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More of a Fair Fight

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Chapter One “First Day”

The wind, biting and frigid, would have swept through her Derek Lam ensemble if she hadn’t added a wool overcoat. Although the soft material of her suit resisted wrinkles, the heavy overcoat was still a small risk, one worth the protection against January weather in New York. As soon as she entered the Elias-Clarke building, the glass door remained open from a slight gust of wind which didn’t matter when half of Sixth Avenue poured in. Andrea shucked the overcoat and draped it over her arm once she reached a pocket of space among the hoard of workers. Getting an elevator car up proved difficult but, incredibly not impossible. She arrived outside Runway’s the semi-frosted doors and took a moment to breathe it in.

Runway and Miranda Priestly. Of course, she had jumped at the chance when Nigel came calling after Thanksgiving under the guise of drinks and ‘catching up’. Andrea smiled. From that sentence alone, she knew it was more, but the exact nature of his invitation never occurred to her. They weren’t friends but were friendly. Andrea had kept an eye on him and Runway and, if she were completely honest, on Miranda Priestly, too. Vogue and Anna Wintour had been her learning experience. From a struggling assistant to stints in accessories, video and multimedia and various other departments, she rose in the ranks, absorbing it all. At Runway, she planned to applying all that she had learned.

Presently, Andrea pushed open the door and tried not to show how excited she was to be there. Within the haloed halls, chaos reigned in the bullpen with stylish, reed-thin women and men scrambling between the tables while carrying boxes or navigating wheeled racks loaded with clothes or empty. Bemused by the noise, she looked around and spotted the stairs that led to a huge platform that overlooked the entire open floor plan. Just as she took a step in that direction, her elbow was firmly grasped.

“You’re late.” Nigel tutted, guiding her away from the wide stairs. “You can put your things in my office, or yours I should say.”

Andrea shifted her portfolio to the arm covered by the overcoat then adjusted the strap of her Prada bag.

“I’m actually early, Nigel.”

He wove them between several people , his hand still at her elbow, then tugged her up a narrow set of stairs near the corner of the bullpen.

“Not in Miranda time, my dear. Fifteen minutes early is the standard, although, it tends to change with her mood.” He shrugged then ushered her into a large corner office with an agreeable view.

He took her overcoat, pinching the collar between his fingers as he examined it, lightly twisting the garment from side to side.

“Hmm, this is a new designer, isn’t it? Rather pedestrian.”

She set down her bag and portfolio then removed her long gloves. “Actually, it’s exactly how I wanted it made. It’s tweed and the lining is beautiful.”

Nigel frowned and shook his head as he hung up the overcoat. “The asymmetric pattern limits what other patterns you can wear with it.”

“The colors and pattern compliment my winter wardrobe.” She narrowed her eyes and took in his clothing. “Hermès. Forgoing his traditional button-down and going for...that’s cashmere V-neck, right? I remember the bobble hat with the gray flannel suit number during the Fall show.” When Nigel flushed, she didn’t stop the wicked glee from bubbling to the surface. “Maybe it was a stylist’s mistake? But I did enjoy the cravats...all those colors. Véronique is shaking things up a little. I heard someone call it casual luxe.”

Nigel laughed, grabbing her shoulders. “The Derek Lam suit drapes well on you, Andrea, even if you are a...”  He looked her up and down, a finger to his lip as he stepped back. “...a six would be my guess.”

“Ass.” she muttered without heat then removed the trench and hung it up on the rack next to her overcoat.

Nigel looked at his phone, tsked, then stepped outside of the office and called out, “Alright everyone, gird your loins!”

A second of stillness pervaded the bullpen. Andrea smiled with sedate amusement at Nigel’s bland expression.

“Is that how you announce the queen?”

Nigel urged her to follow as he led them out of the office. “How did you announce Anna’s arrival?”

“Discreetly.” Andrea mocked.

At the end of the hall, he took a left at a narrow stairwell that led downward. At the bottom of the stairs, Nigel swiped a card and the door swooshed open.

“We’ll pick up your credentials and some paperwork from Vanessa when I take you to meet Miranda.”

The Vogue closet in comparison, while just as enormous, seemed industrial to Runway’s meticulous organization. From a glance Andrea easily found whatever types of clothing she wanted. Seasons, ensembles, colors, accessories, shoes laid out so cleverly, Andrea suspected it wouldn’t take long to find what she wanted.

“Emily, our Director of Fashion Development, re-organized and expanded this a few years back. We also have a menswear closet on the other side of Miranda’s office. We have an OSS...”

“What’s that?” Andrea asked, still greedily scanning the closet.

“Out of Style. Everything’s vac-packed and categorized. There’s even a digital library of everything complete with a location.”

“Oh, please, stop.” she breathed through the fingers covering her mouth. “I may swoon.”

Nigel glanced at his watch. “I take it by your reaction Anna...”

“Would explode with envy if she saw Miranda’s setup.”

“Ready to meet the Devil in Prada?”

Andrea rolled her eyes. She took the lead, slightly edging out Nigel. “I have met her before, you know. She actually said to me ‘You’re Anna’s new puppy? Then, by all means,  go fetch’.”

“I’m sure she’s forgotten all about you by now.”

Stalling at the parallel desks in front of the open doorway of Miranda’s office, she glanced at Nigel who breezed past her. They pulled up short, nearly stumbling into the backs of Miranda’s visitors. Nigel signaled to recede with a brief shake of his head and a step back.

“...so it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room. From a pile of ‘stuff’.” Miranda looked scathingly at the trembling girl wearing an unfortunate cerulean blue sweater.

Andrea didn’t know what to feel. Miranda’s modulated takedown caused a frisson along her spine which was disconcerting enough without adding the very real sympathy for the girl. While knowing where her allegiance lied, she still promised herself to take the girl under her wing if Miranda didn’t fire her first.

“Where is my coffee?” Miranda asked the room as she turned away and flipped through the hangers.

The woman wearing a burnt orange shirt dress over rust colored fitted trousers, an impeccable combination for her dark skin and wonderful figure in Andrea’s opinion, hissed at the girl and marched her out of the office. “Move.”

Two other women filed behind them leaving Andrea and Nigel.

“Who was that sad little creature?” Nigel murmured, looking over his shoulder at their retreating backs.

Deigning an appropriate response, Miranda continued to click through the clothes.

“This is Andrea Sachs.” Nigel announced standing in front of the desk with his fingers pressed against its surface.

Andrea counted the seconds in her head, waiting for the acknowledgement. At twelve, Miranda finally spoke without looking up.

“Yes, from Vogue.” She pronounced the magazine’s title with distaste. Click, slide, click, slide. “An assistant rose from the trenches. Rather quickly, too.” Miranda pulled a blouse and held it in front of Nigel, tilting her head.

“Uninspiring on its own. Perhaps a wide belt?” he replied then shot Andrea a look.

Without missing a step, Andrea walked over to the rack of accessories, skimmed through the belts then made her selection.

“Try this.” she said, offering the woven belt interlaced with wood and metal beads. “Thin floating bangles. Gold, silver, copper. Something funky for earrings from the onyx collection by Burberry, if you have them.”

For the first time, Miranda looked at her. Andrea didn’t hold her breath, didn’t sweat and certainly didn’t tremble, but simply waited for the editor to speak.

Miranda’s icy blue eyes remained fastened on Andrea as she told Nigel to get her the pieces from the closet. The silence played with Andrea’s nerves but she’d be damned if she started off at Runway cowed into submission.

“Sit.” Miranda murmured, gesturing to the chairs in front of her desk as she sat down.

Andrea did while Miranda took off her glasses and languidly folded herself in the chair behind the desk. She continued to watch her, tucking the arm of the Ford glasses underneath her chin until she closed them with a soft click.

“You’re wearing Derek Lam. I recognize it from the Fall show. Charcoal didn’t make it down the runway.”

“The taupe really was gorgeous but didn’t flatter my coloring.” Andrea leaned slightly back in her chair and brushed off a spot near her crossed knee. “I have several of his pieces.”

“Why are you here?”

Andrea bit down on her first and most obvious response. Miranda wasn’t asking that question.

“I’ve always wanted to work at Runway under you.”

Opening her glasses, Miranda took a cloth from the desk and began to clean them. “You are aware of the NDA, its terms and so forth? I will pursue any confidentiality breach without remorse.”

Andrea nodded, a little transfixed by the steady gaze Miranda maintained.

Nigel arrived with the pieces Miranda demanded in her quiet way. After putting the outfit together on the long white table near one of the large window panels, they stepped back and considered the finished look.

“I’ll get Meisel and see if Tyra’s available.” Nigel said, a bit tentatively.

Miranda drifted back to her desk and said, “Vanessa.”

Taking her cues from Nigel, Andrea followed him out. The cerulean girl sat behind one of the desks, phone wedged between her jaw and shoulder, pen and paper in hand as she asked, “Can you please spell Gabbana?...Hello?...Guess not.”

Andrea slowed and watched how unconcerned the girl looked. It was quite probable she wouldn’t finish the day. She caught up to Nigel. Until she survived herself, Andrea had no business rescuing anyone.

While she shadowed Nigel from one meeting to the next, taking notes on things she wanted to remember, Andrea wondered if she wasn’t in deep shit. Runway’s atmosphere was frenetic in intensity but streamlined in execution. At least, that had been her observation until the eleven o’clock accessory run-through. Surprisingly, Miranda attended, seated at the head of the table as she wrote on a tablet.

“What else do we have for accessories for March?”

“One thought I had was sea glass...”

Miranda drew a line through something and without looking up, interjected, “We did that two years ago. What else?”

The redhead squirmed in her seat. “Umm...maybe some pendants...”

“How original. What else?”

Incapable of watching the redhead struggle another second, Andrea replied, “Knotted and turban headbands by Jaciya. They have seasonal colors and a multitude of patterns.”

Marking something else out, Miranda said, “Somebody came to work today. And jewelry?”

The meeting dragged on with Andrea biting her lip, Nigel smirking, and many in the room flailing for ideas which displeased Miranda. Once or twice Andrea helped spur a thought or idea from someone as they burned under Miranda’s artic gaze but she tried to remain silent and observant, not wanting to be seen as a kiss-ass her first day.

“You deserve lunch.” Nigel whispered as they filed out of the room. “I know a place.”

Andrea smiled. “Sounds good. Let me make a call first.”

“I’ll be in my office.”

There was a small love seat next to the window in a tiny alcove. Andrea sat down on the end farthest from the potted green plant.

“Hey.”

“Not too busy to call. Wonders never cease.” Nate said in a bored tone. “So, how’s your first day going?”

“Learning a lot and trying not to piss off people.”

“But you’re so good at it.”

Andrea counted to ten. “Can I speak to Fen?”

“She’s down for a nap which you would know if you...”

“Nate, please. Just give me a break. I’m doing the best I can.”

“Yeah, okay...look, Lily’s in town and wants to hang out tonight.”

A swell of irritation almost clogged her throat. She took a breath. “Oh? She didn’t mention she was coming...”

“Don’t get all bitchy. In case you forgot, she’s your best friend and doesn’t need an invitation to come see us.”

Oh, the petty responses on her tongue begged to be released. “Well, maybe not to see you.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means both of you knew today was my first day at Runway and I don’t know what my schedule’s going to be like, Nate.” The anger curled around her like a dark shadow. “But, then, that was the point, wasn’t it?”

“What are you trying to say, Andy?”

“I don’t know when I’ll be home.” she sighed, curling her lip at the meek tone she used. “I’ve got a lot going on.”

“You always do, Andy, but once you settle into the new job, I’ll go back to work and we’ll be able to afford a nanny. Let’s stick to the plan.”

After a few sweet words, she hung up, but stared at her reflection in the window, taping the corner of the phone against her lower lip.

“Ready?” Nigel asked several feet away from her.

Andrea tucked her phone in her pants, smiling. “Lead the way.”

***

Nigel’s place happened to be a small kosher diner tucked between a beauty supply store and a vacant office. A bit rambunctious, the vibe nonetheless delighted Andrea. The New York Jewish accent was alive and well, calling out orders and talking to customers. Deferring to his experience, Andrea allowed Nigel to order for her while she snagged a coveted table next to the front window. People rushed by, bundled up in parkas, puffer jackets, faux fur coats, and, of course, furs. LL Bean and North Face to no-name bargain coats and retro classics, the outer attire fascinated Andrea. Scarves, ascots, fur-lined hoodies and beanie hats scurried past the window exhaling warm air that turned into white puffy clouds once exposed to the low temperature. So far, in the new year, the January forecast didn’t predict snow which was a disappointment and godsend to Adrienne.

Last December, right before Christmas, it snowed in New York. She and Nate had taken Fen to Central Park and watched her squeal with abandon as she made snow angels, a snow ‘person’, and had a snowball fight with her parents. It was a great memory, one Andrea liked to think about quite often, but it wasn’t enough quell the niggling doubt in the back of her head.

“It’s none of my business but I am nosy...” Nigel’s voice cut into her thoughts. Dark eyebrows arched high over his spectacles as he regarded her. “...Ever since your phone call, I’ve noticed a certain...strategic concentration in your expression. Care to share?”

She didn’t know Nigel, not enough to confide in him, but, then, she never sought advice from anyone, preferred to rely on her own intelligence, instinct, and strength.

“Nothing to share, really. Just boring domestic logistics, I’m afraid.”

“God, save me from that.” Nigel muttered then took a sip of water. “So, Andrea Sachs, Vogue’s fallen angel?”

It wouldn’t do to reveal things on the first day, nor even the first month, perhaps not even the first year. Until Nigel departed to Paris Runway and Miranda anointed Andrea as his successor, she wasn’t about to spill any secrets or dish in gossip.

“Anna understood the move.”

“Is there a backdoor to Vogue after your defection to Runway? Fashion espionage, perhaps?” Nigel asked slyly.

Before Andrea thought of something witty to say their number was called and Nigel stood, waving her away as he headed for the counter.

She needed Nigel to make her transition at Runway successful. He and Miranda had worked side by side for decades. Their understanding of the other was seamless, relying on a silent communication derived from looks and moods from what she observed during a meeting. Andrea craved that but needed it more if she wanted to advance. She and Anna Wintour had never synergized as well as Nigel and Miranda. At Vogue, Andrea had spent countless hours defending her decisions and, in essence, her vision. A credit to her perseverance, Andrea won more than she lost but the toll often sapped her creativity.

“For you, madame.” Nigel said, presenting a tray with flair as he set it down in front of her. “Pastrami on rye, potato chips made in-house, and a dill pickle that will convert you to Judaism. Bon appetit.”

Andrea dug into her food, biting into the angled tip of the sandwich and nearly moaning when it hit her tongue. It wasn’t her first pastrami sandwich but it was one of the best she tasted in recent memory.

“This...oh, my god...food-gasm.”

Nigel smirked, tucking into his sandwich with delicate precision then humming with his eyes closed.

“Obviously I don’t come here every day.” Nigel said, dabbing his mouth with a white paper napkin.

They talked about the food, about what passerby’s were wearing, about the latest trends. Andrea wanted to ask him about Miranda. Not because of the job, although she was keen to learn about the idiosyncrasies of her new boss, but because Miranda Priestly was Andrea’s fashion epitome. Since she decided on a career in fashion, Runway, and by extension Miranda, was the standard. After college, she had applied for a position at Runway but they never called her in for an interview.

“I know why, but...damn, it’s so good, Nige.”

He laughed then took a bite out of his sandwich. Tucking the food in his cheek, he asked, “So, how’s your first day at Runway? On a scale of one to ten, of course.”

“Eight. Only because I haven’t established a report with Miranda.” Andrea tilted her head to one side and licked the corner of her mouth. “Seems to be rather tricky. Care to share?”

Nigel’s brow lifted. “I do recall you leading the way to Miranda’s office, annihilating Heather from accessories, and, this is really cute by the way, how you nudged a few people along during the run-through. Miranda noticed. You keep it up and you’ll be the better Nigel, mark my words.”

It was high praise and Andrea attempted to deflect. “You’ve been at Miranda’s side for twenty years, Nigel. That’s not something easily replaced.”

He considered his sandwich but before taking another bite he said, “There’s a season to everything. It’s time for me to move on and time for you to take Runway to the next level.”

Chapter Text

The cab carried a distinctly unfavorable odor but, honestly, it was New York, and odors were subjective. Andrea checked the time and knew she had to call home. It was almost six o’clock. Nate would be getting Fen ready for bed. The guilt weighed heavily on Andrea. It always did. It was only a matter of time before her almost-four year old was going to wonder why her mother was never at home. Andrea looked out the cab window, alone with her thoughts.

“Normally Miranda would be meeting with the designer but her nanny had an emergency so, it’s up to us, Six.”

Andrea looked at him, the hint of a smile tugging at her lips. “...’Six?’?”

Nigel adjusted his scarf. “It’s fitting, isn’t it?”

“I guess.” she replied. After a few seconds, she ventured, “She doesn’t have help?”

“Her ‘help’ had an emergency, so no.”

Plucking at the hem of her coat, she asked, “She doesn’t have friends? Family?”

Nigel situated his body more comfortably on the cab’s bench seat. “I wouldn’t know.”

Andrea’s eyebrows rose.

“What I know isn’t enough for you to understand how things are with Miranda. She’s very  private. I just watched and learned, Andrea. I can tell you what kind of wine she usually favors, the designers she loves, even her favorite lunch. You’ll find out what pisses her off more quickly than what makes her happy. Beyond that, you’re on your own.”

His admission aligned with what she already knew about the editor and the half-formed thoughts she had from her own meager observations.

“You’re married?”

Andrea leaned back in the seat. “Yes.”

“Kids?”

“A daughter. Fenimore. She’ll be four on the seventeenth. Speaking of, do you mind if I check in? I’d like to tell her good night.”

Nigel made an consenting gesture and promptly turned his head to gaze out the window.

“Hey, I don’t have much time. I’m in a cab with a coworker. Can you put her on the phone?”

“What else is new?”

“Nate.” she said, the warning heavy in her voice. He called out their daughter’s name and two seconds later Andrea heard squealing.

“Mummers!” Fen huffed into the phone. “Daddy tookin’ me to the, the...” Andrea heard Nate say ‘playground’. “...play things!”

“Oh, that sounds like fun, sweetie. Did you have a good day?”

Fen jostled the phone, burst into song, then started talking in earnest which meant a chorus of sounds that didn’t make a whole lot of sense but melted Andrea’s heart just the same. She heard Nate tell her to ‘say good night to mummers’, which she did, the high pitched voice close to busting her ear drum.

“What time will you be home?” Nate asked.

“I’m not sure. A few more hours.” She glanced at Nigel. “Put her back on so I can tell her I love her.”

“She’s getting ready for bed, Andy.”

Flushed hot and she gritted her teeth. “Put her on the phone.”

Nate expelled a very drawn out breath, one she longed to shove back down his throat. “Hold on.”

After a tense half minute, Fen sang into the phone, “Mummers, I lubbie, lubbie you.”

“I lubbie you, too, sweetie. I’ll kiss you when I get home, okay?”

“Okay.” She made a kissing noise then hung up.

Andrea put her phone away and whispered, “Thank you.”

“It must be hard, being a parent.” Nigel said as he turned toward her. “I’m missing that gene but that doesn’t mean I’m not sympathetic. So, you’re intelligent and have a discerning eye for fashion. You’re also ambitious and always watching and learning from what I’ve seen. And, well, I’ve decided to be your fairy godfather, Andrea. We don’t have to do twelve hour days and every weekend to get you up to speed. Let’s make every minute count so you can go home at a decent time. It’s not like you don’t know what a Fashion Director does.”

Unable to stop the smile from overtaking her mouth, Andrea replied, “I don’t know what to say, Nigel.”

“New York Fashion week is going to be brutal. Miranda’s tolerance for fuckery dips into the negative numbers. Remember, I have just as much at stake as you, darling, and normally I wouldn’t give your problems a second of my time.” Nigel removed his glasses, took a handkerchief from his pocket then started cleaning them. “If you don’t pick it up quick enough, be warned, I will run you into the ground to get you ready.” He replaced his glasses and turned to glare at her. “I will hunt you down if you break, crack, or cry. I will not be denied EIC of Paris Runway.”

Andrea nodded, impressed by Nigel’s offer and transparency. Afraid, even, by his cold promise. She took a handful of seconds to think about it. As he pointed out, he stood to lose as much as she did. There was the possibility he wanted to fuck Miranda over but that, she decided, would be counterproductive. Paris Runwaywas still under the Elias-Clarke umbrella. It was conceivable Miranda’s influence extended across the ocean.

Holding out her hand, Andrea replied, “Let’s do it.”

***

FD Squared looked rather derelict on the outside with its metal roll-up storefront door covered in graffiti. The regular door fared little better although the rust lent a certain industrial flair. Nigel looked around then pressed the buzzer. They were quickly shown in.

A man with impressive salt-and-pepper dreadlocks absently shook their hands as he looked over their shoulders, a frown on his face.

“Wait. Where’s Miranda?” he asked, a little puzzled but very eager.

“She sends her regrets.” Nigel announced as he removed his wool coat then draped it over his arm. “I’m Nigel Kipling, Runway’s...”

“She’s not coming? Wait, this isn’t what we agreed to.” The man’s heavy brows lowered as he stroked his goatee and slightly nodded several times. “Look, I don’t deal with nobody but Miranda.”

Andrea looked at Nigel and the set of his face didn’t look particularly understanding. “Hi, I’m Andrea Sachs.” She stood a bit in front and to the side of Nigel. “Are you Jamar King?”

“Yeah, yeah, that’s me.” Jamar waved over one of the several people standing around trying to act as if there wasn’t a scene unfolding. “Start packin’ up.”

Nigel said, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I’ll be sure to let Miranda know you weren’t interested in the possibility of being showcased in Runway.”

“Let’s see about that.” Jamar pulled out his phone.

Andrea stilled his hand. “She had a family emergency. There’s absolutely no need to disturb her when she sent us in her place, Jamar.” Staring into his eyes, she wasn’t playing a macho game and tried to convey it. “I’m going to take video and stills which I will send her as soon as you’ve finished showing us what you have. Everything’s ready. You don’t have anything to lose, right?”

Sizing her up, Jamar didn’t blink for several seconds then he smiled and called out, “Tamera, get the girls lined up.”

Andrea maintained her poker face, relieved Nigel hadn’t overplayed the prima donna persona.

Jamar laughed, the sound resonating in the space between them, and clapped his hands then gestured toward a long table. “We got hot wings and canapés plus some wine. Go dig in and have a seat.”

While people scrambled to adjust the lighting or disappear behind a heavy black cloth that separated the open floor plan almost in half, Andrea piled on the wings, grabbed an inch or so of napkins, and ignored Nigel’s raised eyebrows.

“Like leading a pig to a trough.” he mocked as he placed two canapés on a small plastic plate. “Say good-bye to that six-sized ass.”

“You’re a judgmental frown away from Botox injections.” Andrea licked the sauce that oozed down her thumb. She spotted the blue cheese dressing cups and snagged a handful.

“I know someone who does liposuction. I’ll give him your number.” he whispered as he leaned in front of her to get some wine.

Andrea laughed, hiding it behind the back of her wrist. “Can you grab me a bottle of water?”

They sat up front, in the seats of honor, while his entourage and crew sat behind them. The music started, a contemporary piano piece, and Andrea mournfully looked down at the wings then set the plate down on the empty chair next to her. When Nigel laughed, Andrea slapped him on the arm. Jamar stood in front of the makeshift curtain, rubbing his hands together. Quickly, before the show started, she cleaned off her hands with a napkin and some water, only half-listening to Jamar.

“I design for women with curves who are bold and confident. They don’t shy away from standing out.”

Andrea opened her personal phone, having forgotten to pick up the company phone from Vanessa. Two calls and several text notifications greeted her, all of which she ignored. Thank god her battery had plenty of juice. Jamar signed off and nodded to someone in the wings then ducked behind the curtain. Andrea turned on the video and waited. Grateful the venue was cozy, she concentrated on keeping her hands steady. She made a mental note to bring the Nikon and tripod to work tomorrow. Maybe there was a unused conference room or space she could store some things or Nigel would let her put them in his office but, honestly, although they were getting along, she didn’t want to rock that boat. Not yet anyway.

While the show continued, Andrea worked the camera, zooming in and out with each new model. It was impressive, the scope of Jamar’s line which hit all seasons. The muted earth tones as the backdrop for the splashes of bold colors, he had created a look for a range of skin tones. Even though he professed to designing for curvy women, which in itself was highly rare in the fashion world, many of his pieces could be worn by less endowed women, too. Andrea tried not to get carried away by her exuberance. She needed to make sure to showcase his creativity from as many angles as possible. Miranda Priestly, while demanding and discerning like Anna, was still an unknown. Until she learned what the editor looked for, Andrea decided to widen her net.

When the show ended, Andrea pocketed her phone and stood with Nigel as Jamar walked up to them.

“What a splendid presentation, Jamar.” Nigel said, grinning a little.

“That’s how I planned it.”

“I’d like to get some shots of the details...stitching, material, and the like. Would that be possible?”

Jamar looked slightly put out. “You have the video. That should do it.”

“The more I can show Miranda, the better she’ll understand your vision, right?” Andrea shrugged. “But if you think...”

“You’re right, Andrea.” He winked at her. “I see what you did there. You’re a smart one. I need to inform the women.”

“So, how am I doing so far?”

Nigel started polishing his glasses. Andrea watched his face but it remained impassive as he replied, “What makes you think I’ve been paying attention?”

Andrea huffed. “You’ve taken the backseat all day. I’m not complaining, just curious if you’ve decided yet.”

“On?” he asked, slipping on his glasses and looking directly into her eyes.

“Whether I’m worthy of actually being mentored by you.”

“I’m still deciding.”

“Fair enough.” Andrea smiled, one eyebrow slightly higher than the other. “I didn’t think you’d give me the keys to the kingdom on my first day.”

***

They took separate cabs as Andrea needed to return to Runway and Nigel was meeting someone for a late dinner. Taking the elevator without other passengers, Andrea leaned against the back railing and sighed. To be honest, although tired, an excited giddiness swept across her skin. On her first day Andrea nailed it, at every turn. She knew the job, had filled in at Vogue when Densi went on maternity leave but being at Runway was the realization of a dream. Too bad her personal life lacked such optimism.

She used her keycard to gain access after-hours. The anteroom and bullpen were dim, a few strategic lights on to light the way. She noticed a light from Miranda’s office but veered off toward Nigel’s to get her things. It was going on nine o’clock and still needed to get a cab home or the subway which would delay her arrival home by thirty minutes. Andrea grabbed her purse then saw the packet with her name on it on Nigel’s desk. She shoved it in her purse and was about to leave when she glimpsed her portfolio. Andrea expelled an aggravated sigh. She meant to give it to Miranda but the day had been a whirlwind. She snatched it up.

When she walked between the empty assistants’ desks, Andrea paused midway. Miranda, seated behind her desk, looked as still as a statue as she read something on the laptop. A second or two passed and Miranda looked up, her dark-rimmed glasses framing her eyes as the white forelock curled over one lens. With a quick movement of her hand, she flicked the offending piece of hair from blocking her view.

“What’s your email address?” Andrea asked. “I have the stills and video from Jamar King’s show on my personal phone.”

Miranda leaned back in her chair, taking off her glasses and setting them down on the desk. “It can wait until tomorrow. First impressions?”

Andrea blew out a long breath, disturbing the tendrils that had fallen over eyes. She ignored them. “The stitching was a little uneven but the color contrasts were artful. He had several outfits, mix and match pieces, for every season. About twenty entire outfits all together. I think if we bring him in slowly and he stays the course, he may have his own house in a few years. His models were curvy from different ethnicities and they looked great. If his creative drive is strong, he’ll bring in those demographics which the industry generally ignores. ”

“Does he have something for the March issue?”

“I haven’t seen the mock-ups so I don’t know where he’d fit.”

Miranda smirked just the slightest bit as she picked up her glasses and put them on. “That’s all.”

Swallowing a quick rejoinder, Adrienne set down the portfolio and walked away but turned back after crossing the threshold, one hand bracing against the doorjamb as she looked over her shoulder.

“My portfolio.”

Andrea left, amused by the editor’s absorption or indifference. She wasn’t worried. Miranda wasn’t stupid. She did her homework. The second Nigel revealed his choice to succeed him, Miranda would have gotten her assistants to pull everything on the internet about the person. If that hadn’t been enough, no doubt she instructed them to call designers, photographers, and anyone else that may have had dealings with the candidate. Smiling as she hailed a cab, she wished she could have been there when Miranda grilled Nigel about her. Of course Miranda knew something about her, had probably seen a spread or two of she did at Vogue but her portfolio told a story, the progression of her career, and she wanted the editor to see it. In Andrea’s opinion, there was no better way to judge what she learned over the years.

***

By the time she put the key in the door, it was going on ten o’clock. Hopefully, both her husband and daughter were asleep but she suspected Nate lurked just beyond the door.

And Lily, apparently, who was sitting on the couch next to her husband with Fen’s head in her lap.

“Hey, when did you get in?” Andrea asked quietly as she hung up her overcoat and put her things on the long, narrow table along the wall.

Nate didn’t looked away from the television.

The living room lights were out, casting the couch and its occupants into flicking blue and white light edged in darkness.

Lily’s hand rhythmically stroked Fen’s back as she said staring at the screen, “This afternoon. Shhhh...good part coming up.”

At that moment, Andrea disliked her best friend, resented the ease with which Lily sat next to her husband, shoulders touching, and the casual affection she showed her daughter. Andrea went to the bedroom, which presumably was still hers she thought acidly. She didn’t take a shower but washed her face, moisturized and brushed out her hair then changed into a pair of old, threadbare sweats. The sleeveless t-shirt hugged her breasts, assets Lily lacked.

When she returned to the living room, Lily was picking up Fen and Nate was turning off the television.

“I’ll take her.”

Lily cradled her daughter, replying, “It’s no trouble.”

But Andrea blocked Lily’s path to Fen’s bedroom. “I’ll take my daughter, Lily.”

“I already have...”

“Now, Lily.”

Nate snapped, “Christ, Andy.”

“Mummers.” Fen sighed, curling around Andrea’s upper body.

Andrea glared at her husband and best friend then put her child down for the night. She squatted by the side of Fen’s bed, tucking the sheet and blanket around her.

“I lubbie, lubbie you.” she whispered, gently smoothing the dark curls, so like her father’s, away from her face.

Fen yawned, curling her fist under her cheek. Andrea leaned over and placed a long kiss on her child’s brow. Crouching beside the bed, she watched Fen peacefully sleep and wondered how much she would change in another year from now. Andrea’s heart wrung dry at the thought. Unable to stop the impulse, she nuzzled her nose along Fen’s hairline, past the delicate curve of her ear to the crook of her warm neck, memorizing the scent.

She turned on the nightlight and kept the door ajar.

When Andrea reached the living room, Nate stood with his arms crossed and Lily was gone. They were going to argue. The way he wouldn’t look directly at her when in the past he couldn’t wait to pin her with an accusing stare riled up the small hairs along Andrea’s arms.

“Lily left?”

“Can you blame her?” Nate snapped. “You all but threw her out.”

“No, I didn’t. Don’t be so dramatic.” she said, plopping on the couch and eyeing him. “She’s not Fen’s mother.”

“You didn’t have to be such a bitch.”

Andrea inhaled deeply through her nose. When she looked at her husband, she very quietly asked, “What is this about?”

Nate huffed then finally decided to sit down next to her. He rubbed the back of his neck and said to the floor, “I’m not happy, Andy. I haven’t been for a long time.”

So much for ‘sticking with the plan’.

She didn’t want to hear what was coming next. She really didn’t but Andrea tried to relax. It didn’t make his unusual complaint easier to take.

“You want to go back to work.” she stated, plucking at the hole in her sweats and knowing it was just the tip of the iceberg.

“I have a buddy who gave me a lead on a sous chef position with a Micheline star chef...in Boston. I have an interview this coming weekend.”

Andrea propped her elbows on her knees and massaged her forehead with her fingers. “I don’t believe this.”

“I already booked the flight.”

Laughing gruffly into her chest, she muttered, “And?”

“And...well, I think it’s a good change.”

Head popping up and turning toward him, she hated him for making her ask, “Is Lily going with you?”

The sharp queasiness in her stomach when she looked into his eyes propelled her to suddenly stand up and move away. Her brain stayed on the image of her husband, child and best friend on the couch. Andrea had to give him credit. This time, he had a plan.

“Andy...”

“Get out.”

Nate rolled his eyes. “It’s not like we’ve been happy.”

“Get out.” she hissed, hands clenched at her sides.

“We haven’t had sex since you got pregnant.”

Andrea said nonchalantly, “Because you were too busy fucking your nineteen year old waitress.”

He rose from the couch and left the room.

Andrea trembled with the urge to yell and fight. If she ever saw Lily again, she promised herself she was going to choke her until she passed out, revive her, then do it again and again until the bitch died. She hadn’t seen that particular betrayal coming. To think she cried on Lily’s shoulder when she found out about the waitress made Andrea want to inflict damage.

“Look, let me take Fen...”

Without conscious thought, Andrea rounded the sofa and got into his personal space at the edge of the living room. “You are out of your fucking mind. She’s just a baby and I’m her mother.” Andrea shoved him. “Go knock up Lily, I really don’t care, but Fen stays with me, Nate. You didn’t even... I had to beg you to, to...”

“There’s no point in paying for daycare when I’m right here.” Nate snapped. “You’re not being fair, Andy. I’m her father.”

“You want to talk about fair? Where were you when I was pregnant with your baby?”

Nate shook his head and took a deep breath. He placed his palms together and put the tips of his fingers over his lips. “Look, just calm down okay? Nothing has to be decided right now.”

Tears pricked her eyes and her throat ached so painfully, Andrea wondered how she still breathed. “Anything else?”

“I didn’t go looking for it.” Immediately Nate held up his hands when he saw her face. “Just...listen, Andy, please? Last time it was about my fear of being a dad but this time...with Lily...she makes me happy.”

“How comforting.” she said, back under control as she wiped the tears from her skin. “As riveting as the story of your happiness is, I have to go to work in the morning. Pack a bag and leave.”

“Andy, this isn’t easy for me.”

Andrea moaned a little, holding her stomach. “What do you want from me, Nate? You’re fucking my best friend. I don’t give a shit about your feelings.”

Nate muttered, “Fucking incredible.” Then he went into their bedroom.

Andrea resisted the urge to climb into Fen’s bed and cry herself to sleep. It sounded like something she should do but only after Nate left. She went to the window and looked out at the view, concentrating on the lights from the traffic below. Fen was hers. Fuck Nate. Fuck Lily and fuck Runway because there was no way in hell she was giving up her daughter.

Chapter Text

 

Miranda managed to arrive home by five o’clock on Friday. With Nigel and Andrea performing in synchronized efficiency, she actually had less to do. No, it wouldn’t last, but she would take advantage of it while able. It was rather problematic earlier in the week when Andrea showed up with her daughter Tuesday morning. She had marched into Miranda’s office first thing and tersely explained her new reality. The little girl had grumbled, rubbing her red eyes and refused to say hello. A future coffee drinker in the making, Miranda fancied.

Quietly, Miranda empathized with the girl and the mother but merely dismissed her with the offhand remark that there was a daycare on the tenth floor for Elias-Clarke employees. As soon as they departed, Miranda made a call and with a few well-placed words, she secured a spot for Andrea’s daughter. She had to admire Andrea who hadn’t shed a tear, kept her shoulders pulled back and her chin up. There were a few things about the woman that reminded Miranda of herself. Andrea would most likely never discover how easily it had been to enroll her child. After all, she was unaware of Miranda’s clandestine influence.

Well aware of Nigel’s schedule changes in regard to Andrea’s circumstances, she privately approved. Andrea’s talent and experience kept her from the unemployment line, definitely not any misplaced sympathy from Nigel, not to mention Miranda. The woman was formidable without the austere disposition Miranda favored, a difference that was noteworthy. Of course, only the first week of her employment did not make a success, let alone a career. There was the Paris Haute Couture fashion week at the end of the month, after all, then New York fashion week. Not to mention the various calamities to befall them at any given moment.

Her bobbsies met her at the door, jabbering as one took her Chanel bag and the other clasped her hand. She squeezed Cassidy’s hand before letting go to take off her coat and hanging it up in the closet. Reclaiming her daughter’s hand, Miranda headed for the kitchen.

“I don’t know what Caroline was thinking.” Cassidy huffed, shooting daggers at her sister. “Everyone at school knows our skirts...”

“I don’t like hems to hang past my knees. It’s Victorian.

Cassidy interrupted with the indignant tone only a nine year old in private school could muster. “It’s a matter of millimeters, Caroline.”

Miranda nearly laughed but subdued her amusement just in time to meet Caroline’s disgruntled expression.

“What did you do, Caroline?” Miranda asked.

“Expressed my rights, of course.”

Miranda bit the inside of her lip then gently corrected, “Do you mean ‘exercised’?”

Caroline shot a dirty look at her laughing sister. “You know what I mean.”

Deciding that a change of topic was needed, Miranda asked, “How did you do on your algebra test, Cassidy?”

“Awesome, I think.” she said, swinging their clasped hands.

“Well done.”

“Hello, Miranda. Dinner’s in the oven. I’ve gotta make tracks. Derby just pulled up.” Cara sang out as she squeezed past the kids, patting each head then Miranda’s shoulder.

“Thank you, Cara. Enjoy the show.”

“Thanks for the tickets. Have fun at your thing!”

The door opened then closed.

“Cassidy, would you mind turning the alarm on?”

The smaller twin raced across the polished floor toward the kitchen where the main security panel was mounted on the wall.

Caroline set down her mother’s bag on the small table in the hallway leading into the kitchen. “How was your day?”

“It went rather well.” Miranda replied as she opened the oven to see a foil covered dish on the top rack. She instructed Cassidy to fetch the oven mitts then moved the dish to the stovetop and turned off the oven. “Okay, mommy’s going to change and clean up a bit. Why don’t you two get your homework out and start on that? Do you need a drink before I go up?””

Cassidy rolled her eyes. “I’ve finished mine but Caroline...”

“You are such a butt rash.” Caroline hissed then looked guiltily at her mother and mumbled an apology. “I can get our drinks, mom.”

Eyebrows slowly raising, she looked at her daughter. “Are you quite sure, bobbsies?”

Cassidy started laughing but stopped when she saw the frown her mother shot her.

Caroline scowled, crossing her little arms in a huff. “One time, mother. It was one time but Cara bought juice boxes this time and put them on the low shelf.”

Nodding, she said, “Do moderate your tone, Caroline. We’ve talked about this.” Unable to withstand the storm clouds hovering over her daughter, Miranda squatted down until they were nearly face level. “Just keep working on it. You’ll get it soon.”

Two pairs of arms wrapped themselves around her from back to front which proved too much for Miranda to handle. She flopped down on the kitchen floor, besieged by her daughters’ tickling fingers and high pitched joy.

After several minutes she threw up the proverbial white flag, kissed their heads then hurriedly went upstairs. Since it was Friday, technically she didn’t have to work tomorrow and the idea of taking the twins on an impromptu outing greatly appealed to her. Nigel and Andrea, her own dream team, were on top of most everything. Miranda needed to work up some numbers for the budget which wasn’t so contentious since Irv was forced into retirement. His replacement, Adele Florian, understood to make money, one had to spend money. When she had spirited away Adele from Condé Nast, she hadn’t honestly believed the woman would oust Irv Ravitz. With help from the Elias-Clarke board, it happened much to Miranda’s satisfaction and surprise.

She took a quick shower, dressed in a smart, black Donna Karan cocktail dress, did her hair and makeup and was downstairs within thirty minutes. She was going to a political fundraiser for Bloomberg with Johnathan, her current...beau which was, she admitted, an absurd term. Boyfriend was even worse. Paramour was simply outdated. Gentleman friend? Miranda scoffed as she capped the mascara. She preferred ‘social companion’. They’d only been seeing one other for a little over a month. Soon, Miranda knew, she was going to have to put out or get out, as the vulgar saying went. Johnathan, despite being in his early sixties, was evidently eager to consummate the relationship. While she enjoyed sex, it wasn’t on her top five list of ‘favorite things’.

Johnathan R. Webster, the head of his own political marketing agency, suited her. Their social circles, especially art and philanthropy, often overlapped. He was well travelled and active, generous with his introductions to CEO’s, old money families, and slick, entrenched politicians across the country. On the whole, she enjoyed his company and looked forward to her evenings with him.

Miranda took one last look in the mirror, pleased with the touch-up and change as she twisted slightly to check her bare shoulders and back. She clicked off the light, collected the Blahnik’s from the shoe rack and a small clutch then headed downstairs. The girls were at the kitchen table. Caroline, head bent as she read a book with her pen poised, while Cassidy concentrated on a drawing with her tongue poking out.

“Cassidy, the last time I checked you’re a little girl and not a dog. Please close your mouth, preferably after you put your tongue back inside of it.”

Caroline snorted in her dainty way which irritated her sister who made a face. Before it escalated, Miranda told them to clear the table while she plated dinner. Glancing at the wall clock, Miranda hurried up.

“I Googled your boyfriend.” Cassidy casually dropped as she pulled the cutlery drawer open and started rooting around for forks.

Miranda hesitated then resumed her trek to the fridge to see if the leftover salad hadn’t been consumed. It hadn’t.

While she pulled out bowls from the cabinet, she asked, “And what do you think, Cassidy?”

Forks in hand, she grinned maniacally at her mother. “Old fart.”

Caroline laughed behind them as she grabbed some napkins.

Miranda inwardly sighed at the new saying she acquired which hadn’t stopped producing giggles yet. Anything to do with flatulence sent Cassidy off.

“It’s not nice to call people names.”

“He didn’t hear it.”

Migrating en masse to the table, Miranda looked down at her daughter who seemed truly puzzled by Miranda’s admonishment.

“Doesn’t make it right.” Caroline primly stated and sat down. Holding her fork, she pointed it at her sister and said, “And now you’re a gossip.”

Miranda took her seat then sighed. She got up to get the salad bowls and dressing. A mini fight broke out as Miranda set down their bowls, thinly pouring the dressing.

“Girls.” she quietly said, retaking her seat and scooting it in. “Let’s have a nice dinner. You love Cara’s chicken and rice casserole.”

“Mom, is Nigel really gonna leave America?” Cassidy asked and used her fingers to push in a mouthful of food that got away from her.

Miranda gave her a meaningful look before answering, “Yes, he is. It’s a great opportunity for him to be the editor of Paris Runway.”

With precision, Caroline culled the peas to the side of her plate. “He really wanted to go?”

“Of course. The perfect circumstances presented themselves this time.”

Caroline nodded then pushed her plate slightly toward her sister. Cassidy scooped up the peas, spilling most of them on the table and floor.

“Really, Cassidy.” Miranda suspected it was done on purpose especially when she caught the look the twins gave each other. Aside from the mess, they had executed the plan for Caroline to avoid peas rather well. She wondered, however, how Cassidy was going to avoid the mushrooms piling up on her own plate.

Miranda cleaned up the peas and hoped she got them all. After dumping it in the trash, she turned back to the table and noticed immediately the mushroom mountain vanished. Staring at her daughters, she raised her eyebrows which was a hit-or-miss signal now that they were older. Of the two, Cassidy’s composure often faltered first so Mirada concentrated on her.

Face turning red, her daughter lowered her gaze a little and glared at her sister.

Switching the object of her concentration, Miranda looked harder at Caroline until she sighed and pulled one hand from her lap area and showed Miranda the balled up napkin.

Miranda held out her own hand and waited for Caroline to hand it over. “Tomorrow both of you will clean up the playroom.”

“Why me? I didn’t do anything.” Cassidy objected.

“Except spill the peas on purpose. Now, if you’re done, take your plates to the counter by the sink. Selah should be here shortly.”

Ignoring their low grumbled argument, Miranda took a sip of water and second-guessed their punishment for attempting to pull one over on their mother. On the other hand, she did admire the thought and bravery her two nine-year-old girls displayed. Perhaps next time the repercussions needed to be more significant. Running a magazine was easier than raising humans and on that thought, she cleared the rest of the table.

“You may entertain yourselves in the playroom.”

They didn’t waste any time clamoring up the stairs. She rinsed the dishes and put them in the dishwasher, rewrapped the casserole dish and put it in the fridge. Miranda employed a cleaning service that came twice during the week but on the weekends, she and the twins managed on their own. Or didn’t and for those occasions she paid extra for someone to come in.

She got her Chanel bag, rooted through it for the things she’d need for the night, then went to her office. Three texts from Vanessa and a missed call from Nigel alerted her when she checked her phone. She texted back instructions for her assistant then called Nigel.

“There’s no emergency.” he said.

“Then why did you call?”

He cleared his throat a little then said, “Do you know of a reliable nanny service?”

“I’ll make the call but I...” Miranda tried to think of a polite way of voicing her next question.

“She doesn’t have a choice. We’re going to Paris at the end of the month and her husband’s probably moving to Boston with her best friend.”

“Christ.” she muttered. Andrea had left out a few details. “I’ll work something out and spare her pride. And you...well, you will keep quiet, yes?”

“Like the dead.” Nigel made a small noise. “You have a soft spot for her and before you rip off my head, so do I. She’s like a kinder, gentler version of you.”

They shared quiet laughter. “I think Caroline was worried I made you go to Paris Runway, by the way.”

“They were only six when that James Holt disaster happened. I don’t know how many times I have to tell you...”

“Be that as it may, I could have given you a warning.”

“You saved me since it only took Jacqueline a year to tank the enterprise.”

Miranda sniffed. “As if that deplorable woman could make a success out of anything. From what I hear, she’s taken a sabbatical from fashion magazines. Evidently, television loves her.”

“Everyone enjoys a parade, especially if it catches on fire and clowns are involved.”

“You’re horrible.”

“Mmm. Possibly. A little birdie told me...”

Miranda leaned against the desk. “Her name’s Vanessa and she’s my assistant. That birdie?”

“Well, isn’t this the fourth date with Mr. Webster?”

Admiring how her Blahniks made her ankle and calf look sinful, she said, “It is.”

“I wonder if he needs pills when the time comes.”

Miranda sighed, “What makes you think it hasn’t already?”

“You lack that fresh fu...”

“Must you be so crude? He’s very suitable and one must make certain...concessions, ne vous en faites pas?”

“One shouldn’t have to.” he countered softly. “You’re beautiful, smart, and generous to those you love. You deserve so much more than you allow yourself, Miranda.”

“Don’t.” she said, making her voice unyielding. “There are very good reasons I’ve been divorced twice.”

“Besides your deplorable taste in men?”

“It is a pity gay marriage isn’t legal. Think of all the divorces you missed out on.”

Nigel laughed but the sound didn’t come across as completely happy.

Miranda tipped her head back and closed her eyes. “You touched a nerve and I reacted badly.”

“No more than I. Well, now that that’s sorted, enjoy your evening and I will inform Andrea that I’ve gotten a referral from ‘a friend’ once you give me the information. Why Anna let her go defies logic.”

“Her loss and our gain. I intend on grooming her for bigger things, Nigel, if she keeps it together. Her portfolio...”

“Amazing and diverse. Did you read...”

“The article she wrote on Holi, India’s festival of colors? Oh, yes, that was good work.”

There was a pause then, Nigel said, “You and I, we’ll make sure she succeeds.”

“We’re in accord. Have a nice evening as well. Anything to report in that realm?”

“Sadly, no. I’m in a bit of a dry spell. There’s nothing to tell. Oh what the hell...”

“Stop or I’ll yell.”

They laughed a few seconds then said good night.

Miranda walked to the bottom of the stairs and called up. “Girls, come say goodbye.”

There was a pause of silence before the stampede started. Cassidy, in her jeans and t-shirt arrived first, nearly flying into Miranda’s outstretched arms. Much more dignified, Caroline descended the steps still in her school uniform.

“I’m going to have to step up my work outs if you want me to keep picking you up, bobbsies. You’re both growing wild.”

Cassidy wiggled out of her embrace. “Look, mommy, before you leave. I learned a new dance.” She held elbows out, bounced on the pads of her feet and moving her head from side to side.

“Oh, my, that’s lovely. You’ll have to teach that to me tomorrow.” She cooed then looked at Caroline and opened her arms.

Dutifully she kissed Miranda’s cheek but didn’t try to climb her. Miranda crouched low and placed her hands on Caroline’s waist. “I’m afraid I’m going to miss you more than one kiss. May I have more?”

Cassidy hung on the newel post and bellowed, “Sweet Caroline...good times never seemed so good...”

“I’ve been inclined to believe they never would.” Miranda sang the next verse and was happy to note her daughter started smiling.

Together they sang, “But now I look at the night and it don’t seem so lonely. We fill it up with only THREE...”

Cassidy was the first to dissolve into laughter as she stood on the top step and watched at sister and mother hug.

“Sing my song, mommy! Sing my song!” Cassidy pleaded, clapping her hands.

The doorbell rang and Miranda reluctantly stood. “Cassidy, I promise we’ll sing it tomorrow. We have fun plans for the entire day so get some rest.”

Miranda opened the door and let in a tall, skinny teenager in.

“Selah, I love your new look.”

The twins converged on the poor girl, shooting several questions and remarks her way.

“Thanks, Mrs. Priestly. I wanted to try somethin’ different.” She replied, then addressed her daughters as she took off her coat.

“Well, I enjoyed the cornrows, too. Oh, before I forget to ask, which school did you pick?”

“Spelman.”

“Congratulations. I think your father was quietly hoping for Stanford.”

Selah nodded. “I think so, too. Mom wished I picked one closer but...” Shrugging, she clarified, “...something about Spelman just spoke to me.”

“Where is Spelman?” Cassidy asked, leaning against the young woman.

“Atlanta, Georgia.”

“That’s in another state!”

Caroline rolled her eyes. “It’s like you never learned geography.”

The doorbell rang again and Miranda looked at Selah pleadingly.

“Tell your mom goodnight so she can get out of here and we can party!”

The girls quickly kissed Miranda then followed Selah up the stairs.

“Call if you need anything.” Miranda said then went to open the door.

Johnathan looked distinguished but predictable in the classic Georgio Armani tuxedo. The sharp ice blue silk tie matched perfectly with the pocket square. She accepted his kiss to her cheek.

“Let me get my clutch and we can leave.”

“Where are your daughters?”

Miranda lightly tugged on her earring as she turned away. “Upstairs with the sitter.”

Before he could respond, she returned and went to the closet to retrieve the faux mink blue coat. Johnathan took the coat from her and held it up. She slipped into it, content that the shade matched her eyes despite not quite matching Johnathan’s silk tie and pocket square. Originally she thought of the black-tipped red fur but, for obvious reasons, decided on the blue.

Once ensconced within the town car, Johnathan prattled on about the upcoming event. Miranda made appropriate responses when there was a lull but Johnathan wasn’t a witty conversationalist, so her participation wasn’t actually required. For the most part, Miranda didn’t mind. Perhaps because her expectations didn’t rise above five on a scale of one to twenty. As she looked out the window, not seeing her reflection, her mind wandered. Andrea said much without actually saying anything at all which intrigued Miranda. It was refreshing, to work with someone so like-minded that an expression was enough to communicate. Andrea didn’t cow down, didn’t become bullish when Miranda gave into her own frustration. No, the woman simply kept on course like an ice breaker ship in the artic, inching through the unmovable.

Miranda bit her the inside of her lower lip. If she wasn’t careful, her admiration for Andrea Sachs could spiral which wouldn’t do. No, it wouldn’t do at all. Miranda looked away from the window and paid attention to her date.

The venue was crowded, of course. Miranda hated the lack of space but she gamely followed Johnathan through the throng, stopping occasionally to speak to people she hardly knew. She didn’t say much. Her role wasn’t to reign but provide a very pretty distraction while Johnathan talked business. So, Miranda smiled and cooed and air-kissed until her delightful mask threatened to crack. Some of the attendees were people she knew socially through charities or galas. It wasn’t hard to act like arm-candy but she tired of the charade more quickly than not.

It didn’t matter. Men like Johnathan wanted young women and while she wasn’t, she looked exceptional and that, really, was all that mattered to a man of Johnathan’s station. She had power and position of her own in an industry that didn’t threaten him. Her wealth, while not close to his was still exceptional. The fact that she earned it herself, that it wasn’t granted in a divorce or given to her via trust fund weighed in her favor. No, she wasn’t young anymore but she brought much to the table now.

Still, Miranda faked her smiles and compliments and doubted the wisdom of attending. Her attention so feigned to be imaginary, she excused herself when Johnathan engaged in a debate with another man about Bloomberg’s chances for re-election. She headed toward the bar, intent on a wine that was crisp and fruity or a light champagne that went down easily.

“I’m not surprised.”

Miranda looked over her shoulder, drawn by the familiar voice. “I’m in a mood, Anna.”

“How is that different from any other time I’ve had the misfortune of bumping into you?”

Miranda tried not to smile but she knew she hadn’t been successful when Anna bit her upper lip and her eyebrows rose above the Chanel glasses she wore.

“Take off those glasses for god’s sake. It’s like you’re the female version of Howard Hughes.”

Anna grinned then slowly stepped to the other side of Miranda. “You could use a spa week, darling. Scrub off all those accumulated dead skin cells that make you look rather like a rhino.”

Miranda pushed past her to the bar and said over her shoulder, “Said the elephant.”

Anna laughed then said, “I’ll have my usual.”

A few minutes later, Miranda grabbed two champagne glasses. She handed one to Anna. They silently touched glasses, nodded, then downed the drink in one go.

“Your turn, dear.”

Anna nodded then wiggled through the bodies at the bar. Miranda looked around for Bee, Anna’s daughter who usually accompanied her mother.

“How many cheese burst pizzas have you had this week, Anna? Your ass is positively plump compared to the flat pancake it usually is.”

Laughing, she handed Miranda another flute of champagne. “And your thighs are clapping together like cymbals, darling.” She tilted her head toward Miranda’s back. “Oh, look, your bass drum ass as an accompaniment.”

Miranda snorted, covering her nose with the back of her free hand. “That was a good one.”

“Stop looking as if you’re having a good time, Miranda. People are watching.”

Miranda adopted a blasé expression and looked around as if she were bored. “Why did you let Andrea Sachs go?”

“Believe it or not, darling, I didn’t want to. I blame a bout of insanity but the poor girl wanted Runway and you.”

Miranda forced down the smirk. It wouldn’t do to let Anna know how pleased she was acquiring one of Anna’s underlings.

“You say that as if it’s mystifying. Runway does have most of the market share, dear.”

Anna tipped her empty glass. “For now.”

Staring at her own empty glass, Miranda murmured, “I’d rather get drunk with you than be with my date.”

Anna took her flute. “Well, then, who am I to deny you, darling?”

“Where’s Bee?”

“I imagine somewhere chatting up a gentleman, well, one hopes. ” Anna held up the flutes. “Shall I?”

Miranda nodded. It was disconcerting. She should be by Jonathan’s side. Instead, Anna Wintour of all people was preferrable.

“Drink up, darling. Jonathan Webster makes a documentary about peeling paint absolutely riveting.”

“Why didn’t your mother drown you at birth?”

Anna sipped from the flute then licked her lips. “Because I knew how to swim, of course.”

At a loss, Miranda clicked glasses and drained the rest of the champagne.

“Well, until the next time, dear.”

“Webster isn’t the man for you.” Anna’s mouth was a straight line. “You already know that.”

Miranda tensed up as she stared into Chanel glasses. “Needs must, you know.”

“Pity.” Anna drained her glass. “I wanted to keep her. She didn’t want to wait. Understandable, yes, and I didn’t want to stand in her way. Miranda, you must know what you have in her. Don’t fuck it up, darling.”

Miranda lifted one brow then smiled. “Oh, don’t worry. I don’t intent to.”

With the soft mocking laughter of Anna Wintour at her back, Miranda made her way through the crowd in search of Johnathan. With a mindless ease she sidled up to him and smiled, made remarks intended to showcase Johnathan’s accomplishments, but, honestly, she wished were at home with her children watching a Disney movie of all things.

At nine o’clock, Miranda whispered in his ear that she needed to leave. Johnathan frowned but she told him she’d take a taxi, that she wanted to be home to tuck her twins into bed and perhaps read them a bedtime story. He softened, predictably, and insisted upon escorting her through the crowd to the street where his town car idled at the curb.

She wanted to want him. It would have fixed it all. Miranda endured his kiss, patting his chest when they parted. Without further affectations, she slid into the back seat, blessedly alone and watched the lights of the city through the window while she wondered why when everything ultimately aligned to her advantage, all she wanted to do was walk away.

Chapter Text

Unlocking the door, she was surprised to be greeted by her two favorite redheads. Selah stood to the side, laughing at the girls as they bowled over their mother and nearly made her lose her footing.

“Were they good for you?” Miranda asked, hugging her offspring against her sides.

“Why wouldn’t we be?” Caroline asked.

Miranda opened her clutch and withdrew her billfold. “Here you go, Selah.”

Eyes widening in surprise, she protested, “You were only gone for two hours, Miss Priestly.”

“Consider it a tip.”

Selah shook her head but grinned as she pocketed the hundred dollar bill. “Thank you.”

“Girls, I’m going to walk Selah home. Lock the door behind us, please.”

The evening was cold, a little windy as well, but pleasant in the way Miranda felt snug and warm within her coat.

“I would like it if you let me know how you’re doing from time to time.”

Selah grinned. “I’d like that.”

“Do you still want to be a lawyer like your father?”

“I’m just taking it a little bit at a time, Miranda. My mother wants me to follow my dreams but, to be honest, I don’t know what they are. My father wants me to be a lawyer but I don’t think he’d be disappointed if I didn’t go that route since I have an older sister that’s already one.”

Miranda stopped at the stoop of Selah’s home. “You’ll figure it out. But if you need a little nudge or advice or...anything, please, call me. You’ve done an outstanding job with my children. They mean more to me than anything so believe me when I tell you that I value the care and kindness you’ve showed them over the years. Selah, no matter if it’s next week or twenty years from now, please let me know if I can help you?”

The young girl nodded, her posture indicating an uneasiness Miranda didn’t know how to soothe. So, she smiled, nodded then said good night.

The walk back to her home took longer. She breathed in the cold night air. She was twice divorced with twin daughters, the  Editor in Chief of Runway and dating Johnathan Webster. What else did she need to feel...happy? The trajectory of her life held every apex most women, neigh men, too, struggled to obtain and yet, Miranda wished it had gone in another direction because she was bored, bored, bored. The mere idea of a challenge quickened her blood in a way that had become rare.

Did she have a right to wish for something else when the world was at her feet? Miranda huddled into her faux mink. Although her neighborhood was quiet by Manhattan standards, Miranda heard the blaring horns and revving engines. This is what she had worked her entire life for, living in a multimillion dollar townhouse, with nannies and housekeepers and town cars. It was such a far cry away from South Shields on Tyneside with the five of them jammed into a three bed council house. Her father had been a miner and her Mam got up early to clean houses in the posh bit of town and worked in a biscuit factory.

Why wasn’t Johnathan Webster enough for a wretched girl from a poor part of town?

Not for the first time, Miranda Priestly suspected she was meant to be a mother but not a wife.

The cold, dreary fundraiser and her own ennui was obviously making her maudlin. In the morning, things would look better. She just needed a good night’s rest.

***

Breakfast was a simple bowl of cereal. When the twins groused about how plain it was, Miranda told Caroline to cut up some bananas and to please use a butter knife. Sipping her coffee, she wondered if a disagreement happened during the night when they were supposed to be asleep. Miranda turned the magazine page then set down her mug. 

Around a spoonful of cereal, Cassidy tried to speak but dribbled milk. She immediately looked at her sister and made a face which set her sister off.

“Close your stupid mouth.”

“Girls.” Miranda softly rebuked, eyes considering the page layout more than the article.

“Mom.”

She looked up, relieved to see Cassidy’s mouth wasn’t full of food. “Yes, bobbsies?”

“What’re we doing today?”

“Well, we should take a walk in the park. Perhaps feed the ducks?”

Caroline looked aghast. “They’re dirty.”

“Can I chase ‘em?” Cassidy squealed, bouncing in her chair.

“It will be fine, Caroline.” Miranda closed the magazine. “What would you do if you caught one?”

Shrugging, Cassidy scratched the tip of her nose.

“They’ll peck your eyes out.” Caroline said with utter conviction.

Cassidy’s gaze narrowed. “They can fly away, you know.”

“But they wouldn’t. They’re like pets. Let’s go get ready.”

They started bickering as they took their bowls to the counter.

Miranda made a slight clucking noise. “Have you forgotten already?”

Cassidy twirled around in a circle, singing out, “Con-con-con-see-quen-sez.”

“The playroom.” Caroline answered.

“Come on, let’s see what needs to be done, shall we?”

Not to be eclipsed by her twin, Caroline started singing a song from ‘The Sound of Music’ in which Cassidy instantly accompanied. Poor Selah, she thought. If Miranda watched that musical one more time, she was going to dump her children at Julie’s house. At the top of the stairs, she rolled her eyes. With her luck, Julie would teach them ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ just to spite Miranda.

Staring at the pristine room, her lips pursed. She knew for a fact on Thursday night it had been ransacked by the twins looking for some toy or another.

“Looks good to me, mom.” Cassidy said, the devil twinkling in her eyes.

Caroline pressed a forefinger against the edge of a small table then rubbed it against her thumb and showed her mother.

“See. Spotless.”

“I see.  Am I to believe you and your sister cleaned it yourselves?”

“Selah made it fun. We played a game and I won!” Cassidy crowed.

Caroline stuck out her tongue. “Only because you cheated.”

“A game?” Miranda interrupted a little impatiently, putting the pieces together about earlier at breakfast.

“Yup.” Cassidy answered as she hung her head over the side of couch cushion.

Seated at the play table, Caroline explained, “We had to hurry because whoever won got to pick the movie before bedtime.”

“Round one was picking up the toys. Selah kept count and I won.” Cassidy offered.

You cheated.”

“Do sit up, Cassidy, before you pass out.”

With a dramatic flair, she pivoted on her butt while swinging her legs around then sat up. “Easy-peasies, mumsies.”

Miranda thought that little gem had been forgotten. Trust Cassidy to revive it. A headache started in her temples. She needed to get them outside expending all that energy or Miranda would certainly go mad.

“It’s still a bit cold and windy yet.” She tapped her lips, thinking. “There’s a few things I need to do before we leave. Why don’t you both take showers and I’ll pick out your outfits?”

Cassidy jumped up and ran out of the room, yelling, “I’m going first cause Caroline takes too long!”

Although they had separate rooms on the third floor, there was an adjoining bathroom, which was a blessing, but as they grew older Miranda realized it may turn into a curse.  At least there was a full guest bathroom down the hall.

“I don’t take too long.” Caroline muttered and rose from her seat. “Why can’t I pick out my own outfit? I wanted to wear my new navy coat.”

It was an expensive navy wool with a velvet trim from Isabel Garretón and not suitable for a playground.

“Do you think that’s wise? What if it gets ruined on the slide or dirty while feeding the ducks?”

Caroline rolled her eyes. “But it’s pretty.”

“I think the Jacadi puffer jacket will be much more appropriate.”

“I guess you’re right.”

Miranda raised her eyebrows. “I do know a little about what looks...pretty.”

Caroline blushed but nodded. “Can we go to the bookstore, too?”

“Naturally, bobbsies.”

They walked out of the playroom, holding hands.

“You know you can use the guest bathroom if you don’t want to wait.”

Caroline leaned into Miranda burrowing her head against Miranda’s hip, a rare show of affection and shyness that took her by surprise. For the last year Caroline seemed to be exerting an independent streak. Perhaps the girls at school were influencing her as well. Cassidy was outgoing, rambunctious and surprisingly even tempered whereas Caroline was a bit opinionated, fastidious, and watchful. Miranda supposed Caroline took after her and Cassidy after their father.

“I know.”

Miranda cupped her daughter’s cheeks. “Would you like to take a quick nap?”

She nodded, eyes already drooping.

Miranda kissed her forehead then put a hand on her narrow back and made sure she made it up the stairs to her room. When they reached it, she heard Cassidy singing but for the life of her couldn’t make out which song. She tucked Caroline in and brushed the hair from her eyes.

“Cassidy, please sing a little more softly. Your sister’s taking a short nap.” Miranda announced as she entered the bathroom and closed the door behind her.

“Oookay.” Miranda turned to leave but Cassidy called her back. “Look, mom. I’m a Teletubbie!”

Miranda smiled at the sight of Cassidy whose soapy hair was a wobbly tower on top of her head.

“I see.”

Then Cassidy grinned and started bobbing her head, gleefully laughing. Miranda snorted behind her hand and waved good bye with her other one.

She entered Cassidy’s bedroom and nearly groaned. There was a makeshift tent or cave made of blankets extending from the foot of the bed. All of Cassidy’s stuffed animals surrounded it as if standing in as sentries. Ignoring the mess, Miranda went to the closet and withdrew a pair of Levi’s and a plush sweatshirt with a RUNWAY embroidered down the arm which had been a special request from her child last Christmas. The Doc Martens showed signs of wear but Cassidy refused Miranda’s offer to replace them. The little hellion declared she’d just gotten them ‘feeling good’. She dug through the sock drawer and pulled out a pair of wool socks then laid the clothes by her pillow. Cassidy could figure out her own underwear.

She exited through the bedroom door then quietly opened the one to Caroline’s. True Religion jeans, a Gucci top, and, god help her, the pair of pink Fendirumi boots her father had given her for Christmas. No matter how many times she tried to get Caroline to wear something less showy, the girl gravitated toward couture which, Miranda admitted, was a trait she got honestly. She set the outfit on the foot of the bed after selecting a pair of socks.

Miranda took a shower and got ready. On the weekends with the children she fit work in whenever the girls were asleep or otherwise occupied, she opted for a more relaxed look. Instead of a dress, she wore gray tailored wool pants, a cable-knit Cashmere jumper and a pair of studded leather ankle boots which were surprisingly sturdy and comfortable. She hurried downstairs, putting in the last earring.

She texted Vanessa to confirm she was to bring The Book to the townhouse this morning. A voicemail from Johnathan thanked her for attending last night’s fundraiser and wished to know if lunch on Sunday was a possibility. It was not but she’d call him later to tell him. Remembering her promise, Miranda called the owner of the nanny service she used. Thankfully, Hubert answered on the third ring. After the niceties, Miranda called in the favor, gave him what details she knew along with Andrea’s name and explicit instructions to keep her own name out of it. He said he’d put together a list of candidates and await the woman’s request.

Miranda texted Nigel the agency, number, and contact name of Rosemary.

make sure she calls Monday morning

She dialed the car service for a pick up time, booking the driver until seven at night. It was a pity Roy didn’t work on the weekends. Of course, there were exceptions but those needed to be set up weeks in advance. Miranda checked the time. She had an hour to get her offspring ready. Sighing, she hurried up the stairs.

***

“Wait here.” she told the driver then looked at the twins. “Stay in your seat belts. Am I clear?”

They nodded solemnly, having survived a few scary lectures on  the need to hold an adult’s hand, not playing inside an automobile, and obeying their mother at all times.

“I’ll be right back.” she warned the driver.

He nodded and got out of the car.

When he opened the door and she got out, he said “They’ll be safe with me, Mrs. Priestly.”

Slipping on her Gucci sunglasses, she walked away. The faster she picked up her new contract which she’d forgotten to take home, the faster she got back to the girls. Vanessa could have easily brought it with her when she dropped off The Book today but there were certain things only her hands touched.

As soon as she entered the building, Miranda unbuttoned the long coat and hung it over her arm, then pushed her glasses to the top of her head. In spite of her reputation and standing within the Elias-Clarke building, she didn’t always ride the elevator alone. It was true, not many people braved her icy demeanor and silent wrath which was a source of great amusement for Miranda. The ride up didn’t take long. She swiped her card to get into Runway and nearly ran into Andrea, her daughter, and a man who were apparently leaving.

“Oh, excuse us, Miranda.” Andrea said, flushing a little. “I, uh, was just giving my friend a tour.”

“Hi.” The little girl cooed, holding out her hand which Miranda took as she bent down a little.

“Hello, Fen.”

Andrea smoothed the riotous curls on the child’s head. “You remember, Miranda, don’t you, sweetie? The first time mommy took you with her to work?”

 Fen held up her arms to Miranda, clenching her tiny fists. Miranda dropped her coat on the floor and swung her up high then deposited the little imp on her hip. She ignored the light gasp from Andrea.

Fen grabbed onto Miranda’s jumper and mock-whispered, “I dream-id a dinosnore ated, Da.”

She glanced at Andrea whose face was red as she explained, “The other night she had a dream a dinosaur ate her daddy.”

Miranda bit her upper lip. Andrea hid her smile behind a cough. They stared at each other until Miranda returned her attention to Fen.

“How unfortunate.” Miranda murmured, gently tickling Fen’s soft, round belly. “And what, may I ask, is ‘Fen’ short for?”

Fen squealed, high enough to pierce ear drums, then flung herself backward as she tried to get away from Miranda’s fingers.

“I see I’m going to have to separate you two.” Andrea teased and held out her arms. “Fenimore Lisette Sachs. She’s named after her grandfather.”

As Fen twisted to reach her mother, Miranda took a step closer and for a suspended second, the exchange felt intimate. Damning the heat rising in her cheeks, Miranda stooped to retrieve her coat.

“Hi, I’m Doug, Andrea’s friend.” He shifted his weight from one foot to the other then rubbed his jaw. “I’m a huge fan.”

They gently shook hands.

“Doug gets Runway delivered.”

“Mummers, we go?”

Andrea sucked in her bottom lip as she regarded Fen. “What do you do when someone else is talking?”

Fen rolled her eyes and tried to climb up her mother’s long legs. “Say pardon.”

“And...”

Fen groaned. “Pardon, mummers, can I...” Her voice trailed off and she frowned. “Pardon, I forgot-id.”

“C’mere, dance monkey. I’m sure Miranda has things to do.” Doug hoisted the toddler up against his chest. “It was nice meeting you.”

“You, as well.” Miranda looked at Andrea, her eyes sliding down the True Religion jeans, combat boots, burgundy mock-turtle neck shirt underneath a wool-lined black duster. When her gaze lifted, she was caught off guard by Andrea’s amused dark eyes.

“Weekend Miranda looks good, too.”

Miranda slowly slipped her glasses in place and the forelock fell across one lens. “Yes, well.”

Andrea quirked an eyebrow, a closed half-smile curving her lips as if she knew the observation unsettled her.

“Good bye, Fen.” Miranda murmured, lightly touching the little girl’s knee that pressed against Doug’s stomach.

“Bye, M.”

Waylaid without warning, she nevertheless paused at her desk. An air of weariness hovered over Andrea which, given the circumstances, was understandable. Yet another thing in common, a cheating husband, drew upon Miranda’s emotions. And Fen, dear god, but that child was precious. What wasn’t understandable was the urge to do something about Andrea’s circumstances, about Fen’s well-being. They were not friends and not quite coworkers. Miranda tapped two fingers on the desktop. She was a mentor, of sorts, and as such, making nudges was par for the course in Andrea’s professional life. Inserting herself into the personal would only muddy the waters so to speak.  She shook off the odd mood and consciously changed the direction of her thoughts.

Once she got the drawer unlocked, Miranda withdrew the packet. One last time for Jameson to look it over, decree the contract ironclad, then Miranda would sign it. Although the changes she made a few weeks ago to the initial offer had readily been approved by Elias-Clarke, with the holidays and Nigel’s imminent departure, Miranda hadn’t had time to give it to her lawyer. She put it in her purse.

They were gone, of course. The space seemed unusually still but she stalked through it, intent upon reuniting with her children and enjoying their company, all thoughts of brunettes pushed from her mind.

On the elevator ride down, she decided to take the girls to the aquarium first. A Dalton field trip two years ago left Cassidy squealing over the ‘Nemo’ and Caroline obsessed sting rays. Miranda promptly bought an annual family membership which they used sparingly. Today, she intended they go on the ‘behind the scenes’ tour of the ‘nursery’, rehabilitation tanks, and veterinary clinic.

Chapter Text

Exhausted by a morning spent running around the city with her mother and Doug, Fen went down for a nap as soon as they arrived home. Andrea, however, was still going strong as she yanked Nate’s shirt off a hanger, sharply folded it then placed it on top of the tower of neatly folded clothes on the bed.

“Are you sure?” he asked, absently grimacing at the current shirt being folded. “What they did to you was horrible. There’s no excuse for it, Andy...”

“Andrea.” she corrected and started another shirt pile.

“I’ve always called you Andy.”

“Yes, I’m aware.” Andrea ducked back into the closet and started yanking in earnest. When she came back out, she carelessly dumped them on the other side of Doug. “Call me Andrea.”

Doug fidgeted as he reached over and pulled a dress shirt from the pile and started folding. “There’s Fen to think about.”

“She’s the reason I’m doing this.”

“How can you be so cold?” Doug rubbed the edge of a shirt in the folded pile.

For her.” Andrea hissed then clenched her jaw. “Tell me, Doug, since you’re so worried about it. I did try to save my marriage so don’t ask me if I’m sure, not now when I know I don’t want to.”

Doug’s surprised expression underscored just how far they’d grown apart. Three years ago he took off to Miami following the man he loved but, typically, Doug bounced back, got a job and went to South Beach in search of another love.

“You’ve changed a lot.”

Of course, I have. I don’t have the luxury of running off to South Beach. I have a child.”

Doug deflected her vitriolic tone by holding his hands up near his chest. He looked down then slowly stood.

Andrea quickly grabbed his arm. Side by side, they stood together, neither looking at the other but connected by her fingers squeezing the material of his shirt.

“I’m doing the best I can, Doug.”

He sighed and slowly turned toward her, hands rising to pull her into a hug. “You are. I know you are but maybe your parents can help? Or you guys can come down to Miami...”

Andrea patted his back before pulling away. “Thanks but I can’t go back to my parents’ home. My future, mine and Fen’s, is here in New York. But thanks for the offer.”

Doug rubbed his jaw. “I talked to Lily.”

It had taken him longer than she thought to ask that question. At the mention of her ex-best friend’s name, Andrea twisted the vintage The Eyes of Laura Mars Movie promo t-shirt Nate just had to have that cost more than two hundred dollars. Doug carefully leaned over from his seat on the bed and disentangled Andrea’s fingers from the material. He shook it out, shaking his head then held it up.

“He loves that movie. We should burn it.”

“I’ll get the matches.”

***

“You’re not coming back until Wednesday?” Andrea asked into the receiver, trying to keep how she felt about it out of her tone. She leaned against the kitchen counter so she could still keep an eye out on Doug and Fen playing in the living room.

“I got the job, Andy. There’s paper work to fill out and I’ve got to get an apartment. Lily...”

“I’ve almost packed all your things...”

“WHAT? Who told you to do that?”

As he continued to rant, Andrea rubbed her eyes with her free hand and moved her jaw from side to side to keep it from locking up.

“...I should have known you’d make this harder. And what about my daughter...

Ignoring his bitterness, Andrea calmly said, “You can’t stay here.”

“You’re not being reasonable, Andy. You told me to go, remember? Told me to get out.

“And why did I do that, Nate?”

“You know what? Fine, whatever. I’ll come back in a couple of weeks. Maybe by then you’ll be a little more reasonable.

“Or maybe you’ll actually stop whining.”

“There’s the coldblooded bitch we all know and love. Ever think maybe if you’d been a little nicer, I wouldn’t have cheated?”

“Yes but the effort was greater than the reward.”

As expected, Nate lost his shit, spewing forth insults and threats. Andrea hung up.

Slowly she set down the phone and almost missed the counter, her hand shook so much. She glanced into the living room. Fen, patiently showing Doug how her toy worked, clasped his shoulder as he sat on the floor in front of Handy Manny’s Transforming Tool Truck. Andrea swallowed past the sharpness closing up her throat. In that moment, she saw Nate’s likeness in the way their daughter kept making eye contact with Doug as she explained, in the way she showed him what to do next then encouraged him try it.

Over Nate’s objections that it was a boy’s toy, Andrea bought it anyway, knowing Fen loved to see how things worked. Despite his attitude, when it was time to show her how to play with it, Nate gently and slowly showed her, giving every question a serious answer.

 Ears still ringing with the virulence of his attack, Andrea realized he hated her, had done so for quite a while. It was hard to reconcile those two sides of his personality. Harder still to remember the months after she conceived, when morning sickness happened in the afternoon and night and she still worked fifty to sixty hours a week. Servicing her husband hadn’t even been an afterthought. Patently, Nate’s thoughts on the matter had been on the other end of the spectrum.

In penance, Nate gave up his job and became a stay-at-home dad the day after Fen was born while Andrea learned to fake-smile and make excuses. They made do and made space for the elephant in the room that kept growing, telling each other it was for Fen’s sake, but Andrea’s trust in her husband simply vanished, never to be rebuilt.

When Fen ran into the kitchen laughing with her arms up, Andrea snapped out of her thoughts and scooped up her child.

“Mummers.” she gasped as she planted a sloppy kiss on Andrea’s chin. One chubby little hand took hold of Andrea’s hair before she had time to flip it behind her shoulders.

Doug, out of breath, trailed into the kitchen then plopped down on a chair at the table. “I don’t know how you do it.”

Andrea removed Fen’s fingers from her hair. “Well, I won’t be doing it alone.” When she saw Doug’s eyebrows rise, she explained, “Elias-Clarke has a daycare and Nigel gave me a number for a nanny service I’m going to check out tomorrow.”

“That’s gotta be expensive.”

“Juice please.” Fen asked nicely then started squawking like a demented bird.

Andrea softly hushed her then pulled out a sippy cup from the cabinet. “Doug, can you get the juice? Second shelf.” She placed Fen in the booster seat then sat down next to her.

“Here you go.” Doug said, handing over Fen’s drink.

“What do you say, sweetie?”

“Tanks, bro.”

Andrea raised her eyebrow at Doug when he shrugged his shoulders and grinned. “The daycare is only a hundred a week, payroll deducted, too.”

“Holy sh-sh-sugar snaps.”

“I don’t know if that’s much better.” she murmured as she handed Fen a wet nap when juice dribbled down her chin.

“That’s crazy affordable.”

“I know, right? I should be able to swing for a nanny without too much trouble.”

Fen started kicking her feet and blowing into the sippy cup. Andrea placed her hand on Fen’s legs then leaned down to kiss the top of her head.

“Mummers, gots to go potty.”

Andrea helped her daughter off the booster. “Do you need any help, sweetie?”

Fen scowled, the pale skin under her eyebrows turning red. “No.”

“Alright then.”

Watching her indignant daughter stomp off, Andrea said, “Nate’s coming back in a couple of weeks when he thinks I may be a little more reasonable. That’s the thing, Doug, I have been pretty reasonable. He’s pissed because he can’t come back here to stay. It’s like he wants this married life and the thing with...her.”

“He’s staying in Boston?” Doug frowned. “We don’t really talk anymore.”

Andrea expelled a heavy breath. “He got the job.”

“What happens with Fen?”

Before she had a chance to answer, her daughter ran into the room announcing, “I’m done.”

Andrea picked her up. Looking at Doug over Fen’s head, she didn’t know what to say.

***

“That’s...horrible.” Doug wheezed as he gestured with the hand holding his wine.

Grinning, Andrea said, “I know, right? But somebody wore it.”

He set down the wine then pulled another garment from the thrift store bag. “Well, this one isn’t so bad. What’s the premise behind this? Because it looks like you’re trying to dress the homeless.”

“Mummers, the tv be bad.” Fen screeched from the living room.

Andrea called out, “Just a minute, sweetie.” She looked at Doug whose eyebrows arched. “Anything that doesn’t work right is bad.. I’ll be right back.”

“No more SpongeBob, mummers.”

Pressing several buttons on the remote, she absently said, “How about a movie?”

“Nemo! Nemo!” Fen clapped then wiggled off the couch and ran toward the tower of DVDs. “Uncool Doug, movie time.”

Stifling her laughter as Doug popped out of the bedroom, Andrea squatted before her daughter and softly grabbed her cheeks. “You are my pride and joy.”

“That one’s gonna stick. I just know it.” he grumbled, walking past them into the kitchen.

While Doug made popcorn on the stovetop, Andrea created a cheese plate.

“The benefits of living with a chef.” she muttered, then added with a hiss of bitch, “The only thing I’ll miss.”

“Mummers.” Fen said as she dragged Lou the stuffed sloth across the kitchen floor. “Where Da?”

Doug stopped shaking the pan for a beat then resumed.

Andrea put the knife in the sink then looked down at her daughter. “He’s on a trip, remember? He’ll be back soon.”

“How much is soon?”

“Hold on. Let me check.”

Andrea grabbed her phone and sent Nate a text, willing him to answer quickly.

I’ll call her tonight b4 bed

“Daddy’s going to call you tonight before you go to sleep, sweetie.”

Fen frowned but nodded. “Uncool Doug, poppin’ the corns!”

“What yah got there, Fen?” Doug asked, pointing to the stuffed animal.

While the two engaged in the merits of sloths as friends, Andrea weighted down the serving tray with drinks and snacks. Every time Fen said Uncool Doug Andrea swallowed the laughter. Suddenly, she was so glad he came to visit and that he interacted with her child so well. Maybe, he could become a real uncle to her child.

***

As it turned out, Nate wanted to FaceTime with Fen. Reluctantly, she held up the phone for her daughter while they carried on a rambling dialogue. She forced a smile the entire time even when she heard Lily’s voice in the background.

“Okay, Da, sleepy time.”

“Okay, Fen. Daddy loves you so, so much and I’ll see you soon.”

Thankfully, Nate hung up.

“Mummers, Iubbie you.”

Her daughter’s eyelashes looked so long against her pale skin. Already half-asleep, her eyebrows scrunched up as she tried to get comfortable.

“I lubbie you, too.” Andrea leaned down and kissed Fen’s forehead then pulled the blanket over her shoulder. “Sweet dreams.”

When she returned to the living room, Doug was sitting on the couch with two fresh glasses of wine.

“How’d it go?”

Andrea shrugged. “I heard her in the background. Other than that, it was fine. I guess I should buy one of those clip mounts that hold phones and I’ll just sit next to the bed while she talks to her father.”

“You don’t trust Nate?”

“That’s not it.” she replied, reaching for her wine glass. Staring down into the glass, Andrea said, “Well, maybe a little. I don’t want to see or hear Lily. To be really honest, I don’t want my daughter around that-that...person, but I realize, I don’t have much control over Nate’s choice in that area.”

“Take out the sleeping with your husband part and Lily’s not so bad.”

Andrea took a drink.

“You know, you’re handling this overly well.”

“I’ve had practice.” She shrugged, unwilling to look into eyes that were probably filled to the brim with compassion or pity.  “I was almost six months pregnant before I found out about the waitress at the restaurant he was working at.”

Doug shifted to semi-face her, crossing his legs.

“There wasn’t any time for sex mostly because I was busy or Nate was and I was puking all the time, almost through the second trimester.” Abruptly she looked at him. “Did you ever wonder why she has my last name?”

“I figured because you didn’t take his name?”

“I did that for professional reasons, not because I’m a feminist.” Sighing, she picked up her glass. “Part of it was because he cheated. I know it was spiteful but, as it turned out, I don’t have any regrets about it. The other part was he really enjoyed trying to get me pregnant but when it happened, he went into this weird funk and he kept avoiding my questions about it.”

“Did it make it too real, you think?”

Sipping the wine, Andrea shrugged. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath then looked at Doug. “I saw them when I surprised him at the restaurant. I, uh, slapped him, told her off then upended a table and left.”

Doug started laughing. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to laugh but I’m envisioning you six months pregnant getting your hormonal homicide on.”

“Then I...” Andrea swallowed because she reached part of the retelling that now made Lily’s betrayal a double-edge sword. “...I went straight to Lily’s when she lived in Queens. I cried on her shoulder for two days, Doug.”

His hand slowly reached over to touch her but Andrea cleared her throat and stood.  “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you then.”

As she walked by, Andrea patted Doug’s arm that stretched out over the back of the couch. “You had your own problems. You’re here now.”

In the bathroom, she slumped against the closed door and shut her eyes. Things were coming together. There wasn’t a reason to fall apart or cry or second-guess herself. As soon as she hired a nanny, Fen could go back to preschool although she seemed to really enjoy the daycare. So did Andrea since the opportunity to pop in and spend a few minutes with her daughter occurred at least once a day. If she fell behind on work, she caught up when Fen went to bed.

A million other women probably went through the same thing. Andrea straightened. Hell, it even happened to Miranda Priestly. According to the gossip columns anyway. Her last husband had been a stock broker or something, rather handsome but definitely lecherous if her memory was correct. Stephen Tomlinson, mid-fifties with a sour disposition. Had it been at the Met Gala or was it the publishing awards ceremony that Andrea literarily bumped into him? Wherever it took place, she hadn’t known who he was at the time. In search of her errant husband, Andrea checked the bar first but in her haste she’d shouldered the man in the back.

“Well, can’t say I’ve ever been by hip checked by someone so pretty before.

“Oh, I’m...”

“Don’t finish that or you’ll crush my hopes because I’m really not sorry it happened. My name’s Stephen.

Lord save her from horny old men, she thought and tried to convey exactly how she felt about his boorish behavior. He knocked back the rest of his drink, something dark on ice.

“I’m married.”

“Even better.”

Andrea shook her head, bringing her thoughts to the present. The memory hit a little too close to home. She could easily replace Stephen with Nate in the scenario. It occurred to her that she and Miranda had a few things in common then Andrea snorted, shaking her head. Talk about delusional. Miranda Priestly was in a class all of her own. She flushed the toilet then washed her hands, feeling a bit...revived.

“What’s the matter, sweetie?” Andrea asked softly in the hallway, nearly running over her own child.

Fen mumbled, “I can’t find Lou.”

“Okay. Do you need to go to potty first?”

“No.” she whined, stomping her foot.

Andrea cupped the back of Fen’s head then directed her back to her room. Prone on the bed, Fen’s tummy poked out from her pajamas.

“Let me check you first, sweetie.” she cooed, blowing a soft raspberry on her belly.

Fen squirmed as she tried to push her mother’s hands away. “I didn’t go! I want Lou!”

Before her daughter had a meltdown, Andrea spotted the stuffed sloth on the floor between the end table and bed. She placed Lou gently on her daughter’s chest.

“Can mummers check now?” she whispered into her ear through the mass of dark curls.

Fen grunted but didn’t fight her as she peeled back the tape on the diaper’s elastic waistband.

“Can I’s sleep now?”

The self-righteousness of a nearly four year old hit Andrea right between the eyes. “I’m sorry, sweetie, but it’s mommy’s job to check.”

Unimpressed, Fen flopped over, presenting her back to her mother.

While well-deserved, Andrea sighed with a touch of maternal martyrdom and backed out of the room.

“So, why did you drag me all over the city today? Not that I minded, I mean, I love clothes shopping but secondhand isn’t exactly your style anymore, is it?”

“No, it is not.” she quipped in her best snooty imitation.

Then she talked excitedly about her plans to challenge the stylists Monday morning.

“You really love working for her, don’t you?”

Andrea blinked, skidding to a halt in the middle of whatever she was saying. “I love working for Runway. That’s always been my dream. You know this, Doug.”

Scratching his chin, he looked slyly at her. “I’ve been listening to you talk about your job for the past twenty minutes and you didn’t say Runway, once, but you did say Miranda like twenty times.”

“Stop exaggerating.”

“No, it’s cute. Your little girl crush is cute.”

“The woman has influenced the fashion industry, Doug. An entire industry. It’s demeaning to twist my respect and admiration into something so juvenile and sexist.”

Dough groaned. “I know, I know.”

“They’re going to take back your toaster.” Andrea tsked.

“Gay men don’t get toasters. Instead, it’s gym memberships or decorating subscriptions.”

Even though he was teasing, Andrea didn’t laugh. He probably had to fight the stereotype every day.

“I shouldn’t have said...”

“Hey, it’s okay, I didn’t even think anything about it except that it was funny.”

Andrea took a deep breath and let it out. “Well, if I’m being honest, damn, that woman works a Bill Blass suit.”

***

Before going to bed, Andrea checked her work phone and was surprised to see a text from Nigel telling her to call when she received it. Despite the late hour, Andrea did so as her heart thudded and her brain tried to figure out what had happened.

