my face, because he trails his thumb across my eye markings.

“Alyssa, we are going to have the most glorious future. You’ll see.”

It can’t happen, for so many reasons. One of them is my vow to Jeb. But there’s another obvious reason. “It’s too soon. We’re only starting to know each other.”

Morpheus’s brow furrows. “We shared a childhood.”

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