This first chapter was originally submitted as a one-shot for Prompts in Panem in October. There have been amendments to the original submission, and this new version loaded. However the original can still be found on the Prompts in Panem tumblr page.

Katniss Everdeen clutched the small bag in her hands, worrying the strap between her fingers. The meagre possessions she had brought with her – all she owned in the world - barely filled half of it. The nerves that had threatened to overwhelm her all morning were starting to rise, but she breathed deeply, trying to overcome them. The carriage rocked and bumped its way down the drive, drawing her closer and closer to where she would soon be employed. She could see the manor house now, could see how large it was, how magnificent it was. She was conscious not to let her admiration show too clearly.

Chatsworth Manor was one of the most elegant homes in all of Great Britain, and somehow she had managed to secure a position as a housemaid. She knew it was due, in part, to the friendship her mother had had as a young girl with the present housekeeper, Ms Trinket. But she was also aware that the lady of the house, Duchess Mary, was a woman who didn't give anyone a second chance. She knew that Ms Trinket must have thought her suitable enough to fill the role over and above the connection between their families. She'd heard that the last housemaid had gotten in 'trouble' after an interlude with one of the young butlers, but she knew she didn't have to concern herself with a situation such as that.

Katniss had no intention of marrying and having children, and bringing them into a world where it seemed every day became bleaker for those who were poor. Love, while sweet in the beginning, had done nothing but lead to heartbreak for the Everdeens. She'd seen the sweetness in her parents, then the heartbreak in her mother as she spiralled into depression after the death of her husband, that neither Katniss nor her sister Primrose could retrieve her from. She looked out the carriage window again, and sighed.

Being poor was something these people obviously had never had to worry about before, nor were likely to in the near future.

The carriage pulled into the circular drive, stopping not at the main entrance, but a small door around to the west side of the building. Katniss waited until it had come to a complete stop before starting to rise. Her hand reached towards the latch, but the carriage driver beat her to it, swinging the door open wider.

"Miss," he greeted as she stepped down. She nodded her head at him, softly whispering her thanks. He wasn't that much older than her, with dark brown hair and serious eyes, an air of hostility around him. She wondered if it was aimed towards her or just his situation in general.

Seeing as she had never met him before, she assumed the latter was correct.

She looked up to see Ms Trinket standing at the entrance, and was slightly surprised at the person before her. She wasn't the stately, motherly figure she'd expected, dressed in simple garb. While yes, she wore a staid housekeeper uniform – white apron over black dress – her figure was slim, her face was painted with rouge and lipstick and her strawberry blonde hair was pulled up and elaborately coiffed.

She began to wonder if the stories she had heard of Duchess Mary were wrong. If she allowed her housekeeper to dress like this, then she couldn't be all that unwelcoming.

"Welcome to Chatsworth, Miss Everdeen," she greeted, her hand reaching towards Katniss gracefully. Katniss shook it, surprised by the action. People rarely extended their hand to her. Ms Trinket must have noted her hesitation.

"Manners are important to me, Miss Everdeen, no matter your station. I expect you to follow suit," she told her firmly.

"Yes, ma'am," Katniss replied. It wouldn't do her any good to let Ms Trinket know that usually the only type of manners she followed was to wash her hands.

Ms Trinket dipped her head towards the driver, then led Katniss inside.

"Now, Miss Everdeen, this is the staff entrance. You're not to use any of the main entrances, nor the primary hallways. You'll find the staff quarters and hallways separate to those of the family of the house. Our primary aim, along with ensuring the household runs smoothly, is to remain essentially invisible to our employers. Only myself, Haymitch the butler and the personal maids to the family are to interact with them. Do you understand?" Ms Trinket asked, guiding Katniss down a small hallway, indicating to the staff kitchen as they passed it.

"Yes, ma'am." Katniss didn't care either way – the only reason she was here was to ensure she could earn a suitable wage to help her mother and Primrose.

