Jackie's Camelot
by Mercedes King

Published: 2021-11-22T00:0
Paperback : 294 pages
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She longed for love and an unconventional life...but never dreamed what it would cost her.

After a year in Paris, Jacqueline Bouvier returns home to her family in Mclean, Virginia. Changes and new opportunities abound, including a dinner invite from good friends, anxious to introduce ...

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She longed for love and an unconventional life...but never dreamed what it would cost her.

After a year in Paris, Jacqueline Bouvier returns home to her family in Mclean, Virginia. Changes and new opportunities abound, including a dinner invite from good friends, anxious to introduce her to Congressman John F. Kennedy. Though she's curious, Jackie is certain she couldn't be a match for a boring politician-until she meets him. Chemistry sparks between them, but both Jackie and Jack, as he is known, are slow to develop the relationship. Months lapse before they see each other again, and Jackie is pulled in a different direction-even falling for another man and accepting his proposal. But harsh realities about the relationship settle in, and Jackie decides to break the engagement.

When she and Jack reconnect, their misgivings about marriage are apparent. However, Jack's determined to advance his career-with aspirations to run for president-but he knows his hopes for a White House bid are slim without a wife by his side. Jackie's intrigued, despite her aversion to some of his family members and the constant warnings from friends about Jack's womanizing ways. She convinces herself that her love and devotion will change him, although marrying Jack means being steeped in politics and sacrifices to her privacy.

Tragedy and heartache mar the early years of their union-and sacred vows fail to cure Jack's penchant for infidelity. Entrenched in doubts and depression, Jackie contemplates divorce. Parenthood becomes their saving grace, though, and when Jack's chance to serve in the Oval Office comes within reach, Jackie dares to believe their difficult days are over. She refuses to fit the traditional first lady mold but captivates the world with her iconic fashion sense and overhaul of entertaining at the grand mansion. Behind closed doors, she struggles with self-worth as Jack becomes increasingly careless in his dalliances. When his romp with a famous actress threatens to topple the presidency and to ruin her marriage, Jackie takes matters into her own hands, determined to protect Jack's image-and her family-regardless of the consequences.

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March 1951

Jackie tensed when she glimpsed her mother’s reflection in the vanity mirror as she slipped into the bedroom. They were both due downstairs to take their places. Jackie knew her mother’s entrance meant one of two things: a chastisement because they were late, or her mother had paired her with a young gentleman for the evening and was just now about to tell her. With her arms raised and hands behind her neck, her efforts to clasp her necklace securely were fruitless. Janet stepped behind her and took over.

“You look lovely, Jacqueline.”

“Thank you.” She’d expected a criticism since the necklace had been a gift from her father. One she’d received four years ago for her own coming out party.

Janet paid no attention to the ruby and diamond pendant as the jewels dangled and sparkled. Her posture ridged, an eyebrow arched, she regarded her oldest.

“Now, I hope you know what I expect from you this evening, Jacqueline. Your best behavior. I don’t want you upsetting your sister or attempting any of your antics.”

Jackie couldn’t deny the subtle reputation she’d earned at boarding school for being a prankster, although she’d made sure most accusations went unproven. Still, she had to tamp down the mischievous glint from showing in her eyes.

“Above all,” Janet continued with the schoolmarm tone, “I don’t want any…retaliation because of what happened at your debut.”

Jackie, her giddiness now subdued, turned to her mother. “Mummy, I wouldn’t dream of ruining Lee’s special night.”

In truth, Jackie didn’t care that Lee had unintentionally upstaged her four years ago at her coming out dance. Lee couldn’t help that the photographers and reporters from the society pages found her stunning and noteworthy—as much or slightly more so than Jackie. The spotlight of public adoration meant little to Jackie, and she had no desire to command a room with her presence. Unlike Lee.

“Good.” Janet clasped her hands together. “Now I must check on your sister. Otherwise, she’ll have us waiting for her entrance all night.”

“Oh, let me, Mummy.” Jackie sprang from her cushioned pedestal seat.

“Fine, but hurry.”

Jackie nodded. As they left her room, Janet headed downstairs and to the bevy of guests waiting in the living room while Jackie made her way to Lee’s bedroom. Like her mother, she slipped inside after a gentle knock and found Lee at her vanity applying lipstick.

“Mummy’s worried,” Jackie said as she strolled to Lee’s side.

“When isn’t she worried?”

“She doesn’t want you to keep everyone waiting too long, and she doesn’t want me to spoil the evening.”

Lee turned to her. “You? Spoil the evening?”

