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The Ashford Affair

The Ashford Affair

4.5 25
by Lauren Willig

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From New York Times bestselling author Lauren Willig comes The Ashford Affair, a page-turning novel about two women in different eras, and on different continents, who are connected by one deeply buried secret.

A New York Times best seller!

As a lawyer in a large


From New York Times bestselling author Lauren Willig comes The Ashford Affair, a page-turning novel about two women in different eras, and on different continents, who are connected by one deeply buried secret.

A New York Times best seller!

As a lawyer in a large Manhattan firm, just shy of making partner, Clementine Evans has finally achieved almost everything she's been working towards—but now she's not sure it's enough. Her long hours have led to a broken engagement and, suddenly single at thirty-four, she feels her messy life crumbling around her. But when the family gathers for her grandmother Addie's ninety-ninth birthday, a relative lets slip hints about a long-buried family secret, leading Clemmie on a journey into the past that could change everything. . . .

Growing up at Ashford Park in the early twentieth century, Addie has never quite belonged. When her parents passed away, she was taken into the grand English house by her aristocratic aunt and uncle, and raised side-by-side with her beautiful and outgoing cousin, Bea. Though they are as different as night and day, Addie and Bea are closer than sisters, through relationships and challenges, and a war that changes the face of Europe irrevocably. But what happens when something finally comes along that can't be shared? When the love of sisterhood is tested by a bond that's even stronger?

From the inner circles of British society to the skyscrapers of Manhattan and the red-dirt hills of Kenya, the never-told secrets of a woman and a family unfurl.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In 1906 London, five-year-old orphan Addie Gillecote is taken in by her uncle, the Earl of Ashford, and his wife. Addie is instantly aware that her place in life is below the daughters of the house, no matter what her older cousin and protector Bea tells her. Remaining close as adults, Addie and Bea find that it's marriage for one and work for the other that mark the beginning of their troubles. Decades later nothing is as it was, and it may be for the better. Mysterious family secrets are slowly revealed through a variety of voices, none of which tells the whole story. All contribute pieces of the puzzle, however, as readers become more deeply acquainted with these endearing personalities. The dysfunctional nature of elite society in the 1920s, complacent in England or exiled in Kenya, adds intriguing social commentary to a story full of fabulous period details and complex relationships. VERDICT With this standalone, new readers will have the opportunity to enjoy Willig's talent for balancing multiple, connected storylines without the added pressure of a long-standing series, while returning fans will enjoy hidden "Pink Carnation" references and the pleasure of another novel well done. [see Prepub Alert, 10/8/12; library marketing]—Stacey Hayman, Rocky River P.L. , OH
Publishers Weekly
Willig takes us from the twilight of the British aristocracy to colonial Kenya to modern-day New York City in her first historical romance outside of the Pink Carnation Series. In 1906, five-year-old Addie Gillecote leaves Kenya after her parents’ death to live in London with her Aunt Vera and Uncle Charles, the Lord and Lady of Ashford. Treated as a charity case by her aunt, Addie is taken under her cousin Bea’s wing. As the girls grow close and come of age, Bea is touted as the “Debutante of the Decade.” She lands a young marquess, Marcus, in a seemingly perfect match, and Addie joins them in their new home, taking a position at The Bloomsbury Review. In 1999, Addie is 99 and beloved by her granddaughter, Clemmie, a lawyer looking to make partner. Clemmie sees the marriage between her grandmother and grandfather, Frederick, as her model for love and has recently ended an engagement because her fiancé did not measure up. After Addie dies, Clemmie, aided by her step-cousin, historian Jon, learns that their family’s history is more complicated than she imagined. Well-researched details of life in the 1920s lends texture to this solid historical novel. Agent: Joe Veltre, Artists Literary Group. (Apr.)
From the Publisher

The Ashford Affair is a reader's treat, an artfully-woven saga that sweeps us into the lives of three generations of a family entangled in life-changing secrets. Lauren Willig spins a web of lust, power and loss, taking us from England to Kenya to New York, from World War I to today's modern world, posing a timeless question: what in our own family stories might surprise or shock – or change our lives – if we had access to the whispers from the past?” —Kate Alcott, New York Times bestselling author of The Dressmaker

“There are few authors who make you want to take a day off from life to devour their latest book, but Lauren Willig is one of them. The Ashford Affair is absolutely impossible to put down!” —Michelle Moran, bestselling author of Madame Tussaud

“Rich with detail and historical imagination, The Ashford Affair evokes the lives and passions of the interwar era with harrowing precision. The enthralling mystery kept me up late into the night, and the characters will remain with me forever. Lauren Willig has delivered a stunning masterpiece.” —Beatriz Williams, author of Overseas

“With The Ashford Affair, Lauren Willig crafts a lavishly detailed saga readers will devour.” —Deanna Raybourn, New York Times bestselling author of The Dark Enquiry

