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Happy Birthday, Miranda

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Chapter One

"Happy birthday, Miranda." She sighed softly as she retreated from my office, her shoulders slumped down in misery. It was only when I heard her heels at a suitable distance did I spin slowly in my chair, no longer facing the view of New York but the space she had occupied moments ago. I removed my glasses, rubbing the bridge of my nose carefully in a vain attempt to relieve my headache and echoed her sigh. Happy anniversary, Andrea.

One Year Previously

Another year older. Another plethora of falsity, fake smiles and wishes before a grand ball entirely in my honour. These people admired me, possibly; envied me, certainly. But not a single person amongst them wanted to celebrate my birthday because they were thankful I was here, grateful I existed. The evening rolled around slowly; Andrea having organised everything as usual and leaving me with little to do but sit and allow make-up and hair artists paw at me incessantly. I was ready, wearing a black dress Valentino had made especially for the occasion. I checked the mirror only once, having done this for so many years, I knew instantly whether it would pass for various lighting and photographs; for instance, my typical entrance atop the grand staircase, and the dance I usually opened with my date. Except tonight, I was going to be alone on that floor. Divorce number three had been finalised only a few days ago and I thought it would be imprudent to arrive with someone else. I had considered Nigel as a dance partner, then forgone the idea altogether and informed Andrea as such. I paused my train of thought, as usual, to consider Andrea. My first assistant, my most valued employee. The woman anticipated my every whim nowadays, it became something necessary in my day to day work – but it wasn't for this reason that Andrea had not yet received the promotion she had earned repeatedly. The brunette fascinated me, she was so unlike anyone else I encountered on a day to day basis.

I shivered slightly, ridding myself of thoughts on my intriguing assistant with a small sigh that didn't quite escape the notice of Roy, who glanced at me in the rear view mirror for a split second. He knew better than to ask me anything, but I was aware he wanted to. I looked away pointedly, ignoring his slight sigh. We arrived at the venue later than expected by a few minutes, and yet I was still mentally preparing myself. I would keep Andrea at my side the entire night, I decided, and be as regal as I could manage. My divorce papers were burned into my memory, but it wasn't because of Stephen's absence. It was yet another failure on my part, a bad choice that would haunt me for as long as I lived because of how it affected my girls. They were still so young, just barely eleven, and for all their games against my assistants, they were sweet children. It hurt them to see the headlines about my personal life, slating the home we had together. I shook my head a little, trying to clear my mind of such melancholy thoughts, and slid out of the car when Roy opened the door for me. I nodded once at him, almost pausing in the beginning of a stride when I heard his quiet "Happy birthday, Miranda." I chose not to acknowledge him without really thinking about it, continuing my stride through a swarm of photographers towards Andrea. My new second assistant stood next to her, but I barely noticed. Andrea looked stunning, her deep burgundy dress accentuating her figure perfectly. My eyes hovered over her body as I finally reached them, and I caught myself quickly, fixing my eyes to her face before she thought I was looking at more than just her outfit. A faint blush tickled her cheekbones, but she smiled brightly at me as usual and stood aside to let me through the door. She took my coat carefully, passing it to the second assistant with barely a glance away from me, her eyes roving over the bare skin of my shoulders. My own dress, with its deep cut, was clearly holding her attention. She blushed harder when she caught me watching her with an amused glint in my eye.

"Walk in behind me. Both of you." I said to them, before stepping towards the entrance, a large marble staircase that led into a grandiose ballroom. It was decorated pleasingly, and I knew Andrea had been involved in every last detail. I had heard her organising the party for months now, over the phone at her desk, her voice becoming more and more demanding as weeks passed. She had quickly realised how infuriating it could be to deal with people who had no idea how to do their job, and it had made her even better at her own. I even once heard her end a phone call with a curt "No freesias. That's all." It had taken all my self-control to stifle a laugh at that.

I returned my thoughts to the evening ahead of me, beginning my glide down the staircase, aware of my assistants following close behind me. Instead of holding the bannister, I walked confidently down the centre of the wide stairs, the two women staying one step behind me, flanking either side. I smiled blithely at the thought that we probably looked like Charlie's Angels, but stopped quickly. By the time we reached the foot of the stairs, I was ready for battle. Happy birthday, indeed. Forty-seven years old. Three divorces, two children that were constantly left waiting for me to come home, a fashion empire I was becoming slowly disillusioned with. Money. Lots of money. But happiness? True love? I loved my daughters, and they certainly brought me happiness, but at the same time I was consistently left feeling unworthy of their attentions, guilty at being the most unavailable mother.

Once more, I dragged my thoughts to the people around me, gracing them all with a fake smile. The incessant chatter was already giving me a headache. I offered a true smile to Andrea when she passed me a champagne flute, and a blush graced her pretty face once more. People came and went around me for what felt like eternity, birthday wishes from all angles from excited party-goers, desperate for a second of attention. I smiled until my face began to ache.

"Andrea, no more photographs tonight. No phones, no cameras, am I understood?"

"Of course, Miranda."

How she had managed it, I don't know, but I was pleased when I watched the receding backs of everyone holding a camera. Those left mostly worked at Runway, or were board members at Elias-Clark. I didn't care to think about what that said about my personal life. There were a few old friends in the crowd, but no one from my youth, no family. I had made sure that no one remained in direct contact with me before I had even gained the Editor-in-Chief title, and my family remained in England. Not that we considered ourselves "family" nowadays. I hadn't spoken to any of them in –

"Evening, Miranda."

I was cut off from my train of thought yet again by none other than Irv Ravitz. Suppressing a shudder, I smiled carefully.

"Hello, Irving."

"Happy birthday. Almost the big five-oh." He winked conspiratorially.

"Yes, I'm aware. Hopefully for my 50th the party will be ever bigger than yours was, assuming you can remember that far back." I felt my cheeks twitch with genuine mirth when his eyes narrowed slightly. He left soon after, leaving me stood with Nigel and my second assistant for company. I drained the last of my champagne only to find the empty flute quickly replaced with a full one. Andrea smiled at me before stepping back into line next to… oh, whatever her name is. Polly… Poppy… Precious – something with a P?

"Can you make absolutely certain that you're paying attention, please, Francesca?" Andrea said sharply under her breath. Ah. Not a P then. The girl looked suitably chastised, turning fire engine red and looking to the floor. I smirked. The night changed quickly from soft classical music and polite conversation to an actual party. I watched people visibly relax, dancing happily to a much more upbeat song. No one appeared to have noticed I had neglected my first dance. I silently thanked Andrea for a night that was so meticulously planned, it appeared as though no work had gone into it at all. It continued in much the same fashion, and I spent the best part of the next hour conversing with Nigel about the upcoming issue. Andrea and assistant two stood behind us, muttering together about the guests. I heard snippets of well-articulated critique from Andrea, and nothing more than sheer bitchiness from the other one.

"Anyway, Miranda, I've left a date by the bar. He's potentially so drunk that he can't see, but I'd like at least one dance at one of these events with a nice looking man!" Nigel air kissed my cheeks, and whispered a quiet "Happy birthday, Miranda. She hasn't taken her eyes off you all night, you know." He caught my eye bravely and vanished into the crowd.

I felt my eyes widen. He knew. How could he? Did that mean other people knew? Oh, God, did Andrea know about my little infatuation with her? I faced my apparently-oblivious assistants quickly.

"You're relieved for the night." I said to the other one, and turned my gaze to Andrea. The other girl disappeared quickly.

"Can I get you anything, Miranda?" Andrea asked softly when there was no one else in earshot.

I let my eyes travel up and down her body appreciatively.

"That depends," I said, just as quietly. Her face flushed pleasantly.

"That gown is exquisite, Andrea."

"Thank you, Miranda. Nigel suggested it."

"Did you know it's my favourite colour?" Her eyes widened at my admission, but she smiled.

"No, I didn't. I'm very glad you like it," she blushed harder.

"I wonder why Nigel would dress you in that particular shade." I ruminated, taking a tiny step closer to her.

"I… um… I…" she stammered, the nerves she hadn't succumbed to around me in a while finally showing themselves once more. It was endearing, incredibly so.

"I don't know, Miranda." She cleared her throat and tried to compose herself once more. "You look beautiful, though. Even more than usual." She seemed surprised by her own words, but didn't take them back or try to apologise.

"Mmm. I'm glad you think so," I said, hearing how low my voice had become. I was speaking to my first assistant in what could only be described as seductive tones. Judging from the hitch in her breathing, she knew it. Her expression changed quickly, however, as her eyes slid to someone behind me that she did not appear to be pleased to see. I felt a hand on the small of my back, and turned quickly to see its owner.

"Good evening, Miranda." Came the pleasant voice. I nodded once.

"John. A pleasure." We air kissed, but he was standing a little too close. I could practically hear Andrea bristling.

"It's a good party." He gestured around, drink in hand. I felt my mouth purse slightly in distaste, but as usual, the editor for the New Yorker was disinterested in my reactions. His gaze, instead, focused purely on the skin showing above my designer neckline.

"Thank you. Excuse me." I turned back to my assistant pointedly. "Tell Roy to be outside in five minutes."

She did so quickly, whipping out her phone and firing a text away before I had a chance to think of my next instruction. Her beautiful eyes met mine once more and I berated myself for thinking of her attractive qualities while she was this close to me.

I swept away from her, back up the marble staircase with Andrea close behind me, ready to retrieve my coat and bag. She passed me them, and I couldn't resist brushing my fingers against hers as the soft material exchanged hands. I nearly shuddered when she bit her lip for a second, but I turned on my heel and left with a swift, "Come along, Andrea."

Roy opened the door for me while Andrea waited one step behind me, attentive as ever. I caught her eye as I climbed into my usual seat and tilted my head slightly, indicating she should get in. Quickly, she moved around the boot of the large car and was in the seat next to me before Roy had made it to the driver's seat. So efficient. She smiled brightly at me, noticing that I hadn't yet looked away from her.

"The town house, Miranda?" Roy asked carefully, glancing in his rear-view mirror. I nodded once, and the car merged into the busy traffic of New York.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two

"Is there anything I can do for you?" She asked quietly, clearly wondering what was going on. I had already told her she was finished for the evening, it was true - the poor girl must have been dying to get home.

"No, Andrea. Roy will take you home. Did you enjoy the party?"

"Oh, um, yeah," she stumbled out. "It was lovely." She smiled, a little awkward. I smiled back at her briefly, turning to the window. I knew she hadn't really enjoyed the party, she had been working after all.

"I'm glad you thought so. I, on the other hand, am in need of a proper drink. Would you care to join me?"

Andrea stared at me for a full second, wide eyed at my request. She nodded once, lips slightly parted in clear shock. I couldn't help a tiny smirk in her direction before turning back to stare out of the window at the New York night for the duration of the ride back to my townhouse. I felt a flutter of nerves in my stomach; what on earth was I doing? Inviting her to my home, out of business hours, with no real reason to? She had only agreed because she thought she had to. No question about it. I barely noticed that she had exited the car until she was stood in front of my front door, gazing back at the car with barely hidden curiosity. A hint of concern flashed across her face as I exited the vehicle a little slower than usual. She was one of perhaps three people in the entire world that would have noticed.

"Thank you, Roy. That will be all for this evening." I said curtly, but nodded at him once to show my gratitude. He glanced at the young woman with uncertainty. He's not usually one to question my authority, I thought wryly. "I will make sure Andrea gets home safely. You're excused for the evening." My tone was colder than necessary, and I knew it. Judging from the way he swiftly sat back in the driver's seat and drove away, so did he. I felt a small twang of regret. He was, after all, concerned for the woman. New York was not a safe place at night, particularly not for a woman. Particularly not when that woman was so strikingly beautiful, she was guaranteed to garner attention - likely from someone who was not reputable. Someone who had terrible intentions, even. No, I would certainly be ensuring this woman was safe at all times, whatever the cost. My Andrea would never come to any harm, not while I could help it.

I shook my head slightly to rid myself of such thoughts as I strode past her to my front door. She wasn't, nor would she ever be, my Andrea. But, while she worked for me at least, I could make sure I saw as much of her as possible - without pushing her away faster than necessary. Work a year for Miranda, and you can get any job in publishing… Her time was coming quickly. Would she be brave enough to broach the subject with me, when the time came? Or would she hand in a resignation to HR, the coward's way out - requesting a reference via email, perhaps. I doubted it.

We had made it to my study, the only space in my home Andrea had been before that wasn't the hallway. Excluding that one dreadful occasion when she had walked up the stairs and caught Stephen and myself in an argument. The little colour she had drained from her face, and I wondered if she was thinking the same thing.

"I have often found myself wondering if I was too harsh on you, after that night." I mused aloud. Her mouth opened, but no words left her lips. I fixated on them for a second too long before continuing. "It was so unlike you to step out of line quite so seriously," I mused aloud, keeping my tone light. I heard her intake of breath.

"I know. I'm so sorry, Miranda."

Interesting. She still hadn't blamed the girls, and I knew all too well that they had been involved.

"Why is it that you never told me of the twins' little part in the story?"

"Well… I… they were just being kids. It was nothing but a harmless prank to them; it wouldn't have been fair to blame them. And I should have known better, especially by then. I felt like I'd been doing well until that stupid decision."

"And so you had. What would you like to drink, Andrea?" I opened a bottle of white wine as I asked.

"I'm happy with whatever you're having," she answered carefully, after a moment.

"This is a riesling, from Alsace. It's often known to come from either Germany or France; this particular bottle is from my own vineyard, and it's particularly dry. I hope you enjoy it, it's been aged for longer than is usually prudent - the flavour can often become quite different to what one would usually expect."

Andrea sipped at her glass carefully, holding the chilled liquid over her tongue for a second looking thoughtful. She hummed a little after swallowing, taking a second sip without so much as a glance in my direction.

"Thoughts?"

"It's like nothing I've ever tasted," she said in surprise. "Almost like… honey?"

"Very good, Andrea, yes. There will be a slight flavour. If the wine was allowed to ripen for any longer, you would be tasting possibly much more unpleasant flavours - petrol, even. I have never gone quite that far, but it might be amusing to gift a bottle to someone rather awful. Irv, perhaps." I smirked as she giggled.

"Irv is someone who would drink anything, as long as he was reliably informed it was of the highest calibre and the most expensive." She said, distaste clear on her perfect features.

"Of that, I am certain, Andrea. In fact, I've even tested the theory once."

Those alluring red lips opened once more as she gasped, then a wide smile overtook as she laughed aloud. I couldn't help but smile at the sound.

"Oh, please tell me all about it!" She settled back in her seat on the sofa next to me, looking relaxed for the first time all evening. There was a respectable amount of distance between us, I was sure. If anyone walked in, they would be shocked to see me socialising with an assistant - but they would see nothing untoward. Not that anyone was in the house, at any rate.

"Oh, it was years ago. I had a few years under my belt as Runway's Editor in Chief, and he had finally realised he would never have any kind of sexual congress with me. It was unlikely he could have me fired; I had proved already how worthy I was of the post. It didn't stop him from trying to make my life a living hell during working hours, even outside of them. People were very much aware of what he was doing, but no one seemed willing to put their neck on the line to stop him."

Andrea listened, sipping her wine occasionally, her feelings evident through her expressive eyes. She hated Irv, I was sure of it. So much so, that it made me question if he had hurt her in some way, insulted her, or worse.

"However, that didn't mean I didn't have people on my side. Nigel, at this time very new to Runway and with a very edgy hair cut -" At this, she snorted a little into her glass, "Oh yes, it had to be seen to be believed. Anyway, we made quite a team at networking events, Nigel and I. Let's just say there was a point during the evening when many people in the room were very aware that Irving was consuming wine laced with vinegar, and God knows what else, proclaiming it to be a rare vintage that he had flown in for the occasion. He never did find out."

I smiled again at the sound of her laughter.

"I would never have guessed you would do something like that, Miranda," she grinned at me.

"I never would. Nor have I admitted to anything of the sort, Andrea." I couldn't help but keep smiling at her. She was so very beautiful.

There was a pause while I sipped my own drink. I felt the tension in the air before I even looked back in her direction to find her staring at my mouth, her eyes darting towards the lipstick mark on my glass.

"Tell me, Andrea. What's on your mind?" I found myself practically purring the words, angling my body more towards her as I did so. A hot sensation was simmering gently below my stomach, I felt almost aglow with desire for the younger woman. I had to get a hold of myself before I lost control and did something completely stupid, I needed some air or -

"You." Her simple, one-word reply cut through my mental ramblings.

"And why is that?" I asked before I could stop myself.

"I'm wondering why you invited me here tonight. If there was a reason, or if you simply wanted to have a drink with me. I'm curious." Her words were careful, guarded. I shifted slightly, attempting to relieve the excitement that was building between my thighs. The tension was becoming unbearable.

"It wasn't something I planned to do. More of a spur of the moment decision." I couldn't stop my eyes from wandering down her neck, her chest, to the cleavage that was on display this evening. Her deep burgundy dress accentuated how perfectly clear her skin was, the material highlighting the velvety softness of her. She was exquisite.

"That still doesn't answer my question, Miranda." She almost whispered the words, and I met her gaze once more, a light blush forming on my cheekbones as I realised she had noticed me taking her in. I berated myself; I was practically drooling over a woman two decades younger than me. Could I be forgiven? It had been so many years since I had touched another woman in the way I wanted to touch her. She's your assistant, the stern voice inside my head insisted. Who are you - some privileged white male out for all he can get? You're as bad as Irv.

"Forgive me, Andrea. It was inappropriate of me to ask you to stay for a drink. Please be assured, my intentions were not… dishonourable. I'll go and call you a cab, I did promise Roy I would get you home safely." I stood up quickly, marching into the hall still in my heels. The noise they made on the dark wooden floors calmed me somewhat, the walk of a powerful woman. I entered my library, the only room in the house the girls left me alone to my own devices, and breathed deeply for a moment before reaching for the old fashioned telephone that sat in the corner of the room. I snatched the receiver up before I could change my mind.

"Wait." Her voice shook slightly as she stood in the doorway, the light shining behind her. "I'll go if you want me to. I'll… I'll do anything you want me to." She tried to sound confident in her last utterance, but I could see her trembling a little. The phone almost fell through my fingers, and I placed it back on the table without looking, captivated by her.

"Anything, Andrea?" I took a step towards her, ignoring the shake in my knees. She nodded, once, determination on her face. "What is it you think I want?"

"I'm not sure, Miranda." For the first time, I noticed her eyes wander down my body. She made no attempt to hide it.

"I don't believe that for a second," I took another careful step towards her, and she copied my movement. "You're one of the best assistants I've ever had, if not the best. You anticipate almost every whim on a daily basis, sometimes during night hours when you should be sleeping. How?"

"I don't sleep very well anymore, Miranda." She said quietly. "Not for months, now."

"Why? Boyfriend keeping you awake?" I knew he wasn't. I knew there was no boyfriend, not since Paris.

"No. Dreams wake me up multiple times through the night. If there's a notification from you on my phone, I deal with it there and then - I couldn't sleep knowing there was something I needed to do anyway."

"I see." I was unsure. It felt like my brain wouldn't work the way it usually did, my words wouldn't find their way out of my mouth. What dreams would wake her up? Nightmares? Was she plagued by horror every night?

"You look concerned, Miranda." She said quietly, taking another step towards me. We were close now, within touching distance at arms length.

"Are you having nightmares, Andrea? Should I be looking into hiring a therapist on the Runway payroll?"

She laughed, more easily than she had all evening, closing the space between us a little more as she did.

"No, Miranda. We'll come back to the therapist idea another time, though." She smiled at me before continuing. "No, these dreams are often quite pleasant, but so vivid. Sometimes I wake up thinking that they really happened, just for a moment. Then I remember that dreams rarely do come true." She broke our eye contact to glance around, marvelling at what was a very impressive book collection, I knew.

"Tell me about these dreams, Andrea."

"Tell me why I'm here, Miranda." She countered, tilting her head to one side. I couldn't help but smile at her.

"It's my birthday."

"I'm aware of that. I'm sure it's almost midnight though, it may not be your birthday anymore."

"I have a few more minutes."

"I don't think you want to know." She shifted, looking uncomfortable. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, what she had been dreaming about. I just didn't know who the dreams included. I raised an eyebrow at her pointedly. "They… I… haven't been in a… romantic relationship for quite a while now. There's obviously some things I'm missing." A deep flush spread from her face down her neck at her admission.

"And so you're dreaming of a man to give you what you need, I assume?"

"Oh, no," she laughed quickly, then coughed awkwardly. "I mean… no, not exactly."

"Ahhhh…" I drew the sound out as I stepped to my left, towards the desk. I leaned on the edge, taking the pressure off my feet a little, the palms of my hands at my hips. "Well, that's nothing to be ashamed of, Andrea."

She lifted her gaze from my body quickly, having been drinking in every inch of my slightly reclined form. "I know that. I just… it's very new to me. I can't believe I'm talking about this with you of all people, what was in that wine?" She tittered uncomfortably at her own joke.

"Nothing I wouldn't drink myself. Tell me, Andrea, is there one woman in particular keeping you awake - or are you fascinated by the female form in general?"

"It's my turn to ask a question, Miranda." She stood up straighter. "I'm not ready to go home yet, not unless you want me to. And I don't believe you do want that. So, how about instead of you answering personal questions, I'll tell you what I think. If I'm wrong, I apologise in advance if I offend you - please know I would never want that. If I'm right, you need not say anything." She stopped speaking to wait for an affirmation. I deliberated for a moment, but I knew what I would do. I didn't have enough self control to stop playing this game with her. I nodded, almost imperceptibly, and shifted higher to sit properly atop the desk, crossing my legs gracefully. The slit in the long skirt allowed her to see more of my legs than I assumed she ever had, and she was making the most of it tonight.

"When you're quite finished staring." She jumped at my softly spoken words. "Begin."

"You brought me here tonight because you noticed that I couldn't stop staring at you. You noticed that I tensed when that man was too close to you. We left, maybe at first you weren't planning on bringing me back here, but you decided to because you were curious. Maybe you wanted to test me, to see if I really was attracted to you or if it was just a hero-worship crush that I wouldn't be able to see through. Maybe… when you realised the depth of my feelings, you got scared. That's when you came in here to call me a cab."

"Partly correct, Andrea, but you veered off into make believe towards the end there. You're right. I noticed you, your reactions to me. I had considered hero-worship, but this was different. You were different; some silly crush is beneath you. What I didn't realise until tonight was the depth of my own feelings. You're my assistant. Any advance could be considered harassment." I tried to sound assertive, that I would ensure we would not have a sexual relationship. I don't even think she noticed, her eyes had returned once more to the expanse of thigh on show.

"I certainly don't feel harassed." She stepped towards me, close enough that her hands were grazing my calves.

"Tell me about the dreams," I said, almost desperately. I could barely breathe with her this close, alone. I'd pictured scenarios with us, a desk, clothing being ripped to shreds…

"It's always you." Her voice was calm in her admission. My eyes snapped up to hers, finding nothing but honesty, and something much darker in them. "Sometimes it's here. Sometimes it's the office. Rarely, it's in my own bed - even in my imagination, it's hard to picture you without luxurious surroundings." I laughed softly, raising a hand to stroke her beautiful face. She turned her head slightly, just enough to place a kiss on the inside of my palm. Her eyes never left mine, searching the entire time for an admission, for me to allow her to live her fantasies.

Questions flew through my mind. Could I ever live up to such dreams? Was this nothing more than sex for her? And what of our working relationship? I closed my eyes, I needed to think without seeing her for just a second.

Andrea had different ideas. I felt her move forwards, her hands softly travelling up my outer thighs, her lips on mine in an instant. She was gentle, giving me every opportunity to stop her, to end this insanity.

I chose not to resist.

Chapter Text

PRESENT

I closed my eyes briefly. I hated watching her leave my office in such sadness, but such was the position we were in now. Once again, my birthday had rolled around, and once again, I would be attending my celebrations alone. Mostly because I was entirely too cowardly to admit to the world that the person I loved was not only 20 years my junior, but also worked for me. I mean, really… the voice in my head chided, what happened to me?

Still. That woman had stayed by my side for 12 months as we figured out the feelings between us, putting her career on hold. She had put her life on hold. All she wanted was stability from me, and I had held back from her, keeping her at arms length. I hadn't seen her apartment, we had never even been out for dinner or to the movies. Tears rose to my eyes as I thought properly about what she had given up to spend a year close to me at work, pretending there was no more than a working relationship between us. We saw each other every evening for a couple of hours at most, when she dropped the Book off. If the girls were home, which they often were, we could do nothing but sneak kisses before she had to leave, home to her lonely flat. I was suddenly overwhelmed by what I had been asking of this woman for an entire year. She would leave me, there was no doubt about it. It was only a matter of time.

Today, she had been out of the office for most of the afternoon. It always helped my work when she was; somehow knowing she was just on the other side of the glass partition made my concentration wane. On memorable occasions when she had come to work in outfits that showed a little more skin than was quite suitable, I had barely made it through the day. For a few months, it had been almost fun at times to keep the secret. Passionate, definitely the craziest thing I had done in years - if not ever.

I stood up, deciding to leave for my home to spend a little time gathering my thoughts before tonight's birthday celebrations. I needed to think.

I closed my front door behind me and leaned against it, suddenly exhausted. There was no way I could get out of attending this evening. The sharks were always circling, and if they sensed any weakness, it would be all too easy to start a plan in motion against me. I knew exactly how it would happen in this instance. I would fail to attend my own birthday celebrations. The media would latch onto this; I would become "ill", the Ice Queen perhaps "too frail to attend". The board, and by that I mean Irv, would then begin a series of investigations into my abilities. As a group of old, white men it was easy to see whose side they would be on in the next instalment of Miranda vs Irv. The fight was becoming draining. What had once been instances that could be quickly dealt with had begun to take over entire mornings or afternoons, and I knew it would only get worse. It was one of the reasons I had been much more distant from Andrea than I wanted to be. How could I let this amazing young woman get caught in the crossfire? What of her career? What would her parents, who she described as cynical of her life choices at best, have to say about me? I could only imagine, and I wasn't often wrong.

To Andrea, however, after 12 months of to-ing and fro-ing, I knew these reasonings were wearing thin.

"Darling, it's not the time. Not yet. They're after my job - any slight reason to oust me and they'll jump on it. For you, I could live with my reputation being tarnished but I will not sit back and let them besmirch your career before its even begun. Our time will come, my love."

Again, and again, and again I had insisted. I had stuck by my reasons. But was I right? I didn't even know anymore. Sighing, I dragged my suddenly ancient body upstairs to get ready for the evening ahead, my mind returning to the year previously…

Chapter Text

Chapter Four (Continued directly from Chapter Two)

"Bedroom." I heard myself gasp at her. "Now."

She grabbed my hand and tugged me from the desk, pulling me the two flights of stairs to my master bedroom. We were breathless as we stumbled unceremoniously through the threshold and onto my bed. She was ruthless in her ministrations, clothing being pulled off with no consideration of the delicate fabrics, skin scraped by nails and teeth, hair tugged at the roots. I gave as good as I got, leaving my mark on her skin as she left hers on mine. I was overwhelmed by her, her scent and the feel of her atop of me, her mouth making its way down my chest, taking one nipple between her teeth as I writhed beneath her, continuing downwards further until -

"Oh, God…"

I gave as good as I got.

.

.

.

I woke up slowly, feeling unsettled. The mass of dark hair that covered the pillow next to me smelled delightful, and I felt myself gravitating slightly closer to it as the memories of the night before washed over me. Oh, God. Andrea. Flashbacks to what she looked like from a position between her thighs made me blush slightly. She was glorious.

She was fast asleep, breathing evenly, facing away from me. Her body was mostly covered by the sheets, her arms above her head and hugging her pillow. Only one shoulder was visible, with its creamy expanse of skin blemished by long scratches from my own fingertips. I tore my gaze away to glance at the clock on my bedside table. 5:30am. I had a feeling she wouldn't be awake for a little while, so I carefully extracted myself from the bed and stepped into my en suite. I got ready for the day quickly, determined the young woman would not see me without my trademark make up and hair. She had fallen asleep quickly last night, a combination of the multiple orgasms and alcohol, and I had tiptoed to the bathroom to cleanse my face and moisturise. Andrea had no such qualms. She would wake panda-eyed, for certain.

I crept downstairs and began a pot of coffee, dressed in comfortable clothing. A cashmere sweater dress that fell to mid thigh, and a pair of opaque tights. I sat at my desk downstairs, prepared to catch up on the work I had neglected in the run up to the party.

A couple of hours later, work almost finished, I heard Andrea moving around upstairs. I stiffened, trying to relax at the thought of the conversation we had to have. I had hoped I would have some time to think once my work was complete.

She was downstairs searching for me. I took a breath.

"Andrea."

Her footsteps halted for a second and then quickened until she was in the doorway, looking apprehensive. Her face softened when she saw the Book open on my lap, my computer on the table in front of me.

"I wondered where you'd got to. I should have known," she smiled. Her hair was tied in a ponytail, and she wore my robe tied tightly around her body. "I took a shower, and borrowed this robe. I hope that's okay."

I cleared my throat, dispelling thoughts that revolved around what she might be wearing underneath.

"Of course it is. I apologise, I should have found something for you to wear today, but I thought you'd be asleep for longer. I decided to catch up on work, the girls will be home early this afternoon." I gestured to the paperwork next to me.

"Oh, it's fine, don't worry about it," she smiled at me a little awkwardly, still standing in the doorway. "May I sit, for a minute?"

I gestured to the armchair, not wanting her to be too close to me suddenly. We really needed to talk.

"I think we need to talk," she was quiet. Worried.

"Yes, I agree. Last night was… truly wonderful."

She visibly relaxed at my words, and my heart dropped into my stomach at what I had to say next.

"Andrea. I… can only apologise. You're my assistant, and I greatly overstepped my boundaries last night."

Her face fell.

"Wait a moment, before you jump to conclusions, just let me finish. So impatient, Andrea." The corner of her mouth tugged into a slight smile at the irony of that one.

"As I was saying. You are my assistant. My divorce is barely finalised. There are a multitude of reasons why this was bad timing. The girls. Work. The press…" I shuddered at the thought of it. "They'd ruin me. I'd lose my job, and you would never work in any publication without the rumour of nepotism following you."

"I don't care about any of that." She blurted passionately. "Except for the girls." She amended. "But as for you losing your job - I'll leave Runway. I'll find work elsewhere, we can see where this goes."

"No, Andrea. I won't do it to you. I won't do it to my daughters - they have seen and heard enough terrible rumours about their mother without this. We can move on from this, I believe. You're the hardest working person in our office, and we make a formidable team. I propose to you that you finish your tenure as first assistant, and then perhaps we can revisit… this once you're settled into a new role."

She frowned.

"So… you want me to spend another year with you, near enough, as your assistant. After last night? How am I supposed to - to see you every day?"

"Well, Andrea, it's that… or we don't see each other at all."

"Why are those my only options?" She stood up quickly, arms folded. I didn't move.

"I already told you. I won't ruin your career, and I won't embarrass my daughters. As lovely as you are, Andrea, what do you think they will have to deal with in that school, full of teenagers who harbour some of their parents worst opinions and qualities?"

"It doesn't have to be like that!"

"Really, Andrea? Please, enlighten me. How do you propose we continue this without ruining one, or both, of our careers, without having my name dragged through the press, and causing a terrible knock on effect for my children?"

She held my gaze, looking more beautiful than I had ever seen her. Determination set her usually soft features into an expression I recognised when I had given her some unreasonably difficult tasks.

"Fine. I'll stay. One more year, Miranda." She was in front of me in an instant, kissing me before I could stop her, but I didn't try to. She pulled away before I could even react, leaving the room with one last hard look at me. I heard her gathering her things upstairs, and a minute later, the front door opened. It closed behind her with a slam, causing me to start.

She was gone.

Chapter Text

Chapter Five

 

ANDREA.

I heard her phone buzz through the glass doors and rolled my eyes.

EXACTLY WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?

Her phone buzzed once more, unanswered on her desk and she typed away on her keyboard at a leisurely pace. My mouth set in a hard line. I was furious. It had been exactly one month since… that night. We hadn't really been near each other since, not even in work. The closest she had been to me was the other side of my desk, and always with the new girl next to her. Always. What was her name again? Oh, who cares.

"Andrea." I made my voice as deadly as I knew how. A year ago, she would have been in here in a nanosecond, quaking in her boots. Now, she took her sweet time meandering up to my desk.

"Yes, Miranda?"

I narrowed my eyes. The insolence was unbelievable.

"Close the door." I stood up as she did so. If she was surprised to see me standing next to my desk instead of being sat behind it, she didn't show it.

"Sit down, Andrea."

For the first time, a slight flicker of… something crossed her face. Fear? Not quite. The other girl was out of the office on an errand, and no one was there to see what happened next. No one would ever believe her, either.

I strode over to her confidently, not breaking our eye contact for a second. I stopped only when I was inches from her, staring down at her expressionlessly. I could see her reacting to our closeness; her breath hitched slightly and her pupils dilated just noticeably enough. I leaned in.

"If you think for one second that you'll jeopardise this job with your attitude, you can leave right now. Do not think you're special, Andrea - in the grand scheme of things, nobody is special here. The industry provides opportunities for people who are created, talented, and all we do is give them a vessel, through which they can create art for the masses. And all you do is fetch the coffee for the one person who keeps a sinking ship afloat - me."

