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I check my reflection thoroughly. After being on my feet all day, running errands in this European city where I am a stranger, I need a touch-up. My mascara is holding up pretty well, but the lipstick is pretty much gone. I check my foundation and blush. Not too bad. Some setting powder to remove the shine on my nose and I’m restored to Runway-perfection. I shake my head. A few months ago I would’ve slapped on some chap stick, brushed my hair and teeth and be done with it. Now, I spend half an hour every morning putting on makeup with increasingly improving technique.

All of this is mainly to please Miranda. I use the makeup and the designer clothes to play my part as a Runway assistant. A Miranda girl. Shivering, I push away the disturbing feelings I’ve battled for so long. They do nothing but hurt me and make me lose focus. If I give in, if I ever admit my true feelings for Miranda, even to myself, I’ll be in for a world of pain.

Picking up the packages for Miranda, I hurry to her suite. The hotel has placed us on the same floor and I’m only five doors down from hers. The suites are incomparable though mine is amazing by my standards. Miranda’s like a luxury condo, equipped with anything she might possibly want.

I knock, but there’s no answer and I use the key card Miranda gave me when we checked in five days ago. I place the packages on the dresser by the door and enter the living room are…and find a woman I’ve never seen before.

Sitting on the couch is a woman without make up, with limp hair and wearing only a gray robe, Miranda looks completely alien. She clutches a Kleenex and what looks like crumpled legal documents lay at her feet. It’s Miranda, but not the one I’ve known—until now.

“Ah, there you are,” she says and extends her hand. “We need to talk about the seating arrangement.”

She wants the chart of the tables at tomorrow’s luncheon, which she and Runway is hosting to promote James Holt. He’s the latest star on the sky of design. I find him self-righteous and pompous.

Knowing I should sit in the chair across the coffee table from Miranda, I realize I can’t. When this new Miranda is looking so forlorn and upset…I have to sit on the couch next to her. She may throw me out on my ears or at least read me the riot act, but—she doesn’t. I hand her the seating chart and she takes it and leans back.

“We need to move Snoop Dog to my table—“

“Your table’s full,” I remind her, not even realizing at the time that I actually interrupted her.

“Stephen isn’t coming.” Miranda speaks in chopped up sentences and tries to act as if she doesn’t care.

“He’s not?” I reach for my Filofax. “So I don’t have to fetch him at the airport tonight?”

“Not unless he decides to rethink the divorce.” Her voice is hollow now.

“Oh.” I stop taking note. “I’m so sorry, Miranda.” I’m not. Not really. She’s better off without that bastard. He drinks too much. He’s disrespectful. I’ve even heard her call her children names. I wonder if she knows that.

“I worry for my girls,” Miranda says, and I wonder if she’s psychic. “It’s so unfair to them. The press will have a field day—again. ‘Snow Queen drives away yet another Mr. Priestly. Yes, I’m well aware of my monikers among the press and my staff. ‘Dragon Lady’, ‘Devil in Prada’.”

“It isn’t always said with malice,” I say, cringing.

“Really? You’re far too innocent, Andrea.” Miranda smirks unhappily. “Anyway, my girls will lose another father…figure. Their friends will ask questions, which they’ll find very stressful. Remind me to call their therapist and, yes, you need to call Leslie. My publicist will have her work cut out for her when this hits Page 6.”

I take notes until my arm starts cramping. “I’m on it, Miranda.”

“Aren’t you always,” she sighs and I can’t tell if she is annoyed with me, or if this is a rare compliment.

“I’m so sorry, Miranda.” I repeat myself but I have to say something. “Is there anything I can do? Anything at all?”

Miranda turns her head and regards me with narrowing eyes. She pulls the robe closer around her and tightens the belt. Is she naked underneath? Her hair looks as if it air dried. “What exactly are you offering?” she asks, her voice deceptively soft.

“Just a…a shoulder. You know?”

Her eyes go from narrow to slightly widened. So, what I said wasn’t what she expected. “A shoulder.”

“Physically or metaphorically speaking,” I say, trying to smile, but I’m pretty sure I fail.

