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More of a Fair Fight

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Nigel whispered salacious gossip about the patrons in the ballroom. Miranda’s poker face, perpetually bored with a touch of disdain, kept most of the vultures away.

“Don’t look now, but your latest paramour is escorting an obscenely young catatonic barbie on his arm.”

Miranda suppressed a laugh as Nigel expertly led her through a turn on the dancefloor.

“I almost kissed Andrea Sachs today.”

Nigel stumbled but recovered nicely. “I think you just broke my gaydar.”

“Try to take this seriously, Nigel.”

“Oh, trust me, I am. She’s...off limits, you realize. I hope.”

Miranda sneered at him. “Have you known me to partake of fawning subordinates? Really, sometimes it’s like you don’t know me at all.”

Nigel twirled her through a turn. “I’ve never known you to confess wanting to kiss one before. A subordinate without the fawning.”

Miranda fake laughed. “You’re not helping.”

“Oh, look, Anna’s hovering with Bee near the terrace doors. I think she wants a word, if her scowl is any indication.”

“Once more around the dancefloor. I do love to keep her waiting.”

Miranda lazily glanced at the crowd. When she saw Anna, she squeezed Nigel’s hand. He smoothly ended the dance not a few feet from Anna.

“I’m going to the bar. Can I get you something?” Nigel whispered.

“Champagne.”

Miranda glided to the space next to Anna.

“I’m relieved you came to your senses.” Anna said in lieu of a proper greeting.

“What are you going on about?” Miranda turned toward Anna’s daughter. “Bee, you look lovely. It’s a pity your mother won’t allow you to dress her.”

Planting a real kiss on Miranda’s cheek, Bee replied, “She’s had the same haircut for decades. No one can compete with that. You look ravishing. Singledom agrees with you.”

“Tut-tut, lovey. You know how her feelings are so easily hurt. We mustn’t mention that horrible Jonathan Weber and his new Miranda.” Anna snarked, tipping her glass toward the Runway editor.

Eyebrows arched, she regarded Anna. “Yes, let’s not talk about feelings, Bee. After all, your mother did have that rather unfortunate melt down in the Hamptons some years ago.” Miranda leaned closer to the grinning Bee. “Streaking at her age.”

Bee covered her mouth as Anna gave her a half-hearted swipe on her arm.

“You both well know that it was Martha Steward and Snoop Dog and they weren’t so much as streaking as they were...well, they were streaking.”

Miranda started laughing. “I wish I had been there that weekend. I cannot picture Martha and Snoop, naked and stoned, knocking on the neighbor’s door and running away.”

“I bet you Martha paid a pretty penny to get that security footage. I mean, what was the poor darling thinking?” Anna said, then handed her empty glass to Bee. “Do be a darling and fetch your mother a fresh drink.”

Bee rolled her eyes but took the proffered glass. “I’ll bring two. It seems Nigel is somewhat missing in action.”

When Bee departed, Anna said, “Seriously, darling, you’re well rid of him. He wasn’t a bad fellow, just not good enough for you.”

 “Mmm. As you know, he was dull. Speaking of which, how is Shelby?”

“Fine. Good. I think.”

Miranda lightly touched Anna’s hand. “Is everything okay?”

Anna hissed an expletive, looking over her shoulder. “Yes. It’s fine. We’re fine. He’s in Houston. We started rather hotly if you remember.”

“An affair which broke up both your marriages.” Miranda said without censure.

“How is my protégée  doing? It still vexes me that she left, you know.”

Miranda stared into the distance. “She’s performing well.”

“What is that I hear in your voice, darling?”

“Irritation at you, I imagine.”

Anna’s aggrieved sigh redirected Miranda’s attention.

“Talking with you gives me hives.”

“Take an antihistamine. Or, better yet, “ Miranda pulled her attention back toward Anna. “Stop talking to me. Then perhaps the both of us will get what we want, dear.”

Anna laughed.

Bee swooped in with Nigel in tow, handing a flute to her mother and Miranda while Nigel held his own drink and a plus-one champagne.

“Before you get your knickers in a twist, I’m late because I was actively listening to a very interesting conversation.” Nigel looked at Anna. “Have you shrunk?”

Miranda laughed.

“About as much as you’ve regrown hair, I daresay, darling.”

Bee abruptly turned away but Miranda witnessed the wicked smile on her mouth.

Nigel swirled the ice and alcohol around in his tumbler then took a sip. Gnashing his teeth, he inhaled sharply, looking into his glass as if in silent accusation.