New York Times bestselling author of The Dressmake Kate Alcott

The Ashford Affair is a reader's treat, an artfully-woven saga that sweeps us into the lives of three generations of a family entangled in life-changing secrets. Lauren Willig spins a web of lust, power and loss, taking us from England to Kenya to New York, from World War I to today's modern world, posing a timeless question: what in our own family stories might surprise or shock - or change our lives - if we had access to the whispers from the past?
Kirkus Reviews
Multigenerational tale, from an author of popular Regency/historicals, takes a family from estates in England and Kenya to a Manhattan law firm. Clemmie hopes to make partner after years as vassal to a petty tyrant in an Ivy League sweatshop. Her personal life is in shambles: Her engagement is off, and she's still smarting from a disappointing Roman holiday with her stepcousin Jon, with whom she's had a love-hate relationship since childhood. Now, though, her maternal ancestors are commanding more of Clemmie's angst. Her once indomitable grandmother Addie, 99, is failing fast. Addie's story intertwines with her granddaughter's. After a 1906 accident claims the lives of her parents, young Addie's uncle, an earl, takes her to live at his stately home, Ashford, ruled by his imperious countess, Vera. Almost immediately, Addie is welcomed as a sister and confidante by her impetuous cousin Bea. Back in 1999, Clemmie suspects that her mother is prevaricating about Addie's past. As the story of Bea and Addie evolves, so does the enigma. After the girls make their post–World War I debuts, Bea marries a marquess (to Vera's relief), and Addie, the poor relation, accompanies Bea to her opulent London pied-à-terre. However, as Addie occupies herself with intellectual self-improvement, Bea's social status is threatened by the marquess' philandering. To avenge herself, she steals Addie's beau, Frederick. Everything explodes when the marquess learns of Bea's pregnancy by Frederick. The action shifts to Kenya, where the characters re-enact an edgier version of Out of Africa. While on an ill-advised safari, Bea disappears. Since she is presumed dead, and husband Frederick, after a rather cursory investigation, is presumed innocent, Addie and Frederick are free to marry and become the progenitors Clemmie always thought she had. The panoramic canvas Willig chooses to cover is a bit overambitious--the law firm minutia, although entertaining, is essentially a digression--but she makes up for the unwieldiness with sharp, scintillating dialogue and expert scene-craft. Willig's crossover into mainstream fiction heralds riches to come.

