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More of a Fair Fight

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On Thursday morning Miranda finished getting ready for work in time to make the girls oatmeal. She ignored Cara’s faux-glare at her intrusion into Cara’s domain.

“I’ll be sure to leave the dirty dishes so you’ll actually work this morning.” Miranda assured in her driest tone.

“Mom, can you put extra cinnamon in mine?” Caroline asked, drumming her fingers against the counter near the stove as she looked up hopefully.

Cassidy sang out, “Oh, I want blueberries and honey in mine!”

Cara laughed as she disappeared behind the refrigerator door then muttered something Miranda ignored.

Reaching toward the spice rack, Miranda’s index finger tipped the cinnamon jar into her hand. “Okay, girls, go sit down.”

She placed a steamy bowl before each of her daughters then stole a few fresh berries and popped them into her mouth.

“You’re not eating?” Cara asked, rinsing out a pot.

“I’ll have something at work.” Miranda placed a kiss on Caroline’s cheek then Cassidy’s and announced, “Alright. Have a good day. I’ll see you both for an early dinner.”

“Any preference?”

Walking away, Miranda answered Cara over her shoulder, “Something light. I have a function to attend this evening.”

After slipping on a coat, the Versace double-breast wool in kakhi, then securing the belt through an embossed goldtone buckle, she grabbed her purse from the console table in the entryway. One last look to critique her appearance in the mirror above the table and she exited the house. The sounds of camera shutters clicking and her name shouted nearly made her recoil. Without sunglasses to provide a psychological barrier Miranda’s gaze zoomed in on her driver’s face and let the rest blur. Roy muscled his way through the throng while she waited on the steps. The frenzy, thankfully, remained below on the sidewalk, shouting and catcalling to get her attention. No matter what they shouted or how much they contorted for a better shot of her, hurling insults and stabbing the air with their cameras, she only gave them one very banal dimension.

“Are you sleeping with your Fashion Director?”

“Miranda! Pinch-hitting or switching teams?”

“What about the kids?”

“Are you gay?”

“Is it true you’re the reason for the Sachs’ divorce?”

And on it went.

She descended two steps and met Roy who created a somewhat safe bubble to escort her to the car. Safe within the vehicle Miranda donned her sunglasses and closed her eyes, not opening them until the car pulled away.

“Roy, it may be worse at Elias-Clarke.”

“Underground parking or the delivery dock on Seventh Avenue?”

“The dock, I suppose. It’s actually quicker.”

“You got it.”

After a few seconds of internal debate she said, “The news just broke about Andrea and I.”

In the rearview mirror she saw his widening eyes then the quick look away. When silence remained, Miranda raised the privacy window and tilted her head from side to side to pop the stiffness from vertebrae. After a quick text to Cara to take the necessary pap-precautions for the drive to Dalton she started gathering the troops.

“Well, good morning.” Andrea answered warmly.

“We’re in the news.”

“That explains the small crowd in front of my building. My mother or Reznick?”

Answering with unusual tact, she prevaricated, “I’ll know more once I’ve spoken with Leslie and others. How did you avoid them?”

“Good thing I parked on the street around the corner and used the east exit. Dumb luck, right?”

“Mmm. Well, yes, but now you’ll take precautions. I suggest you call your nanny and anyone else the spends time with Fen.” When Andrea made a sound laced with protest, Miranda doggedly continued, “Don’t underestimate the vultures and don’t rely on peoples’ decency.”

“No one cares about me. I’m not famous.”

Miranda bit her lip and willed the impatience to bleed out of her. Andrea’s own mother showed the fascist masses where to find her daughter. It was one thing to be judged in the career arena and quite another in the privacy of one’s home.

“Miranda? What’s this—oh, okay, I see. You’re thinking about my mother.”

“Just be careful, Andrea.”

“I will.”

Although she hadn’t specifically invoked the woman’s specter, Vivian Sachs was very much a presence between them. Miranda, at a loss how to banish her, fell back on the familiar. “My morning just blew up and I have several more phone calls to get through before I arrive. I’ll see you soon, darling.”

Next on her list was her publicist.

“Imagine my surprise as I left my home to run into a horde of paparazzi. Obviously, you’re not paying your sources nearly enough, are you?”

“Obviously there’s no printed photos or else I would have known.” Leslie grunted then cleared her throat. “So, someone talked. Do you know who?”

