Lady Vivian Defies a Duke

By: Samantha Grace

Chapter Eight

Luke had discovered a number of pleasant ways to pass the time at Brighthurst House while awaiting his youngest brother and sister-in-law’s arrival. His family would be assuming chaperone duties for the coming journey to Irvine Castle since Vivian’s cousin hadn’t fully recovered from her illness.

Much of the past week had been spent in Vivian’s company, beginning with invigorating morning rides and ending with battles over the chessboard. Occasionally, she even beat him soundly. She was much more than her brother had promised, and Luke had begun to wonder if Ashden knew his sister at all.

This afternoon he had retreated to the small orchard with his valet, eager to test the accuracy of his newest acquisition, a Harper’s Ferry flintlock pistol. One of the best advantages to a holiday in the country was no one complained about noise when one fired a barking iron.

He nodded to Thomas to place the target then waited for his servant to move to safety.

After rotating the flint to full cock, Luke aimed and squeezed the trigger. The gun gave a satisfying flash and kick. He had dreamed of owning this particular firearm ever since he had seen an American officer carrying one three years ago. His friend, Daniel, had procured it during one of his trips to America and gave it to Luke as thanks for assisting his family in a matter.

The gun felt right in his hand. The aim was off by a fraction, though, and shot to the left of his target. He reloaded, compensated for the inaccuracy, and fired again. The rotting apple exploded.

“Solid shot, Your Grace,” Thomas said.

The sound of applause startled Luke, and he wheeled around to discover Vivian approaching with her maid. “Bravo, Your Grace. I was walking in the gardens when I heard a gunshot.”

How like the lady to be undeterred by shots fired.

He held out the pistol for her inspection. “It’s my pride and joy.”

Reaching out to brush her hand over the polished handle, her fingers made contact with his. The slow-burning fire that had been smoldering inside him for days sparked to life.

“How beautiful,” she said. “Ash has nothing as fine.”

That was untrue. Ashden had a sister of the finest quality, even if the man didn’t recognize her value. Finding another gentleman eager to marry her would be no challenge.

He cleared his thickened throat and moved away to reload. He couldn’t think on another gentleman enjoying her companionship, or he might do something stupid. “Would you like to fire it?”

“Me?”

“Place another apple,” he called to Thomas before returning his attention to the lady. “I believe early in our association you admitted to a talent for shooting. I will reload and you can give a demonstration.”

“I said I know how to shoot, not that I could hit an apple at ten paces.”

He winked. “Lucky for you the apple doesn’t shoot back then.” Half-cocking the flint, he retrieved a paper cartridge, bit off the end, and poured black powder into the priming pan. “Do you know how to load a firearm, too, or just how to discharge one?” he asked as he closed the frizzen.

“I have watched my brother reload many times, but he never allows me to handle the powder.” She leaned closer to observe his work.

Luke grinned and funneled the remaining powder into the barrel. “That will never do. A lady who wields a barking iron must learn how to arm herself properly. After you take the shot, I’ll show you how.” He pushed the lead ball and paper as far as it would go into the barrel, returned the ramrod to its home, and offered her the gun. “Before you fire, I wish to see your stance.”

She took the pistol and held it in both hands with arms outstretched and the appropriate amount of tension in her limbs. Good. She was experienced enough to be prepared when firing an unfamiliar weapon. He had no cause to worry about a bruised cheekbone or broken nose from the piece kicking back at her.

“Aim a bit to your right to hit your target.”

“It has no sight. How am I to aim?”

“I’ll show you.” He stood behind her to wrap his arms around her. She jumped, her bottom brushing against his groin. He sucked in a sharp breath.

“Oh! Sorry. I didn’t mean…” She trailed off, a pink flush climbing the back of her neck.

His blood ran hot and rushed to places that held a special fondness for her. He tightened his grip around her hands, sensing the tremor moving up her arm. “You must hold steady.”

“I’m trying,” she said on a wisp of breath.

He placed his head beside hers, tempted beyond reason to taste the delicate place behind her ear. She always smelled sweet, like vanilla and sugar. “Close one eye then look down the length of the barrel.”

His tumultuous breaths stirred tendrils of hair curling around her delicate ear. His lips parted as he contemplated gliding his mouth along her slender neck to coax a pleasurable sigh from her. He wanted to trace the hollow of her collarbone with his tongue then release the fastenings of her gown and peel away the muslin from her shoulders. His fingers longed to free her perfect breasts from the vicious corset holding her prisoner and caress her skin.

“Good luck!” Her maid’s shrill call brought him crashing back into the moment.

He shuffled back a step, creating space between him and Vivian. “Whenever you are ready, my lady. Squeeze gently.” His voice had grown husky.

Her finger hugged the trigger, and a flash of light and heat preceded the sharp crack. The top left half of the apple was obliterated.

“I did it!”

The servants cheered, and a wide grin split Thomas’s face. “Excellent shot, my lady.”

“Thank you.” She spun toward Luke, her eyes shining like jewels. “May I try again?”

“Only if you reload it. I’ll tell you what to do.” He captured her hand and led her to the supplies. She took the cartridge from him and sniffed it.

“Must I bite it?”

“If you are ever in danger, you must, but allow me.” He closed his hand around hers and brought the cartridge to his mouth, ripping the top with his teeth. Her lips parted on a soft gasp, and he couldn’t hold back a satisfied grin.

To realize he affected her as much as she did him gave him a jolt of shameful pleasure. He had no right to engage in a flirtation with the lady when she belonged to another gentleman, or would belong to another gentleman.

His mood sobered. “Now open the frizzen so you can pour a little in the pan.”

