Lady Vivian Defies a Duke

By: Samantha Grace

Chapter Ten

Vivi hated the tightness in her throat and the way her voice broke. Jealousy was an unbecoming attribute. It reminded her of a mad creature with bulging, bloodshot eyes and spittle dripping from yellowed fangs. But she didn’t like Mrs. Price or the way the woman had allowed her gaze to roam up and down Luke’s body like she wanted nothing more than to toss him on the lane and do unspeakable things with him. Or how the woman tried to lure him to her bedchamber with the promise of a treat.

“Well, are you fond of sweets, Your Grace?”

There was a slight narrowing of his sparkling blue eyes. “Do you reference baked goods, or are you schooled in code and espionage?”

He was laughing at her again, finding her a source of amusement and adding to her humiliation.

“Forget I inquired.” She turned her back to him, her toe tapping against the cobbled walk before she realized it. She forced her body to be still and fought against the urge to fidget as she waited for her maid to return.

His hand on her shoulder gave her a start. “I suppose it depends on the baker, Vivian.” The softly spoken words were like a tonic, smoothing her ruffled feathers. Tingles radiated from the spot where his hand rested. She wished she really were his betrothed, so she could turn into his embrace and snuggle her cheek against him. Instead, she reluctantly shifted away from his touch.

He sighed. “I have heard it said Mrs. Price is too free with her baked goods. I can assure you I have no desire to be a recipient of her generosity.”

“I see.” Heat singed her cheeks. She was not so ignorant as to be unaware of Mrs. Price’s position in society. Yet, it was overwhelming for a country girl, having never been exposed to the sophisticated life of the ton. She glanced toward the coaching yard, uncertain what her response should be. More than anything, she wanted to avoid appearing like a naive girl in Luke’s eyes. She was a woman, and she wanted to be his wife.

He urged her to face him. “I have never been fond of bakers being too free with their sweets. I intend to speak with Lord Brookhaven about reconsidering his traveling party if he wishes to stay at Irvine Castle.”

Vivi turned back toward the sweet shop, trying to hide her relieved smile.

A bell jangled as Winnie emerged. She looked both ways then crossed the dusty lane. When her maid reached her side, she held out the treats. “The shop had your favorite.”

“Thank you.” Vivi took the bundle, handed a chocolate biscuit to Winnie, and selected one. She wrapped up the third treat and placed it in her reticule.

Luke fell into step beside her as they resumed their stroll. “You’re not going to share with me?”

Vivi bit into the biscuit and made him wait for an answer. After drawing out the silence, she flashed a teasing smile. “You made it clear you don’t appreciate sweets given out too freely, Your Grace.”

His deep chuckle lifted her spirits. He seemed to have forgotten her unseemly display of jealousy already. “I really must question your brother on your education, Lady Vivian, for I have the distinct impression you were tutored in codes.”

When they returned to the inn, she and Winnie retired upstairs so Vivi could change into a fresh gown before dinner.

Luke rapped on her door minutes after her maid had set her to rights. He too had donned clean attire and appeared very ducal standing outside her door, except for his wide grin. Her papa had never made an appearance without his stern frown, and her brother always looked as serious as a case of smallpox. Perhaps someone had neglected to inform the Duke of Foxhaven men of aristocratic birth were not jovial creatures.

“Has anyone ever remarked that you are too happy, Your Grace?”

“Never.” He didn’t seem taken aback by her question in the least. Nothing ever seemed to ruffle him.

He bowed then held out his arm. “Lady Vivian, shall I escort you below stairs?”

She returned his smile as she slipped her arm through the crook of his elbow. “If any gentleman ever suggests you should behave like a stuffy old duke, I hope you will recommend he take a leap from the Westminster Bridge.”

“I shall take your advice under consideration, my lady.”

“As you should, Your Grace.”

A throat clearing behind her made her jump. Glancing over her shoulder, she discovered Lord Andrew and Lana were standing in the corridor. Surely they hadn’t been there the entire time.

“They are irritatingly formal,” Lana muttered to her husband. “Lady This, Lord That.”

“Your Grace,” Lord Andrew added in a falsetto. “With their high-handed manners, one might mistake them for nobility.”

Vivi laughed. Her travel companions behaved more like friends than chaperones, which made for a pleasant journey thus far.

As Luke led her below stairs, she reveled in his warmth. There were not enough opportunities to be close to him, so she would relish each one. Inside the private dining room, she didn’t release him until he pulled out her chair at the long, linen-covered table. Lana and Lord Andrew assumed places on the opposite side.

Luke snatched up the bottle of wine resting in the middle of the table. “Allow me to do the honors.”

