Nicholas’s mouth was so close. As I looked at it, he licked his lips. I licked mine in reply. We leaned
closer, closer, dangerously close..
Then the oven timer dinged.
We immediately straightened, snapping away from each other. Nicholas turned, coughing into his hand.
I reached for the oven mitts and pulled the finished stuffed mushrooms from the oven.
With the tray safely on the counter, I couldn’t find the courage to look at him again.
He cleared his throat. “Nostalgia does tricky things to the mind.”
“It does,” I agreed, thankful for the safe retreat his words offered.
“I should go now.” He took a step, then paused. “Goodnight, Piper.”
I didn’t move again until his footsteps disappeared from the kitchen. Even after he was gone, I needed a moment to get my heartbeat under control.
Finally, I returned to putting the finishing touches on my stuffed mushrooms and preparing them for
I very carefully did not think about what just happened, or what it might mean.
The next morning, Charlotte and I were adding the finishing touches to the garden party dresses for me and Elva. She was sewing on the ruffled trim with the sewing machine, while I hand–stitched some sparkly gems onto Elva’s skirt.
“I have news,” Charlotte said, “about your other maid from the early days
The friendly one, I remembered. Though Charlotte had certainly opened up to me now, in the early days, she had seemed to only barely tolerate me. The overly–friendly one had helped me feel more at ease right away.
“I tracked her down,” Charlotte said. “They let her go from the palace staff, but she was able to find another position in a noble household.”
I exhaled in relief. I had worried that she was trapped in a dungeon somewhere.
“She’s enjoying it. It’s less stressful.” Charlotte picked at a straw thread.
“Thank God,” I said. “I’m glad to hear she is safe and well. I’ve been thinking of her.”
“She’s both of those things. When I spoke to her, she seemed worried about you, though. It seems like
the whole of the palace might be against you”
“Not everyone is,” I said, giving her a smile. “And that’s what matters. With the support I do have, I can
outlast any of these hardships.”
Minor humiliation and ruined appetizers were nothing compared to the hardships I had endured in the
Here, I had a roof over my head, food for both Elva and me, and proper medical treatment for Elva. Any
adversity I had to endure was secondary to those basic needs, which in the past had either been denied
to us or was incredibly difficult to come by.
Although, despite the lack of physical turmoil of these minor hardships, they still made my staying here more difficult. I had to be careful to make certain I succeeded in every challenge. I wanted to stay here as long as I could.
the fabric, frowning at it. “I worry about this shade. I don’t know what I’ll do if it’s incorrect.” Having lost my notes, I couldn’t be sure that I had guessed the color correctly. Even one or two shades different would be noticeable under the afternoon sun.
“It’s correct,” Charlotte said, all confidence.
I lowered Elva’s dress back down to my lap. “How can you be sure?”
“I double–checked before I ordered the color.”
That still didn’t explain it. “Double checked how?”
Charlotte offered a hint of a smile. “The servants, we talk to each other. I won’t touch on the specifics, but let me just say that Linda is not kind to her own maids. They dislike her greatly, and were eager to help you when I told them what happened.”
“I’m grateful,” I said, amazed by Charlotte and the other maids. They truly did work behind the scenes to either make or break the contestants. It was a bit intimidating too. I hoped I always stayed on their good
Though, as someone who worked in the service industry, I knew that often all it took to earn favor was to treat the wait staff as the people they were, and not as commodities that existed only to serve.