“I need you at Runway, nine o’clock sharp. Bring the kid if you have to.”

“I’ll be there but what happened?”

“We have to pull the DeMarco shoot for Sunday’s print. He stole someone else’s designs. Miranda is on the warpath, too, so make sure you wear a helmet and protective gear.”

“Okay, I have a few ideas. I’ll put them together tonight. See you tomorrow.”

Andrea crept back into the living room, trying not to disturb Doug who was already snoring, to grab her work laptop and spiral notebook. It took her two hours to map out three outlines for alternatives along with questions and notes. Adrenaline pumped through her. The part of her that wasn’t a ‘mommy’ couldn’t wait to get to work. Uncool Doug would save the day for her daughter and that certainty helped ease the guilt a little bit.

When she finally drifted off to sleep, Andrea couldn’t wait for the next day.

Chapter Text

Whoever vetted DeMarco was going to be fired. Emily’s late night call, despite the frantic nature, roused Miranda’s instinct to conquer. There was no higher high than testing herself against the odds. The rush of adrenaline and anticipation tingled through her, almost sexual in nature. Most people believed she was a tyrant, the Devil, and more and she subtly encouraged the falsehoods. Having such a façade helped her to weed through who had fortitude, conviction, and strength. Miranda held little use for terrified employees whimpering at the sight of her pursed lips, narrowed eyes, or quietly spoken criticism. God save her from the hand-wringing hoards in the midst of chaos.

The first phone call on Sunday went to Cara at seven in the morning. Thankfully awake and unfortunately a bit grumpy, she nevertheless agreed to watch the twins. Next on the list was Vanessa who smoothly said “I’ll take care of it.” after Miranda’s barrage of instructions. Cassidy thudded down the stairs just outside the door her mother’s study.

“Cassidy.” she called out without opening the door or looking away from the computer screen.

“Morning to you, too.” she snarked, head poking through the opening of the door as she held onto the doorknob.

Miranda smirked. “Is your sister awake?”

Cassidy scratched the back of her head but stayed in the threshold. “I dunno.”

“Well, go find her and meet me in the kitchen. I’m thinking of making waffles.”

The elation on her daughter’s face warmed Miranda but then Cassidy’s expression changed something bordering on resignation.

“You’re leavin’?”

Miranda gently closed the laptop. Sighing, she got up from behind the desk and approached her nine year old, by far the most forgiving.

“Yes but I should be home by one o’clock if not earlier.” she answered, hands clasped in front of her, standing next to Cassidy.

“Can I come?”

Cupping her daughter’s cheek, Miranda replied, “It’s work, bobbsies.” She held out her hand for Cassidy to take then they went up the stairs. “While I’m gone, you and your sister will need to decide our plans for this afternoon.”

Grinning, Cassidy scampered up the remaining steps, down the hall toward her sister’s bed room door and yelled, “Wake up, Caroline.”

***

It was miserable outside, drizzly and cold. Miranda sidestepped the puddles in her ankle boots. The wheat colored Cuyana trench was exactly right for the weather and looked divine, however, Miranda fretted over the black Burberry boots. They went so well with her ensemble but she feared ruining them in the light rain. Perhaps her decision to wear them had been more vain in nature than practical. Needs must.

Vanessa met her at the Runway door falling in step with Miranda as she handed over a coffee and Miranda handed over her coat.

“Everything is set up in the main conference room per your request. We can hold off the printers until ten tonight but eight would be much better. Andrea and Nigel have already assembled in  conference room B with a small team. Andrea came in at eight, just when I arrived. She’s...very helpful.”

Although surprised, Miranda merely nodded then handed over her purse to Vanessa and went into her office. Unsolicited comments notwithstanding, her first assistant knew better than to waste Miranda’s time with idle chatter. It was rather odd behavior for Vanessa but not enough for Miranda to particular care.

Sighing, she picked up a legal sized notepad and her favorite Mont Blanc then left her office. Vanessa jumped up from her seat but Miranda narrowed her eyes as she walked by and Vanessa slowly sat back down. At fifteen minutes before ten, she walked into the main conference room.

“Oh, hey, Miranda. We’re almost ready.” Andrea announced as she placed the last placard on its easel.

“Is it impossible to start on time?” Miranda slowly asked, flicking her hands as she sat down. “You’ve had all morning to be ready.”

Nigel swanned in and took the seat on Miranda’s right. Serena, the Beauty Director, and Emily, the Fashion Development Director followed next, leaving Andrea standing alone by the line of placards.

“We have four alternatives for the DeMarco shoot with Testino and Meisel standing by. Karlie Kloss...” Andrea checked her watch. “...should be in route  with a few of her friends from JFK.”

Miranda stood and  slowly stepped in front of each placard. “The designers?” she asked, underlining her words with a touch of boredom.

“Um, yes, I’ve been following the progress of two up-and-comers.” Emily answered, her voice a quivering projection of insecurity.

Lowering her eyeglasses, Miranda simply stared at her former assistant.

“Jason Montrose and Sierra Shalom. Both vetted.” Emily finished then cleared her throat.

“Who drew these?”

Nigel, shark-smile in place, answered, “Andrea.”

“Emily, let me see the stills of your designers.”

***

She was done by eleven. Serena and Emily jumped on their phones and scurried out of the room while Andrea started to pack up the presentation.

“I have a friend who owns a loft with exposed brick, wooden support beams and incredible wood floors.” Nigel murmured, cleaning his glasses. “As we speak, he’s probably clearing out the living area right now. I’ll drop in when everyone gets there but...”

Miranda looked at him.

“I’m quite sure Andrea will arrive before me.”

“Serena’s doing the make-up. Make sure she stays away from glitter.” Miranda said, gaze drifting to Andrea who wasn’t dressed as casually as she had been on Saturday but adequately for a photo shoot. “Andrea is...competent.”

“And headstrong. No doubt when the honeymoon’s over, you two will clash spectacularly.” He watched Andrea linger in the farthest corner from them. Nigel shot Miranda a meaningful look before taking his leave. “I’ll see you at Henri’s later on.”

Andrea waved at Nigel, then made her way over toward Miranda. “I was surprised you picked Sierra.”

“I was surprised you can draw rather well.” Miranda sighed, flipping her forelock back.

“In general, people tend to underestimate me.” Andrea’s gaze didn’t waver. “I read an article the Atlantic did on you a few years ago. ‘My vision is the only one that matters.’” Tilting her head as she took the few remaining steps keeping them from being face to face, her dark eyes seemed to grow even darker to Miranda. “You were talking about running Runway. The quote resonated.”

“Is this your tiresome way of throwing down the gauntlet?”

“Not at all.” Andrea quickly replied, obviously taken aback. “I took your quote to mean that while the creative process often thrives on group input, such as collaboration, the finished product and consistent excellence is due to one person’s ideal. So, consider me an...apprentice of sorts.”

“You’re joking.” Miranda mocked, irritated by the woman’s chutzpah.

“No, I’m not.”

“What makes you feel even remotely worthy?”

 Andrea sighed. “Okay, so it’s the hard way. Fine. Miranda, who else has put together two alternative designers, four possible shoots, photographers on stand by and models for a last minute print? All you needed to do was give your approval.”

“And if I didn’t like your selections? What then, Andrea?”

“We had other ideas and I’m positive you have something up your sleeve in case we didn’t impress you. Nigel organized the venue, Emily got the designers, and Serena got the models.”

“And what did you contribute, Andrea? Sketches?” Miranda whispered, nearly nose to nose with the girl.

The vision.”

She’d just been put in her place, Miranda realized, as she watched the angry woman stalk out, chin held high. Taking a deep breath, she slowed her heartbeat and allowed the tension to leach through her muscles. Not many got the better of her. Miranda smiled, enjoying the predatory excitement rippling in her veins. She couldn’t remember the last time she had such a righteous adversary. The young pup wanted to play. Far be it for Miranda to ignore the call of the wild.

“Get me the address for the shoot and call the driver.” she told Vanessa as she walked by, dialing her landline.

“Priestly residence.”

“Cara, do you know what the twins are planning?”

“You can ask them, you know.”

Snidely, she said, “I hadn’t thought of that.”

Cara expelled a long-suffering sigh. “Lincoln Square. Either at four-forty-five or six, depending on which show. In the IMAX theater.”

“Oh, dear god.” Miranda groaned then rubbed her temple. “Please tell me it’s not some boy band thing.”

“Cassidy wants to see ‘Kung Fu Panda’ and Caroline wants to watch something about the coral reef. I think it’s a documentary.”

“Okay. I told them I’d probably be back by one but evidently I have a little more time if I need it.”

“I think that’s what Caroline’s banking on. She doesn’t miss a trick, that one.”

“The documentary at six, I presume.”

“You should have named her junior.”

Miranda muffled a snort. “I’ll text you on your personal if things change. Expect me for Cassidy’s pick.”

***

The Tribeca loft was trendy with an open floor plan that young New Yorkers favored, if a bit small. The lights, backscreens, models and make-up chairs and number of people were enough to render the thousand foot space nearly claustrophobic. Well away from the activity, Miranda perched on a stool at the small bar near the front door with a glass of middling chardonnay. Nigel’s friend, the owner of the loft, gushed his admiration and astonishment that Runway deemed his little home a worthy location for a photo shoot. At first, she nodded and hummed, too focused on the way Andrea directed, appeased, manipulated, cajoled everyone.

Honestly, Miranda had been skeptical of Andrea’s vision but willing to allow the girl to nail it down. A small niggling in the back of her mind insisted the girl would bluster her way through it, that the shoot would crash and burn. Then, Miranda remembered those dark eyes, the intensity and conviction leveled at her.

Nigel sidled up to her, placing himself between Miranda and his friend.

“Henri, could you help Serena with the make-up?” he asked, taking a sip from the frothy drink pushed his way by the host of the afternoon. “No glitter!”

“Oh, yes, it would be an honor.”

Miranda watched him scurry away, saying, “I can’t imagine you sleeping with him.”

“That’s because it was just a whim.”

Smiling, although not looking at Nigel, Miranda responded, “I’d rather chew through my own limb.”

Nigel snorted into his drink, forced to abandon it until he mopped up the small spill.

“Who vetted DeMarco?”

“Peter. Emily fired him this morning.”

Frowning, Miranda said, “I do wish I had the pleasure but I can hardly complain when she’s taken my lessons to heart.”

Shaking his head, Nigel sucked in his cheeks then said, “I keep hearing bollocks in her strident British accent. I’m going to miss it.” They shared a faint smile. “On the subject of protegees, Andrea’s amazing, don’t you think? Better than I was when I got the job but, of course, not better than me now. I’m impressed so brought it all together so quickly.”

Miranda set her empty glass on the bar. “You were right. She’s going to be trouble.”

“Mmm, but worth it. I almost wish...” he said, looking at the shoot. “I could stay and watch the fireworks.”

“Then I’m afraid you’d be very disappointed.” Miranda glanced at Andrea as she spoke to Serena and Emily. “Where are you off to, dare I ask?”

“I’m meeting with Sebastian.” Nigel groaned. “He wants to include some last minute necklaces for the Dulce and Gabbana feature in...”

“We don’t have the space.”

“You always say that.”

Miranda finished her drink. “And yet it’s still true. Get used to it because you’re the one who’s going to make those decisions in Paris. Besides, it’s not wise to shuffle things around for a mere necklace.”

“Be that as it may,” Nigel stood and delicately tugged on the cuff of his dress shirt. “I’ll indulge him but make it known the only possibility for inclusion is if we decide to swap out some of their other pieces providing we like the new ones more.”

Sneering playfully, she murmured, “Would you care to make a wager?”

“I still remember the last time and my ass still stings from the defeat. No, thank you.”

“It is a fond memory, I must admit.” she teased, mindful in not allowing her smile to blossom.

***

Finally ready, Serena released the models to Emily who started to dress them. Miranda remained on the outskirts, as much as one could in such a small space overrun with bodies. She kept to the floor-to-ceiling windows on the farthest side of the loft and observed Andrea. Relaxed but focused, Andrea moved around the shoot, touching a shoulder or earnestly looking into someone’s eyes as she imparted what she wanted. If she knew Miranda was watching, she didn’t show it.

Smiling to herself, Miranda moved her attention toward Testino, the photographer, relieved the models were female. There were whispers about him and every other male photographer, coercing male models. Since the late nineties it was Runway’s policy for a high-ranking employee to be on-site for one of their shoots regardless of who was behind the camera. Not only did it insure Runway got the shots it required, but it afforded the models a safe space to do their job which was, of course, to show off the clothes. Testino seemed to be on his best behavior although Miranda personally had never seen him behave in an unseemly manner.

“Miranda.” Andrea gently summoned as she held Testino’s camera.

 A tiny frisson sparked across her skin and Miranda hid the smirk such a thrill caused. How Andrea ended up with a prominent photographer’s camera was a story she wished to hear. As she walked toward the woman, Miranda concentrated on an aloof approach. Inexplicably, her pulse tightened, neither fast nor hard, but in such a way that each beat elongated, resonating within her chest.

“Look.” she urged, plugging the camera into a monitor.

Miranda bid as Andrea requested.

“I checked the digital mock-up and if we switched page...”

“No.”

Testino joined them, holding another camera as he greeted, “Ah, Miranda, a pleasure. Your Andrea is a wonder.”

Miranda air-kissed his cheek. “You seem well recovered from the accident.”

Shrugging, he said in his thick Peruvian accent, “It was nothing. I am as good as new.” Lightly he touched Miranda’s shoulder and winked at Andrea. “I think you will be pleased with the shoot. I must get back.”

Andrea asked, “Can I ask why you didn’t allow me to finish?”

“Other than the fact that I’m the editor and you’re not?” Miranda retorted coolly.

Flushing, she straightened her shoulders and looked directly into Miranda’s eyes. “Fair enough.”

“Andrea.” Serena called out as she adjusted Karlie‘s hair. “We’re ready.”

“Excuse me, Miranda.”

Instead of watching her walk away, Miranda trained her gaze on Emily who happened to look up from aiding a heavyset man in a canary yellow suit make modifications to the dropped-waist skirt to fit the model.

When Miranda approached, Emily swallowed then jerked the man away from what he was doing.

“Miranda, this is Sierra Shalom, the designer.”

“Oh, my goodness, aren’t you a scrumptious version of Cruella Deville.” he gushed, limply holding out his hand.

“Have you ever been featured in a fashion magazine?” she asked quietly then narrowed her eyes. “Because I assure you if you don’t show me the respect I’ve earned, you’ll be selling your clothes from the truck of your car.”

Emily grabbed the man’s upper arm and tugged him back. “You right little waz. Are you mad? Apologize if you know what’s good for you.”

“I-I-I am so sorry.”

“That’s all.”

***

Miranda called the car service from the sidewalk as she slowly paced, evading dog walkers and pedestrians. After the stuffiness and claustrophobic conditions in the loft, the crisp air, despite tainted by nearby garbage cans and exhaust fumes, was an improvement. Thankfully the sun was out. She came to a stop at the corner of Murray and Greenwich, the aroma of Indian food strong in the air.

“Hello, bobbsies.” she answered when her phone rang.

“When you coming home?”

“Is that how I taught you to answer the phone?”

Cassidy groaned, “I didn’t answer, you did, mom. I called.”

Miranda rolled her eyes. “You are correct, oh sensible one.”

“So, hello, mom. Will you be home soon?”

“And cheeky, too. Mmm. I’m waiting for the car as we speak.”

“Mm’kay. Caroline’s about to conip-a-fit.”

Frowning, she thought for a second then asked, “Do you mean have a ‘conniption fit’? And where exactly did you hear that particular term?”

“Uhm, a classmate, I think. Or maybe I heard it when Cara took us shopping last time? I dunno.”

“Lovely. Please tell your sister not to worry. I should be home by three. Have you both decided on what you want to do yet?”

“Yup but Caroline wants to surprise you. Okay, mom, I’m done with you. Bye!”

God help me, she thought. At least she said good-bye.

Chuckling at Cassidy’s irreverence, Miranda pocketed the phone and shook her head.

“Miranda.”

She turned in the direction of the voice and saw Andrea jogging up to her.

“We can pull the designer. Emily has...”

“Do you think my feelings are so delicate?” Miranda murmured, tilting her head a little. “Why aren’t you overseeing the shoot?”

Andrea pulled her coat tighter around herself. “They’re setting up by the windows. Testino said the light’s right. Miranda...”

“Andrea...”

“Go ahead.”

But Miranda suddenly didn’t know what to say which irritated her to no end. It simply didn’t happen to her. Andrea stood in misshaped trapeze of sunlight, her long hair pulled back in a ponytail, with a hint of red on the tip of her nose. It was enough to stoke irritation into anger.

“Do your job.”

“You’re kidding me, right?” Andrea demanded roughly as she stepped within an arm’s length of Miranda. “I do my job and you know it. Are you just being mean because it’s a slow day?”

“Tread lightly, Andrea.” Miranda softly warned as her driver opened the car door. “A million girls would kill for your job.

Chapter Text

 

“Adele wants a word. She’s in your office. Your ten o’clock cancelled.” Vanessa relayed.

Miranda raised an eyebrow as she threw her coat on the second assistant’s desk without looking.

“The designer wasn’t ready.”

“Don’t reschedule.” she instructed then stepped into her office. “Have the cerulean girl bring the book tonight.”

Adele Florian stood by the row of windows with her hands clasped behind her back. “You know, I love your view.”

“It’s quite lovely, isn’t it?”

Adele finally faced her but didn’t move in Miranda’s direction. The behavior was a little odd until Miranda realized the reason why the woman stood in the corner farthest from the door while looking out of the window as if merely enjoying the view.

“I only need a few minutes.”

Miranda stood by Adele and waited for the older woman to speak.

“Have you made a decision yet?”

Miranda crossed her arms then took in the view. “My answer is yes, of course, provided we stay to the agreed timetable.”

“Nothing has changed. I’m well aware you require time to put certain pieces in place.” Adele’s grin lit up her unlined face. “That’s excellent news.”

“Did you really think I’d have answered no, Adele?”

The CEO turned toward her and smiled. “Not for one minute. Well, I’ll let you get to it then.”

“It’s always a pleasure when you come visit a our little part of the world.” Miranda said as she took a seat behind her desk.

“Oh, by the way.” Adele said as she paused at the door. “I hear your new Fashion Director is quite a marvel.”

Adele winked before leaving. Miranda rolled her eyes.

***

By eight-forty-five, Miranda’s temples counted down to detonation time. Assembled around the main conference table, everyone waited for her to start the meeting. All Miranda wanted to do was lay down with a cold compress. Her shoulders felt as if they were going to crumble under the strain of tension. Rubbing the back of her neck, she picked up her pen.

“Emily, have you found a replacement for Peter?”

“Interviews start tomorrow. I’ll update you by the end of the day. ”

Miranda checked it off her list. “Nigel, be sure to attend Alexis Mabille’s show in Paris. If you think Andrea’s ready, divide up the shows between you.”

“I’ll email our schedules”

Taking off her glasses,  she set them on the table and said, “Let’s begin. Germaine, the advertising budget increase has been approved. That also allows for additional personnel. In your presentation last year, you estimated three months to make the transition to social networking platforms. If the forecast is accurate, this will mean a significant increase in Runway sales. You have two months.”

“Miranda, that’s not...”

“It was not a question. For someone who just received everything they asked for with the exception of thirty days, you don’t seem pleased.” Miranda snatched up her glasses. “If you can’t do your job...”

“I can.” he interrupted, sitting up taller in his chair. “I will.”

Much to Miranda’s extreme distaste the meeting ran over. She went directly to her office, grabbed her purse off the floor and started digging through it as if her life depended on it. Not paying attention to the voices beyond her door, she scowled when she discovered the empty pill bottle.

“Here. Take these.”

Miranda looked up to see Andrea placing a pill container on her desk and holding a bottle of water. She shook out two tablets as Andrea twisted off the cap.

“How did you know?”

“You kept taking off your glasses.” Andrea placed two fingertips on the edge of Miranda’s desk. She tapped them gently, her gaze focused downward then she abruptly looked up and smiled. “We have headaches in common, too.”

Miranda lips quirked upward for a brief second. “So it seems.”

With a light rap of knuckles on Miranda’s desk, Andrea turned away.

“You forgot the pain meds.”

“Keep them.”

Miranda grimaced but managed a faint, “Thank you.”

Andrea gave no indication that she heard.

***

At eleven Nigel texted her to pop into Conference room B. Since he knew she had about fifteen minutes before she left for an offsite lunch, Miranda stood and walked down the stairs that led to the bullpen. Everyone scurried out of her path, a circumstance she relished. Now, if only midday traffic would follow such an example.

Excited chatter streamed through the open door. It wasn’t a foreign sound within the hallowed halls of Runway, particularly, Miranda suspected, in her absence. Most of the time it was a bit more circumspect. Regardless, as long as people didn’t disturb her inner sanctum, she didn’t care. Gently she pushed the door open all the way, leaned against the doorjamb and crossed her arms.

A few interns from Accessories, a stylist from Emily’s group, as well as representatives from Jewelry, and Beauty were divided into four groups as Andrea stood up front and directed them.

“Yes, Miranda?” Andrea greeted her, excusing herself.

Casting a cold stare toward the subdued group, Miranda murmured, “Where is Nigel?”

 “One sec, guys.” she said, then walked out, beckoning Miranda to follow. She shut the door behind her and replied, “He’s in a meeting with Features and Copy.” Andrea frowned. “It’s on his calendar.”

“And why aren’t you attending?”

Folding her arms across her chest, she explained rather impatiently, “After he and I discussed it, I decided to have a team building exercise. Last week at the accessory run-through Joselyn struggled. They need to flex their creativity and we need to appeal to a lower economic base. Khatera is talented but I think she needs a little direction. Don’t get me started on Robert.”

Miranda stopped the smile that wanted to bloom across her face. “And how do you intend on...inspiring them?”

“Doug and I went thrift store shopping after we saw you on Saturday. I grabbed a ton of ugly garments in plus sizes, a few nice pieces and some other things. Their job is to make it look fashionable. The winning team gets to pitch a feature to Emily.”

Hardly a novel notion, a page right from the first and last managerial seminar she had been required to attend and, yet, Andrea’s fervor enlivened it. The urge to be nice, to give her a compliment or to express her appreciation caused Miranda to bite the inside of her cheek. Standing in the hallway, asking questions, and hurting herself so she wouldn’t smile at the damn girl was not how Miranda Priestly operated at Runway.

“And, just FYI, I’m going to recommend to Nigel that Brent and Jill be terminated and if he doesn’t agree, then I’ll just do it when he leaves.”

Miranda raised her eyebrows but remained silent, trusting Andrea’s judgement in such matters. Besides, she had no clue who they were or what department they worked in. Obviously, somewhere under Nigel’s umbrella.

Jesus but Andrea’s confidence hit her in the way an orchestra’s double bass did: low tones, sometimes rhythmic or long, but always phenomenally powerful, thrumming just underneath Miranda’s skin.

With one hand on her hip and the other rubbing the back of her neck, she caught Andrea’s gaze then unhurriedly perused the woman from head to toe. Miranda concentrated on the clothes. It was Dolce & Gabbana today, a metallic floral-jacquard straight-leg pants paired with a silk, long-sleeved black button-up shirt and black slingback stiletto high heels. Miranda’s heart rate slowed and her breaths no longer felt they were taken under water. She knew clothes, took great comfort and happiness in critiquing an ensemble.

“Do I pass?” Andrea asked, not in doubt but in expectation.

“Acceptable.”

Andrea reached over the small space separating them, her cool fingers running down the length of Miranda’s arm. “High praise coming from the Queen of Fashion.”

“Your entire career has been spent at Vogue. And, yet, I’m the Queen of Fashion and not Anna.” Miranda said, her tone laced with irony. Andrea remained composed but Miranda knew a temper lurked behind those dark eyes. It would be amusing to lure it out of captivity.  With Stephen, it had been all too easy. “I’m not swayed by flattery.”

“Maybe you should just learn to accept a compliment.”

“Perhaps you should go back to your little experiment.”

Miranda held her breath. They were quite close, voices low, eyes locked.

“I feel like I’ve missed something here.” Andrea said.

“And this affects me how?”

“I wouldn’t even attempt to guess.” Andrea muttered then lightly touched Miranda’s shoulder. “Incidentally, the Alber Elbaz’s for Lanvin number you’re wearing is...fierce. Just when I think I’ve figured you out-your style, you surprise me.”

“Whereas you are...predictable.”

Andrea gaped then struggled to contain her laughter when she retorted, “The day you walk into Runway wearing a Westwood fur coat with a coordinating G-string, I’ll wear one of Betsey Johnson’s creations.”

Biting the inside of her cheek, Miranda prevented the snort but she couldn’t do anything about the sting of tears. Andrea, much to Miranda’s chagrin, stared at her with a particular glee.

“You’d rock it though while I’d have strut down the hallways in a sequined tie up crop top and latex pants. With my luck I’d look like a bedazzled dominatrix.” Andrea took a closer look at her and started grinning. “You’re picturing it, aren’t you?”

“Just...go.” Miranda managed then pivoted away and let herself smile.

***

Jonathan stood when she approached the table. He leaned over and kissed her cheek.

“You look beautiful, as always.” he said then pulled out her chair.

She gracefully took her seat and set down her purse.

“You know, I was thinking, maybe I could meet your daughters this weekend?”

Miranda looked up when the waiter arrived. “I’ll have the diver scallop carpaccio with the pear and pomegranate salad.”

“And for you, sir?”

Jonathan asked, “What do you recommend?”

“The roasted quail breasts with rosemary fondant potatoes and braised baby carrots. It’s very popular.”

“Do you have a porterhouse?”

“Uh, yes, sir. How would you like that cooked?”

“Well done.”

Miranda suppressed a wince. To do that to a beautiful cut of beef was sacrilege.

When the waiter departed, Jonathan said, “Why didn’t you tell me you’ve been here enough times you have the menu memorized?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Jonathan.” she said as she primly unfurled the cloth napkin. “I always order the scallops when I come here for lunch.”

“I would have taken you somewhere else.” he lightly groused.

“But I like this place.” she said then took a sip of water from the glass.

“Well, what do you think?”

Miranda responded impatiently, “That I like the scallops here.”

Jonathan laughed as if she were a silly thing, his irritating indulgence on full display. She frowned and quickly thought back on their brief conversation.

“About meeting the girls this weekend?”

Smiling, his gaze roamed over her face. “So, I’ll pick you up Saturday and we’ll go...”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Jonathan.” There was nothing she could do about the petulant pinch of his mouth.  Reminded of Stephen by his bruised expression, Miranda’s body suddenly tightened. “We’ve only had a few dates and Page Six is already calling you the next Mr. Priestly. I’d rather not complicate things by subjecting my children...”

“We’re not getting any younger, Miranda. It’s time to see if we’re a good fit, don’t you think?”

Miranda leaned back in her chair as the waiter set down their food. She stared at Jonathan while there were being served and coldly calculated how to address his ill-conceived presumption.  

“You’re talking about sex.” she stated then picked up her fork. “This isn’t about my children.”

Jonathan blustered a little but the plain intention in his look was too stark to ignore. “Well, yes, sex is a part of it. We’re two consenting adults and we find each other attractive.”

“You’re not the first man to want to bed me.” With the fork in one hand and the knife in the other, Miranda set about cutting a scallop in half. “Other than the points you mentioned, are there any others you would like to add to the list?”

Understandably, Jonathan looked suspicious over her reasonable tone. She forked the last cut-up piece of scallop, enjoying the flavor before swallowing and commenced to disassembling the rest.

“It’s a good start.” he replied softly, trying to encourage or reassure her with a smile.

Miranda set down the utensils and deliberately placed her elbows on the table then folded her arms.

“If you want to embark upon a sexual relationship that’s one thing but meeting my daughters is quite another.”

It was almost comical to observe his changing expressions while he dealt with an answer. Had she been any more forthright it would have bruised his ego and, over the years, Miranda learned to spare the male fragility as much as feasible in the interest of progress.

“So, we’re agreed to adding, uh, a more personal element to our relationship and table talk of meeting each other’s family for the time being?”

Miranda offered an artic smile . “I didn’t agree to anything, Jonathan.”

Confusion gave way to anger, the transition expected given Jonathan’s intolerance for not getting what he wanted.

Clearly exasperated, he spoke with an exaggerated slowness. “I would like to have sex with you and meet your daughters.”

“I understood you the first time.”

“I’m a little too old for these types of games, Miranda.” he snapped, tossing the crumbled napkin over his overcooked steak. “Perhaps when you’re in a better mood...”

“I’m not in a bad mood.” she cut him off, scooting back her chair as he motioned toward the waiter.

“Jesus, I should have just stayed with the model.”

Unconcerned, Miranda shrugged and murmured, “If you say so.”

“That, that shit right there...” he hissed as he signed the receipt. “...is pure bitch.”

“You’re coming dangerously close to making a scene, Jonathan.”

“I would almost be worth it just to get you to show some feeling.”

Miranda picked up her purse then quietly said, “I did. It was boredom.”

***

Tired and a little blue, Miranda entered Runway, taking her time through the bullpen and up the stairs to her office. She threw her coat on the new girl’s desk as she called out for Vanessa.

“Yes, Miranda.”

“I am no longer taking Jonathan Weber’s calls, I want that scarf I saw last week, call Bev Toussaint at Paris Runway, and tell Nigel I want to see him.”

“He and Andrea are off-site with a Jamar King.”

Miranda narrowed her eyes.

“I’ll get him on the phone.”

Miranda flipped open the Mac and started going through her personal calendar and deleted two events Jonathan had asked her to attend. The act of uncoupling eased a hard spot that had sprouted in her chest on Friday at Jonathan’s fundraiser.

“I have Nigel on the phone, Miranda.”

She picked up the receiver and said, “Whatever you have planned for this Saturday night, cancel it.”

“You need an escort to the Children’s Museum charity ball? I’ll be there with bells on.”

“And a tuxedo.”

“Naturally. Since I have you on the phone, I think a little face time with Jamar may be in order. The man cannot stop talking about you.”

“Yes, well, I’ll try to fit him in next week. By the way, I’ll be wearing the crimson Elle Saab. Do not look prettier than me.”

 “The one-shoulder draped dress? You in that dress has me feeling a little bit straight.”

“Understand this isn’t a date.”

“And yet I shan’t be late.”

“We’ll never hang up at this rate.”

Nigel chuckled then remarked, “Perhaps we should make it a threesome?”

Miranda leaned back in her chair and turned it to look out the window. “One of us will be disappointed and it won’t be me.”

“I wouldn’t think so as the third I have in mind is none other than our Andrea.”

Irritation skidded along her nerves but protesting only encouraged him more. Completely ignoring the adrenaline spike zipping through her veins,  she decided to play along.

“I suppose that leaves you to watch.”

Nigel snorted. “You’re in rare form today.”

“It’s because I’m newly single.” Miranda rolled her eyes at the silence. “There’ll be another one along, don’t worry.”

“You already have someone in mind?” Nigel gasped in a scandalized tone.

“Of course not, but I do seem to attract them, don’t I? Anyway, Vanessa is about to gnaw off her own arm if I don’t get off the phone and obey the schedule.”

***

The girls were in bed when she arrived home at nine-thirty although she heard muffled noises coming from Cassidy’s room. She waited outside, hearing both of their low murmurs.

“Cara, call the exterminator tomorrow. I do believe we have mice.” she called out, shoulder against the wall and arms folded.

The carpet didn’t silence the hurried thumps of running feet. Miranda laughed softly when she heard Cassidy hiss at her sister to be quiet. Still, she waited, wondering which one it would be this time.

“You think she went to bed?” Caroline called out.

Miranda quietly walked toward Caroline’s bedroom door then pushed it open.

“I do hope all the mice went back to sleep.” she whispered and was rewarded with a giggle. She sank down on the edge of her daughter’s bed and lightly patted the squirming lump under the blanket. “Come out and say good night to me properly little mouse.”

“Night, mom.” Caroline said through a yawn.

Miranda gently kissed her then tucked the blanket over Caroline’s bony shoulder.

She crossed the room and cut through the adjoining bathroom to Cassidy’s bed. Evidently Miranda had taken too long in Caroline’s room. Long red strands covered Cassidy’s face as she slept. Her small hands were balled up into fists on either side of her head. The blanket half hung over the edge of the mattress, the rest covering Cassidy’s feet and legs. The room, of course, underwent a cyclonic redecoration sometime between the morning cleaning service and Cassidy’s arrival from school. She kissed her daughter’s cheek, not bothering to tuck her in as she always kicked off the covers.

Once within the confines of her room, Miranda’s shoulders deflated. She slipped off her heels and started to remove her earrings in the walk-in closet. The light came on automatically as she went to the mahogany jewelry armoire and placed her earrings in the drawer then shed the rest of her pieces. By the time she did everything she needed to do to get ready for bed, it was ten-thirty and her mind wouldn’t shut off.

Of all the things to obsess over, Jonathan hardly mattered and yet, she turned over and punched her pillow. A week ago she had been content. Replaying their conversations in her head, they were all utterly benign. He wanted to meet her children and have sex with her, neither of which were grounds to just...let him go. At lunch, he had been upset but malleable. It would have been so easy to finesse him back. Miranda exhaled in a rush then snuggled deeper into the pillow.

Obviously she didn’t want him enough.

Chapter Text

Andrea was in a budget meeting when Miranda’s second assistant interrupted.

“Uh, Mi-Miss Sachs?”

Miranda didn’t stop addressing the group as she stood up and closed the door on the poor girl.

A few minutes later there was a commotion outside which propelled Miranda out of her chair. In two seconds she was yanking it open. Andrea leaned a little to the side, curious who would be so suicidal, but Miranda closed the door behind her.

“She’s going to fire that poor girl.” Andrea whispered to Nigel.

He didn’t take his eyes off the door as he hissed, “Shhh.”

Andrea rolled her eyes but when she heard a raised male voice very clearly yell her name, she waited for a sinkhole to suck her under to the fiery depths of hell. Flushing red, she rose from her chair with Nigel at her side. She heard someone start to cry and pulled the door open, then stepped out. Miranda stood between Andrea and Nate. Vanessa was in the process of pulling away the near hysterical second assistant. Nigel flanked Miranda, edging Andrea backward, all but blocking her view.

“Your wife is an integral member of this magazine, Mr. Cooper, and that is the only reason I haven’t gotten security to escort you from the premises.”  Miranda’s voice was so low Andrea had trouble making out the words. “But if you say one more word, trust me, it won’t matter.”

“Andy, tell them...”

Faster than Andrea could blink, Miranda whirled around and walked Andrea back while Nigel guided Nate a few feet away, talking to him in a low tone.

“You do not need to interact with him if you don’t wish to, Andrea.” Miranda assured her quietly.

“I’ll handle it.” she said, glaring at the back of Nate’s head. “I’m...sorry.”

Miranda gently placed her hand on Andrea’s shoulder and squeezed once. Blue eyes bore into hers. Andrea’s breaths stuttered.

“I don’t want to leave you alone with him.”

“Uh...” Andrea lost her breath altogether. Nate raised his voice again then Nigel’s turned authoritative. “Uh, it’s okay. I’ll leave the door open. To my, Nigel’s office. He’s never been violent.”

Miranda nodded once then slowly withdrew her fingers from Andrea’s shoulder. Distracted by the way Miranda looked at her, she didn’t notice they weren’t alone until she heard her husband’s voice interrupt.

“Andy.” Nate said as he lowered his jaw slightly, looking at her through his long eyelashes.

She offered a smile to Nigel and Miranda. Without looking at Nate, Andrea swept past him. As soon as the she entered the office and sat behind the desk, he made the move to shut the door.

“Keep it open.”

About to object, he shrugged. “Damn, Andy, all I want is to see Fen. If this is how it’s going to be...”

“Oh, no, you’ve said enough, Nate. We agreed I would bring...”

“I don’t see the big deal, Andy.”

Andrea inhaled, held it, and just as she was about to pass out, released it.

“You came to my work and made a scene. You disregarded the plans you agreed to then you tried to make it seem as if I was keeping you away from our daughter.”

“Well, things change, okay? Can I see her now?”

“No. I’ll bring her to the hotel like we agreed.” Andrea swallowed back the screaming anger in the back of her throat.

“Look, just let me see her, alright?  I came all this way and those tickets weren’t cheap. Come on, Andy, you said she’s at the daycare. Maybe I should just go there myself.”

Andrea jumped out of her chair, almost toppling over the desk to get around it. She clenched her hands at her sides.

“Don’t start this shit with me, Nate. I need to know that you’re going to do exactly what you agreed to do.” Tears gathered in the corner of her eyes. “How can I trust you? Look at what you’re doing right now.”

Nate stared at the floor and shook his head, one hand rubbing across his eyes. “I know. I’m being an asshole right now.”

His shoulders started shaking but Andrea pulled back and looked away. She knew Nate and Lily, despite his strident explanation, didn’t ‘just happen’ but he was the father of her child and it hadn’t always been so messed up.

“Go back to the hotel or take a walk, Nate. I promise I’ll bring Fen to you after work.”

“I just miss her, you know?”

Andrea went to her purse and got the travel packet of tissues out. Handing it to him, she said, “I know.”

“I gotta be back in Boston tomorrow night.”

“We’ll talk when I bring her to you, okay, Nate? It’s only a couple of more hours.”

***

Fifteen minutes before she left for the evening, ten minutes after Nigel checked in for the twentieth time, Miranda appeared at the office doorway.

“Come in. Have a seat.” Andrea said as she straightened the already neat desktop.

“I won’t keep you long.” Miranda clasped her hands in front of her as she stepped inside but she didn’t sit down.

Uneasy about craning her neck upward in order to look Miranda in the eye, Andrea stood and came around the desk.

“I know you have to leave soon.”

Andrea smiled, a little puzzled why Miranda seemed to be hesitant. Leaning against the edge of the desk, she said, “Thank you...for earlier.”

“If I was...”

“You weren’t.”

Miranda folded her arms and looked down at her shoes as if admiring them. “I know what it’s like and you have Fen to consider.” Abruptly she looked up. “If you need to take tomorrow off, you can, but Nigel is counting on you for Couture week in Paris at the end of the month. He’s going to let you run it and then he’s going to stay.”

Andrea stood. “I want you to know that I appreciate the offer of taking the day tomorrow but I don’t need it.”

“I don’t offer lightly.” she snapped, eyes slicing into Andrea. “Take the day. He’s leaving tomorrow, yes?”

Shaking her head, Andrea asked, “How did you know that?”

“Nigel.” Miranda pursed her lips. “Evidently your husband vented.”

“Trust me. I don’t need it.” When Miranda opened her mouth, Andrea rushed to continue. “I can handle everything, the job and my child.”

“And if he takes her to Boston?”

“He won’t. But if he does,” she said, her entire being flooded with cold determination. “I will hunt him down and take her back.”

Miranda inclined her head and smiled viciously. “If you need a tracker, I know of an excellent one. ”

Andrea shivered. “Because of the twins’ father?”

“I have an investigator on retainer, Andrea.” she answered dryly as she looked at her nails.  “My first husband hid a lot.  When Stephen came along, I was more prepared.”

“He tried to take the children?”

“It took Q eighteen hours to find them.” Miranda looked away, staring somewhere off to Andrea’s left side.

“Q?”

“My investigator. She’s relentless and looks remarkably average.”

Andrea got her eyes under control. It was kinda sexy how Miranda mixed nonchalance with deadly intent.

Sexy?

Well, yes, Andrea decided to herself. Miranda Priestly held that title above anyone else within Andrea’s orbit.

“Well, I have your number.” Andrea stated and was pleased by Miranda’s sly grin.

Incapable of looking away, she didn’t so much decide it was okay to get caught up in that untamed stare as it was just too exciting to ignore.

“Yes, you do.” Miranda said in her whispery voice. “I don’t expect to see you tomorrow, Andrea.”

“Miranda.” she said, lifting her hand to touch Miranda’s shoulder. “Thank you for all your support. I don’t have any right to it but, I promise you, I make it a habit to exceed expectations.”

***

Andrea held onto her daughter’s mittened hand as they walked through the hotel lobby. She wanted to carry Fen but her daughter insisted on walking.

“Mummers, it’s hot.”

Squatting down, she divested Fen of her mittens and coat then kissed her red nose because how could she not?

“How’s that, sweetie?”

“Okay.”

“Are you excited to see Da? He’s missed you very much.”

Fen looked up at her when they entered the elevator, her lower lip slightly sticking out. Andrea picked her up.

“Yeah.” she yawned out, then bumped her head against Andrea’s chin. “Sleepy.”

Rubbing her back as they waited for the elevator to take them to the eighteenth floor, Andrea murmured, “I know, sweetie.”

The car stopped and a few people got off and an elderly couple boarded.

“Oh, I remember that age.” the woman cooed, grabbing the gentleman’s arm. “Arnold, you remember when Tommy was that age?”

He grunted and stared at the numbers ticking off the floors.

The woman rolled her eyes, patting his arm affectionately. “You’re a old poop. We’re visiting from Texas and Arnold’s just grumpy because I made him go to the mezzanine level to look at that crazy lookin’ sculpture.”

Andrea smiled.

“Hiya, darlin’.” The woman said with quiet excitement when Fen lifted her head.

Disgruntled, Fen scowled then hid her face in Andrea’s neck.

“Oh, my, wait until she hits her teens. My daughter Lucille gave me a run for my money, as my momma used to say.”

“It’s almost bedtime.” Andrea explained, gently rocking her from side to side.

Before the woman launched into more conversation, the car stopped on Nate’s floor, and Andrea offered the couple a goodbye.

One turn and a long hallway later, she stood in front of the hotel door and just took a second. The old couple bothered her but not in the expected way. That was supposed to be her and Nate, more fashionably dressed, of course, and reeling with New York cynicism. Their plan went up in a blaze of infidelity, not once but twice. Her stomach curdled as her thoughts turned to what should have been, might have been, and, now, what was no longer possible, at least, not with Nate. One day, hopefully soon, Andrea promised herself several drinks, a crying jag, and a new pair of Louboutin’s. She took a fortifying breath then knocked.

When the door opened, Andrea’s throat constricted. All along her skin, the tiny hairs raised.

“We need to talk.” Lily said softly and opened the door wider to allow Andrea and Fen to enter.

Andrea swept in and deposited her sleeping daughter on Nate’s lap then rounded on the other woman.

“We’re not doing this in front of my daughter.” Andrea hissed and motioned to Lily to follow her out.

Looking back, she saw the helpless expression on Nate’s face and the way Lily wrung her hands. Two seconds from snatching Lily by the hair and dragging her out of the hotel room, she finally started moving.

As soon as the door closed behind them, Lily said, “I know this is hard, girl. But...”

Andrea stabbed the down button at the elevator bay. “Just shut up.”

The air in the elevator car pressed into her skin. Not daring to glance at Lily, she stared at the floor, arms crossed and head down. By the time the doors opened to the lobby, she fairly ran to hotel bar.

“Vodka martini, no olives. She’s paying.” Andrea said at the counter then took a seat at a table away from the prowling businessmen.

She had enough time to situate herself on the plush chair, crossing her legs and leaning back with her hands in her lap. Lily arrived and set down their drinks. Andrea snapped hers up and downed half of it. She bit the proverbial bullet and lifted her eyes, taking in the retro look her ex-friend put together. While not horrible, it certainly wasn’t up to Runway standards.

“So, you and Nate, huh?” Andrea said, holding her drink and swirling the contents around. “Who would have thought, right?” She drained the glass. “Not me.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“Oh, I dunno, maybe try saying you’re fucking sorry. I mean, you know, you are fucking my husband, right? That deserves an apology. If I’d done that to you, Lily, I would have totally said sorry after I broke your marriage and our friendship. It’s the decent thing to do after all.”

“Okay, I deserve the sarcasm but...”

“No ‘buts’...you deserve whatever I dish out.” Andrea looked directly at Lily who was biting her lip and trying not to cry. “How could you? You knew how bad the waitress hurt. You encouraged me to try to make it work, remember? Why? He can’t keep it in his pants and you know this. You’ve seen how it hurts and yet, yet...you slept with him.”

Lily drained her glass. “God, I’m gonna need a lot more of those but I can’t...”

Mentally Andrea gathered all the reasons why Lily couldn’t drink. She glanced at the other woman, saw her hand shaking as it moved to palm her stomach.

“Lily...”

“I have a doctor’s appointment next week.”

Andrea groaned through her clenched teeth. “If it weren’t so bitterly ironic, I’d find this situation hilarious. I don’t know why I’m so shocked. Just how long were you guys going behind my back?”

“Eight months.” Lily whispered, then closed her eyes.

Andrea was going to be sick. It swirled and rumbled up her throat. “All...all that time and I was working...an-and you w-were...how did you think this was going to end, Lily? Did you even think about our friendship? About me? Fen?”

Tears slid down the other woman’s face.

Andrea walked off in the direction of the elevators. It was all too much but Fen was waiting for her. She couldn’t break down just yet. Tucking it away into the deepest part of herself, Andrea squared her shoulders and inhaled loudly. She could do this. She would do this.

***

“Where’s Lily?” Nate asked, holding their sleeping daughter and sticking his head out to look down the corridor.

“I’m getting a divorce. No alimony. No child support and I get sole custody. We’ll set up a visitation schedule...”

“No, I’m not gonna agree to that, Andy.”

“I swear to god.” she hissed. “Stop hiding behind your daughter and put her on the bed.”

Something on her face or in her voice convinced him to do what she demanded albeit more slowly than Andrea would have liked.

The door opened and Lily entered, face splotchy and pained. Nate looked from her to Andrea then back, expression one of betrayal which delivered a brief satisfaction to Andrea.

“You told her.”

Lily started crying and rushed to Nate’s side, burrowing her face into his neck. Andrea stared at her husband comforting her former best friend who was pregnant with his child.

“In view of your...” Andrea made a gesture toward them. “recent development, do you want to reconsider what I just said?”

“W-what are you talking about?” Lily asked, clinging to Nate like a serpent. She wiped her face and turned in his arms to look in Andrea’s direction.

“Andy wants to take Fen.”

Before Lily opened her mouth, Andrea opened hers. “I want a divorce because you can’t keep your dick in your pants. I want sole custody because you have another child on the way. I want you to have visitation because she needs her father. And I want you to fucking stop calling me Andy.”

“Do it.” Lily said quietly. “Agree and be done with it.”

“But she’s...”

Shaking her head, Lily interrupted, “She’s not asking for alimony or child support and giving you visitation. There are a lot of changes happening and Fen needs stability. If you love your daughter like I know you do, Nate, don’t fight Andrea on this.”

The mulish slant of his jaw gave one answer as he uttered another, “I want to talk about custody in the future, Andrea.”

She nodded. “What time will you be dropping Fen off?”

“On the way to the airport so about four, I guess.”

“Can you bring her to Runway?”

Nate scowled but Lily put a hand on his chest and replied, “Yes.”

***

On the way home she made several work-related calls. There were a few things she could do from home, too. Andrea then called the number the nanny agency gave her and set up an appointment to interview Demetria. The trip to Paris weighed on her mind. Leaving Fen stateside with the nanny wasn’t an option. Nigel pointed out Elias-Clarke maintained a corporate apartment not far from the venue, one neither Miranda nor Adele were going to use as neither planned to attend the Paris Couture show this year. When Andrea started to protest, Nigel told her it was already designated as his temporary residence until he found one of his own.

As soon as she opened her apartment door, Andrea felt Fen’s absence so much harder. Now that Lily was probably pregnant, Andrea’s misgivings in the woman’s ability to care for Fen eased the tiniest bit. It stood to reason that now that Lily was expecting her own child she wouldn’t try to usurp Andrea’s place in Fen’s life. She lived on hope.

Still, she missed her daughter. She understood Nate’s pain caused by the separation from Fen but not enough to share custody. Although he wasn’t a bad father, at this time in his life Nate just had too much going on to be able to concentrate on their daughter’s wellbeing. She was in a position to be able to provide very well for Fen but she didn’t trust Nate could.

When her work phone buzzed, she automatically answered, “Yes.”

“Do you know what you’re saying yes to?”

Andrea smiled as she sat down on the couch and put her feet up. “I’m pretty sure I’ll agree to whatever the Editor in Chief of Runway demands, Miranda. What can I do for you?”

A curious pause filled the phone connection. Andrea’s heart skidded.

“Well, the Audi needs to be detailed.” Miranda replied without inflection.

Andrea hesitated but she didn’t know quite how to respond.

Sighing, Miranda said, “Really, Andrea. I have assistants to do those type of things for me.”

“Yes, I knew that. I’ve just walked through the door and I’m a little distracted.”

“You sound remarkably composed. The...meeting must have went...well?”

Despite her best efforts at suppressing the words, they tumbled out of her mouth. Miranda didn’t interrupt, not even for clarification. When Andrea’s voice grew husky, she cleared her throat.

“So, you’re up to date. I haven’t even told my parents yet. I don’t know whether or not I should tell his.”

“Get a lawyer tomorrow. I could check into that for you.”

Andrea rubbed her forehead. “I doubt they’re in my price range, Miranda.”

“I’ll inquire about a recommendation. What you do with it is up to you.”

“Fine. Miranda...”

“Yes?”

Scratching the back of her neck, she asked, “Why are you doing this? Helping me?”

“I’m not sure.” Miranda murmured. “Maybe because I was you once.”

It was a reasonable response from anyone else but not from the Miranda Priestly. Yet, Andrea started to realize the woman was more than a persona. Without question, at work, she was cold, dismissive, and impatient. Le Priestly. The bubbling suspicion Miranda was more came to the surface. She was nice to Andrea. For the most part, even at work. Eyes widening in realization, she bit her lip, not knowing how to feel about her boss actually being nice to her. Anna, while not entirely unsympathetic, still had never ventured into Andrea’s personal life.

“We’ve had similar experiences, I agree.”

“You have talent, drive, a tough skin, and the ability to adapt. We share certain qualities, as well, Andrea.”

“Th-thank you.” She closed her eyes and counted the beats in her ears. “Knowing that...helps.”

“Yes, well. I will see you tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

Lily dropped Fen off at Runway on Thursday as promised. Nate waited in the building’s lobby. Andrea had taken her work home with her, deciding to leave a little earlier than normal. In a little over a week they were leaving for Paris and she needed to get things in gear. Miranda had discreetly given her the number of a lawyer and she had an appointment on Monday of next week.

The interview with the nanny, Demetria, had gone well Thursday night after Fen went to bed. Andrea called the agency and said she was a good fit. Mentally crossing her fingers, she held her breath until Rosemary told her how much then she inelegantly let go of an obscenity. Much to Rosemary’s credit, she stifled a laugh then cleared her throat. Employing a nanny was within her budget. She couldn’t believe it and immediately grew suspicious. Nigel had told her to give the agency a call but where did he get the referral?

Fen’s fourth birthday was in two days on Saturday and she still hadn’t called her parents to tell them about the divorce, Nate’s infidelity, Lily’s treachery and subsequent pregnancy. Yeah, that was a call she didn’t want to make any time soon. Presents started arriving on Thursday and Friday from the in-laws, Andrea’s parents, Doug and Nate.

Every time she crossed off something from the Paris Trip list, she thought of another to add. It was aggravating. Fen’s list was easy. The hardest part had been done two years ago when Andrea insisted Fen get a passport. Nate had balked, then rolled his eyes and shrugged. He didn’t understand why she wanted Fen to have a global view, not just an American one. She didn’t want her daughter’s dreams to be limited or for her to settle for the status quo because no one showed her she could have more, that there was more out there.

On Saturday morning, Fen tried to climb up the bed to be with Andrea who had silenced the alarm.

“Mummers, ups! Ups!”

Rolling over to the edge, she leaned down and gently lifted her demanding child. Half-awake, she cuddled Fen against her chest.

“Where’re your bottoms, sweetie?”

Instead of using her limited vocabulary, Fen rubbed her head against Andrea’s collarbone. One of her little hands snatched a fistful of her mother’s hair. For whatever reason, Fen had decided to go bare-assed this morning which promptly caused Andrea to think Fen might have had an accident during the night. It could wait a bit longer.

The early hour and warmth of her baby safe in her arms lulled Andrea into a happy drowsiness.

“I wanting brekfest. Da gonna have the baby. I need to teach it.” Suddenly Fen started squealing with laughter.

Andrea winced for the shrill sound and for Nate telling their daughter about the baby. They hadn’t discussed it, of course, but neither had shied away from telling their daughter the truth, as much as a toddler needed to know. Lily wasn’t going away and Nate wasn’t coming back, at least not in the way Fen had learned to trust. Fen didn’t really understand the situation but there was no need to scare her with scenes, details, and too much information. She needed to have a discussion with Nate before leaving for Paris.

Fen babbled some more, at times enunciating each word, but, mostly, her daughter just loved the sounds she made. Andrea did her best to keep the volume at a minimum but it wasn’t every day her daughter turned four years old.

“Happy birthday.” Andrea said then started semi-singing the song with Fen chiming in on the melody if not the words.

Astride Andrea’s stomach, Fen bounced while Andrea held her hands.

“Da make pancakes?”

Tears gathered in the corners of her eyes. Nate was so good with Fen. She couldn’t help but wonder how many memories she was stealing from her daughter by divorcing her father. Andrea felt left out of the family dynamic. Nate had Lily and possibly another child on the way but Andrea just had Fen. For now anyway, she thought and hoisted up her offspring then airplaned her out of the room. She wouldn’t be single forever.

***

After breakfast, Andrea left the dishes in the sink to give Fen a bath. Fen’s discarded diaper and panties were on the floor next to her bed but she hadn’t wet it nor had an accident in weeks. Maybe it was time to take the next step in her potty training. When she pulled Fen’s squirming, wet body from the tub, she blew kisses against Fen’s neck while Fen giggled.

“How old are you today?”

Fen leaned back in her mother’s arms, close to being upside down, and held up three fingers.

“Free!”

Andrea righted her then gently moved Fen’s fingers and thumb. “You’re four today, sweetie.”

Fen sang out the numbers as she counted to ten then asked, “Mummers, is Da comes to birfday?”

“No, sweetie but he’s going to see you on the phone later. Won’t that be fun?” When Fen’s eyebrows flushed, drawing downward, Andrea said, “C’mon, we have to hurry. It’s time to go to the park.”

“The park?”

“Where else are we gonna swing?”

Naked and laughing, Fen took off in the direction of her bedroom.

***

Fen arranged her plastic tea cups on the coffee table while Andrea made two sandwiches and boiled some water. She kept an eye on her as Fen instructed the Barbie and Beanie Baby bear to sit up ‘right’ and be ‘good’.

Surprisingly, there had been quite a few toddlers running around the park’s playground at ten in the morning. Fen had abandoned her mother without a care. Andrea had remained with the parents seated on the benches while a few mothers directed the children down the slides or kept an eye on them running amok. Andrea sat away from the group of adults although she smiled and nodded in greeting. Content to watch her daughter interact and play, she had taken a few pictures and dutifully watched when Fen called out “Mummers! Look! Look!”

When the buzzer sounded, Andrea frowned and made sure the knife was well out of reach of little curious hands then hurried to the console near the door.

“Yes?”

“Hello, Andrea.”

A slight panic overtook her. She looked at the mess in the living room, remembered the dirty dishes in the sink, and hated that she was wearing old jeans and a sweatshirt with patches of bath water.

“Do take your time. It’s not like I have anything else to do.”

She pressed the button and let Miranda Priestly into the building.

Too old to dive for cover or hide in the closet, Andrea resigned herself to her fate. She pulled her hair out of the ponytail and hurriedly finger-combed it. By the time she got over the shock, there was a knock at the door and Andrea hadn’t even thought to change clothes.

Two little redheads, one of either side of Miranda, gazed up at her with the same eyes as their mother.

“Come in.”

One of the little girls walked in as she primly pulled off a pair of leather gloves but the other poked her head around Andrea, more interested in what was going on behind her.

“Here, let me take your coats.”

The girl with the wool-lined denim jacket and Doc Martens grinned as she shrugged out of it. “I’m Cassidy.”

“I’m Caroline.” said the other, carefully removing her puffer jacket.

“Hello. My name’s Andrea and...”

“M, ups, ups, please.” Fen called out as she ran toward Miranda with her hands raised.

Without missing a beat, Miranda scooped her up then kissed her forehead. “Hello, Fen. Happy Birthday.”

Cassidy and Caroline chimed in as well, one producing a wrapped present and the other a card. Andrea quickly hung up everyone’s coats in the closet by the door.

While Fen ‘conversed’ with Miranda, Andrea took the present and card from the girls then set them down on the kitchen table.

“We were just going to have tea. How would you guys like to join Fen?”

Caroline nodded then walked over to her mother. “Mom, we’re going to have tea with Fen.”

Miranda set Fen down. “You two watch her while Andrea and I get things ready, please.”

“Hey, do you got any toys?” Cassidy asked.

That’s all it took. Fen excitedly led them to her room.

“Your girls are beautiful, even more so in person. They have your eyes, too.” Andrea murmured as she fumbled through the cabinet for the tea.

Miranda started cutting the sandwiches into triangles. “I do hope you have a more adult choice of sandwich.”

Smiling with her mouth closed, Andrea took out the leftover salad and baked chicken. “I have a really decent aged balsamic and Parmigiano Reggiano, too.”

“That will do nicely.” Miranda said, arranging the petite sandwiches on the plate Andrea had left on the counter. “Although, I think another sandwich may be needed.”

“Would you mind making one while I put together our salads? Stuff’s in the fridge.”

Miranda moved about Andrea’s kitchen with a natural confidence. The way she wielded a knife and how she rearranged the triangles in a clever pattern were enough to convince her that Miranda spent a lot of time in a kitchen.

“Nigel mentioned Fen’s birthday...I hope I haven’t overstepped, Andrea.”

On her way to taking their food to the coffee table, she said over her shoulder, “You haven’t. I’m very glad you and the girls decided to stop by.”

Miranda followed her then put down the sandwich platter. “I’ll get them.” she offered, already headed down the hall.

Andrea watched her until she disappeared from view. Jesus, the woman knew how to dress. As if it were the most natural thing in the world for her to do, Miranda rounded up the girls, carrying Fen on her hip and holding Caroline’s hand. Cassidy brought up the rear. While framed in the archway to the living room, the image of Miranda surrounded by laughing children, their faces turned up and eager, sank into Andrea. For a second, there was so much yearning in her heart, she thought something was physically wrong.

Miranda let Fen down and laughed when she ran into Cassidy’s arms.

“Your daughter is an absolute delight, Andrea.”

For some reason, her face heated up and she couldn’t look directly at Miranda. “Thank you.”

“Mummers, tea and trumpets time!”

The twins immediately started laughing. Cassidy high-fived Fen who was being squeezed in a bear hug by Caroline. Andrea glanced at Miranda and everything went still inside her. Those blue eyes were tender as they regarded Andrea, the smile on Miranda’s lips a bit puzzled.

Andrea slowly sat down on the couch. Starting to get back up to get the tea and hot water, Miranda waved her off.

“I’ll get it.”

It occurred to Andrea that the woman was always in motion.

“Can I call you Andy?” Cassidy asked, eying the plate of sandwich triangles with apparent hunger.

“Absolutely.” she answered, not thinking twice about it.

“Caroline, we can call her Andy.”

Fen squatted down on the floor between Caroline’s legs, facing the same way as Caroline carefully brushed Fen’s hair. Oh, my poor baby, she thought with amusement and shook her head.  Fen had no idea she had just become Caroline’s living doll.

Miranda entered the living room carrying a tray ladened with a plastic tea pot. From the second she placed the ‘service’ on the table, she owned the rest of the tea party. The twins fell in line, as did Fen and Andrea. Everyone listened to the correct way partake of afternoon tea, including the infamous extended pinky while lightly holding the tiny handle.

Cassidy had a knack for accents, carrying off a passable British one, much like her mother, which wasn’t a surprise given Miranda Priestly had been born and raised in England. Caroline had the dainty mechanics down, surreptitiously looking at her mother for cues. While Andrea and Miranda forked their salads, Caroline and Fen slowly picked up a tiny sandwich and nibbled. Cassidy, the rebel, bit into it with gusto, demolishing it in two bites. Cheeks bulging as she tried not to laugh at the disgusted face her sister made, Cassidy captured Andrea’s heart. Caroline, Miranda’s mini-me, had Andrea the second she primly took off her leather gloves as she strode into the apartment as if she owned it.

What to do with it all was the problem. Beyond the children, there was Miranda with her deep blue eyes and seductive smile. The way she walked, sauntered, and how she chose clothes that enhanced every attribute, from toes to head she was perfect. Had it just been those things, Andrea could have dismissed it, but, Miranda’s actions spoke something more. She offered friendship despite all the odds against it.

“Andrea?”

“Hmm?”

“You’re preoccupied.”

Andrea looked around and noticed the girls had abandoned the tea set for Handy Manny’s Transforming Tool Truck. Cassidy was having a blast, listening to Fen’s instructions. Caroline was more reserved, trying to act as if such a childish toy didn’t interest her.

“Not...really.” Andrea looked at Miranda. “I was just thinking how well the girls are getting along. Sometimes she can be a bit...”

“Rambunctious?” They shared a smile. “She reminds me a little of Cassidy at that age actually.”

“Caroline takes after you. Before you brought in the tea, she had Fen sitting down in front of her and started brushing her hair. It took her a half of second to tame my daughter while almost every morning I have to bribe, beg, and scold her to let me do it.”

“She does have a certain way about her.” Miranda murmured, her face in profile as she looked affectionately toward her offspring. 

“I’d say all the Priestly females have a way about them.” Andrea whispered.

Slowly Miranda turned, eyebrows raised, a half grin on her lips.

Andrea, suddenly warm, toyed with the small thready hole on the thigh of her jeans. Miranda’s gaze dropped, maybe drawn to the movement of Andrea’s fingers, then snapped up. The faintest pink tinged her cheeks.

“I should go. I mean, the girls and I have plans before I need to get ready for the benefit tonight.”

The benefit where Jonathan was her escort. Andrea nodded then looked up at Miranda, jamming her hands into her back pockets.

“Oh, yeah, I-we wouldn’t want to be the cause for you being late. I know you don’t want to keep Mr. Weber waiting.”

Miranda bit her lower lip, the edge of white teeth against red skin catching Andrea’s attention.

“Do you know Jonathan?”

“By reputation only.” Andrea shrugged. “We don’t exactly travel the same social circle.”

“I suppose not.”

“I’ll get your coats.”

As she opened the closet door, she heard Miranda call out to the twins then her own daughter started to protest.

Arms full, she turned and her heart dropped a little. Fen, standing next to a sitting Caroline, had her arm around the girl’s shoulders while frowning up at Miranda. Cassidy, oblivious or ignoring everything, finished off the last sandwich.

“We were gonna play fashion show. Can’t I just stay here and play with Fen? Please?”

Miranda squatted in front of them.

“M, I wanna do...” she stopped, screwed her face up then tilted her head to look at Caroline, obviously at a loss about how to finish the sentence.

Caroline whispered in her ear.

Grinning, Fen barked, “Fatten show!”

Fashion show.” Caroline corrected, the look of horror on her face too comical for Andrea to resist laughing.

Cassidy snorted then started prancing around shaking her butt and singing, “We’re going to  the fatten show.”

Sidetracked by the other redhead’s antics, Fen joined in, clapping and singing right along.

Miranda bent her head, slightly shaking it, then looked back up, catching Cassidy and Fen strutting across the living room. She finally cracked, emitting light laughter.

No one else’s laughter ever affected Andrea in the way Miranda Priestly’s just did. It was absolutely the worst time to have developed a thing for her boss. Until a few seconds ago, she identified as straight, but, after that laugh and those sparkling eyes, Andrea simply wanted to what exactly? Crawl into bed with her and ask for a bedtime story?

“Okay, you’ve had your fun, girls. Let’s get ready to leave, shall we?”

Caroline asked with a touch of defiance, “Why can’t I stay here, Mom? The art store is Cassidy’s thing.”

“Caroline.” Miranda said, tone brooking no further arguments.

Fen tugged on Andrea’s jeans and asked, “Can I go, mummers?”

Kneeling, she asked, “What about Da? He wants to tell you happy birthday and watch you open his presents. I bet he’s been waiting all day just to see you over the phone.”

Fen twisted and looked up at Miranda who was nearby buttoning up her coat.

“Go say goodbye and thank them for visiting.” Andrea instructed in a low voice.

While the girls hugged, Andrea stood. Miranda took a step closer, smiling.

“Can you wait a few more minutes?”

Miranda nodded, looking a little curious.

Andrea went to the table and picked up the gift and card the twins gave her.

“Fen, come here and open one of your presents.”

Cassidy and Caroline crowded around Fen.

“I helped pick it out.” Cassidy said.

Caroline frowned. “I did, too.”

Fen tried to tear into the card but experienced a bit of trouble.

“Here. I’ll show you.” Caroline offered, gently taking the card from the smaller girl.

Andrea glanced at Miranda.

“See, here. Just pull out the flap. We didn’t lick it. It’s easier to open, see?”

Cassidy offered, “I can read it to you, if you want.”

Fen huffed, “I can do it.” She started sounding out the words but had trouble with the longer ones. When she looked up, everyone wore supportive smiles, none, however, quite as big as Andrea’s.

Caroline handed over the small box and immediately started fidgeting. Fen struggled with the tightly wrapped present.

Fen handed it to Caroline, whining, “Do it, Ro.”

With nimble fingers she took off the wrapping then handed it back to Fen who nodded and gasped a thank you.

“Oooh, look, Fen, it’s a necklace with your name on it.” Andrea cooed, unclasping it. “Okay, pull your hair up, sweetie.”

With a little help from the twins, she managed to place the necklace around Fen’s neck and fasten it.  The girls excitedly ran to the bathroom so Fen could see it in the mirror.

“They were dead set on it.” Miranda said, looking toward the hallway. “Something about charm bracelets at camp.”

Andrea tugged on Miranda’s arm until she looked at her. “You are...amazing, Miranda Priestly.” A strangled laugh eased out of her throat and Andrea clamped her hand over her mouth as if to wipe it away. “I don’t know how to repay you.”

Miranda stepped closer. “Impress me in Paris.”

The low vibration of her voice, the way her eyes burned with icy challenge, and those fucking red lips curved in a bitch smile that roused Andrea’s competitive nature. Nothing got her rev’ed quite like a provocation issued by Miranda.

“When I do, how will you reward me?”

“Get me an exclusive with Vargineau. A three-page spread of his Fall collection. No less than three paragraphs of quotes from him.”

It would be almost impossible but Andrea thrived on serving it up on a platter. “Then what, Miranda?”

She leaned in and spoke into Andrea’s ear. “There’s not much I wouldn’t do for that, Andrea.”

Andrea lifted her chin and pulled back slightly. Their mouths were so close she felt Miranda’s breaths fall on her lips.

“Done.”

“I’m looking forward to it.”

Andrea’s eyes slid down, latching onto Miranda’s mouth that dared her to... When the rest of the thought hummed in Andrea’s head, she abruptly increased the space between them. Seriously, she needed to get a grip.

“Mom! We didn’t sing the birthday song!” Caroline cried out, hands on her cheeks.

Everyone dutifully sang the song. Fen giggled madly throughout, bouncing on her toes. Andrea took a few photos. Cassidy begged for one with Fen and her sister. Promising to send it to her mother, Andrea accepted hugs from the twins.

“Thank you.” They said in unison.

At the door, Miranda turned and placed her hand on Andrea’s shoulder.

“We had a lovely time. Thank you.”

Andrea’s heartbeat sped up and her entire body tingled. Helplessly she stared into Miranda’s eyes. Fen squeezed in between them, her little fists holding onto the fabric of Miranda’s coat.

“Bye, M.”

Miranda cupped Fen’s chin then crouched low and kissed her forehead. “Good-bye, birthday girl.”

Andrea took a step back, hand still on the doorknob and waited until Miranda joined the girls in the hallway before saying, “See you Monday.”

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

 “It’s On”

 

Monday mornings were usually difficult. After having Andrea all to herself, Fen often acted out until she saw the daycare then her mother was forgotten. Carrying Fen on her hip, Andrea strode across the Elias-Clarke lobby, shielding her daughter from the self-absorbed who failed to see her carrying a toddler. Fen, however, had a blast. Once she heard Andrea call out, “Hey, watch it.” Now, whenever they were in a crowd, Fen shouted it out even when no one was near. A better mother would have corrected her child, but it made Andrea laugh every time.

“She’s a New Yorker through and through.”

“M!” Fen tried to hurl herself out of her mother’s arms when she saw Miranda.

The split second when Miranda hesitated, Andrea understood. As she tried to think of a way out of the situation, Miranda pushed back her sunglasses then took her daughter.

“You don’t have...”

“I know.” Miranda said, gazing at Fen with hearts in her eyes. “Fen, how was your weekend?”

Something inside of Andrea melted at the realization Miranda chose Fen over slipping into her Le Priestly persona. While the two talked about what they did since the last time they saw one another, Andrea slipped on her sunglasses and provided an impenetrable barrier between them and the outside world.

As the elevator doors opened on the tenth floor, Andrea turned around to take Fen but Miranda lowered her sunglasses into place and walked through the sudden opening in the crowded elevator car. Andrea calmly fell into step behind them, like they were a...family. Jolted by her thoughts, she didn’t realize Miranda had taken Fen through the daycare doors.

“Now, I have to work and you have to learn.” Miranda said, lightly grazing Fen’s cheek with her thumb as she cupped her face. “I want you to tell me everything you learned, alright?”

Fen nodded. kissed Miranda then said, “Lubbie you, M.”

Andrea’s heart lurched, smacking up against her ribcage because Fen never said that to anyone but her.

“Well, I...lubbie you, too, my wee Fen.”

“Mummers, kisses to you. Gonna learn now.” Fen called out then wiggled out of Miranda’s grasp and headed toward the waiting childcare worker.

“I hope you’re not taking her abrupt departure personally.” Miranda whispered and gently squeezed Andrea’s shoulder. “I’m sorry I kept her...”

“No.” Andrea cut her off, unable to look Miranda in the eyes for fear of revealing something she definitely was not ready to reveal. “She just told you she loves you, using the phrase she’s only uses with me.” To keep Miranda from interrupting, Andrea held up her hand. “No, it’s fine, I swear.” The next part was a littler harder. Straightening her shoulders, Andrea looked directly into those dark blue eyes. “She chose you. Don’t disappoint her.”

“I won’t.”

Andrea stared, lost in a sea of blue, the sensation of gentle waves lapping at her skin added to the illusion. About to be pulled under, she closed in, breaths faint and slow.

Jesus christ, she was about to kiss Miranda Priestly.

Miranda turned her head and took a step back.

Parents were dropping off their offspring as Miranda and Andrea stood, close enough to touch. The world swirled around them. Andrea gritted her teeth.

“We need to talk, Miranda.”

“We do.”

“The sooner the better.”

“Friday...”

“No.” Andrea stepped farther away. “The night before I leave for a week. No.” Crossing her arms, she muttered to the floor, “This is crazy. We should...we should really take a step back...”

“I agree.”

“Because I have never wanted to kiss someone as much as I want to kiss you right now.”

Miranda seemed to waver, her dark blue eyes fixed on Andrea’s mouth. Her gaze flicked up and Andrea stopped breathing.

The predatory and promising smile on Miranda’s mouth taunted Andrea long after Miranda slowly walked away.

***

Andrea avoided Miranda like the plague although it wasn’t hard given that Miranda was out of the office for most of the day. She popped in on Fen just before nap time, gave her a kiss, then rushed downstairs to get something to eat at the deli Nigel had taken her to when she first started.

When she returned to Runway, she placed a white paper bag on Nigel’s desk, shrugged off her coat then attended a meeting held by Beauty and Living which Serena had requested she attend. Andrea looked at the layout for a new eye shadow versus another hack for a stay at home parent.

“Is this all?” she asked. When she received nods from the creators of each pitch, she said, “Bring two more options because these are recycled ideas any high school kid could come up with. Where’s your passion? Your creativity? Do you not love fashion?”

Some people averted their eyes when she looked at them. Others blankly stared back. Only two grew excited.

“You two.” She pointed to a slight Mexican American man with promenade hair and a rather stout older woman with severe bangs that really worked for her. “What are your names?”

“Renita.”

“Alvin.”

“Pitch Serena your ideas.” She looked at Serena. “You can decide the deadline.”

Serena smirked then took over the rest of the meeting.

A few minutes later Andrea looked at her watch and stifled a gasp. She tried to be inconspicuous as she left but several pairs of eyes locked on her. Serena, bless her, started asking questions and Andrea escaped. She rushed across the bullpen, up the stairs then to Nigel’s office.

“Why are you in such a frenzy?” he asked without looking up as he perused a mock up for an advertiser.

“I need my laptop to Skype with a lawyer.”

Nigel calmly gathered his things and said, “How long do you think you’ll be?”

“What? No, I booked a conference room. I just need...” Andrea withdrew the Mac from the file cabinet. “Thanks.”

Without looking back, Andrea bolted out of the office and went down the short hallway to a small conference room. She booted up the computer and made the call a few minutes later than agreed.

Naomi Lutheran wasn’t what Andrea expected. The woman didn’t look like a lawyer. Maybe Andrea harbored some preconceived notions, but, still, Naomi was gorgeous, pleasantly professional, and straightforward.

“Do you need a moment, Mrs. Cooper?”

Andrea jerked back to the screen, frowning. “No, and I didn’t take his name. Neither did our daughter.”

“Fenimore Lisette Sachs. Oh, she just turned four.”

“You didn’t know I kept my maiden name but you know my child’s name and birthday?”

Naomi smiled, smoothly explaining, “Honestly, I hadn’t time to look through all the preliminary data gathered by one of the paralegals. As soon as you agreed to representation, he got to work.”

“It’s good to know you have an excellent poker face, Naomi.”

The lawyer closed the manilla folder and took off her thick glasses. “It’s my job. Are you sure Nate won’t be seeking spousal support? You said he cheated on you with your best friend for eight months then got her pregnant. He just got a job in Boston so he isn’t established in his career. I’ll need the names and timelines of any other women your husband may have had affairs with during your marriage but I’m not going to lie, Andrea. New York state judges are indifferent to infidelity as grounds for a divorce. It will go much faster if we claim irretrievable breakdown as a legal ground for divorce.”

“As long as I have full custody of Fen, I’ll leave the strategy to you.”

Naomi nodded, slipped her glasses back on then flipped over a page from the legal pad. Picking up her pen, she said, “You said he agreed to that, no spousal and no child care support, correct?”

She looked up from her writing and Andrea nodded.

“Can he afford an attorney?”

“The ex-best friend owns an art gallery in Boston and makes pretty decent money but I don’t know what her debt-to-income ratio is. Now that she’s probably pregnant, I don’t know if that’s going to make things harder or not.”

“They’ll be motivated to see the divorce through whether they can afford it or not. Things can get nasty, Andrea, but, if you let me negotiate the terms, I promise you’ll have everything you stipulated.”

“I’m not easily intimidated, Naomi. I promise I won’t let him get to me.”

She nodded, then wrote something down and said, “I suggest splitting the savings and checking accounts now. Do you have an investment portfolio?”

“Yes.”

“I’m going to need copies of financials dating back to when you got married. Do you carry him on your medical insurance? Life insurance?”

“You’ll need copies of the policies.” Andrea said, scribbling down her own notes.

Thirty minutes later and Andrea’s head swam with all the information they went over. She had a sizable list of things to do and gave herself very little time to do them. It wasn’t exactly time consuming to gather data, most of which was at the tip of her fingers. Well, nothing was going to get accomplished with her spacing out.

When Andrea gathered her things, there was a knock at the door.

“I’m all done.” she called out, thinking someone had booked the room.

“Do you have a minute?”

Andrea almost dropped her laptop. Miranda stood in the doorway looking at her with cool detachment.

“Yeah, okay. Do you want to go...”

“Here is fine.” she said, stepped in then shut the door behind her.

Andrea’s entire body tingled. The room felt smaller. She took a seat on the other side of the table.

Miranda remained standing, one hand around her waist and the other holding a pair of folded glasses underneath her chin.

“I find you...pleasant to look at.” Miranda offered as she leaned against the closed door.

Andrea crossed her legs tightly together. “Oh, uh, thanks. And I, you. I mean, you’re...” Abruptly she stood. “too far away, Miranda.”

“Be careful, little cub.” she murmured. “I suggest, beginning right now, we stay as far apart as possible.”

Andrea stepped slowly around the table, her fingers trailing across its top.

“Andrea.” she warned, but the lowering of her arms was like an invitation.

“And I find you very distracting.” Andrea stopped just shy of Miranda’s personal space. “You’re like this warmth just under my skin and then I see you...and I feel hotter.”

Miranda’s eyes lowered. “That Lagerfeld blouse fits just right across your chest.”

“You don’t think it’s too...tight?” Andrea placed her palm down on the tabletop and leaned her hip against it.

“No, I do not.”

By keeping Miranda’s attention elsewhere, Andrea managed to move a little closer, but, it didn’t last long much to her frustration.

Miranda moved to the side and opened the door.

“And Friday night?” Andrea boldly asked. “When I win.”

Watching Miranda pull the door closed again, Andrea took the few remaining steps and stood exactly behind her. Miranda, still not turning around, held the doorknob, then braced a hand against the door when Andrea gently pressed against her.

A light, short moan escaped Miranda’s mouth and Andrea started to shake.

“I want to hear that sound again.” she whispered in Miranda’s ear, moving her pointed breasts teasingly across the silk shirt Miranda wore as she held onto Miranda’s waist.

The shift was miniscule but enough to rob Andrea of breath. Arching her lower back, Miranda pushed her ass into Andrea’s pelvic area.

“If you don’t leave right now, Miranda...” Andrea moved her hands down the sides of Miranda’s thighs as she lightly kissed her neck. “I swear to you...”

Andrea was unceremoniously pushed back and Miranda was out of the room, leaving Andrea dazed and aching. Resting her forehead on the closed door, she tried to calm herself but all she wanted to do was jump off the damn cliff. On the verge of hyperventilating, she sat down on a nearby chair. Nothing in her past had prepared her for Miranda Priestly. At Vogue, she’d met her share of powerful people, dressed to impress, exuding charm and wit. Yet, this forty-something woman, twice-divorced, with twin daughters lit Andrea’s fuse. Of all the people in the world, Miranda did it for her.

Andrea knew she was a bit of a power junky while attending college. She gravitated toward people who wielded it, never partaking, ever tempted. Then she saw Miranda in person at a function. Reading about her or seeing pictures of her in no way prepared someone for the living reality. As Andrea looked back, she saw the moment when she got hooked without a single hit. The dream of working for Runway had been true but the onerous climb up the ladder hadn’t been solely for a career at the best fashion magazine.

***

By the time she exited the conference room, Andrea was back in charge of herself. Thankfully Miranda was nowhere around but she ran into Nigel who thanked her for the sandwich.

“Not a problem. I checked your calendar. You didn’t schedule a second for lunch.”

Nigel palmed his bald head. “Between the little good-bye-congratulation soirees and tying up loose ends before Paris Couture...and let’s not mention the moving, I may simply faint, preferably in front of a yummy bear of a man.”

Andrea tapped her lips then said, “I had you pegged for the company of an otter.”

Nigel laughed. “Some days that’s true.” He leaned closer to her and whispered, “Never limit yourself.”

“I’ll remember that.”

Just as they were about to part, a frazzled, poorly dressed girl ran into Andrea. Clothing articles plumed in the air as the girl foraged the floor for the other items she had been carrying.

It took a second for Andrea to realize the girl was sobbing. She had nearly dropped her computer in the skirmish and wasn’t inclined to clean up the girl’s mess.

“Well, I’ll leave you to...” Nigel said, twirling his fingers in the air. “I’ve got to run.”

Naturally, the girl was Miranda’s second assistant. With her free hand, Andrea picked up a few business button-ups by the clothes hanger hook.

“I-I-I can’t do anything right.” she mumbled, close to a full blown breakdown.

“Get it together.” Andrea cautioned, not unkindly. “Where are you going with these?”

“Miranda needs them.”

“Okay, just breathe. Why are you panicking over a few work shirts?”

The girl wiped away the last of her tears but her nose and eyes were an unbecoming shade of red. “Someone ran into her and...” The girl looked over her shoulder, then turned back and whispered, “...spilled coffee on her.”

“I see. Here, take my laptop back to Nigel’s office, put it in the file cabinet then take a few minutes to...collect yourself.”

“But what about...”

“Oh, I’ll take care of it. Don’t you worry.”

She really didn’t have the time to spare but, god damn, the opportunity was just too tempting. Her inner little cubcouldn’t resist.

When Andrea strolled between the assistant desks, Vanessa quickly stood with her hand out.

“I’ll take that. Where did...”

“I’ve got it.” Andrea cut her off and walked into the office, shutting the door behind her.

“Did you get lost on your way to the closet? Perhaps smacked your little head and lost what little...”

Andrea leaned against the bathroom’s doorjamb, extending her hand as three shirts dangled from the hooks over her finger.

Miranda’s eyes darkened. Without breaking eye contact, she undid a button of her ruined top.

Immediately Andrea placed the shirts on the doorknob, stepped into Miranda’s personal space and brushed her hands away from the shirtfront.

“Allow me.” she whispered.

Miranda’s smile was slow and closed lipped. “By all means.”

Redirecting her gaze to the task at hand, Andrea was grateful to find her hands were steady. She took her time. The valley between Miranda’s breasts disappeared under the white lace of a bra. Andrea was fascinated by the delicate pink and green threads along the trim. She skimmed the edge with a fingertip which veered off from the material once Andrea realized how warm and soft Miranda’s skin happened to be. Andrea plucked another button undone, revealing the crest of Miranda’s ribcage.

“Are you enjoying yourself?”

Fighting the urge to rip the shirt apart, Andrea closed her eyes. Her knuckles briefly caressed Miranda’s skin as she undid another button.

“Oh, god, yes.” she managed to answer, shaking as she opened her eyes.

Miranda leaned in and Andrea felt weak and on edge. At the last second, Miranda diverted as she plucked a shirt hanging off the doorknob. Her scantily clad breasts slid lightly across Andrea’s arm.

“I am, too.” Miranda whispered, her lips ghosting along Andrea’s jaw as she pulled away. “Be a dear and hold this while I take my shirt off.”

Dumbly she did as told, all the while staring at stiffened nipples under lacy silk. It was a show, meant to bewitch, to render the voyeur helpless. Miranda’s slender fingers curled around the flaps of her shirt and pulled it back, off the sculpted shoulders. Andrea wanted to die right then and there, the moment was so perfect.

Once Miranda donned the shirt, Andrea’s gaze climbed until she was caught by glittering blue.

“You’re not doing a very good job of keeping your distance.”

Andrea glowered.

As she tucked in her shirt, Miranda laughed.

Without realizing it, Andrea grabbed Miranda’s wrist and tugged her close which abruptly ended Miranda’s mirth.

“Is this a game for you?”

Miranda gently pulled out of Andrea’s grasp. “No. The truth is...I’m very attracted to you which you should realize, Andrea. I’ve allowed you undress me at work, for god’s sake.”

Andrea couldn’t prevent the smile from forming on her mouth.

“Your life is upended and you’re vulnerable and I’m your boss. We have children that will be hurt by this, Andrea, if...if it ever gets out. And let’s not forget our careers and the reality of sexual harassment charges. So, really, who’s the one playing a game?”

Head spinning, she wasn’t capable of answering which was evidently an admission of guilt by Le Priestly standards.

“Get out.”

She didn’t let the door hit her in the ass. Andrea burst out of the office and, ironically enough, almost knocked over the second assistant. After the near disaster, she slowed her steps but there was little she could do about the pounding heart in her chest. Miranda’s takedown, while painful, gave Andrea a pretty insightful look into the woman’s thoughts. Before she could understand the totality of it, however, Andrea needed to calm her emotions.

She hid in the office until it was time to pick up Fen.

Chapter Text

"White Flags and Breaking Points"

 

The rest of the week bumped and jostled, jarring her insides until her skin vibrated. Finally Friday arrived and she selected an accessory she hoped wasn’t obvious to anyone else but for whom it was intended. Thinking her early arrival would allow for a moment to steel her nerves, Andrea wasn’t so fortunate. As she crossed the bullpen, Miranda appeared from her office and stood at the railing, watching her.

It was time to woman-up. Instead of going to Nigel’s office, she took the stairs leading up to the raised platform and tripped up on one of the steps because Miranda was wearing a black chalk-striped waistcoat with a deep V-neck. It fit snuggly over a crisp white button-down shirt with a forward pointed collar and French cuffs.

“Good morning, Andrea.” she quietly said, amusement in her look.

“Jesus.”

Miranda smirked. “This is what you had in mind, was it not?”

“Oh, no, it’s way better than I imagined.” Andrea bit her lip then unbuttoned her trench coat. Slowly she pulled the white scarf from around her neck and held it out in offering.

Lips quirked upward, Miranda gently took the scarf. “I accept.”

“I do, too. I do, too.” Andrea tore her eyes away from her boss’s outfit. “It’s not a game for me, Miranda, but I agree, the timing’s bad.”

“So, no more pushing each other’s buttons?” Miranda pulled the scarf through a loose fist as she looked down at it.

Andrea nodded, not trusting her mouth. The way Miranda stroked the scarf with her fingers gave her inappropriate ideas she should not entertain for her boss. Solid advice but, well, she wasn’t one for actually following it.

“Would you and the girls care to come over for dinner tonight?”

Miranda tilted her head and gave Andrea a look. “I don’t think that’s wise.”

“You’re right, of course. I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking...I just, I mean, we, Fen and I, had a good time with you guys.”

“Cassidy and Caroline have asked after Fen.”

Andrea grinned. “Caroline must be going through withdrawals being away from her own personal dress-up doll.”

“Yes. I’ve spoken to her about it.”

“No, no, that’s not what I meant. Trust me, Fen will put her foot down when she doesn’t want to do something.” Andrea pointed to herself. “I mean, have you met her mother?”

Miranda smiled. “Perhaps when you get back we can schedule something for the girls.”

But not us was how Andrea interpreted the steely gaze.

“Sounds like a plan.” she replied, making a move to leave, but she stopped and languidly ogled Miranda from bottom to top. Winking at Miranda, she casually dropped, “Oh, by the way, I’ve been on the phone with Vargineau’s assistant.”

It didn’t happen often but Andrea knew she just surprised the shit out of Le Priestly. Miranda didn’t give herself away but Andrea, ever the avid pupil, was keen on observing her. The absolute stillness of the editor’s body was the oddity. Perpetually in motion, Miranda moved even while sitting or standing. She scanned a room, took off her glasses, or threaded a scarf through her fingers to gauge the material’s quality.

While carefully folding the scarf, she said in a bored tone, “Riveting.”

Andrea waited for Miranda to look up. It took sixteen seconds. Staring into those baby blues, she softly delivered, “I hope so. We have reservations for dinner at Ferdi. Apparently, he loves their burgers. When I said they couldn’t possibly be better than what I can get in the states, well, he wants to prove me wrong.”

Miranda’s smile took a moment to arrive, it’s unfurling a thing of beauty that caused Andrea’s stomach to drop.

“I believe you said there wasn’t much you wouldn’t do for a three page exclusive of his fall designs and three paragraphs worth of quotes.” Andrea lifted a brow. “Was I mistaken?”

“No.”

Andrea closed the distance between them and warned in a low tone, “I will collect...eventually and there will be no quarter given.”

“Andrea...”

“It wasn’t a question.” she tsked.

“I...” Miranda paused and uncharacteristically wrung her hands. “I don’t want to...if we’ll ever be...intimate, I don’t want it to be because of a debt.”

The vulnerability on display called forth Andrea’s more noble instincts. She surged forward but Miranda stood stiffly, her haughty Le Priestly mask back in place.

“Of course not.” Andrea stated firmly, keeping several inches between them, doing her best to convey earnest intentions. She scrunched up her face playfully, as if thinking hard about something, then smiled. “My birthday’s in March on the nineteenth. Maybe you and the girls can help Fen and I celebrate?”

“Let’s wait until it gets a little closer.” Miranda replied. “Who knows how many times you’ll irritate me until then.”

***

When Andrea arrived home, Fen and Demetria were sitting on the couch watching an animated Disney film.

“Mummers!” Fen sang out, scrambling off the couch and running toward her.