"Good. Now, as discussed, you will be required to work most days, with one weekend a month to do so as you wish. You will share duties with Johanna and Margaret, and will ensure that there is at least one of you available at all times. Your work day starts from 6am and concludes at 6pm. You may, on occasion, be requested to assist with evening events the Duke and Duchess host, but primarily your evenings are your own. The household tasks should all be completed by then, regardless." Ms Trinket spoke a mile a minute, her accent surprisingly regal for someone of her station. Katniss hurried to keep pace with her. They turned a corner, until they were in a small corridor lined with doors.

"Now these are the female staff quarters. Your room is this first one here on the left. The quarters for the male staff are at the opposite end of the corridor, to help discourage fraternising," her lip firmed into a thin line, and Katniss knew the rumours of the last housemaid were true. "My quarters are in behind the kitchen. If you need my assistance, that's where you will find me. Now, please retire to your quarters – I know it has been a long ride from your home. Supper will be available for the staff from promptly 7pm to 8pm. If you are late, there is no meal. I shall see you there." With a polite nod of her head, Ms Trinket left Katniss alone in the cool, empty hallway.

It was 7.02pm when Katniss ventured from her room and headed in the direction of the kitchen. She was exhausted but also restless from being cooped up in the carriage, and then her room. Katniss preferred, more than anything, to be outside, in the forest, and hated the fact that this position would do nothing but prevent her from being alive outside in the open air. Part of her wished she'd been able to secure a position as a gardener – she had a fairly decent knowledge of plants from her mother - and at least that meant she could remain outside.

Unfortunately it had been a butler and a housemaid dismissed not a gardener and housemaid. And they wouldn't let a woman hold that type of position regardless.

She stepped into the kitchen to see a number of the household staff already there. The conversation lulled for a moment as everyone looked her over, then went back to their meals. Ms Trinket cleared her throat.

"Everyone, this is Katniss. She has replaced Glimmer as the new housemaid. Please ensure you take the time to make her feel welcomed." Katniss saw two young men seated at the end of the long sturdy wooden table nudge each other and wiggle their eyebrows. Internally, she sighed. It seemed the men – no, boys, she rectified – here were no more gentlemanly than they were at home.

She surveyed the room again, and walked to the fireplace, where a black pot was simmering fragrantly. A large portly woman was stirring it, and smiled at her warmly.

"Hello, me love. Care for some stew?"

"Yes, please." She reached for the dish the older woman held out to her, sighing at the warmth that seeped into her fingers from the heat of the bowl. She hadn't even realised until now that they were cold.

"Now, young miss, the name is Sae, and you can come to me at any time, you hear?" Katniss smiled, nodded and turned back to the table. There was a spare seat at the end, next to a girl about her age with golden blonde hair tied back in a simple bun. Katniss slid in and quickly began eating. It was warm and tasty, filled with root vegetables and a meat that was tender and soft.

Most of the staff chatted and laughed over their meal, but Katniss remained quiet, along with the girl beside her. Katniss wasn't one for general conversation, so if this girl felt the same, she was sure they would get along just fine.

Suddenly a whirlwind entered the room, a bundle of energy and chatter.

"Bloody hell, Sae, give me a bowl of that stew. Starving to death over here!" The skinny angular girl slung an arm over the cooks shoulder, who laughed heartily. She pushed a bowl into the girl's hands, and brushed her away towards the table. The minute the girl turned she caught sight of Katniss, and a grin settled over her face. She sat down heavily - quite unlady-like - on the other side of the table, shoved a spoonful of stew into her mouth, and stared at Katniss unashamedly. Katniss couldn't help but stare back. The girl had sharp, pointed features, and short, chin length hair. What was most surprising was that it was ramrod straight, not a curl in sight, as was so fashionable at the moment for women with shorter hair.

"Who are you then?" the girl mumbled around a mouthful of food. Ms Trinket called out an admonishment from across the room, but she just rolled her eyes. She continued to stare at Katniss intently.

"My name is Katniss. I'm the new housemaid."

