The girl in the large bedroom read with the kind of avidity and engrossment that was admirable by some and overlooked by others. To many, she was just an avid reader, but they never really understood the adventures that could be had by simply sitting and devouring the words in the pages of a book.
Her eyes skimmed the pages, creating an illusion that the words were rushing up to meet her. But Andrea could not slow herself down. She even knew what would happen, what obstacles the adventurer would face, the methods that would lead to his solutions, the near escapes from death, the constant fear of never returning home. Yet, Andrea absorbed it all as though she were reading the novel for the first time. She was too enraptured by the adventurer, too dependent on the story to reassure her racing heart of what it already knew—that he would make it home safely.
Her nerves were rising as the story reached its climax, her fingers almost tripping over one another whilst turning the page as quickly as she could. Andrea winced slightly at the tear her quick actions had caused; it was only a slight tear, but it was still unnecessary fallout from the adventure she was following along with.
Francis Griffith was fighting through the dense, humid jungles of Asia. The climate was something that Andrea could only fathom. She thought of the heat that came from the kitchen after her father had been hunting and caught game for a Sunday supper. It would become overbearingly hot down there, made only even more uncomfortable by the stifling steam of roasting vegetables. But it was the only comparison Andrea had to the world within the pages, and as a result, she would spend large amounts of time in the environment, trying to guess how she would fare in the jungle.
She imagined Francis, dark hair dripping in the damp jungle air, his brow fixed and his eyes steady, machete in hand. Andrea could very easily close her eyes and return to the image of him in her mind, it was something she thought about so much that he was as clear as a real person in her imagination. He set her heart racing and made her feel alive, but he could also deliver a blow to her heart with one easy thought: he was not real. It hurt to even consider it these days. Francis was her escape. He was the man whom she desired to be with, everyone else was inferior in her eyes.
“Lady Andrea.” Her maid cleared her throat after politely knocking on the door. “Lady Andrea?”
Charlotte asked a total of four times before Andrea managed to drag her attention from the book in her hands to the girl standing in her doorway.
“Your mother is asking for you downstairs.”
Charlotte was a timid girl who could have only been a few years younger than Andrea. She kept her hands locked together in front of her, and her shoulders remained near her ears. Charlotte’s cheeks appeared hot, as though they had been pinched. Andrea could feel the sense of dread that the girl with mousy hair must have felt upon hearing commands to summon her.
“I will be right down.” Andrea waved her off. Whilst she did not have a bad word to say about the young maid, Andrea found her nervous demeanor quite off-putting. She made a note to herself that it was something she could perhaps mention in passing to the housekeeper.
She waited for her bedroom door to close before returning to her novel. Just a few more pages, she told herself, knowing that whatever her mother wanted could wait. She felt the urge to steal a few more moments alone with Francis, hoping—whilst already knowing—that he would reach his destination unharmed. He was climbing up the side of a mountain now, and she could just imagine the strength in his large arms that would be needed to complete such a task.
In her imagination, Francis’ arms bulged under his shirt, and his rough hands would be soft whenever they touched hers. Her skin bristled at the thought of his touch, though she knew it would never happen.
She admired his strength and determination, but it frustrated her that this was the only way she could experience those adventures. Andrea would have given anything to leave the small corner of the Cotswolds she called home. Despite the vast greenery that cushioned her family’s estates, she had only ever felt trapped there.
“Andrea Pitt, if you are reading one of those cheap novels again then I—”
Andrea quickly threw the book away from her and onto the bed, cringing at the pages that creased and folded from her carelessness. She had hoped her plush bed would be enough to prevent any real damage, but it was still enough for Andrea to regret her action.
“Sorry, I was just coming,” Andrea muttered whilst keeping her head down and heading for her now-open bedroom door.
“Do you not see that I get the maid to come up here and get you so that I do not have to? I have had a very busy day, and it should not take two people to make you come downstairs.”