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St. Martin's Press
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New York, 1999
Clemmie hurried beneath the awning of her grandmother’s building, panting a quick hello in response to the doorman’s greeting.
He started to say something, but she kept on going, heels click-click-clacking on the marble floor. She tossed a “hello” over her shoulder, flapping her hand in a wave.
It was Granny Addie’s ninety-ninth birthday party and Clemmie was late.
She steamed through the foyer, loosening her coat and scarf as she went. Despite the November cold, she felt sweaty straight through, clammy with perspiration beneath the layers of bra, blouse, suit jacket, and coat. She’d meant to change into a dress, but there hadn’t been time, so here she was, disheveled and blistered, hair any which way and lipstick a distant memory. Her mother would be appalled, but she wouldn’t say anything. She would just telegraph her distress with tightened lips and raised brows. She was good at that. Clemmie’s mother’s brows were better than sign language, complicated concepts conveyed with a minimum of movement.
Clemmie jabbed at the elevator button and made the mistake of glancing at her watch. Eight fifteen. Cocktails had started forty-five minutes ago. They might, in fact, already be sitting down to dinner. No wonder the doorman had looked at her like that. Her mother had probably been calling down every ten minutes to ask if she had been spotted yet. She was past the realm of acceptably late and well into the kingdom of unpardonably tardy.
Shifting her large Longchamp bag from one shoulder to the other, she mentally mustered her arsenal of excuses, none entirely a lie, but none entirely true either: a meeting at the last minute, the BlackBerry in her bag that wouldn’t stop buzzing, that damn deposition in Dallas that needed to be prepped before she flew off on Thursday. Then there were all the standard-issue disclaimers: no cabs, delayed subways, the impossibility of getting directly from her office, all the way west on 49th and 8th, to Granny Addie’s, safe in the fastness of the Upper East Side, on 85th and 5th. That, at least, was pure, unvarnished truth. Clemmie had wound up walking most of the way, half-speedwalking, half-running, slipping and sliding in her high-heeled pumps as she scanned for cabs, all of which seemed to be full, their occupants smug silhouettes in the backseats, inside while she was out.
Clemmie shifted feet, discreetly easing her left foot out of her black pump. Matte black leather, now slightly scuffed, with a three-inch heel. These shoes looked very nice under a conference table, but they had not been made for walking.
Her stocking clung stickily to her heel. Lovely. Not just a blister, but a burst blister. It was going to hurt like hell tomorrow when she limped into work.
The elevator pinged, the doors opening.
Clemmie jammed her foot back into her shoe and hobbled inside. The elevator was lined in rosewood, the buttons set in polished brass. It hadn’t changed much over the past thirty years. She hit the 8, her finger finding the number by rote, and the elevator began its ascent. As she always did, she glanced at the shield-shaped security mirror in the corner. As a child, she used to entertain herself by moving her head this way, then that, watching as her features moved in and out of focus, like a Barbie head when you took the rubbery features between your fingers and squeezed.
Now she checked for obvious signs of wear and tear, applying a hasty coat of lip gloss from the blunted stick in her bag. Mascara? There was still more over her eyes than under them. Good enough. The wind had taken the part of blush, pounding her pale cheeks into color. Unfortunately, it had also encouraged her hair to make a desperate bid for liberation, standing up any which way.
She hadn’t had this problem when it was long; then she could just bundle it back, clipping it up with a slide or holding it back with a headband.
It was such a cliché, wasn’t it? End a relationship, cut your hair.
She had had it chopped off last week, ostensibly so it wouldn’t keep getting caught under the strap of her bag, defiantly taking a whole hour away from the office in the middle of the day. Screw it, she had told herself. She had spent the better part of six years in the office, eating meals at her desk, taking personal calls on her office phone, watching the seasons change from behind the thick glass windows. If she wanted to take an hour to go to Fekkai, she had damn well earned it. One hour away wouldn’t cost her the place in the partnership for which she had so desperately worked, the partnership she was so close to achieving; while the stylist clipped away Clemmie had kept her BlackBerry in her lap, typing away with two fingers on the miniature keyboard.
Her hair was supposed to be easier to manage like this, the hairdresser had said, but the short, fine strands seemed to have a mind of their own, sticking up any which way and flying into her eyes. She missed being able to pull it back, the comforting nonsense task of bundling it up and letting it down again. She found herself constantly reaching for hair that wasn’t there anymore.
The elevator doors opened onto the eighth floor, a small landing decorated with burgundy silk flowered paper and a spindly gilded table beneath an equally spindly and gilded mirror. A bronze bucket provided a home for stray umbrellas. Grandpa Frederick’s walking stick still stuck out in pride of place in the middle. Clemmie touched it lightly with her fingers. The head was shaped like a terrier. Grandpa Frederick used to make it yip and bark for her as Clemmie would shy back, alarmed and delighted.
Grandpa Frederick had died when Clemmie was six, but she remembered him, just vaguely, a seamed face and white hair and a lopsided grin and a lifelong smoker’s hacking cough. It was odd to think that he had died that long ago; even gone, he had been a presence throughout Clemmie’s childhood, like Victoria’s Albert, always there in memory. Granny Addie’s apartment was still full of him, even thirty years on. There were pictures of him in grainy black and white, wearing the comical clothes of the 1920s, pictures of him bending over the plants on their coffee plantation in Kenya, and then, later, shiny color photos of a much older Grandpa Frederick, with Granny Addie, with children, with grandchildren, clothes changing to suit the era.
They were, Clemmie had always thought, rather an inspiration. They had met when Granny Addie was still, as they quaintly put it, in the schoolroom, and married when she was in her twenties. Together, they had taken a little farm in Kenya and turned it into a thriving coffee company. The business had been sold back in the seventies, swallowed up by Maxwell House, but the back hallways of Granny Addie’s apartment were hung with old posters, now framed, advertising KENYAN COFFEE—FOR THE DISCRIMINATING PALATE. Some even featured a younger-looking Granny Addie, poised and impossibly aristocratic, a coffeepot in one hand, a cup and saucer in the other.
