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Silence followed. And then a soft noise.

The door opened unexpectedly on well-oiled hinges, revealing a petite man in his later years with a smallish head and iron-gray hair worn back in an old-fashioned queue. Despite the man's diminutive height, he somehow managed to look down at them along the length of a hawklike nose.


His one word, uttered with none of the graces assigned to even a poorly trained butler, threw Portia off. She stiffened in affront, then prepared to respond to the discourteous greeting with a bit of insolence herself.

Angelique saved her the trouble as she pushed through the door, past the little man who was helpless to stop her, and into the hall, saying as she went, "We have a matter of vital importance that requires Nightshade's immediate attention." She swung around to cast the little man a narrow-eyed look. "Where shall we wait?"

"Don't know who yer talking 'bout."

"Yes, you do. Now fetch your master, or I will seek him out myself."

Portia was infinitely impressed. Who knew the woman who barely remembered to put on her shoes before leaving the house could display such an air of unquestionable command?

The little man pinched his face into a sour expression as he glanced toward the door then back to Angelique as though debating the benefits of tossing them both back onto the street. He cast a critical gaze over their appearances, seeming to take mental note of the quality of their clothing. Then he snorted and turned to amble into the shadows at the back of the hall.

Angelique released a pent-up breath, her previous arrogance falling away like a discarded cloak. She turned to Portia. "Come. Let us find somewhere comfortable to wait."

The front hall was dark and narrow. Stairs rose up along the left side, and three doors opened to the right. The hall itself contained nothing but a small table set near the door. Portia wandered toward the first door to peek into the room beyond.

It was a small parlor.

"This way," she said as she strode into the room.

The room was also quite dark. Only the faint glow of distant city lights filtered through the window, but it was enough to see the outline of the furniture and a small candelabrum set on a table near the sofa. Angelique took a seat in an armchair while Portia went directly to the cold fireplace, looking for something to light the candles.

It felt good to finally have something to do even if it was as mundane a task as lighting candles. It kept her thoughts from flying in all sorts of wild directions. Once the candles were lit, she found herself unable to sit still. Though she tried several times to take a seat, she inevitably jumped to her feet again in a matter of moments as fretful energy continued to rush unheeded through her body.

Rather than perpetrating a pointless battle against the urge to move, she took to pacing the tiny room. 

It felt like they waited for hours in the dimly lit parlor for Nightshade's man. Angelique sat quietly, her eyelids dropping in the semidarkness. Portia almost envied the old woman her drowsiness as her disquiet steadily grew. The longer they sat unattended, the harder it was going to be to track Lily down.

Portia wondered if perhaps the rude little butler had simply gone to bed rather than informing his master of his guests. After making her hundredth turn at the fireplace, she took off toward the door at the opposite end of the room with purposeful strides, determined to go in search of someone herself.

Just as she neared the door, however, a figure appeared in the dark frame. The man made such a sudden and silent appearance Portia was nearly startled from her skin. As it was, she was under the force of such fierce momentum, she barely managed to stop herself from colliding with the man by bracing her hand hard on the doorframe.

She looked at the newcomer sharply. Her worry and impatience coalesced into anger now that he had finally appeared.

He was a rather nondescript man in his later years, perhaps in his fifties, with light hair that was going to gray, a pale, almost sickly complexion, a beard that had grown a bit bushy, and small, wire-rimmed spectacles. He was dressed in a brown suit with matching waistcoat and stood with sloped shoulders, his hands stuffed into the front pockets of his coat.

Seemingly unconcerned with their near collision, he looked down at her from almost a foot above her with an expression that could only be classified as annoyed. The longer she stood there staring up at him, the more annoyed he became, evidenced by the lowering of his untamed brows and the pursing of his thin mouth.

And yet he was the one who had kept them waiting while her sister was dragged off to who knows where.

She pushed off from the doorframe and planted her hands on her hips.

"It is about time. Do you have any idea how long we have been waiting?"

The thick eyebrows shot up, reaching far above the top rim of his spectacles. "You have been waiting less than fifteen minutes," he replied in an entirely unhurried tone. "Do you have any idea what time of night it is?"

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