"You don't say," the girl grinned. "Well, I'm Johanna, beside you is Madge," she rolled her eyes again as Ms Trinket called out 'Margaret, Johanna!', "And we're the other junior housemaids. Madge there will keep you on the straight and narrow. Me, on the other hand, will take great delight in trying to turn you into a rascal like me." Everyone around the table laughed, and Katniss was surprised. She'd never encountered such chatty, carefree people before. Particularly those in roles of servitude.

"Nice to meet you, Johanna," she replied politely. The girl laughed.

"I wouldn't be so sure of that." Johanna hunkered back down to finish her stew, not looking up from her bowl until it was finished. A silence fell over the room, save for the scraping of spoons on bowls and the occasional squeak of a chair. A faint scuffling of boots caught Katniss' attention, and she looked up to see the carriage driver walk in. He surveyed the room, his eyes fleetingly resting on her, before shifting to Johanna. Katniss saw the look they exchanged, full of heat and fire and promises for later, and she flushed. It seemed the previous housemaids' predicament wasn't stopping these two.

She excused herself and began to head back to her room.

"Katniss, wait!" a voice called from behind her. She turned to see Madge scurrying out of the room, a shy smile on her face. "I was done as well; I thought we could walk back to our rooms together." Katniss shrugged, and the two walked in silence back to their quarters. It wasn't uncomfortable or awkward – in fact it was quite the opposite. Madge was definitely more her type of person than whirlwind Johanna. They finally reached their rooms – Katniss found that Madge's was directly opposite hers – and smiled hesitantly at each other.

"Well, good night Katniss. Welcome to Chatsworth House. I'd advise you to sleep well, because you'll need it. As Ms Trinket is known to say 'Tomorrow is going to be a big, big, big day'." She opened her door, stepped inside and closed it softly behind her. Katniss looked at the closed door for a moment before stepping into her own room. She lay down on the bed, not even bothering to undress, and stared at the ceiling.

Her first official day of work. It was going to be a big, big day indeed.

She'd been at Chatsworth for a full month the first time she saw him.

She had settled into a comfortable routine, getting to know the other staff until she understood how they interacted with each other. Christopher and Marvin – or 'Cato' and 'Marvel' as everyone called them – liked to think they were ladies men when they weren't assisting in the stables. Haymitch, the butler, was a surly, grumpy man who spent most of his evenings sipping his ever-present amber liquid by the fire in the kitchen. At first she was surprised he could efficiently do his job, but after witnessing him waiting on the Duke one evening, she found he was well adept at separating his working persona to that of how he spent his own time.

Ms Trinket was one of the most sought after housekeepers in the country, and it was her ability in ensuring that Chatsworth ran smoothly that allowed her the luxury of wearing a small amount of make-up, and a less than simple hairstyle. She'd soon heard that Duchess Mary did not care for it, but the Duke had put his foot down when the Duchess had tried to dismiss her. Katniss got the sense that the Duke was far more forward-thinking than his staid, unimpressionable wife.

She often found herself playing the middle man between Madge and Johanna. Katniss was quieter than Johanna, though more fiery than Madge, and they balanced each other out. She found they actually got on quite well, and this was a pleasant surprise. They worked efficiently as a team, and their tasks were regularly completed well before they were required to be.

She found that because of that, she was able to steal some time in the surrounding woods during the day, enjoying the play of sunlight through the trees, the wind whipping the leaves and branches, the sounds of the birds as they flew through the forest.

Sometimes she instinctively reached for her bow before realising it wasn't hooked across her back anymore. With a job to support her and her family, she no longer needed to hunt.

But how desperately she missed it.

She was returning from a short stroll in the woods, quietly walking past the stables when she heard the soft neighing of the horses. Before she could think twice she snuck in to look. They were magnificent, their chestnut coats shining, their glossy hair flowing across their necks. She hesitantly reached out a hand to one of them and began slowly stroking its neck. It ducked its head towards her playfully, and she laughed. Before she realised it, she was singing, singing softly to the horse like she used to do for her sister.

