“Morning, sleepyhead,” said a voice very near Miranda’s ear.
Miranda groaned. “Don’t sound so chipper. It’s annoying.”
“You have to be at Café Luxembourg by 8:30 to see Diane.”
Though the curtains were drawn, there was enough light in the room to recognize Andrea crouched over her. “What time is it?”
“All right. Don’t you have that--thing--wherever--”
“It’s an interview, and yes, I have to be in Washington Heights by 8.” Andrea leaned down now, nuzzling Miranda’s cheek with her nose. “Wanna fool around before I go?”
Miranda closed her eyes. She wanted to say yes, because fooling around with Andrea was one of her favorite pastimes. That said, she was crabby. And tired. “No. We don’t have time. And you know I like my coffee first.”
Andrea chuckled, the sound deep and seductive. “You know, sweetheart, one of the things I love best about you is that you’re so predictable.” Andrea slipped off the side of the bed, dipped out of sight, and reappeared with something in her hand. Something in the shape of a coffee cup. “Just how you like it.”
The scent wafted into her nose, and Miranda wondered how she’d missed it before. Just the promise of it made her feel better, and she reached out and took that first sip. Hot, so hot it almost hurt, it burned all the way down her throat and into her belly. Divine. She groaned. She took another sip. It burned again, and her head warmed while a chill slid through her body. Her nipples even perked up. After another swallow, she added, “We still don’t have much time.”
“We won’t need it.”
“Oh?” And then Miranda heard a buzzing sound, one that was becoming more familiar to her as the weeks passed. She nibbled her lip, intrigued. “Oh.”
“I’ll do all the work. You just lie back and think of England .”
Miranda laughed. She gulped down more coffee before setting the cup on the nightstand. That lovely, shadowed face was close to hers. “I taste like coffee.”
Andrea’s cool lips pressed against hers, and the contrast was wonderful. “Well I can never get enough coffee,” Andrea murmured against Miranda’s mouth.
Miranda hooked an arm around Andrea’s neck and pulled her down.
“So the samples were late, but I went through them last night and I think we’re in good shape. Did you say you wanted ten pieces to choose from?”
Miranda blinked. “Hmm?”
Nigel watched her. “The Azrouël samples. You wanted ten?”
“Oh.” Miranda waved her hand. “Fine.”
“Okaay. Is now a good time?”
“Yes, yes,” she said, leaning back in her chair and crossing her legs. Nigel vanished, and Miranda rubbed her calf against the opposite knee, enjoying the last vestiges of the memory. She felt warm, and content, and smug. Her morning had been stellar. She wondered how Nigel’s had been. Not as good. No one’s could have been as good as hers.
Even after months of, what would her mother call it? Canoodling, she thought. Six months of canoodling, etcetera, and things were going exceptionally well. The sex was fantastic, and frequent. Either Andrea’s entrance into her bedroom had delayed menopause, or Miranda wasn’t experiencing many symptoms of it, despite her doctor’s cheerfully dour warnings. Aside from the sex, Miranda was in love. Deeply. It felt like a first love, bright and hopeful and glowing. She’d chosen not to worry about consequences for once in her life, deciding that when the repercussions arrived, she would simply handle them as she handled every crisis. So she spent time at Andrea’s tiny, shabby apartment some weekends, but they stayed more often at Miranda’s townhouse. This was of course because of the girls, who were no longer as wary of Andrea’s presence. They’d grown to care for her very much, despite their initial reticence at welcoming another adult into their lives. Especially after Stephen’s abrupt departure.
But Andrea made everything easy for Miranda, even now. She’d been a spectacular assistant once she learned the ins and outs of the job, and as a lover, she was even better. It was somewhat shocking for Miranda, who did not expect to be as far gone at this stage in her life. Being the December half of the equation, she thought she would feel affection, even a gentle condescension, as she guided a youthful and inexperienced Andrea through their affair.
What a fool she’d been.
Andrea turned out to be quite experienced, thank you very much. And far more mature than Miranda in the practical part of relationships. Compromise was essential, according to her, though Miranda generally fought it tooth and nail. She’d come around though, even if it was sometimes unpleasant.
She genuinely loved Andrea, and had designs on her future. So what if she’d look like an old-fashioned Svengali? She deserved her share of pleasure. And it would add to her mystique. Or so she told herself.
Clasping her hands together, she relaxed in her chair and watched Nigel return with his rack of samples. She could tell immediately which pieces she wanted to use, but she allowed Nigel to walk her through his thought process, and made it seem as though he had final say. It was her routine these days, because Nigel needed an extra boost of confidence. She’d decided he would be leaving Runway soon. Miranda had stumbled upon something of interest that might suit him, but she wanted to build him up first. Besides, when he took the reins of Runway someday down the road, he’d need to make a lateral move for the board to accept him.
Somewhere deep down, Miranda thought Andrea’s influence was making her soft. She could not find it in herself to regret it.
As she shifted in her seat, one of her gluteal muscles complained. Thinking about her wake-up call, she couldn’t find it in herself to regret that either.
“Emily!” Miranda said a second time. This was getting ridiculous. She strode into the outer office. “Where is she?” she demanded.
“The bathroom?” Monique replied. Miranda thought the girl’s hands were quivering in terror.
“Again? Is she suffering from some sort of illness?”
“I’m not sure, ma’am. Miranda.”
“Well, tell her I need her. Now. If not sooner.”
Miranda returned to her desk. She looked at the clock. When five minutes passed, and Emily had not come in, she threw her pen down in frustration. Between her first assistant’s absence and the fact that Nigel was late for their 11:00 meeting, she was ready to explode. “Emily!” she shouted. Monique scurried in, pad in hand.
“You are not Emily. Where is Emily?”
“If you give me two minutes, I’ll get her.”
Not the bathroom then . “Go. And I’m coming with you.”
“Oh.” Monique swallowed. “You don’t have to. It will just take a second.”
Miranda inhaled, and flared her nostrils.
Monique quailed. “Um, I mean, okay.” The girl turned and clacked down the hall, and Miranda followed.
They went around the corner, and then another, to the main Runway boardroom. Monique pushed the door open, and Miranda realized that a quarter of her staff was there, watching what appeared to be a newscast on the large screen television. “Hello, former employees,” Miranda growled, and every head turned in her direction. They didn’t even appear panicked. “What is so important?”
Nigel leaned back in one of the chairs. “It’s a hostage thing. A guy with a gun has four people barricaded in a brownstone. We’re just… watching.” He glanced down at his watch. “Oh damn, I’m sorry. It’s just, you know, unfolding drama. I’m coming.”
Eyeing the group, she wondered if she was losing her touch. A year ago this never would have happened. The rest of her employees stood and skulked around Miranda one by one. “Outrageous,” she mumbled as they passed.
The reporter’s voice was loud in the silent room now. “Again, reports came in at 9:20 this morning that a hostage situation was in progress in Washington Heights, where a gunman stormed a home and is holding at least four people against their will.”
The reporter kept on talking, but Miranda’s brain had stalled. The words Washington Heights rang in her ears. But that was ridiculous. Washington Heights was an enormous neighborhood with thousands of residents. The likelihood of it being connected with Andrea was slim to none. Miranda would have heard something. She’d have gotten a phone call. Andrea was an intelligent woman. She would never get herself into a situation she couldn’t handle.
And besides, what were the chances?
Miranda blinked, eyes glued to the television.
That morning Andrea had said the woman she was scheduled to speak to had been a victim of domestic violence. If Miranda remembered correctly, she had recently filed a restraining order because her abusive ex had just been released from jail. And Andrea’s article was, in fact, about the uselessness of such restraining orders. At dinner only two nights before, she’d clearly stated that the 24 hours following the filing were the most dangerous.
“Miranda?” Nigel asked.
The reporter continued, “We believe the police have identified the hostages, but they are not releasing the names due to the ongoing nature of the investigation. There are also reports of shots fired, though we have no new information on the status of the hostages. Walter, I understand you have a report on recent gang violence in the area.”
Miranda looked at Nigel. “Give me your phone.”
He didn’t move for a moment, then reached into his jacket and handed it over. She dialed Andrea’s number from memory. She expected Andrea to pick up after two rings, as she always did when Miranda called. She expected Andrea to say that she was so sorry, but she was already back at the office covering the story of the hostage situation in Washington Heights, and could she call back later?
However, the phone did not ring. The call went straight to voicemail. Miranda listened to the cheerful message. “Hi, you’ve reached Andy Sachs of the New York Mirror. I’m not available, so please leave a message with your name and number, and I’ll be happy to return your call as soon as I can. Thanks, and have a great day!”
Miranda hung up, and dialed again. A second time it went to voicemail.
She called six times in a row with the same result. Finally, she left a message. “Call me back. Immediately.” She softened her voice, realizing she sounded terrified. “Please. Call me as soon as you can.” She hung up.
Glancing at the television, she realized they were repeating the same information over and over, the way they always did when they wanted to keep their audience but had nothing new to report. She dialed Emily’s extension.
“Nigel, are you trying to get me--”
“Emily,” Miranda barked. “I need two phone numbers. One: Detective Marcus Samuelson of the 22nd precinct. It’s in my database. Two: the phone number for the editor of the New York Mirror. I believe his name is Aaron Edmunds. Bring them to the conference room, as well as my Blackberry. I need these things immediately. Immediately. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Miranda.” Emily hung up.
Miranda did not move, reading the crawl that trudged slowly across the bottom of the television screen. It was the same information yet again.
Andrea was fine. Miranda was sure of it. She was worried for nothing.
She dialed Andrea’s number again, without success.
Nigel took a step toward Miranda. “The New York Mirror ?”
Miranda didn’t reply.
“I know someone who works there.” Miranda met his eyes, confused and uncertain. “You know someone who works there too.”
Emily appeared and nearly threw the Blackberry at Miranda. She handed over a post-it with both numbers on it. Miranda ignored her, and Emily vanished from whence she came. First, Aaron Edmunds. The number was busy. She tried again. Busy. She cursed. “Does no one work on Wednesdays?” She laughed, pretending there wasn’t a note of hysteria to the sound. Next, she tried Detective Samuelson.
“Samuelson,” saida gruff voice.
“Detective, this is Miranda Priestly. It’s imperative that we speak.”
“Hey, good to hear from you, Miranda. Your timing is rotten though--I’m in the middle of a situation--”
“Detective, I need the names of the hostages being held right now in Washington Heights.”
There was an extended period of silence. “I don’t see why you think I’d have that information, ma’am. It’s not my precinct.”
“I don’t really care about that, Detective. Every eye in the city is on this story right now and I’m certain if you don’t know the names, you can unearth them.”
“Miranda, no way. It’s against regulation.”
“I won’t accept that. I must have the names. Right now.”
The man sighed. “We’re not certain who’s in the house--”
“I can smell horseshit as well as you, Detective. I know you know.” She waited, but sensed he would not budge. “All right. How about this. How about I give you a name, and you say yes or no. That isn’t providing information. It’s just a word. Yes or no. All right?”
“Please, Marcus. Please.” Her voice was ragged, which was how she felt. Desperate. “I will owe you. And that means something, coming from me.”
Eyes closed, she held her breath. Finally, the man replied, “Go.”
Miranda glanced up at Nigel, and said, “Andrea Sachs.”
There was no reply. Miranda’s heart froze, and she thought the blood might be draining out of her body from some unknown location. A vein must have inconveniently opened up without her knowledge.
“She go by Andy?” Marcus said.
“Yes,” Miranda choked.
The room tilted, and when she opened her eyes, Nigel was looking down at her. She realized she was in a chair, and the phone was still at her ear. “Miranda?” Marcus was saying.
“I can’t tell you any more.”
“Wait a second, wait,” Miranda said, and laid her hand on the conference table. She looked at it, and wondered at how steady it was. How it was still attached to her body at all. It felt odd. “Wait,” she repeated.
“I have to go--”
Unacceptable . Andrea was in danger. Miranda could not possibly lose focus now. “Detective, I’ll need you to pick me up outside the Elias-Clarke building in ten minutes.”
There was a stunned snort. “Miranda, I can’t do that. I’ve got other cases I’m--”
“If you don’t arrive within ten minutes to deliver me to the scene, I will call every single local station in the Tri-State area and tell them the reporter inside that house was covering a story about the inadequacies of the New York City police department’s restraining orders, as well as the ineffective protection of victims of domestic violence--”
“God-fucking-dammit, Miranda, you can’t do that--”
“Nine minutes, Detective. I’ll have reporters from across in the city on your doorstep asking questions if you don’t help me.”
“Fuck you, Priestly.”
“Fuck you, Samuelson.” There was a pause, and Miranda prayed that she had not blown her best chance to be close to the scene.
“Fuck. I’ll be there.”
Miranda hung up the phone. When she finally looked back at Nigel, now seated only a few inches away, he was staring at her.
“Well,” she said.
“Do you really want to go up there?” he asked.
Miranda watched him, and thought perhaps something unusual was happening to her sight, because his skin seemed off-color. Everything looked strange, in fact. Perhaps it was some sort of panic attack. “What?”
“Are you sure you want to get involved? And how do you even know what’s going on?”
Miranda shook her head in disbelief. “Andrea is my lover,” she said. “I’m involved whether I like it or not.”
“Your lover. Jesus Christ.” He sat back and put a hand to his forehead. “Jesus. You can’t go out there, Miranda.”
“Isn’t it obvious? You’ll be surrounded by press, and people asking questions, and you won’t be able to do anything anyway--“
“How do you know? And do you really think I care what anyone says about me?” She looked at him as though she’d never seen him before. “What would you do if someone you loved more than nearly anyone in the world were in danger? Would you be worried about your precious career? Would you give a flying fuck if you ended up on the cover of the Post every day for the rest of your life?” She stood, taking a moment to steady herself. “Because I don’t. I’m leaving. Handle everything today. I don’t care what you cancel. Do what you want.”
“When are you coming back?” he asked.
“I don’t know.” When Andrea is safe, she thought. Or not at all.
The car idled at the curb, but on her way toward it, Miranda collided with something tall and solid that had seemingly come out of nowhere.
“Whoops! ‘Scuse me--”
Miranda realized that the solid thing was a person. Andrea. Andrea, who had been gone from Runway for almost a year, and whom Miranda had seen exactly once near this very same location. She raised an eyebrow.
“Miranda! I’m so sorry I didn’t see you--I was just in a rush to get started on something and I wasn’t looking where I was going. I really apologize.” She smiled brightly, and Miranda felt something tug in her belly. Something she could not quite put a name to.
“Well, yes. All right then. Go on.” Miranda stepped around her.
“Wait a second, aren’t you even going to say hello?” Andrea looked crushed.
“How are you?”
“I thought you were in a rush to ‘get started on something.’”
Andrea rolled her eyes. “It can wait. For you. And since you’re here, if you have a second, I’ve wanted to tell you something for a while now.”
Miranda tried not to look curious. “Oh?”
“Yeah. Um. Well, I’m sorry for the way I acted. When I walked out on you. That was really stupid.”
With a sniff, Miranda looked over Andrea’s shoulder toward the car, attempting a façade of indifference. “That’s all right.”
Andrea tugged her sleeve, and Miranda looked at her. “It’s not. It was awful. I just got… overwhelmed. I was so upset, for Nigel, I didn’t even think about the decision you had to make, and what would have happened if it had all--”
“Yes, I see,” Miranda said. She looked around, hoping no one had overheard anything. “It was a long time ago.”
“Anyway, if I could do things differently, I would. Honestly. You might not believe this, but I really liked working for you, Miranda.”
“Did you, now?”
“Yeah. I mean, you drove me kind of crazy, but comparatively speaking my job’s boring.”
“Crazy,” Miranda said, and found herself smiling wickedly. “How sweet.”
Andrea smiled again. “Of course you drove me crazy! I’m still not over the ‘Harry Potter’ extravaganza yet.”
Almost against her will, Miranda let down her guard. “That was a good one, wasn’t it,” she said slyly. This was, surprisingly, like talking to an old friend. No one who worked for her was so relaxed around her. No one who’d ever worked for her, in fact. Even those who’d left on good terms were alert, waiting for her to strike, or accuse. Which she could have done with Andrea, but for some reason, didn’t.
“Yeah, only you would say that.” Andrea bit her lip, and Miranda’s eyes were drawn to the image. “Hey, would you let me take you to lunch? To say thanks for everything?”
“Lunch. With you.”
“Sure! You can tell me how awful everyone is at Runway, and for the last three minutes, I’ll tell you how I’m doing.”
Miranda firmed her lips against a smile. She would not laugh. “I’m very busy.”
“I know. But if anyone asks, you can just tell them we had lunch so you could bitch me out. You know, make threats and such.”
“No one ever asks me anything,” Miranda purred in lieu of an answer.
Little crinkles formed at the corners of Andrea’s eyes as she chuckled. “Oh yeah, forgot already. Then you have no excuse. How about Thursday?”
“I’ll have to check my schedule.”
“Good! Thursday then, 1:00 . I’ll be down here, okay? If you don’t come, I’ll know you’re busy. And if not this week, then next. I’ll wait here every Thursday till you show up. Okay?”
Miranda was caught in a web. It was an unusual experience to feel not like the spider, but the fly. “All right.”
“Great! I’ll see you Thursday. Have a great day!” She backed away from Miranda then, and nearly tripped over her heels as she did so. “Whoops.” Miranda covered her mouth. At least Andrea’s fashion sense had not reverted to Old Navy; she was wearing a gorgeous pair of Zanottis.
Finally, Miranda strode toward the car and slid inside. “Go,” she told Roy . As they drove down the street, she passed Andrea, whose smile was enormous. She looked almost ecstatic. “Hmm.”
Miranda had waited for Andrea in this very spot. Not the first Thursday, though she had been free. There was something in her that wanted to know if Andrea would follow through with waiting every week until Miranda showed up. She had. The second Thursday was what Miranda considered their first date.
She glanced down at her watch. It had been nearly fifteen minutes, but she was giving Detective Samuelson the benefit of the doubt. If he didn’t arrive in three minutes, she would go to the location regardless and talk her way in. And make a few phone calls on her way.
