But my heart and soul would always belong to another more fully. Thomas and I were partners in every way. And while imagining life without the magic and easy smiles of Mephistopheles was a little sad, thinking of a world without Thomas Cresswell was unbearable. I could no more walk away from him than I could abandon my heart and still live.

I leaned over and pressed my lips to Mephistopheles’s cheek. “In another world, or another life, I think we could have done amazing things together. You’re going to make someone very happy one day—but that person isn’t me. I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry, too.” I watched the column of his throat bob and squeezed his hand as tightly as I could manage. He held me a moment more, then stood. “I’ll work on a bit of engineering genius and name it after you, my lost love.”

I couldn’t stop myself from laughing, full and loud. “Goodbye, Mephistopheles.”

“It’s Ayden, please.” He moved to the door and paused. “Until we meet again.”

Thomas stood rigidly beside me, gloved hands gripping the frosted railing as we watched passengers disembark. They would all certainly have stories to tell about the ill-fated ship. Not even Houdini would escape from the scandal, though I was certain he would turn out fine in the end. A group of policemen made their way through the crowd, heading into the brig to collect the criminal the papers were calling the Bavarian Ripper. It wouldn’t be long now. My breath caught, and I had the sudden urge to hold my center. I did not want to say goodbye. I dreaded it.

“I’ll be with you again soon enough, Wadsworth. You won’t even know I’m gone.”

I stared at his profile, heart thudding dully. He hadn’t looked me squarely in the face since I’d taken the knife. I knew my sleight-of-word act had worked a bit too well, and I deserved his anger, but this was too cold to bear. “That’s it? That’s all you have to say?”

“The fact remains I am needed here, in New York, as your uncle’s representative.” He took a deep breath, eyes fixed on the people still exiting the ship. I wanted to clutch his overcoat, shake him until he was forced to look at me. But I kept one hand at my side and the other firmly on my borrowed cane. He had always granted me the freedom of choice. I would not steal his from him. If he wanted to stay here, I would not selfishly beg. “I will join you as soon as I can.”

I ignored the tear rolling down my cheek. I did not wish to part like this—with him as cold and distant as the shores of England. We had been through far too much. Though perhaps it wasn’t the act I’d put on—it was possible he couldn’t bear to see me after I’d been injured.

Maybe my broken leg was a reminder of how close we’d both come to losing our lives. I may have realized what I was willing to give up, but that didn’t mean he’d come to the same conclusion.

I gathered my emotions, proud of how much control I had of them now. “Aren’t you supposed to say something like ‘I’ll miss you terribly, Wadsworth. These next few weeks shall be a slow sort of torture, I’m sure.’ Or some other Cresswell witticism?”

He finally turned to me, eyes lacking their usual glimmer of trouble. “Of course I will miss you. It will feel like my heart is being surgically forced from my chest against my will.” He inhaled deeply. “I’d rather be run through with every sword in Jian’s arsenal. But this is the best for the case.”

He was right. Of course he was. The case had to come first, but I didn’t have to like it. I gripped my cane tighter. My entire life I’d wished for the bars of my gilded cage to disappear—all I’d ever wanted was to be set free. To choose my own path. First my father had let me go, and now it seemed Thomas was doing the same.

Freedom was both heady and terrifying. Now that it was in my grasp, I wanted to shove it back. I had no idea what to do with it or myself.

“Then I wish you well, Mr. Cresswell,” I said, ignoring the wrongness of my formal words. “You’re right. Being upset is silly when we shall meet again soon.”

I waited for him to snap out of this cool persona, to don the warmth of his affection for me, but he remained unmoved. A detective cleared his throat behind us, destroying the last of our moments together. I didn’t know whether to burst into laughter or tears. Only eight short nights before, we’d stood on this very promenade, wrapped in each other’s arms, kissing beneath the stars.

“Mr. Cresswell? We’re taking the bodies ashore now. We require your presence en route to the hospital.”

Thomas nodded curtly. “Of course. I’m at your disposal.”

The detective tipped his hat to me before disappearing back into the ship. My pulse roared and my leg ached. This was truly it. The moment I’d been dreading since the Ripper case. I was finally saying goodbye to Mr. Thomas Cresswell. It felt as if there was not enough oxygen left on earth to sustain me. I dragged in breath after breath, cursing my corset for being so fashionably tight. I was fine. This was all fine.

I remained a filthy liar. There wasn’t anything fine about this situation.

Thomas stared at the door that would lead him to a path divergent from mine. For the first time in months, we would not be adventuring together. I felt his absence already as if a part of me had been carved away, and my body still yearned for its missing piece. I was whole on my own. I did not need another person to complete me, and yet the way we were parting made me feel ill. It was not right, but I didn’t know how to make it so. Perhaps that was the ultimate lesson in letting go—accepting that which was out of our control. I could only do my best and my part; it was up to Thomas to meet me halfway or not at all.

