Lady Vivian Defies a Duke

By: Samantha Grace

Lady Vivian Defies a Duke

by Samantha Grace


            Lady Vivian Worth folded the sheet of foolscap and sighed. Her older brother had always shown a flair for dramatics, often predicting disaster where no risk existed. He had no reason to fret over a nobleman’s visit to Brighthurst House. Vivi knew perfectly well how to behave like a lady. She’d had nineteen years of practice. Observing proper manners when no one was around to impress, however, was silly.

            She tossed Ash’s weekly letter beside her discarded gown, petticoats, and corset, then tore off across the damp grass, her unbound hair flying behind her. The previous night’s heavy rain had swollen the spring cutting through Cousin Patrice’s property to the ideal depth, and Vivi had always been powerless to resist a good swim.

            Reaching the rocky ledge, she leaped into the air with a whoop, drawing her knees toward her chest. She hung weightless for a second, then dropped to the spring below with a loud splash, the water sucking her to the bottom. Vivi burrowed her toes into the pebbled spring bed, then shot upward to break through the surface again as eagerly as a newborn babe bursting into a bright new world.

            Ah, sweet ecstasy. This was much better than mindless needlepoint.

            Smiling, she stretched out on her back to admire the white clouds soaring like mountains into the sky. Today the sun was brighter, the trees more lush, the birds harmonious in their songs.

            Lucas Forest, the twelfth Duke of Foxhaven, was showing interest in her at last, even if he was sending an emissary to call on her.

            Vivi had never been a patient person, and waiting for Foxhaven to claim her had been difficult indeed. Yet, she had not faulted him for postponing the final signing of their marital agreement. He had just lost his father suddenly, and she’d understood the magnitude of that kind of loss. By age seven, she was already an orphan and quickly becoming a burden to her brother.

            She could also appreciate Foxhaven’s shock upon learning of the secret negotiations between her brother and the former duke. She hadn’t been consulted prior to their discussions either.

            Nevertheless, thirteen months had proven to be a torturously long time for her to exist in a state of uncertainty. She was ready to have the matter settled between them and leave Bedfordshire behind.

            When the duke’s representative, Lord Ellis, arrived next week, she would give him no reason to find her lacking. She would be everything her brother had promised Foxhaven she would be: a gracious hostess, a proper lady, and an empty-headed ninny with no opinions.

            Vivi flipped onto her stomach and swam with the current.

            Claiming she had no opinions was perhaps unwise of her brother. Her opinions tended to sprout up like dandelions in a field, and she was often eager to share her thoughts when others were not so eager to listen. But she would hold her tongue, even if she must bite it in the process.

            Swimming to shallower water, Vivi stood and wobbled on the slippery rocks, her hands thrust out at her sides to find her balance. She had best make her way back to the house. Cook was still awaiting her approval of the meals for Lord Ellis’s stay. Since Cousin Patrice had taken to her bed with a chill, the task had fallen to Vivi.

            Were a gentleman’s occupations as mind-numbing as a lady’s? Likely not. Their reading selections certainly proved more entertaining. Perhaps she could afford to sneak in another chapter of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur before addressing the kitchen staff.

            She trudged upstream, her mind already preoccupied with the story she had abandoned earlier. She often lost herself in daydreams about handsome knights and being adored by one. It made her lonely days feel less… Well, lonely.

            She is attending a tournament. Sir Launcelot stops his charger in front of her and declares himself as her champion. Vivi pulls the scarlet ribbon from her hair and presents it to him. Her brave knight holds her offering to his lips, his eyes shining brightly.

            “My dearest Lady Vivian, you honor me with your gift. Might I beg of you a kiss as reward for my victory?”

            Vivi touched her fingers to her lips. “Yes, my brave knight.” She laughed, embarrassed to still be engaging in girlish fancies. Her imagination was rather brilliant, however. She had been so lost in the moment she could have sworn she’d heard the whinny of Sir Launcelot’s horse.

            The smooth rocks shifted and she landed in the water with a plop. As she struggled to her feet, the snort of a horse—real, not imagined—made her head snap up.

            A horse and rider appeared through the tree line ahead and approached the spring’s edge.

            She froze.

            The man sat casually in his saddle, seemingly unaware of her presence, while his horse lowered his head for a drink. She sloshed around in search of someplace to hide, but there was nowhere to go. No bush, boulder, or tree near enough to shield her.

            “Damnation!” The gentleman’s surprised exclamation echoed off the stone ledge lining the opposite bank.

            “Oh, look away. Please, look away.” She attempted to run for deeper water, but her chemise twisted around her knees. Pitching forward, she landed face-first into the water, then came up coughing and sputtering, her hair in her eyes. The sounds of boots hitting the gravel and splashing made her heart leap into her throat.

            She staggered to her feet, sweeping aside the curtain of hair obstructing her view. Hastily, she crossed her arms over her breasts. “Stop!”

            The stranger drew to a halt, the water up to his knees. Dark brows lowered over the most striking blue eyes she had ever seen. “You aren’t in need of rescue?”

            She snorted. “Not from swimming.”

            His intense stare bathed her in heat, making her forget the affront he had just served her. She slowly began to back away. Water dripped from her nose, but she didn’t dare expose herself to swipe at it.

            If anyone discovered her half-nude in the presence of a gentleman… Well, it would be a million times more disastrous than the situation with Owen, and that debacle could ruin her if word ever reached London.

            His gaze didn’t waver.

            “Will you please stop gawking at me?”

            “Sorry.” He covered his eyes and his lips twitched upward. “Now that we have established you are in no danger, perhaps you can answer a question. Are you a water sprite or a manifestation of my overactive imagination?”

            His voice sounded like he was holding back a smile. He wasn’t taking their situation seriously enough in her estimation.

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