But after a moment, she saw a dark, unmarked car speed up to the curb, tires squealing as it came to a stop. Miranda rushed toward it, her cheeks already numb from the cold. She slid into the car and slammed the door, barely looking at Samuelson.
They didn’t speak for the first minute or so. Miranda was thinking only of Andrea, and her stomach was becoming more unsettled. “What do you know?” she finally asked sharply.
Marcus scratched what looked like day-old stubble on his jaw. “Probably less than you. What’s your connection?”
“How do you know her? I heard she’s just a cub reporter in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“She worked for me. And you might as well know that we’re together.”
From the corner of her eye, she saw Samuelson turn toward her. “What the fuck does that mean?”
“It means she’s my lover.”
“Fucking hell. No way, Miranda. I’m turning around.”
Miranda pulled out her phone. “Fine. I’ll call New York 1 first.”
She saw the detective grit his teeth, breathing through them noisily. “So you get the pillow talk, huh.”
“If you’re implying that Andrea shares information about the stories she works on, you’re correct. It’s perfectly legal. You don’t have to insult me.”
“Insult you? You’re blackmailing me, woman. What the hell do you expect?”
“It’s not blackmail. It’s assistance. For which you will be well compensated.”
“You paying me?”
“No. But you’ll keep your job.”
He exhaled. “Bitch.”
Miranda ignored him. “I asked what you knew about the situation.”
“Fine. We got a call from a neighbor about gunfire sometime after 9am, and when a couple of uniforms knocked on the door they heard another shot. The door was already barricaded by that point and the guy was screaming about killing some people inside. We set up camp, asked around, made some phone calls and IDed your Andy as a reporter on the scene.”
“She’d handed out her card, and talked to a bunch of the folks in the neighborhood about Joey. They’d gotten used to her coming around. Two people saw her go inside with Maria and the kids this morning.”
“I take it ‘Joey’ is the suspect in question.”
“That’s the deal. He got three months for assaulting a convenience store clerk down in Harlem a while back, and with time served it was barely four weeks. He got out, got high and went straight there.”
The news did not ease Miranda’s mind in the least. “What are their chances?”
He huffed. “Christ, Priestly, I have no clue. He’s violent, he’s a tweaker, he’s a repeat offender. Meth makes people crazy. If he was a dope fiend they’d probably be smoking a bowl together. Too bad, huh.”
Miranda shut her eyes and asked the question that had plagued her. “How do you…” She paused to be certain her voice wouldn’t break. “How do you know the hostages are still alive?”
Samuelson honked the horn twice at the traffic in front of them. Finally, he put on the siren. It screamed in Miranda’s ears and made little difference in their progress. “Thermal imaging.”
“There’s a camera that can detect heat signatures. Live bodies read red. Believe me, Miranda, there are five people in that house, and they’re all alive. Last I heard, anyway.”
“When will we get there?” Miranda wrung her hands.
“Few minutes. But I’m laying down some ground rules.”
“Stay out of the way. Don’t talk to the press. Don’t speak to anyone but me. Don’t bother the cops, they’re trying to save your girlfriend’s life. Stay behind the tape. Don’t talk to the press.”
Miranda chewed the inside of her cheek. “You said that twice.”
“That means it’s twice as important as anything else. Don’t call anyone and tell them what’s happening. If any plans the rescue team sets in motion go public, they could blow it on camera.”
Samuelson turned to her, his expression telegraphing that she was possibly the stupidest person on the planet. “Bad guys watch tv, Miranda. They watch to know what’s happening. There’s a 99% chance the tv’s on inside and the guy knows exactly what we’re up to because of live reports happening fifty feet outside his door.”
Though she felt silly for making the suggestion, Miranda offered, “Then the press should feed inaccurate information. They have to mislead him.”
The detective chuckled. “It’s been done. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Let’s just see how it goes, okay?” The car drove up to a barricade, and two police officers waved them through.
After four Thursday lunches, half of which went over the two hour mark, Miranda suspected Andrea was trying to tell her something.
Miranda had only an inkling of that ‘something’ when they’d worked together. Then, it had just been a spark. An attraction that Miranda had initially written off, because it seemed silly. Crushes were not Miranda Priestly’s style. She had affairs. Sexual encounters. Marriages. Divorces. But nothing so simple as an unrequited crush.
But now it did not seem unrequited. To Miranda’s eyes, Andrea appeared… enthralled. Giddy. She blushed, she smiled, she stammered, she stared. It was positively bizarre.
And after each lunch, Miranda counted the days until the next, and looked forward to it with an anticipation that stirred something long dormant within her.
Of course, all of this remained unspoken, so it was possible (however unlikely) that Andrea did not, in fact, have the hots for her. But Miranda was determined not to show her hand. Yet.
Following the fifth lunch, Miranda offered to drive Andrea back to the office, because again, they ran late. “Thanks so much for the ride. I know it’s out of the way,” Andrea said.
“A few blocks. I don’t mind.”
“Still, it’s nice of you. I really love seeing you, and I’d hate to have to cut things short. This saves me time.”
“Well,” Miranda said. “That’s fine.”
“I mean it, Miranda. I, um, spending time with you--I don’t know what I’m saying. I see you so differently now.”
“Now that I’m not assigning you impossible tasks?”
Andrea laughed. “I suppose. And I guess you’re just… fun. I have fun. With you.”
“Fun,” Miranda sighed. “I don’t think anyone’s accused me of being fun for at least fifteen years.”
“Then they just aren’t paying enough attention,” Andrea replied. The young woman tilted her head down and looked up, brown eyes luminous beneath thick lashes. It was a model-perfect pose, one which gave Miranda an odd little flutter between her legs.
Flirting, Miranda thought. She’s flirting with me. “Their loss,” Miranda said faintly.
“And my gain.” Andrea slid close to Miranda then and kissed her cheek. Miranda’s heart stuttered at the touch. How long had it been since that happened? “Oh gee,” Andrea said, flustered. “I left lipstick. Shoot.” She reached into her purse and grabbed a tissue. “Let me--” she began carefully wiping at the mark on Miranda’s skin. Miranda flushed from the top of her head down. “Don’t want anyone at Runway to suspect you’ve been getting busy on your lunch hour.”
Take the chance, Miranda told herself. “That wouldn’t be so terrible, would it?”
Andrea kept brushing at the mark, and said, almost to herself, “Your skin’s soft.” Her fingers stilled. “What did you say?”
Miranda took a breath. “I said, that wouldn’t be so terrible.”
Andrea blinked, eyes huge and dark. “Anyone at Runway suspecting, or the, uh, getting busy part?” she whispered.
Miranda barely hung on to her train of thought. “Both.”
Andrea made a sound then, something like a whimper, and Miranda lunged. Not that she had far to go, with that lovely face only inches away. Her lips captured Andrea’s, soft and pliant, not at all surprised at the move, for they welcomed her easily. Hands dove into Miranda’s hair. Blunt nails raked gently at her skull, and she gasped at the sensation. Briefly Miranda recalled Roy in the front seat, until Andrea’s tongue slipped into her mouth and she chose not to be concerned. He was well remunerated for his position. Perhaps a bonus would be in order.
Miranda breathed her in, fingertips grazing the edges of ears down to delicate collarbones. Andrea’s skin was warm and smooth. Could she really be so delightful all over? Miranda imagined exploring this body; Andrea would be a veritable feast for her senses.
But not this afternoon. Not in the car. And not in the two minutes they had left before they arrived at The Mirror.
With an intense pang of regret, Miranda pulled away and leaned her forehead against Andrea’s. They were both panting, and Andrea pressed her fingers to Miranda’s lips. “Oh, Miranda,” she murmured, “I’ve wanted to do that for so long.”
“So let’s not waste any more time,” Miranda replied, finally opening her eyes.
“Come for dinner Saturday?”
Andrea’s face crumbled. “Saturday?”
“That’s not for two days!” she whined.
Surprised, Miranda chuckled. At least she was not alone in her desire. “I can’t tonight, and tomorrow I’m double booked. Saturday we’ll have… all evening.”
There was that breathy whimper again, and Miranda melted. She could stand to hear that a lot more often. “What time?” Andrea asked.
“Seven?” Miranda tried.
“How about six?”
Miranda slid a hand into Andrea’s hair, the strands slipping along her fingers like corn silk. “How about 5:30?”
“Better,” she said, looking pleased that Miranda had caught her drift. “I can hardly wait.”
For a single moment, Miranda hesitated. She did not want to stop what was happening, but it felt odd to embrace something new so easily. “What do you suppose we’re doing?”
Andrea grinned shyly. “Getting to know each other?” she offered. “Acting crazy? I’m not sure. But… I like it.” She stroked Miranda’s cheek. “I like you.”
Miranda kissed her again, enjoying the faint flavor of coffee on Andrea’s mouth.
Miranda gulped at the lukewarm brew, wishing she could spit it out. But she needed the caffeine. God knew how the police department could manage living on such swill. She kept her eye on Samuelson, who had apparently been reamed out for bringing a civilian past the yellow tape, but whatever he’d answered with had been enough to keep Miranda close. There were two barriers to the house where Andrea was, one for the public and the press, another for the police. The entire block was empty of passers-by, and residents had been cleared from nearby homes.
Otherwise, everything looked perfectly fine.
She knew no more than what she initially had about Andrea’s situation. But she was here, and she trusted Marcus to tell her what she needed to know. And if he didn’t, at this point she didn’t really care. She cared about nothing but seeing Andrea safe.
The fear of losing her was paralyzing.
Miranda had experienced a number of traumas in her life; the death of her father, the dissolution of two marriages, Cassidy’s bout with respiratory illness as a newborn preemie. Of all that she’d gone through, only the last reminded her of the feeling she had today. Helpless. Inadequate. And worst, the knowledge that for all her power and wealth, she could do literally nothing to help the one she loved.
She could stand by, and drink bad coffee, and wring her hands. But if it all went to hell, Andrea would have to rely on others. They looked competent, with their bulletproof vests and SWAT jackets. And guns. Typically Miranda had an aversion to guns and violence of any kind. But she thought she could very easily kill the man who held Andrea captive if she had the opportunity. In fact, she visualized just that. Walking into the house with a gun and shooting him, repeatedly. She wouldn’t feel guilty for taking a human life. Not that she’d ever pondered the idea of murder in the past, but on this day, she wouldn’t mind holding a piece of cold, solid steel in her hand and firing a bullet into a man’s head.
Shaking herself out of her vision, she looked around. There was nowhere to sit. She leaned on the hood of a car and drank her coffee.
Ten minutes later, Marcus returned. “Hey,” he said.
“No news. They’re calling the house. So far they’ve made contact once but the guy won’t talk yet. I’ve seen this stuff before. He’s in trouble; he’s thinking about what he wants, what he can ask for. He’s dumb, like they always are. They believe they can walk out and the police will honor their promises.”
“You know. ‘If you don’t harm the hostages, we’ll talk things out. We’ll only charge you with reckless endangerment. We’ll put you in a car and drive you to the airport and you can leave the country. Trust us.’ Shit like that.”
“Surely people aren’t so stupid?”
“You’d be amazed. These are crimes of passion. Guys lose their marbles and freak out, and then their reason comes back but it’s too late. Sometimes, they know what’s coming and they can’t take it. They walk out of the house aiming a gun. Suicide by cop.”
Miranda looked out across the street and exhaled, watching the fog her breath made. “Do they usually kill the hostages?”
Samuelson shrugged. “Sometimes. The fact that they’re not dead yet is a good sign. Maybe.” He looked at Miranda. “No promises, okay? Cops tell families they’ll do everything they can. And they will. But I won’t lie to you. It’s a crapshoot.”
She nodded, keeping her mouth closed. Saliva gathered in her mouth, and she thought she might vomit.
“Sorry,” Marcus said, finally. “This is one of the worst days of your life. Hers too. I’m not being very nice. But you put me in a shitty position. I hate being manipulated.”
Miranda swallowed down bile and breathed through her nose. “We do what we must, Detective. This is where I need to be. I’d have gotten here with or without your help, eventually.”
To Miranda’s surprise, Marcus chuckled. “You know, Priestly, I like you. I don’t know anybody else who could say that and make me believe it. But you I buy.” He reached into his pocket and produced a pack of Marlboro Lights. He lit one before glancing over at Miranda. “Want one?”
Without hesitation, she said, “Yes.” She put the cigarette between her lips and held still as Marcus lit it. After seventeen years without, she could take up smoking for a few minutes. It tasted terrible, but it was familiar, and good.
They smoked in silence, until Marcus asked, “You wanna talk about her?”
“I don’t know.” Miranda inspected the tip of the burning cigarette.
Next to her, he leaned against the car. “Start simple. What’s she like?”
She thought about Andrea, and the words left her mouth before she could call them back. “She’s like the sun.”
When Miranda opened the door at 5:23 on Saturday, Andrea’s smile was radiant. Miranda had to close her eyes for a moment against the brilliance, which made her feel raw and a little uncomfortable. She was unused to so much emotion so close to the surface. When she opened her eyes, she noticed how Andrea’s skin shone against the gray humidity of an Indian summer evening. A storm was coming. Rain seemed suspended above the city, and she waved Andrea inside.
“Come in, it’s hot,” she said.
“I know. Hi,” Andrea replied, and wrapped her arms around Miranda’s neck without hesitation.
Miranda nearly pulled away, but instead put her hands on Andrea’s hips. “Hello.”
Andrea read her uncertainty, and her face lost some of its shine. “Is it… is this okay?”
“Yes, yes, of course.” She had, after all, been thinking of holding Andrea in her arms since the moment they’d parted on Thursday. It was silly to suddenly feel, of all things, nervous.
Andrea narrowed her eyes. “Hmm,” she said with a tilt of her head. “So it looks like I have two choices. Back off some, and give you space. That’s probably what I would have done a while ago.” But Andrea did not back off. She stepped closer, and Miranda inhaled the intense peppermint scent of her breath. “Or, I could skip the whole space thing altogether, and do what I want.” Miranda’s eyelids drooped when she felt Andrea’s breasts shift against her own. “What do you think, Miranda?”
Somewhere along the line, Miranda had lost control of the situation. She had planned out the whole evening; a selection of divine little appetizers awaited them in the dining room. She’d poured wine. She’d arranged flowers. Dinner waited in the oven, dessert chilled in the refrigerator. But none of those things seemed very important. “I--I don’t--”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. I’ll do the thinking for both of us. And I want to get started right now.”
“What do--” But Miranda did not finish, since Andrea’s mouth was on hers. They kissed, and it was so good, and fresh, and tingly, because apparently Andrea had eaten an entire tin of mints before her arrival. Miranda wanted more of that taste, and she sucked Andrea’s lower lip, full and soft, into her mouth.
Andrea gasped, and the sound raced Miranda’s heart. There was a tugging at her blouse, and nimble fingers freed most of the tiny buttons quickly. Miranda threw her head back and felt a tongue lick the base of her throat, until it traveled a wet path around to the nape of her neck. From behind, Andrea opened the blouse and slid it down, exposing Miranda’s shoulder blades. Unsteady on her feet, Miranda looked for something to cling to, and staggered toward the hall table. Andrea followed closely, mouth never leaving her skin. Miranda leaned all her weight on her arms, because her legs were hot, like liquid about to reach the boiling point. In the mirror above the table, Miranda saw herself, unrecognizable, lipstick kissed off, bra exposed, as two hands explored her body.
It turned her on immensely. She groaned, low and rough. Unashamed.
Andrea responded, meeting Miranda’s eyes in the glass, echoing the sound. The secondary stimulation of watching Andrea devour her flesh, teeth raking at her shoulders, made Miranda burn between her legs. She would not be able to wait much longer, especially when Andrea’s hands found her breasts, delving beneath her bra. “Oh god,” Miranda murmured, and found herself doing something she rarely did during sex. Or ever. “Please,” she said, again and again, until Andrea loomed over her shoulder and unzipped her skirt. She looked her straight in the eye.
“All right,” Andrea said, before sliding the tip of her tongue along the edge of Miranda’s ear. The skirt dropped to the floor. Andrea’s hands finished unbuttoning Miranda’s blouse without bothering to pull it all the way off. “You’re beautiful. So beautiful,” she said quietly, before returning to Miranda’s breasts, holding them, flicking her nipples. One hand abandoned its pursuit for another, moving down between Miranda’s trembling thighs. She did not wait, or tease, slipping beneath the lace and diving into the wet. Miranda’s hips bucked of their own volition, and she nearly fell backwards, but Andrea was there to steady her. She rubbed, and whispered, and kissed, and within moments, Miranda stumbled to the edge of an orgasm so sharp and bright she felt as though every cell gathered itself up and exploded outward. A noise left her throat as the wave rolled over her, and all the while Andrea stroked her through it, coaxing out more pleasure and moaning her own.
Miranda drifted in the haze for a while, until she could lift her head and gaze once more into Andrea’s eyes. Normally wide and curious, they were at only half-mast. Her plush lips curled into a seductive smile, until she removed her hand from between Miranda’s legs and lifted it to her mouth. Andrea inhaled, and Miranda felt her knees go weak when that talented tongue flicked out for a taste. “Hmm,” Andrea said, “Interesting.”
Miranda couldn’t mask the chuckle that escaped. “Oh?”
“Wouldn’t mind some more,” she said.
At that, Miranda found the strength to turn in Andrea’s arms. “Later,” she replied. “You’ve distracted me quite enough.”
“You mean that wasn’t on your mind when you asked me over?” Andrea questioned.
“I didn’t say that,” Miranda assured her. “But you weren’t what I expected. At all.”
“What did you expect?”
Miranda trailed her index finger down a smooth cheek, and across lips that shaped themselves into a kiss. “Nothing so… exceptional.”
“You know how I like to be the exception to your rules.”
“Oh, I do indeed,” Miranda said, recalling that first day Andrea set foot in her office. “What a lucky thing.”
