I hadn’t seen Thomas stand up, but he caught my eye across the small room. If Liza had run off with the young man she’d last written about, it would be a devastating blow to our family and reputation. No wonder Uncle had hesitated in front of Thomas.

Uncle rubbed his temples. “I’m afraid the news comes from your father. Amelia is beside herself with grief and hasn’t left her chambers in more than a week. Liza went out one afternoon and never returned home. Your father worries she may be dead.”

“Dead? She can’t—” My stomach seemed to fall through my knees. Either it was the ocean travel or the news, but I was about to be sick. Without offering another word, I rushed from the room, not wanting to witness the disappointment in my uncle’s eyes as my emotions erupted from the box I’d set them in and consumed me.

I huddled into my cloak, watching from the chilly promenade deck as the sun dipped toward the horizon, turning the dark, churning waves the color of clotted blood. The steady sound of water striking the hull was like a siren’s call, luring victims in, promising all would be well if one simply took a leap of faith and entered her underwater dominion.

“What have you gotten yourself into this time, Cousin?” I sighed, the puff of warm air mingling with the cold ocean mist. In response, waves bashed against the side of our ship, distressed and restless, and perhaps a little desperate to shove us back to England. Back to where I had a chance—even a bleak one—of finding Liza.

How quickly dreams dissolved into nightmares.

Despite the impossibility before me, I refused to submit to the fact that I was stranded at sea, powerless to assist those I loved. I could not believe Father allowed me to leave England without telling me my cousin was missing. I’d thought we’d gotten past his sheltering ways after he’d permitted me to study forensic medicine in Romania, but I was clearly wrong. Even though it wasn’t my fault, I felt as though I’d already failed Miss Prescott. And now Liza…

“I will not fail again,” I swore aloud. There was only one line I would never cross—murder. Taking a life from a person—that would make me no better than the murderers I hoped to thwart. A cruel voice in my head whispered that I’d never actually stopped them. I simply gathered clues made of blood and bone, and tried piecing them together before more bodies were added to the unending tally.

To truly end a murderer, I’d need to become one.

I eyed the lifeboats hanging against the wall of the promenade, wondering if I possessed enough physical strength to wrangle one down and row myself back to England. I clenched my teeth and faced the water. Salt and sea mist stung my nose, the spray rising in the icy air and coating my face. It woke me up from nonsensical visions.

Behind me a door swung open, revealing a tall figure gilded by light—the background din of staff cleaning up after the terrible opening show accentuated his own silence. He stood there, too shrouded in shadows for me to make out his features, but judging from the involuntary flutter in my chest, it was Thomas.

As he approached the railing where I stood, I noticed a telegram peeking out from his overcoat pocket. I wondered if it was from my father and if he’d sent word to everyone aboard this ship except for me. If anyone had hurt Liza, I would kill them. Slowly.

I almost smiled, finding the thought didn’t disturb me one bit.

“If I didn’t know any better, Wadsworth, my dear,” Thomas said, voice laced with teasing, his typical method of distracting me from my darkness, “I’d believe you were about to perform your own escape act. Am I to be your assistant, then?” He stared down at himself, frowning slightly. “I left my sequined dragon frock coat in London and this one’s a bit plain. It doesn’t particularly scream ‘carnival chic.’”

“Actually, I was contemplating murder.”

“Not mine, I hope.” He leaned over the railing and glanced sideways at me. “Though I am rather handsome in this suit. I suppose if it’s my time to go, I might as well go in style. Be sure to keep my face intact. I want you to swoon and mourn at my funeral.”

I nearly groaned. “That’s in poor taste, considering recent events.” I nudged him with my elbow as he sighed. “I still choose you even with your shortcomings, Cresswell.”

“It’s my wit, isn’t it?” Thomas faced me, a tentative smile starting. “You can’t bear to be apart from it. Honestly, I’m surprised you haven’t informed your uncle about the claim you’ve staked upon me. Seems like news you’d enjoy sharing.”

There was a question in his eyes, but I quickly gazed back at the ocean, pretending to have missed it. The stars were out in full force tonight, twinkling and shimmering across the undulating sea. It reminded me of the painting Thomas made for me the week before: an orchid that held the entire universe within its petals. It amazed me that the world could resume its orbit no matter what destruction had been wrought. I wondered how Mrs. Prescott was feeling, if she’d been given her brandy and was floating somewhere between dreams and nightmares.

