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More of a Fair Fight

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Eight months or so later...

Yeah, okay, she attended the National Magazine Awards in the past but never as an EIC. Starstruck, Andrea walked along the red carpet next to Miranda. The gown she wore, created especially for her by Jamar King, was his way of thanking her for helping him take his brand to the next level. Several reporters, from print and live feeds, stopped her to ask about the designer, commenting on the unusual fabric and russet color. She happily obliged them.

“It’s such a pleasure to wear.” she answered into the mike and tried to ignore the obtrusive glare of the camera’s bright light. “I might sleep in it, it’s so comfortable.”

“So, any lingering aftershocks from officially coming out last month?”

Miranda put her arm around Andrea’s waist, answering, “No.”

“Everyone is dying to know whether you two were seeing each other last year.” The reporter pressed, “After the fake pictures and denials, you have to admit it does seem suspicious you two ended up together.”

Leaning into Miranda, Andrea looked into soft blue eyes. “I think it was cupid.”

The slightest smile occupied Miranda’s lips before she kissed Andrea’s upturned mouth.

Flashbulbs burst around them but she didn’t care. She was kissing Miranda-F’ing-Priestly on the red carpet of the Ellie’s. Conservative America could change the damn channel.

“I’m so proud of you.” Miranda tenderly whispered.

Before Andrea formed a reply, she was expertly maneuvered away from the media throng and steered into the venue with Miranda’s palm on her hip.

“Who do you want to meet?” Miranda murmured into her ear as they stood in the bar queue.

“I’m torn between going home and taking that fucking fantastic gown off of you and hoping they’ll serve cheeseburgers.”

“That’s...not surprising. I know you’ve been fangirling over the EIC of Vanity Fair and Time, not to mention a certain Director of Photography for National Geographic.”

“You know Sarah Leen?” Andrea gushed, fingering the diamond necklace Miranda presented to her that morning. “Oh, my god, I’m so excited I just want to push you up against the nearest surface and—”

“Darlings!” Anna interrupted, flaunting a half-full champagne glass. “I really don’t need to hear the rest of Andrea’s confessionary babble.”

“Someone grab the gnome by her feet and swing her around a few times then fling her away to confuse her.”

Andrea snorted.

“Did you just make a Harry Potter reference?” Anna sighed then tipped her glass until it was empty. “I find that troublesome.”

Before Miranda threw some shade, Andrea said, “So, is Bee here?”

Anna’s eyebrows touched the ends of her bangs. “We’re not conjoined twins.”

“For which civilization is grateful.” Miranda murmured then placed a quick kiss on Andrea’s nape.

“Be that as it may, allow me to extend my best wishes to you both.” Anna sighed at her glass, looked at the queue behind them, then smiled. “Might I join you in line?”

“I suppose.” Miranda made room, giving a cold look to the couple behind them. “Isn’t your little publication nominated for something?”

Anna squinted at her. “In several categories, as you well know since you always keep track of fashion trendsetters like Vogue.”

They moved up in line not ten feet from the bar.

“When I want to be amused, yes.”

“Do you want to know what’s really amusing?”

“Please regale me with your gnomish insight.”

Anna huffed. “I forgot where I was going with that.”

“You haven’t had enough to drink yet to be witty, have you?”

Before the two friends started a war of insults, Andrea nodded with her chin toward the bar. “Here, get in front of us and then you’ll be next.”

XxXxXxXxXxXx

The Ellies ceremony vibe differed from ones focused solely on the fashion industry but Andrea’s inner little girl still wanted to cheer and ask for autographs from her favorites. The venue typically hosted concerts with its cavernous space and soundproof walls. More industrial than lavish, it nevertheless met the capacity requirements. Andrea admired the three faux warehouse exhaust fans behind and above the bar then watched as Anna was pulled away by her assistant to a smaller group.

“Cranberry vodka with a lime twist.” Miranda announced, handing over the drink.

Andrea took an appreciative sip as they moved to mingle with everyone.

“Mmm, thank you.”

“Where is that nervous little man that’s always darting about you like a hummingbird?”

Nodding at a gentleman passing by, Andrea quietly chided, “I don’t need an assistant for this event.”

“I don’t see why not, darling.” Miranda looked around subtly, the faintest look of amusement on her face. “Who else is going to fetch for us? What else is Herbie the Hummingbird good for?”

“Miranda.” She used a softly rebuking tone and tried not to grin. “I need to link up. Care to accompany me or would you rather be on your own?”

“Go. This is the first time you’re among the nominees.”

Andrea canted toward her then placed a delicate kiss just below Miranda’s ear. “I am so getting lucky tonight.”

“But not in the laundry room.”

Blushing, Andrea frowned. “You’re never gonna let me live that down, are you?”

Miranda bit her bottom lip, blue eyes filled with mirth. “Demetria’s still overly cautious moving around the town house.”

“At least I wasn’t the one on top of the washing machine.”

With a careless swipe at her forelock, Miranda grinned. “No, you were the one who couldn’t be bothered with pulling her shorts back up.”

Andrea laughed, hiding her eyes for a second as the memory of her bare ass on display for the nanny to view came back to haunt her.

