She gave his chest a bit of a shove. “Are you poking fun at me?”
He shook his head. “Perhaps a bit. But your worry is just…”
She stood straighter, her shoulders tossed back, her chin angling up. Oh, she looked incredibly tempting in such a pose. “Silly?”
He reached out and stroked her cheek again. “Yes. But not for the reason you think.”
She jerked away. “You think I’m naïve and foolish and—”
“Adrianna,” he started. “I think you are exceptionally lovely, perhaps the most perfectly beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. You’ve got wit and charm and spunk and the only reason you feel insecure is because you haven’t had a proper chance to test out your skills. But I guarantee if you make it to London, you’ll both keep your sisters perfectly safe and have a line of suitors begging for your attention.”
“Oh.” She covered her mouth, color rising in her cheeks. “That was the loveliest compliment. I…” But she stopped as she heard someone whistling a merry tune from down the path. “Oh no. That’s Papa.” She started pushing him from the door, her hands splayed out on his chest. “You have to go.”
“Why?” he asked, enjoying her discomfort. “I was only helping to find your sister’s cat. And besides. You yourself told me that he was unlikely to think ill of anyone. I’m sure he’ll—”
She tsked, shoving him around the corner. “You know very well that we can’t be caught alone together. Not even my father will stand for that.” He stopped moving, and her hands slid lower to gain leverage. Even with the threat of marriage looming if her father found them alone, this was quite fun.
“Fair enough. The problem, though, is that our conversation had only just begun.”
The whistling grew louder and Adrianna pushed harder. “If you don’t go, I’m darting into the kitchen and leaving you out here alone. Then my father can think you’re lurking about.”
He grabbed her arms and pulled her closer. Her violet scent wrapped about him. “I’ve just had a marvelous idea that I’d like to discuss with you.” If experience was what she needed, he might be able to help with that. And help himself too. Being with her was clearing the fog he’d been in for so long.
She stilled in his grasp, tilting her face up toward his and, this time, knocking his with the brim of her hat. “Idea?”
“Meet me at the top of the path at ten tonight,” he whispered and then as quickly as he’d grabbed her, he let her go. Turning, he made his way back to the road to head into the village. It looked as though he’d be staying in Seabridge Gate for one more day, anyhow.
He’d have to tell Dashlane and Craven, though they’d all planned to go their separate ways regardless. But still. And he’d need to ask Mr. Moorish permission to use the cottage for another day. Then he smiled. That was the perfect excuse to return to the Moorish house later this evening.
He started whistling to himself, a merry tune that hummed from his rusty lips. It sounded terrible, his lips unused to the activity but somehow, it made his chest lighter as the sound passed his lips.
Then he stopped. Sharing with Adrianna about his past had made him feel lighter, freer than he had in some time.
Just as he started moving again, Juliet and Dashlane made their way toward him. Neither Craven nor Bianca were with them.
“I just don’t know where that silly cat could have gone,” Juliet said, her arms swinging wide in the air. “But I’ll have you all over for dinner as a thank you for helping us search.”
Dashlane frowned, running a hand through his hair. “That’s very kind, Miss Moorish, but not necessary.”
“Miss Moorish,” Luke called, smiling just a bit, knowing what his friends had been through and what they were being trapped into. “Mittens has been found.”
Juliet gave a loud clap. “Oh thank goodness. And her kittens?”
“All safe.” He winked at Dashlane. “So there is no need to have Dashlane or Craven over for dinner.”
Juliet frowned even as Dashlane sighed, his shoulders hunching in relief. “See, Miss Moorish, I’ve done nothing, really.”
Juliet clutched his arm. “Oh but my lord, you’ve been so very helpful. I must insist that you come for dinner.”
Luke shrugged. Apparently Dashlane wasn’t escaping from Seabridge Gate’s noose. And neither was he but he couldn’t be ceased to care. One more day in Seabridge Gate would do him some good.
Adrianna forced her body to stay still. Her sister, Cordelia, was playing a lovely piece on the pianoforte that Adrianna should be listening to rather than pacing. Besides, her family had been giving her strange looks all evening.
She was jumpy. She knew that. But a woman didn’t get her first kiss every day. And then there had been the intimate conversation they’d shared. Luke had told her about his past and they’d held one another and she’d shared her worst fear and…
Another wave of heat spread across her cheeks. She held them in her hands. Why did he wish to meet? He’d said they had more to discuss and she agreed. She didn’t understand what all of this meant. If he’d only kissed her, Adrianna might have considered his behavior that of a rake, but telling her about his first love? That felt deeper, more intimate.
Not that she needed any promises from him. Honestly, she’d been happy just to share their kiss, she’d learned a great deal in that moment and he’d been so tender.