Andrea managed to drop her things in time to catch her careening spawn.

“Hi, sweetie.” She proceeded to place kisses all over Fen’s laughing face. “How was your day?”

“I made a pony!”

“You did?”

Fen wriggled and Andrea let her down then took off her coat while Fen got her backpack.

“Thanks for getting her, Demetria. I had a last minute work thing...”

“I was happy to do it.”

“Mummers, look! Look!” Fen demanded, waving around a piece of paper.

Andrea stepped out of her Zanotti’s then picked them up and gently placed them on the table near the front door. She knelt down and took the drawling from her daughter. Honestly, it looked like a lopsided oval with stick legs and multi-colored waves shooting out behind what was most likely the head.

“Oh, I’m definitely going to have to frame this, sweetie. Can you sign it for mommy?”

“I want Da to have it.” she protested, snatching it from her mother’s hand.

“Oh, okay. He’s gonna love it.”

“Demi, you wanna play?”

“Lead the way.” She held out her hand for Fen to take it.

Before she did, she told Andrea, “Mummers, we need snacks.”

“Yes, your majesty.”

Fen scowled. “My name’s Fen, not magic knee.”

Andrea bit her lip, torn on whether to correct her daughter or reprimand her for the indignant tone. While she dithered, Fen took control of the situation and promptly led Demetria to her room.

She loved her daughter’s spirit and didn’t want to do anything to crush it. Most of the time she was able to control her reactions to Fen’s penchant for mixing up words that sounded similar. Andrea sent a silent prayer that her indulgence today wouldn’t create a bad habit for tomorrow.

In the kitchen, she put some baby carrots and celery sticks on a plate with a few grapes, and cheese cubes, knowing Fen wouldn’t eat anything but the cheese. Evidently her child was at a picky-eater stage. Andrea added a few pieces of ham just in case.

“Here you go. I made enough for you, too, Demetria, in case you’re hungry.”

They both sang out their thanks, too involved in the coloring books.

Andrea took a quick shower, put on a pair of cut off sweat shorts and a tank top before rummaging through her refrigerator. She poured some of Fen’s cereal into a bowl with some milk then sat down on the couch and turned on the television. Exhausted, all she wanted to do was go to sleep but she needed to finish packing and call Nate. He didn’t know about Paris. Her parents didn’t know about the divorce. Doug didn’t know about the Miranda development. She wasn’t secretive by nature but protective.

“Andrea?”

“Yeah?

Demetria came into view. “She’s ready for bed and asking for you.”

Grinning, she set down the half-finished bowl of cereal. “Okay, thanks. Oh, I forgot to tell you we’ll be leaving about three tomorrow.”

“I’m already packed and ready to go.”

Passing Demetria on her way across the living room, Andrea stuck out her tongue which Demetria returned with a grin.

The room was a mess, books and toys strewn across the floor and the small dresser drawers opened by varying degrees. She found the three drawer dresser at an estate sale in Poughkeepsie last year. A lot of Fen’s play clothes filled it and she was responsible for putting away the neatly folded items Andrea placed on the top of it, a routine she needed to tell Demetria about it so Fen could stay on track.

“Hey.”

“Mummers, I’m tucked out.”

Andrea knelt down by the small bed and gently trailed her fingertips up and down Fen’s back.

“Would you like mommy to read you a story?”

No.” Fen whined, kicking out at the blanket and moving away from her mother.

She tried not to take it personally but Fen’s rejection stung a little. Andrea sighed, crouched over her grumpy little girl and kissed her then quietly left the room.

“I’m gonna head back to my room, if that’s okay?”

“Of course. I’ll have a little more time when we get back to take the rest of my things out of there...”

“Oh, it’s no problem, really.”

“I know it’s a little cramped but things happened quickly. It won’t be like this for long. I’ve just started a new job...”

“Are you kidding? This place is huge compared to my old apartment.”

Andrea smiled. “Oh, hey, I’ve re-enrolled Fen in her old preschool. She’ll be starting February...”

“You sent me an email of her schedule.”

“Oh.” Andrea shook her head. “Look at me. I’m ahead of myself on that one but I did forget to let you know Fen is responsible for putting her clothes away and tidying her room. We’re just starting out so usually after a few minutes she loses interest.”

“No problem. Oh, I sent you a tentative schedule for Paris of the places I’d like to take her and activities that are available.”

“We’ll talk about it on the flight. You got my Paris schedule, right?”

Demetria nodded then yawned.

“Get some rest. We have a big week coming up. Well, good night.”

“Night.”

Soggy cereal held little appeal. Andrea dumped it in the trash. When her phone beeped, she dug through her purse and found it just in time before voicemail picked up the call.

“How’s my grandbaby?”

“Uh, she’s asleep, mom.”

“Oh, pooh. Well, then, how’s the new job?”

The phone vibrated in her hand. Andrea pulled back to look at the incoming call.

“Mom, can I call you back? Nate’s on the other line.”

“Why isn’t he at home?”

“We’ll talk later, okay? I’ve gotta go. Love you, bye.”

After a second of protest her mother demanded she call her back immediately after she hung up with Nate.

“I got a certified letter from your lawyer. You didn’t waste any time.”

Andrea bit back sharp retort. “Look, Nate, I’m glad you called.”

“Hold up. I’m on break.”

The sound of clanking pots and pans grew distant. “Alright.”

“I’m going to Paris tomorrow for a week.”

“You’re kidding me, right? I can’t...what the hell, Andy?”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

Nate spat out an obscenity then muttered, “Fine, whatever. Text me the airline and flight number and when she’s getting in tomorrow.”

“Nate, she’s coming with me. Fen is going to Paris.”

He unleashed a stream of insults that would have been impressive if Andrea hadn’t heard them all before. There was nothing to do but wait the tirade out. Still, many of his barbs hit a soft spot. She concentrated on simply getting through the conversation as quickly as possible.

“I can’t fucking believe you’re gonna drag a four year old to all those shows...”

“I’ve got a nanny.”

Nate sighed. “Of course you do. You’ll let a stranger raise my kid before her own father.”

“Be reasonable, Nate. You weren’t angry about a nanny when we were together. Besides, eventually I’m going to start seeing someone. There might be another kid...”

“Christ, will you just shut up, Andy? Do you even hear what you’re saying?”

Andrea gritted her teeth. “Life goes on, Nate. Get used to it. The fact is, if you hadn’t cheated twice, we may still be married. I’m sorry for not giving you a head’s up earlier. I’ll do better but we agreed not to disrupt her schedule if at all possible.” When he remained silent, she said softly, “I’m not doing this to hurt you, Nate.”

“Whatever.”  

“Your parents Skyped with Fen on her birthday. They asked where you were...”

“They haven’t said anything so you must have lied.”

Andrea hummed. “If it makes you feel any better, I haven’t told mine either. In fact, I was on the phone with my mother when you called. Why’d you call anyway?”

“I know we divided the savings and closed out our accounts but I was wondering, no, I mean, I was hoping you could float me some cash until...”

“How much?”

“A couple grand?”

Andrea closed her eyes. “Nate, what happened to the ten thousand...”

“I know, it’s just that...Lily wanted to move into a house before the baby...”

“I can’t.” she whispered, making a fist and thumping it against her thigh. “I have to be able to take care of Fen.”

“You’ve got enough to pay for a nanny, Andy...”

“I get it but we had an agreement after I got pregnant...”

“There you go, throwing up in my face again! You were sick all the time...”

“I was carrying your child.”

“You wanted a kid.”

 Andrea stifled an expletive. “And you slept with a waitress but now the waitress is gone and I have ‘the kid’ whom I adore.” On the brink of saying something shitty about staying at home with their child as penance for cheating, Andrea chose to stay the course. “She’s changed me and how I think of the future, Nate. I can’t help you at the expense of her.”

“How is a few thousand bucks gonna take anything away from Fen? I’m gonna pay it back.”

“When?”

“After the baby’s born.”

“No.”

“Fucking christ, Andy, you’re in a position to help me but you just wanna be a penny-pinching bitch.”

“Goodbye, Nate.”

She hung up.

The living room was dark and Andrea took comfort in it as the tears fell. Covering her mouth, she tried to stuff the sobs back in. Her shoulders trembled with either the effort to cry or to keep it in or both. Nate hadn’t wanted to have a child until his career took off but Andrea’s window, between biology and her own aspirations, shrank each year. She stopped taking the pill and started having sex with her husband more than once a month.

The phone alert pinged and thinking it was her mother, Andrea ignored it but from the corner of her eye she realized the M wasn’t for Mom.

“Yes?” she answered, inhaling wetly.

“What’s the matter? Is it Fen?”

Andrea gasped. “No, no, she’s fine. I’m fine.” Clearing her throat, she continued with less emotion, “What can I do for you, Miranda?”

“Tell me why your husband made you cry.”

“What, uh...how did you know?”

“Two divorces.”

“Huh.” Andrea relaxed into the couch cushions. “He needs more money.”

“More?”

“We split our savings, fifty-fifty after Naomi suggested it. Given how he’s strapped for cash right now, she thinks he’ll take the money and run.”

“But now he’s asking for more. Did you give it to him?”

“What? I’m not crazy.”

“I can see how you would be tempted, Andrea. It can be...difficult to turn the corner. You share a child and history.”

“I need him to be happy, Miranda, for purely selfish reasons. Maybe if he hadn’t cheated the first time...”

“How many times?”

Andrea hesitated, wondering why Miranda’s voice sounded strained. “Twice. That I know of. The first time was with a waitress at one of the restaurants he worked at while I was pregnant with Fen. I had morning sickness almost from the beginning into the second trimester and I was working so much.”

“Don’t make excuses for that poor excuse of a man. You decided to stay for the baby’s sake?”

“I think we both did but I couldn’t get over it. I was exhausted and hormonal after the birth. I just didn’t feel that way about him anymore. So, I concentrated on my daughter and career. I’m sure Nate got his needs met somewhere else.”

“And you? What of your needs?”

Andrea whispered, “The night Fen was conceived.”

“Oh, that’s...”

“A very long time ago, yes.”

The question hovered between them. Andrea figured Miranda was trying to find a way to ask it. Well, she wasn’t about to start shying away now.

“No, it’s not why I am really into you. Doesn’t have anything to do with it, in fact. I can take care of my own needs, you know.”

Miranda’s sharp inhale and the lack of words curved Andrea’s lips into a slight smile. Then she hummed into the phone.

“Oh, you like to picture things, don’t you? I’d like to hear about one of your fantasies, Miranda. Or would you rather I tell you one of mine?”

“That’s...well...”

Dropping her voice lower still, Andrea said, “Do you want to know how I get so excited when you’re close to me that I have to stop myself from rubbing against you like some...”

“Oh, please...please stop.”

“Now I’m picturing it, too.”

And Andrea felt her body react as she sat alone on the couch. Stroking her thigh, she closed her eyes and imagined the taste of Miranda’s skin.

“Mummers.” Fen pouted, pulling herself up on the couch.

Andrea startled but made room for her child to sit in her lap as she groaned into the phone,  “To be continued, Miranda.”

“M! Let me talk. Hi, M!”

“Promises, promises.” Miranda purred then cleared her throat. “Now, put your beautiful daughter on the phone.”

Smiling, Andrea handed the phone to Fen then tried to get some of the bigger tangles out of her daughter’s long, curly hair. Babbling between bouts of giggles, Fen enunciated a few words which allowed Andrea to follow some of their conversation.

“Stop, mummers.” Fen groused trying to push Andrea’s hand away.

Duly corrected, she removed her fingers from her daughter’s hair. Fen nodded, her eyes downcast as if in concentration.

“Okay.” she said, then rolled her eyes. “Yes, M, I heard.”

Andrea bit back a smile then told her to say good bye. To Andrea’s relief, Fen hadn’t hung up and simply handed her the phone.

“Most of that was Caroline speaking, I’ll have you know.” Miranda relayed. “Evidently they made plans for a fashion show when Fen returns.”

“Does this extend to mommies, too?” she whispered, mindful of Fen who snuggled against her chest and tucked her head under her mother’s chin.

“I don’t think your heart could take it.”

Chuckling low, she pictured Miranda in a long fur, black heels and a smile. “I’m sure you’re right, Priestly.”

“Let me know when your mind’s out of the gutter.”

“Fat chance of that but...switching gears, thank you for...”

“I merely called to wish you good luck. Even though I know Nigel is going to be distracted, I’m hardly annoyed.”

“Must be because you have me.”

There was a pause in conversation, long enough for Andrea to grow a bit concerned.

“Perhaps we’ll Skype at one point.”

“Maybe right before you go to sleep?”

Miranda laughed, the sound a sinful rumble in her chest. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

“I would.” she replied vehemently. “So much so, give me ten minutes and we can do a practice run tonight.”

“And here we are, crossing the line again. Apparently, neither one of us has much control around the other.”

Andrea glanced down at her daughter sleeping in her arms with a tiny fistful of Andrea’s t-shirt. At times, being a mother was damned inconvenient.

“One day, Priestly, and soon.”

 

Chapter Text

The ruched button design blazer dress emphasized the curves of her torso. Miranda particularly enjoyed the contrast between the mulberry shade and two large brushed nickel buttons. Her accessories popped although not quite as flashy as some of her usual choices. Her day had started rather marvelously with a picture from Andrea. Or, more accurately, a part of Andrea. To be precise, of Andrea’s outer thigh and a dangling garter belt clip with her fingers slipping under the black silk stocking.

Dear god, she had been tempted to take her time getting out of bed. The last time she experienced such an encompassing infatuation had been decades ago, well before Le Priestly. Yet, there were some glaring differences. The object of her desire wasn’t a man this time and Miranda was far from the over-eager virgin she was that time. Andrea stirred the feral part of Miranda’s psyche, the one she never truly allowed to rule. Every time she was in the same room with the woman, a switch flipped and Miranda battled to remain aloof. With a well-placed look or word from Andrea, her restraint wobbled and then it was only a matter of time before Miranda wouldn’t be able to stop herself.

The realization was terrifying and divine.

For an instant, Miranda entertained the whim of flying to Paris. Logistically, it wasn’t impossible. If only it were just a matter of planning.

“Miranda, Emily’s here to see you.”

Abruptly snapped out of her thoughts, she put on her glasses and sat straighter in her chair.

“You’re not on my schedule.”

Emily nevertheless swanned into the room and sat down in the visitor’s chair. “I’ve come to warn you. Your nine o’clock is going to be absolutely shambolic.”

Miranda raised her eyebrows.

“I heard Lawrence having a right old chin wag at the water cooler, as it were. He can’t find the Dior advert pages.”

“What happened to the mock-up?”

“I didn’t hear that part.” she replied, brushing off her knee.

Although she approved of Emily’s new favorite designer, Miranda found herself missing the Westwood phase. Miranda pursed her lips then returned her attention to a magazine spread on her desk.

“Will you be attending this shambolic event?”

“I’m not about to miss it.”

Miranda didn’t look up but Emily departed, no doubt long ago accustomed to her boss’s non-verbal dismissals. She checked the time. In ten minutes she was going to fire that twit. From the beginning she learned to keep copies. All the department heads did, too, but she was the only one who maintained a copy of the entire magazine. Lawrence had been a recent hire from GQ, smartly dressed and talking the talk from what she remembered Vivian, his boss, had told her. Since Vivian was in Paris, the pleasure of firing one of her underlings went to Miranda.

By lunchtime she was...bored. Firing the twit had sustained her through the morning along with fixing his mess. Snapping at the Cerulean girl about salad from the place that served stewed mushrooms did little to improve her mood. She prowled around her office until she realized what she was doing and promptly stopped. Miranda Priestly did not pace.

At twelve-thirty, salad half-eaten, Miranda wanted to throw something. She shredded Vanessa about the mess of clothing left in her office. The Cerulean girl was out running errands but making her cry had lost its zing. Nothing felt right. Nothing was right since...Andrea left.

What in the hell was wrong with her? Pining away like some silly school girl who lost her playmate? She had half a mind to...

Her personal phone rang. When she snatched it up, Miranda forgot what she was mad about.

“Are you on your way to the Givenchy at Couvent des Cordeliers?”

“Actually, no. I’m on my way to Ferdi.”

Andrea’s playful tone teased down Miranda’s spine. She stepped over to the window, away from ringing phones and attuned ears.

“Mm, I vaguely recall something about that.”

“I called because...” Andrea remained silent for a few more seconds then finished, “I was wondering if you liked my picture.”

Miranda was sure that wasn’t what Andrea intended to say but she decided not to press the matter.

“I do. I spent quite some time looking at it this morning in bed.”

A muffled thud and expletive later, Andrea returned to the phone. “I...dropped...you looked at it?”

“I did. It...inspired me.”

“Oh, god, I think you just killed my brain.”

“Now you’re just being theatrical.” she teased. “Perhaps I’ll send you one of me before I go to bed.”

“Yes, send me one or a hundred. I would, uh, really like that.”

Miranda laughed quietly. Vanessa stepped into her peripheral vision.

“I’ve got to go.”

“It was great hearing your voice, Miranda.”

“Yes. I’m sure it was, cub.”

***

Clearly, there was no stopping it. With Nigel in another time zone and country, she didn’t have her usual sounding board and there was no one else she trusted except, perhaps, Anna of all people. Dear god, she really must be out of her mind if she was contemplating talking to Nuclear Wintour. No matter who she talked to Miranda knew she already made up her mind, had since the moment saw Andrea at Runway on a Saturday with Fen and Doug. She ignored it, of course. Fat lot of good it did her, too.

Bleeding hell, she just took a selfie, albeit not of her face. Precious few would be able to identify the bra-encased assets but that wouldn’t matter if someone got a hold of it to leak it to the press. Hurriedly she sent a text telling Andrea to delete it. Two minutes later, her phone lit up with a Skype notification.

She jumped into bed, arranged the covers then accepted the call. They were in their respective beds. Away from one another, thousands of miles apart, but, god, it felt intimate.

“Good morning.” Miranda greeted softly. “You’re up early.”

Andrea had her phone propped against something as she laid on her side with her head on a pillow and the sheet bunched across her chest. Shoulders bare, it was obvious she was at least shirtless underneath, perhaps completely nude and Miranda grew lightheaded.

“And you’re up a little late. How was your day?”

“I got to fire Lawrence.” she answered, trying not to sound so gleeful.

“Yes, Vivian was freaking out. I think she’s more afraid of what you’ll say when she gets back than the fact she’s short a team member.”

Miranda sniffed.

“As much as I admire the picture you sent, and, hopefully this morning before I get up I will get a chance to thoroughlyenjoy looking at it, nothing beats seeing you now.”

The compliment, uttered in confessional sincerity, incited Miranda’s heart to gallop. Andrea looked mussed, her natural beauty soft and warm in the dim lighting.

“This, between us, for so many reasons, should wait.”

Andrea reached over, forgetting the sheet, picked up the phone and rolled onto her back. Quickly she found the edge of the sheet and pulled it up higher but the damage was done. Miranda’s brain simply would not stop replaying the glimpse of smooth skin and rosy nipples.

“How long?”

“Don’t ask me that right now, not after that...display. I have them, too. Breasts. I’ve seen lots of them, but, yours...oh, god, I’m babbling.” Horrified, Miranda covered her eyes, shaking her head. “This is ridiculous.”

Andrea chuckled.

The sound coaxed Miranda from her embarrassment but she scowled anyway until Andrea sucked in her bottom lip then released it, the tip of her tongue running along its edge in a blatant invitation.

“Babbling Miranda is cute but pissed off Miranda, well, I hope she makes an appearance in the bedroom. You’re not making this easy.”

“How about hard?” Miranda asked hoarsely. “Would you like it harder?”

 Briefly Andrea closed her eyes. When she opened them, they hid nothing. “And any way else you think up.”

Breathing through her nose, Miranda stared into the phone. “It’s going to take almost a year for the divorce to go through. I’m not going to be able to wait that long.”

“Oh, thank god.” Andrea’s brow wrinkled. “So, we...?”

“The girls are going to visit their father the Friday after you get back. They’ll be gone the weekend. Perhaps you could come to the townhouse?”

***

The remainder of the day Miranda’s nerves were ice-cold settled. She managed to leave the office in time to greet the children when Roy dropped them off from school.

“Cara, why don’t you go home early?”

“Don’t gotta tell me twice.” she responded as she finished folding the foil around the salmon. “Just put this in the oven at three-seventy-five for about fifteen to twenty minutes. I’ve prepped some fresh veggies so all you have to do is steam them.”

“I’ve cooked dinner before, you know.” Miranda dryly reminded.

Cara closed the refrigerator door. “Yes, that’s why I bought some fish sticks. They’re in the freezer.”

Miranda rolled her eyes. “One time I burned...”

“Mom, tone.” Caroline admonished, blue eyes alight with diabolical delight. “It’s okay. Just work on it.”

Cara quasi-coughed as she quickly turned around and acted busy.

Not as quick, Miranda laughed. Hoisting her daughter into the air, she teased, “Oh, my tiny terror, what’re you gonna do now?”

Caroline squealed which summoned Cassidy posthaste who started laughing and buzzing around the kitchen like a demented Tinkerbell.

“Color me gone.” Cara mock-groused, playfully swatting back Cassidy’s attempts to climb her.

Miranda twirled her daughter one last time then set her down as she said, “Let me call Roy. He shouldn’t be too far away.”

“I don’t feel bad about it either. I hate the subway. Besides, your car has heated seats.”

While the girls ambushed Cara, Miranda went into the hallway and made the call. Vivian had left a message, Nigel sent a text, and Vanessa confirmed lunch with her second ex-husband for the next day. Stephen wanted to talk about his sobriety which Miranda didn’t give a shit about but far be it for her to send him off the deep end again. For reasons that no longer held her, he couldn’t or wouldn’t let go of their brief marriage. The girls hadn’t seen or spoken to him since the divorce was final two years ago.

Through the grapevine of mutual acquaintances and business associates that couldn’t wait to pass along what they ‘heard’, Miranda learned he made a very public scene at an exclusive restaurant when the maître de called him Mr. Priestly. It was the day after he faxed her divorce papers in Paris. The stories more or less followed the same vein throughout the next year, escalating to the point Stephen, and by association Miranda, were featured on Page Six nearly every week. The girls went to therapy and she went to work and started cooking at home again.

Evidently Stephen grew tired of being gossip fodder because he disappeared from public view although, one of his colleagues at the investment firm laughingly told Miranda ‘It was either rehab or the unemployment line. The poor bastard.”  She didn’t have any feelings about it which probably should concern someone who paid attention to such things. After three years with the man, Miranda had let him go without a backward glance. The first year had been fine. The second less so, and the last, well, it had been horrible, filled with his drunken scenes and her callous rejections.

She harbored no wish to revisit nor reminisce and was of half a mind to cancel. It wasn’t an option. He needed to do something, a step or other, for a program he was in which was crucial for his sobriety. It’s not as if she drove the man to drink. At least not intentionally. Lord knows she couldn’t keep him from drinking while they were together. It was beyond her how anyone expected she could help him do so now.

***

“I’m about to fall into bed but I wanted to let you know Alexis Mabille’s show had so much plaid I started looking around for the Brawny man.”

“You’ve always gravitated toward beard covered lumberjacks.”

“I do like them hairy.”

Miranda rolled her eyes. “I find that a bit scary.”

“And they think I’m the fairy.”

“I’ve missed you.”

Nigel yawned. “It’s not like you to be so sentimental. Tell Uncle Nigel what’s wrong.”

“No, I don’t think I will.”

“Oooh, now you must tell me. I heard you fired someone. That usually makes you happy for a day or so. Tell me. Tell me. Tell me.”

“Now you’ve gone and built it all up and it’s really rather inconsequential.”

“Then it won’t be hard to share.”

Miranda, on the cusp of diverting the topic with rhyming banter, hesitated. “I’m not asking for your approval, Nigel, nor do I care about your opinion.”

“Oh, my, I think I’m beginning to understand. The night of the charity ball you said you wanted to kiss Six.”

“I see you’ve finally caught up.” she said, her tone waspish.

Nigel made a noise. “I caught her staring at her phone and she had this look but I couldn’t place it until now.”

“Do tell. I’m on pins and needles.”

“Besotted, utterly besotted.”

His observation struck a warm and anxiety-filled note within her.

“Miranda, I’m going to point out the obvious because, dear god, it bears repeating. She is in the middle of a divorce, she has a toddler, and she works for you. If this isn’t love then you need to walk away.”

“Are you quite finished?” she asked with deadly softness.

“Before you try to fire me, allow me to remind you I have a contr...”

“No, no, no, I think you’ve said enough. Just because we’re friends, don’t presume to tell me how to live my life. The only reason there isn’t a dial tone in your ear is because, despite how inept you truly are, you only said those things because you care about her and about me.”

“That’s true. I am...sorry, if I went too far, Miranda. But you must know, even you can’t weather a sexual harassment scandal. No one will care if it was consensual.”

Miranda whispered, “I may lose it all.”

“How does she feel? Do you know?”

“Neither one of us can stop it.”

Nigel muttered something then said, “Okay, both of you need beards. Men whom you date to keep gossip at bay. I know some closeted gay men who would absolutely adore escorting you two around town.”

“You’re joking.”

“I am not. I’ll set something up as soon as possible.”

“No.” Miranda protested, a bit alarmed, then she thought about it. “Just...not yet. Make some discreet inquiries. Christ, Nigel, I know I’m risking more than I’ve ever put on the line for anyone else. I know the consequences, the repercussions and rewards. The math doesn’t add up. I know all this and yet...”

“It’s okay. Even Miranda Priestly deserves la vida loca once.”

***

Cara was gone, the twins were in bed, and Miranda was off the phone. Andrea hadn’t contacted her which wasn’t surprising. They’d agreed on a time and place. Any further seductions verged on unnecessary cruelty. While getting ready for bed, she allowed her thoughts to wander. She sat in front of the mirror and massaged facial cream into her skin. The nighttime regime always gave Miranda a deep satisfaction. Perhaps it was the act of cleansing the day away or the strict adherence to a long time ritual. Finished with her face, Miranda opened another jar and began massaging lotion into her neck and bare shoulders. What would Andrea do if she were present? Would she watch or wait in the bed? Indulging herself, she imagined Andrea’s dark gaze staring at her mirror image, tracking Miranda’s hands across her skin. The economy of movement therefore lengthened, turning sensually slow.

Thoughts turning libidinous, her hands followed and cupped her breasts, all the while picturing dark brown eyes trained on her. Miranda’s own slid shut as her hands moved lower. She thought of the things she wanted to do to Andrea in bed, on the floor, in an alleyway, as strangers watched, on her hands and knees. The images shot through her brain and dictated what her hands did. The speed and heat of it drew forth soft gasps that punctuated the silence and spurred her on.

Within minutes, she came in a strangled moan, thighs slick and head thrown back. Slowly she opened her eyes then looked in the mirror. She rose from the chair and went to the sink then got her phone. Without thinking too hard about it, Miranda took a picture of her flushed face and dilatated eyes and sent it to Andrea with the text ‘thinking of you’.

***

She woke before the alarm which wasn’t unusual. Being relaxed and well rested, well, that  wasn’t something to be squandered. Miranda stretched her entire body, twisting a little from side to side, curling her toes then splaying them outward. She hugged a pillow as she turned on her side, sighing in a purely feminine way.

Nigel’s words floated back into her consciousness, bits and pieces settling, but she didn’t try to arrange them into coherent sentences. Last night had almost been better than a day at the spa which led her into thinking of ways it could have been better. Miranda groaned as she rolled onto her back, stretching one last time before she rose.

Before slipping into the shower, she reached for her phone to turn off the alarm. Upon seeing Andrea’s alert, a ribbon of heat curled in her lower abdomen. She opened the text.  It was a simple quote credited to Charles Bukowski:

“If something burns your soul with purpose and desire, it’s your duty to be reduced to ashes by it. Any other form of existence will be yet another dull book in the library of life.”

Chapter Text

The Tom Ford cashmere pencil skirt with a side slit was a new addition in her arsenal. Miranda paired it with a Salvatore Ferragamo heritage print silk shirt and a wonderful pair of Jimmy Choo suede pumps. A pity it was being wasted on a fashion-blind ex-husband. Still, the attention she commanded while walking through the dining area didn’t hurt. Stephen stood as the maître de pulled out her chair.

“You look beautiful.” he said and didn’t retake his seat until she draped a linen napkin across her lap.

“Mmm, you’ve lost a bit of weight. That Hugo Boss looks loose on you.”

He smiled, revealing laser-white teeth that looked ghostly against his tanned skin. “You always knew what looks best on me.”

“It is my job.” she replied absently, looking around for the waiter. “I don’t have long, Stephen.”

“I’ve forgotten how you like to get to the point.”

“I’d like the cucumber and lime infused water.” she told the waiter who then looked at Stephen.

“Iced tea, thanks.”

Crossing her legs at the knees, Miranda leaned back in the chair as she clasped her hands in her lap. “What’s this about, Stephen?”

His pinched expression proved, at least where she was concerned, he hadn’t developed thicker skin.

“This isn’t easy, you know. It wouldn’t kill you to look a little happy to see me.”

Miranda’s eyebrows inched upward. “Would you prefer I fake it like I used to?”

“Christ, Miranda, can’t you be civil for once?”

“You do realize it’s no longer my job to make you feel good about yourself?”

The muscle in his jaw flexed several times before he responded.

“I do.” He took a deep breath but whatever he intended to say stayed in his throat when the waiter arrived.

Miranda enjoyed the interruption despite the way the waiter enthused over a memorized description of specials and popular dishes and ‘inspired’ alternatives. With each second the waiter took up, the vein in Stephen’s temple grew. There was a part of her, of course, that didn’t dislike seeing her ex-husband out of sorts.

Once they ordered, Stephen rearranged his napkin then adjusted his tie.

“I’m in a twelve-step program and I want to make amends...to you.”

Miranda sipped her water. Of all the programs available to someone with his resources, she was a bit surprised he went to Alcoholics Anonymous. People in their income bracket usually went to Betty Ford. Perhaps Stephen was serious. Either way, however, Miranda really didn’t care. She didn’t hate him. That would require feelings she no longer possessed.

“Well, then, say you’re sorry and be done with it, I suppose.”

“I was...I acted so badly the last months of our marriage.”

“The last year, you mean, not that I kept track really. I merely want to be accurate.”

Stephen’s mouth dropped open. His eyebrows, immaculate and in all likelihood threaded by a salon employee, lowered in the bullish way he often displayed in the past.

“Do calm down. I’m not in the mood to sit through one of your public tantrums.”

“It’s like you have ice in your veins.”

The old jab lost its potency which surprised her somewhat. All the hateful things he flung at her, often while drunk but sober, too, toward the end, rushed back into her head. He’d been relentlessly demeaning as he attacked every insecurity he found. From her age to her performance in the bedroom, from her over developed work ethic to her familial neglect, Stephen worked hard to tear her down and he almost accomplished it.

“It’s blood, Stephen, ordinary blood like everyone else on the planet. You always wanted something from me that I couldn’t give you although I tried. I really tried.” Miranda gathered the napkin from her lap and stood, tossing it on the table. “We’re not married and I don’t have to try anymore. Earn your self-respect by the choices you make and not by trying to make someone else feel less of a person.”

She left with her head held high as usual although touched by a peculiar sadness. On paper, Stephen had seemed so right. The first marriage, Miranda chose a whirlwind romance, complete with trumpets and doves and rose petals. It ended with twins and infidelity. The second one, she picked with her head, creating a spreadsheet to tally the pros and cons. It ended in bitterness and alcoholism.

Perhaps she wasn’t made for marriage. The thought spurred another and another until Miranda’s mind was filled with Andrea. What would she be like to come home to? When she turned the question over, toying with various outcomes, Miranda suddenly stopped. Marry a woman? After two divorces she was daydreaming about a marriage to Andrea Sachs? What part of ‘not made for marriage’ transitioned into a gay union?

Miranda curtly told Roy over the phone to come and get her immediately. As luck would have it, he was only six minutes away. Despite the chill, she didn’t pace to keep warm. Instead, she stood near the curb of the sidewalk, next to a ‘No Parking’ sign while half of Manhattan walked by. It was one-fifteen in the afternoon which meant Andrea most likely finishing up at the Valentino show.

“I was just thinking about you. It’s like lunchtime there, right? Let me guess...medium rare fillet from Smith and Wollensky’s?”

“Try the wedge salad from Abocca’s with ex-husband.”

“Number one or two?”

“Two.” she replied dryly, leaning forward to watch for Roy in the oncoming traffic. “So, how was Vargineau?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Andrea teased. “Let’s just say I’m going to get whatever I want from you.”

“You’re joking. No one in the last five years has been able to...”

“Until me, Priestly.” Andrea laughed in the throaty way she had. “So, how’d it go with Stephen?”

“He wanted to make amends for his twelve-step program.”

“And did he?”

“I have no idea. I left before my salad arrived and now I’m famished.”

“I know you can take care of yourself but...are you okay?”

Miranda stopped looking for the sedan. “Yes. And thank you for asking because I don’t get asked that question very often.”

“I wish I was standing in front of you right now.”

“Mmm, and why is that?”

Andrea breathed into the phone, the sound brushing along the tiny hairs of Miranda’s skin. “Because I care about you.”

The admission dipped beneath Miranda’s defenses. There was only one reply she could make.

“Then, this is more, isn’t it? You and I?”

“Yes. My answer is yes, Miranda, because I’m not about to risk my career on a...on a fling. So help me god, if you don’t feel the same way, I will kill...”

“Of course I feel the same way, Andrea. I’m not in the habit of allowing people to undress me at work, taking intimate selfies, or confessing feelings over the phone.”

“Okay, I just need to tell you that...what you just said...turned me on and all I can think about right now is how much I want to kiss you. While I’m at it, you should also know that I am going to touch myself, repeatedly, and think about you.”

“Jesus Christ, Andrea, are you trying to kill me?”

Andrea hummed, “Mmm, no. You have so much to do to me before that happens.”

“If it’s the last thing I do in this world, Andrea, I will erase the memory of anyone who has ever touched you before me.”

“I’m on my way to meet Nigel and his new coworkers for drinks.” Andrea whispered. “I want you to make me come by your words alone, Miranda. You have ten minutes. Go.”

Miranda achieved it in nine.

  •  

Back at Runway, she strolled into the bullpen, hips undulating in that fuck-me-if-you-dare type of way women adopted when they felt powerful. Miranda weaved through the throng of bodies, never missing a step, never hesitating. At the top of her game, she flung her coat onto the second assistant’s desk and entered her office. Vanessa swiftly arrived after her, notepad in hand, and began to recite the list of things that needed to be done.

“Reschedule Vera for next week, push back Meisel to next Tuesday, I want ten skirts from Calvin Klein, and get Donatella on the phone. That’s all.”

Naturally Donatella kept her on the phone over thirty minutes for a five minute conversation. Yet, it was entertaining, especially when she relayed a little snippet of gossip about Jacqueline Follet being bitch-slapped by a Russian ambassador’s wife on camera.

“Vanessa, get me a copy of ‘Design Divas’. I want the episode everyone’s talking about.”

“Of course.”

After two-thirty Miranda looked up from her desk to see the Cerulean girl hovering with a coffee in her hand. She scanned the assistant’s attire and, unimpressed, resumed working.

“I’ve got your coffee.”

Miranda heard Vanessa hiss something at the girl that made her take a step into the office.

“Perhaps you’re waiting for it to sprout wings and magically transport to my desk, hm?”

The girl jerked then winced as hot coffee spilled onto her hand.

“Vanessa.”

The first assistant must have been lurking around the door because she was in the office by the time Miranda uttered the last syllable of her name.

“Yes, Miranda.”

The Cerulean girl carefully set the coffee on the edge of her desk.

“Make sure she didn’t hurt something then go get my coffee since, evidently, it’s beyond her capabilities.”

“Well, you haven’t lost your touch.” Adele sniped as she swept into the room. “Vanessa looks pissed.”

“She hired the girl and is responsible for her training. I don’t see why her incompetence should be inflicted upon me.”

“Touché, Priestly. You’re in fine form today. Did you pay a pizza delivery to run over Anna?”

Miranda finished making a notation on a Post-it, peeled it from the pack then affixed it to a page in the magazine. “Of course not. She and that little rag she spits out like junk mail are an endless source of amusement for me.”

Adele laughed as she seated herself on the chair across from the editor. “There’s a rumor going around that Bee’s involved with a Saudi entrepreneur. I suspect Anna is calling out the dogs as we speak.”

Grinning, she supplied, “Well, if you tell I’ll deny it, but I started that one several weeks ago. I’m surprised you’re only now hearing it. More than likely she’s found out it was me and is plotting her revenge. I smile every time I think of the money she probably spent on an investigator.”

“She’s probably waiting until the twins reach the dating age.”

“I’ve forbade them.”

Adele sniggered then blandly continued, “I wonder if the Rockstar ex-husband agrees. Not a conventional fellow, is he?”

“He knows I will neuter him with dull scissors if he exposes them to that lifestyle.”

“Aren’t you full of piss and vinegar.”

Miranda glowered. “Rather vulgar coming from you.”

“Be that as it may, I’ve come to invite you to a little...get together for a select few at my home on February seventh. Drinks start at six.”

Miranda stared at Adele. “It’s too early.”

Waving her off, the CEO stood. “Six is fashionable. Besides, you have children to tuck in.”

“You know that’s not what I meant, Adele. This is a marathon and not a sprint. You agreed to a year.”

Adele looked down at her shoes and smiled. “My feet look fabulous in these, don’t they?”

“I have no idea.”

“Come now, don’t be sullen.”

“Then don’t be an ass.”

Eyebrows arched, Adele replied, “Rather vulgar coming from you.”

Miranda huffed and tried not to smile. “Fine. We’ll lay some groundwork.”

Two minutes after Adele walked out, Vanessa said, “Miranda, there’s a Chantel from the EC daycare on line two. Should I...”

“I’ll take it.”

“Miranda, hello, it’s Chantel. I’m calling to tell you Mrs. Sachs is withdrawing her daughter effective on Monday. There’s a WL for other Elias-Clarke parents so I’d like...”

“Why are you telling me this, Chantel?”

“I just wanted to inform you as a curtesy, Miranda, since you were the one to insist we find a spot for her.”

Leaning back in her chair, Miranda toyed with a pen as she replied, “Since I’m the one who started your little employee daycare and paid for the start-up costs out of my own pocket, whenever I want a spot or two in that daycare, it shall be mine, Chantel.”

“Yes, Miranda.”

“Don’t make me feed you to one of the models.”

“Yes, Miranda. I, uhm, apologize.”

  •  

The meeting dragged on while Miranda doodled on a page of her notebook. She didn’t try to hide it, either, but then, only someone with a death wish would call her on it. Joselyn brayed on and on about some nonsense until Miranda looked up, dropped her pen and surveyed the room.

“Next time I suggest you let me know when any original ideas come to mind so I don’t waste my time. Does anyone want to do their job?”

“It’s accessories, Miranda. Besides re-naming the color wheel, it’s still just purses, belts and jewelry.”

Everyone but the suicidal beatnik-inspired dresser kept their eyes down. Miranda leveled her gaze at her, not knowing her name and not really caring.

“What’s your name?”

The women had the audacity to roll her eyes. Miranda smiled, infusing as much venom in it as possible.

“Fillus Dott.”

“Phyllis Dott?”

“It’s spelled F-i-l-l-u-s but, yes, that’s my name.”

“Lovely. And who hired you. Fillus-with-an-‘F’-Dott?”

Finally the woman looked uncomfortable, eyes darting toward the Accessory Editor. Miranda made a show of closing her notebook.

“Joselyn, please do the honors.”

“N-n-now?”

Unconcerned, Miranda asked, “Does location matter?” No one met her gaze.

“Fillus, you’re, uh...”

“Perhaps you’d like me do to it for you?”

Joselyn’s features relaxed with relief until she considered the source then her eyes grew round. She looked at her underling and said, “Fillus, you’re fired.”

“I just started last week!” she snapped, pushing back her chair in outrage. “If this is how you treat your workers, no wonder everyone wants to work for Vogue.”

Miranda half-smiled then walked out, calling over her shoulder, “Call security.”

Fillus’ cursing death wishes were music to her ears.

Emily joined her in step as they walked down the hallway.

“Who is that miserable bleating cow?”

“Fillus Dott.”

Emily frowned then glared at an oncoming clacker who ducked into an opened door just as they passed. “Is she Swedish?”

“I’ve no idea but she does spell it with an ‘F’. She took the time during the accessories meeting to spell it for me.”

“Went a bit barmy, didn’t she?”

Miranda strolled into her office without answering.

  •  

Five o’clock arrived. Miranda checked her phone and was surprised she missed a text from Andrea. It was eleven o’clock in Paris but Andrea was leaving tomorrow morning on a plane that would arrive around one o’clock in the afternoon. She called Roy and swept out of the office, curling her lip at the Cerulean girl who recoiled like a soft noodle being attacked by chopsticks. She delivered the Book, which really wasn’t, adequately enough. Small victories, she supposed.

Roy tipped his hat as he held open the door, waiting for her to gracefully enter the town car. Without much thought, she told him to put the privacy window up then called Andrea, hoping she was still awake.

“This is a spectacular trip but I’m glad I’m coming home.” Andrea breathed into the phone.

“How is my darling Fen?”

Andrea replied, “She’s been fussy all day but I’m glad Demetria had to deal with it instead of me and I don’t care if that makes me a bad mother.”

“Demetria?”

“Don’t play coy, Priestly. The jig is up. Nigel ratted you out which wasn’t that hard for me to figure out on my own but it’s nice to have confirmation.”

“Mmm.”

“Hold on, someone who is supposed to be asleep just climb into my lap and wants to say hello.”

“M, I was good.”

“I’m going to ask your mother about that.”

C’est bien.”

Miranda cooed, “Oh, you are such a smart girl, aren’t you? Comment allez-vous?

Bien et toi?

“Excellent. Would you like to learn more French words?”

Oui, s’il vous plait”

“I love you, mon chou.”

“I lubbie you, too, M. What’s...man chew?”

Biting her lip, Miranda stayed the laughter bubbling up. “Mon chou, it means  my sweetie.”

“Mummer’s says sleepy time. Night, M!” she sighed then made lackadaisical kissing sounds.

“I like that you’ve connected with Fen, Miranda.”

Miranda looked out the window but only saw her reflection. “I do, too.”

“She’s drooling on my chest.”

“Oh, I know the feeling.”

“Do you now?” Andrea teased then quieted. After a few seconds, she said, “I’ll be back soon. In the same city with you and I can’t help but worry you’ll pull back or decide you don’t want to...”

“None of that. We take the steps, no skipping over, no faltering, Andrea. We take the steps.”

“Okay. We take the steps.”

“We didn’t get to talk about...nine minutes. My accomplishment.”

Andrea laughed. “Oh, look who’s full of themselves but it’s well deserved and I have no complaints. The cabbie, though, well, I did try to be quiet but...you are very good at...talking, Miranda Priestly.”

“Andrea, it’s been a while...since I’ve been with a woman.”

“Outside of a few fumbling experiences in college, I haven’t either. So, we both...” Andrea sighed. “...should be very vocal with our likes and dislikes.”

Miranda chuckled low in her throat. “Is that your way of telling me you’re a moaner?”

“I don’t limit myself.” she shot back. “But I think you’re going to test even that and I really look forward to it.”

“Yes, let’s do that.” she hummed wickedly.

“I can’t wait. And on that note...” Andrea vented a breath. “I should put Fen to bed and go myself.”

“Sleep well, Andrea. I’ll see you soon.”

Just as she hung up, Nuclear called.

“My CEO asked if I paid a pizza delivery to run you over.”

Anna scoffed. “I don’t eat...”

“Oh, you do, and it’s cheese burst. And I know you don’t play tennis every morning, either.”

“Good god, won’t you just shut up. You’re like a little tattling girl. Try to be serious for one minute. I have news.”

“Does it relate to me?”

“Yes.” Anna laughed. “Why, everything’s about you, darling.” Her tone dripped with sarcasm.

Miranda groaned. “Very well.”

“Stephen is pedaling a tell-all column about his ridiculously brief marriage to you.”

“You’re going to pick it up?”

“What? Are you high? You know we don’t publish that rubbish.” Anna made a noise. “I thought about it for a second, darling. Can you imagine the circulation numbers? But you know I love you like my favorite pet pig.”

“You don’t have any pets, Anna.”

“If I did.”

“Fine. Who’s thinking of taking it?”

“Page Six even though it’s more about pictures and innuendos. God knows, they’ll print anything, but...People is considering it.”

“Who do we know...”

“I’ve made the call, darling. Vincent Larame is the editor. I expect a call back soon. I expect he will agree without too much persuasion. Call your contacts and I’ll do the same. Hopefully, between the both us, we’ll squash this.”

Miranda huffed, entirely put out. “Oh, now you expect me to be grateful, don’t you?”

“That would be out of character for you.”

“Thank you, Anna.”

“God damnit. We don’t do ‘nice’, Miranda Priestly. I’m merely returning the favor. I know you called in a marker or two when Bee went a bit...crazy in her first year of college.”

“She’s an exceptional young woman with a cross-to-bear of a mother. I couldn’t allow those pictures to be published.”

“I know.” Anna said softly then hung up.

Miranda leaned back in the seat and closed her eyes even though the town car was coming to a stop.

Chapter Text

Jesus but she was tempted to pop into work just to see Miranda but Fen needed to decompress from the long flight and a fitful sleep. Demetria needed some downtime, although she hadn’t asked for it. There was unpacking, sorting out the various souvenirs and presents, and laundry. It was probably a good thing that they weren’t going to see each other immediately. Miranda needed to be with her children before they departed Friday from Dalton but Andrea was determined to be at Runway on Friday if only for a half-day. Before trying to sleep with Miranda, she needed a transition from the virtual world they created during their separation to the reality of being within reach of one another.

Nate called and she spent about forty minutes reassuring him their daughter was fine. The cynical part of her brain pulsed with red warnings, working behind the scenes to uncover the reason for his anxiety. It made her a little leery. As her thoughts focused on him, it suddenly occurred to her Nate’s behavior could make things extremely difficult for Andrea. The biggest question was what would he do if he found out about Miranda? For one thing, his ego wouldn’t be able to take the fact she preferred a woman over him. Would he fight for custody of Fen? Andrea’s blood chilled. Fen was hers and she wasn’t about to hand her over to anyone.

She really had no business developing feelings for Miranda Priestly. In her defense, Andrea hadn’t seen it coming. There was flirting, then acknowledgement, and more flirting, then a tsunami wave of lust dragging her under. Nothing comparable had happened to her and she was left floundering a little bit, trying to find her legs while submerged under water. Yet, Andrea wasn’t easily overwhelmed. She wanted Miranda and she was going to go for it. Fen loved Miranda and that fact wasn’t to something to be dismissed. They would just have to be careful, right? With Nate in Boston, it made things a little easier.

So, yeah, she wanted the woman, desired her in a reckless and almost sinister way but Andrea had never felt so alive, so strong...so destined to be with another person. Invigorated and hopeful, she looked at the future ready to eat it. Whether the road to hell or heaven, Andrea was damn well going to travel it. Her marriage headed for divorce, her child was adjusting to living with only one parent, and she was captivated by another woman. To her way of thinking, everything was coming together.

Hopefully Miranda thought the same way. If she didn’t, Andrea had to find a way to convince her. Running in her veins and taking over her bloodstream, her desire for Miranda swept away the concerns, the valid reasons to not pursue a relationship. It could crash and burn, end in a heap of  disaster. Or, it could create an unimaginable happiness. For Fen, too. Go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.

Now she wanted to talk, to share, to explore, but Miranda was at work, probably buried underneath a mountain of responsibilities.

A call wasn’t going to decide the outcome one way or another.

“Maybe it’s pathetic, but, I really want to see you.”

Miranda said, “Meet me outside Elias-Clarke at...four. Roy will be waiting.” She hung up.

Andrea grinned. Having a nanny was awesome.

  •  

She took a shower and dressed carefully, balancing between sexy and sophisticated. Andrea had every intention of kissing Miranda because after a week of exquisite torture, she had to know. Maybe if she lagged behind a bit it would unfold more exquisitely but Andrea couldn’t concentrate long enough on seduction. No, it was a basic need to connect their lips, fall into whatever feeling that caught fire.

Arriving ten minutes till, she spotted the idling town car and stood in view of the front windshield. When Roy looked up, she waved and he smoothly exited the car.

“Miss Sachs?” he asked, although they had seen each other in passing a few times but she never had been a passenger before now.

“Hi. You must be the famous Roy Miranda talks so much about. Nice to meet you.” She held out her hand.

He masked his surprise quickly and took her hand then said, “Miranda told me you’re to wait in the car. She should be down shortly.”

Holding the door open, Roy waited as she ducked inside and scooted across the warm leather before closing it.

Andrea shrugged out of the long trench then draped it across her lap. The first thing she wanted Miranda to see was her crossed legs and the leather laced-up combat boots with crystal and pearl detailing by Jimmy Choo. The Joseph suede skinny trousers left little to the imagination and the buckskin color offered just the exact contrast she desired. Finishing off the look with a sleeveless Givenchy asymmetrical top in black that disallowed a bra, which after all was the reason she chose it. The one strap was trimmed with a wide-link pewter chain that matched her earrings. Stretched across her upper body, the shirt’s material was a second skin. She decided on a high, slicked back ponytail that accentuated her neck and shoulders, leaving plenty of skin available should Miranda wish to partake. God, she wanted Miranda to partake. Maybe her ensemble would entice Miranda into giving her a preview of what was to come.

“Here she comes.” Roy announced as he got out of the car.

Andrea took several deep breaths. She refused to look out the window, not wanting to be struck dumb before she had a chance at a little seduction.

Miranda gracefully folded herself into the car. She perched on the seat, facing Andrea, and took off her glasses. The rush of cold air swirled around Andrea. Her nipples hardened and she straightened her spine, slightly turning so Miranda couldn’t miss it.

“You look...perfect.”

Andrea moved the coat from her lap. “Thank you.”

Roy entered the car. His eyes looked into the rearview mirror.

“Roy, we have reservations at Harold’s.”

He nodded then the privacy window went up.

Andrea moved closer to Miranda. “Don’t stop me.”

“I won’t.”

Miranda’s eyes didn’t leave Andrea’s face but Andrea was on a mission and reached over to efficiently undo Miranda’s coat buttons and belt then splayed the flaps wide. Miranda’s chest rose sharply, calling Andrea’s attention to her cleavage. She looked up at Miranda’s face, noticed the pulse in her neck and her half-lowered eyelids.

Andrea moved in as her fingertips touched the warmth of Miranda’s neck, sliding upward into satiny hair. Their lips touched, slightly parted and when she felt the tip of Miranda’s tongue, Andrea’s eyes drifted closed. Instantly lost, Andrea let out a soft, short moan, straining to get closer. Not nearly enough, she slanted her head and sucked Miranda’s tongue into her mouth.

“So worth the wait.” she whispered against Miranda’s chin before lightly nipping it before taking possession of her mouth again.

Miranda turned her body and urged Andrea onto her lap. Straddling her, Andrea ground downward as she pushed Miranda back against the seat, fingernails scratching the back of Miranda’s head. Groaning, Miranda’s hands cupped her ass, fingers sliding inward. She broke off their kiss then latched onto Andrea’s neck, teeth scraping.

“Oh, yes.” Andrea whispered and pulled back, staring into piercing blue eyes. “Come on. Come out and play.”

Miranda’s gaze sharpened and she raked Andrea’s ass with her nails. “Don’t start something you can’t finish, Andrea.”

Half-delirious, not in control and ready to give it all to Miranda, however she wanted it, Andrea rocked back and forth, rubbing herself against Miranda’s legs. Thoughts of an audience, of quick and dirty only stoked the flames higher. She pushed aside Miranda’s collar and sucked on the skin above her clavicle.

“Andrea, baby, listen to me...” Miranda muttered as she held Andrea’s head between her hands. “...we need to stop. I don’t want to but we have to.”

Frowning, it was incomprehensible to her that Miranda’s mouth wasn’t on her. She replayed her words silently then, red-faced, scrambled off Miranda’s lap.

“I am so embar...”

“No.” Miranda quickly stopped Andrea’s train of thought. “Don’t ever be embarrassed about wanting me. I hadn’t expected it to be so...intense.” Her chest heaved as she tried to get her breath. “But we’re here and I have to be home for the girls later...”

“I know and I understand, okay?”

Miranda visibly trembled as her gaze dropped down to Andrea’s chest. The driver’s side door opened. Her eyes flicked upward and met a dark brown stare.

“You make me crazy.”

Andrea exhaled and nodded. “It’s mutual.”

Roy rapped his knuckles on the window, waited a few seconds, then opened the door. Miranda took his hand and smoothly exited the vehicle. Andrea moved across the bench seat and gladly accepted Roy’s assistance. Miranda made a move as if to hold her hand but slipped on her glasses instead and walked ahead. Andrea, realizing the very public space they occupied, followed Miranda’s lead, slipping on her coat and walking into the restaurant.

They were seated immediately in a small, softly lit alcove. Andrea’s heartbeat returned to near normal but her pants stuck to her, a constant reminder her body wasn’t anywhere near to be satisfied. Dinner held little inducement but Andrea gamely looked over the menu.

“Have you been here before?” Miranda asked, eyes scanning her own menu.

“No, but I’m having trouble picking an entrée. They all sound so good.”

Miranda set aside the menu. “Order whatever you want. I’ve had their pheasant in mushroom and wine sauce. It’ll melt in your mouth.”

Andrea glanced up and bit her lip at Miranda’s expression. Crazy thoughts zinged and pinged in her head. She squirmed in her seat. When did she become this woman who was so enthralled, the idea of being fucked on top of a restaurant table with an audience was a god damn turn on? In actuality, she thought it would be horrifying but, then, with Miranda sinking into her gaze, Andrea worried her will power wouldn’t hold out.

“What are you thinking?” Miranda asked.

“That I’m so turned on I’d let you fuck me on this table if you wanted.”

Miranda’s blue eyes darkened as she clenched the cloth napkin and looked away. “We need to...Andrea, please...”

“I know but you asked.” Andrea took a deep breath. “Fen learned an old French nursery rhyme and can’t wait to sing it to you.”

Miranda’s delighted smile sidetracked Andrea from her obscene thoughts.

“She has a quick mind, Andrea. I can’t believe she knows so many French words already. I told her I’d teach her more.” A look of insecurity crossed her features. “If that’s okay with you?”

“Miranda, of course it is. You’re a great influence on my daughter.”

“That’s...Andrea, I don’t know what to say.”

Andrea glanced at the menu then set it down. “Thank you usually works.”

Lips lifting in a smile, Miranda said, “Thank you.”

The waiter took their order then receded like the tide just as another one took his place to take down their wine selection. Miranda ordered a bottle of Rose and Arrow Estate Hopewell Hills Pinot Noir with a snack plate of crackers, goat cheese, pear and salami.

Andrea folded her arms and placed them on the table. Leaning forward, she knew the move showcased her breasts and was pleased to notice Miranda’s unblinking look.

“You’re not wearing a bra.” Miranda mumbled.

“Easy access.” she teased, happy to see the semi-leer on Miranda’s face.

“Have you thought of putting Fen in a charter school?”

Andrea scoffed, “She’s just turned four.” When Miranda’s serious expression remained unchanged, Andrea asked, “I mean, isn’t it a little too early?”

Miranda replied, “She has an aptitude for languages.”

“Okay, but let’s see how she does under your tutelage? Or would you rather not...”

“No, Andrea, I want to share this with her. The girls know how to mangle their way through French but neither shows the ability Fen does. Can I see where it goes?”

Andrea smiled then toyed with the delicate necklace resting just north of her clavicles. “Of course.”

“Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Because you care my daughter and that, well, endears you to me, Miranda. We’re lucky to have you in our lives, you know.”

“I want to kiss you.”

Andrea’s breath caught in her throat then left in a rush. “You are evil, you know that?”

Miranda’s laughter was a mixture of disbelief and goading. “You have no idea.”

Andrea glared and picked up a fork. “Keep it up and we’ll be splashed on Page Six tomorrow.”

The waiter arrived and placed a narrow appetizer tray on the table. Another server appeared with the bottle of wine. Andrea eyed the bottle, intent upon slugging it back like a shot but knowing she wouldn’t.

“That would be unfortunate.” Miranda murmured then nodded to the wine steward who opened the bottle with aplomb.

Once the wine was poured and the sommelier departed, Andrea lifted her glass. “To the future.”

Miranda clinked her glass with Andrea’s.

  •  

Dinner went rather well, punctuated with work updates and funny observations. Andrea answered every question, never holding back, surprised Miranda hesitantly returned the favor. The ‘all or nothing’ undercurrents between them scared the shit out of Andrea but she also thrived on it.

“Did you like the pheasant? You didn’t finish it.”

“You know why I didn’t.”

Miranda smiled. “I do. Perhaps tonight once you’re in your own home you’ll finish it.”

Andrea looked askance at Miranda then unveiled a slow, knowing smile. “I wish you would finish me. Wherever you want. Just say the word.”

Looking away, Miranda uttered a soft expletive and whispered, “Anna Wintour’s on her way over.”

“Shit.”

Miranda adopted a bored air as she scrunched up the linen napkin and placed it on the cleared tabletop.

“Well, if it isn’t my wayward assistant and the devil in Prada.”

Scanning Anna from head to toe, Miranda tsked, “Good lord, the flying monkeys aren’t far behind, are they? I’ve never noticed until now how much you look like your little minions.”

On cue the music in The Wizard of Oz when the monkeys took flight played in her head forcing Andrea bite the inside of her cheek.

“Hello, Anna. For the sake of accuracy, I haven’t been your assistant for a decade.” she lightly rebuked.

Anna’s smile remained plastered on. Shrugging, Anna sighed, “It seems like yesterday actually.”

Andrea watched the editors’ interchange, their casual insults witty but devoid of rancor. They were friends. Andrea schooled her features away from expressing surprise. It was obvious that neither editor cared for the public to know they liked each other.

“I bumped into Parthenia Xenakis Sunday at brunch.”

Miranda’s lips twitched so quickly that Andrea wasn’t sure she saw it.

“How unfortunate for her.” When Anna remained silent as she slowly slid down her glasses just enough to show her eyes, Miranda murmured, “You look like you’ve gotten a little work done, dear. Was there a groupon?”

Anna’s eyebrow lifted then she pushed the glasses back on. “You told her Bee was seeing a Saudi entrepreneur who was in the market for ‘another wife to round out his stable’.”

“Parthenia does so enjoy an exaggeration.”

“That spun my wheels for weeks I’ll have you know, you cow.”

Leaning forward, unable to mask the devilish pleasure in her gaze, Miranda asked, “I’m dying to know, how much did you spend on a private investigator?”

Anna’s bland expression cracked as she muttered, “Oh, more than you paid for those designer breast implants I intend on telling Parthenia about. I daresay, that will travel the gossip circuit like lightning, darling.”

A squeak of laughter escaped Andrea. Both women leveled hard glares at her which only made it worse. Andrea covered her mouth with a napkin.

“You wouldn’t.”

“I would.”

Miranda flashed an evil grin. With a dismissive wave of her hand, she said, “Half of the industry already believes my breasts are fake. In any event, you’ll never catch mine dangling from my chest like shrunken heads.”

Anna snorted then abruptly walked away.

“I would never have thought...”

“Yes, well, it’s not common knowledge.”

Andrea tilted her head. “And why is that? Would it really matter if people found out you two were friends?”

Miranda propped her chin up as she put her elbow on the table. “We enjoy the insults and people’s reactions but we both have professional personas we’ve independently developed for important reasons, most related to business. These personas require a certain distance between us, at least in public. We don’t have a traditional friendship and I’m not alluding to the insults and childish pranks. We...protect one another by using our influence and contacts instead of having lunch on Wednesday or attending family functions.”

“It’s a shame, though. She’d be a riot at a family reunion.”

“That she would.” Miranda sat up in her chair then signaled for the check.

Andrea hesitated, then said, “I’ll flag a cab.”

“Why? Roy can drop you off.”

“It was sobering, your explanation.” Andrea whispered. “There’s too much at risk, for both of us, if this gets out. We came too close to having sex in the back of your town car, Miranda. I...”

“What are you trying to say?” she said coolly.

“I don’t...know.” Dazed by her own words, Andrea focused on the waiter presenting the bill.

Miranda handed him a credit card.

Andrea struggled into her coat. She was suddenly overwhelmed.

“I’m only going to say this exactly once.” Miranda said as the waiter departed. “I’m willing and able to be circumspect, to rearrange my schedule, and to curb my public perusals, whatever it takes, to continue seeing you in private until such a time we will be able to go public.”

“When will that be?” Andrea ground out. “After the divorce you’ll still be my boss.”

Miranda looked up as the waiter approached, handing her the receipt to sign.

Fingers shaking, Andrea fumbled buttoning up her coat. She stood at the same time as Miranda.

“Andrea.” she pleaded softly. “Trust me.”

“Don’t.” Andrea pushed out of her constricted throat. “I can’t bear it.”

Side by side, they walked out but not together. Andrea quickened her pace but Miranda caught up, gripping Andrea’s elbow.

“Get in the car.”

“Let me go.” Andrea hissed.

But Miranda refused to release her and all but shoved her toward the car. “We’re not done.”

Whatever response Andrea had simply vanished as Miranda directed her into the back of the town car and followed behind her.

“Where to, Miranda?” Roy asked, looking in the rearview.

“Andrea’s apartment.”

The near noiseless sound of the privacy window rising stirred Andrea’s dread and anger.

“You’ve got some nerve.”

Miranda shrugged. “Needs must.”

Andrea clamped down her jaw and stared out the window.

“When you’re done your childish pouting, we need to talk about this little display.”

The air in the car, thick with resentment, made it hard for Andrea to breathe. Things were spiraling out of her control.

When two more attempts by Miranda didn’t work, she grabbed the front of Andrea’s coat and dragged her across the seat.

“Don’t you dare ignore me.” Miranda muttered then she released her hold.

Andrea leaned forward, trembling, and spat, “Or what? You’ll fuck me in this car? Maybe you’ll wait until you’ve forced your way into my home? Take me on the floor in front of my child? Is that where this is going?”

Miranda’s face turned to stone and Andrea’s regret was immediate.

“No, I didn’t mean...you wouldn’t do that, Miranda.”

“Ah, now I see. You’re scared and striking out because you’ve lost a bit of control over your emotions.” Miranda coolly intoned. “You don’t suppose you’re much different than my ex-husbands in that regard.”

“No, just stop for a minute. This is...”

Miranda cut in, “A mistake.”

Chapter Text

 

Andrea exited the vehicle, looking back over her shoulder but Miranda stared forward, as cold and hard as marble.  She hurried up the steps but there wasn’t a reason. Roy pulled away the second he shut the driver’s door. Shoulders bowed, she used a keycard to enter the building. By the time she took the elevator up to her apartment floor, the trench was unbuttoned and the sash unbuckled and hanging from loops.

“Mummers!” Fen squawked from the living room floor.

She and Demetria were practicing the writing down the alphabet letters. They were up to ‘G’.

“Hello, sweetie. Did you eat?”

“I made her cheese quesadilla wedges.” Demetria volunteered.

Andrea accepted a hug and kiss from her daughter then stood. “I’m going to take a shower. We’ll watch a movie. Would you like that?”

With uncharacteristic disregard, she kicked off her boots and shucked her clothes, not bothering to pick them up from the floor. Her body started to shake when she turned on the water. Andrea clenched her teeth and swallowed back the nausea. Freeing her hair, she tossed the band on the counter and avoided the mirror. The silk tanga-cut underwear fluttered to the floor. She smothered the urge to fling them into the trash can.

Face turned into the hot spray, Andrea brushed back her hair but her head slumped forward and she braced herself against the tile. There wasn’t time to fall apart over something that never really began. The flash of memory, of her straddling on Miranda’s lap, offered a counter-argument, and Andrea shuddered. She bumped her forehead against the tile repeatedly as her skin turned pink.

The first time Nate cheated on her, she exploded with righteous anger, cried and felt sorry for herself then started surrounding her heart with a defensive wall. Until he cheated the second time, Andrea had no idea just how successful she’d been. Lily’s betrayal wounded her more.

The thing with Miranda, well, she did that to herself, didn’t she? Andrea saw absolutely no solution to the obstacles in their way and cut her losses despite Miranda’s plea. Why, why did she do such a fucked up stupid thing when all she wanted had been right in front of her? Better to end it now than later? Andrea made a fist and lightly beat on the tile then straightened. She wasn’t some floundering idiot filled with reincarnated fears of a past relationship.

“You spineless dumbass. You better pray you can dig yourself out of this one.”

It would be easier to slay a dragon than win over Miranda Priestly after the horrible way Andrea left her hanging.

Andrea, trust me.

The self-recriminations flooded her skull as she hurriedly washed off. They gathered momentum while Andrea toweled herself dry, wrapped her hair in another towel and stalked into her bedroom. She fought the urge to go over to Miranda’s and beg for another chance. Wooing her back was going to take a hell of a lot more than flowers, candies, and a tearful apology. No, Miranda Priestly was certainly going to drag Andrea through hot coals. Then back over. Crashing the last evening she had with the girls before they departed for the weekend would probably get Andrea arrested which would be worth it if only Miranda took her back.

Wooing Miranda Priestly required all her skill, tenacity, and creativity. Andrea needed a methodical plan, not some half-assed rom-com response. She pulled the sweatpants up over her hips then freed her hair. Whatever she did, Andrea vowed to herself, she would combat Miranda’s mistrust with earnestness, her fear with bravery, and assuage her pain with all the tenderness Andrea possessed. Christ, she was screwed.

When she emerged from the bedroom, she paused at the hallway bathroom. She pushed open the door and smiled at the sight of her daughter splashing and giggling as Demetria made quacking noises while moving a rubber ducky around Fen.

“Mummers, can I talk to M.?”

“I’ll ask her later but she’s pretty busy with the twins right now.”

“Ro and Sidy!”

Andrea wanted to cry.

  •  

For the first day of her groveling, Andrea chose a tailored power suit with a burgundy dress shirt unbuttoned to show the top swells of her breasts, obscene high heels and a messy twisted chignon updo that softened the overall masculine ensemble. Miranda, of course, wasn’t expecting her; no one was. At seven-thirty she sauntered into Runway, the leather Prada briefcase at her side. She glanced up at the raised platform and easily spotted Vanessa and the second assistant at their desks.

“Hello, Vanessa. When do you...”

“Miranda is offsite until ten.”

Figures. Well then, Andrea would get some work done. She nodded at Vanessa who was busy typing on the computer. As Andrea turned to leave, she caught sight of the second assistant and an idea bloomed in her head. Maybe she could wheedle her way into Miranda’s encampment by ‘turning’ the second assistant. Andrea’s gaze flicked Vanessa.

“Hey, can I borrow...?” she asked, gesturing to the wide-eyed girl.

“Just have her back by the coffee run.” Vanessa muttered, focused on the computer.

“What’s your name again?” Andrea asked guiding the woman toward her office.

“Amber.”

Andrea tried not to wince outwardly. “What about your middle name?”

“Darlene.”

“Oh, uh, Amber Darlene...”

“Baker.”

“That’s...um, you ever think of changing it?”

The girl solemnly replied, “Only every day.”

Andrea closed the door behind them then invited Amber to sit down.

“Why are you at Runway?”

“Well, my momma, her name’s Rayjean, she said I had to come here to New York City and make my own way.”

“I see.” Andrea wanted popcorn, a soda, and maybe a box of Junior Mints.

“She says I got style.” Amber looked down at the knitted sweater she wore. “This was my sister’s. Her name’s Pearl but we all call her Tick on accounta she aint no bigger than a tick.”

It was way worse than Andrea had assumed. Dear lord, she was going to need more than some Crisco and fishing wire to pull this off.

“Okay, let me ask you a very important question, Amber. I want you to take your time in answering, alright?”

She nodded then adjusted the Benjamin Franklin glasses she wore.

“How badly do you want a career in fashion?”

“About as much as Tick prays for bigger boobs which is every day.”

Andrea covered her face with a hand and slouched down in her chair, thinking she’d been kidnapped by an Beverly Hillbillies meet My Fair Lady universe.

“Are you alright Miss Andrea?”

  •  

Andrea took Amber to The Closet. She went through the racks, selected a pair of True Religion jeans, Marc Jacobs boots, and a zigzag jacquard wool crop sweater by Gucci.

“Do you need these to see?” she asked, gesturing to Amber’s glasses.

Amber replied, “They’re just for the look, you know?”

Grimacing, Andrea gently lifted the glasses from Amber’s face. “You have pretty eyes. With a light hand, we can make them pop.” She fished out her phone from an inner pocket of her blazer, then dialed Serena.

Olá.”

“Hey, Serena, you have a minute for a quick consult?”

“Give me five minutes. Your office?”

“Yes, thank you.”

Amber looked shocked and a little bit afraid.

“What’s the matter?”

“Serena’s gonna give me a make-over? Serena? She’s like a six year old whitetail buck.”

Amber was close to hyperventilating. Confused, Andrea calmly instructed, “Just breathe, Amber. Nice and easy. Serena’s coming to help, okay?”

“She’s beautiful and I’m...not.”

“Come on, she does this for a living.”

  •  

At a quarter to ten, Andrea checked her face in the mirror, carefully rearranging a few strands of strategically placed hair and refreshed her perfume, a subtle spicy scent.  When Miranda saw Amber, she was going to stop dead in her tracks because the girl cleaned up really well. Serena’s deft touch brought out Amber’s positives and minimized the negatives. If she ever straightened and whitened her teeth, lost a few pounds and learned what worked in regards to her fashion choices, Amber Darlene Baker would turn many heads in her direction. Serena, maybe getting a bit carried away, had given the girl a haircut and added highlights.

Andrea took a deep, deep breath then exited the ladies room and headed toward Miranda’s office. As expected, Miranda was behind her desk, clicking the mouse and staring at the computer screen.

“Be quick.” she said without looking up.

“Did you get my notes...”

“I did. I have a few questions.”

Andrea warily eyed the editor. Although not friendly, she wasn’t angry which Andrea considered a plus and, yet, something wasn’t quite right. She stepped into the office but didn’t close the door.

Miranda sat back in her chair and watched Andre take a seat. “You thought the Christophe Josse collection to be monochrome...”

“There was no contrast. Just white, black, orange, pink organza blank canvasses. No texture contrasts, design details, and minimal to no accessories. The make-up made the models look fried .”

“I actually agree. Now,  Adeline André...”

They went through every show Andrea attended but she didn’t mind because she got to look into those icy blue eyes, allow her eyes to roam when Miranda’s were looking at the screen, and enjoy her calm demeanor.

“I thought the Cathy Pill show...”

“That’s all.” Miranda quietly said as she picked up her pen and looked down at the notepad next to the computer.

Andrea, despite expecting the behavior, withheld a groan. She didn’t dawdle.

When she reached the door, Miranda asked, “Did you have anything to do with my second assistant’s transformation?”

Miranda didn’t look up but Andrea couldn’t stop her smile. “I did. And Serena.”

Andrea waited but it was soon obvious Miranda had silently dismissed her.

By noon she didn’t have any reason to remain at Runway except, of course, for Miranda who was in a meeting with the copy department. She watched the clock until it was time for Miranda to have lunch. Amber had informed her she had to make a run to Smith and Wollensky’s.

Andrea decided to waltz into Miranda’s office during lunch, a risky endeavor as Le Priestly loathed to be interrupted during that time but Andrea was getting desperate. Miranda treated her no differently than any other underling.

The sound of cutlery scraping against porcelain as Miranda cut into her steak seemed loud in the office. Andrea held her breath as she closed the door behind her and approached Miranda’s desk. Andrea glanced down at the plate, counting twenty bite-sized cubes of filet mignon before Miranda broke the silence.

“Get out.”

She must be crazy, but Andrea smiled. She knew how to handle angry Miranda.

“I want to apolo...”

“I think not. Now, get out.”

“Miranda...”

“Are you deaf?” she asked, spearing a cube then bringing it to her mouth.

“Nope, I hear you loud and clear.”

Andrea watched Miranda chew, the white-knuckled grip on her fork and knife, the refusal to raise her eyes.

Finished, Miranda quietly set down the cutlery and pushed back from the desk. Andrea stood but she wasn’t fast enough to intercept Miranda who reached the door and flung it open.

“Get out.” she said, her voice carrying across the reception area.

Andrea’s cheeks burned but she strolled out of the office as if it had been her prerogative.

  •  

On the way home, Andrea tried not to sulk. Usually her efforts garnered positive or effective reactions but Miranda elected to ice her out. Not to be unexpected, the parry nonetheless hurt. Andrea huffed as she looked out the cab’s window. The weekend loomed in front of her like a desert wasteland. Hating the silence between them, she decided to poke the dragon.

what time should I come over? Andrea texted but didn’t think Miranda would deign to answer.

when hell freezes over, we elect a female president, when you grow a spine, the second I give a shit...take ur pick

Andrea laughed. She couldn’t help it. Miranda’s audacity, despite the harsh delivery, was witty. She loved that about her.

She loved that about her??

Yeah, it was crystal clear. Finally, Andrea found her person. The notion cemented in her bones. Even when the woman snarled and snapped her jaws like a Doberman at the fence, Andrea found her...intoxicating. She loved Miranda Priestly, god help her. The realization swept her up in a delirious frenzy. Caught up in the emotion, she called Doug.

After two rings he answered.

“I’m in love with Miranda Priestly.”

Doug squealed then gushed, “Oh, my god, I knew it. You are insane. I’m having cocktails with a group of yummy Englishmen on holiday but they’re not here yet. So tell me everything in five minutes.”

“She hates me.”

“Did you just...”

“Yes. I totally fucked it up.”

“Okay, start from the beginning.”

Andrea related the highlights without choking up. More determined than ever, she didn’t have time for self-pity.

“That’s...huge, girl. So, what’s the plan to get her back?”

“Uh...persistence?”

“That’s all you got?”

Andrea paid the cabbie and got out. “She’s not a flower and candy kinda woman, Doug. Outright groveling is amusing to her. Grand gestures are childish. Emotional pleas are dismissed. She’s like no one I’ve ever met, Doug. So I’m gonna chip away, grind it out, and take her shit. And watch her. Maybe I’ll find a chink in her armor and then, trust me, I’m gonna pounce on it.”

“What if she starts seeing someone else?”

“I’ll find a way to fuck it up.”

“What if...what if she doesn’t love you back, Andy?”

“I’ll kidnap her and take her to Canada. What the fuck, Doug? I don’t know. I can’t even think about that.”

“Okay, okay, just calm down.”

“I’m headed into the elevator and reception’s spotty. I’ll call you later to update, okay?”

“Sounds good. Maybe I’ll come up with a few good moves you can make before then.”

“Alright. Good luck with the Englishmen.”

“I’m going to need it. There’s like five of them.”

  •  

“Come on, sweetie. You can do it.” Andrea said patiently as she watched her offspring try to pick out an outfit to go to the playground, something new they were trying.

“Mummers, I wanna talk to M.”

“I’ll call her but she may not answer, okay?”

Fen scrunched up her face then stuck up her bottom lip.

“No, no, sweetie. I’m gonna call her right now.”

Andrea sent a quick text, waited five minutes than called. Miranda picked up after two rings.

“Put her on the phone.”

Andrea squatted, bracketing her daughter between the legs as she reached for the phone.

“M, what’s up?”

Andrea smiled and wondered where she picked up that phrase.

“I learned a song....Okay, wait, wait, M., I need Mummers to start it.”

Fen held out the phone and Andrea put it on speaker. “Okay, sweetie, are you ready?” Fen nodded and Andrea started to sing, “Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques...

Fen quickly joined in and Andrea stopped singing. Her daughter’s eyes lit up as she sing-songed her way through the lullaby, soundingly remarkably French. Tears of pride and sadness gathered in Andrea’s eyes. Proud of her daughter’s accomplishment and sad because she wished they were all together, the twins and Miranda, she and Fen. Still, it was a great moment and Andrea paid attention, kissing her daughter’s head when she sang out “Ding, ding, dong!”

Andrea switched off the speaker and handed the phone to Fen.

“Did you like it?” Fen looked up at her mother. “Mummers, where did I go in Pair-ree?”

She took the phone from Fen. “Miranda, I’ll send you an email.”

“I made a promise to Fen, Andrea, and I want to keep it. Would it be alright if I picked her up tomorrow? The twin’s father had to reschedule and they’ve expressed a desire to see her. I’ll understand if you’d rather...”

“No, it’s fine. What time?”

While Miranda made the arrangements, Andrea only half-listened. Here she was making her daughter available to Miranda while she made it a bit harder for Nate. Well, maybe Fen was her side entrance back into Miranda’s good graces. Andrea needed all the help she could get.

“Okay. You’ll send Roy?”

“He is the driver.” Miranda pointed out in a dry tone.

Andrea didn’t answer right away, trying to see how she could keep her on the phone.

“Well...”

“Miranda, I am very sor...”

“Whatever for and before you start blabbering something inane, that was rhetorical.”

Resigned, Andrea sighed, “I’ll have Fen ready by eleven o’clock.”

“Good.” Miranda said and hung up.

Well, it could have gone worse, she thought.

Looking down at her daughter, Andrea’s smile emerged. “Guess what, sweetie? Miranda’s coming to get you tomorrow and you’re going to spend the day with her and the twins.”

“You, too, Mummers.”

Andrea lifted up her baby and pressed kisses across her face. “It’s M-Time.”

“Like Da time?”

“Yes, exactly like that.”

Fen nodded then laughed.

  •  

With Fen in bed and Demetria out with her friends, Andrea settled down in front of the television with a glass of wine. She couldn’t help but stew in the fact had she kept her damn mouth shut, she’d probably be in Miranda’s bed right now. Maybe not, since the twins plans got cancelled. Miranda showed signs of thawing but only in regards to Andrea’s daughter.

Everything hinged on the energy and actions Andrea put out. Sitting in a circle around a fire with a group of hippies and singing kumbaya, while possibly helpful, wasn’t how she envisioned coming up with a plan. Andrea sipped at her wine then tapped on her phone’s picture icon. She pulled up the one of Miranda and Fen. The key to getting what she wanted was envisioning it. In reality, Andrea was going to adopt the idiom ‘fake it until you make it’.

Buoyed by a burst of ideas, she popped off the couch and went to the corner of her bedroom where she had a makeshift work area. She grabbed a notepad and something to write with then returned to the couch and wine. Brainstorming was a passion of hers and she listed several things right off the bat. Andrea paused to sip more wine but the glass was empty. Refilling it could wait until her brain slowed down.

Close to midnight Andrea was finished and her hand hurt. Slightly giddy, she planned to start off with modest overtures, almost like approaching a dangerous and injured cougar. Depending on how that went, and she had various contingencies, Andrea hoped by 2010 Miranda might go on a date. Just eleven months...

Andrea, drunk off her ass, tumbled from the couch onto the floor laughing.

  •  

With a slight headache, she managed to get Fen fed and dressed in enough time to allow her to get herself together but then a mini meltdown sucked up all the extra time. Wearing her favorite worn jeans and camel colored cutout sweater, she ushered Fen into her bathroom and propped her on the closed toilet seat.

“Mummers, doin’ the hairs.”

“Yes, sweetie.”

“You so pretty.”

Andrea looked at her child, something in the way Fen’s voice sounded making her suspicious but Fen merely blinked, a smile spreading across her face.

“Thank you.”

“M is coming? Ro and Sidi, too?”

“Yup. Now, be good and be still while mommy finishes, okay?”

Fen nodded sharply then started singing, “Good ‘n still...la laaa-la...”

The buzzer sounded just as Andrea dotted her lips with gloss.

“Shit.” Realizing her slip, she pointed a finger at her daughter and instructed, “That’s a bad word. Don’t use it.”

“Okay.” she replied, kicking her heels against the toilet.

“C’mon, we gotta let Miranda in.”

Andrea pressed the button to unlock the building door but didn’t use the intercom. It was eleven on the dot. Five minutes later there was a knock at the door. Andrea enthusiastically opened it.

The twins rushed forward and spread out looking for Fen.

“Girls.” Miranda admonished.

Promptly, they sang out in unison,  “Sorry! Hi, Andrea.”

“That’s impressive.” Andrea said then winced when she heard Fen squeal. “She does get excited when the Priestly’s come to visit.”

Miranda rolled her eyes and stepped into the apartment. “Don’t let me interrupt you.”

“You’re not.” Andrea smiled, keeping her lips together as her eyes took in Miranda’s outfit. “You look nice.”

Miranda walked past her as the chattering girls grew louder and met them as they spilled out from the hallway.

“M, comment allez-vous?”

Je vais bien, mon chou.” Miranda responded slowly with a wide grin on her face as she bent low to pick Fen up.

Andrea’s body tightened at Miranda’s accent, the dulcet sound prickling along her skin. She wanted to wake up to French words for the rest of her life if Miranda was the person whispering them into her ear.

“What’s up, Andy.” Cassidy greeted, bumping into her side.

“Hey, Sidi.” she teased then ruffled her hair. Well, now she knew where Fen heard the phrase.

Caroline murmured, “It’s nice to see you again.”

“And you as well.” Andrea said, smiling down at her.

“We’re goin’ to the French class.” Cassidy grimaced but perked up as she said, “Then we’re going for cookies at that bakery Mom likes.”

Andrea gazed at Miranda who smoothly said, “I enrolled the girls in preschool at the French Institute when they were three. I called one of their old teachers that still works there and he’s agreed to an impromptu meeting with a tour.”

“Oh, well, that sounds like fun. You’re a very lucky little girl, sweetie.” Andrea said, lightly squeezing Fen’s foot.

Miranda’s glance dipped south as she shifted Fen in her arms and Andrea grew warm.

“That sweater makes you look washed out.” she remarked, lips mocking her with a cruel twist.

The dig took Andrea by surprise although she recovered quickly. No matter what Miranda said or did, she couldn’t allow it to throw her game off.

“What about my jeans? How do they make me look?” Andrea slowly turned around, purposely running her palms down her hips. She looked over her shoulder, gratified Miranda’s eyes were pinned to the very place she wanted them to be.

Caroline replied, “They’re a bit...old, aren’t they?”

“They are and that’s what so great about them.” Andrea turned to face them. “They’re really comfortable, too.”

“I like ‘em.” Cassidy said, gripping onto Andrea’s back pocket.

“Well, let’s go girls. We’ve got a busy day.”

Fen stretched across the space between Miranda and Andrea to say good bye. Andrea accepted her daughter’s sloppy kiss, lightly placing her hand on Miranda’s arm as if to steady herself.

“Have fun, sweetie and be good for Miranda.”

Bien sûr, mère.”

When Miranda’s eyes lit up, Andrea greedily soaked it in. The woman was devastatingly attractive on so many levels Andrea was going to need a long time to enjoy each one.

Andrea handed a small travel bag with an extra outfit and other things Fen may need and handed it to Cassidy.

“Don’t go overboard at the French place, Sidi.” she said and smiled when the girl squeezed her hand.

Chapter Text

Miranda took a picture of Fen standing between the twins while holding their hands. Caroline announced she and her sister would look after the younger girl as they got into the elevator. She sent it to Andrea then frowned. Yet another thing to stop doing. Miranda shoved aside the sharp sting at the thought. Ridiculous. That particular road had been travelled and she harbored no inclination to trod down it again. So what if she enjoyed the sight of Andrea in those indecently snug jeans. (No, no, not the jeans, Miranda, it was that delectable ass in those jeans you enjoyed.) Although it was the truth, that delectable ass didn’t have any control over its cowardly owner. Therefore, she reasoned, she would enjoy the hell out of that ass whenever presented to her.

 Roy had pulled out a car seat from the trunk and secured it in the back seat by the time they sprung from of the building and into the car. Miranda road up front with him which was a bit awkward.

“We’re due at FIAF at ten thirty.”

“We’ll be there in eight minutes, Miranda. Traffic should be light.”

She didn’t feel like small talk and felt a little let down. Expecting Andrea to insist going along, Miranda had readied herself but it had been for naught, obviously. Miranda stared out the window, half-listening to the girls trying to teach Fen how to say fart in French. Andrea’s behavior had reverted back to when they first met, not a top five reaction Miranda had anticipated. Begging, anger, seduction, manipulation, and coercion all had a tailored response which Miranda designed to effectively stop Andrea from getting under her skin.

Andrea’s pleasant detachment irritated Miranda beyond belief and then it occurred to her she’d mustered her defenses against a frontal assault. She underestimated the sly wench who had flanked her instead. Miranda grinned with a touch of melancholy. Well, time to introduce her to Le Priestly, then, whether the cub could hold her own.

  Bo Yon ‘Bruce’ Chen met them at the employees’ entrance in the back of the building.

“Miranda, An-Li elle a dit qu’elle t’a rencontré au Dalton il y a quelques mois.

They shook hands then entered the building and she continued speaking French as per the unspoken rule. The girls kept singing Frère Jacques until Miranda wanted to stab herself in the head. Thankfully Bruce took over when they entered a class room. Off to the side, perched on a stool, Miranda took off her coat and set it aside on the counter. Caroline helped Fen with her outerwear as Cassidy stumbled through a conversation with Bruce. Curiously, Fen didn’t act shy or tried to hide behind one of the girls. Bruce’s soft voice and easygoing manner, the gentle way he smiled with encouragement had a positive effect upon Andrea’s offspring. Perhaps the twins helped as well.

Bruce set about evaluating Fen from how she interacted with the much older girls to learning new words while playing a learning game. Of course, Miranda had been through this before with the twins. Caroline retained a bit more than Cassidy and Miranda was pleased something stuck but Fen was a sponge. The mother in Miranda took out her phone and recorded a brief video of Fen reciting the French translation for cue cards with pictures Bruce taught her earlier.  Red ball, kitten, and puppy became ‘balle rouge, chaton, chiot’ without the slightest hesitation although her pronunciation needed some more practice. A few minutes after she sent the brief clip to Andrea, she replied.

omg!! so proud of her!! thank u so much for encouraging my baby

Miranda curtailed the bubbling sensation in her chest.

Andrea was fickle. Andrea was a childish ass. Andrea scared off easily.

She repeated it inside her head, over and over, but it lacked staying power.

It was a good thing Miranda did not. Whatever squishy emotion she held for the woman she planned to channel into being an absolute bitch toward her. Within reason, of course. They had a professional future, one which already was set into motion. It wouldn’t do to completely alienate nor corner Andrea. She had options other than Runway. But, oh yes,  she would punish the cub just enough to remind her who was the queen of the pride.

  •  

Le Petit Doux in north Brooklyn was a small pâtisseries and un café shop Miranda adored but infrequently visited. Run by a licensed maître pâtissier, it adhered to French tradition but accommodated the American palate in regard to their coffee. The pastries were individual works of art, carefully constructed and presented, and swoon-worthy. It was the coffee, however, that kept Miranda coming back. Over-extracted and bitter, the classic cup of French coffee flooded her system with pure joy. That, and the sugar cubes Miranda dipped in it and ate after they turned brown. Hence, the reason she stayed away. Consuming  coffee-soaked sugar on a regular basis would turn her ass into a behemoth that knocked down people whenever she turned a corner.

In the spirit of their visit to the institute, Miranda coaxed the girls into ordering in French as she softly prompted Fen. When it was time for her to order, she sang out ‘un chocolat et deux bouffons de crème s’il vous plait.’ The woman behind the counter bit her lip then looked over her shoulder. Promptly an older gentleman in a crisp white apron and chef’s hat moved from behind a display to the right. In French, he asked how he could be of assistance. Kissing Fen’s cheek, she explained la petite fille had recently gotten back from a trip to Paris and was eager to practice what she learned.

He was nice, kind, and patient with the girls and very complimentary toward her. Miranda simply enjoyed it but when he followed them to their table, she coolly dismissed him. Had she wanted him there, Miranda had no problem issuing an invite. Toward the end of their stay, the man returned, complimenting the girls, then discreetly giving Miranda a business card.

She left it on the table and texted Andrea to let her know she was going to drop Fen off in about forty minutes.

sounds gud

Miranda rolled her eyes.

The drive didn’t take as long as she expected. Roy pulled up the Andrea’s building within a half-hour. Miranda instructed the girls to stay in the car with Roy while she ran in with Fen. Of course the twins protested but she sternly told them to say their goodbyes.