“I must be out of practice. How sad.”

“If wishes were hair follicles...” Anna murmured.

Miranda sucked in her lower lip, biting down gently in order not to laugh. Bee didn’t have such restraint and snorted into her drink. Anna’s eyebrows rose above the dark Chanel glasses she wore.

“As I was saying before the resident troll decided to scramble up from underneath her bridge, I overheard Ethan Peña tell some unfortunate man with a western bowtie in floral, of all things...”

“Oh, dear god.” Anna muttered, fanning herself. “If I see him, I will choke him with it.”

“My sentiments, too, of course. Anyway, the woman on Jonathan’s arm...”

“We’ve decided to call her the ‘new Miranda’.” Anna interrupted then shrugged at Miranda’s scowl.

“Be that as it may,” Nigel inclined his head, ignoring the frown Miranda cast in his direction. “...the new Miranda is thirty years younger than Jonathan. He’s not interesting.” He paused a second to offer an apologetic look at Miranda. “Well, he isn’t remotely what one would call a ‘personality’. Obviously, she must be an escort of some kind or...”

“Jonathan, despite his lack of joie de vivre, and rather heavy-handed tactics, doesn’t deserve your innuendos, Nigel. Let him enjoy what he can.”

Nigel raised his tumbler and said, “Hear! Hear!”

Anna muttered, “Kiss ass.”

Bee hurriedly asked, “How are the evil twins, Miranda?”

“Rather docile at the moment. I’m enjoying the lull.”

“They’re almost ten, right?”

Miranda nodded.

The conversation tapped a superficial vein, one which Miranda easily blocked out. She scanned the dancefloor, taking note of the different designer dresses on parade. Nigel, Anna, and to an extent, Bee were entertaining company. Bee had just turned twenty-one with interests that didn’t include her mother’s peers and yet Anna dragged her along anyway. The young woman  took it well.

Not ten feet away, Jonathan nodded at Miranda as his date slammed back a drink. Keeping her gaze moving and expression bored, she didn’t pause until Bee introduced someone new to the group.

A very attractive Middle Eastern man smiled, his dark eyes lingering on Miranda. His teeth gleamed against his brown skin. Roguish good looks, she decided, with a full head of thick, glossy hair.

“I’m Onslow Amari.” he purred, lightly taking her hand and kissing it without breaking eye contact.

Younger than the men she dated, Onslow was just the right age for ones she entertained for an evening.

“Miranda Priestly.” She smirked, happy he was already interested if the appreciation in his gaze was anything to go by.

Immediately she turned her attention on the group and refused to make eye contact. Onslow tried twice to interject into the conversation, to monopolize her attention but other than a few polite nods, she paid him no mind.

“Did you know that Onslow is a huge fan of yours, Miranda?” Bee asked.

“It’s true.” he murmured, flashing a smile. “My sisters read Runway with a religious fervor not seen outside of a mosque.”

It was, for a devout Muslim, a scandalous thing to say, but, obviously, he wasn’t devout. Miranda understood the undertones. She lifted an eyebrow just high enough to give the impression she understood and wasn’t offended, but, Miranda didn’t go so far as commit to something mutual. Not in the habit of one night stands, she still took great care to keep them private. Personal trainers, drivers, musicians and movie stars never made it into her bed. Too much risk of exposure. Usually young playboys didn’t garner a second look, too full of themselves and the need to brag to be worthy of her attention.

Onslow knew his way around a woman. He adapted his approach to the object of his interest. Miranda appreciated such a quality, to realize the best approach to get what he wanted. It wasn’t all about his pleasure either. He seemed to genuinely like the company of women.

“Oh, Bee, you flatter me.” he said and nearly made the poor girl blush.

“How’s your father?” Anna asked, redirecting his attention away from her daughter.

Miranda didn’t blame her.

“Playing golf, of all things. He’s actually in Palm Springs.” Onslow casually slid his hand in the front pocket of his trousers, pulling back the flap of his opened jacket. “He waits for me to grow up, I’m afraid, take the reins of the family business and settle down.” He looked at Miranda and grinned. “I have some more wild oats to sow apparently.”

“I can see that.” Anna murmured. She grabbed Nigel’s hand and said, “I’m in the mood to dance.”

About to object, he snapped his mouth shut then gallantly escorted her to the dancefloor. Bee, eyes darting from Miranda to Onslow, made a remark before departing.

“Would you care to dance?”

“No.”