"You sing beautifully," a voice suddenly said, and she whirled, terrified, clutching a hand to her chest. Oh, she hadn't meant to be caught.

"I'm so sorry, Sir," she whispered, looking at the ground. She hated feeling so subservient, but she had to be on her best behaviour to ensure she held her position. He laughed softly, and walked towards her.

"It's quite alright. I'm sure the horses appreciated it," he stopped beside her and reached out a hand to brush down the horses nose. "I take it you're relatively new here." She nodded, unsure of what to say. "Are you enjoying your work at Chatsworth?"

"Yes, Sir," she whispered. He sighed, and then she felt the tip of a finger under her chin, lifting her face up. Her eyes caught with his.

"Forgive me my forwardness, Miss, but I can't hear you if you don't look at me." She looked at him, taking in the wavy blonde hair, the bright blue eyes, the way his fit, muscular body filled out his jacket and riding breeches.

"Of course, Sir. Yes, I am enjoying my work at Chatsworth. It is a lovely estate." He grinned at her, and she blinked, momentarily surprised at the warmth, humour and sheer loveliness of it.

"That's good to hear, Miss-"

"Everdeen, Sir."

"Ah, Miss Everdeen. Yes, Ms Trinket mentioned we had a new housemaid." He paused for a moment, and his gaze caused her heart to stutter. "Well, it is lovely to meet you, Miss Everdeen. My name is Peeta." At that, her eyes flicked to him in shock, and she quickly stepped away. Confusion crossed his face as she continued to step backwards towards the stable door.

"I'm-I'm sorry, Sir. I'll be going now. Sorry. Good-bye." With that, she stumbled away, heading back to the kitchen, to the safety of the staff quarters. She couldn't believe she'd been so stupid, how she hadn't recognised him immediately.

She'd just encountered the Duke's son. The heir to Chatsworth.

She could very well have just lost her position.

But she didn't.

From then, she saw him almost every day. She found it strange that for someone whom she'd never laid eyes on for her first month, he was suddenly everywhere. 'Accidentally' coming in the staff entrance, wandering into the main parlour when she was dusting, standing just outside the stables as she scurried back from the forest. Occasionally he would try and engage her in simple conversation, other times she would just catch him watching her. It made her feel uncomfortable and wary and….intrigued.

"I don't know what it is," she confided to Madge one night as they sat side by side on Madge's bed, backs against the wall. "He appeared out of nowhere, and now I see him everywhere."

"He was away at Cambridge, you know? And now he's back for the summer."

"No, I didn't. It's really of no interest to me what the family do. I'm only here to work." Madge smiled wryly.

"Well, you'd be one of the few then. Most of the staff love to gossip a little about the Duke and Duchess, and the handsome heir."

"Madge!" Katniss admonished. "You shouldn't speak that way about Master Peeta."

"Why ever not? It's true. He is a fetching looking man, Katniss, you can't tell me you haven't noticed." Katniss opened her mouth to protest, but realised she couldn't. He was an exceptionally handsome man. Madge smiled. "See, I told you. Nevertheless, perhaps he is taken by you."

"What on earth are you talking about?"

"Well, you are very pretty, and you said he'd been following you around…"

"I did not say he'd been following me around, Madge. I said I've been seeing him around the estate often."

"Wouldn't it be romantic if he was, though? Just imagine! The future Duke falling in love with his housemaid," Madge sighed, and gazed out the small window wistfully, as if just by wishing for it, she could conjure it. Katniss huffed, shaking her head.

"And here is where Johanna would tell us he would just want a roll in the hay – which is far more likely, Madge."

Madge pouted, her lower lip sticking out. "You don't know that for sure."

"No, I don't. I'm not interested in being his plaything, and it is irrelevant the other way as well. We're of different social standings, and regardless of that, I shall never marry anyway." Madge's mouth dropped open at Katniss' announcement.

