Published by Zebra on October 25th 2016
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
New York City’s Gilded Age shines as bright as the power-wielding men of the Knickerbocker Club. And one pragmatic industrialist is about to learn that a man may make his own destiny, but love is a matter of fortune . . .
Born into one of New York’s most respected families, William Sloane is a railroad baron who has all the right friends in all the right places. But no matter how much success he achieves, he always wants more. Having secured his place atop the city’s highest echelons of society, he’s now setting his sights on a political run. Nothing can distract him from his next pursuit—except, perhaps, the enchanting con artist he never saw coming . . .
Ava Jones has eked out a living the only way she knows how. As “Madame Zolikoff,” she hoodwinks gullible audiences into believing she can communicate with the spirit world. But her carefully crafted persona is nearly destroyed when Will Sloane walks into her life—and lays bare her latest scheme. The charlatan is certain she can seduce the handsome millionaire into keeping her secret and using her skills for his campaign—unless he’s the one who’s already put a spell on her . . .
Two more steps brought Will alongside her. “Are you always so difficult?”
She threw her head back and laughed—a genuine, sultry sound that hit him square in the gut. He pushed down the reaction, put it in a place with all the other things he ignored.
“Only with men who try to boss me around.”
“A lot of those in your life?”
“Just one, apparently. Any ideas on how to get rid of him?”
Will’s lips twitched from suppressing a smile. “No, unless you’re ready to give in. I won’t disappear until you leave John alone.”
She stopped in her tracks and put her hands on her hips. Her brown gaze lit up with fire and brimstone, her generous bosom heaving in a distractingly enticing manner. “Why do you care so much? Your money could buy whatever election you wanted, cover up any hint of scandal that might occur. Therefore, you don’t really care about what I’m doing to John. Tell me, why are you following me? ’Cause I need to tell you, I’m not buying it.”
What the hell was she implying? That he was after her? His muscles clenched as he stepped closer, hoping to intimidate her with their difference in height. Surprisingly, she held her ground, merely lifted a brow as if to say, Get on with it. He tried not to be impressed.
“First, I would never use my money to buy an election. I want to win, and I mean to do that fairly. Second, I can cover up just about any scandal I want, but all it takes is one whiff, one hint of impropriety, and my political career will be over before it begins. I’ll be a laughingstock. And there’s no way I’ll allow that to happen.”
“No, John will be a laughingstock. John’s political career will be over. And”—she made a disbelieving sound—“you act as if New York politics are clean and fair. We both know politicians are dirtier than chimney sweeps, and that’s saying something.”
“I wouldn’t throw stones at the legitimacy of other vocations, were I you.”
“Oh!” She threw up her hands and stomped away. “Leave me alone, William Sloane.”
He trailed after her, catching up in a few steps. “You’re wrong. In my world, you’re judged not only on your own actions, but the actions of those around you. The company you keep. If John goes down, I go down as well.”
“Then I can only imagine what your world would think of you keeping company with me in the Tenderloin.”
“They’d think I’d lost my ever-loving mind,” he muttered.
“Then scurry back home to Fifth Avenue. I’m sure your butler has brandy and cigars waiting. No one here is stopping you.”
Her head swung toward him. “Pardon?”
“I live on Washington Square.” It had been a long time since he’d had to tell anyone that. The Sloanes had been in that location since the city covered up the graves and converted the space to a public park.
“Oh, excuse me,” she said with mock sincerity. “Scurry back home to Washington Square.”
“After you promise to stop your shenanigans with John.”
The voice came from behind them, so he spun to see who was there. A few people were out, but no one close enough. No one came forward or even met his eye. Who had called his name?
Facing forward, he instantly noticed something else. He was now alone.
“Ava?” Feet planted, his gaze swept the sidewalk and the street, searching. He peered across to the other side, thinking maybe she had crossed the street. Nothing.
There was no sign of her. She had disappeared into thin air.
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~~Reviewed by Monique~~
Who would have thought that Will’s story would be so exciting!
Madam Zolikoff, a medium, is performing at the Atlantic Theater in New York City, in the Tenderloin district. William Sloane, far from his element, is in attendance. He certainly doesn’t believe in Madam Zolikoff and her fake Russian accent; Will just knows she’s a fraud. Will aims to shut her business down because he’s been asked to partner John Bennett for lieutenant governor of New York, and Bennett sees her in a professional fashion; it wouldn’t look good to the electorate. Nobody says no to Will, and when he goes backstage to dissuade Madam Zolikoff, he finds out very quickly that she will not be intimidated. Ava Jones, Madam Zolikoff’s real name, needs the money to provide for her three younger siblings, and this is the best paying job she could get. She wants to get out of the dirty city and buy a farm. Will offers her a bribe, which she vehemently refuses; she will not be obligated to no one, even if this swell is very handsome indeed; she has seen the likes of him before. If only their worlds weren’t so different, if only they weren’t so attracted to each other, if only Will weren’t so blinded by ambition…
I have loved every book in the The Knickerbocker Club series, but I was not expecting very much for Will who didn’t sound very interesting to me, and I was wondering how Ms. Shupe would work around his personality without a complete turnaround. Will is so serious, driven, unbending, and totally consumed by his work. He is very wealthy, a prominent and respected member of society, but he wants it all. He is however fascinating, and profoundly infuriating, not because the author tells us so, but because he really is, yet he is compelling, and so very real. Ava is a wonderful character: caring, and loving; she has made decisions she regrets, but keeps on trying for a better life. My heart broke for her more than once, because she loved so much. Although I disagreed with some decisions both Will and Ava made, they were entirely logical with who they are. Their romance is anything but simple, mostly because of Will’s snobbishness, his stubbornness, and obsession with keeping up with appearances, and none of this is fabricated for storyline purposes: he has blinders when it comes to anything that does not have a positive impact on his future. But when Will mans up, it has to be read to be believed; what a fabulous hero he turned out to be!
Ms. Shupe paints such a vivid picture of Victorian New York that it seemed like a movie, and the characters, especially Will who is so complex, that BARON feels like a great biography. Ms. Shupe describes the life of the underprivileged in such a way that we understand exactly how miserable their living and working conditions were, without ever making them deliberately sordid.
BARON is a multilayered story, absolutely riveting on so many levels: the political machinations, the working class versus the privileged, the plight of women and children. Joanna Shupe has written a book that is just as enlightening as it is entertaining. BARON concludes in spectacular fashion; the ending is absolutely brilliant, not what I expected at all, and so thrilling that I hope we will see more of what happens to Will and Ava in the future, even if only in upcoming books, or better yet a novella, because the possibilities are nearly endless. And I am ecstatic that the next book will be that of Calvin Cabot, a character who totally mesmerised me. BARON is a phenomenal read!
I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book.