“Yes, she’s concerned I’ll create a commotion to distract your audience from admiring you too much.”

Lee arched an eyebrow. “And do you have something sinister planned?”

“Well I was thinking of corralling a few chickens in the guest bathroom.”

Lee paused for a beat. “You’re awful, Jacks, and promise me you’ll never change.” They laughed, easily and genuinely, which they only could when they were alone. Then Lee sighed. “Just think, after tonight’s party, I’m considered eligible for marriage.” She pumped her shoulders as she perfected her posture and checked her make-up in the mirror. “I hope he shows up soon.”


“My future husband, of course. Aren’t you ready to get married?”

Loathing replaced Jackie’s gaiety. Being the older sister, she was often tortured with the remark of Shouldn’t you be married by now? Downtrodden as the sentiment echoed in her head, she wanted to plop onto Lee’s bed and forget the whole evening—and wallow in being single—but her promise to behave prevailed.

“Not tonight.” A deep breath restored her cheer. “Who knows if marriage is really anything to get worked up about. I’m more excited about our trip to Europe this summer, where it’ll be just the two of us, Jacks and Pekes, off on the greatest of adventures.”

Lee smiled gently and reached for Jackie’s hand. “I hope it’s always the two of us, Jacks.”

Jackie took her hand and squeezed reassuringly. “Me too, Pekes.”


May 1951

Although she finished her studies and obtained her degree from George Washington University—after abandoning Vassar when she returned from Paris last year—Jackie had failed to accomplish one feat many of her classmates had aspired to: get the ring by spring. A Bachelor of Arts in French literature would make for a lousy companion to summertime parties, but not having a beau at her side wasn’t about to dampen her spirits.

A recent letter had informed her that she’d won the Prix de Paris, an annual writing contest held by Vogue magazine. Her mother had encouraged her to enter, which surprised Jackie since the grand prize was a one-year stint as a junior editor, with six months spent at their New York offices and six months at their Paris branch. Jackie’s father aired his disapproval, wanting her to instead take a clerical position at his New York office at the stock exchange—and live with him in Manhattan, which was his primary hope. Jackie had accepted the prize and was due to begin in September.

She considered declining the party invite, but that would jeopardize her friendship with Martha, who would be flustered and aggravated. Charles, too. Still, she knew her friends had an ulterior motive for wanting her at the dinner party, and that compelled her to toy with excuses and imagine pairing it with a feeble promise of “next time.”

For ages it seemed, Charles and Martha, who were getting married next month, had been scheming to introduce Jackie to Congressman Jack Kennedy, convinced she would hit it off with him. Although Jackie thoroughly adored her friends, trusted them completely, and had known them for years, she didn’t share their enthusiasm about the prospect. The man was an elected official and probably dull.

Jackie let her mind wander back to the previous year she’d spent in Paris. A whirlwind of memories swept in and took her back to the exhilaration and heartaches she’d experienced. A rowboat on the Seine at midnight with a man she hardly knew and blindly trusted. A masquerade ball in her honor with a heated fencing match and a botched proposal. How could a politician compare?

On the other hand, she couldn’t deny the curiosity that prickled her insides when Charles and Martha talked about John F. Kennedy. An Irish-Catholic Bostonian from a very large and very wealthy family. But with the upcoming outdoor soirée at Charles’s Georgetown home, Jackie would have plenty of people to mingle with, and it wouldn’t appear as though she’d only come to meet Kennedy.

A previous attempt by Charles to bring the two together had failed. According to the way Charles told the story, he’d told Kennedy that he wanted him to meet Jackie when he realized they were both at the same event. He left Kennedy and went to find Jackie. When he did, sporadic yet brief encounters with other partygoers hampered their return to Kennedy, who had left by the time they made their way back. In the weeks leading up to tonight’s party, Martha and Charles had talked up the congressman as if he were a demigod.

Jackie, applying final touches to her makeup, took stock of her reflection in the mirror. She turned side to side, checking her crème-colored dress for blemishes before the internal criticism started. Her figure lacked Elizabeth Taylor–like curves. Tobacco stains from her cigarettes often seeped into her bitten fingernails. Her hair proved contrary in humidity, turning her soft, poodle-cut curls into a mad-dog frizzle. Exacerbating her nerves further was the pressure from her friends to impress the man with her razor wit and love of history.

Why do Charles and Martha insist on introducing me to John Kennedy?

 She knew exactly why. At nearly twenty-two and with no beau on the horizon, Jackie was in danger of becoming an old maid. A spinster. She despised the expectation that she had to get married, but she was a woman. A prosperous, abundant life rarely befell an unmarried woman.

