Excerpt from Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Lady Clementine

by Marie Benedict

Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict X
Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2020, 336 pages

    Paperback:
    Jul 2020, 416 pages

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I hurry out the servants' door at the rear of the house and make my way down an alleyway that runs behind the row of luxurious Georgian homes lining Portland Place. I pass by kitchen windows beginning to glow with lamps lit by servants readying the house for their masters. A bustling world lies behind the mansions of Lady St. Helier and her friends, but because I always enter through the front doors, I've never witnessed the province at the back.

The alley lets out onto Weymouth Street, where a motor bus stops. It's heading west to Kensington, and I know the route fairly well as I've taken it the other direction toward Lady St. Helier's on several occasions. Mary's wool coat is too thin for the brisk morning, and as I wait for the bus, I wrap it tightly around me in the vain hope of extracting a bit more warmth from its meager fibers. I wonder how Mary makes it through the winter in such a coat.

The unadorned hat that Mary leant me bears only a small brim, and consequently, the working girl disguise does nothing to mask my face. When I step onto the bus, the driver recognizes me from the photographs that have run in the newspapers in recent days. He stares at me but says nothing at first. Finally, he sputters, "Surely you're in the wrong place, Miss"—­he drops his voice to a whisper, realizing that he shouldn't reveal my identity—­"Hozier."

"I am precisely where I mean to be, sir," I answer in a tone that I hope is kind yet firm. His eyes never leave my face as he takes the fare Mary had given me from her savings—­which I plan to replace multifold—­but he doesn't say another word.

I keep my gaze lowered to shield my face from the curious onlookers who have been alerted to the oddness of my presence by the driver's reaction. I hop off the bus the moment it nears Abingdon Villas, and I feel lighter the closer I come to the cream-­colored stucco house bearing the number 51. By the time I reach up to lift the heavy brass knocker, the tightness in my chest begins to loosen, and I breathe with ease. No one answers the door immediately, but I am not surprised. Here, no bevy of servants lies in wait in the kitchen, ever ready to answer the knock of a front door or the ring of a master's bell. Here, one servant does the work of many, and the household inhabitants do the rest.

I wait, and after several long minutes, my patience is rewarded with an open door. The face of my beloved sister Nellie, still creased with sleep, appears. She rushes in for an embrace before the shock of seeing me registers and she freezes.

"What on earth are you doing here, Clementine? And in those clothes?" she asks. Her expression is quizzical. "Today is your wedding day."



CHAPTER TWO

September 12, 1908
London, England

The comforting smell of steeping tea rises to my nostrils, and I allow the steam to warm my face and hands. Nellie has not pressed me to answer her question, not yet. I know she will soon insist on an explanation for my unexpected visit, but for now, I indulge in the temporary quiet of the parlor. These silent moments alone with my sister, here at home, may be enough to carry me through the day.

"You are not thinking of calling off the wedding, Clemmie?" Nellie interrupts the silence with a tremulous whisper. Neither of us wishes to waken a single member of the sleeping household—­least of all Mother.

"No, no, Nellie," I whisper back, reaching for her hand. My knuckles brush across the table where my sister and I used to spend hours doing needlework for our cousin Lena Whyte's dressmaking business, a necessity to help with household expenses.

Relief softens her features. I hadn't realized how fearful the very idea that I might cancel this wedding made her. It had been cruel of me not to justify my appearance from the beginning. "Nothing like that, dearest. I simply needed the familiarity of home for a moment. To calm my nerves, as it were."

Excerpted from Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict. Copyright © 2020 by Marie Benedict. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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