“Can you meet me at Runway this morning?”

“I’m already in route. See you soon.”

She hung up and checked the time. Still too early to phone a board member even though Michah kept early hours, Miranda opted to place the call later in the day. Hopefully, by then, she’d learn more.

Lowering the privacy window, Miranda sighed, “What is taking so long?”

“Seventh is shut down. I’m going around to...”

“Just drop me off out front, Roy.” she ordered.

“Yes, ma’am.”

When Roy opened his door, the sidewalk seethed with paparazzi, jostling against the vehicle. Not quite the level of Paris Fashion Week, it did, however, topple the clamor over her last divorce. As she placidly walked toward the building, a security detail met her halfway. With a tilt of her chin directed at her driver, Roy faded into the frenzy. They delivered her within the building without incident and denied access to the press. She strode to the elevator bay only to be confronted by a clique of gawkers. It wasn’t hard for her to slice through them once the elevator car arrived.

Vanessa opened the Runway door and matched Miranda’s steps as they walked through the bullpen.

“Leslie is waiting in your office. Andrea is five minutes out. I’ve cleared your schedule for the next two hours.”

Miranda stopped and stared at her assistant.

Eyes cast downward, Vanessa explained, “I follow the major gossip outlets and called Leslie, rearranged your schedule then called...Andrea.”

Hard pressed not to smile, Miranda resumed walking. “Send the girl out of the office all day.”

“Uh, I’ll coordinate with Andrea.”

“It’s of little interest to me.” she quietly intoned, whipping her coat off her shoulders and tossing it onto Vanessa’s desk as she walked by.

Leslie, legs crossed and sipping from a porcelain cup, sat in a visitor’s chair.

“I’m so glad you’ve made yourself comfortable.” Miranda drawled, taking her seat.

Vanessa arrived and gently set down a coffee from the place Miranda favored around the corner from Elias-Clarke.

“Shut the door behind you.” she murmured. “Send Andrea in as soon as she arrives.”

“Your assistant seems on top of things.”

Miranda pulled out a pair of eyeglasses from her desk drawer. “That’s her job.”

“The pastries and a coffee were set up before I got here. I wish my assistant was half as efficient.” Leslie lifted her cup. “Is there something wrong with it?”

“I wouldn’t know.” she replied, picking up her commercial to-go coffee.

A knock at the door interrupted them. Andrea walked through the doorway wearing a black Donna Karan double-breasted blazer without a camisole. An appropriate decision given the blazer’s modest collar, Miranda thought. Although she admired the fit, she preferred a deeper tease of Andrea’s cleavage.

Rising from her seat, she beckoned Andrea near and took possession of her elbow once close enough. Miranda kissed her cheek, smirking at rush of breath Andrea inhaled.

“Let’s get started.” Miranda resettled behind the desk and put on a pair of reading glasses.

“I think you might have damaged the poor girl’s brain, Miranda.”

“Unlikely.” Andrea retorted, glaring at Leslie as she sat down on the other available chair.

Biting the inside of her lip, Miranda redirected the conversation even though it was amusing to watch Andrea’s mean side appear. “Have you spoken to your parents recently?”

Leslie balanced a notebook on her leg, pen hovering over it.

“I left a message for my mother this morning.” Andrea played with the stone pendant hanging from the chain around her neck. “I’ve been trying to reach her since my father told me she talked to someone.”

Glancing from Andrea to Miranda, Leslie’s features compressed. “That would have been helpful information.” Writing furiously, she carried on, “Christ, my job’s hard enough—”

“Yes, because it’s all about you, hm?” Miranda fluttered her hand in Leslie’s direction as she concentrated on the laptop screen. “Andrea’s mother, of course, doesn’t have an NDA. Until the ‘source’ is disclosed, there’s not much we can do publicly.”

“Your lawyer can send out a cease and desist to scare her.” Leslie said as she typed something into her phone. “Buy us some time. Marcie’s at the office calling our contacts to see what she can find out. If you decide a statement is necessary, we have the faux-beaux angles. I’ve noticed you’ve stepped up appearances with Malcolm in the last month which will go a long way.” Leslie pivoted toward Andrea. “I’ve kept tabs on you also. I know Warren is in Spring training but you don’t have to appear more than casually attached since you’re going through a divorce.”  She tapped her notepad with the pen then said, “You may want to capitalize on your association with him. Shift the focus off of Miranda.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” Andrea said, frowning as she considered her fingernails.

