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 . . .
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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.
Award-winning author JOANNA SHUPE has always loved history, ever since she saw her first Schoolhouse Rock cartoon. In 2013, she won Romance Writers of America’s prestigious Golden Heart® Award for Best Historical. Joanna’s first published novel, The Courtesan Duchess, has received a nomination as Best First Historical by RT Book Reviews, while the Washington Post named The Lady Hellion as one of the top five romance novels of 2015.
She currently lives in New Jersey with her two spirited daughters and dashing husband.
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