Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Love in the Time of Scandal by Caroline Linden! We have an excerpt from the book on the blog!
Stratford Court, Richmond
Perseus lay in pieces on the floor. His arm, divorced from his body, held out the severed head of Medusa as if to ward his attacker off, and indeed, Benedict Lennox thought it might well have turned him to stone.
Before he fell, Perseus had held the head aloft, poised in mid-stride. The Gorgon’s face was twisted with rage and her eyes seemed to follow a person. It was hideous, even frightening, but Benedict’s father said it was a masterpiece, and Father knew art. As such it was displayed in a prominent position on the landing of the main staircase of Stratford Court, with a large mirror behind it to display the rear. Benedict always tried not to look right at it when he passed, but there was no avoiding it now. The base rested against the remains of the mirror, while Perseus and his trophy were scattered in pieces across the landing, amid the glittering shards of broken glass.
“Do you know anything about this?” The Earl of Stratford’s voice was idle, almost disinterested.
His son swallowed hard. “No, sir.”
“No?” The earl rocked back on his heels. “Nothing at all? Do you not even recognize it?”
Oh no. That had been the wrong answer. He searched frantically for the right one. “No, sir. I didn’t mean that. It’s a statue of Perseus.”
Lord Stratford made a soft, disappointed noise. “Not merely a statue of Perseus. This is one of the finest works of art by a great sculptor. See how exquisitely he renders the god’s form, how he encapsulates the evil of the Gorgon!” He paused. “But you don’t care about that, do you?”
Benedict said nothing. He knew there was no correct answer to that question.
Stratford sighed. “Such a pity. I had hoped my only son would pay more attention to his classical studies, but alas. Perhaps I should be grateful you recognized it at all. Our entire conversation would be for naught otherwise.”
Benedict Lennox gripped his hands together until his knuckles hurt. He stood rigidly at attention, mesmerized by the shattered glass and stone before him.
His father clasped his hands behind him, rather like Benedict’s tutor did when explaining a difficult point of mathematics. “Now, what else can you tell me about this statue?”
“Something terrible happened to it, sir.”
“Was it struck by lightning, do you think?” asked the earl in exaggerated concern.
The sky outside the mullioned windows was crystal clear, as blue as a robin’s egg. “Unlikely, sir.”
“No, perhaps not,” his father murmured, watching him with a piercing stare. Benedict longed to look away from that stare but knew it would be a mistake. “Perhaps it was a stray shot from a poacher?”
Stratford Court was set in a manicured park, surrounded only by gardens, graveled paths, and open rolling lawns. The woods where any poachers might roam were across the river. Benedict wished those woods were much closer. He wished he were exploring them right this moment. “Possible, but also unlikely, sir.”
“Not a poacher,” said Stratford thoughtfully. “I confess, I’ve quite run out of ideas! How on earth could a statue of inestimable value break without any outside influence? Not only that, but the mirror as well. It’s bad luck to break a mirror.”
He stayed silent. He didn’t know, either, though he suspected he was about to be punished for it. Bad luck, indeed.
“What do you say, Benedict? What is the logical conclusion?”
His tongue felt wooden. “It must have been someone inside the house, sir.”
“Surely not! Who would do such a thing?”
A flicker of movement caught his eye before he could think of an answer. He tried to check the impulse, but his father noticed his involuntary start and turned to follow his gaze. Two little girls peeped around the newel post at the bottom of the stairs. “Come here, my lovely daughters, come here,” said the earl.
Benedict’s heart sank into his shoes. Suddenly he guessed what had happened to the mirror. Samantha, who was only four, looked a little uncertain; but Elizabeth, who was seven, was pale-faced with fear. Slowly the sisters came up the stairs, bobbing careful curtsies when they reached the landing.
“Here are my pretty little ones.” The earl surveyed them critically. “Lady Elizabeth, your sash is dropping. And Lady Samantha, you’ve got dirt on your dress.”
“I’m sorry, Father.” Elizabeth tugged at her sash, setting it further askew. Samantha just put her hands behind her back and looked at the floor. She’d only recently been allowed out of the nursery and barely knew the earl.
“Your brother and I are attempting to solve a mystery.” The earl waved one hand at the wreckage. “Do you know what happened to this statue?”
Elizabeth went white as she stared at the Gorgon’s head. “It broke, Father,” piped up Samantha.
“Very good,” the earl told her. “Do you know how?”
Elizabeth’s terrified gaze veered to him. Benedict managed to give her an infinitesimal shake of his head before their father turned on him. “Benedict says he does not know,” Stratford said sharply. “Do not look at him for answers, Elizabeth.”
In the moment the earl’s back was turned to them, Elizabeth nudged her sister and touched one finger to her lips. Samantha’s brown eyes grew round and she moved closer to Elizabeth, reaching for her hand.
Stratford turned back to his daughters. “Do either of you know?” Elizabeth blinked several times, but she shook her head. “Samantha?” prodded their father. “It would be a sin not to answer me.”
Samantha’s expression grew worried. Benedict’s throat clogged and his eyes stung. He took a breath to calm his roiling nerves and spoke before his sister could. “It was my fault, Father.”
“Your fault?” Fury flashed in the earl’s face though his voice remained coldly calm. “How so, Benedict?”
What should he say? If the earl didn’t believe his story, he’d be whipped for lying, and then his sister would be punished for the actual crime, the nursemaid would be sacked for not keeping better watch over her charges, and his mother would be excoriated for hiring the nursemaid at all. And all over an ugly statue that everyone tried to avoid seeing.
Grand prize: A journal to keep track of all your own scandals, plus print copies of the first two books in Caroline Linden’s Scandalous series, LOVE AND OTHER SCANDALS, and IT TAKES A SCANDAL
Runner Up: print copies of the first two books in Caroline Linden’s Scandalous series, LOVE AND OTHER SCANDALS, and IT TAKES A SCANDAL