At that, Miranda took Andrea’s hand, ignoring the slickness on her fingers, and led her through the house toward the dining room. She felt silly with her blouse still down around her wrists, so she pulled it back on. Though she was only missing her skirt, she felt naked. She even wore her shoes, for god’s sake, and Andrea was fully clothed. But she didn’t mind any of that when she saw the look of utter wonder on Andrea’s face at the set up on the dining room table.
“Oh my gosh,” she gasped. “Am I the only one invited?”
Miranda cleared her throat, amused. “Yes.
“There’s a lot of food!”
“You only eat salad when we have lunch. I didn’t know what you like, so I just got… everything.”
Andrea glanced at Miranda, suddenly shy. “I--well. I didn’t want you to think I ate too much.” She cringed.
Miranda hadn’t suspected that fact, even though it made complete sense now as she looked back. Andrea had always picked at her food, barely finishing, but taking a long time before she put down her fork. “Perhaps you’ll think differently now,” Miranda said, anxious to correct the erroneous assumption.
“I guess,” Andrea said.
As Andrea surveyed the table, Miranda considered her own options. She wanted Andrea’s little black dress--was that Stella McCartney?--off. The dining room chairs were not going to help her achieve her goal, either; too uncomfortable. She had inconveniently covered the entire table with various culinary delights, but she was nothing if not persistent. “Let me see.” She moved the quiches to the side; they’d be fine for a while longer. She handed a truffle-oil drizzled mushroom crostini to Andrea, who groaned when she took a first bite. The serving tray was moved to the banquette just behind the table. The fruit followed, as well as the dishes, leaving a person-sized space in the middle of the arrangement. “Perfect.”
“Absolutely,” Andrea said, popping the last of the treat into her mouth. She was oblivious to what Miranda was doing. “Hey, I want another one of those.” She reached out and took one, and was halfway through it when Miranda handed over a glass of chilled white wine. “Mm, thanks. Hey, aren’t you having anything?”
“Oh yes,” Miranda said, and reached behind Andrea to unzip her dress in one smooth motion. She took the glass out of Andrea’s hand and set it on the table before grasping the straps of the silky garment and dragging it down. Her breath caught. Miranda had her suspicions that there was a fine figure beneath Andrea’s clothes, but in general the young woman dressed conservatively. Her legs were long and lean, reminding Miranda of the difference in their heights. Slim hips curved gently at the waist, leading up to breasts that begged to be held and touched and tasted. “I see something I’d like to have, very much.” With that, she pushed against Andrea’s chest, nudging her onto the table. “If you don’t mind.”
“Uh,” Andrea said, “Okay.”
Miranda surveyed the body before her, considering where to start. When she glanced up, she realized Andrea looked uncomfortable, almost recoiling under the intense gaze. “What are you thinking?”
“Nothing.” Andrea gulped her wine.
“You just ravished me in my foyer after being in my home all of thirty seconds. Now you look worried. Why?”
Shifting one arm around her stomach, Andrea shrugged. “I know I’m not a model or anything…”
Miranda inhaled sharply. For all Andrea’s apparent self-confidence, insecurity lurked just beneath the surface. “I have worked in fashion for decades, Andrea. You realize that if I chose to, I could have anyone I wanted.” She raised an eyebrow. “I always get what I want.”
“Yeah,” Andrea said with a nod.
“Then you must realize that I want you, in particular.” Reaching out, she ran a finger down the side of Andrea’s neck, between her breasts, veering off to caress one responsive nipple. She heard a gasp, and saw Andrea swallow. “Only you.” Licking her lips, she stepped forward between Andrea’s thighs. “My hesitation is not criticism. I’m simply… enjoying the view. The anticipation.” Gently, so gently, she trailed her fingertips along one leg, smiling when she saw Andrea shiver. “I want this to last. I want to remember every moment.”
“Oh,” Andrea said. It was barely a whisper.
Finally, she leaned down and pressed her lips to Andrea’s once again, gratified when they opened beneath hers. The kiss was long, and deep, and delicious, and it ended only when Miranda could not resist the call of other pleasures that awaited. And so she traveled carefully down Andrea’s body, worshipping her skin, soft as a baby’s and barely touched by the sun. Bra and underwear were discarded quickly, the mewling whimpers urging her on. “You are exquisite,” she said, unable to imagine a more appropriate word. “Lovely.”
“Am I?” Andrea managed to say.
“Like ivory,” Miranda purred, inhaling one pale pink nipple while Andrea writhed beneath her. As quickly as Andrea had made love to her, Miranda wanted to draw things out. It was wonderful, everything Miranda had hoped, and when she finally put her hand between Andrea’s thighs, the reaction was a revelation. Andrea emitted a desperate wail of need and grabbed at Miranda’s head, practically hyperventilating. There was a constant stream of sound in her ears, only some of which made sense, and Andrea’s legs wrapped around her hips. Miranda pushed inside, her palm slipping easily in the wetness. Andrea arched then and stilled, crying out, and Miranda felt the unmistakable pressure of an orgasm around her fingers.
The vision of Andrea coming down from it, porcelain skin flushed, was incredibly satisfying. She panted, she trembled, she gasped for air, and she looked up at Miranda as though stunned by it all.
“All right?” Miranda said softly.
“Uh huh.” Andrea licked her lips, eyes wide.
Bending down, she kissed Andrea’s cheek and rubbed her nose into her hair. Already Miranda was aroused again; the scent of Andrea’s body was intoxicating.
“We’re on our own for the whole evening, aren’t we?” Andrea whispered.
“Good.” She looked over her shoulder at the plates, some of which had jostled and fallen over from their frantic motion. “I’m glad you planned ahead with so much food, because it’s going to be a long night.” She reached out and snagged a lonely strawberry from the table, offering it to Miranda.
Miranda smiled and bit into the fruit, enjoying the thrill that slithered up her spine.
“I don’t want to eat. I can’t.” Miranda turned her head away, the scent of the hamburger turning her stomach.
“You have to. If we’re here all day and night, you’ll turn psycho on me, and we’ll both suffer. Eat, Priestly. Or you’re going back downtown.”
She pursed her lips before taking the white bag from Samuelson. She would do it for Andrea. And if she threw up, she would make sure to do it on Samuelson’s shoes. But from the look of them, they’d already been through worse.
Returning to her post on the hood of Samuelson’s car, she nibbled at the sandwich, struck dumb when hunger overtook her after the first bite. It was already 2:30; she’d been here more than two hours and nothing had happened. She could tell there were phone conversations taking place between someone or another; the echo and scream of walkie talkies was everywhere. The reporters still hovered nearby, and Miranda wondered if anyone had recognized her yet. She hoped not. She didn’t want the children--
Oh, god. Her children. And Andrea’s parents. They didn’t know, did they?
Quickly she choked down most of the hamburger, ignoring the greasy French fries in the bottom of the bag. When she was done, she pulled out her phone, which had not rung once that afternoon, and dialed Emily.
“Get me Andrea’s emergency contact information. We should still have it on file.”
“Yes, Miranda. Hold on.” She listened to their hold music, amazed that Emily had not even flinched at her request. Nigel must have told her the news. He must have told everyone. Miranda experienced only a twinge of dissatisfaction. She was officially out of the closet, she supposed. “I’ve got it,” Emily said, interrupting her train of thought.
Miranda wrote the phone numbers down on the white take-out bag. “Thank you,” she said distantly, dreading the upcoming conversation.
“Are you all right? What’s happening?”
Struck by the concern in Emily’s voice, Miranda replied, “I’m fine. Just… waiting.”
“I’m sorry. We’re here if you need anything. Anything at all.”
Miranda felt her throat close. She did not want more of this kindness. “Fine.” She hung up, and swallowed with effort. No tears. Not now. She wished Marcus would come back around and order her to get her shit together again. That was far more helpful.
Before she lost her nerve, she dialed the first number on the bag beneath the scribbled words: Charles, cell. Before the phone rang even once, a man picked up. “Hello?” He was frantic; he knew.
“Mr. Sachs, this is Miranda Priestly. I take it you’re aware of the situation?”
There was a long pause. “Miranda? What is this? Why are you calling, we need to keep the line clear--”
“I’m very near the location where your daughter is being held, Mr. Sachs. I just wanted to--” As she said the words, she wasn’t even sure why she was calling. To communicate with someone else who knew and loved Andrea. To relate to another person whose world would fall apart if anything happened to her. “To be sure you knew.”
“We got a call from the paper. We’re at the airport--our flight takes off in twenty minutes.”
“Good. Is someone collecting you from the terminal? The police?”
“No, they just told us to go to the precinct--”
“I’ll have a car waiting. Which airport, airline, and flight number?”
“What?” Charles said, flustered. “Kennedy, on Delta. Hold on, Miranda. What are you doing there?”
Miranda winced, and hoped that if she stuck to the facts, he wouldn’t ask too much. “Andrea and I are very close, Mr. Sachs. We can discuss it later. But the most important thing is for you to be here. The number I’m calling from is my cell--contact me as soon as you can. And if anything happens, I’ll phone you immediately.”
“Okay,” he said. “It’s flight 132. And thank you. I’m glad someone’s… there for her.”
“I am, Mr. Sachs. Very much so. Stay in touch.”
Miranda heard the click that indicated he’d hung up, and she took a deep breath. She phoned Emily with details about the Sachs’ arrival in New York, and Emily breathlessly agreed to handle everything, including hotel reservations. Miranda intended to offer them room in her townhouse, but didn’t assume they’d accept. Especially if things didn’t end--
She put that thought out of her mind. Her Blackberry vibrated in her hand, indicating she had a text message. She glanced down, and sighed. Caroline.
Mom, what’s happening? One of my friends saw you on the news.
She dialed her daughter, who was likely on her way home from school by now; word traveled so quickly through Dalton she was amazed she hadn’t gotten a call earlier in the day.
“Hello darling. Is Cassidy with you?”
“Yeah. What’s wrong? Why are you with the police?”
She wanted to shield her children from this incident; she could hardly bear the knowledge of Andrea’s whereabouts herself. But this had to be done, and they’d find out from the internet anyway. Perhaps they could tell her if the news reports were giving out Andrea’s name publicly yet. “I’m fine. Your father’s fine. But Andrea…”
“Is she writing about that thing with the hostages?”
Well, they knew that much. Miranda’s heart began to pound harder. The words were very, very difficult to say. “She’s inside the house, darling.”
“What do you mean?”
“She’s…” Miranda fought the lump in her throat and shook her head. “She’s one of the hostages.”
There was whispering, and Cassidy’s voice came on the line, a little higher and thinner than Caroline’s. “Mom, Andy’s in there? They said on the news that that guy has a gun, and that he has his girlfriend and kids. They didn’t mention anyone else!”
“Then you must not tell anyone, anyone at all about this, Cassidy. Not your friends, or even Elissa. No one. Is that clear?”
“Okay, Mom. I swear.” There was another flurry of whispers. “Caroline promises too. We just want her to be okay. What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to stay here until Andrea is rescued. And I want you to go home and stay with Elissa. Will you do that for me?”
“Yeah.” The quiver in her daughter’s voice spoke of tears coming, and fast. “Mommy, everything’s going to be okay, right?”
Please, god, let me say it with conviction. Help me believe . “Of course, sweetheart. We’ll have her home with us very soon.”
Cassidy began crying in earnest then, and Miranda took a deep breath and tried to keep herself in check. Caroline came back on the line. “Mom, we’re almost home. Call us soon, okay?”
“Of course. Mommy lo--I love you.”
“We love you too.”
She’d been trying to stop calling herself “Mommy,” because her girls were growing up. But it was difficult to break the habit, especially now.
Rage filled her, choking in its intensity. She hoped the man inside that house, whoever he was, would be killed by the police when this incident came to a close. She did not want to go to jail for premeditated murder.
Miranda wanted to throw something made of glass at the wall, just to hear it shatter. She had not been so infuriated for ages; maybe not even since Stephen had tried to accuse her of infidelity during the divorce proceedings.
“I thought you’d be busy! You always have fifty invitations!” Andrea shouted.
Miranda abhorred shouting. Was the girl trying to cause a war? “Lower your voice. I cleared my schedule. For you. I wanted to spend New Year’s Eve with you. And now you tell me I sent my regrets to four separate events for absolutely nothing. Because you’re busy.”
“It’s not nothing, it’s a party with my friends. We can celebrate later--I figured you’d already have plans.”
Miranda exhaled through her nose, steadying herself. The truth was that she had said no to those parties because she wanted to spend New Year’s Eve with Andrea. Badly. She’d expected to have her all to herself for at least a few days. With Miranda sharing the girls with Jeffrey, she would get them for Christmas, and he’d have them for the New Year, leaving her calendar completely open. Andrea was to return from Ohio on the 29th. It was perfect. But now it was ruined. “This is--” she nearly said the clichéd words ‘our first New Year’s together,’ but closed her mouth. A thought occurred to her, one that sent her mind skidding off in a new direction.
Perhaps she cared more than Andrea did. Perhaps her feelings were not returned as deeply. Perhaps this was just a fling. Andrea was so young, and Miranda was only her third lover. There was always the possibility that Andrea wanted to branch out. See other people. Other women. Miranda sneered. “Fine. Go with your friends. Don’t bother calling again, I understand your priorities now. Don’t come over tonight. Or ever.”
“Wait a fucking second, Miranda!”
“I said lower your voice,” Miranda said. “Better yet, this conversation is over. Goodbye.” Miranda hung up, ignoring the twisting in her belly. Andrea gave her so much happiness, but it was bound to come to an end. It always did. Better now than later down the line, after it was too late for Miranda to extricate herself with some semblance of grace.
She glanced at her watch; it was after six. She had no plans for the night. She would go home, have dinner with her children, and drink herself into a stupor. That was the best course of action. She strode out of her office. “I’m leaving.” Monique scurried to get Miranda’s coat and bag.
Emily leapt up from her chair, pad in hand. “But the blouses from Prada just arrived. Should I bring them over--”
“No. Just the Book. I’ll deal with it in the morning.”
“But the shoot’s at 7:45 --how will you--”
Miranda rolled her eyes. “Fine. Let’s see them.” Miranda spent five minutes going through everything, but it was hard to care much. “This one for Janine. Marguerite can wear the blue, unless she’s hasn’t taken those last five pounds off. If it doesn’t fit, you have my permission to ban her from the shoot. Permanently.” Glancing at Emily, her lip curled. “And get rid of that eyeshadow. This is not the set of ‘Pricilla, Queen of the Desert.’”
Emily’s mouth dropped open, and she touched her forehead with one shaking hand. “Of course, Miranda.”
Miranda almost felt sorry for saying it. Emily had her own style; it was something Miranda secretly enjoyed. But not today. Today, she hated it. She hated everything, and everyone. She flung her coat over her shoulder and barreled out of the office.
The elevator ride was suffocating. Outside, the cold slammed into her with a nearly physical blow, but Roy ’s car idled at the curb.
“Hey! Hey you!” someone shouted. Miranda turned, and Andrea was running down the block toward her, hair flying in the wind. In jeans and a heavy sweater, she looked like she was late to a football game on a college campus. Yet another good reason for Miranda to have woken up from her dream. The girl was far too young for her, not to mention immature. “Don’t you dare get in that car!” Andrea yelled.
Miranda made a beeline for the sedan, and got in without a second thought. But Andrea was too close, and before Miranda could lock the door, Andrea threw it open, pushed her over and got inside. “Get out,” Miranda hissed.
“Stop talking. Roy , do you mind?”
“Nope.” The privacy screen went up instantly.
When the glass was up, Andrea turned to her, beautiful face flushed with exertion and cold. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“Nothing at all. I’m just coming to understand what our relationship means to you. Which is not much. You’re free to do as you like, Andrea.” The words stung Miranda’s heart. She would not bend, though. This was over.
“Jesus. You are a lunatic. I thought I was doing you a favor. And you didn’t even let me finish! I was going to meet you after your parties. When I said later, I meant later that night, at your place, or my place, or wherever. I mean, I know you don’t want to be seen with me in public--”
“I never said that,” Miranda interrupted.
"You don’t have to. It’s implicit. We don’t go out. No one knows about us, and I’m fine with that. For now. So I thought you could go your way, I go mine, and we’d see each other after and celebrate. Do what people in love do on New Year’s Eve. Have some champagne and make love and be happy.” She shook her head. “What’s so awful about that?”
Miranda had listened to Andrea’s words, but her attention snagged on two words from her diatribe. She tried to repeat them, but struggled with the effort.
“What?” Andrea demanded.
“In love,” Miranda finally breathed. “You said ‘people in love.’”
Andrea seemed to recognize the change in Miranda, and shrugged. “Yeah.” Her lips pursed miserably. “I love you.”
“Oh,” Miranda said. Something in her brain was about to short-circuit. “Oh.”
“Except right now it’s kind of hard. I really, really hate being hung up on. And if you don’t believe I’d rather spend New Year’s with you instead of anybody else in the world, you’re an idiot. I plan my life around your schedule, Miranda. Even when I haven’t slept much, or when I’m working, or busy, or my family wants to see me. And now, when I try to let you do what you have to but still spend time with you, it backfires.” She wiped at her eyes. “Why are you so quick to assume that I don’t want to be with you? Don’t you want this?” She sniffled, and her face changed dramatically. “Are you trying to let me down easy? I thought you loved me too. Oh god, I am so stupid,” she sobbed, and broke down in tears.
“Stop,” Miranda said, putting one hand on Andrea’s shoulder and lifting her chin with another. “Please. I do. I do love you.” It was far easier to say than she thought it would be. “I love you very much. I only--my mind plays tricks--I assumed--oh, just--can we forget this ever happened?”
A glimmer of hope reflected in Andrea’s eyes. “You love me?”
Miranda nodded. “I’m a fool. I’m so sorry.”
Andrea flew at Miranda’s neck, arms wrapping around her tightly. They clung to each other, and Miranda’s stomach rolled from the rapid release of tension.
“Don’t ever hang up on me again,” Andrea insisted. “I can’t stand that.”
Miranda exhaled in relief. The warm breath on her neck gave her goosebumps. “I won’t.”
“I’ll cancel on Doug and Lily.”