Fen cried out, “Au revoir, Au revoir!”

While in the elevator, Miranda held Fen’s hand.

“M.” she said, scratching the side of her nose as she squinted up at the adult.

“Yes, mon chou.”

“Sidi and Ro’s has a daddy?”

“Yes. Caroline and Cassidy take a train to see him.”

Fen’s eyes grew round. “A train? I wanna see, M.”

“Perhaps someday. We shall talk to your mother about it.”

“Okay.”

The elevator stopped before Andrea’s floor and two women entered. Miranda hoisted Fen onto her hip.

“Oh, she’s beautiful.” The older of the two said.

Miranda noticed her Burberry coat. She whispered something into Fen’s ear.

Promptly, she parroted, “Merci beaucoup.”

As expected the Burberry coat wearer uttered more compliments but her companion, who, incidentally, carried an Oscar de la Renta handbag from five seasons ago, looked upon Fen as if she were something unpleasant.

“Is there a problem?” Miranda asked her quietly.

“Yeah, here in America we speak English.”

“Gabby.” admonished the Burberry coat wearer and offered Miranda an apologetic look.

Slowly Miranda’s eyebrows rose. “T’es une raclure de bidet.” She looked down at Fen and said, “Do not repeat that, mon chou.”

The elevator stopped and the doors opened. Miranda swept through, ignoring the woman’s grumbling insults.

“Hey, there, sweetie.” Andrea cooed as soon as she opened the door after Miranda knocked and greedily held her arms out.

Fen laughed and reached for her mother.

“You’re back earlier than I expected. Everything go okay?”

“Mummers, I needs potty.”

“Okay, do you want me to help?” Andrea asked, setting her down.

“I can do it myself.”

Andrea sighed ruefully as her daughter did a good imitation of stomping off.

“Before we arrived at Le Petit Doux I asked her if she needed to potty.” Miranda mock-shivered. “I’ve never been dressed down by a four year old before.”

“Yeah, she’s something else.” Andrea murmured as she tilted her head to the side. “I know you can’t stay but...”

“The girls are downstairs.” Miranda interrupted, more tempted than she should have been by Andrea’s implied invitation. “There is one thing, however, that I’d like to run past you. Just think about it before you decide, but Bruce, the instructor at the institute, was very impressed with Fen and offered to take her on twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursday from two to three o’clock. She’ll be interacting with other children in her age group that have a little more experience than she, but Bruce believes Fen will easily catch up. Here’s his card.”

Andrea gently accepted it then looked down, rubbing a fingertip against the card’s top corner. After a few seconds she lifted her gaze which shimmered with unshed tears.

“That’s...that’s very nice of you, Miranda. Thank you.”

“Don’t...” Miranda stopped herself and lamely finished with, “...It was nothing.”

“Thank you for taking such good care of my daughter.”

The moment stretched out between them. Miranda was besieged by a longing to prolong her time in Andrea’s company.

“Of course. I’ll see myself out.” she said and didn’t wait, departed as if being chased.

  •  

Miranda did a load of the girl’s laundry then went into the closet by the front door and took up the dry cleaning one of the assistants dropped off the previous day. Contrary to mythical lore, Cara usually handled the dry-cleaning on the days she went to the market. She cleaned the breakfast dishes then took the trash out even though it wasn’t full because she loathed even the faintest odor of rotting food. The twins were playing a video game or something in the playroom prompting Miranda to go upstairs to see if the mini-fridge was stocked.

“Cassidy, how can you see what you’re doing sitting on the couch like that?”

“I dunno.” she said then whined, “Caroline, you squashed my tomato!! Uncool.”

Miranda walked to the faux cabinet door and opened it and snapped, “What is that?”

“Oops.” Cassidy squeaked then scrambled upright and tried to get her sister’s attention.

“Will you stop it? I’m winning.”

Calmly Miranda stepped over Caroline who was laying on the floor then walked over to the game console and turned it off.

Mom!”

“One of you better explain what that...that thing is in the refrigerator. Right now.”

“Cassidy found it.”

“But Caroline brought it home.”

“See, I told you we’d get into trouble.” Cassidy muttered.

You’re the one who said we could save it.”

“Enough.” Miranda said sternly. “How long has it been there?”

Caroline stood then shrugged. Cassidy looked at the ceiling.

“I’m not going to ask again. Make your choices wisely.”

“We found it Thursday.” Caroline supplied.

Cassidy scratched the back of her neck. “When Cara took us to the park.”

“I distracted her while...”

Miranda closed her eyes then said, “Please tell me you didn’t touch it.”

“Well, how else was I supposed to put it in my pocket, Mom?” Cassidy asked, genuinely perplexed.

“Put the game away. Video games are off-limits for a week.”

Both girls rushed her to object but instantly faded back at her look.

“Cassidy, go get the kitchen gloves under the sink. Caroline, get a trash bag.” When neither moved, she barked, “Now.”

She was going to have a stroke. A dead bird was in the mini-fridge next to her children’s snacks and drinks was finally going to send her over the edge. She didn’t care everything was packaged. The very first thing she intended to do after disposing of the corpse was to throw away everything else.  Better yet, she was going to haul the damn thing to the curb and allow someone else to deal with the burial. How was she ever going to be able to put another damn thing in there when there was a dead bird in it for two and a half days? What if it had maggots? Miranda pressed her hand into her stomach as she fought down a dry-heave.

The girls ran into the room. Cassidy wore the yellow rubber gloves and held a pair of tongs. Caroline stuffed tissues up her nostrils and flapped open the trash bag.

“Cassidy Marie, don’t you even think about using my kitchen utensil. Give it to me right this minute.”

Her daughter shrugged but handed them over. “At least I didn’t use the turkey baster.”

Miranda’s eyes narrowed. “Whatever for?”

“CPR. You know, like on that tv show...”

CPR with a turkey baster? On a dead bird?” Miranda gave up, partly horrified and a bit proud. “Why did you put it in the fridge?”

Cassidy pushed up her sleeve. “I couldn’t put it in the freezer.”

“You couldn’t...” Miranda trailed off as she lightly shook her head. “I can’t ask you any more questions, Cassidy.”

She turned to her other daughter. “Did you take anything from the fridge after Cassidy turned it into a makeshift morgue?”

“Um, every day. To get a water.”

“Did the refrigerator emit an odor when you got your water?”

“I wanted to be prepared, mom.” she replied,  as she pointed to her plugged nostrils.

Miranda sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. “So help me...Fine, let’s get this over with. Cassidy...” She gestured toward the fridge.

Of course Cassidy’s eyes lit up like a Fourth of July extravaganza. “Oh, wow, this so cool.”

Caroline hung back a little and Miranda held her breath.

Cassidy carefully scooped up the bird and turned toward her sister who held out the bag.

“Take the gloves off and put them in the bag.”

“Oh, mom, we can just wash...”

Put them in the bag.”

Cassidy did as she was told then took the bag from her sister, held it opened and sniffed.

Alarmed, Miranda screeched, “Have you lost your mind.”

“It’s fine, mom. I can’t really smell anything except the bag, I guess.” Brow wrinkling, she said, “What do dead birds smell like?”

Through clenched teeth, Miranda ordered, “Just give me the bag. Go wash your hands. Both of you.”

“Cassidy, come on, let’s go.” Caroline wisely intervened and led her sister away.

Miranda knotted the bag twice before holding it out in front of her and hurrying down the stairs and out the back door.

  •  

At one o’clock in the morning Miranda kicked off the top sheet, the duvet sacrificed to the bottom of the bed hours ago. She wished she never met Andrea Sachs. She wished she had fucked her in that damn car, Roy be damned. Mostly, she wished Andrea had trusted her. Miranda reached over and turned on the lamp on her bedside table.

After the ‘bird incident’ her appetite was questionable but the girls were hungry. At first, she didn’t catch on when she asked what they wanted for dinner. Cassidy was in the mood for ‘fried chicken from Yard Bird’. Caroline proposed ‘chicken wings from Feathers’. Miranda told them they were having pizza delivered which made them happier than teasing their mother. Almost. She calmed down enough after dinner to hose down the mini-fridge with a bleach cleaner, ordering the girls not to open it until she wiped it out in the morning.

Being busy was the key. She couldn’t afford to have a minute to herself because then she would think and miss a certain brunette after which the feelings would take hold. Miranda was too old to pine for someone.

Perhaps a bit of good old fashion elbow grease would tire her out. With that thought in mind, Miranda swung her legs over the edge of the mattress and stood. She put on a pair of old shorts and t-shirt which no one, except her daughters, knew were in her dresser drawer. They came in handy when she scrubbed down the bathrooms or kitchen or planted flowers in the spring. Whenever she put them on, which wasn’t often, it always coincided with a bout of insomnia, fury, or trying to figure something out.

After the mini-fridge, Miranda tackled her bathroom, then went through the pantry and tossed out everything that was out-of-date which happened to be one can of refried beans. Still restless, she checked the oven (clean), the top of the cabinets for dust (clean), the half-bath by the back door (not even a lone red hair), then, in desperation, the hall closet on the third floor where the things Miranda couldn’t decide if she wanted or not resided. Well, damnit, she still couldn’t decide after thirty-four minutes.

She took a quick shower at four fifteen in the morning and slipped into bed naked. For a brief second she thought about working on the magazine, but she didn’t think she could focus long enough to do any good. As it happened, her eyes drooped and she snuggled deeper into the pillow.

“Mom, wake up.”

Miranda groaned and rolled away from the little person that she gave birth to.

“We’re hungry.”

“What time is...it?”

“I dunno.”

Huffing, she flopped on her back and rubbed her face with her palms as she yawned.

“Uh, mom, are you naked?”

“Shit.” Miranda gasped and yanked up the covers.

Cassidy brushed back the hair from her eyes. “Chocolate covered cherries are off-limits for the swears.”

“You’ve got to be joking.”

“You told us if we ever caught you swearing, we could decide the punishment cause it was gonna be a cold day in Helsinki if you ever did it.”

“Is your sister up?” Miranda grouched.

“She’s in the library seein’ if there’s a book on bird funerals.”

Biting back a groan, she pointed to the bathroom and asked, “Could you get mommy her robe please?”

Cassidy acted overly put upon, grumbling the entire way then dragging the robe behind her.

“For that little display of disrespect, you get to clean your bathroom and pick up your room.” Miranda said in a stern voice.

“That’s not fair.” her daughter pouted, holding up the robe. “I did what you said.”

“For every decision you make, Cassidy, there is a consequence. We both know when I asked for my rob, I did not mean for you to drag it across the floor. The choice really is yours.”

Cassidy gently placed the robe on the bed near her mother.

“Now, go downstairs and get your sister and meet me in the kitchen, please.”

“Yes, mom.” Cassidy turned and started walking away. Once she reached the door, she turned around and said, “I’m sorry. I’ll start on my...consequences... after breakfast if that’s okay?”

“It is.”

Miranda watched her disappear then slipped on her robe and went to the bathroom. Never quite sure she was doing the right thing for her girls, she went back and forth in her thoughts.  She worried about privilege, entitlement, shallowness, and a million other things because of the money she made. Character was earned, not given, and Miranda prayed she didn’t rob her daughters of the lessons they needed to build it.

Of course, her thoughts wandered to Fen and she had to admit Andrea was doing a wonderful job raising her child. She wondered if Andrea was going to enroll Fen into FIAF. Did she agonize over every little decision? Stay up late worried she’d been too much of one thing and not enough of the other? The twin’s father hadn’t concerned himself with their early upbringing. He spoiled them, winded them up on sugar highs only to hand them over when they crashed. What type of father would Nate be now that he started a new life, complete with impregnated girlfriend, in another city? How would Andrea handle it?

Miranda washed her hands and changed into the nightclothes she should have worn last night. It’s not as if Cassidy or Caroline hadn’t seen their mother in various states of undress. They barged into rooms or crawled into her bed after a nightmare or asked her questions while she was in the shower. Yet, donning the appropriate clothing helped to focus Miranda’s mind. Before going downstairs, Miranda looked at her phone and was surprised to see a text from Andrea.

brunch at The Carriage House w/girls as thank you?

Miranda didn’t bother to reply.

Chapter Text

 

It was raining, a miserable fact Miranda could not get over. And cold but, thankfully, no wind. Roy dropped her off in the underground garage and she took the express elevator to the Runway offices. Monday morning usually invigorated her. After a weekend of no mishaps, it was the start of a new week with new challenges to overcome and Miranda’s mood fell flat.

She strode through the Runway doors, met by the Cerulean girl who was back to her old drab clothes. Serena had done an exceptional job on the girl’s hair and make-up. Andrea, well, dressed her for comfort but Miranda knew why. She was bringing the girl around slowly, without drastic changes to get the second assistant used to wearing fashionable clothes. Miranda didn’t object. Actually, she anticipated the transformation with a certain amount of pleasure. Why the girl wasn’t wearing something from the closet was puzzling but she wasn’t about to ask Andrea about it.

“Vanessa is, well, she’s, uh...busy.”

Miranda flung her coat over the first assistant’s desk and, with a flick of her wrist, more or less told the Cerulean girl not to follow..

She hadn’t learned Miranda’s physical cues yet and tumbled into the office, picking up the notebook she dropped.

“Answer the phones, why don’t you?”

The second assistant pushed the old fashion glasses up her nose and wrote something down.

“Do you have a malfunction I’m unaware of?”

“I don’t think so, Miranda, but, I’ll be glad to answer the phones.” She smiled then nodded and turned away.

Whenever Vanessa decided to return, Miranda planned to send her out into the city on errands. There was something missing on her desk. Irritated, she stepped out of doorway and stopped.

“Is there some reason my coffee isn’t here? Has she died or something?” she asked the vacuous space of the receptionist’s area and returned to her office without missing a beat.

The accessories people filled her office, rolling in several items and talking amongst themselves about what went where. On a normal day, Miranda fell in sync. She stood in front of the windows, away from the mild chaos, when the stylists arrived with their racks of clothes and annoying chatter.

“Let’s get started, shall we?” she said, briskly walking toward the nearest display rack and selecting an Agnes B. black cabana snap shirt and Yohji Yamamoto bandage pants.

Vanessa showed up, coffee in hand, and Miranda narrowed her eyes at her.

“Go to Lindquist’s studio. The girls need surfboards or boogie boards or something for spring break. Get me that salad I like from the place I went to last week. Schedule a lunch with Jamar King on Wednesday and make sure Andrea knows to attend.”

Vanessa nodded, looking a little worse for wear from whatever had kept her too ‘busy’ to do her job.

“Also, I’ll need two assistants for Friday’s Elias-Clarke advertiser’s dinner. There’s quite a few more advertisers I haven’t met yet.”

Things settled in after that and Miranda found her stride. The accessories staff wasn’t horrible, coming up with a few novel ideas that intrigued her but she wasn’t about to admit it. Perhaps Andrea’s little creativity lesson three weeks ago paid off. Around eleven she headed upstairs to Adele’s floor for the budget meeting which wasn’t the chore it used to be. Miranda briefly wondered if Irv was wearing socks with flipflops and Bermuda shorts in Florida. The image gave her a bit of sardonic enjoyment even though she knew he retired to the northwest coast of Costa Rica on a luxury property. She hoped one day he’d have a morning swim and a Great White would take him away.

“Miranda, would you be able to shave off one percent this quarter? I’d like to help out our new publication Buttons.” Adele asked nonchalantly, not smiling but still looking amused.

“Of course. Next quarter I’ll need some wiggle room to give my new Fashion Director a significant raise.”

Adele’s eyebrows arched. “I seem to recall her signing bonus was...”

“With talent like hers, it was a steal. She’s doing some unique things that have positively  galvanized Runway’s staff into a creative frenzy. I’ll be surprised if Runway doesn’t win an Ellie for magazine of the year this year.”

“You and Nigel won it two years ago.”

Miranda pursed her lips. “I didn’t win one my first year as a fashion director nor as editor.”

Adele laughed. “Duly noted. If Runway wins an Ellie, you’ll get more than a raise for your fashion director. Now, I believe Herman has the floor.”

Miranda tuned out the editor of Controller, the video game magazine. Despite their romantic fall-out, Andrea deserved to thrive at Runway. Miranda’s legacy was more important which went hand in hand with Andrea’s continued success.

Yet, a sadness invaded her chest and she wished, not for the first time, that Andrea had decided to trust her. There was so much strength in the woman. Miranda couldn’t fathom why Andrea faltered in her personal life. Chuckling ruefully at herself, she had to admit she hadn’t always been bullet-proof in her marriages. There were times she chose to bend like a willow for the sake of peace but not often.

The meeting ended and Miranda left, avoiding Adele. She didn’t wish to be waylaid. Her stomach gurgled, dissatisfied with the lack of food in it. Rolling her eyes at herself, Miranda took the elevator down to Runway and headed directly to her office. When she crossed the threshold, she nearly stopped. Andrea sat in the visitor’s chair, long legs crossed in a navy La Petite di Chiara Boni Emeriene cocktail dress with three-quarter sleeves in a faux wrap-style.

“I took the liberty of adding to your lunch order.”

It didn’t happen often, being out-maneuvered but Miranda hardly minded. The Anouk’s by Jimmy Choo in nude emphasized the graceful arches of Andrea’s feet and the taut lines of her calves, but, the dress had an extremely pleasant effect on Miranda. Just shy of voluptuous, Andrea filled it out very, very nicely. The stretchy material clung in the best of ways without making her look as if she couldn’t breathe or take too many steps.  By the way Andrea smiled, the lack of lines around her mouth and eyes, she felt very comfortable indeed.

“I ordered a salad...” Miranda trailed off, gaze landing on her desktop.

Andrea smirked and with fluid ease stood. “Lamb chops from Bernie’s to go with your salad.”

Miranda frowned, standing still by her desk.

Andrea took a step closer. “Enjoy your lunch.”

Watching Andrea take her time walking away, Miranda didn’t know whether or not to be furious that someone talked or Andrea possessed resources nearly matching her own.

She held the corner of a folded napkin then gently snapped it open and sat down. Lamb chops were her favorite but it wasn’t common knowledge. Most likely, Andrea’s source had been Nigel although they’d only eaten there together a handful of times since it opened. The girls and ex-husbands, however, heard her moan a time or two over Bernie’s lamb chops. She inhaled the aroma, held it in for a private worshipful moment, then picked up her utensils.

The ritual demanded a hushed silence.  She sliced, chewed and savored. No one interrupted. It was heaven. Andrea had orchestrated a blissful quiet for Miranda. A softening began much to her disapproval. No, it wouldn’t do. Not about to be toppled by a kind gesture, Miranda focused on the meal. When it was gone, she leaned back in the chair and closed her eyes with a small grin on her face.

  •  

 “Andrea, you have the floor.” Miranda murmured as she toyed with the pendant on her gold chain and wrote down some notes.

The three o’clock editorial staff meeting normally convened in the morning but Miranda pushed it back until after the budget meeting.

“A copy of the schedule and assignments for New York Fashion week is going around now.” Andrea said as she placed one in front of Miranda, leaning in, her cleavage within Miranda’s view, then moved away, handing the thin stack of papers to Joselyn and taking a seat.

“This won’t do, Andrea. You’re not covering the Red Dress Collection the day before Valentines or the African Fashion Collective. You’re not even covering half  of the shows.”

“The New York Fashion week schedule is under my purview.” Andrea returned coolly, scooting in her chair. “I may be able to accommodate...”

“I’m the editor in chief and everything is under my purview.”

Miranda kept her expression neutral but the tone of voice was furious. “I’ll go over the schedule and send out a revision today.”

Andrea, red-faced and glaring, stood then instructed, “Everyone, give us a minute, please.”

“Andrea.” The warning came from Emily of all people. “This is definitely not the time to be cheesed off.”

“Emily, wait outside.” Miranda said quietly.

Miranda’s heart started to pump fast and the surface of her skin tingled. Although much of her anticipated the confrontation, she kept her face impassive as she leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs, never once looking away from Andrea’s face. Two people slowly got up from the table but nervously stalled.

Miranda pursed her lips then said, “By all means move at a glacial pace. You know how that thrills me.”

The clamor of people pushing back their chairs and gathering their things was music to Miranda’s ears but Andrea looked furious. Emily’s voice carried as she ushered everyone out but she didn’t have a clue what she said.

As soon as the door closed, Andrea growled, “Why am I here, Miranda?”

“Is that an existential question or are you simply confused?”

Andrea moved around the table and stood in front of her . “You want to know what I think?” Not waiting for an answer, she grabbed the armrests of Miranda’s chair and leaned in. “You’re so busy micromanaging your staff, they’ve forgotten how to think for themselves. I want you to stop trying to do my job.”

Miranda sprung from her seat and Andrea stumbled back. “Then do it. Runway is New York Fashion Week. You should have a representative at every show. You have a large staff to help. So, get help.”

“You and I both know the shows I decided not to attend are subpar and don’t deserve...”

“Fix the schedule, Andrea.”

Andrea ground out, “No.”

“Every show is important to attend. Do you want other publications to showcase something Runway didn’t because of our Fashion Director said it was subpar before even seeing it? I don’t give a damn who you send, Andrea, but you better send someone to every one. Do you understand me?” Miranda got into Andrea’s face and coolly said, “Don’t blow this because of your pride.”

The lines on Andrea’s face smoothed out then her gaze deviated to Miranda’s mouth and snapped back up but the damage was done. With one brief look, Andrea awoke Miranda’s desire. She doesn’t trust you. The reminder dwindled as she scrambled to remain aloof. Andrea pissed her off faster than anyone but, god, if Miranda wasn’t aching for the loss of control.

Andrea whispered, “Okay.”

Miranda, in dangerous territory and unable to speak, nodded and carefully took a step back, then another while Andrea did the same. The tension remained but the distance took the edge off enough to keep her from pushing Andrea on top of the table.

Moving to the window, Andrea turned her back on Miranda, one hand on her hip and the other palming her forehead. Rivulets of water covered the glass window. Beset by an impulse to comfort her, Miranda stood behind her chair, staring at her notes without seeing them.

Abruptly Andrea turned around with her arms at her sides. The resolute line of her shoulders, how her breasts and chin proudly jutted a little outward was a stance Miranda admired and wanted to conquer. She held onto the back of a chair to steady her knees.

“I can take everything you dish out, Miranda, because despite what you must think, I do trust you. You’re practically a second parent to my daughter.” Andrea rubbed the back of her neck. “I just didn’t know how it would work...”

White-knuckling the chair, Miranda interrupted, “But I don’t trust you. I’m not in the habit of asking someone to have faith in what I say and for the record, attending all the shows was business and didn’t have anything...”

“I know.” Andrea sighed. “You were right about fashion week. I was being...short-sighted. You need to know something else, too.” Cautiously, she took a few steps toward the table and looked Miranda straight in the eye as she finished, “ I’m going to give you every reason to trust me again, Miranda.”

Hands falling away from the back of the chair, she gathered herself then walked to the door and opened it.

“The minute’s over.” Miranda said, noticing a few missing attendees while everyone else filed through the doorway. “Is there another meeting going on that’s more important?”

The Digital Editor and Serena furiously tapped on their phones. By the time Miranda resumed her seat, everyone was accounted for which rather disappointed her. The absence of verbal eviscerations always left her a touch deflated. She watched Andrea take her seat. When their eyes met, she nodded slightly then started doodling in the margins.

The meeting continued with small digs here and there when Miranda sensed complacency. Once the meeting was over, Miranda swept out of the room, the one-on-one with Andrea delaying the rest of her day. She didn’t want to think about what Andrea said before she brought everyone else back in. Impressed by her Fashion Director’s determination to adhere to the schedule she created, Miranda held no doubt Andrea was coming along nicely. The fire in her eyes promised a worthy apprentice. Better still, she didn’t break under Miranda’s will, but the best of all, Andrea had been capable of conceding to reason and laying her pride aside for the advancement of Runway.

Or did Andrea acquiesce because of their mutual attraction?

Miranda internally yelled at herself to stop thinking about it. There were tasks to accomplish. She looked at the time but decided to call Nigel anyway.

“Miss me already?” he teased. “It’s only been a week.”

“Wake me up when you’re finished, you bore me so.”

Nigel laughed. “So, how is my replacement?”

“Everything you expected, I imagine.” Miranda replied, purposefully emphasizing the boredom in her tone. “Have you settled in?”

“I fired more than half the staff last week.”

“Incompetence or disloyalty?”

“Neither, of course.” he replied, a hint of derision in his voice. “Someone whom I greatly admire and worked with for two decades taught me the value of asserting one’s authority.”

Dryly she remarked, “I don’t believe I fired that many my first week as editor, during Couture Fashion week no less.”

“They quit before you could, but, don’t worry, you still hold the record for most in one day.”

“I was under the impression you didn’t officially start until today.”

Nigel sighed. “Andrea handled most of last week which allowed me to...organize.”

Miranda ignored Vanessa as she hovered in the doorway and leaned back in her chair. She swiveled until she faced the window.

“What of Bev Toussaint?”

“Paris Runway’s new Fashion Director.”

“My, my, my you have been paying attention.”

“Speaking of Fashion Directors, have you two, um, done the deed?”

“On the Fifth I plead.”

“You make me want to smoke weed.”

Miranda laughed. “On that, we’re agreed.”

“Was it everything you imagined it to be?”

No longer joking, his question abruptly sobered her.

“We haven’t.” Miranda strived to sound composed. “It was nothing but a bit of fancy, Nigel. Nothing happened nor will it. Now tell me how it felt firing all those people.”

“I’m glad you came to your senses.”

  •  

Word reached her about a minor catastrophe of missing flash drives. On a conference call, Miranda ignored the news. She stared at the view. Gusts of wind propelled the rain against the windows. Such a dismal day demanded a fireplace, wine, and company of a specific sort. As someone droned on about percentages, no doubt enjoying holding everyone else hostage, Miranda looked up to see Andrea standing uncertainly at the door, hands behind her back. She muted her mic and motioned her in.

“Sorry to interrupt but your assistants aren’t at their desks and I need the minutes from last week’s editorial meeting.”

Miranda narrowed her eyes. “It can’t wait?”

“Oh, it can.”

“Then why are you bothering me?”

Andrea’s knowing smile wasn’t full-blown but it sent a tiny shiver through her nonetheless.

“You’re right. I’ll leave you to it then.”

“Vanessa keeps them on the assistant’s share drive.”

“Good to know.”

Before she could stop herself, Miranda asked, “How was Fen’s first day?”

“I haven’t been able to talk to her yet.” Andrea replied, lightly drumming her fingers once against the doorjamb.

Miranda grew speculative as she watched Andrea depart but then she heard her name on the call and went back to work.

  •  

As she was about to slide into her coat, Emily darkened her office door.

“What is it?”

“The missing flash drives have been recovered. Some twit left them in an Uber and spent the entire day tracking down the driver.”

“I trust you took care of this ‘twit’?”

Emily crossed her arms. “Actually, no. I thought you might want to.”

Miranda rolled her eyes. “You handle it. I’m leaving for the day...”

“It’s your first assistant, Miranda.”

A very long, annoyed sigh streamed out of her thin nostrils. “Send her in.”

Emily nodded then left.

A second later Vanessa entered, rumpled and wet, the sleek bun she usually sported a frizzy mess.

“Yes, Miranda.”

Admiring the confident way she moved into the room, as if nothing were amiss, Miranda said, “This morning the girl out there said you were ‘busy’. What were you busy with?”

Vanessa stood stiffly. “I had to take my son to the clinic.”

“He’s better, I trust?”

Eyes wide, the first assistant nodded.

“And the flash drives?”

Vanessa licked her lips and her eyebrows briefly lowered before replying, “It was raining and I was trying to save time, so I paid for an Uber and accidently left them in the car when I finished running errands.”

“That’s all.”

“Yes, Miranda.” Vanessa said then left.

  •  

While sitting in traffic, the lies she told her friend replayed in her head. Instinct drove her, perhaps a bit of self-preservation, too. Although not moved by it, Miranda understood his mild censure.

‘If this isn’t love then you need to walk away.’

Nigel’s unsolicited advice a few weeks ago came roaring back to haunt her. Whatever she ended up having with Andrea, it surely wasn’t Nigel’s business nor anyone else’s. She felt protective of what was happening between them despite her misgivings. It remained to be seen if Andrea kept her promise and Miranda had every intention of making it a torturous endeavor. The real question was how long could Miranda resist temptation?

“What seems to be the problem, Roy?” she demanded, tired of her uncooperative brain dwelling on the one subject she didn’t wish to think about.

“Signal lights are out for the next few blocks.”

“Can’t you take the next turn and go around?”

“Yes, but the side streets are backed up, too, Miranda. I’m sorry. It shouldn’t be too much longer.”

Miranda dug into her bag and was surprised to discover a pocket photo album with a blue ribbon tied around it. She slipped it off then opened it up and put her hand to her chest. Pictures of Fen in Paris, the twins at Andrea’s apartment, the girls together and finally a close-up of Andrea laughing. The rest of the plastic sleeves were empty except for the one opposite of Andrea’s photo. A note occupied it.

The beginning of our story.

Chapter Text

On Wednesday morning Andrea sent Miranda pictures of Fen on her first day back to preschool along with the message Fen composed herself ‘what’s up, M?’ She didn’t receive a reply but that didn’t matter. They would see each other at lunch with Jamar King, the new designer Miranda chose to feature next month. While not under optimal conditions, Andrea still hoped to steal some time alone with Miranda. It was possible she might invite Andrea to share a ride to the lunch. Maybe it’d be her lucky day.

Andrea enthusiasm flagged when she remembered Miranda hadn’t said anything about the photo album, not that she thought she would. It was only the first week of Miranda’s impression of Nuclear Wintour. Although her daughter was an avenue to Miranda, Andrea didn’t want to go down it. For one thing, Fen loved Miranda and it would break her little girl’s heart if they weren’t ‘friends’ anymore. Then, how could she face Fen when she found it was her mother’s fault? How could she look herself in the mirror?

Much better to woo Miranda while wearing long johns and a parka.

She walked into the Runway offices at eight on the dot, sipping on a mocha latte as she crossed the bullpen and went up the stairs that led to her office. Fifteen minutes remained until the meeting with the Creative Director Robert Reznick whom she personally despised. She went to Miranda’s office to speak with Amber and frowned when she stopped in front of her desk.

“What’s with those clothes?”

Amber took off her glasses and started to play with them. “They’re clean and they’re mine.”

“Come with me right now.”

“I can’t. I’ve got to run all over creation once Vanessa gets back from the restroom.”

Andrea gritted her teeth. “Fine but before you leave today, we’re going to do something about your wardrobe.”

“Okay.”

Deciding she might as well, Andrea walked through the doorway. Behind her desk, Miranda looked up.

“Guess what Fen said to me this morning?” Andrea asked, smiling as she stood in front of the desk.

She hurried her eyes along the lines of Miranda’s upper body, pausing to appreciate the swells of her breasts, while she waited for Miranda to answer.

“Something intelligent no doubt.’

Andrea grinned, getting warm as that cool blue gaze lingered on her.

T’es une raclure de bidet. Although I’m not exactly sure I got the accent down.”

Miranda bit her bottom lip but the corners of her mouth turned upward. “I may have said that while we rode up the elevator together after our day out.”

“That much I gathered. So, um, I understood the bidet part. Wanna enlighten me on the rest?”

“It’s French slang. I told her not to repeat it and I only said it once.” Miranda grinned as she stood. “She has such a gift for language.”

Without the desk between them, they stood facing one another.

“I suppose the American equivalent would be douche bag.”

Andrea gasped, “You taught my baby a bad word. In French, no less. How did this happen, hm?”

Miranda’s smile disappeared. “As I said, we were in the elevator going up to your apartment. Two women entered. One was nice and one...wasn’t.”

“Wasn’t how exactly?” Andrea questioned, wondering if she needed to defend her baby.

“I prompted Fen to say thank you in French when the nice one complimented her then the other woman said something about only speaking English in America.”

“Bitch.”

Miranda smirked, “Appropriate.”

Andrea realized they were only inches apart. “Thank you for defending my daughter.”

“Of course.”

“I should...” Andrea gestured over her shoulder but didn’t move. “go.”

Miranda licked her upper lip as she slid the onyx pendant back and forth on the gold chain she wore.

“You are a cruel, cruel woman, Miranda Priestly.” Andrea said from low in her throat.

Slowly one eyebrow lifted just enough to look challenging. Andrea clenched her fists.

“You’re not the first person to think so.”

“But I’m probably the first person to like it.” she whispered then ducked out.  

  •  

 She was watching the clock, leg bobbing under the table, barely listening to Serena’s ideas for the next issue. Vanessa sent her a text twenty minutes ago telling Andrea to be out on the curb by eleven-forty-five. Her memory pulled up scenes from the last time she shared a car ride with Miranda and despite knowing it wasn’t going to go that way, she couldn’t sit still.

“Andrea, are you listening to me?”

“I am. Absolutely.”

“Well?”

Wincing, she offered Serena an apologetic half-smile. “Can you repeat what you said?”

“I think maybe there is a man, eh?”

“What...oh, no, no man. Fashion week is just around the corner and I’m, uh, just a little bit preoccupied.”

“Nigel, he said you are married?”

“Um, well, I’m getting a divorce.” Andrea replied.

Serena offered a commiserating smile. “That must be tough.”

“Yeah, well, it’s better than getting my ass handed to me in a meeting.”

Laughing, Serena replied, “I suppose that is true after Monday’s meeting, hey, maninha?”

“Ma-neen-ya?”

“It’s like sister or friend, casual style.”

Andrea mumbled it underneath her breath a few times then said, “You have no idea, maninha.”

Serena laughed as she patted the back of Andrea’s hand. “Not bad. So, you stood up to the dragon and lived to tell.”

Jokingly Andrea said, “I guess you missed the burn marks up and down my arm.”

“Well, you fooled us all, then, Andrea Sachs. No one’s ever done such a thing as you did and kept the job.”

Uncomfortable with the appraising look from the Beauty Director, she asked, “What did you ask me before I spaced out?”

While they talked about Serena’s ideas for an upcoming photo shoot, Andrea’s brain gnawed on the fact people took notice of her interactions with Miranda. She needed to be more low-key. Rumors started with far less. She took notes and asked a few intelligent questions before the meeting ended.

Power walking in high heels wasn’t a skill Andrea possessed. In hopes of convincing people to move aside, she made do with an authoritative stride. As soon as she reached her office and gathered her things, she checked her phone in case there was a last minute change of plans. Heart banging in her chest when she realized she was within minutes of being alone with Miranda, Andrea strode through Runway and into the elevator.

Slightly out of breath, she walked up to the idling town car as Roy exited, touched the bill of his cap, then opened the passenger’s side front door.

“Um, there’s another passenger in back. Miranda should be down shortly.” He smiled. “You get to ride up front with me.”

Although she hesitated, Andrea schooled her features, not wanting to give Roy an insight into her thoughts. Naturally, the privacy screen was up. She watched Roy walk around in front of the car but didn’t really pay attention as she puzzled through the new development. When he entered the car, she smiled.

“I can’t believe it’s how cold it is even with the sun out.” she said as she pulled off her gloves.

“Better than rain, am I right?”

“No kidding.”

Roy checked his phone then looked out the window toward the building.

When he turned back, she watched the traffic as she idly asked, “You drive Miranda around a lot?”

“You know I’m her regular driver.”

“I’ve seen you like twice, Roy.” Andrea shrugged.

Laughing, he eyed her sideways then explained, “You’re not the first person to try to get to her through me, you know.”

Andrea blew out a long breath. “You’re off base with that, Roy. I’m glad she has you in her corner though.”

“So you weren’t trying to get on my good side?”

“Just making conversation.”

The chirping phone grabbed his attention. “She’s coming down.” He got out to walk around the car to stand on the sidewalk by the back door on Andrea’s side.

Half-tempted to press the partition’s button to see who was sitting in the backseat, she concentrated on waiting for Miranda’s approach instead. It wouldn’t be long before she learned the identity of the mystery passenger. Besides, Andrea thought with a slight grin, Miranda needed a chaperone obviously. The Jamar King lunch was merely an appreciative gesture after he signed on to give an exclusive to Runway. Nigel had told her that Emily had identified him as a possible up-and-comer last summer. Since Andrea was in the front seat and Nigel in Paris, she felt confident in guessing who sat in the backseat.

There was something clandestine about watching Miranda without her knowledge. A combination of grace and authority, every step she took through a crowd that parted like a school of fish before a shark, beckoned Andrea’s cub to come out and play. Unguarded, she bit her lower lip and thought again about the last time they were in the town car together.

  •  

Miranda refused to look at her or, more precisely, meet Andrea’s eyes. Emily and Jamar caught up and it was tediously clear he was quite charmed by the Fashion Development Director. Impatient, she decided to nudge things along.

“Have you been here before?” she asked, propping her chin in her hand.

The banal question brought out Miranda’s exasperation which she conveyed via a cool direct look. Andrea, not disappointed, slightly lifted her eyebrow, dropped her eyes to Miranda’s mouth. That snagged Miranda’s attention. Andrea shifted, her skin tingling in such a maddening way, she felt a feline urge to rub up against a certain someone. The sensation progressed down her arms, torso and legs. Andrea didn’t fight it, simply gave in and enjoyed it.

Unmasked for a second, Miranda’s gaze left no doubt at all about her thoughts.

“Um, I’ve...excuse me for a minute.” Andrea announced as she pushed back her chair.

“Where are you off to, then?” Emily asked.

“The ladies room.”

Emily made a move to rise but Miranda blandly said, “Emily, order the mussels for me. I’ll accompany Andrea.”

“Why do women always go in pairs to the bathroom?” Jamar asked and laughed.

Andrea walked away and longed to drag Miranda into the nearest hotel or alleyway. When she reached the restroom, she didn’t delay and went straight to a stall. She heard the door swing open and assumed it was Miranda. Andrea shook out her hands.

“Really, Andrea, I thought you had more backbone than hiding in the ladies room.”

“Hiding?” she snapped, pushing open the stall door. She didn’t stop until she was within inches of Miranda. “That’s what you really think I’m doing in here?”

The tips of Miranda’s fingers softly ghosted from the side of Andrea’s neck to rest between her clavicles and all the fight left her. Her body stilled but her heart pounded.

“You want to play, cub?” Miranda’s fingers traced the slope of Andrea’s breast as she took a step forward. “You’re trembling.”

Andrea’s chest inflated and she lost her breath when Miranda’s palm brushed against her nipple. Her body reacted and immediately developed a love-hate relationship with the tease. Miranda’s soft touches bordered on cruel they held so little weight. In an embarrassingly short amount of time Andrea was going to orgasm with the barest of stimuli and she wasn’t going to give a good god damn. Miranda’s nails lightly raked across her nipple making Andrea gasp and lean forward in an attempt to get Miranda’s hand to give a more substantial caress. She remembered telling Miranda she’d take whatever she dished out but she hadn’t promised she would be passive.

Andrea grabbed both of Miranda’s hands and pressed them against her breasts, whispering, “I want you all over me.”

Miranda inhaled sharply, blue eyes glittering

“Bollocks, I’ve spilt my bloody drink.”

Dazed, Andrea didn’t have the presence of mind to react but Miranda smoothly faced Emily and, in doing so, offered a shield for Andrea to compose herself behind.

“You didn’t spill it on Jamar, did you? I will be very disappointed if you did.”

Andrea slipped from behind Miranda and walked to the sink.

“Of course, not, Miranda. I’m British.” She snarked, tearing a paper sheet from the automatic dispenser and wetting it. “I’m not some vulgar colonial.”

“Only a bungling Brit, then?” Andrea quipped, blood still hot but under control as she dried her hands.

While Miranda checked her make-up in the mirror, Andrea dodged Emily’s playful swat and exited the room.

If she and Miranda didn’t resolve the sexual tension between them, people were going to get a show and that was the very least of Andrea’s worries. There was Fen, the divorce, her career, family and friends which were all threatened. Yet, she was willing to fight for it all, too. She loved Miranda, the fashion maven and mother of twins. She was pretty sure Miranda loved her in return or why else would she put herself in such a precarious position? The woman’s control was legendary.

...whatever it takes, to continue seeing you in private until such a time we will be able to go public...trust me.

Andrea’s jaw dropped a little as she stopped just outside the ladies room.

‘...until such a time...’

Miranda knew Andrea’s circumstances when she uttered those words. A second later, it clicked in her head. Miranda Priestly had something up her sleeve. Andrea started walking back to the table and smiled so hard, her jaw ached.

“So, Jamar, I didn’t get a chance to tell you how excited I am that you agreed to have your designs featured in Runway.”

“Between you and Emily, I couldn’t refuse.” he teased then took a sip of water and signaled a waiter. “Everyone ordered but you.”

Andrea quickly perused the menu then requested the kale quiche and wild greens salad.

“It’ll be about fifteen minutes for the quiche. It’s made to order.”

“That’s fine. Thank you.” She handed him the menu then said to Jamar, “And thank you for getting the waiter’s attention.”

“No problem.”

As she approached the table, Emily asked, “Did you just order?”

Andrea nodded as she turned to look at Miranda who sauntered toward the table, the suggestion of a smirk curving her lips. Hit by a wave of arousal, she forced herself to concentrate on a plan. Confessing her love on Miranda’s doorstep sounded thrilling and a bit romantic. Andrea could picture how long and how many times she wanted to express that emotion but, reality intruded. Midway through the work week, there wasn’t time or opportunity for such a momentous occasion, she supposed. As much as Andrea yearned to lay herself bereft of armor at Miranda’s feet, it required finesse and forethought. Friday night was the Elias-Clarke Advertisers Banquet and she wasn’t sure of the rest of Miranda’s weekend plans but Amber would know. More importantly, Amber would tell.

  •  

A quarter past four was the first opportunity Andrea had to pull Amber aside.

“She’s gonna notice I’m gone, Andrea.”

Rolling her eyes, Andrea stated, “Look, I’m the magazine’s Fashion Director. I’ll take the hit if she gets mad, okay? Now, come on, we’re going to the Closet. You need a better wardrobe.”

“I can’t afford the dry cleaning bill.”

Andrea stopped short causing Amber to bump into her. “Oh.” She faced the assistant and smiled apologetically. “Just put it on my account.”

“I couldn’t do that.”

“I write it off at the end of the year.” When Amber’s eyes bugged out, Andrea explained, “I have to wear designer clothes. It’s like my uniform, okay? Completely legal.”

“Can I...”

“No. You’re an assistant. Tomorrow, start wearing the clothes I pick out. Hold on, let me call Serena. She has tons of make-up.”

While on the phone, Andrea motioned to Amber to follow. When they reached the Closet, Andrea hung up and pulled out her keycard.

Forty minutes later Amber was ladened down with three outfits.

“Now, don’t forget.” Andrea whispered as they walked down the hallway. “Get here at seven tomorrow morning and Serena will give you some make-up and show you how to apply it, okay?”

Amber groused, “I might talk like I’m backwards, but I’m not, okay?”

Shoving down a knee-jerk reaction of incredulity, Andrea took a second to think of how to respond.

“I don’t think you are. It wasn’t my intention to make you feel that way.” She lightly touched Amber’s shoulder. “If you want to pick out your own clothes and make-up, that’s fine. I’ll call Serena and tell her...”

“Hey, just a minute. I could use all you all’s help. I mean, Serena could be a model and you look good, too.”

“I don’t want to push you into anything, Amber.”

“You’re not, well, not really.”

“Okay. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Amber beamed, nodding as she clutched the garment bags protectively.

Turning away, Andrea took three steps then swung around, saying, “Oh, hey, do you know if Miranda will be at home this weekend? I need to...”

“Oh, um...” Amber’s eyes squinted behind the Ben Franklin’s which reminded Andrea to find a pair of updated glasses in accessories.

Andrea put on her very best innocent expression.

“Well, she’s taking the twins ice-skating at Chelsea Piers Saturday but I don’t know what else she got planned.”

“Ice skating, huh?” Andrea shrugged, grinning as she turned back around and walked away.

To be honest, Miranda’s personal schedule wasn’t exactly private to upper management. Although it wasn’t published, occasionally a CFO or some other executive could ask an assistant about Miranda’s availability without requiring details. Andrea was afforded the same privacy. Vanessa, of course, knew this and probably instructed Amber to remain silent if anyone else asked about Miranda’s personal appointments.

Andrea, feeling guilty for the manipulation, didn’t care enough to confess and apologize however. Hopefully, if Miranda ever found out, she’d give Amber a raise. She returned to her office and plopped down in the chair.

Next week the new furniture she ordered was due to arrive. Nigel’s old desk was a bit much with its Hugh Heffner over-compensation. Besides, she favored lighter colors and a minimalistic touch. Andrea swiveled around to look out at the view which still thrilled her. The office at Vogue had been half the size and without a window. What a long way from Cincinnati and the girl with dreams of making it big in New York. Despite the cliché, Andrea’s pride in the accomplishment didn’t diminish. The unexpected turns, divorce and falling in love with a woman, were bonuses.

Andrea turned back to the desk. She needed to finish a few things before going home to Fen who was very excited about going to her French school the next day.

  •  

Later than she wanted, Andrea walked out of Runway and immediately hurried her steps to the elevators where a very beautiful editor impatiently waited for the doors to open.  A slow grin spread across Andrea’s face as she reached Miranda at the exact time the elevator car arrived.

“May I?” she whispered.

Miranda paused from pushing the button then tilted her chin to the side.

Andrea stepped in. “How was your day?”

“Productive.” Miranda replied, leaning back against the polished steel. “Yours?”

“The same actually.”

“Mm.” Sliding down her glasses, Miranda looked directly at Andrea. “Pity there’s cameras.”

Andrea stared at the floor. “And if there weren’t?”

“I’d have you on your back, cub.”

Not daring to look up, she shook her head slowly. “I may be your cub but don’t forget I have teeth.”

She looked up to see Miranda breathing heavily, her body a tight line angled in Andrea’s direction. Miranda leaned to her right and pressed a button. Thirty seconds later the doors opened.

“Let’s see how true that is.” Miranda whispered and walked out.

Andrea followed, nerves aflame with anticipation, as Miranda led the way past a set of nondescript doors then down a long corridor. It looked abandoned but when she turned the corner Andrea realized it was under construction. A logo sign for Buttons, the newest Elias-Clarke magazine was propped against furniture covered in plastic. When Miranda entered a room, Andrea followed, her inner thighs slick. She should have been humiliated by how ready she was for whatever might happen.

Finally, Miranda stopped and turned around. The only light came from a single floor stand work lamp someone from the remodeling crew must have forgotten to turn off. Miranda stood in front of it, a dark silhouette supporting her weight on her left foot while the right one tapped against the bare concrete.

“Are you waiting for an engraved invitation, Andrea?”

The surge inside of her body almost overwhelmed her as she took careful steps toward Miranda. Unable to see Miranda’s face in the shadows, Andrea summoned her confidence the closer she got. The words, the ones that filled her body past its limits, pushed against her clenched teeth. Andrea stopped in front of Miranda then firmly gripped Miranda’s wrist and slowly brought it around her waist.

Echoing inside of her head, I love you, I love you steadied Andrea’s urgency as she gently took Miranda’s bottom lip between her teeth, her tongue flicking before her lips soothed it. Miranda groaned, her hands palming Andrea’s ass, finger digging in. Andrea slanted her head, fitting their mouths together, and boldly invaded Miranda’s mouth. Not nearly close enough, one of Andrea’s hands tugged on the collar of Miranda’s blouse while the other one fisted the hairs on the back of Miranda’s head. Driven by mindless impulses, Andrea wrestled with the red haze enveloping her. God, it hurt to slowdown her frenetic kisses. She almost didn’t give a fuck, ready to spread her legs and be taken up against something sturdy. Andrea moaned at the image.

Out of breath, she ended the kiss and whispered, “We’re inevitable.”

Chapter Text

 

The banquet, held in a warehouse space complete with brick walls, exposed ventilation ducts, and artfully scuffed wooden floors, was well attended. Most of the two hundred people invited showed up. Andrea posed for pictures with happy-handed men and their pinched-faced wives. The opportunity to talk to Miranda hadn’t presented itself yet but she tried to casually scan the venue to catch a glimpse of her. Emily kept her company, sassing some man with Elton John eye glasses and Katy Perry’s fashion sense. She excused herself.

It didn’t take long to locate Miranda. She was surrounded by a small crowd which was to be expected but the tall, dark man with his hand on her hip wasn’t. Andrea breathed through her slightly parted lips as her gaze sharpened on their interaction. Miranda smiled, murmured and sipped but didn’t pay him any more notice than an accessory. The man was good looking in a swarthy prince kind of way with a relaxed air about him. Moving away, Miranda brushed his hand from her person in a move that looked natural like walking down a street. Andrea fingered a diamond drop earring then straightened her shoulders.

“Miranda, do you have a minute?” she asked, sweeping in as if invited.

Tall, dark and handsome moved aside with well-practiced grace but Andrea didn’t acknowledge him.

“Fine.” she replied with overt apathy.

A few people in the group nodded or smiled at Andrea which she returned in a cursory fashion, rather preoccupied at the moment.

Miranda followed her to the other side of the venue. The small nook by the window hardly accommodated one of them let alone both, but Andrea didn’t think Miranda minded the cramped space.

“That man had his hand on your ass, Miranda.”

Instead of the stilted apology Andrea expected, Miranda laughed with genuine feeling. Inwardly Andrea sighed, falling a bit deeper into love.

“You are too precious.”

But that sounded too damn close to condescending for Andrea to let go.

“You’re very lucky we’re in public.”

Miranda’s eyes darkened. “Is that so?”

“Who was that man, Miranda?”

“Are you serious?” Miranda asked, staring at her.

Andrea let the anger evaporate. “No. I trust you. It just sucks I can’t, that we can’t...we haven’t...christ, you drive me crazy.”

Miranda’s smile flaunted the fact she knew just how profoundly she affected Andrea.

“You do realize that despite recent developments in our relationship, I’m nowhere near done dishing out my punishment?”

Andrea smiled. “I’m looking forward to a spanking actually.”

Miranda’s eyes narrowed but the grin on her face scared Andrea a little.

“Mm, you’re giving me ideas, Andrea.”

Spanked by Miranda Priestly, she thought. Oh, my god. Andrea tried to compose herself but, judging from Miranda’s expression, she wasn’t fast enough.

“Oh, my cub, you’ve given yourself away.”

Andrea spoke to the window behind Miranda. “The thought of you doing that to me is...intriguing since I’ve never engaged in that sort of thing.” Looking at Miranda, she continued, “You can do anything to me and I would love it.”

Miranda’s cheeks turned a becoming shade of pink.

They were interrupted by none other than tall, dark and handsome.

“Excuse me, but...”

“Onslow Amari, allow me to introduce Andrea Sachs, Runway’s Fashion Director.”

He smoothly took her hand and kissed it. Andrea suppressed an eye roll and the revulsion that gurgled in her throat.

“Nice to meet you.” he murmured as his hand gripped Miranda’s elbow.

Andrea drew herself up, pressing her shoulders back but she still had to look up to look into his eyes.

“I’m sure it is.” she said in the airy insincerity New York east siders perfected.

The amusement in Miranda’s stare warmed Andrea’s heart and soothed her ruffled feathers but he was still touching her. She knew better than to make a scene, however, and bowed out of the awkward trio. Miranda, as always, knew what she was doing. Andrea fervently hoped one day she’d be privy to Miranda’s innermost thoughts.

Andrea mingled and smiled for the company photographers. She nursed a drink that had once been a rum and coke but was now so watered down it was pointless. Introduced to important advertisers, Andrea turned on charm and just as easily turned it off once they departed. No one and nothing kept her interest except the daydreams of Miranda’s hands massaging her ass. As expected, her gaze went in search of a certain editor. When she couldn’t locate Miranda, she set down her drink on the nearest surface which happened to be a plant stand. She walked the entire perimeter and her stomach squeezed with an unpleasant grip. Replaying their earlier conversation, Andrea realized she didn’t receive an answer from Miranda. From fine to furious in a matter of seconds, Andrea curled her fingers into fists and headed to the coat check area. Thoughts of Nate befuddled her head, residual embers of anger glowing hotter. A glimpse of white caught her eye. Andrea turned her head and stopped walking.

Miranda shut a door behind her and mingled with the crowd. Andrea pressed a palm against her stomach, the will to move, to leave all but abandoning her. No longer staring at Miranda, Andrea spotted Onslow exiting through the same door Miranda had gone through moments before. She no longer felt anything except rage. First Nate and now, apparently, Miranda. What a fucked up way to punish her, Andrea thought.

Trust me.

A plea from a woman who never begged for anything.

The past roared up, yelling in her ear about stupidity and weakness. When that failed to make Andrea move, to leave in self-righteous conviction, the whispers started, telling her how she wasn’t enough for anyone, hitting the target of her insecurity. She stood still instead and breathed.

Trust me.

From the woman who loved her daughter, not just with words, but with actions and support.

Jostled by a small group passing by, Andrea sought refuge against the wall and tried to keep herself from freaking out. Miranda loved her. She mostly believed it.

Trust me.

From the woman Andrea Sachs loved with everything.

“Are you alright?” a very familiar voice asked.

Andrea opened her eyes and smiled at Miranda.

Before Andrea could respond, Miranda said, “Well, I’ve put in my time.” Although her expression was pure bitch, her gaze was heated. “Care for a nightcap at the townhouse?”

“Oh yeah, absolutely.”

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Andrea sat demurely on her side of the car as Roy pulled away from the curb. The privacy partition was down, much to her absolute disappointment. She peeked at Miranda but she was staring out the window. Intermittently street lights highlighted her sharp profile and Andrea admired her features, hoping to kiss them at some point. Andrea settled deeper into the cushioned seat and tried to quell her hammering heart. The dizzying shift of her emotions left her a bit breathless and disoriented but before her, in a matter of minutes, she would have Miranda alone. Nothing else registered.

In the corner of her eye she caught sight of Miranda unbuttoning her jacket. No longer keen on de-escalation, Andrea readjusted her body a little toward Miranda then crossed her legs. The iconic forelock fell across Miranda’s eye but she didn’t bother moving it back as she, too, moved and partially faced Andrea. The steady vibration of the vehicle and low hum of its engine was strangely erotic as they sped across town. No words passed between them. Nevertheless, Andrea heard Miranda loud and clear. A light sheen of sweat moistened her upper lip and she swiped it away with her tongue. Miranda touched her throat, gaze riveted on Andrea’s mouth. The effect was like lightning throughout Andrea’s body and she squeezed her legs tighter together.

The car slowed. Miranda gathered her purse and didn’t wait for Roy to open the door. Andrea quickly clambered out of the car, as much as the Givenchy dress allowed, and hurried up the steps after her. Oblivious to the cold, she waited and was about to intervene when Miranda quietly swore. Andrea knew better than to laugh. With a jiggle of a key, the door opened at last.

As soon as they were through the door and Andrea was shutting it behind them, Miranda tore up the stairs. At a much slower pace Andrea followed, a bit confused but when she heard voices, comprehension was immediate. Andrea wanted to scream.

“Their father called but Caroline very politely declined to talk to him.”

Andrea smiled at the diminutive older woman who stared at her.

“Cara, this is Andrea Sachs. She’s the new and approved Nigel.”

Miranda’s high-pitched voice was out of place. Cara’s raised eyebrows and open mouth were evidence enough of the housekeeper’s thoughts.

“Well, Roy is waiting for you.”

Cara put her hand on her hip. “Is he now?”

Eyes narrowing, Miranda said, “I’m sure Derby is waiting for you, too.”

 “Nice to meet you, Andrea.” she said, then nodded once and walked off in the other direction.

Miranda grabbed Andrea’s wrist and pulled her down to the end of the hallway. Before Andrea got her bearings, she was pushed into a room, whirled around and being kissed quite thoroughly. Groaning as Miranda’s hands held her face, Andrea’s need spiraled out of control. No brakes, no interruptions, no frozen tundra to trudge across. She searched for a way into Miranda’s dress, halfway to incoherency. Miranda’s tongue languidly explored her mouth. Andrea squirmed, her quest to take off the dress abandoned for the moment.

Slightly pulling away, Miranda said as her hands slid down to Andrea’s breasts, “For so long, I’ve been wanting to touch them properly.”

“No time like the present.” Andrea replied and created space between them while reaching behind to unzip.

Panting, Miranda started shedding her own clothes, shockingly unrepentant at the sound of torn material. Within seconds Andrea was down to her lingerie. About to unhook her bra, Miranda took over and roughly told Andrea to sit on the bed. Incapable of making her damn legs work, she stumbled but Miranda snagged her around the waist, laughing into Andrea’s neck. In retaliation, Andrea yanked down Miranda’s delicate underwear a bit too enthusiastically and fell to her knees which sent Miranda into a fit of hilarity. To shut her up and because she really had no other recourse, Andrea steadied herself by holding the backs of Miranda’s thighs then leaned in.

Miranda abruptly stopped laughing and gasped an expletive.

Overcome, Andrea licked and sucked, kissing Miranda’s pussy like it was her mouth. The taste and scent beckoned her tongue in deeper as Miranda’s legs opened. Miranda cupped the back of Andrea’s head then reached behind her to brace against the bed. Looking up, the sight of Miranda’s head tilted back and breasts on full display rumbled through Andrea, a prelude of things to come.

Miranda pulled herself fully on the bed, taking Andrea along with her. Legs wrapped around her waist as she settled on top of Miranda, she bit the top of Miranda’s shoulder and pressed down with her hips.

“I want to be inside you.” she whispered into Miranda’s damp skin, rocking against her.

Miranda gripped Andrea’s head and looked into her eyes. Long seconds passed between them then Miranda bucked her hips and whispered, “Make me beg, Andrea.”

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The wicked, low laughter in her ear created ringlets of pleasure spanning outward from Andrea’s center as Miranda added another finger.

“Oh, yes, you’re gonna take it, aren’t you, my cub?”

The heated words and the relentless meaning behind them were wetly breathed into her ear. Andrea held open her legs behind the knees, her entire being pulsating with an insatiable desire to be filled.

Curling her fingers inside of Andrea, Miranda simultaneously licked the side of Andrea’s neck.

“So greedy for my touch.”

Andrea moaned, hiking her knees up to Miranda’s shoulders and grabbing the back of her head.

“That’s it, darling, let me in deeper.”

Tears leaked out of Andrea’s eyes and mingled with the sweat.

Miranda slipped from Andrea’s embrace and slithered downward.

The first touch of Miranda’s lips on her clit and Andrea slapped the mattress, biting her lip to keep from crying out. Getting up on her knees with her free arm locked around Andrea’s leg, Miranda started pumping in earnest. Almost there, throat raw and body a coiled spring, Andrea strangled out the tail end of thoughts, praise, and pleas.

“Yes, yes...yes.” Andrea moaned. “...please...I’m going to...oh, for you, baby...”

The light scrape of teeth against her engorged clit had Andrea gripping her knees and tilting her pelvis.

She lost her mind a second later.

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Supine and drugged with endorphins, Andrea floated on a perfect plane. Miranda changed position somewhere near her waist. Andrea limply placed her hand on Miranda’s head and drifted away.

Sometime later she awoke with Miranda draped across her.

“Hello.” Miranda purred then kissed her chin. “Finally among the living.”

“Mmhmm.” Andrea replied, stretching as much as she could while underneath Miranda’s comfortable weight. “Do you have a list of names of the women you’ve been with?”

Miranda drew back a little and looked at her. “Of course not.”

“God, I want to send them gift baskets for letting you practice on them.”

Rolling her eyes, Miranda nevertheless smiled then kissed her. With delicate movements, she trailed her fingertips down the column of Andrea’s throat.

“You were so much more than I...expected.”

Andrea cupped the side of Miranda’s face then gently combed back the damp hair from her forehead. “I’m going to take that as a good thing.”

“As well you should.” Miranda chuckled with a soft delight, the devil dancing in her eyes. “I didn’t think I could bendlike that.”

They dissolved into imbecilic snorts and muffled laughter.

“You don’t think we...” Andrea’s gaze skittered in the direction of the door and bit her lip. “...woke the girls?”

“I think the pillow was sufficient.” Miranda mumbled against her skin.

Half-heartedly, Andrea took a swipe at Miranda’s ass but when her fingers touched a sleek dampness, a wave of weakness started from the back of her neck and rolled down to her toes.

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“I...wish you could stay, darling.”

“I don’t want to leave.”

Miranda smoothed the fabric across Andrea’s shoulders then drew closer and rested her arms on top of them. The kiss was slow and soft but still maintained the smoke of earlier passion. Andrea lightly caressed Miranda’s silk clad ass then walked her back against the wall by the front door.

When Andrea pulled away from the kiss, Miranda pouted. “You can’t kiss me like that when you have clothes on and are about to leave.”

Gathering the hem of Miranda’s robe in her nimble fingers, Andrea planted wet kisses along Miranda’s neck. “I need to give you something to think about.”

“And what is that?” Miranda purred as she lifted her foot and braced it against the wall opening herself to Andrea.

Letting go of the robe, she took a deep breath and put a little space between them. Artless, her gaze remained steady as she lowered one shield after the other. She thought about the feeling in her chest, how it weaved with the loose ends of her own shortcomings and disappointments to create something new, something hopeful.

“I love you.” she said and smiled, unconcerned by the conceit on Miranda’s face. “I’m not going anywhere unless you tell me to.”

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A miracle a cab was available given the time, Andrea took one home and didn’t think twice about the outrageous fare. She floated up to the apartment with visions of Cher in Moonstruck sparkling in her eyes. The urge to waltz about bubbled beneath her skin nearly making Andrea giggle out loud. Oh, god, her head was in the clouds, feet skipping over the ground. She walked into the apartment then locked the door behind her, eager to shed her wrinkled clothing and clutch her pillow like a lovesick teenager.

Cheeks hurting from the grin she couldn’t quite quell, Andrea peeked in on Fen who was flung out on the mattress with the bedding kicked off. Satisfied her daughter was safe and well, she headed to her bedroom. The dress fell away, tossed on the upholstered chaise lounge that she and Fen sometimes reclined in as Andrea turned the pages and Fen read out loud. She stepped out of the heels and finished undressing then took a quick shower.

Eyes a bit gritty, they nevertheless refused to immediately close once she sank into the mattress. It was three o’clock in the morning. By all rights, she should be ready to sleep but Andrea grinned into her pillow. The tingling sensation along her spine was a pleasant reminder of Miranda’s caresses. Andrea turned over bringing the pillow with her.

Then she remembered confessing her love.

Abruptly Andrea sat up and covered her face with her hands. Christ, Miranda was going to be insufferable, she thought, remembering the cocky-assed look she gave Andrea. She flopped back onto the bed and groaned.

The sound of her creaking door pulled her out of mortification and into concerned motherhood.

“Mommy.”

The distraught quality of her daughter’s voice propelled Andrea out of bed and across the room. She turned on a light then squatted down.

“What’s the matter, baby?”

Big, shiny tears spiked her eyelashes and her bottom lip quivered as she confessed, “Accident.”

Andrea, a bit slow on the uptake, failed to immediately comfort Fen who took this as a sign she was in trouble. When she started to cry, Andrea gathered her up in her arms and took her to the bathroom.

“Shhh, it’s alright, baby, I’ve got you. You’re such a good girl to come get mommy.” she soothed as she set her down. “Now, let’s get you cleaned up.”

Fen hiccupped, pushing away her mother’s hands from her. “I can do it myself.”

“Of course you can, baby. Uh, where are you pull-ups?”

Ignoring her, Fen tossed the soiled sleep pants away then demanded a wipe.

Andrea’s eyebrows went up. “Fen.”

The warning, of course, did not sway the indignant outrage of her four year old. Fen broke into a complete meltdown, turning red.

“Come here.” she cooed, leaning down to pick Fen up.

But Fen wasn’t having it and scowled, stomping off. Andrea tried to head her off when Fen reached Demetria’s door but she wasn’t fast enough.

“DeeDee!”

Not quite ballsy enough to chase after Fen, Andrea hung back by the half-opened door then lightly knocked on it when she heard the nanny comforting her child.

“Hey, Demetria, I’m sorry...”

“It’s no problem, Andrea.”

“Here, let me get her...”

“No, mommy mean.”

Demetria appeared from the shadowy interior of her room holding her daughter. “Now, now, your momma’s not mean, baby-girl.”

Although Fen didn’t fight it, she wasn’t pleased when Demetria handed her over.

“Thank you, and I’m so sorry about this.” Andrea patted Fen’s back. “I hope you can get back to sleep.”

Yawning, she nodded and waved them off as she withdrew, saying a quiet good night.

Evidently worn out from her tantrum, Fen sagged in Andrea’s arms. The castoff pull-ups were on the floor by the door as she walked into her daughter’s room. Andrea bent down and picked them up then checked the bed, finding the small wet spot and sighing.

Chapter Text

After decreeing a waffle breakfast, Miranda put her girls to work washing the fruit and getting what she needed out of the pantry.

“Dad said Cynthia’s ass is getting huge.” her daughter informed her with a nonchalance that threw Miranda.

“Cassidy Marie, you better backpedal it right this instant.”

He said it.”

Caroline, setting the flour on the counter next to her sister, preempted Miranda by scolding, “Repeating is the same as saying.”

Cassidy rubbed the tip of her nose, shrugged, then muttered, “Sorry.”

After a short silence, Caroline started to sing, “Ba, ba, ba, ba...I’m sleeping, and right in the middle of a good dream...”

Cassidy joined her. “Like all at once I wake up, from something that keeps knockin’ at my brain...”

Before I go insane, I hold my pillow to my head...” Miranda dutifully contributed. “And spring up in my bed...”

Altogether, they sang the chorus of Cassidy’s song, “Screaming out the words I dread: I think I love you!

Caroline abandoned any pretense of getting breakfast ready and started dancing around the kitchen. Cassidy, ever the accomplice, followed after her sister. Miranda watched her children, the vibrancy and joy each threw into the moment, and her heart swelled.

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Miranda sat in front of the mirror and put applied mascara to her lashes. Marvin Gaye piped through the surround sound in her room from a playlist only the master bedroom could access. No doubt the twins heard much worse. Despite the parental controls, some songs slipped past. Still, she couldn’t control everything as in evidenced by schoolmate influences and other factors.

Nevertheless, the newly awoken woman in her enjoyed the music. Andrea had been a revelation, creative and so fucking good at taking direction. Miranda smiled as she brushed her eyelashes. Oh, how Andrea listened, executing Miranda’s instructions with a flawless expertise. Looking at the small bruise on her trapezius, a flush of warmth filled her. Miranda twitched when a heat invaded between her legs. Dear lord, she shouldn’t still be experiencing such a wanton reaction. Andrea Sachs was worthy of all things, particularly Miranda’s love. When Andrea said she loved her, Miranda’s heartbeat stalled, a void suspended until feeling came rushing back in, and she was awash in emotion as her heartbeat resumed with a thundering percussion.

Miranda set down the applicator and stared into the mirror without seeing a thing. Glimpses of the night undulated, retelling the story of their bodies intertwined, of emotion cresting and ebbing, over and over. She was in love, unlike the feeling that prompted her to marry two men. Miranda gripped the eyeliner, closing her eyes as she remembered how it felt to be touched by Andrea. Mentally shaking herself, she opened her eyes and finished putting on her make up.

Adele expected her in an hour, dressed as befit her status in fashion, depending upon her to sway and convince the ‘party’s’ attendees. Miranda stared at her phone then snatched it up and sent a text to Andrea.

Can u and Fen come over tmrw?

Even though her phone vibrated almost immediately, Miranda continued with getting ready. The Dior sheath dress slipped over her curves and clung. As she adjusted and smoothed the fabric, Miranda wondered whether or not Andrea would like the eggplant color on her then rolled her eyes. Andrea preferred her period. Draped in couture or nothing at all, her allure had little to do with such superficial trappings.

Hadn’t Andrea said she loved her?

Miranda believed it. How could she not?

Her heart skipped into overdrive. She and Andrea had a future but it needed to develop in the shadows until the end of the year. How to explain it to her was the problem. Bound by secrecy, Miranda still wouldn’t risk her relationship with Andrea for a professional stratagem. She gave her word to Adele and  she would keep it but not at the expense of losing Andrea. The realization stunned her.

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“I’m about to walk into Adele Florian’s home.” Miranda hissed, stuck on the first step leading to the brownstone. Roy hovered, obviously not quite sure what to do.

“I heard you the first time, baby.”

Miranda huffed, “Such a juvenile endearment. I swear, I don’t know how you...”

“Calm down, have fun and I’ll see you tomorrow at eleven.”

“Really, Andrea, you’re a bit...”

“Exasperating, I know.”

Miranda huffed, “Is there a need for me to even talk?”

Andrea laughed, the sound shooting through Miranda’s pelvis like an electric shock.

“Yes, Miranda. I especially enjoy how you beg.”

That shut her up for a moment as she relived those moments from last night. “Mmm, well, yes...” Then she grinned, touched by a bit of evil teasing, and purred, “You love it, as I recall, don’t you darling?”

“Here we go.” Andrea muttered but she didn’t sound mad.

Miranda laughed quietly as she ducked her head away from Roy but observed him from the corner of her eye.

“By the way, I think Fen cussed me out last night in French.”

“Really? So precocious.” Miranda gushed, excited to see how the lessons were coming. “I can’t wait to talk to her. What did you do to her?”

“Me? I didn’t do anything.”

“You must have provoked my little angel.”

Andrea tutted. “She had a meltdown when I tried to help her.”

Miranda waved off Roy then climbed the stairs as she said, “Are you seriously defending yourself against a four year old?”

“What? No, I...” Andrea started to whine then evidently thought better of it when she stopped mid-sentence. “Okay, fine, yeah. Moving on, I am a little concerned about her, but...”

“What’s the matter?” Miranda stood in front of the door, glancing behind her at the idling car at the curb. Roy wouldn’t leave until she was safely within Adele’s home. Regardless of who was waiting for her, Miranda didn’t budge.

“Just mother stuff. We’ll talk about it later. I know you need to go.”

“You’re sure?”

Andrea laughed low in her throat. “I do love how much you care.”

“I know you do.”

After ending the call, she tucked her phone in the clutch then pressed the doorbell.

“I was wondering if you were going to lurk on my doorstep talking on the phone all night.” Marcus, Adele’s husband, teased as he swept open the door.

Miranda stared at him and narrowed her eyes.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to get in the way of your booty call.” Marcus mock-bowed as he shut the door behind them. “Allow me to take your coat. Hopefully that will be enough to get me out of the doghouse.”

“Not quite.” Miranda sassed as she slipped out of the garment. “Where is your wife? Good lord, did she invite all of Elias-Clarke?”

“Almost.” He grumbled but with a good-natured benevolence as he hung up her coat. “She hired a cocktail mixologist. Call him ‘Hey, Bartender’. His sour face is priceless. Don’t get the EIC or the Copy Editor but I recommend the Fashionista. It has a very lovely punch to it.” Marcus blinked his eyes rapidly and smirked.

They started walking toward the back of the house.

“I thought she grew out of re-naming drinks at her parties.”

“It still amuses her.”

Marcus, bless him, ran interference and kept them moving through the scattered group crowding the hallway. Most of them she recognized. One or two she actually wouldn’t mind having a conversation with but the purpose of Miranda’s presence wasn’t social. Why Adele decided to discuss their little enterprise during a party was a touch puzzling but Miranda trusted her enough to wait and find out.

When Marcus allowed her through the doorway first to the heated veranda, Miranda didn’t suspect a thing until she was greeted by a group who were obviously waiting for her arrival.

“Hello, Miranda.” They sang out in unison, none louder than Adele.

She looked back over her shoulder and glared at Marcus who stood in front of the French doors with his arms crossed and sporting a wide grin.

 Slowly she faced the grinning group and made a particularly unimpressed face.

“Can I get you a drink?” Adele said as she strolled up to Miranda, a martini glass in hand.

“I’m sure you can but I’m not inclined at the moment.”

Taking a quick sip of her drink, Adele’s sharp eyes roamed Miranda’s neck area. When her eyebrows lowered in a frown of concentration, Miranda tried to preempt the question she read in Adele’s slightly agape expression.

“I would have thought it was too cold to set up outside but it’s rather cozy with the heaters and canopy. Was it the caterer’s idea?”

“You have a hickey on your neck.”

Looking around, she murmured, “I do believe you’re seeing things.”

“There’s been nothing about you in Page Six since Webber.”

Miranda forced a polite smile as a few heads turned to look at them, the attention brought on by Adele’s squeaky pitch.

“Pull yourself together. You’re acting like a silly school girl.”

“Says the woman with a hickey.” Adele’s expression changed to a bland pleasantness when someone joined them from behind Miranda. “Thomas, hello.”

Not bothering to turn around, she made a move to step past Adele but she stayed Miranda’s departure with a hand on her arm.

“Miranda, this is Thomas Dalton. He works for the same firm as Marcus.”

“Hello. You’re incredibly beautiful in person.”

Pursing her lips, she looked at Adele then the interloper. “Oh, that’s one I haven’t heard before.”

Adele winced then hurriedly made her excuses and left.

He chuckled then tugged on a shift cuff. “Can I get you a drink?”

Miranda tilted her head as she stared at him. “Thomas, do you mind if I get right to the point?”

“A woman after my own heart.”

“I’m not interested. That’s all.”

Thomas smiled, a cocky one that Miranda despised. He was going to be persistent, perhaps challenged by her disinterest. Well, then, she thought.

“I bet you I can guess your favorite color. If I get it right...”

Miranda walked away in search of Adele.

“Bitch.”

For a second, she thought to keep going but it really wasn’t in her nature. Miranda pivoted on her heel, surprising him. She took her time walking back, keeping her stare focused.

Aware of her surroundings, Miranda smiled with cold politeness as she murmured, “You work at Sutton, yes?”

Thomas straightened his tie. “I do.”

Miranda hooked a finger over her necklace and casually ran it back and forth as she wrapped an arm across her stomach.

“And how is Barney? I haven’t seen him since New Year’s Eve.”

“I don’t know anyone...”

“Oh, of course you don’t, Thomas. Forgive me. You know him as Barnaby Ennis. Your CEO. He actually manages my account. Ever since he was on the Exchange floor decades ago.”

Predictably, Thomas postured, digging himself in deeper. “He’s the CEO of an investment firm. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have time to pander to another bored Upper Westside divorcée.”

Miranda took out her phone and looked at him with an eyebrow raised. When he didn’t back down, she dialed a number.

“Hello, Barney...yes, I enjoyed it as well...oh, I’m glad you asked. I’m at Adele’s for a little soiree...you are?” Miranda grinned a bit maliciously at Thomas. “Excellent. I’ll see you and Helen soon then.”

Thomas looked miserable.

Miranda got into his personal space, looking up at him with her shoulders back and her nastiest smile. “If you don’t quit, I’ll have you fired. It’s your lucky day, Thomas. Never let it be said that this bitch isn’t charitable.”

In the beginning of her editorship, such powerplays were common, even necessary to assert her absolute authority over a flagging magazine. Over time she learned to wield such authority strategically. With experience, she learned finesse, managing not to swat a fly with a baseball bat. A fair amount of needless enemies had been made earlier in her career due to her outrage and need to prove no one could do what she could.

Yet, still, over a decade later, the devil came out to play every so often just for the sheer fun of it.

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“What did you say to him, Miranda?” Adele hissed in her upstairs office.

Unconcerned by her boss’s impatience, Miranda daintily rearranged the drape of her skirt covering her crossed legs.

“I walked away after the third cliché.” She took a sip from her Burning Mandarin Martini, a request the mixologist gladly fulfilled after Adele furnished the serrano pepper. “Oh, this is divine.”

“Marcus is trying to calm him down. He’s practically crying on my front stoop, Miranda.” Adele reached over and took Miranda’s drink. “Oh, that is good.”

“Well,” Shrugged then retrieved her martini and finished it off. “to be fair, I didn’t know you were matchmaking until you ran like a little rabbit. Honestly, I didn’t know you’re the nervous sort.”

Adele dropped her head back and stared at the ceiling with her mouth ajar. “You alienated one of my husband’s coworkers because he used lines on you. Come on!”

“I did walk away but...” Miranda dropped all pretense of playful banter and waited for Adele to look at her. “He called me a bitch.”

“Oh.”

“Mmhm.”

Adele sighed. “I hate when they do that.”

“I called my housekeeper and pretended I was talking to Barnaby.”

“Whaat?! Get the fuck out, Priestly.”

“I told Tom to resign or be fired. I might have inferred ‘Barney’ was also attending your little party.”

Lowering herself to the lounge chair opposite Miranda, Adele stared at her.

“Marcus is probably shitting his pants right now.”

Miranda perched her elbow on the armrest, recrossing her legs, then propped her chin up with a palm. “I suppose.”

“You’re awfully calm. What if Thomas figures out you’re bullshitting him?”

“Then I’ll find someone to take care of it, I suppose.”

Adele gasped. “What do you mean, ‘take care of it’?”

Miranda smiled and arched her eyebrows.

“You are certifiable.” she said then laughed. “I am never going to play poker with you.”

“Mmm, perhaps.” Leaning back in her seat, Miranda continued, “I was under the impression tonight’s gathering was going to be significantly smaller and more business orientated.”

“I’m multitasking and we need to be under the radar. You’ve noticed there are Sutton employees in attendance. Well, one less, thanks to you. And, I think it’s wise if we don’t meet outside of work unless it’s very discreet.”

“Agreed. Which members seem...sympathetic?”

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Miranda ruffled her hair to make it look casual which went with the current ensemble of linen pants and a V-neck cashmere sweater in a flattering shade of blue. The girls had been downstairs since a quarter till waiting for the doorbell to ring. They planned the entire afternoon around things Fen might enjoy and one thing Caroline definitely looked forward to, dressing Fen up. Miranda put her foot down when her daughter wanted to use make-up. Barefoot and brimming with anticipation, she hustled downstairs just as the doorbell rang.

Excited cries filled the foyer but they faded away. Miranda, skimming her palm over the bannister as she descended the steps, took her time. Low on her neck, Andrea’s hair was caught up in a messy bun. Busy taking off her daughter’s coat and hat while the twins rushed to help, Andrea’s attention remained on the task. Miranda, ever the opportunist,  observed the gentle way she removed Fen’s adorable beret and how tenderly she smoothed down the springy curls. Andrea was equally attentive to the twins, greeting them as individuals. She ran her fingers through Cassidy’s hair then touched Caroline’s shoulder. Miranda paused on the steps, pressing her palm to her chest. The differences between her girls outnumbered their similarities by far but most people, until they got to spend time with them, tended to treat her daughters as one entity. Andrea was definitely not ‘most people’.

“Hello, Miranda.”

Shoving her hand in the front pocket of her trousers, she gripped the bannister tighter as she made her descent. Andrea’s gaze mesmerized, holding her complete attention. Some of the scenes from two nights ago played behind her eyes and drew Miranda in.

“Andrea.”

“M, what’s up?”

Fen extended her arms, the smile on her face one of unmitigated joy. Miranda bent down and scooped her up.

Comment allez-vous, mon chou?

Je vais bien. Comment allez-vous?”

Je vais bien.”

“Mom.” Caroline said, tugging on the hem of Miranda’s sweater. “You said we can play before we have lunch.”

Miranda glanced at Andrea, catching the slight upward movement of one eyebrow then a smirk. She kissed Fen on the cheek before setting her down and watched her daughters patiently take Fen upstairs to the playroom.

“Is there somewhere we could...?”

“Oh, yes. Follow me.”

Miranda led the way to her study and tried not to be too obvious when she locked the door.

“You...” Andrea said as she wrapped her arms around Miranda’s neck. “...need to kiss me.”

“What’s in it for me?”

Playing with the hair on Miranda’s nape, Andrea appeared to consider her answer then replied, “You like it when I don’t give it to you.” She leaned closer and sucked on the skin just under Miranda’s jaw. “So, you kiss me while I...don’t give it to you.”

Immediately, she started kissing Andrea below her ear with a teasing softness, sometimes with the quickest touch of her tongue. Nothing felt quite so good as Andrea’s hands pushing aside her clothes and delving past the layers. When Miranda reached her mouth, when her tongue slid past full lips, Andrea’s fingers found their target and floated across Miranda’s damp outer lips. A surge of fluid, hot and slick, escaped as Andrea splayed two fingers and pressed, bracketing Miranda’s clit.

“Jesus.” Andrea breathed into her neck.

Miranda absorbed the shudders rocking through Andrea then canted her hips, aching for more contact and being denied. It was greatest kind of torture. She was going to come just from the thought of Andrea controlling her pleasure. The tension built with exquisite vehemence. Miranda clenched her inner muscles each time Andrea’s fingers skirted downward, not even grazing her engorged clit, and released when she moved upward, simulating penetration.

J’ai envie de toi, mon amour.”

“You’re so swollen.” Andrea moaned, pressing her hips behind the movement of her hand.

Miranda bit down on Andrea’s shoulder as her pleasure sharpened, jutting her hips forward. Andrea pushed inside and kept the tempo but going deeper each time. Unsnapped and unzipped, Miranda’s trousers were tugged past her hips then an arm braced against her lower back.

“Oh, god, I can’t stop.” Miranda mewled. “J’aime ça. Je vous en supplie, plaire...plaire.

Andrea grunted into her neck as she used the heel of her palm against Miranda’s clit. Amazingly, she acted the metronome despite the way Miranda clawed and bit to get her to finish it, to finish her. Whether by accident or intention, Andrea found the spot and Miranda vanished into the ether.

She was floating. There was no better way to describe the sensation Andrea bestowed upon her. Incredible how quickly Andrea recognized what her body needed without much input from Miranda. Heretofore, the learning curve for her sexual partners had been steep but Andrea, in quite a natural fashion, had scaled the rise without issue..

Surprised to discover herself on the floor with Andrea lying on her back beside her, Miranda groaned.

“You’re a demon sent to kill me.”

Andrea sighed. “I love it that you talk to me in French and curse in English when we have sex. Something about it just does it for me.”

“Give me a minute and I will do it for you.”

Andrea rolled over and kissed her neck. “We need to get back to the kids.”

“I can’t believe I...temporarily forgot about them.”

“I love you.” Andrea whispered into her neck.

On the verge of responding, the clamor at the door forestalled the declaration in favor of their children.

Feeling the warmth of a blush invade her cheeks, Miranda looked around for her pants .

“I bought our overnight bags.” Andrea revealed, her tone a bit wary. “I know it’s presumptuous...”

“And welcomed, darling.” Miranda whispered then shifted, uncomfortable on the floor now that the rhapsody ebbed.

With enviable energy, Andrea snapped up and held out a hand. Miranda ignored it.

“Just a minute, girls.” Miranda called out as she buttoned her pants. “We’ll meet you in the kitchen in a few minutes.”

Miranda abruptly stopped straightening up her clothes, in favor of avidly staring at Andrea sucking on her fingers. The impression rolled through Miranda like a cold breeze on glowing embers.

“You’re not going to get much sleep tonight, darling.”

Chapter Text

The Vietnamese food delivery suited them all but Fen who scrunched up her nose at the fresh spring rolls. She proclaimed them ‘yucky’ and proceeded to dip her finger into the peanut sauce.

“Is it alright if I check out what’s in your refrigerator?” Andrea asked, halfway to standing.

“I’ll show you.” Cassidy piped up, already scooting her chair back.

Miranda made a disapproving sound.

“Um, may I be excused?” she asked, the smile on her face not quite contrite.

Nodding, she watched her daughter take Andrea’s hand. Cassidy chattered on, a characteristic Miranda adored in her child most of the time. Andrea patted her shoulder as she walked by, pausing long enough to squeeze it affectionately, all the while paying close attention to Cassidy.

“M, what’s that?”

Attention redirected, Miranda turned away from watching Andrea and Cassidy depart. “Quoi?”

Fen tilted her head then laughed. “Excusez-moi?”

It took a few seconds to comprehend what Fen asked then Miranda smiled.

Maman, tu es heureuse.” Caroline commented. “C’est bien.

The three of them carried on a simple conversation. Miranda gently corrected the girls’ pronunciation. Fen knew the French words for common objects like chair or table and a few colors as well. After only two formal lessons, her mon chou showed so much promise. Back when the twins attended the institute, Caroline had doggedly tried but Cassidy had shown little interest, at least, Miranda had thought so, until Fen. Then her children pulled out phrases she believed they all but forgotten as they talked to toddler. Pride in her bobbsies inundated her. There was no mistake they could be tiny terrors, but they were also kind and patient and perceptive.

“Here you go, sweetie.” Andrea announced as she put a plate in front of her daughter.

“You can’t go wrong with a Hot Pocket.” Cassidy stated. “Remember when that’s all I would eat, Mom?”

“I sure do.” Caroline grumbled as she primly cut into a spring roll.

Andrea smiled as she patted Caroline’s shoulder. “Not a fan, huh?”

“They make her fart.”

“Do not!”

Fen started to giggle.

“Beans, beans, good for your heart, the more you eat ‘em, the more you fart.” Cassidy taunted in a singsong voice.

Caroline glowered, on the verge of lashing out.

“Girls, let’s just eat, shall we?”

“Caroline, I was thinking about enrolling Fen in Dalton next year. Do you think she’d like it there?”

Miranda glanced at Andrea and winked. The most becoming pale blush infused Andrea’s cheeks. Miranda cut up Fen’s Hot Pocket as she listened to her daughter extol the virtues of Dalton. Although she made many mistakes, Miranda counted herself fortunate in insisting the girls attend the school against her first husband’s objections. He had argued they needed some sort of normalcy what with their rock-star father and fashion queen mother. Possessing the means to carry it out, she was damned if she were going to trust her daughter’s intellectual advancement to public education. As long as she could provide ‘the best’, that’s what she wanted for her daughters.

Andrea and Cassidy had found a dinner substitute for Fen. Andrea solicited Caroline’s opinion on Fen’s possible Dalton enrollment. Miranda cut up Fen’s food. For her part, she’d acted without thought, old habits rising to the forefront but she couldn’t deny, in a small way, she felt almost like a parent to Fen. They were interacting as a family. The thought gave birth to several others, Miranda’s imagination in control, until the scenarios became outlandish.

Good lord, get a grip, she thought. Children were involved and she couldn’t afford to get carried away. Even so, she wanted something substantial with Andrea and Fen.

“Have you finished your homework, bobbsies?”

“I did!” Fen chortled then popped a piece of Hot Pocket into her mouth.

C’est génial, mon chou.

Merci beaucoup.

“I finished mine on Friday.” Caroline answered, eyeing Fen’s crumb-smeared chin as she held out a utensil. “Fourchette.”

Fen took the fork and held it like a drumstick then tried to shovel up a piece of food. “For shit.”

Cassidy snorted. “You gonna get consequences for that, Fen.”

“No, no.” Caroline said. “Look at me, Fen. Fourchette. Just like that.”

“For shit!” she dutifully repeated.

Andrea, fighting against a smile, cut in, “That’s probably enough lessons for now.”

“Mummers, you have it.” Fen complained as she handed over the fork.

Taking it from her daughter, Andrea said, “We’ve been working with plastic ones. She’s still getting the hang of it.”

Caroline jumped up, muttering an excuse as she fled the room.

“She’s doing wonderfully. I remember when the girls were that age. Cassidy in particular was very stubborn, weren’t you?” Miranda cupped the back her daughter’s head.

“I don’t remember.”

“Here.” Caroline announced, holding a plastic fork in front of Fen. “It came with our food.”

“We tell them we don’t need it but sometimes they forget, I guess.” Cassidy explained.

Cheeks filled, Fen chewed but it proved to be too much and worried Miranda. She rose at the same time Andrea did and they met where Fen sat between the twins. Caroline and Cassidy stood, pulling back their chairs which allowed the adults to bracket Fen.

“Fen, spit it out.” Andrea said firmly while keeping her hand below her daughter’s mouth.

Miranda instructed a fidgeting Cassidy to get a juice box.

Dutifully Fen spat out the food, missing Andrea’s hand, then looked up at her mother. “How come, mummers?”

“Sweetie, little bites, remember?” Andrea answered as she took the juice box from Cassidy. “And you need to chew really good before you swallow, okay?”

Miranda scooped up the gunky mass as she kissed Fen’s head. “Are you still hungry?”

Shaking her head, she struggled off stacked pillows, in lieu of a booster seat, that helped her reach the tabletop. Unfortunately, Fen clutched Miranda’s pantleg to steady herself with hands sullied by the remnants of a Pizza Hot Pocket.