She gaped at me. "No - Miranda, that's not what's going on at all. I stayed because I wanted to be near you, yes, but also because I wanted to finish what I started. Can't you see how much I've learned here? Don't you know how much I want to continue learning?"

"Then what in God's name are you playing at by not answering your phone?"

"I…" she floundered. "I'm sorry, Miranda."

"What is going on, Andrea? You promised me a year. I assumed that meant you would show up for work and at the very least do your job." I hissed, once more leaning close to the girl.

Her eyes dropped to my lips and lingered there for a moment before returning to my eyes.

"You're right, Miranda. I'm sorry." She said again.

I was mildly pacified, if still a little in the dark about what was going through her mind, but that was enough for one day. Just that one glance at my mouth had sent shivers down my spine, and I needed my control back. I was doing well, keeping her at a distance. I could handle this.

"Get back to your desk, Andrea." I sighed, moving back to my own chair. She scurried back into the outer office without a backwards glance, head bowed. Andrea had proved, one month ago, that she was a fiery and passionate woman - but here we were, mere weeks later, and she had returned to the uncertain girl I had hired originally. If she would only let herself live as the confident woman I knew she could be. She'd never wait around for me, she'd never stay another year if that's who she was 24/7.

The next morning, she was waiting for me in the lobby with a coffee held in each of her gloved hands. She held one in an outstretched arm as I reached her, and I took it with a slight wince at the searing heat of the cup onto my cold palms. We entered the elevator wordlessly, her half a step behind me, not meeting my gaze anytime I looked in her direction. I turned to face her as the doors closed, and she mimicked my movement as I appraised her carefully. I took in her outfit, a clear Nigel choice, with a nod. He did so enjoy her on Valentino.

"You know, Andrea, there isn't a soul in this building that would dream of riding the elevator with me." I said softly. "Yet here you are. Fearless as ever." A small smile lifted the corners of her beautiful mouth, and I couldn't resist smiling back. Those perfect lips. I had been nowhere near her since that night, an entire month ago. Not like this, not so close, not alone. I kept my features schooled into a mild disinterest at the realisation, but this just made her smile widen.

"It's hard to be afraid of someone when you've seen them at their most vulnerable, and loved every second. I'm not scared of you anymore, Miranda. I haven't been for a long time, really, but especially since that night." She started saying something else, but the elevator stopped snd the doors opened smoothly to reveal Nigel, who looked curiously between the two of us. He blinked carefully at the scene before him, hesitating. Normally I would have indicated he enter, as the chances were he could update me on something that would speed my day up slightly, but not today. Not now. I turned my head just slightly away from him, irritation evident on my face.

"I'll just get the next one," he said quietly, smiling at Andrea with a look of genuine concern as the doors slid closed once more.

"You were saying?"

She shook her head, looking so bereft, so heartbroken that I felt myself take a step towards her without meaning to.

"Talk to me, Andrea. Please," the words came out almost desperate, in spite of myself.

She opened her mouth as though to answer, her face contorted into a near sob, but stopped quickly as the doors once more opened. I uttered a curse darkly, and she blinked in surprise, a smile steadily building on her face. I threw her a warning look as we stepped into the Runway offices, but this only made her laugh aloud, her head thrown back in mirth. She composed herself after a few long seconds, and walked next to me into the outer office of my assistants, matching my stride with ease. We walked like a power couple, I realised, internally berating myself for such a thought.

I shook my head, still bemused by her sudden emotional change, and quickly marched to my desk.

11 months to go.

For the rest of the week, the new girl fetched the coffee. This was her role, of course, not Andreas. I sent her out the building at every given opportunity, or to other offices in Runway when a phone call or email would have sufficed. It was one of the many times having no one question me proved useful.

Still nothing from Andrea. She'd been typing furiously at her keyboard all morning, answering calls intermittently, as polite as ever. Eventually, I'd had enough. Something in me needed her to acknowledge me, acknowledge what was between us - even as I had demanded she ignore it. I was being so very unreasonable, and I knew it, but it didn't stop me from calling out to her.

"Andrea."

She was in my office in an instant, notepad at the ready. Not once did she meet my gaze.

"Close the door, please. Come and sit down." I said softly.

She hesitated for a split second, then acquiesced to the request, still not looking towards me. I stayed silent, waiting until her large brown eyes met my own.

"You were going to say something, before. The other day, in the elevator." I leaned towards her slightly as I spoke, and she regarded me carefully.

"What do you want from me, Miranda?"

I didn't answer. For a long moment, the silence stretched between us.

"Right now, Andrea, I need you to do your job." She stiffened and made to stand. "Wait!" The word came out startled, much too loud, but I barely cared.

"That's what I need, Andrea. Your contract has 11 months left. I need you to see it through," I implored her to understand almost desperately.

"Why?" She was seated once more, looking angry and upset. I hated seeing these emotions so plainly on her beautiful face. Plenty of people had cried their way out of this office, but not once for love. Never for romance.

"You already know why, Andrea. I won't have our names dragged through the gutter press. I won't hurt my children. I won't hurt you, don't you see?"

"You're hurting me every day, Miranda," she whispered.

"Listen to me," I whispered back. "I am not worth this. I am not someone worth ruining your career over, trust me. When you finish your contract here, not only will you be eligible for any number of publications, editors will be falling over themselves to hire the woman who survived La Priestly for the full tenure. Even lasting two years has catapulted a small number of girls into the publication industry, to wherever their hearts desired. It's why a million girls kill for this job. Anything afterwards seems easy after working for me. But last three? The three years that only one other person has ever reached - Emily. And she stayed at Runway because fashion is her calling. Last three and you are guaranteed a position that would take you years to reach otherwise."

"That's not why Emily stayed." She interjected, folding her arms defiantly.

"I - what? What on earth are you talking about, Andrea?"

She closed her lips tight together, and I knew I wouldn't get an answer. I raised my eyes to the heavens and sighed.

"Fine. Don't tell me. But you know as well as I do how passionate Emily is about fashion. You also know how much she is flourishing under Nigel's tutelage, I'm sure?"

She nodded once.

"Forget Emily. What about us? I see the way you look at me. I have to stay 5 feet away from you at all times to make sure I don't give anything away to anyone watching. You know how I feel about you Miranda, this is killing me."

I watched her, trying hard to remain aloof, to look at her with nothing more than curiosity.

"I know there's another reason why you want to keep me here until I reach 3 years, Miranda. I'll figure it out eventually, you know."

"There is no other reason." I said sharply, annoyed at her for looking deeper into a genuine concern for her career. "I more than anyone understand the importance of a true career. Do excuse me for trying to make sure yours isn't destroyed with claims of nepotism and a destruction of your good character." I finished icily.

"Oh, Miranda," she said sadly. "I don't even think you've figured it out yourself yet. For someone so detail orientated, sometimes you can't even decipher your own choices." She stood up and leaned over the desk to caress a soft palm over my cheek gently, and left.

I didn't move, frozen in place. She was gone.

Chapter Text

10 months to go

"We're going out." I didn't offer any more details to Andrea in front of the other girl. I was taking her with me on an hour long journey to visit a new designer with whom I'd been in contact. They worked entirely with ethically sourced and fully vegan clothing, and we had been privately discussing the possibility of their work being included in Runway for a while now. Their only stipulation was a polite request that I travel to see their studio before making my decision, 'at my convenience'. I had scoffed at this, having had next to no free time for such a gamble in years. Today, however, I had made the exception. I'd cancelled a meeting with Irv that I hadn't wanted to attend in the first place, and had contacted the designer yesterday, giving them just over 24 hours to produce a viewing. I was intrigued to see what they would pull together for me, but if I allowed myself some honesty, I was thrilled at the idea of the time with Andrea. We could talk in the car and I would have a chance to convince her to stay with me for her own ends, not for me. Not because I'd asked. It would be beneficial to her to finish 3 years, I knew this for certain, and I would do my utmost to present her with the best opportunities at the end of it. She would go far. She would forget all about me then.

Andrea seemed to think that it wouldn't make a difference to her career if she was known as someone who slept with their boss. I knew it would, especially if said boss was the Ice Queen of publishing herself.

"Get your coat, Andrea, and mine." I strolled out of the office at a more leisurely pace than usual, giving her time to retrieve the garments and meet me at the elevator. I waited inside, one finger held to the button to keep the doors open not altogether impatiently. She was already wearing her coat and had my own carefully draped over her arms as she hopped in next to me, a little breathless. She held my faux fur open for me to push my arms down the soft sleeves. I hesitated for a moment, and then did so. She slid the warm garment up to my shoulders then stroked her hands down the length of the sleeves before stepping around me and pulling the coat tighter around my body by the lapels, causing me to take an involuntary step towards her.

We were suddenly inches apart, tension crackled between us like electricity for a few moments that seemed to stretch into eternity. We hadn't moved by the time the elevator reached the ground floor and creaked to a stop, but just before the doors opened, I had taken a step away from her and slid my oversized sunglasses onto my face. Andrea hadn't moved an inch, looking more than a little dazed, but she followed me out of the elevator after a moment towards the waiting car.

We made it to Roy without any further incidents, striding though the afternoon air. He politely opened the door for me and waited as I quickly slid in. I spotted a photographer try to get a shot of me at the same time as he did, and was pleased when he moved to stand between us before closing the door. I rolled my eyes. Clearly a slow news day.

I tipped my head back slightly to lean against the cool leather of the head rest, a sigh escaping my lips. I was aware of Andrea, now seated next to me in the wide sedan, but decided not to start a conversation quite yet. We needed a moment of peace. The car began to move slowly within the confines of the New York traffic.

Twenty minutes later, we were still barely moving. I had allowed myself some rest, unlike Andrea, who had been tapping away at her phone presumably replying to emails and relaying information to the other girl.

"Andrea." She jumped at the sudden voice, and I couldn't help a small smirk.

"Sorry, Miranda. I thought you were sleeping. What can I do for you?"

"Merely resting my eyes, Andrea. I need you to call the designer we're visiting and apologise, but we will be later than expected." I reached across and took her phone from her hands, closing the email screen and typing in the correct number. I passed it back to her carelessly, and she smiled as she took the phone back.

"Yes, Miranda." The words fell from her lips practically dripping with seduction.

My gaze snapped to hers, but the phone was already to her ear.

"Yes, hello, this is Miranda Priestly's assistant calling, my name is Andy Sachs. I'm sorry to say that we'll be slightly delayed; we're currently stuck in traffic, but we are on our way and hope to see you soon." A pause. "Of course. Thank you for understanding. Goodbye." She smiled at me. "All sorted."

I nodded in response, still gazing at her. She really was enticing, I wondered if she was aware of quite how much. Her face held a light blush which deepened the longer I studied her. I raised a questioning eyebrow, but she finally broke the eye contact and gazed out of the window instead, shifting slightly in her seat.

"Are you alright, Andrea?" She didn't move. I sighed quietly, and raised the privacy partition, noting Roy's expression change slightly as I did so. He looked almost worried for her, concerned for her wellbeing. I had a short vision of myself as some Dracula-esque figure, about to prey on my innocent, beautiful victim.

She caught my eye once more, her gaze now filled with curiosity and something else, something with heat behind it. "Stop looking at me like that," she whispered. How long we stayed staring at each other, I wasn't sure, but Roy's voice over the intercom was enough to break the tension and snap us both back to reality.

"We're on our way now, Miranda. We should be arriving in 15 minutes."

I didn't respond to him; I didn't trust my voice.

Almost two hours later, we left the showroom and were once more seated in the back of the luxury car. I was impressed, very impressed, by what I had seen today. My newest project would almost certainly be a success. I allowed myself a small smile at the thought, glancing at Andrea when I realised she was watching me carefully.

"Yes, Andrea?" I said, amused. "Something you want to say?"

"I was actually wondering… why you want this particular designer for a winter feature?" She asked curiously.

"Why don't you tell me, Andrea? You've been my assistant for long enough, perhaps you can figure out my thought process." I gave her a small smile, and she grinned back, revealing her perfect white teeth. I tore my gaze away from her mouth - I had fallen into that trap already, and it wouldn't do to drown in her natural seductiveness in the close confinement of the car.

"Well… I know it's becoming increasingly popular to wear vegan. A lot of people still eat meat, but ensure that their fashion is ethical, myself included. So why not use an up and coming designer, who's not only ethical, but - at least from what I saw in there - very talented." She paused for a second, trying to assess my expression, but I simply sat and waited for her to continue. "And winter would usually be a time to peddle furs, so this would be a way to stay fresh, move with the times," she finished, clearly unsure.

"Correct, Andrea. You're only missing one vital part of my reasoning." She looked intrigued. "They will be another talent to add to my list of creatives who, to put it bluntly, owe their careers to me."

Her expression changed to one of distaste, and I found myself wanting to explain further. Highly unusual. Something about this girl makes me want to be seen in a better light.

"Don't misunderstand me, Andrea, these people do not owe me their talent - far from it. They are, however, indebted to me in the sense that I gave them their biggest opportunity. I made them a name. All I expect in return is loyalty."

"Loyalty," she said the word as though it were filled with meaning for her. It wasn't a question, it was a statement. Before I could ask for clarity, a loud bang beneath us had us both gasping and clutching at each other. The car skidded; Andrea let out a small scream, it was out of control and it was all I could do to hold onto her as tightly as possible, leaning across her body to keep her pinned to her seat. After what seemed like several lifetimes, the car spun slower, and finally came to rest. Silence, save for our laboured breathing, fell. I searched out Andrea's face as soon as I could make my frozen body move, just as she did mine. I reached the hand that had previously been tucked around her body up to her face, and before I had time to reconsider, I was kissing her desperately.

She responded in kind, and several seconds passed before I was aware of my surroundings. I extracted myself from her gently, asking "Are you alright?" My voice came out hoarse, more urgent than I had expected. She nodded wordlessly, her eyes searching my face. A look of panic crossed her features and she looked toward the privacy partition, which had slipped slightly open during the incident. "Roy," she whispered. We were spared any agony as his voice came over the intercom. "Are you both alright? Do you need medical attention?" I extracted myself from Andrea completely to hold down my own intercom button. "We're fine, Roy. What happened? Are you quite alright?"

"I'm fine, Miranda, thank you. The car has bust both of its back wheels, I'm not sure how. I think we must have drove over something pretty dangerous, these tyres are reinforced. I'll call for help, just sit tight." I assented to his plan, leaving him to make his calls and looking once more towards my assistant. She was typing furiously on her phone.

"What are you doing?" I demanded, suddenly annoyed, although I was unsure why.

"Figuring out what's best to do next," she replied without looking up. I stayed quiet, burning a hole into her with the intensity of my gaze until she met my eyes and offered me a grimacing smile. "It's going to take a while before any roadside rescue shows up, Miranda. It's a Friday, and we're right into rush hour traffic out of the city. We'll be here -" she was cut off by Roy over the intercom. "It's gonna be at least 2 hours before they get to us, Miranda. I'm very sorry," he sounded genuinely stressed for the first time since he had started working for me all those years ago. "It's not your fault, Roy."

I looked towards Andrea again. "Wonderful." I deadpanned. "Now what?" I pinched the bridge of my nose as I asked the rhetorical question; I hadn't actually expected anyone to come up with a sufficient plan at that moment.

"We're close to a decent hotel, Miranda. I checked, and they have one superior suite available." I blinked at her. "I'm sure I can get a single room -" I cut her off with a look. I was sure she knew in that moment as well as I did where she would end up tonight, regardless of if she booked another room.

"Book the suite." I almost whispered. She would be in my bed before the night was out, I was sure of it. Self control be damned. She confirmed the room with one click on her phone and smiled at me tentatively.

Night was beginning to creep in around us as we waited, and I wanted nothing more than to be out of this car. As though reading my mind, she said "Why don't I walk over there and send a car for you? They have taxis lined up out front 24/7 apparently." She offered.

I pondered this for a second, noticing how her hands were trembling slightly in her lap.

"I'm capable of walking, Andrea, and even the dragon lady wouldn't send anyone to wander off alone out here after a near death experience. We'll all go. Wait there a moment," I exited the car with a flourish and slammed the door behind me, opening the driver's door. There was a moment of odd role reversal as Roy looked up at me, bewildered. I almost smiled.

"I'm so sorry, Miranda, there's nothing I can do to get us out of here yet - " I raised a hand to stop him.

"Roy." His still ashen face stared up at me. "Andrea has found an acceptable hotel close by. We are going to walk over there now. I'm more than glad to book you a room if you would like one, or we can arrange for a late car to pick you up and take you home once we have had a chance to relax. I'm sure your wife will be worried if you're too late, so you can call her from the hotel too." He still looked bewildered, but by now my patience was wearing thin. "We can lock the car, it can stay here. You can come back when the tow truck finally makes an appearance, but only if you wish." I left no room for arguments, strolling around to the other side of the car to open Andrea's door. She, too, looked up at me like a deer in headlights. I rolled my eyes, offering her my arm to steady herself on as she climbed out of the car without a modicum of grace. Roy cleared his throat uncomfortably from behind us as the eye contact between myself and my assistant went on for just slightly longer than reputable.

"Come along," I swept off quickly, Andrea keeping in step with me.

We arrived at the hotel in ten minutes, and she quickly stepped to reception to check us in. When she returned, she was in her usual efficient mode, equipped with information. "There's a main living room in the suite, I have my laptop and tablet, and I've made sure we've both been emailed the Book if you want to go over it tonight." She glanced at Roy, looking obviously concerned.

"You're more than welcome to join us and take advantage of a well-stocked bar," I offered him courteously, but for reasons unbeknownst to me, he blushed slightly and looked at his shiny shoes before saying "Thank you, Miranda, but I'll wait at the hotel bar," he gestured behind us to the already bustling room. "If you're sure you won't need me anymore tonight, I'll be in there with a large brandy." I nodded my assent, and he started to move away.

"Roy, make sure it's charged to," I looked at Andrea for confirmation and she finished my sentence for me, "the Gold Suite." Roy smiled at both of us in thanks and departed quickly, as though he was relieved to be away from us. I had a small realisation when the image of the slightly lowered privacy partition flashed to the forefront of my mind, and grew hot all over.

Without a glance in Andrea's direction, I stepped towards the elevators, waiting impatiently. We stepped in together as soon as the doors slid open, and she quickly touched one of the key cards to the reader on the wall. The doors closed, and I still couldn't look at her. I wasn't sure what I would do if I did.

We stepped out of the lift directly into the rather aptly named suite, and I couldn't hold back a grimace. Andrea froze in place beside me. "Jesus," she muttered, casting an appalled eye over the decor. I laughed; I couldn't help it. "This from the same girl who walked into my office wearing a lumpy cerulean sweater and the most hideous skirt I've ever laid eyes on." She looked at me, amused. "And I was raised by a grandmother who favoured cheap wool to make everything, including underwear." Her expression showed amazement at my choice to share such personal information with her, but she didn't push the subject. I was glad, I hadn't really meant to say anything quite so revealing.

"Yeah, well, I like to think I've outgrown lumpy blue sweaters and tweed skirts," she grinned easily. "Even I know this is garish."

The entire room, including its contents, was gold - champagne walls and sofa, a plush platinum carpet, even the cushions were fluffy white and sparkled with gold flecks. The tables were solid yellowy gold, looking cheap and tacky. If I were staying here under any other circumstances, heads would roll.

"I requested they stock the bathroom with their best products, but god only knows what we'll find." I looked at Andrea, and she blushed, continuing erratically, "You, I mean. I assume you'll want to go first. I didn't mean, you know, together, I'm not pushing anything…" her voice trailed off. "Um, anyway. We should also get a delivery of clean clothes and underwear for tomorrow, and some sleepwear for tonight, later this evening."

"And make-up? Do you expect me to go out tomorrow morning bare faced and ancient, Andrea?" I snapped, caught off guard by the thought of her in the shower with me.

"I always carry a spare." She reached into her oversized handbag and passed me a make up carrier containing copies of all the vitals I used daily. "But for reference, you could never look ancient." She almost whispered the words. "With or without your armour."

I didn't respond, sweeping past her towards the - shock horror - gold-plated bathroom. If I was honest with myself, I didn't know how to. I certainly felt ancient.

I stood under the strong flow of the shower, hoping against hope it would relax my aching muscles. I couldn't stop the whimpers that escaped my lips at the relief; it had been a very long week, and today had only exacerbated the tension pain in my shoulders. I stopped abruptly when I heard a knock at the door.

"Yes?" My voice was impatient and I knew it.

"I'm sorry to disturb you Miranda, it's just - I mean, you sound like you might be in pain," my assistant called through the door. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine, Andrea. I'm simply trying to relax."

There was a slight pause. Then, "Oh, God. Right. I'm so sorry, I'll just, erm…" she trailed off. I heard her scurrying away from the door, still mumbling to herself sounding squeaky and mortified, but I wasn't paying attention. I had no clue what she was up to, but I also didn't care very much at that moment in time.

A short while later, clean and with a small amount of make up covering my face once more, I donned one of the available bath robes before stepping back into the main room in the suite. Andrea was sat cross legged on the sofa, working on her laptop. She jumped up when she saw me, her face once more burning red. She scurried past me, unable to meet my eye, muttering something about the Book being open on her laptop. The door to the bathroom closed behind her, and she didn't resurface for some 30 minutes, by which time I had been through the majority of the Book and the better part of a large glass of white wine. I looked up to see her gazing at the expanse of leg on display due to the short length of these robes. On her, it was almost indecent due to her height. I refocused on the screen in front of me as she made her way to the bar.

"Do you mind?" She asked, holding up the bottle of wine I had poured my own glass from.

"By all means," I said quietly, trying to focus. I tried not to stare when she bent to put the bottle back in the fridge, I truly did, but the girl was all leg and I knew all too well what was barely covered by that robe. I dropped my gaze as she turned back around towards me, concentrating on the screen once more. I tucked my legs beneath me, not looking up, the robe riding higher as I moved.

"Are you trying to kill me?" She muttered after a second.

I glanced up at her over the screen, giving up any pretence of work when I saw her expression. I closed the laptop and placed it on the table in front of us, picking up my glass before settling back down.

"How so, Andrea?"

"First, the kiss…" she sipped her wine, going pink, "then the shower, now this," she gestured to my bare legs.

"What would you suggest I wear, Andrea?" I drawled. "This is all that's currently available to me. And as for the shower, it isn't as though I offered you a front row seat." I sipped my wine pointedly.

"No, but God, Miranda! How am I supposed to listen to you do that and not be affected?"

I frowned at her. "What exactly is it you think you were listening to?" I said, my voice low. It all made sense, suddenly.

"You… you were moaning… like that night," she stumbled out, clearly no where near as confident as said night. Maybe it was a lack of alcohol.

"Well I can assure you, Andrea, that I was doing absolutely nothing untoward. You simply let your imagination run away with you."

"I often do," she said quietly, clearly embarrassed. She drank a gulp of wine. There was a silence as we watched each other carefully. She broke it first.

"Did you say you were raised by your grandmother?" She asked. She had clearly been mulling this over to distract herself.

"Yes. My parents passed away when I was young."

"I didn't know that," she looked horrified at bringing the subject up. "I'm really sorry!"

"Don't be," I allowed her a small smile. "I loved my grandmother. We didn't have very much, but I don't remember wanting for anything."

"Except underwear not made of wool?" She grinned.

"Well, I didn't know any different for a long while," I smiled back at her, then stood to refill both our glasses. "Funny isn't it." She waited for me to elaborate. I took several sips of wine first after taking my seat once more. "When I had nothing, I wanted for nothing. I was loved. Happy, even. Only now that I have everything do I find that I am in need, always." There was a pause while the unsaid hung between us. Neither of us seemed likely to break it, but then she surprised me. My Andrea, the girl who always asked too many questions. You never ask Miranda anything, I recalled Emily commanding.

"What exactly are you in need of, Miranda?" Her huge eyes were shiny, as though she was close to tears.

"Many things, Andrea." I smiled gently at her. "Time, for one thing. If only I had more to spend with my girls. Relative anonymity for another; at least outside the office. I dread to think what the magazine would look like if I did not invoke something resembling a work ethic in my staff."

She snickered, and I raised one questioning eyebrow.

"No offence, Miranda, but I think its more fear of torture that you invoke, rather than work ethic. Speaking from experience," she laughed. "The fear of disembowelment is real."

"A very specific torture method," I mused, "It would only serve to make them even more useless." She laughed again.

"True. That's only one of the rumours about your methods of severe punishment though."

I was intrigued by this, and it must have showed on my face, for Andrea looked suddenly mortified, as though she had said too much. "I thought you would know, " she said, "you always seem to know the things that get said in the office," she looked terrified. I decided to take pity on her.

"I know what I need to, Andrea, make no mistake of that," I said, offering her a warm smile. "What you're thinking of sounds very entertaining though, do tell."

She shook her head wildly, so that drops of water from her still wet hair flew around her.

"Come now, Andrea. We must do something to distract from the gold induced migraine that will soon descend upon us if we're not careful." She smiled at this.

"You're very funny, you know. Witty."

"Thank you, Andrea." I replied in my most courteous tone. "Now, please won't you tell me? I swear to never repeat what I hear. Think of this garish hotel room as your own private confessional."

"Oh, so you're the priest?" She sassed, and I couldn't help the slight snort of derisive laughter that escaped. I lifted my arms regally in a poor impression of the pope.

"Either way, I'm going to hell," I muttered, watching as she frowned a little at this. "Now, tell me. How am I doling out punishments according to my staff, Andrea?" I shifted into a more comfortable position, wine glass in hand, and stared her down. She was entirely aware I would discuss nothing else; I was nothing if not focused. She sighed, resigning herself to the situation, and moved a little closer to me. A few inches of space separated our bare legs. I tore my gaze back to her again as she began to speak. 

 

Chapter Text

Andrea seemed to resign herself to something as she made herself more comfortable to begin her admission. Her movements made us suddenly much closer than we had been; a few inches of space separated our legs, still bare. I determinedly kept my gaze fixed on her face, and she began speaking.

"Well..." she said thoughtfully. "There's the one where you locked Nigel in a closet overnight, years ago, when he suggested a comeback of 50s style skirts, petticoats included." She was watching me curiously, appraising my reactions, but I kept my face impassive aside from a tiny smile at the corners of my mouth to reassure her. Her eyes kept flicking to the smile as she spoke.

"Then there's the one about Serena being punished for coming to work in flats, so you made her wear those platform shoes, the ones that don't have any stiletto heel?"

"Noritaka Tatehana shoes. Made for Lady Gaga, heelless platforms." I supplied. "But these are much more trivial than I expected, Andrea. There's more, I can tell. I want the worst of these stories, we don't have all night."

"Well, we do," she smiled innocently at me. I narrowed my eyes, and she continued to smile serenely at me.

"Alright," she sighed after a few moments, "I give up. The worst rumours are usually to do with your assistants." She seemed at a slight loss as to how to continue, and I had an idea what was coming. I tapped my lips thoughtfully, considering stopping her, but curiosity always did kill the cat. She spoke again.

"When I first started working for you," she began cautiously, "I heard rumours that the first assistant was tasked with keeping you... satisfied, shall we say?" She was blushing furiously. I raised my eyebrows, unsurprised.

"And did you believe the rumours, Andrea?"

"No. Not even watching Emily bend over backwards for you everyday and being totally bewildered by the intensity of the job, of you - not once did I think that you would ever force anyone into anything like that. For one thing, you aren't someone who invites personal intimacy easily; you're a very private person. For another, I could never imagine you would lower yourself to force anyone to touch you. I could only ever imagine that your conquests were entirely consenting. After all, who wouldn't want you?" She looked at me beseechingly, as though I would blame her for these accusations, or for asking who wouldn't want me.

Plenty of people, Andrea.

I didn't speak, simply watching her over my glass as I sipped more wine, waiting. She took a gulp herself before continuing.

"I will confess that I sometimes wondered about you and Emily though," she blurted like she couldn't hold it back. I smiled inwardly; the girl always had to fill a silence. "I think that she would have been more than willing if you ever asked her to..." she trailed off.

"And what do you think now, Andrea?"

"I think that... I'm not sure I want to know." She could no longer meet my gaze, her eyes following the glass she twirled between her fingers nervously.

"I think you do. I think the curiosity is killing you. I think you want to know if I make a habit of demanding my first assistants - what was the phrase? - bend over backwards?" The tension in the room was palpable when she eventually looked up to meet my gaze.

"Did you?" She whispered.

"Did I what, Andrea?"

"Did you sleep with her, too?" Her eyes were wide with trepidation for my answer.

"Do you really think I would?" I asked her, as gently as I could. She shook her head no. "Good, because you're right. Of course I didn't, the rumour is nonsense. I truly believe that Emily would have had enough common sense to refuse if I ever did request anything of the sort." I snorted. I set my glass down and turned once more to face her, amused by how relieved she seemed.

"I don't know about that," she said thoughtfully. "Anyway. It's my turn to ask the questions now," she looked even younger suddenly, excited at the prospect of quizzing me. She was practically bouncing in her seat.

"Ah-ah," I shook my finger at her slowly. "One more answer from you first. I feel I deserve this one," I said with as much charm as I could muster. It worked; she smiled, a full, beautiful smile that I had to return.

"The worst of the rumours, then," she sighed theatrically. "The very worst ones are always about us." She was enjoying herself now, even as she saw the smile freeze onto my face at her words.

"How so?" I almost choked out, fearful of the explanation. Were people guessing what was going on? How?

"I overheard some of the clackers gossiping months ago," she said thoughtfully. "Before I had even realised myself how I felt about you. It was during an office party; I forget the occasion. They were saying you were very different with me. They said you gave me more opportunities to prove myself than you had given others, but you punished me more severely too. The phrase whips and chains was bandied about a little, but I shut that down, of course." I gaped at her. "Don't worry. Everyone knows it's nonsense; they just love to create their little scenarios. They wonder if you'd do it in your office, or stick to the privacy of your own home?"

I was speechless. She seemed to take this as fury, quickly assuring me she really had shut the rumour mill down. "Don't worry," she smiled. "They would always assume you had higher standards than the smart, fat girl anyway."

"They would be wrong. As was I for saying such a cruel thing. That was low, even for me. I'm truly sorry, Andrea. You... you're the most beautiful woman ever to grace Runway, New York City… the whole world. I hope you can forgive me for that one day." I spoke quietly, trying to convey how serious I was.

Her eyes filled with tears as I finished speaking and I moved forwards automatically, catching her in my arms as she leaned forwards into them. I held her for a few long moments, stroking her hair and whispering fervoured apologies into her ear. She sat back, wiping away her tears.

"So, you were saying that you set the record straight?" I said, in a vain attempt to get the conversation back on track. It was more to distract Andrea than anything else, but my curiosity was still in full force. She nodded enthusiastically. "In that case, I assume you informed them I would never be so typical as to employ whips and chains when doling out your punishments?" She looked at me enquiringly.

"Really, Andrea, you should at least know me well enough to know I would use only the finest Hermes silk scarves to restrain you. And as for whips, well... we did fine without them, wouldn't you say? I know I was hiding some rather ostentatious bruising for a while after our night together. You were hard to forget, in mind and body."

She knew as well as I did where the night was heading now. While I had been certain from the moment I had kissed her in the car, she now knew too that tonight would be for us. It had already been too long. As she opened her mouth to respond, her expression downright predatory at the mention of our night together, there was a knock at the door of the suite. We both looked around so quickly it was as though we had been caught in the act.

"I'd better get that, Andrea." I looked pointedly at the expanse of long leg on show and she smiled, rolled her eyes, and headed for the bathroom. I was grateful she understood that us being seen together in a state of undress would add rocket fuel to the embers of the rumour fire.

The disturbance was, I discovered, our clothes for the evening and the next day. I took them carefully from the young man after tipping him, shaking my head at his offer to carry them to the closet for me, and headed to the as yet unseen bedroom. I allowed a small "ugh" of distaste to escape as I noticed the decor surrounding the king sized bed. The bedding, thankfully, was clean and white, but the cushions and throw were all a harsh gold, as was the carpet, walls and ceiling. I seized the cheap fabric of the throw and flung it away from the bed, replacing it with the heavy garment bags. Opening the first, I noted that this must be my outfit, my taste echoed by Andrea's with a pleasing effect. A simple wraparound dress that would fall to my knees in a deep plum colour, with a set of palest pink Prada heels. Casual, but pretty. I smirked at the thought she was dressing the Devil in Prada, yet in the most delicate of ways. The dress was a little more low cut than I would have expected from Andrea, but she never had disappointed me in this sense. Every day she would surprise me with something. The underwear screamed elegance, black satin that would envelop and caress the wearer, with options in both black and the same shade of plum as the dress. Very acceptable. The thought of her choosing my underwear made my heart beat faster, and I grew warm.

"Do you like your outfit, Miranda?" I heard her voice from the doorway to the bedroom. How long had she been there, watching me caress the clothes she had chosen with me in mind? I nodded, opening the second garment bag. Her choices for herself were the exact opposite of my own outfit; black skinny jeans, black boots and a Vivienne Westwood tshirt. There were dark green boy shorts with a matching lacy bralet. Perfect for her. Yet another bag held sleepwear for this evening. I picked out a nightdress for myself, black silk once more, and then smirked at her own choices. Calvin Klein boxer shorts and a white wife beater vest.

"Really, Andrea?"

She blushed, but looked defiant.

"They're comfortable!" She insisted.