Onslow took a step closer although there was still plenty of room between them.

“Another drink perhaps?”

“One more question so I suggest you make it count.”

Onslow’s slow smile bordered on lecherous. “Would you like my room key?”

***

“You don’t have to go.” he whispered, resplendent on the bed, stark white sheets twined around his body.

Shimmying into her dress, she replied, “I know. I did enjoy myself.”

Onslow groaned deeply. “I think you’ve placed a curse on me, woman. Even now, I rise for you.”

Miranda chuckled with a thrumming satisfaction but kept putting on clothes.

When he made a motion to get out of bed, she waylaid him. “No, I’ll see myself out.”

***

Miranda stretched under the sheets. Her muscles were relaxed. The lassitude that kept her in bed past eight in the morning had been well earned. Hiding a yawn behind the back of her hand, she worked out some kinks in her hands and toes. She hadn’t had sex in a year. There were opportunities but none were particularly appealing. Onslow had been lovely, just right for the moment. It hadn’t been fireworks and convulsive orgasms which, really, was the main reason she accepted his offer. That, and his discretion. He had been nothing more than a release and a...reassurance.

Whatever  flirtation she felt toward Andrea was obviously misguided. Perhaps a manifestation of sexual frustration. With it all neatly packaged and filed away, Miranda was free to go about her life without the added weight of being attracted to her younger, female, art director. Life was easier that way and a damn sight less complicated.

Miranda arched her back as she glided her palms along her ribcage then curved inward across her stomach. She closed her eyes, simply basking in the aftermath, her body buzzing in epidermic pleasure. Miranda released a long breath then smiled. Onslow had been a nice endorphin rush.

Enlivened, Miranda abruptly pulled back the sheet and got out of bed. Evidently the twins had slept in as well. Sundays were routinely lackadaisical unless a work emergency cropped up. She went to the bathroom then took a shower, wanting to greet her children cleaned of the previous evening’s activity. While she felt no shame in what transpired, she had no desire to  overlap those two facets.

“Mom!” Cassidy bellowed from down the hall.

Rolling her eyes, Miranda cinched the sash of her robe and left her bedroom.

The door to Cassidy’s room was ajar but Caroline’s was closed as she swept past. Combing back her damp with her fingers, she entered her daughter’s domain and smothered a laugh. Naturally, things were strewn across the bed, floor and, god help her, even the dresser.

“What is it, Cassidy?”

“Mom, I’m starving.” Cassidy bleated from underneath the covers. Red strands of hair protruded from the edge of the blanket as she wiggled underneath it.

“Well, let’s feed you then.”

Cassidy whipped off the covers and slid out of bed. Hair matted and nightgown skewed, she stumble-stepped toward her mother, not quite awake.

“Easy there, little bit.”

Smiling, Cassidy hugged Miranda around the torso, pressing her cheek against Miranda’s stomach.

“Let’s make breakfast.” she whispered into Miranda’s stomach.

“Let’s wake your sister first.”

Breakfast, she decided, was going to be a feast. Camped out in front of the television with juice boxes and blankets, the girls were too enthralled to be underfoot in the kitchen. She leaned into the enormous refrigerator, one hand holding the door open, then looked over her shoulder toward the sink area at the display of expensive knives. The motion triggered an image to pop up in her mind, of Andrea making their salads yesterday. More memories emerged. Miranda returned to getting items out of the refrigerator but as far as distractions went, it was woefully inadequate. Slicing and dicing her way into tranquility didn’t work either. Where was her famous self-discipline?

The time with Onslow had been a pressure reliever, nothing of consequence, and yet now she felt guilty about it. In the privacy of her own mind Miranda could admit the initial impulse to sleep with him had been born from the need to realign her libido to someone who didn’t work for her. Miranda put down the eggs with more force than necessary, jostling them in the bowl. She had absolutely nothing to feel guilty about and it galled her that she felt it anyway. Andrea was a coworker, going through a divorce with a precious four year old after having been betrayed by her best friend. Miranda stopped cracking the eggs and rubbed her eyes. Lovely, she thought as another wave of guilt crashed over her. She had been in Andrea’s shoes, twice, and she’d be damned if she took advantage by picking over Andrea’s vulnerability like a vulture.

Miranda huffed out wistful sound then pushed back her forelock.

Sometimes, the truth was a mean bitch.