“Oh, I will definitely pay to get them cleaned or replaced.” Andrea said as she picked up Fen. “As for you, it’s clean-up time.”

“I’m going upstairs to change. If you’re finished eating, clear your plates, please.” Miranda instructed as she dumped the clotted food on her plate.

Cassidy stuffed half of spring roll into her mouth, grabbed her plate and took off whereas Caroline still worked on her Vegan Pho.

Upstairs, Miranda shucked the soiled pants and went to the bathroom sink to run cold water over the small spots. It was unlikely they could be saved.

“Oh, Priestly, you really should know better than to parade around in front of me half-naked.”

Miranda didn’t look away from her task but smirked as she replied, “Do not start something we can’t finish. Where are the girls?”

“Cassidy and Fen are in the playroom setting up the PlayStation and Caroline was rinsing her bowl in the kitchen.” Andrea stepped farther inside, leaning against the counter next to Miranda. “I’m very much a fan of those panties. They felt so soft against my knuckles when my fingers were inside you.”

Miranda’s stomach tightened.

“You know,” Andrea said conversationally as she maneuvered behind Miranda and placed her hands on Miranda’s hips. “I just realized you came and you weren’t supposed to, Miranda.”

The pants slipped from her hands. She looked at their reflection, found Andrea’s dark gaze and shivered.

“Yes, well, we need to get back to the children.” Miranda turned off the faucet. Instead of leaving, however, she placed her palms down on the countertop.

Andrea moved her hands up Miranda’s stomach underneath the sweater then pushed her fingertips past the barrier of her bra and tweaked her nipples. Hips jerking, Miranda bowed her head.

“You like it rough and fast sometimes, don’t you, baby?”

Determined not to give Andrea the satisfaction, she bit down on her lips to keep from moaning. So ready again, or, more than likely always ready for Andrea, the heavy blooming between her legs urged her to push back. Instantly, one of Andrea’s hands pulled away and held her around her waist as she lightly pressed her pelvis against Miranda’s ass.

“I bet you if I touched your pussy right now it’d be so wet, wouldn’t it? Waiting just for me.” Andrea whispered, rubbing her breasts into Miranda’s back. “God, it turns me on when you get a little wild.” Andrea sucked on the taut line of Miranda’s neck. “Come on, show me how ready you are.”

Miranda’s spine arched. Desperation bubbled below the surface.

“You want it so much you’d let me fuck you anywhere, wouldn’t you?”

She would! She would!

Miranda backed up against her, an image of Andrea standing behind her as she pushed her fingers into her cunt in front of people nearly giving her an orgasm.

“That’s right.” Andrea whispered against her ear, her heated voice intimate. “Rub yourself against me like a bitch in heat.” She dug her fingers into the flesh of Miranda’s hips, pulling them closer. “I’ll give you what you want. You can see it, can’t you? Let me, oh, please, let me, baby.”

Oh, god, anything!

The more Miranda tried to suppress her moans, the more they scraped up and down her throat. Andrea moved the arm around her waist then thrust her hand inside Miranda’s panties. Andrea moaned and Miranda lost her voice. Overly stimulated, she needed it hard, something with a sting to counterbalance the enormous greed between her legs.

Andrea’s hand simply cupped her as she whispered, “I will finish this tonight, my love.”

Then she left.

Half-crazed and throbbing, Miranda clutched the edge of the counter and tried to breathe through it. The obvious resolution thudded in her ears. It wouldn’t take long and perhaps would even take the edge off until Andrea took her again. Thoughts of the vibrator in the nightstand nearly did Miranda in. Then, thoughts of Andrea using the vibrator on her dampened her inner thighs. Close to sobbing, she gritted her teeth and snatched a wash cloth from the closet then turned on the cold tap. Her hands shook and her nipples ached but it was nothing compared to the unchecked wantonness below her waist. Still, she managed to wipe herself relatively clean, wash up and switch trousers in a short amount of time despite the jerkiness of her hands.

Andrea’s dastardly turn of play stunned her. And it was perfect.

When Miranda came down, everyone was assembled in the playroom. Andrea sat on the couch cheering the girls on as they started a racing game with flying fruit and aliens. Miranda stood in the doorway and waited for Andrea to notice her.

Two seconds later, she did, smiling at her with dark eyes. Not about to raise her voice over the girlish shrieks, she lifted her chin, signaling toward the hallway.

“Take it easy on my baby.” Andrea teased, careful not to get in between the girls and the television. “I’ll be right back.”

Andrea leaned against the doorjamb with her back to the room.

“I thought we could take them to playground before dinner or to that restaurant that has video games?”

“I think Fen would love it but...” Andrea cleared her throat. “it’s not exactly low key.”

Miranda’s neck grew hot. “We’re just two women out with our children, like a playdate.”

Folding her arms, Andrea whispered, “They’re just kids and don’t understand the way I can’t help looking at you right now but people will notice.”

“Oh, Andrea, really...” Abruptly she stopped scoffing as she stared into Andrea’s eyes. “Stop, right this instant. I can’t...the children...”

“Now you understand we cannot go out together tonight, right?”

Miranda inhaled deeply then shook out her hands as she exhaled. “Fine.”

“Besides, I still have a lot of teasing left to do whenever I find you alone between now and bedtime.”

“Well, then, cub, let’s play.”

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Not often did she miscalculate her self-control.

During the first divorce, the father of her children tried to paint her as an unfit mother but she persevered and won sole custody, never once giving voice to the vitriol flooding her mouth.

When she became EIC of Runway, she gutted the magazine’s staffing by nearly half, fought off budget cuts and Irv Ravitz’s boardroom tactics.

She beat back her loathing for Irv in order to coolly replace him.

An alcoholic second husband, with his public scenes and self-absorption, hadn’t even register on her Richter scale.

But, dear god, Andrea Sachs lit her up.

There was no escaping the woman. When Miranda took a phone call and excused herself,  Andrea showed up minutes later in the study. Vanessa’s voice rattled on in her ear, relaying only-god-knows-what, as Andrea lavished Miranda’s neck with attention from her lips and tongue. The next time occurred when Miranda put Fen down for a nap. Upon exiting the bedroom, she watched as Andrea leaned against the wall across from Miranda’s door. Thumbs hooked in the front pockets of her jeans, Andrea’s tapered fingers were on display. Mesmerized by the way they brushed across the denim perilously close to where Miranda longed to be, she scowled before fleeing like some brainless twit.

By dinnertime, Miranda was unraveling until it occurred to her, almost too late, that she hadn’t retaliated. Not once. Well, that would not do, not at all. It was time to assert her unquestionable authority. Andrea, busy with prepping vegetables, didn’t notice as Miranda left the kitchen. She swept into her bedroom, locked the door, and went directly to the closet. The change in clothing would make the cub whimper only because Miranda knew what triggered her. Best of all, none of the children would think twice about the change of clothes.

Feeling so much better now that payback was on the menu, Miranda walked down the stairs. As if looking for her, Andrea appeared as Miranda reached the last step.

“Oh, man.” Andrea sighed, staring at the sliver of skin between Miranda’s shirt hem and low-rise jeans. “You, uh...oh, man.”

She hadn’t worn them since the late nineties but they fit the same. Pairing them with a loose, thin sweatshirt that lacked a definitive neckline and hem, Miranda knew her selection was exactly right given Andrea’s shellshocked reaction. The sleeves were pushed up halfway between her elbow and wrist, bringing attention to the woven leather wristband.

“That belt is...looks really...” Andrea looked up. “You’re wearing hoop earrings, too. Oh, god, I give up.”

Miranda laughed quietly then purred, “So easily conquered, my cub. It’s just a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt.”

“You are fucking gorgeous.” she whispered, reaching out her fingertips to softly touch the belt buckle above Miranda’s mons. “I mean it. You win. I’ll do whatever you want, only, please let me take this off of you later.”

Miranda played with the edge of her shirt, lifting it slightly to expose more skin as she cocked her head a little to the side, watching Andrea’s mouth part open.

“No more ambushes?”

Andrea shook her head.

“No more stolen kisses?”

“I promise.”

Taking the last step, Miranda invaded Andrea’s personal space. “Excuse me, cub.”

Andrea shook her head then stepped back. “You’ve ruined me for anyone else so I hope you’re okay with being stuck with me.”

“Mmm, good to know.” Miranda replied.

Andrea followed behind her and Miranda was pretty sure her eyes were glued to her ass.

Upon entering the kitchen, she noticed Andrea finished the prep, the cut-up vegetables in bowls on the counter. Miranda opened the fridge and leaned in, biting her lip to keep from laughing when she heard a muttered ‘son of a bitch’. She took out the beef tenderloin.

“Would you mind getting the kitchen twine from the drawer by the oven?”

“Uh, yeah, I can do that.”

Miranda closed the refrigerator door and started preparing the meat. She bent down to get a roasting pan and a cast iron skillet. Andrea made a tortured noise. Composing her devilish glee, Miranda turned to her with eyebrows raised.

“I’m gonna...hang out with the kids.” Andrea said, holding out the spool of twine. “Or jump into the Artic Ocean. I’m not sure which right now. You are killing me with that outfit, Priestly.”

“And why is that, Andrea?” she asked softly, taking the spool then leaning against the counter.

Andrea closed her eyes and shook her head. “You’re always so put together. Don’t get me wrong.” She motioned toward Miranda, biting her lip. “You are now, too, but...differently. There’s so many sides to you. I’m...dazzled, beyond thrilled I get to see them. You’re a constant surprise and I adore that.”

Miranda played with the spool, absently staring at it while mastering her emotions. She swallowed then looked up. “I love you, you know.”

Andrea’s smile took over her face. She wrapped her arms around herself. “I know.”

They remained silent, connected by an understanding and acceptance. Eventually Andrea relaxed and pointed a thumb over her shoulder.

“I should join the girls.”

She turned around and promptly walked into the kitchen island, laughed then backed out of the room. Miranda, happy and hopeful, went to work on dinner, humming a tune. Within minutes she was done dressing the meat and searing it in the skillet. After she set it in the roasting pan and put it in the oven, she had thirty minutes to kill. Of course, she joined the children and Andrea.

“Oh, my.” she exhaled upon entering the playroom.

Andrea, laying on her stomach in front of the television, clutched a controller, fingers pressing in dizzying combinations as she and Caroline battled it out. Fen straddled her wearing a pink ballcap turned backwards and giving her mother instructions. Cassidy had her legs over the couch armrest, bare feet lightly bouncing while sipping on a juice box keenly interested in the battle.

“Not this time, Ro. You’re gonna eat my dust.” Andrea taunted.

Fen barked, “Go, Ro!”

“My own flesh and blood!”

“You’re going down, Andy.” Caroline boasted as she scrambled to her knees. “I’ve got you now.”

Miranda slowly took her phone out then snapped a picture.

“Mom, Andy’s about to get her butt kicked.” Cassidy greeted. “Come watch.”

Just as she stepped into the room, Andrea glanced up and hesitated, grinning up at Miranda. Apparently, Andrea was incapable of doing two things at once; her brief inattention caused her the game. Caroline stood up and danced around, rubbing it in a bit. Fen and Cassidy joined in while Andrea, her poor little cub, planted her face in the carpet.

“Come on, Mom, it’s your turn.” Caroline sang out, offering the controller.

“Yeah, you can beat up on Andy, too.”

Miranda smiled as Fen ran toward her then heaved her up. “Hello, mon chou, did you beat up on your mommy, too?”

Fen nodded, patting Miranda’s cheeks. “Sidi worked the thing and I told her what to do.”

Miranda blew a soft raspberry on Fen’s cheek and made exaggerated chomping noises while the little girl shrieked.

The cavalry, of course, came to Fen’s rescue. The twins crowded her making weird noises and faces like cute little monsters but it was the two hands steady on her waist that stilled her movements to get away.

“Stop hiding behind my offspring and face your consequences!” Andrea mock-growled.

“Oooo, Mom has consequences!” Cassidy crowed, releasing Miranda’s leg.

Gently, she set Fen down as Andrea released her. She looked over her shoulder at Andrea whose gaze swept down and up Miranda’s body. Their eyes connected as they were wont to do and a small frisson raced down her spine.

“Alright, you gremlins, settle down.” Andrea said, hugging Caroline to her side. “Let’s set the table.”

“That sucks.”

“Cassidy.” Miranda warned in a clipped tone. “Wherever you’re getting your recent vocabulary, I’d advise you to stop. I won’t warn you again.”

“Uh, I’m sorry, but that one was me.” Andrea confessed guiltily. “I may have said it once...”

“Like three times.” Caroline provided.

“Or three times. I got caught up in the game.” She looked at Cassidy. “I was wrong to say that.”

“Alright, the table isn’t going to set itself, girls. Let’s go.” Miranda said. As she passed Andrea, she whispered, “I’ll punish you later.”

“Can’t wait.” Andrea sassed.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Andrea cut up Fen’s slice of meat then worked on the steamed vegetables while Miranda saw to the twins. When she set down Andrea’s plate, Miranda trailed her hand across her shoulder then took her seat.

“This is great. Thanks for cooking, Miranda.” Andrea beamed, fork poised over the plate.

“Yeah, thanks, Mom.”

“Thank you.”

“It’s grrrrreat, M!”

Miranda placed her napkin in her lap and murmured, “You’re welcome.”

Over the din of young voices and the clatter of silverware, Miranda and Andrea shared a long look.

“Can we watch a movie after dinner?” Caroline asked then took a sip of water.

“Everyone has to finish their vegetables otherwise I don’t see why not.”

Cassidy made a face. “What do vegetables have to do with a movie?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all, bobbsies.”

“Mom?”

“Yes, Cassidy?” Miranda forked a wedge of yellow squash.

“Can I go over Frieda’s tomorrow after school? We need to finish a history project.”

“I’ll tell Roy to drop you off and we’ll collect you on my way home.”

“M?”

“Yes, mon chou?”

“Can you ask mummers about the train?”

Andrea looked up from her conversation with Caroline. “What’s this?”

Miranda set down her fork then drank from a glass. “I’m sorry, Fen, I’d forgotten about our talk. The day I took Fen to the Institute she asked me if the girls had a father. I told her yes, that they took a train to see him. She was very excited. I told her I’d ask you about perhaps taking a train at some point in time.”

“Miranda and I will have to talk about it more, sweetie. I’ll let you know as soon as it’s decided, okay?”

“Okay. Everybody come?”

“We’ll see.”

Fen looked to her left then patted Caroline’s arm. “Ro, sing me my song.”

Miranda’s attention sharpened in surprise at the somewhat sheepish looks the twins gave.

“It’s just something we made up.” Caroline explained then started to giggle.

Cassidy revealed, “It goes like the ‘Three Blind Mice’ rhyme but we changed the words.”

Andrea, grinning, put her elbows on the table and said “I have to hear this.”

“As do I.” Miranda said then prompted, “Go on.”

Fen giggled madly and bounced a little on her pillows. “Sing it! Sing my song.”

Together, the twins sang, “Cabbage is here, Cabbage is here. See how she looks, see how she looks! And we love our baby mon chou, if you mess with her we’ll mess with you, cause we hold her so dear.”

Miranda, stifling her laughter, covered her face with a hand. “You clever girls!”

They preened a little under the praise.

“Why ‘cabbage’?” Andrea asked.

Caroline laughed then explained, “Mon chou means ‘sweetie’ but it also means cabbage.”

Fen looked at her mother, bouncing a little. “Cab-bitch is here!”

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Twenty minutes into the movie, Fen fell asleep, crashed out on top of her and Andrea’s legs. It was torture being so close to Andrea, their sides pressing together as they made room for the twins on the couch. Yet, there was nothing like the presence of children to temper lust. By the time the film finished, Cassidy had to be woken up and Caroline kept yawning.

“Where are your bags?” Miranda asked from the stairs as she ushered her children to bed.

“First room on the right.”

“Go change and get ready for bed. I’ll check on you in a minute.” she directed the twins.

She met Andrea and Fen in the hallway about to enter the guest room.

“Do you need additional linen?” Miranda asked in a quiet voice.

“We’re fine. I’ll meet you down in the study?”

Miranda’s skin grew warm. “Fine.”

She knocked on Caroline’s door and was bade to enter.

“Is my little terror ready for sleep? Did you brush your teeth?”

“Yes.”

Miranda gently brushed back Caroline’s bangs. “You’ll need a haircut soon.”

“I want to grow it out.”

“We’ll see. Let me tuck you in.”

Although she complied, Miranda saw the slight indignant spark in those familiar blue eyes. “Sleep well, my darling.”

Miranda pulled out the school uniform from the closet and draped it across the chair by the door.

When she knocked on Cassidy’s door there wasn’t an answer. Miranda quietly let herself in and wasn’t surprised Cassidy was fast asleep, curled around several stuffed animals. She didn’t bother picking up the mess of toys and discarded clothes on the floor but went straight to the closet, taking out the uniform. Cara, bless her, would sort it all out tomorrow. Miranda kissed Cassidy good night then left, shutting the door behind her. Tempted to peek in on Fen, she didn’t for fear of interrupting Andrea’s time with her daughter. Miranda ducked into her room and went into the bathroom to freshen up.

“Oh, come here. I need to touch you.” Andrea entreated as she crowded Miranda against the door.

“Just a minute. We need to talk.”

Chapter Text

Andrea gave Miranda an encouraging look as her hand crept down Miranda’s arm then entwined their fingers. She led the way to the small sofa but Miranda didn’t sit down. It was odd to be sitting on the edge of the cushion while Miranda stood before her, odder still when Miranda started to pace. Andrea tried to convey patience but in reality she preferred Miranda simply blurt out whatever she wanted.

“You...know how I feel.”

“Yes.”

Miranda wrung her hands. Had she not witnessed it for herself, Andrea wouldn’t have believed the woman before her ever suffered from nerves. It was so incredibly adorable, Andrea struggled not to smile or tease her. Best to wait it out behind a appearance of calm.

Miranda toyed with her earring then ran her fingers through her hair. Preoccupied with the hint of skin just above the low waist of Miranda’s jeans that was revealed by her fidgeting, Andrea almost missed her words.

“I want to talk. About our feelings.”

“Okay, baby.”

Miranda scowled. “Can’t you think of another endearment more suitable?”

“Well, Fen calls you ‘M’ and it doesn’t bother you so...” Andrea shrugged. “I should get a pass, too, don’t you think?”

“No, I do not.” Miranda huffed then sat down next to her. “As my...significant other, however, you are entitled to employ certain...expressions. Sparingly, I might add.”

Compelled, Andrea moved a bit closer and gently stroked the side of Miranda’s face with the back of her fingers.

“Yes, my love.”

Miranda’s shoulders relaxed as she ducked her chin a little and closed her eyes.

Andrea’s knuckles grazed the proud jawline, making their way to her sharp chin. When Andrea lightly pressed her thumb across her bottom lip, Miranda opened her eyes. The deep blue hue invited Andrea in. Private things glistened in their depths, daring Andrea to capture them. The wonderful details of Miranda’s face blurred the longer she focused on those bioluminescent secrets. To be so connected wasn’t an ordinary experience for her. The tingling sensation filling her chest and the way her racing blood brought everything to the surface affected her how standing in a middle of  the first snow in a cedar grove or the first time she rode a rollercoaster ride just before the first steep descent did. Slowly Andrea came back to herself and blinked. The connection they’d just forged was yet another that bound them together.

“We have a long road ahead of us, darling, in respects to how we navigate working and being together, for one thing.” Miranda placed her hand in Andrea’s. “What are your thoughts?”

“Work is work.” Andrea smiled to lighten her succinct reply. “I think we’re mature and reasonable enough to not take things personally.” She looked down abruptly and frowned until she continued, “After my divorce is final, I will be free to go public but as long as we’re working together, we’ll never be. I think you have something up your sleeve about that and I’m not going to press you. Either way, I’m committed to you, Miranda.”

“Thank you.” Miranda leaned forward and planted a relatively chaste kiss on the corner of Andrea’s mouth. “Now, the children. I think we should do things together but be...circumspect around them.”

“I agree. If Fen walked in on something, I wouldn’t be ashamed or embarrassed, at all, but I’d rather not have her repeat or say something to Nate until we’re divorced.”

“I completely understand.” Miranda shifted on the couch. “Nigel offered to find us ‘beards’. Are you familiar with the term? I find it rather odd.”

“Uh, I know what it is.”

Grimacing, Miranda released Andrea’s hand then turned more fully toward her. “He knows discreet gay male acquaintances who regularly go out with beards for professional reasons. I told him to look into it, perhaps have a list of suitable candidates. He’s attending New York Fashion week so, if you’re in agreement, I can tell him to set something up for us.”

“Oh, wow, I’m...impressed and a bit afraid you’ve provided for that contingency.” Andrea grinned. Unable to restrain herself, she kissed Miranda and when her mouth opened, she groaned, feeling a flare of heat between her legs.

Miranda pulled away, whispering, “Christ, you’re good at that, but you need to stop distracting me.”

But Andrea didn’t want to talk anymore. Fingers on Miranda’s belt buckle, she deftly undid it while tasting the skin of Miranda’s neck, descending to her bare shoulder.

“Andrea.” Miranda stopped her hands, holding them in her own and pulling slightly away. “Not here. Let’s go...upstairs.”

Not having to be told twice, she sprang up from the couch. “Okay, let’s go.”

“Ever the eager cub.” Miranda playfully goaded.

As they walked to the door, Andrea replied, “Why wouldn’t I be?”

The tips of Andrea’s ears infused with warmth. Her heartbeat matched the staccato notes of a violin as they climbed the stairs. Andrea, a step below, was close enough to inhale the smell of the house and Miranda’s perfume, the combination of hearth and heart enough to tether her to the present. Taking her sweet time as she swished up the stairs, hips moving from side to side hypnotically, Miranda’s backside was an endless source of fascination. The defined calves and heart-shaped ass, her small waist and straight back deserved Andrea’s continuous appreciation. So much so, Andrea inadvertently tripped up the damn steps. On the landing, Miranda looked back, the amused sneer inspiring various ways of retribution in Andrea’s head.

 “Do try to be quiet.” Miranda admonished in a bout of playfulness.

Andrea opened the bedroom door. “Payback’s a bitch. Priestly.”

“I’m counting on it.”

In the room the only thing Andrea heard was the rapid sound of her breath. Miranda stood by the closed door, arms crossed, one foot slightly in front as she put most of her weight on the other. She looked predatory, but, then, Miranda always looked so. Her eyes gave her away, as always, communicating a depth of emotion that balanced the carnal. Andrea trembled. Fully invested in all areas, a first for her, she knew she would follow wherever Miranda led.

“Don’t make me wait any longer.” she whispered. “Please.”

Miranda strode across the short expanse between them and carefully cradled Andrea’s face within her palms.

“I don’t want to rush.” she whispered before kissing her then sucking in Andrea’s lower lip and promptly releasing. “I want to worship you.”

Andrea, not long for the coherent world, could only whimper. She hungered to be possessed and claimed by the love so visible in Miranda’s expression, words, and  actions. As Miranda’s open-mouth kisses left a trail down her throat, Andrea abandoned any pretense of control. Directing her to lay down on the bed, Andrea obeyed, bereft of Miranda’s touch. Her chest rose and fell as she waited in painful anticipation.

Miranda shucked her clothes without posturing and still managed to intoxicate Andrea. Clothed and untouched, she’d never been so turned on. Miranda’s body, despite its slender contour, sheathed a massive impetus which was solely concentrated upon Andrea.

“Jesus.” she whispered and started to undress but Miranda stayed her hands.

“I want you to lay back.” she said, placing Andrea’s hands on either side of her head. Slowly, she straddled her thighs and started unbuttoning Andrea’s shirt. “Taking your clothes off is highly erotic for me.”

The simple statement, said with such directness, provoked a contraction between Andrea’s legs. She moaned, arching her back, silently begging for more.

Miranda opened Andrea’s blouse and urged her to sit up in order to remove it. Andrea obeyed. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered except the progress of Miranda’s fingers.  Dear god, the adroit seduction, how she slid the material from her body leaving a wake of pebbled skin, made clear Andrea’s enjoyment. She moved her shoulders and hips in a vain attempt to create friction between them but Miranda denied her.  From under a pillow she withdrew a white scarf and held it up for Andrea to see.

“Do you remember this, my cub?”

Staring at it, Andrea swallowed.

Miranda sat back a little on Andrea’s thighs and draped the scarf around her neck.

“How does it look?” she purred, tilting her chin up as she slowly pulled the scarf down her naked chest. “It still smells like you.” Miranda started rocking her hips and caressing her breasts with Andrea’s scarf. “See what it does to me.”

The pale pink of Miranda’s nipples changed to a darker shade as they tightened. Andrea’s breath stuttered. Draping the scarf over her own breasts, Miranda kneaded them, her expression a blend of wanton tenderness. Andrea moved her arms then placed her hands on the tops of Miranda’s thighs. Miranda flexed her hips forward, spreading her knees farther apart and Andrea sucked in the heady, rich scent of Miranda’s arousal. She slid her thumbs along the insides of Miranda’s thighs, the smooth, damp skin causing Andrea to undulate.

“You’re being disobedient.” Miranda scolded then lifted herself away from Andrea’s naughty hands. “I think it’s time to  restrain you, darling.”

Andrea flopped back onto the bed, frustrated by the slow pace Miranda set and highly turned on by watching her. After being struck by lightning, the phenomenon of a tree burning from the inside out aptly described the sensations that caused her to writhe upon the mattress. Andrea fisted the comforter, grasping for control as she squeezed her eyes shut.

Cool fingers surrounded her wrist. “I can’t have you ruining my pleasure now can I, cub?”

Andrea issued forth a guttural moan as she opened her eyes to glare at Miranda who stood by the side of the bed with another scarf.

“Just do it.”

Miranda tut-tutted as she secured one of Andrea’s wrists to the headboard. She walked around the bed and quickly fastened the other. Her expression grew solemn.

“Do you trust me, Andrea?”

Squinting up at Miranda, she moved her lips although no sound came forth. She tried again to speak and managed an empathetic if creaky “I do.”

Miranda’s wicked approval held sway over her features.  She opened the nightstand’s drawer and removed a pair of scissors. Andrea froze and her skin started to cool, eyes darting from the glint of metal to Miranda’s enigmatic stare. A second of confusion clouded her mind until she realized Miranda’s intentions. The heat rushed back into her body and Andrea gasped.

Setting them aside, Miranda sat on the bed then leaned down. She brushed her lips against Andrea’s, then she cooed, “I’m happy you understand. You won’t regret it.”

With infinite care Miranda unlaced and removed Andrea’s shoes then socks. Stealing up a pantleg, her hand followed the hard ridge of bone almost to Andrea’s knee then she dragged her nails lightly back down. Andrea pushed her hips into the mattress, bending her knees slightly as her legs fell apart.

Please.” she croaked, tightening her grip on the scarves.

“At my leisure and not before.”

Andrea’s entire being throbbed.

Miranda flattened her palm against Andrea’s trembling stomach. She spread her fingers. “Your skin is very warm.” She started moving her hand, fingertips grazing the edge of Andrea’s bra. “I love it when you sweat.” Miranda confessed in a hiss.

The torture was real. Andrea’s muscles tensed in response, grasping at nothing until Miranda decreed so which wouldn’t be fast enough for her. She thought of how Miranda might end it and Andrea’s legs spread wider apart.

“Your reactions intoxicate me.” she said thickly which made Andrea wetter.

Try as she might, Andrea couldn’t quell the sounds she made. She forced her body to relax and closed her eyes, concentrating on Miranda’s calm touch instead of her body’s reaction to it.

“Blindfold me.” she said, startling herself with the abrupt request.

Miranda lips opened slightly allowing for the tip of her tongue to wet them. “Excellent idea.”

Yet another scarf was wrapped around a part of her body. Although not physically helpless, Andrea surrendered her will. Without the inner struggle there was room to permit herself to enjoy the experience of Miranda’s worship. She didn’t question the evolution of their lovemaking. Wherever it took them, Andrea was open in mind, body and spirit.

“Lift your hips up.” Miranda softly directed, fingers grasping either side of Andrea’s pantlegs.

Cool air brushed against the tiny hairs covering her skin once released from the garment’s confines.

“Perfect.” she murmured against Andrea’s inner knee then licked the damp skin.

The sweep of a soft forelock along her thigh sent a tremor across her flesh. Miranda’s mouth moved a bit higher as she settled on the mattress. Andrea shifted her hips, digging her heels in as she opened her legs as far as possible. Heated breath rippled across the wet silk of Andrea’s underwear and she moaned through clamped lips.

“I could breathe you in every day and never tire of it.” Miranda admitted then plucked the material from Andrea’s wet center with her teeth.

Andrea tugged on the scarves tied to the headboard to keep from lifting her hips in a demand. The soft contact of Miranda’s tongue against the silk plastered to Andrea’s lower lips made her gasp an obscenity. When she felt the scrape of Miranda’s teeth along the soaked material, Andrea jerked, biting down hard on her lip to keep from crying out. Tears slid from the corners of her eyes. The sharp edge of ecstasy cut the line between pain and pleasure. Andrea embraced the effects of the two melding together, the ascensional experience strangely intertwining her body and spirit.

Miranda withdrew and Andrea tried to breathe again, holding the delirium at bay once more. She tried to calm herself and she tried to survive long enough to orgasm. Random twitches invaded her muscles. Labia heavy and clit distended, Andrea’s need was on display which, unfortunately, increased her excitement. She almost jumped in surprise when a cold, pointed object pressed into her hip.

“It won’t be long.” Miranda sighed, dragging the closed scissors across the flesh above the waistband of Andrea’s panties. “It’s a pity I’m going to ruin the lingerie set you’re wearing.” Miranda leaned in, her soft skin sliding against Andrea’s. “I’ll buy you more.”

Andrea panted, holding her teeth together. Miranda gently moved the scissors between her underwear and skin. In suspense, she held her breath and held still. After a change of pressure and the press of Miranda’s knuckles, the dry scrape of metal sounded, releasing the material from her hip. Miranda made a low, appreciative noise.

“Just four more cuts.”

The deep and hushed quality of Miranda’s voice seeped into Andrea’s mind. It soothed and ignited, holding the promise of pleasure.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Surprisingly, Andrea arrived at Runway before Miranda. The twins were still abed when she and Fen had crept through the house. At the door, Miranda kissed both their cheeks good-bye and waited to close it until they were ensconced within the taxi. Demetria took over Fen’s care while Andrea brewed a very strong pot of coffee. Then it was just a matter of getting ready for her day.

Wired but tired, she crossed the bullpen and went up the stairs to Miranda’s office but learned from Vanessa she wasn’t in yet. Andrea looked at the empty desk opposite the first assistant.

“She’s on a coffee run. I could text her if you want something? She just left.”

“No thanks. Please tell me Amber hasn’t gone back to wearing her own clothes.”

Vanessa frowned, staring at her computer, but answered, “She’s mixing and matching.”

“Gucci and Kmart?” Andrea hissed, horrified at the image in her head.

Laughing, Vanessa looked away from the screen. “Not that bad. More like vintage and The Closet.”

“Will I pass out from the sight or just...scowl?” When the first assistant smirked, Andrea rolled her eyes. “I received a very frantic call from Montrose on Sunday morning. Apparently he’s cancelling the shoot. Not gonna make Miranda happy. Enjoy your day.”

The satisfaction for getting Vanessa back was short-lived, of course. Despite a long telephone discussion with the photographer, he remained obstinate, and when Miranda found out, things were going to get interesting to say the least. After settling in and getting comfortable, Andrea decided to try Montrose one more time. She did accomplish getting two other prominent photographers on standby who specialized in working with animals but Miranda had made her preference known quite distinctly.

“I am out of the animal business, Andrea. Don’t call back!” He snapped and hung up.

Well, that answered that. She called up her first pick, cemented him down for the ten o’clock shoot today and warned him not to be late. Glancing at the time, Andrea sighed and got to work.

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The nine o’clock Department meeting started normally enough but Andrea felt a ‘disturbance in the force’. Miranda sat where she usually did, commented with her usual unimpressed air, and scribbled with a Mont Blanc pen but she never once looked at Andrea. Although they’d agreed to maintain a professional distance, she worried, if Miranda kept it up, someone was certainly going to notice.

“Is everything ready for the shoot at Central Park?”

“We have the correct permits, security with tranq-guns, and Mackie’s at the venue now, setting up the tents and heaters and helping the animal trainers set up. I’ve confirmed with the caterers...”

“And Montrose?”

Andrea paled when Miranda’s cold blue eyes lasered her from across the table. Her low tone held a deadly note and it was all Andrea needed to hear to realize Miranda knew.

“He doesn’t work with animals anymore, but...”

Miranda tsked and took off her glasses. “It is beyond my understanding that my directives are not followed. Before approving this shoot, I clearly stated it was contingent upon Montrose being the photographer.” Miranda closed the glasses with a snap. “Your incompetence is surprising, Andrea.”

“And I’m surprised he backed out at the last minute. Looks like neither one of us got what we wanted but I have another...”

“Bore someone else with your excuses.” Miranda flicked open her glasses and smoothly put them on. “You have forty-three minutes to get Montrose at the venue or else I will be very disappointed.”

Andrea placed her hands palm down on the table and rose. Anger too close to the surface, she didn’t look at Miranda on her way out but sensed the relieved and sympathetic glances cast her way. She marched up to Amber’s desk.

“Get me the address for Montrose.” she demanded, teeth grinding as she waited for the girl to respond.

“Is that a first or last name?”

Vanessa mumbled, “For the love of...Andrea, I sent it to your phone.”

Andrea hurried out, calling Roy. “Are you busy?”

“No, I guess...”

“Meet outside Elias-Clarke as soon as you can. Drive on the sidewalks, whatever it takes.”

Ending the call, she immediately called another person.

“Well, if it isn’t my erstwhile assistant. I don’t have all day.”

Andrea jumped into the empty elevator. “Former assistant. Montrose, the animal photographer. I have a half hour at best to convince him to come back. Any ideas?”

“Darling, I’m not sure you know how this ‘former’ thing works. There’s nothing in it for me.”

Andrea sighed. “Christ, okay, fine, I’ll owe you but it can’t involve Runway or Miranda. I’m not kidding, Anna. I swear if you don’t agree I’ll tell Miranda about the Crisco Incident.”

“Is that what she’s teaching you over there at that overpriced National Enquirer of the fashion industry? Blackmail, Andrea? Really...”

“I need this.”

Anna sighed. “Alright but make no mistake, you will owe me a very large favor. I’ll put in a call. Where are you?”

“On my way to his apartment.”

“Aren’t you the eager beaver?”

“You have no idea.” she said then hung up.

Her nerves diminished. The last person in the world Anna wanted to know about the ‘Crisco Incident’ was Miranda. Although it was a lurid tale, Andrea heard worse. Anna, however, said once that Miranda Priestly was merciless. She assumed it meant professionally. Miranda’s reputation was well-known. Maybe, given the context of their secret friendship, it meant something else. After all, being loved by Miranda opened up many more facets of her personality for Andrea and it wasn’t such a leap to surmise her close friends saw things regular people didn’t.

What would Miranda do if she learned about the Crisco Incident? No doubt make fun of Anna with relentless glee. She’d make sure Anna never forgot about it.

“Hey, what’s the rush?” Someone called out, waving to her.

Andrea turned to her left and spotted Roy standing next to the town car that was sandwiched between two other cars.

“I’ve got less than ten minutes to get to midtown, sixth and forty-third street to pick up a photographer and get him to the Central Park shoot.” Andrea answered, breathlessly, yanking open the front passenger’s seat.

Roy, bless him, got in a few seconds after her.

“Oh, and you have to hustle back to pick up Miranda.”

“That’s like fucking impossible.”

“Shit.” Andrea snapped then directed, “Okay, just drop me off. I’ll figure something out. If you can, please, please take your time driving her to the shoot?”

Roy maneuvered out of being boxed in which impressed the hell out of her but she needed to make a call.

“Yes, again. Yes, I need a favor.” Andrea, aware of Roy’s proximity, tried to speak in a normal voice. “I know. I need a ride. No! I don’t have time to flag down a cab.” She waited while Anna derided her lack of planning but eventually agreed to send her driver. “Sixth and forty-third street.”

“Okay, we caught a break. I’ll have you there in five.” Roy said.

Andrea crossed her legs and stared out the window, too keyed up to make small talk. She texted the other photographer and told him it was off and prayed Anna got through to Montrose.

When he slowed down, Andrea hopped out onto the sidewalk, effusively thanking Roy before shutting the door. She ran to the nearest crosswalk and jammed the button several times, hoping the light would hurry up and turn green. When it did, she wove through the throng of people coming at her using her elbows. Andrea looked back and noticed Roy had taken off, much to her relief.

Montrose stepped out of the building just as she was about to enter. Andrea almost broke a heel stopping so quickly.

Man, she really owed Anna

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“I am not to speak of how you ‘changed’ my mind.” Montrose informed her airily on the trip to Central Park. “My marker has been paid in full after this little detail then I’m a free man. You, I suspect, have something monstrous over ‘she who be not named’. Or you’re in deeper than I ever was.”

Andrea’s eyebrows arched. Montrose was fishing or making assumptions. Anna wouldn’t have revealed anything.

“Care to share?” he asked with a touch of slyness. When Andrea merely smiled, he huffed. “Fine.”

“I am curious how she convinced you.” Andrea tilted her head. “You hung up on me.”

“I’ll tell you mine if you tell me hers.”

“Nothing to tell, Montrose.”

The driver pulled over at their destination then got out and opened Andrea’s door. Montrose followed her.

“Thanks for the lift and carrying the bags.” Andrea said to the driver as he pulled another case out of the trunk.

“My pleasure.”

She looked around but didn’t see Miranda’s town car. A wave of gratitude washed over her. Calling to one of Mackie’s assistants, she pointed to Montrose’s camera bags.

“My assistants should be here momentarily with the lighting equipment.” Montrose said, then started walking toward the tents. “I’m going to talk to the trainer while you do whatever it is you do.”

Andrea refrained from sniping back. The little side trip cost her valuable time. She checked in with Mackie first and was immediately reassured by his report.

“Please tell me Serena’s here.”

“Yeah, can’t miss that one, you know what I mean? Anyways, she with the models in the big tent.”

“Where’s Corina, the designer?”

“I dunno but I set up her tent over there.”

Andrea looked and the tent seemed ominously uninhabited. She half-ran toward it, pulling out her phone then someone yelled out “She’s here!” Andrea turned around and saw Miranda climbing out of the town car.

“Fuck.” She ducked into the tent, nerves strung out when it was empty. “Sonofabitch.”

She dialed Corina’s number but it went to voicemail after two rings.

“God damnit!”

Ringing her again, Andrea willed the woman to pick up but she didn’t. “This is bullshit.”

“Your language is appalling.” Miranda said, looking around. “And where are the clothes?”

“I don’t know.” she confessed, ready to get upbraided for failing in her responsibility to keep the shoot on track. “I’ve called the designer but it goes to voicemail.”

“You don’t know.” Miranda repeated.

Hit by a sudden inspiration, Andrea said, “I’ll take a cab over to her studio and drag her back here.”

“You better do something.”

Andrea’s hackles raised at the warning in Miranda’s voice. “I’m not sure I like your tone.”

“You’ll like being unemployed even less if you don’t fix this.

“What are you trying to say?”

“Did I stutter?” Miranda scorned, hands on her hips as she got into Andrea’s personal space. “Do you not comprehend simple orders? Do I need to talk slower so your little brain can catch up?”

“Oh, I’m going to fix it. You just sit back on your ass and order someone to get you a coffee.” Andrea sniped then started to walk away.

Miranda didn’t let her get far. Her hand snatched Andrea’s arm and swung her around. They bumped up against each other and stayed. Miranda was livid, nose pinched and breathing through her mouth.

The mouth that a few hours ago kissed her good-bye.

Andrea’s anger started to lose steam. As much as she wanted to be angry, she knew she dropped the ball this time. Although she didn’t deserve the acidic insults, she did deserve Miranda’s ire. The budget was tight with less wiggle room than normal. Miranda would be the one answering for the delay, for the overage costs and she wouldn’t use her Fashion Director’s failure as an excuse or explanation. No, Miranda would accept the responsibility, of that Andrea had little doubt.

“I’m going to fix this.” Andrea said, pulled her arm free from Miranda’s grasp and left.

Mackie jogged up to her but she waved him off. “Whatever it is, handle it. I’ve got to find the designer. Is Serena still with the models?”

“Yeah.”

Andrea burst into the tent and said, “We don’t have...what’s this?”

Serena smiled. “There you are, my friend. They look good, huh?”

“Yeah. Uh, where’s Corina?” Struck dumb by her luck, Andrea longed to faint.

“Oh, she had a family emergency but her assistants got here with the clothes about forty minutes ago.”

“Why weren’t they in the designer’s tent?”

Serena snapped her fingers at a young man standing in the corner. “Get an ice pack for Gianna.” Sighing she turned her attention back to Andrea. “She jammed her finger or something. Anyway, sorry. To answer your question, Mackie didn’t have it up when they arrived. I just told them to come in here so they could get right to it.”

“Well, that’s good.” Andrea smile was wide. “I gotta go. I’ll see you later.”

Chapter Text

The shoot was successful, a hair above the budget if she calculated correctly. Miranda, after speaking with Serena and ignoring her, appeared satisfied but hung around to watch it brought together. She left as Montrose started taking photos. Andrea watched her leave, admiring how beautiful she looked against the backdrop of trees and small boulders. It brought on daydreams of family vacations and quiet talks in front of a fireplace.

All wispy good feelings derived from fantasy vanished by the time she returned to Runway. Miranda had appointments and so did she, but their argument plagued Andrea. The absence of resolution hit her harder than normal; she didn’t deal well with conflict in a relationship and tended to throw herself into work. Miranda, of course, was work and personal which left no place for Andrea to hide while she figured things out.

She wasn’t going to make the same mistakes she did in her previous relationship. They needed to talk and the sooner the better. Andrea settled all business for the day at four-thirty-seven then walked over to Miranda’s office in hopes of catching her before she left to pick up Cassidy from a friend’s house. Andrea spotted her walking across the bullpen. She took off after her, dodging the harried hoard.

“Miranda.” she called out just as the woman stepped into the elevator.

Andrea dramatically burst through the closing doors. Thankfully they were alone.

“I don’t have time for your theatrics.”

But Andrea caught that certain glint in those blue eyes before Miranda covered them up with sunglasses.

“Good because I’m fresh out of them.” Andrea said. “We need to talk. You know we do, Miranda.”

“About what, exactly? Your inability to take direction?”

“I got Montrose.”

“That little troll from Vogue got Montrose.”

Dumbstruck, Andrea stared open-mouthed at Miranda.

“While Roy was driving me into the park, would you care to guess who was leaving? No?” Miranda snatched off her glasses. “EICVOGUE ring a bell? It’s Anna’s personalized license plate. Roy pointed it out, wondering why the troll wasn’t under her bridge.”

“So I...persuaded Anna to help.”

“I know.” Miranda sighed and leaned against the wall. “After you left the tent, I called her and demanded she tell me why Runway’s Fashion Director called Vogue’s editor.”

“Why would you do that?” Andrea groaned then started massaging her temples.

“You blackmailed her!”

“What’s your point?”

Miranda launched off the wall and met Andrea in the middle of the elevator car. “When shall I expect you to turn the tables on me?”

Unable to help it, Andrea started to laugh. “Oh, my god, are you for real? I’d have thought you’d be proud because I got you what you wanted. Look, it wasn’t blackmail, not really. I’m sure she painted a wonderful picture for you about how conniving or whatever I am. I know things about her that I will never reveal. There are other things that are merely...embarrassing for her especially if you were to find out. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?” When Miranda looked puzzled, Andrea elaborated, “How you and Anna interact with each other? Ring a bell? Anyway, she got Montrose because she cares about me, knows how you are, and I promised her a favor that will not involve you or Runway.”

“I...well, then...”

“I will do whatever is necessary for Runway to thrive and I won’t apologize for that. In 2004 you gave an interview...”

“Oh, god, spare me the trip down memory lane. I’m...sorry. I won’t question your methods again.”

Andrea blinked.

Miranda rolled her eyes then whispered, “We’ll be over tonight at six. I’ll bring the food.”

“Yes, that’ll...work.”

The car slowed. Miranda put her glasses back on. Andrea stood by the panel of buttons.

“You drive me insane.”

“It’s mutual.” Andrea replied.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Fen greeted her as soon as Andrea walked through the door. She bent down to kiss her but didn’t pick her up. The lack of sleep caught up to her. Exhaustion overtook her limbs. It didn’t, however, have anything to do with her and Miranda’s activities last night. Andrea grinned as she put her things on the side table, thinking she could definitely find the energy for some make-up sex.

“How’s my baby girl?” Andrea asked and plopped down on the couch.

Fen scrambled up carrying Lou the sloth.

“I want Da.”

“Well, let me call him first, okay?”

“Okay.” Fen patted Andrea’s leg. “Where’s the phone?”

She really didn’t want to do this, not right now, but Fen wanted her father. Andrea got up, rummaged through her purse then went back to the couch and made the call.

“Everything okay?”

“Hi, uh, yeah it’s fine. I was wondering if you-hold on.” Andrea stood and told Fen, “I need to talk to daddy first. Be good. I’ll be right back.” As she went into her bedroom, she said into the phone, “I think Fen wants to see you. It’s been a few weeks since you’ve seen her...”

“I can’t get away right now. You’re gonna have to fly her here.”

“I’m not sending a four year old alone on a plane.”

“Then come, too, and get a hotel room like I had to. I don’t see what’s the big deal.”

“New York Fashion week starts this Friday, Nate. I can’t. What about Saturday the twenty-eighth?”

“I’ve got a thing. Listen, I just can’t right now, even if you brought her here.”

“What’s going on?”

“Things are...tense.”

“Okay, you know what? It’s none of my business. Can you FaceTime her now?”

“Look, I’ll try to call her tomorrow, okay? I’ve gotta go.”

Nate hung up. Andrea, shocked by his one-eighty turn from involved parent to whatever this was, didn’t know what to think or how to shield her daughter. When her phone rang, she answered quickly, thinking maybe he had a change of heart.

“Why am I the last one to know you’re getting a divorce, Andrea?”

 Shit. “Who told you?”

“Your husband, who else? He said you neglected him. Is that true?”

“Of course.” she said dryly, rolling her eyes at the ceiling then exiting the room.

“You’ve always been so ambitious.”

Andrea sat down on the couch and held her finger up at her daughter. “I don’t have time for this. I haven’t seen...”

“How is this going to be good for her, Andrea? Have you thought about your daughter at all?”

“Please don’t do this, mother.”

“I just don’t want you to throw your life away. He’s a good man and he loves Fen.”

A half dozen arguments were ready to jump off her tongue but she didn’t utter a word. Vivian “Vivi’ Sachs had wanted a model daughter in the very literal sense of the word. Andrea’s toddler years were spent going from one pageant to another. When she was old enough to go to school, Vivi enrolled her in cheer camps, piano and singing lessons. They spent hours on a Saturday afternoon watching old movies from the forties and fifties. Vivi would encourage eight year old Andrea to walk in heels like ‘the ladies on tv.’

There was no arguing with Vivi Sachs.

“Are you even listening to me, Andrea?”

“I’m trying not to, mother. Now, I’m going to hang up. Love you, bye.”

There wasn’t time to cry or get angry. The practicalities of raising a four year old took precedence but her hands shook and the back of her throat ached.

“What’s the matter?” Fen asked, the quiver in her voice and the panic in her eyes enough to shred her mother. “Where’s da?”

“Oh, nothing’s the matter, sweetie. Daddy has to work tonight but he said he’d call you tomorrow.” She gathered up Fen in her arms, deciding not to explain to her about hanging up on her grandmother. “Now, tell mommy all about what you did in school today.”

“We had cookies and juice and we sang songs and we played with blocks.”

Andrea lifted Fen high. “Such a busy little girl.“

Playing with her daughter always lifted Andrea’s mood but she also wanted to distract Fen from asking about her father. Andrea still didn’t know what to say.

“Hey, Andrea, I’m gonna take off. I’ll be back tomorrow morning before you leave for work.”

“That’s fine, Demetria. Have fun.”

“Later, shortie.” She held up her hand and Fen slapped it.

“Later, DeeDee.” Fen twisted in Andrea’s arms to watch the nanny depart. “Bye, DeeDee! Bye-bye!”

“Let’s get ready for dinner.” Andrea said after Demetria closed the door behind her then rubbed the tip of her nose against Fen’s soft ear. “You make me so happy.”

“Wash the hands first. It’s the number one thing.”

“You are so smart!”

Andrea carried her to the bathroom. Fen grabbed the little stepstool and dragged it from under the vanity. She struggled setting it just right in front of the sink but Andrea was proud nonetheless. Fen looked up at her, smiling big as she got on the stool.

“Tell me what to do next, sweetie. Mommy forgot.”

Fen recited the steps, giving tips on how to use the soap dispenser, cautioning about water temperature, and the extolling the virtues of not making a mess. Andrea’s heart grew and she wished someone had taken a video of them so she could watch it when her baby left the nest.

“See.” Fen exclaimed, thrusting out her hands for her mother’s approval. “All clean!”

“You did a great job, sweetie. What’s next?”

Frowning, Fen swiped back her curls from her face. Then she shrugged, eyes so round with innocence Andrea wanted grab her daughter and never let her go.

“You have to dry them.” Andrea answered, poking Fen in the tummy.

“Oops, I forgot!” Fen gasped then hopped off the step and yanked down a towel from the towel rack.

After she dried her hands she handed over the bath towel and took off. Andrea returned it to the rack, adjusting it just so. Uneven ends drove her crazy, thanks to her own mother.

Vivi, who seemed to think her daughter wasn’t enough, wanted the wrong things, and needed a husband, took control over Andrea’s mood once again. When she moved out of her parents’ house and started to carve out her own life, Andrea developed her own perspective. Why had her mother pushed so hard for The Beauty Queen stay-at-home mother of three children whose husband made six figures until it was frankly obvious Andrea wouldn’t choose that route? Is that what Vivi had wanted for herself? Andrea didn’t believe it. Her mother worked despite her father’s successful law practice. Did she want something ‘better’ for Andrea?

More questions ping-ponged in her head. She couldn’t really talk to her mother. Vivi kept a constant commentary that only required an audience. Opposing views, questions, or comments weren’t welcomed. Grown-up Andrea moved away and followed her own path. Her father’s “fly and be free’ attitude, on the surface, seemed a mantra for independence but, over a decade later, it rang dully with his apparent disengagement from her life.

Shoving Vivi to the back of her mind, Andrea checked on Fen who was in her room playing then changed into a pair of drawstring shorts and a long sleeved t-shirt. She removed the hair clip, shook out her hair then scratched her scalp.

The intercom buzzed. She rushed to the panel, nearly colliding with Fen.

Andrea pressed the button to unlock the gate, then for the intercom and said, “Come on up.”

There wasn’t a response but it didn’t lessen her happiness. The one person who got her was coming up with her daughters to spend time despite the difficulties. Andrea sank a little deeper into her feelings. She wasn’t alone. A fifty-something twice-divorced mother of two understood her, loved her, and was willing to do ‘whatever it takes’ to be with her.

Between the past and present, it wasn’t a hard decision to make. Nate , Lily, and Vivi could suck it.

Fen ran to the door when they heard a knock and opened it after a nod from her mother. The twins poured in, loud and excited, carrying Fen away toward the couch. Belatedly Andrea received a greeting but she was too interested in their mother to care.

“Hi.” Andrea murmured, keeping the urge to envelope Miranda in an embrace at bay.

Miranda swanned into the room, removing her coat and glasses. Andrea took them from her, as well as her purse and hung them on the coat rack nearby.

“I want to kiss you.” Miranda said in an accusatory way, staring over Andrea’s shoulder.

 “Girls, I need to talk to Miranda for a second. We’ll be in my room. We won’t be long.”

As expected, the girls were too involved with getting dolls runway-ready to do more than grunt in response.

Miranda narrowed her eyes. Nevertheless, she followed after Andrea.

As soon as the door shut, Andrea turned around and Miranda claimed her mouth. God damn, the taste and texture of Miranda’s kisses were compulsive. Andrea went full-throttle, her hands roving Miranda’s body, going everywhere at once.

Andrea husked, “You can be quick. I know you can.”

“I’m still angry at you.” Miranda growled, grabbing Andrea’s hair and pulling her head back to bite her neck.

“Good. Take it out on me.”

Miranda pushed Andrea’s hands away then walked her back against the door. Slowly she wet two fingers, gaze never leaving Andrea’s. The rounded red nails against her pink tongue quickened Andrea’s heartbeat but when Miranda’s lips gently molded around her fingers, cheeks hollowing out as she sucked, Andrea’s heartbeat pounded in the arteries of her pussy.

Miranda released her fingers then slid her hand inside Andrea’s shorts.

“You’ve been thinking about this.”

“I always think about this.” Andrea squeezed her muscles around Miranda’s fingers, staring into deep blue eyes. Miranda, with agonizing slowness pulled out pressing upward. Arching her back, Andrea looked seductively at her and squeezed again when Miranda slid deeper. “Oh, there it is. Come on, Priestly, take what’s yours.”

Miranda emitted a guttural sound then pushed Andrea harder against the door. She kept stroking her without mercy as she sucked on Andrea’s earlobe.

“You’re going to take everything I give to you. Do you hear me?”

Miranda’s fingers worked her like a cross between a piano player and construction worker. Andrea bucked, squeezing for all she was worth during the withdrawals.

“You like that, cub?”

Andrea clutched Miranda’s shoulders, digging in her nails. “I, oh god, I do.”

“Then you’re going to love this.” Miranda panted into Andrea’s neck, grinding down with the heel of her palm against her clit.

Within a few seconds Andrea quaked, the pounding in her temples building as she fought from making any noise. The frantic slap of wet skin rang in her ears.

“Oh, yes, so good, my cub. That’s it, come on my hand.”

Andrea opened her mouth as she bloomed and gushed, unable to breath or scream.

Miranda, obliged to hold her upright while she recovered, softly kissed Andrea’s damp skin above her shirt collar.

“I didn’t hurt you, did I?” she asked after some time had passed.

Patting Miranda absently on her shoulder, Andrea hummed, still woozy and a bit high. 

Miranda propped her up against the door then slipped her fingers gently out of Andrea.  Eyes closed, she listened to Miranda opening and closing drawers and decided to pull herself out of the afterglow.

“You’re lethal. Feel free to do that again.” Andrea said, testing her weak legs as she shuffled toward the desk while rearranging the waistband of her shorts. Christ, she was soaked. “What are you looking for, baby?”

“Tissues.” Miranda held her right hand aloft and pointedly looked at her.

A second later it clicked. She grinned, maybe a little oxygen deprived still, and went to the bookcase behind the desk, blushing but oddly proud.

“For you.” Andrea said, handing over a box.

Miranda’s lips curved into a conceited smile. “Must have been a very good one.”

“Oh, it was. Definitely top three. You have skills, Miranda Priestly.”

“And I wasn’t even trying.”

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Dinner was a lively affair with the girls chatter and the looks between the women. Fen interspersed her English with French which impressed Andrea to no end but didn’t faze Miranda. The twins added a few phrases or words, although Andrea really didn’t know more than the fact they were speaking French. She could learn but she loved the fact it was something unique between the Priestly’s and Fen.

Surrounded by people she loved, Andrea was content. She thought of the future, of family gatherings and milestones. Would it be so for them, the Sachs and Priestly’s celebrating a blended family while nurturing the next generation? Andrea clung to hope. When she looked into Miranda’s eyes, hope turned to conviction.

“Andrea, what do you think of a trip to Florida after Fashion week? I have a small house in Miramar Beach. It would be lovely to get away from the cold, wouldn’t it?”

“I want to go.” Fen said as she looked at the twins.

“Me, too.” Cassidy echoed.

Caroline said, “Oh, it’s been so long, mom.”

“Winter break starts February twenty-fifth to March first. We could leave first thing Friday and be back Sunday night.” Miranda said, looking at Andrea with sparkling blue eyes.

Fen looked at Andrea and asked, “Please, mommy?”

Andrea’s indulgent smile faltered. Four pairs of eyes stared at her with eager, hopeful intensity.

“I think we should talk about this later.”

Miranda picked up her spoon. “Of course.”

Cassidy reached across the table for the bread basket but a disapproving sound from her mother halted forward motion. She sat back down then looked at Andrea.

“Could you pass the bread, please, Andy?”

“No problem, Sidi.”

“Mommy, I want to go with M!”

Fen’s expression did not bode well. Andrea recognized the signs: bottom lip out, eyebrows lowered and the skin beneath them turning slightly pink, and the kicking against the booster underneath the table.

“Fen, settle down.” she said in a form voice but Andrea knew by the glare she received it wasn’t going to be enough. “Alright, let’s go.”

She pushed back her chair and went around the table.

“No! Leave me alone.” Fen cried, the tears gathering in her eyes.

The twins didn’t know what to make of a four year old’s tantrum. It was obvious in the way they averted their eyes. Cassidy, who sat next to Fen, placed a hand on her shoulder and made soothing sounds that Andrea just knew she mimicked from Miranda.

Andrea lifted her out of the booster, kicking and screaming. Immediately she started to rub her back and carry her around, pressing her lips against Fen’s wet cheek.

Miranda quietly joined Andrea as she paced up and down the hallway with a very vocal Fen in her arms.

Mon chou, tu es fatigue?”

No longer wailing, Fen reached out for Miranda. Andrea handed her over albeit a tad begrudgingly. Demetria texted her earlier in the day that Fen wouldn’t go down for a nap. Andrea replied to play the documentary on the constellations which normally put her daughter to sleep with its subdued commentary and low-key background music. When Demetria didn’t text back, she figured Fen finally fell asleep.

“I should have made her take a nap when I got home.” Andrea whispered, standing next to them in front of the window.

“It’s not your fault.” Miranda said in a hushed tone, lightly rocking Fen.

“But it is.”

Miranda looked up from her contemplation of Andrea’s daughter. Eyes narrowing, she stated, “You have a nanny to watch over her while you can’t, Andrea. Don’t doubt you’re an excellent mother.”

Memories started tumbling to the forefront. Fen going to Demetria, clamoring to be in Miranda’s embrace, Vivi’s displeasure, her failed relationship with Nate, Lily’s treachery, and more filled her head.

“Tell the girls to put in a movie. I’ll meet you in the kitchen once I put Fen to bed.” Miranda ordered, the resolve in her voice tempered by empathy.

Andrea, on the brink of her own crying jag, wiped at her face then inhaled a steadying breath. She nodded then Miranda leaned in, one hand holding the back of Fen’s head and the other arm across her bottom. They kissed with a soft quickness.

The twins ceased their bickering when she walked into the dining area.

“Is Fen okay?” Caroline asked, flicking her fingers over a napkin to dislodge a few bread crumbs that stuck to them.

“Yes. Your mom put her to sleep. She missed her nap today.” Andrea answered then took her seat. “Are you guys done eating?”

Cassidy burped and quickly apologized despite an rogue giggle.

In the best ever imitation of Miranda, Caroline pursed her lips at her sister. “I’m almost done.”

Andrea put her elbows on the table and folded her arms. “Are you guys okay?”

“Fen’s a baby. She can’t help it.” Cassidy said as she stood and picked up her bowl. “She sure can yell.”

Caroline finished the last of her soup then shrugged. “It was kinda scary, I guess. I didn’t know why she was so upset. Mom says sometimes we just have to let it out.”

“She’s right, you know.” Andrea swallowed the burning sensation in the back of her throat. “Listen, how about we put in a movie?”

Hesitant, Caroline looked over her shoulder at her Mother approaching. “I have to study for a math test. I bought my backpack with me.”

“Will a movie disturb you?” Miranda asked, standing next her daughter.

Caroline rubbed her fingertips together on her right hand. “Would it be alright if I studied in Fen’s room? I’ll be quiet and I can, you know, keep an eye on her.”

“Well, I think...”

“That would be wonderful, Caroline. Thank you.” Andrea interrupted, trying to not cry again.

Miranda smiled at her daughter then tenderly cupped her beneath the chin. “You’re a very sweet girl.”

“Sometimes.” Caroline replied then grinned, darting away toward her backpack then disappearing down the hallway.

“Cassidy, let’s look what’s on pay-for-view.”

Cassidy scratched the tip of her nose. “If it’s okay, I feel like drawing instead. I bought my sketchpad and pencils.”

Miranda stared down at her little ruffian with the soul of an artist. “As you wish. Take your sister’s bowl to the kitchen please.”

Cassidy huffed. “She’s not so sweet now.”

“Andrea, come with me.” Miranda said, gesturing toward the hallway. “I’d like to speak with you for a moment.”

She led the way, very conscious of Miranda trailing behind her. Earlier, there hadn’t been time for an informal tour and Andrea supposed that’s why Miranda idly looked around. She picked up a small box made out of wood Andrea had purchased in Turkey before Fen was conceived. Her eyes were drawn to the way Miranda’s fingers turned it around and around looking for a latch.

“Remember when you gave me the photobook? And you said it was the ‘beginning of our story’. You knew then I was in love with you?”

Andrea sat down on the edge of her bed. “I couldn’t think anything else.”

“The first time I met you, I called you Anna’s puppy and told you to go fetch.”

Andrea didn’t move although her jaw dropped of its own accord.

“Oh, yes, I remembered you, Andrea.” Miranda set down the puzzle box then leaned against the dresser. “I wasn’t attracted to you then, of course, but I saw something in you and it...drew me in. I simply told myself it was nostalgia for when I was your age. Even so, I admired your grit. Anna spoke so highly of you, in her way. Then it came to pass a good opportunity opened up for Nigel and I told him to find someone to replace him at Runway. He brought you and I thought it was a sign, not of a personal nature. You impress me. Every day, Andrea.”

“I didn’t get you Montrose...”

“Oh, but you did, my love. To be honest, well...” Miranda crossed her arms and looked at the carpet. “...I was jealous that Anna was the one you turned to and that...that was personal which doesn’t have a place in our professional relationship. You were resourceful, used your contacts, and made it happen.”

“Why are you telling me all this now, Miranda?”

“Because you are enough. For your daughter and for me.” she stated quietly, looking at Andrea with absolute conviction in her gaze and the stance. “I never believed I would find my equal, much less in a female partner, but, I have...with you. We will have a future, Andrea. Together.”

Incapable of speech, Andrea rose from the bed and walked over to Miranda. She looked into her eyes as she placed her palms against Miranda’s collarbones. Slowly, she slid her hands upward and kissed her. It was a promise, an apology, and a gesture of gratitude.

“I love you more than anyone I’ve loved before you.”

Miranda nuzzled Andrea’s temple and whispered, “God help me, I feel the same.”

Chapter Text

Paparazzi lined the entrance to the Promenade for George Chakra’s show. Ten forty-five in the morning on Valentine’s Day found Andrea walking the gauntlet with flashbulbs popping in her eyes. Hence, the sunglasses. The day was achingly crisp and sunny but due to go downhill in the early evening hours. Serena and Emily accompanied her down the red carpet walkway. To Andrea’s surprise, Emily stopped to pose for the cameras. Serena laughed, pulling Andrea past the line of photographers just to the left of the ballroom entrance.

“Emily’s good enough to be a model.” Serena said, holding onto Andrea’s arm.

“She’s too short.” Andrea responded automatically. “There’s no doubt she has the moves down though.”

“I’m bisexual.”

Andrea pulled her gaze from their coworker who was being questioned by a television personality.

“Uh, thanks for the info?”

Serena rolled her eyes. “Emily is straight.”

Andrea frowned. She glanced at Emily then at Serena. “Why is this relevant right now?”

“I like her.”

Without willing it so, her eyebrows sprung upward. “Okay, good for you?”

Serena scoffed, releasing Andrea’s arm and muttering something in Portuguese.

“So, you have a crush on her?”

“Do you not understand my English?”

Andrea drew back, frowning. “Do you want...advice or something?”

Serena emitted a stream of very rapid Portuguese complete with gestures.

Emily returned to them, smirking  as she almost sashayed. Andrea noted her gaze lingered on Serena but she couldn’t tell what type of look she gave the other woman. Hardly an expert on lesbians or bisexuals, Andrea dismissed the entire thing. She was there on behalf of Runway and Miranda. The last thing she needed was to be sidetracked by an interoffice romance not her own.  

They took their seats in the second row on the left of the runway. Andrea nodded or smiled to several industry acquaintances. Vogue was in attendance, obviously, their clique sharing similar fashion sense. The fact Anna sat in the front row sealed the deal.

When Andrea walked by her, Anna said her name, half turning in her seat to look at her.

“Hello, Anna.”

She motioned for Andrea to come closer which wasn’t that hard given the chairs and rows were so close together. Serena and Emily already took their seats.

“Where is Miranda?”

Andrea made a display of looking around then said, “I don’t know.”

“God, you’re getting to be as insufferable as she is.”

“Good to see you, too, Anna.” Andrea snarked then moved away to take her seat next to Emily.

“What did your illustrious previous boss have to say?” Emily asked, eyes leveled at Andrea like missiles.

“She thought your choice of designer to wear...lacked imagination.”

Emily donned her best snooty British expression then started talking to Serena. Andrea didn’t take it personally. She heard the gossip about Emily worshipping the  stilettoes Miranda walked upon when she was Miranda’s assistant. It didn’t bother Andrea in the least. In fact, she often commiserated with the Brit. Sleek and cool, Miranda glided through the hallways of Runway and fashion industry houses with shark-like precision. She fascinated while striking fear into those who sought to ingratiate themselves.

“All fur coat and no knickers, that one.”

Knowing better than to ask, Andrea rolled her eyes.

“Just remember who signs your pay check.” Emily said then promptly turned her attention to the stage.

Strobe lights flashed as the lighting dimmed and obscenely loud music queued. Andrea’s ears felt like beaten drums. Dutifully she took shorthand notes on an incongruous three-by-five card, a system she developed and refined over the years. She had filing boxes filled with them, arranged by designer, year and season. Singled out by hot-red sparkly stickers, her favorites were easily identifiable from the others by their matte surfaces in various colors. Pink dot stickers were for designers that upset her stomach, black ones for classic, and so the ‘rankings’ went.

“Don’t you have someone else to do that?” Emily hissed, staying Andrea’s hand.

“Pull something out of your ass when Miranda asks why ‘this’ or what ‘that’ but I prefer my answers backed up by facts and details.” Andrea promptly removed Emily’s hand, gaze riveted on the show and shrugged. “You’re the one who will have to explain why you posed and interviewed in front of a show you weren’t scheduled to attend. She’s gonna love whatever pithy crap you let out of your mouth, too.”

Emily scoffed but returned her attention to the runway, looking a bit more judicious.

The ‘wrath of Le Priestly’ was always a great motivation to do one’s job.

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Between shows, Andrea stole a chance to eat, organize her notes, check in with Demetria and say hello to Fen. Her mother called twice, didn’t leave a message, and she happily decided not to return the favor. She made a note to call back Doug then she texted Nate to remind him of calling his daughter. After checking the time, she opened her personal email and smiled when she read the delivery confirmation. With any luck, she was going to have the absolute BEST Valentine’s Day in the history of such things. Sitting on a long bench, wrapped in a Tom Ford double-breasted wool and cashmere coat trimmed with leather, Andrea wasn’t too uncomfortable against the icy breeze. It was an eye-popping one of a kind scarlet color brushed with black undertones which perfectly matched the Chloé Diane lace-up boats that she preferred tied half-way up. She rocked the ‘feminine military allure’ with the day’s outfit, and, hopefully her late night ensemble would rock a certain person’s world.

After the Verrier show at six, she needed to hustle to The Plaza Hotel and get ready for the host city gala where people from the fashion industry gathered, mingling with rich, adoring fans, political heavyweights, movie stars and rock bands. By invitation only, Andrea’s attendance had been secured with a very quiet, discreet word from the Editor in Chief of Runway. Lucky her. From the outrageous to the classics, New York’s Fashion Week drew all types of fashion-savvy revelers for a night of drunken fun or for a prominent member to slip away without notice.

Nothing, however, was going to happen unless she stopped daydreaming and went to the next show. At the venue, she slipped past the photographers with a smile and short wave but when she walked in she nearly stumbled. Miranda Priestly sat in the front row. Andrea kept herself from smiling, unbuttoned her coat and draped it over her arm. The show was due to start any minute. Vanessa met her at the second row.

“We’re switching.” she whispered, took Andrea’s coat, then moved past her.

Andrea flipped her long curls over one shoulder and made her way to the center of the row where Miranda sat with an aloof bearing.

“You’re not on the schedule for this show.” Andrea murmured, offering a quick smile to Nyja from Vogue who had been in the running for Andrea’s last position with the magazine. Judging by her second row seat, she got it.

Miranda tut-tutted. “I decide what shows to attend.”

“You look amazing. Dior suits you.”

Smiling for the cameras, Miranda played the diva although Andrea thought she was a natural. “How did you get Tom to match his coat with your shoes?”

Andrea opened the small program and acted like she was skimming its contents as she answered, “You’re not the only one with connections.”

“And you look...a bit dangerous, darling.”

She crossed her legs, slanting her body toward Miranda but looking past her. She withdrew an envelope from the inside of pocket of fitted blazer. “I have something for you. A...present.”

Miranda held out her hand for the legal-sized, plain white envelope while exchanging fake pleasantries with an opera singer.

The lights flickered and Andrea took out a blank three-by-five along with her favorite pen from her purse.

“What are you doing?” Miranda asked in a low, irritated tone.

“Taking notes for you and myself.” she replied. “Normally I’m not on the front row...”

“Vanessa is doing that. Put it away and soak up the experience, Andrea.”

About to object, she looked into Miranda’s softening gaze. Pressing her advantage, Miranda tilted her head then lifted one eyebrow.

“For me.”

Andrea couldn’t put the things away fast enough. For the first time in her career, she simply watched for the artistic beauty on display with Miranda at her side.

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The grand ballroom was packed but Andrea arrived ‘fashionably late’. Having received several clipped texts, she knew Miranda was already in attendance and where she held court. The Ralph Lauren sequined embellished evening gown’s hem brushed the paraquet floor despite her four inch stilettoes. Hardly outlandish, it was, however...risqué given the plunging neckline and front thigh slit. The long sleeves hugged her arms. Going for a more traditional hairstyle, it took Andrea two tries to get the tight updo, crossed bun to look sleek, devoid of errant hairs. She chose to leave her neck bare of jewelry but adorned her ears with diamond linear drop earrings and wore a diamond encrusted thumb ring on her right hand.

She took her time crossing the room, stopping to trade a few words with important people while gliding by the ones who would bog down her progress. The cool silk inner lining of the gown caressed her legs as she walked and Andrea felt womanly. Several men turned their heads, leering and smiling, noticeable to her but hardly something to remember. At long last, she came upon Miranda who was dwarfed by a mixed crowd which made getting to her rather problematic.

“You look exquisite, Six.”

With genuine warmth, she turned toward Nigel and pressed her cheek against his then pulled out of his light embrace to look at his attire. Nigel held open his master-tailored camel coat with a black leather revers.

“I can’t believe you went all Gaultier on me. Where’s the bowler hat?”

Nigel smoothed his palm across the side of his head. “This is a gala to try something...different.”

Andrea, catching the slight insecure note in his voice, quickly smiled. “Well, you look smashing. This is from Gaultier’s 2008 Fall menswear collection, isn’t it? When he paid tribute to Fred Chichin of Les Rita Mitsouko. I remember reading about it.”

“Jean Paul was devastated when Fred died so suddenly from cancer two years ago. He wanted to honor his friend.” Nigel cleared his throat. “And I wanted to honor Jean Paul.”

Andrea paused, trying to work it out Nigel’s confession, wondering whether he meant it the way he said it. “You and Jean Paul...?”

“Yes. We had a thing years ago but now that I’m in the same city, things...progressed.”

“I’m happy for you, Nigel.”

“Yes, well.” He took off his glasses, produced a monogramed handkerchief  from the interior pocket of his coat and began cleaning his glasses. “Am I to understand congratulations are in order for you as well?”

“I love her, so much, Nigel.”

He put his glasses back on then smiled at her. “Well, allow me to introduce you to your date.”

“What?”

Nigel snapped his fingers, looking somewhere behind Andrea.

“Andrea Sachs, this is Warren Monroe, the first baseman for the Yankees.”

“Hello, Andrea. You look very elegant. It’s nice to meet you.”

She liked him immediately but not for the compliment or his good looks or fame. No, he was nice and gay which, really, relieved her to no end. She placed her hand in his and immediately Warren pulled her in, kissing her cheek.

“Can’t have people think we just met.” he whispered kindly before retreating. “We’re on a date after all, right?”

“Come on, Warren, help me cleave through this throng.”

He kept Andrea close as he led them through the crowd. A few men impeded Warren’s headway, saying things like ‘we’ll get ‘em next time’ or ‘can’t wait to see the new stadium’ or ‘is it really true you do ballet for flexibility?’. He juggled his responses so professionally, Andrea wanted to take notes or lessons. Maybe both.

Within a few more seconds, Warren burst through the last ring of people surrounding Miranda and Andrea stopped in her tracks. A very distinguished looking gentleman held court with her woman. It was silly, childish and silly but Andrea wanted to yank his arm from Miranda’s waist. The proprietary way he looked grated on her nerves.

Warren murmured in her ear, “Remember, it’s just for show.”

Miranda noticed her in the way a painter looks at a subject, a composer crafts every note and a carpenter measures square, level, and plumb. The effect of such a perusal left Andrea dazed. Voices, tinkling glasses, even the crowd existed in the blurry outskirts of her perception.

“Andrea.” she said in the low timbre that skipped along Andrea’s nerve endings.

“Hello, Miranda.” she said then looked away for fear of showing all that she felt.

“You look lovely.”

Conscious of the many eyes trained on them, Andrea wrapped her arm around Warren’s then looked up at him, smiled then returned her gaze to Miranda who appeared none too pleased.

“Warren, allow me to introduce you to Miranda Priestly, Editor in Chief of Runway magazine. Miranda, this is Warren Monroe.” She looked up at him adoringly then teased, “He plays a game for a living.”

 “Ouch. If you weren’t so smart, I might be offended.” he rejoined smoothly, looking every inch the smitten companion.

Warren extended his hand. For a brief second Andrea worried Miranda wouldn’t take it but she did and served her most frigid smile.

“Malcolm, this is my Fashion Director, Andrea Sachs.”

What it lacked in enthusiasm, her reception made up for in possessiveness. A ribbon of heat rippled down her spine. She looked at Malcolm’s bowtie as she limply shook his hand. None of this meant anything for anyone. Andrea swallowed the bitter influx. It was weird and difficult and exceedingly annoying to have to pretend for the divorce lawyers and their careers. It was very possible Nate couldn’t even afford a lawyer, let alone fight her on anything but she couldn’t take the chance, not with her daughter nor Miranda. So, Andrea inflated her lungs as far as their capacity and let the air out by degrees so no one could tell she was pretending to be someone she wasn’t.

“Nice to meet you, Malcolm.”

The men shook hands, obviously known to each other. Andrea wondered if they were a closeted couple then dismissed the thought because she really didn’t get that vibe from them. Then again, they could be the consummate actors for all she knew.

People shuffled around to accommodate the new couple and Andrea was delighted to discover Warren had navigated her next to Miranda.

“You’re wearing red.”

The accusation in Miranda’s voice revealed more than it cloaked. Andrea leaned in a little, careful to maintain a blasé demeanor.

“Like a bitch in heat?”

Miranda cut short a soft grunt. “You’re going to pay for that, cub.”

Andrea smiled at an acquaintance. “Oh, how you do go on, Miranda.”

She knew she was playing with fire. Miranda’s tolerance was far from predictable but she couldn’t stop prodding her. There was something about the ornate ballroom with its history and elegance and the fact their faux beaux were seasoned companions that tore into Andrea. She tried to stem the resentment, the unfairness of the entire situation but her entire being cried out to publicly state her claim to Miranda Priestly.

“You’re trying to provoke me for some unknown reason. Just don’t.”

“Andrea, would you mind if I stole you away for a moment?” Warren cut in, smiling brightly.

At first annoyed by the interruption, Andrea glanced around then laid her hand on Warren’s arm.

“Not at all.” she answered, injecting a bit of eagerness into her voice.

“If you’ll excuse us.” Warren guided Andrea with a palm at the small of her back.

“I’m sorry but things were getting tense between you, too. Let’s get a drink.”

Andrea nodded, reapplying her social mask. Along the way, she smiled and paused for small talk. When it was time to move on, Warren lightly applied pressure to her lower back. He maneuvered them to the bar without effort but Andrea acknowledged it was a great skill of any date.

“What’s your poison, Andrea?” he asked, removing his hand.

Thinking of the bottle chilling in her room above, Andrea replied, “Anything but champagne.”

He smiled then leaned in, lightly touching her shoulder. “Remember, I am so, so gay. You’re doing great by the way.”

Andrea remained several feet away and was immediately greeted by Bee, Anna’s daughter.

“Everyone’s talking about you.” she accused playfully.

“Has your mother seen what you’re wearing?”

Bee laughed. “This is the event to show off one’s...creativity, no?”

“One false move and your ‘creativity’ is going to fall out of your dress.”

“You’re one to talk. That neckline practically meets the slit of your dress, Andrea Sachs, but it does look lovely on you.”

“Excuse me, ladies.” Warren returned, holding two martini glasses.

“Bee, this is Warren...”

“Oh, my god, you’re a Yankee!”

It was hard to tell whether the information delighted or horrified Bee but then she grinned and turned on the charm. Andrea watched in amusement as she accepted the drink. Warren was polite and gallant, offering his drink to Bee. They bantered for a few flirtatious minutes and Andrea was grateful for the respite. She sipped the extra dirty martini, wrinkling her nose in distaste, olives her least favorite flavor.

“And who is this, Bee?” Anna drawled, joining their circle, then finished off her usual drink.

Introductions were made but Andrea remained silent, scanning the room in search of her editor.

“Hello, Andrea, you look positively sinful. I approve, darling.” Anna said, eyebrows arching over the rims of her glasses.

“Thank you, Anna. Are you enjoying yourself?”

“It is a party.” she drawled then turned to Warren. “Do be a good man and refresh my champagne.”

It wasn’t a request but Warren smiled and asked after everyone else. Bee giggled, telling him to surprise her. Andrea declined and offered her half-full glass to him. He winked then finished it off.

“I daresay he has a marvelous physique.” Anna murmured, eyeing his departure. She turned toward her daughter and asked, “Are you behaving yourself?”

Before she responded, Nigel arrived and answered, “What’s the fun in that? We were on our way to the bar and decided to drop in as it were.”

The back of Andrea’s neck tingled, spreading across her shoulders.

“Oh, the gang’s all here.” Anna remarked drolly.

Everyone jostled around, making room. Introductions were made yet again and Andrea found herself directly opposite Miranda and her faux-beau. Wonderful. Having a hard time not staring at how Miranda’s black dress clung, she wished they were upstairs already.

Something was going on between Miranda and Anna, a type of silent communication so subtle Andrea doubted the others saw it. She was the only one fixated on Miranda, attuned to her every movement, the rise and fall of her dulcet voice. Miranda’s gaze darted to Bee then to Anna. She tilted her head ever so slightly.

Anna leaned close to Bee and whispered something that caused her daughter to fidget. No longer gregarious, the girl pasted on a smile then after a few minutes excused herself. Andrea glanced at Miranda and caught the faintest frown directed in Anna’s direction. She thought back to what was happening with Bee before her mother intervened.

“I’ll be right back.” she abruptly interrupted. “Excuse me.”

Andrea followed after Bee, glimpsed the brunette’s intricate coiffure but lost her in a cluster of people. She pardoned her way through until she was free. Bee was headed to the ladies room apparently. Andrea sighed, feeling flushed, and decided she might as well brave the gaggle of women sure to occupy the facility. She bypassed the short line for the stalls straight to the anteroom where two women checked their appearance in the mirrored wall. Their conversation was typically superficial, easily tuned out as Andrea waited for Bee to reappear from the stalls. The flowery patterned silk blend material covering the small couches and dainty chairs in the sitting area, with their gilded armrests and legs seemed antiquated to her. She could envision women balancing on the edge of their seats, spread out in order not to wrinkle or crush protruding bustles so popular in the late eighteen hundreds. How many women stole a few moments in these places? She saw the evolution of women’s fashion parade around in her mind and smiled.

“Did my mother send you?”

“No.” she replied, looking at the back of her dress in the mirror. “Someone bumped me from behind and I wanted to make sure they didn’t spill anything on my dress.”

“Oh, well, good. I’m an adult. She has a problem with that, I think.”

“All mothers do. Fen just turned four and I’m appalled how quickly that happened.”

Bee smiled wryly. “Isn’t that the nature of things?”

“I was a little girl once, you know. And my mother dressed me up like a drag queen which wouldn’t have been so bad except she applied makeup like one, too. I couldn’t feel my face it was caked on so thick.”

“Oh, my, I thought having Nuclear Wintour for a mother was harsh.”

Andrea stepped away from the mirror and looked at Bee. “She loves you and your brother. If anything were to happen to either of you, Anna would be devastated, Bee. You must know that.”

“I do but...sometimes the expectations of Anna Wintour’s daughter are pretty crazy, Andrea, and you know what I’m talking about. I saw a little of what she put you through and you were an employee.”

Andrea took Bee’s hand, pressing her fingertips into her palm. “I’ve watched you grow up and become a wonderfully funny, intelligent, and kind person. Your mom did something right. Give us mothers a break, huh? You guys don’t come with instructions, you know.”

“I know.” Bee grinned, eyebrows rising. “Wonder what she’d do if I had a wardrobe malfunction?”

“Don’t even joke about it.”

Chapter Text

It was nearing nine o’clock and Andrea hadn’t yet accomplished getting her alone. Miranda evaded her on purpose to drive her mad. There was no other explanation. Every time Andrea got close, Miranda played hard to get, turning her attention to someone else, laughing at someone’s subpar remark and twice accepting invitations to dance. Andrea’s patience waned then shriveled. She told Warren to tell Miranda to meet her in the hotel lobby on the mezzanine level or she was going to personally drag Miranda away in front of everyone.

Twenty minutes later Miranda walked slowly down the corridor toward the lobby. Andrea, fuming, watched her from one of the black leather chair couches arranged in a cozy U-shape.

“What is so urgent...”

“No, no, no, my love.” Andrea rose from her seat, moved on leg forward just enough that it peeked from behind the dress. She patted her outer thigh with the flat side of her clutch as she let her displeasure be known. “Did you open the envelope?”

“No.” she replied with a dangerous little smile.

Andrea tapped her clutch against her leg again. “You’re lying.”

Miranda’s gaze lowered, stopping at Andrea’s chest. “I...have no idea what’re talking about.”

She heard the slight catch in Miranda’s voice, saw the greedy glint in her eyes as they slowly met hers.

“Meet me up in the room in ten minutes or I’ll start without you.” Andrea said, wondering if she overplayed her hand. “And that would be a shame.”

Miranda’s nostrils flared. She took a step near. Andrea didn’t budge, simply kept rhythmically tapping her clutch against her thigh. The variety of ways Miranda kept her interest ruined her for anyone else. No one fascinated her like Miranda. No one pissed her off nor gave her so much pleasure as Miranda did.

“I’m going to enjoy teaching you a lesson, cub.”

Andrea lightly touched the space above her cleavage then trailed her fingers down the center of her torso to the dress’s knotted waist.

“It’s amusing you think you’re the teacher.”

Ten minutes.” Miranda growled.

Andrea winked then left.

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For all her bluster downstairs, Andrea melted when she entered the room. Rose petals covered the turned down bed. A platter of fruit and a picnic basket were on the small table. Andrea picked up the thick envelope propped against a glass vase bursting with red roses, looked at her handwritten name then put it back. In the middle of the bed she saw the signature red Cartier gift bag and her heart started hammering. Andrea may have booked the room, but  Miranda chose to decorate it. She was an expert at turning the tables. Andrea loved her, every trait, good and bad that made up the sum of Miranda.  Unpredictable, imaginative, intelligent, and so much more.

Andrea needed to freshen up. When she flicked on the bathroom light, her heart tripped over itself. Two bottles chilled in a bucket stand by the tub. On the tub’s edge, a bottle of Library of Flowers Willow & Water bubble bath perched beside two flute glasses. Christ, she was going to swoon, make a blubbering ass out of herself and do her damnedest to keep up with the woman.

Once finished, she took out the bottle of Cristal from the mini fridge, opened it, then filled two glasses. The metallic click of the door lock signaled Miranda’s arrival which couldn’t have been more timely.

“Hello.” Miranda purred, taking off her earrings as she walked into the room.

Andrea smiled before taking a sip of champagne then held the glass out to Miranda. “Hello. Can you stay the night?”

Miranda took the glass while handing Andrea her earrings. “Happy Valentine’s day. Cara’s with the girls so I’m all yours.”

“I’ve been thinking...” Andrea paused, setting Miranda’s earrings on the table, taking out her own then removing her thumb ring. “...about what makes our sex life so satisfying.”

Draining her glass, Miranda wandered over to the table where the Cristal bottle sat, set down her purse, then poured herself another glass. Andrea held out hers to be filled and Miranda returned the favor.

“Is that so, darling?”

They sized up one another, circling each other in a figurative sense.

“I never quite know what you’re going to do. Just when I think I have you figured out, you surprise me.” Andrea walked over to the bed and sat down, crossing her legs and bracing an arm against the mattress. She drank more champagne. “Take the room, for instance. I knew you opened the envelope. It wouldn’t have been difficult to feel the shape of the card key when you first touched it. But, I never thought you’d do all this.” Andrea raised her glass, indicating the room.

Miranda smirked, grabbed the bottle and sauntered over to the bed. She refilled their glasses, emptying the bottle, then set it on the night stand.

“I love to surprise you, darling.”

“How about undressing me? I seem to recall you love that, too.”

“Give me a moment.”

Andrea tilted her head in inquiry.

“I want to memorize how you look right now.”

“Would a picture please you, baby?”

Abruptly, Miranda set down her glass on the nightstand. She went to the table and dug through her purse, returning to stand in front of Andrea.

“How do you want me?”

Miranda’s blue eyes glittered. “Exactly how you are.” She took a picture with her phone then set it down and picked up her drink.

Andrea finished her champagne, rising from the bed then taking Miranda’s glass. “I don’t wish to wait anymore.”

Stepping out of her heels, Miranda said, “Then neither do I.”

They kissed, a gesture somewhere between chaste and passionate but exactly right.

“I’ve learned something about us.”

Miranda pulled back and looked at her intently.

“As much as you love to prolong it, I love working for it.”

Groaning, Miranda placed her forehead against Andrea’s neck and wrapped her arms around her. Her statement wasn’t anywhere near as ambiguous as it sounded. Miranda got it as evidenced by the way her breaths fell upon Andrea’s skin and how her hands gripped her hips.

“I want to take off your dress, Andrea.”

“Then do it.” she murmured, kicking off  her heels.

Miranda started with Andrea’s hair, removing pins and threading her fingers tenderly through stiff tresses. She placed small, wet kisses from Andrea’s ear to her shoulder, breathing through her nose. Andrea fought off the urge to hurry despite the thick roll of her blood through constricted veins.

Miranda muttered, “I can’t wait. I just can’t wait.”

“Shh, let me help.” Andrea whispered as she put some distance between them. “Sit down on the bed.”

Frowning, Miranda nevertheless followed her lead.

Andrea reached behind herself to unzip, staring into Miranda’s eyes. She shrugged out of the dress, letting it pool at her feet before stepping out of it. Miranda reached for the edges of tape holding Andrea’s breasts in place and carefully peeled it away, kissing the exposed skin. Nipples puckering from cold and stimuli, Andrea tilted her head back, steadying herself by holding onto Miranda’s shoulders.

“More.” she hissed, pulling Miranda’s face to her breasts.

Miranda sucked her nipple and grabbed Andrea by the back of her thighs. Not needing further prodding, Andrea dragged herself upon the bed, hovering over Miranda’s prone body.

“I have a harness...and dildo.” Miranda gasped into Andrea’s chest. “I’ve never...I don’t know...but, please, Andrea, let me.”

