“Was the dramatic meeting place truly necessary, Cresswell?”

He stopped a few feet from where I stood shuddering. I all but rolled my eyes as he scanned me and then our surroundings. He did not move any closer and my annoyance reared up. This was not the warm greeting I’d pictured as I sneaked about the frigid ship.

“Well? I’m about to catch my death. What was so urgent that we needed to meet out here at this hour? Do you have any news on Miss Prescott?”

He tilted his head to one side, considering. And that’s when I noticed the slight reflection as light caught on his face. As if part of his features were covered in… I gasped.

“Apologies for any disappointment, miss, but my name is not Cresswell.” Mephistopheles took a hesitant step closer. “Though I am intrigued a young lady of your standing would agree to such an unchaperoned meeting.”

I held the scalpel up, cursing my hands for shaking. I did not want him to think my trembling was entirely due to how frightened I was.

“W-what do you want?” I managed to get out. I swore the wind bent to his will; it growled and hissed, finding every crevice in my clothing to claw its way through. Mephistopheles came forward, his cloak whipping about behind him. I did not believe in such things, but in this moment he appeared to be the devil’s heir Chief Magistrate Prescott claimed he was. “S-stop. Or I swear I’ll s-sever your artery. I know pr-precisely where to inflict the m-most damage, sir.”

I don’t know what I expected, but a surprised bark of laughter wasn’t it. He removed his own cloak, his movements unhurried as to not startle me into slashing out.

“Contrary to what you may think, I’m not in the business of watching young women die. Please.” He held the cloak toward me. “Take this. It’s an angora blend. You won’t find another garment as warm or soft, I guarantee it.” I gritted my teeth against their chattering and eyed the cloak. I did not want to accept any form of help from this wicked-looking young man. He slowly grinned. “Here. I’ll lay it over this chair and you can fetch it yourself.” He set it down with care, then stepped back, bowing in mockery. “Your cloak awaits, fair lady.”

“What d-do you want?” I repeated, holding my weapon at the ready. He simply crossed his arms, and stared pointedly at the garment. I exhaled loudly, then snatched up the cloak. I resisted the urge to rub my cheek along the downy softness. In a matter of moments warmth bloomed over my body, and my trembling decreased. He smirked, and I brandished my weapon once more, wiping the smug look from his face. “Answer my question or I shall leave.”

He unfolded the nearest chair and sat, crossing one leg over the other. If he was cold, sitting there in his scarlet evening jacket as the wind howled its displeasure, it didn’t show. Perhaps he wasn’t entirely human. That at least would explain his seemingly inexplicable talent for magic tricks. For the first time I noticed his gloves—each one had a crescent moon stitched onto the back of it with stars across the knuckles. They were exquisite.

“I’ve a proposition for you.” I started shaking my head, but he held up a hand. “It’s a bargain that will prove most beneficial, I suspect. I saw the way you observed the unfortunate incident this evening. You were calculating and calm when others panicked. You searched for clues and details. Both are skills I am in need of.”

“Yes, it’s quite unfortunate to find nearly a dozen knives in someone’s back,” I said coldly. “What a tremendous talent you have, making the murder of a young woman sound no more horrendous than a simple act of misfortune. And then attempting to use it all to your benefit. You’re disgusting.”

He eyed me from his seat. “Admonish me all you wish, but one fact remains: it is unfortunate. Would it make you feel better if I’d shed a tear?”

I had the impression his inquiry was sincere, as if he’d relish nothing more than turning this into an opportunity to practice his performance skills. “I’ve had quite enough mischief for one evening. If you’ll excuse me, I’ve—”

“I came to offer my tutelage in exchange for your assistance. I believe, based on the curiosity you displayed during the show, that you wish to learn sleight of hand. I desire to preserve something very dear to me. You can help with that.”

“I have no desire to learn tricks, sir.”

He offered a look that suggested I was a horrible liar. “You won’t find a better teacher.”

“But I may find a less arrogant one.” I forced myself to breathe. It wasn’t magic I desired to learn, but he was close to guessing the truth I’d rather hide. “Anyway, I’m sorry to inform you, sir, but I do not believe in such nonsense as magic. I am a scientist. Do not insult me with your cheap theatrics. If your charlatan’s fortune-telling practices worked, then you’d have known not to bother.”

