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"I would say it is nearing one o'clock in the morning, which should signify that our issue is of such importance it cannot wait until a more reasonable hour, which should in turn have pressed you to a more hasty response."
 
The man made a sound in the back of his throat—a sort of abbreviated snort—then stared, saying nothing more. His lips pressed into such a tight line they lost all hint of color, and his eyes narrowed to a squint behind his spectacles.

"Portia, come sit. Allow the poor man into the room so we may conduct our business."

Portia realized then that her challenging stance essentially blocked the doorway, keeping the newcomer stranded on the threshold. Executing a little snort of her own, Portia turned with a whip of her skirts and strode to where her great-aunt was pushing herself a bit straighter in the armchair. Rather than sitting—which she knew wouldn't last long anyway—Portia took position beside the chair and waited for Nightshade's man to step forward and take control of the situation.

Taking control was not how Portia would describe the man's next actions.

After a slow glance at Angelique, he strolled into the room, keeping his hands in his pockets. He walked past the lit candelabra, his brows shooting upward again, as if the fact that they had lit the room was more of an affront than their untimely visit.

Portia studied him, irritated and curious.

This was the go-between for the highly skilled and ruthless Nightshade? He looked more like someone's daft uncle or a confused schoolteacher.

"Mr. Honeycutt," Angelique said, "we met once before, a few years ago—"

"Of course, Lady Chelmsworth," Honeycutt interrupted without turning to face them as he wandered to the window overlooking the front street. "I recall our introduction. I assume tonight brings you here on another matter."

Portia bristled at the impatience obvious in his tone.

The man was sorely lacking in manners.

"Indeed. This is my great-niece, Miss Chadwick," Angelique replied, waving an elegant hand toward Portia. "Her sister has been abducted tonight. Taken off the street and carried away. We need Nightshade to recover her."

Portia watched Mr. Honeycutt carefully, expecting some sort of reaction to the news of a young lady being kidnapped in such a way. But he gave no acknowledgment at all, just continued to stare out the window with his shoulders slouched and his chin tucked to his chest.

Portia couldn't stand any more of it.

"Mr. Honeycutt," she began in a sharp tone, but just as she spoke, he turned around again and pinned her with a stare that stopped the rest of her words.

Something in his manner, his gaze, his sudden focus managed to suck the dissent right out of her. Somewhere deep within the ugly brown coat and sloped posture she detected a strong thread of competence. She rolled her lips in between her teeth in a way she hadn't done since she was young and her mother had chastised her for her naughtiness...which was often.

After waiting long enough to be assured she would not be interrupting any further, Honeycutt shifted his attention back to Angelique. "Have you any idea who may have perpetrated the abduction or why?"

Angelique looked to Portia, giving her a nod. During their drive across London, Portia had confessed to Angelique the truth about the mysterious loan and Hale's recent threats. The Chadwicks had initially decided to keep the full nature of their dire circumstances from the lady's knowledge rather than risk the possibility it might influence her decision to sponsor the younger sisters for the Season.

Portia straightened her spine and looked the man directly in the face. She realized it was vital he have all the information available if this Nightshade were to have any luck in tracking down where Lily had been taken, but it didn't make it any easier to admit her family's secrets to a stranger.

"Since my father's death several months ago, my oldest sister, Emma, began receiving notes from someone named Mason Hale regarding an unpaid loan. Last night, my sister Lily—the one who was just abducted—was personally threatened by Hale. He stated we had two days to repay him in full, with interest. He indicated he would have his money, one way or another." She paused, looking for some indication that Honeycutt was listening. He provided no reaction at all. "Hale gave us until tomorrow to get the money to him. We had a plan to come up with the amount, but something must have changed. Hale must have decided not to wait. Lily was the first to exit the carriage when we arrived home this evening. Before we knew what was happening, our driver was knocked unconscious, and my sister was tossed over the shoulder of a very large man who stuffed her into a carriage across the street. They were gone in a matter of moments."

Honeycutt was silent and unmoving for several minutes.

"Does anyone else have any cause to take your sister? Vengeance, lust, greed?"

"Not that I know of," Portia replied, less certain than she would have liked.

A sick rush of guilt settled in her stomach. She and Lily had not been talking as much as they used to. Portia had been so ill-humored since she had begun her debut Season, she had not been very attentive to her sister.

"Do you know of Mason Hale? Where to find him?" Portia asked when Honeycutt remained silent longer than she was comfortable with.

He narrowed his gaze in irritation again, and Portia stiffened. If he wasn't so bloody tight-lipped, she wouldn't be forced to press him.

"I will address the issue with my employer," Honeycutt finally replied.


This excerpt ends on page 16 of the paperback edition.
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