Excerpt: Seducing Mr. Knightly
Miss Annabelle Swift’s attic bedroom
Some things are simply true: the earth rotates around the sun, Monday follows Sunday, and Miss Annabelle Swift loves Mr. Derek Knightly with a passion and purity that would be breathtaking were it not for one other simple truth: Mr. Derek Knightly pays no attention to Miss Annabelle Swift.
It was love at first sight exactly three years, six months, three weeks and two days ago, upon Annabelle’s first foray into the offices of The London Weekly. She was the new advice columnist—the lucky girl who had won a contest and the position of Writing Girl number four. She was a shy, unassuming miss—still was, truth be told.
He was the dashing and wickedly handsome, editor and owner of the paper. Absolutely still was, truth be told.
In those three years, six months, three weeks and two days, Knightly seemed utterly unaware of Annabelle’s undying affection. She sighed every time he entered the room. Gazed longingly. Blushed furiously should he happen to speak to her. She displayed all the signs of love and by all accounts, these did not register for him.
By all accounts, it seemed an unwritten law of nature that Mr. Derek Knightly didn’t spare a thought for Miss Annabelle Swift. At all. Ever.
And yet, she hoped.
Why did she love him?
To be fair, she did ask herself this from time to time.
Knightly was handsome, of course, breathtakingly and heart stoppingly so. His hair was dark, like midnight, and he was in the habit of rakishly running his fingers through it, which made him seem faintly disreputable. His eyes were a piercing blue, and looked at the world with an intelligent, brutally honest gaze. His high, slanting cheekbones were like cliffs a girl might throw herself off in a fit of despair.
The man himself was single-minded, ruthless and obsessed when it came to his newspaper business. He could turn on the charm, if he decided it was worth the bother. He was wealthy beyond imagination.
As an avid reader of romantic novels, Annabelle knew a hero when she saw
one. The dark good looks. The power. The wealth. The intensity with which he might love a woman—her—if only he would.
But the real reason for her deep and abiding love had nothing to do with his wealth, power, appearance or even the way he leaned against a table or the way he swaggered into a room. Though who knew the way a man leaned or swaggered could be so…inspiring?
Derek Knightly was a man who gave a young woman of no consequence a chance to be something. Something great. Something special. Something more. It went without saying that opportunities for women were not numerous, especially for ones with no connections, like Annabelle. If it weren’t for Knightly, she’d be a plain old Spinster Auntie or maybe married to Mr. Nathan Smythe who owned the bakery up the road.
Knightly gave her a chance when no one ever did. He believed in her when she didn’t even believe in herself. That was why she loved him.
So the years and weeks and days passed by and Annabelle waited for him to really notice her, even as the facts added up to the heartbreaking truth he had a blind spot where she was concerned.
Or worse: perhaps he did notice and did not return her affection in the slightest.
A lesser girl might have given up long ago and married the first sensible person who asked. In all honesty, Annabelle had considered encouraging young Mr. Nathan Smythe of the bakery up the road. She at least could have enjoyed a lifetime supply of freshly baked pastries and warm bread.
But she had made her choice to wait for true love. And so she couldn’t marry Mr. Smythe and his baked goods as long as she stayed up late reading novels of grand passions, great adventures, and true love, above all. She could not settle for less. She could not marry Mr. Nathan Smythe or anyone else, other than Derek Knightly, because she had given her heart to Knightly three years, six months, three weeks and two days ago.
And now she lay dying. Unloved. A spinster. A virgin.
Her cheeks burned. Was it mortification? Remorse? Or the fever?
She was laying ill in her brother’s home in Bloomsbury, London. Downstairs her brother, Thomas, meekly hid in his library (it was a sad fact that Swifts were not known for backbone) while his wife, Blanche, shrieked at their children: Watson, Mason and Fleur. None of them had come to inquire after her health, however, Watson had come to request her help with his sums, Mason asked where she had misplaced his Latin primer and Fleur had woken Annabelle from a nap to borrow a hair ribbon.
Annabelle lay in her bed, dying, another victim of unrequited love. It was tragic, tragic! In her slim fingers she held a letter from Knightly, blotted with her tears.
