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In the shocking finale to the bestselling series that began with Stalking Jack the Ripper, Audrey Rose and Thomas are on the hunt for the depraved, elusive killer known as the White City Devil. A deadly game of cat-and-mouse has them fighting to stay one step ahead of the brilliant serial killer—or see their fateful romance cut short by unspeakable tragedy.
Audrey Rose Wadsworth and Thomas Cresswell have landed in America, a bold, brash land unlike the genteel streets of London they knew. But like London, the city of Chicago hides its dark secrets well. When the two attend the spectacular World’s Fair, they find the once-in-a-lifetime event tainted with reports of missing people and unsolved murders.
Determined to help, Audrey Rose and Thomas begin their investigations, only to find themselves facing a serial killer unlike any they’ve heard of before. Identifying him is one thing, but capturing him—and getting dangerously lost in the infamous Murder Hotel he constructed as a terrifying torture device—is another.
Will Audrey Rose and Thomas see their last mystery to the end—together and in love—or will their fortunes finally run out when their most depraved adversary makes one final, devastating kill?
For ever and for ever farewell, Brutus!
If we do meet again, we’ll smile indeed;
If not, ’tis true this parting was well made.
—JULIUS CAESAR, ACT 5, SCENE 1
Good night, good night!
Parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night till it
—ROMEO AND JULIET, ACT 2, SCENE 2
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
—THE TEMPEST, ACT 4, SCENE 1
DEATH COMES SWIFTLY
WEST WASHINGTON MARKET
MEATPACKING DISTRICT, NEW YORK CITY
21 JANUARY 1889
A blast of frigid air greeted me as I unlatched the carriage door and stumbled onto the street, my attention stuck on the raised axe. Watery sunlight dribbled off its edge like fresh blood, tricking me into recalling recent events. Some might call them nightmares. A feeling akin to hunger awakened deep within, but I quickly swallowed it down.
“Miss Wadsworth?” The footman reached for my arm, his focus darting around the throng of dirt-speckled people elbowing their way down West Street. I blinked, nearly having forgotten where I was and who I was with. Almost three weeks in New York and it still didn’t seem real. The footman wet his cracked lips, his voice strained. “Your uncle requested you both be taken directly to the—”
“It will be our secret, Rhodes.”
Without offering another word, I gripped my cane and moved forward, staring into dull black eyes as the blade finally came down, severing the spinal cord at the neck with a wood-splintering thwack. The executioner—a sandy-haired man of around twenty years—worked the axe free and wiped its edge on the front of his bloodstained apron.
For a brief moment, with his shirtsleeves rolled back and sweat dotting his brow, he reminded me of Uncle Jonathan after he’d carved open a corpse. The man set his weapon aside and yanked the goat’s body backward, neatly separating the head from its shoulders.
I drew closer, curious that the animal’s head didn’t tumble off the butcher’s block as I’d imagined—it simply rolled to the side of the oversize board, gaze fixed permanently toward the winter sky. If I believed in an ever after, I might hope it was in a better place. One far from here.
My attention drifted to the goat’s carcass. It had been killed and skinned elsewhere, its exposed flesh a map of white and red, crisscrossing where fat and connective tissue met with tender meat. I fought the growing urge to quietly recite the names of each muscle and tendon.
I hadn’t inspected a cadaver in a month.
“How appetizing.” My cousin Liza finally caught up and looped her arm through mine, tugging me out of the way as a man tossed a stuffed burlap sack across the sidewalk to a younger apprentice. Now that I was paying closer attention, I noticed a fine layer of sawdust around the butcher’s feet. It was a good method to easily soak up blood for sweeping, one I was well acquainted with thanks to time spent in Uncle’s laboratory and at the forensic academy I’d briefly attended in Romania. Uncle wasn’t the only Wadsworth who enjoyed cutting open the dead.
The butcher stopped hacking the goat apart long enough to leer at us. He crassly slid his gaze over our bodies and offered a low, appreciative whistle. “I can snap corsets open faster than bones.” He held his knife up, his attention fixed on my chest. “Interested in a demonstration, fancy lady? Say the word and I’ll show you what else I can do to such a fine figure.”
Liza stiffened beside me. People often called women of supposedly questionable morals “fancy ladies.” If he thought I’d blush and run off, he was sorely mistaken.
“Unfortunately, sir, I find I’m not terribly impressed.” I casually slipped a scalpel from my wristlet clutch, enjoying the familiar feel of it. “You see, I also eviscerate bodies. But I don’t bother with animals. I butcher humans. Would you care for a demonstration?”