Andrea was nodding along to her mother’s words, but in her mind, she was still thinking about the book she had been dragged away from. She wanted to go back to it now that her eyes were not skimming down the page, but she was sure her mother was going to do everything she could to keep her from reading. Andrea already knew what the topic of conversation would be, and she did not like it at all.
Her mother, Lady Celeste Pitt, wanted only two things from her in order to feel accomplished in raising her daughter: for Andrea to read some classic literature, and for Andrea to achieve an advantageous marriage. These just happened to be two things Andrea had absolutely no interest in, and the only thing that would change her mind was if Francis Griffith was involved with both things.
“Now, have you had any more thoughts about the Earl of Shaftesbury?” her mother asked almost as soon as they were sitting down in the drawing room downstairs. Andrea tried to busy herself with looking around at the wooden panels on the walls, but she could feel her mother’s gaze burning down on her from across the room. They were in the front drawing room; it was much smaller compared to the other rooms on the ground floor of the stately home. Andrea was almost positive that was why her mother had chosen it to corner her.
“I asked you a question, Andrea.” Her mother clicked her tongue.
“I have not made any decisions yet,” Andrea responded.
“You say that every time we sit down to have this conversation.”
She could sense her mother’s frustrations, but Andrea knew what she wanted, and she was not going to compromise on that.
“I am just not so sure about him,” she tried again in a less decisive tone. “He looks to be slightly…shorter than I am.”
Whatever her mother had been expecting to hear, Andrea clearly did not deliver on it. She watched her mother roll her dull green eyes as she shook her head.
“You are going to end up a spinster for the rest of your life if you remain this fussy. I will be in my grave years before you let a man even get close to you.”
Andrea tried to ignore the disdain in her mother’s voice, but she knew it was a serious concern for the older woman.
“Do not be so silly, Mother, I am sure someone will come along and—”
“But who?” her mother cut her off. “There are going to be no men left to even consider courting you before long.”
Andrea wanted to explain how much simpler her life would have been if Francis Griffith were a real person, but her words would only be met by mockery. She should instead be wishing she had never let her eyes come across the first glimpses of Francis Griffith. She should have ignored the words on the page and remained reading the classic literature her mother loved.
“I just know what I like,” Andrea said whilst shrugging her shoulders. She did not think there was anything wrong with knowing what she wanted in a man, even if she also knew it was completely unattainable.
“I have proposed that we return to London for the summer, just before the new Season gets to its height. Do you really want to be known as the new addition to the group of spinsters, reading and embroidering in the corner and past the age where men think you are still desirable?”
Andrea had seen such women many times; before she understood why they were so shunned by the rest of the ton, she had been jealous of them. She did not see what could possibly be wrong with spending the rest of her days with her nose buried in a book.
But she forced herself to shake her head in response to her mother’s question. Andrea did not dare respond in case her mother had meant the question as a rhetorical one.
“I think you should give some of these men a chance at least. You cannot know within the span of one meeting if you will like a man or not,” her mother continued.
“I can learn plenty from one meeting,” Andrea said in response, though there was no point in talking back to her mother.
Her mother threw her hands up and sat back in her chair. “I do not get it. I really do not understand.”
“Do not understand what?” Andrea asked slowly.
“You are a beautiful young woman, Andrea, and we have raised you to be an esteemed member of society. Yet, you spend your days acting uninterested even when you have attracted men that are even above your father in terms of rank.”
“That does not mean anything,” she muttered.
“That means everything!” Her mother’s tone was shrill with frustration. “The son of a duke has shown his interest, and he is well regarded by society because of his military background. I do not understand how even the best of men do not have you swayed.”
Her mother’s sudden outburst was quickly followed by a rackety cough. Andrea could not help but wince, not in a rude way, but in a way that felt as though her body was beginning to prepare for the turn in her mother’s health.
“You should be grateful that men of such esteem are showing interest in you,” her mother continued after taking a sip of her tea. Andrea had not even touched her own china teacup. It was decorated with the seal of her family, a seal that she was destined to forsake in favour of another man’s family.
