Lady Vivian Defies a Duke

By: Samantha Grace

Chapter Six

Vivi had been avoiding Foxhaven for three days, pretending to have caught Patrice’s chill and taking to her bed. When he had asked for an audience again yesterday, she had been too pretend-ill to grant his request, of course. His written reply today made her truly sick.

Sugar biscuits! She couldn’t hide forever, even if that was what cowards did. And Vivi was a coward to be sure. A restless, bored-out-of-her-wits one. Unable to tolerate another minute of staring at her ceiling, she tossed the covers aside and rang for her maid.

Winnie didn’t keep her waiting long. “You’re up at last.”

“I made a miraculous recovery a minute ago. I suppose I should join Foxhaven and Patrice for dinner.”

“Lady Brighthurst will be pleased, no doubt.” Her maid ducked her head as she set to her task, but not before Vivi saw her smile.

Once she was dressed and Winnie was satisfied with her toilette, Vivi made her way to the family dining room. Foxhaven’s and Patrice’s voices carried into the corridor as she approached, their words indistinct, but tone friendly. It appeared the duke hadn’t yet announced he wouldn’t marry Vivi. Thoughts of the scene that awaited her made her stomach flip-flop. She hesitated outside the doorway.

Why couldn’t the duke have saved her the indignity of being rejected in person? A letter would have sufficed. He obviously knew how to put quill to foolscap.

Vivi sighed. When Ash paid her a call in the near future, he would blister her ears so well they might never heal.

“I wish Vivi could join us, but she is quite ill.” Patrice spoke haltingly as if it required effort to uphold her part of the conversation. “I am afraid you’ll have naught but my companionship this evening.”

Guilt sank its teeth into Vivi and gnawed. How could she have considered leaving her cousin to entertain the duke alone? She hadn’t been thinking of her kinswoman at all.

Plastering on a bright smile, she swept into the room. “Here I am. I apologize for my lateness.”

Patrice startled. “Vivi, I thought you were still sick.”

“I woke this afternoon feeling back to my old self.” Moving to Patrice’s side, she placed a kiss on her sallow cheek. Bluish half circles under her cousin’s eyes made her appear as if she’d lost a round of fisticuffs. Her illness had battered but thankfully not beaten her. Vivi hoped the duke’s revelation wouldn’t send her cousin back to her bed.

She curtsied. “Your Grace.”

“Lady Vivian, what a delightful surprise.” He bestowed a charming smile upon her. “How lovely to see you again.”

Vivi didn’t know whether to admire his jolly nature or be irritated by it. Their situation hardly called for smiles and pleasantries.

Foxhaven remained standing until she took her seat. When he sat, he angled his head to one side. “Lady Vivian, have you done something different with your hair this evening?”

Her heart skipped. “You are likely noticing the string of pearls.”

“Ah, yes. Quite right, my lady.” He sipped his wine, watching her over the gilded rim of his goblet with twinkling blue eyes. “You are a vision.”

Vivi froze with her glass of lemonade halfway to her mouth. He had accused her of being a figment of his imagination at the spring, a vision. She placed her drink back on the table and silently pleaded with him not to tell her cousin about their first encounter. “Thank you, Your Grace.”

Foxhaven nodded, his expression unreadable as he studied her. What thoughts churned behind his keen eyes? Perhaps he was simply organizing a list of her faults to justify his rejection. It shouldn’t be a difficult task.

Her hand shook as she reached for her fork, her focus on her plate for fear she might burst into tears if he glanced crossways at her. Patrice had worked tirelessly to raise her to be a lady, and Vivi had repaid her cousin’s kindness by tossing everything she had learned aside.

Patrice cleared her throat. “Please tell us of your plans for autumn, Your Grace. Will you travel north?”

“I will make a brief appearance in Northumberland, but then I must return to London. I have an appointment with an associate, Captain Pendry.”

Vivi’s interest was piqued despite her troubling thoughts. “A military man?”

“Master of a ship. My ship.” Foxhaven’s chest puffed up like Vicar Ramsey’s did when Patrice complimented him on one of his sermons.

“What need do you have of a ship?” Vivi asked.

Patrice raised her eyebrows, but she dismissed her cousin’s subtle warning. Hearing what Foxhaven had to say was worth any gentle scolding she would receive later.

