Rich, proud and respectable Mr. Ravenscar pays a visit to his aunt and finds her distraught over her son's plans to marry Miss Grantham, a young woman who works in a gaming-house (an illegal casino), a most disreputable profession for a woman at the time, just above the level of actress or courtesan. He goes to the gaming-house to check out the young woman and assess how much she will have to paid to make sure she doesn't marry his cousin. Of course, things aren't really that simple.
Like all Heyer's novels, this one promises to be full of quotable stuff, both conversations and descriptions, but I will stick to two (at least to begin with).
I am only on chapter three, and already I have found several echoes of Jane Austen. It certainly looks like the interchanges between Miss Grantham and Lord Ravenscar are going to be of the Darcy/Elizabeth type. Here is part of one - see if you recognise the Austen scene it echoes and reverses:
'Oh, I have been familiar with gaming-houses from my childhood up! I can tell a Greek, or a Captain Sharp, within ten minutes of his entering the room; I could play the groom-porter for you, or deal for a faro-bank; I can detect a bale of flat cinque deuces as quickly as you could yourself; and the man who can fuzz the cards when I am at the table don't exist.'
'You astonish me, Miss Grantham. You are indeed accomplished!'
'No,' she said seriously. 'It's my business to know these things. I have no accomplishments. I do not sing, or play upon the piànoforte, or paint in water-colours. Those are accomplishments.'
This particular conversation ends in a duel fought at the card table, and I expect there will be a number of duels between them later on, ones fought with words.
Later on, Ravenscar shows that he can be both dangerous and ruthless, as he warns a man against fighting a duel of pistols or swords with his young cousin:
'Let me make myself plan, Ormskirk! You might have my cousin whipped with my good will, if that would serve either of your ends, but when you call him out you will have run your course! There are no lengths to which I will not go to bring you to utter ruin. Believe me, for I was never more serious in my life.'
I enjoy trying to figure out when historical novels take place, as often a year or even a century is not given but only alluded to, e.g. with the mention of historical figures or events. In this case I have narrowed it down to some time in the last 5 years of the 18th century, judging from the mention of a tax on hair powder, which was first levied in 1795 and had become obsolete by 1800 when wigs had gone out of fashion. This places the story era rather earlier than most of Heyer's other historicals, her favourite era having been the Regency.