It had taken some getting used to: your accent, euphemisms, style of dress even.
Oh, how she'd blushed when you'd first stepped out of that carriage, resplendent in a shimmering rose-silk gown, it's neckline brocaded by no doubt the daintiest of laces.
The decolletage in question had been of the... daring sort, a low cut that had yet as of yet to reach the masses (namely, the humble country folk whose village lay a stone's throw from Ogundimu Manor) and certainly left little to the imagination, as was the current fashion in the courts from which you hailed.
With every breath or laugh or gasp which raised your bust (and there were many), Moira would be sent into a mini-frenzy at the sight of your chest pressing flush against those tightly laced stays and, before long, would have to excuse herself to perform some menial (and often fictitious) task in order to alleviate the frisson of nerves that would flood her system and leave her thoughts clouded whenever you were near.
In fact, it had taken nearly a fortnight of demure glances & other such avoidant behaviour frankly unbecoming of her station before you had begun to dress more like a local and she could finally bear to look you in the face.
Ever since, it had been easier to slip back into a routine, although her temporary elevation from a maid-of-all-work to your lady's maid had taken some getting used to.
In all the years she had worked at the estate, Moira could confidently say that it was exceptionally rare for Mr. Ogundimu to invite company over to stay.
Rarer still for said company to be a woman, unchaperoned by the retinue of guardians that usually tailed the higher classes.
In fact, it had been completely by chance that she'd been selected for the job in the first place.
She'd been dusting in the drawing room - mind already on that night's soup and soda bread dinner - when you'd entered abruptly, startling the redhead enough that she'd almost tripped over the chaise in order to right herself.
Your eyes had met then, briefly, and she'd felt her heart constrict and simultaneously sink into her boots, set adrift like a leaf propelled by an ardent gust of wind when you'd smiled - at first apologetically & then, inexplicably, unreservedly. As if recognising an old friend.
‘If only’ she'd thought, wistfully.
Moira had been quick to remember her manners when Sir Ogundimu had entered, lowering her head in polite acquiescence to his request that she should pull the drapes and make quick work of her duties so the two of you might be left alone.
Once again invested in the monotonous work, she had listened as you'd dramatically recounted how you'd spent the better part of the afternoon touring the grounds riding astride Adeola, the tantrum prone thoroughbred that Moira'd spent many a day petting whenever her work happened to take her past the stables.
Alas , within the excitement of it all, you had managed to snag the skirt of your riding habit on some particularly thorny brambles.
As was to be expected, Ogundimu had laughed at the tale, quoting something mock-loftily about vanity as Moira flitted about (re-filling his cup, adjusting the pillows, tidying the shelves) before he'd grown almost pensive about his status as a host. After all, what would become of his reputation amid the upper echelons of society were he not to fully accommodate his guests?
The satirical emphasis he'd stressed throughout his ramblings had brought forth a peal of delightful laughter from you that Moira could not shake the feeling of wishing she had caused herself, if only to see you smile at her again.
Unable to stall for any longer, she'd been on her way out, back to being neither seen nor heard when the hairs on the nape of her neck had stood to attention, the skin of her arms prickling out in goosebumps.
"Surely she knows how to sew?"
Six words, uttered oh so nonchalantly.
That's all it had taken.
Later - and after many faux bashful refusals - she'd regaled her impressionable roommate, and perhaps only true friend in all the world, with a tale of how she'd made a case for herself at the mere sight of the 'ghastly' rip, adding with a more than a little flair that she had spoken out of turn (as she was wont to do, so not entirely unbelievable) and hence had caught the eye of the well-to-do guest.
Moira smiles smugly to herself at the recollection of this particularly... imaginative retelling and loiters a moment at the credenza's mirror to pin back a stray curl. After all, one must always aim to look their best - especially in the presence of you.
Now, she'd been your daily companion for near a month and some change, growing closer and closer to you all the while.
In truth, she was glad of the new work, not least because it broke apart the monotony of her day and earned her some much needed respect around the house but, also greater privileges to boot. No more pea soup and soda bread for tea.
The room is exactly as she left it after this morning's airing, save for the clothing and other such paraphernalia scattered upon the bed.
Odd, she's usually the one to help you undress for the day.
Somewhere in the adjoining room, still water ripples into a tremulous wave and crests over the rim of the tub, dribbling persistently onto the tiled floor.
You're humming something that she doesn't recognise, melodious and light, and Moira finds herself trying to follow along as she tidies, fingers skimming cautiously over the accessories on the dresser; rings adorned with gems worth 10x her pay, an empty locket and a pair of gloves that have seen better days, if the worn-out sheen to them is anything to go by.
They're of the sturdy sort, a well loved white leather set that upon further inspection could last you a few more months if worn with care.
Ever the perfectionist, she turns one over and checks its seams for any possible fault, eyes keen. When she finds none, she slips a hand inside for a more thorough appraisal, careful not to pull it all the way on, lest she snag some of the material on her sharp nails.
Absently, Moira strokes the palm with her gloveless hand, noting that it comes up a tad loose on her hand. As expected, the material is soft and smooth to the touch, just as her hands had once been before this arduous life had taken its toll. She expects that yours must feel the same, unmarred by the callouses and scars acquired after years and years of unrelenting hard work.
Moira takes a moment, breathing deep and slow to quell the viscous bubbles of hatred that would usually start to build up, thick like tar and just as cloying, inside of her when nobility visited. But, to her surprise, the talons of animosity that usually grip her, spiderwebbing like poison through her veins, are nowhere to be found.
No, it's not like the last time when she had let it go unchecked and had promptly found herself unemployed with no reference to speak of.
Sure, the envy is still there. But who amongst the servants wouldn't feel envious of being waited on hand and foot, secure in the comfort that a life of luxury awaits you simply because of your fortuitous high birth?