“Why shouldn’t I have a ship, Lady Vivian? I cannot think of a single reason I shouldn’t.” The duke reminded her of a boy who had just received a new toy.

She frowned. “Don’t tell me you dabble in trade.”

They both pretended not to hear Patrice’s quiet gasp.

“I dabble in exploration, Lady Vivian. Admittedly I have yet to set out on a true expedition, but all will be remedied soon. The Isla sets sail in October, and I will be onboard. We will sail where no man has gone before us.”

Vivi’s pulse quickened. He spoke with humor, but could he be serious about leaving England? “Where is it you intend to explore?”

“The Antarctic. It is believed there is an entire continent south of the Sandwich Islands. There is a race of sorts to see who will discover it first: America, Russia, Britain. I’m placing my money on the Crown.”

“The Sandwich Islands. Do you mean Captain Cook’s islands? But his discovery was fifty years ago.”

“Forty-five.”

She laid her fork and knife aside, forgetting about her meal. “Close enough.”

Patrice threw her another warning look. “Please recall that His Grace is a guest, my dear.”

“Thank you, Lady Brighthurst, but please allow her to speak freely. It is rare to meet a lady with much knowledge of history.” The duke’s manner was kind even as he overruled her cousin. “Your time frame was not out of a reasonable range, Lady Vivian. Forgive my uncouth manners. Please, continue with your thought.”

“Thank you.” Truly, the duke surprised her at every turn. She had never known a gentleman to acknowledge she had anything worthwhile to add to a conversation. Her rigid posture relaxed a smidge. “As I was saying, it has been a long time since Captain Cook’s discovery. Why hasn’t the continent already been found if it exists?”

Foxhaven tapped his fingers against the tabletop, appearing to consider her argument. “I suspect no one was looking. The threat of war then war itself was foremost in everyone’s minds. Only peace allows for discovery.”

“And you wish to discover the Antarctic?” She wanted to ask how he could entertain such outrageous ideas when he was a duke, but she feared sounding like her brother. Still, if Foxhaven was like most men of his station, his entire family relied on him to provide for them. How could he set out to discover a hypothetical continent when he had real responsibilities at home?

Gads. She sounded exactly like Ash.

“I enjoy a good adventure,” he said. “Captain Pendry holds an interest in the Antarctic. I have simply provided him with a means of accomplishing his task.”

This was the most preposterous thing she had ever heard. Did her brother know of the duke’s plans?

“It seems like a risky venture, Your Grace. Are you certain this expedition is wise?”

Foxhaven’s lips thinned and curved into a parody of a smile. “You needn’t worry, my lady.”

She needn’t worry because she would not become his wife. She braced to hear the words spoken aloud.

“Sunday is the church picnic,” Patrice said, guiding them toward a more benign topic of conversation. “I don’t know if I’ll be strong enough to venture out. I’m not quite feeling myself yet.”

Vivi was more than happy to shift the focus of the dinner conversation. Despite the duke’s observations, she could be amiable when she chose. She aimed a teasing grin at her cousin. “Mrs. Honeywell will be disappointed you won’t be able to attend. Who will she accuse of cheating when she loses the pie baking contest this time?”

Patrice’s cheeks flushed pink. “Now, Vivi.”

Vicar Ramsey judged the contest and without fail had awarded the first place ribbon to Patrice and her perfect peach pie every year she had entered. In fact, he loved Patrice’s pie so much he had called at Brighthurst every day for a week upon his return from America last summer. Each morning her cousin had risen at dawn to bake a pie for the minister, which bespoke of her mutual affection.

Vivi hoped her cousin might someday find happiness with the vicar, even though she had refused his offer of marriage once before. Patrice insisted she must see Vivi settled before she entertained thoughts of matrimony.

She’ll be free when you join the convent. Vivi tried to shake that depressing thought from her mind. That life wasn’t for her.

“I can just imagine the look of horror on Mrs. Honeywell’s face when someone else bests her in the contest this year,” she said, hoping she sounded more cheerful than she felt. “I hate to miss it.”

“If you linger by the judging table, you will not miss a thing.”

Vivi balked. “You want me to go without you? Shouldn’t I stay home, too?”

