I love you, I thought, rallying against the blackness. More than all the stars in the universe. In this life and ever after. I love you.

Thump. Thump. Thump.


I battled and raged with everything I had for a final glimpse of my dearest Thomas Cresswell, but the darkness descended like a vengeful army and claimed me for good.





9 JANUARY 1889

Light streamed in from a window, pulling me from sleep. Gulls called to one another and muffled voices joined in from somewhere outside. The sharp scent of antiseptic made my stomach flip, taking the remainder of my peace. I blinked until the blurriness subsided. Cots and small tables came into view—I was in an infirmary.

I gasped when Thomas leaned forward, his chair creaking as he shifted his weight. I hadn’t seen him sitting there, and now that I was looking, he appeared truly wretched. Dark circles marred the skin under his eyes, his face paler than I’d ever seen it before. There was an aura of hollowness to him that made gooseflesh rise on my arms.

I wondered if he’d seen a ghost.

He reached over, clasping my hand in his, eyes red rimmed. “I thought…” He gripped my hand tighter. “I thought I’d lost you for good, Wadsworth. What in the bloody hell were you thinking?”

Bits and pieces came back, though it all seemed too foggy to be real. “What happened?”

Thomas drew in a deep breath. “Aside from you rushing to save me from certain death? Taking a knife precariously close to your femoral artery?” He shook his head, and this time there was nothing lighthearted in his face. “The blade went in so deeply it stuck to the bone, Audrey Rose. Your uncle was able to remove it while Mephistopheles and I held you down, but we cannot be certain how much of the bone was fractured. Thus far we don’t believe it’s shattered.”

I winced, as if his story had given my wound permission to cry out once more. “Sounds as though you’ve all been busy. What day is it?”

“You’ve been out for only one evening. We’ve reached port in New York.” Thomas drew lazy circles on the back of my hand, his voice a near whisper when it came out. “Andreas confessed to all.”

“Even the body found in the crate?” I asked. “Did he explain why that victim was different from the others?” Thomas fiddled with the cuff on my dressing gown, doing a poor job of pretending he didn’t hear me. “Thomas? I’m all right. You don’t have to treat me as if I’m made of porcelain now.”

“It’s not you.” He sighed. “When we asked Andreas about that crime, he claimed to have no knowledge of it. He’s in the brig until detective inspectors come to fetch him. They’re not sure where he’ll face trial yet, since most of his crimes occurred at sea. We may need to return to England.”

“But why wouldn’t he have confessed to—”

“Your uncle and I believe it’s possible there might have been a second killer on board,” Thomas said. “Passengers have already begun disembarking, so if Andreas didn’t commit that murder, then—”

“Then we just delivered a Ripper-inspired murderer to America.”

We both sat in silence, allowing the gravity of that possibility to settle around us.

“For now,” Thomas finally said, “let’s hope we’re wrong and Andreas was simply feeling uncooperative.”

I met his gaze and nodded. It seemed we’d allow ourselves one more half truth at this journey’s end.

“Was he the one who stole the fabric?” I asked, remembering Jian’s waistcoat. “Or was it an unrelated crime?”

“He admitted to stealing it—apparently he’s a petty thief when he’s not murdering for revenge. It’s an old habit he brought with him from Bavaria. He used to steal clothes from people he’d tell fortunes to. One woman recognized a missing garment and reported it to the police, which is why he left and joined the carnival.”

“Speaking of that, what of the Moonlight Carnival? How are Mephistopheles and Houdini?”

“They’ve both bid you farewell,” Thomas said, and I could see he was watching me carefully. “Mephistopheles sends his apologies—and two tickets to their next show, free of charge. He and Houdini said we won’t want to miss what they’re working on, it’s going to be—”


Thomas snorted. “For their sake, I hope so. They’ve got to find something to distract from the multiple murders committed by their famed fortune-teller. Though knowing Mephisto, he’ll find a way to work with it. Infamy is a draw for most. We’re all fascinated by the macabre. Must be our dark, twisted human souls.”

“I’m glad it’s over,” I said. “I sincerely hope the families are at peace.”

Something else important slithered around the edges of my thoughts, but my mind was still so foggy.

“Liza!” I wrenched myself up and collapsed back. Agony shot through my body, reminding me how injured I was. “Where is she? Is she all right? Please, please tell me she’s alive. I cannot bear it.”