Andrea held Miranda’s face in her hands, “Anything.” She moved off of Miranda.

Swiftly Miranda got off the bed and went to the closet where she opened a small suitcase. She clutched two boxes to her stomach and directed, “Lay on top of the bed. On...the rose petals.”

Andrea placed the Cartier bag on the table, leaving several flower petals trailing after her. The idea of Miranda straining above her, of looking into her eyes while she spread her legs willingly, wantonly to absorb Miranda’s thrusts sent such a curl of pleasure through her, it was damn near painful.

 Once comfortable upon the bed, she slid her hands down her torso. One of them pushed aside the flimsy thong, grazing over trimmed pubic hair, fingers slinking across her saturated vulva. God help her. The need to create friction prodded her hips to move despite the lack of active intent. For once not muffling her groans, Andrea flung her arms wide in an attempt to discharge the rolling tension in her body. Rose petals stroked her sides as she buried her toes in a small pile. The flower’s scent immediately followed, no longer a hint in the air but an outright fragrance. Andrea splayed her fingers under the petals and inhaled.

At the sound of the door opening, she sat up slowly and braced her arms behind her, grinning at the floral collage along her right triceps. Miranda stood in the doorway in a pair of boy shorts which had a distinct and sturdy protrusion arcing out of them.

“You...” Miranda’s voice faltered, its grave quality touching Andrea in the same way that the long note of a softly struck piano key did. “I want...”

Andrea smiled, moving her thick hair to the side over one shoulder, rose petals sticking to her skin. Miranda continued to stare.

“Show me instead.”

Allowing for the appendage, Miranda laid upon the bed on her side and faced Andrea. She wet her lips then kissed Andrea in a delicate fashion, her trembling hand finding a place to rest on the side of Andrea’s face. Miranda’s actions expressed tenderness, love, and a remarkable restraint. Yet, such qualities could not evade the snapping teeth of Andrea’s need or the heavy tug of her desire. There was more to it, of course, but her mind started going hazy and giving order to her thoughts became impossible.

When Miranda drew her closer, Andrea’s skin vibrated along her arms and thighs. A demand, she hiked a leg over Miranda’s hip, digging her heel in her ass. Their kisses grew longer, more wild.

“Miranda...please.”

Miranda’s nails scratched Andrea’s lower back as she grabbed the thong and yanked it down. At the same time she rolled to kneel above Andrea who lifted her hips eagerly. Once the thong was dispensed with, Andrea bent her knees and fully opened her legs. Miranda palmed the tops of her knees, thumbs pressing down as if testing Andrea’s flexibility. She twisted away and reached for something. Miranda opened the bottle of lube, hands shaking, then applied it to the dildo, stroking it in a familiar manner to both of them. The sight of it rocked Andrea for a second. She wasn’t sure how to feel about it then didn’t care when Miranda removed crushed petals from between her legs and inner thighs. Andrea shut her eyes, faintly panting, spread for Miranda’s pleasure and getting off on it. Her hips pushed into the mattress the second Miranda’s thumb swept from the perineum to clit.

“Oh, shit.” Andrea gasped, fisting the petaled sheets.

“I’m going to be so good to you.” Miranda whispered, her thumb sweeping and sweeping with maddening lightness.

Andrea cried out, pinching and tugging her own nipple. She felt Miranda hovering above her, felt the blunt tip of the dildo nudge her opening but couldn’t wait. Andrea grabbed it and guided it in with Miranda carefully balanced above her.

“Oh, jesus...all the way...put it...fuck.”

Miranda moved her hips, using shallow thrusts that caused Andrea to drag her nails across Miranda’s back and dig her heels into the mattress.

“I swear to god...”

Movements too controlled, Miranda ignored her.

Andrea slid her hand between them as she hooked her other arm over the back of Miranda’s neck. She rubbed her clit, sighing into Miranda’s ear, “That’s it...I’m so ready, come on...give it to me.”

Miranda moaned, hips no longer maintaining a steady rhythm.

“Take what’s yours...alpha.” Andrea taunted.

Miranda stopped, blue eyes darkening. A drop of sweat from her jaw fell on the corner of Andrea’s mouth. Her tongue darted out to taste it.

“Is that what you want right now?” Miranda asked hoarsely.

Andrea’s vaginal muscles pulsed around silicone as Miranda minutely rocked back and forth, buried so deep that it teased Andrea’s g-spot. She stared into Miranda’s eyes.

“More than anything.”

Miranda’s jaw flexed. She didn’t pull out but started to circle her hips.

Andrea’s head snapped back. She immediately grabbed the back of her knees and pushed down.

“Oooh, fuck, what are...just like th-that..”

Miranda started pumping into her, hitting Andrea’s spot every short jab. Her body tightened and she wanted it all, to be filled and devoured and conquered. Miranda’s hot grunts fell on her face, neck and chest. Their combined sweat created lubrication where skin met skin. No longer capable of keeping her legs up, Andrea wrapped herself around Miranda’s sweaty body.

Pressing her open mouth just below Miranda’s earlobe, Andrea used the last bit of coherency to moan, “Yours.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“You were amazing.” Andrea stated then bit into a fresh strawberry.

They sat in the middle of the bed with the unpacked picnic basket. An unopened jar of caviar remained within, however, as Andrea didn’t particular care for it. Miranda covered a thin wafer with an herbed cheese spread then popped it into her mouth, closing her eyes as she chewed.

When she opened them, she said, “I would like for you to try it on me sometime.”

Andrea raked back her hair. “I must look...”

“Well fucked.”

Laughing, Andrea shrugged then picked up another strawberry. “I have something. To try, you know, on you. Tonight.”

Miranda grabbed an opened bottle that she placed in the basket and drank directly from it. A dribble of champagne leaked from her mouth but she wiped it off with the back of her hand.

“Whatever you want, darling.”

Andrea looked at the sight of Miranda Priestly, ‘The Devil in Prada’, naked on a bed and drinking from a bottle of Moet & Chandon 2008 that had been in the bathroom, hair tousled and blue eyes filled with vibrant warmth.

“I am so lucky to get to see you like this.”

“I feel ten years younger when I’m with you.”

Andrea glided her palm along the slope of Miranda’s thigh and leaned in to kiss her. “You feel any younger with me and I won’t be able to keep up.”

Mouths pressed together but lips not aligned, they started laughing in the quiet, happy way that often erupted between them.

“I think it’s time for a bath.” Miranda said then kissed the tip of Andrea’s nose.

“In a minute.” Andrea nuzzled along Miranda’s neck, licking the skin with the tip of her tongue at odd intervals.

She loved how Miranda’s skin smelled after sex, when the sweat dried after washing away lotion and perfume. The small sharp intake of breath Miranda took triggered a frisson of desire in Andrea. She started pushing things off the bed.

“Wait.” Miranda protested weakly.

Andrea heard the bottle thud against the carpet, the crackling of cellophane but she didn’t stop arranging Miranda how she wanted, all the while anointing whatever skin was within reach with kisses. She scooped up a handful of petals from near the pillows then sprinkled them upon Miranda as she lay supine with her legs dangling over the mattress edge.

“Andrea...”

“Shh, just hold on, okay?”

Crouching low between Miranda’s knees, Andrea softly blew the petals across or off Miranda’s skin. Motionless, Miranda didn’t indicate one way or another how it felt. To be honest, there was a lot of pleasure in it for Andrea. She watched how the petals almost moved like leaves drifting on a lazy summer breeze. The varying shades of red against alabaster skin provided a beautiful contrast that captured Andrea’s imagination. Nearing the apex of Miranda’s legs, the petals held tenaciously to hot, damp skin. Undeterred, she used her lips when possible to pluck them off, trying not to graze Miranda’s skin.

“Oh.” she gasped when Andrea directly blew against her soused vulva.

Overcome by the scent and nearness of Miranda’s arousal, Andrea touched the flat of her tongue along the length of Miranda’s cunt but didn’t move it. Immediately, Miranda butted up against it then brazenly rode it, cupping the back of Andrea’s head.

“Yesss, that’s it.”

Andrea spread Miranda’s lips and started fucking Miranda with her tongue. At the moment she felt Miranda’s opening expand, she pulled away, denying her release then wiped her chin.

“God damn it.” Miranda breathed. “It’s so fucking intense when you do that.”

Carefully, Andrea stretched out on the bed beside her, propping her head up with her hand. She draped her thigh across Miranda’s.

“Have you always...liked that?”

The disbelieving chuckle weakly crossed Miranda’s lips. “There are a great many things I’ve discovered I like since falling in love with you.”

 Andrea kissed Miranda’s collarbone. “Really?”

Miranda turned her head toward her. When their eyes met, Miranda said, “I...perhaps I’ve wanted that but I...stuck to what worked with my husbands, I suppose. It’s...different with you.”

Andrea rested her head on the inside of her arm. “I want to try everything with you.”

Turning on her side to face her, Miranda gently moved a strand of hair from across Andrea’s cheek. “I agree and not only in our sex life.”

“Come on. I’m getting tired and I don’t want to waste time sleeping.” Andrea whispered. “Let’s take a bath.”

Andrea used the toilet while Miranda got the water ready. When Andrea finished, she washed her hands then took over the bath preparations while Miranda used the toilet. She shook her head pouring in the wonderful smelling bubble bath liquid. It hadn’t occurred to her, either of them evidently, to preserve the slightest degree of modesty. Not feeling self-conscious was liberating for Andrea who often shied away from moving around without clothes.  But Miranda made her feel desirable, beautiful even, when her eyes fell upon her.

“Okay.” Andrea said, gently pulling Miranda back against her, to keep from the sloshing water. “Comfortable?”

“Very.”

“So, did you ever have braces?”

Lazily circling Andrea’s knee with her fingers, Miranda replied, “What a random question. I suppose it’s better than ‘what’s your favorite color’.”

Andrea brushed the tip of her nose against the short hairs behind Miranda’s ear. “Answer the question.”

“No, I did not. You?”

“For three godforsaken years.” she huffed. “How old were you when you had your first orgasm?”

The water rippled when Miranda chuckled. “Thirteen. I was reading one of my mother’s romance novels while I sat on the sofa.”

“You didn’t...touch yourself?”

“No, I did not. You?”

“Fifteen, dry-humping with Trevor Smith on a blanket in his basement. I thought I peed my pants. I didn’t know what the hell was happening.”

Predictably, Miranda snorted.

Andrea nipped her on the neck in retaliation.

They were quiet and still for a moment. The steam from the water wafted up as the bubbles dispersed. Andrea leaned her head back against the tile, a few wet tendrils escaping her messy bun.

“Do you not want to take a small vacation together?”

Surprised by hesitancy in Miranda’s question, she asked one of her own. “Are you talking about Florida?”

“Yes. You said you wanted to talk about it first.”

Andrea squeezed Miranda with her arms and legs then kissed the side of her head. “Oh, it wasn’t because I don’t want to go, because I do, but I didn’t know how we would navigate it. We’re supposed to be keeping a low profile, you know. And the children were there.”

“I know but it’s not like the paparazzi follow me everywhere. No one’s been lurking outside the town house in ages.”

“I saw the picture of you and Johnathan standing in front of the town house, Miranda.”

“He arranged that, darling.”

Andrea huffed, knowing what was about to come out of her mouth was entirely too juvenile for words. “And the kissing? Did he arrange that, too?”

Miranda laughed, raised her wet hand and flicked water back at Andrea. “Oh, my jealous cub, you are precious.”

“Whatever. So, we’re going to Florida?”

Settling back against Andrea, Miranda confirmed, “We’re going to Florida.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dried and hydrated after a bottle of water a piece, they put on hotel robes then cleaned up the bed. Once it was done, Andrea pulled Miranda against her from behind, undoing the belt around her waist.

“Can I blindfold you?”

“I don’t care what you do as long as you don’t stop touching me.”

Andrea’s chuckled low in her chest as she cupped Miranda’s breasts. “I’m gonna remember that.”

Releasing Miranda, Andrea walked over to her overnight case and took out a gorgeous Hermès blue silk printed scarf. She smothered a laugh when, without prompting, Miranda turned around.

“Tell me if it’s too tight.” she murmured and cautiously lowered it across Miranda’s eyes then knotted it.

She kissed Miranda, pushing down the robe from her shoulders and freeing her arms. Evidently, Miranda required no further assistance and scooted back on the bed, reaching behind her for the pillows.

“You can’t see, can you?” Andrea asked, narrowing her eyes.

“No, I can’t. I’m not helpless, after all.”

Nevertheless, Andrea cupped the back of Miranda’s head and guided her backward onto the pillows. She leaned in and said, “Get comfortable. I’m going to get something from my overnight.”

The small jar of organic honey and a baggie of roasted spiced pistachio nuts that she had crushed, when combined, had a visceral effect on Andrea’s libido. Maybe it was her own version of aphrodisiac. The first time she tried it, over a scoop of decadent vanilla ice cream, she moaned, shocked by the how she wanted to gorge herself on it. It was her little secret until now. Nate would have ruined it for her, either by mocking her taste buds or insisting she bring it into their bedroom.   

Andrea glanced at Miranda, hands on her stomach with one leg bent as it swayed a little from side to side. Aesthetically pleasing, the woman could be covered in dirt and still be gorgeous, but the sight of her on the hotel bed hit Andrea in a different way. Miranda was a picture of trust, vulnerable, not knowing what was next, not in control, and yet lounged on the bed fully at ease.

“You really trust me, don’t you?” she asked, sitting on the side of the bed.

Miranda retorted, “Where have you been the last few months?”

“Okay, stupid question. I’m sorry.”

Andrea set aside the items then kissed Miranda, dipping her tongue in, sucking on Miranda’s lower lip, slanting her mouth then diving in. Things grew heated and messy in quick succession. Miranda’s breasts filled her hands, heavy and satiny, their pebbled tops pressing into Andrea’s palms. Of its own volition, her body shifted, in the process of climbing over Miranda without breaking contact. The heels of Miranda’s palms pushed back the robe’s collar, then her fingers tried to drag it down Andrea’s arms.

Before she became incapable, Andrea retreated, chest heaving as she lightly placed two fingers on Miranda’s lips, forestalling her objection. “I’m not trying to tease, my love. I just really want to experience something with you. Can you remain still or do I have to tie you up?”

Whimpering before cutting it off, Miranda said, “I can be still.”

Andrea positioned Miranda’s hands on either side of her head and pressed them into the pillow in emphasis. She shrugged out of her robe, casting it from her then straddled Miranda’s legs.

“Oh, god, this might be more for me than you.”

“Then let me watch.” Miranda urged in her quiet and seductive way.  “Just watch.”

Reaching to undo the scarf, she pulled it loose once Miranda lifted her head a little. Then Andrea pressed a kiss to Miranda’s forehead, trying to calm down.

“You’re trembling.” Miranda whispered.

“You do that to me.”

Andrea took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Where their skin touched, she could feel the heat and sweat build. Leaning to get the jar of honey and nuts, she sank back down over Miranda’s legs, keeping her weight on her knees.

“You want to put...honey...on my...?”

“Breasts.” Andrea nodded quickly. “I want to drizzle them with it then sprinkle on these spicy nuts...”

“That will get nowhere near my pussy. I mean it, Andrea.”

“Nowhere near, I promise.”

“Well then.” Miranda purred.

Setting down the plastic bag on the mattress by her knee, Andrea then tightened her messy bun. She uncapped the jar, placing the lid on the nightstand then slowly dipped two fingers halfway inside. No longer trying to be neat, she held her fingers over Miranda’s nipple. A thin line dripped from her finger, swirling across the pale pink areola. Andrea watched, fascinated, lips parted. She repeated the process on the other nipple which started to harden.

“Oh.” Andrea croaked.

Watching the honey, warmed from Miranda’s skin, create trails down her breasts, Andrea had to suck in the drool that nearly escaped her mouth. She looked at Miranda then offered her fingers. Miranda sucked them into her mouth.

“Well?” she rasped once she was done, holding Andrea’s fingertips between her teeth.

Andrea mentally shook herself, so mesmerized by her fantasy come to life. She pinched a little of crushed pistachio from the bag, using her thumb and middle finger then rubbed them together to disperse it across Miranda’s honey-glazed breasts. Andrea lowered her mouth, tucking errant hairs behind her ear. She made sure to tilt her head in such a way as to provide a view for Miranda. The first touch of her tongue galvanized her senses, tasting the sweet followed by fiery spice. Andrea moaned, forgetting herself, and grabbed Miranda’s wrist which hadn’t moved off the pillow. She opened her mouth wider, taking in as much of her as possible, using her tongue to swirl the pistachio bits around the nipple as the viscous honey coated her throat. Vaguely noticing Miranda arch her back, Andrea hummed against her skin. By degrees, she released the breast, lips molding to its contours, the hard peak hitting the back of her teeth. Miranda writhed then exhaled an indecent sound which sent a shock over the surface of Andrea’s skin.

“I didn’t think...oh, jesus, keep doing it.”

Andrea, drunk on sensation, bent down to the other breast but started from the base, licking nomadic lines of dusted honey from the valley between her breasts. Miranda’s hips undulated slowly at first. The harder Andrea sucked and nipped and licked, the sharper and shorter Miranda thrusted. Maddened by the brushes against her clit, Andrea ground down, parting her knees wider, meeting Miranda.

“You want to top me, cub...then top me.”

Moaning, Andrea rode Miranda hard and low as she tightened her grip on Miranda’s wrists, nearly laying on top of her.

She breathed in Miranda’s ear, “You want to come inside me, don’t you?”

Miranda surged upward, drawing out a guttural curse.

Andrea canted her hips and slid downward until Miranda’s mons spread Andrea’s outer labia, shallowly filling the aching void by creating a wet vacuum.

“Fuck me.” she whispered.

Miranda cried out, bowing her body, the tendons in her flushed neck standing out as she bit her upper lip then tilted her head back. Just when Andrea started to worry the rigid body beneath her would never relax, Miranda did, only to immediately arc upward again, a low hum emitting through her closed lips. Andrea watched the sensuous way Miranda moved through the tide of orgasm, how her muscles gradually leached tension in spite of surging currents. Her features softened into something Andrea thought resembled bliss or satisfaction or contentment; whatever it was, Andrea was enamored of it, and promised herself she would do her utmost to see it as often as possible.

Chapter Text

Miranda tidied up the room while Andrea blow-dried her hair. Looking at the destroyed bedding, she held back a laugh and covered her mouth with slightly splayed fingers. Mmhm, how grandly the cub was coming into her own. Blushing from the memories, she finally laughed, too happy to censor herself.

She dug into her purse, extracted her phone then called home.

“Yes?” Caroline answered, sounding somewhat bored.

“I know I’ve taught you better than that, Caroline.”

“Mom! I’m sorry but people have been calling all morning.”

Miranda rolled her eyes. “It’s only eight-thirty, bobbsies. I’m sure you’re exaggerating.”

“No, I’m not! Dad’s in the papers again.”

Curling up on the small couch, she asked, “What ‘papers’ do you have access to, pray tell?”

“Derby’s here with breakfast and he bought a newspaper and Page Six.”

“Lovely. Your father will survive. Were you and Cassidy on your best behavior for Cara?”

“I was but Cassidy was being a brat. You know how she is.”

Miranda pulled the phone away from her ear, frowning. “I know how you are too.”

“I’m sorry. She wants to talk...”

“Mom, I was good.” Cassidy said excitedly. “I’m talking, Ro!

Miranda sighed while she waited for her daughters to get themselves under control. Finally, when they didn’t, she cut through their argument, “That’s enough.”

“Sorry.” they sang out, then Cassidy asked, “How was the party? Did you get a Valentines? Cara gave us the candy hearts, mom. I saved all mine but Caroline ate most of hers. Derby gave Cara a bunch of flowers. I guess they were pretty but it’s not like getting candy, is it? So, did you?”

Smiling, she asked, “Did I what, bobbsies?”

“Get a Valentines?”

Miranda looked toward the bathroom door, then touched the tip of her tongue to her upper lip and raised an eyebrow.

“Um, no...”

“But what about all those blue flowers, mom?”

She bit her lip. “Well, Valentine’s flowers are supposed to be red, right?”

“Hey, are you coming home soon? We have a surprise for you.”

“I should be there before lunch, bobbsies. Now, put your sister on too and let’s say goodbye.”

Not long after they hung up, Andrea exited the bathroom looking at her phone.

“Problem?”

“Oh, no, just checking the time.” Andrea replied, her wide smile as she sat down next to Miranda, leaned over to kiss her, then snuggled into her side. “Are you hungry?”

“Famished. I was thinking room service.” she sighed, running her fingers through the ends of Andrea’s thick hair.

“Already taken care of, baby.” Andrea sat up. “Thanks for straightening up. I called Fen but she didn’t have time for me. Demetria took her to the playground with one of her classmates. Do you know Luella Parks? Her oldest goes to Dalton, maybe a grade or two above the twins.”

Miranda crossed her legs. Andrea’s attention diverted to them when the short hem of the hotel robe slid down her thigh. Resting her arm over the back of the couch, Miranda leaned back into the cushioned arm and placed her other hand on her bare knee.

Content to wait for Andrea’s absorption with her legs to fade, Miranda answered, “The name doesn’t sound familiar.”

“Mmm. Thought I’d ask.” she said then those gorgeous brown eyes snapped up and focused on Miranda’s face.

“I have sex on the brain.” Andrea confessed, turning a light shade of pink. “I’m sorry.”

“I didn’t complain.”

Andrea groaned which made Miranda laugh and reach over to pat her on the leg.

“Now then.” Miranda cleared her throat then bent down and picked up the red Cartier bag she placed on the floor next to her. She held it out to Andrea by the handles.

Grinning madly, she took it from Miranda with both hands and set it on her lap then looked up.

“You didn’t have to but I’m happy you did.”

Miranda smiled, bracing an elbow against her knee and leaning slightly forward. Her chest tightened and breath turned shallow as she waited in anticipation while Andrea pulled out the square box. Expecting her to open it, Miranda was surprised when she didn’t. Instead she pulled out the card then carefully opened it. Loathed to purchase, let alone give Andrea a mass-produced card, Miranda had sketched a likeness of Andrea with her hair up and shoulders bare on a blank custom-made notecard. On the back, she wrote a few sentences then signed her initials.

Head bowed, Andrea didn’t look up after more time than it would have taken to read it. She inhaled deeply then wiped at one eye.

“Andrea.” Miranda breathed tenderly.

“I...you are,” Andrea looked up, eyes shimmering with unshed tears. “...When I knew I wanted to be at Runway...” Inhaling wetly, she used her fingertips to wipe away the tears clinging to her eyelashes. “...to work for Le Priestly, I never imagined I would be so happy. God, Miranda, you make me so happy.”

Dropping her crossed leg, Miranda scooted closer and cradled Andrea’s face between her hands.

“You make me equally as happy, my love.”

Andrea lurched forward, her lips forged to Miranda’s. The kiss bespoke commitment, of course, but also of true grit, that no matter the obstacle, whether from outside forces or from within, they were in it together.

Miranda ended the kiss then whispered, “You haven’t opened your present yet.”

Andrea weakly laughed. She sheathed the notecard within its envelope then set it down on the coffee table. With trembling hands she reached for the red leatherette box then opened it.

“Holy shit.” she exclaimed with quiet reverence. Andrea looked at Miranda then down at the thin bracelet with three diamond-paved rows. “Th-this is...holy shit.”

Miranda smiled then gestured toward the box. “May I?”

Andrea nodded, eyes a tad glassy.

Without preamble, Miranda plucked the bracelet from its velvet confines, expertly unclasped it then gestured for Andrea to put her hand through the bracelet.

“Just relax. If you’re worried, it’s insured.” When the bracelet was latched securely around Andrea’s wrist, Miranda admired the sparkling diamonds. “How does it feel?”

“It’s beautiful...”

“But?”

Andrea shrugged then shook her head. “It’s expensive.”

Laughing, Miranda pulled her into a loose hug and kissed her temple. “Not for me. Please don’t worry.”

“My present to you...”

“No one has ever put in as much thought as you have. You made all the arrangements for us to spend an evening alone, to explore and love and be together. That’s priceless.”

“I sent you flowers and a present, Miranda.”

“They are incredible. Do you know nearly every man I’ve dated or divorced sent me roses? Ostentatious presentations that satisfied their egos more than pleased me.” When Andrea still looked insecure, Miranda continued, “No one has ever sent me a natural blue bouquet, with three red roses and don’t think for a second that I didn’t know represented the love you have for me and my girls. And the white tulips throughout the arrangement, well, I know what they represent, too. The small clipping from the Empire Blue Butterfly bush were an extraordinary touch. Dear god, Andrea, you put thought into it. I know a custom arrangement when I see one.”

Andrea smiled but it lacked her usual sincerity.

“The gift you sent was the best I’ve ever received, Andrea. Trust me.”

“I sent you a homemade coupon book, Miranda. When I say it out loud, it sounds way lame.”

“Really, Andrea. There were three-hundred and sixty-five coupons in that book you made and you thought of everything. Really, who offers one hundred coupons for an hour long personal massage?”

“Well, I do get something out of that, Miranda.”

Miranda cupped Andrea’s neck, her thumbs brushing along Andrea’s cheeks. “I get more. Believe that. No one’s wanted to touch me more than you, Andrea.”

The bright smile emerging on her face eased Miranda’s worry.

“That’s true.”

They shared a laugh then kissed.

“I love you.” Miranda said. “I did notice all of those coupons entailed services you would perform which shows me more about your character than the diamond bracelet I bought you.”

Andrea looked stricken.

“No, no, it’s fine. I bought you that bracelet because you won’t buy one for yourself, because I wanted you to have it, and, to be quite honest, it’s a physical reminder for you that, even if I can’t be there with you, I am with you.”

“You. Come here. Right now.” Andrea muttered but didn’t wait. She climbed on top of Miranda and started kissing her.

Miranda did so love Andrea’s spontaneous displays of affection. The desire for sex was always present but not always prevalent. Their compatibility was remarkable but in all probability, their sexual life would need care to sustain itself through the trials and years ahead of them. Miranda was willing to do whatever needed to be done to ensure their life together was the antithesis of her previous relationships. There was no other option.

“Thank you for spending time with me.” Andrea mumbled into their kiss.

Before Miranda had a chance to gather her wits, the knock at the door interrupted them. Andrea, excited, jumped up and started for the door but Miranda grabbed Andrea’s wrist before she took one step. Standing, Miranda placed a finger over Andrea’s lips then went into the bathroom despite the disgruntled expression on Andrea’s lovely face.

Miranda looked at her reflection and liked what she saw. Andrea loved her in couture or rags, made-up or natural. There was no doubt Andrea saw her. If Miranda decided to walk away from Runway, she knew Andrea’s reaction would be ‘Okay, what’s next?’. Next month Andrea turned thirty-five which made Miranda wonder if her plans should be expedited, if only to give Andrea the time to decide. In any event, nothing could be done legally until Andrea’s divorce was final which made the wheels in Miranda’s brain turn. What would it take to get the divorce facilitated? The only person who could answer that was Miranda’s lawyer whom knew several lawmakers and judges which reminded her to check with her financial advisor. The possibility of making a significant ‘contribution’ to influential person(s) loomed larger now.

When Andrea entered the bathroom, she leaned against the doorjamb and crossed her arms.

“I don’t want you to hide.”

Miranda, expecting such a reaction, smiled then took the two steps separating them and embraced her.

“I know you don’t and that’s the only thing that’s important.”

“I know you have some plan to make ‘us’ a reality in every sense of the word but I don’t...please, don’t give up Runway...”

“Listen to me, Andrea. What’s unfolding in the background started the moment you proved you were incredibly good at your job. It has nothing to do with us.”

Andrea stared at her for a moment then said, “You want me to be Editor in Chief of Runway.”

“You can do it.”

“Wait, what? Look, I’m not going to lie and say it isn’t something I want but...in the future and only if you decided you didn’t want it anymore.”

Miranda nosed the delicate hairs behind Andrea’s ear then inhaled deeply, holding her scent for as long as possible before exhaling in a slow stream.

“I trust you, Andrea. Please don’t doubt that but there are many pieces that need to fall into place this year and most of it has to happen quietly, without certain parties even suspecting something’s afoot.”

Andrea took Miranda’s hand, entwined their fingers and said, “Baby, I understand but...if there comes a time I can help, please, let me. Even if it means I have to go to another magazine...”

“Do you really think I would hand over someone of your caliber to Vogue? Allow Anna to reap the rewards of my tutelage? Really, Andrea, you know better.”

Andrea offered a half-smile before plucking at faux lapel of Miranda’s robe. “I do believe I’ve grown attached to these robes.”

Miranda’s eyebrows arched. As she slid her hand past the lapel of Andrea’s robe, she gave her a look when Andrea’s nipple hardened at the sweep of her thumb.

“I believe I’m rather fond of them myself.” she purred then lightly pinched the tip before withdrawing.

“Don’t get me all charged when there’s a feast waiting to be eaten.”

Miranda laughed as she exited the bathroom, murmuring, “It’s either sex or food with you.”

“Or both.” Andrea rejoined.

Hearing the sultry undertone, Miranda looked over her shoulder. They shared a look.

“Well, aren’t you the randy cub, hm?”

Andrea smirked and pulled out a chair from underneath the table. When Miranda took a seat, Andrea leaned low and said, “You do so enjoy it.”

“I really do.” Miranda murmured as Andrea handed her a cup and saucer then poured the coffee from the serving cart.

After gently squeezing the back of Miranda’s neck, Andrea returned to the cart and removed several aluminum dish covers.

“Turkey bacon and sausage for you and the real thing for me.” she said, then served.

Next came the eggs, crepes, pancakes, yogurt parfaits, and an entire platter dedicated to croissants, muffins, and seeded rustic bread.

“Good lord, Andrea, we can’t eat all that.”

Setting a glass of orange juice next to Miranda’s plate, Andrea countered, “Speak for yourself. I burned a lot of calories last night as you well know.”

Lost for a few seconds in the previous night’s highlight reels, Miranda eventually smiled, biting her bottom lip and humming.

“Oh, you did, you most certainly did.”

Andrea finally joined her at the table. Buttering a muffin, she teased, “And you look like you lost ten pounds, so eat up, baby.”

Miranda cut into her sausage patty, narrowing her eyes playfully at Andrea.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Miranda walked into the townhouse six minutes after one o’clock in the afternoon, flushed and grinning. To say she was in high spirits was accurate despite the lack of sleep and sore muscles. Caroline met her in the foyer and took her purse. Cassidy bounded down the hallway a second later, calling out a greeting, then grabbed the small suitcase on rollers. They clambered up the stairs and, for once, Miranda didn’t care about banging baggage against every step.

Andrea requested a late check out after they ate breakfast and they ended up having sex once more on the bed. Andrea wore the strap-on and Miranda was on top and, jesus today, it had been explosive. The mere thought of it sent a thrill through her. Later, she was going to pay for a night and morning of debauchery, particularly her hips, jaw, and pussy. Nevertheless, her body still surged with want and Miranda was quite sure it would convince her to keep on in spite of the pain.

“Can we have pizza tonight? Cara made us eat a spinach omelet this morning.” Cassidy bargained at the top of the stairs.

“We could have a margherita pizza, mom.” Caroline proposed as she walked down the hallway. “It’s not as bad, right?”

“Of course, bobbsies.”

“For real?” Cassidy asked, blocking her mother in the hallway.

Miranda rolled her eyes then gently stroked her daughter’s hair back from her face. “Yes, after the Diane Von Furstenberg show at four. I should be home by six-thirty.” Waiting for Caroline to open Miranda’s bedroom door, she proposed, “Shall we call delivery when I get home?”

“I guess.” Caroline replied as she set Miranda’s purse down on the high, narrow table against the wall by the door.

“I’m good.”

Miranda looked at Cassidy, unsure whether to smile or frown. “Is that an announcement regarding your general wellbeing or do you mean you’re ‘good’ with my suggestion?”

Cassidy scratched the side of her chin. Her mouth was open and her tongue peeking out as she considered her answer. 

“Dude, I just want pizza.”

Miranda’s eyebrows shot up. “Cassidy?”

“It’s just a saying, mom. Chill.”

Knowing her daughters, Miranda stared at Caroline until her daughter’s gaze fell.

Caroline mumbled, “She made friends with the new girl from New Jersey.”

“The vernacular isn’t something I wished for you to learn, but, well, I do want you to broaden your horizons, as it were.”

“Nicci is so smart, Mom. And cool. She’s like way popular and she’s only been at Dalton a month.”

“Well, then, perhaps we can have her over for dinner sometime?”

Cassidy flinched, then lowered her head.

Miranda considered her daughter’s reaction. She gently raised her daughter’s chin with two fingers. “What’s going on, my love?”

“Cassidy’s afraid we’re not cool enough.” Caroline blurted, the tone of disdain obvious.

Miranda hoisted the suitcase onto her bed then unzipped it. “Well, of course you are. Is that how you truly feel, Cassidy?”

“Not really.” she mumbled, staring at the carpet.

Caroline groaned then said, “Be honest, Sidi.”

The nickname stirred up a tenderness for the how the lives of the twins and Fen were intertwining in such a natural way. Perhaps it was meant to be, Miranda mused, then dismissed the silly thought. She sat down on the bed next to the suitcase and urged Cassidy to sit at her side. Caroline leaned against the bed, close to them, supportive of her sister. Miranda placed her arm around Cassidy’s shoulders.

“Sometimes the kids tease me but nobody teases Nikki.”

The sharp pain in her chest momentarily stole her words. Miranda gently stroked the long, loose strands of her child’s hair.

“What about?” she managed to ask past the dryness in her throat.

Cassidy stared downward, kicking her leg against the bed.

Miranda felt her tiny shoulders tense then dropped her hand to Cassidy’s back and rubbed it softly.

“Nothing.”

Caroline squirmed between the suitcase and Miranda’s leg, still standing but wanting to get closer.

“They call us Weasley Muggles or Evil Prada Twins.”

“Well, the first one doesn’t seem so horrible. You love Harry Potter.”

“But muggles, mom!” Caroline objected, frowning.

“As I recall, one of your favorite characters is part muggle, yes?” Miranda squeezed Cassidy around the shoulders then let go. “As for the later insult, I’m afraid it’s because of me. People call me names, too.”

Cassidy’s head shot up. “To your face?”

“Of course not, but that’s not the point.”

“I’m confused.” Caroline ventured, holding onto her mother’s hand.

“People will call you names, sometimes because I’m your mother and sometimes for other reasons.”

Cassidy leaned into her mother’s side. “You always tell us not to call people names.”

“It’s hurtful. I want you both to realize you define who you are, not other people and not circumstance. Do you understand?”

“I dunno. I guess.”

“It’s called character and as you get older we’ll talk about it more.”

Cassidy scratched the tip of her nose. “Like in a book or movie? Am I gonna be a superhero? I want to have eyes that can turn stuff into candy!”

“I have no doubt both of you will be a superhero of some kind but I don’t know if you’ll have powers like that.” Miranda replied, then pressed a kiss to each of their heads. “What I’m talking about is personal character. It’s something you develop, like courage and it’s very hard to attain, my loves, but worth having.”

Cassidy wiggled out of her embrace to stand on the other side of her mother. “I still want to be popular like Nikki and I don’t want people to call me names.”

Caroline reached across Miranda’s lap and took her sister’s hand. “Just because Charlamane calls us Evil Prada Twins, doesn’t mean that’s who we are, right, mom?”

Miranda placed her hand to her chest, blinking rapidly and whispered, “That’s right.”

Chapter Text

After the last show of the NY Fashion week a select few converged on the townhouse, bringing with them a plus-one or several. The twins monopolized Nigel from the second he took off his coat in the foyer, bombarding him when her knelt on Gucci-covered knees. Cara, hanging up his coat on the clothing rack by the door, told him to move it along, his narrow behind was holding up the line. Miranda laughed, shaking her head at her cook who was so much more than an employee.

When the doorbell rang, Miranda answered it, but her smile froze in place.

Allo, Miranda, ça fait longtemps, n’est-ce pas?” Jacqueline Follet said, sporting a particularly vicious smile.

Jacqueline, tu parles français comme une vache espagnole. Welcome to my humble abode anyway.”

Jacqueline’s expression soured at Miranda’s mild insult of her accent, liken it to a Spanish cow, which gave Miranda a buzz of satisfaction. Robert Reznick, Runway’s Creative Director, hovered behind the Jacqueline, grinning smugly at Miranda. She took note of his bravado, resisting the urge to gut him. Until she uncovered why he thought to bring such a person to her home, Miranda feigned a gracious demeanor.

“Robert, come in.”

“Miranda, it’s good to see you again.”

She saw him yesterday. Nevertheless, playing the hostess, Miranda bade him to enter.

“Jacqueline was just telling me how much she enjoyed helping you out a few years ago.”

She stared at him, lifting her eyebrows, then turned away when Cara called her name. When the time came and she fervently hoped it was soon, Miranda intended to hire a new Creative Director.

Cara merely jerked her head toward the den then headed that way, confident Miranda would follow which she, of course, did.

“I think the children should go upstairs now.” Cara muttered, making sure the door closed behind them.

“Why is that?”

Cara rolled her eyes. “Because people are starting to gossip which isn’t a surprise, is it? The way alcohol just runs through this house...”

“Okay, do calm down. Go home and I’ll take care of the girls.”

“No, I’m staying the night. You go attend to your guests and I’ll call Derby.”

That plan, however, didn’t suit Miranda. Fen was already asleep upstairs and Andrea’s overnight bag was in the master bedroom. There was no way Cara, if she stayed the night, wouldn’t put enough pieces together to form the right picture. Miranda sighed. It didn’t matter, she knew, because Cara would never go to Page Six outing them, but she would make Miranda’s life a living hell with merciless teasing. She wanted to keep their relationship secret a bit longer although, she admitted, she was the one who kept pushing them towards the light.

She could have a domestic partnership with Andrea.

The idea percolated in her brain since they confessed their feelings. She had money, connections, and a persuasive way. Miranda texted Vanessa to arrange a meeting with Judge Linda Joslin sometime next week but not on Thursday or Friday. Third time was a charm, or so the saying went, she thought, chuckling quietly to herself. Honestly, she viewed her two previous marriages as practice and the third one...perfection, providing Andrea said yes to a domestic partnership. Although it wasn’t the same as marriage, Miranda held hope, and would put her political dollars behind a marriage between same sex partners.

“What is going on in that head of yours?” Cara asked then recoiled in mock disapproval. “Never mind. I don’t want to know, not really.”

“Mmm, smart lady. I’ve decided to confide in you but please don’t squeal like a teenage girl.”

Cara frowned but the beginnings of a smile turned the corners of her mouth up. “Hit me.”

“Andrea Sachs and I are...together.”

“Get out!” Cara squealed then slapped her hand over her mouth.

Miranda controlled the smile that endangered her poker face.

“Okay, give me a second because I didn’t know you swung that way and...Andrea Sachs? Isn’t she married?”

As Cara intended, Miranda laughed but the last question was sobering. “In the process of a divorce.”

“Oh, well, you never have taken the easy way, have you?”

They shared a few seconds of rueful laughter.

“Oh, lord, I can’t keep up with you and I didn’t suspect a thing. Can you believe that?”

“Yes, I can. We can’t exactly afford to go public right now.”

Cara’s shrewd gaze rested on Miranda’s face. “Mm, well, there’s always later, isn’t there?”

Miranda coolly looked back but the other woman smiled.

“Alright, it’s settled. I’ll watch over the children tonight while you and Miss Sachs take a  ride the Sapphic Love Boat.”

Miranda arched a brow.

“What? I can’t pass this up .I’m going to talk to my niece and brush up on what’s in now. She’s gay, you know. I can do some research for you.” Cara snapped her fingers. “I’ll ask her if I can borrow one of her DVDs ‘If These Walls Could Talk 2’. She loves it.”

“Let me know when you’re done.” Miranda sighed, considering her nail polish. “You do so love the sound of your own voice.”

Cara laughed, patting Miranda’s arm. “I’m going to round up the tiny terrors then check on the baby. I’ll move her in with Cassidy since her room is protected from monsters more than Caroline’s and I’ll want to sleep near them instead of downstairs.”

“Cassidy’s habit of tent building with the blankets and surrounding herself with every stuffed animal is because she wants more siblings, as you well know.”

“Methinks Andrea can pop out a few more, don’t you?”

Before Miranda could swat her, Cara moved out of reach, chuckling. 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“I wish Anna were here.” Nigel muttered, staring into his drink. “She’s entertaining, at least. I cannot stand watching Jacqueline and Robert holding court in your living room.”

“Robert’s an asshole.” Andrea said through a counterfeit smile as she looked around the room. “And they aren’t holding court as much as holding people hostage.”

“Oh, well, it won’t be for much longer.” Miranda purred.

Nigel and Andrea looked at her expectantly, hopefully.

“Be patient. It’s a surprise.” Miranda said as she smiled at a woman passing by then looked back at her companions, eyes dropping from Andrea’s face, down the length of her body. “That Brochu Walker sweater looks divine on you.”

“Not to mention those Sandra Jogger pants. They make your ass pop.” Nigel cooed.

Andrea wet her lips, smirking at Miranda, then rolled her eyes at Nigel.

“Let the fireworks begin.” Miranda murmured and sauntered away in the direction of the small group across the room.

Naturally she didn’t have to pardon her way through the small circle. It created space to accommodate her arrival.

“I was just sharing a funny little story about my time at Paris Runway.”

Pisser dans un violon.”

Jacqueline’s smile faltered, the social mask hardening into something brittle.

Miranda, happy her rudeness hit its mark, smiled at the group who suddenly seemed a bit uncomfortable. In all likelihood, only two people knew what she meant. The literal translation, ‘to piss in a violin’ wouldn’t make much sense to someone who spoke ‘proper’ French. Some things were just lost in translation.

“How good of you to join us, Miranda.”

“It is my home.” She said coolly. “Speaking of your time at Paris Runway, how is Christian Thompson?” Miranda’s shark teeth came out. “I heard he was trying to get on with the show you left after that unfortunate episode with the Russian ambassador’s wife.” Tapping her fingernails on the edge of her glass, Miranda tsked. “I didn’t believe it, dear Jacqueline, when someone told me. I just had to send my assistant to get a copy to verify, of course.”

Quel faux cul!”

Although Jacqueline merely called Miranda a hypocrite, the angry way she spit it out caused a few people to slink away.

Miranda laughed softly. People started to give them room but kept their eyes directed at them. Andrea had closed the distance a little since the last time Miranda checked, at the ready to defend her. Oh, my precious cub.

“Why are you here? Does Robert know what happens to your coconspirators?” Miranda turned to her Creative Director who took an instinctive step back as well he should. “Years ago Jacqueline made a play for EIC of Runway. Do you remember Irv Ravitz? Christian Thompson?” Miranda took a sip of her drink then looked at Jacqueline. “Jacqueline Follett?”

“You bitch.” Jacqueline hissed, raising her hand.

Several people gasped and a few tried to intervene but Miranda swiftly got into the woman’s face, preventing the intended slap and murmured, “Leave while I’m in a charitable mood and don’t think for a second I’m not going to bury you. Now get out.”

When Miranda took a step back, she nearly collided with Andrea who patted her shoulder as she stepped around Miranda.

“Let me show you out.” Andrea decreed, gesturing to Jacqueline to move.

“Who do you think you are?” Jacqueline sneered.

“I’m the person who’s going to show you to the door.”

Miranda made a move toward the two women but Nigel discreetly pulled her back by cupping her elbow.

“She can’t be involved, Nigel.” she hissed, tilting her head away from the developing scene and looking at wall behind his shoulder.

“Neither can you.” he murmured, released her arm and smoothly stepped in.

“Andrea, would you permit me to escort, Miss Follett?”

Andrea hesitated, her gaze on Miranda, then nodded.

With admirable aplomb and little fuss, Nigel took the trash out.

Conversation resumed, more animated than previously but that was to be expected. She stopped herself from touching Andrea who joined her by the fireplace. Miranda stared into the flames,.

“Go check on the children. Cara put Fen in with Cassidy so they’re probably still awake.” She looked up and smiled. “Then go to my bedroom. I’ll meet you soon.”

Andrea started to speak then stopped, shrugging. “Fine.”

Miranda watched her leave until someone caught her attention.

“Such a great addition to Runway, Miranda. I’m happy you stole her away from Vogue.” remarked Michah Perdue, a board member of Elias-Clarke Publications.

“Michah, dear, you look wonderful.” Miranda cooed, air-kissing the older woman. “We have Nigel to thank for Andrea Sachs, however.”

“Be that as it may, I know who pulled the strings to get Nigel Paris Runway.” Michah grinned, leaning on her cane. “Adele has discreetly reached out. She wanted me to pass along that Simmie and Frank are very supportive. We’ve started to work our magic with some other key members as well as influential people outside of Elias-Clarke. For now, you must be beyond reproach and continue as usual leading Runway. One of us will be in touch when it’s appropriate.”

Miranda noticed a few people in her peripheral getting closer. “Yes, well, Michah, I am honored you took time out of your busy schedule to drop in on my little gathering.”

“Not at all, not at all. I did so enjoy the mini chicken and waffles. You must tell me who your caterer is! The tiny Yorkshire pudding with roast beef was divine. And the horseradish sauce, oh my, was perfectly balanced. At my age, heartburn’s always lurking in the shadows.”

“I’ll have Vanessa send you the details.”

“Well, then, thank you for a lovely evening but my car should be already be out front.”

“Of course. Allow me to...”

“Nonsense. I can make my own way, thank you.”

Miranda deferred to Micah’s wish to leave without aid but said, “I shall walk you out.”

“Well, that is most welcomed.”

Adjusting her stride, Miranda subtly cleared a path to the front door and waited with Michah until her chauffeur hurried up the steps.

“I so love eagerness.” Michah announced with a touch of indulgence. “Easy, man, I don’t need you tumbling off the steps and taking me with you.”

“Of course not, ma’am.”

“James has been my driver for thirty years and he’s never called me by my name.” Michah said, looking at her driver with raised brows. “Even though I’ve insisted often enough.”

James half-bowed toward Miranda then gently took Michah’s arm. “It’s very cold, Mrs. Perdue.”

“He thinks I’m made of glass, Miranda.”

“I think James needs glasses.”

“Possibly, Mrs. Priestly.” he said then winked at her.

“Until next time, Michah.”

Miranda, rubbing her arms, watched them make their way down and across the sidewalk. James couldn’t have been too much younger than Michah but his steps were sure and his devotion apparent. Briefly she wondered if Roy and she already resembled Michah and James. Once they were safely within the Rolls Royce, Miranda hurried inside, chilled to the bone. It was the perfect time to escape upstairs but Nigel waylaid her.

“I’ll walk up the stairs with you.”

Miranda, about to object, saw something in his eyes and simply nodded.

He took her elbow and leaned in, slowly taking each step. “We need to dispose of that French tart.”

“Oh, please don’t start.”

“You’re not funny.”

“Let’s bet some money.”

Nigel groaned, shaking his head. “I hate when you beat me.”

“But you make it so easy.”

They made it to the third floor and paused at the landing. “Do you have a plan? Because I do.”

“Are you going to hire a hitman?”

Nigel rubbed his jaw. “Of course not. Neither one of us has that kind of money.”

“Speak for yourself.”

“In all seriousness, Miranda, we need to neutralize Jacqueline. She’s not going to go quietly into the night.”

Miranda scoffed. “What kind of influence do you think she wields, Nigel? She’s been disgraced in the fashion world, christ, in reality television. Tell me, what do I have to fear from someone like that?”

“She has nothing to lose.” he replied quietly. “This time, I’m going to take care of you. I’m in the best position to spay that bitch.”

Miranda looked at Nigel, narrowing her eyes. Finally, she replied, “Jacqueline has prominent benefactors or else the James Holt fiasco would have been enough to cast her out, Nigel. Find out who’s backing her first. Whatever you uncover, keep me in the loop.”

“We ride again.” he teased, kissing her hand.

“Let’s not pretend.”

“What do you mean?”

Miranda smirked. “I’m the only queen.”

“Touché.” Nigel chuckled then half-bowed. “I’m off, actually. Tell Andrea I said good-bye?”

“Of course.”

She fondly watched him bound down the stairs then called out, “You’re coming to brunch tomorrow, yes?”

“Wouldn’t miss it.”

Smiling, she opened her bedroom door and was greeted by a very disgruntled woman.

“Somebody threatens you, they threaten me. We’re a team. Jacqueline...”

Miranda cut off the tirade with a kiss, then carefully balanced Andrea’s lower lip between her teeth as her fingers tunneled through thick brunette hair. Andrea stilled, her heavy breaths falling on Miranda’s face. Miranda sucked on the lip then released it and drew away.

“Easy, cub. I’ll let you know when to unsheathe your claws.”

Andrea’s eyes darkened to black. Shaking her head, she warned, “I’m not passive. You should remember that.”

“Oh, I know.” Miranda murmured, trailing her fingertips over Andrea’s bare collarbone, along the tight weave of cashmere draping Andrea’s breast. “It’s one of your best qualities.”

 “I want you to listen to me.” Andrea breathed, appearing rather intimidating. “No one, no one dictates how I protect my own, Miranda. Not even you.”

“You’re serious.” Miranda said, taking in Andrea’s hunched shoulders and quick breaths. Feeling slightly weak and very aroused, she put some distance between them. “Fine.”

“Okay.”  Andrea said then sucked in her lips, scalding Miranda with her perusal.

Miranda, gritting her teeth, yanked open the door and descended the stairs, well aware her control hung on a thread.

The party was rather festive when Miranda rejoined her guests. She checked with the caterer, relieved there was enough food left for another hour or so. Checking in with the bartender, she approved another hour of the open bar then started to circulate. Andrea returned downstairs, appearing unphased as she moved through the room, smiling and making small talk. Miranda’s heart doubled in size. Andrea was exceptional, working the room, born to it. Not one of her ex-husbands compared. Often, they settled in a corner with like-minded spouses of powerful women, a bastion of male dominance snubbing their female counterparts. Miranda well remembered the dinner parties and command performances she was obliged to attend, smiling at her husband’s peers, enduring their condescending and often glib conversation to order to be an ‘asset’.

Andrea, through no influence from Miranda, took control, being herself. The reflection dazzled and humbled Miranda. No one had ever supported her as well as Andrea. It begged the question, what dreams could they achieve together? Andrea wanted to be the EIC of Runway and Miranda wanted to be on the Elias-Clarke Board of Directors. What else was possible? Miranda, distracted by a designer’s wish to converse, pushed aside thoughts of being a power couple. It wasn’t the reason she wanted to be with Andrea, nor would it be in the future, yet, it was nice to fantasize. The choice between a successful career or a partnership wasn’t a choice at all for Miranda knew, Andrea was the only prize worth earning.

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After the guests left and Andrea disappeared upstairs, Miranda tiredly directed what was left of the clean-up. Saturday wasn’t the normal cleaning day but she arranged an early morning time-slot for the company she used. The catering crew picked up the plasticware, dumping everything in an industrial strength trash bag. She was relieved to note they poured the contents of clear plastic cups down the drain before tossing them into the trash. The last thing she wanted was a mishap on her pristine carpets, although, at the moment, she didn’t have the fortitude to check what spills her guests left. Fortunately, the cleaning service would notify her of any stains prior to treating.

The house now quiet, Miranda went from room to room, clicking off lights. When she entered the living room, she banked the fire and closed the glass fireplace door then slipped off her heels. She took the stairs slowly, using the bannister and holding the heels with her other hand. When she reached the landing, Miranda noticed Cassidy’s door was ajar. The faint sound of Andrea’s soft soprano, wafting from her daughter’s bedroom, surprised her. Decades old, there were several versions of the lullaby but Miranda’s favorite, of course, was Meredith Wilson’s.

Miranda crept up to the doorway, covering her mouth at the scene before her of the most important people in her life. Fen, wedged between the twins, was fading fast but her bobbsies were raptly watching Andrea. Caroline suddenly looked up but Miranda placed her finger over her lips, unwilling to interrupt the moment.

‘I see the moon, the moon sees me, shining through the old oak tree, please let the light that shines on me, shine on the ones I love.”

Miranda quietly retreated, weak-kneed and so thankful.

She got ready for bed, following the same regime since she turned thirty when she could afford the expensive products. Beyond tired, dear god, she’d give it a try if Andrea was in the mood. Honestly, a tiny thrill shot through her despite the weariness invading her body and it was enough to get her going which surprised the hell out of her.

Andrea entered the room, softly calling out Miranda’s name.

“Oh, there you are. I checked in on...”

“Andrea.”

“Yes?” she answered, looking at Miranda slightly perplexed as she lined her toothbrush with paste.

Miranda shook her head, the emotions were there but the words were missing. She took Andrea’s toothbrush from her hand and tossed it in the sink.

“Miranda?” Andrea asked, smiling as she was wrapped up in a hug.

Perhaps it wasn’t the time for words and, thus, Miranda kissed Andrea. It had little to do with passion and everything to do with the quivering feeling that stole the strength from her limbs. She offered herself, lips molding to Andrea’s in appreciation, her tongue seeking absolution because she knew, deep down, she wasn’t worthy of this woman’s love and fidelity.

“I heard you.” Miranda breathed, pressing her forehead to Andrea’s, holding Andrea’s head steady between her hands.

“Heard me?”

“Singing to the girls.”

Andrea pulled back, a slight blush on her cheeks. “I know it was horrible but Fen...”

“It was not. It was...” Miranda cut in, hands dropping to Andrea’s waist as she searched Andrea’s eyes. “If I knew nothing else about you, that moment alone illustrates what a nurturing heart you have. I am a very lucky woman to have you in my life and my children’s lives.”

Andrea nestled her chin atop Miranda’s shoulder, turning her head to rest her lips against the warmth of Miranda’s neck.

“I’m so thankful you took James Holt from Nigel when you did. I wasn’t ready then. I don’t even want to think what would have happened.”

Miranda palmed her ass. They swayed a little as she breathed in the clean scent of Andrea’s hair. “Let’s go to bed.”

Andrea nodded, arching a brow. “Someone tossed my toothbrush. I’ll just be a minute.”

“What time do you want to wake up?” she asked, walking away.

“No alarm!” Andrea’s muffled reply limped across the room.

Miranda pulled down the bedspread then turned off the lights except for nightstand lamp on Andrea’s side. She made herself comfortable, laying on her back as she listened to the noises Andrea made as she finished up in the bathroom. Content in a way she never before experienced, Miranda tried to remember how she felt while Stephen got ready on the nights they shared a bed. The only reason had been for sex. In the beginning, she admitted to herself, sex with Stephen had been...pleasant in the type of way women felt when checking off an item from a list.

Miranda closed her eyes, infinitely glad those days were behind her. Drifting in the realm between reality and dreams, she smiled when hearing Andrea slip into bed after turning off the lamp.

“God, I’m tired.” Andrea mumbled against her neck.

Miranda stroked the length of Andrea’s side then rested her palm against Andrea’s hip. “Let’s get some sleep.”

“I was totally gonna rock your world, Priestly.”

“I have no doubt.”

Andrea shifted, arranging herself around Miranda as she was wont to do whenever they slept in the same bed. Miranda fell asleep listening to Andrea’s breathing.

Chapter Text

Turning over in search of warmth, Andrea was mildly disappointed when she didn’t encounter Miranda’s body. She burrowed under the fluffy eiderdown bedspread to avoid the light but the damage was done and despite how much she wanted to return to sleep, it was a lost cause. Her eyes blinked open and stomach growled. Miffed at waking up alone, she nevertheless sat up then stretched, moving her shoulders to pop out the tension in her joints and vertebrae. Andrea wanted to giggle as she looked at the clock, realizing Miranda allowed her to sleep in. Long past eight, she got out of bed and walked to the window. Thanks to feather light hands in the middle of the night, Andrea had been awoken in the best possible way then put to sleep, floating on a cloud without any clothes.

Below, early birds either jogged, bundled in layers or pushed children in a strollers or hurried to some place covered from head to toe. Miranda had said an influx of thirty-somethings bought up half the apartments in a building nearby thus accounting for new energetic vibe of the neighborhood. Andrea looked up at the blue sky and thought perhaps they could all go somewhere and enjoy the sun. Feeling a tad self-conscious, she went to the bathroom then shrugged into an unbelievably silky robe that stroked her skin and left goosebumps. It was a little short but covered the essentials. She checked her work phone, relieved to discover nothing major had happened since yesterday, then checked her personal and groaned. Two missed calls from her mother, a voicemail from Doug and Nate, all of which could be dealt with later.

Running her fingers through her hair, she used her free hand to open the bedroom door to check in on the girls but abruptly stopped in the hallway when confronted by Cara.

“Oh, you scared me.” Andrea gasped then followed Cara’s frown which attached itself to Andrea’s bare legs.

“You and Miranda...?” Cara said, puzzling it out. Her gaze snapped up. “I guess that explains the red bra on the laundry room floor. You didn’t have sex on the washing machine, did you, because that would really just...I don’t...” Cara squeezed her eyes shut, nodded, then opened them. “I’m choosing to believe it fell out of the basket.”

Andrea tugged the hem of the bathrobe, face aflame, not quite meeting Cara’s gaze. “That’s, uh, good. Um...Cara? It’s serious...between us. Miranda and I.”

“Well, of course it is.” she snapped back, taking a step closer. “Do you think she brings everyone here? Are you high?”

“No and...no.” If Cara hadn’t looked so appalled, Andrea would have certainly smiled at the ferocious defense she mounted on behalf of Miranda. “I’m sorry you, uh, found out this way.”

“As long as we’re making confessions, let me give you one of mine!” Cara backed Andrea up against the wall, pointing a finger in her face. “Don’t you hurt those babies. You understand? Their father’s an asshole and Stephen ignored them. You. Do. Better.”

Andrea nodded so quickly and so much, she got a bit dizzy. “I will. I will do better. I’ll be the best. I promise.”

Cara’s eyes narrowed. She left her finger just an inch away from Andrea’s nose. “We’re holding breakfast for you. Everyone’s downstairs nagging the hell out of Miranda because she wanted you to rest. So, get your butt downstairs but put something else on!”

“I will. I am.” Andrea whispered, completely taken aback.

Cara smiled. “Well, we haven’t all day.”

Andrea edged away, shoulders scuffing against the wall until she found the doorknob with her hand, twisted it, then quickly entered the room. She leaned against the closed door for a second, gathering her wits. It was humbling and a bit ironic to be caught by someone of the Priestly household. Yet, worse still to be caught by the paparazzi.

The clothes she wore to bed were missing, presumably in the laundry basket. Andrea bit her lip then looked at the closet. She couldn’t, feeling somehow intrusive at the thought of looking through Miranda’s clothes for something to wear. Andrea sighed and dug through the laundry basket but couldn’t find her things. She entered the en suite, looking around then smiled.

A pile of clothes, not her own, sat neatly folded on chair Miranda used in front of  the three-paneled mirror. A white slip of paper rested on top of it. Andrea, smiling, picked it up, delighted by the distinctive handwriting slashing across the small note.

Good morning, my love. Come join us for breakfast. M!

Andrea brushed her teeth, disrobed, then put on the loungewear Miranda selected for her. It fit perfectly which meant Miranda bought it for her. The Gratify Hoodie had a kangaroo front pocket in the color of dove gray leather. The long sleeves didn’t hug her arms which she loved, especially when in the mood for a casual weekend. Pairing it with a high rise sweat short in white with a cinching drawstring waistband, the look was definitely within Andrea’s comfort zone and preference during...family time.

The hallway was empty as she ventured out from Miranda’s room which was a relief. Holding on to the balustrade, she  took the stairs at a nice clip, eager to be with Miranda and the girls. The kitchen was empty as she slowed to a halt, then opted to raid the refrigerator for something to drink, preferably orange juice. What she found was a Cranberry Cocktail, not her favorite but better than pure cranberry juice. She looked through a few cabinets before locating the glasses and selected a tall, skinny one.

Glass in hand, she wandered the lower floor. Disappointed she didn’t run into anyone, Andrea climbed the stairs to the second floor and found everyone in the family room. As soon as she entered, Miranda looked up from her laptop, pulling off her glasses and giving Andrea a smile in welcome.

“Mummers!” Fen called out although she didn’t get up from her prone position on the floor while watching a PBS Kids show ‘Betsy’s Kindergarten Adventures’.

Andrea stopped to squat next to her child, then turned her over. Fen protested, the enjoyment of her mother’s tickling readily transparent despite the pleas to stop. Cassidy slinked a little bit away to allow them room, but Andrea grabbed her arm and gently pulled her in. Television show forgotten, the girls started to pile on top of Andrea. Caroline remained on the couch next to her mother although she cheered Fen and Cassidy on.

“Andrea, would you like something to eat? Nigel’s not due for another two hours but if you’re hungry, the girls made you a yogurt concoction.”

Out of breath, with a children-strewn torso, Andrea nonetheless replied, “Sounds great.”

“Well.” Miranda stood, then picked Cassidy up. “Oh, my, I better put more work in at the gym if I’m going to keep lifting you.”

Cassidy quickly kissed her mother on the cheek. “I’m gettin’ too old for it anyway.”

Miranda grinned. “Is that so?”

She nodded. “I’m almost ten.” Wiggling to get down, Cassidy snarked, “And you’re not gettin’ any younger, mom.”

Andrea laughed, half-sitting with Fen’s face tucked into the side of her neck. When she struggled getting up from her awkward position, her eyes met Miranda’s whose eyebrows inched slowly upward.

“Point taken.” Andrea mumbled after finally getting upright with Fen still in her arms.

As soon as they all were in the kitchen, Cara turned from the sink. “Are you sure you don’t want me to...”

“I do not.” Miranda cut in, adjusting Caroline’s collar. “It’s just Nigel. You went to the bakery, yes? I will make everything else and Nigel’s bringing...something.”

“It probably involves alcohol.” Cara sighed then folded a dishtowel.

Andrea asked, “What can I contribute?”

“Oh, I heard enough contributions last night.” Cara allowed the innuendo to hang a little then elaborated, “At the party, of course.”

Miranda pursed her lips but Cara merely laughed and put the dishtowel on the counter. “Well, I’m going to collect my things. Derby should be here shortly.”

All three girls implored Miranda to allow Derby and Cara to share brunch with them. Andrea, sure of Miranda’s answer, sat back and watched. At work, Le Priestly ruled, turning Andrea’s professional life upside down and while she didn’t appreciate the curt cut-downs, Miranda’s observations were annoyingly accurate.

But, Miranda at home was something to behold. Watching her interact with the children, host a party, or try not to laugh when Cara sassed her were sacred moments Andrea would never betray. Each one drew her in, making metaphorical notches on her heart that displayed the tally of her devotion. The more Andrea amassed, the deeper she fell in love with Miranda. There didn’t seem to be a ‘bottom’.

“You might as well stay.” Miranda sighed. “Someone has to serve after all.”

Cara glanced at Andrea.

Andrea shied away, having no desire to get caught in the crossfire.

“Oh, I’m sure I’m not as talented at serving as Andrea apparently is.”

Andrea glanced at the girls. Caroline was reading a book and Cassidy was on her hands and knees giving Fen ‘a ride’ across the kitchen floor.

Mouth agape and brows lowered, Andrea stared at Cara then whispered, “What did I do to you?”

“Andrea has many talents.” Miranda purred.

“On that note, Ro, come with me.” Andrea said, then patted her thigh. “Come on little pony, let’s make tracks.”

“Hi-di-hooo!” Fen called out, clutching Cassidy’s shirt.

Passing close, Andrea gave Miranda a heated look, turned on by the fact someone heard how much she pleased Miranda.

Miranda’s eyes widened.

Honestly, Andrea would have loved to listen in on the conversation between Miranda and Cara. She grew warm from embarrassment just imagining it.

Cuddling Fen on the couch, Andrea waited for Caroline to pass out the cards while giving instructions on the game of Go Fish.

Miranda entered the room.

“Oh, thank you ba-Miranda. I’m starving.” She looked at the twins but they didn’t appear to have caught her slip-up.

“You’re welcome.” Miranda smirked, handing over the yogurt then sitting on the opposite end of the couch.

Andrea dug the spoon in and pulled out what she thought was a piece of fruit only to discover it wasn’t. She glanced at Miranda, frowning and smiling. Miranda shrugged.

“There’s a Skittle in my yogurt.”

“I own that.” Cassidy announced with her hand up, busy looking at her cards.

“Oh, uh.” Andrea gamely tried it. “Hey, not bad, Sid.”

“Yup.”

Lining her cards up just right, Caroline said, “I put in the granola.”

“Oh, thanks.” Andrea looked at Fen but she was trying to pick up the cards.

“Fen contributed a few gummy bear multivitamins.” Miranda relayed, laughter in her eyes. “It’s important for your health.”

Fen nodded then mimicked Cassidy. “I own that.” 

“Well, thank you girls. It’s delicious.”

A chorus of answers rang out.

Tenderness filled Andrea’s body, bringing her close to tears. She looked at each of their faces and committed details to memory.

“Mom, you wanna play?” Cassidy asked, fanning out her cards and wiggling her eyebrows.

“If you don’t mind losing, then, yes, I do want to play.”

“Oh, it’s like that?” Andrea challenged, wrapping her arm around Fen as she sat astride Andrea’s thigh, facing the table. “You wanna beat M, sweetie?”

“Let’s beat her, mommy!”

“Oh, mon chou, such betrayal.” Miranda tsked, then held her arms out.

Andrea laughed when Fen reached out eagerly. Miranda caught Andrea’s eye, questioning. She wanted to kiss Miranda so much at that moment. Instead, she handed over her squirming child.

“Mom, I’ll be on your side.” Caroline whispered.

Miranda smiled, pecking her daughter on the cheek. “Thank you. So, it’ll be us three against Cassidy and Andrea.”

Nodding, Andrea went around the table and knelt on the carpet next to Cassidy.

“Hey, Andy, you guys are coming with us next weekend? I wanna teach Fen how to make sand castles.”

Andrea patted Cassidy’s back.

“I want to go.” Fen enunciated clearly, her brown eyes solemn as she looked up at Andrea. “Please, mummer?”

Glancing at Miranda who flashed a quick smile then nodded, Andrea replied, “Then we’re going, Fen.”

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Miranda wandered off, casting a look over her shoulder at Andrea. Much to her chagrin, tt took a minute to figure it out. While Derby read Fen a story and Cara looked on completely smitten, Nigel regaled the twins with a story of his very first day in Paris as EIC. It was as good a time as any to slip away without undue notice. Under the guise of using the rest room, Andrea took her time. On her way out, she kissed Fen who looked at her mother with utter exasperation. She didn’t interrupt Nigel and the twins but merely smiled and kept walking. A part of her thought it ridiculous to keep her and Miranda’s relationship a secret from the children, yet she’d rather not jeopardize it when they could have it all in less than a year. The key to her happily-ever-after was patience and Miranda’s plans.

Biting her lip to keep her smile from overtaking her face, Andrea went into the bathroom to text Miranda, asking where the hell was she.

laundry room

Odd choice but Andrea definitely could run with it. A little bit of ingenuity on Miranda’s part and flexibility on Andrea’s and they were definitely in business. She slinked around the corner then hightailed it down the hallway to the door leading to the basement. Very careful not to make a noise opening the somewhat rickety door, she took a steadying breath, rubbing her palm lightly on her stomach. Less than halfway down the stairs she noticed a light was on, although not the overheads. Andrea slowed her steps as she held onto the sturdy handrail. Miranda stood by the long folding table, one arm across her stomach while she stared at the floor appearing contemplative.

“Hey.” Andrea said as she approached Miranda, searching for details to give her a hint of what was going on behind those cool blue eyes.

“I’d like to discuss Fen with you.” Miranda announced, hands clasped in front of her. She waited for a beat then continued, “Do you still wish to enroll Fen into Dalton?”

“I actually looked at the literature and spoke with Mrs. Odongo.” Andrea answered, moving closer to Miranda and smiling. “She said the earliest I could enroll Fen would be in August.”

“And the tuition?”

Unable to bring herself to look Miranda in the eye, she shrugged, saying, “I’ll finagle it.”

Miranda reached out and gently took her hand then pulled her close. “Have I unduly foisted this upon you? And Fen? I love you both so much, Andrea. I only wanted to give her opportunities to learn and grow but you’re her mother.” Miranda broke eye contact. “And she has a father.”

“Is coparenting something you want? In the future?” Andrea watched her, cataloging the most miniscule change in expression and breathing.

Squaring her shoulders, Miranda replied, “Yes. When the time is right.”

Overwhelmed in the best possible sense, Andrea enveloped Miranda in an embrace. She swallowed then pressed her cheek against Miranda’s.

“I promise.” Miranda whispered. “Let me help.”

The last custodian of self-preservation retired in the face of Miranda’s devotion. Nate was  Fen’s biological factor, an undeniable fact, but he was involved with another woman who was carrying his child and wasn’t putting up much of a fight for his firstborn. Miranda, on the other hand, pledged her love by word and deed. Andrea pulled back and looked into Miranda’s eyes.

Long seconds passed. Seduced by the silent exchange, Andrea fell into Miranda’s blue diamond gaze.

“I promise, too.” Andrea asserted, ready to jump off a cliff for the woman.

Miranda closed the separation between their mouths.

All too willing to surrender, Andrea let go. The rush rolled in, washing over her, heightening the want and the absolute truth of her love for Miranda. She kissed back with reckless joy, her body knowing exactly how to bridge the gap between thought sand reality. She strained to be closer. One hand on her breast and the other on her ass, Miranda squeezed and rubbed and teased Andrea’s flesh. Squirming against the building ache between her legs, Andrea moaned and tried to cling to reason.

“I guess we should...stop.” Andrea finally uttered then bit Miranda’s neck, wanting more than anything to lie down and give Miranda free rein. “The children...”

Miranda smirked as she slowly slid her hand past the waistband of Andrea’s shorts.

“Oh...” Andrea moaned. “We can’t...it’s oh,oooh, yeah...”

“You’re very ready, cub.”

Miranda’s cool control started driving Andrea mad. Reduced to grunts, body surging toward clever fingers, she fought against the ravenous need. Miranda’s fingers quickened and pressed, clearly on a mission. Besieged by the most divine sensitivity, Andrea’s body clambered for fulfillment.

“Oh, please.” Andrea begged into Miranda’s mouth. She opened her eyes and looked directly into deep blue. “Fuck me.”

Miranda complied with gentleness, completely throwing Andrea’s body into chaos. She wanted violence of the swift and hard kind but Miranda decided upon slow and deep. Andrea lost her fucking mind.

“That’s it, take it...you’re so swollen and needy. Only I can fill you up. Say it, Andrea. Tell me.”

It was too much and exactly what Andrea needed. With a strangled cry, she came, sagging against the washing machine. Miranda carefully removed her hand and held Andrea upright.

“That was the quickest one yet.” Miranda teased. “I do so love how responsive you are.”

Andrea could only nod. The buzzing in her ears started to recede but the rest of her pleasantly floated somewhere. She smiled as her legs slowly gave out, ass hitting the floor and the back of her head thumping against the washer.

“Darling?” Miranda squatted down, cupping Andrea’s face.

“That was...” Unable to refrain, Andrea laughed low in her throat. “...exceptional.”

The wicked smile on Miranda’s face was enough to cause a small shockwave through Andrea’s body. Lowering her eyelids slightly, her body arched in response which had a wonderful effect upon Miranda judging by the sound that slipped past her lips.

“Mmm, still feelin’ it, baby.” Andrea murmured then smiled with feline delight.

“I’ll never tire of hearing that.”

“I really want to take a nap.”

“Normally I’d insist but...” Miranda took her hand. “...we have guests. Come on, my cub. No afterglow for you.”

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“Well, you outdid yourself, Miranda.” Nigel groaned, flopping back on the couch, nearly sprawled across it.

“Mom, we cleared the table.” Cassidy yelled from the other room. “We’re gonna play now.”

Miranda winced, hearing the loud stomping up the stairs. Andrea got up from the other couch and watched the twins help Fen then returned to the family room. She walked up behind Miranda who was sitting next to Nigel and put her hand on Miranda’s shoulder.

Leaning in, she said, “They may be noisy but they’re angels when it comes to Fen, like little sentries on either side of her.”

Miranda patted the back of Andrea’s hand. “Of course, I expect no less.”

“Well, we’re out of here.” Cara announced as she entered the room, followed by her boyfriend. “Everything’s cleaned up.”

“That’s not why I...”

“Oh, you can always slip a bonus into my paycheck.” Cara cut her off with exaggerated sweetness, fluttering her eyelashes.

“I don’t like you that much.” Miranda returned, entwining her fingers with Andrea’s.

Cara laughed, pulling on Derby’s coat sleeve as he waved good-bye.

Andrea kissed the side of Miranda’s head then retook her seat.

“Thank you for cooking. I’m going to have to add another workout for those huevos rancheros, baby.”

Nigel mouthed ‘baby’.

Miranda sighed, “I can’t break her of it.”

“What did you think of the Hervé Léger show? Max Azria did quite well for himself purchasing that brand.” Nigel smoothed his eyebrow with the pad of his thumb.

“Oh, I loved it.” Andrea gushed, leaning forward in her seat. “When Anna Selezneva walked out...”

“In that crystal-beaded number. Sublime.” Nigel enthused. “What did you think?”

Crossing her legs, Miranda replied, “That was a very nice dress.”

“I didn’t care for the Fetherston show. The hats and bubble skirts reminded me of clowns.” Andrea announced then glanced at Miranda

“Horizontal striped leggings were a bit unfortunate.”

The conversation drifted to other shows but Andrea didn’t offer any more opinions or questions. Listening to the two icons discuss trends and critique designers was a master class in fashion. The pitch of Miranda’s voice lowered to a reverent whisper when she spoke of Edith Head’s costume designs. Nigel adored McQueen’s rule-breaking style and Tom Ford, particularly when he worked at Gucci, turning a three billion dollar profit during his tenure. They reminisced about shows and escapades from the early years which made Andrea laugh until her sides hurt.

Chapter Text

While in the back of the cab for the ride home, Andrea disliked leaving Miranda and the twins. Fen, however, adjusted without a wrinkle. She softly sang the French song Frère Jacques while tilting Lou the sloth from side to side. Andrea looked out the window and sighed. The lists of things she needed to do, from putting Fen down for a nap before dinner to calling Doug back filled her head. Hopefully there was something in the freezer she could thaw out or else it was delivery for dinner.

When the cabbie pulled up in front of her building, Andrea paid him, gathered her things and took Fen’s hand. The sidewalk was crowded but she managed to maintain her grip on her daughter’s hand. The bitter cold wind whisked into the small foyer after them then abruptly ceased as the door closed.

“Mommy, I have to use the potty.”

“Okay, honey. Can you hold it just a few more minutes?”

Fen squirmed. “How many is that?”

“Obviously too many. Come on. Let’s find a restroom.”

Andrea pulled their luggage behind her as they passed the watchman’s desk, calling out a greeting to the security guard. Thankfully, the public restroom had just been cleaned. She got the toilet seat ready for Fen then unbundled her winter gear.

“Alright.” she said, gently setting her daughter down on the covered seat.

When Fen finished, Andrea pulled out a wet-nap for her to use.

“Mommy, Sid said I’m going to school with them.”

“Well, you’ll be at the same school but not in the same classes.”

“I want to be with Sid and Ro.”

Before Fen dug in, Andrea scooped her up, flung her bag over her shoulder then grabbed the luggage handle. “Hold onto Lou, sweetie. You don’t want to drop him.”

“I lubbie Lou.”

“Can you say ‘I love Lou’ for me?”

“I did.”

“No, the way I say it, Fen.”

Fen’s faced flushed as she shook her head then crumpled against Andrea’s chest. Determined to revisit her daughter’s multitude of mispronunciations and made-up words, Andrea let her be for the moment. Overly tired and fussy, Fen wouldn’t be receptive. Andrea rubbed her daughter’s back as the elevator climbed. She made comforting sounds, swaying a little which often lulled Fen.

At the door, she dropped her keys and groaned. Her arms ached, feet hurt and the strap of her bag cut into her shoulder. All Andrea wanted was to sit down or soak in the tub. The door unexpectedly opened as she bent low to grab her keys.

“Oh, thank-shit.” Andrea’s mouth dropped open.

“Here, give me my grandchild.” Vivi said, arms already stretched out. “Is that any way to welcome your mother?”

Looking around, she spotted Demetria coming out of the kitchen. “Surprise!”

Andrea glared at her mother but addressed Demetria. “Yes, it was.”

“DeeDee!” Fen yawned then looked at Vivi who eagerly waited for her to jump into her arms. Glancing up at her mother, Fen asked, “Who that?”

Demetria took Fen’s bag but Andrea stopped her. “That’s your mom-mom, sweetie. And you...” She smiled at the nanny. “...are off the clock. I’m surprised you’re home.”

“My plans fell through.” Demetria shrugged.

“Well, someone had to be here to let me in, Andrea.” Vivi cut in, the injured air a classic response.

Andrea put Fen down. “Sweetie, why don’t you...”

“Hey, would you mind if I take Fen out to visit my sister? My nephew just turned six.” Her gaze dropped. “I’m sure you guys have tings to talk about and I’ll bring her back in a few hours ready to wear her mom-mom out.”

The young woman was a godsend. “Thank you. I’ll pay you, of course.”

“I don’t see why...”

Andrea impeded the rest of her mother’s words with a commanding glare.

“I’ll make sure she gets a nap, Andrea.” Demetria murmured then took Fen’s hand. “Come on. I can’t wait for you to meet my sister and nephew. He has lots of toys, too.”

“Okay.” Fen said. “What kind of toys?”

“Let me get my things and we’ll go see.”

Andrea watched Demetria lead her daughter to her room. Mindful the door didn’t close behind them, she raised her hand when her mother was about to speak. The initial shock of her mother’s drop-in faded, slowly replaced with an icy resentment. Vivi’s bulldoze tactics, while familiar, nevertheless prickled the hair on the back of Andrea’s neck. Refusing to look at her for fear an argument would ensue, Andrea focused on the hallway. When Fen burst through, tugging Demetria behind her, it was all Andrea could do not to snatch up her child and take her to safety herself.

“Mommy, bye!” Fen called out, blowing Andrea a kiss.

“I’ll text you when we’re on the way back, Andrea. Nice to mee you, Mrs. Sachs.” Demetria said then left the apartment holding on to Fen’s mittened hand.

“May I speak now?” Vivi asked as she took a seat on the couch.

Andrea took off her gloves and coat, tossing them on the chair followed by her purse. She stood on the other side of the coffee table, directly opposite her mother and folded her arms.

“By all means.”

“Why do you have such an attitude?”

Andrea sat down on the other chair. So, they were going the long way around. Awesome. “Because you’re going to harp on me.”

Vivi rolled her eyes. “Is it so wrong to want what’s best for my daughter?”

“You don’t know what that is anymore.” she snapped, instantly contrite when a look of pain crossed her mother’s features, but Andrea would be damned before she voiced it. “I’m an adult with a child. Your job of raising me is finished.”

“It’s never finished. There’s no ‘done’ when you’re a mother. You should know that.”

“You can love me, worry about me, and hope for me. Support and respect my decisions. But you don’t get to raise me because I’m already grown.”

“So, what, am I supposed to allow you to ruin your life? And your daughter’s life? She needs her father, Andrea.” Vivi sprang up from the couch and walked around the coffee table.

He cheated. Do you understand that? Then he left with Lily to Boston and she’s knocked up. It’s been over a week since he’s seen or talked to his daughter. You don’t know anything.”

Vivi receded, the fingertips of one hand covering her lips as she shook her head.

Andrea inhaled like a runner after a marathon. She felt dizzy and raw.

“But he...Nate said...” Vivi paused, collecting herself.

Andrea braced for the impact.

“Nate wants to come home. To you and Fen. He told me he made a mistake.”

“He made thousands and I don’t want him.” Body trembling, she raked a hand through her hair. “What in the hell did he say that made you fly to New York?”

“That he would do anything for your forgiveness.”

“Okay, he’s forgiven. Happy? Because Nate’s infidelity opened the doors to my happiness. I’ve found someone else.”

Vivi reached behind her and lowered herself onto the corner of the coffee table.

If it were possible, Andrea would have snatched the reckless admission from her mother’s ears. Instead, amid the uncomfortable silence, she took a seat.

“Who?” Vivi finally asked, fisting her hands in her lap. ”It’s only been a few months.”

“He’s been cheating with Lily for the last year.”

“I don’t understand.”

Andrea sighed, rubbing her forehead. “When I was pregnant with Fen, he cheated on me with a waitress from the restaurant he worked in. He said I wasn’t taking care of his needs but I felt like shit and I was working all the time.”

“I don’t think I want to listen to anymore, Andrea.”

That got her attention. Andrea stared at her mother. The crushing weight of resentment bore down on her. Try as she might, she couldn’t get up from underneath it. The best she managed was standing up and telling her mother to get out.

“What?” Vivi asked, standing as well. “Excuse me for needing a moment to process how my daughter’s life is broken.”

“What do you want from me?” Andrea’s voice cracked. “How can you say that, mom? For the first time, my life makes complete sense.”

“Really, Andrea, spare me the romanticism. What could you possibly know about this new man? Or did you cheat on Nate, too?”

“She.” All the heat in her body flooded her face. She cleared her throat then repeated more firmly, “She. I’m in love with a woman.”

“Oh, dear god.” Vivi jumped up then grabbed her daughter’s shoulders. “You are out of your mind. You cannot be serious, Andrea.”

Looking into her mother’s eyes, breath suspended in her chest, what she hoped to find wasn’t there. Abruptly she wrenched out of Vivi’s grasp and stalked over to the coat stand by the door.

“I don’t want you here.”

“Don’t be absurd.” Vivi yelled, marching up to Andrea and continuing more calmly, “You’re not being rational. Just calm down.”

Andrea cocked her head as she crossed her arms. “I’m a lesbian.”

“You’re married to a man.”

“I’m getting divorced.”

“It’s just an experiment. You’ve always pushed the boundaries.” Vivi smiled but it looked demolished.

The desperate plea in her mother’s voice, how her eyes welled with tears and lips trembled weren’t enough to sway Andrea toward deceit. If she simply said what Vivi wanted to hear, they could continue as before but Andrea slowly took a step back and held out her mother’s coat.

“I don’t understand, Andrea.” But Vivi took the proffered coat and purse. “I’ve got a room at the Belvedere. I’ll be in town for the next few days. I’d like to see Fen before I go back.”

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“Tell me everything,”

On the phone with Miranda, Andrea related what happened with her mother, vacillating between tears and rage. The cool, even tone of Miranda’s voice started to penetrate, however, deescalating Andrea’s rant so completely, it didn’t register she’d been talked down from an emotional cliff.

“What are the chances of her telling Nate?”

Andrea bit back a sob then inhaled wetly. “Guaranteed.”

“What will he do?”

“Out us. I can’t keep him from Fen if he wants to see her. She’s bound to say something about you or the twins and, since he’ll be looking for it, putting the pieces together won’t be too difficult.”

“Call your mother tomorrow. I want you to lie to her.”

“What?” Andrea gasped then gritted out, “No.”

Miranda sighed. “Please, hear me out, darling.”

“I’ll give up Runway. That’s the only way and you know it, Miranda.”

“Absolutely not. We will get through this, Andrea. I can’t-I won’t allow you to throw away all your hard work. You deserve Runway and you will have it. Let’s not jump off any bridges just yet.”

“I’m choosing you.”

“You have me, Andrea. Make no mistake. I’m not going anywhere. But we need to nip this in the bud before it spirals beyond our control. I have plans in the works to expedite your divorce.”

“How is that even possible?” Andrea objected. “Please tell me you aren’t going to blackmail or bribe someone.”

“Of course not.” Miranda purred, then laughed lightly. “Not this time anyway.”

“Oh, jesus, it’s so, so wrong to find your devious streak sexy.”

“My source says it’s possible, with the right nudge, to finalize your divorce by June.”

Andrea rubbed her temple. “Mm, okay, the less I know the better. What do I need to do?”

“Reconcile with your mother and allay her suspicions. Start going out with your beard. We can double but sparingly.”

“Okay, but there’s more. I can hear it in your voice, Miranda.”

Miranda hesitated. “Set up a custody agreement with Nate before allowing visitation. If he...if he decides to take Fen, it will be hard to get her back.”

“He hasn’t shown any interest in Fen for...”

“If your mother tells him about you being with a woman, what will he do?”

Andrea grimaced. “I’m not sure. My mother said he wants my forgiveness but, of course, he didn’t tell her about Lily or the baby. Lately he’s been distant. Maybe that could work in our favor. Fen asks about him sometimes but...she’s only four so I’m not sure how aware she really is.”

“Has her demeanor drastically shifted?”

“Well...” Andrea debated with herself, then shrugged. “Let me ask you this...how is she when you and the girls engage with her in French?”

“Fine, why?”

“I think she may be developing a speech impediment? I just don’t know. Some days her pronunciation is off or she reverts to making up words.”

“Well it wouldn’t hurt to take her to a speech therapist for an evaluation.”

“I guess not but part of me wonders if it’s just something four year old’s do, you know?”

“I don’t remember if the girls went through it or not but, then...” Miranda sighed. “I wasn’t home that often.”

They spoke of other things. When Andrea mentioned Nigel was seeing Jean Paul Gaultier, Miranda laughed then proceeded recounting the story of how Miranda caught them shagging in Bianca Jagger’s loft at a party. Andrea countered with the time she walked in on her parents, the memory of her mother on her knees still traumatizing.   

“Thank you. I needed a laugh.” Andrea said softly. “And thank you for being there for me.” 

“Andrea, you needn’t thank me. It’s us against the world, remember?”

“I do.” she replied, dropping her voice to a tender level. “We’re very lucky to have you and the girls in our corner. I hope you know...”

“I do, darling. I do.”

Andrea exhaled. “I should let you go and return some phone calls.”

“I’m taking the girls out for dinner. Uncle Tam’s on Thirty-second. They’re eating their way through the menu.”

“Is that right? Somehow I don’t see Cassidy eating seaweed salad.”

Miranda laughed. “She’s saving all the ones she’s squeamish about for last unlike Caroline who now gets to savor her favorites. Of course, some dishes I’ve banned like the sea urchin.”

“Well, you guys have fun.” Andrea sucked in her upper lip then released it with a drawn out breath. “Guess I’ll hit up Warren, my beard, and see when he’s available.”

“Hmm. Tell him to watch where he puts his hands.”

“Will do, Priestly.”

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“Hey, is this a bad time?”

“Uh, I’ve got a few. So, how goes it?”

Andrea twirled a strand of hair between her fingers. “We’re going radio silence, dep-con five and all that.”

“It’s defcon and five is actually the lowest state of readiness. One is nuclear war.”

“Oh, wow, how’d you know that?”

“I had an arrangement with an army sergeant in high school. We used to give each other brojobs whenever he could swing it. He actually got me a pair of fatigues and boots.”

“Okay, but the defcon thing?”

“Oh, like when I’d start, you know, he’d count it off. ‘Permission to go to defcon four, sir.’

Andrea winced. “I don’t want to know but I do. So defcon one was...”

“Nuclear blast off.”

“Huh, well, then.”

“C’mon, Andrea, I know you had to give a few in your lifetime.”

“I sucked at it.”

Laughing, Doug said, “We haven’t talked in a while.”

“I know.” Andrea replied quietly. “I’m sorry about that but it’s been...hectic and wonderful.”

Very quickly, she caught him up then stressed not to mention it to anyone as things were a bit delicate at the moment.

“I’ve never told a secret of yours.”

“That’s true. I’m just very...protective of our relationship, Doug. It’s her or no one.”

He whistled softly. “Wow. Oh, um, I, uh, spoke with Lily.”

 “I know you guys are friends. It’s okay Actually, I should thank her for taking Nate off my hands.”

“Yeah, about that...”

“No, no, no, Doug. She took him and she has to keep him.”

“They’re having...issues.”

Andrea plopped down on the couch. “Yeah, I kinda figured that since he’s been hitting up my mom. Regardless, he has to find his own way. I’m going to tell my lawyer to send a custody agreement to him to sign.”

“Yeah, well, that’s the thing. They’re fighting about Fen. Nate wants joint custody but Lily thinks it’d be better for them if you have sole custody. At least until they get married or break up, I guess.”

“God, he’s such a tool.” Andrea switched the phone to her other ear. “Well, Lily isn’t stupid.”

