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 by Melanie Benjamin
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2010, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2011, 368 pages

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And he was eager to provide it; he leaned into me, pressing down upon my body almost until I could no longer hold myself upright; I sank down, down, down until my back nearly touched the bench. 

“I—I—oh, darling!” Suddenly he sprang back, wrenched away, and pushed at my shoulders, his hands trembling. Leo shook his head, as if to clear it; I searched his face, still wanting more; still wanting to possess him, possess him so absolutely that nothing he could hear—not from the Queen, nor Mr. Duckworth, nor Mr. Ruskin—could ever keep us apart. 

“Yes, Leo?” Struggling to sit upright, I felt my hair falling down the back of my neck, and I saw Edith’s diamond clip sparkling on the ground near the bench. I studied him anxiously; wanting so very much to please him. 

“I’m afraid—that is, we mustn’t do much more of—that, at least not now. Not until—not until later, my dear.” He clenched his hands into fists, holding them tight for a long moment before finally relaxing them and turning back to smile at me. I noticed, however, that he was still breathing heavily. 

“Oh! Yes, of course, I quite understand.” I did understand that it was different with men; their passions were more difficult to control. 

“Although I must say, dear Alice, you do kiss quite well. Almost as if you’ve been kissed before, many times!” Now he was teasing me, I knew; his eyes glittered and coaxed, until I was forced to smile, despite my sudden queasiness. 

“Well, I have been—you’ve kissed me yourself!” 

“Ah, I’m much more accomplished than I’ve been led to believe.” He—very gingerly, as if I might be too warm to touch— placed his hand upon mine and sat quietly for a moment, until his breathing came more regularly. 

“Now, then, you’ve quite gotten me off track. I do believe I was speaking very seriously about a matter of great importance to us both.” 

“Yes, of course—do go on.” I tried to match the lightness of his tone, even as I fought off a rising bubble of panic. Had I been overeager? Had I scared him away? I had always been confident around Leo, knowing I was his equal in so many ways. Suddenly, I was very unsure of myself. I did not feel on equal footing, not at all; I was so close to my heart’s desire that I was unable to think, to choose, to act, for fear of chasing it away. 

“As I said—before I was so spectacularly interrupted—I’ve written Mamma, and she understands where my heart lies. With you, of course, my Alice. And this afternoon, then, I received a letter from her, a most encouraging letter—” 

“Alice! Alice!” It was a strange voice calling my name; startled, Leo and I both looked up. Someone was running toward us, across the great expanse of the marketplace. 

“What? Who’s there?” We rose, and I tried to make out the approaching figure, sprinting, as if to a fire, calling my name. “Alice—there you are! We ’ve been looking everywhere! Come quickly—we must leave right away!” It was William Skene, his shirt untucked, his coat half off his shoulders; he bent over, hands upon his knees, struggling to catch his breath before he looked at me—I saw, even in the moonlight, that his face was deathly pale.

 “What? What is it?” 

“Edith. It’s Edith—quick, we must go back to the Deanery. Your parents have already left with Ina and Rhoda—I’m to take you in my carriage.” 

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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