After sliding behind the wheel of her black Mercury, Jackie drove from her mother and stepfather’s estate, Merrywood, in McLean, Virginia, to Georgetown. A servant opened the front door of the Federal-style townhome when she knocked, then told her Miss Buck was out back. Plump blooms of wisteria swayed and welcomed her onto the slate patio, illuminated by the honey-colored tint of the lights and where the guests were gathered. High red-brick walls enclosed the space, ensuring privacy and creating an intimate atmosphere.

 “Jackie, my dear, you made it.” Charles Bartlett beamed as he greeted her with a peck on the cheek.

She waved to and regarded others she recognized, friends from her social circle and Charles’s political prodigies. A few people were clustered together in conversation with backs turned toward her.

“Martha’s been so eager to see you.” Charles’s bourbon-scented breath stung Jackie’s nostrils when he leaned in close. “As is that young gentleman I’ve been telling you about.”

Her stomach knotted but then eased at the sight of Martha, approaching with open arms.

“Jackie, ah, you’re here!” Martha embraced her, then threaded her arm through Jackie’s before leading her aside so it was just the two of them. “I told Jack you were coming, and he’s anxious to finally meet you—but don’t be nervous. Do you want a drink first?”

Jackie slowly released a pent-up breath. “Yes, that would be lovely.”

Martha had her pinot noir topped off, and judging by her loose swagger, Jackie suspected her friend was a few glasses in. Jackie asked for ginger ale, fearing anything stronger would aggravate her tension even more.

“You can back out if you don’t feel right about it,” Martha said quietly.

Jackie could only muster a perplexed expression.

“I know, you can’t believe I’m saying this, but I don’t want you to feel pushed into this.” Martha gave a half shrug. “Same for Jack. His father rides him constantly about settling down, but Jack resists. Keeps telling him he hasn’t found the right girl.” Her chin dipped. “From what I hear, Jack likes his freedom, and a part of him resents his father’s heavy-handedness. It’s a manly battle of wills. Honestly, Jackie, I’m not sure what all you may be getting into with Jack. He’s dashing and complex, but his family is quite consuming.”

A nervous laugh escaped Jackie. “You waited long enough to tell me.”

“Take me seriously, Jackie.” Martha pivoted in front of her and placed her hand on Jackie’s forearm. “Because above everything, I don’t want you to get hurt.”

Jackie met her gaze and noted the disquiet, and the sudden clarity, in her eyes.

Martha’s grip tightened. “Here he comes.”

Jackie turned, not having a chance to catch her breath, and found Charles and a man walking toward them.

“Miss Jacqueline Bouvier, it gives me great satisfaction to finally introduce you to Congressman Kennedy. Jack, to his friends and loyal constituents.”

“It’s a pleasure, Miss Bouvier.” He extended his hand and flashed a wide smile. Thick eyelids canopied his cerulean-blue eyes, which seemed captivated at the sight of Jackie.

Jackie swore a spark shot through her—and her pristine white glove—when she touched his hand. Warmth radiated over her and raced up her cheeks as a vague memory flashed through her mind. She was taken back to a late evening on a train and a man who’d flirted with her shamelessly. So many things had happened since then, but on occasion, she’d thought of him and mused what would’ve transpired had she joined him in the dining car instead of rebuffing him. Of course, there was more than a good chance she was mistaken, that the man she’d encountered on the train wasn’t him, even though he felt distantly familiar. It had been years ago, but she wondered, had she dismissed Jack Kennedy upon their very first meeting?

While the recollection fogged her head, Jack was quick to pick up the conversation. “I take it you’ve been harassed as much as I have. Charles and Martha have been talking about you for months now.”

Martha laughed. “I’d hardly call that harassment, Jack. More like…preparation.”

“Regardless of how it’s labeled, I’m pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Bouvier.”

“Jackie, please.” She spoke with a soft, breathy manner and wanted to believe the glint in his eyes matched her own.

“Jackie.” He said her name as if it tasted sweet on his lips.

“Congratulations are in order.” Charles cupped a hand on Jack’s shoulder. “Jackie has just graduated from George Washington University.”

“How impressive.” His winsome grin reappeared.

“Thank you.” She fought through the mesmerizing haze the man had cast over her and slipped her hand from his, concerned she might begin to tremble. Rarely was she enamored by a man’s good looks. Experience had taught her that attractive men lacked depth and had few interests apart from coaxing women into their bed. Her year in Paris being the exception.