“Oh, dear. I thought you appeared peaked yet. You are still unwell, aren’t you?” Before Patrice did something foolish, like test her forehead for fever, Vivi waved her off.

“I feel fine.”

Patrice’s forehead scrunched. “We can’t be too careful. I know you refused to see Dr. Fredrick, but—”

Vivi held up her palm to stop her cousin’s unnecessary fretting. “I swear I am fully recovered. The picnic will be just the thing to make me feel better.”

“If you are certain…” Vivi nodded and Patrice’s worry lines faded. “Thank you. Vicar Ramsey relies on friendly faces in the sanctuary when he is delivering the liturgy. The vicar gets nervous when he speaks to a crowd.”

Foxhaven’s brows shot up. “What an unfortunate choice of vocation for the man.”

“He was never cut out for the cloth, but his father insisted. Vicar Ramsey’s sojourn to America did not reap the benefits he had hoped it might. I’m afraid he is stuck with his vocation.”

Vivi had never known Vicar Ramsey’s history. In truth, she had never given much thought to him beyond his association with Patrice, but this explained his lack of rousing sermons. “How awful for the vicar.”

“I am certain he would appreciate your sympathy, Vivian, but please say nothing to him.” Patrice was beginning to sound hoarse.

“Perhaps we should call it an evening,” Vivi said. “You need your rest.”

Her cousin stifled a yawn. “I am rather tired this evening.” Leaning her elbows against the table, she pushed to her feet. Foxhaven stood to assist then tucked her hand into the crook of his arm and escorted her toward the door.

“The vicar may count on another friendly face Sunday, Lady Brighthurst. I’ll make certain Lady Vivian arrives to the church on time.”

Pardon? Vivi scrambled from her seat.

“I would be grateful if you ensured her safe arrival, Your Grace.”

“It would be my pleasure. Lady Vivian shall come to no harm under my watch.”

They spoke of her as if she were a child or a dimwit in need of supervision.

“I don’t require an escort.” As soon as the words left her mouth, she realized how ludicrous she sounded.

Foxhaven halted at the threshold and looked back over his shoulder. Patrice turned to stare at her too.

“I meant to say, I would employ the services of a footman.”

Foxhaven’s smug grin chafed. “It’s no trouble, my lady. A day of picnicking sounds delightful.”

A full day of the duke toying with her sounded anything but delightful to her.

***

Luke frowned when Lady Vivian scooted farther to the edge of the bench of Lady Brighthurst’s curricle as they drove to church Sunday morning. Any farther and she might tumble out.

He held out the ribbons to her, but she stared at them as if he offered her poison. “Don’t you know how to drive?” he asked.

His condescending tone had the effect he hoped for.

“Of course I know how to drive.” She snatched the ribbons from him, gripping them tightly in her kid gloves.

With his hands free, Luke wrapped his arms around her waist and hauled her toward the middle of the seat. She stiffened in his embrace.

“I promised your cousin you would come to no harm under my protection. Now do stop risking your neck by sitting close to the edge.”

He meant to release her, but her warmth and the sugary scent of her perfume made him hesitate for several pounding heartbeats. Telling himself he didn’t trust her to stay put, he kept one arm around her back. She tried to scoot away, but his fingers curved around her narrow waist, the seams of her corset imprinting his palm.

“Release me, Your Grace.” Her voice held a sharp edge.

“I thought you wished to marry me, my dear. I shall embrace you often once we speak our vows.” He was goading her, trying to represent the facts clearly. If she despised his touch, as it seemed she did, the lady should speak with her brother.

She took a deep breath, glared at him briefly, and then returned her attention to the lane. “If you think to frighten me into doing your bidding, you are wrong. You’re not that scary.”

Luke smiled to hide his surprise. Lady Vivian had even more pluck than he’d imagined.

She shifted the reins to one hand and placed her free one on his thigh. His breath whistled on an inhale. She slanted a smirk in his direction and squeezed.

“Jiminy!” Luke captured her hand and forcefully returned it to her lap. He shifted away before she noticed the rise in his breeches.

“Two can play your game,” she said. “If you touch me, I will touch you right back.”

He smothered a groan. It would be a long day if they spent it groping one another. Thank God they were attending a church affair. Otherwise, Lady Vivian might come out the victor. Her touch ignited a flame inside him while his only served to harass her.

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