"Are there no other women in the house?"
She held her breath and clutched the dish she had been drying tightly to her breast. She had not meant to listen to the conversation just beyond the kitchen door. It was the voice of him. The voice of the Prince. She had met the Prince once. At the ball. That one magical evening granted to her by her fairy godmother. A few hours of dazzle and dancing that ended with the stroke of midnight and the loss of the slipper. Those were a few hours she would treasure forever. But they had been a quick moment of entertainment, nothing more. She had a fairy godmother. She could always wish for more. Why was the Prince here? Could he not enjoy a simple evening and move on?
Take advantage of it, a tiny voice called from the back of here mind. Take advantage of it, get out of here. Spend the rest of your life in a palace. Rich, famous, with plenty of servants and money. You'd never have to work again.
That wasn't what she wanted. That wasn't right.
"Only Cinderella," her stepmother said slowly. "She's the one who sweeps the fireplace."
She'd never have to do that at the palace. At her stepmother's, she was only good for cleaning.
What would she be good for at the palace? Looking lovely all the day? Being a model princess? Just another slave, however different a form, in someone else's household?
"I'd like her to try on the slipper," the Prince said.
He didn't even know her.
The kitchen door opened, the stepmother's hand clenched tightly on the knob. "Someone to see you, Cinderella."
She stared at the Prince, not without disgust. Certainly he recognized her. How could he not? Or was he looking for glitter again?
The Prince returned the disgusted look, but pride was in his way. "Miss," he said politely, bowing. "I invite you to try on this glass slipper. The one with the foot this fits shall be my wife." He presented the slipper, that horrid, painful thing.
She almost smiled in amusement. Who was he kidding? The slipper could fit plenty.
"My wife," the Prince continued. "My princess. Someday my queen. The most beautiful woman in the kingdom."
Was that all that mattered? Yet it was something. She took the slipper from his hand and prepared to try it on. She couldn't help but catch the Prince's eyes.
He looked disgusted.
The slipper fell from her hand and smashed on the floor. "Oops."
While the Prince, horrified, gathered up the pieces, she stepped back into the kitchen and closed the door.