A Dangerous Liaison - L.R. Olson
“Mr. Fought. Mr. Fought, do slow down!”
“No time, Ms. Smith. No time.”
I gritted my teeth to keep from cursing the old man to hell and back. Blimey bastard. He was doing his best to leave me behind, darting around crates like a rat scurrying after a morsel. And like a rodent, he knew the best places to hide.
I twirled around a weaving machine, waving aside the white fluff in the air, and finally caught him near the double doors. Not one person glanced our way to cheer on the antics, they were too worried about losing a finger to the machines.
“What do ye want, lass?” he growled, barely audible over the whirl of wheels. “I’m a busy man.”
I gripped the money in hand and held it high in outrage. “Mr. Fought, why am I short?”
He flung the doors wide, a bitterly cold breeze sweeping inside, tearing at my skirts, and giving short reprieve to those hard at work. “You know why, Miss Smith.”
He raced outside onto the loading platform, trying to escape. As if he could escape me. One had to be fast when they lived in the slums. Pickpockets, drunks, even murderers. He wouldn’t get away. “No. I don’t know.”
Realizing I wasn’t going to give up, he spun around and pointed his pudgy finger at me. The action caused him to stumble back, slipping on ice, and teetering dangerously close to the edge of the dock. Just what I needed…to be accused of murder. “Monday, ye were late.”
I reached for his sleeve and jerked him back to safety. Late? By five minutes? The greedy arse. Would be my right to push him down the steps he was currently maneuvering. I’d been working here a year and was a prime employee.
Well, perhaps not prime, but good.
Damnation, very well, decent enough. I raced down the steps after him. “I need that money.”
Freddie stood outside, half-hidden behind a pile of crates as he snuck a smoke. Mr. McKinnon would be furious if he caught him. Seeing me, he grabbed himself. “I has a way you can make some coins.”
“Sod off,” I muttered. “If I ever take a man, it will be one who bathes more than twice a year, and has more than a farthing to his name.”
With a glare, he bit his thumb.
The men here were all the same: they’d bed anyone who would have them, whether it be a girl not quite sixteen, or Mrs. McNare down the lane who was eighty if she was a day, and missing all but two teeth. Tupping and drinking were the only two pleasures for those who lived in this wretched hell. That, and the occasional bout of fisticuffs.
“He’s getting away, Ginny,” someone called out.
Sure enough, Mr. Fought hopped down the last step. I lifted my skirts and raced after him, ignoring Freddie’s hoot of delight. The idiot. “Mr. Fought, I am rarely ever…”
He somehow managed to dive around the corner of the massive brick factory before I could catch hold of him. I’d never seen the lazy man move so quickly. No doubt he’d pocketed my lost wages and didn’t want to get caught in the fib.
“See here, Mr. Fought.” Determined, I raced around the corner after him. “I will not tolerate…”
The sudden appearance of Mr. McKinnon drew me up short. Sucking in a sharp breath, I froze only a few steps from him. It was as if he’d appeared like magic from the bowels of this hell. The devil himself. A handsome devil. I swallowed hard and dared to peek up at him. Even the scar that crossed his left cheek only added to his appeal.
He was more than intimidating with his hard eyes, void of emotion. The only thing human about him was the spicy, manly scent that clung to his pressed suit, bringing heady relief from the noxious odor of unwashed bodies that pervaded the factory floor.
“Is there a problem?” His voice was deep, smooth. Even his questions were demands, not truly worthy of response. “Miss Ginny?”
Heat rushed to my face. He knew my name? Why? How? I shifted, uneasy, and hid the money behind my back. He had hundreds of workers, surely he didn’t memorize all their names. It made me feel uneasy, to say the least.
Of course, I couldn’t tell him the truth about my lost wages, and then he’d know I’d been late last week. Mr. Fought had probably raced this way on purpose, realizing the owner would be making his rounds. “No, Mr. McKinnon…Sir.”