“Let me see if I get this straight. As my assistant. No, as my second assistant, you suggest I should lean on your shoulder and tell you the whole sordid story about my failed marriage and let you dry my tears?” Her voice lowers impossibly with each word, making her sound positively lethal.

I refuse to be intimidated and tell myself, this is her shock talking. “You know by now you can trust me. Haven’t I proven that, Miranda?” My poor heart is not going to survive this. The more I try to convince her, the more deadly her expression becomes. She’s clutching her robe close at the base of her neck with one hand. The other is fisted on her lap. I decide to go for broke. I take the cold, clenched hand between mine. “Please, Miranda.” It’s my treacherous heart speaking. It wants to be there for her. Miranda, on the other hand, looks as approachable as a saber-toothed tigress. Teeth bared and all.

“You’re insane,” she mutters, but her voice is not as acidic.

“Probably,” I say and smile wryly. “I really don’t mean to be pushy—“

Miranda’s disbelieving glance stops me from continuing. “Really.”

“No, I mean, if you rather be alone, I mean if you—“

“Chickening out, Andrea?” Her low voice is now a mere purr.

“What? No”

“Or did you realize you’re forcing yourself on someone to whom you are practically a stranger?” Miranda tilts her head just so.

“A—A stranger?” Now that hurt. I try not to show it.

“All I know about you is what I observe at work. Same goes for you, right?”

“That may be, but we work a lot. I see more of you than most.” I refuse to give in. This conversation has spun totally out of control, but I would be damned if I give up now. The thing is, she needs someone to talk to, hell, hiss at and eviscerate if that’s what it takes.

“True.” Miranda concedes. Relaxing marginally she gazes down at our still joined hands. Oddly enough, she makes no move to disentangle herself. “Are you going out with him tonight?”

“Who? Oh, you mean Christian Thompson? Yes, he asked.” I realize what I blurted out. “I’ll cancel.”

“Cancel a date with the dashing Mr. Thompson?” Miranda’s hand jerks. “Now why ever would you do that?”

“Because I’d rather be here.”

Snorting Miranda grips my right hand hard. “You say the strangest things.” Gasping for air, she shakes her head and I her tears aren’t far away. “You’re so set on bringing me salvation, aren’t you? The curse of the young. You know all the answers—or you think you do.”

She loses me there for a bit. Her eyes are off in the distance, her hand twitching slightly between mine. I recognize the movements. My hands do the same when I’m panicking or upset. Go all rigid and twitchy. They did that a lot when I was new at Runway. Now my hands are steady, warm, and dry. That tells me something.

“Miranda. Christian Thompson means nothing to me. He’s an acquaintance who’s been flirting with me. I figured since you had that dinner tonight, I’d let him show me Paris.”

“He’ll want more.” Miranda’s eyes scan me from the top of my head to my Blahniks. “He’ll take one look at your beauty and he’ll want to own it. He’ll want that like he wants…everything.”

This makes no sense. What does it even mean? I open my mouth to ask, but Miranda shocks me by sliding closer and pressing her free hand over my mouth.

“Don’t be fooled by him. He’s not trustworthy. I can’t tell you the details, but he has a hidden agenda.” She looks steadily into my eyes. “Do you understand, Andrea? Don’t trust him.” Another pause. “And don’t sleep with him.”

“How could I?” I speak slowly, making sure she hears every word. “When I’m staying here? You’ll be off to the dinner, unless you want me to cancel—“

“Yes. Cancel. Do that.” Short-cropped words. Raw.

My heart breaks for her again. Miranda rarely stays at functions more than fifteen minutes, or half an hour, tops, but cancelling anything during Paris Fashion Week is unheard of. “All right. Then it’s just you and me here tonight. You can Skype with your girls if you want and I’ll make myself scarce for that, but otherwise, I’m at your beck and call.” I’m babbling, I know that. All I want is to reassure her.

Miranda slumps sideways against the backrest. We’re still linked, but her hand’s trembles. “You speak without thinking most of the time, don’t you?”

