WHAT WOULD YOU WAGER FOR LOVE??? In the high stakes gentleman’s world of 18th century horseracing, when the blood of the “desert kings” ruled the English turf, a hero returns from war to claim the girl he has loved since he first spied her riding hell-for-leather over the Doncaster heath. Determined to have her at any cost, he will risk everything. A story of star-crossed lovers and horseracing, THE HIGHEST STAKES transports the reader to 18th century England, an era infamous for corruption, arranged marriages, and high stakes gambling; when racing and breeding became the obsession of the uppermost elite, and a match race might replace a duel in settling a point of honor. Through the fictional love story of Robert Devington and Charlottte Wallace, a tale of drama, danger, thwarted love, and retribution unfurls…
Click link for additional review by Karen Svea Johnson of THE RACING JOURNAL:
Romantic Historical Fiction
Heat level- 1
Reviewer rating 4 stars
Historical Era – Georgian
Review by Celtic Lady
This debut novel by life-long history buff, equestrian, and romantic, Emery Lee, tells the tale of horseracing, war and unrequited love in 18th century England and Colonial Virginia. It takes place from 1742 until 1751 and tells the well researched story of lowly stable hands to upper class Lords and Ladies. This tale is full of intrigue, suspense and the ins and outs of horseracing which is very competitive amongst the upper classes in England and most anyone in colonial Virginia. Fortunes are won and lost and lives can be destroyed because of the losses. Marriages are arranged not for love but for horses and duels are still fought and honor is lost.
There are a few chapters devoted to war with the French and there is mention of the bloodbath that was Culloden but it is not the main focus of the story. The characters are very well written and details of the time period are true to form. Love can turn to hate in a blink of an eye, misunderstandings abound and retribution is sought. Racing and breeding the perfect horse with the best of blood lines can be obsessive.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story and hope that there will be a sequel… hint hint. If you are a fan of historical fiction involving horseracing then you should read this book. Romance and history at it’s best. Besides that the cover is great. This book was released April 1st. 2010 by Sourcebooks who provided my review ARC.
Excerpt from THE HIGHEST STAKES by Emery Lee
Exhausted from the day, he carelessly stretched out upon it, and Charlotte joined him, snuggling up against his side with her head resting on his shoulder. They lay quietly together for some time before Charlotte’s whisper broke the silence.
“Robert, what will happen after tomorrow? When we win the race, that is? What will we do?”
He answered while hypnotically stroking her hair. “We’ll begin our life, my love,” he said simply. “We’ll take the mare and the winnings and buy a plot of land. Mars and Amoret will be the foundation of our own racing stud. And with the sale of my commission, we shall purchase the best lot of broodmares we can find.”
“Do you know so much of breeding to make a go of it?”
“I have my own theories, though some run contrary to the practices of most breeders.”
“In what way?”
“Most men believe the quality of the get is solely determined by the sire. Although a number of stallions have proven exceptionally prepotent, I tend to believe the mare has an equally important role.”
“What do you mean by prepotent?”
“Ah, ’tis a term I learned while working as a stud groom in the North. Namely, it describes a sire’s ability to breed consistently true to type, to stamp his offspring with a high degree of desirable characteristics. In running bloods, this premise of prepotency is impossible to dismiss; however, many foolishly breed a quality stallion with an indifferent mare in the erroneous belief that she is only the vessel. I, however, have a strong notion that coupling such a stallion with a superior mare would produce the best possible result.
“Just look at the top horses of our day. Virtually all of the best runners have sprung from a very limited number families, begotten by an even more elite group of sires. The Byerley Turk strain line is probably the oldest of these lines. When bred to mares of no great quality, there were a few good horses, but when his blood was crossed with that of a well-bred mare of pure Eastern blood, the result was a filly named Bonny Black, who at fours years old beat thirty others at Black Hambleton and repeated the performance the next year. This mare later challenged any horse in England four times round the King’s Plate course at Newmarket, with no takers.
“The offspring of this cross was the best possible combination. It is then hard for me to believe that one should disregard the importance of the mare, but I digress.”
“You were speaking of the most prepotent sire lines,” Charlotte prompted.
“Ah, yes. The second great sire line comes by the Darley Arabian, a horse that was also nicked with mediocrity until the fair Betty Leedes.”
“I know this story!” Charlotte declared. “Betty Leedes brought forth the famous Flying Childers, and then through her second breeding to the Darley, produced Bartlett’s Childers, who was Amoret’s sire.”
“Indeed, Charlotte. Amoret has exceptional lineage, precisely why she must be our foundation broodmare. Now as to the others we need for our harem, I would have a mind to also seek out mares of Byerley blood, as well as daughters of this Godolphin Arabian.”
“You mean El Sham,” she corrected.
“El Sham, eh? I surmise that Jeffries has entertained you with his version of this soon-to-be legend’s history.”
“Indeed he did! ’Tis such a romantic story, don’t you think?”
“Perhaps it is all in the telling, dearest.” He chuckled and stroked her cheek.
“Then perhaps I shall recount my version to you.”
“Pray do so, my sweet.” He smiled indulgently.
