Becoming the Dark Prince Page 2

I abruptly stopped walking as she and her cousin approached from the opposite end of the promenade, no doubt heading for their shared cabin. She seemed relaxed, happy. Her arm was looped through Liza’s, their smiles infectious as they giggled much too loudly and promptly shushed each other before dissolving into even more laughter.

I paused, half-considering turning around before they spied me, when my attention fastened on what she wore. Midnight stockings showed off her legs, and her low-cut, red-and-black striped corset was sprinkled with just the right number of sequins to draw the eye strategically to her curves. I swallowed hard and cursed under my breath. She was dressed like one of the Moonlight Carnival performers, and she was a vision.

And I was staring like a besotted fool.

I heard Daciana’s voice in my head, admonishing me for getting flustered over something as mundane as clothing. With a great amount of strain, I forced myself to think clearly and logically. And to most certainly stop glancing at the dark silk outlining the shape of her hips…

“Oh, Mr. Cresswell!”

Liza drew them up short. Audrey Rose’s face registered shock when she looked up and saw me. I studied her expression intently, thrilled to see I was a welcome surprise. I worried she might think I’d been purposely walking by her cabin to check on her. Truthfully, I didn’t realize I’d been heading this way. I’d been too consumed with my own thoughts.

Liza looked between us and bit her lip, trying to keep the smile from her face as she let her cousin go and rushed to their door. She gave a most exaggerated yawn, not fooling anyone with her acting as she feigned tiredness.

“I am so exhausted,” she said to no one in particular. “I’ll just be in here, sleeping soundly.”

She winked at Audrey Rose and slipped inside, leaving us alone. A curious thing happened to my pulse—it surged. Fear and desire shot through me. A confusing mix I’d need to ponder later when I was alone. For now, I needed to remember to breathe and act like the gentleman I was trying to convince myself I was.

“Cresswell.” She swayed forward, narrowing her eyes. “Is it really you?”

I flashed her my most charming look. “Not to worry, Wadsworth. Sometimes I can’t believe I’m actually real either.”

Her gaze moved to my mouth and lingered. An expression close to longing crossed her face. It was the same look she’d given me when we’d kissed in her cabin a few nights ago. I recalled the warmth of her body, the feel of her soft skin, the way she’d tasted…

I inhaled deeply and focused on solving mathematical equations. I thought of numerators and denominators. I conjured square roots. Anything, anything to keep from noticing my pounding heartbeat and the way she made me nervous and excited all at once.

And then she slowly licked her lips—as if she’d deduced the heat blazing through me, destroying my resolve to set her free.

It took all of my willpower to keep myself a decent distance away. One word or plea from her was all it’d take. It was more than lust. More than a physical need. I adored every part of her. If she asked me to, I’d unleash every one of my desires, pleasuring her in a way that would let her know precisely how much I cherished her.

Once that happened, there’d be no denying the depths of my feelings. How wholly and madly I loved her. A fact more solid and tangible than any in the history of the world. I schooled my expression into a mask of ice, hiding the blazing inferno raging within. I wanted her to choose me without being influenced by my own feelings.

“Thomas?” she asked, her focus stubbornly fixed on my mouth.

“Yes?” My voice came out a bit rough, and I cleared my throat. I was finding it hard to think, to breathe. I wondered at the look in her eyes—the one that seemed to mentally run her fingers through my hair, gently tugging my head back, owning me playfully. I—

One thousand nine hundred and seventy-two divided by seven…

“Thomas, are you all right? You look a bit peaked.” She wasn’t aware of it, but when she gave something her attention, the force of it was overwhelming. “Why are you sneaking about this early?”

To find salvation from my demons. To free myself from the cage of my room and the fears that threaten to be my undoing. To feel the stinging prickle of snow on my face and forget that there wasn’t a cure for my current condition. Her gaze was a palpable caress as she slowly shifted it downward, igniting a deep male need that startled even me.

“I’m not sneaking, I’m prowling, Wadsworth.” I gave her a lazy grin. It was an effort to keep my tone casual, to stop myself from trying to kindle her desire too. Though, judging from the growing longing in her expression and the way she shifted her body towards mine, perhaps she’d fanned those flames on her own. “Why are you sneaking about?”

I was going to tease her further, asking if she was coming back from a late-night tryst, and felt a violent, invisible kick to my gut. I cursed myself for thinking up that atrocity and forced my jaw to stay locked together, lest I make a bigger fool of myself.

Of all the times to picture the ringmaster with his arms around her…

“You’re deflecting.” Her clever eyes narrowed again, homing in on my expression. “Have you discovered a clue? Was there another murder?”

I shook my head, not trusting myself to speak yet. Images of her curled into someone else, her hair spilling like a secret over his chest, still assaulted me. I kept my gaze on her face, refusing to glance down at her costume. And the expanse of skin it revealed. Despite my best efforts, when a blast of wind shot through the promenade, I looked. I only meant to see if she was cold and needed my jacket, but her corset was pulled so tightly together the swell of her breasts stole my senses. I wanted to snap the stays and run my… nine hundred and ninety-eight thousand divided by twenty-six was thirty-eight thousand, three hundred eighty-four and—

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