Tied to the Billionaire

By: Sam Crescent

Itchy sweat gathered under her arms and at the base of her neck, where random strands of her hair had come loose from the pins that secured it. It was several hours past noon, and the summer sun battered them all. Like the women with whom she marched, Olivia wore a drab, ankle-length shirtwaist and heavy, laced boots, though her clothing was of finer fabric and in better repair. A red scarf knotted at her throat added a spark of colour—and soaked up some of her perspiration. She was desperately thirsty, but they’d agreed not to take a break until three o’clock. She certainly wasn’t going to be the one who gave up early.

She glanced around at her companions. They ranged in age from fourteen to fifty-five, though most were younger than her twenty-six years. Their lean, wiry bodies showed the effects of their twelve hours of back-breaking labour per day, six days a week. Even the young women had lined faces and streaks of grey in their hair, and the older ones looked frail, almost skeletal.

In the cool of the morning, when they’d started the strike, there’d been a holiday atmosphere. Liberated from work, they’d laughed, joked with one another and sung old Québécois songs. Now each woman’s face was a grim, dusty mask. Each was determined not to surrender to fatigue or discomfort. They had made a commitment to one another. No one was willing to betray that commitment—certainly not Olivia.

Doubts assailed her, though, as her back ached and the blisters on her feet stung. Had she done the right thing, coming here and stirring up these women’s aspirations? Would it do any good? Greed ruled the modern world. Profit was all that mattered. Human beings were expendable, just cogs in the great industrial machine that was America. If one component failed, it could be replaced. Meanwhile, the masters of the new century grew ever richer.

She could have been at home, reading in her father’s shady garden with a glass of iced lemon at her side, or walking with her sister under the spreading elms of the Common. Indeed, if the strike failed, she could return to her safe and comfortable life in Amherst—become a teacher like her parents, or an author like her brother Will.

These women around her, though, didn’t have those options. For them, this was a matter of survival.

“Mademoiselle Olivia!” A skinny girl raced up the street that led to the riverside mill, stirring clouds of dust. “Il vient! He is coming!”

The sputtering racket of an internal combustion engine drowned out the girl’s excited voice. The crowd parted like the Red Sea for a boxy vehicle of shiny black, with silvery headlamps like extruded eyes. The noisy Studebaker rolled to a stop in front of the strikers, who stopped in their tracks like everyone else to stare at it.

The door creaked open. A tall man unfolded himself from the somewhat cramped interior, snatched off his hat and goggles and tossed them into the vehicle. He strode towards the massed strikers, his fists clenched at his sides.

“Where is she? Where’s your damned leader?”

The newspapers generally described Andrew MacIntyre as handsome. The epithet did not do him justice. As he stormed towards her, Olivia was struck with a sense of physical power and keen intelligence. He had wavy red-gold hair, a high forehead, a square chin, a determined mouth. His eyes were hazel, deep set under brows darker than his hair. Those eyes drilled into her, fierce and compelling. The women around her shrank backwards in alarm. Olivia steeled herself, holding her ground and fighting the urge to grovel at his feet. Instead of retreating, she took a step forward, holding out her hand.

“Mr Andrew MacIntyre, I presume?” She marvelled at the steadiness of her voice, the cool neutral tone.

“Damned right. And you are…?”

“Olivia Alcott.” She pulled herself up to her full height and forced herself to meet his gaze. She saw anger simmering there, but behind his irritation there was something else, something that intrigued and thrilled her. Something that she might be able to use to further her goals. Olivia Alcott recognised lust when she saw it.

He towered over her by at least a head. Though his body was hidden by his loose touring coat, his decisive, economical movements suggested he was lean and athletic. For a moment he hesitated, staring at her proffered hand. When he finally accepted it, his firm grip confirmed her impression of strength. His palm felt warm and dry against hers. She suddenly wished that she were not so sticky and dishevelled. When he released her, a momentary lightness swept through her, as though she might float away.

“And can I assume that you are the instigator and cause of this illegal strike, Miss Alcott?” He seemed flustered, less confident than she would have expected. Her spirits rose.

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