What would her hand feel like in mine?
Unwarranted, but not entirely unwelcome, the thought flutters into her mind and lingers there, clouding it in a haze of smoke - half formed and just as opaque.
She allows herself a small smile, lost in the fantasy of your fingers intertwined as she recalls how you'd always addressed her by her first name as if you were equals.
Your tone is more insistent now (insistent, never impatient) but it's not until she hears the gentle slosh of water that follows before she realises that no, she hasn't dreamt this up.
You really are calling her.
She finds her voice with a polite “Coming, ma’am”, tugging off the glove as quickly as the material will allow as she heads for the door, much too harried to consider propriety before opening it.
The en-suite is tiny compared to the rest of the house's grander bathrooms, really no more than a tiled storage space, but it may as well be Ashford Castle for all she sees of it, because there, slap bang in the centre of the room, sits a completely nude you.
Too flustered to speak, Moira sucks in a sharp intake of breath as what feels like all of the blood in her body rushes to her face when you turn to look at her over your shoulder and immediately averts her gaze, sure that you can hear just how loudly her heart is beating from its current position in her throat - just like when you'd first met.
She mutters out an apology with some difficulty and hastily turns to leave, face burning no doubt some variation of vermilion, when you ask her to "stay" in a tone so casual that you could be enquiring about the weather.
The sound of your laughter makes her take pause, interjecting abruptly.
"Come now, am I to believe your sensibilities shall be irrevocably wounded by the mere sight of some skin?" you scoff lightheartedly, voice deceptively light with mirth as you turn back towards the wall.
"I just need a little help with my back, is all"
Sure that she must have misheard you, Moira sputters and waits for your clarification, eyes trained firmly on the ornate folding screen currently failing to serve its purpose, captivated in particular by how the discarded bathing dress draped over it seems to taunt her in the candlelight.
When none comes, she ducks her head and takes a tentitive step forwards, and then another, until she's almost right behind you, still blushing under the intensity of your gaze in the mirror. Both oblivious and yet acutely aware of the serpent poised to strike under the innocent flower, as it were.
Glad for a chance to rest her unsteady legs, she follows your command without a moment's hesitation, hand already reaching for the sponge.
The mood is charged.
Tense, like the shift in air right before heavy rain when everything goes still and a split second of uninterrupted quiet descends over the sleepy town as the clouds roll in and its inhabitants collectively hold their breath, each unwilling to be the first to break the spell.
So she takes her time, dousing the sponge in the nearby pail and wringing out the excess before gently lathering your back as you lean into her touch.
She repeats this a few more times, drawing each stroke out for as long as her already frayed nerves will allow before tipping over the rest of the water to rinse you off and watching, transfixed, as the dew-like droplets bead up and separate, glistening almost auspiciously before sinking below the depths.
A beat passes, although it feels more like an eternity, and Moira's mind kicks into high gear.
The water must be getting cold now, but you're not complaining.
Should she do something; fetch some more water? Get you a towel? Leave?
What could possibly be the appropriate etiquette for this ?
Sensing her uncertainty, you turn slowly enough not to startle the startled deer that is Moira, careful of the water as it ripples, sloshing dangerously close to the lip of the tub.
"Thank you, Moira"
There goes that genuine smile again, somehow more intimate and heartwarming and dangerous than the fact the space between you is growing smaller by the second and that no matter how much she swallows, she just can't shake the feeling of her throat closing up and--
It's more of a peck than a kiss, really.
Miniscule, fleeting, chaste.
But she lurches back like she's been scalded all the same, apologising as profusely as the hitch in her throat will allow as she visibly wilts, almost near tears. But you're not angry, or repulsed, or even alarmed.
Instead, you lay your hand over her trembling one, holding her steady as you mutter assurances, although the incessant thumping of her heart in her ears is too loud for them to slip through and soothe her.
She's going to lose her job, but this time she won't recover - she's sure of it.
Within weeks she'll be destitute, penniless on the streets-- or worse slaving away in a workhouse from dawn 'til dusk with a tarnished reputation whilst you go on living, traipsing about from country houses to manors and back again for tea and galas and gossip, maybe even telling the tale of the scandalous maid you once had the great displeasure of meeting.
Or perhaps she'd merely be a footnote in your story? Mentioned in passing and never spoke of henceforth.
Maybe that would hurt the most.
The first tear breaks ground at that thought, and her mind's too busy running a mile a minute to register that the tension has lifted & the deluge has already begun until your lips press against hers and you're kissing, really kissing - and it's nothing like the first time.
Head reeling, she's wrapped up in the heady scent of freshly peeled oranges and wildflowers & something complex that she can't quite put her finger on but knows is you , at your very core; would know was you even if she was led blind through an endless maze.
She lets you take the lead without protest, too busy committing as much as she can of you to memory to care about chores or the loose hairs slipping free from her cap or even the world outside this cramped safehaven because your lips are as soft as the hands she thought she'd never get to hold.
You taste like the remnants of tonight's desert, intermingled with the salty tang of Moira's own tears and she readjusts without breaking free when your noses bump and she feels you smile against her, the mistake more endearing than awkward.
Evey touch electrifies her skin as you card your fingers through her hair when the cap finally slips free and it's a wonder that her nerves haven't short circuited yet when she's practically burning up just from kissing you.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, Moira knows that it's selfish to want you this badly, to yearn for you in every capacity and trip headfirst into the pull of your axis, but she's never been one for sharing. So she pulls you closer until she can feel your pert nipples against her own (emboldened by the way you sigh contently into her mouth that this isn't just a dream or some cruel trick you're playing) and tilts your head up, not caring even when the water splashes over the edge and onto her dress as she parts your lips with her tongue with an urgency akin to fervour - propriety be damned.