They had been together so long, Granny Addie and Grandpa Frederick.
Even if Clemmie met someone tomorrow, even if by some miracle she stumbled upon her dream man in an elevator or on the subway, she would still never be with anyone as long as Granny Addie had been with Grandpa Frederick. It was an incredibly depressing thought. The idea of starting over, having to go on the same awkward first dates, recite the same tired personal stories, made her want to curl into a little ball and whimper.
Why was it so easy for some people and not for others?
Birthday, she reminded herself. She was meant to be celebratory. She couldn’t go in and mope all over Granny Addie. Not with all the cousins watching, at any rate. Clemmie’s mother was a big believer in Keeping Their End Up, which generally seemed to boil down to smiling whether you wanted to or not and never ever telling Aunt Anna how you really felt about anything.
Mother had a thing about Aunt Anna. Clemmie had never been able to discover any malevolent tendencies on her aunt’s part—yes, she was kind of ditzy and a little phony, but evil?—but Clemmie’s mother remained convinced that Aunt Anna lived to exploit the chinks in her armor. Clemmie tended to think that Aunt Anna lived for Aunt Anna, which was a very different thing.
Clemmie hung her coat on the rack in the hall, shoving it in between a fur-trimmed cashmere cape that could only belong to Aunt Anna and someone else’s well-used Burberry. Someone had left the door to the apartment slightly ajar. Through it, Clemmie could hear the unmistakable noises that denoted a cocktail party: the staccato rhythm of voices, the click of heels against hardwood, the soft-soled shuffle of the waiters bearing crab cakes or smoked salmon squares.
“There you are!” Her mother must have been lying in wait; she pounced as soon as Clemmie opened the door. “You’re the last one here.”
“I had a meeting,” Clemmie began, but her mother was frowning at her left hand.
“You didn’t wear your ring.”
“It’s not mine anymore.” She viewed its continued presence in her apartment as a bailment rather than ownership. It was going back to Dan the next time she saw him, along with his Star Wars video, his Penn sweatshirt, and his spare sneakers. The toothbrush she had already thrown out. She had thought of keeping it for cleaning grout, but that seemed just a little too vindictive, a little too voodoo doll–esque. She didn’t want to be vindictive. They had parted friends, at least theoretically.
Could one part friends in such a situation? There had been things said.… She had given as good as she got, but some of Dan’s observations about her character still stung. Like he should talk about being emotionally unavailable. Pots and kettles, Dan, pots and kettles.
Her mother shot a furtive glance over her shoulder, checking to make sure there were no relatives in earshot. “I don’t see why you couldn’t have kept it on just for tonight.”
God forbid the cousins realize that her engagement had imploded, that she was single again at thirty-four, Marjorie’s unwanted spinster daughter. It was like something out of Jane Austen. Weren’t they meant to be past this as a society? It stung even more coming from her mother, the woman who had always given her a hard line on putting career first. Until she hit thirty and the tune suddenly changed.
Clemmie gave her mother a long, hard look. “It’s not like you liked Dan.”
Her mother bristled. Mother did a good line in bristle. “I never said that.”
“How else would you define ‘perhaps it’s time to reconsider your options’?”
“I never meant— Never mind. We’ll discuss this later.”
Mother’s response to everything: deny, deny, deny. If we pretend it’s all okay, it is!
“Fine,” said Clemmie, moving past her mother into the foyer. “Sure. Whatever.”
That was the problem with being a menopause baby; the usual generation gap was multiplied by two. Her mother had been a young woman during the Blitz and the mentality had stuck. Clemmie had been born when her mother was forty-four, the last gasp of a failing marriage. It had been hugely embarrassing for her mother, who had thought her childbearing years were long since over.
It had been even more embarrassing when Clemmie’s father had left, three years later, having had enough of diapering and burping with the first round—that being practically a verbatim quote. He had left her mother for a journalist named Jennifer, twenty years younger, Californian, and blond.
Clemmie didn’t blame him for leaving, but she did blame him for being a cliché.
“Now you’re upset with me,” said her mother with gloomy certainty. Even after fifty years in the States, Clemmie’s mother still clung to her veddy veddy British accent, relic of a childhood spent between Kenya and London. It gave even her most mundane pronouncements a certain ring of authority.
“I’m not upset with you,” Clemmie lied. “Let’s just leave it, okay? It’s Granny Addie’s birthday! Woo-hoo!”
“Hmm,” said Mother. Her face suddenly changed. She stood straighter, almost moving up to her toes in her flat, sensible shoes. “Anna!” she said brightly. “Look who I found.”
Rescued by the cavalry. “Hi, Aunt Anna,” said Clemmie, keeping her left hand behind her. “Long time, no see.”
“Clemmie, sweetie!” Aunt Anna still wore her hair long. It was fair, like Clemmie’s, cunningly cut so that it curved forward in a way that made her seem to be leaning forward in perpetual anticipation. She had to have been seventy, at least, but the good people at Frederic Fekkai had spun silver back into gold, keeping her hair the same pale blond it had been in the wedding photos on Granny Addie’s piano. There were many wedding photos. Aunt Anna had been married no fewer than eight times. Her hair brushed against Clemmie’s cheek as Aunt Anna enveloped her in a Chanel-scented hug. “We were afraid you’d been eaten by wolves!”
“Nope, just my desk,” said Clemmie, disengaging herself.
“Your mother was getting worried about you,” said Aunt Anna.
“Nonsense,” said Clemmie’s mother stiffy. No Fekkai magic for Clemmie’s mother. She wore her hair cut short, in an uncompromising gray. “Clementine works very hard.”
“How is everyone?” Clemmie asked hastily. It was the conversational gambit of least resistance. “Do you still have Shoo-Shoo?”
“Oh, goodness, you are behind!” said Aunt Anna.
Clemmie’s mother looked pained. She generally did when Aunt Anna talked. After years on the transatlantic scene, Aunt Anna’s accent wasn’t quite anything anymore, not quite English and not quite American. Affected, Clemmie’s mother called it, which was rather rich coming from someone who sounded like the upstairs of Upstairs Downstairs.
“—darling little Pekinese,” Aunt Anna was saying. “Jonathan got the Columbia job, so he’s apartment-hunting. Won’t it be nice to have him back in the city? Millie was staying with me for a bit, but she’s moved in with her boyfriend now.”
