BARON – Joanna Shupe
The Knickerbocker Club , Book 2
New York City, 1888
When Ava Jones's parents died, she faced a hard situation. How could she keep her siblings and herself together and well cared for? She became ‘Madame Zolikoff' and gives séances and spiritual readings while in disguise. She is doing very well. Her performances keep the family living in a relatively good neighborhood. Her brothers, Tom, 15, and Sam, 12, and her sister Mary, 13, also work to keep the family fed and housed. Ava saves every penny to, hopefully, purchase a farm outside the city.
Will Sloane sits through one of Madame Zolikoff's performances, disgusted and unbelieving that the audience buys into the deception. As owner of Northwest Railroads and one of New York's wealthiest residents, he is present with another purpose—to persuade her to stop the continuing fraud being perpetrated on John Bennet, who is running for state governor and named Will as his lieutenant governor. If news of John's private sessions with the medium became public, it could ruin their election chances, and certainly this woman could blackmail John later. He confronts the woman after her so-called performance to make her stop seeing John.
However, Ava is not about to abandon a client for a pompous very rich snob. What he didn't expect was she had taken off the wig and makeup, and beneath was a very beautiful woman, one who, moreover, despite his wealth and power, doesn't mind telling him no. Intriguing. Ava, in her turn, finds the railroad man very handsome and very tenacious. Yet, the gulf between their social differences prevents any meaningful relationship, and Ava isn't about to become a mistress. Then Will hires her younger brother Tom, who was getting into trouble, to a good position within his company. Others are not as charitable and aim to undermine both Ava and Will. Good answers to the couple's problems are impossible to find.