Excerpt from Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Alice I Have Been

by Melanie Benjamin

Alice I Have Been
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2010, 368 pages
    Jan 2011, 368 pages

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“Watch your step!” I heard the creak of a door, then stubbed my toe up against a small stair. Following him blindly, I stepped up, then out—into the night. Blinking at the relative brightness— the moon was not quite full, yet it shone purposefully down upon us—I found that we were in the large open-air market behind the Council Hall. It was empty tonight, of course, although the ground was still scattered with straw, and there were a few permanent wooden stalls as well as several benches. Leo led me to one, and laughed as I sank down upon it, finally able to catch my breath. 

“I’m sorry, truly, but I was so eager, you know, to have you entirely to myself!” 

“Sir, I am most gratified, but do we dare it? We ’re quite unchaperoned!” I smiled up at him; he was no longer laughing. The solemn look in his eyes chased away my own smile; I studied him with the same gravity, for I knew I would want to remember this moment for the rest of my life. 

“Alice.” He knelt beside me; I wondered, oddly, if he would dirty the knees of his trousers. “Dearest Alice, please give me your hand.” 

Trembling, I did as he asked. 

“Darling, I had the most amazing communication this evening from Mamma. She sends her best wishes, naturally.” 

“How very kind of her,” I said automatically, wishing he would get to the point while also, strangely, happy to linger in the sweet anticipation of the moment; just to see the love light in his eyes, those hopeful, thoughtful eyes, filled all the aching, empty places of my heart up with a quiet joy. 

“Yes, well—she knows, now, how very—fond—I am of you. I’ve taken great care in telling her. I’m afraid I’ve been rather a boring correspondent, as I’ve had just one single subject. You.” 

“Oh, is the Queen very tired of me?” 

“I daresay—particularly as I even enlisted others in my cause.” 

“You have?” 

“Yes—I didn’t want to trust our happiness to my own feeble pen. That was what I was referring to, with Mr. Ruskin. I asked him, as well as Duckworth—your old friends, of course—to write to her, also. She respects them, and she knows their great regard for your father, their long association with your family. I felt that would be the wisest course, don’t you agree?” Did a cloud veil the moon, or was it fear that darkened the night, chilling my bones? Yet I told myself that Leo would not be on his knees beside me if the Queen had not given him reason to hope. What could Mr. Duckworth say, after all? He was a good man. He was also Mr. Dodgson’s closest friend. 

But Mr. Dodgson was kind, I had seen it in his eyes; he wanted me to be happy—may we be happy— 

“Oh, Leo!” My heart fluttered, sickeningly, to my feet. And why hadn’t Mr. Ruskin mentioned this to me before? If he intended to aid us, would he not have told me? 

“What is it, dear? You look so distressed—is it the cold? Here, do take my coat—I forgot about your wrap.” With a sweet, worried shake of his head—entirely in the manner of one delighted to find himself suddenly responsible for another—he removed his jacket and placed it about my shoulders. 

“Thank you,” I said, looking up at him; his hands lingered upon my shoulders as he bent down to kiss me, gently, almost reverently. 

But then his lips—his soft, full lips—sought more; he sank down beside me on the bench, wrapped me in his arms, and took my love as insistently as I could give it. I sought, too—pulling away with a little gasp, my limbs limp, only his arms holding me up, I suddenly needed more; I met his lips, tasted his tongue, with a hunger of my own. My arm arched gracefully about his neck— a strange liquid thrill shot through my womb, and I cried out, even as I sought more. 

Excerpted from Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin Copyright © 2010 by Melanie Benjamin. Excerpted by permission of Random House Audio, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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