When I forced my eyes open, I couldn't remember where I was or what had awakened me. I was not in my own, bright room at Faircroft, that was for certain. A sharp rap on the door and the almost sullen voice that called through the wood, though, was a quick reminder of my situation.

"Miss Nelson."

"Yes, I'm awake," I called back, my voice hoarse from sleep. I cleared my throat as I propped myself up on my elbows. There was another knock on my door, much rougher than before, and I called out with a stronger voice, "Yes, yes. Thank you. I am awake."

Footsteps faded away and I let myself fall back onto the hard bed that I'd spent a mostly sleepless night on. I brought my arm over my face with a groan, just thinking of the day I knew I had before me. Two ladies to dress and tidying to be done. Plus an endless pile of mending to do. It was almost enough to make me want to cry for tiredness. And I hadn't even begun!

"Well, lying around in bed will be the fastest way for me to lose my position," I said aloud. Taking a deep breath, I pushed myself into a sitting position and then swung my legs off the bed. I forced myself to my feet. "I can do this."

I'd spent days practicing for this day, under the eye of one of the most scrupulous people I knew. I wasn't about to waste her time or mine.

There was a chill in the air, or it may have been because I was used to a warm fire burning in my own fireplace when I woke up in the morning. It was yet one other thing I had not expected, but would have to become accustomed to as long as I was in service. I shivered as I hurried to pull my night dress off.

Pulling out the gown and accessories that I would wear for the day, I frowned at the corset. The maid should have stayed long enough to lace me up. I made a mental note to have a word with her when she brought my tea and breakfast. I knew very well that if I allowed her, or any of the other servants of lower rank than I, to avoid their duties even once, I would never be able to exert any authority over them during the rest of my stay.

Maintaining the right balance was going to be even more difficult than I initially thought. I had no desire to be an autocratic person, but to be a successful lady's maid, I was going to have to be. At least on a small scale.

Rubbing my arms to stimulate warmth, I quickly changed out of my nightgown and slipped into the undergarments. To save a bit of time, I pulled on my stockings and then laced up my sturdy boots. Knowing I must have looked quite the picture, I was glad no one was there to witness it as I was forced to wait.

The door opened behind me and I spun around. The sullen maid I'd had so many unpleasant dealings with entered with my tea. Finally.

"Set it over there, please." I gestured to the small table in the corner.

As she set the tray down the china rattled, almost as if she were nervous. Frowning, I watched her from my seat on the side of my bed as I wracked my brain, trying to remember her name. As soon as she faced me, she balled her hands into fists. "Will there be anything else, Miss Nelson?" she asked, just the barest hint of insolence in her voice.

Mary. That was it. That was her name. "Yes. Please lace up my corset, Mary," I ordered, making sure to keep my voice firm. "Also, hot water. See to it, and I may not report your insolence to Mrs. Wilder."

Her chin came up. "That's not my job."

Well, I had been warned of these kind of challenges to my position. I rose to my feet and took one step towards her. "Which part do you question? Because I believe, Mary, that it is your job to assist me in dressing, and if you ever want to advance, you're going to have to perform your duties without having to be reminded. As to the water, I suggest you take the time to discover exactly who, exactly, is required to bring it before I decide to report you to the mistress and you lose your position."

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