“‘Cheap theatrics’?” He jumped from his chair and took a few steps in my direction. I held my ground, watching as he slowly reached out, then pulled a card seemingly from the air around us. “Magic is science. It’s simply a fancier term for showing people the impossible is attainable.”

I stared at the card, heart thumping as he rolled it across his knuckles. It was hard to tell in the dim light, but it appeared similar to the unique playing card stuck to Miss Prescott’s body. I longed to raise my scalpel again, but didn’t want to alert him to my shift in mood. Either Mephistopheles was the person responsible for Miss Prescott’s death, or someone with access to his cards was. Since he’d been onstage, I knew the latter to be the most probable.

He watched me closely. Without the distance of the stage between us, I could easily see the intelligent gleam. “Do you deny the allure of sleight of hand, too? Are you only interested in one form of science, or would you care to expand your knowledge?”

“Weren’t you the one who warned against accepting midnight bargains with your lot? Contrary to what you may think,” I said, spitting his earlier words back at him, “I’m not in the business of being a fool. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s late and this was a waste of our time. Good night, sir.”

I brushed past him, not bothering to look back as he called out, “Our bargain remains yours to take. I have a feeling you’ll think of it differently soon enough. After all, murder is just another form of sleight of hand, is it not?”

I hoped he hadn’t noticed my steps falter as I hurried along the dark promenade, ignoring the chills that raced along my spine. Murder was another form of sleight of hand. And if the person responsible was talented enough, they just might get away with it.





2 JANUARY 1889

I fiddled with the pearl buttons on my gloves as Uncle rapped his fist against the chief magistrate’s door. Mumbled voices rose on the other side, though they didn’t stop arguing. Uncle waited a few moments before repeating the motion. He’d been up earlier than I was and had completed Miss Prescott’s postmortem on his own, leaving me too much time to think over the last twenty-four hours without any distractions.

I stared blankly at the bolts surrounding the door. I’d barely slept the night before, tossing and turning until I thought I’d go mad. Aside from Mephistopheles’s strange midnight bargain and Miss Prescott’s murder, there was the constant weight of worry over Liza. I wanted to beg Captain Norwood to turn this ship around and sail straight back to England. Instead I had to settle for taking one wretched day at a time. Patience was a loathsome virtue.

“Have you heard anything I’ve said?” Thomas waved a hand in front of my face, one corner of his mouth quirked up. “It’s truly fascinating when you do that.”

“Do what? Think?” I batted his hand away. “Pardon me.”

“No need.” He grinned. “You know I don’t mind when you daydream about me.”

Uncle glanced over his shoulder. “Might the two of you act properly for five minutes?”

“I’ve done nothing!” I tossed my hands up. “The only thing I’m guilty of is thinking about last night’s murder. Mrs. Harvey said something about cartomancy. It might be worth investigating.”

Uncle muttered something that sounded quite rude and knocked once more. Thomas stepped into my line of view and mouthed, “And guilty of picturing me without clothing?”

Before I could offer him an unladylike hand gesture, the door swung open. In an instant, the teasing smile was gone from my friend’s face, replaced by the cold calculation that always entered his features when observing people. I’d expected to see Chief Magistrate Prescott, but a shorter, rounder man with a receding hairline greeted us.

“Good day, gentleman,” he said, not sounding at all as if he meant it. “And young lady. What may I assist you with?”

“I’m Dr. Jonathan Wadsworth of London, and these are my apprentices, Mr. Thomas Cresswell and Miss Audrey Rose Wadsworth. We’ve come to call on Mr. Prescott,” Uncle said. “There are a few questions we need answered regarding the days leading up to his daughter’s murder. It won’t take but a few minutes of his time.”

The stout man pulled his shoulders back, and tried looking down his stub nose, though Uncle was a good bit taller. “I’m afraid that’s not possible at present. I’ve administered a tonic to quell his nerves.” He stuck his meaty hand out. “I’m Dr. Philip Arden.”

Thomas and I exchanged raised brows. Gentlemen weren’t normally given elixirs for nerves, a foolish societal notion claiming men didn’t experience such emotions, but I was more concerned with the blatant lie. We’d just heard the two men arguing through the closed door.

Uncle nodded. “Any information Mr. Prescott may offer will do, even in his current condition.”

“I’m afraid I must insist you come back another time,” Dr. Arden said, slowly closing the door in our faces. “The Prescotts desire time to process the sudden death of their only daughter. Surely you understand the need for such delicacy?”