Tied to the Billionaire

By: Sam Crescent

“Instigator? Perhaps. But not the cause.” Sweat trickled from her hairline, down into her eyes. She wiped it away with the back of her hand.

“Here.” He surprised her by offering a crisp handkerchief of fine linen, of a white so pure it almost seemed to shine with its own light. The initials ‘AM’ were embroidered in the corner, in golden thread. A faint scent of lavender reached her nostrils.

“Why, thank you!” The square of cloth was far more effective than her hand. When she’d mopped the perspiration from her face, she held out the swatch of now-damp fabric. “Here you are.”

He waved dismissively. “Keep it. I’ve got dozens more. Let’s get back to the matter at hand.”

“How much did this handkerchief cost, Mr MacIntyre?”

“I have no idea. My secretary handles my personal expenses.”

“It’s imported linen, I suspect. Belgian, perhaps?”

“Maybe. I don’t know. Look, Miss Alcott…”

“And the monogram looks like real gold. Is it?”

“Honestly, what does that have to do with anything?”

Olivia tucked the handkerchief into her bodice, noting that MacIntyre’s eyes followed the movement. Indeed he didn’t try to hide his survey of her figure, rude as it was. Another tremor of strangeness fluttered in her belly.

“I’m no expert—I don’t have anything so fine myself—but I’d estimate that each of the dozens of handkerchiefs like this that you possess cost at least ten dollars.”

“Ah—really I don’t know—perhaps. Something in that vicinity.”

“That’s about two weeks of salary for one of these women who work here in your factory.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“The cause of the strike, Mr MacIntyre. You asked about the cause of the strike. These poor women—your employees, sir, to whom you have a certain responsibility—generally make five dollars a week. They’d have to work for two weeks—twelve days, twelve hours per day—to afford one of your handkerchiefs. Do you think this is just?”

“Well, they should be grateful they have jobs.” MacIntyre leaned closer, his manner and his voice menacing. “And if you don’t stop your meddling, they won’t. I’ll fire every single one of them in a minute. There are plenty of people who’d be happy for steady work, for a reputable company that’s not about to go bust and put them out on the street.”

“Won’t you consider raising their salaries, Mr MacIntyre?” Olivia countered, inserting a bit of sweetness into her own voice. She laid her hand on his upper arm and felt his muscles shift under her fingers. “An additional dollar a week would make a big difference to them.”

“I’m running a business here, Miss Alcott, not a charity.” He pulled away from her grasp and shook his head, as if to clear his thoughts, then stepped past her to speak to the assembled workers.

“Go back to your machines, ladies. Don’t listen to this—this rabble-rouser. She’s only here to make trouble. You know that MacIntyre Textiles has always taken good care of you…”

“Oh, really, Monsieur?” Lisette Beauchamps pushed her way through the clot of ragged women to confront him. “Did you care when my daughter got the brown lung? Poor petite wheezing and coughing so hard that she couldn’t walk, let alone work? And no money for a doctor or medicine? Or when Maria Clermont’s hand got tangled in the spinning machine? After they cut it off at the wrist, the fever took her. Left her four children all alone, les pauvres. Now they work here too, in this hellhole that killed their mother.”


“C’est vrai!”

The women besieged Andrew MacIntyre, crowding around him, blurting out their sad stories in broken English. For a moment, Olivia almost felt sorry for him.

“Silence!” His voice drowned out their pleas and complaints. The babble died away. He raised his fist as though to batter the closest of the supplicants. Then he let it fall to his side. “The next person who makes a sound will be arrested and thrown in jail.” Despite his rough words, though, he appeared uncertain.

She had a premonition of triumph.

“Miss Alcott, I’d like to speak with you in private.” Grasping her by the arm, he led her towards his motor car. He opened the door on the passenger side and practically pushed her inside.

Her heart leapt in her chest. Had she won? Or should she be worried? He levered his body into the driver’s seat, then turned to her with a peculiar expression she couldn’t read at all, but that somehow made her tingle all over.

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