XxXxXxXxXxXx

Cradling the unwieldy statuette as she got into the stretch limousine Miranda hired for the occasion, Andrea’s body sagged into the long seat at the back. Several icy bottles of champagne, crisp white cloth napkins wrapped around their beaded necks, lined the small ledge under the privacy window. Too content to move, Andrea watched as Anna, Bee, and Nigel pour into the cabin, chattering and laughing. When Miranda didn’t appear, Andrea sat up and craned her neck toward the open door which was suddenly filled with an obscene amount of roses.

“Someone went all out.” Nigel said, opening a bottle with the nonchalance of experience.

“Miranda never half-asses anything.” Bee helped handing out the champagne.

“Congratulations, darling.” Miranda gracefully slid into the limo next to Andrea on the back seat and presented her with the biggest, most gorgeous arrangement of blood red roses, complete with sprigs of baby’s breath.

Andrea quickly cupped the back of Miranda’s head, nails pressing into skin. When their mouths met, she softened her lips and pressed them against Miranda’s then pulled back, smiling.

She ignored the teasing from their friends in lieu of happily gazing into Miranda’s eyes. “Thank you.” Without looking away, Andrea reached out her arm and snapped her fingers. “Nigel.”

Curious, Miranda reclined into the seat but Andrea turned away to grab the envelope from him, sparing Nigel a quick smile of thanks before turning her attention back to Miranda.

The cabin went quiet.

“What is this?” Miranda asked pointing to the envelope Andrea held in front of her.

“Congratulations to you, too, baby.”

Andrea’s chest tightened and she clamped down on her bottom lip waiting for Miranda to take the thick envelope.

Miranda slid the nail of her thumb under the flap. A beautiful pink hue spread across her cheeks as she withdrew the folded papers. Andrea rummaged through her clutch and withdrew Miranda’s reading glasses.

“Let’s see what we have here.” she murmured, tilting her head and donning the glasses.

The limo smoothly pulled away. Instructed earlier by Andrea to ‘circle’ in case the townhouse wasn’t the only destination, the driver eased into traffic. She tapped her fingers against the taut fabric across a knee, practically crowding Miranda.

“This is a copy of Fen’s custody agreement.” Brows arched, she looked up at Andrea. “But...I don’t understand. I already know you’ve been granted sole—”

“Look at the next document.” Andrea urged, her throat closing.

Miranda inhaled sharply as she covered her mouth with a hand. “Th-this is an adoption agreement.”

Andrea scooted closer and placed her hand on Miranda’s thigh. Huskily she answered, “That’s right.”

“You want me to...adopt Fen?”

“More than anything but...” Andrea hesitated, eyes searching Miranda’s. “...only if you—”

The papers slid into her lap when Miranda grabbed Andrea’s face in her hands and pulled her in for a kiss.

Everyone erupted into cheers, whistles and applause.

“I can’t believe...” Miranda whispered brokenly into Andrea’s neck, only to hug her harder.

Andrea gently disengaged from the embrace. “There’s no one in the world I want to raise children with more than you, Miranda Priestly.”

XxXxXxXxXxXx

Swanning over the threshold of Miranda and Andrea’s townhouse, Anna nearly bumped into Cara who had opened the door.

“Oh, it’s you.” the viperous bitch hissed.

Whatever reason the woman disliked her so, Anna couldn’t drum up enough curiosity to ask, let alone care about the answer. She set down the large FAO Schwarz bag and took off her coat while Cara closed the door.

“You should get back to the kitchen, Betty Crocker. I’m sure there’s a seven layer Mexican dip you need to put the finishing touches on.”

Cara’s scowl unfortunately didn’t muzzle her mouth, more the pity. “Baby orcs aren’t on the menu tonight.”

“ ‘Stupid fat hobbit’.” Anna intoned and tossed her coat at Cara.

“ ‘I would cut off your head, dwarf, if it stood but a little higher from the ground’.”

Walking away, Anna snapped, “That coat better find its way off the floor and bring the bag, Betty.”

I must be going soft, Anna thought, barely successful in preventing the laughter from flying out of her mouth. Cara muttered a few choice words loudly enough they made it to her ears. As she walked down the hallway that led to the kitchen she paused by a family photo long enough to feel a wave of happiness for them. The twins were growing tall like their father. As they gotten older their personalities began to take shape and their differences became more apparent. When they’d been born, Anna had stared at the angry red and wrinkled faces, shaking her head, hoping they didn’t tag-team their mother.

“Oh, hello.” Nigel coughed into his fist as he walked up behind her holding up a bottle of champagne. “Gonna make mimosas with the leftovers from last night.”

Inside, Anna groaned. She had quite enough champagne for the foreseeable future even mixed with something else.

“Andrea’s making a Bloody Mary if you’d rather.”

“I’d rather.” she answered airily while walking together into the kitchen.

“She’s always been a smart girl, that one.”

“Anna, you’re early.” the girl in question called out, dunking a celery stalk into the glass. “Here, have mine.”

“Thank you.” Anna accepted the drink with a slight smile, noticing Cara who just walked in. “Miranda, when are you going to fire that rotund hobbit you employ as your cook? She’s quite insolent and her cooking is rather unimaginative, darling.”

“Keep it up and I’m going to put you out in the garden.”

Miranda grinned, cutting up vegetables. “I think next year we should have one so Anna has somewhere to stay when she visits.”

“Okay, no ganging up on people.” Andrea ordered then twisted around Nigel who was carrying a picture of mimosas over to the breakfast bar.

“Where are the children?” Anna asked. “I’ve got them something.”