“No,” Miranda said. “Go. We’ll do what you said. Spend time with your friends, I’ll go to a party or two, and we’ll meet at the townhouse.” She kissed the soft patch of skin beneath Andrea’s ear. “But then you’re mine. I won’t let you up for air for three whole days. All right?”
Andrea trembled in the embrace. “Yeah.”
The darkness in Miranda’s vision receded, and things righted themselves.
The clouds above were darker than ever; sporadic snowflakes were starting to drift down, melting before they hit the ground. It should have been a peaceful afternoon. Miranda was supposed to be sitting with Mark and James in their offices right now, previewing their next collection. Andrea was supposed to be sitting at her desk, typing away, listening to music on her headphones. They’d exchange a few emails, to discuss what to have for dinner, and what time they’d each be home. Miranda should be mentioning that she had plans Friday night, but the twins wanted to have a movie night, so could she spend some time with them alone?
Andrea would have said yes. Of that, Miranda was certain. Andrea always said yes.
Tears leapt to Miranda’s eyes and spilled down her cheeks without warning. She left her sunglasses in place, but her breath started to come faster. She covered her mouth against the scream of terror that threatened to tear her throat apart. Not knowing anything was driving her out of her mind; every second was harder to manage. “Please,” she begged to the empty space in front of her. “Please let her be all right.” Her whole body shook, although she could no longer feel the cold.
Snow began to fall.
Miranda wept for an indeterminate amount of time, alone. She saw the police officers clustering, separating, moving about, but it all looked the same after so many hours of staring. Why can’t you just go in there and save her?
Eventually Marcus came trudging back to her, smoking, drinking coffee. He handed her a cup that was still hot, and Miranda wanted to hug him. He also handed her a lit cigarette. “There’s been some progress,” he said.
“What?” Miranda’s heart stopped.
“Conversation. They’re talking to him every few minutes now. His high’s long gone, and the baby’s crying a lot, and he’s just trying to keep it together.”
“He’s not the only one,” Miranda muttered.
He took a drag off his cigarette. “Saw you lose it a little a while ago. You held out longer than most. You have balls of steel, woman.”
Miranda snorted. “That’s a new one. Don’t tell the Post. It might usurp Dragon Lady, or even Ice Queen as my moniker of the day.”
“They call you that? In the press?”
“You don’t get out much, do you, Detective.”
“Not in your circle.”
They smoked some more, silently, as heavy snow fell around them. Miranda wished she had a hood.
“That’s pretty unfair,” Marcus said.
“Ice queen, or whatever they call you,” he said. “I don’t know you that well, but you don’t strike me as that at all.”
“And how do I strike you?”
He looked over at her, and carefully removed the sunglasses from her face. His eyes softened. “Human. You’re as human as the rest of us.”
She snatched the sunglasses from him and slid them back on. “You keep that to yourself, Samuelson. I have a reputation to uphold.”
He chuckled, and patted her shoulder. Miranda felt grateful for the cold comfort.
As Miranda sucked at the filter of her cigarette, wishing it had lasted just a little longer, she heard a funny sound, like balloons popping. Her body reacted though her brain took a moment to catch up. Samuelson took off, and she heard two more pops, followed by a series of shouts as a swarm of police rushed toward the house.
Miranda dropped her coffee, barely noticing that it spilled all over her shoes.
“Not on the bed!” Miranda cried, but Andrea ignored her and popped the cork. Champagne bubbled over, just as Miranda predicted, and she tried to catch the excess in a glass as it spilled on her Egyptian cotton sheets. “Good lord, Andrea, have you no manners?”
Andrea just kept laughing before tipping the bottle against her mouth and drinking from it. “Manners,” she said breathlessly. “I love that you talk about manners after getting me off in the backseat of a cab. A cab that smelled of patchouli, no less.”
Miranda pursed her lips. “It’s not my fault you had to wear the Chanel tonight. What did you expect?” Andrea in red drove Miranda wild; she was hard enough to resist in any other color, but red took Miranda right to the edge. And over.
Finally pouring the champagne into two glasses, Andy shook her naked rear enticingly. “Just wanted to make sure you appreciated what you’ve got. Can’t have you neglecting me.” She handed a glass to Miranda and scrambled onto the bed next to her, avoiding the spill. “And this bed is so big the wet spot won’t bother us a bit.”
With a sniff, Miranda replied, “I suppose. It’s seen worse lately.”
Andrea’s eyes widened. “Ooh, it turns me on when you talk dirty.”
“I know, darling,” Miranda murmured. She leered when Andrea took a seat where she was most comfortable, straddling Miranda’s hips and leaning back against her bent knees. Andrea tipped the glass back and drank, while Miranda admired the elegant motion of her throat. “You are beautiful.”
“Thank you,” Andrea replied. Sighing deeply, she said, “I love being with you so much. Do you think it will always be like this?”
Miranda adjusted her pillow and gazed up at the woman who filled her life with light. “I don’t know. It would be nice.”
“I can’t imagine loving you more. Or being happier.”
“Let’s not assume it’s all downhill from here,” Miranda quipped.
Andrea giggled. “Right. But it’s a damned good way to start the year.”
“It is.” Miranda could not remember a better New Year’s Eve.
“Do you ever think about the future?” Andrea asked.
Though Miranda was momentarily distracted by the smooth, white thigh under her hand, she glanced up. Andrea’s expression was distant. “Now and then.”
“What do you think about? Next week, or next year, or even later? What do you imagine for yourself?”
“Are you drunk?”
Andrea grinned lazily. “Just a little. Champagne makes me dreamy.”
“I see that,” Miranda replied. She pondered the question, taking it seriously. “I don’t think far ahead. I find it difficult. There are too many things right in front of me to worry about what’s down the road.”
That seemed to surprise Andrea. “Really? I thought you’d have some sort of grand plan all set up.”
With a snort, Miranda sipped her champagne. “Grand plan. No.” But Miranda’s thoughts of the future were tinged with just a shade of melancholy. One cycle, repeating itself. Cities, shows, people, all the same, only in different colors and styles. As much as it had thrilled her, it was growing stale. Miranda typically pushed down that sensation when it surfaced, but for the moment, she allowed it to bloom. “I may… be getting tired. Of Runway. I see myself moving on, eventually.”
Another surprise for Andrea. “Really?” She smiled. “Gosh. Runway without you is hard to imagine. You’d leave a gaping hole behind. No one could fill it.”
“Naturally. I’m irreplaceable,” Miranda said, only partially joking.
“To them, probably. To me, for sure.” Andrea rubbed her belly, tracing a finger along her hipbone. She looked away from Miranda then. “Do you think I might fit in somewhere?”
Miranda frowned. “Somewhere?”
“In your future.” Andrea glanced quickly up and away once more. “In your life. I know it hasn’t been that long, and there’s the age difference, and the fact that I’m a--”
“Yes,” Miranda said quickly, before she lost her nerve.
Andrea exhaled. “Yeah?” She tilted her head back, and dark hair tickled Miranda’s shins. Again, Miranda was transfixed by the image of her neck, long and elegant. “That’s good. Great. Because I see you in mine.”
Carefully, Miranda set her glass on the nightstand, and she took Andrea’s as well. Andrea’s lips curved gently, and her eyes crinkled in a smile when Miranda pulled her down into her arms for a thorough kiss. “Happy new year,” she said dizzily, tingling with pleasure from the top of her head down to her toes.
Miranda’s feet would not move. Her fingertips tingled. They did that when she experienced a sudden fright, like when another car came very close to hitting hers, or when a door swung toward her as she reached out to open it. It was only when she realized she was not breathing that she gasped for air and started moving. Although she slipped repeatedly, she did not fall as she raced forward, mind blanking in shock.
A gun. A gun fired those shots.
Andrea , she thought. Andrea.
No other words came to mind as she hit a wall of bodies, none of which gave way. Someone grabbed her and pulled her back, but she fought it blindly, unable to catch her breath. “Let me go!” she cried, and only paused when she heard more shouts coming from a short distance.
“The house is clear!” said one voice.
“We’ve got it, get him on the gurney. No, there’s no time. Get out of the way.”
A baby cried. No, screamed, Miranda thought. A baby screamed like it was being killed. Miranda’s knees gave way, and she grabbed someone’s jacket. A man turned, and helped her up. “Hey,” he said. “Hey.”
“I have to get through,” she croaked. “I have--”
“It’s okay,” the man said, urging her away from the house, away from where Andrea mightlay dying. Or dead. “Come over here.”
“No!” she choked. “I have to get through.” She fought him, but the man’s grip became tighter, until he was joined by someone else, equally as strong. “No!”
The two dragged her through the snow, and her sunglasses flew off as she struggled. Her slick heels betrayed her, allowing them lead her away. “You can’t go any closer. We need you to get behind the tape.”
She was about to hyperventilate, when Samuelson appeared to actually swoop down on them, black trench blowing out behind him like a cape. “What the fuck are you doing? Let her go!”
“She’s a bystander--”
“She’s a family member of one of the hostages.” Samuelson grabbed Miranda’s bicep and yanked her away from the two men, who Miranda realized were police officers.
“We’re clearing the area--she didn’t say who she was,” one of them complained.
“Whatever.” He looked at Miranda, and nodded. “She’s okay.”
Miranda thought she heard the words she’d wanted to hear for what felt like days. “Pardon?”
“Andy’s okay. She’s got a helluva shiner and she got cut up by some glass, but she’s in one piece.”
Miranda grabbed his arms, slipping again in the snow. “Are you sure? Are you absolutely certain?”
“Yeah. They’re going to put her in an ambulance.”
“I need to get--”
“No fucking kidding. Come on.” He put a protective arm around her shoulders and hauled her across the pavement. “You need better shoes.”
Miranda couldn’t reply. Her heart was in her throat. “Are you sure?” she repeated.
“Hold your horses.” He elbowed a few people out of the way, and when the crowd broke, Miranda fell into chaos. She saw the baby, screaming, held by his crying mother. The woman’s shirt was covered in blood. Only a few feet away, she saw a man on a gurney, bleeding profusely as medics worked on him. The EMTs spoke to each other in clear voices, but Miranda couldn’t understand what they were saying. Her ears were not working properly.
But one voice rang out above it all, and Miranda leaned toward it as a rose toward the sun.
“I need to stay with Maria and Pedro and Lucy,” the voice said loudly. “I have to be sure they’re okay. And there’s someone here, someone waiting for me, and I have to find her.” Miranda could hardly breathe; she staggered, pulling Samuelson now. “No, I can’t go in there. Jesus Christ, could you just give me a few minutes? And I don’t want any of that!”
“We need to get you to the hospital--”
“A few more minutes won’t kill me!” the voice screeched, still unseen.
“Andrea,” Miranda croaked, trying to speak up. “Andrea.”
And then, only a few feet away, wrapped in blanket, Andrea came into view. She sat in the back of an open ambulance as two EMTs attempted to get her to do something she clearly didn’t want to do. A grim-looking detective stood nearby.
Miranda stood very still. Andrea’s skin was chalk white, and an angry bruise swelled her eye shut. Her lips were pale as well, and Miranda thought she saw blood streaking her neck. “Andrea,” she finally said aloud, shocked that she sounded like herself. She may as well have been asking where the Starbucks was, and why hadn’t she delivered the skirts yet?
Andrea turned toward her voice, her uninjured eye going wide. “Miranda,” she exhaled, holding out shaking fingers.
That image flipped a switch, and Miranda's brain started functioning again. She realized her feet were freezing, and her hair was wet, and her face was numb with cold. She realized that Andrea, sitting there with snow falling all around her, was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen. Lastly, she realized that someone out there had answered her prayers, and that she was grateful, and would be always. "Andrea," she said for the hundredth time that day, and reached out.
"Mom!" Caroline squealed.
Miranda jumped back, and yanked her hand out of Andy's grasp. "Yes?" she said, glaring at her daughter.
"What are you doing?" Caroline demanded.
"I'm saying goodnight to Andrea."
"Were you just kissing?"
Cassidy gasped next to her sister.
"I--" Miranda began. She was not ready for them to know. "I--it's none of your business."
Andrea snorted. Miranda turned the glare on her. "You're not helping," she growled.
"You were!" Caroline exclaimed. "You were totally kissing! Agh!" Caroline turned and ran up the stairs. After a moment, Cassidy followed her, and a door slammed.
Miranda sighed. "I have to go after them. So much for discretion."
"I'll wait for you."
"No, you can go--"
"I said I'll wait. I'll be in the study," Andrea said with a grin. She kissed Miranda on the cheek and patted her rear. "Go get 'em, tiger."
Upstairs, Miranda went to Caroline’s room and found both girls there, stage whispering to each other. They went silent when Miranda entered the room. "Girls, Mommy needs to discuss something with you."
Caroline huffed in exasperation. "Mom, we're twelve. That 'mommy' thing is for babies."
"Right," Miranda said, cursing herself for forgetting. "Of course. You're almost teenagers. Old enough to understand that Andrea and I are very good friends, aren't you?"
"More than friends," Caroline mumbled, and Cassidy elbowed her.
"Well. Yes." It was no use denying it. "Andrea is important to me. I care about her very much--"
"More than you did about Stephen?" Cassidy asked.
That stopped Miranda short. "Stephen. What does he have to do with this?"
"If she's just going to come and go in two years flat I'm totally not getting to know her," Caroline said angrily. "That is so annoying."
Oh, Miranda thought. She hadn't considered that, foolishly.
"Do you really like her?" Cassidy asked. "She's a girl. I thought you liked boys."
Miranda pressed her fingers to her forehead. "Well, I did like boys. Men. I do. But I like Andrea very much too." Swallowing thickly, she bit the bullet. "I love her."
Caroline’s eyes became enormous, and Cassidy cringed. "You love a girl?" Caroline said.
"But you loved Stephen, and Daddy, and they're both gone." Cassidy said, her voice pleading. "What if I start to like her, and then you change your mind and she goes away too?"
This was turning into a much larger conversation than she wanted to have. Andrea was right. She should have considered this more thoroughly. Or at all. But it had been easier to avoid it than confront it head on, or even sideways. Andrea never stayed the night when the girls were home. Tonight would have been no different if Miranda had been more careful.
But if she was honest with herself, she could have been more careful. She could have kissed Andrea goodbye in the study as she usually did, long and slow, up against the door, and reveled in her sensual sigh as they parted.
Tonight, she hadn't. She'd kissed Andrea on the mouth once, then again, in full view of the stairwell, where the girls were notorious for peeping on Miranda and anyone else in the house.
Perhaps she had unconsciously done herself a favor.
"I don't know what will happen with Andrea and I, darlings. But I… enjoy her company. I want her to be in my life. Our lives." Miranda swallowed, and said something she had never said to her children before. "Do you remember when I asked if you would want to have Stephen as your father? Step-father?"
The girls nodded.
"I said that if you really didn't like him, I wouldn't marry him."
The nodded again.
"I won’t do that, this time."
Caroline was incensed. "Why not?"
Miranda decided not to tell her daughters that if she had to choose between them, her heart would break. "I simply can't." Though she generally tried not to show her vulnerability to the twins, her eyes grew wet. "I can't give this up. Not now."
Both girls were silent, until Cassidy said solemnly, "Jeez."
"Please don't ask me," Miranda said softly.
Caroline frowned, her mouth pursing in an expression that Miranda hated. It reminded her of herself. "I guess," she finally said.
"Okay, Mom," Cassidy conceded. "She's not that bad."
That would do, for now. Miranda hugged them one at a time, and kissed their foreheads, and breathed out in enormous relief. "Who knows, you may get to like her," Miranda said.
"Maybe," Caroline replied. "You're not going to go make out again, are you?"
"Don't get fresh," Miranda warned. She had limits. "But no. Andrea's going home. She may come over this weekend. And her birthday is coming up--"
Caroline interrupted. "God, Mom, give us a break. We just found out about her, all right?"
Miranda was closed to snapping back, but she held her tongue and patted Caroline’s arm. "Yes, darling. Sleep well. We'll talk in the morning."
Downstairs, Miranda took a cleansing breath before returning to the study. Andrea looked up over her copy of Vanity Fair. "How'd it go?"
"Well enough. You're not entirely unwelcome."
"Don’t worry. They're gonna love me. Now that they know, they'll get used to it in two seconds. You wait and see."
Miranda hoped she was right. But instead of allowing anxiety to ruin her evening altogether, she sat on the sofa and enveloped Andrea in a warm embrace.
Andrea looked lost when Miranda came near, and she inhaled sharply when their hands touched. "I saw you," Andrea said. "I saw you on the news. He had the tv on for a while, and you were there in the crowd. I saw you right away. Your hair," she said, her voice breaking. "I knew it was you. You were like a beacon. And when I saw you I knew it was going to be okay. You wouldn't put up with anything else."
Miranda sat gingerly next to Andrea, holding her hand lightly, afraid to startle her. "That's right. I would have been very unhappy."
Andrea's breath began to come a little faster. "I was really scared for a while. I was so scared. And he hit me when it started, and he hit Maria too, but it wasn’t bad. I mean, it wasn't. I was just so scared, and after a while I saw you. It made me feel better, even later. When--I mean, it wasn't bad. It was just awful," she babbled. Her breathing was quick now; she was losing the control that had probably kept her sane for the last six hours.
Miranda nodded. "It's all right, darling. You're all right. You're safe now."
Andrea's face collapsed then, and she sobbed and leaned against Miranda, who held her, and stroked her back, and kissed her hair, as the paramedics and detectives tried to look like they were occupied with other, more important things.
The snow fell, heavier now, and the noise around them began to quiet as the minutes passed. Miranda shifted, sliding her arms under the blanket to touch Andrea's skin. But when Andrea flinched, Miranda pulled away. "What?"
"Nothing," Andrea said. "It's just… nothing."
But Miranda's hand came away bloody, and her stomach tensed. Instantly she pulled open the blanket and realized that Andrea's left arm was indeed injured, as Samuelson had suggested. She couldn't see the wounds well, but they were there, and they needed immediate attention. "You're hurt, Andrea," she said, unwilling to wait another moment. "Let's get in the ambulance--"
"No!" Andrea barked, grabbing the collar of Miranda's coat. "No, I don't want to get in. They can fix it here. Can't you?"