“Isn’t she, like, ten?” Millie was one of Aunt Anna’s stepchildren, one of the younger batch, relic of her third husband—or was it her fourth? It was so easy to lose track. Clemmie could see her mother pursing her lips. It drove Clemmie’s mother crazy that Aunt Anna dragged her stepchildren to family events when they weren’t, in Clemmie’s mother’s view, family at all.
“Oh, sweetie!” Aunt Anna laughed her tinkly laugh. “She’s twenty-three now! I know, I know, it’s too awful. But she seems very happy with her Sean. They have a place in Yorkville.”
“Isn’t she a bit young to be living with someone?” asked Clemmie’s mother.
“Better young than never,” replied Aunt Anna cheerfully.
Clemmie didn’t think it was meant to be a dig, but it stung all the same. Her left hand felt very, very bare after the weight of Dan’s ring.
Her mother sniffed. “Not everyone makes a career out of matrimony.”
Aunt Anna winked at Clemmie. “We can’t all be lawyers, can we? How’s tricks, kiddo?”
“Busy,” said Clemmie quickly. “Really busy. I’m in Dallas on Thursday for a deposition and then London the week after that. It’s been crazy. How’s Granny Addie holding up?”
“Come see for yourself,” Mother said before Aunt Anna could say anything. She put a hand on Clemmie’s arm and propelled her forward toward the living room, where the cocktail hour was in full swing.
Behind her, Aunt Anna shrugged and waved. Clemmie grinned back at her.
The living room was crowded with men in Brooks Brothers suits and women in black sheath dresses, colorful scarves at their necks. Most were friends of the family of various varieties, rather than relatives. Clemmie’s two older brothers had settled in California with their families. She recognized one of her nieces, now in her twenties, interning with some fashion designer. Clemmie’s second-oldest brother seemed to have sent his wife as emissary, but, for the most part, their side of the family was underrepresented. Uncle Teddy, Mother’s younger brother, had died relatively young, a victim of a heart attack in his forties, but his children and grandchildren had come out in force, doing their bit to honor Granny Addie.
There was only one thing missing from the scene. “Where’s Granny Addie?” Clemmie asked.
Her mother looked tired. “She’s resting a bit,” she said. She had moved in with Granny Addie a few months ago, ostensibly because her lease had run out, but Clemmie suspected it was because she was worried about her. Granny Addie had professional care, a team of nurses who came in shifts, but Clemmie’s mother was of the “if you want it done right, do it yourself” variety.
Mother nodded towards the bar. “Get yourself a drink and I’ll take you over to her.”
“How stiff a drink do I need?” asked Clemmie, but her mother had already turned away, exchanging an air-kiss with one of Uncle Teddy’s offspring.
Clemmie made for the bar.
It was set up like all of Granny Addie’s parties, going back as far as Clemmie could remember. She presumed that the bottles had been drunk out and replaced over time—and the bartenders tended to change party to party—but otherwise it all looked exactly the same. A folding table had been placed in a corner with a white cloth over it, crowded with bottles and glasses. It was always in the same corner, a little alcove between a window facing out onto 85th Street and the door to the den. On the far side of the room, a wall of windows showcased the apartment’s glory, a view out over Central Park.
One of the catering staff was behind the makeshift bar, briskly squeezing a wedge of lime into a tall glass filled with ice and clear liquid. Even from yards away, Clemmie smelled gin. The bartender must be mixing them strong. Good.
There was a man waiting for his drink, his back to Clemmie. He took his drink from the bartender, slipping a few dollar bills discreetly across the cloth.
If she hadn’t been sure who it was before, that would have clinched it. You weren’t supposed to tip at private parties, but Jon had always ignored that, wanting to make sure the waitstaff got a fair deal.
Clemmie resisted the childish urge to flee, wishing she still had Dan’s ring as armor. Not that she needed armor. They were adults now, past that sort of thing.
Clemmie waited until he turned, gave him a chance to see her. She nodded at him in greeting. “Hey, Jon.”
“Hey,” said Jonathan, raising his gin and tonic. “One for you?”
She waited while he relayed the request to the bartender. Unlike the other men in the room, Jon was dressed in khakis and a blazer, rather than a suit, although he had chosen a traditional blue blazer, rather than going all professorial with tweed and patches. She remembered him here in this same room, years ago, in pretty much the same uniform, an awkward adolescent in khakis and bow tie. She would have been in patent-leather shoes, sulking over being put in a little-girl dress at twelve, the two of them trying to sneak drinks from the bar while their respective parents weren’t watching. Of all Aunt Anna’s “offspring,” Jon had been around the most, at least until he went off to Stanford for his Ph.D.
They’d bickered incessantly as teenagers, each trying to one-up the other. Jon was three years older, an advantage he had employed mercilessly. But Clemmie was the actual daughter—well, granddaughter—of the house; she belonged to Granny Addie, Jon was there by accident. It had evened the scales.
They hadn’t stayed in particularly good touch, but there had been vacations and odd overlaps, including that embarrassing weekend in Rome, when she had puked all over his shoes. She didn’t particularly care to remember either the state of Jon’s shoes or the random—and entirely unprecedented—events that had followed.
They had made a deal never to talk about Rome.
She had always thought Jon looked a bit like Val Kilmer. Val Kilmer or Harrison Ford in his early Indiana Jones days. Jon had the sun-streaked brown hair, the wiry build, the spectacles. Not her type, of course; she was more of a Kevin Costner girl, but she could see how it made Jon popular with his students, especially the female ones. The Val Kilmer resemblance was still there, but Jon looked tired. Tired and older. There was gray in his light brown hair that hadn’t been there before.
Clemmie murmured her thanks as he passed her a glass, resisting the urge to toss back the contents.
She lifted her glass, trying for cool. “Aunt Anna said you got a job at Columbia. Congrats. I know how few and far between those are.”
“Thanks.” Jon’s smile didn’t reach his eyes. “How’s Dan?”
Clemmie silently held up her left hand. “If you say ‘I told you so,’ I’ll punch you.”
After a beat, Jonathan smiled a crooked smile. “If I get to say ‘I told you so,’ then so do you.”
“Caitlin?” Caitlin was Jon’s wife of three years. They’d been grad students together at Stanford, Caitlin doing something to do with intellectual history, Jon focusing on modern Britain. By a miracle, they’d gotten jobs together at one of the UNCs. Not Chapel Hill, but one of the other ones. “Is she—I mean, are you…?”
Jon clinked his glass against hers. “Got it in one.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, and meant it. Well, sort of. She had never been a Caitlin fan. “Pretentious” didn’t even begin to cut it.
“Yeah, so am I. She’s keeping the house.”