Cara put the bag down next to Anna’s barstool at the overhang counter then pinched her on the backside of her arm. Letting out a loud grumble, Anna tried to swat at Betty but the cook proved agile enough to avoid her.

“They should be back before everyone else gets here.” Nigel said, taking a seat next to Anna’s then filling up a mimosa glass. “Demetria took them to lunch and a movie.”

Before taking a drink, Anna asked Andrea, “Who else is coming?”

“Adele and Marcus...” Andrea looked at Cara. “...Derby’s coming, right?”

“I’m surprised he does at all.” Anna mock-whispered, grinning evilly at Cara. “With you...just to clarify.”

Nigel laughed into his drink, almost spilling it.

“Do not start, you two.” Miranda cut in sternly, giving each of them a look.

Cara answered Andrea with a nod but then she turned toward Anna, making a slicing motion across her throat.

Anna smirked then took a long pull from her drink.

“What did Michah say, baby?”

Scooping up a handful of chopped vegetables, Miranda replied, “She’ll stop by for drinks but she’s making it an early night.”

Andrea wiped her hands on a dishtowel and looked a bit concerned. “Is everything okay?”

“Oh, yes, she’s got an early flight out to Milan tomorrow.”

Nodding in reply, Andrea then turned to face Anna again. “Um, my friend Doug, Demetria and a maybe a plus one. Baby, anyone else?”

“No, I think that’s it.”

Finally Miranda sat down at the table, instructing everyone to join her. Andrea rinsed off the last of the prep utensils and loaded the dishwasher then carried the glass pitcher filled with the Blood Mary mixture.

“Anyone need anything else before I take a load off?” When no one replied, Andrea sat down next to Miranda.

Trailed by Derby, Cara returned to the kitchen with two folding chairs and two tray tables. Nigel introduced himself and Anna before taking a seat.

Anna privately admitted Cara’s gentleman friend was courteous and rather handsome. She cocked her head, considering what he would like when his dreadlocks grew past his ears then shoulders and, oh dear, the visual gave her an unexpected thrill. Allowing her gaze to linger the slightest bit, she smiled into her drink.

“Hey.” Cara hissed as she rudely snapped her fingers in front of Anna’s face. “Eyes off my man, Lilliputian or I’ll Gulliver’s Travel your ass to Jones Beach.”

“Oh, I’m gonna use that one.” Nigel excitedly called out, raising a hand.

Anna swallowed down the rest of her drink and looked Cara in the eyes, rattling the ice cubes then putting the glass down. “In this scenario I tie you up.” Anna made a tsking sound. “It sounds like you have a thing for me.”

Miranda coughed into her hand but Andrea, perhaps not quite fast enough, laughed outright. Everyone watched Cara’s face burn with embarrassment. Derby quickly kissed Cara’s cheek and placed his arm around her shoulders.

“Don’t even worry about it, girl.” He squeezed her close. “I won’t let her mount you with ladders, I promise.”

XxXxXxXxXxXx

Miranda checked her earrings in the mirror. A diamond stud in one ear and a large gold hoop in the other, she moved her head from side to side trying to decide which looked better with her outfit.

“Hoops, baby, definitely.” Andrea said behind her. She placed a light kiss on Miranda’s bare shoulder, her hands gripping Miranda’s waist. “Nigel and Derby should be back from the liquor store by now. I just hope Cara and Anna haven’t trashed the house.”

Miranda smiled. “Derby’s a very smart man getting them drunk enough they’ve forgotten they’re bitter enemies.”

“When do we have to be downstairs?”

“Do you really want to risk it, cub?” Miranda taunted, eyebrows high. “We have a full house plus the children will be lurking behind the corners spying on the grown-ups.”

“Good point.” Andrea, nodding, expelled a long breath. “We’ll wait until we can come back here and lock the door.”

Miranda put her hands on Andrea’s, drawing them around her as they looked at each other in the mirror. “I’m going to be the best parent to Fen.”

“You already are, baby.” Andrea hooked her chin over Miranda’s shoulder, pressing a kiss just beneath her jaw.

“I’m just so thankful he signed the papers.”

“It was hard on him. I know he hated doing it.” Andrea pulled her closer, her breasts a soft weight against Miranda’s back. “But losing his job and Lily and going through a custody agreement over Wolf is enough to break anyone. He had to go back to live with his parents. I told him I’d pay for Fen to fly out to see him every month but...” Andrea shrugged. “I think he feels ashamed, maybe depressed.”

Miranda turned around in Andrea’s embrace. “If he ever gets his act together, we can talk about a visitation schedule. I know this isn’t easy, not something you ever imagined the father of your child would do, but I’m here for both of you.”

“We know.” she said softly, cupping Miranda’s jaw. “And we’re very lucky to have you in our lives.”

“I forgot to tell you...” Miranda leaned against the bathroom counter and coaxed Andrea to lean into her. “your mother called again.” When Andrea looked away and her body tensed against Miranda’s, Miranda expected it. She gripped Andrea a little tighter. “I’m not going to push you into something you’re not ready for, Andrea, but she has a new life in Texas—”

“I don’t want to hear about her rich car dealership husband and I really don’t want to hear her ‘pitch’ to ‘satisfy all my automotive needs’ again.”

“But think of the discount we could get on a pickup truck!”

Andrea’s lips briefly flickered up in a smile. “You’re not funny.”