“Perhaps?” I try to remember how I put what I said. “I think aloud a lot. I try not to do that around you too much as I’m pretty sure you find it annoying.”

“Ah, don’t let that stop you. I find everything annoying, pretty much.” She smiles faintly, but it’s a real smile. “Don’t stop thinking aloud and no matter what, don’t change anything about yourself unless it’s your choice.”

That’s got to be the sweetest, most personal thing Miranda’s ever said to me. With the risk of turning into a puddle at any moment, I do the unthinkable. I raise her hand to my lips and kiss it gently. “Thank you.”

Giving a sound that sounds like a gasp, or perhaps even a whimper, Miranda closes her eyes. “Andrea…”

If there ever was a time to act, this is it. I dig for courage and slide toward her on the couch’s silky fabric. Tugging gently at Miranda’s hand, I pull her closer and wrap my free arm around her. “Allow me,” I murmur. “Please.” I’m doing the unthinkable. I’m asking Miranda Priestly to trust me. To let me hold her. Why am I not afraid of being fired? Perhaps her wellbeing is worth more than any job?

Miracles of miracles, Miranda leans in, not in a relaxed, comfort-seeking way, but still. Her forehead presses against my neck, skin to skin, and this makes me dizzy for a moment.

“There,” I say quietly. “You’re not alone.”

“Silly girl,” Miranda murmurs. “You have no idea. You’re ignorant of so many things and still…I want to sit here with you. Perhaps it’s me who needs her mental status evaluated?”

“So you keep saying.” I smile and if I didn’t wear lipstick, I’d kiss her hair. I have to settle for holding her gently, showing her I’m truly here for her. Knowing Miranda, her mind is probably still going at the speed of light, examining angles, motives, and solutions. Nothing I can do about that. It’s her MO. Come to think of it, I’m the same way many times. Perhaps I have more Miranda qualities in me than I ever thought possible.

“All I can think of right now,” Miranda murmurs, “is that I want to go home to my girls. It’s impossible of course. I’ve made commitments and some things are happening that I have to see through…no matter the consequences.” She sounded sad and exasperated.

“I’m sure you will.” I didn’t have the faintest what was going on. “But for now, relax if you can. You’re so tense.”

“I wonder why.” Miranda snorted softly. “My entire life is in turmoil. Privately. Publicly. Professionally. And of course there’s you.”

I winced. “I don’t mean to add to any burden. I want to help.”

“Don’t you always?” Miranda doesn’t sound all that approving, but she doesn’t pull back from me either. “You’re the perfect assistant all of a sudden. Fixing everything. Even drying your boss’s tears.”

“Only because it hurts to see you so upset. That fucking bastard never deserved you.” I realize I spit the words out, but I’ve had enough of Stephen’s cowardice approach, his sneering comments, and most of all, how he makes this proud woman beg for his forgiveness when he should kiss her Louboutins.

Miranda tips her head back, her reddened eyes wide. “Don’t hold back, Andrea. Tell me how you really feel,” she says with a glimpse of her wicked humor that can show up when you least expect it. “You may be slightly biased, although, I must admit most of my assistants would secretly take his side.”

“I’m not one of them and I never will be,” I say hotly, squeezing her closer. “They don’t know you like I do.”

Miranda shocks the daylights out of me by running a slightly unsteady index finger along my cheek. “And how do you see me, Andrea?” Her voice is challenging, but also urgent, as if she really wants, or needs, to know.

“Surely you can tell how much I admire you. Not just as an editor, or as my boss, but the way you do things nobody ever finds out about. Mostly because you never let on.” I take hold of her hand and it’s a bit cold. Warming it against my cheek, I keep going, not certain where my courage comes from. “If I wasn’t so close to you, I’d never know how much you give anonymously to charity. You show up unannounced at design schools and whatever you say to those young students, they never tell the press about your visits. They probably realize it would be the end of their good fortune if it was made public. You and the girls are very hands on involved with rescued St Bernard dogs that need new homes. That’s merely scratching the surface I think.”