I was glad she hadn't chosen anything too sexual, if I was honest - particularly for me. I was more than capable of choosing my own seductive wear, I knew what suited me and what would accentuate my age and flaws.

I was also sure that she was still the smallest bit uncertain if anything would happen between us tonight, or if she would be left sleeping on the sofa. I, however, had known from the moment I kissed her in the car and she had responded so desperately. There were a million reasons why it was not a good idea. At that precise moment, I wasn't pondering a single one. My focus was given over entirely to her as she watched me so intensely from the doorway. I looked down at the belt on her robe pointedly, then dragged my gaze back to her eyes. The corners of her mouth lifted slightly in a small smile; it was clear she was feeling a little shy, but her hands moved to the knot.

She let the robe fall.

Chapter Text

9 months to go

It had been a few weeks since we had spent the night together. I had done my utmost to stay professional in work, having to distance myself as much as possible. For her part, she had remained the perfect assistant, something I was very thankful for, but I caught her sometimes watching me with the same intensity she had in her eyes in that gaudy hotel. Every time I saw that look, it was all I could do to resist taking her home with me right then and there. She seemed to be aware of this; she would smile, rake her gaze slowly down my body and back up, then look away, leaving me flustered. I felt as though she was looking straight through my clothes. Today was Friday, and I was relieved that I could have a weekend to myself relaxing. I needed space from her, space to think without her clouding my judgement. The girls were away this weekend with their father, and the townhouse would be entirely empty - something which might once have filled me with dread.

I arrived home early that evening. The hallway clock struck 7pm as I hung my coat up in the hallway closet and moved into the kitchen. The silence of the house was a little unnerving, but I carried on nonetheless, opening the refrigerator to find that Cara had prepared me a beautiful lobster salad. It sat waiting for me next to a chilled bottle of white wine, as though my housekeeper had read my mind. I sat at the kitchen island to eat, a full glass of wine next to my plate. A table set for one. It could have been a particularly sad sight but I didn't allow it to be. Everyone needed alone time, hours for themselves uninterrupted, and after the week I'd had in the office, I felt it was well deserved. The entire staff had been particularly incompetent, hindered even more so by my own oversights, which were due entirely to Andrea's proximity. I had set the one year limit, and now I could barely function within it.

But if you'd have let her walk away, you'd never have seen her again… It was true. I didn't want it to be, but there it was. Yes, the reasons I'd given her were also valid - surviving 3 years working in the Devil's lair was no small feat; employers would be jumping at the chance to meet her, hire her, especially with my recommendation. Yet the real truth of the matter was that I knew in my soul that when she no longer worked for me, she would realise how impossible this situation would be. How could we ever be together in public? My reputation might just about be saved as the likelihood of magazine sales increasing at the notion of me having a much younger lover hit the tabloids. But hers? How could I allow the very serious accusation of nepotism to dog her through what would no doubt be a promising and inspiring career? I sighed heavily, making my way up to the very top floor of the house. I had told her we would revisit this thing between us after the year was up, and I couldn't stay away from her. I had thought, so very wrongly, that my own feelings might disappear. I reached my hideaway floor a little out of breath, making a mental note to schedule more time with my personal trainer, and entered the bathroom. This was one of my favourite rooms in the house; equipped with an oversized tub with jets, a television built in to the wall behind a screen - "so it can appear as if from nowhere!" the young man who installed it had told me excitedly - and a perfect ledge just next to the tub that would easily hold my phone, wine glass and book. I seldom had the chance to visit this room, but I certainly would make the most of it this evening.

These past few months with Andrea had been a true shock to my system in many ways; not least of which, the thought I had been ignoring for so many years, my own sexuality. It had bubbled away beneath the surface throughout three loveless marriages, and was now firmly planted in the forefront of my mind. I was now firmly in the category 'not heterosexual'. Tonight, I had decided, I would give myself a welcome and an education on what it meant to be a Queer woman. I sunk into the bubbles, let out a sigh of relief, and began to debate where to start. A pile of books lay next to my wine, everything from The Colour Purple to Tipping the Velvet, while my TV screen held options for movies from Blue is the Warmest Colour, Imagine Me & You and But I'm a Cheerleader - most of which seemed to tell the stories of particularly young women making their discoveries. I sighed, still searching, and eventually decided to watch the show I had studiously avoided for years for no real reason other than fear - The L Word.

I watched for a while, pondering what my life would be like if I too were open about my sexual preferences. I saw no need to be, on one hand - who else's business was it? - while on the other hand, what need did I have to hide? The thought of the press ripping me to shreds was nothing new, but somehow, the very idea of them getting wind of this was nauseating. Good old Catholic guilt strikes again.

I spent the rest of the weekend still enthralled in my 'research', for want of a better word, coming to the conclusion that any representation in the mainstream media often resulted in death for the Queer woman. I wondered if there was an article that could be featured in Runway for a second, then recalled I worked at a fashion magazine not some do-gooder blog, for heavens sake. Shaking my head at my own stupidity, I settled for a good work out on my cross trainer - what better way to spend a Sunday evening alone? - and attempted to clear my still racing mind. As I moved, I wondered exactly what I was aiming for here. I was nearing 50, had embarked upon some illicit affair with my much younger assistant, and was one of the worst closet cases the world would ever know. If I continued with Andrea, I would surely be outed - by choice or not. If I didn't…well, she would certainly find someone else. Easily. I certainly would not, and I knew it. She was the first and only person I had ever spent this much time thinking about, the first person I had considered turning my entire world on its head for. Was I really brave enough to take this public, if it came down to that? I could do everything in my power to try to keep her career safe. I was sure the girls would get used to the idea. Would it be enough? Would we resent each other?

Would it take long for her to come to her senses and leave for someone more appropriate?

I settled into bed early that night, having worked hard to ensure I would be tired enough to fall asleep quickly. I should have known better. It was well after midnight, and still I lay awake, desperately thinking of anything except for her. I had argued with myself round and round in circles, a sick feeling of shame coursing through me every time I pictured the headlines, yet another feeling of pure dread at the thought of Andrea with someone else, visions of some other faceless girl at her desk…

I must have dozed off. There was no way in hell this was real. Andrea...

Strong fingers stroked between my thighs as I gasped and writhed below her, my hands gripping at any part of her I could reach... she was above me, her soft hair tickled my chest and stomach as her fingers continued their ministrations, one now slipping inside me... my hips jolted upwards, searching for more, and she complied, another finger inside and then she was lower, her face level with my navel and then lower again, a tongue darting out... I heard myself groan her name recklessly loud -

"Miranda? Are you okay?" A frantic voice broke through the vision as I opened my eyes, disorientated. I was alone, in my own bed.

"Miranda?! Are you there? Oh god please tell me you're okay- please," the voice came from my phone. What on earth...

I picked it up quickly, hands scrabbling around my bedside table, eyes still not adjusting to being awake.

"Andrea?"

"Oh thank god you're alright! What's going on?" She gasped out, clearly relieved.

"Well considering you are the one who has awakened me, maybe you could clue me in as to why you're calling me at," I checked the time, "3:30 in the morning?" My breathing had still not returned not normal, but I managed to produce a mildly withering tone from somewhere.

"But... Miranda, you called me! I thought you were hurt, I couldn't hear anything except your breath and it sounded like you were struggling for air!"

"I can assure you Andrea, I did not call you. I was asleep, and your less than dulcet tones awoke me."

She babbled something I didn't quite understand, suddenly sounding upset.

"Andrea, slow down. I can assure you I'm fine," I resisted the urge to roll my eyes, as though she were in front of me. The image of my dream came to the forefront of my mind again and I blushed, realising what had happened. My phone was in the habit of starting voice recognition without prompting lately. I had clearly spoken her name in my sleep and the blasted thing had called her...

"Miranda, that really scared me," her voice was now thick with tears. "You're sure you're okay?"

"A little sleep deprived, but otherwise fine." I deadpanned, and smiled slightly at the sound of her amused snort. A year ago, that would have been enough to terrify her. "I apologise for waking you Andrea, I think my phone acted of it's own accord."

"Oh..." she sniffed loudly. "Oh." A little more understanding in that one than I cared to think about.

"Goodnight, Andrea."

"Wait!" My thumb hovered over the end call button.

"Yes, Andrea? Can this not wait until a more reasonable hour?"

"Well considering I'm wide awake now thanks to you and your phone," she sassed, "no, it can't." Oh how I loved it when she stood up to me. It was enough to send tingles down my spine and electricity to more... sensitive areas.

I faked a sigh. "Very well, Andrea, what is this pressing matter?"

"I just.. I miss you."

"You see me all the time," I smiled, I couldn't help it.

"You know what I mean, Miranda! Acting like nothing has happened in the office is so hard, don't you feel it too? Every time you cut me down for not being quick enough, I want to kiss you, I want to..." I could almost see her searching for the right words. When she spoke again her voice was lower, surer of herself. "I want to have you right there on your desk. I want to fuck you just to put you down a notch." Her breath came a little heavier than before.

"Is that so?" I murmured.

"Yes. And I think you'd like it. I think you want it too, that's why you make such a show of telling me off lately, of dressing me down with your eyes at every opportunity. It's like you're goading me."

I couldn't even deny it, so I didn't say anything. I found I was biting my lip.

"Do you miss me, Miranda?"

I hummed, attempting to sound noncommittal, but she saw straight through me.

"I know you do. Why did your phone call me of its own accord, hm?" I heard a shift of fabric and my whole body tensed.

"What are you doing, Andrea?" I managed.

"I asked you a question first," she said, with the same low voice that melted me to my very core.

"I don't know, Andrea. I woke up to your voice," I drawled the words, determined to keep control.

"I think you do know. What were you dreaming of, Miranda?" The woman was always too quick for her own good.

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean, Andrea."

"Oh I think you do. I could hear your breath, you sounded like you were struggling for air and it scared me. I was talking, asking you to talk to me and let me know you were okay but for a few seconds I still didn't hear anything - until you said my name. In that moment I thought you were scared, maybe, or asking for help. I was halfway out of bed and pulling out clothes to wear when you finally spoke." She sighed languidly. "I think I might have guessed what's going on here, Miranda."

"You think so, do you? Very astute," I spoke quietly, wondering where this was going, the throb between my legs still very apparent. I heard her shifting again, this time a tiny noise escaped her throat.

"Andrea. What are you doing?" My voice was clipped, tense.

"You still haven't answered my question," she answered, slightly breathless.

"I… I'm not sure what I was dreaming," I lied, settling back onto my pillows, my free hand resting on my overheating thigh. A shiver ran through me as I heard another tiny noise escape her.

"Liar."

"I - alright, fine, I was dreaming you were... here," I muttered, embarrassment creeping into my voice. A part of me was angry at her for this, for forcing me to admit such things, but such feelings were currently eclipsed by this temptress of a woman, and her next sentence.

"Oh, Miranda," her voice was practically a moan, my name groaned out in a pleasurable exhale.

"Andrea. How many times must I ask you what you are doing?" I tried to induce fear in my quietest, deadliest voice. The effect didn't quite come off.

"You don't scare me, Miranda," I could hear the smile in her voice. "In fact, you have a completely different affect on me."

I exhaled slowly, trying to regain something resembling control, the one thing she consistently robbed me of. I was starting to discover I didn't mind.

"That night in the hotel, Miranda…" she sighed out in pleasure. "It was the best I've ever had, even better than the first time… you were amazing, Miranda," I heard a rustle of fabric once more, followed by another elongated sigh. I felt the heat spread over my body, closing my eyes tightly.

"I think it's time for us to sleep, Andrea."

"I'm going to have to disagree with you there. I won't be doing much sleeping… in fact, I'll be lying here very much awake thinking of you," her voice was low, seductive. "I know you want me. What happened in your dream, hm?"

I didn't say a word, biting down on my bottom lip.

"Don't you want to tell me? Alright… I'll just picture it for myself. I have a very good imagination, you know," she hummed, and I felt it as though she was in the room with me. "A good memory too. I remember exactly what happened in that hotel room, for example. How you looked at me when I undressed for you… that look in your eye when you stalked over to me, do you remember that, Miranda?" I was saved the response by a gasping moan that escaped her. "I think about that all the time. You took complete control of me, you pinned me up against that wall like it was nothing. You kissed all the way down my neck…" I had visions of everything she described like I was reliving it, and my hand slipped between my thighs of its own accord. I gasped at the evidence of my arousal. "Before I knew it, you were on your knees in front of me," her voice became almost strangled; she was close. Something in me snapped.

"You're exquisite, Andrea. How could I resist?"

Her breath was leaving her in sobs.

"Don't stop, Andrea," I whispered. "I need to hear you."

I continued reliving our last night together in my own mind, whispering moments to her through the phone, both of us nearing release. She reached it first, gasping and keening, calming slowly with a sigh of "Oh, Miranda…" that almost broke my heart. My body tensed, locking in place as my own orgasm swelled, and I gripped the phone so hard I thought it should break. I wasn't aware of any noise that escaped my lips.

We stilled for a few moments, neither of us speaking. I wanted nothing more than to feel her in my arms as I drifted to sleep, but it wasn't to be. She did, however, stay on the line, and we fell together into a deep slumber, reassured by the sounds of our even breaths.

When I awoke the next morning, we were disconnected once more. It was time to prepare for work.

Chapter Text

8 months to go

More weeks had passed, drawing us ever closer to the day she would no longer walk Runway halls with me. Emily was flourishing in the art department. Nigel was delighted to have her as his fledgling, and had even taken to dining with her after work occasionally. I knew this only because I overheard the red haired Londoner all but demanding my assistant go with them one evening.

"I can't, Em. You know better than anyone that I've got no chance of getting away before 9 most nights, and that's before the Book delivery!"

Emily had sighed theatrically, hissing "isn't she ready to deliver the Book yet?"

I frowned. The other girl should have been delivering the Book permanently for a while now.

"I guess not. I don't mind, really."

"Well, surely you can meet us on Friday after you've finished? Isn't," there was a momentary pause and I had a clear vision of Emily miming my name, "away this weekend?"

Andrea had sighed in reluctant agreement. That was three days ago, today being the Friday she was due to go out after she had been to my townhouse. I wondered if she would mention it. Sometimes, as the girls were usually home when she arrived, we would stand quietly talking for a few minutes before she left. Always, she would still be in her work clothes and would look more than ready to collapse in sleep.

I spent the day even more absorbed in work than usual, determined not to dwell on Andrea or what she might wear on a night out. A sudden vision of a faceless stranger buying her drinks, taking her home, flashed through my mind and I shuddered, pushing it away. She deserved to have fun, after all - she was free and single. I found myself wishing she wasn't. That it would be easy to say we were together, she was mine and I was hers. I shook all the thoughts away. She wasn't mine; she could do what she liked. The thought of her with someone else still made me feel slightly ill, but I pushed that away too. I strode into the already darkening office, as the sun had vanished from the windows a couple of hours previously.

"You can go, Andrea. I have to catch up on work before my weekend away with the girls. I shall wait for the Book myself." I almost paused to tell her I would see her again soon. I'll miss you.

I turned sharply on my heel and closed my office door behind me. I heard her shuffling papers, gathering her bag, her coat. I bent my head and got straight back to work.

The weekend was passing far too quickly. My girls were becoming increasingly grown up in front of my eyes at an alarmingly rapid pace, and if it wasn't for those few times that they squabbled like 7 year olds, I would have had some sort of breakdown. It was already late on Saturday night; the girls were drifting slowly to sleep underneath a giant blanket on the small sofa in the lounge. I loved our weekends up here. It had just been the three of us for years now; I had always 'accidentally' arranged the trips to coincide with Stephen's work weekends during our marriage, and I hadn't owned this place until after my marriage to their father.

"Girls," I whispered, stroking their hair simultaneously to wake them just enough to get them up to bed, with clean teeth and washed faces to be found on the way. They sleepily did as I requested, while I watched from the doorway of their shared bathroom. At the townhouse, they had separate bedrooms, but here, they had to share. It was something they would not have accepted at home, and something I knew I would not have the patience to tolerate 24/7, but life was different here. Everything was done at a slower pace; we had space to relax and be together here without any outside pressures. I never brought work here, which is probably why we only made the two hour journey every couple of months.

I smiled at their angelic faces as they cuddled under their duvets, in their matching twin beds which were a mere few feet apart in the small bedroom. My beautiful girls, they made my life worth living.

A few hours later, the clock chimed to inform me I was officially awake past the wrong side of midnight. I hadn't even made it to bed yet; I simply sat downstairs, making notes on my iPad on the next edition of Runway. Sometimes, it was impossible to switch off. An unexpected ding from my iPhone made me jump - who on earth would be texting me at this hour? - but somehow, I knew before I looked at the screen, and work was pushed from my mind.

I hope you're having a lovely weekend, M. I miss you. A x

I stared at the message for a full minute, contemplating. I missed her, too. My terrible mind had a sudden image of her using my reply as leverage against me in a public court case, and shuddered, locking the phone and placing it next to me. The woman was sending me insane. Not for the first time, I wondered if I had made the right decision by asking her to stay with me for another year. Had I let her leave, perhaps she would be completely out of my system by now, and I could live out the last years of my working life single. Perhaps I would come out of the closet particularly late, just as the press no longer cared to focus on me.

I huffed, irritated by the thought of wasting my life in such a way. Never knowing love…

My fingers had pressed the call button before I had fully processed the choice. She answered on the second ring.

"Hi, Miranda?" I wondered, if we ever did manage a relationship when she no longer worked for me, if she would forever answer the phone with a question.

"Andrea," I said softly.

"What can I do for you, Miranda?" Her professionalism was tainted slightly by the barely covered innuendo in her tone.

"Nothing. Why are you awake at such an hour?" I answered her brusquely.

"I can't sleep. I meant what I said, but I didn't want to disturb you when the twins would be awake. They deserve your full attention." I could hear her smile through the phone, and pondered this statement for a moment. "Not that you don't give them enough attention, I didn't mean…" she sighed. "Sorry, Miranda. Why do I always say the wrong thing?"

"It's quite alright, Andrea. I… know what you're referring to."

There was a few beats of silence. Neither of us quite knew how to break it, it seemed.

"So… are you having a nice weekend?" She asked delicately.

"We are, yes. Thank you," I said politely, as though speaking to a work colleague. She never did know how to react to me when I was polite. It made me smile, just a little, to toy with her in such a way.

"Good. Have you been busy?"

"Not as such, no. The girls and I like to use our time away to relax, and in my case, reconnect with them. It won't be long before they will be unruly teenagers, then twenty-somethings who no doubt live with partners I distinctly disapprove of. Before I know it, they might be nearing forty and have no time to visit their decrepit mother."

Andrea snorted indelicately. "I really don't see that happening."

"No? Why's that?"

"I see how you are with them, Miranda. They absolutely adore you. If they didn't don't you think they would fight harder to see their father more?"

I hummed, hoping she was right. Considering how little I saw my girls in comparison to other parents, we did have a very strong relationship - although I was painfully aware of how much I had upset them in the past by being unable to attend shows of theirs, recitals, parent/teacher conferences…

"Trust me, Miranda. Keep doing what you're doing, and those girls will still be visiting when you're in your hundreds."

"What makes you think I'll live that long, Andrea?" I asked, amused.

"Only the good die young, Miranda," she giggled into the phone.

"I should fire you just for that," I murmured. Why was my heart beating so hard?

"Go ahead. I refuse to train anybody else before I leave, though."

"Oh, is that so? Someone is very confident in their own abilities." How had I ended up, once more, in a flirtatious conversation with this woman? I couldn't resist her. Perhaps it was time to admit it to her.

"Is there anyone who's ever been a better assistant, Miranda?"

"Have you forgotten that Emily once broke her leg for me?"

She laughed. "No, I haven't. Worst phone call of my life, to date. Including the time you tried to get me to find you a plane in the middle of a hurricane."

"Hmm. And we all know how well that turned out, don't we?"

"The impossible task, Miranda. Although, I think I would manage it if the same set of circumstances occurred tomorrow," she said thoughtfully.

"Is that so?" I said again. I seemed to be losing the ability to speak coherently around this woman now. Wonderful. "How?" I managed.

"Ah, that would be telling!" I could practically hear her tapping her nose conspiratorially. "I might have to actually do it before my tenure is up, so I best keep it under wraps."

"Just under 8 months to go," I said quietly. The thought of her leaving was becoming harder to endure by the day.

"You know… you do know that I don't want to disappear from your life at the end of it, don't you?"

"Yes," I whispered. "I don't want you to, either."

Once again, silence fell between us, and I was soothed by the soft sounds of her breathing through the phone. How desperately I wanted her to be here with me.

"Can I tell you a secret, Andrea?" I said finally.

"Please," she spoke as low as I did.

"When I suggested you stay working for me for another year…" I began. For some time, she waited patiently for me to continue, but her inquisitive nature was starting to get the better of her.

"Yes, Miranda?" She implored.

"It was…" I closed my eyes tightly. Just say it. "It was because I wanted more time."

"More time?" She queried. I could almost see her enormous brown eyes fill with curiosity as she spoke.

"Yes. More time with you. I'm not exactly someone who knows how to cope in relationships, Andrea. They always leave eventually - you will, too. I thought if I could have you for one more year, maybe that would… be enough. Maybe I would be able to let you leave."

"And now?"

"Now… I don't want you as an assistant, Andrea. I just want…" I bit down on my lip, hard. Why was this so difficult for me?

"What do you want, Miranda?" Her voice cracked a little as she asked.

"I want you, Andrea. The woman, not the assistant. A… partner," I whispered, clutching the phone so hard it was surprising it didn't burst out of my hands.

"You have me, Miranda." She whispered. "Truly. But I have signed a contract, so I do have to stay as your assistant for just under 8 more months. Surely, we can work something out?"

"Maybe we can, Andrea. Maybe…" I sighed into the phone.

Only time would tell how this would play out.

 

Chapter Text

Seven months to go

In the following weeks after my trip with the girls, things had altered in two very important areas in my life.

Firstly, the twins had been almost tiptoeing around me from the Sunday of our trip, being oddly formal and quiet around me. I heard them whispering together more than once on the drive home, but they would stop abruptly the moment I would glance in the rearview mirror. This odd behaviour had continued into our shared home life, and I found myself becoming anxious at the thought of it. As far as I knew, my girls had never kept a secret from me - certainly nothing serious, and nothing for over two weeks.

Secondly, my work life had also altered somewhat since my unexpected admission to Andrea. I was well aware it was out of character, but it didn't seem to call for the unusual way she acted around me. Her odd behaviour was contained, barely, to when we were alone - but that didn't stop my slight feeling of unease. I had been entirely honest when I told her that I wanted her in my life as my partner, of course. What I had not accounted for, was how Andrea had perceived my words.

Friday evening rolled around once more, and I sat at my desk, stretching out my shoulders when I thought the outer office was empty. As far as I was aware, the other girl had gone home for the evening, and Andrea had disappeared somewhere after informing me she had set her calls to be sent directly to her iPhone. I had waved her away, needing a moment to myself. It had been an extraordinarily long week. As I stretched, eyes closed, I heard a soft noise from my door, somewhere between a gasp and a whimper. My eyes flew open; I was already prepared to fire whoever was stood there, until I saw Andrea, staring at my attire. As I stretched, my silk blouse had gaped slightly at the buttons, clearly revealing more than I intended at the woman stood in the doorway. I dropped my arms swiftly.

"What is it, Andrea?" I said tiredly.

She frowned slightly, and took a few more steps into the room, sitting down opposite me. Her hand reached over the desk to stoke the back of my own, which was still clutching my fountain pen. This was exactly the sort of thing that was odd; yes, she finally knew how I felt towards her, but that was no excuse to put both of us at risk of being caught.

"I..." she began but trailed off. "Nothing, Miranda. I apologise for disturbing you." She went to stand up, but caught my gaze as she was halfway out of the chair and faltered.

"Can we talk?" She whispered.

I regarded her carefully for a moment, contemplating that she was sometimes as transparent as my twins.

"Yes. Deliver the book as usual, then we can talk."

She gave me a slightly watery smile, nodded, and left my office. I decided to give it 30 more minutes before I finished for the week, hoping to complete the Editor's letter for the issue that would be released shortly. For some reason, this months had stalled me; I had no idea what to write about. Sometimes I included titbits from my personal life, but doing so at the moment had an element of danger to it - I was so afraid that anything I said could be interpreted as my own struggles right now. My sexuality, my feelings for Andrea, it was all too much. My mind strayed to what she could want to talk to me about later, and anxiety gnawed at the pit of my stomach. I managed a paragraph of writing before giving up, standing too swiftly and giving myself a head rush. I gripped the desk, waiting for my vision to clear and my limbs to feel normal again, but as I did so I heard a male voice in the outer office.

"... nice and early for you tonight, beautiful. You going out partying later?"

I stepped to the side of my desk silently, blood still pounding in my ears. My hands were clenched into fists, although I wasn't quite sure why.

"Thanks, Mike. No, not tonight. You have a good one," Andrea's midwestern charm did not detract from the clear finality of her tone. She was not interested. I felt a smirk quirk my lips and headed towards her desk.

"Andrea," I said, deathly quietly, as I leaned on the door frame between our two workspaces.

"Yes, Miranda?"

I couldn't quite put my finger on the expression on her face. It was somewhere between flushed and excited by my presence, to the smallest bit guilty. I raised an eyebrow at her.

"I thought I told you to get the book and be ready to leave?" I uttered dangerously to her, then turned my sights to 'Mike'.

The man in front of her desk withered under my scathing gaze, transforming from overly cocky to diminished little boy in under a second. He had been leaning with one hand on Andrea's desk, his dark shirt unbuttoned to display a tanned chest. He was now swiftly exiting the office with his tail firmly between his legs. I would have smiled, only... why did she look guilty?

"Did you have to do that to him?" She smiled one of her wide smiles that sent so many endorphins through my body I felt like I would float. "I can't say I'm too sorry though. It was starting to become a nightly ritual that he would ask me for drinks with him; I was running out of excuses. He might stay away now," her grin widened, but I thought I might have sourced that slight guilt.

"Every night?" I inquired, trying to keep my tone light and failing.

"Pretty much." She shrugged. "I, um..." the guilty look took over her whole being now, she bit her lip and looked at the top of her desk, fiddling with a pen. "I went, once. I thought it would be a group of people, and I was quite new here. I was trying to make new friends, I guess. Turns out, that was not the case. It's been a long time since, but he still hasn't given up asking."

"He's an assistant, isn't he?" I asked. "Works for Jocelyn's second in command, as it were."

She nodded. "Yeah. He's been here longer than me but he's never left or looked for a promotion apparently. I don't think he's anything special, but people seem to like him."

"Does he make you uncomfortable, Andrea?" I strolled over to stand directly in front of her, right where he had been moments before, trailing my fingers lightly over her mahogany desktop as I did so. She watched their path before meeting my gaze, her lips slightly parted. Damp.

She didn't have that reaction to him, I thought, smirking.

"Uh, no, he's just a little annoying. I guess I should be harder towards him, but he's one of those guys that never exactly goes over the line, so if I were to snap at him, he'd say I was getting worked up over nothing."

I rolled my eyes at this. She was right, there was a lot of it about.

"I could have him fired," I offered, making her laugh.

"Miranda, you could probably have him killed if you really wanted to. I'm good, don't worry about it."

"In that case, I think it's time to call Roy."

Our rides together in the town car were few and far between since the accident we'd had. This was maybe the third time we had sat in the back seat with one another, and it was no less filled with tension than the previous two. We were both fearful of what had happened that day, though neither of us spoke about it. Roy has informed me that it had certainly seemed like a freak accident, but it hadn't stopped him from increasing his security measures. I had also been reliably informed that he had taken to changing which car he used at any given time of day, along side altering his routes more often. The thought made me smile, if a little sardonically. If someone wanted me dead, they'd have to try harder than that. As there had been no unusual activity since, we had all chalked it up to an accident and tried to leave it behind us.

This, however, wasn't the only cause of tension. I knew, and I thought perhaps Andrea had realised too, that Roy was very aware of what had happened that day. The memory of seeing that privacy partition a few inches lower than where it was supposed to be always made me cringe internally; Roy had almost definitely seen us in a fierce embrace. I had just been so terrified of losing her that I had been unable to stop myself.

A glance to my right confirmed my suspicion that Andrea may have been remembering the same thing. There was a slight blush to her cheeks and her hands were clasped together in her lap. She stared out of the window unseeingly.

When we arrived at the house, I led the way directly to the kitchen. She followed without hesitation, taking a seat at the kitchen island as I offered her some wine.

"I'd really love some," she practically groaned.

I poured us both a large measure and gestured for her to follow me into the den. I wanted for us to be comfortable before we began what seemed like an inevitably tense conversation, judging from her troubled demeanour in my office earlier. I decided there was little point avoiding it any longer.

"What is it you wanted to discuss with me, Andrea?"

Her eyes widened slightly at how forthright the question was, and she took a lengthy sip of wine before answering.

"I, um... I just had a difficult week, I guess," she murmured, taking another sip.

"What can I do, Andrea?" I frowned. Short of throwing money at a problem, I was often at a loss as to how to help those in need. It simply wasn't in my nature, sometimes even for the girls. Caroline, the more practical of the two, often seemed to understand this. Cassidy, on the other hand... I often felt as though my efforts as a caregiver were not enough. She was simply more emotional in one day than I often was in a full year.

"Nothing," Andrea shrugged. "It's just that, when something happens, whether it's good or bad, it's always you that I want to talk to Miranda." She finished softly.

"I'm guessing this time, whatever you have to tell me falls into the category of 'bad'?" I queried carefully.

"You could say that," she sighed. "I decided it was time to have a serious conversation with my friends and family about who I am." For a second, she floundered, wondering where to begin. I decided to wait and let her find her own words, and was not disappointed. "See, for a long time, I've known I liked men. I've known I was attracted to them, and I was in love with Nate… but something was missing. I didn't know what that something was until I met you, Miranda." She shook her head, a small smile forming. "Well, perhaps not 'met' you. It happened when I had been working for you for a while. I realised that it wasn't normal how much you were on my mind, even considering how demanding I found the job to be at the time. It wasn't normal that I saw your face in my dreams, every single night, nor was it normal that I thought of you when I made love to my boyfriend." She blushed bright red here, but I still didn't interrupt, even as small victory fireworks started in my stomach.

"I realised how I was very, very attracted to you. I also realised that it didn't begin and end with you; I'd definitely found women attractive before. I had sort of experimented, I guess, but I still considered myself straight because I liked men too. But… clearly that isn't the case. So I came out as bisexual to my family, officially. My friends already knew, really, so that was fine." She took a gulp of wine, but her hand trembled ever so slightly and a few drops slid down her chin and dripped down her neck. I followed the trail until it disappeared behind the silk of her blouse, then met her flustered gaze.

"And how did your family react?" I had hit the nail on the head, apparently. Her doe eyes filled with tears, and before I knew it, I was holding her to my chest on my sofa as she cried softly.

"They… they said I didn't know what I was talking about, that there was no such thing. They said if I were ever to bring a woman home they would have nothing to do with me." She managed to get this information out between sniffles, clearly trying hard to not break down completely. "All week since we spoke, they've been calling me and emailing me while I'm at work, trying to get me to move back home," she let out a sarcastic laugh. "They think New York has tainted me, or working for Runway. I don't quite know how that makes sense."

"Hmmm…" I stroked her hair softly, searching for the words. "They might come around, Andrea. I'm sure they love you very much." She nodded into my chest for a moment, then straightened up. I watched as she steeled herself against the hurt, and felt a small pang of anger towards her parents. I knew exactly what damage she was doing by hardening herself against this pain, and I didn't want her to lose herself in the process.

"I wanted to tell them…" she murmured, looking into her wine glass. "I wanted to tell them about you, but I just couldn't bring myself to listen to anymore tirades." I was alarmed at this.

"Tell them what exactly, Andrea?" I knew my voice had become steely, and she flinched as though I had threatened her.

"How I feel about you. That's all," she said carefully, waiting for my reaction.

"Andrea," I pinched the bridge of my nose against the onslaught of a headache. "I… understand the need, truly. I do not, however, think it a wise decision to do so - regardless of their reaction to your coming out."

"Why not?" She asked defiantly. "I have to keep you a secret everywhere. Do you know how difficult I find that? Not to just… talk to someone outside of you and I about whatever this is?" She gestured between us dramatically.

"You've just answered your own question, Andrea," I tried to keep my voice level, to smooth the rough edges. I wanted to be calm, collected, for her. I wanted to be someone who soothed her, not created more aggravation. "What if they decided to speak to the Board? Or better yet, a newspaper?" I took hold of her hands gently.

She frowned. "Miranda. The way they've reacted to my coming out to them is very out of character. They wouldn't do anything to publicly hurt me." Andrea was not happy with me, I realised with a sinking feeling.

"I sincerely hope not, Andrea. However, there are ways around hurting you while vilifying me. I would really prefer if you didn't discuss our… relationship… with them."

She let out a breath of air, shaking her head slowly.

"Well, lucky for you, I don't plan to after their recent reaction."

There was a few minutes of silence, but she didn't move away from me. She didn't leave, as she might have wanted to. She simply sat across from me, watching me carefully with an unreadable expression on her beautiful features, moving only to sip her wine until her glass was empty.

I stood to fill it without a word, her eyes never leaving me.