"Darling, we have to go to the hospital--"
"I don't want to get in there!" Andrea cried, her voice frantic. "Please," she begged. "Please."
Samuelson came around into Miranda's line of sight then, and he put his hand out in a calming gesture.
"Okay," Miranda said, almost to herself. "Okay. Perhaps our friends here can do something…" Miranda was at a loss.
"Maybe if we put on the light inside," Samuelson said, crossing behind one of the EMTs and flipping on the blinding white light in the cab of the truck. "See. It's a pretty big space. And it's bright. You'll be able to see everything, even better in here than outside. Besides, with the snow, it won't be long before its dark. I think it's better in here."
Andrea's panting began to ease as she glanced back, watching him suspiciously.
"And there are windows, you know. You can see out the back." He pointed.
"I'm not an imbecile," Andrea said, sarcasm lacing her voice. "I'm fine. I just--" She couldn't finish.
Samuelson bobbed his head. "You can say it. Go ahead."
"I was in a closet for a while." Miranda gripped her hand more tightly. "I kept talking, telling him that it would be best to speak to the cops, because with two hundred police out here he wasn't going to get away. I mean, obviously, right?" She laughed bitterly. "So he put me in the closet. And jammed the door with something. I don't know what it was." A few more tears escaped, and Andrea wiped at them angrily. "I was scared. I thought he would shoot me through the door. And kill Maria and Pedro and Lucy."
"But they're not dead," Samuelson said. "They're right over there." He pointed, and Miranda turned to see the three other hostages together, being looked over by medics. A cluster of police hovered around them as well. "Whatever you did, or said, it worked. It kept you alive. Okay?" He glanced at the other detective, who hadn't said a word, and who was writing things down on a small notepad. "Get that?" Samuelson asked.
The silent one nodded.
Miranda offered, "What if we started inside with the doors open? You're bleeding. And it's very cold. You need to get warm."
Andrea shivered on cue. "You'll stay with me."
"Oh, yes," Miranda said. They would have to drag her away now.
"Okay, I guess."
As the medics helped Andrea inside, Miranda looked at Samuelson, who nodded at her in quiet communion. Tears filled the back of her throat, and she fought them valiantly.
After a moment, he looked off in another direction, shifting uncomfortably in the cold.
"Will you be at the hospital?" she asked.
"I got another case I'm on. But I'll come. Later."
Miranda held out her left hand, and briefly, Samuelson grasped it. "Thank you," she said.
"Yeah." He dropped her fingers, and looked over at the other quiet detective. "This is Detective Rodine. He's going to get Andy's story when she's ready. No rush. But the sooner the better, while it's fresh. Good for her, good for us. She's going to need to talk. And get her a shrink, okay?"
"Miranda?" Andrea called nervously.
"I'm coming," Miranda said, before looking back at Samuelson a final time.
"See you." As he strode by her, she thought he touched her shoulder once, but it was too hard to tell.
Miranda wiped her runny nose indelicately with her hand. She owed the man everything. Strange how crisis could forever bind one person to another in such a short period of time.
But there was no time for deep thoughts now. Andrea needed her. She climbed into the back of the cab, and looked away from the blood that trickled down a delicate arm. One EMT made room next to Andrea, and she eased into the space carefully. "I'm here, darling."
"Miranda," Andrea said. "I'm okay." She sounded almost surprised.
"I didn't want to die."
"Ow, fuck," Andrea said, flinching when one particularly painful piece of glass slid out of her flesh.
"Sorry," the EMT replied, wincing in sympathy. "Listen, can you drink some water? I know you didn't want it, but it will help. I swear."
Miranda looked down encouragingly, and Andrea accepted a bottle. She drank, slowly, while Miranda traced gentle fingers along Andrea’s chilly neck. “I have to call home, and work, and your parents.”
“My parents? Do they--”
“Your editor called them.” Miranda glanced at her watch. “They’re hopefully on the ground by now.” She directed her next question to the EMT. “I assume we’re going to New York Presbyterian?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’d like to get on the road if we can.”
Andrea tensely eyed the doors of the cab, but agreed. The silent detective Rodine finally spoke. “I’ll meet you there. Here’s my card in case we don’t find each other. It can be a busy place.” After he handed over his card, he pulled the collar up on his coat and headed out into the evening.
When the female EMT stood to close the doors, Andrea stiffened, but Miranda leaned close. “I’ll call your parents first. If you want to talk to them, just nod.”
Miranda dialed the number, but it went to voicemail. Andrea nodded, and she took the phone. She grimaced when she heard her father’s voice. “Hi Dad,” she said shakily, “I got rescued. We’re going to the hospital, but I’m okay. Call this phone number as soon as you get this. I love you. Bye.” A tear streaked down her cheek when she gave the cell back to Miranda. “Did you speak to them?”
“Just your father.”
“What did you say?”
“Not much. He told me when he was coming in, and where. Come to think of it, I need to reach Emily.” Miranda hit speed dial three and Emily came on the line. “Call the car and tell them to take Andrea’s parents to New York Presbyterian Hospital.”
“But she’s all right?” Emily asked. “We heard the news, that the police shot the man who held her hostage, but they haven’t said much else.”
“She’s fine. Banged up, but alive and well.” Miranda’s smile matched Andrea’s tremulous one.
“Oh, thank god. Nigel, she’s fine,” said Emily. Miranda thought she heard a shout of “Hallelujah” in the background. “I’ll take care of it.”
An unexpected pang of gratitude filled Miranda’s heart. She said quietly, “Thank you, Emily.” For everything.
There was a short pause. “You’re welcome.”
“I’ll be in touch. Goodbye.” She hung up and immediately dialed Caroline.
"She's okay," Miranda said, and there was a boisterous round of screaming that Andrea could hear even through the tiny cellphone speaker. "Darling?" Miranda interrupted.
"Yeah?" Caroline said, breathless.
"We're going to the hospital. I'm not sure when I'll be home. Elissa will have to stay; if there's a problem tell her to call me."
"Sure, Mom. She said she could already. When can we come see Andy?"
"I'm not sure. We'll have to see what the doctors say about keeping her--"
"I'm not staying at the hospital," Andrea said firmly.
Miranda looked over at one of the EMTs, who shrugged and replied, "She doesn't have a concussion, and aside from a few stitches, she'll be good to go."
That meant they could sleep next to one another tonight. If she slept at all.
It took Miranda an entire week to plan the birthday dinner. One sleepless night, she came up with four different menus, and found herself debating the merits of keeping it simple or going over the top. When she finally began discussions with Curtis, she went over every detail repeatedly. “No red onions in the salad, or anywhere else,” she reminded him.
“Yes, Ms. Priestly.”
“And she’s allergic to crabmeat, so no shellfish.”
“Yes Ms. Priestly.”
“Avoid Worcestershire sauce. I read that it can contain anchovies.”
“Anchovies aren’t shellfish, Ms. Priestly.”
She’d narrowed her eyes. “No Worcestershire.”
Curtis swallowed convulsively. “Of course.
That night, the twins looked adorable, in similar but not identical Ella Moss dresses. Miranda had warned them to behave, and they’d nodded solemnly. She had also apologized to Andrea already about having to stay in for the occasion; she didn't want the girls to ruin what she hoped would be a lovely night.
The twins had not seen Andrea since they'd been caught kissing, nor had they spoken once of their mother's new "girlfriend." Miranda was far more nervous than a woman of 51 should be about a dinner with three of the people closest to her in the world, but she was. If the girls didn't learn to like Andrea, how would she handle it? She could hardly bear the thought.
They all went to sit down for the meal, and Miranda had just started to relax when Andrea popped up from her chair with a squeal. Her eyes were wide, and she rubbed her rear end.
“What?” Miranda said, immediately suspecting sabotage. The girls tried to look innocent.
Andrea just raised her eyebrows and glanced at the twins. “Am I supposed to say it’s rheumatism?”
“What?” Miranda repeated.
“You know,” Andrea said, patting her rump and clearing her throat. “Rheumatism.” She held up a pine cone she took from the seat. “It’s from one of my favorite movies.”
Cassidy gaped. “It is?”
“What is?” Miranda said, raising her voice.
Andrea rolled her eyes and ignored her. “Of course it is. I have excellent taste.” She lobbed the pine cone at an open-mouthed Caroline, who caught it. “What, you think no one over the age of 15 has seen it? Please.”
“Can we watch it tonight? Mom never watches it with us,” Caroline said eagerly.
“Sure. It’s been a while.” Andrea finally turned to look at Miranda. “So what’s for dinner? I am starving!”
Miranda gaped open-mouthed as her girls shared a secret smile, and Andrea winked at her. In that moment, her anxiety dissipated.
Though calmer than she had been all day, Miranda paced back and forth in front of the bed as the surgeon finished the last of the stitches. She had a difficult time looking at the wounds, even though they'd given Andrea anesthetic. Andrea watched her as she held an ice pack to her swollen eye. "You're shivering," Andrea said, and the doctor looked up silently before going back to work.
Miranda’s feet were like ice, and her snow-dampened hair hadn't dried even though the hospital was warmer than the ambulance. "I'm fine."
"You should change."
With a chuckle, Miranda said, "I didn't bring spare shoes, unfortunately."
"We can get you some booties," the doctor offered.
"No, thank you," Miranda said, eyebrow raised. "We'll be home soon enough."
"I don't want to survive a hostage situation to have you drop dead of pneumonia, Miranda," Andrea growled.
If there hadn't been forty photographers outside the hospital, Miranda may have agreed to it, but she had enough to deal with now that they'd realized something was up. She could only imagine the headlines. "Don't worry about me, darling. I'm tougher than I look."
"How'd you get past the press line?" Andrea asked. "You looked like you were with a bunch of cops."
Miranda glanced at the doctor, knowing he was listening. "I'll tell you later." Enough of their story would be in the papers; the world didn't need every detail. A few moments later, as the doctor wrapped gauze around the cuts, Miranda heard frantic voices in the hallway. Andrea's eyes lit up, and Miranda went to the door to wave her parents inside. "Here," Miranda said, recognizing the couple from photos Andrea had shown her.
The pair hurried forward and bolted past Miranda into the room and to the bed, where they embraced their daughter. Within a few seconds they were all crying, and Miranda felt tears sting the backs of her eyes in sympathy. Feeling uncomfortable, as though she was an unwelcome intruder, she backed out of the room until she heard Andrea call her name. "Miranda, come here."
Three faces watched her expectantly. When Miranda eyed the doctor, he correctly translated the silent message of "Get out" and departed.
"So this is the mysterious 'M' you've been talking about all this time," Charles said. "I thought it was short for 'Emma' or 'Emily.'"
Miranda looked at Andrea in surprise. She hadn't known Andrea had said anything to her parents about the fact that she was seeing a woman. "Yeah. I thought you'd freak out if you knew, well, any of it," Andrea said.
"You'd have been right, but I think we're willing to look past all that today," Isabelle Sachs said. Andrea's mother came forward and held out her hands, which Miranda took. "Thank you, Miranda." And Miranda then found herself in the warm embrace of someone very close to her own age, who resembled Andrea quite a bit. "I'm so glad you were there for her, and for taking care of us as well. I can't tell you how helpful your arrangements have been. Emily was a godsend."
Miranda had to clear her throat before she spoke. "I was concerned that the weather might delay your flight."
"We had no trouble at all. And getting that message from Andrea, my god, it was a miracle. I think the flight attendants thought we were going to tear the door off the plane to get here faster."
"I'm sure," Miranda said, patting Isabelle's hand awkwardly.
"Come, sit. You must be exhausted, and your hands are frozen." Isabelle led Miranda to the side of the bed and nearly pushed her down. Andrea wiped her eyes and stroked Miranda's leg.
From the opposite side of the bed, Charles Sachs reached out to touch Miranda's arm uncertainly. "Thank you," he said, still having trouble pulling himself together.
Miranda simply nodded. She had no idea why they were so grateful. She hadn't been the one to rescue Andrea; she’d only had someone give them a ride from the airport.
Charles hugged Andrea against his side once again, careful of her injured arm. "My baby," he said. "I'm so relieved. I don't know what we would have done."
Miranda knew how he felt.
"I'm okay, Dad." Andrea wiped her nose before leaning on his chest.
They sat quietly together, not saying anything. It was strangely peaceful, despite the smell of disinfectant in the air, and the noisy activity just happening outside the room. After a little while, there was a knock at the door, and Detective Rodine poked his head in. "Sorry to interrupt," he said. "But I need to speak to Andy."
Charles and Isabelle looked at each other, while Miranda glanced at Andrea. Their eyes met, and Andrea bobbed her head. "All right," Miranda said softly. "Come in, Detective."
"Can Miranda stay?" Andrea asked.
"Sure. I'll try to make it as painless as possible."
Charles and Isabelle were reluctant to depart, but Andrea waved her hand. "It's okay. I can tell you everything after. I just… think it might be better if I do this on my own."
Charles kissed Andrea on the top of her head. "We won't make a sound," he said, hoping.
"No, Dad. I can handle it. Miranda will be here."
Miranda didn't quite know what to say to that; why she'd been given the privilege over her parents was a mystery. They left quietly, and Isabelle gave Andrea a sad smile. "We'll be right outside," she said.
Miranda took a chair next to the bed, and the detective settled at her right. "I didn't want them to hear everything," Andrea said softly. "My dad worries enough. This is going to make it harder on them."
"Oh," Miranda said. She hadn't considered that. Leave it to Andrea to be more concerned about her parents than herself.
Rodine set a digital recorder out to take her statement, and rattled off a few details for his own record. “Let's get started. How did your day begin?"
Andrea's eyes widened at the question, and Miranda looked away when she remembered the morning. They'd made love less than twelve hours before. It already felt like a month ago. Andrea cleared her throat, blushing just a touch. "You mean, when I got to the house?"
"Sure, that works."
Andrea took a deep breath and began. "Well, I went and got breakfast for Maria and the kids, and met them at their place. We were talking about everything, you know, Joey, and how she was feeling about the future. She was nervous, and hopeful that he would leave her alone since they'd broken up before he went to jail. Pedro was playing in his crib, and Lucy was doing a puzzle in the corner, and we heard this crash. Joey came in through the back door; he must have hopped the fence. Anyway, he looked… scary. Like he was going to kill Maria right then and there."
Miranda took a deep breath, and Andrea reached out for her hand.
"So he came in," Rodine encouraged.
"Right. He was there, and I didn't see the gun at first, because it was tucked in the back of his pants. Lucy started crying right away, and I stood up out of my chair, and he just punched me." Andrea lifted a hand to her bruised eye. "I've never gotten hit like that before. It shocked me more than anything. I mean, all of it." She shook her head. "It hurt so much, and I just couldn't believe he'd hit me right there, in front of the kids. I grew up with parents who loved each other, and me, and I never saw my dad raise a hand to anyone. It sort of woke me right up to the reality of what Maria went through, in that one second. And Lucy, especially. She's only four."
Rodine nodded. "What happened next?"
"He went after Maria. I ran to the front door, and he pulled the gun and fired once. If you go to the house, you'll find the bullet stuck in the wall, to the right of the doorframe.” Andrea shuddered. "He missed my head by about a foot. Thank god he was high."
"Okay. I'll make a note," the detective said, and marked down the detail on his pad.
Miranda was glad Andrea's parents were gone. She didn't think she wanted to hear more, but she would. If Andrea lived through it, Miranda could stand to know what happened.
"So obviously I didn't go anywhere, and he shoved this bookcase in front of the door, and locked the windows and pulled the blinds and everything. He made us get in the corner, with the kids, and they were crying like crazy by then, and he was yelling about getting them to shut up, just shut up," she repeated, like she was reliving it. "’Shut those goddamned kids up, you stupid bitch,’ he said. ‘I'm gonna fucking kill you if you don't shut those fucking kids up.’" Andrea's eyes were glazed, and her words trailed off. When she didn't say more, Miranda looked at the detective, and he nodded in Andrea's direction.
"Andrea," Miranda said, voice gentle.
That seemed to shake Andrea out of her daze. "Right. Um, so we got them calmed down, and he just started pacing. Back and forth. And then some cops came, and he freaked out. He fired a second shot next to the door again, and we knew that more cops were on their way by then." She inhaled deeply, and let out the breath to calm herself. "He just kept pacing, talking to himself, kind of knocking the gun against his head. That went on for a long time. Then the phone rang." She gripped Miranda's hand tightly. "It was the police, and he hung up right away. He went back to pacing."
"What time to you think that was?"
"Probably eleven? Oh yeah, it had to be just past eleven, because right after the cops called he started asking me all these questions, like who was I, why was I there. I just told him I was a friend of Maria's. He made me give him my phone, and he smashed it." She met Miranda's eyes. "The new iPhone you gave me, with all those pictures I took last week. Wish I'd saved them."
"It's all right," Miranda said. "We'll have plenty of time to take more."
The detective waited, and Andrea began anew. "I think we just sat in the corner for at least an hour, while he talked to himself. The phone rang sporadically, and he didn't pick up. Not then, at least. Eventually, he turned on the tv, and flipped channels for a while, and then we saw the news report." Running a hand through her hair, Andrea sighed. "That was not a good thing. He went crazy. He broke every dish and glass in the kitchen. He threw stuff at the wall, and the baby started crying again, and he yelled for a while, and he pushed Maria around. You know, against the wall. I had Lucy, and he didn't come near either of us then. Anyway, he left the tv on, and I saw you," Andrea said, gazing at Miranda. She laughed once. "I seriously couldn't believe it. You were with that cop, and I swear to god, I expected you to come busting through the door at some point." Miranda smiled at her. "How did you get there, by the way? Who was that guy?"
"Detective Marcus Samuelson,” Miranda said. “We met at a fundraiser for St. Vincent's Trauma Center a few years ago. He spoke at the event about his experiences on September 11. We've stayed in touch. Mostly when he has a speaking engagement."
