My Once and Future Duke by Caroline Linden
Historical romance released by Avon on February 27, 2018
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 . . .
I was right, everyone! There is a professional female gambler in this book. The best way to explain this is that it’s a mashup between Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast—without the ominous flowers or footwear. The characters even have real names—something that bothered me when I read the older versions of the fairy tales. Their names are Sophie—our professional gambler, and Jack—the duke. Both Sophie and Jack reach out to others throughout the book; they see each other differently than society might.
Before I talk more about the book, I should explain my allusion to fairy tales. In the version of Beauty and the Beast written by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, Beauty ends up with Beast because her father gambled her away while playing cards. In My Once and Future Duke, Sophie bets on a game of hazard that if she loses she will give Jack one week of her company. Also, the Cinderella bit comes from Sophie seeing herself as not really from the nobility for most of the book.
Jack became a duke at a very young age, and thus had an abrupt change in lifestyle. He used to be your typical rich guy in the 1800s, doing all the things rich guys did, but after his father died, he had to assume responsibility for running the estates—I say estates because he owns five houses. No more racing or attending wrestling matches; the only reason he realizes it has been raining for several days at one point in the book is because he hasn’t left the house for his usual horseback ride. He also in a sense becomes responsible for his younger brother, which is how he comes to meet Sophie. At the same time, he likes riding, boxing and sketching. This takes a while for us to realize because Jack has more or less stopped enjoying life.
Sophie went to a finishing school, which is where she met her best friends, because her grandfather didn’t want to raise her. He and her father had irreconcilable differences. Sophie learned how to gamble from her father before he died. After she completed finishing school, Sophie became a companion to an older lady, but after she died, Sophie decided that being dependent on the good will of others was not for her. She made a plan involving some deception of society and her skills with cards—although really, she has awesome math skills. Sophie intends to win enough to have a fortune, attract a decent husband, and have a family. She changes her last name and joins a gambling club that allows women to be members in their own right and gambles almost every night—like an investor, only with cards and dice instead of stocks and bonds.
Sophie seems to be a woman who isn’t quite respectable—and she knows it. That’s where a lot of the conflict comes from. Jack wants to be with Sophie, but is aware that Sophie isn’t what society would pick as his duchess, and that he has a certain duty to his family legacy. Eventually, they get past that.
Near the end of the book, Jack needs to make a very important decision, but there are certain mitigating factors that cause him to hesitate. I know, super vague, but it would be a major spoiler, and there would be angry comments and no one wants any of those things. In any case, Jack reaches out to the older brother of an old friend, who had a similar situation. I suspect he’s a character from another book, but I don’t know. Jack follows his advice.
Sophie keeps her relationship with Jack secret for most of the book because she doesn’t think they’ll get married, and she wants to preserve as much of respectability as possible. Partly because she still wants to have a family, but also because if she’s not respectable, then she can’t see her friends. Eventually, she reveals her relationship to both of her friends, and one of them acts as her sounding board.
This is not to say that there isn’t plenty of conflict caused by people with the wrong information butting in. However, it didn’t feel completely implausible. I can’t tell you what that wrong information was—it’s the whole spoiler thing.
Ms. Linden was one of the first romance authors I read, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book after not reading her work for years. There may have been some bad decisions made during the reading of this book.