Thomas adjusted my pillows and gently pressed me back. “She’s all right. Andreas drugged her and had her chained in his rooms. But she’s recovering. Much faster than you.”

I exhaled. “I’m not worried about me.”

“But I am. There’s something else you should know… about your injury,” he said, slowly moving about his seat, eyes cast downward. “You’ll be able to walk, though it’s possible you’ll have a permanent limp. There’s no way of determining how it will heal.”

The burning ache in my leg flared at the reminder of my injury. A limp. Though some may find their worlds destroyed by such news, I did not. My future would see me moving not across a ballroom floor but within a close laboratory. And corpses did not care how gracefully I walked.

For my own benefit, I needed to lighten the mood. Things were far too glum, and regardless of how badly I’d been hurt, I needed something positive to cling to. I was alive. All other details would be worked out. I smiled to myself; I truly was sounding like Mephistopheles.

“The price of love doesn’t come cheaply,” I teased. “But the cost is worth it.”

Thomas abruptly stood, leaving my hands craving his warmth. I reexamined my joke, wondering which part of my statement had pierced him.

“You ought to rest now,” he said, avoiding my gaze. “Your uncle will be in soon to discuss travel arrangements. And I know Liza has been stomping around outside, too.”

“Thomas… what—”

“Rest, Wadsworth. I’ll return again soon.”

I pressed my lips together, not trusting my voice to conceal my hurt. I watched Thomas gather his hat and overcoat and hurry from the room, as if the sight of me now disturbed him. I tried not to take it personally, though a few tears managed to sneak past the dam I’d erected. It seemed Thomas Cresswell was disappearing from my life along with the carnival.

Another presence in the room stirred me from sleep. I rubbed at my eyes, though I didn’t bother trying to sit up. “Thomas?”

“No, my love. I’m the much-handsomer one. I blame the loss of blood for that slip.”

Despite the amount of pain I was in, I grinned. “Thomas said you’d left with Houdini already.”

“Yes, well, I made it halfway down the docks and figured you’d go mad with want.” Mephistopheles tentatively clasped my hands in his. They were rough and calloused in places, a testament to how often he worked with them. He ran his thumb over my knuckles, the movement calming. “I didn’t want you missing me so much that it affected your recovery.”

I shook my head. “Always such a charmer.” I made to lean over the side of the bed and winced. “Open that drawer, would you?”

“There’s not a snake inside, waiting to sink its fangs into me, is there?”

I rolled my eyes. “Fine. I wouldn’t mind hanging on to your signet. The rubies would fetch a decent amount.”

I’d never witnessed Mephistopheles move quite so fast, not even while performing his fancy tricks. He held the ring up, eyes misting before he blinked it away. “Thank you.”

“How else will people blackmail you? Couldn’t have you running off without it.”

“Indeed.” He smiled. “Promise you’ll miss me just a little?”

“I might think of you one cold, dreary December, many, many years from now.”

“And?” he prompted, expression hopeful.

“And wonder if you bathe in your mask.”

His chuckle was dark and deep. “No need to wonder, my dear. I’m more than willing to show you firsthand. Shall we go to my chamber or yours?” He eyed my bandages. “Perhaps we ought to delay our tryst. I wouldn’t want you bleeding all over this suit. It’s bad for business.”

“I am going to miss you,” I said, because it was the truth. Something I hadn’t been acquainted with in a good, long while. Sleight of hand had been interesting to learn, but I was no good at playing that role long term. I wanted to offer nothing but honesty in the future. Pretending had not only confused me, but nearly hurt Thomas irrevocably.

“I know. It’s my cross to bear that I am so incredibly irresistible.” Amusement left his eyes, replaced by something more uncertain. “Tell me… did I ever truly stand a chance at winning your hand? Or was everything between us a lie? The dancing, the laughter… surely it wasn’t all an act.”

I stared into his dark gaze, pulse picking up as I imagined a different sort of future. One that still included science and freedom. Passion and theatrics. In that future I could be happy, more than happy. We’d use science to build impossible machines and magic, dazzling crowds and earning praise. I could travel the world and never settle into a role society deemed appropriate. Mephistopheles would make a wonderful husband—never chaining me up unless it was for the stage. I could be very content in that future. I would be more free than the acrobats soaring from one trapeze to the next.