"Won't Roy be expecting to have to pick me up later?" She asked quietly, as the realisation hit her. I sat beside her once more, contemplating how best to answer, but she seemed to reach her own conclusion before I did so. "He… does he know?"

"In a manner of speaking. You remember the day we had the accident? I noticed the privacy partition had slipped down a little. He saw, I would assume."

She gasped theatrically. "He saw?!" She squeaked. I nodded.

"Roy is not a naive man. Even if he hadn't seen us in the back of the car, I imagine he would have put two and two together when we stayed overnight in that garish hotel room."

Her mouth hung open as she took in my words. I lifted one hand to her chin, closing it gently. "It's alright, Andrea. Roy would never dream of letting anything slip, and not only because his contract is ironclad. He simply isn't the type."

"So… after everything you said about wanting me as a partner…" she left her question half finished, dangling. Waiting.

"Yes?"

"Is that what we are?" She breathed quietly.

"I would say so, wouldn't you?"

"We're together, but in secret?" A slight frown creased her brow.

"For now, Andrea, yes. Once your work contract is complete and you have found work elsewhere, we can begin with those closest to us, perhaps, and go from there. How do you feel about that?"

"I feel… I don't know how I feel, Miranda. I want to be with you. I don't know how I'm supposed to continue as your assistant for over half a year, pretending everything's normal."

"I have an idea as to how we could remedy that, Andrea," I reached forward to take her wine glass from her unresisting fingers, placing it on the table. My lips met hers gently, my hands stroking her biceps slowly and carefully. After a few moments, I slid my body over hers to straddle her, making her groan quietly.

"Miranda," she murmured. "Are you distracting me from a serious conversation with your body?" Her lips were at my neck, but I felt the smile as she asked.

"Yes," I whispered, tugging at her soft locks to force her mouth back to mine. I wanted nothing more than to keep her here forever, to come home to her every day.

A/N: Thanks for reading so far! We still have six months more of Andrea's contract, and it seems the two of them are still not quite on the same page... I hope you're enjoying the story, please review and let me know what you think :)

 

Chapter Text

Six months to go 

“Mom?” Two voices chorused at the door to my study. I flinched at the unexpected noise, deep in concentration at the beginning of a brand new issue of Runway. This was often my favourite part of my working life; the most creative, certainly, and I hadn’t noticed how much time had passed this evening. I checked my watch; 10:15pm on a Friday.  

“Yes, bobbsies? You know, it’s past your bedtime.” 

“We need to talk to you about something, but we need you to promise us you won’t be mad.” Caroline, the more forthright of my twins, spoke clearly and confidently while her sister simply looked at me, apparently gaging my reactions. 

“Have you done something wrong?” I asked sharply. They both shook their heads vehemently. I couldn’t help but melt at their innocent faces and their matching dressing gowns. I did love them so. “Then I’m sure you give me no reason to be angry. Come and sit down,” I said, as gently as I could manage while still in work mode. They entered and sat down on the small sofa that stood to the left of my desk. Cassidy looked uncertainly at her sister, but her concerns went ignored by the eldest of my twins, by a mere 13 minutes. Unlucky for some. 

“Mom… when we were in our cabin last time,” Caroline began, clearly choosing her words very carefully. “We heard you on the phone, late at night. It was weird to hear you talking to someone so late, so we listened for a minute in case it was Dad, or something,” she glanced at her sister for back up here, who was fixated on her slippers. I didn’t have to cast around in my mind to know exactly what was coming. 

“Well… like, it’s okay, we don’t care, but we think you should be able to tell us the truth,” Caroline stated defiantly. 

“And this is how you both feel, is it?” I asked, still looking at Cassidy, who nodded mutely as Caroline exclaimed a loud “Yes!”. I sighed heavily. I had hoped for more time, a lot more time, before I had to have this conversation. I wanted time to prepare exactly what I would say. 

“Why don’t you start by telling me exactly what you heard, and how you feel about it?”

Caroline opened her mouth but I shook my head and raised a finger to silence her. “No, no. Cassidy, I’d like to hear your version of events first.” 

Cassidy looked at me, wide eyed, clearly a little fearful of being put on the spot like this, but she relaxed slightly at my small smile and nod of encouragement. 

“Um, okay… so it’s like Caroline said, we were at the top of the stairs because we were worried something was wrong. You were speaking really quietly, but we definitely heard you say that you didn’t want the person you were talking to as an assistant, you wanted them as your…” she floundered a little here.

“Partner.” I supplied, and both heads nodded. “Yes. I assume you know to whom I was speaking?” Another nod. 

“Even if you hadn’t said her name, we wouldn’t have thought it was the new girl,” Caroline snorted. I had to smile at that; she was right. Between the three of us, we likely still couldn’t recall her name. 

“Yeah, Francesca really wouldn’t be someone you’d even notice, Mom,” Cassidy said quietly, also smiling. Ah. Perhaps one of us did pay attention, after all. 

“My loves, I should first apologise to you that you found out in such a way, but what you heard is correct. Andrea and I have embarked on a different kind of relationship than the one we had previously, but she is currently still my first assistant, and will remain working for me for another six months. That’s why,” I lowered my voice slightly, now eyeing each girl with the seriousness this situation required, “nobody outside of this family can know what is happening between us, is that clear?” 

Two wide eyed faces nodded simultaneously. 

“With that being said,” I allowed them a small smile and decided it was time for me to join them on the sofa. I settled between them and held a small hand in each of my own. “You do get a say in this. This isn’t another Stephen situation. How do you feel towards Andrea?” 

I had expected shrugs, forced nonchalance, perhaps even angry retorts that they would never accept her. What I did not expect, however - 

“We love Andy, Mom!” 

I blinked at each of the girls in turn, taken aback at their declarations.   

“You… you do?”

“Yeah!” This was the most I’d heard them speak in unison for a few years now, and it made my surprise at the feelings towards Andrea increase tenfold. When on Earth had this happened? I sat for a moment, trying to process how I felt about this. It certainly made life easier for down the road - but, how exactly had Andrea managed to create such a response from my children without my knowledge? Caroline, sharp as ever, seemed to read my thoughts exactly.

“Mom, we don’t know her as well as we’d like, but there’s been times when Cara has been off sick or home visiting her family, and Andy’s picked us up from school, or like, she’s helped us with homework a few times,” my eldest shrugged. 

“She’s really nice, Mom,” Cassidy interjected softly. “We used to play pranks on her, we were really mean, but she was still cool with us,” she shrugged a little. “We’ve been talking about it since we heard, and neither of us would mind if Andy was here as your… girlfriend, or whatever.” 

“That’s… very grown up of you, my darlings.” I said, still bewildered. 

“Mom, does this mean you’re a lesbian?” Caroline asked directly, so casually that my usually rather sharp reflexes stalled completely. I simply gaped at her, floundering for the right words inside my head until, “It’s okay either way, it’s not a bad thing.” Cassidy said gently. I found my eyes fill with tears and simply held open my arms in waiting for them. In unison, they jumped up and settled in a group hug that warmed me to my very soul. This pure, unfiltered acceptance was almost too overwhelming, and I found myself gulping down the lump in my throat that threatened my composure further. 

“I think… yes, my loves, I think it does. It’s taken me a very long time to get to grips with it, and I still have some shame towards it, but I think it’s time for me to live freely, don’t you?”

They both nodded enthusiastically. 

“My friend Eleni has two Dads,” Caroline said, as though that settled the matter. 

“Yeah, and our piano teacher Muriel has a wife,” Cassidy shrugged. “Honestly, Mom, it’s not a big deal at all.” 

The very weight of the world seemed to have fallen off my shoulders. I hadn’t realised how tightly this secret had held me until right this very second, as I held my girls in my arms. 

 

 *  *

 

“Mom?”

I cracked one eyelid open sleepily, wondering why on earth my girls would wake me on a Saturday morning. They stood nearby warily, as though readying themselves to poke a sleeping dragon.

“What is it, girls?” I mumbled into my pillow, stifling a yawn. 

“It’s almost 10, we just came to check you were, like… okay?” Caroline said hesitantly, forcing my eyes to snap open and reach for my phone.

“What do you - oh,” I sat up fully, scrolling through a number of unread messages with a sigh. I’d not slept in so late for a long time. “Goodness. I must have been tired,” I smiled at them, attempting to straighten my hair with my fingers at their amused expressions. By the time they saw me in the morning, I was usually up, showered and dressed at the very least while they stumbled around in their pyjamas. 

Cassidy held out a mug of steaming hot coffee with pride, to my immense relief and pleasure, and I took it with a smile of thanks. They had never made coffee before, I wondered where they had learned how to use the press - ah. Andrea.

This is delicious, my darlings, thank you,” I sipped delicately, feeling there was more to this offering than met the eye.

“Mom…” There it is.

“Yes?”

“While you were sleeping, we sort of… called Andrea,” Cassidy all-but whispered. 

“Why on earth would you do that?”

“Well, we wanted to know how to work the coffee machine!” Caroline replied earnestly. 

“Naturally,” I quirked an eyebrow at them. “So Andrea would obviously be the first port of call for such a request. What did she say?”

“She…” they glanced at each other guiltily. 

“Girls,” I could feel the panic rising in me before they had even spoken, knowing something was not quite right, “What did you do?” 

“We invited her for brunch,” Cassidy rushed out, much to the chagrin of her sister. This had clearly not gone to my eldest’s plan. 

“You did what?” I would have raised my voice, but such was my experience with those who had somehow wronged me, that my tone was deathly quiet. The twins seemed to shrink a little before me.

“We’re sorry, it just kind of happened while we were talking - she said no at first because she thought we were asking without permission-”

“She would be correct in the assumption,” I murmured, and Cassidy moved her stare to the carpet, still as a cornered mouse. I turned my stare to Caroline. 

“We said it was your idea,” she muttered defiantly. 

I gaped at them, suddenly at a loss for words.

“We’re sorry! Really, really sorry, but she’ll be here in an hour Mom, and we think it’s a good thing!” Caroline squeaked, taking a step backwards at the look on my face.

“What’s done is done. On your heads, be it.” I glared at each of them in turn with a sinking feeling. I was just not prepared for this, not yet, and the thought of a happy family brunch left me cold with… there was no other word for it. Fear. “Cara isn’t working this weekend. Please go downstairs and make sure the kitchen is immaculate. Look in the fridge to see what we could prepare for our guest. I’m going to shower.” I threw back the covers and slipped into my ensuite before they could even register to move, but I distinctly saw Caroline throw a grin at her sister that said she was rather pleased with herself.

Andrea was coming for brunch. 

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve

 

The doorbell rang just as I stepped out of my bedroom, freshly made up and with a stomach full of butterflies. Outside of a work arrangement, Andrea and I had seen each other less than a handful of times in the last 6 months. Each and every time, we had had no more than a night together, hidden from the rest of the world. However, as the rest of my personal world was comprised entirely of the two miniature redheads currently racing to answer the doorbell, a small part of me wondered whether it would be easier to take on the tabloid press headlines than endure this brunch. 

 

I descended the staircase slowly as Andrea stepped inside, immediately ambushed into hugs from two eleven year old girls who were evidently delighted to see her. She smiled that delightful smile that never failed brighten my entire world with its intensity. 

 

“Hey, kiddos! How’s it going?” 

 

They both began to babble at her, and she grinned as she attempted to take in all of their information at once. 

 

“We found some nice brunch food, Andy-”

 

“Can we watch a movie after this, Andy?”

 

“Mom’s upstairs, she’s coming soon,”

 

“Can you show us how to make the coffee Mom likes again?”

 

“Girls, girls! Slow down,” she laughed, holding her hands up in mock surrender. I noticed a bag of her own brunch supplies in her left hand and wondered if she had known the girls had invited her without my knowledge. “I brought us some sweet treats, so why don’t we go and start sorting some food out? We can catch up about everything while we eat. Where’s your Mom, anyway?” She looked up at the stairs and finally caught sight of me. 

 

“Ah... uh... hi,” she stumbled over her words endearingly, her voice softer and her eyes widening as she looked up at me. Her eyes darted down my outfit then back to my face, a light blush creeping on her cheeks. 

 

“Hello, Andrea,” I nodded at her, a tiny smile playing on my lips. “Girls, Andrea is our guest. Stop bombarding her with your babble and take her bag, please.”

 

They did as they were asked as I continued my descent; Caroline took the bag of shopping from her and headed straight for the kitchen, while Cassidy politely took her coat and hung it carefully in the closet. She was wearing a burgundy blouse that looked like it might have come from the Closet over black True Religion jeans, and combat boots. It had clearly been raining on the young woman while she made her way here, I realised when I reached the bottom stair. The ends of her long hair were damp where she hadn’t managed to tuck them into her hood. Her boots were wet, too, something she was clearly conscious of. 

 

“You should take those boots off, Andrea,” I said quietly as my youngest twin galloped after her sister into the kitchen. “We wouldn’t want you to catch a cold.” She toed them off awkwardly, clearly not knowing where to safely leave them before she noticed the small shoe holder that held the girls’ winter footwear, and quickly placed them neatly on the rack.

 

“Relax, Andrea. No one’s going to feed you to the dragon,” I smirked at her. 

 

“Shame,” she murmured, a cheeky grin lighting her face. 

 

“Quite. Shall we?” I dipped my head in the direction of the kitchen, leading her to the sounds of two very over excited pre-teens. She followed half a step behind me, clearly used to staying close.

 

*

 

I was mildly surprised to find that brunch was particularly more enjoyable than I had expected. Andrea engaged the girls in conversation with an ease I had never seen from them before; often, they were uncomfortable with other adults. They tended to stay away from them, remaining polite at all times - to their friends parents in particular - but I was always very aware that there was little to no trust there. They would speak to Cara, I knew, but they would never have been so willing to share as they were with Andrea. 

 

“My friend Jamal in school did this really funny thing in bio class last week...” I tuned in to Caroline’s school antics while helping myself to some of the melon Andrea had provided. Between us, we had provided quite the spread, though I noticed the girls were steadfastly ignoring the fresh fruit selection in favour of Andrea’s pastries. As the three of them laughed, I pointedly cut some strawberries and melon into two small bowls and pushed them at each girl. They shared a look of exasperation but clearly knew better than to argue, as they each took a simultaneous gulp of their fresh orange juice and began to eat their fruit with all the grace of two starving wolves. 

 

“Honestly, you two,” I admonished, though in a good natured manner, “Andrea will think I never feed you.” 

 

“Sorry, Mom,” Caroline managed through a mouthful of fruit. I shook my head, mildly exasperated, much to Andrea’s apparent amusement. 

 

“Andy, what are you doing today?” Cassidy asked quietly, clearly glad of the moment to prepare herself to do so. 

 

“I have no other plans than brunch with you three lovely ladies,” Andrea grinned courteously. “I think tomorrow a friend of mine wants to go to a farmers market though. What about you, Cassidy?”

 

Cassidy smiled widely, always glad when someone knew which twin she was, and shrugged, turning to face me. 

 

“Can we have a movie day, Mom?” 

 

“Yeah! I love it in the den when it rains like this!” Caroline burst out before I could respond. 

 

“Alright, girls. But the weather is meant to be clearer tomorrow, so we’re going out for some much needed exercise.” I said with finality. They both nodded enthusiastically as neither of them minded being outside, particularly as it meant we would be taking our dog, Patricia. The old girl was very little fuss nowadays; she kept to herself and only needed one walk a day and a cuddle or two from the twins to keep her happy. 

 

As soon as they had finished eating, the pair of them vanished to the den to select what would no doubt prove to be tedious teenage films that we would all have to sit through until our frontal lobes were fried with the idiocy of it all. I looked up to see Andrea smiling softly at me from the opposite side of the table.

 

“I’m sure they will pick something good... “ she whispered, her grin widening.

 

“You should work as a psychic, Andrea. Those mind reading skills of yours are second to none.” 

 

She laughed, I allowed myself a tiny smile, and together we began to clear the table of dishes in companionable silence. I was wiping down the table with a damp cloth and some antibacterial spray when I noticed her watching me. I could see her reflection in the glass doors that led to the torrential rain outside. I continued cleaning until I was satisfied, wondering if she had known I had noticed her. Judging from the way she had leapt back into action as soon as I had turned in her direction, I supposed not. Curious, I opened my mouth to say something, although what I wasn’t quite sure, but I was swiftly cut off by the thundering feet of two 11 (and a half, as I was reminded daily) year olds. 

 

“Come on, Mom! It’s about to start!” Caroline grouched exasperatedly, then turned on her heel and sped back out of the kitchen, grabbing a sneaky bag of popcorn out the larder as she went. 

 

“Andy, we saved you a seat,” Cassidy offered, much more politely. 

 

“I’m on my way,” Andrea smiled at her, and the second twin sped off after her sister.

 

“You’re really very good with the girls, Andrea,” I noted lightly. She took several steps closer to me in a would-be casual manner, betrayed by her pink cheeks and bright doe eyes, as always. 

 

“They’re very special kids, Miranda. I’ve known that for a while,” she said in a low voice. “They take after you, Caroline in particular. I can’t tell you how relieved I am that they’ve accepted… us,” she took hold of both of my hands in hers, her thumbs tracing circles on my wrists. 

 

“Yes, I feel the same. It certainly solves one problem, wouldn’t you say?” I tried to stay relaxed, but this was the closest we had been in a while. Too long. We both startled as two sets of elephantine feet once more crashed to the floor upstairs. I sighed, shaking my head. Such was life with children, although I can’t say I had ever wanted alone time with a partner away from the girls in… ever. My grandmother’s face suddenly flashed into my brain, her harsh voice admonishing me for my sinful ways. I pushed it away, not for the first time since I had met Andrea, and together we walked to the den, hands still clasped. 

 

*

 

Two entire films later, and I was about ready to call it a day. Unfortunately, however, I was reliably informed that it was only 5pm, much to the chagrin of the girls, and they “still had two more films lined up, Mom!” 

 

Over the course of the third insipid instalment of these ridiculous vampire movies they loved so much, they had built themselves a comfortable nest of duvets and pillows across the floor of the den, while Andrea and I had been left on the sofa with no more than one thick blanket to share. She had nervously reached over underneath the cover and entwined her fingers with mine, her eyes never leaving the screen as she did so. I had allowed it. I had wanted it; heaven knows I was desperate for some kind of affection from this woman by this point. There was still something niggling at me, however, and it wasn’t until much later that day that I finally pinpointed precisely what it was. The girls had requested, politely, that we order pizza together, and was Andrea please staying for dinner? Three sets of puppy dog eyes gazed beseechingly at me at this point, and I was loathe to say no. If I was honest with myself, I was besotted with the woman next to me and the way she interacted with the girls. I could watch them together for hours longer. After a leisurely dinner at the kitchen table once more (funny that I hadn’t one considered taking Andrea to the dining room, where we usually entertained our guests), we returned to watch yet another film. It was, the twins informed us seriously, a very important feminist film. I had arched an eyebrow at this, mildly intrigued by what two eleven year olds considered a feminist masterpiece, but proud nonetheless that they continued to search out female characters who gave them something to aspire to. Excluding those godforsaken vampires, anyway. 

 

As it turned out, I could understand why the girls had become so attached to this particular film. It was actually based on a Shakespeare play, and revolved around a young girl who dressed as her brother to be able to play football - “soccer” still sounded wrong to me, no matter how many years I had lived in the States - at a great school. It was fun, the fashion was outdated and frankly terrible, but if it encouraged my two young daughters to aspire to smash the metaphorical glass ceiling in their chosen paths, so be it. 

 

They crashed around the den after creating a makeshift goal at each end of the room, somehow managing to produce a small ball I wasn’t sure I had ever seen in my life, and before I knew it, all three of my girls were playing a rough and ready game. Preparing myself for the inevitable injury and potential tears, I couldn’t help but sigh, although I allowed 10 minutes of rough housing before I called it a day. 

 

“Girls, that’s enough. Andrea, I’m surprised at you,” I admonished, smiling. 

 

“Really? You’re just jealous of my skills,” she grinned back.

 

“Actually, two eleven year olds ran rings around you, darling,” I smirked at her, noticing with pleasure that she blushed at my lowered tone of voice and term of endearment. It was a favourite of hers, I thought. 

 

“Right, girls, I think we’ve all had enough of sitting in this room for one day. Why don’t you go upstairs for a while and relax? You still have homework left to finish tomorrow.” 

 

They huffed and puffed as they helped clear the den of the mess they had created before resolutely climbing the stairs, defeated by my pointed stare. One after the other, they climbed up an entire floor before I heard one set of small feet tiptoe back down and knock quietly on the door of the den.

 

“Yes?” I called, amused. It was Cassidy.

 

“We just… we just wanted to ask if Andy was staying here, because then we could see her in the morning and have breakfast and maybe we could all go to the farmer’s market together?” She rushed out, looking at her feet. I wondered if Caroline had put her up to this, but I heard no second set of feet tiptoe down to see the outcome of my response. 

 

“We’ll see, my love,” I stroked her hair gently. “Now go on, upstairs with you.” 

 

She grinned and flew out of the room like a mouse, and I closed the door softly behind her. 

 

“Alone at last,” I murmured, stalking towards a slightly dishevelled Andrea. Our arms wrapped around each other before any more words could be spoken, soft kisses started at cheeks and lips and trailed down necks. I found myself atop her as she reclined on the sofa, one leg between both of hers, my mouth making paths down her chest while my hands found bare flesh underneath the silky blouse - an Alexander McQueen, definitely from the Closet - digging in nails as I went. She was writhing slowly beneath me, apparently too caught up to hear the stampede once more making its way down the stairs. I sighed and sat up, pulling her with me and quickly organising us into a respectable position apart from each other, just in time for the door to burst open to two breathless girls who were now in their pyjamas.

 

“We’re ready for bed, can we play games for a while?” Caroline asked, and I noticed her looking ever so slightly suspiciously at my probably flushed cheeks. 

 

“No, you’ve been looking at screens all day. Find a book,” I said, gesturing around. The house shelved an endless supply of books. Cassidy, I knew, was secretly delighted at the idea, while her sister would complain endlessly at her forced downtime with a good novel. Eventually, however, they toddled off once more, with the promise that I would soon be up to check on them.

 

“My apologies, Andrea,” I said softly, standing up to lead her back to the kitchen. “It appears romance is low on the priority list of my two daughters. Would you like some wine?”

She nodded. “Thanks. You know, I really don’t mind about that. I’m just glad they’re okay with us.” She accepted the glass I offered her and took a thoughtful sip. We retreated once more to the den, wine glasses in hand and Andrea’s thoughtful expression only deepening. 

 

“It will make it so much easier for us to be able to tell everyone, now that the girls are on board,” she said carefully, as though gaging my reaction. 

 

I nodded once, raising my own glass to my lips. 

 

“I agree. It certainly means we don’t have to sneak around when we’re here.” 

 

I had said the wrong thing. It was apparent very quickly as her face fell slightly, and I once more felt as though I had failed a test I hadn’t been aware I was taking. 

 

“Andrea?” I queried hesitantly, meeting her beautiful eyes and attempting valiantly to arrange my expression into one of care and endless patience. It wasn’t a look I had to execute very often. 

 

“I… I meant that now, we would be able to really tell everyone. Live out in the open,” she whispered, her eyes leaving mine to stare into the golden liquid in her glass. 

 

I was bewildered. “But, Andrea, you still work for me. For another half a year, we’re still a boss and her assistant - my god, the girls finding out was an accident, a happy one, but an accident nonetheless.” I was certainly not helping her situation, as one lone tear travelled down her cheek. 

 

“Listen, Miranda. I’m not an idiot, alright? I know all of that. I know you wouldn’t have told them without them overhearing, but I thought that now they had accepted it, you would understand that the wider world doesn’t matter! It’s me and you, who cares what anyone else thinks?”

 

I pinched the bridge of my nose against the oncoming headache and sighed. 

 

“Andrea. I feel as though we’re going round in circles here. The girls know, and are happy with the situation thus far. They don’t understand why we can’t really be seen to be going to farmer’s markets on a Sunday playing happy families,” I said, exasperated.

 

“I don’t want to play happy families, Miranda!” She hissed. “I want it to be real! These feelings between us, they’re certainly real enough. The way your daughters have responded, and the relationship I have with them? That’s real too. When will it be enough for you to take the leap of faith?”

 

“When you aren’t my subordinate! My god, Andrea, do you understand what that would mean for my working life?”

 

She rolled her eyes dramatically, and I had to bite my tongue to stop a comment that she was behaving like a teenager. 

 

“Yes, Miranda, I do understand that. Which is why it should be the acceptable outcome for you to allow me to break my contract and seek work elsewhere, so we can continue our relationship.” Her eyes were still shining with unshed tears, but when she spoke, it was in a voice of forced calm.

 

“Andrea… let me explain this to you. Life just is not that kind. You think you will break your contract at Runway and walk into the role you want elsewhere? Think again. Without a reference from me, you may as well have been lying under a rock since you started as my assistant.”

 

“You wouldn’t give me a reference?” She looked stricken. “Seriously?”

 

“That isn’t the issue, Andrea. The issue is that any reference from me as an employer becomes tainted by nepotism as soon as our relationship is made public. I know PR, believe me, I’ve been at the head of my own publicity battles more than once, and these gutter rags will destroy your career with their insinuations.” 

Slowly, the full gravity of a situation I now realised she had not quite grasped before, was dawning on her face. 

 

“I know, Andrea,” I said softly, moving closer to her on the sofa to clutch her hand. “I know how hard it is. I… I can honestly say that I want nothing more than to be moving towards a future with you. A future in which we can live out in the open and not care what anybody says, neither of our careers in jeopardy, but that future is not quite within our grasp just yet, my darling,” I kissed her cheek gently, and her eyes closed at the gesture. 

 

“Miranda, what is the plan here?”

 

“You have to trust me, Andrea. Now is not the time. I will make sure to speak to the girls tomorrow and… ensure they understand the importance of our relationship remaining a secret. They have lived with the press destroying their usual routine on more than one occasion, I daresay they will understand.” 

 

She nodded, eyes still closed. For a split second, she looked older than her years, as though the weight of the world was coming down on her shoulders. 

 

“Will you stay?” I asked, standing up and holding out a hand to her. 

 

“Tonight?” 

 

I nodded, and our eyes met. In an unspoken moment, I tried to convey that I had meant more than tonight. She stood too, and stole a kiss that held a definitive answer. Yes, she would stay. But for how long would this life be enough for her?

 

I checked on two already sleeping girls and ascended the stairs to my own bedroom slowly, with Andrea right behind me every step of the way. We made love that night for what must have been hours, slow and glorious pleasure that had us repeatedly stifling moans and sighs of the others name. I knew I had marked her once more as my own, and that she had returned the favour, with particular reverence paid to the soft skin on the inside of my thighs. Her marks lay on her chest, lower than any neckline she would dare wear at work, a definitive path splayed to each breast. When we finally drifted to sleep, she mumbled something softly into my neck that I thought I would never forget until my dying day.

 

“Even love won’t wait forever, Miranda.” 

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen

 

5 months to go

 

It was late November. The wind was a continuous howl from outside the window, the rain almost constant, soon to freeze and fall as snow. I had barely slept in three nights. I hadn’t seen Andrea for the entire weekend, as she had not delivered the Book on Friday night, and it was now early Monday morning. There had been no communication between the two of us whatsoever, at my own insistence. I had wanted a weekend with the girls, alone, I had told her this as my assistant firmly. Andrea hadn’t questioned this, but she couldn’t stop the slight hurt that showed in her doe eyes. 

 

All weekend, I resisted the urge to send a text to the younger woman. I was trying to distance myself, just enough so we wouldn’t be obvious while in work, just enough to not cause suspicion. I needn’t have bothered, and I knew it; who would dare question how often I demanded the attention of my first assistant? Nobody. It was hardly unusual for me to swallow every last second of time Andrea possessed. I had an empire to run, after all. However, I had a fear that every member of my staff could see right through the facade all of a sudden, that they were all discussing us behind her back… more so than usual, I added in my head with a slight smirk. I sighed heavily and slipped out of bed, the smirk at the corner of my lips changing to a grimace as I did so. I had once more managed to sleep, for the few hours that I did manage to do so, in a very awkward position, and my spine was very loudly announcing its discomfort. Time to prepare for the week…

 

By the time I arrived at the office, it was already bustling with employees. They had all, it seemed, arrived earlier today than usual, a thought that made me both pleased and stressed. The majority of these people only ever served so many extra hours in the building when something was not going to plan. One person missing, however, was Andrea. I clenched my hands into fists just for a moment in shock at her absence, then swung my bag and coat onto  the second assistant’s desk. She jumped up quickly to attend to them as I marched into my office and closed the door behind me using more force than necessary. The phone in my left hand lit up with a reminder, and I stared at it blankly for a moment before slamming the thing down on my desk with more force than was absolutely necessary. Something felt wrong. I couldn’t place the feeling, but I knew in my heart of hearts that Andrea being absent could only mean that something was terribly amiss. My stomach clenched in fear, and I whipped the phone back into my hand and dialled her number, my free hand clenched into a fist. 

 

Voicemail.    

 

Calls go through to voicemail and she gets very upset… rang through my mind in a stiff, upperclass British accent that had always made me grit my teeth slightly.

 

Andrea would never let her phone go to voicemail. Not Andrea, who could practically read my mind, prepare for my needs better than I could myself. Not Andrea, who cared not just for the job, but for me. 


She’s finally come to her senses, a voice in the back of my head said snidely. 

 

My limbs snapped into motion. I stormed back to the door, back to the second assistant whose name I could still barely recall.

 

“Francesca.” 

 

Her head snapped up from her screen so fast she probably had whiplash.

 

“Yes, Miranda?”

 

“Where is Andrea?”

 

“Oh, um… she was here just before you got in this morning,” the girl began nervously, visibly shrinking under my glare. “Her phone rang and she said she had to take it outside, but she’d be back-” The noise of the elevator opening made her pause and look to the door, hope written all over her face. “…soon,” she finished with a tremulous smile as the woman herself walked quickly back into the office, looking as though she could sense already that all was not well in the Editor’s lair. 

 

“Good morning, Miranda,” she said brightly, but carefully. She gave me a small smile and nod, neither of which I returned. 

 

*

 

“Andrea, I need you to deliver the Book tonight. That’s all,” I threw the words over my shoulder as I left for yet another perilous board meeting, ignoring the slight squeak of the second assistant who had so recently undertaken the task herself. 

 

*

 

——

By the time I returned to my office, it was dark outside. The sky was inky black, and the heavy rainfall was drowning the pavements. The other girl was gone, but Andrea was still sat at her desk. She started slightly when she saw me, her back straightened and her expression almost concerned. I glanced around as I stepped closer to her desk, allowing her a tiny smile.

 

“You weren’t here when I came in this morning.” I said quietly.

 

She shook her head slightly. “I know. I’m sorry, I had a call.” 

 

I nodded tightly. “I thought you’d left.” The words left me through barely moving lips. 

 

A smile broke out onto her own face as she shook her head slowly. “Never,” she murmured. 

 

For a few seconds, it was just the two of us in the world once more. She held my gaze, her eyes open and trustworthy, but even I could see a tinge of sadness. Asking was on the tip of my tongue when she said in her usual assistant tone, “The Book should be here in about 45 minutes.” 

 

I nodded briskly and strolled back into my inner office, debating whether it was too late to call Donatella. I decided it was, instead settling back at my computer to finalise a piece on the fashions of protest before I left for the day. I didn’t notice that Andrea had once more disappeared from the outer office until I glanced up and saw the light from her monitor dull from lack of use. I did however notice that the energy saving, motion sensor bulb in the tiny kitchenette was lit, meaning she was - what, making coffee? At this hour? Unlikely. When I heard a distinct sniff, I found myself on my feet. 

 

What on earth is she doing now?

 

I was a few steps from the kitchenette before I finally registered the odd noise that I had been unable to hear from my desk. Singing… 

 

“…happy birthday, Dear Andy! Happy birthday to you…”

 

The voices were slightly distorted - because they were issuing from Andrea’s cellphone, I realised quickly. 

 

“Thanks, guys.”

 

I could hear her voice shaking slightly with suppressed emotion, and it made my heart clench for a beat. 

 

“… yeah, he actually called earlier. On my work phone, which was a little annoying… no, I know he was trying to be nice… it’s too late for that, Mom.” Her voice was more irritated now. “Just because he calls on my birthday after months of silence, doesn’t mean we’re getting back together. I’m over him, it’s done. Okay?”

 

There was a silence, during which I realised that I should not be hovering outside the office kitchen eavesdropping on her conversation. I took a few silent steps backwards then turned and slipped back into my private office, a slight tremble in my hands. It was her birthday. 

 

It was her birthday and not only had I not wished her a happy birthday, I had kept her at the office until - I checked my watch - almost 10pm. As a boss, that wasn’t particularly good management, although I wasn’t usually known for my patience for pandering to people. As a partner? Albeit a secret partner… it was downright cruel. 

 

I pinched the bridge of my nose. If I only acknowledged her birthday now, she would suspect I had been listening into her conversation. My options seemed very limited. I couldn’t ignore it - I didn’t want to. I took a deep breath against the sickly feeling of guilt in my stomach that so rarely washed over me for any persons beside my daughters, and straightened my back. 

 

Right.

 

“Andrea,” I called out. 

 

She was at my door in seconds, clearly having ended her phone call already. Her face looked perfectly made up aside from the slight movement of her eye make up. She was clearly upset. 

 

“Are you alright?” I asked gently. 

