Finn stared at her in wonderment. “By God, Miss Leavenworth, but you are forward.”
Her flush returned and she bent her head. “I know. It’s a curse.” Her face darkened for a quick moment, so quick Finn almost missed it. “I do apologize. It comes, I think, from living only in proximity to Aunt Maddy and Jane. There are no secrets nor pretendings between us, you see. I suppose at times, I forget that we are not at all meant to speak exactly as we think.”
“We’ll have to cure you of that if you intend to enter society.”
Philippa raised slightly from her seat. “You’ll help me then?” she squeaked. “Despite my rudeness to you?”
“On more than one occasion,” he added in good humor. They were clear of questions about his situation for the moment. He took her surprise as an opportunity to steer the conversation into safer waters. “I like you, Miss Leavenworth. I’d like to be considered a friend of sorts and not a stranger. Do you suppose we could accomplish that?”
She pursed her lips at him, reminding him of just how friendly he wished to be, then waved her hand as if waving aside his invisible concerns. “I would like that. Although I don’t suppose friendships have restrictions?”
“Not at all,” he answered with perfect aplomb. Which of course there were. A friend, for example, did not look at a friend and imagine her stretched across a bed in naked abandonment. But there was no need to trouble her with such an image. He was quite sure she wouldn’t appreciate it. “Do you have any?”
“I do,” she said, matching his tone. “First—"
“You mean to say there is more than one?”
Her eyes flew to the side, then returned to his face. “Several. Actually.”
“Oh, well then, by all means continue.” Finn pushed himself out of his seat and moved to walk behind her to the set of shelves holding his books. He wasn’t sure he could listen to her restrictions on their friendship without betraying his humor or disappointment. For he wasn’t quite sure which he felt. Whether she amused him with her restrictions at complete odds with her straightforward nature or disappointed at the extent she would allow their relationship to go.
“First,” she said and swiveled her head around the chair, “I would ask that you do not arrive at my residence unannounced. It troubles Aunt Maddy so, as you’ve witnessed.”
Finn focused on the row of books before him. “Friends are often given to dropping in, but I concede your point. Shall I sent ‘round a note first, asking for an audience?”
He heard her huff of impatience. “Are you mocking me, Mr. Kinsley?”
He spared her a glance. “Not at all, Miss Leavenworth.”
“Because I must warn you, I am responsible above all else to the comfort and security of my aunt.”
Finn removed his eyes from the books and turned to face her. “I understand family,” he said softly, “even if it doesn’t seem to you that I do, given my apparent estrangement.”
Philippa rose from her seat and moved to stand beside him. She was so close her could make out the dusting of light freckles across her nose. “Will you tell me about them sometime?”
He shrugged and stepped away to rest an elbow on the book shelf, effectively removing himself from her space without seeming obvious. “It depends on the remainder of your restrictions.”
“Right.” She drew in a breath. “Secondly, I must beg that you do not question the nature of my need to enter society. Suffice to say, this need stems from a desire to see more of my world.”
A strange friendship indeed for friends did not lie to friends and yet there she stood, spewing falsehoods in his face. “You aren’t on the hunt for a husband, are you?” he grunted.
“Good gracious no!”
“London,” he said, “is not the world.”
She tilted her head to the side, considering him with her serious COLOR eyes. “No, it is not. But before I can step into the greater unknown, I must step into the little known, wouldn’t you agree?”
“You understand then,” she said with a measure of pleasant surprise.
Finn turned back to the books, pretending to pursue the titles. “I know a bit about stepping into the greater unknown myself.” He turned back to her, unwilling to keep the reassurances to himself. “It’s easier than one would suppose, if one is truly motivated.”
There was a light in her eyes that hadn’t previously existed and he glimpsed a bit of hope there. He faltered back from such a look. He didn’t want her looking upon him with hope. There was too much expectation there.
“What other restrictions?” he asked abruptly and she blinked rapidly.
“Of course. Others.” Philippa tapped her forefinger to her chin. “Honesty,” she pronounced. “I merely ask that you are honest with me in all endeavors. If you come to feel as though this friendship is in any way damaging or has become a bore, you must tell me so we can remove ourselves as quickly as possible.”
Finn held out his hand. “Agreed.”
She hesitated. “And do you not have any for me?”
He quirked up his mouth. “No. I offer this friendship without strings. I told you, I like you. And I wish to help you. You have to trust me completely, of course, or else we are doomed to failure.”