Andrea dared to open her mouth and muttered, “I do not think I am interested in the duke’s son.”
“Then I do not know what more we can do for you.” Her mother let out a sigh. “If even a marquess cannot garner your interest, I feel you are too fanciful for your own good.”
Andrea found herself scrunching her nose up at the word; she was not fanciful, at least that was what she told herself, she just did not want to end up with someone who would not heighten her curiosity. If there was anything worse than ending up with the wrong man, it would be ending up with a boring man.
“I am sorry,” Andrea spoke up eventually. “I know I am being difficult when I should not be. I am sorry.”
“Andrea, we need to find you a husband, and soon. Just please…pick one.”
Andrea felt her brow knitting in confusion for just a moment as the sound of a male voice drifted in from a nearby room. It did not take her long before she knew the real intention behind her mother’s conversation.
“…and in the summer, I love nothing more than rowing on the river. You see, I studied at Oxford, and so…”
On it went. Andrea had never thought herself to be a talented young woman; she read, she dressed well, she behaved well in the company of others, but she never counted any of those activities as actual talents. Yet as she sat opposite the Earl of Shaftesbury, it suddenly struck her that she was incredibly good at pretending to be interested in what someone else was saying.
The young earl went on for some time about the sports that he enjoyed, and Andrea could not help but wonder when he would catch on that she could not relate to a single thing he was saying. But the earl clearly liked the sound of his own voice, and so he would only stop talking to take a sip of his tea.
His hair was the kind of fine blonde that almost disappeared whenever it caught the sunlight. It sparkled as he positioned his china cup to his lips. Andrea thought about Francis with his dark locks, similar to hers, a brown as rich as tree bark. She imagined the hair pushed back from his face as he roamed through the jungle. It was certainly a far cry from the combed blonde before her.
Despite the plush cushion she was sitting on, Andrea found that as time droned on, she was shifting around a lot more. Her façade was falling, and despite her lack of interest in the young man before her, she would have done anything to hear him ask her a question instead of it being the other way around.
“Lord Greyson,” Andrea leaped at a sudden pause and cut in, her voice slightly louder than she had been intending, “you speak so fondly of the outdoors, tell me, you must enjoy travelling, then, and going off on your own adventures?”
To call it a leading question would have been a large understatement, but Andrea could not stop herself from getting the chance to ask such a question.
“I…I suppose so,” he said after a slight pause. “I always enjoy the carriage ride from around here to London, I think the scenery is often beautiful whilst travelling during the day.”
Andrea forced the smile not to slide from her lips as she nodded along with him. She had been expecting the kind of travel that would take one overseas, where new cultures would be a shock and different languages would place unexpected barriers in the journey. The road from Oxford to London was almost as straight as her posture.
Her disappointment had left open a pause that the earl was only pleased to fill. Off he went once more about his rowing and how he hoped to be good enough to be in the team for the regatta one year. But he was still yet to ask her a question about herself, and—aside from her own expectations in a man—Andrea could not marry someone who was as uninterested in her as he was in embarking on adventures.
“Lady Andrea, I am afraid your mother would like to see you…I am so sorry to interrupt.”
“Not at all, Charlotte,” Andrea said whilst flashing the maid a smile. Little did the timid girl know that she had just provided Andrea with the perfect escape plan. “I should not keep my mother waiting, she can be impatient.”
“Will I get to see you again, Lady Andrea?”
“I am sure that my mother will be in touch,” Andrea said, trying to brush his question off whilst rising to her feet.
“Can I write to you?”
“Why, so forward,” she said with a delicate laugh. She had also become a master in the art of politely declining a man’s request, no matter how persistent he may be.
“Forgive me,” the earl said, his cheeks flushing scarlet. “You are a difficult woman to gain an audience with, but I shall honour your wish and speak with your mother.”
“Very well,” Andrea said.