Miranda did not mention that she wrote annual checks now to St. Vincent's trauma center because of Detective Samuelson. "That's good," she said. "He seemed like a nice guy."
"Anyway, he watched that for a while, and then he turned the station and watched part of a movie. 'Die Hard' was on TBS. Can you believe that? I'm being held hostage by some nutjob, and he wants to watch Bruce Willis kill a bunch of terrorists. It seemed… crazy. I felt like he was crazy, and I was halfway there. A commercial came on, and I just started asking him questions. Stupid stuff, about his childhood, and what jail was like, and what it would take for him to let us go. He didn't say much, but I kept on talking, I guess because I thought it might help him calm down, and finally he just dragged me to the closet and threw me in." Andrea stopped then, and put a hand to her forehead.
Miranda waited patiently. She watched Rodine, who sat back in the plastic chair, in no hurry. He met Miranda's eyes and gave her a gentle nod. It's okay, it said. After a few minutes of silence, Andrea raised her head and wiped away a few tears. "You'd think I'd have felt safer there, away from him, but it was much, much worse. I don't know why. I was just alone. I kept waiting to hear screaming, or gunfire. And I… I thought he might rape Maria. I was terrified."
Miranda swallowed back her tears, wanting very much to be strong, but she lost the battle and they streamed out. Andrea didn't seem to notice though, and she was glad for it.
"I'm not really sure how long I was there, but it felt like forever. It had to be at least a couple hours, because by the time he let me out everything was almost over. When he did, he yanked my arm and shoved me across the room. I slammed into the window, and that's when I got cut." She touched her arm carefully. "The phone rang again, and he picked it up, and when he was talking Maria whispered to me that he was trying to negotiate his way out of the house. He wanted all sorts of crazy stuff, like money, and a car, and things that were obviously not going to turn out. But he was desperate by that point, and the cops were saying all the right things." Andrea gripped Miranda's hand tightly again. "Then everything started happening. He had the gun, and he was waving it around, gloating about the fact that he was going to get away, and how Maria was never going to get another piece of him again after everything she'd taken for all these years, and he aimed the gun at her. I think maybe I screamed 'No' or something, but I heard this crashing, and two guys came in the back door. I kind of dropped to the floor and pushed Lucy down, and I guess Joey pointed the gun and they fired and he fell down." She took another breath. "That was it. That's all."
The room was hushed, until Detective Rodine spoke.
"That's great, Andy. You did real good. You did everything right." Into the recorder, he said, "End of interview, Sachs, Andrea. Time, 6:06." He turned it off and stood. "We'll need to talk again, and you might have to testify in court."
"No problem," Andrea said immediately. "I want him to go away for life."
Detective Rodine chuckled. "Okay. Don't worry about anything. I'll be in touch. I have your information, and Ms. Priestly's. You staying there tonight?"
"Good. Glad you've got your family around you. And if you need to talk, or you remember anything, anything at all, even the smallest detail, you call me. Day or night." He handed her a card. "My cell's on there."
"Okay, thanks," Andrea said. "Really."
"Sure. You get better, and like I said, you did everything right. Take care, both of you." He stood, and Miranda shook his hand.
"Thank you, Detective."
Rodine nodded, and left.
Miranda waited for Andrea's parents to reappear, but they didn't. She looked around aimlessly until Andrea slid over on the bed and patted the space next to her. At that point, Miranda recalled that they hadn't had a single moment alone since the whole ordeal began. It was a relief to ease onto the mattress and press her lips to Andrea's temple. "I love you," she breathed.
Andrea slid an arm around Miranda's back and pulled her into a half-embrace. "I love you too. Don't know what I'd do without you. I'm so glad you're here."
Miranda tried to hold back, but she cried yet again, burying her face in Andrea's warm, salty neck. She smelled of sweat and fear, and other unnamed things that would live on as reminders of this day in the future. But she also smelled alive, which was more important than anything. She did not tell Andrea how she had prayed, and cried, and smoked her way through the day. Someday, she might. But not tonight. Tonight, she would hold her beloved close, and count herself among the luckier people in the world.
In a stroke of luck, the night had gone better than Miranda's wildest dreams, despite the fact that she had to sit through two and a half hours of a Julie Andrews movie musical. She’d distracted herself with work, and occasionally listened in on Andrea's conversations with the girls. They'd amused her greatly.
"The Captain is soooo cute," Caroline had whispered somewhere in the middle of the film.
"He's old," Cassidy had countered.
"Sometimes old isn't a bad thing," Andrea had whispered.
"You mean like with Mom?" Caroline said, eagerly. "She's way older than you."
With a tone far wiser than her years, Andrea replied, "That's one example. But people who are older can be pretty smart. I'm partial to people who have lived a little. Then again, they're not always as nice as your Mom. They don't always mean well, so trust your instincts. But Captain Von Trapp is definitely nice, not to mention cute!" She laughed, and the girls giggled with her.
Later, Andrea kissed the girls goodnight when they went to bed, and said, "See you in the morning."
They'd nudged each other, and when they hugged Miranda, Cassidy whispered, "She's okay, Mom."
"Go to bed," Miranda told her.
When Andrea joined her under the sheets soon after, her expression was one of supreme satisfaction. "I did pretty good, didn't I," she said.
"Mm-hmm," Miranda said, not looking at her.
"Aren't you sorry you didn't trust me?"
“Not really. I wanted to be prepared. Just in case."
"A lot of worry for nothing. And since I never get to do this, let me just say, 'I told you so.'"
"That's the first and last time you're ever allowed to say such a thing," Miranda drawled. She pulled Andrea close and slid a knee between her bare legs.
"’S okay. Once is enough. I'll enjoy the memory of it for the rest of my life."
Miranda nibbled her collarbone. "Arrogant minx," she muttered, but the softness of Andrea's skin encouraged her to let go of her faux-irritation. She licked her way up Andrea's neck to her mouth, until she said, "Happy birthday."
"Thanks." Andrea ran a hand down Miranda's back to her bottom, where she began to inch the silver nightgown up her body. "When can I open my present?" she exhaled, lips parted and full.
"Now would be a good time," Miranda replied, reaching over to the nightstand for a box in silver wrapping paper and bow.
"This wasn't exactly what I had in mind," Andrea pouted.
"Patience, my darling."
Andrea unwrapped the slim box, and opened the tissue that held a single piece of paper. She read it aloud: "This entitles you and the guest of your choice for a three night stay at the Mandarin Oriental for a romantic spa weekend, including side-by-side massages, hot stone treatments, manicure, pedicure and facial, and any other treatment of your choice. Enjoy your stay in our luxurious suite overlooking Central Park West, with fireplace, gourmet kitchen, private steam room and stunning vistas of the city and park." She tapped her chin with the box. "Hmm. I'm not sure who I should take. Lils would probably be really into the massage, but Doug has always wanted a hot stone treatment--"
Miranda rolled her over and pinned both arms to the bed. "Take your time deciding, dear. I'm in no hurry."
Andrea smiled seductively. "The first weekend you have free, consider yourself booked."
"That's more like it." Miranda dipped her head and kissed her slowly.
“Now can I open my present?”
Miranda’s gown was then lifted up and off, and she didn’t notice where it landed after Andrea threw it across the room.
Wrapped around Andrea securely, Miranda was not paying attention when Andrea’s parents returned. She didn’t notice when they came to stand just at the room’s entrance. But somehow the air changed, and Miranda instantly knew why.
Though Andrea made a disappointed sound when Miranda put distance between them, she spotted her parents after only a moment. “Hi guys,” she said.
“Sorry to interrupt,” Charles said.
“Not at all,” Miranda replied. “Please, come in.”
They did, pulling chairs close to Andrea’s bedside, and Miranda stood to make it a little less awkward for everyone. She didn’t remove her hand from Andrea’s shoulder, however; she wasn’t ready to let go just yet.
“What happens now?” Charles asked.
“They should release me soon, and we can go home,” Andrea said. “I mean, home to Miranda’s. Would you, I mean,” Andrea turned to Miranda. “Can they--”
“Yes, of course.” Meeting Charles’ eyes, she said, “You’re both welcome at the townhouse. I’ve plenty of room. If you don’t mind. I know it’s an odd situation, but I expect we all want to be near Andrea right now, and my home is yours.”
Andrea looked up at Miranda as though she were speaking an alien language. If Miranda weren’t so drained, she’d have been amused.
“That’s very generous, Miranda. We accept. But the photographers--there were a bunch outside the entrance we came through. Is that normal?”
Andrea chuckled. “They’re not here for me. They’re here because of Miranda.”
“I wonder if they’ve sussed it out yet,” Miranda said. “Your name stayed out of all the early reports. The girls didn’t realize until I told them myself.”
“I don’t want you to end up in the papers--” Andrea started.
“I’m not so concerned that they’ll get a photo, but I would like to get you in the car without risk of injury. You’ve been through enough today. I’m going to check with the doctor. I’ll be back shortly, and then I’ll phone Roy and find an appropriate exit.” She squeezed Andrea’s shoulder, and a hand came up to clasp hers.
“Promise you won’t be long?”
Miranda did her best not to worry about the anxious look in Andrea’s eyes.
Within fifteen minutes, Andrea was signed out, and Miranda had notes on how to care for her wounds. She also had a sizable handful of Lorazepam samples in her pocket. Miranda thought she might want to keep a few of them for herself. One of the nurses led their little faction to a quiet loading dock where deliveries were made, and when the woman pushed open the heavy door, Miranda was relieved to see the silver Mercedes idling. The snow fell steadily; there were five inches on the ground by now. The sidewalks had been salted, so Miranda found herself clinging to Charles Sachs’ arm as she made her way toward the car. Andrea trod carefully between her parents, and soon they were inside the warm vehicle. Miranda sat in the passenger seat in the front. Roy had driven her going on six years, and never once had they sat next to one another.
“Glad to see you two, Ms. Priestly,” Roy said, his dark eyes rich and warm. “Been a hard day.”
Miranda sighed, suddenly exhausted. “Yes, it has. Did you have trouble getting here?”
“Not at all. The cops let me through. I guess somebody finally got upset about the paparazzi and called. Made my life a lot easier.”
“Good. Be careful. The roads might be slick.”
Roy tipped his hat and smiled indulgently. “Yes ma’am.”
Miranda turned around once to give Andrea a reassuring look. “We’ll be home in no time.”
Unfortunately, they weren’t. An accident snarled traffic at the corner of Broadway and 110th, adding an extra twenty minutes to their journey. The classical music helped keep Miranda calm, as did the gentle cadence of Andrea’s voice as she explained to her parents some of what had happened. She left out a few things; the bullet that missed her by inches, the initial assault, the violent moments before everything came to a close.
By the time the car slid to a stop on 73rd, Charles and Isabelle were pale, but they appeared resolute in their desire to keep their misery from Andrea. That scored them points in Miranda’s book.
To Miranda’s intense relief, no cameras lurked outside her door. She wondered if someone had fed misleading tips to the press, but at that point, she didn’t care. As fast as she could, she trundled Andrea and her parents inside, throwing Roy a grateful look. She lifted a hand in farewell, and he waved.
Once inside, Miranda heard two shrieks. She felt Andrea’s flinch at the sound and lifted a hand to warn the twins not to throw themselves at Andrea as they rushed forward. They got the message and stopped short, faces tense. “Andy,” Cassidy said. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m good, kiddo. Come ‘ere,” she replied, holding out her right arm. Her left, she kept pinned to her side, and the girls instinctively knew to avoid jostling it. They moved in to cling to her, and Andrea laid her chin on top of Caroline’s head. “I’m glad to be home. Are you two okay?”
“Yeah,” Caroline said. “We were so scared for you. And your eye!” The girl grimaced. “It looks really bad. Are you sure you’re all right?”
“It’s not so awful, is it?” Andrea joked, touching the purple skin at the edge of the bruise. “I guess I won’t be able to make my modeling gigs this week, huh.”
Cassidy reached up to pat Andrea near her collarbone. “It’s okay, Andy. It will go away. I got a black eye playing dodge ball at school.”
Andrea kissed Cassidy’s temple, and the girls stepped back, only to fly into Miranda’s arms. They were so warm, and they clutched at her, burying their small faces against her breast. “Hello, darlings.” She stroked their long, red hair, and held them securely.
“Mommy, who are those people with you?” Cassidy whispered.
“They’re Andrea’s parents. They’re going to stay with us.”
“Do we have to be nice to them?” Caroline asked.
“On your best behavior.”
“Okay,” came two tandem whispers. “Is Andy really okay?” said Caroline.
Miranda nodded firmly. “But she was very frightened today, and we have to be calm and quiet around her.”
“Should we make her dinner? She looks sick,” Cassidy said.
Food. Miranda had forgotten. Thank god Samuelson had given her that hamburger this afternoon. It was late, and she’d bet Andrea’s parents hadn’t had a thing to eat all day either. “Yes. I think that’s a brilliant idea. But let’s get inside and sit down before we decide.”
Charles and Isabelle followed them into the large room that opened out into the kitchen. Miranda saw Andrea’s indecision at where to be, and as much as she wanted to wrap her in her arms, with a bob of her head, she encouraged her to sit between her parents. They took the long sofa, and Miranda sat across in a comfortable chair with one twin at each arm. Now that she was seated, she thought it might be very difficult to get up again. Her feet were still cold and wet, so she kicked her wretched shoes off. But the idea of going upstairs to change clothes seemed virtually impossible. Fatigue was setting in, making Miranda’s limbs heavy.
“Andy, Elissa is still here. Are you hungry?” Caroline asked.
Andrea’s head did not move from its resting place along the side of her father’s arm. “No. But I was before. They made me eat a protein bar in the hospital. I guess I should have something.”
“Elissa can make anything you like,” Miranda said, encouragingly.
“This sounds dumb, but,” she began in a soft voice, “I really want a grilled cheese.”
Miranda thought a grilled cheese would be fantastic. “Yes. Yes, that’s perfect. Charles? Isabelle?”
The two looked at each other with wide eyes, and nodded back to Miranda. “Sounds good,” Charles said.
“Lovely. Girls, could you speak to--”
The two streaked toward the kitchen before she could even finish.
The room was silent once more. Miranda could not think of one thing to say.
Isabelle cleared her throat. “You have a lovely home,” she said, her smile uneasy.
With a small chuckle, Miranda smiled. “Thank you.” She looked up at the crown molding of the ceiling, letting her eyes travel down the stained bookshelves all the way to the Moroccan rug she’d brought back from Marrakech ten years before. “This wasn’t exactly the circumstance I’d hoped you’d first visit for.”
Stroking Andrea’s head for a moment, Isabelle finally said, “I was surprised when I saw you at the hospital. Hell, I was surprised you even called today. After everything Andy told us about working for you,this was the last thing we expected.”
Andrea lifted her head and frowned. “Sorry, guys. I just thought you’d… freak.”
“It’s all right, Andy. I think we can save that discussion for another time. Right now, we just want you to relax.”
“Okay, but we’re together and that’s all there is to it.” Andrea’s eyes were a little panicked.
“Honey, don’t worry about that. We just want you to be happy. And if that’s with Miranda--” Isabelle looked over at her-- “Then that’s fine with us. I promise.”
Andrea gazed at her mother. “Really?” Her voice trembled.
“Oh honey, absolutely. We can tell that Miranda cares for you very much.”
Miranda sat up a little straighter. “Loves. I love her very much.” All three heads swiveled in her direction. “This is not a passing fancy. I won’t say that you have nothing to be concerned about, because clearly our relationship could be seen as… unconventional. But I want only the best for Andrea, and we are happy together.” Miranda swallowed, suddenly uncertain how to continue. “That’s all.”
Andrea’s mouth curved into the most authentic smile Miranda had seen in the past few hours. “Yeah,” Andrea whispered.
Charles pushed his glasses up his nose. “Well. I suppose.”
Andrea sat back and relaxed, and Cassidy ran into the room. “Can you come sit at the table? We’re making drinks.”
That was enough motivation for Miranda to head upstairs for something different to wear. “I’ll be down in a few minutes. I have to get out of this skirt.”
“I think I’ll join you,” Andrea said. She kissed her parents on the cheek. “Be right back.”
The two of them climbed the steps slowly, and Miranda was glad the bedroom was only on the second floor. “I’m burning these clothes,” Andrea said. She had on a green hospital shirt and the jeans she’d worn out of the house. “I stink. I want to shower.”
“You can’t get the stitches wet yet. Can you wait till after supper and I’ll draw you a bath?”
Andrea nodded glumly. “Okay.”
“Here, I’ll help you.” The green shirt unbuttoned, and Miranda opened the small closures and maneuvered the fabric off of Andrea’s uninjured side first. She peeled the other side down, avoiding the bandages, and gasped when she saw the black and blue marks that had surfaced along Andrea’s torso. “Oh my god.”
“What?” Andrea looked down. “Oh. Yeah. It’s not bad.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Just a throb. Like my eye. I’ll live.”
You’ll live , Miranda thought. She brushed her fingers along the back of Andrea’s neck. “When did you get to be so tough?” she murmured, kissing the shell of an elegant ear.
Andrea snorted. “Today, I guess.” She slumped back against Miranda’s body, nearly dead weight. “I feel terrible. Sad, even though I should be so relieved to be here. Be all right, I mean. But I’m just… miserable.” She put her hand over Miranda’s when it curled around her waist. “Do you think I’ll ever feel normal again?”
With a nod, Miranda replied, “Oh, yes. In time.”
“I don’t like this feeling.” Her nails dug into the flesh of Miranda’s hand. “I was so happy this morning. Remember?”
Miranda let out a breath, chuckling. “Mm-hmm.”
“I can’t tell you how glad I am that we made love. I held onto it. All day long, it was like you were with me. Your smell on my fingers, your taste in my mouth. I held on to you.”
“I did as well, darling,” Miranda said softly, overwhelmed by grief at the loss Andrea was going through. A loss of innocence she could never reclaim. Miranda held her carefully, until goosebumps rose on Andrea’s skin and she shuddered. “Let’s get you dressed. You need to eat.”
