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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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"Indeed?" Again, he seemed surprised, and I wondered if I'd been too honest about my youthful ambitions. I did not know this man or his views.

I softened my aspirations with gentle humor. "Yes. Although, in the end, I had to settle for a winter in Paris, where I attended lectures at the Sorbonne, visited art galleries, and dined with the artist Camille Pissarro."

"No small solace," he offered with a smile, his eyes lingering on mine. Did I imagine a glimmer of respect in his light-­blue eyes? In the low candlelight, their color shifted from pale aquamarine to the color of the dawn sky.

We grew quiet for a moment, and it seemed as though the rest of the guests—­an illustrious mix of political figures, journalists, and the odd American heiress—­had reached a lull in their conversations as well. Or perhaps they had been listening quietly to us all along. I realized that I'd been so engrossed in discussion with my tablemate that I'd quite forgotten the other diners.

The gentleman stammered for a moment, and to avoid embarrassment, I returned to the chicken on my plate, now grown quite cold. I felt his eyes on me but didn't turn. Our exchange had been unusually personal for a first meeting, and I didn't know what to say next.

"Please forgive me, miss." His words were unexpected.

"For what, sir?"

"For my unforgivable lapse in manners."

"I do not know what you mean."

"A woman like yourself deserves every courtesy. I realize now that I have not offered even the bare minimum—­an introduction beyond the butler's announcement. This is particularly inexcusable given that I arrived too late for the usual formalities. Will you allow me to introduce myself?"

I gave him a small nod, wondering what he meant by "a woman like yourself." What sort of woman did he think I was?

"My name is Winston Churchill."

Ah, I thought with a start. The familiarity of his appearance was explained. While I believed I'd met him in passing several years earlier, I knew his face not from that earlier social occasion but from the newspapers. The gentleman sitting next to me was a prominent member of Parliament and rumored to soon become the next president of the Board of Trade, which would make him one of the most important members of the government. His rise through the leadership ranks had been riddled with controversy, as he'd changed parties from Conservative to Liberal a few years before, favoring free trade and a more active government with legislation protecting the welfare of its citizens. This led to constant coverage in the dailies, including a lengthy interview in the Daily Chronicle by the Dracula author, Bram Stoker, a few months ago.

If I recalled correctly, some years before, this Mr. Churchill had actually voted in favor of the female suffrage bill, an issue quite dear to me. During my school years at Berkhamsted School for Girls, my headmistress, Beatrice Harris, had instilled in me a taste for female independence. Her lectures on suffragism had fallen upon keen ears, because, having grown up with a mother who professed nonconformist beliefs but actually relied upon her aristocratic status and many liaisons for sustenance, I wanted to pursue a path of purpose and, if possible, independence. And now, sitting before me was one of the few politicians who had publicly backed an early effort for the women's vote. I suddenly felt quite nervous but exhilarated at the same time.

The rest of the table had grown quiet, but my dinner partner didn't seem to notice, because he cleared his throat loudly and continued. "I hope the mere name Winston Churchill doesn't scare you off. I'm quite the pariah these days in most households."

A fierce heat spread across my usually pale cheeks, not from his words but from my worry that my ignorance of his identity might have led me into some kind of gaffe. Had I said anything inappropriate? I wondered as I quickly reviewed our exchange. I did not think so. If Kitty had been in my place, she would have managed this interaction with aplomb and humor instead of with my awkward pauses and nerves.

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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