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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As the maids unpacked my bags, I sauntered around the impossibly high-­ceilinged bedroom suite complete with a japanned four-­poster bed, astonished to find a fire roaring in the fireplace despite the warm August weather, an unnecessary indulgence. In mere moments, the maids descended upon me with brushes, combs, and pins ready to create a fashionable confection out of my simple chignon. Perhaps they concentrated their efforts on my hair when they realized precious little could be done about my limited wardrobe.

From the moment I crossed the threshold into the gold-­adorned state dining room, past the long murals and tapestries celebrating the Marlborough military accomplishments and family portraits by such luminaries as Sir Joshua Reynolds, John Singer Sargent, and Thomas Gainsborough, I could not summon the poised, talkative young woman I'd been with Winston these past few months. I felt like a fraud in his world. I felt intimidated by the pervasive reminders of the Churchills' historical importance and the comfortable banter between Winston, his mother, and Sunny, and I allowed myself to retreat into the background. It was an old habit from the days when Kitty was still alive and I'd watch from the shadows as my beautiful sister held a room captive with her wit and charm.

As the women and men parted ways after the meal, Winston approached me. I worried that he'd express concern, even disappointment, about my quiet throughout the meal, but instead he begged my pardon. "My dear Clementine, can you forgive me for monopolizing the dinner conversation? I talked so much with Mother and Sunny, you could not have gotten a word in edgewise."

I tried to recall the exact nature of their extended discussion, as I'd been somewhat distracted by the furnishings and frescoes of the dining room. The talk had focused on the impending meeting between King Edward and Kaiser Wilhelm about the increasing size of Germany's navy, and I hunted around for an appropriate comment. "Please, Winston, there is absolutely no need for apologies. I was intrigued by your remarks about naval expansion and Germany's efforts to rival England as a maritime force. I quite agree that our country must maintain its dominance and not allow Germany to challenge us."

A broad smile engulfed his full face. "That's one of the things I love about you, Clementine. Unlike most young women whose eyes would be glazing over at such talk, you listen, understand, and engage with the important issues of our day. Your intellect is very appealing. As is the nobility of your thoughts."

While I understood and appreciated that he'd just given me several compliments, my thoughts fixed upon one word. Love. Had he just said love? Neither of us had ever used that word before. I did not—­could not—­answer, except to nod and look at him through eyes downcast.

"I say," he said in his version of a whisper, which wasn't altogether quiet, "let's you and I take a walk through the Blenheim rose gardens tomorrow morning to see if you think they justify their reputation. I can also promise vistas of the lake."

"I'd like that," I answered.

"Wonderful," he said, reaching out to caress my hand gently. "Shall we say ten o'clock in the breakfast room?"

I nodded my assent, and we bid each other good evening. My steps felt light and my mood a bit giddy as I joined Lady Randolph and Mrs. Smith for dessert, hoping to rectify the lackluster impression I'd made on them earlier.

The next morning, ten o'clock came and went, and eleven was fast approaching without an appearance by Winston or anyone else, for that matter. Where on earth was he? Hadn't we agreed to tour the rose gardens by this time? I had already partaken of the lavish food on offer, selecting poached eggs, late summer strawberries and cream, and strong tea, and was standing before the row of windows, peering out over Blenheim's manicured gardens, when someone finally entered the breakfast room.

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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