Andrea laid out the undergarments with such an adoring expression that Miranda found it extremely difficult not to laugh. “It’s just underwear,” she said.
“It’s fantastic. You shouldn’t bother with the gown. You’ll look better without it.”
Miranda rolled her eyes. “Don’t be ridiculous. Hand me the bra.”
“No way. I’m the dresser for tonight. I do the work.”
Miranda smirked. “Typically when I hire a dresser, I get to put on my own lingerie.”
“Aren’t you lucky I’m atypical then,” Andrea purred as she slipped the corset bra into place and fastened the eye hooks one by one. A kiss landed on Miranda’s shoulder blade, and she tried to mask her small gasp. Fingers traced along Miranda’s rear end, skating the sensitive triangle of flesh at the base of her spine.
“The panties?” Miranda said, wishing her sultry tone was not so apparent.
“Mm. Very pretty.” Andrea reached over and snagged them. “Left leg first.”
Though she’d wanted Andrea to help her get dressed, Miranda decided she might be in over her head when that slim, sweet-smelling body knelt at her feet as if in supplication. Already off-balance, she lifted one foot and then the other. After an excruciating, slow breath, Andrea slid the lacy garment up her thighs.
“That feel good?” Andrea looked up, eyes large and dark, face very close to the juncture of Miranda’s thighs. One finger snaked along the edge of the lace.
“You know it does,” Miranda whispered.
Andrea’s tongue reached out and flicked.
Miranda flushed, heat scorching her face.
“Let’s see. Where are those stockings?” Andrea reached behind her and selected the stretch of silk, gathering it carefully in her hands. “Here we go. Left.” Miranda lifted, breathing growing deeper as Andrea inched the stocking up her skin. Slow, slow, until the lace band that held it in place was around her thigh. By then, Andrea’s head was leaning against her belly, blowing soft air against her panties. “Mm. I love these.”
“Hah,” Miranda exhaled, wishing Andrea would stop all this torture and put her out of her misery. The sooner she could finish dressing and get out of the house, the sooner she could return and spend the rest of the night in the bed, or on the floor, or wherever it pleased her, ravishing Andrea. She wished they could attend the party together, but she simply… wasn’t ready. Neither of them were; they’d barely broached the subject. Andrea had yet to tell her friends, or family, or anyone about their relationship, though Miranda had given tacit permission.
Of course, at the moment, she didn’t care about any of that. What she wanted was Andrea’s mouth between her legs. But instead those lips were trailing gently along her knee, and higher, as she pulled up the right stocking. And when Andrea snapped the elastic against the back of Miranda’s thigh, her hips jerked. She gazed down into Andrea’s eyes, all fire and heat, and said, “How long will I have to wait?”
“No time at all,” Andrea replied with a knowing smile, and went straight for her. Miranda leaned back against her dressing table as Andrea licked her through silk and lace. The friction was luscious, as was the feeling of long fingers tickling her ass, teasing and dancing as Miranda arched in pleasure. Her mouth was dry; she spread her legs further and Andrea pressed hard, bringing her teeth into play, raking over her clit. Panting through her nose, Miranda hovered near that edge, already so close she cursed. She wanted to last, but she never could. With Andrea, the first time was always quick. Andrea wound her up fast with her fingers and mouth and snapped her into the sky like a rubberband.
In the mornings, Miranda took longer to get fired up. She tended to wake with her mind already on Runway. It was a shame, really; she sometimes wished to be the kind of person who ate breakfast and read the paper at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee. Instead, she did those things behind her desk at work.
Maybe she could start a new habit soon. Tomorrow, even.
That thought was not enough to keep her distracted for very long. Andrea’s moans of delight pushed Miranda into an orgasm so exquisite she considered skipping the party altogether and doing only this for the rest of the evening.
Andrea did not give her much time to recover before she stood and shoved her own lounging pants down to the floor. She lifted one knee to the corner of the dressing table, opening up for Miranda’s hand, which slipped around in the copious moisture. Miranda knew she wanted it fast tonight too; slow would come later. She had learned Andrea’s rhythms, and loved the sense of pride that came when Andrea’s body stilled almost instantly, lips fastened to Miranda’s ear, arms crushing them together.
“Ohh, good,” Andrea said, breath hot on Miranda’s cheek. She had avoided mussing Miranda’s make up, to her great relief. She really didn’t want to spend much time retouching. “You are so hot tonight,” Andrea muttered.
“You’re making this extremely difficult,” Miranda replied.
There was a seductive chuckle in her ear. “I thought you were pretty easy.”
Miranda clutched the perfectly round ass under her hands. “Very funny.” Andrea eased back, steadying herself on two feet. “But you have ruined a very expensive pair of panties.”
“Well, lucky for you I plan ahead.” Andrea reached behind her onto the dressing table. When her hand reappeared, she held a brand new pair of underwear. It was an exact replica of what Miranda wore.
Unable to resist Andrea’s smirk of self-satisfaction, Miranda threw caution to the wind and kissed her.
Fifteen minutes later she was redressed, makeup once again flawless. Andrea followed her down the steps; Miranda felt jealous that her lover would have the opportunity to relax in comfortable clothes with the children. Miranda had few free evenings these days; work took so much energy. So much precious time.
Tonight she would go to her event, and smile, and wave, and make ridiculous small talk. All the while her mind would be somewhere else. But no one made demands on Miranda Priestly. Within two hours she would be home again, with the girls. With Andrea. Everything would be the way she wanted. The way it was supposed to be.
When Miranda woke up that morning, she could not, in her wildest dreams have imagined this was what she would be doing twelve hours later. The kitchen was silent as the six of them sat at the table. The meal was surprisingly delicious; it had been some time since Miranda had indulged in something as basic as cheese and tomato on bread. Andrea seemed particularly involved in her dinner, closing her eyes with each bite.
“This is weird,” Caroline said. “I feel weird. Why is no one talking?”
The entire contingent seemed to freeze, except Andrea, who replied, “It is weird. But this is the best grilled cheese I’ve ever had in my life.” She glanced at Miranda. “Can you believe how good this is?” Staring at the cheese that oozed out over the crust, she asked, “Do you think it’s because I had a near-death experience?”
Miranda peeked at the girls, whose eyes grew wide at Andrea’s words. She wasn’t sure how much they knew, but by tomorrow everyone would know. Best to get it out now, and not to lie. Omit, perhaps, but not lie. As she considered what to say, she noticed Isabelle put a hand to her mouth, and cloudy tears slid down her face.
“Honey,” Charles said, and Andrea twitched when she realized what was happening.
“Oh, Mom,” she said, leaving her chair to kneel at her mother’s feet. “I’m okay. I swear. I’m just… This is totally crazy. Don’t cry, please.”
“You’re my baby,” Isabelle said. “I don’t know what I’d do…” She trailed off, and Andrea embraced her.
Miranda watched the tender scene, until she felt Cassidy tug at her sleeve. “Mommy?” There were tears in the girl’s eyes; she was a sympathetic crier. It came from her father’s side of the family.
“Come here, darling,” Miranda said, holding in a grunt when her daughter crawled onto her lap. She looked toward Caroline, who had already left her chair to stand by Charles.
“Are you okay too?” she asked him.
Charles smiled sadly, and looked up across the table at Miranda. His expression was both curious and pleased. “Yeah, I’m okay. Which one are you again?”
“Caroline. Thank you for asking, Caroline.” He stroked her hair once, resting a hand on her shoulder as though to steady himself. “How about you?”
“I’m good. I just wanted Andy to come home and be all right.”
Charles nodded, solemn. “That’s what I wanted too.”
Cassidy’s arms wrapped more tightly around Miranda’s neck.
A few minutes later at Caroline’s insistence, the six of them carried half-eaten dinners into the entertainment room. “I’m going to put a movie on for Andy.”
“I don’t think I’m up for watching anything tonight--” Andrea began.
“It’s just to have on. You’ll feel better. You always say you do.”
“What are we watching?” Isabelle asked.
“’The Sound of Music.’”
“That’s Andy’s favorite movie from when she was a girl!” Isabelle exclaimed. “I haven’t seen it in what, ten years?”
“It was a very peaceful decade,” Charles muttered, and Miranda felt an immediate kinship with him.
“Let’s skip to the puppet show,” Cassidy suggested.
The long sofa provided plenty of room for the four adults, and the attached settee allowed space for the twins to stretch out. Miranda sat near the girls, with Andrea seated between her and her parents. Docile and quiet, Andrea ate the second half of her sandwich slowly, savoring it as if she might never eat another meal. “If you’re still hungry, you can have another,” Miranda said softly, hoping Andrea heard her over the music.
“No, this is enough. It’s just… delicious. It’s perfect.”
She paid little attention to the movie, instead watching her children as they scampered across the couch to crowd around Andrea. They both lay in her lap, legs stretched out to bounce on Miranda’s thighs, crooning while Andrea brushed her fingers through their hair. But soon Miranda became more interested in observing Charles and Isabelle, who each seemed surprised at the interaction with Cassidy and Caroline. Miranda wondered why.
By the time the Captain and Maria walked down the aisle, the children were fading fast. “Bedtime,” she said, ignoring their whines. “We’ve all had a long day.”
“Andy, you’ll say goodnight too?”
“You bet. Now skedaddle. See you in a few.”
Miranda ushered the girls upstairs after quick goodnights with their two guests. When she tucked them in, it was into one bed. Without explanation, Cassidy climbed into Caroline’s bed armed with an extra pillow. “G’night, Mom,” their matching voices said softly.
“What if we get scared?” Cassidy said.
Miranda hadn’t heard that question in a long time. “You may come in. But remember to be quiet. No elephant feet, and no jumping on the bed. All right?”
“Kay,” Cassidy replied.
Miranda leaned over them. “I want you to know that I love you both, very much. I always will, no matter what.”
Their small heads lifted at the same time for another hug, which Miranda gave with a heaviness in her heart. Andrea’s words echoed in her mind. Do you think I’ll ever feel normal again?
Once downstairs, Miranda passed Andrea, who went up to tuck the girls in. That left Miranda alone with two people who made her more uncertain than anyone in her current acquaintance. Considering what she’d faced this afternoon, it should have been easy. It wasn’t.
Miranda shut the television off, and turned to them.
“Not to pry, but how long has this been going on?” Charles asked.
“Andrea and I?”
“Yes. It’s all… remarkably domestic.”
“A while. What has she told you? I was under the impression that she hadn’t mentioned me.”
“Not by name. I’d have had something to say about that if I’d known. When she worked at Runway, every conversation we had was about you. And the ridiculous things you had her doing.” He cleared his throat. “My opinion of you was not a good one.”
Miranda lifted an eyebrow. “Well. I won’t apologize; that’s between Andrea and me, and we’ve resolved any disagreements we had then. And there was nothing romantic going on while she worked for me. There was… chemistry, perhaps. That’s all. A little more than six months ago, we literally ran into one another. We became friends.”
“Friends,” Isabelle said in disbelief.
Miranda swallowed her irritation. Was it so hard to imagine? “Yes.”
“And now you’re together. I should have realized,” Isabelle said. “There was something in the way she talked about you. And then everything fell apart with Nate.” She shook her head. “She’s certainly seems to… love you. She’s not much for doing anything halfway.”
That drew a chuckle from Miranda. “Neither am I.”
“I really do have to thank you again,” Charles said. “For today.”
Miranda waved a hand. “It was the only thing I could do for her, since I don’t believe the police would have taken kindly to me storming the house.”
Charles nodded to himself. “I had that thought too.” He pulled Isabelle a little closer to his body. “I never want to go through this again. You think we can convince her to quit?”
Closing her eyes, Miranda sighed. The question was partially a joke, but she recognized the plea in his voice. “I’ll leave it between the three of you. It’s not my place, as much as I worry. As I will worry.”
Isabelle watched her. “You’re not what I thought you’d be, Miranda.”
With a shrug, Miranda leaned back against the sofa. “What did you expect?”
“In the few hours since we've known about you?” She glanced at the ceiling. “Someone harder. More demanding. Bossy.”
“I’m all of those things, I assure you.” She sighed. “Just not today.” Across the room, Miranda’s cellphone rang. “Excuse me.” Charles and Isabelle nodded. She checked the display. Samuelson. She stepped into the hall. “Detective, hello.”
“Hey. You all right?”
“Yes, we’re home. She was released from the hospital earlier. Her parents are here.”
“Great. Just wanted to let you know a few things. I’ll start with the good: Maria and the kids are fine. They’re staying with cousins on Staten Island, and Maria said Andy saved her life just by being there. She's convinced Joey would have killed all three of them if they’d been alone.”
Miranda shivered. “Well.”
“Yeah. Anyway, Joey just got out of surgery. He’ll live, unfortunately, which means your tax dollars will contribute to his room and board when he goes back to jail. Hopefully for good.”
“Anyway, that’s all I got. Rodine will probably be in touch tomorrow, but I told him I’d call you tonight. Just say hey.”
“Thank you, Detective. And tell me, when is your next benefit for St. Vincent’s?”
He laughed. “April.”
“Save us two tickets, please.”
“How ‘bout a whole table?”
She rolled her eyes. “Don’t worry, Samuelson. They’ll receive a very large check this year, written in your honor.”
There was a pause. “That’s not why I did it, you know. Maybe at first, but not later. We’re square, far as I’m concerned.”
Miranda heard footsteps behind her as Andrea crept downstairs. Her skin was a little grey in the dim light, but her smile was loving, as though just the sight of Miranda made her happy. “I don’t think we’ll ever be square, Detective, but thank you. Good night.”
“Hi,” Andrea said. She stepped into Miranda’s arms and laid her head on her shoulder. “I’m tired.”
“Bath, and bed?” Miranda asked.
“Yeah, but can I use your phone? I have to call Doug and Lily. I haven’t checked the internet, but they’re probably freaking out, and my phone’s, um, out of commission.”
“Of course, I completely forgot.” She handed her the cell.
“I can’t believe no one’s called you yet. You were all over the news.”
“They’re probably calling the other line. I turned the Blackberry off.”
“Oh, smart. I guess you’ll have to do a lot of damage control.”
Miranda shook her head. “Not damage. Clean up, perhaps. But nothing that can’t be repaired. I’m not concerned.”
With a gentle snort, Miranda touched Andrea’s hair. “My priorities were realigned rather quickly this afternoon, if you weren’t aware.”
“Oh. Right. Mine too.” She kissed Miranda warmly. “I’m going to say good night to my parents. Did you put them on the third floor?”
“Mm-hmm. I’ll draw your bath and show them up.”
“Thanks.” She leaned in for another kiss. “Who was on the phone?”
“Samuelson. He told me that the… man,” Miranda couldn’t bear to say his name. “He survived surgery. Maria and her children are staying with family.”
Andrea’s eyes widened, as though just the thought of them spooked her. “I want to see them as soon as the snow clears.”
Miranda had not expected that, but she nodded. “Of course. We’ll take the car.”
“You don’t have to come along.”
Tilting her head, Miranda said, “I won’t if you don’t want me to be there, but I’d prefer not to let you out of my immediate vicinity for a little while.”
Andrea’s eyebrows lifted in surprise. “Oh. Okay. I just didn’t want you to think you had to.”
“Well. That would be great.” She frowned. “My parents might be pissed. They probably want me to get as far away from Maria as possible, quit my job and go running back to Ohio. Like nothing bad ever happens there.”
“They’ll have a hard time prying you away from me, darling,” Miranda teased. “But you’re an adult. They’ll have to accept whatever decision you make.”
Andrea smiled a little at that. “Would you say that about Cassidy or Caroline?”
“Ha ha. Ask me in ten years.”
“I will. See you in a minute.”
She watched Andrea go before crossing the foyer to peer out the window. Snow fell peacefully, and the street was silent.
Miranda was pleased at how quiet it was when she exited the car. She was also thrilled at how quickly she'd achieved what she'd set out to. Over dinner, she got plenty of face time with Irv, as well as two board members whose company she didn't abhor. She drank one glass of wine and enjoyed a passable dinner. She easily convinced the agent of a rising young Hollywood starlet that a Runway cover was not needed to provide excellent publicity for her career. Miranda wanted the interview, but not badly enough to sacrifice the August cover for an unproven talent.
It was barely nine. The girls would be awake. Miranda smiled.
She found them in the entertainment room, where Andrea leaned over Caroline's foot as she painted her toenails. "Hey Mom! We're doing a photo shoot," Caroline said.
Andrea turned toward her, a mischievous grin on her face. She had on a great deal of makeup. Her eyes stood out dramatically, as did her red lips "Like my new look?" she asked.
"It's… unique." Oddly, it wasn't bad. "Who's the culprit?"
"Cassidy. She's pretty good."
Cassidy's own eye makeup looked garish on her young face, but Miranda had to admit it was artfully done. "Very good, darling. Much better than last time."
Cassidy glowed under Miranda's attention. "I liked the December issue a lot, with all the holiday stuff, and white and black. That's what I was going for. Contrast, you know."
"Andrea looks very beautiful." She did. Up close, it was too much, but in a photo, it would work. "You, on the other hand, are wearing too much mascara."
Rolling her eyes, she proceeded to ignore Miranda.
Two hours later, after the girls were in bed, Miranda climbed in next to Andrea. Her porcelain skin was scrubbed clean, cheeks still ruddy from hot water. "You're good with them," she said.
"I like being with them. Most of the time. They don't fight as much as they used to."
"I've noticed." Miranda thought that was because they were getting more attention and affection than usual. Spending more time at home was becoming a habit. She did not say this to Andrea, hesitant to call attention to her varying degrees of success at motherhood.
"Have fun at the party?" Andrea asked, snuggling close, smelling of peppermint. Triggered by the strong scent, the memory of their first kiss flooded through Miranda, who flushed with heat.
"Yes," she breathed. "But I think I was promised a different kind of fun by you earlier this evening. Remember?"
Andrea glanced at the ceiling thoughtfully. "Different kind of fun. Hmm. I'm not sure what you mean."