Very well, she was not at death’s door, merely suffering a wretched head cold. She did have a letter from Knightly but it was hardly the stuff of a young woman’s dreams. It read:
Annabelle stopped there to scowl. Everyone addressed their letters to her as “Dear Annabelle,” which was the name of her advice column. Thus, she was the recipient of dozens—hundreds—of letters each week all that all began with “Dear Annabelle.” To be cheeky and amusing everyone else in the world had adopted this salutation. Tradesmen sent their bills to her addressed as such.
But not Mr. Knightly! Miss Swift indeed. The rest—the scant rest of it—was worse.
Your column is late. Please remedy this will all due haste.
Annabelle possessed the gift of a prodigious imagination (Or curse. Sometimes it felt like a curse.). But even she could not spin magic from this letter.
She was never late with her column, either, because she knew all the people it would inconvenience: Knightly and the other editors, the printers, the deliverymen, the newsagents, all the loyal readers of The London Weekly.
She loathed bothering people—ever since she’d been a mere thirteen years old and Blanche had decreed to Thomas on their wedding day that “they could keep his orphaned sister so long as she wasn’t a nuisance.” Stricken with terror at the prospect of being left to the workhouse or the streets, Annabelle bent over backwards to be helpful. She acted as governess to her brother’s children, assisted Cook with the meal preparation, could be counted on for a favor when anyone asked.
But she was ill! For the first time, Annabelle simply didn’t have the strength to be concerned with the trials and vexations of others. The exhaustion went bone deep. Perhaps deeper. Perhaps it had reached her soul.
There was a stack of letters on her writing desk across the room, all requesting her help.
Belinda from High Holburn wanted to know how one addressed a duke, should she ever be so lucky to meet one. Marcus wished to know how fast it took to travel from London to Gretna Green “for reasons he couldn’t specify.” Susie requested a complexion remedy, Nigel asked for advice on how to propose to one sister when he had already been courting the other for six months.
“Annabelle!” Blanche shrieked from the bottom of the stairs leading to Annabelle’s attic bedroom.
She shrunk down and pulled the covers over her head.
“Annabelle, Mason broke a glass, Watson pierced himself and requires a remedy and Fleur needs her hair curled. Do come at once instead of lazing abed all day!”
“Yes, Blanche,” she said faintly.
Annabelle sneezed, and then tears stung at her eyes and she was in quite the mood for a good, well-deserved cry. But then there was that letter from Knightly. Miss Swift, indeed! And the problems of Belinda, Marcus, Susie and Nigel. And Mason, Watson and Fleur. All of which required her help.
What about me? Annabelle thought. The selfish question occurred to her, unbidden. Given her bedridden status, she could not escape it, either. She could not dust, or sweep or rearrange her hair ribbons, or read a novel or any other such task she engaged in when she wished to avoid thinking about something unpleasant.
Stubbornly, the nagging question wouldn’t leave until it had an answer.
She mulled it over—what about me?
“What about me?” she tested the thought with a hoarse whisper.
She was a good person. A kind person. A generous, thoughtful and helpful person. But here she was, ill and alone, forgotten by the world, dying of unrequited love, a virgin…
Well, maybe it was time for others to help Dear Annabelle with her problems!
“Hmmph,” she said, to no one in particular.
The Swifts were not known for the force of their will, or their gumption. So when the feeling struck, she ran with it before the second-guessing could begin. Metaphorically, of course, given that she was bedridden with illness.
Annabelle dashed off the following column, for print in the most popular newspaper in town.
To the readers of The London Weekly,
For nearly four years now I have faithfully answered your inquiries on matters great and small. I have advised to the best of my abilities and with goodness in my heart.
Now I find myself in need your help. For the past few years I have loved a man from afar, and I fear he has taken no notice of me at all. I know not how to attract his attention and affection. Dear readers, please advise!
Your humble servant,
Before she could think twice about it, Annabelle sealed the letter and addressed it to:Mr. Derek Knightly c/o The London Weekly 57 Fleet Street London, England.