“She does have her own baby to think about.”

“I don’t blame her for that. She did a shitty thing to me but it freed me up to fall in love with Miranda, so, well, while I don’t hate Lily, I don’t love her either.”

“Well, that’s not a bad deal considering. I hate to say it, but I’ve gotta go.”

 “No worries. Take care and don’t get into any trouble.”

Doug snorted. “I’m going out with a guy that plays trumpet in an Afro-Cuban jazz band. Well, not actually going out. More like fanboying over.”

“Talk to you soon, Doug.”

Just as she tossed the phone onto the coffee table, the front door opened and Fen raced into the apartment as Demetria locked the door behind them.

“Mummers! I had the best time. For reals.”

Andrea laughed then lost her breath when her daughter barreled into her.

“Well, hello, sweetie. I’m so glad you’re home.” Andrea stroked her daughter’s soft, rumpled hair.

“Can I talk to Da?”

Andrea looked at her daughter. “Let’s call him.” Before picking up the phone she looked over the back of the couch and caught Demetria’s eye. “Hey, thanks. Expect a little something extra in your check.”

Demetria looked uncertain then nodded. “Well, okay. I didn’t mean to...”

“I’m thankful for what you did, Demetria.”

Her smile lit up her face, eyebrows no longer a straight line. “I’m gonna put this in the kitchen then go to my room.”

“No problem.”

She texted Nate, relaying Fen wanted to FaceTime him.

“Are you hungry?”

“Nope.” Fen sighed as she slumped against Andrea’s arm.

“My sister was making her famous jambalaya.” Demetria said, holding up a Tupperware container and shrugging. “She sent me home with enough to feed an army. Feel free to have some, if you want.”

“Thanks. I’ll have some later. God, it’s been a while since I’ve had decent Louisiana-style home cooking.”

“Cher, she had an envie for some jambalaya an’ had a fais do do, you know, to pass a good time.”

Andrea grinned. “You’re Cajun?”

Demetria shook her head. “No, but my sister married a Cajun and, well, I’ve picked up the accent and some of the lingo, I guess.”

“Do you pick up languages quickly, too?”

“I don’t think so. I spend a lot of time with my sister and Augustin, her husband, so I guess I come by it naturally.”

“You guys are close, I take it?” Andrea smiled, feeling a mite wistful. “I’m an only child.”

“Delores is like a mother to me, especially since mom died a few years ago.”

“Oh, I’m sorry for your loss, Demetria.”

“Thank you.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

At long last, Nate called back a few hours after Fen took a short nap and Andrea gorged on jambalaya.

“Hello?’

“Hey, sorry I couldn’t call earlier but I had to prep for tomorrow’s brunch service. So...how are you?”

“Besides the fact you spoke with my mom...what was that about, Nate?”

“Yeah, well, you didn’t give me much choice.”

Andrea slowed her breathing and stood up from her bed to pace. “I’ve answered the phone every time you called.” 

“Okay, that didn’t come out the way I wanted it to, Andy. I just...can’t we talk? We used to be...”

Don’t call me that and don’t bring up the past. We are getting a divorce. You have a new partner and a baby on the way. Your daughter wants to talk to you, Nate.” Andrea tried to keep the plea out of her voice. “Do you have a minute to FaceTime her?”

“Yeah.”

They hung up, then she called Fen to her bedroom with the lure of seeing her daddy. She watched Fen closely looking for signs in the smallest details but her daughter didn’t seem stressed or worried at all. When Nate’s call came in, she accepted then turned the phone toward Fen in order that they may interact. While Andrea remained silent, she couldn’t help but overhear the conversation, such as it was between a daughter and her father. Even so, Fen happily chirped, dotting her conversation with French words or phrases. Andrea wished she could have seen Nate’s expression. Pride filled her, for Fen who soaked up the world, inspiring Andrea.

Fen, would you like Da to come back home to live with you and mommy?

Andrea snatched the phone away from her clapping and laughing child and glared into the screen.

“What is wrong with you?” she hissed, turning away from her daughter, not wanting Fen to see the anger Andrea couldn’t mask.

Nate cared enough about his life not to smile or otherwise push Andrea over the edge but he couldn’t entirely keep the smug look off his face.

“Sweetie, mommy needs to talk to daddy, okay?” Andrea softly directed with a smile then she looked back at the phone. “I’ll call you back and you better answer.”

Chapter Text

While physically present at the table with her daughters, Miranda’s attention wasn’t focused on the boardgame. She hadn’t heard from Andrea since the frantic call the previous day.

“Mom, your turn.” Caroline prompted.

Smiling, she picked up the dice then tossed them, scattering tiny green houses everywhere.

“Oh, bobbsies, I’m sorry.”

Cassidy shrugged, carefully repositioning the houses on her properties. “It’s okay. We can stop if you want.”

“Yeah.” Caroline agreed, reaching for the other game pieces. “We can watch a movie or something.”

“ I guess I’m a little preoccupied.”

Cassidy gathered the fake money and returned it to ‘the bank’. “Maybe you can do some work or something? Caroline wants to read her book anyway and I...”  Cassidy turned a little red. “I have homework I gotta finish.”

Miranda propped her chin up as she leaned an elbow on the table. “I’m not very good company today, am I?”

“Is everything okay?” Caroline asked, eyes lowered as she gathered the property cards and grouped them together.

“I’m just worried about a friend.”

“Not Andy?” Cassidy asked, staring at her mother.

Torn between truth and self-preservation, Miranda stalled. Falling in love with a woman, while a surprise, wasn’t something shameful. Still, she never imagined coming out to her children.

“Nothing’s wrong, Cassidy. I think she may be busy.”

“Oh, one time, Jessica didn’t talk to me for like weeks.” Caroline shared and reached across the game board to pat her mother’s hand. “I understand.”

“What happened?” Miranda asked, amused by her daughter’s sweet gesture.

“Oh, I hurt her feelings.” Caroline nonchalantly said, putting a rubber band around the cards. “But I didn’t know it. She didn’t tell me for a long time.”

“Really, Caroline. This Jessica couldn’t have been a close friend if you didn’t talk to her for weeks.”

“Jessica’s my best friend, mom.”

Cassidy folded the game board. “It’s true. They’re always together.”

“What is your point, Caroline?” Miranda sighed, attempting to mask her exasperation with directness.

“You have to ask your friend if there’s anything wrong.” Cassidy answered, rolling her eyes at her mother. “If you don’t, you guys might never talk.”

Loath to take relationship advice from a nine year old, Miranda said, “Mm, well, I understand.”

The children wandered off to their respective endeavors. Miranda checked her phone but it was agonizingly mute. Not to respond was so out of character for Andrea. It was entirely plausible Andrea was spending time with her mother in an effort to keep the woman off-balance until they were ready to reveal their relationship. Such a thing would suck the life out of Andrea. She wasn’t one to employ disingenuous means to get what she wanted. Andrea thought outside of the box, yes, but never underhandedly. Misleading her mother to protect their relationship, even temporarily, would be uncomfortable for Andrea. Miranda realized it wasn’t her ‘fight’ but the thought of Andrea struggling the least bit when Miranda could help was hard to accept.

In the meantime, she had other things to do. Miranda went down to the foyer where The Book had been placed on the table by one of her assistants. For the first time in a long while she wasn’t very interested in looking at it. Certain issues were transcending to her. An innovative designer that raised the bar or a new textile that took the industry by storm weren’t the norm. Miranda lived for those moments as anyone who loved fashion did.

Perhaps she was getting tired of the months or years in between flashes of brilliance. The magazine was fine, a leader in the fashion industry that influenced one generation after another. Her legacy was intact. The prospect of a new challenge tempted her. She knew she was growing complacent churning out one edition after the other. It was time to let someone else take control of Runway. For the last several years the idea teased her mind. Not until Andrea Sachs, with her drive and passion, did Miranda seriously think of anointing a successor.

With a soft sigh, she placed her hands on The Book, fingers and palms gently gliding over its surface. It represented her life’s work heretofore. A new chapter loomed just over the horizon of her career and her personal life. A frisson of excitement coursed through her. If she and Andrea could hold it together for another six months, the world would be theirs.

The knock on the door startled Miranda. It was slightly past four in the afternoon. She was half-tempted to ignore the knocking but a zing of hope propelled her to answer it.

“I’m sorry...”

“No, don’t be. Come in.”

Andrea, holding a smiling Fen who started to reach for Miranda, was a sight that eased the worry Miranda had refused to bring to the forefront. She took Fen then shut the door once Andrea walked across the threshold.

“She needs a nap.” Andrea whispered, leaning in then diverting at the last minute and kissing Miranda’s cheek. “And we need to talk privately.”

“Hi, M.” Fen mumbled, snuggling into Miranda’s neck.

“Hello, mon chou. Comment allez-vous?”

Bon. Toi?”

Je vais bien.” Miranda kissed her forehead then looked at Andrea. “I’ll put her with Cassidy. She’s doing homework in her room. I’ll meet you in my office.”

“Where’s the liquor cabinet?”

“There’s a nice bottle of wine breathing on the kitchen counter. If you want something else, go to the study.” When Andrea’s eyebrows rose, Miranda said, “In the decorative cabinet over the mahogany console table.”

“Nice.”

Miranda watched her leave, heartened by the fleeting smile on Andrea’s face. Fen’s tiny fingers curled around the rounded neckline of her dress. She held the little girl close as she ascended the stairs, feeling her fragile body slump against her in complete trust and Miranda vowed to herself, no matter what happened, she would always be Fen’s champion.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Andrea held the squat tumbler between her palms, rolling it back and forth as she stared into the contents of the glass. Remaining silent, Miranda sipped from a glass of wine which Andrea had retrieved for her. The mood in the room wasn’t oppressive but it was a bit difficult to gauge what Andrea felt. So Miranda simply waited and tried not to stare. The cabernet didn’t live up to its recommendation. She made a mental note to chastise Nigel for his effusive praise of such a lackluster offering.

“Okay, I’m ready.”

Miranda set her glass of wine down on the coffee table, crossed her legs and hoped she projected an equable façade.

“The first call I made after we hung up yesterday was to my lawyer. I told her about our relationship.” Andrea looked up, a hint of apology in her gaze as she continued. “After tonight, we can’t be seen together in public unless we’re accompanied by our ‘beards’.” Andrea made a face. “She’s going to send Nate custody documents tomorrow. I never thought he’d pull a one-eighty, especially because of his knocked up girlfriend. If he gets a lawyer or a private investigator, things will get very difficult, Miranda.”

“I understand difficult divorces.”

“If our relationship becomes public knowledge, we could lose our jobs and I...”

“Breathe, Andrea. It’s going to be fine.” At Andrea’s dubious look, Miranda said, “Well, your mother is the lynchpin now that you inexplicably blabbed...”

Andrea glowered. “I did not blab it but she wouldn’t stop and I’m not ashamed...and-and maybe she could be happy for me?”

Before Andrea could shed a tear, Miranda scooted close and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. She kissed Andrea’s temple then murmured into her skin, “If you would like, I will beat up your mother.”

Pulling back to look Miranda in the face, Andrea sniffled the swallowed. “You do love me.”

“I really do.”

The blinding smile she received let her know she said the right thing although Miranda remained unconvinced beating Andrea’s mother wasn’t a viable option. Withdrawing, she noticed Andrea hadn’t taken a drink. There was something about the glass or swirling alcohol that seemed to focus Andrea.

“Nate insists he wants to come back ‘home’ but I spent Saturday night countering his points which weren’t really points but pleas and promises.”

“He’s a stupid man for not appreciating what you bring to a partnership.”

Andrea blushed. “He doesn’t know about...I mean, how you...” Huffing, she took a second then said, “I wasn’t like that with him.”

Miranda laughed. “Well, what a stroke to my ego, darling, but I didn’t mean sexually.” At Andrea’s disgruntled look, she amended, “Not just sexually.”

“You’re taking this remarkably well.”

“I’m secure in your love for me and in what I bring to the table, darling. The fact is, you wouldn’t have looked at me twice if he kept your trust.”

Shaking her head a little, Andrea remarked sotto voce, “You know just what to say. It’s a bit scary.”

“Yes, quite.”

Andrea admitted, “He asked Fen on FaceTime how’d she like it if he came home to live. I was so blindsided.”

Miranda reached for Andrea’s drink, took a swallow then handed it back. “I am going to crush him.”

“We may have to at some point.”

“How did you get him to back off?”

Andrea looked into her glass, swirling. Miranda remained close but didn’t reach out. The fragile blue veins of Andrea’s wrist showed through the pale skin and the sharp outline of bones in her hand as it gripped the glass awakened the fierce protective instinct within Miranda. Andrea set the drink down.

“I can take care of it.” she rasped and finally touched Andrea lightly on the forearm. “I have the means.”

Andrea drew back her shoulders, flipping her hair over one. “I can handle my ex-husband.”

“Yes, you can.” she replied then pulled back her hand. “And you know I take care of my own, as well, Andrea.”

Leaning into the back cushions, Andrea contemplated her. The seconds stretched but Miranda held still and stared back.

“He’s the father of my child and I won’t deny her a relationship with him. Fen also has a half-sibling on the way and I won’t deny her that bond either.” Andrea quirked a brow in an almost playful manner. “But, it doesn’t mean you can’t take him down a notch or two. In all seriousness, Miranda, he needs to be able to work so please don’t blackball him.”

“I do have other ways to...persuade people, Andrea.”

“For now, he’s backing down once I pointed out the logic in our situation but he’s no longer ‘in love’ with Lily, wants to be a proper husband to me and a father to Fen.”

“A proper husband?” Miranda breathed through pinched nostrils. “Interesting.”

Andrea rose then straddled Miranda’s lap. She carefully removed Miranda’s earrings then tossed them over her shoulder.

“I have an idea.”

Miranda placed her hands on the top of Andrea’s thighs, shifting her hips to better align with Andrea’s center. Taking her time, Miranda slid her hands up, thumbs following the inseams of Andrea’s jeans.

“I’m getting a few of my own.”

Andrea plucked the first button of Miranda’s shirt then steadily continued. “What are you thinking?”

“Something obscene.” Miranda’s hands curved around Andrea’s hips then descended, grabbing her ass.

“Perfect.” Taking one of Miranda’s hands, Andrea guided it to her breast. “Channel your inner bitch.”

Fingers flexing of their own volition against Andrea’s breast, Miranda studied her reaction. “Then let’s play, cub.”

In response, Andrea pushed off Miranda’s shirt, pinning her shoulders to the couch. She moved in, kissing Miranda with restraint, the tip of her tongue tracing the inside of Miranda’s lip. For the moment, she allowed Andrea the freedom to direct things.

“Come on, show me who’s boss.” Andrea taunted throatily as she kissed along Miranda’s jawline, then bit her, tugging the hair on the back of Miranda’s head. “Don’t you want to teach your cub a lesson?”

Miranda surged upward, wrapping her arms around Andrea, nails digging into pliable flesh.

 “Don’t start something you can’t handle.” Miranda grunted then flipped Andrea onto her back and pushed her into the couch with her weight. “We shouldn’t do this right now.”

“Oh, the fuck we shouldn’t.” Andrea ground out, cupping Miranda’s silk covered breasts.

“I’m going to take care of you.” Miranda whispered, spacing out tender kisses across Andrea’s face. “But...”

Mom!

Andrea arched her back, exposing her neck as she pressed harder against Miranda’s center. She let out a pathetic low whine then relaxed, releasing Miranda’s breasts.

“Just a minute, Cassidy.” Miranda instructed. For spite, she gyrated her hips in a slow tease, rubbing herself against Andrea. “So little control.”

“I need...”

“I know what you need.” she cut off, injecting a bit of Le Priestly into her tone. “And I know how to give it to you.”

Andrea thumped her head against the couch cushion. “I am not happy.”

Miranda laughed, carefully rising from the couch. “Come on, poor little cub, let’s go see what the children want.”

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Quite possibly a miscalculation on her part, not finishing things in the office but the damage was done. Andrea dropped a fork and mumbled a curse that the girls heard. Two minutes later she asked Caroline to repeat her question. When Fen made a mess of the green beans and declared she didn’t like the color, Andrea scolded her then promptly sighed. Miranda observed without comment, diverting Fen’s attention before her stubborn mon chou decided to throw a mini-tantrum.

Andrea rose and carried her plate to the sink. Miranda took the opportunity to join her while Cassidy and Caroline taught Fen a new song.

“I see I’ve underestimated your need.” she whispered, shoulder-to-shoulder at the sink. “You have two choices.”

Andrea turned on the water, nodding as she rinsed off the plate.

“One, go upstairs and take the edge off or two, hold on until we settle the children and meet me in the laundry room.”

“Laundry room?” Andrea’s voice cracked.

Miranda glanced over her shoulder at the children, then whispered in Andrea’s ear, “They won’t hear you beg.”

Head bowed, Andrea’s body shook as she held onto the counter’s edge. The static air between them made the tiny hairs on Miranda’s forearm stand on end. Andrea’s chest inflated then she rolled her neck, exhaling in a rush.

“Two.” Andrea faintly answered and moved away.

Miranda’s heartbeat spiked. She felt hot all over but she positively burned between her thighs. The memory of Andrea’s stormy gaze, half defiant in the vulnerability of her need, would not shake loose from her mind. To be the object of this woman’s unbridled desire in spite of all the choices at Andrea’s disposal was incomprehensible but Miranda closed her eyes and muttered a thankful prayer. She would find a way to be worthy of Andrea’s love and passion.

Miranda corralled whatever patience remained which wasn’t much given what it had taken to resist thus far. She didn’t know if it was their love or the way they smelled or their chemistry; whatever it was, Miranda wanted to spend a lifetime with Andrea to figure it out. A tiny fleck of her glowed with regret that she and Andrea were just starting out. The circumstances were hardly ideal but, well, her past relationships had started without so much as a hint of discord. Regardless of the outcome, Miranda was committed. She really didn’t have an alternative.

Everyone went into the family room to watch a movie after Cassidy finished her homework and Caroline insisted she could read and watch at the same time. Miranda suspected her daughter enjoyed being a part of a bigger family. Cassidy settled down on the floor with pillows. On the couch, however, Fen placed her head on her mother’s leg and her feet in Miranda’s lap.

The movie, naturally, featured Julie Andrews, the twin’s favorite. ‘The Sound of Music’, a classic Fen hadn’t seen, was slipped into the DVD player. Miranda propped her head up by bracing her arm along the back of the couch. Preferring to stab herself in the head rather than sit through the film again, she occupied her attention with something incredibly more engaging: Andrea. Cradling one of Fen’s foot in her hand, she watched the play of shadows across Andrea’s profile. She was beautiful, although not in the classical sense. It came through in the ready joy of her smile, the mysterious sparkle in her dark eyes, and the generous nature of her heart. Miranda looked down at Fen, so like her mother in appearance. The famous stubborn streak, however, was either intrinsic or from her sire.

Andrea turned, slyly looking back at her and Miranda lifted an eyebrow, for the moment the urgency in her body content to simmer beneath the surface. Tilting her head slightly, Andrea flicked her tongue out, licking her bottom lip then smirked, undoubtedly catching the shift of Miranda’s attention and the effect it was having on her. A simple look was all it took, as the saying went. With so very little provocation from Andrea, Miranda fleetingly wondered how long she would last. It was ridiculous, embarrassing for someone of her experience and age but, god damn it, she didn’t care.

Miranda stared at the television but was distracted by the glow of Caroline’s Kindle. From the second she could read, Caroline became a voracious reader. She approached it with singular intent, whether for pleasure or learning, it was a solemn endeavor. Reaching across the back of the couch, Miranda brushed her fingers against Andrea’s shoulder. Andrea looked back and Miranda inclined her head then gently slipped from beneath Fen’s tiny feet.

She waited in the hallway, nervous and filled with an aching tenderness. Andrea appeared a few seconds later, aslightly bemused when Miranda pulled her into the bathroom, not bothering turning on the light.

“I love you.” she stated, hands on either side of Andrea’s face. “I can’t explain it. I don’t have the words, but, Andrea...”

Andrea swooped in, kissing her with a lovely suppleness.

“You don’t need them, Miranda.”

Unaware of anything that wasn’t Andrea, she kissed and kissed her again. Miranda dove into the simplistic wonder of it. The fusion of their lips and tongues, how they plundered, toyed, and investigated fed a starving part of her she believed would always remain so. They were connected not just through sex but from veneration, a distinction absent in her other relationships.

“Baby...” Andrea whispered, sucking the corner of Miranda’s mouth. “I want you to take me in every dirty way you’ve imagined. God, I really do.”

How quickly love turned to lust. The switch was dizzying. But, then, that was the scope of their connection. It happened when they touched, when they silently communicated, when their eyes met and didn’t blink. With a well-placed word, they were magnets sticking together.

“Christ, Andrea.”

“I can’t help it.” Andrea quickly kissed her then moved away. “I just...Miranda...” Rubbing her eyes, she took a second then looked at Miranda. “I’m about to have my period and you looking like you do and me feeling everything...I’m having a really hard time controlling myself.”

Incapable of withholding it, laughter bubbled up Miranda’s throat. Andrea looked so nonplussed and cute.

“God damnit, Miranda.” Andrea hit her on the shoulder. “I’m being serious.”

“I know and I’m sorry, but, you’re just so adorable, darling.”

Andrea got into her personal space, then took Miranda’s hand and pushed it underneath the waistband on her pants. “Not so funny now.”

Miranda’s entire body succumbed to a sensitized weakness. She planted a palm on the door as the fingers of her other hand glided across tumescent flesh. Panting in Andrea’s ear, she listened to the wet slap of her palm against Andrea’s mons as Miranda easily fit three fingers within the tight sheath.

“Oh, yeah.” Andrea said from the deepest part of her throat. “Just like that. You feel it, don’t you?”

Miranda’s spine expanded like a spring, each vertebrae popping followed by a delicious vibration along the skin from the slope of her ass to her shoulder blades. Called by the way Andrea undulated her hips, Miranda tried to tamp down on the urge to fuck Andrea. She maintained the pace, precise and steady, surprised she found Andrea’s ‘spot’ from the current angle. Her own orgasm shuddered and rattled the bars of her self-restraint, demanding to be set free.

“Oh, god, please, Miranda.” she strangled out. “This is-is...” Andrea’s muscles clamped down on Miranda’s fingers. She bit down on Miranda’s shoulder. “Oh, fuck...”

She didn’t stop, not when Andrea’s nails pierced her skin and the possibility of broken fingers or a sprained wrist seemed a very real possibility.

Andrea slammed her head back against the door, mouth opened in a silent scream.

Chapter Text

“Miranda, someone has to deal with the Jamar King mess and he and I already have a rapport. I can fix this and take a later flight Friday night to Florida.”

“We’re going on my ex-husband’s private jet, Andrea. Not commercial.”

“You’re being ridiculous. What’s the matter? Really?”

Miranda exhaled, staring at her aluminum suitcase, splayed open but empty. She closed her eyes and tried to clear her mind. “I’m worried you won’t make it.”

“I will make it.”

“You know, I’ve said that before. To my husbands. Guess how that turned out.”

“There are no husbands in our equation, you know. Look, I’ve got to go, but you better pick me up. I’ve already booked a flight and sent the itinerary to your personal email. Understand this, Priestly...I am going to move heaven and earth to be with you and our children. And I’m going to do a fucking fantastic job with Jamar King in the process. I love you madly, woman, but I’ve got to go.”

Miranda said goodbye but Andrea had already hung up. Was it already starting or was she being overly sensitive? Was it time for the cosmic payback for all those years she chose Runway instead of her husbands and children? In the early days of Miranda’s editorship, everything had been under her purview. It had taken her a decade to begin to buy into the wisdom of delegation. She learned how to balance work and home much better after two failed marriages under her belt. Andrea, she had to admit, was well ahead of the learning curve. Opting not to go looking for trouble, Miranda tossed the phone on the bed then entered the walk-in.

Such a pristine organized room, tailored to her tastes, nay, to her very thoughts. Sometimes she spared a minute to admire the true reflection of her personality and the incredible organization the room exhibited. Everything was in its place which gave her no small amount of satisfaction. As she considered various dresses, Miranda was thankful for some alone time. While Cassidy was at gymnastics, Caroline stayed at school with a tutor led study group hosted by a math teacher.

When she selected and packed enough dresses to next four days, which took her over an hour, Miranda decided to call Nigel.

“How lucky am I!” Nigel sang out in greeting. “I’ve just gotten off the phone and was on the brink of calling you. I have news!”

“Do tell.”

“Well, fire Reznick.”

Miranda perched on the edge of her bed. “You know it’s not the simple.”

“It was when I worked there.”

“Things have...changed. Directors are no longer under my control.”

Nigel gasped.

Miranda ignored the theatrics and ticked off the silent seconds.

On the count of eleven, he ventured, “Is this a positive or negative?”

“When have you ever known me to make a deal that’s not advantageous to me?”

“Yes, but now you’re in love, my friend, and that dulls the killer instinct.”

Emitting a long-suffering sound, Miranda considered her response. “Andrea is a very formidable partner, Nigel, unlike my spineless husbands. She’s...indomitable. So, you see, darling, despite my vulnerabilities, I am more powerful now than I’ve ever imagined.”

“I am happy for you and I think Andrea’s a very nice person...”

“But?”

Nigel sighed. “You’re my person, Miranda, and I will always look out for you. I don’t owe such an allegiance to Andrea. ”

Miranda crossed her legs as she leaned back in the reading chair. “Is there something specific on your mind, Nigel?”

A slight pause then he replied, “No. I did recruit her for the job but I had no idea...”

“Neither did we.”

“Do you think people like us can have happy relationships?”

“I don’t think Paris agrees with you, Nigel. You’re getting maudlin.”

“I know that but answer the question.” He almost pleaded.

Instead of the riposte she expected, Nigel’s quiet desperation knocked her off-kilter. She pressed her fingers against her closed mouth for a few seconds then took a fortifying breath.  “Yes, we can.”

Nigel sniffled. “Good.”

Not quite knowing what to say, she waited a second longer. Theirs wasn’t a demonstrative friendship but it was no less affectionate in its unique way.

“What’s this about?” she asked softly.

“Jean Paul broke it off.”

“Why?”

“I am not successful.” Nigel replied with a snap stressing his last word.

“From the man who gave the world ‘Aow Tou Dou Zat’. Really, Nigel, I don’t even think it placed on the Billboard charts.”

“Well, the video was rather entertaining.”

“I could have done without the giant dancing scissors.”

Nigel sighed. “Still, everyone knows Gautier but only a handful know Kipling.”

“Oh, but they will. I’ll give you five years and I bet people like Gautier will beg you to be in Paris Runway.”

Laughing, Nigel rejoined, “I’ll only need two.”

When they grew silent, Miranda bit her lower lip. “I’m...sorry it didn’t work out.”

Again, you mean. Go on say it. It’s not like I haven’t thought it, Miranda. I must have been out of my mind...”

“No, Nigel. You are starting a new chapter in your life in the City of Lights. You’re...hopeful and rightly so, dearest. Perhaps it’s time to find someone that’s hopeful, too?”

“Perhaps. There is a youngish designer I had a thing with...”

“No more recycling. Develop a new standard, one that compliments who you are now.”

Nigel chuckled. “You’re...different but I didn’t notice how much until just this second.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“The old Miranda wouldn’t have been quite as supportive.”

What he said was true and yet Miranda yearned to defend herself. “Yes, well, don’t aggravate me.”

“It’s my aspiration every day.”

Miranda daintily grunted then brought the conversation back around. “So, why must I fire Reznick?”

“I’ve learned through my sources...”

“Really, ‘sources’?”

“I’ve learned from the best not to reveal everything as you well know. Now, may I continue?”

“As long as you come to the point sometime this millennia, Nigel.”

“It seems Miss Follet has been biding her time to make a move. She wants Runway and has the support of a few board members.”

“I’m having a hard time believing your intel.”

“Really, ‘intel’?” Nigel lightly mocked. “Ravitz ring a bell?”

“I see your point.”

“Regardless, she needed a way into Runway to stir the pot, as it were because even that French twit knew she had to create ‘just cause’ before taking it to the board.”

Miranda laughed. “So, she picked Reznick? He’s afraid of his own shadow.”

“Tut-tut, dearest, he’s afraid of your shadow. I suppose she figured he would be the easiest to flip.”

“You mean the most stupid to try.” Miranda scratched the back of her neck. “Obviously they were either ready or forced to make a move. Reznick’s hated me ever since the circus shoot for the Donna Karan two years ago. I’ve known for the last year he’s been quite vocal about his displeasure.”

“It was a disaster, Miranda. You were right in taking over the shoot.”

“Hmm, well.”

“Now you’re being secretive.” Nigel prodded, then let out a long breath. “Just tell me your thoughts.”

Miranda weighed the pros and cons. “I’m not without alliances.”

“Ahh. So, we’re going to battle once again?”

“All the pieces are being put into place, don’t worry.”

“You have a contract so they just can’t fire you without cause which...oh, dear.” Nigel softly continued, “If Jacqueline finds out about Andrea...”

“Jacqueline is a gnat. A vaguely bothersome insect.” she interrupted softly, her tone cool.

“I suggest you get the Raid, then, as soon as possible. Wouldn’t want a swarm to bloom.”

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Later that night Miranda sat in the study with a glass of wine. Andrea called during dinner to double check what to pack for Fen and to reassure her that she’d be on the seven-fifteen flight Friday night. The Jamar King panic had been downgraded after Andrea spent thirty minutes patiently talking him off a professional cliff. They were going to meet for lunch then go to his studio to go over the collection. Once she soothed his anxiety, she would take as many finished pieces as possible into safe-keeping until the shoot next week.

“What does Nate think of Fen’s Florida vacation?”

“Shit.” Andrea mumbled over the phone.

“Surely he’s going to call?”

“I-well, shit, Miranda. I’ll just put him off. Tell him she’s napping or at a playdate.”

Miranda sighed. “Well, whatever you do, don’t tell him she’s with me and that you’re joining us.”

“Low blow, Priestly.”

“I’m not the one...”

“I know, I know, okay, relax.” After a moment, Andrea murmured, “I hope you’re bringing a bikini, preferably one that covers very little.”

“Hm, no.”

“Oh, I see I have to step up my game.” Andrea cleared her throat. “I’m sorry I’m going to miss the first two days. I’d rather be with you and the girls so, so much more, baby.”

The gentle sincerity of Andrea’s apology far outweighed the flirty compliment and Miranda felt her irritation defrost a little.

“I’m looking forward to it.” Miranda replied with less reserve. “Is there anything I need to know about Fen? Routines? Food?”

“She doesn’t know how to swim and she’s never been to the beach. Well, not as a toddler.”

“I’ll arrange swim lessons once we get back?”

“I’m for it but I just don’t know if there’s space in her schedule or mine right now. We can look at it later?”

“Agreed.”

When Andrea told her to get a pen, she did, from the drawer of the end table as well as the small note pad. Fen’s care was rather straightforward. Andrea promised to share a link of the lyrics to a favorite lullaby then proceeded to recite Fen’s food preferences that were by no means set in stone. Miranda hummed her way through, charmed by the toddler’s love of Lou the Sloth and aversion to asparagus. She was reminded of the twins early years and some of the things she missed out on while chasing her dreams. Her writing faltered then resumed.

“Hey, you stopped humming.”

Miranda exhaled in a long, soft stream. “It’s stupid, I know, but it just occurred to me how much trust you put into my keeping.”

“All of it.”

“Yes.” Swallowing, she couldn’t get any more words out.

“Miranda?”

The scratchy ‘hm?’ out of her mouth, for all its faintness had the power to microscopically nick her larynx.

“You put just as much in me.”

“I do.” she responded, perhaps a little too intensely. Miranda released the pen from her tight grasp. “I was thinking about when the girls were Fen’s age and it made me sad.” Miranda bit her upper lip then continued, “I don’t want you to miss anything, Andrea, and...regret it later down the line.”

“I know. I will make every second count, baby.” Andrea promised quietly.

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Miranda hoisted Fen onto her hip once the small jet door opened. Cara and the twins shuffled behind her, knapsacks and a carryon in tow. The heat from the tarmac was a bit stifling after leaving the cold Northeast. Jet engines rumbled to life after being pushed back or whined down as they coasted into awaiting gates. Luggage carts, linked together like railroad containers, snaked along, avoiding jet blast and wingspans. Although the terminal for small jets was far enough away from the main tarmac traffic and noise, Miranda nevertheless hustled everyone across the short distance to the terminal doors.

Fen squirmed in her arms as they walked through the maze of hallways, following a terminal employee. The girls flanked Miranda and Fen maintaining a flow of chatter, while Cara brought up the rear. After a quick elevator ride two floors up, they poured out of the car and into the bustling terminal. Miranda led the way to the car rental counter.

“Here, let me take her.” Cara cooed, fingers flexing eagerly as she reached out for the toddler. “I’ll see to the children. You see to the transportation.”

Miranda hesitated then rolled her eyes when Cara glared.

As they waited for the Chevrolet Suburban to be brought around, Cara took the girls to the bathroom and Miranda called Andrea. It went to voicemail. Miranda gritted her teeth but managed to sound unperturbed leaving a message. The the car arrived, idling in the loading zone, as they gathered their things. A porter and rental employee helped them get everyone situated and the luggage stowed. Tucked in a car seat between the twins, Fen dozed. Miranda checked the rearview and smiled at the way Caroline patted Fen’s leg as she read a book.

“I called the management company and gave them a grocery list. Oh, and last week I told them to ready the place.” Cara said, beaming.

Miranda checked the side mirror and glanced back before pulling away from the curb. “Why are you smiling?”

“I love the beach.”

“Yes, well, be useful and get my phone out of my purse then dial Judge Joslin.”

Cara grumbled, “I’m the damn cook.”

Miranda’s eyebrows shot up but she didn’t make a comment.

“Here. It’s ringing.” Cara said, holding out the phone.

She took it then said, “This is Miranda Priestly. Is the judge available?”

While on hold, Miranda happened to glance at Cara then frowned, not quite sure why she looked the way she did. It wasn’t quite disapproval.

“Hello, Judge-Linda, of course, that’s very kind of you.”

“Not at all. I’m sorry I haven’t called but my docket is rather full and I didn’t want to disturb you during non-business hours.”

“Between my assistant and your clerk, it’s been a game of phone-tag, hasn’t it? Well, allow me to get to the point. Can we have a meeting next week?”

“Let’s make it drinks on Monday? Six at Saint Bart’s?”

“I was thinking somewhere less public, Linda.”

Cara’s eyes bugged out but Miranda ignored her.

“Ah, of course. This is business after all, isn’t it? I know of a private establishment. I’ll put you on the guest list. I’ll have my clerk send your assistant the when and where.

“Thank you. I’ll see you then.”

Miranda handed the phone to Cara who’s jaw jutted out, mimicking a bull dog. Returning her attention to the road, she dropped the phone on the seat between them and waited.

“I like Andrea.”

Checking the rearview, she was glad to see Cassidy still had her headphones on and Caroline had fallen asleep.

“What are you trying to say?” she hissed and kept her gaze forward.

Linda? Less public place?” Cara scoffed.

Miranda chanced a quick look at her cook who’s arms were crossed over her chest.

“Oh, dear god, pick up a book instead of Page Six. It’s like you don’t know me at all.”

Cara reached over and pinched her arm.

“Ow.” Miranda gasped then glared at her before turning her gaze back to the road. “Have you lost your mind?”

“If you’re cheating on her, I swear...”

“Of all the truly idiotic things that’s spewed from your mouth, really, Cara, this is the most ridiculous yet.”

Cara hissed, “Miranda.”

“You don’t think very highly of me.”

“I know you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Cara shot a look toward the back seat then leaned in and growled, “Don’t fuck it up.”

The heat spread across her face as she clenched her jaw and simmered in rage. With the children in the vehicle, Cara wasn’t going to receive the blistering dressing down she deserved for such imprudence. Miranda shifted in the seat then turned on the blinker when their exit came into view. Not much time passed as they approached the next few turns, the roads narrowing, lined with bunches of scrub palmetto and longleaf pine trees.  The sun was unmerciful in the pale blue cloudless sky. Heat vapors rose from the bleached asphalt.

One more turn onto the short causeway and the beach house was less than five miles away. Sparkling water splashed against the limestone rocks lining the causeway as several seagulls hovered over the waves in search of prey. Miranda’s shoulders relaxed by degrees the closer they got to the beach house. The pace of life in Miramar Beach of course was distinctly different than Manhattan’s freneticism in spite of the snowbird population. The tropical lull pulled in the most diehard city folk given enough time. Miranda was no exception.

It was a relief to shed her Manhattan persona and merely ‘be’. To be able to give that to her children, watching them chase after seagulls or gliding on boogieboards without adopting an ‘image’ to fend off people that assumed too much filled Miranda with gratitude. At the beach house, they weren’t the Priestly twins. They picked out their own clothing, often wearing their swimsuits under faded shorts and t-shirts, their feet in flip-flops, made friends unburdened by their mother’s public image, and thrived in their mother’s undivided attention. Miranda could only hope it helped balance the scales.

“Mom, are we there yet?” Caroline yawned, craning her neck to look out the window.

Miranda braked at the gatehouse as Cara answered her child then rolled down the window.

“Good morning.” the older gentleman said. “Are you a visitor?”

“Oh, no, I own a home here but I seem to have misplaced my keycard.”

Cara tapped her on the shoulder, smirking as she handed one over.

Miranda rolled her eyes but swiped it, smiling apologetically at the security guard. “Found it.”

“Well, you have a nice day, miss.”

When Miranda rolled up the window and pulled away, Cara playfully goaded, “I suppose you are a ‘miss’ to him.”

“Mom, can we go in the ocean?” Cassidy piped up.

Fen called out, “Me, too, maman.”

Miranda’s chest flooded with the most heart-rending joy upon hearing Fen call her the French equivalent of ‘mommy’. She kept her eyes averted as she parked the vehicle in the driveway.

“Soon, my loves.”

“I’ll get the children.” Cara announced, already out of her seatbelt and scrambling out of the vehicle. Before shutting the door, she peered at Miranda then drolly informed, “Do get the bags.”

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

While the twins unpacked and Cara started on lunch, Miranda hung up her clothes. Fen sat on the bed, telling Lou the Sloth all the new things they were going to do and how much fun they were going to have.

“Is mummers coming soon, M?”

Nodding, Miranda considered the dress as she held it away from her. “Tomorrow night, mon chou, but she’s going to call tonight.”

“Like da?”

Miranda draped the dress over a nearby chair then bit her lip. She searched Fen’s face. Her question had been uttered rather carelessly as she played with the stuffed toy. Slowly Miranda sat down on the edge of the bed and reached out to touch the little girl’s knee.

Fen looked up, frowning a little.

“Would you like to see her on the phone?”

Bobbing her head, Fen sucked in her lips then released them with a pop. “Can Lou go to the, to the...” She cocked her head in such an adorable fashion, Miranda leaned over and kissed her on the nose.

“To the ‘beach’?”

“Yup, the...be-ach.”

“Well, my little darling, I don’t think Lou would like it very much.”

“Mommy says he’s my sleepin’ buddy.”

“We’ll just have to get you a beach buddy. Would you like that?”

Fen clambered onto her knees from her seated position then awkwardly flung herself up on her toes. Miranda caught her, laughing and blowing kisses on Fen’s neck.

“Mom, you’re not even ready!” Cassidy whined as she burst through the half-opened door.

Miranda set Fen on the bed. “Oh, bobbsies, as soon as I change and get Fen ready, we’ll go down and have lunch first.”

“Aw, man...”

“Cassidy.” she warned as she grabbed Fen’s suitcase and started looking through it. “What did I say?”

“Alright.”

Ignoring her offspring’s grumpy stomps out of the room, Miranda settled on a cute light green one-piece swim suit with dark green polka dots, the cutest pair of mini-surfer shorts and a thin, white t-shirt.

“Let’s put your hair in a ponytail, shall we?”

Fen pouted. “Thank you, no.”

“No?”

Shaking her head a little, she smiled then plopped down on the mattress and kicked off her slip-on shoes.

Miranda observed the very entertaining way Andrea’s daughter disrobed. It was more like a fight between her and the clothes, really, as Fen’s little body twisted and contorted, feet kicking in the air.

“Would you like some help, mon chou?”

In the most precious way, Fen froze in the struggle to remove the last shoe, and lifted her head to reply, “Oui.”

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Miranda, holding the phone to her ear, stepped out onto the second story balcony that overlooked the beach and ocean. The wind billowed the long, white gossamer curtains as she left the sliding door open.

Thank you for sending the video. I must have played it a hundred times.”

“She is fearless.”

“I know! I can’t believe she just jumped right in. I think it helped that the twins were with her.”

“Well, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it, my love?”

Andrea whined, “Oh, don’t go all deep, sexy voice on me when we’re so far apart.”

Leaning on the railing, Miranda gazed at the sparkling strip of moonlight dancing on the waves.

“I wish you were here.”

“I will be, baby. I’m going to try for the early flight if I can get Jamar settled. I’m already packed.”

“It’s...peaceful here. The moon is out and there’s a nice breeze.”

“Where are you?”

“On the balcony of my bedroom.”

Andrea made a strangled noise. “It’s romantic, isn’t it?”

Miranda laughed, low in her chest. “Actually, it makes me want to straddle you while you fuck me with a strap-on, Andrea.”

“God damnit, please...please don’t drive me insane.”

“The morning is the best, just before sunrise. It’s still relatively cool, the ocean breeze sweeping into the room. I think of you and I on the bed, naked and entwined.” Miranda exhaled in a long hum as she imagined it. “Do you know I love it when you lose yourself in me? When you are so determined to take what’s yours?”

“Miranda.” Andrea growled.

“What’s the matter, cub? Not strong enough to take it, hm?”

“Be very careful, Priestly.”

Miranda laughed softly. “Oh, I do so enjoy getting you riled up, my love.”

“Hopefully you'll be able to keep up."

Chapter Text

Running through the terminal with a heavy backpack and carry-on, Andrea’s heart pounded in her chest. Fast approaching her gate, she dodged a group of college kids then nearly slammed into a churlish businessman. Most of the chairs were empty but a loose group of people stood around the counter. Andrea flew past them and stopped on her tip-toes when she reached the line of ticketed boarders. She huffed as she held out her crumpled boarding pass. The gate agent curled her lip but successfully scanned it through the reader. Sweat trickled down her nape and her eardrums kept sync with her heartbeat. Still, she made it.

The flight was full but at least first class offered a little breathing room from her co-travelers. She stowed her bags, one overhead and the other under the seat in front of her then clicked on her seatbelt. Only then did Andrea expel a long, tired sigh. A few people hurried through the aisle, holding their carryon and trying not to hit anyone with it although they weren’t very successful at least not for the guy two rows in front of her. Andrea leaned a bit,  her elbow on the console between the seats to avoid being hit.

“Well, hello there. The name’s Kevin.”

“Andrea.” she murmured then dug through the front compartment of her backpack to retrieve a pair of earbuds.

“So, do you fly often, Andrea?”

Saved by the flight attendant’s onboard announcement, she readied her phone.

“Not much of a talker, are you?”

A false note in his voice alerted her. “I’m just really tired.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.” He exhaled loudly.

Andrea settled in, mindful of where she placed her arms and trying not to tweak Kevin’s attention. She could only hope the flight attendant inspired him more.

Soon enough they were rumbling down the runway, the heavy clunk of retracted wheels signaling take-off. Andrea fisted her hands in her lap and refused to look out the oval shaped windows. The sounds and shaking, as if the plane was breaking apart, never ceased to stretch her nerves to the point of snapping. The cabin pressurized, doing something weird to her hearing until they leveled out and she popped her jaw.

The flight attendant squatted in the aisle by Andrea, smiling and looking directly into her eyes. It was a tad weird, the overboard eye contact and maniacal grinning, but Andrea shoved it off. She knuckled out the gritty sensation in her eyes then smoothed the skin underneath them.

“Can I get you something to drink, Miss Sachs?”

Andrea sat up straighter. Remembering her name was a nice touch, rare in her experience on airplanes. She knew they had a print-out of First Class passengers, handed over by the gate agent before take-off. Still, she wasn’t a celebrity.

“Uh, no thanks.”

The attendant stood but leaned over slightly to address Kevin.

Andrea pressed back in her seat when the woman’s chest almost hit her.

“Anything for you, sir?”

“A seven-and-seven.”

She put in her earbuds, reclined the seat and listened to an instrumental playlist.

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Kevin, immediately behind her as they disembark, tried to make another play but she demurred and hurried up the jetway, excitement filling her. The crowd of people formed an impenetrable wall. Andrea stopped and scanned the crowd for familiar white hair and fashionable style. When the crowd thinned, she saw Miranda lounging against a pillar and smirking, dressed in navy pants with a crisp white sleeveless blouse. She looked so relaxed and lovely that Andrea didn’t immediately go to her. Passersby darted through the space between them but Miranda’s blue eyes held hers anyway. Andrea’s lips curved. Miranda slowly licked her bottom lip, gaze lowering down Andrea’s body like the stroke of her fingers.

Andrea headed her way, hoisting her backpack up on one shoulder and pulling the small suitcase. Coming to a stop a foot away, Andrea dropped her backpack.

“Hello, Andrea.”

“Miranda.” she breathed then placed her hands on Miranda’s semi-bare shoulders.

The heat from her skin, the silky texture of it, was too enticing. Andrea closed the gap, sliding her palms across the sharp slopes of her shoulder blades underneath the blouse. She inhaled the spicy perfume behind her ears Miranda tended to wear. Andrea’s body sank into Miranda’s as she sighed and lightly kissed her on the cheek. Their bodies fit snuggly, reacquainting themselves with curves and angles. Andrea didn’t want to move.

Miranda whispered in her ear, “I am so glad you’re here.” Then pressed a kiss to her jaw before releasing her.

“Me, too.” Andrea replied then smiled, picking up her backpack.

Miranda grasped the handle of Andrea’s carry-on.

“Did you check anything?”

“Nope.”

They started toward the exit.

“Did you pack enough?” Miranda asked.

“I don’t plan on wearing much.”

“Mmm. Lucky me.” Miranda gestured toward the right and led Andrea through a set of automatic doors. “Fen wanted to come and the girls, too, but I thought it best to keep them home since they’ve tired themselves out.”

“Yes, but as soon as we open the door...”

Miranda pressed the fob she pulled out of her pocket, unlocking the doors to a huge Suburban.

“I’m thinking of buying one.” Miranda said idly as she lifted Andrea’s luggage and put it in the back.

“It’s big enough to have sex in.” Andrea said, keeping her voice low and looking at Miranda suggestively.

Eyebrows rose, arching over deep blue eyes. A hint of a smile softened Miranda’s lips. “I do believe you’re right, darling.”

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Holding hands on the way back, Andrea leaned back in her seat and turned her head to lazily admire Miranda’s strong profile. Muted dash-lights emitted a bluish-white color, giving Miranda’s face a wraith-like quality.

“You’re staring.”

Shifting toward Miranda, Andrea simply agreed with a quiet hum.

“It looks good on you. The bracelet.”

Andrea grinned. “Yeah it does.” She held out her wrist, laughing when the light made the diamonds sparkle. “I’m still afraid I’ll lose it.”

“Jewelry is meant to be worn.”

Snagged by a certain gleam in Miranda’s eyes, Andrea narrowed her eyes. Miranda smirked then looked at the road.

“Mmm, I think you get a little charge out of seeing me in things you’ve picked out for me.”

“You make me sound like a possessive neanderthal.”

Andrea couldn’t help the deep and indecent sound that crawled out of her throat. “I do enjoy when you possess me.”

“You’re impossible.”

Squeezing Miranda’s hand, Andrea hurled back, “I do the impossible.”

Miranda laughed quietly then asked, “What of Jamar?”

“He’s fighting with his muse.” Andrea plucked at the crease in her jeans. “She’s unimpressed with his collection for the shoot next week which made him second guess his ‘vision’.”

“But it’s bold. His color palette shows such a wonderful progression.”

“I know, right?” Sighing, she shifted in her seat and put the side of her knee on the cushion. “I cleared most of my day and spent it with him.”

“Was his muse present?”

“I insisted.”

“And?” Miranda quickly glanced at her.

“She finally agreed that most of the pieces were ‘presentable’. I took them home with me.”

Narrowing her eyes, Miranda asked, “What ensembles did he decline to feature?”

“The long-sleeved off-the shoulder sweater dress, the tunic and the flared pants.”

Miranda made a tsking noise. “That leaves Runway with only five. Hardly enough for a feature spread, Andrea.”

“That’s why he’s agreed to have six more outfits by Monday.”

“Let’s hope they’re good.”

“We just need three. I like our odds.”

Drumming her nails on the steering wheel and sucking in her cheek, Miranda stared straight ahead then abruptly looked at Andrea.

“How did you convince your mother you’re not ‘gay’?”

The question, while anticipated at some point, still succeeded in surprising Andrea. Slowly Miranda separated their clasped hands and gripped the steering wheel.

Her stomach tightened like a coiled, wet towel. She scratched her thigh, looking down at her bare nails against the dark fabric.

“Andrea.” Miranda’s voice, although as soft as ever, delivered a hard, uncompromising note.

Shielded by her hair, she took a minute. There was no help for it. Andrea lifted her head and looked at Miranda.

“I lied. To my mother.”

“What was your lie?”

Andrea curled her fingers into fists, resting them against the tops of her thighs. “I told her of course I wasn’t a lesbian but she deserved the mind-fuck because she pushed me so hard about my cheating husband. I went on the offensive and...” Breathing through a shallow wave of tears that rushed to her eyes only to begrudgingly recede, Andrea rubbed her forehead. “...said horrible...things about lesbians. I threw every gay person under the bus, including myself.”

Miranda extended her hand and Andrea gratefully took it. “You did what you had to, my love. When you’re divorced and editor of Runway, we will have the biggest, gayest coming out party New York has ever seen.”

Andrea snorted a laugh which was painful but well worth it, knowing Miranda stood by her. Gradually Andrea’s shoulders curbed forward. She entwined her fingers with Miranda’s.

“I think I’m going to lose my mother.”

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Three little girls scared Miranda Andrea as they stood in the dark foyer after closing the door behind them. Andrea laughed, gathering up Fen in her arms and covering her with kisses.

“Andy, we surfed with our boogieboards.” Cassidy exclaimed, holding onto her mother’s hand as she tugged Miranda forward.

“Just a minute, bobbsies.” Miranda said as she flicked on the lights.

“Well, now everyone’s up.” Cara mock-grumbled, turning on the hallway light.

“It’s a little after ten.” Miranda scoffed.

“Can we go in the kitchen? I’m starving.” Andrea asked, Fen on her hip and Caroline by her side. “So, boogieboards, huh? Can I try?”

“Sure. I’m not very good at it yet.” Caroline’s long eyelashes swept down then she peeked upward. “But I’ll show you what I know.”

Andrea leaned toward her and whispered, “I can’t wait. Thanks, Ro.”

Everyone headed into the kitchen but Cara was the one to take charge.

“Who’s hungry?”

The twins raised their hands, spouting their preferences with competitive vigor but Cara reined them in by stating, “We’re having a frittata.”

Andrea instructed the girls on setting the table, handing over Fen to Miranda who set up Fen’s booster chair while she pointed out to Fen the names for things in French.

Andrea withdrew to a corner of the kitchen, observing as unobtrusively as possible. Fen was accepted, riding Miranda’s hip and speaking French. Cassidy dodged her mother but patted Fen’s leg as she passed. Caroline helped Cara, getting items out of the refrigerator and handing them over. Cara cooed something sweet sounding to Fen, obviously crushing on the toddler. The acceptance, given freely, meant so much to Andrea. The possibility of co-raising her child in such an environment blossomed in her chest.

“Hey, mom, where do you want me to put Andy’s stuff?” Cassidy called out as she wheeled in the carryon.

The adults in the room stopped moving and talking. Andrea and Miranda shared a look then included Cara but no one offered an answer.

“Um, in a guest room?” Andrea squeaked, frowning at Cara in helplessness.

“Here, I’ll take care of it.” Cara abruptly answered then closed the oven door. “Dinner will be ready in fifteen minutes or so.”

Abandoning the luggage, Cassidy rushed toward her sister. “Let’s show Fen the pool.”

Miranda called out, “No, Cassidy. Fen doesn’t know how to swim yet. Wait until an adult can accompany you.”

“Okay.” Cassidy replied, then grinned. “Can we go upstairs and play?”

While Cara grabbed the carryon, Miranda replied, “Yes, bobbsies, but come down when we call you for dinner, yes?”

“I don’t know why I didn’t think...”

“Andrea.” Miranda said, smiling as she walked across the room, stood in front of her then held her hand. “They haven’t started asking any questions although I’m certain Caroline is the more curious of the two. I’ll deal with it when it happens.”

A loud thumping down the stairs was a warning. Miranda let go of Andrea’s hand and stepped back. Lifting an eyebrow, she said, “Really, Cara, I’m not going to ravish her on the kitchen floor.”

Cara snorted in mild annoyance. “Let me tell you, the way you two look at each other isn’t subtle.”

Andrea turned red, not meeting anyone’s gaze as she scratched the side of her bicep.

“Let me show you the house, Andrea.” Miranda suggested and leveled a glare at Cara who had already turned away.

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“This is a little bit more than a ‘small house’.”

Finally she had Andrea to herself, sitting on deck chairs in front of the fire pit and having a glass of wine. Tucked in one large bed, the girls were asleep. Cara had retired to the other bedroom on the first floor but kept the door opened in case one of the children needed something.

“Yes, well, it was only a plot of land years ago, a small investment before development.” Miranda set down the wine glass on the small table between them.

The fire light softened Andrea’s features making her look so much younger. When the breeze changed direction, brown hair fluttered momentarily before settling back down.  Andrea tucked it behind her ears and smiled.

“Cara’s made up the other guest room. It’s across the hall from mine.” Miranda paused, started to say something then stopped.

Andrea twisted in the lounger to face her, propping herself on an elbow. “I can go back to my room before everyone wakes up, baby.”

With vague annoyance, she huffed, “You make it sound so clandestine.”

Chuckling a little, Andrea took a sip from her wine. “Needs must, right?” She grew still, looking into the distance.

“Andrea?”

She set down the wine, the glass clinking next to Miranda’s. “I know it’s what we have to do right now. I’m glad-no, grateful for every moment we spend together.”

“But?”

“I’m really not looking forward to our separation.” Andrea’s voice lowered. “How am I going to be able to pull this off? You heard Cara...”

Miranda rose up then perched on the edge of Andrea’s lounge chair and placed her palm on Andrea’s smooth knee.

“It’s the only way right now. I wasn’t going to tell you, not until afterward, but I’m meeting with a judge on Monday.”

“You’re not going to bribe him, are you?” Andrea asked nervously, grabbing Miranda’s hand.

“What? No, of course not. Before she was appointed, she was a lawyer for a child’s advocacy group that I’ve donated to over the years.”

Andrea arched her eyebrows. “What’s your plan then?”

“To fast-track your divorce.”

“And how are you going to do that, Miranda?”

Rolling her eyes, she answered, “Why, appeal to her sympathetic nature, of course.”

The beginnings of an amused grin lifted one corner of Andrea’s mouth. “And why would she be sympathetic?”

Miranda lightly scratched the back of her neck. “Her divorce made both of mine look like fairy tales.”

“Stephen wasn’t a picnic but your first one...”

“Was very dramatic and public. Now that he’s no longer in the public eye, unless there’s an eighties revival or Where Are They Now? show, he’s calm down considerably. It does help he’s otherwise occupied with hiking all over the world.” Miranda exhaled in a short indignant rush, replacing her hand on Andrea’s knee. “He’s indicated a desire to take the twins on hiking expeditions when they’re older.”

“Nate used to say he wanted to teach Fen how to cook.” Andrea bit her bottom lip. “I don’t know what he thinks anymore.”

“When was the last time you talked to him?”

“Right before I left for the airport. I almost didn’t make the flight because he...” Andrea rubbed her eyes, swallowed, then looked into Miranda’s eyes. “One minute he wants to speak to Fen and the next...it’s like he’s two people. I don’t know how to explain it.”

“You don’t have to.” Miranda lightly presses her fingertips around Andrea’s knee. “What you’re going through isn’t easy. You share a child and you were with him for a long time.”

Andrea sat up, one hand pushing her fingers through Miranda’s forelock. “I don’t think he really believed I would leave.” She closed the distance, arms going around Miranda’s shoulders and they embraced. “I wish we’d gotten divorced the first time he cheated then maybe you and I...”

“I’d still be the editor and you the Fashion Director but...it’s a technicality that you don’t report directly to me. It’s enough of one I’ll be able to make a case if the board decides to terminate my contract. Well, that, and...other things.”

Andrea’s nose bumped Miranda just below her ear then her lips followed, “It’s hard for me to...think when you’re so close, baby.”

Miranda’s hand slid down the inside of Andrea’s thigh, fingers coming to a stop at the edge of her panties.

“I have this fantasy.” Miranda whispered into Andrea’s ear, hand not moving but fingers actively brushing back and forth.

Andrea rubbed the side of her jaw along Miranda’s cheek. Her legs opened wider.

“Your hair is down and you’re wearing this white, gossamer long-sleeved button-up that’s half-opened. The breeze nearly blows it off your shoulders. I can see the shape of your breasts. Your nipples are hard and, god, you look so beautiful with the sun setting behind you.”

Andrea’s body trembled and her arms tightened around Miranda. “Go on.” she said thickly.

“You’re walking toward me.” Miranda’s fingers spread wide. Andrea moaned. “With that smile that’s only mine.”

Andrea skimmed her parted lips across Miranda’s temple and used the tip of her tongue to leave a trail to her ear. She sucked the lobe then whispered, “Only yours.”

“Andrea.” Miranda pulled back and looked into her eyes. “I’m going to make you so happy.”

“Jesus christ.” she husked and shoved her hips forward, chasing after her lover’s fingers. “Okay, okay, make me happy upstairs.”

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They made it as far as the carpet in front of the opened balcony door. Andrea braced a palm against the metal edge of it, the curtain billowing then falling back over her bare breasts. She arched her spine, pressing her other hand against the back of Miranda’s head.

“Ooooh.” Andrea moaned, her entire body aflame.

Miranda teased her, using her tongue and circling her fingers but never going deeper.

“Let me feel you...inside of me.” Eyes squeezed shut, she pulled up her own legs and grabbed her knees, offering herself in a wanton plea.

In spite of Andrea’s begging, Miranda continued to drive her higher. Feathery touches, constant with the same pressure, turned into firmer ones then backed off.

“God damnit, you’re driving me crazy.” Andrea gasped out.

Her body writhed, skin rubbing against carpet fibers. Sweat dotted her stomach and made it difficult to maintain the hold on her knees. A wave of euphoria suffused Andrea as her cunt wept and pulsated. Beyond words, throat muscles tight, she looked down at Miranda. The shock of white hair in the moonlight pierced Andrea’s heart. She was on the brink of orgasm and then Miranda moved her fingers slowly into Andrea. In and out, the long strokes teased the front of her cervix. Her vaginal muscles contracted around Miranda’s fingers. The strokes shortened and came faster, relentlessly pushing into her body.

Out of control, Andrea let go of her knees and dug her nails into Miranda’s shoulder muscles. Ocean air inflated her lungs as she inhaled. No longer capable of even the weakest of sighs, she rode the wave. When Miranda’s knuckles nudged past Andrea’s labia, stretching and filling her, Andrea’s pleasure broke against the shore.

Chapter Text

With exaggerated patience, the twins explained the concept of the ‘boogie board’ but Andrea played dumb for the entertainment it gave her. Caroline’s serious demeanor never wavered but her sister threw her hands up in the air and declared Andrea unteachable. She joined her mother and Fen as they walked along the beach.

“Don’t be scared.” Caroline said, holding Andrea’s hand, her expression earnest.

Andrea squatted down to the little girl’s level. “I’ll try not to be.”

“Good. Now, just try, okay? I will run next you the whole way, I promise.”

“Caroline Priestly, you are such a wonderful little person.” Andrea hugged her. “Do you know that?”

Hesitantly, little hands scudded across her shoulders then came to rest on her cheeks.

“Yes. Now, let’s do this, Andy.”

As instructed, she threw the board down when the shallow wave rushed up the shore, then quickly hopped onto it and laughed. No stranger to boogieboarding, Andrea skimmed across the receding wave with her hands in the air.

Caroline ran up to her, arms akimbo, yelling, “You did it! You did it!”

Andrea picked up the board then turned and caught her one-handed, swinging her around in a circle.

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“If you keep looking at me like that...” Miranda breathed against Andrea’s neck, then bit it gently. “I’m going to fuck you up against this wall.”

The moan exiting her mouth fell on Miranda’s cheek. “God, do it.”

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” Miranda purred into her mouth as she lightly rubbed the seam of Andrea’s shorts. “You want me to take you, don’t you? Push my fingers inside you, hmm?”

“God damn it.” Andrea’s faint curse lacked bite.

Miranda slipped away, her suggestive laughter trailing behind her.

The feral urge to yank Miranda back and demand satisfaction rolled through Andrea’s body. Miranda knew exactly how to get to her.

“I’m going to make you regret walking away!”

Miranda paused at the bathroom doorway, blue eyes icy-hot. “Then by all means, cub, come join me in the shower.”

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Andrea and the girls played a road game, picking out the alphabet from license plates and road signs then calling out the letters. Miranda drove, casually draping a wrist over the upper arc of the steering wheel, the other hand in her lap. Hair tousled, she still represented New York chic with a pattern knot jersey and Andrea adored it. Every so often her eyes strayed to Miranda. She remembered the shower sex, knew the marks she left on Miranda’s pale skin hidden by material that rippled in a gentle breeze. It was heady and inexplicably exciting to know this woman was hers.

“H!” Caroline called out.

Right behind her Cassidy exclaimed, “I,J, K!”

Fen sang out, “L-M-N-O-Peeee!”

The game abandoned, the girls started singing the alphabet which turned into the twins singing the song they made up for Fen. Andrea looked at Miranda. As if sensing Andrea’s eyes, Miranda glanced at her and smiled knowingly.

In that moment, Andrea fought not to reach across the console and kiss Miranda. Nate had been content to exist in the shallow waters with her but Miranda dove deeper, synching with Andrea in an elemental way. Yeah, the sex was incredible but, in time, that connection would most likely experience ups and downs. Andrea looked out the window, not really seeing the scenery. Her love for Miranda, well, it would follow her to the grave no matter what happened to them in between.

“Mom, are we there yet?” Cassidy yelled above the singing.

Andrea twisted in her seat, stretching as far as the seat belt allowed, to address the children.

“Hold on, you guys. I can’t hear what Sid said.”

Fen instructed loudly, “Shhhhh. Mummers talking.”

“I just wanted to know how much longer.” Cassidy explained, smiling a bit bashfully.

The cab of the car was finally quiet, a fact Andrea appreciated. She glanced at Miranda.

“About ten minutes.” Miranda checked the side mirror before turning on the blinker. “Caroline, tell everyone the rules.”

“Never wander off.” She patted Fen’s leg, looking at her somberly. “Always be close enough to hold hands and stay with the adults.”

Maman, m’emmène?

Oui, je le fera, mon chou.”

Andrea raised her eyebrows at Miranda.

“She wants to go with me and I told her yes.”

“I see.” Andrea replied, lowering her eyes and taking her time admiring the line of Miranda’s throat, the stubborn tilt of her chin and the almost arrogant curve of her red lips.

It was intriguing how the curvature of Miranda’s mouth could be shaped with hard lines yet convey such tenderness when touching Andrea’s skin. A small tingle skirted down her spine. Whether Miranda was mad or happy, Andrea was engaged. For the most part, Nate had been one dimensional although she conceded Lily’s experience with her ex-husband could be different.

“We’re here. Andrea?” Miranda’s small smile was hesitant.

“Oh, sorry, I was just thinking.”

The girls started calling out what flea market’s had, if there were rides, and could they get a pony.

Andrea dug into her pocket and withdrew a ten dollar bill when they stopped at parking booth then handed it to Miranda. Once parked, Andrea got the stroller from the back of the vehicle while Miranda watched the girls who teetered on hyperactive after being couped up in the car for almost an hour. Andrea took Miranda’s purse and placed it in a zippered compartment in the stroller but she kept her own license and money in her front pocket.

The stroller easily handled the uneven surface of the sandy graveled lot as they headed for the entrance behind a family of four. Overhead, the sun hung in the east, not quite at half-blaze and there was a light breeze gently sweeping through the tree-sheltered acreage that the flea market occupied. Andrea inhaled with appreciation. Such a pleasant change from the urban beat of their lives in New York, the vibe of the small Florida town soothed her in a way city life never did.  

Miranda’s shoulder brushed against hers. The twins held hands with Fen a little in front of them. There was only one more thing which would make her contentment complete.

“You seem preoccupied, darling.”

Shrugging, she whispered, “I wish we could hold hands.”

Miranda nodded, looking at the girls as she said, “Once everything’s settled, I will hold your hand in front of the world every day.”

Andrea noticed the tightness around Miranda’s mouth, how her chin angled slightly downward and her shoulders looked ready to tackle someone. Touched, she rubbed the band of muscle hugging one side of Miranda’s spine.

“And what about kisses? Will the world see those, too, every day?”

 The spark in Miranda’s deep blue eyes contrasted with the downturn of her lips and, naturally, Andrea wanted to kiss the sadness off her face. No matter the circumstances, there was always an element of heat between them but what rose to the forefront had more to do with the fierce love Andrea felt for Miranda.

“Yes, should that be your wish.”

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Instead of filled by Fen, the stroller carried the various things they bought. Cassidy’s mouth was ringed with red from the snow cone she mostly consumed. Her sister, much more fastidious, simply sported a blue tongue. Fen shared Miranda’s strawberry and cream swirl, holding a small spoonful up to her mouth which occasionally landed on Fen’s shirt or Miranda’s. Andrea smiled and handed over some wet naps to everyone.

“Mom, can we get a kite? Please?” Caroline asked, tugging on the side of Miranda’s loose cotton and linen trousers which were rolled up above the ankle.

Andrea followed the direction Caroline indicated, an uncovered site along the tree line next to a pavilion.

“I wanna go, maman!”

Miranda told the girls to hold Fen’s hand and walk slightly ahead of her and Andrea.

But Andrea hung back, realizing what her daughter called Miranda.

“She called you ‘mommy’, didn’t she?”

Pushing her sunglasses up, she squinted as Miranda said, “You didn’t say anything this morning so I thought you were fine with it.”

“It’s okay, really. I guess it didn’t register then.” A tiny bubble of happiness grew in her chest.

Miranda put her hands in her pockets, looking at the ground as they walked. “It’s what the twins call me when they’re speaking French. To be honest, Andrea, it made me very happy, but I understand if...”

“Have the girls heard her call you that?”

“Yes, in the car when we arrived. Cassidy asked to go to the beach and Fen said she did too then called me maman. I suppose Cara heard it, too, but no one said anything about it.”

They stood off to the side, close to the girls who were looking at the kites. Andrea restrained herself from pulling Miranda into a hug. She looked so uncertain.

Leaning in and tilting her head to the side, Andrea murmured slyly, “Or our children can call you...daddy?”

Miranda scowled as her face flushed pink.

Andrea schooled her expression into something she hoped mirrored innocence. In a low voice, she taunted, “Don’t you want to get me pregnant?”

“You—"

Delighted by her ability to flabbergast Miranda,  Andrea grinned then squeezed her forearm.

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The sun was descending in the late afternoon by the time they returned home. Miranda brought in the things from the car to the house while Andrea put Fen down for a nap. As she smoothed back Fen’s hair, she heard the twins calling out for Cara, their sandals slapping against the wood floor. A quiet contentment filled her. Fen puffed out some air then wrinkled her nose. Andrea bit her lip and tucked the covers around her daughter, knowing they would be kicked off at some point.

What would it be like to have a child with Miranda, she wondered. The idea of carrying Miranda’s fertilized egg slid up front in her consciousness as if on cue. Unable to deny it gave her a deep nurturing thrill, nevertheless, they weren’t ready. But, feeling wicked, Andrea smiled as she remembered the look on Miranda’s face when she goaded her about being called daddy. She smoothed down the blanket over Fen’s hip and down the side of her leg, then gave into fantasy of Miranda penetrating her, filling her. Instantly her body reacted but the excitement and wantonness were driven by a non-sexual need. She wanted to mate. The idea of Miranda impregnating her was as conflicting as it was visceral.

“What are you thinking about?” Miranda whispered.

Andrea jerked back, looking over her shoulder. Gently Miranda sat down on the bed behind her. Embarrassed by her thoughts, she ducked her head and tried to think of an answer.

A palm pressed between Andrea’s shoulder blades then she felt Miranda shift. Firm fingers massaged her trapezius muscles.

“You looked so...I don’t know.” she whispered reverently, her lips skimming the shell of Andrea’s ear. “Tell me, darling.”

“I, uh...” Swallowing past the small lump in her throat, she kept thinking how to phrase what she had been thinking. “I love you so much.” Andrea twisted a little to stare into Miranda’s eyes. “When we’re being intimate, I feel...I want...sometimes it’s overwhelming. It’s not sexual or maybe...I dunno.”

The corners of Miranda’s mouth twitched.

Andrea glared at her.

“Whatever it is you’re trying to say, my love, stop editing it and say it.”

“Sometimes I wish you could get me...pregnant.” Andrea stared at her own hands. “Sometimes I want to feel you so deep inside of me that the thought of carrying your child makes me want to take you in, take all of you in.”

Miranda grabbed Andrea’s waist and pulled her close. She licked the side of her neck then fastened her lips on Andrea’s earlobe.

“I sometimes have the same thoughts of you, Andrea.”

The heated breath pluming down her neck made her back slowly bow. Andrea turned her head toward Miranda whose hands slid from her shoulders to her elbows.

In answer, Andrea let out a high-pitched moan.

Palming Andrea’s breasts, she whispered, “I’m open to exploration.”

Fen rolled over in her sleep and pushed the blanket off her shoulders.

Abruptly standing up, Miranda rubbed her forehead and quietly muttered, “I can’t believe I...”

Andrea joined her a few feet away from the bed then cupped Miranda’s face between her hands. “Easy.” she whispered. “Fen’s asleep. It’s okay. I need this time with you, too, okay?”

Blue eyes flared but Miranda remained physically aloof. “I’m going to talk to Cara about dinner. But tonight...” Snatching the waistband of Andrea’s shorts, Miranda tugged her close. “Tonight I’m going to own you.”

Andrea nudged her hips forward in invitation. “You’re welcome to try.”

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Cara made tacos, chicken and ground beef, for dinner. She had spent the day on the beach then the pool, her tanned skin even darker, and mood vastly improved. Andrea looked over her shoulder to make sure they were alone in the kitchen.

“Cara, are you angry at Miranda?”

The abrupt way the woman set down the plate onto the counter didn’t make a loud noise. It was the fact that Cara hadn’t finished putting together Caroline’s chicken tacos that confirmed Andrea’s suspicion.

“I’m not angry. Not really.” Facing her, Cara rubbed the side of her nose and looked somewhere over Andrea’s shoulder. “I’m...worried.”

“About?”

Cara, crossing her arms, leaned against the counter as she calmly regarded Andrea. “When Miranda dated Stephen, it was like a business decision. Same thing with the marriage and divorce. The last guy was a strategic maneuver, you know, to gain some contacts on the sly. But you...” Cara pointed her finger in emphasis at Andrea. “...you have the keys to the vault.”

“You’re want to know my ‘endgame’?”

Scowling, she sputtered, “What-no. Miranda’s no fool. That’s not what I’m gettin’ at.”

Andrea pulled in her anger but she frowned at Cara, drumming her nails on the countertop as she waited for the woman to continue.

“You’re her blind spot, Andrea. I worry she’s not protecting herself from the possibility of you two being outed before the divorce is final.”

The idea of resigning dangled in front of her mind’s eye. Miranda’s job and legacy would be safe and she could always go back to Vogue or another fashion publication. Talking to Anna would likely yield the answers to a few very important questions about Andrea’s future in the business but...Miranda asked Andrea to trust her.

“She knows what she’s doing, Cara.”

“Does she? She’d sacrifice herself for you. You’ve gotta know that.”

“How long have you worked for Miranda?” Andrea ground out, standing tall with her hands by her sides.

“Since the twins were born.”

“Then you know when Miranda asks you to trust her...you do.”

Cara’s surprised expression hung for a second or two then her facial muscles tightened and she nodded.

“Okay. Good. No worries then.”

She looked at Cara who looked right back at her.

“But we’re still gonna protect her?”

“Hell yeah, we are.” Andrea intoned.

Cara held up her fist and Andrea bumped it with her own.

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Andrea trailed after Miranda as she took a seat by the firepit on the ground deck. After dinner they played a few card games with the children then watched a movie. Fen had been the first to conk out but the twins weren’t far behind. Cara rustled the girls into bed, giving Miranda and Andrea some more time alone.

Holding up a slip of paper between two fingers, Miranda arched a brow at Andrea, a sly smile just lifting her lips.

“Let me see.” Andrea said, grabbing for it.

Miranda extended her hand to put it well within Andrea’s reach.

Grinning, she eagerly slanted the piece of paper toward the firepit and recognized her own handwriting.

A walk somewhere outside.

Underneath the sentence Miranda had penned holding hands.

The smile forming on her lips stretched them tightly. She rose, carefully tucking the silly Valentine’s gift ‘coupon’ into the front pocket of her shorts. Already barefoot and standing by the stairs leading to the beach, Miranda held out her hand. Although she didn’t smile, Andrea nevertheless saw it in her soft gaze.

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While Cara took the children down to the beach for one last frolic in the shallow waves, Andrea set out clothes for Fen then started packing up her daughter’s things. Despite having her back to the door, she felt Miranda enter and smiled at the tiny shirt she just folded. A faint cloud of Miranda’s scent and skin product enveloped Andrea as Miranda slowly wrapped two arms around her waist from behind.

Placing a soft, moist kiss against her neck, she pulled Andrea closer.

“Don’t start something.” Andrea huffed, only half-kidding.

“I’d like to finish something that hasn’t stopped since we were separated last night by your demon spawn.”

Andrea laughed under her breath. “I tried to warn you.”

“She has a stuffed sloth. I thought she saw the movie, Andrea.”

“Nope. One visit to the zoo and she was hooked on sloths.”

Miranda squeezed her then nuzzled her neck.

Goosebumps broke out on Andrea’s arms as balmy air caressed her skin and wet lips plucked it with maddening gentleness.

“Ahh.” Miranda’s low chuckle vibrated against Andrea’s sensitive back. “You’re so ready for me, aren’t you?”

As if to underscore her point, Miranda lightly pinched one of the hard tips of Andrea’s breasts that shown through the thin t-shirt.

Andrea’s body slackened. The wet excitement between her legs hadn’t gone away entirely from the day before. She inhaled and tamped down the spike.

“I never thought Ice Age could give a child nightmares about not being able to save her stuffed sloth from dinosaurs.”

Miranda’s palms slid up Andrea’s stomach underneath the t-shirt.  She pushed out her chests, dropping the folded shirt as she steadied her hands against Miranda’s thighs behind her. It was in vain because Miranda dropped her hands just shy of  touching her breasts. She took a few steps away.

“You get back here and finish.” Andrea snapped, gaze narrowing as she turned around.

“Now isn’t the time.” Miranda teased and took another step backward, looking so pleased with herself that Andrea clenched her jaw.

“You are evil.”

Hand on the doorjamb, she looked back and replied, “I need you on edge for what I have in mind when we get back to New York.”

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 Luggage ready by the door, everyone had lunch out on the lower deck. Fen wore a floppy hat to protect her face from the sun until it kept obscuring her eyes. With a frustrated huff, she pulled it off. Caroline switched seats with her so Fen would be in the shade next to Miranda. Cassidy and Fen were giggling, showing their chewed food and making faces at one another. Andrea turned a blind eye for a little longer. The trip had been so lovely, she determined to incorporate more such vacations into their schedules. Her daughter was so happy, cared for by the entire Priestly household. Last night Andrea, watching from the shadows, flushed with warmth as Cara fed Fen a tiny dollop of whipped cream then kissed the toddler’s nose, obviously a secret between the two of them when Cara held her finger up to her lips.

In spite of an extreme case of sexual frustration, a result from her daughter’s innocent sabotage by crawling into her mother’s bed last night, Andrea felt relaxed and content. The beach home was idyllic, the perfect place to unwind and spend time with the girls. Sad to be leaving, Andrea decided to talk to Miranda about returning in the summer.

“Andrea,  your phone is vibrating.” Cara announced as she came from the house, holding up the device. “It was on the kitchen counter.”

“Oh, thanks.” she said, smiling then opening the text message from Demetria.

“Is something wrong?” Miranda asked.

Andrea couldn’t look up. She scratched the side of her jaw as if trying to puzzle out what her reaction should be.

“Andrea.”

The stern pronunciation of her name did the trick. She met Miranda’s concerned gaze and shrugged. Glancing at the phone she said, “Demetria sent me a text.”

And?”

She swallowed. “I think my parents are waiting in my apartment. Demetria wants me to act surprised.”

Chapter Text

Miranda flicked through a magazine during take-off. Andrea hadn’t spoken much since she received her nanny’s text. She ignored the dragging sensation that pulled at stomach every time she remembered Andrea’s cynical expression. On the return trip, Miranda elected to sit in the back of the plane with her, allowing the children and Cara to occupy the captain’s chairs. Andrea’s fingers flexed on the armrest between them. Miranda casually placed her hand over Andrea’s. She kept her eyes on the magazine resting over her crossed thighs and measured her breathing.

The tight grip Andrea maintained on the armrest eased. Her fingers raised between Miranda’s, not quite entwining. Mindful of keeping the play of their fingers soothing, she flipped a page and kept her eyes lowered.

“The last time my father visited me was after Fen was born.”

Although she didn’t know what was on the page, Miranda acted as if she had a vague interest in it. She didn’t want to spook or corner Andrea. It was best to allow her to reveal her thoughts in her own time.

“Perhaps your mother finally persuaded him to visit again, darling.”

From the corner of her eye, she watched Andrea’s chin lower, how she pulled on a tiny thread from the hem of her distressed denim shorts. Miranda set aside the magazine.

“What do you think this is about?”

Andrea turned her hand then threaded their fingers together. “They’re going to confront me about the gay thing.”

Uncrossing her legs, Miranda let go of Andrea’s hand and flipped the armrest out of the way. Not quite despondent, Andrea nevertheless refused to meet her gaze.

“Are you...worried? Ashamed?”

Andrea’s head snapped up, a fierce light in her brown eyes. “If it comes down to a choice between you or them, you better best believe Fen and I are choosing you and the girls.”

Miranda leaned over and placed her lips on the corner of Andrea’s mouth, and murmured, “I do.”

“She could have also brought Dad along to sway me about the divorce, my job...any number of things she doesn’t approve of. But I think it’s the gay thing.”

“So, what’s the plan?”

In the middle of unclicking the seatbelt, Andrea paused then parted the straps as she shook her head.

“I’ll figure something out.”

Miranda took hold of Andrea’s chin and coolly said, “We will figure something out, darling.”

“This isn’t your fight, Miranda. If I need help, I’ll...”

“Andrea.” Miranda pursed her lips.

“They don’t know about you yet.” Andrea lightly rubbed the side of Miranda’s thigh. “But they will the second you walk in the door with me.”

“I’ll have Cara make arrangements with Roy to pick up Fen and the girls and take them to the townhouse, then you and I will face your parents.”

They don’t know about you.”

“You don’t know that, Andrea. Calm down for a second and just listen to me.” Miranda held Andrea’s hand. “If it is ‘the gay thing’, would they assume I was your girlfriend?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, then, a compromise, my love. I want Fen to stay at the townhouse because she doesn’t need to be around if the discussions deteriorate.” Miranda waited for a sign of acceptance from Andrea. “Do they know we went away together?”

“I didn’t tell them but I don’t know if Demetria volunteered anything.”

While it was obvious she was thinking, Andrea massaged Miranda’s hand like a stress ball, working from the palm outward with methodical purpose. Holding back an appreciative sound, Miranda felt the tension start to dissipate.

“If it’s a regular visit, they’ll want to see Fen.” Andrea glanced at her. “But I’m pretty sure it’s not. So, keep Fen and I’ll get her when it’s over.”

“Agreed.”

Andrea leaned back in the seat, letting go of Miranda’s hand. “My parents are going to jump to conclusions regardless. I might be able stonewall most of it.”

Fisting her hand in her lap, Miranda stared across the narrow aisle and focused on cream colored chaise longue.

“I don’t want you to go through this alone.” she growled.

Andrea moved closer and gently cupped Miranda’s cheek. “I won’t be.”

“Fine, but...I can be by your side in minutes, Andrea.”

Lightly rubbing her thumb over Miranda’s cheekbone, she whispered, “I know.”

XxXxXxXxXxXx

Miranda paced. Watered down scotch in hand, she took four strides there then four strides back. Shoeless, her toes sank into the plush carpet in her bedroom as she passed the window that overlooked the street. She’d been pacing for an hour with no word from Andrea. Staring balefully at the silent phone on the nightstand didn’t stop her from checking it. She loathed having to take a back seat for this confrontation.

Miranda took a deep breath and held it, counting off the seconds until she gradually exhaled. The small release of stress helped. She picked up the phone and went downstairs to be with the children. Derby’s low voice greeted her when she turned down the hallway leading to the kitchen.

“Hello, Miranda.” He said, scratching his salt-and-pepper goatee.

He had the most beautiful smile, arriving like the sunrise.

“Hello, Derby. Cara mentioned you’ll be playing at Blue Note next month. I tried to get tickets but it sold out. I did manage to get some for Smalls in August though.”

“Well, we’ve got a new trumpeter, you know.”

“What happened to Sundro?”

Derby clasped his hands in front of him. “He had to go back to Cambodia and take care of his father.”

“I’m sorry to hear his father’s unwell. I still get tingles remembering when he covered Miles Davis’ ‘So What’. Sundro’s improvisation was so marvelous!”

“It’s an honor to share the stage with him, no doubt. Just goes to show you how good music can bring people together, even from as far as Cambodia.”

Miranda joined in his quiet laughter.

Miles rubbed his shaved head.

“Quite the change you embraced.” she commented, pointing with her chin toward his head. “Cara said you’ve been growing your hair since you were accepted at Berklee. Do you mind if I ask you why you cut it all off?”

Derby laughed, blushing a little. “Headaches and upkeep are no joke. Besides, I wanted a change. It makes me feel...lighter? I mean, not so much physically.” He shrugged then slid his hands in his pockets.

“Well, you’re a handsome man either way, Derby.”

“Stop hittin’ on my man, Priestly.” Cara mock-snarled behind him.

Miranda rolled her eyes. On the brink of uttering a smart-ass comment, her attention was diverted by the alert on her phone.

need u, don’t bring Fen

“I have to go.” Miranda announced and went to the closet by the front door. “The girls...”

“I’m on it.” Cara interrupted, doing something with her phone. “Selah’s available. Derby, stay with the girls and I’ll go get her.”

Miranda was in her coat and out the door when Roy pulled up. She yanked open the back door and slid in.

The thirty-odd minute drive afforded her more than enough time to slow her heartrate and to become Le Priestly. Beyond a bit of moral support, her presence wasn’t required. A woman like Andrea, poised to take control of Runway, was strong, intelligent, resilient, and strategical. Able to adapt on the fly, see and exploit advantages, Andrea didn’t need her. But, she did want Miranda, chose her above all others and that meant everything.

“I may need you later.” she said as they pulled up alongside the curb.

Roy exited the vehicle then opened her door. “I’ll be twenty-minutes away.”

“Well, you’ve earned double-time plus a bonus.”

He shuffled a little which drew Miranda’s attention. Pausing, she looked at his face as he shut the door.

“That’s not necessary.” he stated, shoulders back and eyes forward.

She took a step away then said over her shoulder, “It is to me.”

Buzzed up without a word, Miranda walked to the elevator bay with admirable indifference and pressed the button for Andrea’s floor. Two other people occupied the car with her but she paid little heed to them beyond a cursory once-over. The inanity of their conversation, however, filled the compact space. Miranda clenched her jaw, eyes trained on the electronic display of floor numbers. She stepped between the two women and walked out, hearing a mumbled “Bitch.”

Pleased she looked ‘the part’, Miranda walked down the small corridor on the left then knocked on the last door on the left.

“Thank you for coming.” Andrea breathed, stepping aside. “FYI, I sent Demetria to the townhouse. We’ll be staying the night.”

Miranda nodded, not showing her surprise or delight in Andrea’s decision.

“Well, the gang’s all here.” Nate said, tipping his glass toward Miranda.

Already acquainted with Andrea’s estranged husband, she turned her attention to the deliberate way Andrea undid the buttons on her trench. When their eyes met, Miranda’s eyebrows rose and Andrea winked, fingertips brushing along Miranda’s stomach before sliding it off of her and hanging it on the coat rack.

“I’m Richard and this is my wife, Vivian.”

Andrea’s father was tall and thin with an outrageous amount of thick hair on his head. He carried a preoccupied air like someone in need of a wall. Not many people would engage him, she thought as she nodded then turned toward Andrea’s mother.

The wave of hostility washing over Miranda usually wasn’t released until she opened her mouth, but, she supposed, Andrea’s mother had cause to dislike her despite the silence between them.

“Hello.” Vivian said, keeping her hands at her sides.

Andrea growled something then gently appropriated Miranda’s elbow, steering her to a woman of medium build, large brown eyes, and a slightly protruding stomach.  

“I’m Lily.” she said, holding out her hand in such an awkward way, Miranda almost felt sorry for her.

A nudge from Andrea and she lightly shook the ex-best friend’s hand.

“We’re here to discuss...”

“I don’t understand why she’s here, Andy.” Vivi interjected. “This is a family matter.”

“And she’s my family, mother.” Andrea snapped. “I’m not going to remind you of that again.”

Richard pulled out a chair from the dining room table and gestured to his wife. Nate turned his back on the room, a tinkle of ice hitting glass the telltale indication of his mood which lowered him further in Miranda’s estimation. Andrea showed her to the seat at the head of the table then she sat down at Miranda’s right.

“Where’s my daughter?” Nate asked, his narrow gaze on Miranda as he sat next to Vivian.

From the opposite end of the table, Vivian leveled a hard look at Miranda. The battlelines were clearly marked. Unsurprised she and Andrea lacked allies at the table, she nevertheless didn’t feel outnumbered. Richard was merely punching his timecard in without actually going to work. On his way to a drunken scene, Nate seemed evenly split between self-pity and bitterness. Vivian wanted a fight but when their eyes met across the table, she looked away.

“You know where she is.” Andrea said then casually leaned back in her chair, placing her palm on Miranda’s upper knee.

“Must you...”

“If you don’t like it, mother, feel free to leave.”

Vivian’s upper lip curled. “You’re an adult but Fen’s...”

“Darling, would you mind?” Miranda asked Andrea, leaning toward her and smiling.

Andrea swallowed, eyes round, but managed a jerky nod.

“I’m not listening to this shit.” Nate sneered then knocked back his drink.

Lily reached over and grabbed his hand but he pushed her off, stood up and started making his way toward the front of the table. Miranda stood, placing herself in front of Andrea.

“Do you remember the NDA you and Andrea signed? There’s a clause in it about opinions and slander pertaining to my personal life. If you say one word about Andrea and I...” Miranda sighed, brandishing her most nastiest smile. “...my lawyers will bury you in litigation.”

Lily gasped, the distress on her face nearly tangible. “Nate, please.”

“Well, that certainly doesn’t apply to me or my husband.” Vivi exclaimed, crossing her arms.

Nate’s voice rose in strident anger above everyone else’s. “You can’t take my daughter from me!”

While chaos ensued, Miranda sought Andrea out and took her hand.

“Look at me.” she whispered. “It’s going to be alright.”

Large tears hung in Andrea’s eyes. Nodding, she trembled then looked around.

Lily cried, Richard stood by the window, while Vivian tried to persuade Nate she was on his side.

Closing it out, she gazed into Andrea’s eyes. “You’re holding up wonderfully, my love. Trust me?”

A flicker of a smile crossed Andrea’s face. “You have all of it.”

Miranda pivoted then sidestepped the table, coming to a stop next to Richard.

