Ensnared (Splintered #3)

By A.G. Howard; Published In 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance, Retellings
And there, in the midst of blinding orange, yellow, and white flames, our forever begins.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

“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.” His chin quavers. “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.”
The confession is lovely and brutal—laced with honesty that I not only hear in the rasp of his voice, but feel in the quaking of his muscles as he holds my hands over my head.

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.

Insanity is the most pristine clarity.

Insanity is the most pristine clarity. Let the lunacy in. Let is be your guide.

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.

I want to leap into his arms and hug him tight. Since my dress is a killing machine, I settle for pressing my palm against his chest.

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.

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.

My precious Alyssa, share reality with me. Give me forever. We will wreak such beautiful havoc together.

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.

Netherling logic resides in the hazy border between sense and nonsense.

Still, it makes sense that his insight echoes through my soul when I'm teetering at the edge of insecurity, considering he's Wonderland's wisdom keeper, the custodian of all things mad and daring.

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.

The littlest things I once took for granted have become priceless treasures.

The master of word manipulation strikes again.

There is no reasoning when it comes to Morpheus. You just accept him as he is.

The scented cloud permeates the air and coats our tongues, triggering images: licorice tobacco and a seductive fae with an agenda, ocean salt and a mortal boy's sweat, maple syrup and a father's love, a mother's sacrifice and a lunar garden rich with lilies and honeysuckle.

We will wreak such beautiful havoc together.

Wonderland is violent and bizarre, but charming in its way. AnyElsewhere is a whole new level of cruelty.

Yet despite how he's drawn to danger, how it thrives within him, or maybe because of it, the dark and wicked side of me softens at the feel of his lips on my skin.

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.

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.