Before she could decline, the earl was taking her hand and delivering a tender kiss to its top.
“I hope to see you soon,” he said, his eyes never leaving hers.
“Charlotte, would you show our esteemed guest out?” Andrea asked whilst gesturing for her maid. She did not dare break eye contact with the earl, but she also did not return his comment about seeing him soon.
She waited patiently for him to leave the room, her shoulders sagging almost as soon as the door closed behind him. Andrea let out a shaky breath that she had not known she was holding in, her eyes screwed shut and her tense body was finally able to somewhat relax. But her relief was short-lived. The sound of the door opening caused her to gasp and stand to attention like a soldier to a general.
“I cannot marry him, Mother,” Andrea said quickly, not caring if he was still in the hall and listening intently. “I cannot and will not.”
“He did not ask me a single question! He only spoke about himself,” Andrea said, knowing this was a much better reason to not be marrying him than the fact that he was not a decorated adventurer with an exciting history. “I cannot be with someone who is not interested in who I am.”
“Very well,” her mother said, but Andrea could hear the exhaustion in her tone.
Her mother was standing in the doorway and suddenly looked rather frail compared to the space around her. Andrea felt her stomach knot at the thought of her mother’s health declining anymore.
“I am running out of men who are interested in your hand,” Lady Celeste commented as she stepped further into the room. “And I am running out of excuses to tell the men that have already tried with you.”
“Just tell them that when they become more exciting people, I will perhaps consider them.”
“I do not know what you are expecting from the English nobility, but I fear your expectations are far too great.”
“Mother, I know what I want,” Andrea said, sitting down once more. “I do not want a man who will talk about himself for hours. I want someone who will listen to me and my curiosities about the world. Someone who has travelled further than Birmingham, for goodness’ sake. Just someone interesting.”
Andrea was never quite so brash with her feelings when speaking with her mother, but she could see her mother was glad to have learned a little more about her expectations.
“Andrea, you are our only daughter. I just do not want you to be left alone in the world when I am…when we are both gone someday. I have always admired your ambition, but perhaps it is now time to live in the real world and understand that you can find what you are looking for in a man much closer to home.”
“I will not be alone, I will still have Lily,” Andrea pointed out.
“Your cousin is already married. She has her own household to look after now and a husband to take care of,” her mother countered. “I will not let my only child become a spinster, not whilst there is still breath in my lungs.”
“Speaking of Lily, I am supposed to be meeting her for a walk,” Andrea muttered, rising to excuse herself.
“Andrea, you sit back down, we are not finished discussing this!”
“I am sorry, Mother, you know how I feel about being late for things,” Andrea called from the doorway before dashing away. She could hear her mother’s voice chasing after her, but Andrea did not care. That was enough talk of suitors for one day.
“Not you too!”
The groan Andrea let out was almost animalistic. She was thankful they were walking through the woodland area of the grounds where the only ones to hear them would be the animals in the undergrowth.
“I am just saying that you need to find someone soon or people will start to talk,” Lily reasoned.
Her cousin was two years younger than Andrea, but she was already married and had settled into her role as a wife without any trouble at all.
“I remember when you would climb these trees with me and have no issue doing so,” Andrea pointed out. “We would muddy our skirts together and laugh about it for hours.”
“We were much younger, Andrea. Now there is a certain expectation of us,” Lily responded.
“You sound like my mother.”
“I am just looking out for you. There is nothing worse than seeing the way that spinsters are treated by society, it is almost like a joke, except you would be the one people are laughing at.”
“I know what I want,” Andrea said, crossing her arms over her chest as they walked along the forest path. She could not help but reminisce of the times when they would play games and challenge one another to break off from the path as much as possible. Now Lily would not be caught dead off the path, and that was how Andrea knew her friend had changed.
“You want a man who does not exist.”
It was moments like that where Andrea regretted confiding in Lily about Francis.
“I want a man like Francis,” Andrea said, bending the truth slightly. “I understand that I cannot marry a fictional man.”