“Out of the two of us, I am the funny one.”

“Hmm, if you say so.” Andrea stepped back but held Miranda’s hands. “I’ve got the crappiest parents.”

“Your father—”

“Is living in a small apartment an hour from Cincinnati and is working for non-profit specializing in illegal immigration. He doesn’t have a pot to piss in, Miranda.”

“But, at least he’s helping—”

“He can only speak English. What kind of help—”

“Okay, okay, I understand. I’m sorry for bringing him up.” Miranda licked her lower lip. “I could make it up to you.”

“And how would you do that?”

Miranda reached across the space between them and fingered the placket front of Andrea’s button down. “However you liked.”

“You don’t play fair, Priestly.” Andrea closed the gap, fingers threading into the lower strands of hair at the back of Miranda’s neck. “Let’s see what you can do with ten minutes.”

Without preamble, she pounced, taking Andrea’s mouth in a dirty kiss that lacked finesse but made up for it in urgency. She kept their mouths fused while her hands got busy unbuttoning Andrea’s jeans then slipping a hand inside.

“You’re not ready.” Miranda muttered then withdrew her finger, holding it up to Andrea’s mouth.

Immediately understanding, Andrea sucked on the finger, coating it with her saliva. Looking through half-mast eyes, Miranda took her finger back and carefully reinserted it inside of Andrea’s pants.

“Jesus, that did it.”

Andrea hummed. “You know it doesn’t take much.”

Adjusting the angle of her penetration, Miranda’s lips clamped down on the soft skin of Andrea’s neck. Impatient, she used her teeth and dragged them down the tendon along the column of Andrea’s throat, thrusting her fingers as deeply as they would go.

“C’mon, take what you want.”

Miranda sank to her knees, pulling down Andrea’s jeans and underwear.

“Seven minutes.”

“I only need three.” Miranda boasted then nipped a spot near Andrea’s clit.

Fingers once more sheathed within wet heat, Miranda flexed then curled, establishing a pace that was equal parts retribution and persuasion. Her tongue demanded as it circled and flicked. Andrea groaned, fisting the hair at the back of Miranda’s head. She lifted a leg and hooked it over Miranda’s shoulder, grinding her hips in insistence. Andrea’s arousal coated her nose, mouth and chin, the scent something rich, redolent of heavy pleasure. Half-crazed, on the brink of coming herself, Miranda grappled with control but Andrea started sobbing, words toppling over each other in wantonness. Need riding her, Miranda broke under the pleasure and selfishly ceased giving. Andrea cried out, the heel of her foot digging into Miranda’s back at the same time her fingers wrenched Miranda’s hair. Mindlessly mouthing the shorn pubic hair above Andrea’s clit, Miranda’s fingers extended the orgasm. Andrea’s pussy bore down hard as she shamelessly moaned obscenities. When another gush of fluid seeped from Andrea, Miranda licked it up using the flat of her tongue.

A long minute later Andrea pushed Miranda onto her back and straddled her. “I need...please...let me.”

Understanding, Miranda pushed down her pants, squirming until one leg was completely free then spreading them. Andrea kissed her, moaning as her tongue licked the inside of Miranda’s mouth. She worked her way down Miranda’s body quickly, bypassing her covered breasts and torso, to directly dive between her legs.

“Fuck.” Miranda hissed, slapping the carpeted floor, eyes squeezed shut.

It happened like that sometimes. Caught unaware, they were swept up in the mania where nothing except assuaging their needs took precedence. It was greedy and hedonistic but not selfish. That Andrea was possessed by her desire didn’t take away from Miranda’s pleasure. Frankly, Andrea losing control was its own aphrodisiac and Miranda reveled in it.

“Yessss, that’s it. I’m going to come so hard for you.”

Andrea hit her stroke but Miranda urged her up, gripping either side of Andrea’s face when she relented. Not stopping her thrusts, Andrea stared down at her, brown eyes almost black. Miranda wrapped her legs around Andrea’s waist and tilted her pelvis, encouraging her to go deeper.

“I’m yours.” Miranda’s pussy clamped down on Andrea’s wiggling fingers. “There’s...nothing you do...th-that I wouldn’t crave.”

Andrea’s mouth went slack, eyelids drooping as she used her entire body to rock into Miranda.

Miranda pulled her closer and whispered, “So fuck me exactly how you want to.”

Andrea cried out but immediately stifled it, plunging her fingers into Miranda hard. The tempo was brutal but Miranda’s body responded, her body ripening. Robbed of breath, she gave up the last shred of restraint, then fell to the relentless onslaught of Andrea’s fervor.  

Later Miranda drew breath without a struggle, the endorphins receding like the tide, leaving a somnolence in its wake.

“Baby...”

Recognizing the tone, Miranda allowed her leg to fall from Andrea’s shoulder. “I know.”

Andrea buried her face in Miranda’s stomach and mumbled against her skin, “I don’t want to leave.”

Miranda cupped the back of Andrea’s head and lightly scratched it. “I know.”

Thankfully it didn’t take long to freshen up. Since the party was for family and friends, the dress code was fashionably casual which, given the attendees, wouldn’t be too hard to achieve.

Andrea smirked at her.

“You’re looking very smug.” She softly rebuked with a shrug. “You earned it.”

“That’s not why.” Andrea rearranged her hair into a messy bun. “It’s been a while since I’ve last drawn it out for you. I was just planning to do something about that soon.”