“What do you get?”
“Shame and rage?”
“Oooh, fun.” For a moment, they grinned at each other, united in the land of the love lost. Clemmie dropped her gaze first. Playing with the condensation patterns on her G&T, she said, “Hey, Jon, if you want to talk about it…”
He looked pointedly at her left hand. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Fair point. They’d never had that kind of relationship. It was probably too late to start now. “So what do you think about those Jets?” she said heartily.
Jon gave her a look. “You know who the Jets are.”
They had been like this as teenagers, engaged in a constant game of one-upsmanship. “There’s no need to sound so skeptical. They’re a sports team,” said Clemmie briskly. “Duh.”
A gleam lit in Jon’s eyes. “Which sport?”
Oh, crap. This was what she got for not going on any of the firm’s sports outings. Clemmie took a stab. “Basketball?”
The lines around Jon’s eyes crinkled. For the first time since she’d seen him, his shoulders relaxed. He braced a hand against the bar and looked down at her, which was pretty impressive, given that, thanks to her heels, they were roughly the same height. But, then, he must have had a lot of practice intimidating undergrads.
“They play football,” he said, enunciating the word very clearly. “Foot. Ball. Which, in case you didn’t know, is not actually played with much ball to the foot. It’s the sport where the men in the big shoulder pads hurl an oblong object at each other. Just in case that helps.”
“Oh, ha, ha. I knew it had to be something involving a projectile,” she said. “Cut me a little slack here.”
Jon raised an eyebrow. “A projectile?”
Clemmie lifted her nose in the air. “If I have to define the word for you, you shouldn’t be teaching at Columbia.”
“Thanks, Clem,” he said. “I mean, really. Thanks. You’ve just made my life suck a little bit less.”
High praise indeed. But she knew what he meant. “Hey, that’s what family’s for.” She could see her mother trying to catch her eye from across the room. “I should go say happy birthday to Granny Addie.”
Clemmie had thought he would say something snarky, but he didn’t. “Yeah,” Jon agreed. “She’s a pretty special lady.”
As accolades went, it might not have been the most poetic, but it was the more meaningful for clearly being meant.
Clemmie got a firm grip on the slippery sides of her glass. “See you around?”
Jon looked at her for a long, thoughtful moment before saying, “Take care of yourself, Clem.”
It felt like a dismissal.
It was stupid to feel rebuffed. But she did. Served her right for forgetting that Jon was still Jon. Served her right in general, for wandering around being all needy in public. Especially with Jon.
“You, too,” she said lightly, and plunged back into the throng, accidentally elbowing a third cousin.
She was just … off tonight. Off-balance, off-kilter, off. She felt strangely vulnerable, as though her protective coating had been peeled away, leaving only a mass of nerves and fears painfully visible to anyone who could see. Clemmie caught a glimpse of herself in the Venetian mirror over the mantelpiece and was surprised to see how normal she looked, how put together, her hair in a sleek, blond bob, the collar of her shirt folded neatly down over her suit collar, pearls at her throat and her ears. The pearls were real, as was the Cartier watch at her wrist. She looked like someone’s image of Lawyer Barbie: Professional. Expensive.
That was the good thing about dark suits; no one could see the coffee stain on the sleeve or the perspiration splotches beneath her arms. Like Mother’s English accent, suits conferred an automatic air of authority.
“There you are,” said her mother, and took her back under her wing, expertly muscling her way through the crowd to Granny Addie’s chair. Clemmie followed along behind like an unlikely duckling, taller than her mother in her heels, slender where her mother was solid. She had inherited Grandpa Frederick’s build, tall and slim.
In contrast, Granny Addie had always been diminutive, all of five foot two at best. But Clemmie had never thought of her as small. There was something about the way she held herself that had always belied her inches, an air of authority, of solid sense. Competence, that was it. Competence. Clemmie still remembered how Grandpa Frederick, taller and older, had deferred to Addie, taking her word as the final word.
It was, as always, a shock to see her as she was now. In Clemmie’s head, Granny Addie was frozen permanently at seventy-something, old, yes, but curiously ageless. Not like this, shrunken and frail. Her knit suit was too large for her wasted frame; Grandpa Frederick’s ring seemed to weigh down her hand.
There was a nurse standing behind Granny Addie’s chair. She did it very discreetly, managing to do a fairly good impression of a piece of furniture, but she was still there, watching. The chair itself was a hospital chair, on wheels, incongruous among chintz and rosewood that had been unchanged in Granny Addie’s living room for as long as Clemmie could imagine.
Clemmie felt a sudden surge of panic. It had always been Granny Addie to whom she had turned for security, Granny Addie who represented the constant and the permanent. The idea of a world without her … It wasn’t to be thought of.
But she was ninety-nine. Not many people made it as far as ninety-nine. Even fewer people made it past it.
“Is she okay?” Clemmie asked the nurse, trying not to sound as anxious as she felt.
The nurse nodded. “She’s just nodded off for a bit.” Her voice was the soothing singsong of nurses and nursery-school teachers. “It’s nothing to be alarmed about.”
If anyone could make it to a hundred and ten, it would be Granny Addie. She’d show death.
Clemmie knelt by her chair, feeling the close-woven wool of the carpet driving her stockings against her knees. “Granny?” she said softly, resting a hand on the arm of her grandmother’s chair. “Happy birthday, Granny.”
Granny Addie stirred, blinking. She wore spectacles, thick, unlovely things that seemed too big for her shrunken face. It took a moment for her eyes to focus on Clemmie’s face. Her eyes were filmed, vague, and distant.
A lump rose in Clemmie’s throat. She forced it down. “I’m sorry I’m late,” she said. “I would have been here sooner, but I stupidly wound up walking.”
Her grandmother frowned down at her, confusion and alarm chasing across her face. She looked, thought Clemmie, so lost. Lost and confused. So utterly unlike herself.
“I’m so sorry, Granny.” Clemmie took her grandmother’s veined hand in hers. “I’m sorry I haven’t been back sooner. Work has been nuts.”
As soon as she said it, she wished she hadn’t. It sounded so inadequate. Work. So petty and selfish. It didn’t matter about work. She ought to have made the time for Granny Addie. She just hadn’t realized how frail she had become, how much she had deteriorated in the past months.
Granny Addie’s throat worked. Her lips moved, producing the barest breath of sound.
Clemmie leaned forward. “Granny?”
She could feel her grandmother’s fingers flex, gripping hard at hers. “Bea,” she said.

