“Is it the new Houdini act you were going to show me last night?” I tried not to let my relief show that I’d be alone in my search. I wasn’t sure we’d have another interruption should he lean in for a kiss. “Any hints about what you’re working on?”

His grin was full and wide. “Something spectacular.”

I wound my way down and around labyrinthine halls of twisted metal and matte bolts, noticing how empty certain parts of the ship were compared to others. Silence was never complete, though. Some vibration or dull movement could always be heard as well as felt, whether by my fingers trailing over the walls or through the soles of my silken shoes. The ship was alive with constant movement, its engines guzzling energy to exhale steam or its auxiliary sails throwing their arms wide to tame the wind. It was like a metal dragon, flying low over the sea. I shoved those thoughts away and focused on my surroundings.

These narrow corridors were used by the crew, hidden and dark, wedged into the heart of the Etruria. Doors were spaced fairly evenly, leading to servant cabins or storage, I wasn’t sure. My skirts swished as loudly as the blood pulsing through my veins while I turned into another dimly lit corridor. I hoped to avoid running into anyone—though the captain had informed the staff of our investigation, I did not wish to be seen.

Hollow sounds of dishes clinking and smothered voices bounced around the hallway. I hurried along, not pausing to listen. According to the directions Mephistopheles had given me, I was almost upon the room where the swords were kept. Footsteps suddenly clomped from around the corner, slow and steady. Whoever marched toward me was unlikely to be one of the rushing crew. Which meant it was probably a carnival performer.

I glanced around, heart near bursting as I took in few hiding options, then rushed to the nearest door. I rattled the handle, but it was locked. I raced to the next, keeping one ear turned to the footsteps that were getting closer. Another locked door.

“Merciful God above,” I cursed. Of all the rotten luck in the world. I tried the handle on a third door and nearly dropped to my knees in supplication as it opened. A shadow bent around the corner, and right before its owner followed, I slipped into the darkened room, sealing the door shut with a subtle click.

“Room” was a generous term. I’d had either the luck or sheer misfortune of ending up in a very tiny, very crowded broom closet. Sticks and poles poked my back, bruised my limbs, and fought to regain their space. I stood very still, praying that nothing would clatter to the ground. The sharp scent of cleanser bit at my nose, dust motes joining in the brawl. A bucket filled with liquid sloshed over the sides, the astringent dampening my shoes.

I felt a sneeze coming on and vowed to every saint I’d ever heard of to defuse the blasted thing before it gave my position away. Aunt Amelia would quirk a brow, claiming it was the sinner’s curse and attending services a bit more would prevent things such as this.

I pinched my lips together, as if I could keep the sneeze in by force of will alone, my eyes pricking with tears. Whoever had been coming down the hall had slowed. I pressed my ear to the door, listening. Someone was testing the handles of doors.

I fought the urge to bang my head against the metal. The sneeze seemed to release me from its imminent arrival, allowing my shoulders to sag. Relief was short-lived. Before I could hold it in, I sneezed, the sound loud and unmistakable.


I began to say thank you, then froze. The person who I’d been hiding from wrenched the door open, stepped inside, and closed it as swiftly. For a moment I was stunned; the closet was barely large enough for me, and now with…

“Cresswell? What in the name of the queen are you doing?”

Though I couldn’t see it, I swore I could feel him smile. “Following you into dark, abandoned corners, of course. What else ought I be doing? Your uncle’s inspecting the severed limb. Again. After calling on Dr. Arden without luck, I stopped by your cabin, but Liza told me you’d gone to walk the third-class decks.” I felt him shrug. “I tried to get your attention, but you practically ran into the stairwell.”

I rolled my eyes. “Following me into the closet doesn’t seem like your best idea.”

“Isn’t it, though?” he asked. Before I could respond, he gently pressed his lips to mine. An ember of desire caught flame. Suddenly, being alone with him in a dark, forgotten place was much more appealing. I pushed my near kiss with the ringmaster from my mind. Nothing could ever compare to this. Mephistopheles was simply an illusion. Thomas was the real thing. “See? It was a brilliant plan.”

I sighed. He was correct, but wanting to kiss him and needing to use our time wisely were two things that needed to remain separate for now. Then there was the matter of my almost-kiss with Mephistopheles that we needed to discuss. Eventually. Thomas might not be so eager for stolen embraces after I told him about that.

