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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My nervousness about visiting Blenheim grew as my train passed through the verdant countryside with its undulating hills and approached the palace, long rumored to be one of the most luxurious outside of those estates owned by the royal family. What would I face at the great house? Winston had given me no details about the weekend plans, other than to mention that his cousin would be present, although not his wife, Consuelo, as they were divorcing, as would his mother, Lady Randolph, who, Mother had reminded me, I had met briefly on several social occasions. I was excited to see Winston but uncertain about the rest of his party.

A brougham retrieved me from the station, and after we'd traveled a fair distance, the driver called back to me, "We'll be passin' through Ditchley Gate in a moment, miss."

Glancing out of the window, I noticed an ornate wrought-iron gate, flanked by an enormous stone gateway, looming before us. When a gatekeeper emerged from a lodge to open this imposing entryway, I glimpsed a long drive, bordered by rows of lime trees, traversing a vast plateau. Surely, I thought, this must be the drive to the palace. Yet as we set out, we continued over a bridge that crossed a meandering lake and passed several other large buildings, none of which seemed to be our destination. When will we reach Blenheim Palace? I wondered. My nerves were stretched near to snapping.

The driver called back again. "We'll be at the central gate in a jiffy, miss."

Ah, I thought, thank goodness. We are very nearly there. I straightened my skirt and patted my hair and hat to ensure that everything was in its place. The drive surface changed, and I welcomed the crunch of the wheels on the stones as a signal that we'd finally reached the palace. The brougham passed through a small archway carved into a limestone wall, and as the carriage lurched forward to a stop, I readied myself.

When I finally descended from the brougham, I stepped out onto a great court that faced the grandest house I'd ever encountered. A wide, pillared portico stood at the center, lined with statues and carvings of warlike figures, and two vast wings stretched out in my direction from either side. From nowhere, four servants appeared and rushed toward me, taking my bags and guiding me up the stairs to the imposing front doors of Blenheim.

I climbed the steep steps, my heart racing both from the effort and the anticipation, and the doors to the great hall magically opened as I approached. As soon as I stepped inside, I saw that Winston stood in a row of friends and family—­or at least I presumed they were friends and family, as Lady Randolph stood comfortably among them—­under the enormous archway at the far reaches of the seemingly endless hall, all waiting to greet me. The only family members missing were Winston's beloved brother, Jack, and his new wife, Lady Gwendeline Bertie, affectionately known as Goonie, who had recently married and were away on their honeymoon. What on earth did Winston have planned?

My heels clattered across the vast expanse of black and white marble tiles as I began to walk toward my hosts. I winced as the sound echoed under the sixty-­foot, fresco-­adorned ceiling and around the massive pillars supporting the round-­topped archways lining the hall. Winston's broad smile never faltered, and my gaze locked upon his beaming face instead of the intimidating artwork and sculptures and ancient weaponry I passed, all part of Winston's family history.

He stepped up and placed a firm, calming hand on mine as he made the introductions to those I did not know, his cousin Sunny, his close personal and political friend F. E. Smith and his wife, and a secretary from the Board of Trade among them. Then he insisted that I retire to my room to get ready for dinner, with two of his mother's maids in tow. My cheeks flushed as I realized that someone in his group must have recognized that I didn't have a maid of my own and rushed to address my gaffe.

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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