Prologue

"Please, ma'am. Have a cup of coffee." Diana set the small, hot cup on the ottoman, the only place she reasonably could without giving her mistress the burden of having to reach for it.

"That you still do not know how ineffective a stimulant like coffee is in this situation tells me I ought to find another maid…" the woman in the burgundy dress replied, resulting in a fearful gasp from Diana.

Diana knew the woman's history with maids quite well. She had been through at least two or three dozen maids in her life, only ever keeping a few of them around long enough for her friends to make acquaintances of. She had heard the tales of women lining up at her gate to secure a position within her manor, and she had heard the occasional and possibly false story of the woman actually liking one of her servants. Though all her thoughts, however, Diana wondered how many of those women she had released back into the wild, worn world only for them to fall into slavery, prostitution, and crime, or worse— freedom.

Diana was a good Maiden, however, and knew when to hold her fear close enough to her heart that the woman's mind could not hear it.

She had, a mere seventy days ago, submitted herself for consideration by the House the woman belonged to, and she stood tall amongst hundreds of other submissions with her ability to keep a manor clean and tidy at all hours—even if that meant sacrificing a few days of sleep—and her seemingly innate ability to care for the many younglings of the House. If Diana had to wonder about that subject, she would likely deduce that, like her own "mother" was not hers, this lady bore few, if any of the children she let bounce about the main estate, but as always, she kept her thoughts to herself.

At the very least, her resume impressed the woman enough that she would give her a fleeting chance to call herself a member of the House of Stepfordson. Lady Stepfordson had expelled Maidens with excellent Settings before, and Diana was not about to squander this chance by letting her thoughts run more swiftly than her judgment could keep pace with.

Diana was not about to even dare her mind to ponder things like freedom—a fate much, much worse than death.