I laid a hand against his chest, stalling any more kissing. “Jian’s swords are kept in the next room. I’m hoping if they were used in any of the attacks there will be evidence on them. The severed arm was nicked quite badly, there must be signs of it still on the weapon used. If we want to investigate, we need to hurry. The performers will be getting ready to practice for the finale soon.”

“You’ve been busy this morning.” Thomas opened the door, then rubbed his hands together. “How do you know when they practice? Have you managed to single-handedly charm the carnival?”

A twinge of regret twisted my core. I wanted to tell him about my excursion with the ringmaster and of our wretched bargain, but that required time to reveal my whole plan. And time was something we were woefully short on. Instead of opening more avenues of discussion, I smiled demurely. “Perhaps.”

“Swords, secrets, and stolen kisses.” His eyes flashed with delight. “You speak the language of my complicated heart, Wadsworth. I am a very lucky man.”

I hoped he would still believe that once I’d confessed my morning activities in full. “Come on, Cresswell. We’ve got a chamber to investigate.”





6 JANUARY 1889

Thomas and I entered the storage chamber with great caution—not uttering a single word or breathing too deeply until we were certain of being alone. The room was large—cavernous, really—and painted the steel gray of a battleship. Edison bulbs hung from intervals in the ceiling, buzzing with power when Thomas flicked them on.

There was no denying how eerie it was. No animals paced in cages, but I could have sworn I felt eyes on my back as I slowly crept down aisles of stacked trunks, all various shapes and sizes and colors. I didn’t see any indication of which trunk belonged to which performer or act, and was grateful for the description Mephistopheles had given me. If not for that, we could spend the remainder of our trip opening each one.

“We’re looking for a trunk that’s lapis with mosaic tiles,” I whispered over my shoulder. “There will be more than one.” Thomas was quiet a moment. I turned, expecting to find him distracted by something, surprised when I saw he was no longer following me. “What is it?”

He shook himself out of whatever thoughts had grasped him. “Look around, Wadsworth. There are trunks upon trunks upon trunks.”

I worried that the lack of sleep was making him a bit dull. “Yes, not completely unexpected in a storage unit.”

“I mean there are numerous places to hide evidence… and bodies.” He ran his hand over the closest trunk. A lacquered black so shiny I could almost see our reflections in it. “And this is simply one room. Think of how many more there are on this ship. If the murderer has begun dismembering bodies, then he or she doesn’t have to be tossing them overboard. They can be safely tucked away, then discarded along the road to their next destination.” He patted the side of the trunk. “The bodies wouldn’t even need to be placed in large coffin-sized trunks, either. If in pieces, they could fit anywhere. For all we know, we might be standing in a veritable graveyard this very moment. The captain claims to have had the upper decks thoroughly scoured, and we’ve yet to find the rest of the body the arm belongs to.”

Chills dragged their nails down my back and over my arms. A light bulb above flickered, attracting a stowaway moth that repeatedly thrashed itself against the light. Corpses did not trouble me; the men who made them did. “Let’s hurry. We don’t have much time.”

We rushed down one aisle, then the next, scanning each trunk. At the end of one wide passage I noticed a rather large upright box, covered with a dark cloth. It was much larger than a coffin, perhaps double the size—it was something to investigate another time.

“We ought to split up,” I said. “We’ll cover more ground that way, and faster, too.”

Thomas nodded and veered off to the aisle next to mine. I hated being this far at the back of the room—it made it nearly impossible to hear if someone had entered. Anyone might be lurking in one of the aisles, waiting to spring a trap. I was just starting down the next aisle when Thomas called out.

“I believe I’ve found it,” he said. “Come have a look.”

I ran around to where he was hunched over a long trunk. It was even more beautiful than I’d pictured. The blue was striking against the tiles that reflected like broken bits of looking glass. I bent down, noticing the locks on either end. I reached for my hatpin, then halted when Thomas clicked it open. He caught my stare and grinned. “Mephistopheles and Houdini aren’t the only ones in possession of tricks. You ought to see what I can do with my—”

“Miss Wadsworth,” Mephistopheles said from the end of the aisle, startling me away from Thomas. “I see you missed me so much you’ve brought a stand-in.” He turned to Thomas, frowning. His attention dropped to the open trunk at our feet. “This chamber is off-limits to outsiders. I was just making sure she’d found her way safely here.”

“Is that how you knew what time the performers were practicing?” Thomas asked, his tone neutral. “You were with him this morning?”