Perhaps I ought to join her.

I felt Thomas studying me but no longer had the urge to mask my expression as I used to. He opened his mouth, then shut it, causing me to puzzle over what he might have said. Perhaps he’d grown as weary of having the same debate. I didn’t wish to tell anyone of our eventual betrothal until we’d spoken to my father. Thomas saw it as hesitancy on my part, a notion so ridiculous I refused to acknowledge it at all. We simply did not have the luxury of time to visit with Father and inform him of our intentions while we raced to the ship, as much as I wanted to. There wasn’t any part of me that didn’t long to be with him forever. After everything we’d been through over the last month, I thought he’d know that.

A moment later, he wrapped an arm around my shoulders and tugged me near, safe in his indiscretion, since we were alone on the freezing deck. I relaxed into his embrace, letting the warmth of his body and the scent of his cologne comfort me.

“I cannot promise all will be well, Audrey Rose.”

I exhaled loudly. “This is one of those times it’s all right to lie, Thomas. I’m quite aware of how dire things are, but I’d like to pretend otherwise. At least for a few moments.”

“Right,” he said, turning his thoughts inward. “What I mean is, I promise to stand by your side through whatever comes our way. You’ll end up being the hero, no doubt, but I’ll look good beside you. And that’s what truly counts.”


He drew back, feigning being affronted. “You can’t possibly have all the glory. Good looking and the hero? This is one of those times it’s all right to lie, Wadsworth.”

“Have you no—” He brushed his lips against mine and I forgot about my worries, just as he’d intended. The kiss started off tentative and sweet, a distraction and promise itself, but soon turned deeper and more urgent. I wound my arms around his neck, bringing him closer, getting lost in the rhythm of both the sea and our kiss. Even on the coldest night, he could ignite a fire within me. I worried that one day the blaze might consume me entirely.

Much too soon, he broke away. In times like this I thought he was right—we ought to announce our intentions and marry immediately. Then I might kiss him whenever I pleased.

“Shall I say the thing I’m not supposed to?” he asked, his tone serious.

I drew in a deep breath. For him to acknowledge hesitance meant I most certainly did not want to hear it. “We’ve promised not to lie to each other.”

“All right. Here are the facts.” He studied me again, his expression controlled but kind. “There’s nothing to be done about Liza from here. We can make arrangements to return to London once we reach America, but for now we have the very real issue of a murderer aboard our ship. It may be an isolated incident, but I don’t believe it will be.”

Gooseflesh marched along my arms. Thomas’s deductions were hardly ever wrong. If he believed there might be more murders, it was only a matter of time before we found the bodies.

“What do you suggest we do?” I asked, rubbing my hands over my sleeves.

“I’m glad you asked. I’ve been thinking on this quite a bit.”


“I’m in favor of hiding in your chamber for the remainder of the week.” A smile twitched across his lips as I raised a brow. “Drinking, kissing, debauching ourselves until we arrive in New York.” He sighed dreamily. “You must admit, we’d be safe from the murderer. Deliriously happy. And both of those options are much better than standing over cadavers.”

I rolled my eyes. “Or we could finish the postmortem and see what we find.”

“A less fun but more valiant choice as always, Wadsworth. Though your uncle wishes to resume the postmortem tomorrow per the captain’s request.” He exhaled, though there was a troublesome gleam in his eyes. “I’ve been tasked with escorting you to bed, a difficult job, but one I shall take very seriously, I assure you.”

I shook my head. Thomas had dragged me from the deepest parts of my worries and restored my focus… all while managing to steal another kiss. I couldn’t say that his method wasn’t appealing as we made our way down the promenade, arm in arm.





1 JANUARY 1889

An attendant braided my hair and helped me into a cotton nightgown with lace-trimmed sleeves without uttering a word—while the majority of passengers still believed Miss Prescott’s murder was an elaborate show, most of the crew aboard the ship seemed to hold their breath along with their tongues, unsure if another nightmare would soon be unleashed.

Once she’d gone, I released an exhausted sigh and glanced around. My chambers were handsomely appointed with a marble nightstand, a carved vanity, a small table and chairs, and a wardrobe that would have pleased King Louis with all its gold embellishments. However, the industrial-sized bolts and steel surrounding the small window couldn’t hide the truth of where I was. Despite the lavish dressings, a chill seeped in through the cracks.