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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Turning at the sound of footsteps, I expected to see a sheepish Winston. Instead, a shocked Sunny stood in the archway of the breakfast room, and his expression told me all I needed to know about Winston's whereabouts, as he'd already confessed to me his habit of working until the first light of dawn and then resting until late morning. Winston was still sleeping. I was furious at him for placing me in this awkward position. I started walking out of the room without a word, never mind that I stood before the Duke of Marlborough.

"Miss Hozier, I've been sent to invite you for a drive around the estate," Sunny called out, covering for his dear friend and cousin. "Winston has been unavoidably detained. Work, you know." My face must have registered my disbelief, but Sunny plowed ahead. "He was hoping you could meet him at one o'clock instead. He should be finished with his work by then, and it's a better time to view the roses in any event."

The gulf between how I wanted to react and how I should react widened. Although I felt humiliated, I was a guest of the esteemed man standing before me, and I cared deeply for the one still asleep. I decided to answer cordially but to make my expectations clear. "That would be lovely. But may I presume that I will see Winston in the great hall precisely at one?"

Sunny stared me directly in the eyes in a look that seemed like appreciation. With an emphatic nod, he said, "I can promise you that."

When I descended the grand marble staircase adjacent to the great hall at one minute past one o'clock, Winston was waiting, his face bearing that sheepish expression I'd anticipated hours before. As I approached him, I summoned up my full five feet seven inches, making me the slightest bit taller than Winston. I wanted him to understand that I expected respect and consideration from him.

He clasped my hands in his, saying, "I feel I am always apologizing to you."

"Occasionally, you do so when there is no need," I answered, wanting him to understand with my emphasis on occasionally that this was not one of those times.

"Yet my behavior requires that I make amends," he half announced, half asked.

"Yes," I said, pausing to let him await my verdict. "But I forgive you."

His sigh of relief was audible. "Shall we venture out to the gardens?"

I smiled to indicate the incident was behind us, and we walked to the rear of the palace and exited through a nondescript door leading to a rolling hill. My hand in the crook of his arm, we stepped out into the golden light of the summer afternoon. As we strolled down its expanse toward a well-­delineated path, Winston shared a bit about the creation of the Blenheim Palace and its grounds, which were given by Queen Anne to the First Duke of Marlborough in 1704 for leading the English victory over the French.

"Family lore has it that, at the invitation of the Fourth Duke of Marlborough, the landscape architect Capability Brown signed on to the job of fashioning the park at Blenheim in 1763, fully expecting the project to last only a couple of years. He stayed for ten."

"Capability? What a name."

"Poor chap. His actual name was Lancelot, although I can't figure why choosing to be called Capability was any better."

I laughed, a hearty outburst that Nellie and Bill often told me was a guffaw. Mother loathed my laugh and often cautioned me to stifle it in public. But Winston laughed along with me, and I sensed that he actually enjoyed my rather indelicate roar.

He continued. "By the time poor Capability had finished"—we start giggling again at the reference to Capability, and once he gains his composure, Winston continues—"he'd planted thousands of trees, making a veritable forest that seems perfectly natural but is actually an artful contrivance. With clever use of dams, he also constructed the Great Lake that you can see to your right and the Grand Cascade, one of the most exquisite waterfalls I've ever seen. We must explore that another day."

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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