"How… how can you never want to marry, Katniss?! What will you do?"

"I'll work, for sure. I'm only 19, I have plenty of working years ahead of me. My priority is to ensure my mother and Primrose are looked after. I shall never have time for any romantic frivolity." Madge still looked a little shell shocked at Katniss' announcement, but wasn't sure what else to say, so their conversation lulled into silence. It was a long while before Madge spoke up hesitantly.

"But what if Master Peeta was interested in you, in a serious way, Katniss?"

Katniss shrugged, trying to block out the mental image of his friendly blue eyes. "That's a ridiculous notion to consider, Madge. But if he did, not only would he be seriously misguided in looking at a housemaid for that, he would also be very disappointed."

The tiles were cool under her feet as she quietly moved from her room in the direction of the kitchen. She hadn't dared to leave her quarters after hours at all since she had arrived, but her parched throat would not let her sleep. All she hoped to find was perhaps a little milk, to ease her thirst and bring on sleep. She couldn't afford to awake tired the following day – nor any day, really – and the longer she laid in bed, unable to sleep, the grumpier she knew she would be. And Ms Trinket had no patience for bad moods.

Katniss slipped around the final corner, but stopped short when she saw the glow of a light filtering out through the doorway to the kitchen and into the hall. She sighed, disappointed, knowing she really shouldn't enter if someone else was in there. She had thought Haymitch would be finished by now, and sleeping off his nightly overindulgence. But a soft chuckle, and a sharp response caused her to pause – if Haymitch was in there, he wasn't alone.

"Dammit, kid, you're going to get me in trouble one of these days," she heard Haymitch grumble, followed by the soft clink of glass against glass.

"Oh, Haymitch, you know I don't care what mother says. You're far more appealing company than any of the stuffy folk they entertain."

"I don't mean the Duchess. I don't care about her, and you know it. I meant Effie. She'd kick my ass to kingdom come if she knew you came in here to drink with me." Katniss let out a soft gasp, and raised her hand to her mouth in shock.

Master Peeta was in there with Haymitch. And they sounded…..friendly. As if they liked each other. Haymitch wasn't speaking to him like he should, like he was socially obliged to. And Peeta sounded just as carefree as Haymitch, not at all the proper man she'd deemed him to be. She peered around the corner slightly, trying to ensure she wasn't spotted, and saw them, seated across from each other, in front of the fire. Both held a tumbler of amber liquid, though Haymitch's was far emptier. This was….confusing.

"Effie likes me more than you do, anyway," she heard Peeta laugh, warm and low, and the sound of it slid over her skin like honey.

"Damn right. It wouldn't be your hide she'd be having, it would be mine, you little bastard." She heard them both laugh again, and Haymitch's was deep, gravelly, as though it was something he was unused to doing. Which was true, she thought to herself. She'd never heard him laugh before. But she'd also never heard him speak so freely either, not even with Ms Trinket – whom she presumed was Effie.

She turned, and slowly made her way back to her room. There was no way they were going to be leaving the kitchen anytime soon, and therefore there was no point to her waiting. But it had given her an interesting insight into both the butler and the master.

Katniss eventually fell asleep, dreaming of crackling fire, golden hair and a warm laugh.

Katniss hurried down the hallway, arms laden with linen. She had 15 minutes to change the sheets on Master Peeta's bed, then get back to the kitchen to assist Sae with preparations for a morning tea that Duchess Mary was hosting. All the staff were rushed off their feet, and it was compounded by Madge being violently ill, far too unwell to assist. Johanna and Katniss had to split her duties, hence Katniss attending to Master Peeta's room – it wasn't something she attended to normally.

She turned into the open doorway, and quickly shut it behind her, stalking over to the bed and stripping it down. She was so involved in her task that she didn't hear the door open, and then close. Wasn't aware of the other person in the room until a throat cleared. She jumped, the pillow clutched in her hands flying across the room. She glowered at the young man standing near the door.

