“My precious Alyssa, share reality with me. Give me forever. We will wreak such beautiful havoc together.”
“Insanity is the most pristine clarity.”
“Morpheus’s gaze flashes to mine, then back to the chess piece wrapped in his magic. “Stop crying,” his quirky voice scolds. “Queens don’t cry. I taught you better than that.”
I bite my quivering lip, and tiny Alice strokes the caterpillar’s face. “But you’re crying . . .”
Morpheus lowers a wing and shades his cheek along with the transparent glimmer of his jeweled markings. “Well”—his shrill voice cracks slightly—“contrary to my preferences for lace and velvet, I’m not the queen. So I can cry all I like.”
“Jebediah has given up on you, but I never will. I can offer you the security you desire. If you'll but be mine, your heart will forever be sheltered in my care. Yes, we will quarrel incessantly and fight for dominance. And yes, there will be ravishes of passion, but there will also be gentle lulls. That is who we are together. You'll never need fear that your love is not reciprocated. For although you've made me feel things I am not equipped for... I cannot stop feeling them.”
“Jeb is an anchor; he holds me grounded to my humanity and compassion. But Morpheus is the wind; he drags me kicking and screaming to the highest precipice, shoves me off, then watches me fly with netherling wings. When Jeb's at my side, the world is a canvas--unblemished and welcoming; when I'm with Morpheus, it's a wanton playground--wicked and addictive.”
“I don't want those things from you. I love your faults and imperfections. Your kind heart. The scars that match mine, and the struggles to find ourselves. I want your humanness. Nothing else.”
“The littlest things I once took for granted have become priceless treasures.”
“You opened Pandora’s box within me. Set loose the imaginings and emotions of a mortal man. And there is no closing it ever again.” The jewels under his eyes twitch between dark purple and blue. “As much as I abhor being anything akin to human, Alyssa, I wouldn’t dare try to close it. Because that would mean losing you.”
“My Queen," he finally speaks, and his usually strong voice holds the slightest tremor.
"My Footman." I don't even blink, playing along with his nonchalance. "You don't seem surprised that I'm here."
"Oh, I knew you would find your way. It was just a matter of when. You actually made it sooner than I expected." He gestures around him. "Thus, the deplorable state of my house."
"Good help is so hard to find," I tease.”
“Bah." Morpheus snags a paintbrush. "She should be draped in starlight and clouds, lace and softness. Nothing less should touch her skin." He points the bristles at Jeb. "I saw what you put Thomas in. You are not painting her into one of those goon suits. She is royalty. Dress her like royalty. Give her some glitter... some glitz. And a crown.”
“Everything—our lives, our loves, our futures—hinges on one word alone: IF.”
“And there, in the midst of blinding orange, yellow, and white flames, our forever begins.”
“If you’ll but be mine, your heart will forever be sheltered in my care. Yes, we will quarrel incessantly and fight for dominance. And yes, there will be ravishes of passion, but there will also be gentle lulls. That is who we are together. You’ll never need fear that your love is not reciprocated. For”
“There is no reasoning when it comes to Morpheus. You just accept him as he is.”
“Wonderland is violent and bizarre, but charming in its way. AnyElsewhere is a whole new level of cruelty.”
“The master of word manipulation strikes again.”
“I look at him dead-on. "I finally have a secret of my own. Not so fun being on the other side of one, is it?"
The slow burn of amusement warms his features. He leans in and whispers, "On the contrary, My Queen. I cannot imagine anything more delicious than peeling away your defenses, layer by layer, and baring your precious... secret."
Heat climbs my chest and fills my neck and cheeks. It's beyond unsettling, how quickly he can shift between comforter and tormentor.”
“I smirk. "That owl is one of your creations?"
Jeb's grin widens. "It was for bug-breath's own good. Dude's ancient...he needs to stay in shape.”
“Netherling logic resides in the hazy border between sense and nonsense.”
“The lack of magic is what leads humans to fantasize in the first place. And Alyssa, what a wonderfully powerful force an imagination can be.”
“We will wreak such beautiful havoc together.”
“Insanity is the most pristine clarity. Let the lunacy in. Let is be your guide.”
“You'll wear a loincloth. That's how I make roach-boy's clothes."
Imagining Jeb and Morpheus in such an intimate position is both sexy and comical. As vain as Morpheus is, a lot of bickering about fashion choices must've taken place.”