 

She nodded, but her lower lip trembled just slightly. My arms opened of their own accord, and she fell into them without preamble. 


“I’m sorry…” she sniffed after a moment, leaning backwards to look at me. 

 

“Please, don’t be.” I swiped at the make up under her eyes gently, removing the worst of the damage onto my thumb pads. “I… I’m sorry, Andrea. I heard you on the phone before. I had no idea it was your birthday today, and I feel truly terrible.” I admitted cautiously. 

 

“Oh! Oh, Miranda, I knew you didn’t know. It’s okay, honestly. I didn’t want a fuss.” 

 

“Do you have any plans to celebrate?”

 

“No, not really. Well, I mean, Emily offered to take me out this weekend but I haven’t said yes yet. I’m not sure if I really want to go dancing with them,” she admitted quietly.

“And your parents?” I queried, still holding her to me gently. 

 

“Well… how much did you hear?”

 

“Something about someone calling you but it didn’t mean anything. I left soon after that,” I kept my tone level, not wanting to accuse her of anything. Whoever they were talking about, she had made it clear she wasn’t interested. 

 

“They were talking about my ex boyfriend, Nate. We didn’t end on the best terms, and we haven’t spoken since, but for some reason he decided to call today - on my work phone, of all things, because I changed my personal cell number.” She rolled her eyes. “That’s what I was dealing with this morning when you came in. Don’t worry - I’ve blocked his number. It won’t happen again.”

 

“I wasn’t worried, Andrea,” I smiled a little, tugging her closer and claiming her mouth in a kiss. “I am a terrible person for not spoiling you on your birthday the way you deserve, and yet,” I stole another, “I am certain you’re mine.” 

 

She smiled widely. “That I am.”

“So… you have no plans for this evening?” 

 

“Nope,” she shrugged. “I might have gone for a drink after work, but my boss is a tough one. She kept me in the office until late,” she teased. 

 

“Well then… why don’t you let me give you the best evening I can manage on twenty minutes preparation?”

 

“Now there’s an offer I can’t refuse, Priestly.” 

 

*

 

——-

It was late, very late. The girls were long in bed and probably sound asleep, just as we should be, no doubt. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I wondered what we would do in the morning when it came time to go to work, but the alcohol quelled that before I could finish the thought. 

 

We were in the den, too many glasses of wine down to count. We’d eaten with the girls, who had been informed as we left the office that it was Andrea’s birthday, and had managed to order a magnificent spread of food, a bouquet of flowers, and a cake from the bakery we used for their own birthday. Moments like this made me wonder what I would be dealing with as they aged, but the night had been such a success, I could feel nothing but happiness.

 

Andrea was laughing, giggling at something I’d said a moment before, but I couldn’t recall what. 

 

“I don’t usually drink like this, Andrea,” I managed around a small hiccup. 

 

“I’ve noticed,” she continued to laugh, wiping at tears of mirth. 

 

“Why are you laughing?” I smiled at her, wider than I usually allowed myself. 

 

“I’m happy,” she said. And she was. Her eyes were bright, her face flushed. Her smile hadn’t faded for some time. 

 

“I’m glad,” I stroked her beautiful face gently. “Your smile lights up a room, do you know that?”

 

She shook her head, placing her hand over mine to hold it to her face. 

 

“Yes. It’s really quite something, I’ve often thought so.” 

 

“Now there’s a compliment. And from the Queen herself, no less!” Andrea kissed my palm, sending a frisson of energy from my wrist to my chest. I wanted to respond, but found I couldn’t past a small gasp when her lips continued a trail up my arm to my shoulder, finding my collar bone by nudging aside my blouse. 

 

“Happy birthday, Andrea,” I managed quietly. 

 

“Thank you, Miranda. One step closer to thirty,” she murmured into my neck. She looked up when I didn’t respond, and grinned at my pointed glare. “I would have thought you would be happy with that.” She said lightly, her lips returning to the base of my neck as my head tipped backwards involuntarily. 

 

I hummed in response, thinking somewhere in the back of my mind that I would have preferred her to already be over thirty, but that thought was quickly dispelled when her hands slipped open the buttons on my blouse. Her mouth left a hot trail of kisses down to the white lace bra I was wearing, her hands holding tightly to my hips as I shuddered. She tugged my blouse off then slid onto the floor between my knees, her hands flat against my stomach for a second before deft fingers opened my trousers and began to slide them down my legs. I lifted my hips to assist her, finding myself quickly clad in just thin lace, a sight that apparently pleased the birthday girl. 

 

“Wait!” The thought had stalled me. “It’s your birthday, Andrea, what are you doing?”

“What do you mean?” She looked amused.

 

“I should be the one - I mean, it should be me,” I stuttered, stumbling over my words without cohesion. 

 

“Don’t be silly, Miranda,” she smiled, as her hands slid down the straps of my bra before unclasping it deftly. She did so love a front clasp. “This is the best gift I could ask for.” Lips closed around my nipple, causing my back to arch further into her. She took the opportunity to unceremoniously tug the last remaining article of clothing down my legs, leaving me fully exposed. 

 

“Oh, Andrea,” I moaned wantonly, unable to stop myself. My hands were in her hair, holding her in place, but she had other ideas. Her mouth was making its way down my stomach, past the lines caused by the twins, a hot tongue grazing the inside of my thighs gently, until -

 

Andrea!”

 

A hand covered my mouth before her tongue was at my centre, lapping gently at the wetness she had caused. My hips undulated, then stilled as she circled the spot I needed her most, and I was glad of her hand blocking the noises bubbling out of me. 

 

Her free hand pinched at my breasts as she licked, causing me to shake in response, desperately trying to reach the elusive orgasm that taunted me. Her fingers joined her mouth, and with little preamble, she slid two inside me. I forced my hips against her, grinding against her hand and mouth desperately, her surprised and pleased moan spurring me on. Minutes of pleasure passed and I was there, gasping and freezing, clenching a release on her fingers. She stilled her hand but continued to lick gently until I finally couldn’t take another moment. I tapped the hand still covering my mouth shakily, and she stopped immediately, smiling up at me and licking her lips. I shook my head slowly at the audacity of the girl; who gave her the right to get me in such a state? Raising trembling hands to my face, I tried to fix smudged eye make up but knew there was little point. 

 

“You… are incredible.” I stated quietly, my voice deep, almost hoarse. 

 

“No, my love. That would be you.” 

 

The word stalled my brain for a moment, but she didn’t allow it to take over. Instead, she took my hands and pulled me to my feet. 

 

“Go upstairs. I’ll get your clothes and be right behind you. We aren’t finished yet,” she winked at me. 

 

“Yes, Andrea.” I said in sultry mock-submission, causing her to bite her lip, eyes darkening. It was 1am, but the night was far from over. 

 

The morning would come, and I didn’t care to think of the repercussions it might bring with it. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Thank you to everyone who has left kudos and comments on this, you spurred me back into action! Love you all - C

 

———- 

 

4 months to go


December had arrived, and, along with the snow, a feeling of calm. We were just over a week from Christmas, and I found myself completely prepared for the holidays for the first time in years. All presents for the girls had been bought and wrapped; some were under the large tree in the den, some were kept secretly hidden away in my bedroom. I was far too aware of how heavy handed my twins were when they shook their presents in an attempt to guess the contents. 

I had also bought Andrea a present. Usually, my assistant would handle presents for my partner, but there were obvious issues with that this year. I found, for the first time, that I wanted to have chosen something special. I wanted to see her face when she opened it, and for her to know that I had put in time and effort. Money was no issue; I knew that, she knew that, but time? Time was something I had very little of. As for effort, I so rarely gave any effort to anything outside of Runway and my daughters that I was sure she would appreciate the gift. At least, I hoped she would. 

Christmas was falling on a Sunday this year, and so we would be working the full week. I knew plenty of staff had taken a holiday for the 23rd, Friday, so I would be finalising the issue with a skeleton team, which displeased me greatly. It meant that I would have to see all final run-throughs and mock ups for the January issue by this afternoon. Monday, always everyone’s least favourite day of the week, had already brought me a tension headache that rivalled a phone call with my ex-husband, Stephen. 

It was 11.30 in the morning. Francesca was out in the New York snow fetching coffee. I had told her in no uncertain terms to get herself and Andrea a hot drink from Starbucks too, which had earned me a wide eyed nod from the second assistant, and a pleased smile from the first. 

“Oh man, you look frozen solid,” I heard Andrea say softly. “Here, I’ll take that in. You go the bathroom and warm up under the hand dryers.” Francesca’s relieved sounds of thanks filtered into my office, and a moment later, a polite knock sounded.

“Yes?”

She came in, placing one steaming cup of Starbucks in front of me. She held onto another.

“I’d drink that quick if I were you. Fran came back looking like an icicle.”

I took a sip.

“It will do,” I smirked at her. “Not quite as scalding as I usually enjoy.”

“I don’t know how you can drink something that hot. I swear, you must have no tastebuds.” She said, taking a small sip of her own drink. “Even this is still too hot for me!”

“I can assure you, my tastebuds are in perfect working order.” My gaze flicked down her body and back to her eyes to find her cheeks turning a rosy pink at my comment. She glanced behind her to the empty office and seemed to make a snap decision, closing the door quickly and stalking over to my desk. 

“I’m going in there,” she pointed to my private bathroom, then slid her hand to unbutton the top of her blouse. A second button followed; just enough to allow me to see the swell of her perfect cleavage as she leaned over towards me. “Won’t you join me?”

Without waiting for an answer, she stalked away from my desk and into the bathroom. I stood up on slightly shaky legs, following her and standing just outside of the doorway.

“Andrea,” I said softly, watching her intently. “What on earth are you doing?”

“Nothing,” she said innocently, but her hands reached to open more buttons, and soon the dark blouse was completely open to reveal emerald green lingerie. I could tell without her removing her trousers that it was a one piece. I was sure I knew the designer, but right at that exact moment, I didn’t care to recall the name. 

“Where did you get that?” I managed to sound casual. 

“Nigel gave it to me,” she said, stroking her hands over the lace. “They sent the wrong size, apparently. He wouldn’t put it in the closet.”

“And you thought you would wear it to work, on a Monday, just… because?” I offered her a small smile that many would find dangerous. Andrea, however, bit her lip for an entirely different reason. 

“I thought you might like to see it, and I know you have the girls until Thursday. I also know you and I will likely be working late Thursday when they’re at their Dad’s house.” She slid the blouse down her arms and hung it on a hook on the wall. “I know you’ll want to spend Friday, and all of Christmas with your daughters, and that we won’t get a chance to be alone for a little while…” Her hands went to the button on her trousers, and I found myself taking a step closer even as I heard Francesca returning to her desk in the outer office. 

“Wait there,” I murmured, stalking to the office door. “Francesca. Go to the art department and tell them the run through will be at 1pm sharp. If I need to make any alterations, I will be very disappointed,” I left my sentence hanging with a threat, and waited until she had scarpered to close the door. I locked it. 

By the time I had returned to the bathroom, Andrea was clad only in the one piece and her heels. They matched, I realised. 

“You’ve been planning this.”

She nodded, looking unsure. 

“And you thought my office bathroom would be the place to reveal something quite so seductive?” 

“I…” her eyes widened and a flush rose up her neck and face. 

“I sincerely hope you’ve brought different underwear with you to work.” I said, stepping closer to her to run my hands over her sides and back. 

“Why?” She asked with genuine innocence. 

“Turn around.” I pressed her against the wall and took a step back appreciating the view of her almost bare back, her perfect ass, long legs ending in those heels. “Widen your stance.”

She did so immediately, and I ran my hand up the inside of her thigh. I could already feel a slight dampness through the lace. 

“You’ve thought about this before.” It wasn’t a question, but she nodded anyway. “What is it you want, darling?”

I trailed my fingers softly over the lace, nudging her thighs a little further apart, then pressing down harder. She whimpered. 

“I wanted to go down on you under your desk,” she said quietly.

“Oh, for the world to see,” I kissed her shoulder blade and continued to move my hand against her. 

“No,” she managed. “When no one else is here.”

“Hmm,” her wetness was now soaking the lace. I knew she enjoyed the feeling of the lace already, but had this been the first time, the way she pressed harder against my fingers would have been the giveaway. “No such thing as an empty office here, Andrea. You know that.”

“I do... and,” she gasped as I moved the lace aside and delved inside her with one finger. “That’s why the bathroom.”

“You,” I added another finger, “are supposed,” I slid my other hand around her hip to touch her clit, “to be my assistant, Andrea.” 

She didn’t respond past a small moan, grinding her hips down into my hands hard. I played her relentlessly, noticing that she had pressed her fist to her mouth to stop any sounds. I wanted to keep her in this state, but I was conscious that there was so little time to be had.

“Miranda,” I heard her moan, and I felt her climax. I rested my forehead against her back as she shook slightly, unable to believe she’d been so brazen in her seduction. I no longer had control over the situation, of that I was sure. 

 

****

 

After a run through that was deemed passable, the office was beginning to quiet as staff left the building in droves. Andrea sent Francesca home at 6.45, telling her she should use the evening to sort her Christmas presents.

“Thanks Andy! If you need any help getting yours in, I’m happy to stay one night for you.” The girl offered brightly, donning her impractical coat and bustling away. I removed my glasses and sighed quietly, aware that I was in need of both a water and a coffee. 

“Andrea,” I called softly. She appeared at my desk in an instant with a shy smile. “You sent the girl home?”

“Yeah, is that okay?” She asked, wide eyed.

“Only if you’re happy to somehow man the phones while going to Starbucks.” I pushed my glasses back on and stared her down. 

“Calls come through to my cell. I can go for your coffee, Miranda,” she said quickly. 

“Order it.” 

“Order - really?”

“Must I repeat myself, Andrea?” 

She smiled then. A real, happy, genuine smile that seemed to remove my own stress.

“Of course not. Don’t blame me if it isn’t as hot as I get it, though.” 

She typed furiously on her phone for a few moments, then held it to her ear as she wandered back to her desk. “Yes, hi, it’s Andy. I put an order through just now for delivery - yes, that’s right. Great. Thanks, Greta. - Oh you, too!” The call was ended. 

I turned back to my work in annoyance. Greta. 

I was still editing a printed spread with a red pen and a stack of post it notes when she stepped into my office once more, without a knock or any other noise to announce herself.

“Here you go,” she said softly, waiting for me to take it directly from her hand. I did so, a slight frisson of energy between us as our fingers brushed. 

“Did Greta make this?” I said with no more emotion than a slight raise of one eyebrow.

“I assume so. She usually does; I tend to call her as soon as I leave here so I can be back as quickly as possible.” She replied carefully. I could feel her weighing up whether or not to ask why. “Is that a problem?” She managed eventually. 

“I don’t know, Andrea, is it?” 

I knew this jealousy was uncalled for. I knew there was very likely nothing between Andrea and this woman. 

“I don’t think it is, no,” she shook her head, then sighed. “When will you realise that it’s all you?” 

I opened my mouth to respond but found myself unable to formulate one. She glanced behind her and then leaned toward me.

“I had to squeeze into tiny underwear stolen from the closet because of earlier, you know,” she said softly. 

“And whose fault is that?” 

“Yours.” She said clearly. “Because, Miranda, there is no one else.” 

I nodded brusquely, feeling tense. As useful as it was that she could read my every thought, I was starting to feel entirely overexposed. 

 

****

 

By 8pm, I was ready to leave. I strolled out to collect my coat, not looking at her when she stood automatically. She was behind me in an instant, helping me into my newest faux-fur from my ethical-conscious designer. 

“This is gorgeous,” she said softly, stroking the fur at my collar. I turned around, and her hands rested on the lapels for a moment while she looked into my eyes. Neither of us noticed Nigel appear until he had entered the outer office, but by then, I was sure he would have noticed something extremely amiss in this situation. Andrea sat down at her desk quietly, not looking at either of us. 

“You’re still here, Miranda,” Nigel said in a tone of casual indifference. “I was actually just coming to visit Six.”

“I’m on my way out, Nigel. Goodnight.” 

I swept out without a backwards glance, praying to god that she wouldn’t give us away. 

I made it to the town car and relaxed just slightly in the solitude, closing the privacy screen without so much as a hello to Roy. I closed my eyes and rested, seconds ticking by with nothing but the sound of my breath. My mind whirred incessantly; what would Nigel ask of her? What would she admit to someone she considered a friend? 

The sound of my phone buzzing brought me out of my reverie. 

He didn’t say a word. Don’t worry x

She’d sent this to my private cell from hers. I deleted it quickly and clutched my phone tightly. Somehow, after everything that had happened in Paris, I half expected him to go directly to Irv and have me ousted, publicly humiliated. The thought brought ice to my insides. 

 

***

 

Nigel was waiting for me in my office the next morning. He was standing at the window, looking down to the busy streets of the city below. 

“Nigel,” I said calmly, as though I had expected him. 

“Good morning, Miranda. I hope you don’t mind, I sent your second assistant for coffee.”

I waved a hand to show I didn’t mind, checking my watch.

“To what I do owe this early pleasure, Nigel? I don’t recall having a meeting with you in my diary.”

“I think you know why I’m here, Miranda,” he said softly. “May I sit?”

I narrowed my eyes at him and nodded once, taking my own seat. 

“I’m not going to ask what might, or might not, be taking place between you and her. I actually came to put your mind at ease. I have no plans to cause you any commotion.” He looked directly at me as he spoke, adjusting his glasses with apparent nerves. 

“Is that all?” 

He nodded. “Well, and also to say that, if ever another opportunity arises that I might be considered for - I would always want your blessing, Miranda.” 

He stood up and turned to leave quickly. 

“Nigel,” I said before I could stop myself. “You would always have it, my friend.”

He smiled quickly and vanished out of my office. The fear that had been twisting my stomach for the majority of the last 12 hours eased a little as Andrea appeared in front of me with her schedule for the day clutched in her hands. 

“Morning, Miranda,” she said quietly. “I have your itinerary.” 

I took it and glanced at it. “Tell finance to have a copy of this months budget on my desk no later than 2.” 

“Of course.” She hesitated. “Is... are you, I mean...” she stumbled out her words awkwardly, making me sigh. 

“I’m fine, Andrea.” 

Francesca walked in behind her and quickly placed my coffee on my desk, disappearing with a second cup I could only assume was intended for Nigel. He had clearly expected our conversation to go on for longer. 

Andrea seemed stirred into action by the sudden movements around her.

“Is there anything else I can do for you, Miranda?”

I shook my head, offering her a tiny smile. “That’s all.”

She returned it with a bright beam and disappeared. I settled in for a day of manic preparation, determined to see this week through without another incident.

 

 

**

thank you for reading, another chapter on its way soon! X

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen

 

Friday was finally upon us. Francesca had fallen ill this afternoon, collapsing partway through a meeting that would finalise the issue and lay plans for our return to work in the New Year. I had allowed her to go home with an eye roll and a nod to Andrea, who helped the girl into a cab with a bottle of water and a bar of chocolate.

 

Honestly. I could barely cope with the theatrics. 

 

I sent the entire staff away from my office once I was sure the issue would be a success, then sat down at my desk. I could leave. I never had; not this close to a deadline. Never on time leaving work when the holidays were beginning. It was 6pm; a perfectly average time to leave. I would be receiving the Book tonight still, with notes for the end of January issue. For the first time I knew it would be a fairly positive sitting; the staff had been accosted multiple times to ensure I had the least possible work to do for the next few days - and with Christmas Eve tomorrow, god knows I needed the head space. I loved my job, I loved my empire, but sometimes the exhaustion was almost a death sentence. 

 

I shut down my computer. 

 

“Andrea,” I called softly. She appeared in a moment. “I’m leaving. Tell the art department the Book better be ready in the next hour.”

 

She nodded, handing over my coat and bag. 

 

“Merry Christmas, Miranda.” 

 

I realised in that very moment that I hadn’t asked her what she was doing for the holiday. This week had flown by, and all thoughts of time away from the office had been few and far between. 

 

“Where will you be spending it?”

 

“Oh, just at home. Nice and relaxing, you know,” she smiled, a hint of sadness evident.

 

“I assumed you’d be going back to Cincinnati.” 

 

“No... well, you remember their reaction to...” she paused awkwardly and glanced behind her. 

 

“Yes, I do. Well, Andrea, I had no idea.” I leaned closer to her for a mere moment. “Pack a bag. Stay with us.”

 

I swept away before she had the chance to protest. 

 

** 

 

By 8pm that evening, the girls were upstairs with Cara presumably wrapping presents in an attempt at secrecy. I called Andrea.

 

“Hello, Miranda?” She answered nervously.

 

“Do you have the Book?” 

 

“They’ve just delivered it, I’m on my way out the building. I’ll be with you in about 15 minutes.”

 

“I thought I told you to pack a bag?” I asked, a hint of amusement in my tone.

 

“You want me tonight?”

 

“Yes, unless you had other plans.”

 

“Just drinks with Nigel,” she said carefully. 

 

“Ah. Perhaps you’d better go, but try not to spill our entire life’s secrets, won’t you?” 

 

“I will do my level best.” I could practically hear her smiling. 

 

“Good, see that you do.” I ended the call.

 

Within ten minutes, I had the Book in my hand and the woman herself in front of me. 

 

“You really want me here for Christmas, Miranda?” She was saying worriedly. “Because the girls might want time just with you, and I would hate to get in the way of that.”

 

“I appreciate that Andrea, but why don’t you leave my girls to me?” I said gently. “Come tomorrow. Bring enough clothes to stay until Boxing Day.” I left no room for argument, and she nodded, still looking concerned. I touched a finger to her forehead, smoothing away her frown, then traced her nose and top lip. She was so very beautiful. 

 

We seemed to throw caution to the wind, simultaneously moving into each other’s arms, lips pressed gently together. I was lost in her embrace, glad of the break in tension, until a gasp sounded from the stairs behind us. We broke apart quickly, and I turned to see Cara stood frozen halfway down to the hall. 

 

“I’m sorry, Miranda,” she said carefully, looking from me to Andrea with wide eyes. “I didn’t mean to interrupt, I just wanted to let you know the girls are both taking a bath and they’ve asked to watch a Christmas movie with you before bed.”

 

I nodded once, trying to find some level of control. 

 

“Fine,” I said dismissively. “You can go, Cara. I should remind you -” I began, but for the first time in the course of her employment, she interrupted me. 

 

“I wouldn’t dream of saying anything, Miranda. I hope you’re happy, truly.” She said sincerely. “Merry Christmas, both of you,” she smiled at Andrea, who returned it gladly. 

 

“And to you, Cara,” she said. I nodded.

 

For some reason, I was relieved that I had already given Cara a generous Christmas bonus. The thought crossed my mind that she may well have taken it as hush money had I given it to her now. 

 

“Goodnight, both of you,” she said quietly after retrieving her coat, making her way out into the cold. 

 

Andrea looked at me with searching eyes. “Are you alright?”

 

“Fine. Shouldn’t you be getting to Nigel?”

 

“He can wait. You’re more important,” she said softly. 

 

“I have work to do and some awful Christmas film to watch. I’ll see you tomorrow,” I said pointedly, relieved when she nodded. She turned to leave but seemed to think twice, turning around slowly and looking upstairs. I opened my mouth to question what she was doing but didn’t have time to get the words out before her lips met mine once more, her hands gripping my waist roughly. After a few spine-tingling moments, she stepped backwards and headed for the door.

 

“See you tomorrow,” she said, grinning at my expression. With that, she was gone. 

 

***

 

Christmas Eve had arrived in yet another flurry of snow. I was frightened Andrea wouldn’t be safe travelling from her apartment to the house, but she arrived on time, as always. This time, she came laden with bags.

 

“My goodness,” I said through a smile. “Are you moving in permanently?”

 

She grinned back at me while I had the images of what that might be like flash through my mind as though watching a film reel. The fun and laughter, the difficulties with the press camped on the doorstep, the inevitable arguments... the suitcase at the front door as she left me, permanently. I shook my head slightly to rid myself of such thoughts. 

 

“I wanted to get the girls something and I might have gone a little crazy,” she said, running her hand through her damp locks. 

 

“You didn’t have to do that, Andrea.” I replied gently.

 

“Oh, I know,” she shrugged. “I know they’ll get loads of presents, but I just...” her voice trailed away and she looked me up and down. “You look beautiful, Miranda.”

 

I glanced down at my outfit; expensive and cashmere, yes, but still loungewear. 

 

“Come upstairs; I made a spare room up for you.” Well. Cara had. I took one of her bags and she followed me up to the third floor, blinking at me when I led her to the room opposite my own. We placed the bags on the bed. “I thought it might be nice for you to have the option of some privacy, if you wanted it.” I said quietly. 

 

“I understand Miranda,” she blinked around. “Wow.” 

 

“There’s an en-suite, I made sure it was stocked with suitable products.”

 

“I’ll make sure to thank Cara next time I see her,” she called over her shoulder as she had a look in the small bathroom space. I rolled my eyes, unable to suppress a smile at her attitude. She did so amuse me. 

 

“Thank you for having me, Miranda. I know how important your time with Caroline and Cassidy is.” She said seriously, appearing in the doorway once more. 

 

“You’re welcome. I would hate to think of you alone in a no doubt tiny apartment, eating leftover Chinese for Christmas.” I gestured distastefully. 

 

“That’s... a sadly accurate picture,” she sighed. 

 

“I must admit I am very glad you’re here, Andrea.” 

 

“Yeah?” She smiled at me with her huge puppy dog eyes. 

 

“Yes,” I nodded. “Though perhaps I should have thought more carefully about potential repercussions, especially...” my sentence trailed off as I remembered the shock on Cara’s face. 

 

“Cara won’t say a word. All the stories she could have sold over the years; she never did. You can trust her, Miranda.” 

 

“Perhaps you’re right,” I tried to put the thought out of my mind. “I’ll let you get comfortable. We have a few Christmas Eve traditions that the girls want you to take part in, whenever you’re ready. Comfortable clothing is non-optional, although I’m sure that isn’t an issue for you.” I smirked at her when she snorted softly at that. “We’ll be in the den.”

 

I left her to it and went in search of my daughters. They had been surprisingly delighted when I told them we would be joined by my assistant... by my partner. There would be a time, in a few short months, when Andrea would no longer be by my side Monday to Friday. The thought made me go cold. How often would I see her? Would we survive as a couple, in the real world? Could I do this, openly? I still didn’t know. I wanted desperately to be brave for her. 

 

“Mom!” Twin voices made me start as I made my way downstairs to the second floor, which held their bedrooms and bathrooms. 

 

“I’m here,” I called. 

 

“Is Andy here?” 

 

I reached their corridor to find them both in Cassidy’s room playing on their Nintendo. 

 

“Yes, Bobbseys. She’s just settling in upstairs, I made a guest room up for her so she had her own space.” 

 

“Is she not... staying with you?” Caroline asked awkwardly.

 

“Perhaps, but it’s good to have the option, don’t you think? She may wish to call her own family tomorrow.” I explained. They both nodded, clearly wanting to ask why Andrea was not spending the holidays with them. Neither asked. 

 

“Come on, let’s go and start setting up for Christmas Eve,” I smiled at them both and they grinned enthusiastically, bounding down to the den ahead of me. 

 

—-

 

 

Andrea entered the den around twenty minutes later, just as the girls finished adding a huge amount of whipped cream to their hot chocolates. 

 

“Andy!” They chorused happily. 

 

“Hi, you two,” she smiled widely at them. “Wow, look at this place!” She gazed around at the decor in apparent awe. “It’s great!”

 

“We got you a hot chocolate too, Andy,” Caroline said sincerely. 

 

“Yeah, we have hot chocolate and then we play games, and then we watch a movie,” Cassidy began enthusiastically. 

 

“And we each open one present before we go to bed!” Caroline finished.

 

“That all sounds great, girls,” Andrea plonked herself down on the floor next to my first born. I seated myself next to Cassidy stop a pile of comfortable pillows, allowing my second born to add a small amount of cream to my own hot chocolate, before passing the can to Andrea. She, much like the girls, sprayed a huge blob of cream atop her drink, then began building a mountain of marshmallows and sprinkles, much to the twins’ delight. I nodded my assent when they both looked towards me with pleading eyes, and they copied her movements with laughter and aplomb. I couldn’t help a smile as the three of them began spooning the treat into their mouths enthusiastically. 

 

“So. Which games are you treating us to this year, girls?” I asked when they were almost finished.

 

They rambled enthusiastically about board games and Nintendo games, quickly dividing us into teams; Andrea and Caroline versus myself and Cassidy. 

 

“Fine. I don’t play video games, however,” I said sternly, much to the exasperation of my daughters. 

 

“We know Mom,” they huffed. 

“Let’s play this one first.”

 

They set it up while Andrea and I gathered the hot chocolate mugs and took them into the kitchen, returning with trays of snacks and a glass of wine each. We had worked in companionable silence in the kitchen, with her glancing at me occasionally, a bright happy smile gracing her features. We took our seats once more. 

 

“Okay, Andy, you go first,” Cassidy grinned at her. I knew that wicked smile.

 

“Girls,” I began warningly. “Why is there -” but I was too late. Cassidy had pressed a switch and the small cannon had exploded yet more whipped cream directly towards Andrea’s face. I let out a gasp, not having expected the move, but it was clear that my young lover had. She’d flipped a switch herself which had brought up a plastic hand shape in front of her face, saving her from a mask of cream. The three of them exploded into laughter.

 

“You thought you could pie me in the face,” Andrea laughed uproariously, the twins collapsing in fits of giggles, and I couldn’t help it. I covered my mouth and laughed, a real laugh that screwed up my face and would likely give me wrinkles, but I didn’t care. 

 

The entire night was filled with the noise of a family having fun, so much so that I only noticed how late it was getting when I caught sight of the clock above the fire. 

 

“Girls,” I began, sipping my wine. “It’s time to open a present now, and then bed. Who’s choosing first?”

 

“Me!” They, as usual, cried simultaneously. 

 

“Right,” I suppressed the urge to roll my eyes. “Who won the most games?”

 

“Me, for sure,” Andrea laughed easily. 

 

“Andy!” They giggled and pushed at her until she fell of her cushion. 

 

“Alright, I give, I give,” she screeched as they attacked her with tickles. 

 

While they played, I chose a selection of three presents for each girl and placed them in front of them. 

 

“Pick one.” I said, directing my daughters to their gifts. They both chose the middle gift instantly, tearing the paper off while I returned the other gifts to their respective piles. 

 

“Oh, wow,” they breathed, both having picked the same present to open, as I had known they would. Two matching bracelets, each with a different charm set next to the clasp to reflect their differences. 

 

“It’s a little horse,” said Caroline, the more outgoing and soon, I was sure, to be the most outrageous of the two. 

 

“Look,” Cassidy, my quiet musician, whispered to Andrea. “It’s a treble clef.” 

 

“How beautiful.” Andrea replied sincerely. “Can I see yours too, Caro?” 

 

They admired their gifts for a few moments, the excitement of the evening finally dimming to a contented need for sleep. 

 

“Thank you, Mom,” they chorused, stifling yawns as best as they could. 

 

“You’re welcome, my loves,” I patted each of their sweet faces softly. “Time to get ready for bed, I think.”

 

For once, they did so without argument. Andrea and I set about tidying everything away, though I could sense that she was glancing at me occasionally. 

 

“I’ll be back in a moment,” I said softly. “l’ll just be saying goodnight to the girls. Why don’t you pour us both a small wine?”

 

“Sure,” she nodded, offering me a bright smile. 

 

As was Christmas tradition in our home, the girls were tucked up in one bed. This year, Caroline’s room sat empty while Cassidy’s was filled with quiet chatter. 

 

“Girls?” I called from the doorway. “Don’t stay up talking for too long. I know we aren’t going out tomorrow, but Christmas is still a long day. You don’t want to be exhausted before it even starts, do you?”

 

They shook their heads in unison. I walked in to kiss each of my daughters on their foreheads, pleased when they both wrapped an arm around me and held me there. 

 

“We’re glad Andy’s here, Mom,” Cassidy said quietly. Her sister nodded. “Yeah. She’s fun, and it would be sad if she was alone for Christmas. She should be here.” Caroline said with finality. 

 

“Quite,” I smiled at them when they lay back against their pillows. “Goodnight, my loves.”

 

By the time I returned downstairs, Andrea was tucked up in a corner of the sofa, glass of wine in hand, her phone in the other. She was checking her social media, stopped at a photo of a couple standing in a snowy yard. Her thumb hovered for a moment over the scene.

 

“Andrea?” 

 

She started slightly, locking her phone and placing it next to her. 

 

“The girls okay?” 

 

“Fine. They’ll be asleep in a few minutes, I would guess. What were you looking at?”

 

“Oh, I... my Mom and Dad.” There was a pause. “My sister and brother are both there for Christmas.”

 

“I see.” I said, taking a seat near her and picking up my own wine glass. “Are you wishing you’d gone to Cincinnati? I’m sure I could arrange it, if needs be.” I offered carefully.

 

“No,” she shook her head, suddenly smiling. “I’m sure you could, but I’m not wanted there this year. The last thing my Mom said to me was that I needed help, because there was no way I was interested in women.”

 

“Hm.” I frowned, deliberating my words. “If it helps, my girls both expressed their delight that you’re here for Christmas, and I must say, I quite agree.” 

 

“You do?”

 

“Of course, Andrea. Had I changed my mind, I can assure you, I would have told you.”