Miranda pursed her lips, hollowing out her cheeks. “Oh, then, let’s play.”

Andrea tripped over her feet which made Miranda chuckle. By the time they walked down the stairs and into the kitchen, Cara was hovering in front of the oven.

“I thought you took the day off.”

Wringing her hands, she grumbled, “I did.”

Andrea opened the refrigerator and without looking up, said, “I give her twenty seconds before she breaks.”

“Where’s everyone?” Miranda asked, glancing at the kitchen clock. “Ten seconds.”

“In the backyard enjoying cigars.” Cara muttered, tapping her fingers on the counter and glaring at the oven.

“Four seconds.” Miranda taunted.

Andrea said, “Pull it out already.”

“Oh, thank god.” Cara groaned as she slipped on the oven mitts. “It’s a beautiful cut of meat. I’d hate to ruin it.”

Laughing into her hand, Andrea turned away.

“What’s gotten into her?” Cara asked.

More wheezing sounds from Andrea caused Miranda to go back and review the exchange. Immediately she rolled her eyes, muttering, “Twelve year old boy.”

Cara glared from one to the other then understanding struck. “Are you sure she’s going to be thirty-seven?”

“She can’t resist lowbrow humor.” Miranda smirked, appreciating Andrea’s laughter if not the cause.

“Well, you picked her.”

“I certainly did.”

Andrea looked over her shoulder, more composed now although her eyelashes were spiked with tears.

Staring at the roast, Cara said, “I’m not sure I want to eat it now.”

Miranda threw a nearby dishtowel at Andrea.

“Mom!” Cassidy tore through the kitchen with Fen hot on her heels despite Miranda’s sharp warning.

Caroline followed more sedately but possessed the cheek to take off as soon as she cleared the kitchen.

“I don’t even want to know.” Andrea sighed.

When the doorbell sounded, Miranda went to answer it, waving off Cara.

“Adele, Marcus, welcome.”

“Here.” Adele handed over a cardboard box. “Andy said you could use some dinner rolls. We got them from a small bakery in our neighborhood.”

“Well, there’s never enough carbohydrates in this house.” Miranda moved to the side.

Marcus held two identical pastry boxes by the string tied around them. “We bought dessert, too.”

“If there’s chocolate covered bacon in one of those, you may turn right back around, Marcus.”

“Andrea said you would say that.” Marcus grinned as he shut the door behind him. “She told me exactly what to reply.” He glanced up, stroking his goatee as if trying to remember then looked Miranda in the eye. “Truffles in Vermont.”

“Yes, well, let’s go back to the kitchen, shall we?”

Miranda led the way.

“But what does it mean, Miranda?” Adele called out, her heels clicking quickly after Miranda.

XxXxXxXxXxXx

Dishes were passed around the dining room table as the conversation sounded like a orchestra warming up. After Marcus and Derby moved some furniture around, Andrea and Cara set up the kid’s table within their line of sight. A high pitched squeal yanked Miranda’s attention from half-listening to Anna prattle on about latex. Glancing at the children, she smiled at the fun they were having, more content than she had a right to be. Andrea squeezed Miranda’s knee while she talked to Doug who now lived in Chicago. Derby and Marcus playfully argued about something related to sports but Miranda let it drift by. Adele patiently scribbled down directions for a casserole Cara insisted reheated beautifully. Nigel excused himself to take a call. He was gone long enough Miranda wondered if it was bad news.

“You’re being quiet. Haven’t listened to a word I said either.” Anna commented, sitting on the other side of her. “But you look happy.”

Miranda lifted her wine glass. “I’m a very, very lucky woman.”

“That you are. And to think...” Anna speared a baby carrot. “it’s all because of me.”

“And how did you come to this conclusion?”

“My decision to postpone Andrea’s promotion. It’s what led her to your little magazine, darling.”

“I think I owe Nigel—”

“Who wouldn’t have been able to tempt her away if she was already my Fashion Director.”

Miranda gently touched her glass to Anna’s. “To gnome logic.”

Finally Nigel returned, his smug expression rousing her curiosity. He tilted his head to the side, indicating she follow. She excused herself and walked out of the room into the hallway.

“Michah realized after she left she didn’t tell you the good news and since I had a small part in bringing it about, I asked her if I could tell you.”

“Always the flair for drama.”

Nigel preened, tugging on the hem of his vest. “I do love the theater.”

“Can we get on with this before someone comes looking for me?”

“How things have changed. You and Andy are well suited.”

Leaning against the wall and crossing her arms, Miranda indulged in a slight smile.

“Tomorrow in Corriere della Sera there will be a small article about Follet.”

Miranda frowned. “The Italian daily? Is that why Michah’s flying to Milan?”

Nigel sucked in his lips then opened them with a faint ‘pop’ and relayed, “She wanted to admire her work up close and make sure Follet doesn’t get a last minute reprieve.”

“Well, give me the Cliff Notes version.” Miranda glanced over her shoulder. “I do have a room full of guests.”

“Remember when Jacqueline was on that little show ‘Design Divas’ and got slapped by the Russian Ambassador’s wife? She and Donatella are quite good friends.” Miranda nodded before he continued. “Well, Michah remembered, too, and she called Donatella. They had a lovely chat. With Donatella’s intel and Michah’s investigator, they dug up some pretty scandalous dirt on the French tart.”