Vivi started to request lemonade, thought better of it, and held her tongue. She would only draw attention to her lack of social experience if she refused the wine. Ash and Muriel always had wine with their meals. Cousin Patrice was an exception, but she preferred life in the country and probably had forgotten how to be sophisticated.

“Thank you, Your Grace.”

“My pleasure.” He raised his glass into the air. “To new adventures.”

“To new adventures.” She touched her glass to each of her dining partners’ glasses.

Lord Andrew arched a brow. “At your age, old man, what new adventures can one hope to have?”

Luke’s smile dimmed, and he lost some of the liveliness Vivi admired.

She sat up straighter and squared her shoulders. “Every day is new, my lord. One must simply look for adventure to find it.”

“Well spoken, my lady,” Lord Andrew said and exchanged a look with his wife. “You are amazing, Lana. How do you do it?”

She shrugged and sipped her wine, a smug grin in place.

“Do what?” Vivi and Luke asked at the same time. Before Lana could respond, there was a commotion at the dining room entrance.

The two gentlemen from the coaching yard barreled into the room with Mrs. Price.

One of the men lifted a hand in greeting. “Foxhaven and Forest.” His smooth cheeks and unsteady gait reminded her of an overgrown baby.

“Mr. Collier. Lord Brookhaven.” Luke’s tone revealed nothing of what he thought of sharing the dining room with the gentlemen and their companion, even though Vivi was almost certain paramours and ladies did not mingle.

She studied Lana for a cue on how to react to the other woman’s presence, but her chaperone’s expression was blank. Not helpful in the least. In fact, Luke and Lord Andrew’s granite faces were just as useless at assisting her in navigating this awkward situation.

Vivi inclined her head in greeting when the silence became too much to bear. “Good evening, Mrs. Price. Gentlemen.”

The woman drew back, blinking as if a speck of dust had flown into her eye. “Good evening, Miss…”

“Vivian Worth.”

Luke set his wine down hard, almost sloshing some out of the glass. “Lady Vivian, the Marquess of Ashden’s sister.”

Vivi cringed. The first words from her mouth and she had made a cake of herself.

“Ashden has a sister?” Mr. Collier asked. “I thought he was an only child.”

Was her brother so ashamed of her he kept her existence a secret? She notched her chin up to hide her hurt.

Mrs. Price smiled politely. “It is an honor to meet you, my lady.”

“Wine,” Mr. Collier declared before moving for the seat beside Vivi and colliding with Lord Brookhaven. Mr. Collier proved more agile and plopped down beside her while his friend stumbled into the wall.

She averted her gaze, embarrassed on the gentleman’s behalf.

“Please, help yourself,” Lord Andrew drawled when Mr. Collier grabbed the bottle of wine.

Mrs. Price selected the chair beside Luke’s brother and fluffed her plum skirts. “Good evening, Lord Andrew,” she said without looking at him.

Luke’s brother jerked upright in his chair then turned an incredulous look on his wife. “Hell’s teeth, peach. Did you just pinch me?”

“How does she know your name?” Lana’s harsh whisper carried across the table.

Mrs. Price peered around him. “Lord Norwick spoke of your husband upon occasion, my lady. I hope all is well with the earl. It has been a long time since he has called.”

“Oh. Yes well, I imagine his new countess keeps him busy.” Lana adjusted her position, a pretty, pink blush flooding her cheeks. “My apologies, my lord. I only meant to get your attention.”

Lord Andrew grinned. “Effective, but unnecessary. I assure you.”

“I cannot believe Ashden has a sister,” Mr. Collier announced. “He never mentioned having a sister.”

Vivi really didn’t appreciate being reminded she was a shameful secret.

Lord Andrew sent her a sympathetic smile. “No gent wants you two knowing he has a sister. Brookhaven, you look like a trout out of water. It’s not an attractive sight.”

The gentleman snapped his mouth closed, dragged up a chair, and sat at the end of the table. A heavy silence blanketed the dining room. Everyone seemed to be as lost as she was when it came to knowing what was proper etiquette when dining with a courtesan.

Vivi took a sip of her drink, hoping someone would break the silence soon, and her face nearly folded in on itself. Her wine was bitter beyond the pale.

“I-I think it has gone bad,” she sputtered.

Luke tested the wine. “It tastes fine to me.”

“Oh.” Gads. How did anyone consume the beverage without choking?

“Would you prefer something else to drink? Perhaps lemonade or cordial water?” Luke asked.

She shook her head, took another sip, and stifled a grimace. It seemed all eyes were trained on her, all except Mrs. Price’s. The woman was too preoccupied with ogling Luke.

Vivi’s jealous side bared its fangs again. “His Grace doesn’t have a taste for sweets, Mrs. Price.”

