Ensnared Page 89

Mom pets my frozen hair and Dad slumps to his knees next to Jeb, burying his face against my frosted gown.

“If only we still had the diary,” Jeb says absently, rubbing my fingers inside his, as if trying to keep me warm. “The magic inside. Maybe we could’ve used it somehow.”

Morpheus tilts his chin. “The diary. Of course.” He stands and stares pointedly at Ivory. “We’re looking at this all wrong. We need to think of her heart as an object . . . like a toy. What makes abandoned toys such powerful casings for Sister Two’s souls? ’Tis not so much what they are, but what is used to seal them.”

“A child’s love magic.” Ivory purses her pale pink mouth. “It could work, since you’ve both shared her childhood at different times.”

“It’s worth a try, at the very least,” Morpheus adds.

Ivory nods, then casts a wise and knowing glance from him to Jeb. “The seal would only be a temporary fix, to hold her together until she can heal. You both must be willing to compromise . . . see past your needs, and accept that she is meant for more than fulfilling your expectations for her. You will have to support one another as constants in her life if you’re to bridge her human and netherling heart. She must live in both worlds for equal amounts of time. This will allow her heart to grow and mend, piece by piece. Once it has healed and is unified, she’ll no longer need the sutures, and she can endure being crowned without losing either part of who she is. Are you willing to let her have this dual future? The decision falls to you. She’s too weak to make it for herself. Red’s greed and vengefulness saw to that when she made Alyssa’s heart the battlefield.”

“I’ll do whatever it takes,” Morpheus and Jeb answer simultaneously without hesitation.

The bubble in Ivory’s hand bursts, Chessie rematerializes, and the moment is gone.

I frown, overwhelmed by Jeb’s and Morpheus’s devotion, but still confused.

Ivory lays my palm over my heart. “What do you see inside?”

I curl my fingers into a fist. “Some of my happiest memories with each of them, when we were younger. But it’s from their points of view, not mine.”

“Therein is the magic. They have both loved you with a child’s love, and now a man’s. It is the child’s love that holds you together . . . cemented by the moments you shared with them that they treasure most. They had to bare their minds, hearts, and souls to one another and send the sentiments directly into you, riding on their magic to seal the two halves of your heart. Those are the sutures. And their love for you as men has given them the strength to look past their pride and compromise. Throughout the day, you will spend your human life in the mortal realm, but at night, as you sleep, Morpheus will bring you here in your dreams. You will continue to learn the politics of our world and acquaint yourself with your subjects and your dominion; you’ll learn to trust, understand, and work with him, so one day—should you choose to wed one another and reign together—your bond will be unbreakable. And Wonderland will be unassailable.”

I’m astonished that both guys would agree to the arrangement. Especially Morpheus . . . because he has to go back to dream duty and wait to be with me in reality. He said he was done waiting. Would he really postpone our life together and the birth of our son? Our son . . .

I grasp Ivory’s hand. “Wait. Sister Two. We have to appease the need for borogroves in the cemetery. There must be dreams for the restless souls. Or else she’ll keep taking human children. She won’t have a choice.”

Ivory studies my face. “At last you realize the rules are there for a reason, even if they seem barbaric. But in truth, I should like to see this particular practice altered, every bit as much as you. Our kind has never been in the business of seeking the most humane way to do things. We’re of an ends-justify-the-means mentality. But with two queens who care enough to find another way, this can change. And our realm will be stronger once we need not rely on outside commodities.” The black dragonfly-wing markings that flank her temples crinkle in thought. “For now, we have a compromise that will last as long as your mortal knight lives. He has volunteered to be Sister Two’s dream-boy.”

My stomach falls.

Dream-boy. I’m slammed with the image of my Dad’s brain being siphoned of dreams and nightmares as a child. My hallucination in the hospital a month ago comes full circle: Jeb sheathed inside a thick sheet of spider silk, me slicing it open, then him staring dead-eyed back at me. Was it a vision all along?

Ivory didn’t mention him in her earlier explanation of my future, only that I would live out my life in the mortal realm.

Jeb is planning to sacrifice his existence so no more humans will suffer, because that’s what he does. He protects the vulnerable. No matter what it costs him.

My skin flashes hot and cold. Not this time. Not when he’s finally found his way.

Without another word to Ivory, I scramble up and sprint out the door, insisting Chessie show me where Jeb is. He takes to the air in front of me with Nikki skirting behind. Ivory calls out, but time is too precious. I don’t stop.

I turn a corner that opens to a long, sleek corridor.

There’s no traction on the white marble floors. My bare feet slip. Righting myself, I untie my makeshift robe and leave it behind as I release my wings and take flight down the wide expanse. I pass a dozen or so elfin knights who watch with detached curiosity, but make no move to stand in my way.

I don’t even feel embarrassed that I’m wearing a transparent gown. There’s no need to be proper or modest. I’m the Red Queen: untamed, wild, and maniacal. I dare anyone to question my choice of clothes.

I’m on a mission. Sister Two isn’t going to use Jeb up until his heart stops and he’s a dreamless corpse.

That is not the ending my mortal knight deserves.

Chessie and Nikki lead me to the highest tower that overlooks Ivory’s kingdom, then flutter off before I can thank them.

Panting to catch my breath, I wait outside the open door and absorb my wings. The large room is windowless. Windows are unnecessary in a palace with transparent walls. Unlike the chamber I was in earlier, no frost or ice impedes the view. Daylight reflects off the snow outside and illuminates the surroundings with sunny brilliance.

Finley is taking canvases off their easels, his back turned to me. There’s no sign of Jeb.

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