Miranda sighed, completely bored. “I could care less about tales of a in flagrante delicto—”

“Do you know why the Ambassador’s wife slapped Jacqueline?” So eager to tell her, Nigel couldn’t contain himself and blurted quietly, “Because she stole Raisa’s designs.”

Miranda’s eyebrows shot up.

“Raisa’s sketch book and notes went missing before the first episode was even shot.”

“I don’t recall Raisa accusing her of anything on camera but, honestly, I just wanted to see the slap. In slow motion. Several times.”

“Yes, well, it didn’t end there.”

“Oh, my god, she hunted Jacqueline down and slapped her again?”

Nigel sighed, cocking his head. “No. At least pretend like you want to know.”

“Yes, if you’ll stop being a pest.”

“Aren’t you the best?”

Miranda groaned. “You’re my guest.”

“Fine, let’s go dine.”

“Enough, okay, you win. So, how did your sources discover Jacqueline stole Raisa’s sketches? Don’t tell me she actually tried to pawn them off as her own.”

Abruptly looking at her, Nigel’s amusement vanished. “Yes, she did, in Milan, to our sister publication, in fact.”

Miranda clenched her teeth, fighting the urge to unleash her anger. “Lucinda wouldn’t dare trust Follet. I refuse to believe Milan Runway printed anything—”

“No, no, it was Michah’s plan when she learned Jacqueline was in Italy. No one in the industry wanted to touch Follet after the Design Divas debacle.” Nigel pushed back his signature glasses. “There were rumors, you know, but she was fast becoming the Voldemort of fashion, she who must not be named. Michah, fancying herself a Harry of sorts, decided to forgo the epic battle and put the woman out of her misery, never to arise again.”

“You’re a Potterhead.”

Nigel scowled, turning his nose up. “I can’t believe that’s all you got out of that.”

“Continue. Quickly.”

 Clearly annoyed, he obeyed. “It was the perfect opportunity for Michah to set a trap. I got into contact with Lucinda and she instructed her Creative Director to indirectly contact Jacqueline under the guise of Milan Runway needing a new designer to showcase.”

“Michah is...clever.” she murmured, the praise in her voice unmistakable.

Nigel flicked at his sleeve. “You both share that trait.”

“Jacqueline took the bait, obviously.”

“Lucinda had someone from the Creative team to meet with Jacqueline and managed to make a copy of Jacqueline’s ‘sketchbook’ then passed it on to Michah.”

“Jacqueline allowed it out of her possession?”

“Not so much allowed as was powerless to stop it. They made up an excuse that the Creative Director was in a meeting but, because her designs were so revolutionary, they couldn’t wait to show him.”

“She didn’t insist on making the pitch herself?” Miranda frowned, not quite believing Jacqueline was so obtuse.

Nigel smirked. “Jacqueline’s Italian is rather limited and the assistant laid it on thick then rushed out with the book. What else could she do?” Shrugging, he displayed no sympathy. “She’d fallen to the D-List.”

“Well, I’ve got the gist of it.” Miranda murmured as she straightened up and unfolded her arms. “I’ll have lunch with Michah when she gets back to get the finer details and amusing observations.”

“Baby, is everything okay?” Andrea asked as she appeared just behind Nigel’s shoulder.

“Yes, darling. We were just wrapping it up.”

Nigel smiled at Andrea then made his way down the hall.

Andrea took Miranda’s hand, threading their fingers together. “Want to tell me about it?”

She looked so relaxed and happy, brown eyes shimmering, all Miranda wanted was to enjoy the moment. “Later, I promise.”

“Oh, you can count on it.” Andrea led her down the hallway. Looking back over her shoulder, she teased, “I love it when you look evilly satisfied by something.” She stopped, turned then moved in, whispering into Miranda’s ear, “It really translates well in the bedroom for me.”

XxXxXxXxXxXx

The girls tapped on their door early Saturday morning. Miranda stirred first, propping up on her elbows and glaring blurrily at it. She glanced at Andrea’s brunette locks fanning out across a pillow, how the sheet serpentined its way around her curves, revealing tantalizing glimpses of body parts that never failed to elicit an urge to touch within Miranda. When a more persistent knocking sounded, she pulled the sheet over Andrea’s nudity and cautiously left the bed to search for something wear. She went to the bathroom and took a robe off the hook. Pretty certain as to the knocker’s identity, Miranda walked to the door, securing the belt around her waist.

Maman, can we come in?”

Fen stood in the doorway, long brown locks in disarray, cheeks and lips blooming with a reddish tint, Lou the sloth dangling from her grasp. Behind her, Caroline and Cassidy stood, looking entirely too alert.

“Be quiet and don’t wake Andrea.” she whispered, ushering them onto the bed. “Come here, Fen.”

Miranda scooted to the edge of the bed, cradling Fen’s body against her own. The twins snuggled between Fen and Andrea who sleepily cuddled Caroline while Cassidy put her hand on Fen’s back.

“Everything okay?” Andrea mumbled, eyes closed.

“Cara’s making breakfast.” Caroline whispered.

Cassidy perked up. “What’s she making?”

“I dunno but you know it’s gonna be good.”

Fen dolefully responded, “I bet it’s omelets. I like ham and cheese.”

“Maybe she’s making hash browns.” Cassidy said, hope lifting her tone.