 

She laughed at this, and I was relieved to have alleviated some of her sadness.

 

“Yeah, I imagine you would. Thank you for having me, Miranda.” 

 

“You’re quite welcome.” 

 

“So,” she said after a moment. “What do the Priestly women do on Christmas Day?” 

 

“It’s perfectly standard, I assure you,” I replied, watching her closely. “The girls will be awake by 6 or 7, we come downstairs to open gifts in front of the tree. We have a breakfast usually consisting of pastries and fruit, although I often seem to be the only one partaking in the fruit.” She snorted softly. “I imagine that tomorrow, as we can’t exactly go outside in the snow, they’ll want to watch yet another god-awful Christmas film, they’ll play with their gifts, I would usually read a book as it’s not often I get to do so.”

 

“What would you read?” She asked, sipping her wine. 

 

“At Christmas I always read a classic. Last year it was Jane Eyre.” I admitted. 

 

“Interesting. You told me once you were reading Sylvia Plath.”

 

“Did I?” I said, surprised.

 

“Yeah. Remember, we took that weekend trip to Bali for a shoot? I had to interrupt you one evening because the model backed out, and the shoot was meant to be at 6 the next morning,” she shook her head at the memory. “You were reading The Bell Jar on your iPad. You said her writing soothed you.”

 

“Ah, yes. I do so enjoy the melancholy.” 

 

She giggled, aided slightly by the wine. 

 

“You like her?” 

 

“Plath? Yes, always have. I used to have a collection of her works, years ago.” I frowned, remembering. It had disappeared when my grandmother died, and I hadn’t had the heart to sift through her things. It had already been a few years since we had spoken when she passed. I pushed the memory and the guilt away as best I could. Andrea seemed to know not to ask. 

 

“What happens next on a Priestly Christmas, then?”

 

“Dinner, of course. 4pm, I’m not sure why that time. It’s what I grew up with.”

 

“A full Christmas dinner?”

 

“Of course,” I said, bewildered.

 

“You won’t judge me for eating a huge plate, will you? I love Christmas food,” she sighed enthusiastically. 

 

“Why would I - oh, Andrea. Of course I won’t,” I said softly. “Please, don’t let that concern you at any point, and especially not tomorrow.”

 

“I’m just very aware of my size sometimes, especially around you. You spend your days surrounded by size 2 waifs, stunningly beautiful models who barely fill out a bra. And then there’s great galumphing Andy,” she mimed clumsy, elephantine movements. 

 

“Andrea,” I said sharply. “What was it you said to me earlier this week?”

 

She looked at me for a moment, analysing my face in an attempt to guess my thoughts, as she so often did. 

 

“I said there was only you.”

 

“Correct.” I said stiffly. 

 

“Are you saying... what are you saying?”

 

“There is only you, Andrea. No slender model, no other assistant, no dates. Just you, undressing in my office bathroom,” I glared at her for a moment, but she simply smirked. “You could have ruined both our careers with that move, you know.”

 

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I couldn’t resist. You were jealous of the Starbucks barista, I had to show you I was yours.”

 

“Jealous? Don’t be absurd.” I moved closer to her. “I did so enjoy the show, however,” I looked pointedly at her clothing.

 

“I wish I’d worn it again,” she whispered. “I’m afraid it’s not quite as good this time.”

 

“No? Why’s that?”

 

“Why don’t we go upstairs?” She suggested.

 

“You go. My bedroom.” I gestured to the lights to show I would be ensuring everything was switched off and the house secure before joining her. 

 

She smiled and disappeared almost immediately. I took a moment to breathe, then set about my tasks with an absent mind, my thoughts entirely focused on her. She was everything.

 

By the time I reached my bedroom after checking on the girls (fast asleep), she was already undressed. I closed the door softly behind me and removed my own clothes. Clad only in underwear, I stalked over to her and took her in my arms, kissing her fiercely. She returned the kiss with passion, which built quickly until we were on my bed, naked. 

 

She slipped inside me easily. Her mouth descended south until she was on her knees beside the bed and I trembled, edging my hips closer to her at her insistent tug. I had enough foresight to grab a pillow and pass it to her for her to kneel on. 

 

In seconds, her mouth and fingers were moving insistently, and I lost all ability to think. It was good, far too good, I could hear myself uncontrollably gasping and moaning, unable to stop until I reached my climax against her talented mouth. 

 

I returned the favour, the pair of us making love for what must have been hours until we were both entirely exhausted. 

 

“We should sleep,” I murmured, my head somewhere near her midriff. “The girls could be up in just a few hours.”

 

“Mmm,” she stretched, and I watched her long legs tense with the strain. “Should I sleep in the other room, do you think? I would hate for them to be uncomfortable on Christmas Day of all days.”

 

“Perhaps you’re right.” I sighed, unwilling to let her go. “Although, they were confused as to why you were sleeping in a separate room at all.” 

 

“Hmm. Maybe tomorrow, then,” she smiled at me, kissing me gently, then standing to dress. I fell asleep soon after she left, missing the feeling of her warmth.

 

—-

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen

 

“Mom! Wake up, Mom, it’s Christmas!” My eleven year olds bounced excitedly on my bed, and I found myself groggily relieved that I had had mouth foresight to wash and re-dress after Andrea had slipped out last night. I was, however, sore and in need of more sleep.

 

“Good morning to you, too,” I mumbled, unable to stop a smile at my daughters. I was always sure every year that they would one day be too cool for Christmas; there would surely be a year they would be in separate universities across the globe, not bothering to travel home to see their elderly mother. 

 

“Merry Christmas, my darlings. Are you ready to go downstairs and see your presents?”

 

“Yeah!” They squealed enthusiastically. “We need to wake Andy though too, Mom, where is she?”

 

“In the spare room, Caroline, like I told you yesterday.” I frowned.

 

“Oh. We thought -” she began, only to halt the moment Cassidy elbowed her. 

 

“Yes?”

 

“Well. You’re together, aren’t you?” Caroline said, rolling her eyes. 

 

“Don’t be insolent.” I snapped, regretting it almost immediately. “Yes, darling, we are. However, it’s still early days and it’s a good thing to take things slowly, do you understand?” 

 

They both looked slightly confused but nodded. 

 

“Andrea has no intention of rushing in here and trying to change our lives,” I tried again.

 

“But we love Andy,” Cassidy frowned.

 

“I’m glad.” I hesitated, pondering. “She is simply trying to be respectful of your feelings, and I quite agree with her. I happen to know she feels very strongly that the two of you feel comfortable at all times - which I also know is a courtesy Stephen never offered.” 

 

“Oh,” they said simultaneously. “Well... can we go and wake her up? We got her something for Christmas, remember?”

 

“Yes, although knock first.” I said sternly. “I’ll be in the bathroom.”

 

They rushed out, and I climbed out of bed slowly, very aware of my sore muscles. I washed my face and brushed my teeth, tying on a robe and looking at my make up free face critically in the mirror.

 

I steeled myself against the wave of panic it caused me to think of Andrea seeing me in daylight with no make up and mussed hair. If she wanted me, truly wanted everything I brought with me; my age, my twins, two divorces, the press... the list went on, then she had to see it all. 

 

The girls were in the hallway between my bedroom and the spare room Andrea had slept in when I came out. 

 

“Andy’s in the bathroom, she’s coming now. Can we wait for her?” 

 

I nodded. “Of course.” 

 

The woman in question appeared after a moment, wearing comfortable and modest pyjamas, her long hair tied into a bun on her head. She looked tired, but happy. 

 

“Morning,” she smiled at me. “Are we ready?” She asked the girls, who bounced ahead of us with the energy of ten puppies. 

 

And so, Christmas Day began. 

 

—-

 

The girls had opened all their gifts in record time, handing me all of their wrapping paper to recycle after peeling off the sticky tape. I had to smile at their environmental dedication. 

“Thanks Mom!” They chorused, hugging me individually and moving to search through their gifts merrily.

 

“Wow, you got some amazing presents here girls,” Andrea smiled at them. “I got you something too, would you like them now or are you bored of opening stuff?”

 

“Now, please!” They grinned widely, looking younger than usual in their matching onesies. 

 

Andrea disappeared for a few minutes, returning with gift bags for each girl and - “oh,” I blinked in surprise as she handed me a box. 

 

“Wait, we have things for you both too!” The twins said excitedly, rushing off and returning with presents they had clearly wrapped themselves. Better than previous years, still a little haphazard. 

 

“Why don’t you go first, girls,” I suggested, glancing at Andrea. My gift for her was something I hadn’t intended on giving her quite yet. 

 

“I have something for you, too,” I whispered to her. “Later.”

 

She smiled, clearly assuming it was a gift of a sexual nature. 

 

“Andy!” The girls gasped in unison. “How did you get this?” 

 

I blinked, wondering what could possibly be so exciting about the books they held. 

 

“I know a guy,” she grinned at them. “What do you think?”

 

The twins opened their books, slowly turning the pages to look at the intricately illustrated paper. 

 

“What is it?” I asked curiously. 

 

“It’s the Minalima designed Harry Potter book,” Andrea replied quietly, beaming at the reactions of my girls. “They designed the movies, and they’ve now started these books. This one isn’t actually out anywhere yet, but I know someone who works in their studio.”

 

I raised an eyebrow, impressed.

 

“I was worried they’d have grown out of Harry Potter,” she said to me quietly. I shook my head, smiling; the girls might have finished every book and movie, but they had never let go of the story. 

 

“Girls, what about your other gifts?” I suggested.

 

They placed their books down carefully, opening a few other thoughtful and well chosen gifts from Andrea with repeated thanks and gasps of delight. They were truly grateful, and for that I was particularly thankful. The lifestyle I provided for them could very easily have translated to two precocious and spoiled girls - and I was sure that to those outside of our small group of close friends, they appeared to be so - but they were good at heart. I knew this with certainty. 

 

“Andy, can you open yours now? Mom, you too!”

 

We both opened our sweet gifts from them with huge smiles and hugs of thanks. I placed their handmade photo frame with a picture of the three of us on the coffee table with pride, while Andrea fastened her beaded bracelet on her wrist and admired it. 

 

“Beautiful, my darling girls,” I smiled at them, holding them tightly for a moment. “Why don’t you two go and get showered and dressed, hm? Then we can have breakfast.”

 

They complained for a moment, but finally scooted upstairs. 

 

“I thought we could exchange our own gifts in peace.” I told her, finding her gift under the tree and handing it to her. “I should tell you; this is part one.”

 

“Oh?” She asked, pretending to shake it gently and holding it to her ear. “Is there a part two?”

 

“Yes, once two small girls have gone safely off to sleep later tonight.” 

 

“Will you go first?” She asked me, smiling with a blush already forming on her face. “I had no idea what to get you. You have everything, you easily can buy anything you want. So I... I had to get creative.” Her blush intensified. 

 

I opened the box curiously to find my own book, and gasped audibly.

 

“Andrea, this is a first edition,” I managed after a moment. “However did you get this?”

 

“Do you like it?”

 

“I used to have this,” I said, feeling my eyes fill with tears. “It was my grandmothers. She would never let anyone else touch it, only me. It went missing when she passed.” I covered my mouth with a shaking hand, overwhelmed at the memory. The first ever printed works of Sylvia Plath lay in my lap once more. Andrea twitched, seemingly wanting to move towards me but she held rigid, for which I was grateful. It was taking every ounce of self control to not let a tear spill.

 

“Thank you, Andrea.” I said finally, my voice holding steady. “A perfect gift. Thank you.” I repeated. She reached over and took my hand carefully and I returned her squeeze. 

 

“Now,” I regained my control almost completely, “part one.” 

 

She tore the paper away from the slim box as unceremoniously as the twins had done, pausing only to glance at me before opening the box to reveal the simple, white gold earrings resting within the velvet. It was clear she hadn’t expected this from the shape of the box, but I had my reasons. She looked at me with tear filled eyes.

 

“They’re beautiful, Miranda,” she sniffed. 

 

“I hoped you might wear them any time you like, they’re understated enough. For now, only you and I will know where you got them and what they symbolise.” I said quietly, hoping she would understand and pleased when she nodded, offering me a watery smile. We shared a brief kiss as the sounds of the twins descending the stairs - something akin to a heard of elephants - and broke apart. 

 

“Girls, Andrea and I are going to get dressed and ready for the day. Why don’t you play some games until we come back?”

 

They agreed with enthusiasm, and we made our escape. I held Andrea in my arms briefly outside my bedroom door before we wordlessly decided on separate showers, an unspoken agreement that tonight would be for us. 

 

———-

 

The day slid away from us in a haze, as it did every year. The girls navigated from playing video games, to watching films and reading books, to lying in various positions around the den after our Christmas dinner. We were all in what can only be described as a “food coma”, as Andrea put it, and before we knew it, it was getting late. The nervous knot in the pit of my stomach tightened when I realised it would soon be time to give Andrea her real gift. I glanced to my right, watching her immersed in a game of Battleships with Caroline. Cassidy sat on my left, turning the pages of her illustrated Harry Potter slowly, stifling a yawn every few minutes. 

 

I stretched, picking up my phone to check the news outlets and blinking in shock that for the first year in as long as I could remember, I hadn’t watched the Queen of England give her speech. Usually, I would find a way to watch her speak to the nation even with the five hour time difference in memory of my early childhood. 

 

“Mom?” A small voice from my left broke into my reverie. 

 

“Yes, darling?”

 

“What time is it?” Cassidy said, a poor attempt to stifle a yawn causing me to smile gently.

 

“It’s a little after ten.”

 

There was a beat while she waited for me to insist that it was time for her and her sister to go to bed. I, in turn, waited for her to admit she wanted to. After a moment, she grinned at me sheepishly and I decided to let her win this small, unspoken competition we sometimes had.

 

“Girls,” I said, turning to Caroline. “I think it’s time to finish up down here.”

 

“B... 15?” Caroline said quickly. 

 

“You sunk my last ship,” Andrea sighed, admitting defeat. “And thank god, I’m exhausted.”

 

The girls said their goodnights, both kissing my cheek then Andreas, and slowly made their way upstairs. I wondered if they would once more sleep in the same room. Automatically, I began clearing the room so it was once more neat and tidy to wake up to in the morning, and noticed Andrea was taking dishes to the kitchen and starting the dishwasher. I paused in wonder that she, very unlike Stephen, had not sloped off nor complained at the task. I realised I wouldn’t have to ask her to do anything around the house; she was a capable, fair adult who would pull her weight in chores without thinking twice about it. Far more so, I knew, than any of my ex-husbands - all of whom were far too reliant on their staff. In some ways, I knew I was also entirely too reliant on my own staff - but there were limits. I was not incapable, nor did I intend to become so. 

 

“How’s it going in here?” She asked from the doorway, smiling as I folded the final blanket. 

 

“Just about done, I think,” I glanced around, noting the presents stacked carefully under the tree, the clear floor and sofas. “Though I’m sure it could do with a good vacuum after the snack portion of the evening.” Andrea snorted at my words. 

 

“I can do that in the morning. Come on, let’s go to bed. I haven’t forgotten that I’m owed a part two.”

 

She swept out and I followed, carefully picking up her gift box and making my way up behind her. I stopped to check on the girls and found one empty room, and one double bed with two whispering redheads cuddled together. 

 

“Everything alright, girls?” I called quietly.

 

“Yeah. Merry Christmas, Mom,” they mumbled back sleepily. 

 

“Merry Christmas, my loves. Goodnight.”

 

I closed the door softy, smiling at the scene I had witnessed. They wouldn’t always be so happy in each other’s company.

Andrea was in her own room when I reached the top floor, the sound of water running. I readied myself for bed too, cleansing my face, changing into a satin nightgown, cleaning my teeth. I was just finishing my skincare routine when I heard her calling me.

 

“Miranda?”

 

“I’ll be out in a second,” I replied, trying to look at myself with some confidence. My bare face and lightly wrinkled skin didn’t instil anything other than grim acceptance. I was almost 50. My 28 year old lover was waiting for me in my bed, and she did want me. Perhaps she didn’t see the flaws I did. 

 

I found her clutching the box that had held her earrings, but she had this time lifted the plush velvet enough to find her second gift.

 

“Ah,” I sighed. “I had hoped I’d see your reaction.”

 

“What is this?” She asked quietly, looking at me like she’d never seen me before. 

 

“Your gift. When the time comes, and you’re no longer my employee, there aren’t many places in the world we will be able to escape to without being recognised, followed, photographed,” I waited for her to respond, but she continued to stare at me. “Well, Japan is one of the few places - at least, outside of Tokyo - that I have felt... solitude. In a good way. I found a private place to stay, and I also thought we could explore the place Haruki Murakami lived before Tokyo, perhaps inspire your writing even further.” I took a breath when she still hadn’t moved. 

 

“Of course, we don’t have to do any such thing.” For the first time in a very long time, I felt I was floundering. I had given this gift in good faith that she would understand, but it seemed I was wrong.

 

“Miranda,” she managed after a moment. “You want to take me to Japan?”

 

“I would have thought that much was obvious.” I said icily.

 

“Wait, please don’t go all frosty on me - I’m just taken aback, that’s all! This wasn’t what I was expecting from a part two that couldn’t be opened in front of the girls,” she tried to smile, but I didn’t return it. “Miranda, this is amazing. I think I’m in shock, honestly,” she implored me, and I relented slightly, the knot in my stomach still tight. “I just can’t quite believe you would want to do this with me, when you’ve said yourself it will take so much time to be able to be together properly, right?”

 

“It’s an open ticket, Andrea.” 

 

I allowed her to take my hand and lead me to my own bed. 

 

“So... it’s a promise,” she smiled at me and I nodded, a small amount of relief creeping over me. “Is this your way of telling me that you’re committed to being openly with me, when it’s possible?”

 

I pursed my lips automatically at the thought of the press, but she burst into laughter. 

 

“Oh, Miranda. Only you could give a gift this extravagant and still clam up when putting into words what it means.”

 

“Yes, well. You’re the writer.”

 

She kissed me then, finally, and I could practically taste the elation pouring from her every particle. 

 

My mind took me to a quiet place in Japan, the spring air scented with cherry blossoms, Andrea at my side. Andrea, kissing my lips, her hands at my waist. Andrea, her long hair tickling the inside of my thighs as she made love to me. The world would one day know how I adored her. 

The time would come. It had to. 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventeen 

Two months to go 

 

February at last. January had dragged along with little care to how miserable the inhabitants of New York City became in its clutches. The snow had fallen consistently until the roads were too dangerous for almost a week, forcing Runway staff to work from home. The girls were at their fathers for this interim, and Andrea and I had certainly used the space to our advantage. She had stayed at the house with me the whole time, covered with the excuse that I needed an assistant at hand - and, as I put it to Irv when he questioned me, managing with just one individual staff member to do a job that usually required a collection of people from a myriad of departments was nothing short of a miracle. 

 

We had been back in the office since Monday. I noted the date on the calendar at my desk, still pleased to finally be back in the office even though it had meant coming entirely too close to ruining a pair of custom made Prada pumps in an icy slush outside the Elias-Clarke building. Friday 13th. My grandmother would have said it was a day for the dark arts in a menacing whisper that would echo through the cold halls of our small home. I would have rolled my eyes at her nonsense, likely receiving a slap around the ear for my insolence. I smiled at the memory of her; she was a hard woman, but I missed her. I missed her terribly, on occasion. I had been alone in this world for a long time now. I had my girls, of course, and I’d had more than my fair share of husbands - however, I’d had no one to tell me what was best for me, to look out for me in only the way a parent can for most of my life now. 

 

I thought, as I often did nowadays, of Andrea. I could tell she was missing her parents, though she never spoke about them unless pressed. Sometimes, she would check her phone as though expecting a message, only to look disappointed and place it back down next to her. When we had discussed her parents, which was infrequent as it only upset her. Aside from one phone call on her birthday, during which they had served only to attempt at pushing her back to her ex-boyfriend, Andrea had heard little to nothing from her mother and father. I found that I disliked them both intensely already. 

 

“Miranda?” She was stood in my office doorway, my mid-morning Starbucks clutched in her hand. 

 

“Come in.” 

 

It was becoming increasingly difficult to pretend things were as they should be. I couldn’t keep up the act of ordering her around with little care to her wellbeing. I certainly didn’t instil fear in her heart like I did with others in my employ. 

 

Working from my home for a week had brought us to a new level of comfort around each other; we had seen each other every morning, gone to sleep together every night. Eaten meals at my dining table. Made love before and after a variety of boring online meetings. There was even a memorable occasion when she had slinked underneath my desk while I met with Jocelyn and Serena to discuss a poor layout of accessories. I had been forced to end the call much quicker than I had planned to.

 

“I sent Francesca to the closet,” she murmured. “I just wanted to see you alone for a moment.”

 

I allowed her a small smile. 

 

“It’s so hard, Miranda.” She sighed heavily.

 

“What is, Andrea?” I said in a low voice, glancing behind her to ensure we were alone.

 

“To see you but not be able to… be with you. I have to concentrate on not staring at you too much, keeping my expression neutral. I think Nigel clocked me staring at your ass in your morning meeting.”

 

I raised an eyebrow at her.

 

“You know I love you in a pencil skirt.” She grinned wickedly.

 

I wondered if she noticed how my heart had skipped a beat at the three words in the middle of her sentence. 

 

“I’m busy, Andrea,” I said gently, indicating the screen in front of me and the surrounding of papers. 

 

“I know, I’m sorry,” she placed the coffee down. “Tomorrow?”

 

I nodded once and let my gaze drop down her body and back to her eyes. She shivered pleasantly, smiled wider, and left. She was tapping away at her desk almost immediately. 

 

Tomorrow, the twins were staying at their father’s for the weekend. I had wanted to do little more than spend an entire weekend in bed with Andrea, but as it turned out, this was not an acceptable response to the question: “Can we celebrate Valentine’s Day?”

 

Eventually, I had agreed to a lowkey celebration of what I saw only as a pointless day. She had insisted that we didn’t swap presents, but simply spend the evening together. I narrowed my eyes as I recalled her innocent expression. “But, Miranda, it’s the perfect time for us to be together in private and still be a part of the world as a couple.” If any other human on the planet had said such a thing to me, I would have scoffed and dismissed them. “I just want to celebrate how much I care for you, okay? Just us.” 

 

I worked late that night, not arriving back to the house until almost 9pm. The girls were still up; both of them were in Cassidy’s room watching a Netflix show on the iPad. I stood in the doorway and smiled at them tiredly. 

 

“Are you ready for your weekend with your father?” I asked as they waved me in, patting the mattress enthusiastically until I took a seat. 

 

“Yeah, Cara helped us pack. She left you a list of everything already in the suitcases in case you want to add anything else.” Caroline said helpfully, then yawned sleepily.

 

“Excellent. I will check and make sure you have everything you need, and you two need to go to sleep now, my loves. I’m sorry I’m late tonight, I did want to spend more time with you. Your father will be here at 8.30 tomorrow morning.”

 

They both groaned at the thought of waking up so early on a weekend.

 

“Alright. Night, Cass,” Caroline gave her sister a quick hug and then left for her own bedroom, slouching as she went. 

 

Posture,” I reminded her retreating form. “Are you okay, my darling?” I stroked Cassidy’s hair from her face, noting she was already closing her eyes from underneath her covers. She nodded, mumbling an “mmhm”. 

 

“Goodnight, Cassidy. I love you.” I kissed her forehead and switched her light off, closing the door behind me before doing the same in Caroline’s room. As much as I wanted a weekend with Andrea, I did so adore my girls. Having them around when Andrea was also here often proved to be nothing short of delightful. 

 

I had just finished checking their bags over for the weekend away, pleased that Cara had remembered everything down to the school supplies they would need Monday morning, when I heard the front door open quietly. Andrea.

 

I found myself descending the staircase quickly, still in my heels, to catch her ascending them towards me. The dry-cleaning was already in the closet, the Book was still clutched in her hands but it didn’t stop her from throwing her arms around me when we finally met in the middle, partway up the second staircase. I kissed her with abandon, ignoring the sharp edge digging into my spine. She pulled away first.

 

“I can’t stay,” she sighed against my mouth. 

 

“No?” I kissed her again, manoeuvring us so she was pressed against the wall. “Why not?” 

 

I slid my lips against hers once more before moving to her neck, my tongue flicking against the sensitive spot near her collarbone. She hummed in delight and didn’t answer.

 

“The girls - ” she gasped eventually.

 

“Are asleep.” I said into her ear. “Why don’t we go into the bedroom?”

 

“Because they’re leaving early in the morning and you wanted to see them for breakfast.” She rushed out. “And because I need to organise my plans for tomorrow. And -” she groaned softly when my hands skidded under her blouse. “Because you asked Roy to take me home tonight.”

 

That stalled me. I had indeed asked that Roy see Andrea home. She took the momentary pause to remind me that we needed to be more careful, lest we be discovered. I reluctantly removed my hands and pressed one final kiss to her lips. 

 

“Fine,” I sighed. “Get home safely.”

 

“Tomorrow.” She promised, handing over the Book with a shy smile. 

 

I gave her a look that I hoped conveyed everything that I wanted from tomorrow. Judging by her quickened breaths, I was successful.

 

“Goodnight, Andrea.” I turned and retreated back upstairs, knowing she was watching my every move. I looked back just in time to see her finally blinking her way back to reality and offered her an unusually wide smile. She returned it, waved enthusiastically, and departed. Tomorrow. 

 

 

*****

 

The girls awoke the next morning bleary-eyed and grumpy, unenthused at the thought of a weekend with their father. I could sympathise, though I did try not to disrespect him in front of the girls. They were, after all, his children too. For the most, he was a decent father and he did love them. But I would never see past him putting his social life or his current girlfriend ahead of their needs. He was, as many men are, under the impression that he could have it both ways. I preferred to think that my children came first - though, when I pointed this out to him one day a few years earlier, he had sneered that nothing came before the magazine. My memory of my own response was hazy; but I knew I had been particularly cutting. I had been enraged at the suggestion - was he claiming I couldn’t be a mother and run an empire? Because I could, and did. I doubted the girls ever groaned at returning home to me the way they did when they visited him sometimes. I provided them with their home, their safe space. I may be lacking in certain areas, I knew that, but they didn’t doubt my love for them. 

 

“Come on girls,” I called up the stairs when I noted that it was already 8.25. They were fed, packed and should have been ready to go by now - but as usual, had left the packing of their backpacks until the last second. I could hear them dashing around, arguing over whether to take the Nintendo or the iPad, and did they have the right chargers, and god knows what else. 

“Girls!”

 

“Coming, Mom!” 

 

A moment later, they trundled down the stairs, each with a backpack filled with entertainment. 

 

“I hope you have enough room in those for water and snacks,” I said, indicating the full to the brim bags. 

 

“Yeah, Mom, the water goes in the side here,” Caroline indicated the mesh pocket as we stepped into the kitchen together. They each began grabbing the snacks left on the countertop, not even looking up when the doorbell rang. I sighed quietly and made my way down the hall. 

 

“Hello, Gregory.”

 

“Miranda,” he stepped inside. “Are they ready?”

 

“Yes, they’re just selecting some snacks for the road,” I tried to sound cordial. “Girls, your father is here.” I called out. They were at my side in a few long moments.

 

“Hi, dad,” they chorused. 

 

He grinned at them, a slightly lopsided smile that I recalled I had once found charming. “You both ready to go?”

 

“Yeah. Are we going straight to your house dad?” Cassidy asked, the same moment Caroline said: “Can we go to the beach first?”

 

“We’re going to my house, then straight to the beach, okay?” They both nodded. “Say bye to your mom and go get in the car.”

 

I knelt down to give them both a hug, clutching them close and sighing. “I love you both,” I murmured, leaning back to look at them. “Have a wonderful time. I’ll see you after school on Monday, okay?”

 

Another pair of nods. “Love you too, Mom. Will Andy be here -?” Cassidy halted immediately at the look on my face.

 

After another chorus of goodbyes, they fled the house and dived into his car. I didn’t look at Gregory. 

 

“Right. They have everything they need, but do call if anything comes up, won’t you?” He didn’t answer until I finally met his gaze. 

 

“So. Andy?” He raised an eyebrow. “You’re already seeing a new guy? Is that fair to them?” 

 

My hackles raised instantly, I drew myself up to my full height and narrowed my eyes. 

 

“Look, Miranda, I’m not here to fight with you. You can see whoever you like, I’m just looking out for the girls. They’re still dealing with the Stephen press.” He sounded marginally less judgemental. 

 

“There is no new man. Cassidy meant my assistant, Andrea. She’s very good with them.” 

 

“Oh! Oh, yeah, I’ve seen her,” his eyes glazed over for a moment and I knew what he was thinking. I wanted very much to throttle him. “Sorry.” He said softly. My eyebrows nearly met my hairline. 

 

“I was under the impression you didn’t have the word in your vocabulary.” 

 

He grinned at me. “You and me both. Maybe I’ve grown up a little in the past... how long has it been? Almost a decade?” 

 

“Almost,” I nodded. “And I should hope you have. Enjoy your weekend, Gregory.” I said with finality. 

 

“Bye, Miranda.” 

 

I waved to the girls and closed the door, leaning against it heavily. I had a sinking feeling the girls might slip up to their father and admit how much Andrea was around. Would he guess? With so little time left on her contract, would we finally be caught out? 

 

 

******

 

The doorbell went for the second time that day. I found it interesting that she always rang the bell when she was here as my partner, only using her key as my assistant. 

 

“Andrea,” I smiled as she stepped inside, damp from the rain. 

 

“Hey,” she said, her returning smile a little smaller than usual. “I’d kiss you, but I’m soaked through.” 

 

“Don’t let that stop you,” I stepped closer to her and she pressed a gentle kiss to my lips. “Bathroom?” 

 

“Yes, please,” she nodded gratefully. “I won’t be a minute.” 

 

She disappeared upstairs with her bags into the guest room she had stayed in on Christmas Eve. I was slightly perplexed by this behaviour, as she hadn’t stayed in that room since. As a matter of fact, she had taken up residence in my own room even when she wasn’t there physically. I had taken to cleaning it ahead of the cleaners in my employ visiting, terrified of them discovering a long brunette hair on my pillow. 

 

I settled to preparing the meal I had promised her, chopping fresh vegetables that would accompany the duck and potato dauphinoise. The red wine was open, breathing. The table was set in the dining room. My hand slipped as I considered what was possibly the only romantic evening I had ever offered someone. 

 

My previous Valentine’s celebrations had always been somewhat… lacking. With Gregory, he had made an effort that fell flat for a few years, before eventually giving up and not bothering to try to woo me any further. With Stephen, it was always about sex. For a while, I allowed it. I felt somewhat gratified by how attracted to me he seemed to be, but… the less said about the later months of our marriage, the better. 

 

I tried to remember the romances of my teen years, my early twenties, but came up mostly blank. I dated, I had my fun. At that time however, all I cared about was my career. I wanted to make something of myself, be a somebody. Frankly, I wanted money. I had grown up so poor, that I wanted to know what it was like to not have to even think about money anymore. That was how I defined my success for years - certainly until my children arrived. Even then, I was gratified that they would never grow up the way I had. They would want for nothing, never go to bed hungry, always have the best I could give them. Real, true romance? That had never been on my list. I pushed down any attraction I felt for women so far I almost forgot it existed, forced myself to focus on the aesthetic of my male partners in terms of what we looked like as a couple. They never made me laugh. Not like Andrea.

 

“Hi,” her voice was quieter than usual. I turned to see her in the doorway and dropped the knife I was holding with a clatter. 

 

Andrea,” I managed. 

“Happy Valentine’s Day.”

 

For a long moment, neither of us moved. I simply drank her in; from the red-soled Christian Louboutin’s in black, long and toned pale legs, the lace black underwear that were only in place thanks to a fragile satin bow at each hip, the scandalously low cut lace bra that hid nothing from my imagination. She had accentuated her dark eyes with a flick of black eyeliner, her full lips with deep red lipstick. A black choker rested around her neck, and it was somehow this that was the most erotic part of the ensemble. Or so I thought. 

 

She took a few careful steps and slid her lithe body up onto the countertop opposite me. I had moved to stand between her thighs before conscious thought caught up with me, and I remembered the heat on the stove. I pressed a finger to her lips before she could capture my own, and turned quickly, turning the dial sharply before facing her once more. A gasp slipped out of my lips before I could stop it at the sight of her now parted thighs. The slit down the centre of the fabric proved to be the most erotic part of her ensemble.

 

“Do you want to go upstairs?” She asked shyly.

 

“Absolutely not.” 

 

Her thighs wrapped around my waist as I kissed her deeply, my hands exploring her back, my lips moving to her neck and down her chest. I had to have her, right there on my kitchen counter. I slid a hand between her legs and felt instant wetness.

 

“Please,” she whispered, her head tilting backwards. “Please, Miranda.” 

 

I slid two fingers inside her, my thumb against her clit, moving relentlessly. Her thighs gripped my hips and she bucked against me, crying out when my free hand gripped the side of her hip, fingertips digging into her flesh. 

 

“Fuck,” she groaned, and I felt the beginnings of her orgasm around my fingers.

 

“Come for me, Andrea.”

 

And as efficient as ever, she did. A few minutes later, after I had slid out of her and she had stood up on shaky legs, her head was rested on my shoulder and her arms were tight around my waist. 

 

“You look unbelievably good, darling,” I murmured into her ear, hyper-aware of every part of her body pressed into mine. 