Miranda’s eyes grow impossibly soft. “You really are special. Nobody’s ever taken the time to notice any of this or put two and two together. I make my assistants so afraid of me, they’re busy hating me when they aren’t shaking in their boots.”

“Oh, you can still make me shake in my boots. Don’t worry. You haven’t lost your touch.” I wink.

Miranda chuckles and this time, the brief laugh isn’t so sad. She curls closer and steals my breath away as she presses her face against my neck. “You smell divine.”

“Vera Wang. Forgot the name.” I do shiver now. Her close proximity gives me a guilty conscience as it turns me on when all I ought to care about is the urge to comfort her. She doesn’t need my hormones to surge like this. I nuzzle her hair, unable to stop, while trying to get myself under control.

“Do you…am I imagining things, or do you respond to me physically, Andrea?” Miranda murmurs almost inaudibly against my skin.

I bit down so hard on the tip of my gone, I nearly whimper. How is it I can never hide anything from her? I can’t lie. It’s impossible. “Sorry,” I whisper.

“Don’t apologize,” Miranda says calmly. “Answer the question.”

“I thought I did.”

She hesitates. “I suppose.” She leans back again, enough for our eyes to meet. “I could start questioning your sanity, or at least your taste. Especially now. I’m well aware of my physical appearance when I’m not all made up and have my hair done.” Her words are scornful, but her voice is without pretense or acidity.

“You’re not fishing for compliments,” I respond and hold her gaze firmly. “I know you think you don’t look the part without all the products we both use. I’m not sure I could say anything you would take at face value, but the truth is, I find you more beautiful like this since it allows me to see the real you.”

“Oh, Andrea. That’s sweet, but hardly believable. My first husband found me lovely without makeup the first five years. Then the twins were born and my body changed, so did my hair color. He changed his mind about makeup and ‘products’ after that. I dated a few men in between husbands who never saw what you refer to as my ‘true self’. Stephen…well, it took a while until allowed him to stay the night and never when the girls were back from their father’s. Once he saw me like this, he too expressed how much better it suited me to wear makeup and designer clothes.”

What douchebags. I don’t say it out loud, but my opinion must be clearly visible on my face because Miranda laughs. “And you beg to differ, I suppose?”

“I do. I’m not criticizing your choice or taste in men, but there are tons of guys out there who love it when the woman they’re with takes off all the gunk. No matter their age. I don’t understand how your guys can be so blind…and shallow. Really.” I shake my head.

“Well, when you put it that way. You, of course, look lovely with or without makeup. You always will.” Miranda tucks a tress of my hair behind my ear. “And to even the playing field, as it were, I respond to you as well. Very unexpected.” Miranda buries her face against me again. “Who would’ve guessed?”

Oh, God. I can’t breathe. I can’t think. My mind whirls and I pull her closer to forestall any attempt at pulling back on her part. That’s when I feel it. Right as I hug her closer, her hot lips against my neck makes me take a deep breath and moan. I can’t help it. Her lips move against my skin, barely touching me, but it’s oh, so obvious to me.

I haven’t even dared to dream about this. No, that’s a lie. I’ve touched myself a few times with Miranda etched forever on the inside of my eyelids, but to imagine her reciprocating the heated caresses…No. Too far out there. But now, perhaps not. Perhaps she wants the connection too?

“You’re trembling.” Miranda draws a moist line with her half open mouth against my jawline. “Do you wish for me to stop?”

“No!” I nearly yell the word in panic. “I mean, no, I don’t want you to stop. Not unless you feel uncomfor—oh…”

Her lips moves down my neck and up again and in behind my ear. I have to press my legs together and squeeze hard or I’ll take her hand and shove it up my skirt. This imagery should be inappropriate enough for me to blush a deep crimson, but it doesn’t. I still blush, no doubt.

“Don’t stop,” I say, my voice trembling.

“Don’t stop what?” Miranda asks against my skin. “What are you really asking for, Andrea? For me to seduce you here on the couch? Or do you want to push your hands underneath my robe?” Again, her words are bordering on mocking, but her voice trembles as much as mine. Is her imagery affecting her like mine does to me?

