Welcome to another Book Hooks blog hop! Today I have a bit from my historical erotic romance Challenge to Him. Hope you enjoy it! And please do visit the other authors joining today’s Book Hooks!
All the wealth in the world can’t buy willing surrender.
Andrew MacIntyre, heir to a vast empire of railroads, mines and mills, is the second or third richest man in America, and by far the most eligible bachelor among the society folk summering in Newport, Rhode Island. His mother has filled their opulent mansion with marriageable daughters of bankers and industrialists, but Andrew knows none of these callow young women can satisfy his perverse sexual needs. No respectable girl would ever consent to being bound and beaten, to serving and obeying him the way he craves. His money gives him the freedom to purchase anything except his heart’s desire—a submissive partner to share his life.
Independent, progressive and well-educated, labour activist Olivia Alcott has dedicated herself to improving the lot of the workers who toil in the factories that have made Andrew and his class so wealthy. The strike she organises triggers a confrontation between her and the handsome billionaire. Although their disparate backgrounds and values make them natural foes, something stronger draws them to one another—an intuitive recognition of complementary fantasies. Andrew offers Olivia a bargain—better working conditions for the mill staff, in return for a weekend of her unquestioning obedience. Olivia will help him deflect the attentions of the potential mates assembled by his mother, as well as providing more intimate services. Given Olivia’s origins, a more enduring relationship appears impossible—but Andrew is not the sort to give up something he wants.
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.
“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?”