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 . . .
campaign—unless he’s the one who’s already put a spell on her . . .
Will dropped his arm, releasing her. “You don’t seem to grasp the gravity of the situation. My job is to make you understand. By whatever means necessary.”
“Whatever means necessary? Goodness, you are determined. What if I said I’d leave John alone if you agreed to play a part in my act next Monday?”
“A-a part . . in your act?” He threw his head back and laughed, the strong cords of his throat popping and shifting under rough skin. Ava suddenly experienced a sharp urge to drag her tongue over those ridges, to taste his laugh on her lips.
Sakes alive, she had to stop this. She jerked her gaze to the street, mortification burning through her veins. There could be no thoughts of that nature, especially around William Sloane. For pity’s sake, he probably demanded proof of a woman’s pedigree before he agreed to kiss her. Besides, she’d flirted with her baser nature years ago, as a young girl, and where had that gotten her? A lump formed in her throat, and the heavy weight of regret stole her breath.
You played with fire, girl. Now you’ve gone and gotten yourself burned.
Her mother’s shrill voice rang in Ava’s head. Yes, she had been stupid. Not a day went by when she didn’t remind herself never to be stupid again.
He finally stopped laughing, the cad. “I would not lower myself to a part in your act if it would secure me the presidency.”
“Are you certain? Because I can easily convince John he needs to see me twice a week.”
That drove the amusement from his expression. “You wouldn’t dare. I swear, if you do—”
“Calm down, railroad man. I do have other clients. Even for John, I’m not certain I have the time.” She shot him a glare. “But I could make the time if you don’t leave me alone.”
“I cannot leave you alone until you promise to leave John alone. I have too much to lose if this gets out. Or if you decide to sell his secrets.”
“You have my word I won’t,” she snapped. “Why can’t you accept it and go back to passing out campaign buttons?”
“Forgive me if I have a problem accepting the word of a woman donning a blond wig and adopting a Russian accent—which is abysmal, by the way. Have you ever met a real Russian?”
Mercy, she was tired of the insults from this man. As if he had to remind everyone he met how inferior they were to his sublime greatness. “Don’t you have an empire to run? How is it that a man in charge of so much has this much free time to gad about the city?”
“I do not possess any free time,” he said. “Absolutely none. In fact, I left a very important meeting when I learned you were at Bennett’s. Which means my nine o’clock dinner reservations will be forfeit for supper at my desk instead.”
She slid her bottom lip out in a pout. “Oh, you poor, poor millionaire. I’m sure whichever half-witted innocent you were escorting tonight will understand.”
Funny, his eyes stayed on her lips. Did railroad man have an affinity for plump lips? Hers were on the large side, along with her bosom. He’d stared at that a time or two as well, she’d noticed. No doubt he was used to the thin, graceful women of the upper Fifth Avenue set, pale women who remained indoors. Who never had a hair out of place. Who could afford a decent corset to flatten their breasts. Ava’s curves and olive skin probably fascinated him, like one of Barnum’s oddities.
Well, he could stare all he liked. Perhaps she could even use his fascination to her advantage. Men like Will Sloane would not care for an aggressive, modern woman. Undoubtedly, he’d prefer a docile creature who stayed at home, sipping tea, until he returned from his club. Was that not what every spoiled, rich man desired?
If such was the case, a little boldness on her part should scare him off for good.
“Do you ever back down?” he asked her.
She leaned in, pleased to see his gray eyes flash and darken. He smelled faintly of expensive soap, like sandalwood and lemons, and she looked at him through her lashes. “Never,” she whispered. “I never back down, and you would do well to remember it, Mr. Sloane.”
Raising a fist, she pounded on the side of the carriage. “Here, if you please!” The driver pulled to the side of the street and slowed the horse. When they came to a stop, she opened the door. “Thank you for the ride.” Jumping down to the sidewalk, she disappeared into the crowd.
Award-winning author JOANNA SHUPE has always loved history, ever since she saw her first Schoolhouse Rock cartoon. While in college, Joanna read every romance she could get her hands on and soon started crafting her own racy historical novels. She now lives in New Jersey with her two spirited daughters and dashing husband.