He must have seen something in my face that worried him. He stepped back, his calloused hands raised. “I don’t want no trouble, now. I was just havin’ some fun.”
“As was I.” I gave him a sweet smile that made him blanch as I turned the blade this way and that. “Shame you don’t feel like playing any longer. Though I’m not surprised. Men such as yourself boast in a grandiose fashion to make up for their… shortcomings.”
Liza’s jaw practically hit the ground as she angled us away. She sighed as our carriage finally rumbled off without us. “Explain to me, dearest cousin, why we left that warm, lavish hansom in favor of wandering through”—she motioned at the rows of butchers’ blocks with her parasol, each stall featuring different animal parts being wrapped in brown paper packages—“all this. The smell is positively horrendous. And the company is even more foul. Never, in all my life, have I been spoken to in such a wicked manner.”
I kept my skepticism on that latter point locked away. We’d spent more than a week aboard an ocean liner cavorting with a carnival known for debauchery. Being acquainted with the ringmaster for five minutes proved he was a devil of a young man. In more ways than one.
“I wanted to see the meatpacking district for myself,” I lied. “Perhaps it’ll give me an idea for the perfect main course. What do you think of roasted goat?”
“After witnessing its beheading or before?” she asked, looking like she was moments away from vomiting. “You do know that’s what cookbooks are for, correct? Inspiration without the labor. Or carnage. I swear you miss being surrounded by death.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Why would you even think such a thing?”
“Look around, Audrey Rose. Of all the neighborhoods in this city, this is the one you chose to stroll through.”
I tore my attention away from a plucked chicken that was seconds away from joining the dismembered goat, my expression reserved as I took in our surroundings. Blood steadily dripped down many of the wooden blocks lining the storefronts, splattering onto the ground.
Judging from the multihued stains, the streets weren’t washed even after a busy day of hacking animals apart. Veins of crimson and black wound through cracks in the cobblestones—tributaries of old death meeting the new. The scent of copper mixed with feces pricked my eyes and thrilled my heart.
This street was death made tangible, a murderer’s dream.
Liza sidestepped a bucket of frost-coated offal, her warm exhale mimicking steam rising off a boiling teakettle as it mingled with the cold air. I wasn’t sure if the amount of entrails or their near-frozen states offended her more. I wondered at the darkness swirling within me—the secret part that couldn’t muster up an ounce of disgust. Perhaps I needed to take up a new hobby.
I feared I was becoming addicted to blood.
“Honestly, let me hail another hansom. You shouldn’t be out in this weather anyway—you know what Uncle’s said about the cold. And look”—Liza nodded toward our feet—“our shoes are sopping up snow like bits of bread in soup. We’re going to catch our death out here.”
I didn’t glance down at my own feet. I hadn’t worn my favorite pretty shoes since the day I’d taken a knife in my leg. My current footwear was stiff, boring leather without a delicate heel. Liza was correct; icy dampness had found its way in through the seams, soaking my stockings and causing the near-constant dull ache in my bones to intensify.
“Stop! Thief!” A constable blew a whistle somewhere close by and several people broke off from the crowd, scattering like plague rats rushing down alleyways. Liza and I moved aside, lest we become the unwitting victims of fleeing pickpockets and petty thieves.
“A whole roasted pig will be more than enough food,” she added. “Stop worrying.”
“That’s precisely the issue.”
I pressed closer to the building as a young boy ran by, one hand on his newsboy cap, the other clutching what appeared to be a stolen pocket watch. A policeman followed, blowing his whistle and dodging through vendors.
“I can’t stop worrying. Thomas’s birthday is in two days,” I reminded her, as if I hadn’t already done so one hundred times over the last week. The constable’s whistle and shouts grew further away and our slow procession down butchers’ row resumed. “It’s my first dinner party and I want everything to be perfect.”
Mr. Thomas Cresswell—my insufferable yet most decidedly charming partner in crime solving—and I had danced around the subject of both courtship and marriage. I’d agreed to accept him, should he ask my father first, and hadn’t expected everything to unfold quite as quickly as it had. We’d known each other for just a few short months—five now—but it felt right.
Most young women of my station married at about twenty-one years, but my soul felt older, especially after the events on the RMS Etruria. With my approval, Thomas sent a letter to my father, requesting an audience to make his intentions clear. Now that my father, along with my aunt Amelia, was en route from London to New York, the time was fast approaching when we’d begin an official courtship followed by a betrothal.