Every person at the table gaped at her as if she had lost her wits.

“I beg your pardon, my lady?”

Vivi’s smile stretched tightly. “In the coaching yard, you mentioned having carried treats with you, and since His Grace doesn’t care for sweets, he will surely decline to sample any of yours.”

A shadow of horror darkened Lana’s face. Mrs. Price uttered several incomprehensible sounds, her cheeks flushing as crimson as her lip rouge.

Oh, dear Lord! Why hadn’t Vivi stopped to think before she had spoken? Mrs. Price hadn’t been trying to lure Luke to her room with the promise of a sweet. She was the treat. Embarrassment crawled up Vivi’s skin.

Luke stood. “We should go.”

Mrs. Price met Vivian’s eyes across the table. “Forgive me, my lady. I spoke out of turn when we arrived at the inn. Please stay and enjoy your meal.” She pushed away from the table and tried to escape the dining room, but Mr. Collier grabbed her arm.

“Where are you going? We haven’t eaten yet.”

“We should dine in the tavern.”

Collier grinned at Vivi. “I am staying right here.”

“Behave yourself, sir,” Mrs. Price said then added under her breath, “or you will go without biscuits or milk this evening.”

Her travel companions roared, slapping their knees. Mr. Collier threw his head back with a hearty cackle, tipped to the side, and fell to the ground. From what Vivi had witnessed thus far, Lord Brookhaven and Mr. Collier spent more time on their backsides than their feet.

She leaned close to Luke. “Perhaps I should ask for lemonade,” she whispered. “I think too much wine addles the mind.”

A small smile played upon his lips. “Brookhaven was born an addlepate. Collier may have been dropped on his head.”

“Oh, I see.” Maybe her worry was for naught. She took another drink of her wine. The bitterness was dissipating and her body began to melt against the chair. It was not an altogether unpleasant sensation. She took another sip, noting with pleasure that Mrs. Price and at least one of the gentlemen were taking their leave.

***

Luke acknowledged the folly in serving Vivian wine the moment she tossed her head back with a husky laugh that displayed her slender neck. Her voice held every ounce of the dynamic spirit that infused her, drawing him closer. There was something uncommonly engaging about her. She was the juxtaposition of innocence and lustful joy for life. She stirred his desire unlike any woman ever had, but he resisted her call. He couldn’t offer her what she deserved, and he cared enough for Vivian to deny his selfish urges.

Ashden was a fool. The marquess’s sister possessed no fault to render her undesirable, as evidenced by the bloody rake salivating at her left.

Collier—having declined to leave when Brookhaven and Mrs. Price made their exit—shared in Vivian’s merriment. His hungry gaze roamed over her, lingering too long on her modest décolletage. “Lady Vivian, you are enchanting beyond compare. I do hope we may further our acquaintance in Northumberland.”

Like hell they would. Collier would never be on Luke’s approved list of suitors for Vivian. Not that he had compiled a list.

Collier laughed at something else she said—likely something charming Luke had missed while wrapped up in his thoughts of throttling the blackguard—and placed his arm on the back of her chair. One glare from Luke made him jerk back.

“You only needed to stake your claim, Foxhaven,” he mumbled. “Don’t know why you didn’t make an indication earlier.”

Vivian’s silver gaze, twinkling with mischief, lifted toward Luke. Her cheeks were flushed and her lips moist and red from the wine. He would enjoy staking his claim. The realization rattled him.

“Mr. Collier, you mistake His Grace’s intentions,” Vivian said with a sweet smile. “He only wishes to play matchmaker on my behalf.”

Luke held his grimace in check. Serving Vivian wine had been more than folly. It was a bloody disaster.

She turned back to Collier and lowered her voice. “He seems particular, I’m afraid. Perhaps he thinks you are an unsuitable match.”

“The devil, you say!” Collier glowered at Luke over the top of her golden head. “What objection do you have to my person?”

“The shorter list would be what he doesn’t object to about your person,” Drew piped up from his side of the table. He looked too amused by half. “You’re a rakehell of the first order.”

“I am not.” Collier tried to hammer his fist on the table, missed, and smacked his thigh. “Where did the blasted table go?”

Vivian laughed again, drawing the man’s attention back to the creamy swells of flesh jiggling too damned enticingly above the neckline of her gown.

Luke pushed back from the table. This had gone on long enough. In another minute, he would issue a challenge to Collier and ruin their chances for an early start on the morrow. “Lady Vivian is correct. I don’t approve of you.”

Collier narrowed his eyes. “Are you her guardian or something?”

“I’m something.” A hard knot formed in Luke’s belly. As appealing as she was to him, he must give her up once they reached Northumberland. But they were not in Northumberland yet, and he would rather beat Collier silly than surrender Vivian to him.

