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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"Nerves over what? The wedding ceremony itself? Or the man you are marrying?" Nellie, my little sister and the twin to my only brother, surprises me with her astuteness. For too long, I'd considered her youthful and inexperienced, not at all the confidante that my indomitable elder sister Kitty would have been had she lived beyond sixteen, had my beautiful, fearless sister not succumbed to typhoid. I should not have underestimated Nellie.

Her question awakens a memory of the first time I met my intended. It was an evening at Lady St. Helier's mansion, the very place from which I'd just fled. I had initially resisted my benefactress's invitation to dinner on that cool March night. My suitable gowns were in need of mending, and I had no clean white gloves, I'd lamented to Mother. In truth, my long afternoon tutoring French had exhausted me, but I didn't dare speak plainly, as Mother loathed any reminder that we girls needed to contribute to the household upkeep. She preferred to believe her title and aristocratic heritage would magically provide funds for housing, food, and servants, a strange contradiction with her decidedly bohemian views on the malleability of the marital vow and her clear focus on her extramarital relationships and little else, certainly not us children. She would brook no excuse to turn down an invitation by my generous, wealthy patroness, who was Mother's aunt and adored helping the young make their way into proper society. So Mother loaned me her own gloves and Nellie's simple white satin princess dress, and off I dutifully went, if a bit past schedule.

But late as I was, the dinner guest to my right still had not materialized by the time the staff served the second of five courses. I'd begun to despair of any conversation other than the boring weather reports recounted by the elderly gentleman to my left when the dining room door swung open with a slam. Before the butler could announce the tardy guest, a round-­faced man with a sheepish half grin marched in, offering his apologies to Lady St. Helier before settling into the ornately carved chair next to me. As the chair's feet scraped loudly against the wooden floor, drowning out the butler's announcement of his name, my attention was drawn to the man. His cheeks had the softness of boyhood, but on his forehead, I saw the deep grooves of adult worries.

Who was this gentleman? He looked familiar, although I could not place his face. Had I met him at another social occasion? There had been so many.

"Miss, I regret any inconvenience my delinquency caused you. An empty seat at a formal dinner is no easy matter. Please excuse me," he said, meeting my gaze with unsettling directness.

Unaccustomed as I was to such candor, my surprise precipitated a blunt response. "It is no inconvenience at all, sir. I arrived only moments before you, my work having delayed my own arrival." I immediately regretted my words, as girls of my class were not meant to have employment.

He looked startled. "You have a position?"

"Yes," I answered, a bit on the defensive. "I am an instructor of French." I didn't dare mention the income-­generating needlework that Nellie and I also undertook.

His eyes shimmered with enthusiasm. "That…that is wondrous, miss. To know something of work and the world is invaluable."

Did he mean it? Or was this a bit of mockery? I didn't know how to respond, so I decided to thread the needle with an innocuous response.

"If you say so, sir."

"I do indeed. It is refreshing. And your regular immersion in French and its culture, ah…of that, I am jealous. I have always held a healthy appreciation for the cultural and political contributions France has made to Europe."

He seemed in earnest, and his views matched my own. I took a chance and responded in kind. "I agree wholeheartedly, sir. I even considered studying French, its culture, and its politics at university. In fact, my headmistress encouraged me to do so."

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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