"Master Peeta, you need to make yourself known in more appropriate ways than you have been," she snapped before thinking twice. He raised an eyebrow at her tone, but she refused to stand down this time. After the way she had heard he and Haymitch speak when she had observed them in the kitchen last week, she wasn't worried. Subservience be damned. Something told her he would not reprimand her. As it was, his manner of appearing unannounced around her the previous few weeks, since their first meeting, was unacceptable.

"Apologies, Miss Everdeen, on my lack of manners. I see Ms Trinket has been of some influence," he replied, biting his lip to stop from smiling.

"It has nothing to do with Ms Trinket. It's simply common courtesy to announce yourself so that you do not frighten another, as you seem so intent on doing to me." He laughed, his smile genuine as it crept across his face.

"You, surprisingly, are more of a firecracker than Miss Mason," he observed. She snorted before she could help it, then turned back to her task, her face aflame.

"I beg to differ, Sir. I simply speak my mind when called for. Johanna….. does anything and everything she chooses." The room was quiet for a moment as Katniss continued to make the bed. She heard his soft footfalls as he crossed the room, and stood beside her. She straightened up, her back perfectly straight, and turned to face him. She wished she hadn't.

This close she could see the different shades of blue in his eyes, the crinkle of laugh lines fanning out from them, a faint scar that threaded through his right eyebrow. The length of his eyelashes, the curl of his hair over his ears, the way one side of his mouth quirked up higher than the other. He was magnificent.

Subconsciously she took a step back, but found her way blocked by the bedside table. He reached up, tucking a stray hair that had come loose from her braid behind her ear. She froze, inhaling sharply.

"You're so beautiful," he whispered softly, and she blinked. It was all it took to jolt her out of her reverie, and she stepped to the side, out of his reach.

"Forgive me, Master Peeta, but I have no desire to be the housemaid you take advantage of this summer," she snapped, stalking around to the other side of the bed. His jaw dropped.

"Is that what you think of me? Is that what the other staff have told you? That I….have dalliances with the housemaids every time I return home?" he snapped. His eyes were not friendly now. They were fiery, filled with unspoken anger. She realised she may have overstepped the mark, may have completely misread him, and apologised.

"I'm sorry. No, no-one has said anything of the sort. I just….. I assumed, Sir. I am not used to compliments, and in particular, compliments from someone whose station is so far above mine." He looked at her frustrated, folding his hands behind his back.

"Well, Miss Everdeen, maybe you should. I never say anything I don't mean. I'm not going to pretend that I don't find you fascinating, and I'm not going to pretend that it seems that every waking moment I am thinking of you. The moment you opened your mouth to sing in those stables, you captured my heart. But if you are not interested, then I may have to take my affections elsewhere." She stared at him, shocked. Part of her really didn't understand what he was saying.

"Master Peeta, I think perhaps you have hit your head at some time, and are confused. I am a housemaid. You are the heir to Chatsworth. No never mind if I'm interested in you, nothing can come of it. You are required to meet and marry a lady of breeding, of which I am not. There is no point in continuing this conversation." She gathered up the linen she needed to deliver to the laundry room, and stalked over to the door. His words stopped her as her hand lingered on the doorknob.

"Oh, there certainly is, Miss Everdeen. We'll speak again soon, no doubts about it."

She snuck into the forest the following day, exhausted after a frantic 24 hours. Thankfully Madge had recovered from her illness, and was able to take over her duties again, affording Katniss a luxurious half an hour to while away her time. No one ever said anything to her although she was sure that both Ms Trinket and Haymitch were aware she stole some time out there. She took it as a sign that they were happy enough with her performance to allow her this short time alone.

She sat on the grass, simply listening to the sounds of the forest come alive around her. She ran her hands across the heads of dandelions that had sprung up in the grass, and smiled to herself, remembering the field near her home that Primrose loved to play in. It, too, was covered in dandelions.