“Sometimes I am not so sure you do,” Lily said whilst laughing to herself. “The Earl of Shaftesbury is not similar to your fictional man?”
“Not at all, I do not think he could have been more of an opposite.” Andrea scrunched up her face, not wanting to remember the hour of conversation she had endured. “All he did was talk about himself anyway. It was rather impressive since it sounds as though he lives a rather dull life.”
“You mean, he lives the life of an earl?”
Andrea stopped walking for a moment at her cousin’s words. She knew Lily was teasing her to an extent, but Andrea was beginning to get frustrated.
“I can live the life of a countess or even a marchioness just fine.” Andrea’s tone was rather cutting all of a sudden. “But I do not want to be forced into a marriage with a boring man, that is all.”
“What about that man who lives on your parents’ estate?”
“You are going to have to be more specific about that,” Andrea said. “We have a lot of tenants now.”
“The one who is a marquess and staying with you to surely try and get closer to you,” Lily said, a mischievous smile tugging at her lips. The sunlight dappled through the trees and threw strangely shaped shadows across their faces as they strolled leisurely.
“I do not think he’s staying here to get closer to me, he’s been here for years.”
The man in question was James Churchill, the Marquess of Blandford, a man who was kind and friendly to her whenever she passed him. Andrea had never really counted him as a proper suitor, though her mother had repeatedly told her that she should be impressed to have charmed the son of a duke. But James never acted like his title would suggest, he was just a friend and a kind face that she had grown used to whilst roaming around the estate.
“He has written letters to me recently,” Andrea said, looking at nothing in particular in the distance. The forest was thick around them, and it certainly felt cooler under the protection of the thick canopy of leaves than when out on one of the ground’s many lawns. “I do enjoy the way he writes to me, he just seems to have a clever way with words…”
“These only sound like good things,” Lily encouraged.
“But what if I do marry him? I will be elevating my title more than I want. I know my mother wants me to marry well but an elevation in title means an elevation in responsibility. It will only mean more parties to host, more balls to attend, more pressure on having more children, and on having a boy.” Even just listing off the negatives was putting her in a bad mood.
“The marquess has always seemed nice when I have spoken to him.”
“He is nice.” Andrea could not disagree on that point.
“I do not see why you cannot just agree to that match, you will be a sudden success in the eyes of the ton! People will love that you have accomplished such a feat! Do not forget how pleased and proud this will make your mother.”
“The day I marry to make my mother proud will be the day I lose myself completely,” Andrea grumbled.
“You are being so dramatic. You need to forget all about this fictional man and start living in the real world. Who knows, perhaps one day you will be a duchess?”
“He has always been a good friend,” Andrea said, her tone suggesting that she no longer wanted to speak on the subject.
“A Lady’s Beloved Novelist” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
The dashing Andrea Pitt is a polite, well-bred lady with just one potentially scandalous habit: her obsession with her cherished adventure novels. Even though these books fill her rather uneventful life with suspense, they make all of her prospective suitors look awfully dull. For the romantic Andrea, no one could ever compare to the dreamy protagonist of her books…
Could it be that reality will surpass even her daydream of a hero?
After his adventurous journeys, James Churchill, Marquess of Blandford and a distinguished military veteran, retreats to the estate owned by Andrea’s father. The reason behind this seclusion is his secret hobby. Unknown to anyone, he transforms himself into Dean Morris, author of a successful series of adventure novels. Nothing has ever thrilled him more until the moment he meets Andrea, his most fanatic reader…
Will he dare to confess his most treasured secret for the sake of love?
Andrea and James are thrust into a match that will soon challenge their feelings in the most extraordinary way. However, scheming relatives and an unexpected arrival are threatening to damage any hope of a happily ever after. Will James and Andrea break free from the trammels of a disheartening reality and write their own fairytale? Could it be that the most wonderful adventure of their life does not require to travel far and wide?
“A Lady’s Beloved Novelist” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.