Not long ago, I would have felt invisible bars closing in at the thought of joining myself to another; now I irrationally worried something might bar me from marrying Thomas. He’d almost been taken from me once, and I’d kill before I allowed that to happen again.
“Plus”—I pulled the letter from the premier chef of Paris from my purse and waved it playfully at Liza—“Monsieur Escoffier was quite specific about obtaining the best cut of meat. And Uncle isn’t the one who’ll deal with a stiff leg,” I added, leaning a bit more heavily on my cane. “Let me worry over that.”
Liza looked ready to argue but held a perfumed handkerchief to her nose instead, her gaze snagging on the mechanical canopy above us. A conveyor belt with hooks swept by, a constant loop of gears clicking and metal clinking, the noise adding to the clamor of the streets as butchers staked hocks of fresh meat to it. She watched the dismembered limbs jostle their way into the buildings where they’d undoubtedly be broken down further, seemingly lost in thought.
Likely she was searching for another reason I ought to stay inside and rest, but I’d done plenty of resting in the weeks we’d been in New York. I needn’t hear from others what I could and could no longer easily do. I was more than aware of that.
While it was true I wanted Thomas’s eighteenth birthday to be special, it wasn’t the whole truth behind my obsessing. Uncle hadn’t permitted me to leave my grandmother’s home much for fear of fracturing my leg further, and I was going mad with inactivity and boredom. Throwing Thomas a party was as much for me as it was for him.
Though I was grateful for my cousin—she and Thomas had taken turns entertaining me by reading my favorite books aloud and playing the piano. They had even put on a few plays, much to both my amusement and my dismay. While my cousin had the voice of a nightingale, Thomas’s singing was atrocious. A cat in heat held a note in a more pleasant manner than he did. At least it proved he wasn’t limitlessly skilled, which pleased me to no end. Without them or my novels, things would have been much worse. When I was adventuring between the pages of a book, I wasn’t sad over things I was missing outside.
“Your grandmother’s kitchen staff is capable of doing the shopping to Mr. Ritz’s instructions. Wasn’t he the person who recommended Mr. Escoffier? These are not the sort of scenes one should be subjected to prior to a dress fitting.” Liza nodded at the eyes being pried from the goat’s skull and set in a bowl, while its belly was sliced open to remove organ meat. “No matter how accustomed you may be to macabre things.”
“Death is a part of life. Case in point”—I jerked my chin toward the fresh meat—“without the death of that goat, we’d starve.”
Liza scrunched her nose. “Or we could all learn to simply eat plants from now on.”
“While that sounds valiant, the plants would still need to die for your survival.” I ignored the tweak of pain in my leg as a particularly icy blast of wind barreled over the Hudson River and slammed into us. The sky’s gray belly bulged with the promise of more snow. It seemed like it had been snowing for a month straight. I was loath to admit that Uncle was right: I’d suffer the consequences of today’s activities later this evening. “Anyway, my fitting is in twenty minutes, which gives us plenty of time to—”
A man in a dark brown cutaway coat and matching bowler hat jumped aside as a bucket of waste splashed onto the street from the tenement window above, narrowly escaping a most unpleasant bath. He crashed directly into me, knocking my cane to the ground along with what appeared to be a medical satchel filled with familiar tools. Forgetting about his bag, he held fast to my arm, preventing me from tumbling onto our items and potentially getting impaled on anything sharp.
While I steadied myself, I eyed a rather large bone saw peeking out from where it had come undone in his bag. There was also what appeared to be an architectural drawing. Perhaps he was a doctor building his own medical offices. After he made sure I wasn’t in danger of falling, he let me go and quickly snatched up his satchel, stuffing the medical tools back in and rolling the drawing back up.
“Apologies, miss! M-my name is Henry. I didn’t mean to—I really should learn to watch where I’m going. I’ve got my mind full of a million things today.”
“Yes. You should.” Liza swiped my cane from the ground and gave the man a scowl Aunt Amelia would be proud of. “If you’ll excuse us, we must be on our way.” The man turned his attention to my cousin and snapped his mouth shut, though I couldn’t be sure if that was due to her beauty or her temper. She openly scrutinized him while he seemed to collect his thoughts. “If you’ll pardon us, Mr. Henry,” she said, latching onto my arm once more and tossing her caramel-haired head back in a most haughty manner, “we’re late for a very important appointment.”