“Don’t stop touching me,” I say. “This is crazy, and probably not smart, but it feels right.” And so damn good.

“Yes, it does. Doesn’t it, Andrea? Like this?” She nibbles at my exposed collarbone, letting me briefly experience her sharp teeth. Tracing up my neck, she stops before actually touching her lips to mine. Her breath, hot, still moist with tears, breaks my heart all over again. Certain, and why I don’t know, this is going to work, will work, I press my lips to hers.

Now it’s Miranda’s turn to whimper. The mewling sound turns to deep moans as I brush my lips back and forth across hers, not quite ready to deepen the caress yet. She clings to my jacket, pushing at it off my shoulders, perhaps by mistake in order to keep herself from falling forward onto me. Still she doesn’t yank it up again, but slides my bra straps off the same way. So, perhaps not a mistake after all.

“Your skin is amazing,” she says. Her hands are warmer now and she maps my exposed skin and slides my bra down with the blouse to my waist. I shiver and my nipples harden until they ache. She doesn’t touch my breasts, in fact now she doesn’t touch me at all. Miranda looks into my eyes, her gaze probing, looking for something and I realize it’s up to me to find out what it is. Then I know. Consent. Unequivocal consensus. That’s easy.

“Touch me. Please,” I say and smile with trembling lips.

“You have to be certain, Andrea,” Miranda says, lifting her hands slowly. “If you’re not, this ends now. You’re m-my assistant and—“

“Okay.” God, now I understand how this complicates things for her. For me. There’s so much that can go wrong here, I need to act before she talks herself out of the whole situation. My writing pad sits on the coffee table next to me. Feeling slightly ridiculous, I grab it and scribble something fast. I hand it to Miranda who takes it hesitantly. As she reaches for it, her robe comes undone, but either she doesn’t notice or she doesn’t care. She’s indeed naked underneath.

“You quit. Effective immediately.” Miranda’s eyes snaps back up to meet mine. Her pupils are dilated, making them the darkest of blue.

“Dated an hour ago,” I point out helpfully. I shiver. Without her touch, the air conditioned room is making me cold.

“By all means.” Miranda pulls me close and wraps her robe around me. Skin on skin, it’s suddenly so hot it shocks my entire system. My arms worm up around her neck and I kiss her while holding her tight. Her lips part beneath mine and it’s so much better now. Her mouth is still salty from her tears, but I vow to kiss her until the tears dry up. She won’t be alone. For as long as this enigmatic, terrifying woman needs me, I’m hers.

“Mine,” Miranda growls and echoes my mind. “I don’t care if you change your mind and you better not.” I suppose her words are meant to be intimidating in a way, but instead they come out as a prayer, almost pleading.

“I won’t.” It’s all I can say, but perhaps something in my voice sounds certain enough, because Miranda relaxes marginally. Then, oh God, then she cups my breasts and we go from sealing the deal about mutual need, to full-on arousal in a second.

“I don’t want you on the couch,” Miranda says, her voice raspy with desire. “Come to bed?”

“Yes.” I stand and shove the rest of my clothes off. It’s somehow easier to be naked, than half dressed in bunched up clothes. I take Miranda by the hand and we enter her bedroom. The king size bed is turned down for the night, the light is muted but sufficient, and all I have to do is nudge the chocolate from the pillows and lie down. Miranda stands by the side of the bed, her eyes scanning me from my hair to my feet and back up again. Her cheeks are flushed and her darker-than-normal eyes sparkle.

“Come.” I hold out my hand.

She loses the robe and for a few precious moments, I get to see Miranda naked. Pale skin, flawless, naturally. Toned arms and legs, thanks to Pilates. A slightly rounded belly, but still slender. Full breasts, natural looking, swaying deliciously as she crawls up on the bed next to me. I wrap my arms and legs around her, happy to have her on top of me. My body is so close to orgasm, it’s ridiculous. I tell her.

“Good to know I’m not the only one.” Miranda chuckles. “I worried I might give you the impression I’ve got no self-control.”