“Until we have confirmation it’s Vivian Sachs, I prefer not to needlessly alienate her but I’ll speak with my lawyer.”

Andrea looked up but her expression was difficult for Miranda to decipher.

“Afternoon news cycles hit around four pm so we have a window to learn as much as we can.” Leslie said, a bit distracted by whatever was on her phone. “I’ll have several statements for your approval by three, just in case but, at this point, I think making one would be a tactical error. So, it’s business as usual until we find out what we’re dealing with, no comment and...” She abandoned the phone, stabbing Andrea with a severe look. “...control your relatives.”

“Worry about doing your job.” Andrea ground out.

Leslie leaned back in her chair and replied coolly, “You’re here because Miranda wants you here but you’re not my client, Andrea.”

“You’re right. So, just stop talking to me.”

Sitting up and turning toward her, Leslie snapped, “If only your mother would have taken that advice.”

“That’s enough.” Miranda whispered, taking off her glasses. “You would do well to remember who Andrea is to me.”

Leslie’s jaw muscles flexed, the only indication she heard Miranda.

XxXxXxXxXxXx

The second the publicist departed, Miranda noticed Andrea’s faint pallor. She stood and walked over to the small cart.

“Leslie’s right, isn’t she? This is my fault.” Andrea declared, spine and shoulders rigid. “It has to be my mother. I mean, I appreciate waiting for evidence or whatever, but, it’s her. It has to be.”

“Leslie isn’t right about that. What could have you done?”

“Flew to Cincinnati.” she snapped. “Used the damn dossier.”

Miranda filled a glass with Pellegrino, added a few ice cubes and a wedge of lime. “You made attempts to open up a dialogue.” She set the glass down on the desk in front of Andrea then took the chair Leslie vacated. “Would the information Q gathered have been useful to change your mother’s mind?”

Andrea didn’t look at her but she reached across the small space and picked up the glass of sparkling water. “I was upset-angry really. Instead of thinking, I just reacted.”

“Your father assured you—”

“Don’t.”

Glistening brown eyes stared back at Miranda.

She palmed Andrea’s forearm, curling her fingers firmly around skin and bone. “We’ll get through this, darling.”

“We don’t even know what ‘this’ is yet. I should have never trusted my parents.”

Miranda regretted the bitter turn of Andrea’s full lips, how the gentleness in her seemed to harden. Whatever words and platitudes sprang to mind, she kept unvoiced. Careful of upsetting her further, Miranda turned in her seat until her knees brushed Andrea’s outer thigh but didn’t otherwise touch her.

Andrea sipped the drink then looked down, tapping her nails against the glass. “There were...personal things, things I really didn’t need to know about my parents. It might be enough to get her to stop if I can stoop to blackmail.”

“In the next few hours, we’ll learn more and perhaps have a better grasp of the situation, yes?” She peeked around Andrea’s averted face, trying to capture her attention. When that failed, Miranda squeezed her knee.

“If my mother comes out as more than ‘a source’, if she uses her name and gives details...” Andrea lowered her eyebrows. Her beautiful brown eyes were flat like a matte finish. “I will cut her out of my life and she’ll never see Fen again.”

“It is my hope that your mother returns your call and you can work things out with her.”

“She’s awful.” Andrea said resentfully. “How can you even say that after everything she’s done?”

“I don’t want to be the reason for a rift between you two.”

“You aren’t. She hasn’t listened to me, even before you and I got involved. I’m through trying to get her approval.”

“Whatever you decide to do, I’ll support you, darling.” Miranda patted Andrea’s arm then stood. “By the way, I sent the cerulean girl on errands all day.”

“Well, we can forget about the ‘mentoring’ idea now because the sight of her just pisses me off.”

“Agreed.”

Andrea turned into Miranda’s space, sliding a hand down her hip and palming Miranda’s ass. “Any chance I can stop by the townhouse tonight?”

“I won’t be home until late.” Under Andrea’s steady look, Miranda rolled her eyes. “Malcolm. Some benefit or other his company sponsors every year.”

The hand on Miranda’s ass fell away as Andrea complained, “I hate he gets to be with you more than I do.”