“Shhh.” Andrea hissed, burrowing into the pillow.

No longer sleepy, Miranda stroked Fen’s hair as she looked at her children’s hopeful expressions.

“Okay, let’s go downstairs but be quiet. And don’t climb over Andrea.”

Miranda hefted Fen up from the bed as she stared at the twins in warning. Long accustomed to their mother’s expressions, Caroline and Cassidy eased out of the bed away from Andrea who shifted and sighed. Miranda released Fen to trail after the twins but stole a second to kiss the back of Andrea’s warm neck.

“Mmm. Save me something.”

“Of course, darling.”

Descending the stairs next to Fen, Miranda instructed her to hold onto the banister and not to rush off to meet the twins at the bottom. Poor Lou thumped his head against the edge of each step until Fen pulled him up in a choke hold. Andrea had expressed a desire for more children, perhaps adopting a boy or artificial insemination. Fen, although of average height for her age, had lost the bow-legged stubbiness of a toddler. Ever since she started first grade, her speech improved markedly although she often lapsed into French which brought attention to how different she was from her classmates. Miranda suspected things were easier for Fen at the French Institute. Just six years old, Fen’s features had become more angular despite the chipmunk cheeks. Time was flying by, Andrea’s window of fertilization narrowing, but adoption was still a very real possibility. The last thing Miranda wanted was to slow down Andrea’s career achievements or make them harder to attain with a baby on her hip. Obviously, there was still more to discuss. But, oh, another brunette with rosy cheeks in the house made Miranda’s heart flutter.

“About time you dragged yourself out of bed.”

Miranda pushed back the flop of hair from her brow, narrowing her eyes at the cook. “Do you want to move in?”

Cara narrowed her eyes at Miranda.

“You don’t work the weekends, you know. You were here on your day off, too.”

“Derby’s on the road again.” she said, sliding a pan of mini-egg puffs into the oven with one hand and keeping Fen from getting too close with the other. She straightened up after closing the oven door. “What if I want to move in?”

Miranda picked Fen up and put her in the booster between Cassidy and Caroline at the breakfast bar. Getting cups from the cabinet, she replied, “How would that work between you and Derby?”

“Is Derby coming?” Fen asked with excitement, plopping Lou down on the counter.

Pouring juice, Miranda didn’t bother to answer and waited for a reply to her questions.

“Not this morning, chou.” Cara answered then looked at Miranda and shrugged. “Same way it works for us now.”

Fen nodded, afterwards whispering something into Caroline’s ear.

Although curious, Miranda turned her attention away from the two.

Cassidy grabbed Lou and nestled him between Fen’s side and the booster’s when Cara pointed toward the stuffed animal.

“So, Fen, ham and cheese omelet, right?”

“Damn right.”

Cassidy clamped her palm across Fen’s mouth, the panicked expression on her face telegraphing a particular level of guilt. Caroline’s jaw hung open then immediately shut tight as she glared at her twin. Cara frowned at Cassidy but Miranda, for many reasons, struggled not to laugh despite what a wrong message it would send.

“Fen, apologize to Cara for using a bad word.” Miranda ordered sternly.

Fen said something through the obstruction of Cassidy’s hand. Her contrite expression, conveyed remorse but Miranda arched her brows at her tiny terror.

Her expression sheepish, Cassidy withdrew her hand.

“I’m sorry, Cara.”

Miranda stared at the counter because looking up at the children wasn’t an option if she wanted to maintain a semblance of authority. They looked so cute, it was early, and life was so good she just wanted to enjoy it.

Ruffling Fen’s hair, the cook murmured, “It’s okay.”

“Did you make hash browns?”

Returning to the stove, Cara replied, “Damn right.”

“Cara!” Miranda abruptly turned away from the shrieks of laughter but she couldn’t stop the grin from flashing across her face.

“Good morning.” Andrea said as she entered the kitchen, heading straight for the fridge.

“Mommy!”

“Morning, Andy.”

“Whatsup!”

Pulling out a pitcher of orange juice, Andrea looked over her shoulder and caught Cara’s attention. “Derby out of town again?”

Cara answered her with a curt nod.

Not a bit surprised Andrea deduced the situation quite so easily, Miranda claimed the bar stool at the end. “We may be getting a live-in cook.”

Andrea’s gaze zeroed in on Cara whose back was turned then toward Miranda.

“We’ll all discuss it later?” Miranda suggested, tilting her head toward the noisy children.

“Okay.”

“Can we sit at the table?” Caroline asked, already moving things off the breakfast bar. “There’s not enough room at the counter.”

Andrea looked up, juice cup in hand, then moved to her daughter’s chair and pulled her from the booster with her free arm. “Let’s go.”

Fen giggled as her mother carried her football-style to the table.

“Ro, Sidy, you guys are in charge of setting the table.” Andrea called out as she settled Fen into the booster Caroline carried over. Handing over the cup of juice, she said, “Work on this until the food is ready, chou-chou.”

XxXxXxXxXxXx

 Miranda drove them in the SUV to a small town outside of New Haven, Connecticut. Headphones on and eyes glued to the screen of the vehicle’s entertainment system, the children were quietly enjoying a movie. Andrea pushed back her sunglasses then reached over to take Miranda’s hand.

“It’s beautiful out here.”

“I almost bought a farmhouse out this way but at the last minute the Vineyard cottage went on the market.”