“Ha. Self-control’s overrated. Especially now.” Giddy now, I have to obey my body. My eyes have made love to this woman every time I look at her for the last few months. Without a single touch until now, it’s been the foreplay that’s put my body on alert like this. Shifting beneath Miranda, I feel the hot slickness between my legs. Where her body connects with mine, I can sense a similar wetness from Miranda. Shoving a hand down between us I cup her.

“Ah!” Tossing her head back, probably from the suddenness of it, Miranda rubs against my fingers.

I let them find their way into her, using my palm to grind against her clitoris. It’s hard, slick, and throbbing against me. And I’m about to come. She beats me to it. Suddenly going rigid, Miranda convulses, arches, and cries out. It takes me a while to realize it’s my name she calls in one long wail. Hooking one arm around my neck, resting on her elbow for support, she mimics what I did, even as she is in the last throes of her orgasm. She pushes her fingers in between my legs, parts my folds without hesitation. There, her fingers enter me, relentless, gentle, insistent, and passionate.  I clench down on her, my inside going molten and liquid before it’s my turn to tense up. The orgasm hammers at my nerve endings. I spread myself wider and push against Miranda’s fingers. “M-Miranda. I need—more.”

“Yes.” She pulls out and returns with more fingers, more fullness. “Like this, Andrea? This what you want? Three of my fingers so deep inside you it burns?”

“Yes!” The second orgasm hits and this is what I’ve been waiting for. This is the whirlwind, the firestorm I knew she could give me. I shout only to fall into tears a moment later. “Oh, God. Oh, God.”

“Shh.” Her fingers still keep us connected. “Let it come. All of it.” Miranda leans in and takes my right nipple in her mouth. As another orgasm builds, slow and soft this time, I can only hold on to this wondrous creature and let her play with me. Soon, I’ll have my share of her body, but for now, Miranda is making me feel so good…

---xxx---

We’re having a late supper. Miranda is going over notes for tomorrow’s showings and most of all, the luncheon she and Runway is hosting for James Holt. She sighs and pinches the bridge of her nose.

“Miranda?” I look up from my plate.

“I can’t put it off. I thought I could, but it’s not right. I have to be honest with this, or I may lose someone I love.”

My thoughts are going pinball style in my head. She regrets this. Us. If there still is an ‘us.’ She’s going to beg for Stephen to stay. Miranda’s going to insist I keep working for her. I’m going to have to suffer every day for the rest of—

“Nigel is too important to be toyed with. I told myself I could forge on, but that was before—well, before.” She looks at me, blushing faintly. “Andrea?”

“Wait…what? Nigel?” What has Nigel to do with Stephen or me? I blink repeatedly. “Yes?”

“Don’t you agree it’s best if I speak to Nigel first?”

“About what?” I have to ask. I’m lost.

“He’s going to be disappointed, but at least he won’t be ambushed. He’s deserved this opportunity more than anyone and it’s killing me, killing me, Andrea, to be the one who thwarts his dream. I have to convince him I’ll make it up to him.” She eyes me cautiously. “I want you there when I talk to him. Even if you’re no longer my assistant, I need you there. You’re his friend…and you’re my lover. Your presence will reassure him.” She can probably not read my face, because her eyes grow darker again. “Right?”

“Yes. Absolutely. Friend. Lover. Yup, that’s me. Count me in.” I feel like an idiot, but somehow, my stuttering words of relief makes Miranda relax and laugh. I’m still in the dark what this is about, but judging from Miranda’s anguish when she talks about thwarting dreams, I can tell it’s huge. She’ll let me know when she’s good and ready, as always. Or not.

“Well then. Why don’t we go to bed early? Tomorrow’s going to be a long day.” Miranda puts a lid on her plate. Mealtime’s over.

I stand and do the same. I’m not hungry. At least not for food. When Miranda takes my hand, I know we’ll be all right because she squeezes it so tight. Being with Miranda won’t be easy, on the contrary, but it’ll be worth it.

As I do my best to make her see she belongs to me as much as I am hers, mainly by kissing and sucking every inch of her body, Miranda shows me a side of herself I’ve never seen before.

She surrenders.

 

END