“I gasp. The profoundness of such a gesture, from a self-seeking fae, touches my soul. The only thing predictable about my future king is his unpredictability. “You once told me you wouldn’t be a gentleman. You lied.” ”
“ “Shut up!” I say, laughing hysterically. Alice transforms back to an inanimate jade piece as I toss her. My aim is off and she plops into Morpheus’s tea, splattering him and the chessboard.
With a graceful sweep of his hand, he retracts his magic. Tea drizzles down his face as his inky eyes turn up to mine, alight with something both dangerous and daring, shifting moods faster than I can blink.
“Careful, plum.” It’s his deep cockney accent now. He wipes his face with a napkin. “Don’t start something you have no intention of finishing.”
“Oh, I’ll finish it,” I say—spurred by the dark confidence fluttering at the edge of my psyche. The side of me that knows I’m his match in every way. “And you know I’ll win.” I rise from my chair to scope out the room for weapons, vaguely aware of the prisms of glittery light reflected off my skin onto the surroundings.
“I know I’ll let you win,” Morpheus says, standing up. “I won’t even put up a fight.” His white-toothed smile spans to something forebodingly provocative, as though mimicking the spread of his wings. “Well, perhaps a small one, just for sport.” ”
“Covering up with one of his wings, I surround myself with the scent of licorice and honey. “You want to hold me while I sleep. You want to watch my face as I dream like you never have—from the outside.”
He traces my eye markings with an elegant fingertip. “That will be my memory to cling to, until you’re mine forever at last, both in waking hours and sleep. The question is, do you trust me enough to give me that? To rest in my arms tonight?”
I hold his soft palm against my cheek. “Will you sing me my lullaby?”
He weaves his fingers through my hair and presses my forehead to his. “Forever and always,” he whispers.
As he hums the tune that has been inside my mind and heart all my life, I close the waterfall canopy, cocooning us within our own frozen pocket of time.”
“As if waiting for that signal, he releases my hands, cups my face, and whispers in my ear. “My precious Alyssa, share reality with me. Give me forever. We will wreak such beautiful havoc together.”
“Even when you do the right thing, sometimes there are dire consequences. Second-guessing every step prevents any forward momentum. Trust yourself, forgive yourself and move on.”
“His soft lips glide across my jaw. I’m dazzled by his touch, drugged by his promises, falling deeper and deeper into him. Before he reaches my mouth, I catch his hands and roll him off until he’s the one on his back, his wings no longer a hiding place but silky black pools along the ground.
I prop my top half over his so I’m in control. “I can’t think,” I whisper. “You’re making me crazy.”
“Insanity is the most pristine clarity.” He winds a leg around my hips and topples me onto him. “Let the lunacy in. Let it be your guide.” One corner of his mouth lifts to a boyish grin.”
“ "Breathe deeply and concentrate on me. You are safe.”
I take a shallow breath, but it chokes me.
“Look at me,” Morpheus presses. I focus on his complexion, the color of snowy shadows beneath the eclipse of his wings, and he begins to sing. Not inside my mind, since the iron dome prevents it, but aloud . . . a simple, sweet lullaby, carried on his beautiful voice.
“Little blossom so filled with dread, clear the nightmares from your head. Let me wipe away your tears, for in this place you have no fears.” ”
“For a while, Mirabelle believes there will be a moment when he will cave in and let himself love her, but eventually she lets the idea go. She hits bottom. She dwells in the muck for several months, not depressed exactly, but involved in a mourning that at first she thinks is for Ray but soon realizes is for the loss of her old self.”
“They have clubbed us off the streets they are stronger they are rich they hire and fire the politicians the newspapereditors the old judges the small men with reputations the collegepresidents the wardheelers (listen businessmen collegepresidents judges America will not forget her betrayers) they hire the men with guns the uniforms the policecars the patrolwagons all right you have won you will kill the brave men our friends tonight (author's punctuation)”
“In an industry based on analyzing raw data, Gregory was defiantly a gut man. He was also an advocate of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which used Jungian psychological principles to identify people as having one of sixteen distinct personality types. (A typical question was, “Do you prefer to focus on the outer world or on your own inner world?”) Gregory used Myers-Briggs results to help make personnel decisions. It was his conviction that individual expertise was overrated; if you had smart, talented people, you could plug them into any role, as sheer native talent and brains trumped experience. Gregory seemed to revel in moving people around, playing chess with their careers.”
“Can you stand a little closer?"
"You smell good. I like to smell you.”
“Check Jersey and Westchester, too. On Long Island, just check the fancy private clinics. I want this woman found this morning, dead or alive. When you find her, Stone and Bacchetti get the interview, unless it’s deathbed stuff. Nobody, but nobody says a word to the press except”
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