She followed his directions, her slender fingers sure and proficient. Once she had the firearm primed and loaded, she moved into position. Luke kept his distance this time, curious to see what she was capable of.

Her shot missed.

She turned to him with a frown. “May I try again?”

“As many times as you wish. Just wipe the flint with your thumb each time to keep it clean.” He hung back as she prepared to reload. This time she bit the cartridge with no hesitation.

Her next shot sent fragments of apple flying and earned an exhilarated yelp from the servants.

He lowered to the grass, enjoying the view as she hurried to reload the pistol again. She hit her targets three more times and likely would have continued target practice if a commotion on the front drive hadn’t deterred her. A carriage was pulling up to Brighthurst House.

That would be Drew and Lana.

Luke rose, dusted off his trousers, and went to collect his gun. “Shall we go greet the new arrivals?” He set the pistol on a stump and offered his arm. As they started toward the front drive, a high-pitched caterwaul rent the air followed by another.

A crease appeared between Vivian’s brows. “Good heavens. Was that a cat?”

“Worse. My brother has arrived with his ladies.”

“Ladies? How many ladies?” The quiver of her voice suggested her imagination might be less proper than one would expect of an innocent maiden.

“Just three.”

Specifically, Drew’s spirited wife and lively ginger-haired daughters. His mother referred to the little ones as twin handfuls.

“Only three? And they don’t mind?”

He chuckled and squeezed her hand affectionately. “There’s no cause for alarm. It’s only my brother’s wife and daughters.”

Her grip relaxed and she released a breathy laugh. “You tease me horribly, Your Grace.”

As they neared the drive, they encountered a flurry of activity. A footman was loosening the last of the trunks while another hoisted one on his shoulder and toted it inside.

His brother waved and reached back inside the carriage to assist his wife down the stairs. Lana emerged with tousled hair and a wrinkled travel gown.

Another scream blasted from the confines of the coach.

“Chloe, please,” she chided as she alighted with a painfully amused grin.

Vivian’s cousin floated from the house and waited by the entrance to greet Luke’s family. The lady appeared as fragile and pale as a ghost, but Vivian had assured him she was beginning to look more like her former self.

Luke slanted an appreciative gaze at Vivian on his arm. She possessed a healthy glow and didn’t look one missed meal away from starvation. She would be soft and full of life in the marital bed.

Another high-pitched squeal came from the carriage, shattering his improper musings, not to mention his eardrums. “Shall I make introductions, my lady, or should we run away while we still have a chance to escape?”

Before Vivian could answer, his sister-in-law spotted them and rushed forward with a wide smile. She ignored Luke and clasped hands with Vivian. “You must be Lady Vivian. How lovely to meet you. I’m Lana, and we are sure to be great friends.”

Vivian received Lana’s enthusiastic greeting with bright smile. “Welcome to Brighthurst, my lady. Will you allow me to introduce you to my cousin?”

“With pleasure.” The ladies walked away arm in arm, their heads drifting close together as Lana whispered something to Vivian.

Drew approached with his daughter, Chloe, squirming in his arms. She released a loud burst of frustration and he flinched. “Now, now.”

He sat her on his shoulder and her screams transformed from angry outbursts to screeches of glee. Her sister, Claire, appeared accustomed to her twin’s boisterousness and continued to sleep curled up into a ball against her nurse’s chest, a fistful of sunshine hair tangled in her chubby fingers.

A rush of affection flooded through Luke for his brother’s offspring. Some might consider it justice that his youngest brother, a former rake, was given not one but two girls to protect, but Drew had become a different man since he’d married. He appeared softer when he looked at his daughters with affection. He wasn’t so changed that it would be wise to cross him, however. Luke pitied any gent foolish enough to glance sideways at his nieces once they came of age.

“Your wife gave me the cut direct,” he said.

“I’ll take her to task later.”

“That is blasted unlikely.” Luke’s brother was uncommonly permissive with his wife, but Luke was only teasing. A lady with a mind of her own didn’t require guidance on how to use it.

He and Drew fell into step together as the ladies disappeared inside the house. “What is Lana about, whisking Lady Vivian away?”

Drew smirked. “What makes you think I know anything about what goes through her mind?”

“Perhaps because she speaks freely, and you have been enclosed in a carriage with her all day.”

“Who says we talked? It’s hard enough to think with darling Chloe monopolizing the conversation.” Drew’s grin widened as he settled his daughter back in his arms and kissed her forehead. “But there may have been talk between the Forest women last week about a grand wedding breakfast following your leg-shackling. Did you know Mother has commissioned a goldsmith to fashion your leg iron?”

“Very funny. You had best inform Lana to cease making any plans.”

Drew’s brows shot up. “Oh?”

They entered the darkened foyer, and Luke paused inside the threshold to allow his eyes to adjust. Of course his brother would have questions. Perhaps he could even assist with selecting an appropriate suitor for Vivian.

“I can explain everything once we have some privacy. I’m sure Lady Brighthurst would allow us the use of her parlor. Shall we?”

7 September 1818

Dear Sister,

I am pleased to learn you were able to bring Foxhaven up to scratch. Now if you can only control yourself until the deed is done. This Season proved to be a tedious affair. Lady Ashden is eager to be rid of Mrs. Honeywell’s companionship. Her ladyship missed several of the Season’s most popular balls when the stress of entertaining the woman drove her to bed with a headache. Yet, as it is unlikely Mrs. Honeywell will keep her own counsel without incentive, it was impossible to send her away early.



Vivi, if you fail in this endeavor, there is nothing more I can do to assist you. I am sorry. I wish you safe travels and regret I cannot be present to see you off.

Sincerely,

Ash

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