“Just a little while longer.” Miranda smiled, toying with a tendril of brunette hair.

“But...once we’re officially ‘out’, won’t there be some kind of backlash? No one’s going to believe—"

“The only reasons for our misdirection right now are to buy time and discredit Reznick and Jacqueline. Once that’s accomplished, Adele will make her move and all we have to do is stay out of the public eye until the end of the year.” Stealing a quick kiss, she moved away and enjoyed how the skin above the bridge of Andrea’s nose wrinkled. “That’s when Leslie’s work really begins.”

“I don’t understand how she’ll make a difference.”

“Leslie is very good at putting a positive spin on ‘negative’ situations, darling, but no publicist can prevent everyone from talking to the press. There’s only so much she can do beforehand.”

“It’s like you thought of everything.”

“Not everything.” Miranda’s gaze softened looking into sparkling brown eyes.

“Damn close, babe.”

Before opening the door, she kissed Andrea chastely then called out in a low, bemused voice, “Where is my breakfast?”

Andrea added a bit more sway in her hips as she walked past.

Vanessa set down a plate of scrambled egg whites with baby spinach and a lightly toasted slice of sprouted grain bread on the desk. Miranda grimaced.

“You have about thirty minutes before your meeting with Sierra Shalom.”

She nodded, sitting down behind the desk. “I don’t wish to be disturbed until then.”

“Yes, Miranda.” Vanessa replied and placed a small stack of messages just north of the breakfast plate.

The baby spinach leaves, shiny deep green, covered the egg whites like moss. Nevertheless, she finished it, leaving the bread crusts behind. She used the bathroom to floss and brush then checked her teeth in the mirror. No one at Runway, apart from Andrea, would dare to comment on her appearance. Half of the clackers would take malicious satisfaction in watching Miranda leave the building with spinach between her teeth, a run in her hose, or clumped mascara.

The messages Vanessa left on the desk held little appeal but she picked them up. Standing by the chair, she sorted them, crumbling the ones she didn’t care about and tossing them in the basket. Nothing was urgent. Miranda checked her watch and decided to call Anna.

“Will you be at benefit tonight at the Prince George Ballroom?”

“Which one is that again, darling? They all tend to bleed together after a while.”

Miranda rolled her eyes as she walked over to a potted plant and touched the leaves. “The non-profit for homeless women and children.”

“At the Prince George Ballroom?”

“Is your hearing going now?”

“If your dentures didn’t slip I could understand you better, darling.”

“Ass.”

“Mmm, while this has been pleasant, I am busy.”

“Yes, I imagine so.” Miranda uttered with pseudo-empathy. “Allowing Miley Cyrus on the cover wearing a men’s tie as a belt , layered tank tops and a bandanna wrapped around her head wasn’t...inspiring.”

Anna growled, “It was fashion forward.”

“Right off a damn cliff.”

There was a beat of silence then Anna’s soft chortle broke through. “Well, it was a bit off the mark.”

“You’re fearless nonetheless, dear. I admire your conviction.” Miranda sighed. “Are you going tonight or not?”

“I suppose. I’ll see you then.”

XxXxXxXxXxXx

The ribeye, flawlessly cooked, didn’t interest her at all. Such a beautiful piece of meat, perfect grill marks with just enough crispy fat lining the edges, and she didn’t even cut into it.

“Vanessa.”

“Yes, Miranda.”

“Take this home with you or give it to someone.”

Her assistant did an admirable job of not sputtering in astonishment. Miranda refrained from scoffing and kept her expression neutral.

“Miranda, Nigel’s on the line.”

She picked up immediately then swung in her chair to face one of the windows. “Have you gained any weight with all those rich sauces?”

“If you mean Frenchmen—”

“Yes, I rather walked into that.” Miranda exhaled, relaxing her shoulders and neck. “Is this a business call?”

“Actually, not at all.”

“Of all the gall.”

“I got...nothing.”

Miranda gazed up at the ceiling and murmured, “Have you heard anything new about Jacqueline?”

“She’s sold her Paris flat but it’s been listed for years so I’m not sure if that’s anything of importance.”

“She and Reznick are about to make their move.”

“I did see a blurb this morning.”

“That was Andrea’s mother. At least, the most likely culprit, but a particular picture of Andrea and I may be published in the next few days, I believe. The little blurb will only lend credence to their scheme.”