He slowly turned and faced me, jaw tight. “Farewell, Miss Wadsworth. It has been an absolute pleasure. Until we meet again.”

I ignored the similarity to how I’d parted with Mephistopheles. When he’d said goodbye, I didn’t feel as if the world had ceased to spin on its axis. Thomas tipped his hat and began to leave.

In my mind, I rushed after him, clutched his overcoat, and begged him to stay. To take me with him. To forsake my uncle’s command to remain here and see this case through in New York, and to marry me in the chapel this instant. Grandmama lived close by—though given the fact she’d not responded to any of my letters she might be traveling the Continent—and would be a witness, if only to spite my father.

In reality, I forced my lips together and simply nodded, watching him walk away for however long we’d be apart. Maybe a few weeks. Or maybe forever. Whatever he chose, I would live with it. However hard, I’d find a way. He paused, his back to me, fingers tapping the doorframe. I waited, breath held, for him to make a joke or run back and sweep me into his arms, but after another moment, he pushed himself forward and disappeared into the ship.

A sob tore its way from my chest before I stuffed it back in. I stood there for a few breaths, heart pounding. I had no inkling as to why this goodbye felt permanent. But I knew, somehow, deep within the marrow of my broken bones, that if I did not stop him, Mr. Thomas Cresswell would exit this ship and my life forever. I wrapped my unoccupied hand around the railing, allowing its icy bite to distract my thoughts. I’d need to seek warmth soon—the dull pain in my leg was turning vicious.

I focused on the physical pain instead of the new, more prominent ache in my chest.

Together Thomas and I had burned bright as a shooting star, and flew apart just as fast.

We’d stopped the Bavarian Ripper. Cleared the rest of the Moonlight Carnival of wrongdoing. Thomas was simply giving forensic aid here while Uncle and I traveled to our next destination, where he would, surely, eventually join us. All would be well soon enough—I was simply making more out of our goodbye than what it was. After all of the death I’d faced, it wasn’t hard to find a logical explanation for my hesitancy to say farewell to someone I loved. I reminded myself of earlier sentiments: Science is an altar I pray to. And it offers me solace.

I silently chanted the words like a refrain, staring out at the sea long after Thomas had left.


Liza walked down the promenade deck, hood tugged over her brow to stop the blasts of wind blowing over the Hudson from destroying her stylish coiffure. She stepped up beside me and gazed down at the circus crates that were being unloaded. I admired the painted moons on them—the dark black circles with silver crescents on their sides.

The Moonlight Carnival was off to entertain a new crowd in a new city. I had no doubt that Mephistopheles would steal the hearts and minds of everyone he met. Houdini had a stunningly bright future, too. He was well on the way to becoming legendary. I had a feeling it wouldn’t be the last time we’d hear from either of them.

Which I wasn’t sure was a good thing.

“After everything you did, I would have thought you’d be brave enough to tell him the truth,” she said, gaze fixed on the crates below.

“Who?” I asked. “Mephistopheles?”

“Don’t be purposefully daft,” she slapped my arm.

Andreas had given her a tincture that had knocked her out. Apparently a few hours after my heroic act, she’d come stumbling back to the room, unharmed. He’d grown fond of Liza, her passionate spirit reminding him of his beloved Liesel, and spared her from further torture or death. I crinkled my brow and Liza sighed.

“Honestly? You carve open the dead, seeking the truth behind their deaths. You crave dissecting things to solve puzzles. Yet you are hopeless, dear cousin, when it comes to being truthful. Most especially to yourself.” She faced me, hands on her hips. “Did you tell Mr. Cresswell that you love him? That you cannot wait to see him again? That you are afraid he blames himself every time he sees your injury?” She studied me and shook her head. “No, you didn’t. You stuffed it all inside and pretended everything was well. But that isn’t the truth, is it? You’re worried.”

“I… it’s—it’s all very complicated.”

Liza actually snorted. “It’s truly not that complicated at all, Cousin. Thomas—cunning as he is—believes every half-truth you tell him and yourself. He cannot see through your mask. It’s likely the only thing he cannot puzzle out, and I’d wager it’s because he feels too much for you. I guarantee he believes he’s doing the gentlemanly thing by leaving—he’s giving you a choice to follow Mephistopheles, even if it breaks him apart. Did you notice the red rimming his eyes? He’s not slept since you were hurt. Uncle tried removing him from your rooms and your Mr. Cresswell nearly turned feral at the idea of leaving your side. You’re both so intelligent in matters involving the mind, but the heart? It’s as if beings from other galaxies are puzzling out fried potatoes.”