“I didn’t intend—”
Liza didn’t wait to hear about his intentions; she led us through the maze of butchers and vendors, her pale sage skirts and parasol in one hand, and me in the other. We were moving at a pace much too difficult for me to manage when I finally wriggled free of her grasp and steered her off West Street.
“What in the name of the queen was that about?” I asked, indicating the man we’d practically run from. “He didn’t intend to bump into me, you know. And I believe he was quite taken with you. If you weren’t so abysmally rude, we could’ve invited him to the party. Weren’t you saying just yesterday that you wished to find someone to flirt with?”
“Yes. I did.”
“And yet… he was polite, a bit clumsy, but harmless and seemed to have a sweet temperament. Not to mention, he wasn’t unpleasant to look at. Don’t you enjoy a man with dark features?”
Liza rolled her eyes. “Fine. If you must know, Henry is too close to Harry and I’m quite through with men whose names begin with the letter H for a while.”
“So is walking through a butchers’ alley in January in a pale dress, yet do you see me complaining, dear cousin?” I raised my brows. “Well, I can’t help it!” she cried. “You know how nervous I am to see Mother again, especially after I very briefly ran off and joined the carnival.”
At the mention of the Moonlight Carnival we both grew quiet for a moment, silently recalling all the magic, mischief, and mayhem it had brought into our lives in just nine days aboard the RMS Etruria. In that respect, the carnival certainly lived up to its show-bill claim. Despite the trouble it caused, I’d forever remain grateful for Mephistopheles and the lesson he’d taught me, intentional or not. By the end of that cursed voyage, any doubts I’d had about marrying Thomas disappeared like a magician casting an elaborate illusion.
Certainty was empowering.
Liza wrapped her cloak about herself and inclined her head down the next street. “We ought to hurry over to Dogwood Lane Boutique,” she said. “Any dressmaker who studied under the House of Worth won’t appreciate it if she’s kept waiting. You don’t want her to take her annoyance out on your poor gown, do you?”
I craned my head around, hoping for another glimpse down the butchers’ alley, but we’d already left that blood-splattered street behind. I took a steady breath in and slowly exhaled. I wondered if boredom and Thomas’s party were truly the only reasons behind my fascination with one of the goriest districts in New York City. It had been almost a month since we’d worked on a murder case. Three blessed weeks without death and destruction and witnessing the worst the world had to offer.
Which ought to have been cause for celebration. Still, I worried over the strange sensation lingering in the pit of my stomach.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d think it felt like a twinge of disappointment.
FIT FOR A PRINCESS
DOGWOOD LANE BOUTIQUE
FASHION DISTRICT, NEW YORK CITY
21 JANUARY 1889
Liza took my cane and set it against the fleur-de-lis wallpaper of the dressmaker’s parlor, her eyes alight with a million romantic daydreams. I, on the other hand, imagined I looked half ready to faint. The smaller dressing lounge located off the main room was stiflingly warm. A large fire burned perilously close to racks of dresses made of chiffon, silk, and gauze. Though perhaps I was roasting because of the heavy layers of the extravagant gown I was trying on. It would be stunning for Thomas’s birthday, as long as I didn’t ruin it by sweating so much.
Bric-a-brac littered the marble mantel, inviting and homey, like much of the décor. A young woman brought in a piping-hot tea service and set it on an end table with scones, jam, and clotted cream. Two champagne flutes promptly joined the treats on a silver tray for us. Raspberries floated to the top, turning the beverage a delightful pink. I managed to shift most of my weight to my uninjured leg, though the effort was slightly exhausting as I focused on not wobbling.
“Stop fidgeting,” Liza ordered, slightly out of breath while she fluffed what layers she could on my dress. The gown was a beautiful blush color, the skirts a voluminous tulle with a beaded overlay that began from the bodice and cascaded to either side like a glittering waterfall made of crystal. Liza tugged the ribbons on my bodice a bit tighter, then covered them with the pink ruffle, which reminded me of the petals of a peony. “There. Now all you need are your gloves.”
She handed them over and I slowly tugged them up past my elbows. They were a cream so rich I wanted to dip a spoon in and taste them. I had my back to the giant looking glass and fought the urge to turn around and see the final result. As if plucking that very thought from my mind, Liza shook her head.
“Not yet. You need to put the shoes on first.” She hurried into the next room. “Mademoiselle Philippe? Are the slippers ready?”
“Oui, mademoiselle.” The dressmaker handed my cousin a pretty teal box with a satin bow, then rushed back out to the main room, ordering her employees to add more beads or tulle to other gowns.