Copyright © 2013 by Lauren Willig

Meet the Author

LAUREN WILLIG is also the author of the New York Times bestselling Pink Carnation series and a RITA Award-winner for Best Regency Historical for The Mischief of Mistletoe. She graduated from Yale University, and has a graduate degree in English history from Harvard and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. She lives in New York City, where she now writes full time.

LAUREN WILLIG is also the author of the New York Times bestselling Pink Carnation series and a RITA Award-winner for Best Regency Historical for The Mischief of Mistletoe. She graduated from Yale University, and has a graduate degree in English history from Harvard and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. She lives in New York City, where she now writes full time.

Brief Biography

New York, New York and Cambridge, Massachusetts
Date of Birth:
March 28, 1977
Place of Birth:
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
B.A., Yale University, 1999; M.A., Harvard University, 2001

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The Ashford Affair 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
irishclaireKG More than 1 year ago
A very readable book, but nothing you have not read before. Nothing about this novel is original. 'Downton Abbey,' 'House at Riverton,' 'The Bolter,' 'Out of Africa'...take your pick. The so-called 'mysteries' of the plot seem overblown and sort of pointless at times--really? A 35 year old granddaughter getting bent out of shape because she finds out her beloved grandmother had not shared intimate secrets with her--when even the granddaughter admits they had drifted apart with age? The modern side of the story is set in 1999/2000 yet these people act like computer research was unheard of in trying to find out the great 'mysteries' of the family. Indeed, the so called 'modern' angle boasts young men and women who seem to be living 50 years in the past instead of the 21st century. To add to the frustration, the writing is not great. Lots of unnecessary repetition in words, phrases, I started to wonder at times if the author was capable of using a pronoun when referencing people. Some sloppy editing with multiple typos. Yet all that being said, this IS readable; it is well paced and while any experienced, savvy reader can see the plot 'twists' coming from miles away, it will probably keep your attention. It did mine--all the while I was irritated by all the elements listed here. This novel is one of these reads that I equate with a 'popcorn movie' in the summer: you have seen it all before but you sit through it anyway. This is a predictable, not very original but fairly filling read for a weekend beach read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I saw some mixed reviews but as a fan of both the Pink Carnation and Two L, I gave The Ashford Affair a try. Happily I can say that I was in no way disappointed with my purchase. Willig is a very clever author and I enjoyed this book immensely.
slango28 More than 1 year ago
.The Ashford Affair is a standalone novel outside of the Pink Carnation series and it is amazing. Ashford is quite different from the Carnation series. It has a lot more depth and meaning and takes more “thinking” to read than her previous stories, but is well worth it. The novel is filled with complex relationships, family drama (which everyone can relate to at a certain point), and mystery (even when I thought I had everything figured out, another twist would pop up!). Ashford tells the tale of the confusing, heartbreaking, but oh-so-necessary transformation of two women from two different generations and lifestyles, Addie and Clemmie, from their follow-the-leader personalities to independent and confident ways. Addie is from 1920’s England when times were different, there were society rules to follow and women were supposed to be okay with whatever they were told to do and be. As a young girl Addie is thrown into a life of rules and formality after she is sent to live with her aunt and uncle at Ashford when her parents are killed in a tragic accident. Bea, Addie’s gorgeous yet wild and reckless cousin, takes her under her wing and tries to mold Addie, but how can Addie step out on her own? And when Addie finally finds a man she might love, will Bea let her make her own decision? Then there is the story of Clemmie in modern day New York City. Her transformation must come in another form. She’s been tied to work and school for as long as she can remember. Doing whatever she’s been told by her bosses; staying late, working holidays, throwing away relationships, but for what purpose? Is having a successful career more important than finding love and having lasting relationships? Or is there a happy medium? I loved this story it really made me made think about my life because all of the different issues it brought up. There are so many discussible topics in this book! World War I happens and its’ repercussions, the effects of divorce and affairs when they were first becoming more “popular” and the comparison to how they are viewed now, family secrets, the morals of marrying for love or for status, loving someone who is in a bad marriage, and the list goes on and on. This would make a great book club book; the discussion could go on for a very long time :) Plus part of the book takes place in Kenya in the post World War I era which I really enjoyed reading about because it was something totally new to me.
AngieJG More than 1 year ago
It took a while for me to get into this book. It is a good story, but I felt it should have been longer. There was a lot material and back story missing. I would have liked more of a window into the relationship between Addie and Frederick after Bea disappeared. I would have liked to know more about Bea and her choices. I was less interested in the modern part of the story. I did enjoy it, but would have liked more.
ebooks18 More than 1 year ago
This was a fun read - more than just another multi-genrational saga. The intrigue was sustained and the book was well written
camilledimaio More than 1 year ago
