In that moment, whether I wanted to acknowledge it or not, I understood, just a bit, how Andreas had plotted and exacted his revenge. If Audrey Rose died… it would take little effort to set the beast inside me free.

Vintage vaudeville tents




9 JANUARY 1889

Nearly twenty sleepless hours later, sounds of crew members preparing the ship for port broke through the thoughts filtering in and out of my brain while I sat vigil in the infirmary. Several hours ago, I’d exhausted each fear and now moved onto trivial thoughts. I pictured the striped tents the Moonlight Carnival had set up on the promenade decks—what felt like moments ago instead of two days—being swiftly stuffed away for a new crowd. A new city.

We’d finally reached New York, and I couldn’t muster an ounce of excitement. I’d dreamed of visiting this city for as long as I could recall, mesmerized by the promises of becoming someone new. Reinventing myself. Pursuing dreams that might seem outlandish to others but were entirely possible in America. At times it felt like no one wanted to leave their past behind as much as I did.

New York was the perfect place to transform into whoever I fancied. I didn’t have to be the dark prince my father accused me of, nor was I trapped being the strange, unfeeling young man who’d lost his mother too young. Here, in America, I could simply be Thomas Cresswell.

At the moment, thinking of the bustling streets and endless possibilities, New York held little appeal. What good was running from destiny when it swung back around and clipped you in the jaw no matter what? I envied my sister in some respects. Her association with the Order of the Dragon—an ancient chivalric group of nobles who sought to protect the cross and their country from invaders, and whose name our ancestor Vlad Dracul had taken for his own—permitted her that very freedom I sought. Turning down the offer to join their secretive ranks might have been a hasty decision. One I still couldn’t bring myself to regret.

I stopped thinking and focused on the here and now. I sat on a chair someone had pulled over to the bed during some point in the night. Either the professor or Liza. A lifetime of recalling the most obscure facts, gone in my panic over watching Wadsworth. Nothing else had mattered in those initial hours. Nothing but willing her body to mend itself together, making all sorts of promises to God for her to recover.

I stared at her with the same intensity now, watching the slight rise and fall of her chest. It wasn’t much, but she’d survived the night. I laced my fingers through hers, swallowing hard. Her skin was a shade darker than a corpse’s and almost as cold. A slow, steady beat thrummed in my chest. Insistent. Angry. Fearful. She might never awaken and all for saving me.

“You brave, foolish soul.” I fought the burning in my eyes. “You should have let the knife get me.” If she died… I swear I’ll take the knife Andreas used and I’ll slam it through his cursed heart.

“And after you stab him, then what?” Dr. Wadsworth asked, his voice gruff. I kept myself from jerking back. I hadn’t realized he was standing in the room. I also hadn’t realized I’d said that last part out loud. I shifted my attention to him, and he shook his head at me. “Would you honor her sacrifice by getting yourself locked away like a dog? Do you think that would make her happy? I didn’t think you were such a fool, boy.”

“She isn’t dying,” I almost snarled at him. I didn’t know what was emerging from within me—but the monster I’d tried to destroy reared up, searching for someone to attack. I counted the seconds ticking away on the clock, using the distraction to calm myself. A moment later, I said, softer, “She can’t die.”

Dr. Wadsworth stepped to the edge of the bed, his expression kind. “One day we all must die, Thomas. It’s a fate we all share. Every one of us.”

I curled my hands into fists. “Is it a fate we all should share at seventeen, Professor?”

A flash of ice-blue silk caught my attention. Liza slipped into the room, her face solemn. “I heard loud voices and…” Her gaze darted over to her cousin and her throat bobbed as she swallowed her grief. “Did you need to get some fresh air, Mr. Cresswell? You haven’t left in—” I flashed her what I thought was an incredulous look but must have been fiercer. She held her hands up. “It was only a suggestion.”

She moved to the foot of the bed, watching intently as Dr. Wadsworth checked Audrey Rose’s pulse. I’d done it a few moments before they entered the room—it was still much too slow. The doctor touched his mustache, an absent-minded quirk that indicated he was lost in his thoughts. I didn’t need to use any deductive reasoning skills to know he was concerned. Besides the fracture in her leg, Audrey Rose had lost a significant amount of blood.

I sat back in my chair. I imagined I looked ready to leap across the room and claw at any unwelcome intruder and tried to relax. I fixed my gaze on Liza’s uninjured hand and raised my brows. With everything that happened on stage during the finale, I’d forgotten the threat Wadsworth had received. The letter, accompanied by a grisly token, that was one more illusion cast by a Moonlight Carnival performer. Another pointless trick and misdirection.

“I didn’t think that was your finger,” I said. “It was just beginning to show signs of rigor mortis. You hadn’t been missing long enough for it to set in.”