“Here they are.” Liza approached me with a devilish grin. “Let me see your feet.”
“I’d rather not—”
I would have argued—my shoes of late had been more utilitarian and clunky than to my liking—but when Liza opened the lid and held up my new slippers, tears stung my eyes. If it were possible, the shoes were even more enchanting than the gown. They were flat silk shoes embroidered with roses and embellished with gemstones. A pale pink so exquisite I could hardly wait to wear them. When I touched them, I realized they weren’t silk—they were made of a buttery leather, so soft I could practically sleep on them. Liza helped steady me while I slipped them on, her own eyes misting as I wobbled and held tighter to her shoulder.
I couldn’t help but laugh. “Are you all right? I didn’t think the shoes were that awful.”
“You know that’s not…” Liza sniffled and swatted at my backside. “I’m just so happy to see you light up again. I know how much you missed wearing your favorite shoes.”
Hearing it spoken aloud, it seemed such a silly thing: to mourn the loss of frilly, insensible shoes. But I loved them and had taken for granted the choice to wear whatever I pleased. I lifted my skirts so I could admire my gleaming foot attire.
“You did a marvelous job designing them. I cannot think of one detail I’d change.”
“Actually”—Liza stood and dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief—“this was Thomas’s idea.”
I glanced up sharply. “Pardon?”
“He said if you could no longer wear shoes with heels, there was no reason he couldn’t have some made that were equally beautiful. If not more so.” I stared, unblinking, like a fool. She grinned. “He designed them himself. He even had extra padding added to the soles to help soften any discomfort. He noticed you often wince when you first stand. These, while they’re gorgeous, also function in a way that might ease some of your pain.”
I blinked several times, finding myself unable to formulate any sort of decent response that didn’t include crying into my pretty new skirts. It might not appear to be of much consequence to anyone without an injury, but to me it meant the world.
“They’re highly impractical,” I said, looking down at them. “They’ll get dirty and ruined—”
“Ahh, about that.” Thomas emerged from around the corner with more boxes stacked in his arms. He paused long enough to run his gaze over me, his attention slow and meandering. Heat rose in my cheeks and I subtly patted the front of my bodice down, physically checking to see if wisps of smoke were coming from my person. He finally met my eyes and grinned in satisfaction. “I had a few extra pairs made.”
“O-oh… what a delightful surprise, Mr. Cresswell! However did you know we’d be here?”
At this, I rolled my eyes skyward. Liza was almost as abysmal at acting as Thomas was at singing. She kissed my cheeks and smiled warmly at Thomas. The two co-conspirators had planned this moment out. I could have hugged them both. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. I saw this darling little robe I need to inquire about.”
Thomas nodded as she moved past him and promptly started up a loud conversation with the dressmaker in the next room. “You look stunning, Audrey Rose. Here.” He set his armful of boxes down on the settee and then took my hand in his, guiding me around to peer into the looking glass. “You’re a vision. How do you feel?”
I didn’t wish to sound vain, but when I first saw myself standing there, dressed in a gown fit for a princess, with shoes designed by a handsome yet wickedly charming prince, I felt as if I’d stepped out of the pages of a fairy tale. It wasn’t the sort of story that placed me in the role of the helpless maiden, however. This tale was one of triumph and sacrifice. Of redemption and love.
“I didn’t know you were such a talented cobbler, Cresswell.”
He tucked a stray piece of hair behind my ear, expression thoughtful. “I find myself striving to learn new talents, especially when the result is you looking—”
“Radiant?” I guessed.
“I was going to suggest ‘like you wish to destroy my virtue at once,’ but I suppose yours isn’t a terrible deduction, either.”
Thomas pressed his lips to mine in a gesture that was meant to be sweet and chaste. I was almost certain he hadn’t intended for me to pull him near, deepening our kiss. And I sincerely doubted he’d planned on lifting me into his arms, skirts puffed around us, as he walked us over to the settee and maneuvered me onto his lap, careful to mind my leg. There was truth in his assessment after all.
- On Sale
- Sep 10, 2019
- Page Count
- 448 pages
- JIMMY Patterson Books
About the Author
Kerri Maniscalco grew up in a semi-haunted house outside New York City, where her fascination with gothic settings began. In her spare time she reads steamy romance novels, cooks all kinds of food with her family and friends, and drinks entirely too much tea while discussing life’s finer points with her cats. She is the author of two #1 New York Times bestselling series; the Kingdom of the Wicked trilogy and the Stalking Jack the Ripper quartet.