Lady Vivian Defies a Duke - By Samantha Grace Page 0,1

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.

“The second one, so go away.”

The gentleman laughed, but kept his eyes covered. “You seem real enough. Perhaps you’re a milkmaid from a local farm. Does your employer know you are attempting to drown yourself instead of attending to your duties?”

“I wasn’t drowning, and I haven’t time to chat with unwanted trespassers.”

She continued to ease toward the opposite bank, watching him for signs of pursuit. Her pulse slowed a fraction when he held his position and still didn’t peek.

“Are there any other kind?” he asked.

Reaching deeper water, she submerged herself to her neck. “Any other kind of what?”

“Trespassers. Are they ever wanted? By definition trespassing implies—”

“I know what it means. Now good day, sir.”

He laughed again and dropped his hand by his side. “You’re a cheeky one. What is your name?”

Vivi’s eyes widened. A true gentleman would have pretended he had never seen her, and if he did by chance discover her half-nude in a spring, he wouldn’t insensitively request her name.

“I am no one of importance. Please just go away.”

The last thing she needed was a guest of the neighboring estate spreading word of their embarrassing encounter. She would be the talk of Dunstable.


And Ash would be livid with her.


The man flashed a grin. “Spoiled your fun, did I? Perhaps before I go, you might assist me.”

“I am certain I have no skill in whatever it is you require.” She swam backward, putting more distance between them.

“It requires no skill.”

He waded out of the spring, stood on one foot to tug off his boot, and poured water from it. “I just purchased these and now I’ve ruined them coming to your rescue.”

“I didn’t need rescuing.” Truly, she was an excellent swimmer. Why wasn’t he listening?

“Of course you didn’t.” His sarcastic tone got her back up, but before she could deliver a scathing set-down, his magnificent eyes locked on her again. “I require directions to Brighthurst House. Do you know the way?”

“Brighthurst?” All the air rushed from her in a whoosh as her gaze swept over him. His expensively cut burgundy coat was dusty and his Hessians—well, they were likely ruined as he had said—but he was attired more fashionably than most gentlemen in the county.

Dear heavens, no!

This gentleman couldn’t possibly be Lord Ellis. The earl wasn’t due for several more days. Perhaps she had misheard him.

She cleared her throat. “Did—did you say Brighthurst House?”

“I must be close if the blacksmith is to be trusted.”

Sweet strawberry jam! He had to be the earl. What was he doing at