 

“Thank you,” I felt her smile into my neck. “I knew you weren’t big on Valentines, and since we weren’t doing gifts as such…” she left her sentence hanging.

 

“You thought you would gift yourself?” I smirked.

 

“I guess so. I actually had a different plan,” she stood up fully but wouldn’t look me in the eye. 

 

“Oh?” I prompted. 

 

“When I came downstairs, I was just coming to get you. The actual gift is upstairs.” She bit her lip. 

 

“Lead the way, darling.” 

 

She took my hands and led me to the foot of the stairs before pausing. “Um, maybe you should-” she indicated I should go up first.

 

“No, no,” I shook my head slowly, the thought of her walking ahead of me entirely too alluring. As it turned out, I was right. I almost lost control and took her again on the stairs, but the thought of whatever she had upstairs was just tempting enough to keep me walking. 

 

“Go into your room? I’ll be right there,” she kissed me softly. “Get undressed.” She smiled and disappeared into the guest room. 

 

No more than two minutes later, she entered my bedroom to find me sliding my dress from my shoulders. I hung it carefully, casually strolling around the room still in my heels as though the air wasn’t thick with tension. 

 

She placed a gift bag on the floor next to the bed and was on me a second later, her strong arms tight around my body as she kissed me relentlessly, guiding me backwards until the back of my legs hit the mattress. She didn’t stop until I was pinned underneath her on the bed, the two of us writhing together in futile attempts to find enough friction. 

 

“Don’t move.” She slid down my body, kissing every inch of skin she found on the way. “Do you trust me?” 

 

Our eyes met and I knew she was serious. I nodded once.

 

“Close your eyes until I tell you otherwise.” 

 

I took a deep breath and did as she said. I heard her reach into the gift bag. It took every ounce of my self control not to look when I heard the unmistakable sound of her gasp in pleasure. 

 

“Andrea,” I breathed. “What are you doing?”

 

“One moment, Miranda, I promise.” 

 

Her lips touched my inner thighs and I parted them for her automatically, but felt nothing more.

 

“Slide up the bed a little?” 

 

I did so, beginning to feel frustrated and awkward. “Andrea,” I growled. 

 

“I know.” I felt her settle between my thighs, hands pushing them wider for her. Fingertips touched me where I needed her most through the thin barrier of lace, and suddenly her mouth met my breasts. She sucked a nipple between her teeth and I gripped the sheets beneath my hands tightly, but then she was gone again. 

 

“Lift your hips,” she drew my underwear down my legs slowly, then unclasped my bra. 

 

“Let me look at you.” I had intended to sound quietly demanding, but instead my voice left me in a plea. 

 

“Not quite yet,” she breathed into my ear - and then I felt it. Something cool, smoothly covered in lubricant, a solid pressure pushing slowly inside me. My eyes flew open of their own accord.

 

“Andrea!” 

 

The low hum of a vibration was my only answer. She had slid this - this something - inside me, but the most shocking part of the situation I found myself in was the dildo not inside me. 

 

“Close your legs together a little more.” Her voice was low, authoritative. I, once again, followed her instructions without pause. She sat astride my thighs and gently pressed the dildo between her folds, still clad in her revealing lace set. It slid inside her slowly, increasing the pressure between my own thighs.

 

“What is this,” I groaned in pleasure.

 

“It’s a strapon,” she moved her hips backwards and forwards. “One end for you,” she moved faster to prove her point. “This end for me. I wanted to ride you, Miranda.”

For an indeterminable amount of time, she did just that. It was glorious. Her body glistened above me as she moved to find her own pleasure, bringing me closer to my own climax as she did, the view alone almost enough to push me over the edge. 

 

“God,” I hissed when her body jerked involuntarily, desperate for more. Her hand reached between us, fumbling for a moment but then the vibrations inside us both increased tenfold. My legs had opened wider and she had pushed my thighs higher until we were pressed tightly against each other in the most intimate of ways, new heights of stimulation making me cry out as our slick bodies slid together in tandem. 

 

She finished first, her sensitivity higher than mine after the events from the kitchen, my name falling from her lips in a strangled sob. Her body went limp and I easily manoeuvred her onto her back even with the toy inside us both. The new position allowed me to move in a way I never had before. I found myself slowly thrusting my hips, not changing the pace until she was gripping my hips and meeting every thrust with one of her own. I found her clit and began small, tight circles with my thumb, wanting to see her come undone once more. She didn’t disappoint. 

 

I slid the toy out of her when she couldn’t take another moment, slipping it out of myself at the same time and studying it. She had ridden the longer side, while the shorter and thicker end had been pleasuring me. The bend in between the two had allowed us to move together so easily, while the small switch that had started the vibrations had made the intensity even better. I missed the feeling of it inside me already.

 

“Miranda,” I looked at her now open eyes. “Are you okay?” She asked quietly. Nervous, I realised. 

 

“Yes,” I smiled at her gently. “You are exquisite, as always, Andrea.”

 

“But… you didn’t…?” 

 

I shifted, very aware of my slick thighs and the throbbing between them. “Not quite.” I admitted. 

 

She sat up and kissed me fiercely. “Let me fix that.” Her lips met mine again and I barely noticed when she took the toy from my hands, not until she had me on my knees near the edge of the bed as she stood behind me, my face pressed into a pillow. The longer length pressed inside me slowly, torturously slowly, the stretch intensely pleasurable. She didn’t stop until it was as far inside me as possible. My thighs started to shake. I heard her moving but trusted her implicitly to return to me in my vulnerable state. 

 

Hands grabbed my hips from a new angle - she was beneath me. For a moment, my brain couldn’t comprehend what was happening. I felt her tongue on my clit and realised she had sat on the bedroom floor, resting her head underneath me on the bed. I was over her face, one of her hands pushing the dildo in and out of me at a perfect pace, her tongue now moving in quicker circles, her free hand gripping my ass so hard I was sure she would leave a mark. My legs shook harder still, the pleasure was almost unbearable, until finally, finally - 

 

Andrea!” I lost all control of my body, vaguely aware of how hard I clutched the pillow, how loudly I shrieked her name into the silk cover. 

 

By the time I recovered, she was lying next to me. Her make up, much like mine, was smudged over her face. Her hair was an explosion, and she was no longer wearing anything at all. 

 

I caught her eye as she took in my own ruined aesthetic and couldn’t help but laugh at the same time as she let out a particularly unladylike snort. I laughed harder and so did she, the utter delight and overwhelming emotion causing tears to stream down both our faces. We wrapped our arms around each other and stayed atop my covers until the cold finally crept in. 

 

Later that night, we ate the dinner I had prepared for her in robes, make-up free and freshly showered. I so desperately wanted to tell her, the words at the tip of my tongue the entire evening. I love you, Andrea. For reasons I could never explain, I stayed silent. 

Chapter Text

Chapter eighteen 

 

One month to go

 

March already. Every single time I realised that there was a mere few weeks left until Andrea’s contract was up, my stomach seemed to shrink to the size of a penny. I was sick at the thought of her no longer being at my side every day. I regularly had nightmares that she would find someone else once she left here; it seemed the two eventualities intertwined in my head. New job, new life. Why on earth would she want me? 

 

“I have the Book here, Miranda. They finished a little early tonight.” She entered my office swiftly, having already sent Francesca home. “It’s gone 8, you know.” She said softly, knowing the girls were at home tonight. 

 

“I know,” I murmured, trying to focus on the screen in front of me. I wanted to approve this last layout before heading home, but my eyes were not cooperating. 

 

“Can I see?” 

 

My gaze snapped to hers. “You want to see what I’m working on?” I blinked. 

 

“Yeah, is that… I mean, I don’t want to slow you down - I’m just interested,” she began to babble, stopping herself short when I indicated she should come around to my side of the desk. 

 

“This is the first layout for the next issue. Digitally, you’ll likely see very little wrong with it. In print, however,” I sighed heavily and looked at her as she leaned over me to see the screen. “Small flaws become ruinous.” 

 

She nodded slowly, a frown deepening between her brows. “This font doesn’t seem quite right.”

 

“How so?” 

 

“The size and colour. Once it’s printed, if this shade of red on the headline if even slightly off, it would clash horribly with this model’s dress.” 

 

“Precisely my thoughts, Andrea.” 

 

“So let them fix it, Miranda,” she said, her voice suddenly soft. “Go home to your girls and let the staff you employ do their jobs. Tomorrow morning,” she added as an afterthought, making me smile.

 

“Right as always, darling,” I sighed as she moved away from me, leaving the Book on my desk. 

 

“I’ll get your coat.”

 

“Wait,” she stopped and looked at me curiously. “Come home with me. The girls have been asking for you all week.”

 

“Really?” Her bright smile made my heart hurt. “I’d love to.”

 

“Come along, then.” I swept out and found my own coat, slipping it on before taking hold of hers. I held it open for her and she slid her arms through the sleeves, looking a tad punch-drunk when I tied the belt around her waist for her. It took her a moment to catch me up when I spun on my heel and made for the elevator. Moments like these made me wonder whether she truly would leave - or whether I was just prolonging the inevitable. 

 

Sat in the town car on the way home, she fidgeted more than usual. She tugged at her fingers gently, seemingly unaware she was doing so, as she stared out the window. 

 

“Is everything alright, Andrea?” I asked eventually, looking up from yet another email from the people at Valentino. They were in the long process of creating another custom gown for my birthday, and I hadn’t yet seen something I couldn’t say no to. 

 

“Hm? Oh, yeah,” she nodded, looking jumpy. “So, it’s the twins’ birthday next week, right?”

 

“Yes,” I nodded slowly, wondering whether to push the issue she was clearly pondering. “Twelve already. Where does the time go?” I sighed. 

 

“Ah, they’re still kids. One day they’ll be fully grown and then you can ponder where the time went, right?” She smiled.

 

“Perhaps you’re right. It just feels like a very short time has passed since I was heavily pregnant, had two tiny newborns, then two terrorising toddlers.”  

 

“Oh wow. Those two as toddlers.” She started to laugh and after a moment, I couldn’t help but smile with her. 

 

“They were quite something,” I admitted fondly. “It was certainly a shock to my system when they came along.”

 

“You were back at work in record time.” It wasn’t a question, but a statement laced with sympathy and something else. Admiration?

 

“I was. I felt I couldn’t stay away for very long at all for many reasons.”

 

“I bet it was hard to leave the girls, even so,” Andrea said softly. Usually, this sort of comment would have been something I had no patience for. The idea that a woman should automatically be overbearingly maternal had always made me shudder; it had to do with my upbringing. My grandmother was a particularly hard woman who rarely, if ever, showed her emotions. She had survived two world wars, lived in London during the Blitz bombings. There was no way she was going to raise me to be anything other than - in her words - sturdy. 

 

“It was difficult, yes,” I found myself saying. “I wanted to be at home with them, but I was also terrified to be alone with them. Their father, Gregory… well, he loved them, of course. That didn’t mean he was any great help.” 

 

“Did you have help? Like, a nanny or something?” She asked curiously.

 

“We did. I hated the woman.” I sniffed, and Andrea burst into laughter.

 

“I’ve never known you to hate anyone, especially not your staff. I mean,” she giggled again, “I know they drive you crazy but you certainly never said you hated them. Hate implies some kind of passion.”

 

I smiled a little at her, but felt suddenly sad. I truly had despised the twins’ nanny. 

 

“Well, she did have an affair with my husband.” 

 

“She what! How awful. How could he do that to you, when the girls were so young too?” Andrea looked genuinely enraged at this news.

 

“It was a long time ago. And, I might add, not the affair that ultimately ended the marriage.” I rolled my eyes. “That wasn’t why I hated her, though.” My voice was barely audible now, and I could feel her staring at me. She waited patiently for me to admit something I had never said aloud in my life. “I hated her because she was a better mother to the girls than I was.” 

 

“Oh, Miranda,” she sniffled slightly, her dark eyes suddenly bright with unshed tears. 

 

“You’re upset?”

 

“You should never think that, never. Those girls are your pride and joy, everyone knows that. Even the papers don’t dare to go after them too often, and it’s not like any of the paps who hang around you have any conscience.” Andrea spoke passionately, reaching over to clutch my hand as she finished her sentence. 

 

“Thank you, Andrea.” I squeezed her hand back, my eyes automatically looking towards the raised privacy screen. Not for the first time, I recalled that Roy would have seen us kissing moments after the car had skidded off the road. What must he think of me? 

 

“I mean it, Miranda. Don’t believe your own press,” she smiled wryly. “The Dragon Lady, the Ice Queen… it’s all stories. You might be a firm leader, and yeah - most of us in the office are pretty petrified of you, especially at first…” she didn’t let my raised eyebrow halt her thought. “But no one could do what you do. You told me that yourself.” 

 

“Of course they couldn’t. Runway needs me as much as I need it.” 

 

“I didn’t just mean the magazine. I meant your family, too. The girls adore you, Miranda - they’re never happier than when you’re home. And I - well. You must know by now how I feel about you.” 

 

I opened my mouth to ask her exactly what she meant by that, suddenly desperate to hear her say it. If she said it first, I could tell her - 

 

“Ms. Priestly? We’re here.” Roy’s voice came through the intercom. I realised the car had been stopped for at least two minutes already, and opened my car door without waiting for any assistance. I felt colour flush my face as I marched up the stairs to my home, knowing Andrea was behind me without having to look. 

 

“Mom!” Two excited faces appeared from upstairs, hanging over the bannister to greet me. 

 

“Hello, darlings,” I smiled at them. “Andrea is here too.”

 

They rushed to us and hugged us both, entirely too over-excited for this time of the evening. It was already almost 9pm.

 

“Have you eaten?” I asked them, receiving nods in return as they began to incessantly quiz Andrea on where she had been for the past week. “Girls, quiet down please. Andrea and I haven’t yet eaten, have you finished your homework and prepared for tomorrow morning?” 

 

“Yes,” Cassidy nodded quickly, making it all the more obvious that her sister could not say the same. 

 

“Caroline?”

 

“Alright, I’m going,” she sighed, beginning a slow ascent up the stairs.

 

“Cassidy, it’s almost bedtime. Why don’t you start getting ready for bed and spend a little extra time reading tonight?” I knelt next to my youngest, by 13 minutes, and stroked her soft hair away from her face. She nodded and allowed herself to be drawn into a tight hug. “Good. I’ll be up shortly, Andrea and I will just have some late dinner, alright?” She nodded and followed her sister, who had sped upstairs at the prospect of more time to play on one of her game consoles while her twin read a book. 

 

“Come along, Andrea,” I smiled gently, pleased when she followed me without hesitation. 

 

“Hello Miranda, Andy,” Cara greeted us from the kitchen. “I made a vegetable stew tonight, it’s an old recipe from Spain. I hope you like it,” she gestured to the pot on the stove which was filling the kitchen with a delightfully homey smell. 

 

“I’m sure it will be delicious, Cara. Thank you. I’ll see you tomorrow morning.” 

She nodded and left the house quickly, as she always did. I appreciated this; it made my transition from Miranda Priestly to Mom somewhat easier. Andrea and I sat opposite one another in the kitchen, something we often did. The dining room, though likely more aesthetically pleasing, didn’t hold the same amount of comfort as the kitchen. The kitchen was for family.

 

“Can I ask you something?” She didn’t hesitate, or speak quietly, though it was clear the question would be loaded. I nodded my assent, taking a small spoonful of food. “How long were you married to Gregory?”

 

“Ten or eleven years,” I said dismissively. “Why?”

 

“And before him?” She ignored my own question to respond with one of her own.

 

“Pierre.” I answered simply. 

 

“He was your first husband?”

 

“Yes,” I said carefully, wondering where this line of questioning was leading.

 

“Why did you get divorced?”

 

“Because we should never have gotten married. He was older than I; I was just a foolish young girl in Paris, swept up in a romance with someone I considered a gentleman.” I rolled my eyes.

 

“If you keep doing that your eyes will get stuck looking at the roof,” she admonished me, sounding amused. “How much older?”

 

I narrowed my eyes at her. “Twenty seven years.”

 

“Wow,” she blew out her breath. “What a cradle snatcher.” 

 

I glared at her but she simply began to laugh, eventually coaxing a smile to my own lips. We finished our meal and she offered to clean up so I could spend time with the girls before they fell asleep. I kissed her in response to this, clutching her close in an attempt to convey how much the gesture meant to me. 

 

I found her in my bedroom an hour later, already undressed and under the covers. Tonight, she was already asleep, but welcomed me into her warm arms when I joined her. My exhausted soul relaxed within her embrace instantly. So like Andrea to know what I needed without me having to ask.   

 

 

  • * * * * * * * * *

 

The following week, a joint birthday party was in full swing in the garden. The twins and all their schoolfriends had played a full game of football (soccer, my internal voice reminded me) and were now jumping around to loud music emanating from a number of speakers. The weather had stayed dry, something I noted with relief as I thought of the amount of mud I would be enduring had it rained, but there was still a large gazebo-style roof covering the majority of the garden area just in case. 

 

The girls had insisted on a soccer-party. For a while, I had been fairly nonplussed as to why.

 

“They were worried their friends would say no if they had to dress up,” Andrea had told me a few days earlier as she hopped around my bedroom with one leg in her trousers. “I get why. Imagine being a pre-teen and coming to the house of fashion itself for a party.” She had vanished into the bathroom to brush her teeth immediately after, leaving me wondering how much else I didn’t know about the girls or their friends.      

 

Still. It was quite amusing to see the girls attempting to copy the dance moves of their favourite singers, dressed in t-shirts and shorts with studded sports boots on. Andrea had kept her distance through most of the day, but I had found her gaze on more than one occasion. I didn’t dare say anything to her that could be misconstrued (or in this case, right on the mark), until long after the party had begun to die down. Cake had been served, party favours handed out, parents arrived and left with one or more children until finally, we were down to five. 

 

“You were so funny with your Britney Spears dancing, Uncle Nigel,” Caroline giggled, while Cassidy nodded next to her with a wide smile. 

 

“You should have seen him in the nineties,” I smirked slightly at the memory. “Back when I had hair,” I quoted, at the exact same moment as my twin girls, much to Nigel’s chagrin. 

 

“I wasn’t even going to say it,” he sniffed as the girls exploded into hyperactive giggles. “It was a hard choice to go bald, but we do what we must for fashion.”

 

The girls eyed him, never quite sure whether he was serious or not on this matter. I knew that Nigel was (now) a confident man, but he always had harboured a sore spot for his hair loss. It didn’t matter what I, or anyone else for that matter, had to say on the subject. 

 

“Anyway, you two. Have you had a good day?” He said, smiling down at the twins. Both girls nodded and smiled at him, giving him a hug without prompt. It had been a few years since I had seen my girls hugging Nigel, something I knew I was to blame for. Our working relationship had altered very little, but our personal relationship barely existed - unlike in the nineties. We had been rather close, at one time. 

 

“I’m so glad. I better be going - Six, do you need a ride?” 

 

“No, I’ll stay and clear up,” Andrea glanced at me and I nodded once. 

 

“Alright then,” Nigel smiled angelically, clearly having confirmed his own suspicions with one inconspicuous question. 

 

“I’ll walk you out.” It took everything I had not to roll my eyes at him. He surprised me in the foyer by giving me a brief hug, one arm wrapped around my shoulders for no more than two seconds.

 

“I’m happy for you, Miranda. Just don’t let it get out to anyone before she starts a new job.” He said, his eyes twinkling. 

 

“I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about, Nigel.”

 

“Of course not. But once you do have an idea, we must have a night drinking wine and spilling secrets, like the old days. I’m sure our girl will have landed the position -”

 

“Which position?” I cut him off.

 

He floundered for no more than half a second before saying, “Well, her contract is up next month isn’t it? I would have thought she’ll be looking for a new role.”

 

“Nigel. You specifically said ‘the position’.” I narrowed my eyes.

 

“With Peter… at the New York Times.” There was a very pregnant pause. “You didn’t know.” He said in a small voice. “I’m sure she was planning on telling you tonight.” 

 

“No matter. Assistants all leave in the end, Nigel. Goodbye.”

 

He stepped outside and I closed the door in his worried, guilty face. 

 

 

  • * * * * * * * * *

By the time the girls went to bed that evening, I was exhausted. Determined to keep the evening fun for them, I had acted like nothing was wrong. Gone were the days when I would have my say regardless of the consequences. 

 

“Miranda, what’s wrong? You’ve not been yourself all night.” Andrea stroked my arms as she followed me into my bedroom uninvited. 

 

“Nothing is wrong, Andrea. I’m tired. Perhaps you should go home tonight.” I snapped, strolling into the bathroom quickly and locking the door behind me, needing space to think. Was I being unreasonable? Nigel had rightly pointed out that Andrea would of course be looking for another position with her contract finishing in just a matter of weeks. I knew that. I was rational enough to understand that she would want stability, a paycheck. 

 

But why hadn’t she told me?

 

I steeled myself and went back into my bedroom to find it empty, frowning as I stepped into the hallway just in time to see Andrea nearing the bottom of the staircase. 

 

“Andrea.”

 

She didn’t stop walking, and I was forced to follow her right to the front door.

 

“Where are you going?” 

 

“You told me to go home,” she drew herself up to her full height and left her expression neutral. “I’m just following an order, because that was my boss Miranda who was speaking to me, not my girlfriend Miranda. My girlfriend would know better than to snap at me to go back to my apartment when I’ve spent all day on the outside of the people I thought were - ” she stopped herself quickly, looking upset. 

 

“You thought were what?” 

 

“Forget it. I don’t know why I’m surprised.” She shook her head and turned to the front door. “Goodnight, Miranda.” 

 

“Andrea,” I began, but she had already opened the door and stepped outside. “Come back in here!” My voice sounded near-hysterical, and perhaps it was this that stopped her in her tracks. She turned around slowly, not hiding the tears on her face now. “Please.” I glanced around for rogue photographers, and noticed her expression harden when I met her gaze again. 

 

She came back inside and closed the front door sharply behind her, but didn’t step further into the house. 

 

“You know what, Miranda? I am so tired of the secrecy.” She wiped her face with the back of her hand. “I could cope with it, I really could, if I knew there was an end goal. But honestly, I don’t think I believe that once I don’t work for you anymore, you’ll be ready to tell people. You’re far too comfortable still treating me like I’m just your assistant.” 

 

“That is not fair.” I seethed. 

 

“Isn’t it? You sent me away just now like I’m nothing more than an irritating child who won’t leave you alone. I’ve been here all day, wanting nothing more than to hold your hand, be the one the girls look to when they want more cake, who can play soccer with their friends and - and,” she gulped, trying not to become more emotional. “I love those girls. I would be their family in a heartbeat, do you know that?”

 

“And what about me, Andrea?” I asked quietly. “The person who you’ve been keeping your own secrets from. When were you planning on telling me about Peter?”

 

Her mouth fell open and she snapped it closed instantly. “How did you know?”

“So, he’s offered you a position then.”

 

“This morning,” she whispered. “I start as soon as my contract with Runway is over, assuming the reference check goes ahead.”

 

“Have Emily write it.” 

 

For a few long moments, neither of us said a word, we simply looked at each other. My heart felt as though it was being split in two. 

 

“I’m not leaving you, Miranda. Why don’t you see that?” She said finally. 

 

“You didn’t tell me about the interview. Why?”

 

“A lot of reasons!” She exploded, keeping her voice low enough so as not to disturb the girls. “I didn’t want to upset you! I didn’t want to jinx it and not even get the job at all, but have upset you in the process. I didn’t want you to think I was out for tips or - or using your influence, or whatever I’m going to be accused of, I just… I wanted it to be mine.” 

 

My anger evaporated, having never been real to start with. 

 

“And so it is. Congratulations, Andrea.” 

 

“I’m leaving Runway. Not you.” She took a step closer. “If it were up to me, I’d tell them all tomorrow.” 

 

“And then you really would be accused of nepotism.” I crossed my arms and looked away from her. 

 

“Fine. So, a few weeks, a couple of months, what? How much more time? Because when I’m not your assistant anymore - that’s when people will start to ask questions, Miranda. When have you ever stayed friends with an ex-assistant?”

 

“You’re precisely right, Andrea. So, we stay a secret until the time is right.” 

 

She threw up her hands in exasperation. “The time will never be right, Miranda. Yes, the press will be awful. Yes, we’ll field some awkward questions and possibly have some work correspondence looked into. The girls will have some crappy kids say things to them in school, but you know what? The four of us could get through it all if we stuck together.” 

 

When I didn’t respond, she looked at me as though she’d never seen me before. A hot feeling of shame spread through my stomach, intensifying as she turned towards the door again.

 

“You know what, Miranda? Maybe it’s the right time for you to decide what your real priorities are.”

 

“Andrea,” I tried, but she didn’t turn around this time. The door opened.

 

“Andrea!” 

 

She closed the door behind her with a sharp snap, leaving me shaking on the staircase. My mind whirled with thoughts, a sickening feeling of hopelessness descending upon me like I hadn’t known for years. I didn’t want to live without her; not now, not ever. When she left Runway - if she left me now - I would lose her completely. 

 

But the voice I could never fully quiet returned before I could allow myself to be brave.

 

And if you announce this to the world, you’ll ruin her. For what? She’ll leave eventually regardless, as soon as she comes to her senses and sees you for what you really are. She’ll be left hanging with claims of nepotism, her working reputation in tatters. Not to mention what her parents would think of this. 

 

I knew what I was, above all things, by falling for Andrea. Selfish.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Nineteen

April.

“Happy birthday, Miranda.” She sighed softly as she retreated from my office, her shoulders slumped down in misery. It was only when I heard her heels at a suitable distance did I spin slowly in my chair, no longer facing the view of New York but the space she had occupied moments ago. I removed my glasses, rubbing the bridge of my nose carefully in a vain attempt to relieve my headache and echoed her sigh. Happy anniversary, Andrea.

 

I couldn’t believe the year had already passed. I seemed to have expected that when this time finally came, I would know what to do. Instead, her final act at Runway had been to stand before me in my office and ask me; 

 

“What now?”

 

“You tell me, Andrea,” I had sighed tiredly. “You start a new position on Monday. Runway provided a well-deserved, glowing reference.” 

 

“I know all of that,” she’d rolled her eyes and I’d almost smiled at the familiar expression of exasperation. She’d glanced behind her to ensure Francesca was still on an errand. “And us?” 

 

“Andrea. I can’t… do this, now. Not here.” I had turned away from her to look out on the city, but instead had closed my eyes tightly on the view in a desperate attempt to stay controlled. 

 

I sipped at the coffee Francesca had provided that was cooling rapidly in its paper cup. Another hour and everyone would be leaving to get ready for my birthday party. I resigned myself to finishing my tasks with a terrible sinking feeling. 


*** 


I could hear the noise of the partygoers from here, the moment I stepped out of the car. Roy offered me a small smile as I passed him. 

 

“Have a good evening, Miranda. Happy birthday.” 

 

I nodded my thanks but didn’t attempt to return his smile. I allowed the photographers no more than ten seconds of my time, then paused outside the double doors that led to the event space. I took a deep breath as subtly as I could manage, and indicated to the doormen that they should open them. One more staircase entrance. The hush that fell as I entered usually gave me a great feeling of success, but not tonight. What did a name, a reputation, matter now? I had failed the woman I loved by being too weak. I didn’t even smile as I reached the foot of the stairs and was engulfed, but it didn’t matter. ‘Regal’ was the word being whispered through the crowd as the music and laughter swelled once more. 

 

The conversation flowed around me and I managed to keep up despite an increasing feeling of wanting to burst into floods of tears. I smiled in the right places, I nodded, I made quips. The crowd of well-wishers filtered around me until finally, I took a few steps away from the crowd to find myself somewhat alone with Nigel. He handed me a glass of champagne without asking whether I wanted it, and I took a long sip.

“So.” He took a drink of his whiskey.

 

“Yes?” I raised an eyebrow. 

 

“She’s not here.”

 

“Who?” 

 

He let out a mocking breath through his nose. “Don’t.” 

 

“Fine. No, she isn’t here.” I took another drink, willing the alcohol to calm my frazzled demeanour. 

 

“Because?” He didn’t look at me while he asked, scanning the room instead. 

 

“Not now,” I hissed. 

 

“Yes, now.” He sounded oddly determined, and I was so taken aback by the demand, I responded. 

 

“She left. I couldn’t do it, Nigel.” I murmured. I looked out into the crowd too, not noticing a single face. None of them were Andrea. 

 

“I suggest you figure out a way to do it, Miranda. For your sake, for her sake, and for that of the girls. The potential happiness to be found is more than worth the gutter press headlines.” He smiled and waved at a group of staff from Condé Nast as he spoke. 

 

“It’s not so simple.” I hissed, annoyed.

 

“Isn’t it? What, you think you’re going to ruin her career? If she’s good enough, and I think she is, her work will speak for itself. It could help, rather than hinder her. Besides,” He looked at me, finally, a wry smile playing on his lips. “I don’t know about you, but I’ve never met anyone so damn likeable, it’s almost revolting.”

“And when she leaves regardless?” I tried for nonchalance, but instead the words left me sounding weak. 

 

“Oh, Miranda. This is what real love feels like,” he patted my arm gently. “It’s terrifying, isn’t it?” 

 

“So why bother?”

 

“You know what they say,” he clinked his glass against mine. “Better to have loved and lost, right?” 

 

“Jesus.” I sighed. 

 

“Miranda,” Irv’s hand was at the small of my back, his sly smile suddenly directly in front of me. 

 

“Irving,” I kissed the air around his cheeks, trying not to shudder at his touch. “Enjoying the frivolity?”

 

“As always,” he swigged his brandy and looked around me. “Where is that delightful first assistant of yours?” 

 

“It was Andrea’s last day today, Irving.” I said stiffly. 

 

“Ah! What a shame. Lovely girl.” He smiled a shark-like smile; dead behind the eyes, but with more than enough lust in his face to make my free hand curl into a fist at my side. “Where is she swanning off to next?”

 

“The New York Times, I believe,” Nigel filled in for me. “Talented writer.”

 

“Is she, indeed,” Irv looked too amused, too patronising. The urge to defend Andrea from his condescension was strong, and he hadn’t explicitly said anything yet. 

 

“Yes. I recommended her myself.” I said stonily. “Do excuse us, Irving.” I linked my arm through Nigel’s and we strolled away together, the crowd parting automatically as we weaved through it. 

 

“The dress is stunning, by the way,” he said as he took my hand and we began to dance. 

 

“I’m glad you think so.” As comfortable as I was with Nigel, his hand at my waist didn’t feel like it belonged there. “Valentino got there eventually.” 

 

It was a beautiful dress. I had opted for slightly more sex appeal than my usual classic glamour this year, without even realising. No wonder the designers with Valentino had taken so long to edit and finally create the dress I needed. The sleeveless, deep V-neck was a near see-through material, speckled with tiny stars that were only visible in the right light. They gave a pleasing glimmer as I moved. Cinched in at the waist, the soft fabric was an opaque black from waist to toe, intended to highlight my slender figure. 

“I think you might actually look 48 in another 15 years,” Nigel tried to joke, but his expression was worried.

 

“Perhaps so,” I gave him a small smile. For a minute or two, we were merely a part of the frivolity. 

 

“Miranda.” He stopped dancing abruptly. “Whatever your reasons, don’t resign yourself to loneliness. Both of you deserve so much more.” He said seriously, holding my gaze. I dropped my arms.   

 

“Do excuse me.” 

 

I made my way to the privacy of the bathroom, locking the door behind me. Andrea had always ensured there was a bathroom out the way of the event, that it was kept for my use only until I left. It seemed she had done so even though she must have secretly despised me in her final week as my assistant. The thought of her hating me was enough to buckle my knees, and I sunk into the small sofa available outside the toilet stall. I focused on my breathing until I had enough sense to search for my purse, remembering that it was with Francesca. Because of course it was with her. She was now the first assistant on the clock, yet I’d barely seen the girl all evening. Annoyance surged through me, and I stood up. Wrenching the door to the hallway open, I was stopped in my tracks to find Francesca with her fist raised, clearly about to knock. 

 

“Oh! Miranda, here’s your -” she handed my small clutch over with a gulp at the look on my face. I closed the door instantly. 

 

I missed Andrea dreadfully.

 

* * * *

Fifteen minutes later, I was once more seated on the small sofa with my phone clutched in my hands. Nothing from her, not that I should have been foolish enough to expect anything. I didn’t deserve a thing from her. Not one thing. The woman had been brave at every turn; ready to tell the world, her family and friends without fear. She knew the consequences of being with me, but was willing to stay regardless. She bared every part of herself to me, the Dragon Lady. Body and soul. I had taken it all and then fallen at the final hurdle. Stolen a year of her life. How could I ever repay her? My fingers moved without my mind’s consent and before I knew it, I was calling her. She didn’t answer. 

 

Panic gripped my throat, and I realised, finally, what I was losing. What the hell was I doing? I was scared, weak, every negative adjective that I deplored in any other person, and yet I had done nothing to rectify my own situation. I had let her leave. 

 

Utterly unacceptable. 

 

Not only had I let her leave, I had practically encouraged her.

 

I was striding out of the bathroom and away from my own party within a moment, Francesca appearing beside me slightly breathless.

 

“Call Roy.” 

 

I didn’t stop, just kept walking until I was outside in the cooling air. Roy came around the corner as I was a few steps away from the curb. I didn’t wait for him to step out to open the door for me, throwing myself inside instead.