Bright-eyed, Charlotte began. “The story starts ten years hence. It is a dark, dreary, and rainy morning. An emaciated brown horse strains through the streets of Paris, pulling a water cart. The carter plies the whip to the poor beast, who is too weak to take another step and stumbles to his knees. The man raises the lash again, but the poor horse is too feeble and his knees too ravaged by the cobbles to pull himself up. Observing the incident, a passerby, a foreigner, stays the whip hand of the brute.”
“And instead shoots the horse to put him out of his misery,” Robert interjected.
Charlotte glares in indignation. “I thought you wanted to hear my story?”
“A million apologies, my sweet.” He brings her hand to his lips. Charlotte frowned but was mollified. The tale continued.
“The foreigner is an Englishman and a Quaker, with business in Paris. His heart goes out in sympathy for the poor animal. He offers the carter three gold louis to buy the horse. The carter agrees, in the belief it will cost him more to dispose of the body. He unhitches the cart, and the Englishman, Mr. Coke, leads the horse back to his filthy stable, where to his immense surprise, he finds a blackamoor groom and a large gray cat.
“‘What is this?’ asked Mr. Coke of the carter.
“‘It is a madman, a groom who accompanied the stallion from his homeland and is avowed never to leave his side.’
“‘Never, Monsieur. Queer beliefs have these Moors.’
“‘And the cat?’
“‘A curiosity. It rarely leaves the horse’s side. So for three gold louis, Monsieur, you are now the owner of the horse, the groom, and the cat!’
“Poor Mr. Coke was quite stunned at first, but he did acknowledge the need of a groom to help nurse the poor creature back to strength. After several days, as the animal begins to improve, the gentleman realizes this is no ordinary horse. As poor as he appears, he is possessed of a beautiful conformation. He is exquisitely proportioned, with a small head on a well-arched and heavily crested neck. He is short-coupled with large hocks, tremendous quarters, and a high-set tail. But although he is of incomparable beauty, the stallion is fiery and headstrong.
“Knowing the stallion is too distinctive in appearance to be anything but Eastern bred, Mr. Coke makes inquiries of his friends at Versailles. He is amazed to learn that this pathetic creature was once the pride of the desert, one of the great blood stallions of the Bey of Tunis, given as a gift to the King of France, but was deemed by the equerries as too difficult to manage. This was how he came to the carter.
“Excited by this knowledge, Mr. Coke arranges to transport the new members of his family back to England but finds the stallion gentle only toward his loyal groom and his pet cat, Grimalkin. He is far too volatile for Mr. Coke to ride, so the gentleman gives him to a friend. This friend, failing also to manage the stallion, passes him along to another, and another, until his ultimate fate: this magnificent son of the desert, who once had a harem of the choicest mares of the purest, most ancient blood, was destined to become a lowly and despised teazer stallion for the racing stud of Lord Godolphin.”
“Do you even know what that is, my dearest?” Robert interrupted.
“What what is?”
“A teazer stallion.”
Charlotte blushed. “Yes. Jeffries was kind enough to explain to me that valuable stallions are not wasted with the preliminaries of mating; that a lesser stallion is often utilized to… to… to…”
“Prepare the mare for mating?” Robert offered.
“Yes. Precisely so,” Charlotte added hastily. Robert’s laugh rumbled deep in his chest.
“Are you quite ready to attend now?” she asked peevishly. He nodded with a smirk, and Charlotte continued her tale. “The pride and joy of Lord Godolphin was Hobgoblin.”
“Another fine stallion of the Darley line,” Robert volunteered.
“Indeed. And one he intended to breed to his most prized racing mare, the lovely Roxana.”
“Do you know of this mare?”
“Only that Jeffries described her as unparalleled.”
“In more ways than one. A flightier mare never was. She was of such an excessively nervous temperament that she had to be led to the starting post with a blindfold that was only removed at the word ‘go’!”
“I would just call her a female of great sensibility and discriminating taste, Robert,” Charlotte defended. “After all, she would have none of Hobgoblin. Though the tale is told that he refused her, I am not the least inclined to believe it. She instinctively knew him as the inferior male and had eyes only for El Sham, with whom she demonstrated all willingness. When he was removed from her and Hobgoblin led out to leap her, she repelled him most violently, calling instead to her love, El Sham. That stallion responded to her entreaty by breaking loose from his handler and attacking his rival for her affections.
“The stallions reared and pawed and rained blows upon one another. It appeared, at the start, that Hobgoblin, the larger of the two, would prevail, but El Sham sunk his great teeth into the other stallion’s crest and wrestled Hobgoblin to the ground, where he lay stunned. Conceding defeat, Hobgoblin turned tail and ran away.”
“And to the winner went the spoils?” Robert added with a grin. “And one year later, Lath arrived, one of the greatest racers of our day. The next year came Cade, and now we see the excitement surrounding Regulus, the third son of Godolphin to make his name on the turf in as many years.”
“What was the word you used, pre…”
“Prepotent. Yes, the Godolphin has most definitely made his mark as a champion sire.”
“Now you see what a lovely story that was?”
“Not near as lovely as the lips that told it.”