Untamed Page 35

Gathering my energy, I drag off the netting and slide the newspaper clipping back into its spot in my scrapbook. I’m tempted to flip through the other pages. To glance over pictures of our art sales—limited edition paintings that Jeb will never be able to replicate, and my glass gem mosaics—along with goofy snapshots of the past four Halloweens, Christmases, summer picnics, snowball fights, and college pranks. Just one last glimpse of our time together as an engaged couple, captured between sleeves of polypropylene film, before we start this next chapter in a new scrapbook, embellished with white satin and tiny strings of pearls.

Every inch of my skin flushes, thinking of what comes after the ceremony. It hadn’t been easy to wait the past few years, but life was complicated enough, working through Jeb’s grief over his lost artistic abilities, going to college, and balancing my royal duties in Wonderland with our human life. It never seemed to be the right time, until now. We’ve adjusted to our new roles, learned to make compromises while being honest, and have always been there for each other emotionally. And after tonight’s physical commitment, our bond will be unbreakable.

There’s no more perfect start to our new life together than this: his strong arms holding my bared body as I trace each of the scars along his chest with a fingertip, healing his wounds with just a touch.

“What’s with the goofy smile, Al?”

I glance up, grinning despite myself.

Jenara snorts. “You’re worthless today, you know that? Give it over.” She pries the scrapbook from my hand. “Most maids of honor don’t have to call on necromancy skills to get the bride ready. You’re paying me extra for this, right?”

I lift my legs off the floor so she can help me with my underskirt. “Sure. Ten thousand times more than the wages we agreed on.”

“Hmm, ten thousand times zero . . . I knew I should’ve had a lawyer look over those terms.” She holds the netting open as I plunge my feet inside, then grasps my hands to lever me off the couch.

As I settle the elastic under the corset’s hem at my waist—so the slip puffs out to just below my knees—that tingling behind my shoulders escalates to a burning sensation. Before I even realize it’s my wing buds, they burst free: opaque white and glimmering with rainbow-colored jewels, splayed around me like a butterfly’s wings fresh from the cocoon.

I screech.

Jenara gasps, her eyes as big as quarters. “Al, what the heck? You can’t do that now!”

“I—I didn’t mean to!” My shout reverberates around us.

“Shh.” She smacks a hand over my lips and looks at the paper-thin wall. When we hear nothing but the steady hum of oblivious chatter from the guests in the other room, she lets her hand drop. “Okay . . . but you’ll have an audience within the hour. Put them back.”

I try to absorb them, but my wings won’t budge. “It’s not working.” I try again. “I can’t.” My pulse spikes.

Jen’s expression grows wilder. “Oh, huh-uh. You’re sparkling. And your eyes . . . you’re seriously not doing this on purpose?”

I shake my head. A thousand glimmers of light reflect off Jenara’s face and the sunny yellow walls surrounding us. I tap my fingers along my cheeks, envisioning what I know must be there: black markings like curvy tiger stripes beneath my lower lashes that resemble Morpheus’s without the jewels. “My patches . . . how prominent are they?”

Jenara’s gaze is nailed to my eyes. “It’s not just the markings, Al. It’s your irises. They’re . . . purple.”


Jen nods. “And it’s not a subtle shade . . . it’s otherworldly weird.”

My stomach drops. “This can’t be happening.” My hair begins to sway around me—a taunting dance of magic unleashed.

“Holy crap,” Jenara blurts as a few of the strands reach out to her. “Is this like a netherling flu or something?”

“I—I don’t know.” Fingers trembling, I capture my unruly waves and knot them at the nape of my neck. “What are we going to do?” Panic coats my vocal cords, making me hoarse—as if I swallowed liquid sandpaper.

Jenara kneads her hands. “Well, you can wear your hair up, and we can say we got creative with your makeup. The wedding veil will hide your eyes during the ceremony. Afterward, you can tell people you’re experimenting with special-effects contacts. But the wings . . . I—I don’t think we can possibly disguise those.”

There’s no looking glass for me to check the full extent of my netherling display, for obvious reasons. I didn’t want any mischief weaseling its way into today’s festivities, so I chose the smallest room because it had no mirror, trusting Jen to do my makeup and make me presentable for the wedding. The drawback to choosing this room is there’s no lock on the door, which now makes me even more vulnerable and accessible.

Blasted hindsight.

The flush in my maid of honor’s cheeks fires to an anxious red. “I’m getting your mom.” She starts to leave but pauses. “Just . . . stay here and watch the door. Try to keep calm until I get back. We’ll fix it, okay? Nothing’s going to ruin this for you and Jeb.”

I nod, but it’s only for her peace of mind. How can this not ruin things? I can’t face our unwitting human guests with all of my dirty Wonderland laundry hanging out! This isn’t prom night at Underland. Having wings on a beach can’t be explained as easily as wearing them to a masquerade under black lights.

Once Jenara is gone, I wedge the chair beneath the doorknob and tug a wing over my shoulder. The gems blink through a rhapsody of colors, just like Morpheus’s eye markings when he’s anxious or perplexed. A while back, I discovered that my moods show through my jewels like his. It’s something Morpheus kept to himself, and one of the reasons he likes to have my wings on display . . . so he can read me.

But I’m the one who gets to decide when to let them out. I’ve been managing my netherling aspects effortlessly since I’ve been back in the human realm. Never once have I lost control. There’s trickery afoot here. And it started with that little blue cupcake that tasted of anise and honey.

Anise . . . a flavor startlingly close to licorice. Licorice tobacco.

I grit my teeth. “Morpheus.”

Last night, before I returned from my dreams, I hugged him, something we don’t often do. We’ve laid out strict boundaries for physical contact, to honor my human life. But he’d been grumpy and ill-tempered with my subjects, which he rarely is, and I knew he was suppressing his feelings about my pending marriage. So I wanted to comfort him, to assure him his patience had not gone unnoticed or unappreciated.

He hugged me back for all of five seconds, then pushed me to arm’s length. When he looked down at me, his expression was the furthest thing from sad or troubled. It was utterly composed, which is never a good sign.

“I’ve decided to give you and your groom a wedding gift tomorrow, plum,” he said, opening his hand. An electric blue orb ignited in his palm, then took flight, hovering between us. “Since Jebediah gave up his ability to dream for Wonderland, you may share your dreams privately on your honeymoon. You will not come to Wonderland for that one night. Instead, Jebediah can step inside with you and your dreamscapes will belong solely to him. But only if he can prove himself worthy of marrying a fairy queen.”

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