THE HIGHEST STAKES

WHAT WOULD YOU WAGER FOR LOVE? In the high stakes gentleman’s world of 18th century horseracing, a war hero returns to claim the girl he has loved since spying 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 Charlotte Wallace, a tale of drama, danger, thwarted love, and retribution unfurls…

Lee brings the atmosphere of the Georgian era to life with lush descriptions that beg the reader to see, hear, feel and touch it all….with a lively cast of characters and surprising twists and turns that are reminiscent of Fielding’s Tom Jones or Defoe’s Moll Flanders.”-RT BOOK REVIEWS

THE HIGHEST STAKES, is an epic tale of star-cross lovers set in the high stakes world of 18th century horse racing.

EXCERPT

Charlotte spent the night in restive anticipation, springing from her bed at the first crow of the cock. Pulling on Charles’s shirt and breeches over her shift, she yanked on a pair of his cast-off boots and pulled a cap over her plaited hair. Careful not to disturb Letty, she then slinked out of her chamber and down the back stairs, avoiding the kitchen where the cook was already about her work. Charlotte then exited a back door and surreptitiously edged her way through the gardens.

Her heart fairly skipping in anticipation, Charlotte strode eagerly down the gravel-laden pathway and along the waist-high yew hedge to the stable block. The gray slate roofs of the low red-brick buildings had only begun to reflect the rays of the rising sun. By midmorning they would cast their shadows upon the large, bedewed, grassy plot in the yard’s center, but for now, the yard was a low hum of activity.

Charlotte wandered to the center of the bustling stable yard, watching as seven or eight boys methodically carried out their morning chores. One or two of them yawned and stretched, with stray pieces of straw and litter still clinging to their hair and clothing from the night spent in the lofts above the stables.
They set about their work, leading horses out of their boxes, fetching buckets of water, and mucking out the nightly refuse from the stalls. She had been to the stables on many prior occasions. Why had she never noticed any of this activity before?

Someone, presumably one of these same boys, always had her cousins’ horses ready and waiting when they were appointed to ride. Upon their return, the boys collected and tended the horses and then faded back into the woodwork from whence they had emerged. She had never before given thought to all that was required to care for a stable of twenty-some horses.

Impatient to locate Jeffries and be about her own business, Charlotte dismissed further reflection. She scanned the yard, expecting to find her own saddled mare or, at the least, for someone to take notice of her. Ignoring her presence completely, the grooms continued about their morning routine, much like ants busy on their nest.

With Jeffries nowhere in sight, she looked about, huffing in disappointment mixed with annoyance. Suddenly she remembered. Jeffries had said to meet him in the rubbing house.

But which of these confounded buildings was the rubbing house? Turning about, she attempted to arrest the attention of a small boy straining to transport his manure-teemed wheelbarrow to the dung pit.

“Excuse me, lad?” Charlotte began. The boy glowered and continued on his way.

“Pardon me,” she said louder now and grasped him by the sleeve. The slight pull was all it took to completely unbalance his precarious load and dump the manure—all atop her boots.

“Bloody hell! Look what ye done,” the boy cried.

“Look what I’ve done? I’m sorry to have made you spill it, but I was simply looking for the rubbing house.”

“’Tis over yon, ye muttonhead!”

“Muttonhead? There’s no occasion for rudeness. If you hadn’t overloaded your cart…”

“If ye hadn’t come along and pulled me o’er, it ne’er would have happened. But now ye’d best clean it up afore Jeffries or Devington comes along.”

“Me?” she replied incredulously. “I’m not the clumsy oaf who dumped it. It’s not my mess to clean.”

“Well, I ain’t about to be last to finish me chores. Devington is back from Doncaster and will have me turning over the reeking dung pit instead of breaking me fast wi’ t’other chaps.”

“Well, I’m sorry for you, but that’s nothing compared to what you’ve done to my only pair of boots, you ham-fisted lout!”

“’Tweren’t me what pulled the wheelbarrow arse over teakettle, ye wantwit! Go bugger yer mother, and then lick yer boots clean!”

“Why, I’ll box your ears, you brazen-faced little jackanapes!”

Charlotte made a fist as if to try, but the boy flew at her first. They both tumbled onto the pile of manure in a wild, tangled flurry of thrashing limbs.

The commotion caused by the circle of cheering and jeering stable boys drew the attention of the head groom, who was leading his fresh mount out from the rubbing house. Hastily tying his horse, Robert Devington strode furiously across the stable yard to break up the mill. He tore apart the dung-covered combatants by the scruff of the neck.

Turning first to the smaller of the pair, he cuffed his ear. “Jemmy! What the devil are you about? It’s nigh past feeding time; you’ve still half your stalls to muck.”

“But it ain’t me what started it!” Jemmy whined. “’Twas the new chap what turned over me cart!”

“I don’t give a groat who started it! Now get about your business before I tan your arse with a riding crop! And now for you, lad.” He turned ominously to Charlotte and stopped mid-sentence, gaping at the spectacle she presented with her oversized clothes pulled awry and stained with ordure, her cap askew and nose oozing blood.

“Who the blazes are you? Or better said, what are you!”

Charlotte brushed a clump of dung from her flushed cheeks with the back of her hand and haughtily met his stare. “I was simply looking for the rubbing house where I am to meet Jeffries. Now if you would kindly direct me, I shall trouble you no further.” Her voice was husky and quivered with righteous indignation.

“You say Jeffries sent for you? He told me nothing of a new boy.” He regarded her closer, quizzically.

Charlotte refused to enlighten him. “The rubbing house, if you please?”

“The rubbing house”—he pointed over her left shoulder—“is the squat building hither.”

“Thank you,” she replied with as much dignity as she could muster. She turned on her heel and marched to the indicated building where, as promised, Jeffries awaited her with Amoret.

 REVIEW FROM THE RACING JOURNAL

Goodreads reviews for The Highest Stakes

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