***

Miranda handed over the iPad so the girls could Skype with their father in the playroom. She went straight to her office to check her phone and laptop. Predictably, Nigel had sent a rather nice gif of Oded Fehr in ‘The Mummy’ with a lewd text. While he vaguely resembled Onslow, one was from Egypt while the other was from Israel. Miranda sighed but didn’t respond. Her thumb hovered over the alert from Andrea.

She had sent three pictures from yesterday. The cutest was of Fen, face smeared with chocolate icing and wearing a party hat. Warmth spread across her chest as she looked at the one of the girls together, full of mischief and happiness. Miranda bit her lip when she looked at the last one. It was a candid shot of her crouching down and laughing at something Fen said to her.

Not to reply was the best option and yet, thinking about the way Fen joyfully demanded “Ups! Ups!” whenever she saw her, Miranda knew she was going with second best. Quickly, she picked out a smiling emoji, added a heart, and sent it.

She didn’t have to be mean to establish boundaries but could she keep them? Could she be Andrea’s friend and mentor while being attracted to her? Men were so much easier.

the nanny moved in today

Drawn back to the phone, Miranda’s eyebrows lifted as she read Andrea’s text. At the last second she remembered she wasn’t supposed to know anything about it. Miranda deleted the reply she nearly sent and composed another.

I must b paying u 2 much

hah, I know ur nigel’s source

wrong

care to make a wager?

Miranda grinned, caught up in the exchange. I already have everything I want

do u?

 ?

winner’s choice?

I like specifics

She sat down behind her desk staring at the text bubbles that showed Andrea was replying.

I win, u wear a pinstriped power suit with a vest to dinner

Taking a minute to think of what she wanted when she won, Miranda grinned.

I win, I dress you for dinner

deal. Friday night?

fine, Nigel’s confession in person 5pm, either way

  Agreed. Hope you can get res to Per Se

Miranda laughed. game on

While rereading the ‘conversation’, frustration at her lack of control started to grow. She had fallen into it so easily. All the inner warnings and prudent lectures not minutes before Andrea’s text mocked her. What she needed was distance. Miranda’s body shuddered in protest.

Perhaps instead of teasing banter and looks that went on too long she should just make it clear...what? Make what clear? She doesn’t realize she’s being flirtatious until after the fact? Slowly Miranda put the phone down.

“Mom, Cassidy won’t let me use the iPad.” Caroline announced from the doorway, the disgruntled expression on her face almost like looking at her younger self.

“You’re already done with your father?”

Caroline rolled her eyes as she entered her mother’s office. “Daphne and princess kept talking so loud...”

“She’s your half-sister.” Miranda admonished.

“Her name’s Millicent.”

“Come here, my tiny terror.”

Not needing to be told twice, Caroline scrambled into Miranda’s lap who grunted when her child kneed her in the thigh.

“Now.” Miranda softly said as she pulled her daughter closer. “Why don’t you tell me what this is all about, hm?”

Caroline played with her mother’s onyx pendant that hung from a chain around her neck. “I don’t know why he calls.” she said in a small voice then huffed.

“He misses you.”

“Millicent...”

“She wants to be called princess, Caroline.” Miranda reminded her then leaned back to look at her daughter’s expression and nearly laughed at the outrage in those icy blue eyes.

“Whenever daddy phones us, she always behind him, singing or saying stuff like ‘watch me, daddy’.”

“Her daddy died when she was two, Caroline. All she knows is your father. Can’t you share?”

Caroline opened her mouth the snapped it shut, the obstinacy forming in her eyes so clearly Miranda headed it off before it could harden.

“Are you jealous of the attention your father shows her?”

“It’s not fair!” she snapped, crossing her arms as she looked away from her mother. “Cassidy and I were here first.”

Miranda combed her fingers through Caroline’s hair then kissed the top of her head. “I promise you your father loves you as much as I do, my tiny terror.”

Caroline shifted, grumbling, “If you say so.”

“Is Cassidy still upstairs?”

Sliding off her mother’s lap, Caroline took a second to adjust her top and brush away imaginary wrinkles or dust. Miranda knew better than to tease her little mini-me but sometimes she was just too adorable.

“Yes.”

“How about we play a game on the PlayStation?”

“Can we play Little Big Planet? Please? I can’t take Sing It or Guitar Hero, Mom. Honestly.”

Neither could Miranda but she said, “As long as it’s something we all can play.”

“Ratchet and Clank is good. You should be able to play that one.”

Miranda stood and placed her arm around Caroline as they left the room. When they reached the stairs, the tiny terror took off, calling her sister to set up Ratchet and Clank.