The Gamble by LaVyrle Spencer

 

Historical Romance

The Gamble The GambleLaVyrle Spencer; Berkley Trade 2003WorldCatAgatha is the milliner in Proffitt, Kansas, in 1880. The building where her shop and apartment are have recently been purchased by a man who set up a saloon in the other part of the building. The saloon is bad enough, but then he brings in a large painting of a naked lady. When she sees it coming, Agatha is compelled to protest. She faces down Scott Gandy on the sidewalk. He ignores her complaints, leaving her in the mud at the side as he and the group of laughing men take it inside.

That incident brings Agatha to the notice of the temperance worker visiting the town. The next thing she knows, Agatha is the president of the ladies’ temperance group in Proffitt. There are eleven saloons in the small town that cater to the cowboys riding their stampedes through. The Gilded Cage Saloon is her problem, though. The noise can be heard after she goes to bed at night. Scott is her landlord so she has to deal with him. He brings in three beautiful dancing women and offers gambling tables to bring in his customers. He certainly doesn’t want prohibition passed in Kansas.

As time passes Agatha has more problems. She has very strong convictions about alcohol. At the same time, she learns to like the people next door. The three beautiful women have become good friends. She learns that all seven of the newcomers are like a family that Scott has brought together, saving them from harsher existences. When someone in town threatens Agatha because of her temperance work, they are all there to help her, especially Scott. If the state voters pass the prohibition law, the group will leave and her life will once again become small and lonely.

Then there is Willy, the small boy Agatha and Scott have “adopted”. Willy’s mother died and father doesn’t care about him. Willy winds his way into both Agatha’s and Scott’s hearts, making them a different kind of family yet. But when the family breaks up, who gets Willy?

From the beginning, The Gamble is a charmer. Spencer develops complex, conflicted characters that the reader will immediately like. Scott Gandy has no problem lifting Agatha and setting her in a deep mud puddle. But when he later learns she is lame in one leg and couldn’t get out on her own, he feels guilty. He is from a Mississippi plantation and has all the manners and society that indicates. He hasn’t been back to the plantation since the end of the war, but some things never leave a person.

Unfortunately, the book has one major flaw. Both characters realize they can’t get involved. Scott realizes that Agatha is not a “temporary” woman but one for life. When the prohibition law passes in Kansas, he leaves for Mississippi with Willy. Agatha confesses her love for him the night before they leave. After a time Scott devises a way to get Agatha to join them. But it still takes him time after she arrives for him to realize he loves her and wants to marry her. He had acknowledged the attraction in Kansas. He didn’t fight the attraction when she joins the group in Mississippi. The timing and description of his realization in the book is contrived and doesn’t feel right.

I enjoyed the history involved in this novel. I didn’t know about the temperance movement of the later 1800’s or that different states had passed prohibition laws. There also is the adjustment of a good wealthy Southern white man losing his money and family, although he still has the property. To him, the black people are as important as the white and just as loved. The return to Mississippi barely touches on all the problems the South had after the war with the Carpetbaggers, racial divisions, etc., but they are subtly in the background, affecting their decisions and future.

Notice: Strong sexual content

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