Andrea grinned. “Hard choices.” Then, her expression sobered. “Speaking of which, we haven’t had a chance to discuss...” She peered over her shoulder at the girls. Satisfied they were occupied, Andrea faced Miranda. “how to include Fen’s half-brother into our family.”

“Don’t doubt that I want to, darling. It’s important for Fen and the twins but...” Miranda glanced from the road to reassure Andrea. “I don’t relish dealing with your ex.”

Squeezing Miranda’s hand, she nodded. “He’s getting better—”

“He loathes me, Andrea.”

“That’s true. Listen, you don’t have to, baby. I know how hard it is. He and Lily are still trying to co-parent apart but he’s trying.”

“It’s not like I don’t know how to handle belligerent men. It’s fine, really, I just don’t want to overstep or be the excuse he needs to make things difficult for you.”

Leaning across the console, Andrea lightly kissed Miranda’s jaw. “You’re sweet.”

Miranda huffed with mock-irritation.

“We’ll figure it out, baby, like we always do.”

Signaling, she took the next exit. The decrease in speed caught the children’s attention. Excited questions bounced off the interior of the SUV.

“No, we’re not stopping. We’ve got about another ten minutes until we get there. No, we’re not going to tell you. Cassidy, do not unbuckle your seatbelt.” Andrea answered and scolded rapidly, twisting in her seat. “Does anyone have to go to the bathroom?”

Fen raised her hand. “I do! Maman said we could have a snack if we behaved.”

Miranda felt the look Andrea shot her way as she pulled into a travel center. “When I park, don’t get out before you put the headphones away, please, and stay next to the car.”

Caroline unbuckled Fen, both of whom exited on Miranda’s side. She held their hands and waited for Andrea and Cassidy near the front of the building.

“We don’t need to gas up?” Andrea asked, opening the door.

“We’re fine. Who’s coming to the bathroom with me?”

All of them followed. Miranda rolled her eyes. It didn’t take as long as Miranda anticipated. Grateful for the cleanliness of the facility and the lines of empty stalls, she tried not to laugh when Fen indignantly told her she didn’t need any help. Within minutes, everyone spilled out into the vast store. Deciding on candy, however, took forever.

“We’ve got time.” Andrea whispered as she held up a bag of mini fireballs. “I know you want some.”

“Fen, you can have the chocolate or string licorice but not both.” Miranda reminded then gazed at Andrea. “I always do. Oh, and get the candy, too.”

Cheekbones tinted with a pale pink, Andrea grinned. “Funny.”

They paid for their items then hustled into the car. Eleven minutes later Miranda pulled into a long driveway lined with dogwoods and red maples. It was so pretty Andrea rolled down the window and took pictures. The white Dutch colonial with a brick chimney on one side and detached garage on the other was a grand sight, typical of New England states.

“It looks like a postcard!” Caroline said, her voice holding a reverence Miranda could certainly understand.

“Oh, my god, we’re gonna buy it, aren’t we?” Cassidy half-barked, setting off the other two girls until piercing squeals filled the car.

Andrea immediately hushed them then answered, “No, we here to meet some very nice people.”

Just then an older woman walked from around the house, her jaunty stride eating up the distance as everyone got out of the car.

“Hello, I’m Andrea. We spoke on the phone this morning.” She held out her hand and the woman gripped it firmly.

“Nice to put a face to a name. I’m Janice and what you’ve come to see is around back.” Janice paused, hands on her hips, and considered the girls then nodded. “You must be Miranda.”

“Nice to meet you.”

Janice nodded. “You’ve come a long way. Let’s get to it.”

Far from put off by the woman’s briskness, Miranda admired the direct approach.

The girls danced around the woman, introducing themselves and asking questions. Miranda and Andrea lagged behind.

“I’m so excited. I can’t wait to see their little faces!”

Miranda sighed. “We don’t have the best of luck with pets.”

Before Andrea could respond, the girls disappeared around the corner of the house then started shrieking. Abruptly it stopped when Janice instructed them to be calm around the mother and pups.

Andrea took out the camera, snapping away as Janice opened the pen and two very large puppies bounded out. The girls got down on their knees, giggling madly as the pups wagged their tails while the mother placidly observed.

“As I said this morning, the male is spoken for.” Janice said, standing next to them.

Miranda scratched the back of her neck. “What about the mother?”

“I’m keeping her. We get along.”

“How did you end up with her?”

Janice, staring at the pile of puppies and little girls, replied, “I’m part of a St. Bernard rescue group. A woman in Vermont couldn’t find anyone to take the mother and last two pups so I drove up there and got them.”

“You mentioned there wasn’t a re-homing fee but we’d like to don—”

“Just take care of your new family member. I expect pictures and updates on a regular basis. That’s enough payment.”

Miranda nodded. “Fine. Which one is the girl?”

“The big one. I suspect that boy was the runt. I don’t know what they’re mixed with but the St. Bernard gene looks dominant.” Janice cracked a smile. “I named her Patricia. She knows her name, too. Smart, that one. Already sits at the door to be let out.”

“Girls!” Andrea called out and waited for them to dust off their knees and hands. Patricia followed them as they walked toward the adults.

While Andrea broke the news that the puppy was theirs, Miranda said to Janice, “Thank you.”

“It’s thanks enough you teach those girls how to be responsible for Patricia. That little brunette is already in love.”

“I think we all are, Janice.”