In Regency England, gaming was The Thing. It was Snapchat and Tindr and the cinnamon challenge rolled into one, bold and daring and personally risky. My new series, The Wagers of Sin, features a dangerous wager in each novel, with the characters’ lives changed by the consequences. To make it come to life, I had to brush up on my research about gambling and wagers in the era.
- Gambling was everywhere. In the streets, men challenged each other to personal feats, with money riding on who could outdo the other. After dinner parties, hostesses set up card tables for entertainment. Rakehells in London went to coffee houses and gaming hells. As a result, all sorts of establishments sprang up to offer places to play, including clubs in the swank heart of Mayfair like Crockford’s, reputed to be as splendid as Versailles. These were my model for the Vega Club: elegant, elite, and no-limit. As for the name, Vega is one of the brightest stars in the northern celestial hemisphere—and also because “What happens at Vega’s, stays at Vega’s,” is one of the club’s rules.
- At a gaming hell there would be specific games to play, or course: hazard was very popular. It’s a dice game, almost entirely luck and chance; winning (and losing) depends on rolls of the dice. My hero, Jack, and heroine, Sophie, meet in MY ONCE AND FUTURE DUKE over a tense game of hazard. She’s calculated the odds, while he doesn’t gamble at all. Needless to say, he gets lucky and wins…
Card games were also popular, and these admitted for some element of skill. Faro, piquet and whist were all popular during the Regency. Whist could be quite respectable, played at genteel house parties (it’s played in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park). Faro was more like poker, both in style and in its more dashing reputation, and endured as a popular game in America, too, until the early 20th century. Piquet was a game of skill simply because there were so many rules to remember. Late in the book, Sophie sits down to a hand of piquet—where the stakes could rise very quickly—because she wants to distract herself from potential heartbreak. The amount of money at risk focuses her mind.
- People really did bet the farm at the card tables. They wagered their pay, their clothes, their entire estates. Charles Fox’s debts topped £140,000 and had to be paid by his father, Lord Holland. Scrope Davies, as associate of Lord Byron, lost £20,000 at the Newmarket races and had to flee the country. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, was allegedly £3,720,000 in debt at her death. In MY ONCE AND FUTURE DUKE, I kept the wagers in the more moderate realm of a few hundred or thousand pounds, but not because larger wagers were unrealistic.
- Women were just as into gambling as the men were. The Duchess of Devonshire was infamous for her gambling debts, and her descendants in the Regency weren’t much different. While respectable lades could play for penny stakes at private parties, only the more notorious women risked significant sums. But that’s why I made the Vega Club welcoming to both male and female members, with a code of conduct taking that into account. My club owner, Mr Dashwood, insists on two rules in his club: Tell no gossip about Vega’s, and pay your debts. Sophie is an orphan, supporting herself and surviving on her (significant) skill at cards. Of course, when she agrees to a scandalous wager with Jack, she has to meet the terms to keep her membership.
- Because no subject was off-limits. People bet on horse races, card games, and dice. They placed wagers on political events, which grand dame of society would die first, and who could eat the most oysters. One wager, broken up by a magistrate in the nick of time, was between two men who agreed that the winner of the dice game could hang the loser from a lamppost. The famous clubs, such as White’s, kept records in their famous betting books of the wagers members placed, and in a search for new ways to risk their fortunes (or, if they had none, to win one). When Jack challenges Sophie at hazard, he’s initially motivated by the belief that she’s fleecing his younger brother Philip. But the scandalous wager he finally proposes is one week of her company against five thousand pounds, because he’s strongly attracted to her. It causes a stir, but since 1713 there had been accusations that women paid gambling debts with sexual favors. The Regency was a licentious era, after all!
What happens at the infamous Vega Club . . .
Sophie Campbell is determined to be mistress of her own fate. Surviving on her skill at cards, she never risks what she can’t afford to lose. Yet when the Duke of Ware proposes a scandalous wager that’s too extravagant to refuse, she can’t resist. If she wins, she’ll get five thousand pounds, enough to secure her independence forever.
Stays at the Vega Club . . .
Jack Lindeville, Duke of Ware, tells himself he’s at the Vega Club merely to save his reckless brother from losing everything, but he knows it’s a lie. He can’t keep his eyes off Sophie, and to get her he breaks his ironclad rule against gambling. If he wins, he wants her—for a week.
A week with Jack could ruin what’s left of Sophie’s reputation. It might even cost her her heart. But when it comes to love, all bets are off . . .
Romance Historical [Avon, On Sale: February 27, 2018, Mass Market Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780062672926 / eISBN: 9780062672933]
About Caroline Linden
Caroline Linden knew from an early age she was a reader, but not a writer. Despite an addiction to Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew, she studied physics and dreamed of being an astronaut. She earned a math degree from Harvard College and then wrote software for a financial services firm, all the while reading everything in sight but especially romance. Only after she had children, and found herself with only picture books to read, did she begin to make up a story of her own. To her immense surprise, it turned out to be an entire novel–and it was much more fun than writing computer code. Now the author of five books, she lives with her family in New England.