And she wondered if he meant it—that he was impressed by her education. Most of the women Jackie knew only went to college to find a husband. She had a genuine hunger for knowledge and found that certain men were intimidated by such aspirations.

“Jack here is a Harvard man,” Charles added.

A smile tugged at the corner of Jackie’s mouth. “I suppose that’s impressive too.”

Jack’s half grin indicated he liked the taunt. “Shall we get some hors d’oeuvres?”

She nodded, liking his take-charge mannerism.

Charles and Martha, amused expectation on their faces, rejoined their other guests.

Jackie strolled to the buffet with the congressman. They both plated deviled eggs and crab cakes, then sat on a bench. Small talk ensued between bites, which mainly focused on family dynamics. Then they moved on to their college experiences and studies. The awkwardness that had engulfed Jackie when they sat—so close their legs nearly touched, balancing dishes on their laps and eating—faded away. Jack’s vitality drew her in, and the easy flow of their conversation came as a surprise.

“So what’s next, now that you’ve graduated?” Jack flicked a crumb toward a curious sparrow, hungry and head twitching, that had hopped near his ankle.

Jackie’s throat tightened. She didn’t feel right sharing about her upcoming position with Vogue. Explaining that she’d won a temporary job, she feared, might make her sound less intelligent. “My sister Lee and I are spending the summer in Europe. The trip is a gift from my stepfather since she is graduating high school.”

“A monumental time for you both.”

“Have you been abroad?” She already knew the answer but wanted the focus off herself.

Jack shared that his family had lived in the United Kingdom for two years, from 1938 to 1940, while his father had served as the U.S. ambassador under Roosevelt.

While Jackie already knew this from Charles and Martha, she didn’t let on. Instead, she conveyed her love for London, having been there a couple times. “Of course, few things in London could compare to meeting Mr. Churchill.”

Jack paused. “You’ve met Churchill?”

“Yes.” Though she wished their encounter had more substance, she took her time in retelling the experience from two years ago. Perhaps she made it more extraordinary than it had been—meeting him at a garden party—but Jackie couldn’t help it. She blamed Jack’s intense interest and keen stare.

They talked of their admiration for Churchill and his book, The World Crisis. Mention of other books followed. Both were surprised by the other’s in-depth knowledge and grasp of the Russian Revolution. Jack impressed her with his passion for American history, and when she mentioned having spent much of August in 1950 traveling Ireland, it struck a chord with him.

“My great-grandfather left Dunganstown during the potato famine back in 1848,” he shared. “It’s always felt odd to me that my family has never returned for a visit and to pay our respects. We only have three generations born in this country, and my father has made a point to instill a deep patriotism in us. I admire that, but I do hope to see the Emerald Isle one day.”

Jackie revealed that she also had ancestral roots there as well. Envy seemed to glisten in his eyes when she told him that she’d kissed the Blarney Stone and traded correspondence with the Irish priest, Father Leonard, who’d been her tour guide during her stay.

“Perhaps I should visit Europe this summer and possibly take you out for an evening,” he said. “Your sister could chaperone.”

Jackie couldn’t tell if he was being serious or just teasing.

“Because at this point,” he continued, “I’m hating the idea of not being able to see you for months on end.”

Not knowing him well enough to decide if he was merely flirting or if his raw honesty was prevailing, she squirmed slightly but let go of questioning it.

Their eyes met and they shared a long, intimate gaze.

“What I hate even more is that I need to go.” view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

1. Jackie and Jack have an unconventional courtship, especially for their time. While the chemistry between them sparks from the start, discuss the misgivings they are each wrestling with when it comes to marriage.
2. Although the marriage wasn’t arranged by their families, Joe Kennedy’s approval of Jackie, and perhaps Jackie’s trip to London, proved to be catalysts for Jack and moving the relationship forward. Would you agree?
3. After the tragic loss of baby Arabella, should Jackie have proceeded with a divorce?
4. Today’s First Lady steps into her role intent on bringing reform to particular causes. Not Jackie. Aside from the restoration, she preferred to do as she pleased—appearing mainly for important state dinners and spending most of her time in the countryside. Does this strike you as irresponsible or change your opinion of her as a beloved First Lady?
5. Jack’s tryst with Marilyn Monroe has become legendary. Some believe it was a long-lasting relationship while others claim they were only together briefly at Bing Crosby’s estate. What is your take?
6. Do you think the Kennedys were involved in Marilyn’s death?
7. Was there a better way for Jackie to handle her husband’s adulterous ways?

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