London, Kenya, New York. It has all the makings of a great novel. And, it delivers. I would not have found “The Ashford Affair” were it not for websites that recommend books based on your other likes. I am a HUGE fan of Kate Morton and Beatriz Williams, so when multiple people compared Lauren Willig to them, I had to look further. Her other offerings are part of a series with floral names. Being a fan neither of flowers or series, I lost hope until I came upon what is admittedly a departure for her. I hope that she will continue in this genre more. Alternating between the 1920s and 1999, Clementine Evans struggles with guilt over her grandmother’s failing health, a broken relationship, and the stress of trying to make partner at her law firm. Enter a long-lost love who is on the same quest she is – to piece together a history that hints that her family is not everything she has always been told it is. Decades earlier, debutant Bea and her orphaned cousin Addie compete for the affections of Frederick, leading to a face-off on his coffee plantation in Kenya. The disappearance of one and the subsequent murder investigation have repercussions that will affect the generations of their families well in to the turn of the millennium. Willig seamlessly weaves the time periods together, making parallels in their events that keep the momentum alive throughout the book. She also includes copies literary references, and I have to give her major props for mentioning Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester instead of the over-used Mr. Darcy with whom so many other people seem besotted. My only critique is that there were several places where the coincidences that occurred were unrealistic and the story line could have flowed without them. They distracted my reading with a “Yeah, right”, and in a lesser book, they would have weakened the credibility of the whole thing. But, in the hands of a master storyteller like Willig, they are mere blips. Ms. Willig’s next work of historical fiction is pre-Raphaelite, so I will look forward to reading that one as soon as my ever-growing stack of books-to-read has just grown again thanks to Christmas morning and relatives who know how to feed my addiction to words on pages.
MADreaderMD More than 1 year ago
I loved the mystery in this book, which spanned several time periods and generations. In 1999, Clementine Evans learns that she has a long-lost relative named Bea. The woman was her Granny Addie's cousin, and apparently Clemmie looks a lot like her. But why has nobody ever mentioned her before, and what are all these cutting and cryptic remarks from her Aunt Anna? The story moves between Clemmie's hectic life as a junior lawyer in Manhattan to the past where we learn about Addie and Bea as young girls, debutantes, and young women. The story also moves from Edwardian England before and after World War I to the plantations of Kenya in the 1920s. The tension builds as Clemmie delves deeper into her family's history to find out what happened to Bea. I found many parallels between Bea and Scarlett from Gone With the Wind. They are both debutantes brought up to be ladies, run great houses, and rule over the social set. However, their lives are interrupted by a great war that obliterates everything they have been trained for. I don't think Bea handled it as well as Scarlett, but you'll have to decide for yourself. There are also threads of romance throughout the book, both in the present and the past. However, I wouldn't categorize this book as primarily a "romance." It does have a satisfying ending, though.
TexasK More than 1 year ago
This book pulls in all the top literary writers of the time. It is set between 1900 and 2000 and a little beyond. Most characters were well written and note worthy. The story pulls you in from the very beginning and does not let you go. It is a must read for any book club!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm a fan of the Pink Carnation series, so I picked this up. I liked this just as much- Willig did a great job crafting an intricate plot that keeps the pages turning, and I found both story lines to be compelling. A great read!
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literarymuseVC More than 1 year ago
Addie Gillicote’s life has evolved into a series of dramatic changes, some of which fall upon her and some of which she inadvertently causes. Her granddaughter, Clementine (Clemmie), seems to be following the same journey.  It all begins with the sudden, accidental death of Addie’s parents when she is sent to live with her cousin, Bea’s family. Addie is really unwanted, the daughter of “bohemian” parents who really doesn’t fit into the aristocratic family she is now expected to call her own.  WWI looms almost immediately upon her arrival, but Bea and Addie promise from the very first day to be like “sisters.” What is to follow is far from sisterly behavior! The story goes back and forth between the late 1920’s in England to New York in the year 2000.  Addie is old and frail but we are treated to the story of her life, which includes falling in love with what she believes is the wrong man; Bea marries the wrong man, divorces, and then is forced to marry another man, Frederick; they quickly tire of each other and even come to loathe each other.  Bea believes she saved Addie from the likes of Frederick but the story shows otherwise with a shocking series of events that doesn’t come to light until Clemmie, years later finds out the truth that is really about lie after lie after lie. Frederick is a stereotypical character marred by the awful memories he carries from his time of service in WWI.  He is so shocked and marred that he is incapable of following his heart instead of reasoning what could possibly destroy the woman he truly loves!  He will change but not until he is so in love with a daughter that he fears to choose a lifestyle that might mean losing her and later his wife, Bea. In a time when couples married for social standing, love arrangements seem to be satirized, especially when they are reached through rebellion and from selfish interests.  Clemmie, after losing a senior associate lawyer’s position in which she hoped to become partner after seven grueling years of work and sacrifice, is circumspect about the possibility of love and finding where to fit in for one’s own worth, a position contrary to everything she was raised to believe would guarantee happiness.  Changing times often leave behind personalities who either refuse to change or who choose the most contrary opposite of lifestyles.  It’s all about finding one’s identity as one loses the old ways; for some it works, for others it’s tragic!  The Ashford Affair is a gripping story of love and hate gone awry and reaching out for a satisfactory union that will heal a mass of wounds almost worse than war itself!  Lauren Willig has crafted a stunning read that is quite reflective of the eighty year span of history that shaped and jettisoned generations into the twenty-first century.  Great Read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great story and very entertaining.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read the whole book in 1 day. I loved it and could hardly put it down.
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Happy with my B&N orders... Except for those through Marketplace... They take too long... But otherwise, love to read and love the frequent 20% discounts... thanks!