Katniss heard the distinct sound of footsteps begin to intrude on her peacefulness, and looked up to see Peeta walking towards her. She sighed. She really didn't feel like speaking to him after their altercation the day before, knowing she would probably sound like a bumbling fool if she spoke to him again. From a young age, she had never been able to express herself particularly well in social situations. She could read and write, as her mother had been adamant she learn from a young age, as she herself had. She had been taught the proper ways to interact – what to say and how to say it – in the company of others when she was on duty. How to politely converse if and when required. But general conversation, or when she was caught off guard? Words tended to betray her, and she often found herself floundering. So she had been flabbergasted that she had been able to speak to Peeta so concisely yesterday. She was sure that if she had not heard his conversation with Haymitch, she would never have had the nerve to speak to him so forcefully in the first place. She felt awkward when she was around him, and could only blame her inappropriate interaction on that. However, she knew it would seem rude if she stood up and walked away, now that she'd seen him.

He stopped in front of her and lowered himself to the ground, hitching his trousers and crossing his legs in front of him.

"Miss Everdeen," he greeted.

"Master Peeta," she replied. He shook his head.

"Please, call me Peeta."

"I'm sorry, Sir, I can't do that. It isn't proper." He sighed.

"Do you really think I care about what's proper or not?" he asked.

"I'm not sure. I don't really know you."

"Well, why don't you get to know me?"

"I'm not sure that's very proper either."

"Are you always this obstinate?"

"Are you always this persistent?"


"Well so am I." She looked at him defiantly, waiting for him to respond. The laugh rolled out of him, and he rested his elbows on his knees, tucking his chin into his hands. "What's so funny?" she demanded.

"You, Miss Everdeen, are a surprise a minute. No wonder I want to spend time with you." She shook her head and looked away. His words – and his gaze – left her feeling flustered. He sighed. "You still don't believe me, do you? That I could simply be interested in getting to know you better. That I might be interested in you."

"Mast- Peeta," she corrected herself, barely able to contain the eye roll that wanted to accompany it, "It does not matter what I think. Society may be backwards and continue to fall on old traditions that set our social standings, but it means nothing to me. You could be as poor as dirt for all I cared, and it would not make a difference." There were those words again! How confused she was as to where they came from, how well-spoken they made her sound. She could only assume her awkwardness brought out a side of her she had never knew existed.

"I didn't realise you were such an advocate for equality, Miss Everdeen," Peeta grinned. "Not everyone has such positive ideals as yourself."

"Well, most from the upper class wouldn't, as they are far too happy with what they have. It is the have-nots who struggle with how our society works. I do not see you complaining of your station."

"Oh, but I do." He looked at her intently. "Every morning I wake up cursing the fact that because of my place in society, I can't be with the woman who intrigues me more than any other I've met." His words pulled her up short as his meaning sunk in. He was actually talking about her. "Along with the fact that her obvious prejudice towards me is due to this."

"I beg to differ," she retorted. "While, yes, that is certainly part of the reason why your comments and suggestions are inappropriate, I simply have no interest in marriage and the like. So your advances are unnecessary and for nought." She pulled herself to her feet, prepared to storm off on him, when he sprang up beside her, and clasped his hand over her arm. She glared down at it.

"I would ask you to remove your hand, Sir," she demanded through gritted teeth.

"Gladly," he replied, dropping her arm, and promptly framing her face with both hands, pressing his lips to hers. Her cries of outrage were mumbles against his mouth, the thumps of her hands against his chest not making a difference. He simply wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her to him.

And it felt glorious.

Her hands gripped the front of his jacket, while her mouth fought angrily with his. It felt wrong on so many levels, but felt right on so many more. He made her feel a great many things she never thought she would.

He pulled away, resting his forehead on hers, his eyes closed, his breathing heavy and laboured.

"I'd say I'm sorry, Miss Everdeen, but I'm clearly not," he finally whispered, opening his eyes. She looked at him carefully, and saw the honest truth in them.

"Neither am I," she said quietly, surprising both of them with her words.

It was only the beginning.