"Let me remind you then." Miranda rolled on top of Andrea and kissed her, inhaling peppermint.
Miranda stared into the mirror, toothbrush still in her mouth. She used Andrea's toothpaste tonight, craving the taste of it, and the memories it invoked. She spit and rinsed her mouth, drawn back to her own reflection.
She looked like a disaster. Dark circles ringed her eyes, and her skin was sallow. Exhaustion of any kind did not suit her, nor did excessive crying. Glancing over at Andrea, who lay calmly in the tub, she reasoned that Andrea could only see well with one eye. Perhaps she wouldn't notice.
Sitting on the edge of the tub, she gazed down at the precious body, damaged but alive. Andrea's left arm was wrapped in plastic, resting along the rim. Her eye opened. "You look like shit," she said with a tiny grin.
Surprised, Miranda found herself laughing in mirth rather than humiliation. “I have a good excuse. You've aged me at least five years in one afternoon."
A toe left the water and traced a pattern on Miranda's robe. "You're still the prettiest thing I've ever seen in my whole life. Always have been."
"Is that right?" Miranda took the delicate foot and stroked the top of it, tracing the arch.
"Yeah. I bet I look at least as pretty as you tonight, huh?" She touched her eye.
"Prettiest thing I've ever seen in my life," Miranda repeated.
After a lifetime of assessing beauty and deeming it passable or otherwise, Miranda had developed an opinion that imperfection was unacceptable. But looking down at Andrea's swollen skin, her bruised side and scarred arm, she felt very differently. She wondered how much this event would change how she saw the world, and subsequently how she would do her job. Because it was true that she would look back on this moment and know Andrea was beautiful no matter what she looked like.
Twenty minutes later, she eased under the bed sheets. They’d switched sides tonight, to keep Andrea's left arm elevated. They had also each taken a Lorazepam; Miranda had gratefully slid one under her tongue, while Andrea hemmed and hawed before relenting. Miranda wasn't much for prescription drugs; she'd seen enough abuse in her circle to know better. But she had a great deal to do tomorrow and needed rest. Andrea, on the other hand, was still jumpy despite the bath, and this would help her sleep for at least a few hours.
"Can we leave a light on?" Andrea asked.
"Of course. This one?" Miranda asked, pointing to the small lamp next to the bed. It wasn't bright enough to read by, but it cast a soft glow on the room.
"Okay. Thanks." She squirmed a little. "Will you hold me till I fall asleep?"
"And after," Miranda said, turning on her side and adjusting her body to envelop Andrea's. "Rest, darling. I'll be here when you wake up."
Andrea sighed, and closed her eyes. Miranda kissed her forehead and laid her head on the pillow.
She'd survived. It had been a good day. Tomorrow would be better.
Chapter 11: Epilogue
Nine Months Later.
"Mom, are you ever coming down?" said a voice through the door.
Miranda opened her eyes, remembering where she was a few moments later. The scent of white ginger wafted in from the open window, and she let her head fall back onto the pillow. To her left lay Andrea, her back uncovered by the sheet she'd pushed down during the night. Shoulder-length hair spread across the pillow, and despite her desire, Miranda resisted the urge to reach out and stroke soft skin.
She rolled out of the bed and reached for the robe slung across the chair next to the bed. Wrapping it around herself quickly, she went to the door.
Cassidy stood in front of it, already in her wet suit. "We're leaving in a few minutes."
"All right. Did you eat?"
"Yeah, a while ago. Sam cooked."
"Excellent. I'll be right there."
"'Kay. Did Andy sleep?"
Miranda touched Cassidy's cheek. "Yes, but I'm going to let her rest a little while longer. You can see her when you're back from class. Maybe we'll come down to the beach and watch."
Her daughter scampered down the hall and shot down the stairs. Miranda walked to the French doors and touched the slatted blinds that kept out some of the sun. They'd left a few windows open so Miranda could feel the breeze and listen to the ocean during the night. Not that Andrea heard any of it. Blue earplugs were still tucked firmly in her ears, which explained why she slept on even with all the noise.
Miranda stepped outside, sun in her eyes. One floor below, pale sand led directly out to water so blue Miranda still had trouble believing it was real. Palm trees swayed, and two enormous pink plumeria trees stood sentry at the sides of the property. Only a few days into their stay, Andrea picked blooms from the trees and made the four of them leis. Two of the garlands now hung on the wall of their bedroom, perfuming the air even days later.
The weather cooperated today, unlike yesterday. December in Kauai was unpredictable; so far they'd only had two days of rain. But even then it seemed heaven compared to a New York winter of teeming sleet and snow. This was a gentle, humid bath, and even Miranda had been drawn out into it once, soon after their arrival.
Miranda's stomach growled. She knew the coffee was made and waiting. With an anticipatory smile, she went back inside and quietly made her way downstairs.
The kitchen was already cleaned; Sam was a godsend. A fascinating combination of nanny, cook, housekeeper and surf instructor, he was the ideal companion for the girls and great company for herself and Andrea. He'd even brought them to meet his family, which seemed so extended and multi-racial that Miranda wondered exactly how many members were blood-related. Sam's handsome boyfriend Kai was also a surf instructor, as well as a serious student of hula. When Sam brought the girls to Kai's Halau to watch a class, Caroline decided then and there she would find a school in New York to learn.
Whatever made her happy, Miranda thought.
When she entered the kitchen, Sam greeted her with a friendly smile. "Komo mai, Miranda. You ready for coffee?"
"Please." He poured her a cup from the pot, added milk and handed it over. She inhaled that delicious smell and sipped gratefully. "Ohh," she groaned. "Perfect."
He laughed. "Mahalo. But you say that every day."
"It's perfect every day. Cassidy tells me you’ve eaten?"
"Sure. I’ll make some eggs."
"No, no, I'll do it. You all go on. We may join you shortly."
"Really, Mom?" Caroline asked.
"Mm," Miranda hummed. "I know you both got up on your boards yesterday, and I want to see for myself."
"It was so cool!" Caroline said, enthused. "I can't wait to go out again. Sam says the waves are great this morning."
"But not too big," Miranda warned, eyeing Sam.
"Of course. Small swells, da kine for the girls. It's good."
After another sip of her precious brew, Miranda nodded. "All right. You're not far?"
"We're on the public beach, two blocks north. You'll see the lifeguard shack."
"All right." She kissed Cassidy and Caroline, and smiled at Sam. "Have fun."
"We will," the girls called. "See you!"
"Aloha," Sam called, and he followed them out the back door.
After a moment of consideration, Miranda went to the nearby sitting room, which served as a sort of office for herself and Andrea. Not that she used it much, but they kept their laptops and wireless router there. She fired up the computer and sent Nigel a four word message. He had a three minute window to respond, and despite Miranda’s hopes, he replied within two.
She turned the webcam at the top of the monitor on and brushed her hair behind her ear. Shortly thereafter, Nigel’s frantic face filled the screen. “Oh, thank god!” he exclaimed. “Karl’s having an absolute fit! He insists that you oversee the April shoot.”
Miranda rolled her eyes, and wished she had a Bloody Mary in her hand. “Nigel, you’re an adult. You’ve been dealing with Lagerfeld for fifteen years. What exactly have you forgotten in the past ten days?”
“Nothing! But Miranda, you didn’t exactly warn him you’d be gone. Or any of us. What did you expect?”
That irritated her. She sat up straight in the uncomfortable office chair. “I expected you to handle the magazine appropriately in my absence. We’re not curing cancer, for god’s sake. Bring a few bottles of Veuve Cliquot to the shoot and don’t wear too much cologne. You’ll be fine.”
“I am not, repeat, not, returning to New York to handle this mess, Nigel. Deal with it.” She inhaled, and deliberately reminded herself to relax. As she’d told him, it wasn’t life or death. “Someday you won’t have me to bother with all your problems. It will be your responsibility entirely. I suggest you get used to managing without me.”
There was a gasp in the background, and Miranda thought Emily might be hovering somewhere just out of sight. Nigel gaped. “What?”
She hadn’t intended on hinting that she might take a break from Runway, but now was as good a time as any. “I’m considering… a sabbatical.”
Nigel was utterly frozen, and Emily nudged into the chair next to him. “What?” she croaked. “You can’t!”
“I can,” Miranda said, eyebrow lifting in defiance. “In July. For at least a few months.” Or longer. She hadn’t decided yet.
“Miranda, the longer you’re gone, the harder it will be for you to come back. Irv,” Nigel said, clearing his throat uncertainly, “Irv will try to keep you out.”
“Undoubtedly.” Miranda didn’t mind that. She could do as she wished, no matter what Irv Ravitz wanted. Her status as a fashion icon and public figure had grown exponentially this past year. But months of intensely microscopic attention on her relationship with Andrea taught Miranda that there was a level of fame even she had no interest in achieving.
“Miranda, I can’t believe you’d throw twenty five years away…” Nigel said, trailing off and leaving words unspoken.
For a girl half your age , Miranda knew he was thinking. And he liked Andrea. But even after all this time, he didn’t understand. Neither did Emily, or anyone at Runway. They reacted with disbelief when Miranda began delegating more responsibility to various department heads, directing them to make final calls Miranda had once micromanaged. Runway’s internal structure resembled that of other magazines more closely now, which gave Miranda time at home. But no one could figure out why. They thought she was going through a phase. Experiencing early-onset Alzheimer’s. Having a mid-life crisis.
Perhaps she was. But it was a crisis that Miranda was determined to make last. She wanted to be with Andrea for the rest of her days, and when she looked into Andrea’s eyes, she saw an identical wish.
Andrea’s friends had taken a little more kindly to the relationship; Doug and Lily saw the depth of Miranda’s affection very quickly, and responded in kind. The three were not exactly pals, but Miranda found herself enjoying their company far more than that of her own so-called “friends” of late. Runway’s employees were no exception.
“Nigel, if you believe that spending a few months enjoying my family is throwing my life away, I’ve done you a great disservice. Someday I’ll apologize. But not today. Deal with Lagerfeld. And don’t call me. I’ll be on the beach, watching my daughters surf. Andrea’s parents arrive tomorrow for the holiday, so don’t expect to hear from me until the 26th. All right?”
Nigel blinked. “Miranda, are you sure you want to do this?”
“Spend Christmas with people from Ohio?” Miranda said, deliberately avoiding the point.
He huffed in exasperation. “You know what I mean. Leaving Runway…”
“Nigel, I know you’re worried because you care, and for that I’m grateful. We can discuss in depth when I’m back. For now, focus on the job. This is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. Are you really going to waste it out of concern for me, of all people?”
That seemed to throw him slightly off balance. “Well,” he began.
“Don’t disappoint me, Nigel. You too, Emily.” She sighed, and put on her fiercest look. “I’m going to make breakfast. Is there anything else?”
“You’re cooking?” Emily squawked.
“Oh, god,” Miranda said with a roll of her eyes. “Email me if there’s a disaster, and maybe I’ll respond. Otherwise, I’ll speak to you Monday. Same time.”
“If you say so. Have a good holiday,” Nigel said.
“You too. And Emily, check the second drawer of my desk, the file folder in front. You might find a few things of interest.” When neither of them moved, she said simply, “Goodbye,” and turned off the connection. They’d damned well better appreciate their bonuses this year. Miranda had rewarded them very well, perhaps better than they deserved, given the fact that Nigel couldn’t even deal with a pussycat like Lagerfeld. What’s done was done. She was on to more interesting things.
Like breakfast. The fruit was already cut, and she put some toast in the toaster before whisking egg whites in a bowl. As she scrambled the eggs, she thought about the effort it had taken to get her to this calm, lovely place.
Endless months of cameras in her face. Dealing with a distracted staff every day. Snide looks and comments from those in her circle.
And worse. Andrea’s anxiety. Her inability to sleep more than a few hours, then at all. Her initial refusal to see a therapist or accept medication. Her belief that she didn’t need to rehash something she’d already talked about a thousand times.
The final straw was a phone call Miranda received from Andrea in the midst of a panic attack. Her altered perception terrified Miranda. When Andrea said she thought she was having a heart attack, Miranda had torn out of the office and found her lover a few blocks away, leaning against a lamppost in the pouring rain.
The next day, Andrea went to a therapist for the first time. Things improved incrementally. She began carrying medication around with her, not to take, but to have. Just the idea of it helped more than anything. She slept, not well, but a little. Her hypervigilant behavior began to ease. She agreed to wear earplugs to sleep, though she still spooked when loud noise made its way through the foam.
All the while, she continued to work. Most of the time, she stayed behind a desk, conducting her interviews over the phone, or online, or in person at the office. All of that was fine with Miranda. And as her anxiety began to lessen, Andrea ventured out into the field once more, always being careful, always calling Miranda before her arrival at a location and after her departure. This was also fine with Miranda. She wanted to know that everything was all right. Andrea’s therapist thought they might be moving toward co-dependency, but neither of them cared. It helped them get through the day, and that was what mattered.
Months passed. Andrea’s moods swung less, and she could sleep through the night again. And just when everything was looking up, Andrea stepped out of a train in Penn Station, fresh off a fantastic interview in Trenton, and walked right into a bomb threat. Instead of melting down, she took her medication and trudged through filthy snow and slush from 34th street to the Elias-Clarke building. She strolled unannounced into Miranda’s office and said very firmly, “I need a break. Can we go out of town?”
Three weeks later, they left on American Airlines for Kauai. The girls finished their final exams a few days early, and would get to celebrate Hanukah and Christmas on the beach. Andrea’s parents gratefully agreed to join them. Miranda had rented a house, and one of her new friends from the Diversity Committee at Dalton recommended Sam as a babysitter. The whole thing unfolded beautifully, as if it were meant to be.
So far, Miranda thought it was the best decision she could have made.
She scooped eggs onto two plates, added fruit and toast, and of course, coffee. Carefully she hoisted a tray and carried it up the stairs. Andrea had not moved from her position on the bed, so Miranda quietly set the tray on the floor and slid atop the sheet. With a gentle hand, she stroked Andrea’s back repeatedly until Andrea rolled over and smiled.
She pulled the earplugs from her ears. “Hi.”
“Mm, like a dream. I love this bed.”
“Maybe we can bring it home.”
Andrea laughed. “Can we bring the view with it?”
“Hmm,” Miranda said. “That would be nice,” she said, tilting her head. “Would you like breakfast?”
“Sure. I can go make us something--”
“Don’t move,” Miranda commanded. She scooted off the bed and presented the tray of food, supremely satisfied at the joy she saw in dark eyes. Andrea appreciated every small thing Miranda ever did for her, which made the giving that much more rewarding.
“You cooked? Oh, honey, it looks fantastic.”
“It’s eggs. It took five minutes.”
“Well I love it. Thank you.” She leaned over the tray, offering a kiss to Miranda, who accepted it. “The girls gone already?”
“Yes. Would you like to go watch them on the beach when we’re through here?”
“Mm, sounds good,” Andrea replied before taking her first bite. “Yum,” she mumbled between forkfuls.
They ate silently, enjoying the sound of the waves, and the occasional gull. When Miranda was done, Andrea devoured the final piece of pineapple from her plate, so she lifted the tray and placed it back on the floor. Finally she was able to reclaim her spot in the bed, and Andrea took advantage of it right away, easing her robe open.
She traced Miranda’s nipple lightly, smiling when it puckered without much coaxing. “Hmm,” she said. “What do you think that means?”
“Are you teasing me?” Miranda said, a little breathless. It had been more than a week since they’d had sex, distracted by vacation plans and twins and leaving work behind.
“It’s only a tease if I don’t follow through.”
“Oh.” Miranda swallowed, already tingling between her legs. “I promised the girls--”
“We’ll go see them. In a while. We have lots of time.”
Miranda realized Andrea was right, in so many ways. But no matter how much time they had, Miranda would make every moment count. She pulled Andrea in for a scorching kiss, rolling over on top of her lover’s body and kicking the sheet off the bed. “Why not let me do all the work?” Miranda murmured, nipping at a firm breast. “You just lie back and think of England.”
Andrea laughed, and arched her back in pleasure.
More than an hour later, they strolled down the beach, freshly showered and exuding afterglow. Andrea wore a big hat and an adorable sundress with a bikini underneath. She layered on the sunscreen each day, but Hawaii weather immediately put an end to the ghostly shade of pale New York winters brought upon her. Miranda was in the same boat, protecting her skin, but unable to resist a little color for a change.
“There they are,” Andrea said, pointing down the beach. “About ten yards out. See?”
Miranda saw. The girls were in the water, waiting for a wave, with Sam floating on a board between them. Cassidy spotted them first, throwing her arm in the air frantically. “Mom!” she shouted. “Andy!”
Andrea waved, shouting in reply, while Miranda wrapped her hand more tightly above Andrea’s elbow. Lightly she stroked her left arm, sliding her fingers along a few faded white scars. One was longer and thicker than the rest. Touching it was a habit now, one she would not break.
Soon they were at the water’s edge, waiting, and after a few minutes Miranda spotted a wave gathering itself up behind the girls. Andrea stepped forward, emitting a tiny gasp. “It’s so big,” she whispered. “Be careful! Don’t fall!” she called out.
But Miranda simply stroked her arm again. “They’re all right,” Miranda said, trusting. Hoping.
Sam encouraged them to take the wave, and to Miranda’s utter delight, both girls struggled up on their boards and stood. Their laughter rang out over the sound of the water. Cassidy was graceful, already an expert, and though Caroline was less poised, she was steady enough. They made it all the way in, hopping off the boards and skipping into sand to run at the both of them. Cassidy fell into Miranda’s arms, her wet body and hair soaking her cover-up. “Did you see Mom? We did it!”
Miranda pressed her nose into Cassidy’s delicious, salty hair and laughed. “I saw, darling. You did it.” She glanced next to her, where Caroline clung to Andy tightly.
Caroline was nearly breathless with excitement. “See, Andy? We were fine! We didn’t fall.”
Andrea blinked, and met Miranda’s eyes. She rocked Caroline back and forth in her arms, and said, “You’re right, sweetie. There was nothing to be scared of.”
For the first time in many, many months, Miranda believed her.