 

“Roy. Take me to Andrea’s.” 

 

His eyes widened in the rear view mirror but he began driving immediately, the lights of the city illuminating happiness at every turn. Couples, groups of friends, all laughing together. Some wrapped around each other in tight embraces, not a care in the world. 

 

“Miranda,” Roy began hesitantly, flinching a little when my eyes met his in the mirror once more. “Is Andy okay?” 

 

“I hope so,” I murmured. “How far away are we?” 

 

“Another ten minutes, at least. The traffic in this part of the city can be dicey.” He said apologetically. 

 

I clutched my phone, opening the last text messages we had exchanged. There was nothing in there that indicated we had ever been more than a boss and her assistant; I was not so foolish to leave evidence. I called her again. The automated message was my only response. 

 

Please don’t let it be too late. Please. 

 

What felt like hours later, my entire body thrumming with nerves, Roy stopped outside a large apartment building. 

 

“It’s that green door, Miranda. Her, um…” he cleared his throat in embarrassment. “Her name might be a little obscured in the dark, but it’s the buzzer with Cooper on too.” 

 

Oh yes. The ex. 

 

“Thank you, Roy.”

 

“I’ll wait here, Miranda.” 

 

I turned on the sidewalk to look at him incredulously. 

 

“Until you’re … safely inside.” 

 

I nodded once after a brief pause, turned on my heel and pressed the buzzer before I could think twice. Nothing. I tried again, suddenly relieved Roy had stayed. I looked back to find him watching me worriedly and found I couldn’t bear to see the sympathy in his expression. The man knew far too much. 

My mind, unusually, had stalled completely. I had no idea what to do now. Visions of her out with someone else, someone her own age, pressed together on a dance floor, invaded my mind. Defeated, I took a step towards the car, jumping a foot in the air when my phone buzzed loudly. It cut through the otherwise quiet street. 

 

Andrea.

 

“Hello? Andrea?” The line crackled with poor connection.

 

“Miranda? Why have you called me twice?” She said something else but I didn’t catch it.

 

“Andrea. Are you home?” My hand held the phone so tightly it was a wonder it didn’t bend. Her response was inaudible. Reflexively, I pressed the buzzer with her name on again.


“Andrea. I’m downstairs. Will you let me in?” I was aware of how desperate my voice sounded but I didn’t attempt to edit myself this time. “Please.” I closed my eyes to stop the tears. The call beeped in failure down my ear and my arms fell to my side. My body was rigid on the sidewalk, little to no streetlight illuminating anything around me.

 

“Miranda?”

 

My head snapped up to see her standing in the doorway. She had an oversized t-shirt on and little else, shivering slightly. 

 

“Andrea,” I managed. “Andrea.” I couldn’t find another word at that moment if my life depended on it. Perhaps it did. 

 

“Did you… was there something you wanted, Miranda?” She frowned, looking towards the car where Roy was waiting and back at me. I opened my mouth but still had nothing, and by now she looked concerned. “Do… you want to come inside?” She said hesitantly. 

 

I nodded and she stepped back, waving goodbye to Roy after I had entered the small hallway. 

 

“I’m up on the third floor. The - erm -” she dodged around me to lead the way. “The elevator is broken. Will you be okay in your heels?” 

 

I nodded again, apparently having completely lost my voice at this point. I was internally screeching at myself to do something, say something, anything - and then she was opening her front door and I was stepping inside her apartment. 

 

“I’ve never been here before,” I realised as I said it aloud. 

 

“Yeah… no,” she agreed, looking confused. 

 

“Andrea, I… I don’t know where to begin,” I floundered. 

 

“Let’s sit down,” she offered, quickly moving a blanket and pillow so we could sit at opposite ends of a small sofa. When I still didn’t begin, she spoke again. “Why don’t we start with why you’re here?” 

 

I looked at her and found concern laced with anger on her beautiful features. Eventually, she sighed at my silence and stood up, returning after a short absence with two glasses of water. She handed me one and I took it, noticing my hands were trembling as the water spilled onto my dress. 

 

“Miranda. You left your own birthday early. Why?” 

 

“Because you weren’t there,” I managed. “Because I realised, I finally realised, what I stood to lose by acting so…”

 

“Cruelly?” She supplied with a raised eyebrow.

 

“Yes. I was foul. I’m - I’m sorry, Andrea.” I felt my eyes fill with tears and was too exhausted to hide the fact. 

 

“I think I might need a little more explanation than that, Miranda.” She sat back against the pillows behind her, drew her legs up underneath her, and waited. 

 

“I was… weak. Scared of every eventuality. Scared that you would stay, your career and reputation suffering. Scared that you would leave either way - whether we were public or stayed a secret. And if I kept you at my side, let them say horrible, awful things about you - and you left anyway, which… forgive me, seems the most likely outcome judging by my past record,” I implored her to understand. “What did that make me? There’s only one answer, Andrea. Selfish.”

 

“That was never how I saw it.” She stated calmly. “Go on.”

 

“Then there’s your family. Your parents - they already have a problem not only with your sexuality, but with who they imagine I am. The thought of creating a further wedge between you -”

 

“Okay, actually, you know what?” She snapped. “That’s enough. My turn.” 

 

I was surprised by the fact she looked more angry now then ever before. I gestured for her to continue. 

 

“Miranda, first of all - the issue with my parents is that they feel that they can control who I am, who I love, where I work and where I live. They can’t. And frankly, nor can you.” 

 

I actually gasped at this. 

 

“That’s not what I -” 

 

“Yes it is. If I were to choose you, New York, to write instead of going to law school - all of that would be my decision. Not yours. Not theirs. Mine.”

 

“I’m simply trying to explain that I care about your wellbeing -” I tried.

 

“That may be true, but you’re also removing my free will and underestimating my ability to choose for myself.”

 

I was floored by this. She was right. 

 

“And as for my reputation and career - again, they fall into the category of my decision. I was always more than willing to hear your thoughts, take your opinions into consideration, but I don’t think I have ever been offered the same courtesy in return.”

 

I had never seen her like this before. She was articulate, commanding, entirely in control of her own destiny. Her own choices and decisions. I realised I should have been counting my blessings that such a woman would even consider spending her time with me at all. 

 

“You’re right,” I said quietly.

 

“I know I’m right.” She snapped. “I’m not naive, Miranda. Maybe at one time, but not anymore. I’ve had more than enough time to consider what I might do if we ever went public with our relationship, how it might have an impact on my work. But I got a job with my own merit, because the editor was impressed with my catalogue of work.”

 

“Rightly so.”

 

She regarded me with a rapidly cooling expression. No longer angry, having said what she clearly needed to, but now almost disdainful. 

“I have no plans to let you, or anything else for that matter, stop me from working hard and showing what I can do.” 

 

We looked at each other in silence. It was the first and only time she had ever been so in command between the two of us, while I was sat fidgeting and unsure of myself. Finally, she took pity on me.

 

“So. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I’ll ask you again. Why are you here?”

 

“I already told you. You weren’t there,” I said quietly.

 

“Well… now I’m here. What exactly did you need me to be there for? You’ve made it clear so many times that you have no intention of being with me in any public situation, especially now I’m not your assistant anymore. Hidden away at the house is the only way we would have been in a relationship, but certainly not as a couple at your own birthday party.” She sounded almost bitter. “I was a fool for not listening to you. I lived on hope that you would one day tell me we were in this together. You and me, in a real relationship.”

 

“That’s why I’m here, Andrea.” I interrupted her before she could continue. “To tell you - to  ask you, if you would ever consider being with me. In public, in private, in any way you wish to have me.”

 

She stared at me for a long moment, finally. 

 

“Do you mean that? What about the press?”

 

“Yes.” I reached for her hands slowly and she allowed me to take them in my own. “Let them say what they will. I will protect you and the girls to the best of my ability, and we will take each day as it comes.”

 

“When?” She asked quietly, her eyes wide.

 

“I would suggest we speak to my PR contact, Leslie, sooner rather than later. It may well be noticed that I showed up here so late after leaving my own party after no more than thirty minutes.”

 

She nodded slowly, seeming to be waiting for something. I imagine she thought I would once more attempt to postpone.  

 

“Andrea. We don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, and we don’t have to do things the way I’m suggesting. If you wanted to, we could go straight back to that party and I would walk in with you on my arm.”

 

Her eyes filled with tears but she smiled for the first time, shaking her head slowly. “I think doing that the day my contract ends is probably not advisable.” 

 

“No,” I smiled back at her. “Perhaps not.”

 

“You look beautiful, by the way.” Her eyes slid down the dress, taking in every inch available to her from my seated position. 

 

“Thank you,” I raised her hand to my lips and kissed it gently. “Andrea… I understand if you don’t forgive me. All I ask of you now is to give me one more chance, a chance I don’t deserve. I’ve stolen too much of your life, your emotions, already. But if you let me… I would do anything. Tell the world. Talk directly to your new editor, if needs be, for damage control. I would step up, or step back, take the lead or follow you. If you want to run outside right now and shout from the rooftops that we’re together, so be it.”

 

“Promise me something, Miranda.”

 

“Anything.”

“That when the wolves are at our door, you won’t let your fear take over again. That you’ll be brave with me.”

 

“I promise.” I said this whole-heartedly, tears streaming down my face now, and she let out a breath before tugging me forwards and capturing my lips with hers. I kissed her back desperately, revived and electrified by her touch. When she pulled back, my eyes snapped open in panic, but she simply smiled gently and touched her nose to mine for a second. 

 

“Stand up? I want to see this dress, properly. It deserves some attention.” 

 

I did as she asked without question, looking down at my body as she gazed up at me. The dim light in the room illuminated the slightest glimmers over my chest and mid section. 

 

“Stunning,” she whispered. “I’ve never seen you wear something like this for an event.” 

 

“It’s for you, Andrea.” I admitted as I realised this myself. 

 

“Well, I imagine many people enjoyed it tonight,” she stood up and rested her hands lightly on my shoulders for a moment. We stood the same height with me in heels and her in bare feet. “It’s quite torturous. Almost being able to see, but you’re just covered enough.” Her hands traced the fabric over my breasts, thumbs touching the bare skin on show due to the plunging neckline. She found my nipples and traced them gently. “I can feel, though.” My eyes slipped shut.

 

“No one else,” I murmured, hoping she understood that others may well have looked, but they would never see everything she would. They would never touch.

 

She leaned forwards and her lips touched my neck, drawing a shiver from the top of my spine to the base. My hands clutched her hips, balling the fabric of her t-shirt in my fists. After a shared glance of assent, I tore it away from her. 

 

“Tell me what you want, Andrea,” I said in a low voice. 

 

“I want you. I want to have you in this dress, as it was for me. And then I want you on your knees for me.” 

 

I quirked an eyebrow at her but she simply stared back, then kissed me roughly. I found myself taking a few involuntary steps back with the force of it, flinching when the back of my thighs hit what felt like a table. My dress was pulled upwards until she her hand had access to my underwear, soaked already for her.

“Is this what you wanted, when you chose this dress?” She said into my ear. “You wanted me to fuck you while you wore it? Maybe you thought we could sneak away from the party and not be caught, hm?” 

 

I tried to inch forward in search of her fingers but she slipped her hands underneath my thighs and lifted me onto the table. My legs wrapped around her automatically. 

 

“Andrea,” I tried to sound demanding. I tugged at her shorts until they slid down her legs and she was clad in nothing but a plain pair of black boyshorts. Cotton, nothing particularly sexy about them as an individual garment - but on Andrea, they offered a hint of androgyny that when paired with her full breasts and feminine face left me breathless. 

 

She acquiesced and slid her fingers inside me, beginning a punishing rhythm that had me crying out in pleasure. My spine curved and she held me with her free arm as she brought me closer to the edge, her mouth finding my left nipple through the thin fabric covering it, her thumb pressing against my clit, and then - 

 

“Oh - oh - Andrea -” my body seemed to lock in place and shudder all at once as my orgasm overwhelmed me. 

 

Once I had recovered enough for her to remove her hand, she wrapped her arms around me and held me so tightly I felt every broken piece of my soul reattach. Tears streamed down my face and into her hair at the overwhelming feeling of relief. 

 

“Did I hurt you?” The concern in her voice as she leaned back to see my face only made me hold onto her more tightly. I shook my head. After a few moments of silence, my tears had subsided enough for me to regain control. 

 

“I’m sorry,” I murmured.

 

“For what?” 

 

I gestured to my ruined make up and she shook her head. “Still beautiful. Are you alright?”

 

“Yes. No. I’m overwhelmed, I think.” I admitted.

 

“How about you use the bathroom and I’ll find us some food?” She suggested gently. “There’s a few products in there that I know you like. I bought them a while back, you know… just in case.”

 

I could offer no more than a wobbly smile at this. An entire year of secrecy, of never seeing her apartment, while she was out here buying hundreds of dollars of my favourite skincare products. I cleaned my face in the small bathroom, and undressed to pull on the robe hanging on the back of the door, then made my way back to the living area. Everything I had seen in the apartment so far was so quintessentially Andrea; the small space was neat and tidy, comfortable. There were sweet references to her childhood, her time at university, her loved ones. There were also newer hints at the life she led now. A print of an early edition of Runway hung above her sofa. If I wasn’t mistaken, it was the first Spring edition; a pretty and artistic display of 1920s style. 

 

I watched as she appeared from the kitchen with a plate of cheese and crackers, small bunches of grapes and the odd strawberry adorning the plate. She'd pulled her t-shirt back on.

 

“Better?” She asked me as she settled on the sofa next to me. 

 

“Quite. Thank you,” I took a cracker with a small amount of cheese from her and crunched it gratefully. For a few minutes, we ate in silence, and finally I found my voice.

 

“Andrea. Is there anything else we need to discuss?”

 

She put down the glass of water she held and regarded me. “Well. I suppose it would be an idea to get what we want clear, before we go to Leslie.”

 

I nodded slowly. “Do you mean by deciding how we want to go about our coming out?”

 

“Yeah, I guess so.” She thought for a moment. “For instance, would you prefer to tell our closest people - family, friends and such - then make an announcement to the press to control the narrative?”

 

“Interesting. I would say yes to the first; the girls already know, as does Nigel,” I grimaced at that last. “And Cara, Roy. I have no other family to speak of - though, come to think of it, it might be an idea to tell Gregory. Take some pressure from the girls.” 

 

“Of course. I would like to be able to tell my best friend, Doug. He already knows something is going on, but he thinks it’s an unrequited crush on my boss, nothing more. I’ll also have to tell my parents,” she sighed heavily. “It’s better they hear it from me than see it on the news.” 

 

“Perhaps we could visit?” I suggested, and after staring at me for a second as though I’d grown a second head, she burst out laughing. 

 

“Now that’s a 180 if I ever saw one!” She cackled. “Yesterday, I thought this was over. You seemed to have shrunk so far away from me, and with getting the new job I thought that was it. You wouldn’t have even wanted me to tell my parents via a text message, never mind go on a couple’s vacation to visit them,” she snorted. “A phone call will do for now, okay?” 

 

“If you’re sure,” I rolled my eyes at her, but with good nature. 

 

“I am. They’re not even used to the bisexual thing, the reporter thing, even the New York thing. Trust me - a phone call will do for now, and then they can come to visit if they choose to.” She said with finality. 

 

“So. We tell those people, we call Leslie,” I nodded. “Then we either go about our lives as though the press didn’t exist, and let them guess. Let them write what they please.” 

 

“Or, we make a joint statement, maybe an interview, to control our own narrative.” 

 

“Exactly. Perhaps Leslie can advise on that decision.” I mused.

 

“Sounds like a good idea.” She nodded. “One more thing,” she hesitated, but I knew now to wait. To trust. I took another bite of cracker.

 

“You should really give Emily and Serena the heads up.” She said finally.

 

I frowned, confused, continuing to chew.

 

“Well, it’s just that… Emily might have rather an… extreme reaction. And that’s going to be hard for Serena to see.”

 

“Andrea? What on earth are you talking about?”

 

“Oh, come on. You must be aware by now of Emily,” she sighed. When I didn’t respond past staring at her, she continued. “Remember, the night we stayed in the hotel and I said I had wondered about the two of you? Because the rumours about you and your first assistant sometimes tended to be…”

 

“Overtly sexual and inappropriate, yes.”

 

She smirked. “Well, wait until this gets out.” 

 

“Andrea,” I said warningly. 

 

“Fine. Emily was infatuated with you for a very long time, I’m not sure she ever fully got over it.”

 

I almost choked on my cheese. 

 

“She what?” I gasped.

 

“You really didn’t know?”

 

“Of course not!” I huffed, shocked. “I thought it was more of a hero-worship than… infatuation.”

 

“Well, she’s with Serena now, who is very aware of the fact she might always come second to you.” Andrea said softly. I couldn’t help but grimace at the thought. 

 

“Right. So. I will tell Emily under the guise of needing her support at Runway. You can tell Serena… as a friend. I know you’re closer than you used to be.” 

 

“Yeah. We went drinking one night a few months ago, and she admitted she was completely in love with Emily. I think it’s best to let her know, because we just don’t know how this will play out.”

 

“Goodness.” 

 

“This is what happens when you’re quite so irresistible, yet completely unattainable at the same time.” She smiled at me gently. 

 

“Not completely,” I said. 

 

“No?”

 

“You’re exquisite, Andrea. I have underestimated you for far too long, but no more. Never again. I have finally found my match.”     

 

“Yes. Seems like I learned a little more from your Runway persona than you might have hoped.” I smiled at this. “Miranda,” she hesitated. “Before I take you to bed, I need you to tell me one more time that this is it. That you’re willing to go through every difficulty we’re going to endure, fight for us at every turn, at least at first.” Her wide eyes were bright and I could see, for the first time this evening, the fear she clearly harboured.  

 

“Throw me to the wolves, Andrea. Do with me what you will. I’m yours.”

 

“No,” she kissed my lips gently. “There’ll be no throwing you. We jump together.” 

 

“Andrea,” I pulled her closer. “Is this really what you want? A selfish, much older woman who’s entirely too rich, too cynical, too work-obsessed?” 

 

“Yes, Miranda.” We both giggled at the familiar statement. “You are what I want. I…” she hesitated and I pressed a finger to her lips, needing to say it first to prove to her it was true.

 

“I love you, Andrea.”

 

“I love you too, Miranda.” 

 

The future would bring dramatic headlines, angry phone calls with parents, tearful conversations - but most of all, it would cement that nothing else mattered to me but her and my girls. Not Runway, not the headlines, not the new and seemingly endless tirades from Irving. 

 

The world would know, but for now, it could wait.

Chapter Text

Two years later 

 

“You know, a huge part of me never thought we’d get here.” Andrea mused quietly from my side. 

 

“Hmm,” I acknowledged what this meant with a small nod. “Yet here we are.”

 

“Yep,” she smiled widely and kissed my cheek. “Here we are.” 

 

Japan so far had proved to be utterly tranquil. Following two nights in Tokyo, we had spent almost a week in Hakone in a private apartment with a secluded onsen. Andrea, having never experienced a natural hot spring, was utterly charming on the first evening we arrived. She had disappeared to freshen up while I stripped and stepped into the gloriously warm water, and when she reappeared she was wearing a swimsuit. 

 

“No, darling, that’s not how things are done here,” I indicated her bikini. “Even if we weren’t alone, nude is the only acceptable way to enter the onsen.” 

 

“Are you serious?” She blushed at the thought. “Even with a load of other people?”

 

“Yes. Why do you think I chose somewhere so private?”

 

“Because you’re Miranda Priestly?” 

 

“Touché,” I leaned back against the rocks and watched her intently. “It’s entirely too warm for you to be moving at such a glacial pace, Andrea. Hurry up.” 

 

She had smiled widely at my attitude and whipped off her swimsuit, stepping in next to me. 

 

I blushed slightly at the memory, berating myself for the inappropriate line of thought in front of the Hakone Shrine. We were leaving here tomorrow and heading to Kyoto and the surrounding areas, Osaka, and a few other stops before a final stop on the tiny island of Naoshima to celebrate my 50th birthday - and our third anniversary.  

 

“Remember how you kept insisting you didn’t want a birthday or anniversary present?” She said quietly as we began a path back to the waiting car. 

 

“Yes?”

 

“Are you really, really sure about that?” 

 

We climbed into the back seat, Andrea saying a bright hello to the driver we had become accustomed to since our arrival in the country. I raised the privacy screen after a moment. 

 

“Why do you insist on asking, Andrea?” I sighed. “You’ll only do whatever you please anyway.” 

 

She grinned wickedly and I didn’t bother to hold back my eye roll. 

 

* * * * *

 

“Have you spoken to the girls?” 

 

“Yes, this morning before you woke up,” I nodded, sipping my coffee. We were walking slowly around a quiet, tranquil garden in Kyoto. “They told me to tell you they miss you.” 

 

“I miss them, too. As much as I love being with you alone, sometimes it’s too damn quiet in the morning.” 

 

“Hence why you slept until well after 9 this morning,” I smirked and she huffed at me, grinning.

 

“The life of a successful freelancer,” she said theatrically. “I’m no longer bound to your 9-5. Then again, I never was when I worked for you, either.” 

 

“Well, quite true. You certainly never would have slept that late while you were my assistant.” 

 

“No. I hope Linda and Laura are enjoying their well-deserved peace.” 

 

“Ah, the Olsen twins,” I rolled my eyes again. “How they exhaust me.”

 

“I think they feel the same about you, my love.” Andrea laughed, shaking her head at me.

 

* * * * *

 

“Happy birthday, Miranda,” she whispered into my ear, her hand running over my hip as I curled in towards her, tugging the thin duvet higher up to my chin. 

 

“Hmm,” I grumbled, not yet ready to wake up. “Happy anniversary, darling.”

 

“That too,” she pressed featherlight kisses over my forehead and cheeks. “But the love of my life has turned 50 today. She’s reached a milestone.”

 

I groaned and tugged the duvet over my head, much to her amusement. 

 

“Alright then, I suppose you’ll just have to wait for your gift.” 

 

“My greatest gift in this room is the woman who is currently making me feel ancient,” I sighed as she shifted off the bed and into the adjoining room. “Andrea?” I called out.

 

She appeared a moment later with a beautifully wrapped gift in her hands. 

 

“Well, I couldn’t very well give you me as a gift, could I?” I raised an eyebrow at her, having hoped she might do just that. “Later,” she smiled angelically. “Coffee?”

 

“Please.”

 

She vanished once more while I used the bathroom, brushing my teeth and washing my face. I tried not to examine myself too hard in the mirror. 50 was always going to be… well. Best not to think about. 

 

“Are you done in there?” She called from outside, pulling me into an embrace the moment I opened the door. “Beautiful,” she kissed me softly before going inside the bathroom herself. “Don’t open that without me!”

 

“I make no promises,” I murmured, sitting on the edge of the bed and examining it carefully. 

 

By the time she returned, I had the box in my hands. 

 

“Go ahead,” she smiled gently and sat down next to me. 

 

I tore the paper off to find a box, which opened to reveal - another box. I quirked an eyebrow at her, much to her amusement, before opening it. A ring sat inside it. Art Deco, made in the 1920s, if I wasn’t mistaken. An emerald-cut white diamond sat in the centre of a cluster of sapphires, the band platinum gold. It was stunning.

 

“Andrea,” I started quietly. 

 

“It doesn’t have to mean anything you don’t want it to mean,” she breathed quickly. “But it’s the most… it’s the best I had to offer you. It means a lot to me.” 

 

“It’s beautiful,” I replied, just as quiet. 

 

“It was my grandmothers engagement ring. She left it to me when she died, ten years ago.” Andrea took a deep breath. “I wanted to give it to you because… it’s an antique, and…” she seemed to lose her nerve. 

 

“Because I’m old, too?” I supplied.

 

“No!” She looked upset and I immediately wished I could take the comment back. It was hardly her fault I was 50 today, while she remained youthful. 

 

“Andrea, are you…?” I left my question unasked.

 

“Not necessarily,” she bit her lip. “We’ve never discussed… that.” 

 

“No, we haven’t.” I agreed, my heart pounding. 

 

“I assumed, as you’d already done it, you might not want to - which is fine, by the way, that’s not really what this was meant to be…” she frowned. “Miranda, I wanted to give you this because it’s the most important thing I own. When Grams left it to me, she left it with a note that said it should be worn ‘only in true love’. And that’s you.” she finished, tears in her eyes. 

 

 “May I try it on?” 

 

She nodded, wiping her eyes quickly and waiting. 

 

“Well, let’s not wait for my next birthday, shall we?” I murmured, making her snort with laughter and take the box. She slipped the ring out carefully and I held out my left hand automatically. Her eyes snapped to mine. 

 

“Are… I mean…” she gaped at me. 

 

“It doesn’t have to be a proposal,” I said surely. “A commitment, perhaps. A promise.” 

 

“I love you,” she slipped the ring onto my third finger, a tear escaping down her cheek. “If you ever do want it to mean… anything, then it can.” She whispered. It fitted perfectly. 

 

“What would you like it to mean?” 

 

“You know, this wasn’t quite how I wanted this to go,” she mused, admiring the ring on my hand. “I wanted to tell you that it was a commitment, a promise, like you said,” she looked up at me endearingly. “But when I saw you holding that box, I just had this image of us saying vows. You know how good you look in white.”

 

“The first three times, perhaps. I feel I might be too old for white nowadays,” I said gently. She seemed to understand the meaning. “Andrea, if it’s what you want, I will do it. Nothing would make me happier to vow to love you forever. Is it what you want?”

 

“I just want you, Miranda. My true love,” she smiled, touching the ring gently. 

 

“Don’t think I don’t know what this means,” I looked at our entwined hands. “This is the most beautiful gift, Andrea - how ever could you part with this? Wouldn’t your grandmother have wanted you to wear this?”

 

“To be fair, she didn’t say I had to wear it. She just said it should be worn only in true love,” Andrea shrugged. “Besides, it doesn’t fit me. It fits your finger perfectly, like it’s meant to be there. The blue brings out your eyes, like I knew it would.” She beamed. “When I planned this… I wanted to tell you all of this when you opened the box.” She grimaced. “I had a whole speech.”

 

“By all means,” I gestured with my ring hand, noting once more how stunning it was.

 

“I can’t do it now,” she huffed, but grinned. 

 

“Andrea. You know how I hate waiting.”

 

“Right, fine, fine…” she knelt on the floor in front of me. “Not one knee. Just so you know.” 

 

“Quite.”

 

“Alright. Well. Miranda,” she smiled up at me. “First, I was planning on explaining the significance of the note - but as I’ve already done that, I’ll skip the first few lines.” I raised my eyes to the heavens, making her laugh for a moment before becoming serious once more.

 

“I’m giving you this as a symbol of how much I love you. I promise to love you, to respect you and care for you and the girls, for as long as you want me. The past few years have been the happiest of my entire life, even that first year,” we both smiled at the memory of our secrecy. “In whatever capacity you choose, I am, and will be, yours.” 

 

She pressed a kiss to the extravagant diamond as I wiped away a tear of my own.


“I haven’t done a single thing to deserve you in this life, Andrea. I love you.” Feeling quite emotional, I knelt on the floor next to her and wrapped my arms around her tightly. 

 

We stayed there for a few minutes, until my knees began to protest. 

 

“Time to move?” Andrea asked into my shoulder.

 

“Yes, darling.” We stood up together and she grinned. 

 

“You didn’t have this problem the other night,” she said, looking me up and down. 

 

“No, well. I had quite the distraction did I not? Any time I spend on my knees before you is time very well spent, darling.” 

 

She blushed heavily when I winked and made my way to the bathroom, wondering what other surprises were in store for me as I began a new decade of life. 

 

* * * * *  

 

“I’ve had a wonderful day, Andrea,” I raised my glass to her. “Thank you.” She clinked her glass against mine and smiled widely before taking a sip. It never failed to please her immensely than when she felt she had effectively showered me in gifts and love on a special occasion. 

 

“Thank you,” she replied, smiling wider when I looked perplexed. “Well, thanks for being born. And also for taking a chance with your assistant. You and the girls are the best thing that ever happened to me.”

 

“I feel quite the same way. Though I won’t deny feeling particularly anxious when the news broke about the two of us so quickly.”

 

Andrea, as she always did when the topic was brought up, began to laugh uproariously. 

 

“I will never get over that. On this day three years ago, we finally got our shit together and started to make a real plan as to how we would tell the world about us - I believe we repeated ‘control the narrative’ so many times it lost all meaning,” she giggled again. “And the next morning, the press were camped outside my apartment building and every headline was wondering where on earth the Queen of Fashion had disappeared to just thirty minutes into her own birthday party. I still can’t believe we got away with that one.” 

 

“Not for long,” I smiled, enjoying the recollection. “I might have avoided the press by escaping through the back door, but what happened a week later?” 

 

“Oh, yeah. My favourite. I can honestly say there’s nothing that will prepare a person for being mobbed outside a taco truck.” She snorted. 

 

“No. Perhaps that’s what you get for insisting on eating street food.” 

 

“Actually, my love, I think it’s what I get for falling for someone quite so out of my league.” 

 

I glared at her as I always did when she made this quip, but it hadn’t had the effect it had on so many others for years now. She simply smiled back at me angelically. 

 

“Andrea, you took solace in a taco truck to avoid the gutter press mobbing you because you were rumoured to be dating me. You will forever be the one out of my league.” 

 

“And yet, when I got back to your house, you told me I smelled like a grease fire and told me to shower and throw away my clothes before I went near you.”

 

“If you remember rightly, I helped throw the clothes away.” I smiled at her blushes. 

 

“I remember,” she glanced around needlessly; the table was entirely private. “The day it was no longer rumours.”

 

“Ah, yes. Leslie really outdid herself that day.”

 

Two Years Earlier 

 

“Miranda. If you want to control this narrative, now is the time. An interview isn’t really you , I wouldn’t advise you to step so far out of your usual zone. I would, however, suggest that you make a statement.” 

 

“A written statement?” Andrea frowned, taking a bite of her chocolate cake. 

 

“Possibly. You could certainly write a freelance piece for the New Yorker or Vanity Fair. But that wasn’t quite what I was referring to.” Leslie hesitated for possibly the first time in our entire working relationship. “Miranda, I know you don’t have anything to do with social media.”

 

“Not quite true, Leslie, Runway has branched out into social media in the past decade.” 

 

“I meant personal accounts.”

 

I narrowed my eyes. “No.”

 

“Hear me out,” she began.

 

“No.”

 

“Miranda,” Andrea placed a hand over my own. “Listen to her before you say no.”

 

I breathed out heavily and gestured a slightly shell-shocked Leslie to continue. 

 

“Andrea can create a social account that would be used only for things we want to go public. Or, she can use the Instagram she’s been using for work - which, I must say, I would advise. The following is already there, and the content tone matches what I have in mind.”

 

“What do you have in mind?” Andrea asked before I could. 

 

“Nothing extravagant. One photo, a simple caption that leaves no doubt that you’re together and in love.” 

 

“Why do I feel like we’re missing something here?” Andrea said.

 

“I was about to say the very same thing.” I murmured. 

 

“Because it has to coincide with press photos to work. A happy stroll through the park on a sunny day of a new couple, holding hands and delighted to be in each other’s presence? That will sell. But,” she jabbed her finger into the table. “Pair it with the social post? Suddenly you’ve got fans. People who get invested in the relationship. The spin becomes more positive, and then you can fade into the background. Don’t get me wrong - you’ll never be part of the furniture, but as long as you save any arguments for behind closed doors I think we can manage.” 

 

* * * * *

 

“I loved that photo we shared. I still do,” she smiled, reaching for her phone to find it. 

 

“Yes, so do I.” 

 

“By that point, there was only your parents to convince.” I smirked slightly. 

 

“Don’t start,” she said warningly, but she smiled a little too. 

 

“No, no,” I took a sip. “I wouldn’t dream of it. Besides, they’re coming around.”

 

“If you say so,” she groaned. “If it wasn’t for the girls, they wouldn’t even speak to me.”

 

“I’m sure they would, you’re their daughter. I imagine we would never have spent Christmas together without the girls, however.” I conceded. 

 

“It was still…”

 

“An unmitigated disaster.” I finished for her. 

 

The evening had ended with Mr & Mrs Sachs leaving for the hotel room they had reserved, despite the arrangements being that they would stay in the best guest room I had to offer. The less said about their final ‘comments’ on our relationship, the better. Andrea seemed to think they were thawing slightly, though I did have to wonder what they would think if they knew I was wearing her paternal grandmother’s ring. 

 

“I told them I was giving you the ring,” she said softly, noticing my glance at my left hand. 

 

“Oh?”

 

“Mom didn’t say a word. Dad… he seemed a little unsure at first, but then he asked if I was fulfilling his mother’s request. When I said I was, he just nodded and changed the topic.” 

 

“A FaceTime call, I assume?” 

 

“Yeah. Could’ve been way worse, right?” She shrugged and sipped her wine.

 

For a moment, I wanted to tell her that she deserved someone whom her parents adored. Someone they approved of and would support her in every decision she made in her relationship. But then I remembered what Andrea had told me the first time I had voiced such concerns. I chose you, Miranda. I will always choose you.

 

“Yes, darling, it certainly could have been worse.” I admired the ring once more. “I must remember to thank your father.”

 

She smiled again, that beatific smile that lit the entire world up. 

 

“Thank you for choosing me, Andrea.” I said softly. 

 

“Every time, Miranda.”