Luke offered her a hand up. “My lady, I will return you to the care of your maid now.”

She placed her hand in his, her intense stare never wavering. “Thank you, Your Grace.”

“Good evening, Collier,” Drew said as he assisted Lana from her seat.

“No need to cut the evening short. It’s early, gents.”

No one paid him any notice.

Once their party reached the upper floor of the inn, Luke nodded to Drew to signal he wished to be alone with Vivian. His brother swept Lana into the room across the corridor before she could protest, and from her surprised cry once the door closed, his brother had found a way to distract her.

Vivian captured Luke’s hands and urged him to follow as she backed against the wall. “Have you ever courted a lady, Your Grace?”

Before he could answer, she frowned. Her forehead wrinkled in concentration as she reached her fingers to touch his bottom lip and tugged it down to peer into his mouth. “Is there a name for that little gap between your teeth?”

He playfully nipped her finger. She jerked her hand back with a squeal.

“You can’t handle your spirits, darling.”

Her hand settled on his chest. “I have never had wine before tonight.”

When she swayed to the left, he captured her around the waist. She twined her arms around his neck and tipped her face up, her eyes closed.

He savored her heat and perfume. Her scent reminded him of a confection. She was the only sweet he wanted. He leaned forward, tempted to taste her. Their lips hovered close, her warm breath flowing over his chin and along his neck. His fingers curled into her skirts, easing her closer. Her body pressed against his and she sighed, melting into him.

Devil take it. She was the most tempting creature on earth, but she wasn’t in any state to know what she was doing. And damned if he could kiss her if he had no intention of making her his wife.

She is yours. Luke gritted his teeth and forced down his primal instincts. Lady Vivian wasn’t his. Yet, unable to deny himself fully, he placed tremulous lips against her forehead. She was so soft. He lingered. When he pulled back, he tasted a trace of salt on his lips. He trembled from the strain of resisting her.

Vivian’s long lashes fluttered before her gaze met his. She seemed to be puzzling out what had just occurred. He had no answers for her. He had never been more befuddled in his life.

“Vivian, I’m sorry for exposing you to Collier. You deserve better than the likes of him.”

Her smile returned slowly, a happy glow illuminating her face. “I couldn’t agree more, Your Grace. And I shall have him.”

He released her with a frown. Did she have someone in mind already? Not Brookhaven, surely.

Her grin grew wider. “With your assistance, of course.”

It appeared Vivian was satisfied with their pact. She would travel with him, tempt him with every breath, and then she would make a match with another gentleman just as he had planned. His chest was too tight all of a sudden. He longed to escape to his chamber and loosen his waistcoat.

He released her to open the door to her chamber. “Turn the lock. I’ll come for you in the morning.”

Once he saw her safely inside and heard the tumble of the lock, he slumped against the wall to gather his wits.

Vivian would marry someone else, perhaps someone he knew well. And she expected his assistance. Unfortunately, her trust might be misplaced, for he couldn’t think of a single gentleman deserving of the incomparable Lady Vivian Worth, nor one to which he could imagine surrendering her.

A creak sounded from the stairwell. Collier trudged up the stairs and paused on the top step to smirk in Luke’s direction. “I see. You are Lady Vivian’s guard, not her guardian. Did you have to become a eunuch for the position?”

He glared in return. “She is mine. Stay away.”

Collier climbed the last step and swaggered toward him. “That isn’t what the lady said. It seems to me she is fair game.”

Luke met him halfway down the corridor. “My betrothed has a peculiar sense of humor. I don’t.”

Collier balked. “You are affianced to Lady Vivian?”

“I already said she’s mine. If that is unclear, I will be more than happy to meet you early tomorrow to clear up the matter.”

“There is no need to resort to threats, Foxhaven. One lady is no great loss when there are many others waiting for my attentions.”

“With bated breath, I’m sure.”

Collier scowled. “You always were a jackass.”

“If you come anywhere close to Lady Vivian again, I’ll remind you just how big a jackass I can be.” He felt a twinge of regret for his past treatment of Collier, but he was serious about protecting Vivian from the rake.

The other man bumped Luke’s shoulder as he passed by, knocked himself off balance, and careened into the wall. Luke stood rooted in place until Collier recovered and stormed to his chamber.

What the hell was he doing? Every moment in Vivian’s company drained him of his good sense, but he was growing less enamored with the thought of giving her to another man. Unfortunately, even if he could marry her, she no longer wanted him. At least not as a husband. She had seemed agreeable to kissing him, however.

He should have just kissed the lady until her legs couldn’t hold her up any more, then given her no choice but to accept him.

Devil take it. He had completely lost his senses. He had to give her up.

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