Chapter 1, Part 2

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I waited for Vi and Miss Levine on the second-floor landing. They eventually caught up, and the governess gave me one of her stern looks. She was breathing much too hard to verbally reprimand me.

"Please slow down, Hannah," Vi said, drawing alongside me. "They'll be watching."

'They' were the invisible yet ever-present servants. Vi always worried they would gossip about us, or be staring at us, the two peculiar girls who lived in the attic.

"Let them," I said. I took her hand, and together we walked down the grand staircase to the entrance hall. The tap tap of our shoes on the tiles echoed around the marble hall and bounced off the columns that reached to the high ceiling, two levels above us. I glanced to my left, through the double doors into the opulent dining room beyond. It was a habit of mine when I came downstairs. The grand hall and adjoining dining room were the only two areas of the house I'd seen other than the attic, and for all I knew, the rest of Windamere Manor was nothing like those rooms. I couldn't help comparing what I saw to our attic. Our sparse, wool-covered, low-ceilinged space couldn't be further removed from the dining room. Slender statues of Roman goddesses were tucked into carved niches, and touches of gilding here and there broke up the pristine white of the walls and mantel. There was a rug too, but it was free of burns and nothing covered the large mahogany table or sideboard.

"Good afternoon, Lady Violet," said the stiff butler, Pearson. He opened the front door and bowed, revealing his bald patch. "Enjoy your walk."

"Th-thank you," Vi stuttered. Her face flushed to the roots of her hair, and her grip tightened on my hand.

"Good afternoon, Pearson," I said breezily. He hadn't addressed me, but sometimes, when I was feeling particularly irreverent, I cast aside the rules of propriety. I was, after all, a prisoner, a narcoleptic and a companion to a lady who started fires with her mind. Propriety was the least of my concerns.

It must have been the prospect of seeing him again that fueled my impish mood. The tall, dark-haired gardener with the intense gaze and handsome face had occupied my thoughts ever since I'd first noticed him on our walk almost two weeks earlier. I'd seen him every time we'd taken a turn in the garden since. When I'd asked Miss Levine his name she'd dismissed my question with a flick of her skeletal fingers.

"Where shall we go?" I asked Vi. "Down to the lake or across the park?" It wouldn't matter which way we went. He would be there. I knew it as surely as I knew my name was Hannah Smith.

Without waiting for an answer, I steered Vi down the terraced garden, Miss Levine trailing behind. That was another reason I enjoyed our walks. Although Miss Levine was always in attendance, she stayed a few paces back, giving Vi and I privacy.

"The sky looks rather ominous," Vi said, stopping abruptly. She cast a glance over her shoulder and I followed her gaze, just in time to see a pale face disappear from a window on the first floor. I didn't know which room the window looked into, but I did recognize the face. It belonged to Vi's fifteen year-old sister, Eudora.

Vi and I had never met her, having been condemned to the attic together when Eudora was born, and not meeting her even once on our walks. When we'd first seen her watching us through the window some ten years ago, Miss Levine had informed us that she was Vi's sister. It was the first we'd heard about her. We'd not even heard her crying as a baby.

I suspected Eudora had been ordered to stay away from us. The only other times I'd seen her was when I looked out the window as she'd left to walk or ride around the estate or to step into one of her father's carriages.

"Nonsense," I said cheerfully. "It's lovely out. Those clouds are miles away." It was an optimistic statement. The entire sky just beyond the house was as black as night, the low clouds heavy with rain. The sun, however, still shone on Windamere's façade, bathing it in a golden glow it didn't deserve.

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