Angelique made a sound that could have been a scoff or a chuckle or something in between. But she reached back into her purse. "Here is your coin." She waved a hand toward Portia. "Give him a kiss so we can move this along."
The coin quickly disappeared into the child's pocket before he swept his hat off his head and turned his face to Portia. Feeling more than a little silly, Portia leaned forward to briefly brush her lips across the child's cheek.
He gave a quick whoop then smashed his hat back on his head.
Turning to Charles, who still stood beside him, he said, "Head down the street a ways, then swing right after the butcher's place. Keep going till you pass the park. There'll be a row of houses that all look the same. Go to the one nearest the broken streetlamp. That's where you'll find Nightshade's man." He looked back to Portia and Angelique. "And I'd be grateful if you don't tell him it was me who sent ya. He'd have me hide fer not following the rules." The boy tossed a jaunty wink at Portia. "I like me hide."
The boy was ridiculously charming, and Portia smiled despite her anxiety. "Thank you. We do appreciate your help."
The boy tipped the brim of his cap then backed away. Charles quickly closed the carriage door, and a minute later they were off again.
Portia stared across the carriage at her great-aunt with a dose of newfound respect. "Who is Nightshade?"
The lady's expression was vague as she replied, "No one knows, ma petite cherie."
"What do you mean?"
"He never meets his clients face-to-face." The old lady gestured toward the window. "There is a strict process to getting in touch with the man. We are fortunate your kiss is so highly regarded," she added with a sly glance.
Portia resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Among young boys maybe. "Can this Nightshade be trusted?"
"He would not have gained the reputation he has if he were untrustworthy or incompetent. They say his insistence on remaining anonymous allows him to move through any environment undetected; that he is capable of infiltrating even the most elite social groups."
Portia leaned forward, captivated by the idea such a man existed. "How do you know of him?"
"Word gets around when there is someone willing to do what others cannot. Or will not." Angelique paused and looked down at the ring on her left hand. "A few years ago, I hired him to help me with a certain personal matter. If anyone can find Lily, it is Nightshade."
Portia fell silent, hoping her great-aunt was right.
After several minutes, the carriage reached the area the boy had mentioned. It was a more residential neighborhood, and both sides of the street were lined with brick row houses two stories high with narrow fronts and identical entrances. Portia peered through the window, straining to locate the broken streetlamp that would mark the correct house.
There. The moment she saw it, the carriage pulled to the side of the street. Charles must have seen it as well. Portia took her great-aunt's arm in silence as they made their way up the walk to the dark front door. She swept her gaze in all directions, trying to pierce the night surrounding them, alert for any threat. The shadows were deep in front of the house, and no number marked the address. Two small windows bracketed the door, but no light shone from them.
Portia tipped her head to look at the windows on the upper level. All was dark.
Blast. What if no one was home?
Angelique lifted the tarnished brass knocker and issued a loud, echoing announcement of their presence.