Joanna Shupe     

Genre: Historical Romance
Series: The Knickerbocker Club
Book: 2

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 "Madam 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 . . .

Other books in the series:

In my review of Magnate—the first full-length book in The Knickerbocker Club series—I described William Sloane as a snob, and that was a pretty accurate description of him. In Baron, Will is still a snob. At least he starts out that way. What is ironic heaped with a healthy dose of karma is that Ava, your run-of-the-mill, beautiful medium who communes with the dead and goes by the name of “Madam Zolikoff”, is the one who ends up being his downfall. Simply put, Ava is everything he shouldn’t want. She’s not of his social class. She earns her living duping gullible people out of their money. And one of those gullible people happens to be John Bennet, the man on whose gubernatorial ticket Will’s on as lieutenant governor. Which is why Will needs to get Madam Zolikoff out of John’s life. She’s a political liability.

Ava Jones is doing what she must to take care of her three siblings after their parents’ deaths. She wants to get them out of the city and give them a chance to be “…kids, not overworked and underpaid workers, no better than the stray dogs wandering the alleys.” If that means donning a blonde wig, faking a Russian accent and becoming Madam Zolikoff, so be it. She’s doing the best she can with all that she has to work with.

While I don’t usually take my lead characters doing this kind of dishonest work, Ava’s situation was sort of understandable, especially given the time and place. Unless one was born into money, there were few ways for a young woman to make an honest living to raise three growing children on her own. And I appreciated that Ava wasn’t a pushover when confronted by Will. His demand that she ceases her association with John Bennett is met with a resounding no. He finds he can’t even buy her off. But of course, that doesn’t deter him and Ava discovers she’s seen far from the last of William Sloane.

You can’t help but fall for Will. There’s nothing like watching a hero fall hard…into love. It’s even better when he’s stuffy, snobby and arrogant. I loved that while he was unknowingly falling for Ava, he was in search of a wife suited to his wealth, his standing in society and his political ambitions. What I loved equally as much was watching Ava resist his attentions. She’s not stupid. She knows he’s not offering marriage or anything permanent. She has her pride. But there are times when desire, passion and longing are emotions too powerful to fight and always win.

As well as great tension and scorching heat (sexual chemistry is off the charts), Ava and Will’s love story includes a bit of intrigue. There are some unsavory characters that enter her duplicitous world of Madam Zolikoff and issues arise with her fifteen-year-old brother that forces her hand in ways she doesn’t want or appreciate. And if you read Magnate (you really should), you’ll be happy to get reacquainted with a very happily married Emmett and Elizabeth. So love those two! There’s another secondary character you need to keep an eye out for—two actually. But definitely watch out for the new entry, Lillian Davies. She’ll be getting a story of her own in Mogul. I read the first chapter and I’m champing at the bit for the rest of it. It will also be nice to catch up with Ava and Will and her clan. I’ll be in search of the pattering of little feet. ;)

~ Beverley