Nigel cleared his throat. “Well, I’m sure you have several plays in the air.”

“I do, but...” Miranda hesitated as she calculated the risks then continued, “how well do you know Jean-Baptiste de Monet?”

“By name only.”

“Do you think you could finagle a meeting in the next twenty-four hours?”

“I do love a challenge. If I’m successful, what then?”

“I’d like a conversation with him.”

Snorting briefly into the phone, Nigel expressed his disbelief rather well. “You want the mayor of Paris to call you? Assuming I’m successful—”

Miranda cut him off, keeping her tone low and glacial. “I do have some influence in France or have you already forgotten?”

“Then...why not call him yourself?”

Exhaling in mild annoyance, she rose from her chair. “Have you learned nothing from your time at Runway?”

The silence lengthened longer than Miranda wished but Nigel finally answered, “Politics? If it comes from me, the EIC of Paris Runway, he’s more likely to accommodate the request since Paris Fashion Week brings in a ton of revenue.”

And?”

“Having the EIC of American Runway beholden to him would be a bit of a coup.”

“I’ve heard his wife adores fashion.”

Nigel chuckled. “Yes. She did call me two weeks after I arrived.”

Expelling a long breath, Miranda contained her exasperation. “Really, Nigel, of course she did. Céleste Verreau was a model for god’s sake.”

“Yes, well, I...see what you mean. I’ll call her first.” Nigel talked to someone else, presumably his assistant then returned to the phone. “Why de Monet?”

A tiny spark fizzled in her chest. “It’s like you’ve suddenly turned stupid.”

Another lengthy silence but she suffered through it, living on hope.

“He’s the one with power and Céleste’s the one with influence.”

“Finally. I may have a little tidbit Jean-Baptiste will find...savory if I present it in the right light.”

“How are you going to finesse that?”

 “I’ll take care of it, Nigel. I want Jean-Baptiste’s number. Please tell me you understand.”

“Yes, I do. You, my dear, are ruthless.”

“Flattery doesn’t work on me, remember?”

“Since you’ve basically laid the path for me, I won’t let you down, Miranda. I’ll text you whenever I know something.”

At the knock at the door she ended the call and bid Vanessa to enter to greet the new designer.

XxXxXxXxXxXx

Sometime around three o’clock in the afternoon Miranda texted Andrea.

10th fl, conf rm 4B now

“Keep your eyes on my three-thirty.” she told Vanessa as she walked past then stopped, halfway turning to look at the girl. “Don’t leave them alone.”

“Yes, Miranda.”

Andrea replied with a smiley emoji.

Waylaid by the Features Editor Miranda arrived at the conference room later than she intended but Andrea’s handsy greeting and languid kisses made being late worthwhile.

“I do love your enthusiasm.”

“I love your ass in these pants.”

Miranda chuckled low in her chest, lightly rubbing the pad of her thumb over Andrea’s chin. “Mm, we’ll have to hold that thought, I’m afraid.”

Andrea sighed then moved out of Miranda’s orbit. “What have you heard?”

Even though Andrea suspected her mother, it was far from confirmation. In that nebulous space a hope sprouted and Miranda was going to kill it.

She met Andrea’s brown eyes and said, “There will be a direct quote from your mother regarding your divorce and involvement with me in the Daily News tomorrow morning.”

“Well, okay.” Andrea whispered, nodding and clenching her hands. “I’m taking the first plane to Cincinnati.”

“Darling, do you—”

“This has to be handled, Miranda.”

“What are you going to do?”

Andrea tugged on the hem of her blazer then flexed her fingers. “Get her to retract her statement.” Miranda opened her mouth but Andrea barreled on. “It won’t undo the damage but it sure as hell will prevent more. I should have done this after the phone call from my father.”

“Let me clear my schedule and I’ll—”

“No.”

The single word, uttered with such resolve, broke Miranda’s determination in two.

“I’m not going to stand by and—”

“Not your call.”

The burn of Andrea’s absolute refusal didn’t sit well with Miranda. She narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips but Andrea’s expression remained the same.

“I was under the impression we are in this together.”

Andrea angled farther away from her and closer to the door. “She’s my mother, not yours.”

Grappling with the sting of rejection, Miranda nodded and figuratively moved out of Andrea’s way. “I’m here if you need me.”