“They’re rather loud, aren’t they?” she ventured, arms crossed over her chest, looking out the view.

“Yes although Vivi isn’t as loud as she used to be.” He pointed toward the building across the avenue. “I like the architecture over there.”

“A bit more modern than I prefer.” she said.

“Nate hasn’t changed since the first day she brought him home. All bluster. I was surprised when he finished culinary school.”

“Not like Andrea.”

“No, indeed.” He turned away from the window and stared at her. “Andrea knows her own mind Always has. I don’t understand you two but...I don’t have to, do I?”

“No.”

Richard nodded then went back to the window. “I would wish you luck with the man-child but he’s the one that needs it.”

It was the oddest conversation she ever had, leaving her perplexed. Upon first approaching him, Miranda thought to see where he stood as his family unraveled. Hearing Andrea’s firm voice, she glanced over as Andrea tried to maneuver Nate closer to Lily who hadn’t stopped crying.

“I can’t be with someone like that.” Lily sobbed, holding onto Andrea’s wrist. “I can’t raise my baby in that type of atmosphere.”

“Lily, come on, babe, let’s get outta here.” Nate demanded, standing behind her and glaring at Andrea.

Miranda took a deep breath then decided to take matters into her own hands.

She stepped between Nate and Andrea and brought his focus upon her. Andrea murmured something to Lily and the woman stood. Andrea drew her away but Nate tried to follow, the belligerent set of his jaw a warning.

He looked her up then down and back up. The mop of curly black hair looked too young on his mature face.

“You and I should talk.” she stated, keeping her eyes locked with his.

“Fen is his child.” Vivian hissed.

Miranda’s eyebrows rose. “Your attempt at derailing our conversation with your inflammatory stupidity is very shortsighted, Vivian.” With a tilt of her head, she indicated Nate, saying, “It may fool him and perhaps that’s your goal. Regardless, I would like to sit down and talk about your concerns and our plans in a mature manner. ”

Nate glowered but yanked back a chair then plopped down on it. Every bit the spoiled child, he crossed his arms and stretched out his legs. Vivian stiffly took the chair across from him.

“Andrea?”

After a few awkward pats to Lily’s shoulder, Andrea straightened and looked over her shoulder toward Miranda. Her smile didn’t show her pearly whites, nonetheless, it possessed a deeply abiding love. She took a seat next to her mother as Miranda situated herself at the head of the table.

“My mother invited Nate in an attempt to get me to ‘see reason’.” When Vivian opened her mouth, Andrea cut her down with a look. “You don’t get to talk yet, mother.”

Vivi’s face flushed red but her mouth was ringed with white.

“I need a drink.” Nate muttered but didn’t get up.

“If that’s true, Nate, then get out. We have to have this conversation and if it’s too hard for you, then I will gladly raise my child without you.” Andrea coolly instructed, eying him dispassionately.

Something came into view to her left. Miranda’s gaze landed on Vivian’s clenched fist. Slowly she raised her eyes and looked into dark brown. For a second, she felt a peculiar uncertainty percolate underneath her ribs. Andrea’s eyes were so like her mother’s it was a little unsettling to have her mother’s hatred spewing out of them.

No longer slouching, Nate seemed to at least outwardly get a hold of himself. Reminded of Stephen, how he wielded a decanter in one hand and a glass of ice in the other, Miranda pushed the image aside and concentrated on the present.

Expelling a long breath, Nate rubbed his jaw then said, “No, I can handle this.”

“You came here and ambushed me in my own home.” Andrea said, skewering her mother then estranged husband with a hard look. “I can’t even...that’s just so wrong. I love her.” Andrea pointed at Miranda. “I don’t care how you feel about it. We don’t have anything to discuss. What is the whole point of this?”

“I don’t want my only grandchild to be raised by two women. It was bad enough you took Fen away with your...with...” Vivi glanced at Miranda. “...her.”

Lily whimpered. Miranda felt a pang of sympathy but realized Lily’s dealings with the Sachs’ went only as far as Fen’s custody and the divorce. She felt slightly less sympathetic.

“Get out.” Andrea’s hand trembled slightly as she pointed toward the door but her voice was steady.

“Vivi, let’s be on our way.” Richard abruptly spoke as he walked toward the closet and started pulling their coats from hangers. “This is a private matter.”

Shaking, Vivian stood up and placed her palms on the table. Miranda glanced at Andrea and noticed the rigidity of her facial muscles, how a fat tear clung to the outer corner of her eye. Never tempted to hit someone as much as she was at that moment, Miranda glared at Vivian Sachs and thought of ways to demolish the woman.

“I don’t know what this-this woman has done to you.” Vivi speared Miranda with a scathing look. “But all your money isn’t going to keep me from my grandchild.”

“Don’t do this to Andrea.” Miranda cleared her throat, appalled she was on the brink of begging. “She’s your daughter and she loves you.”

“Vivi, let’s go.” Richard ordered, holding out her coat. As his wife slipped it on and started to button up, Richard peered at Andrea from beneath bushy brows then went to her. “I’ll be in touch.”

Andrea’s chest heaved, the watery sound in her constricted nostrils a prelude to tears she didn’t let go. She plucked a tissue from the nearby box. Nate’s attention followed the Sachs’ departure while Miranda watched him then Andrea’s parents. It was a bit shocking to watch Vivian fall in line so completely with a mere word or two uttered in her husband’s calm voice. Miranda looked at Andrea but she didn’t seem unduly concerned about the way her parents interacted.

Andrea blew her nose and sat down.  “I know you got the custody agreement and the visitation proposal, Nate. Have you looked it over?”

“H-h-e hasn’t even o-o-pened it.” Lily answered, pressing a tissue to her eyes.

Miranda forced herself to remain seated, to control the emotional response pounding to get out. Certainly she and Andrea were going to fall apart later but Miranda knew the anger lodged in her stomach was metastasizing. She didn’t need anyone’s blessings nor permission to share her life with Andrea and Fen. If she lost Runway, then so be it, but she didn’t want to be the reason why Andrea lost her family, custody of her child, or her career.

Nate raked his fingers through his unruly hair. “Look, I can’t afford a lawyer right now. You’re gonna raise my child with a woman. She’s mine, Andrea, not hers!”

“I swear to god, Nate. You’re in no position to make any demands.”

“Look, I’m not stupid, okay? I know I can’t take care of Fen full time right now.” He looked pleadingly at Andrea. “But you gotta admit, you hookin’ up with the Devil over here is fucking insane.”

Miranda sat more comfortably in her seat and tried not to gloat.

“You better use her name, Nate.” Andrea tapped her nails on the tabletop, staring her husband down.

The soft deadliness of Andrea’s voice and how her dark eyes held Nate’s with singular purpose had a very seductive influence upon Miranda’s anger. She tamped down on her body’s reaction, somewhat alarmed by it, not sure how to deal with the tendril of wickedness.

Although he rolled his eyes, Nate possessed enough acumen to mutter Miranda’s name with the proper inflection.

“The papers I had my lawyer draw up are fair, Nate. Until you get your...other situation under control then we can renegotiate. Look, I don’t know what my mother said to you to make you guys come out here. I can only guess she hoped you would use my relationship with Miranda against me to get custody.” Andrea took a deep breath. “You slept with my best friend for almost a year. You got her pregnant. My child is going to be around that. You think I’m not concerned? Because I fucking am, Nate. But, Fen needs her father, so, I’m trying to do the right thing here.”

Nate’s expression didn’t bode well. Flushed face, white knuckles and a slightly heaving chest told the story but Miranda watched him reel it in which was rather surprising.

“Nate.” Lily murmured, the plea in her voice soft but audible. She rose from her chair and slowly made her way toward him, not looking at anyone else. Placing her palm on her extended belly, she threaded the fingers of her other hand through his curly locks. “Please.”

He bowed his head, shoulders slumping. “Sure, whatever.”

“Do you have the papers?” Andrea asked.

Lily pushed back Nate’s hair then took his hand and placed it on her baby bump. “They’re in my purse.”

After a few minutes of Nate scanning the custody agreement, he signed all the color tabbed places and initialed others.

“I’m not seeking alimony or child support, Nate, like I told you before. Right now, Fen’s schedule is full during the week but I’ve agreed to one weekend a month to start. I’ll fly with her to Baltimore on Friday afternoon then back on Sunday late morning.”

Nate suddenly looked up from the tri-folded documents. Tears glistened on his long eyelashes. His adam’s apple bobbed a few times as he stared at her.

Lily rubbed his back. His arm went around her thick waist then he stood.

Andrea’s blank expression and the way she held herself as if fully at ease impressed Miranda but she knew the woman beneath it all. She fought down the urge to protect Andrea, or, worse still, take over. In privacy, away from prying eyes, she planned to help piece Andrea back together.

Nate rubbed his face. “Our flight leaves tomorrow. Can I see Fen?”

Miranda gritted her teeth.

“I’m sorry but it’s past her bedtime and she has a long day tomorrow.” Andrea responded, her facial muscles softening. “We can start visitation at the end of this month.”

There was a hard twist to Nate’s mouth as he said, “It’s not like I have a choice.”

Chapter Text

Andrea was in no condition to handle a house full of people. Miranda sent a text to Cara to ‘clear the way’ a few minutes before Roy parked in front of the townhouse. In the back seat, Andrea had rested her forehead against Miranda’s neck the entire ride, sighing heavily. While Roy got the luggage, Andrea marched into the townhouse, up the stairs, and went straight to Miranda’s room. Cara took care of the luggage Roy left at the foot of the stairs and Miranda wearily walked into the kitchen, immediately stopping on the tiled floor.

“How is she?” Derby asked, nursing a ceramic mug at the table.

Stepping out of her shoes, Miranda picked them up then placed them on a small bench chair near the window. She claimed the empty chair across from Selah and Andrea’s nanny.

“Can I get you something, Miss Priestly?” Selah asked, already half-standing.

“Whatever wine’s open in the fridge, thank you.” Miranda pushed back her forelock then looked at Derby. “She’s handling it.”

“Hello, Miranda.” Demetria said then looked down at her drink. “I just want to apologize...”

“There’s no need. It was Mrs. Sachs’ error in judgement. I’m sorry you got caught in the middle but allow me to address that now since you’re here.” Miranda waited for Demetria to look her in the eye. “First, has Andrea shared anything about her situation?”

“No but I willingly signed a NDA and I haven’t talked to anyone about what I’ve seen or heard or anything, Miranda. I only let Mrs. Sachs in because she’s Andrea’s mom and she said...”

Selah set down the glass of white in front of Miranda but said to Demetria, “Calm down, Miss Priestly is cool.”

The young nanny’s gaze flicked to Selah then Derby and finally settled on Miranda. She nodded slightly, licking her bottom lip.

“Thank you, Selah. I do wish you would call me Miranda.” She looked at the quintessential teenager and endured a slight pang in her heart. She was going to miss her once she started at Spelman in the fall. “ And thank you for coming over so quickly. I was under the impression Derby and Cara had plans this evening and I didn’t know Andrea had sent Demetria over until later.” Miranda raised her eyebrows at Derby, waiting.

“Well, Cara just wanted to be here in case you needed her.”

“I set the bags by your bedroom door.” Cara said as she walked into the kitchen and headed straight for the fridge. “I’m finishing the wine. Selah, you want some soda? What about you Dee?”

“I’m good.” Selah answered, retaking her seat.

Demetria smiled. “No thanks.”

“Now that everyone’s here, there are some things you should know.” Miranda put her elbows on the table and leaned a bit forward. “Before I continue, I need your assurances nothing I say will be repeated outside of this room to anyone else.” Once each of them agreed, she continued, “Andrea Sachs and I are in a romantic relationship. She’s in the midst of a divorce and custody battle and she also works for me albeit not directly.”

A small gasp, quickly cut off, escaped from Demetria.

Selah’s eyes widened then she grinned. “My best friend has two dads so I know all about it.”

“That’s good to know, Selah.” Miranda shifted in the chair.  “We haven’t discussed anything with the children, yet. Until certain things are dealt with, Andrea and I cannot go public. We will be going out socially with men, however...”

“Oh, wait, I know this one...” Cara excitedly interrupted, holding onto Derby’s arm and lightly shaking it. “C’mon, remember? The trivia game we played at Amita’s house? When a gay person dates someone of the opposite for show?”

“A beard?” Derby answered, snapping his fingers.

“That’s it!” Cara cried out and hugged him.

Miranda stared at the two of them and slightly raised one eyebrow.

Derby scratched the back of his neck, smiling in apology. Cara rolled her eyes and resumed occupying her chair.

“Yes, well, that was the term employed by Nigel. Andrea and I, starting tomorrow, will not be spending as much time together in public and will be reducing the visits between our respective homes. Things are very delicate right now.”

“I won’t say anything.” Demetria said as she adjusted the shoulder of her Baby Phat pink velour hoodie. “Even if I didn’t sign the NDA.”

Selah hopped off the chair and walked around the table, standing at Miranda’s side. She put her arm around Miranda and said, “I got you.”

Returning the embrace, Miranda replied, “I appreciate that.”

“Well, okay...” Cara stood, continuing, “...everyone’s in agreement. Me and Derby gonna head out. Don’t forget I’m off tomorrow.” To Demetria, she said, “I made up one of the spare room’s for you, if you’d like to stay. Just follow the same routine you do at Andrea’s. Miranda will deal with the twins.”

“Oh, um, okay.”

Cara winked at her. “I put some of my clothes on the bed you can sleep in. Third floor, second room on the right. Laundry’s in the basement if you want to wash your own.”

“Thanks. It was nice meeting you and Derby.”

“C’mon, Selah. We’ll walk you home.” Derby stated.

XxXxXxXxXxXx

After everyone dispersed, Miranda locked up the house and headed up the stairs, shoes in hand. Fen slept on her side, facing Cassidy’s back, with one hand under a curtain of burnished copper hair, Lou the Sloth between them. Caroline, neatly tucked in, already had clothes for school laid out on the foot of her bed. Obviously she was looking forward to getting back into her normal routine.

When she entered her bedroom, Andrea’s bag in hand, she stopped at the sight of Andrea on the bed. Naked, she perched on the edge of the mattress with her arms braced behind her. Damp hair held in a clip with wavy tendrils framing her face, Andrea’s eyes held a challenge. She lifted a leg, anchoring the heel on the bed, and bared herself. Adrenaline flushed through her veins.

“What’s your pleasure, cub?”

Andrea smiled without teeth as she slowly shifted her weight to one arm and used her free hand to slowly caress down the inner thigh of her bent leg. A tremor raced down Miranda’s spine. She dropped the bag and her shoes and took the steps necessary to stand in front of Andrea’s wanton display. The soft hint of Andrea’s arousal clung to the air between them and Miranda immediately filled her lungs.

Riveted by the way Andrea’s fingers spread apart her lower lips, revealing her excited sex, Miranda rapidly breathed through her nose. Her gaze snapped upward and latched onto Andrea’s dark brown eyes. She took a deep breath then walked over to the nightstand a few feet away. Slowly she pulled the drawer open, the sound a preamble of things to come, then placed a bottle of lube onto the table with quiet authority. Her hand dove back in and retrieved a black harness. Spreading it out on the bed next to Andrea, Miranda’s precise movements were like a countdown.

“I’m in a mood.” Andrea rasped faintly.

Miranda withdrew the last item from the drawer. The solid weight of the strapless dildo felt good in her palm. She stared at Andrea.

“Then I’ll fuck you out of it.”

XxXxXxXxXxXx

The Bench was a member’s only club located in Tribeca. When Judge Joslin suggested it, Miranda had been surprised a family court judge had access to such an old-money establishment. Senators and New York Supreme Court judges, Governors and New York elite frequented it, not a fashion editor, even if she brought in revenue for the city every year during the local fashion week. Of course, she knew about The Bench, but had never been. Stephen used to preen every time he finagled an invitation, condescendingly explaining it was a business meeting.

Roy didn’t pull away from the curb until she was safely within the lobby. Immediately greeted by a ‘seneschal’, Miranda supplied identification and the member’s name.

“If you’ll follow me, please.”

She knew enough to keep her eyes forward and remain silent despite the wild curiosity to look around. The corridor, lined with landscape paintings and fresh flowers in crystal vases set in waist-high alcoves every eight feet or so, ended at bronze plated elevator doors. The seneschal inserted a card somewhere to her left and the doors opened. Miranda noticed tiny red lights above in her peripheral vision, uncertain whether she felt comforted or intruded upon by the cameras. Unlike regular elevators, there wasn’t a floor display nor panel, a jolt to signal up or down but she heard a faint mechanical hum. Miranda supposed they were in motion. Every New Yorker was an expert in riding an elevator yet she highly doubted the majority rode in one like this.

The elevator doors smoothly retracted.

“May I offer to check your outer garment, purse and any electronic devices?” The seneschal politely inquired.

It wasn’t a request. Miranda allowed it, however much it made her wary to be without a way to contact the ‘outside world’. Her power and influence were nonexistent within the establishment’s walls.

“This is Rose. She will escort you the rest of the way.”

Miranda nodded, donning a blasé expression then fell in step with Rose down an unusual serpentine hallway. Soft white lighted scones hung on the blue fabric walls and it was almost soothing. The still and odorless air, however, struck Miranda as odd. She was accustomed to being among people and being seen, urban noises and smells. Deep within the confines of The Bench, it was hard to get her bearings.

Faint sounds bubbled forth as they rounded yet another curve, relaxing Miranda’s nerves. Like the mouth of a river spilling into the sea, the hallway widened into a great room. Conversation was muted, randomly broken by a soft laugh or two. A quick look confirmed she wasn’t the only female, at least among those of whom were staff members in predictable uniforms moving without haste. Potted trees, dark wooden and painted silk panels and a variety of half-walls with stone or brick veneers created the impression of an open floor plan. It reminded Miranda of a hedge mazes in British palaces and country estates.

Rose gestured for her to move ahead to their right where a small entryway seemed to suddenly appear.

“Enjoy.” she murmured and waited for Miranda to enter.

“Miranda, how are you?” Judge Joslin greeted her, sitting in a padded leather chair with a wine glass a fourth of the way filled. She swirled the dark liquid, sticking her rather hawklike nose in the glass.

“I’m well, and you?” Miranda returned, taking the seat opposite of the judge.

“I know I shouldn’t drink wine this late, especially red, but this is a marvelous offering from Australia. Would you care for some?”

“Sounds divine.”

“Would you like the fish or meat course?”

“Fish.” Miranda answered, idly taking in the décor of their little alcove.

Judge Joslin tapped something into a panel attached to the table. “Care for a appetizer? Soup? They have an incredible tomato bisque with an okra infused foam.”

“Oh, no thank you.”

A server appeared at Miranda’s elbow with a glass of red on a silver tray then quietly withdrew. She observed a wine-tasting ritual, aware of the judge’s eagerness to hear her verdict. Miranda was half-tempted to gulp it down and smack her lips.

“It’s surprisingly silky.” Miranda offered with confidence, not much of a wine expert, and hoped it satisfied the judge.

“Such an opulent wine.”

Miranda set down the glass. “Yes.”

Judge Joslin sighed woefully after emptying the glass then tapped something on the panel. “How can I help you?”

Miranda leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs. She stared into Linda’s eyes, gauging her, still not convinced of how to broach the subject. She allowed the seconds to pile up, unperturbed by the silence. Linda’s gaze sharpened.

This time the server reappeared at the judge’s side with a fresh glass of wine.

Once she left, Linda ventured, “Just tell me the problem.”

“Someone I care for requires a divorce as quickly as possible.”

Linda’s pudgy fingers caressed the wine glass. “When did they file?”

“This morning.”

“Is this a high profile case?”

“The husband’s a struggling sous chef and my friend works at Runway.” Miranda tensed at the opportunistic gleam in the eyes leveled at her.

Judge Joslin’s judicial outward appearance dropped low enough for Miranda to see that brokering a deal was a possibility.

“A judge’s cases are determined randomly in my district.” Linda said, clasping her hands on the table in front of her. “I doubt they’ve even processed the paperwork yet.” She unclasped her hands and leaned back in her chair, the regretful slant on her mouth a bit too contrived for Miranda’s taste. “Are there extenuating circumstances? Alleged abuse?”

Miranda took her time as she sipped from her drink. The server appeared with microscale salads, smoothly setting it before them. The presentation, while artistic, still didn’t tempt her tastebuds. Miranda much preferred a traditional salad. Nevertheless she conveyed approval with a smile as the server draped a linen napkin over her lap then departed. Skewering a sliver of strawberry, what looked like shaved kohlrabi matchsticks, and arugula leaves, Miranda hoped the dressing had a bite to it. Grown from hydroponics, the fruit lacked flavor, but, then, she was partial to consumable plants cultivated from plain old dirt.

She closed her eyes as if savoring the taste then swallowed. “Oh, the dressing is rather good, isn’t it?”

Linda chewed and nodded, eyebrows flickering briefly.

Before gracefully stabbing more salad, Miranda answered Linda’s previous question in a deliberate offhand manner. “It’s hard to tell, really. We aren’t that close after all, but...” Holding the food up to her mouth, she bit her lip and looked at Linda then slowly set the fork back down on the plate. “Well, her demeanor is noticeably different and that’s natural, yes? Even the impact on her work is to be expected, I suppose, although my career oddly prospered during both of my divorces.”

“How’s her appearance?”

Miranda arched her brows as she consumed another forkful. Linda’s line of inquiry sought to ascertain the degree of alleged abuse, a double-edged sword that required considerable balance on Miranda’s part. Too much reported abuse would invite an investigation and too little wouldn’t properly motivate the judge. Even though Linda seemed intrigued, Miranda knew there was no reason for the woman to go too far out on a limb, not while Miranda’s answers to the judge’s questions would define the length and strength of said ‘limb’. Gaining a few seconds to craft her next answer, she ran her tongue over her top teeth then patted her mouth with the linen napkin.

“She does look tired and, well, the way she’s put her ensembles together lately...” Miranda tsked and leaned forward in a conspiratorial fashion. “...in my business, appearance is everything.”

“I suppose I’m fortunate I have a uniform then.”

Miranda guided the rest of the conversation away from the purpose of the meeting. It wouldn’t do to appear desperate. In the ‘world of favors’ the energy required didn’t always invigorate her. Often it was tedious. The prize, however, was Andrea’s early release from her marriage, a factor that would influence their future together. Vivian Sachs possessed the wherewithal to fund Nate although her husband seemed disinclined to interfere in his daughter’s life. In a week’s time, Q, the private investigator she employed, promised a complete dossier on the Sachs’. She assured Miranda the couple’s lack of fame, wealth and influence made their lives a book in a library Q could check out with minimal effort. Vivian Sachs was her opponent and Miranda always did her homework.

Linda excused herself to use the restroom which afforded Miranda an opportunity to check her phone. As expected, there were texts from Amber and Vanessa, several emails but nothing marked urgent, and one voicemail since leaving Runway an hour ago. She smiled at the caller’s identity.

“I’m going to miss you in my empty...lonely...sexless bed tonight. But, hey, we get to double date this Friday which reminds me...do not, and I mean it, wear underwear Friday.”

Chuckling softly as she shook her head, she decided to reply later. Andrea was shameless and confident and so very imaginative in the bedroom. It wasn’t bravado or arrogance either. When Miranda had confessed to enjoying delayed gratification, Andrea hadn’t simply excited her then withheld an orgasm. She learned Miranda adored chocolate covered cherries and had a crush on her female science teacher in high school. A few weeks later Andrea walked into Miranda’s Runway office dressed like a proverbial hot teacher. She then proceeded to outline something on the whiteboard. Andrea stopped writing in the middle of a point and apologized, leaning over the visitor’s chair to get something out of her purse. The curve of her ass was perfectly outlined by the tight charcoal skirt which Miranda really enjoyed.  What had her squeezing her legs together, however, was when Andrea slowly peeled back the red foil around her favorite candy. Game over. She had gotten Miranda halfway there without even a touch. Sometimes direct but often not, Andrea’s seductions always made Miranda breathless.

“You look like you’re having very happy thoughts.” Linda joked as she took her seat.

Miranda put her phone away. “One of my daughters’ drawings won first place.”

“A budding artist in the family. How nice.”

“I’m very proud of her.”

Linda replaced the linen napkin on her lap then took up her utensils. While cutting into a steak, she said, “I just feel so sorry for your friend, Miranda. Maybe I can look into it? It sounds like a very straightforward situation. Courier the information over.”

“Oh, well, thank you, Linda.”

The judge smiled, a bite of meat poised in front of her mouth, as she replied, “Excellent. I’ll get back with you within a week’s time.”

Miranda flashed her social smile and wondered what the judge would ask for in return.

Chapter Text

Andrea was in a great mood despite the spate of shit storms during the first week back from vacation. Miranda had been out of the office for the majority of it, taking care of the ‘big picture’. They were a great team and professionally she couldn’t complain. It was in the personal realm Andrea wished for more. The only time she’d seen Miranda had been at work. Longing from afar sucked. She needed to lay hands on the woman.  How was she supposed to remain apart from Miranda for the next eight months?

Dwelling on it wasn’t going to improve Andrea’s situation. Her future was Miranda Priestly and all that came with her. Eight months was a small price to pay and it wasn’t as if they wouldn’t find...time. Andrea grinned as the elevator doors opened on Runway’s floor. There was bound to be an empty room, closet, or dark balcony somewhere at the charity event. Occupied with ways to ambush Miranda later that night, Andrea decided to stop in and say good morning.

“She’s on a conference call, Andrea.” the woman behind the second assistant’s desk said without a trace of her rambling southern accent.

Eyes narrowing, she took in the Chanel skirt and Gucci blouse Amber wore. The skirt’s pattern and stitching were unfamiliar, the material an unusual choice, and nothing she’d seen stateside.

“You look good.”

Amber smirked. “Of course I do.”

Andrea gave her outfit another once over. “Alright then. I’ll just wait in her office.”

Scrambling from behind the counter, Amber stayed Andrea with a hand around her arm. “She’s not to be disturbed.”

Andrea stared into Amber’s eyes and very slowly lifted her eyebrows. When it didn’t work, she lifted her arm out of the assistant’s grasp.

“How interesting.” She smiled, aiming for shark-like. Amber swallowed then tugged at a shirtsleeve. “Amber, I’d like a caramel macchiato. Now.’

The assistant scrounged up enough intelligence that it wasn’t a request and Andrea was higher up in the food chain but she stood frozen, mouth agape.

“Y-you’re not my boss.”

Andrea leaned against the desk and crossed her arms, pretending to think as she stared at the floor. “Well, I hadn’t thought of getting an assistant but...” She unfolded her arms and placed them behind her on the desk then gracefully hoisted herself up, crossing her ankles. “I’ll ask Miranda when I get a chance.” Andrea gripped the edge of the desk with both hands and proffered a sinister grin. “There’s so much I can teach you, Amber.”

“Oh, uh, I’m happy where I’m at, Andrea. M-M-Miranda is a great mentor.”

Tilting her head slightly, Andrea started swinging her legs just a bit and regarded the other woman, enjoying the way Amber squirmed under her silent perusal.

“Andrea.” The soft command floated into the receptionist area.

“I’d like an extra expresso shot in my macchiato.”

She hopped off the desk, smoothed the front of her dress, then sauntered into Miranda’s office, closing the door behind her.

Behind the desk, Miranda sat with her legs crossed, biting one of the temple tips of her half-unfolded eyeglasses. The open collar of her crisp white button-up revealed pale skin Andrea yearned to turn pinkish-red.

“Eyes up, cub.” Miranda whispered mildly, snapping her glasses closed and setting on the desk.

Andrea blushed then took a seat.

“Is Meisel still at Runway Italia? He assured me...”

“As far as I know he’s on a plane to New York. That’s not why I’m here.”

“I have absolutely nothing better to do than wait for you to get on with it, Andrea.”

“I intended to pop in just to say good morning but Amber, well, she blocked me from entering.”

Miranda grinned, the devil in her eyes. “You’ve noticed my second assistant’s metamorphosis since Monday, I take it. Do I have you to thank for that?”

“Actually, no, but I did think about taking her under my wing on my first day.” Andrea shrugged. “Things got busy and I forgot. If I had to guess, though, I’d say it’s not someone here.”

The blue in Miranda’s eyes darkened as she said, “I noticed that, too. A few of the items she wore haven’t been released to stateside markets yet. Rather interesting. I’d like to know who is giving fashion tips to my second assistant.”

Andrea grinned and rubbed her palms together. “I love a mystery. Let me take care of it.”

Leaning forward and picking up her pen, Miranda glanced down at the pile of papers on her desk. “If that’s all...”

“I may have subtly threatened your second assistant with reassignment...to me. She refused to allow me to enter your lair. Told me you weren’t to be disturbed.”

Miranda chuckled under her breath then scribbled something down. “Well, that was true, darling.”

“She said I’m not her boss.”

“Again, that’s true.”

“Will you assign her to me next week? Just until I can solve a mystery and, well, mentor her, of course.”

“As long as it doesn’t bury Vanessa under a mountain of work.” Miranda muttered as she signed a piece of paper then turned it over and began signing another.

Taking that as a dismissal, Andrea stood.

Before she reached the door, however, Miranda quietly ordered, “Starting next week, I expect you to bring the book to me on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.”

“Of course, Miranda.” Andrea murmured, wiping the grin off her face as she left.

“Vanessa,  you have a second?”

“Yes but I have to stay at my desk.” she replied, clicking the computer mouse and staring at the screen.

“How inconvenient would it be if I took Amber next week?”

Slowly Vanessa looked up, frowning. “You know she’s useless, right?”

“And I know you heard us talking before Miranda called me into her office.” Andrea tilted her head and stared at her.

Vanessa’s frown turned into a gradual smirk. “I’ll need her for a few errands every day and to deliver the book.”

Exhaling, Andrea wore a look of irritation, hiding her glee. “Miranda decreed I’m to deliver the damn thing.”

“You must have pissed her off.”

“Well, I did get what I wanted.” Andrea murmured then walked away, saying over her shoulder, “Send me an email of the stuff you need her to do next week.”

“Who’s gonna tell her?”

At the stairs, Andrea turned with one hand on the railing. “I prefer you tell her Monday morning when she gets in.”

XxXxXxXxXxXx

Andrea took her time getting ready. Luckily, Warren was in town after playing in a few spring training games in Tampa, Florida and was available Friday to escort her. She arranged for a limo to pick him up first then take them to The Met which was hosting a retrospective of Edith Head’s illustrations from her entire career. The highlight of the event, a silent auction of a private sketchbook along with other items, was scheduled at the end with all proceeds going to the MPN Research Foundation. The event wasn’t a major draw on the stage of philanthropy. Edith Head, although arguably the GOAT of costume designers, having garnered eight Oscars during her career, was from a bygone era. Anyone studying fashion design, however, studied Edith. The Bloombergs and Soros’s of New York would not be in attendance which made room for midlevel donators.

Pirouetting in front of the three-panel mirror, Andrea felt whimsical. She wore a replica of Edith Head’s black gown which Audrey Hepburn wore in ‘Breakfast with Tiffany’, complete with long gloves and cigarette holder. The costume jewelry and hair weren’t exact but close enough to be recognizable. Hardly waif-thin, Andrea’s body still did justice to the drape and length of the gown. She couldn’t wait for Miranda to see her in it.

On Warren’s bulging arm, Andrea walked into the small ballroom, pausing by a backdrop for the event’s photographer. Several men vied for her date’s attention. His large hand spread across her lower back as he leaned in.

“Can I get you a drink or do you want to wait for one of those very handsome servers with trays?”

Andrea spotted Anna then Miranda and Malcolm, her beard. “I think a lemon vodka martini with a twist, please. Meet me over there.” She gestured with her chin.

“Will do, boss. You really do look elegant tonight.”

He kissed her hand and left before she could yank her attention away from Miranda and thank him.

Slowly, she approached, eyes zeroed in on Miranda’s flawless figure encased in thin, clingy deep blue material. The gown’s side slit revealed the taut line of Miranda’s leg when she shifted and Andrea nearly stumbled. Heat filled her face and her thoughts turned lascivious, reminding her of the very public venue. She inhaled deeply and measured the exhale as she broadened her gaze to include the group. Anna was the first to notice her, lowering her jaw and peering over the rims of her glasses.

“You’re gorgeous.”

Keeping her eyes on Anna, she replied, “High praise coming from you.”

“Miranda, have you seen your Fashion Director, darling?”

Andrea turned into Miranda’s gaze and froze. Over the course of their relationship she had grown accustomed to the sizzling looks Miranda directed her way, always thrilling and appreciated. But, jesus, Andrea had never been a recipient of the current scrutiny aimed at her. The intensity stung somewhere between pleasure and pain. Skin suddenly sensitized, Andrea fought not to smooth down the tiny bumps along her shoulders and upper arms as she hovered at the edge of the people surrounding Miranda.

“Andrea.” she murmured, eyes half-hooded and red lips curved in sinful appreciation.

Incapable of speech, she remained spellbound. On some level she realized she and Miranda weren’t alone, heard the chatter and sensed movement all around her but Andrea simply didn’t care about all that.

“Lemon vodka martini, as requested.” Warren announced, abruptly at her side, hovering close.

Miranda’s eyebrow twitched ever so slightly then she turned her head, speaking to Malcolm, and the connection dimmed but didn’t break.

Winging it until her blood cooled, Andrea smiled up at Warren as she took the glass. She sucked down more than half her drink which made it easier to decide to finish it.

“Well, okay then. You alright there, tiger?”

She handed him the empty glass. “It hit the spot.” Fortified by the alcohol, she felt ready to face Anna. “Hello, Anna.”

“You’ve changed but I can’t quite put my finger on it.” Anna purred. “Miranda, have you noticed something different about Andrea?”

Hand resting on the lapel of Malcolm’s jacket, Miranda turned her head away from him and answered, “No.”

The perfunctory answer and the way Miranda held possessively onto her date lit a fuse in Andrea. Rationale slinked back in the corner of her mind. She looked at Miranda and waited, ignoring Warren and Anna’s distractions. Nothing was going to satisfy her until Miranda writhed underneath her. Finally, blue eyes met hers and widened. Andrea raised the corner of her mouth and let her eyes speak.

Without warning, Anna moved between them, cutting off Andrea’s view of Miranda. Warren held her elbow and firmly guided her away. A minute later Andrea pulled her elbow out of his grasp and glared at him.

“Calm down.” He softly said in her ear. “You two were seconds from pouncing on each other, Andrea.”

Clenching her jaw, she stared at the crowd and said, “Fine. Whatever. Just keep me away from her because I...” Andrea glanced at him, comforted by the gentle understanding expression on his face. “I’m out of control.”

“I know. I’m so gay but you two...well, I had to button up my jacket.” At her look, Warren blushed. “I’m only human, damn.”

Andrea snorted, covering her mouth and nose with a gloved hand then she quieted. “Do you have...someone?”

Abruptly the congenial look on his face slid off. Andrea patted his arm. “I’m sorry. It’s none of my...”

“No, it’s okay.” Warren sipped his drink, shrugging. “Once I’m out of baseball, I’ll have a life, Andrea.”

“I want to apologize for treating you like a ‘service’ I bought. I didn’t really think about your situation and I’m sorry.”

“We’re helping each other out which reminds me of something I want to ask you. But...” Warren pointed to her empty glass. “Let me get you another one unless you’re gonna go all vida loca then I’m getting you juice or something.”

“A water would be great but let me get it. You want another martini?”

Warren grinned, holding out his empty glass. “If you don’t mind.”

“Gotta take care of my man.” she remarked flippantly as she plucked the glass from his fingers and walked away.

So focused on her own situation, Andrea hadn’t spared a thought for Warren’s and she felt ashamed. A gay male in fashion was a hell of a lot less threatening to straight males and Christians than a baseball future Hall of Famer. Although she didn’t know much about the sport other than what Nate shared the one time they went to a game, the experience hadn’t hooked her. Besides how expensive it’d been, the experience dragged on for hours and the people surrounding them were obnoxious. No amount of beer insulated her from six hours in the ‘cheap’ seats watching the Red Sox and Yankees battle for the most foul balls and pop-ups. Nate vowed to never go with her again, especially to a rivalry game for which they’d been lucky enough to get tickets. It didn’t hurt her feelings.

An advantage of having a famous beard Andrea hadn’t thought of was the pictures in the papers and magazines. Although Nate probably realized not to put any stock in believing it was real between she and Warren, she knew that his inner sports fan would be all kinds of pissed off if he stumbled upon a picture or article. While the idea amused her, Andrea let it go, the petty reaction beneath her.

“Well, do you want to tell me what that was all about, Andrea?” Anna demanded in a droll tone underlined with spikes.

Andrea smiled for anyone looking at them, but she leaned in and replied, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Where’s Bee? I haven’t seen her.”

“That’s because she’s not here. For some reason she’s off with friends in Barcelona, I believe, which is very inconvenient. Now, dearest, explain yourself.”

Pulling back as if giving her former boss a once-over, Andrea asked, “Has anyone told you that you bare an uncanny resemblance to Edna Mode from the movie ‘The Incredibles’?”

Anna’s brows rose above the rims of her glasses. “Funny coming from a poor man’s version of Mia Thermopolis in ‘Princess Diaries’. You share those woolly mammoth eyebrows.”

Andrea smiled into her hand then pointed her cigarette holder at Anna. “Where’s your champagne?”

Huffing in a softly annoyed way, Anna scanned the crowd behind Andrea. “You may do the honors, I suppose, since Bee has abandoned me. I once heard you were quite fetching. So go do what you do best, darling.”

She acquiesced despite a flare of irritation. In a bid to avoid the crush of people waiting for the retrospective to begin as they stood around, she kept to the outskirts. Regardless of how successful she’d been shoving thoughts of Miranda aside, her body still tingled as if blood finally flowed through it after having clamps removed. No longer under watchful eyes, the rush of excitement took over like she was an escaped convict.

Miranda, however, was nowhere Andrea looked. Nearing the bar, she saw Warren talking to someone while they waited in line.

“Hey.” she said, sliding her hand around his arm. “I’m sorry to interrupt but I thought it was my turn to bring the drinks.”

“I got antsy.” Warren murmured into her ear then kissed her temple.

They hadn’t talked about the level of affection they showed in public and though it was innocent, Andrea caught herself before recoiling.

“Hi, my name’s John.”

Pulling her close to his side, Warren finished the introduction.

“John is a writer for Sports Illustrated, babe.”

Andrea played nice, spending a minute to make small talk and gushing over Warren. When the conversation lulled, she asked, “Now that you’re here I can excuse myself to use the ladies room. Would you mind getting my water and a champagne for Anna?”

Warren sighed. “I suppose so. I’ll do the heavy lifting now and you can do it...later.”

John joined him in smiling like little dirty-minded boys. Andrea patted Warren’s shoulder.

“Sure thing, big guy.” she teased then excused herself.

The preview of how things were going to go down whenever they ran into anyone from Warren’s ‘world’, while not surprising, filled Andrea with dread. Obviously, she needed to establish a few ground rules. As she stood in line at the ladies restroom, she looked over her shoulder and surveyed the crowd for a glimpse of blue or white, smiling fleetingly at the woman who just came up behind her. Annoyed she couldn’t locate Miranda, Andrea looked to her right, taking a step forward as the line moved, then stopped. Speak of the devil. Quitting the queue, she walked toward Miranda with a roll in her hips.

“Can I tempt you away?” she whispered, standing a bit close to Miranda.

“I wish you wouldn’t.” The strength ebbed from Miranda’s voice but her features remained haughty as her sharp blue gaze pointed in every direction except Andrea’s.

“It’s been four days since I put my hands on you.” Excited by the pink hue spreading across Miranda’s chest, Andrea clenched her hands, wrenching her gaze away.

Although she remained close, Miranda repositioned her body away from Andrea. “Don’t.”

The curt response didn’t affect her in the predictable way. Whatever Miranda’s intention, the sharp ache between Andrea’s legs took precedence over any short-lived hurt feelings. Mustering the dregs of her control, Andrea uncurled her fingers and forced her muscles to release some tension.

“Have you spoken to Nigel lately?”

“He found out Jacqueline’s benefactor.” Miranda glanced at her then quickly away.

Andrea frowned. “It wasn’t Robert?”

“He’s a spineless twit.” Miranda rebuked in a low, icy voice. “Jacqueline contacted Mitchell Langley who’s on the board of directors. It was merely a rumor Nigel passed along which I, in turn, gave to Adele. She told me Langley has been trying to unseat her since she ousted Irv.” Shrugging lightly, Miranda sighed then looked at Andrea. “Adele made a few calls. Robert and Jacqueline have been to several Runway events. She was at Runway while we were away.”

“Shit. She got to Amber, right? I mean, I asked around discreetly about that Chanel skirt she wore. It won’t be eligible for export for at least another year, maybe two. It’s not a coincidence. You need to fire her ass.”

Miranda’s malevolent smile caused a shiver down Andrea’s spine. “I dropped some bread crumbs, darling, and Amber has been following them. I suspect sometime next week it Adele and I will have all the proof we need.”

“Will reassigning her to me interfere?”

“Actually, it’s quite perfect, darling. Restricting her access to me may force her to act recklessly.” Miranda’s blue eyes glowed as they swept down Andrea’s body.

Andrea squeezed her thighs together. “I know it’s wrong but when you act like this I get so turned on.”

The sensuous laughter from Miranda swirled around Andrea. She felt lightheaded. Placing a palm on her forehead, she breathed evenly.

“It’s so hot in here.”

“Your date is wondering where you are.” Anna cooed, lifting an empty champagne glass. “And, really darling, I have only so much to say to a man who thinks Liberace is a better pianist than Martha Argerich.”

Andrea frowned. “Warren likes Liberace?”

Anna’s eyebrows arched. “I was talking about Malcolm.”

Miranda muttered something then gracefully started to move away. After a few steps she twisted slightly, frowning at Anna, then stalked back.

“Come by the townhouse Sunday.”

Anna’s smirked. “We’ll make some sort of arrangements, darling.”

Watching Miranda stroll away, Andrea said, “Why isn’t Warren with you?”

Lips turned downward, Anna made a display of cradling her empty champagne glass. “I sent him on another run.”

“Put that down.” Andrea hissed, snatching the glass from her former boss. “What’s the matter with you?”

“You were much more pleasant when you worked for me, darling.” Anna sniffed, then waved good bye. “Come along. The retrospective is about to start.”

“You are impossible.”

Anna abruptly faced her. “And you’re sleeping with Miranda.”

Chapter Text

Dressed in casual attire, Andrea scaled the last few steps from the subway station early Saturday morning. Just four days after a windy snowstorm with the temperature in the low teens, the weather markedly improved. The forecast reported the high could reach the low seventies. Andrea avoided a patch of icy slush against the curb as she crossed the avenue in a herd of pedestrians. The Elias-Clarke building loomed before her and she experienced a flutter of excitement. Traffic inside was sparse which was to be expected on Saturday morning at the ass crack of dawn. An uptick in occupants wouldn’t make their way in earlier than ten am, but few among them would be from Runway. Other publications, of course, but not Runway unless a catastrophe occurred. Since Andrea didn’t make any calls to rally the troops, she looked forward to getting some paperwork done in solitude.

As she crossed the bullpen, she glanced up at Miranda’s office door and, of course, it was closed. It wasn’t just the sex she missed. Every night they talked on the phone, mostly quick updates. Twice Fen insisted on speaking with her maman, not understanding why Miranda wasn’t around after spending a long weekend together. In a husky voice of reassurance Miranda had promised they would all do something together soon.

Turning the corner she almost ran into Amber of all people.

“What are you doing here?” Andrea asked, too surprised to be polite.

“Returning a blouse to the Closet.”

Andrea nodded, making a note to submit a door scan to security for the last month and to check the log for sign-outs and returns.

Wearing True Religion jeans and a cashmere sweater, Amber obviously left behind cerulean polyester blends and knee-highs.

“How’s your sister, um, Tick, right?”

Pearl, actually. She’s doing well, thank you.”

The hillbilly Eliza Doolittle was now a ‘Fair Lady’, a fact Andrea rather mourned.

“Well, your transformation is pretty impressive. Did this all by yourself, huh?”

Amber eyes turned hard. “You’re not the only one who knows people, Andrea.”

“Is that so?” Andrea stepped closer, on the cusp of the assistant’s personal space. “Who’s your new advisor? Someone I know?”

“That’s so. I got prospects, you know. I’m not just some fetch-and-carry girl.”

Backing down with her hands up, Andrea smiled, unwilling to totally alienate the girl. “Okay, okay. You must know of a consignment or second-hand store I don’t know about and I’m always looking for a good bargain.” Andrea shrugged

But Amber wasn’t having it.

The resentment in the girl’s tone and the phrases she used simply weren’t Amber. Uttered by her, yes, but Andrea suspected a certain someone supplied those words or used them to manipulate Amber’s insecurities. Jaqueline Follet’s influence, no doubt. Vanessa, urban smart and a few months shy of promotion with nothing to gain, would have seen through Jaqueline’s ruse. Who else better to convert than a naïve second assistant with direct access to the EIC?

Andrea pushed aside the urge to save the young woman which doubled the guilt. Amber was a pawn, gullible and desperate to be a success, but she should have chosen loyalty. She didn’t know Amber, what her life was like, where she came from, or what happened to her. All those factors influenced Amber’s decision to betray Miranda. Had Andrea just taken the girl under her wing, maybe things would have turned out differently but Miranda’s plan was already in motion and it was too late to play the hero. Nothing good could be gained from torturing her conscience. With reluctance, Andrea let herself off the hook.

“I hope you know your role at Runway is important, Amber. I didn’t mean otherwise.” She waited for her words to sink in but it didn’t seem as if the second assistant believed it.  “Well, I better get to it. The sooner I finish, the sooner I can go home, right?”

For a brief second, Amber looked a bit lost, her eyes searching Andrea’s, but then she straightened her shoulders.

“That makes two of us. Enjoy the rest of your day.”

Not bothering to watch the young woman leave, Andrea headed to her office. When she fished out her key to unlock the door she noticed it wasn’t properly shut. Andrea’s stomach twisted. She looked over her shoulder behind her but the hallway was clear. A number of  plausible explanations zipped through her mind except she knew she checked the self-locking mechanism whenever she secured her office for the day. While onsite during normal business hours she left her office open as she went to various meetings or on quick errands.

Andrea sat down in her chair and tried to discern if anything was amiss. Two very good reasons why there was no need to panic weren’t enough to erase the vulnerable feelings of having her privacy violated. The only things Amber could have uncovered were business related, things only a competitor...she didn’t complete the thought. The assistant knew enough on her own to make things difficult for Runway and essentially Miranda. Andrea’s heartbeat sped up. If sabotage was Jacqueline’s goal, there was enough sensitive information password protected on the share drive under Andrea’s name to create several shitstorms.

 Placing a call to the IT division, she abruptly hung up. How to get around the corporate bureaucracy required more juice than Andrea possessed. If she alerted the possible breach via required channels, she would be locked out and subject to investigation which could take several days. Best to speak with Miranda before launching something that could do more harm than good. The Closet, however, was directly under her scope of responsibilities. Because of broad access to the room was required, periodic security sweeps were commonplace. All she had to say was she wanted to conduct an inventory assessment and match it against the removed and returned logs. Nigel had assured her he verified the Closet’s contents last November. Andrea called security and requested a data pull of the Closet door starting November of last year until now.

“I’d like a printout of the data.”

There was a pause on the other end of the line then he sighed. “That’s gonna take some time, ma’am.”

“And I’d like it by Monday afternoon.” She caught the low sound of protest. “I know I’m asking a lot but I should have made the request at the first of the year when I took over. You’d really be doing me a solid. If anything went missing over the holidays you know Miranda...”

“Yeah, I know Miranda. Okay, I’ll get it to you by then. Since it’s a print out, do you want it sorted by employee or time-stamp or two separate spread sheets?”

“A spreadsheet for each.” Andrea cringed.

“Okay.”

Andrea hurriedly scribbled his name down, thanked him again then hung up. She looked up his employee data and noted to whom he reported. Sending an email of praise to Tomas’s supervisor after he delivered the printouts was a step in showing her appreciation. She set her laptop into the dock station then logged in. After a few minutes of clicking and verification codes she initiated the program to pull the remove and return data from the Closet’s inventory database. The comprehensive SQL query ran in the background as she started to work on the pivot charts she needed for Monday’s division meeting.

Within the hour, she finished, saving her work then checking email. She shot off a reply to the art department about scene props for a photo shoot, quickly edited a short piece for the next issue from a new contributor and approved it after sending a copy to the layout team. Finally, she saved the data from the query on a USB drive and pocketed it. Left with little else to tie up, Andrea prepared to leave.

“Aren’t you industrious.” Miranda softly commented as she leaned against the doorjamb.

Startled by the pleasant surprise, Andrea smiled then immediately eyed the Derek Lam fatigue cargo pants accentuating Miranda’s small waist and slender thighs. The black Gucci scoop-neck top made her size B cup suddenly morph into a very delectable C and Andrea’s gaze lingered. When Miranda crossed her arms over her breasts Andrea redirected her gaze but was unable to keep her lustful thoughts hidden.

“Shut the door and I’ll give you a demonstration.” Slowly Andrea stood and placed her fingertips on the top of the desk.

A hint of a smile showed in the corner of Miranda’s mouth as she appraised Andrea. “Do you think that’s wise?” she asked breathily, the large silver hoops in her ears shimmering under the office lights.

Andrea palmed the flat expanse of her own stomach, the tip of her thumb skimming just under her breast. “I can be quiet.”

Not taking her eyes off of Andrea’s torso, Miranda shoved off the doorjamb, crossed the threshold then closed the door behind her.

Andrea’s blood raced but she remained motionless and watched, waiting.

Trailing her fingers down the side of her neck, over a sharp clavicle only to toy with the heavy silver chain dangling from her neck, Miranda taunted Andrea. Her closed mouth smile sent shivers across Andrea’s skin.

“So confident.” Miranda murmured, then leaned back against the door.

By the time Andrea rounded the desk and stood in front of her, Miranda had unfastened the button of her pants and partially unzipped them. With a provocative look, she goaded in her silky voice, “Time to prove it.”

Groaning, Andrea swooped in, one hand clasping Miranda’s nape as she kissed her indolently while her other hand slid past Miranda’s panties.

“Oh, fuck...you’ve been...” Andrea bracketed Miranda’s clit between two of her fingers and pressed, swallowing Miranda’s guttural moan. “...thinking about this, haven’t you?”

Body arching tightly, Miranda broke off the kiss, bit her lip and squeezed her eyes shut. “Yes.” she gasped, then pulled her closer by wrapping her arms around Andrea’s slim waist and grinding against her.

Andrea sped up her fingers, slid the tips in and out of Miranda’s ravenous cunt. It bloomed and wept and the urge to finish her, to mark this woman as hers in some physical way, shook Andrea’s control. Miranda’s taut and trembling body signaled surrender but Andrea, in spite of everything, pulled back, grabbing the sides of Miranda’s head.

“Tell me now.” she managed to say through the tightness of her throat.

Miranda loved to be teased and Andrea’s sole purpose was to give Miranda what she wanted if at all possible even at the cost of her own welfare. After a mere week of abstinence, teasing her felt more like cruelty to the both of them. Yet, she would deny them both if Miranda decreed.

Hazy and dark blue eyes fixed on her through somnolent lashes. She hissed through gnashed teeth, “Stop dawdling, damnit.”

Andrea dropped to her knees, taking the rest of Miranda’s pants down with her. Fingers fumbling, she accomplished removing one of Miranda’s boots then flung Miranda’s freed leg over her shoulder. Half-crazed by the scent, Andrea used her mouth and fingers, moaning into Miranda’s wet heat. Scattered images flashed through her mind of Miranda’s legs wrapped around her waist, of her hips flexing as her body shoved Miranda against the door. Driven by instinct, Andrea added another finger and latched onto Miranda’s clit. Clenched fingers dug into her hair and a heel into her back, pulling her in tight. Nearly dislodging Andrea, Miranda’s hips snapped forward as she let out a wisp of sound and a flood of fluid. Legs giving out, Miranda began to slump. Although sluggish, Andrea’s reflexes responded enough to keep them from crashing painfully to the floor.

The effort to breathe, compounded by Miranda’s inert body, was less worrisome than the euphoric sensation buzzing throughout her body. Her hands lethargically skimmed across Miranda’s back and into her damp hair. Floating in a stream of dopamine, Andrea knew they needed to get up but she couldn’t summon the will power. A clear indication of sleep, Miranda breathed with shallow contentment. The warm exhales stole across Andrea’s skin. Bringing Miranda to climax wasn’t always a trigger for reciprocation. Contentment spread through her. Basking in it on the office floor, however, wasn’t an option. She roused herself, tenderly taking stock of Miranda’s body as far as her hands could reach.

“Baby.” she sighed, stroking the length of Miranda’s back. “We gotta get up.”

The feline way Miranda stretched on top of her and the low hum reverberating against Andrea’s chest nearly toppled her best intentions.

Andrea kissed the top of her head. “Come on, sleepyhead.”

Positioning herself, Miranda crooked her naked leg around Andrea’s thighs, tucking her foot under Andrea’s denim clad calf.

“You’re still dressed.” Miranda grumbled into Andrea’s neck then sucked the skin into her mouth. Her hand softly squeezed Andrea’s breast, tweaking the nipple before moving lower.

When Miranda’s fingers moved past her waistband, Andrea grabbed them. “We’re on the floor of my office.”

Miranda pushed herself up on her elbow.

Andrea brushed back the white forelock then rubbed her thumb against the slight crease in Miranda’s forehead. “Mmm, got carried away in the afterglow, huh?”

Leaning down, Miranda lightly bit Andrea’s lower lip and growled, “Don’t think you’ve tamed the beast, cub.”

With a fluidity belying their enthusiastic activity, Miranda rose and started making herself presentable. Grinning madly, Andrea got up and grabbed the errant boot. She knelt before Miranda.

“Thy slipper, m’lady.”

Narrowing her gaze, Miranda lifted her leg and slid her foot into the boot. “Thank you.”

“My pleasure.” Still on her knee, Andrea nuzzled Miranda’s crotch. “Jesus, you’re addicting.”

Miranda threaded her fingers through Andrea’s hair then tugged her head back as she said, “While I do love you on your knees, this isn’t appropriate at work.”

Standing, she exhaled loudly, brushing back her tangled hair. “Okay, back to business. There’s...”

“Darling, you must know how much I want to touch you.” Miranda interrupted then kissed her gently. “We’ll have more time and privacy Monday, I promise.”

“I know.” As Andrea’s mind turned over several possibilities she smiled wickedly until her memory kicked in. “That’s not why I’m being serious though. I saw Amber when I came in this morning.”

Pulling a long sleeve taut then the other, Miranda smiled and asked, “Do you think she picked up a breadcrumb?”

“Did you leave any in my office?”

Immediately she stopped fussing with her clothes and frowned at Andrea. “I suppose I should have thought of that.”

Andrea related the morning’s events as Miranda leaned against the desk, listening to her intently without interruption. She marveled at Miranda’s calm and her respect for the editor grew. One of Andrea’s weaknesses was maintaining a long term strategy, a characteristic Miranda owned. Andrea knew her emotions would break the surface long before fruition.

Miranda tapped her closed mouth with an index finger, staring at Andrea but not really seeing her.

“Let me know what you’ve uncovered Monday when you bring the Book unless it’s something better handled earlier. I’ll make a request to IT through a back channel for the appropriate scans and give you a hardcopy.”

“Jesus, you’re so patient and all I wanna do is rip someone’s head off.”

“Once the trap’s sprung, my love, by all means, take over.” Miranda’s smile showed a vengeful relish and Andrea bit off a curse.

When her evil side came out to play, Miranda’s sex appeal naturally followed and struck Andrea right between the legs every time. Evidently she developed a sexual kink for Le Priestly. What other surprises awaited Andrea? Maybe it was sex with a woman or the chemistry between she and Miranda, but whatever it was, the pleasure was absolute.

Smiling with insider knowledge, Andrea took Miranda’s hand and kissed the fingertip of her middle finger, her gaze never leaving Miranda’s. She parted her lips then slowly drew the finger into her mouth, curling her tongue around it, gently scraping her upper teeth over the knuckles then releasing it.

“You play a dangerous game, cub.”

The promise of retribution in Miranda’s gaze burned through Andrea, forcing her to look away.

“You think you can handle me?”

Miranda released a short breath, a look of cool indifference on her face. “Is that suddenly a challenge?”

“Let the games begin.”

XxXxXxXxXxXx

“I’m so sorry I’m late.” Andrea called out as she entered the apartment and tossed her keys on the nearby table.

From the kitchen Fen barreled through the living room and launched herself at Andrea who almost missed catching her.

“How’s my little baby?” Andrea cooed, then pressed several kisses across her daughter’s face.

“Mommy, stop!” Fen giggled, clutching her mother’s hair and jacket.

“I saw Maman at work today and look what she gave you.”

Andrea held up a beautifully wrapped present and waved it in front of her daughter’s face. Fen overreached but Andrea adapted, admonishing her in a gentle voice.

“Mummers, I want. Please.”

“Hey, Andrea, I’m gonna head out.” Demetria said from the hallway then appeared in the living room.

“I hope you’re not too late.”

“It’s no problem, really.” The nanny hefted the gym bag onto her shoulder. “I’ll be back either late Sunday or when Fen wakes up Monday to get her ready for school.”

“Look, DeeDee, I got a present.” Fen announced as Andrea lowered her to the floor.

“Sweetie, you can show her...”

“Wow, you’re a lucky girl.” Demetria cut in, squatting down and taking the book-shaped present from her. “What do you think it is?”

Eyes wide, Fen lifted her palms and shoulders and said, “I don’t know.”

Demetria kissed her on the head then stood, handing back the present. “You’ll have to tell me all about when I get back, okay? See yah later, smalls, I gotta get gone.”

“Bye.” Fen called out, already running toward Andrea.

“C’mon, sweetie, let’s get something to eat then take a nap before we go to the puppet show, okay?”

Fen took off, calling out for her stuffed sloth with an ear-piercing shriek that made Andrea wince.

She grabbed the universal controller and turned on the surround-sound stereo. Fen, waving Lou in the air, ran into the kitchen where Andrea dug through the fridge to make something to eat for Fen. When an old pop song played, one Fen loved, Andrea paused to watch her crazy progeny bounce to the beat. Phone camera at the ready, she recorded Fen’s crinkled brow and puffy cheeks as she planted her feet, clenched her hands, and shook her little behind. Thirty seconds of adorableness later, Andrea sent the clip to Miranda.

While cutting Fen’s baloney and cheese sandwich into nine tiny squares, Nate’s ringtone chirped from her phone.

“Hey.”

“Uh, hi, you have a minute? I need to tell you something.”

“Hold on.” Andrea lifted Fen up and put her in the booster seat, buckled her in then set down the cut-up sandwich on the plastic tray in front of her. “Okay, I’m back. What’s up?”

“Lily left. Left me, I mean.” Nate cleared his throat. “She went back to live with her parents in Easton. Her dad’s raising money for the restoration of some of the houses in the Hill Community and he offered her a job.”

“Uh, okay, Nate.”

“I’m in a big ass hole here, Andy, and it’s too damn deep for me to get out of on my own.” He hesitated, made a disgruntled noise, then continued, “I need your help to get back on my feet.”

“No.” Andrea picked up a gummy wad of bread from the floor that Fen dropped. “Why can’t your parents help you out?”

“Fuck, Andy, just...c’mon.”

Watching Fen try to feed Lou, she counted to ten in her head. She stepped a few feet away from her daughter. In a low tone, she hissed, “You are not my problem anymore.”

Nate alternated between yelling and begging with seconds of calm rationality in between.

When he seemed to pause, Andrea said, “You’re a grown man, Nate. Deal with it.”

Regret already pinging lightly in the back of her mind, she hung up.

For the last four years she had been the designated bread winner while Nate looked after Fen. She worked overtime, pumped her breasts in between meetings, cleaned the apartment every Saturday as Fen napped and got out of bed in the middle of the night to feed and change their daughter. Obviously she didn’t need Nate but her daughter did.

Or did she?

Chapter Text

“I’m going to need a bottle of wine to listen to this.” Anna sighed as she swanned into the townhouse from the garage and took off her coat. “I loathe driving in the city. And I have a headache coming on so chop-chop with the libations, darling.”

Miranda rolled her eyes and ignored the proffered coat. She eyed Anna from top to bottom then pursed her lips. “You look like a garden gnome in that outfit and I’m starting to think you’ve developed a drinking problem.”

Anna scowled as she walked past Miranda and into the kitchen. She draped her coat over the back of a chair. “I’m wearing Gucci, for god’s sake.” Yanking off her glasses, every inch the Vogue editor, Anna hissed, “It’s like you two have nothing better to do than gossip about me. And I damn well can handle my booze, thank you.”

“You must keep psychiatrists busy for months on end.” Miranda slid the full glass of wine on the kitchen isle toward Anna. “Your ego’s so big you need more than one, dear.”

A cackle escaped Anna’s mouth before she swallowed some wine. “Where are the girls?” She looked around hopefully. “Oh, this is good. I have a bottle of this at home.”

“With their father for the weekend. I have a case of this which promises to be legendary once it matures.”

“Pomerol Bordeaux wasn’t the only success this year. I also bought a case of sweet white from the Sauternes-Barsac region.”

Miranda raised her glass then slightly tipped it at Anna. “You are married to the French after all.”

“Shelby is from Houston which is in Texas.”

Smiling, Miranda cooed, “Oh, look who’s been studying geography.”

“You pompous ass.” Anna took another sip of wine and closed her eyes. “I only tolerate you because the sommelier you employ has such exquisite taste.”

“By sommelier you mean me, gnome.”

The gentle clink when Anna set down her glass resounded like a gavel bringing order to the court.

“How serious is it?”

Miranda leaned her elbows on the counter and looked straight at her.

Slowly Anna’s eyes widened and her lips parted. She blinked a few times then reached for her glass and guzzled down the wine.

Reaching for the bottle, Miranda looked away to pour. Seconds ticked by and all the while she felt Anna’s eyes on her. As she propped up her chin, Miranda sighed and drummed her fingers.

“When Andrea interviewed for my assistant’s position she had a copy of Runway sticking out of her purse.” Anna said, swirling the contents of her glass. “I almost didn’t hire her.”

“You would have missed out. She’s exceptional.” She straightened then took a seat at the table. “Bring the bottle.”

“It’s empty.” Anna pouted. “I’ll go get another in the cellar. Is the combination the same?”

“Yes. Cara prepared something. You’ll need food to soak up all the alcohol you’re intent on consuming.”

Busy with rummaging through the refrigerator, Miranda’s worries gnawed at the back of her head. Anna’s friendship spanned over decades and it wasn’t going to implode over her sexual preferences. They had, after all, gone to their share of discreet parties back in the day. Still, it was one thing to have fun and quite another to live openly with one’s younger female lover.

“What are you smiling about?” Anna asked as she walked into the kitchen, bottle in hand, and dug through a drawer.

“The nineties.”

The clatter of utensils almost obliterated Anna’s response. “I still get neon flashbacks.”

“If you’re looking for the wine opener, it’s on the counter between the refrigerator and sink.”

“Oh, dear god.” she muttered, frowning at Miranda while she pointed to the electric appliance. “I cannot believe you bought that contraption. Bee gave me one for Christmas and it’s still in the original packaging.”

“How you can be so fearless championing Velcro in eveningwear but balk at modern kitchen gadgets is beyond me.”

Anna filled her glass then Miranda’s and took them over to the kitchen table where Miranda sat in front of a sectional crudités platter filled with chopped raw vegetables.

“I’m fascinating.” Anna shrugged then pointed to the small ceramic dish nestled in the middle. “Is that hummus?”

“Yes, and the other is Cara’s take on tzatziki sauce. It’s rather good.”

“The wine is going to clash.”

Miranda pushed a small plate at Anna. “I remember when you thought Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill was ‘divine’.”

Laughing, Anna selected a few thinly cut celery and carrot sticks and shaved radishes. “If you ever let that out, I may have to show Page Six the picture of you channeling Ziggy Stardust. The glitter was horrendous but that mullet...” Anna shivered.

“Says the woman who declared laced-up pants would transform fashion.” Miranda mocked then popped a cherry tomato into her mouth.

“We are the keepers of each other’s secrets, darling. And speaking of which...” Anna looked pointedly at her. “You won’t be able to hide your relationship with Andrea much longer. I daresay it took me a while to figure it out but it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the world picks up on it. You’re going to fire her, aren’t you?”

“Are you already drunk?” Miranda drew back, glaring at her friend. “Of course I’m not.”

Anna tut-tutted and set down her wine. “You’re giving up Runway? I don’t believe it.”

“Your lack of imagination is really quite remarkable.”

Narrowing her eyes, Anna refrained from retaliation but arched an eyebrow.

“Fine.” Miranda huffed dragging a cucumber slice through Cara’s dip. “I’ll tell you but don’t make that appalling high pitched noise whenever you get excited. I don’t know how Shelby bears it let alone all the dolphins and bats.”

“There you go again, darling, trying to be witty. I swear ten gray hairs just sprouted waiting on the laughter.”

“Time for a new colorist, I suppose.” she said automatically while deciding how much to tell her friend and rival. “Andrea will be the new editor of Runway by the end of the year.”

“So you are giving up so you can play house...”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Miranda cut in, eying Anna coldly. “I love her. She’s not a midlife crisis. Andrea Sachs will be better than both of us put together. She will transform the industry. Nothing less would make me step aside, as it were.”

“Oh, hell, that smile on your face. You’re going to eat someone’s newborn, aren’t you?”

Plucking a carrot stick from the platter, she adopted a blasé demeanor. “Mmm, of course I am.”

“Well, I know better than to push when it comes to your evil plans.” Anna finished her wine then slyly looked at Miranda. “Now let’s talk about your personal ones, shall we? With Andrea.”

XxXxXxXxXxXx

The twins were due to return in an hour. For the first time in a while she didn’t have anything to actually do. Perhaps Anna’s visit and the two bottles of wine precipitated the lack of activity rather than missing Andrea. Usually the quiet soothed her. There was always something to do and somewhere to be but, for the life of her, Miranda aimlessly wandered around her home instead.

It was impossible to not think of Andrea and Fen. Although she projected a poised front, Miranda sometimes felt as if she was seconds away from clawing out of her own skin. To have Andrea and Fen living under her roof was the long-term goal but her patience already began to wane. Determined to correct her malaise, Miranda marched into the library and sat down on the leather lounger. She could read. The antique lamp end table gleamed in the soft light. She looked around the room, comforted by the shelves filled with books, the polished wood floor and Turkish rugs, and the brick accent wall where a large picture window allowed a view of the small backyard. Miranda let out a long, suffering sigh. She didn’t want to read.

They weren’t getting any younger. There was still space left in the townhouse if they had another child or two. For a moment, Miranda envisioned Fen and the girls playing in the yard as Andrea cradled a new born on one of the teak Adirondack chairs. Abruptly she ran a careless hand through her hair then pressed her fingers against her closed mouth, shaking her head slightly. She didn’t even know whether or not Andrea desired to carry another child.  Miranda stood and put away the fantasy. She was insane, daydreaming like a school girl. But she grinned anyway.

XxXxXxXxXxXx

I just got off the phone with my father.”

Miranda, in the middle of her nighttime routine, spoke a little louder than normal while using the speaker function. “What did he have to say?”

Half-expecting bad news, Miranda was puzzled when she didn’t hear the telltale quiver in Andrea’s voice.

“He said not to worry about my mother.”

Rubbing lotion into her neck, she frowned. “She’s given up interfering?”

“He said they’ve come to an...agreement but he wouldn’t say anything more.”

Miranda wiped her hands on a towel then picked up the phone.

“Is that...normal for them?”

“Yeah. I mean, he’s interceded before when things got heated between my mom and I. You know, when I was younger. It’s not like they’ve ever explained shit to me though.”

“Not even when you were an adult?”

“Nope. They’d talk alone about whatever then tell me their decision or opinion.”

“Well, I suppose we shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth then, darling.”

“I guess I’m just worried. I’ve never seen my mother so pissed, not even when I shaved half of my hair off and died the other half fire engine red in tenth grade.”

“Such a rebel.” Miranda whispered seductively as she stood, turning off the mirror lights. She waited a moment, working out her confession.

“Tell me you’re naked.”

“I’m not. Listen...” Miranda dragged her teeth over her upper lip. “I had your parents investigated.”

“You...what?”

“I asked Q to run a background check, specifically their financials and any dirt I might be able to use as leverage.”

“You want to blackmail my parents? Have you lost your mind?”

Miranda pulled the phone from her ear and glared at it before pressing it back. “I needed to know what I’m up against in case...if your mother goes to the press.”

“Please tell me you know how fucked up that is.”

“Your mother not only wants to keep us apart, she wants you back with that man-child that plays with food. So, no, I’m not going to apologize for protecting you.”

“That’s...weirdly sweet but I’m still mad at you.” Andrea sighed. “What’s the verdict then?”

“Q is coming to Runway tomorrow with a dossier.”

“A ‘dossier’? Oh, my god, you gotta be kidding me. What time?

Miranda ignored the sarcastic grumbling about top secret missions and intelligence gathering. “Ten. In my town car. Roy will drive us around with the privacy window up.”

“And you think I’m melodramatic. My parents aren’t criminals or end-of-the-world evil masterminds, Miranda.”

“Now you’re just pissing me off.”

Andrea laughed, the sound husky and teasing. “Careful, you’re South Shields is showing.

Ignoring the reference to the town she grew up in, Miranda sniped, “Do you wonder why no one ever sees it coming when I pounce?”

“Oh, uh, well...”

“Yes, ‘oh, uh, well’. Good night, Andrea.”

XxXxXxXxXxXx

“Mom!”

Miranda held back a waspish reply. The girls, of course, fanned out into every room of the town house, a reconnaissance mission into their own territory as they hunted for anything new or different. In a sugar induced mania, they chattered non-stop, darting all over the place. It took an hour to calm them down and, not for the first time, Miranda lamented ever co-parenting with their father.

At sixty-one, he retained his reed-like build and scraggly shoulder-length hair and impulsive ways. Cassidy once remarked, either in kindergarten or first grade, that she wanted a stuffed ferret she saw at a store and Rod, the bastard, bought her a real one without Miranda’s consent. Two weeks later Cara informed her that ‘Simon’ escaped his cage. After an exhaustive search she found him in her closet sleeping in a mink hand muff. Upon further investigation, once Simon was safely returned to his cage, Miranda discovered the varmint shit in her one-of-a-kind royal purple Louboutin’s. Needless to say she relocated Simon to Dalton, specifically with one of the science teachers. From then on pets in the Priestly household were banned, a fortuitous rule given what happened with the bird in the refrigerator not too long ago.

“When you modulate your tone...”

“What’s ‘modulate’ mean?” Cassidy asked, head cocked to the side as she scratched the side of her nose.

“In this case it means lower the tone of your voice.”

“Okay.” she whispered, the twinkle in her blue gaze tugging at her mother’s heart.

“What can I do for you, bobbsies?”

“Umm, is Andrea your best friend?”

The innocent question, posed after spending the weekend with their tactless father, roused Miranda’s suspicion. She released the tension in her jaw and smile to seem relaxed.

“She’s mommy’s bestest friend.”

Caroline walked into her sister’s bedroom, took one look at Cassidy and Miranda, then began picking up the stuffed animals on the floor.

“Daddy says he wants to meet her.” Caroline commented, sighing when her arms were full.

Miranda stopped breathing for a handful of seconds then inhaled sharply. Caroline frowned then scanned the room.

“Just put them in the chair, Ro.” Cassidy instructed, bugging her eyes out her sister.

Kneeling, she motioned for the girls to gather around her. “Tell me about your visit.”

Cassidy plopped down but Caroline slowly lowered herself to the floor and stretched out her legs, crossing them demurely at the ankles.

“He took us to laser-tag.” Caroline reported, promptly grimacing.

“But our stuff didn’t fit too good.”

Miranda looked at Cassidy who ducked her head and tried again. “The vests were too big.”

Caroline elaborated, “The lady at the desk had some tape to keep it on us but mine kept slipping. I didn’t care for it.”

“I had fun!” Cassidy gushed as she made a ‘gun’ with her fingers and shooting noises. “I killed Daddy like four times!”

“Oh, well, how nice. What else did you do?”

Caroline leaned back on her palms. Her thin shoulders and delicate neck reminded Miranda just how vulnerable and innocent her mini-me truly was. A flash of protectiveness burned through her.

“We had dinner at this place that had a slide and video games and stuff. It was pretty cool.”

Making a face, Caroline said, “We met his new girlfriend.”

“She was nice!”

“She kept calling us ‘kiddo’.” Caroline huffed. “I told her to call me by my name.”

Miranda turned her face aside so her children wouldn’t see the smile the flew across her face.

Cassidy crossed her arms, glaring at her sister. “You were just being mean.”

“Is that true, Caroline?”

Shrugging and avoiding Miranda’s gaze, her daughter’s guilt was plain to see. “I don’t see why I have to like her. She won’t be around long.”

“Cynthia stayed for three years, Ro!”

“Only cause she tried really hard.” Caroline’s face turned pink as the tears spiked her lashes. “That’s what she said, remember? Before she left.”

Miranda extended her hand toward Caroline, wiggling her fingers. “Come here, my tiny terror.”

With her chin held a bit defiantly, Caroline obeyed then slumped against her mother’s body as she pressed her face into the small hollow below Miranda’s clavicle. Not to be excluded, Cassidy pushed into Miranda’s back, looping her thin arms around Miranda’s neck.

Quietly she soothed her children.

After a minute or so, Miranda declared in a soft tone, “I know it hurts that Cynthia’s gone and your father is with someone else. It’s alright to miss her.” Caroline started to cry but when Cassidy slid around Miranda’s torso and sniffled, Miranda bit her lip. “Come on now. Dry your tears, bobbsies.”

Cassidy, the sympathy-crier, naturally stopped crying first. She moved away while Miranda coaxed Caroline to stand.

“That’s better, my love.” Miranda spoke softly, drying her daughter’s eyes then holding her still by her tiny waist. “Why don’t you both unpack and put your things away?”

Caroline hiccupped while playing with the neckline of her mother’s blouse. She patted  Miranda’s shoulder then said, “Mom, I want to ask you something.”

Standing, Miranda massaged her knees then straightened her back by reaching for the ceiling. “Of course, Caroline.”

“Are you mad at Andy? Is that why we haven’t seen them since vacation?”

Cassidy dangled her head over the edge of her bed and sang out, “Let’s go see ‘em.”

Miranda threaded her fingers lightly through Caroline’s hair. “Of course I’m not mad. It’s been a very busy week at Runway.” She narrowed her eyes at Cassidy who groaned then rolled off the bed to stand in front of her.  “Perhaps next week we can schedule something.”

Caroline tilted her head and stared at Miranda. “Fen is like our little sister.”

“She doesn’t wet the bed and likes to play with my hair. It makes her fall asleep. Me, too.” Cassidy continued as she shucked her tennis shoes. “And she’s really smart! She speaks French loads better than me and I went to more classes than she did.”

Honestly, Miranda hadn’t thought through her bobbsies’ reactions to the temporary hiatus between them and the Sachs family. Of course, she should have.

“Dad asked if Andy came over a lot.” Caroline shared casually but her gaze never left her mother’s face. “He asked about our trip. To Florida.”

“Yeah, he said it sounded like we had fun. We told him about teaching Andy how to boogie-board and Fen playin’ in the water and...”

“I get the idea, darling.” Miranda intervened otherwise Cassidy would likely continue the litany until morning. “I’m sure your father was very happy you enjoyed the trip, bobbsies. Now, let’s...”

“Are you single again?” Cassidy asked as she tossed her balled up socks in the hamper’s vicinity.

“Put those where they belong.”

Cassidy huffed and stomped but picked up the socks and put them in the hamper.

Caroline glared at her sister.

Miranda looked at one then the other daughter, neither of whom met her eyes. Miranda crossed her arms and pursed her lips.

“What’s going on?” she demanded in a whisper-soft voice.

Immediately Cassidy gazed at the ceiling as she shrugged her shoulders.

Caroline, not quite as obvious, answered, “Nothing.”

“If you want to know something, all you have to do is ask me.”

“Is Andy your girlfriend?” Cassidy blurted out, standing beside her sister.

Twin nine-year-olds stared up at her. Miranda took a seat on the bed and the girls clambered up on her right side. The question arrived sooner than anticipated. Her children weren’t oblivious all the time. They had friends with same-sex parents. Dalton’s curriculum was progressive. Miranda taught them to be open-minded and accepting. Her worry stemmed from an entirely different place.

“We are in a romantic relationship.” She kept her posture straight and her expression neutral.

Cassidy struggled with her composure. “I Googled your girlfriend.”

Miranda’s lips twitched. “And what do you think, Cassidy? Caroline?”

“Acceptable!” Cassidy sang out then dissolved into laughter.

Rolling her eyes, Miranda reached over and tickled her for a second. “You think you’re so funny.”

“Stop, mommy! Please. I give. I give, for reals.”

Slowly Miranda gazed at Caroline, aware of her daughter’s pensive nature. Giving her time, Miranda turned her attention to quieting Cassidy. They lied down and stared at the ceiling as Cassidy relayed more about her visit with her father.

A minute or more later Caroline moved around them and settled herself on Miranda’s other side. She didn’t snuggle her mother like Cassidy, a fact that didn’t go unnoticed but Caroline’s fledgling independence was a trait Miranda wanted to nurture even though at times it tested her sanity.

The waiting was uncomfortable but over the years she had a lot of practice steeling her nerves. After a few seconds Miranda felt a light flutter against her skin. Small fingers threaded through her own and squeezed.

“Mom?” Caroline whispered.

Training her eyes on the ceiling, Miranda answered, “Yes?”

“I like Andy and Fen.”

Chapter Text

The coffee was adequate and she set it back down on the desk. She scooted the chair forward, looking around her office. It wasn’t often she arrived before nine unless due to an emergency or a scheduling issue and the quiet was sometimes a great way to start the day. In a few minutes Vanessa would give a run-down of changes and updates and Miranda’s day would officially begin. The minutes before then, she enjoyed the coffee and peace while clearing her mind. As an afterthought, she opened the bottom drawer of her desk and flipped through several types of folders. Finally locating the red oversized expanding one marked Personal near the bottom, she glanced up at the outer office, then undid the string-button closure and arched a brow upon seeing its contents. Well. Quickly she closed it back up and returned it to its original location and pushed the drawer closed.

When her phone chirped, Miranda read Q’s reply to the text she’d sent from the town car on the way in.

“Vanessa.” she said, opening up her laptop and putting on her glasses.

“Yes, Miranda.” Vanessa answered nearly through the doorway with pen and pad in hand.

Indicating she should take a seat, Miranda scrolled through her calendar.

“Department Head meeting at nine. Reznick has a conflict...”

Miranda looked up and peered at the assistant over her eye glasses.

“...uh, he said he’d catch up with you today and explain.” Vanessa lowered her gaze. “Andrea and Serena are at the Lancer shoot so they won’t be at the meeting either.”

“Tell Reznick to come directly to my office whenever he arrives and I will be very unhappy if he manages to fob you off with yet another vague excuse as to why he can’t do his job.”

“Yes, Miranda.” Vanessa replied.  “Um, ten o’clock to ten-thirty with Layout on the update for our next issue followed by thirty minutes with Features, then brunch at eleven-thirty, off-site.”

“I’ll be out of the office after three-thirty. That’s all.”

“We’ve pushed back on Clinique twice already.”

Miranda sighed as she focused on the printing cost spreadsheet from last year. “Perhaps I should speak French? Vous comprendriez mes instructions?

Vanessa held the air in her lungs, no doubt getting over the snide edge of Miranda’s voice. When the first assistant simply nodded and left, the editor considered Vanessa’s point.

Until the Clinique reps agreed to feature their unreleased facial cream exclusively with Runway, Miranda decided to keep them waiting. Their products took up less than two percent of the magazine’s advertising blocks although other Estee Lauder subsidiaries fell in between the four to five percent range. Runway wasn’t hurting for advert dollars, not for the next fiscal year anyway. There was a bit of negotiable room until then. She had secured a small amount of leverage within the contract in regards to what type of Clinique products could be marketed in her magazine. She really wanted to feature their new facial cream for thirty days before Clinique opened up their marketing campaign for the product. There was still time to make a few moves before Runway went to print. A game of who flinched first in the parley and Miranda always bet on herself.

From the level of noise just outside her office, it was apparent that the Cerulean Girl finally showed up. Glancing at the time, she leaned back in her chair and took off her glasses.

“Vanessa.” she said.

She entered, coffee in hand. Setting it down precisely to Miranda’s right, she said, “Yes, Miranda.”

“Have the...” Miranda pursed her lips. “...girl waste Andrea’s time.”

“I really think I should stay here today.” the Cerulean Girl squeaked over Vanessa’s shoulder.

With both hands, Miranda employed a brief shooing gesture as she returned her gaze to the computer screen.

“But Mir...”

“One more word...” Miranda softly warned, narrowing her eyes. “...and I will conclude you would rather give up your position as my assistant to one of the million girls who would kill for it. That’s all.”

Despite the early hour, getting ahead of the paperwork wasn’t meant to be. Instead, she spent most of the time on the phone, some of which went under the category of networking. Between conversations, she sent Andrea a quick text, informing her of the change regarding the ‘meeting’ with Q. Then it was time for the day’s first meeting.

Emily, already seated at the conference table, nodded at Miranda. The others filed in behind the editor, their nonsensical conversations crumbling into an uneasy silence. Every Monday morning the lot of them dragged themselves to work, their skin creased and eyes dull. If not for Emily, Andrea and a few others, Runway’s personnel turnover would rival that of a gas station’s.

“Where are we with new beachwear line from Swayz?” she asked, twirling a pen between her fingers.

“They’ve agreed to showcase their two-piece and wrap collections for next month’s issue.”

“And their children’s collection?” She raised a brow at Emily.

“It’s pathetic. I’m going with the one-piece collection.”

Emily’s blue eyes held Miranda’s steady. A few people shifted in their seats.

Holding out her hand palm up, Miranda said “Hand them over.”

A glimmer of a smile crossed Emily’s face before she handed over the shots she’d taken of the ‘pathetic’ collection and the one Miranda hadn’t asked for.

Keeping her features disinterested, she viewed the photos then stuffed them back in the folder.

Miranda withheld a grin. “Acceptable.” Then glancing down at her notes, she asked,  “Roger, did you get the licensing agreements taken care of?”

Reznick’s stand-in wasn’t prepared but Andrea’s was if a bit jittery. The Senior Beauty and Living Editor, who stood in for Serena, was adequate although Miranda hadn’t pressed too hard after the second question she couldn’t answer. She scribbled a note to talk to Serena. And so it went, dreary to the core.

The meeting broke up early. While everyone else pushed back their chairs, Miranda remained seated and checked her phone. With nothing pressing, she sent Vanessa on a coffee run and waited for the next group to roll in.

“Good morning.” Reznick said, leaning against the door frame.

Miranda leaned back in the chair and crossed her legs. His demeanor and overexerted smile set her teeth on edge. She remained silent, staring at him. When his face flushed a bit, she tilted her head just so.

“Did your explanation have a scheduling conflict as well?”

Chuckling, he pointed to her then said, “That’s a good one. I was out late last night so I decided to sleep in a little.”

“How fortunate for me.” She smiled slowly. “Your stand-in was quite impressive.”

“Jonas? Really?” He entered the room and stood in front of her in a weak power play to force her to look up to him.

Miranda swiveled in the chair to face the table and picked up her pen. She checked her email on the phone then started jotting down numbers.

“Okay, then.” he said, sounding a tad smug. “I’ll leave you to it.”

Once he left, she stopped with the pretense, took off her glasses and closed them. Reznick had been skating on the edge of insubordination. Uncharacteristic, the bravado he displayed was an obvious indicator that her plan was working. For now, she would allow him as much rope as possible to hang himself several times. Miranda chuckled low in her chest, tapping the glasses against her chin.

XxXxXxXxXxXx

Michah Perdue’s penthouse overlooked The Pond at Central Park along West 59th Street. Despite not being among them, Miranda had access to the uber rich the second she took over Runway. The magazine drew many admirers but, then, so did she. Fashion was global, wooing a diverse mixture of admirers, from a television reality star to an Arab billionaire, and Miranda dealt with them all.  

She walked across the small foyer with her natural confidence after exiting the private elevator. A butler approached and unobtrusively removed her coat without a spoken cue. Having never been in the Perdue penthouse, Miranda kept her eyes forward and expression impassive as she followed the man to a door where he punched in a code on a panel beside it. Two clicking sounds and a green light later he escorted her through and immediately Miranda adored the décor, hints of 1920’s opulence softening the modern sparsity.

“Madame will be along in a moment.” He said in a such a manner Miranda nearly leaned closer and asked him to repeat it.

She nodded and settled more comfortably in the armless chair. The rich tapestry matched that of the settee and the chair’s sibling. Similar to Turkish in color and lines, the fabric unsurprisingly also held elements of Persian stitching and overall composition. A marble Roman bust rested on a sturdy mahogany pedestal by a baby grand piano which tempted Miranda’s inner pianist to play. Idly wondering if it was in tune, she didn’t hear the approaching butler carrying a tray with two tall frosted glasses.

“Hello, Miranda. You look beautiful as always.” Michah softly greeted as she stopped a few feet away with her hands clasped in front of her.

Standing, she walked toward the older woman and held out her hands to pull her into a brief kiss on the cheek.

“Dear god, you’re wearing a Halston original. I’ve seen the heavily embellished mini dress version, but...this...” Miranda smiled, her devouring gaze on the details and drape. Suddenly she looked up and met Michah’s amused eyes. “It’s a custom piece he created for you.”

“It is. He and Lionel, my third husband, were rather close. Please, sit.” Michah gestured to a chair as she gracefully perched on the settee. “I hope bourbon iced tea is alright? If not, Leonard will bring you whatever you’d like.”

“This will be fine. You have a gorgeous home.” Miranda sipped her drink, surprised by refreshing flavor.

Once Leonard departed, Michah said, “Thank you. We’ll have brunch in the atrium as soon as it’s ready. Leonard will appear like smoke to summon us.”

“A very useful trait. Perhaps he can teach my daughters how to move about the town house without alerting everyone within a five mile radius.”

The conversation turned to niceties which normally Miranda didn’t abide but Michah charmed her with scandalous tales from decades past. In her seventies, the retired publisher still maintained a surprising vigor, although admitting to minimizing her social interactions more as the years went on.

“Well, as happy as I am to talk about the past, we have business to discuss in the present, yes?”

Inclining her head, Miranda replied, “Yes, we do.”

The second they finished their drinks, Leonard appeared and said, “Brunch is ready, madame.”

Michah frowned. “Call me by my given name, Leonard. There’s no need to stand on ceremony.”

He nodded, picked up the serving tray then put the empty glasses on it. “As you wish.”

“ ‘Michah’. I know you can say it.”

“Of course.” he replied as he held the tray, bowed slightly and left.

Michah’s eyebrows rose as she looked at Miranda. “Fifteen years he’s been in my service. I think he and my driver James have a bet to see who can resist calling me by my first name the longest. Or they’re trying to drive me insane.”

Standing, Miranda smiled. “I wonder what the winner gets.”

“Probably something utterly idiotic. Oh, before I forget, I hope you don’t mind having those mini chicken and waffles that you served at your party? I’m hooked, I’m afraid, and my personal chef is very annoyed with me.”

Miranda murmured an agreeable sound as she noticed the original Frida Kahlo oil painting on the wall and slowed her step.

“I bought it at auction. Do you know the story behind it?” Michah asked, gazing pensively at the painting.

“No, but I find it a bit conflictive. The pose and hand suggest an openness and willingness but the eyes...they’re a bit defiant, aren’t they? I can’t quite make up my mind. It’s certainly draws you in.”

Michah sighed. “She was very young when she got into an accident that left her bedridden with numerous injuries. Her...boyfriend, I suppose you could call him that, at the time left her. While she healed, she wasn’t idle and learned a great many things, perhaps best of all, honing her artistic skills. She did this self-portrait to woo back Alejandro and sent it to him along with many passionate letters. He finally returned to her if only temporarily.”

“How incredible.”

“The doctors didn’t think she would ever recover from her injuries but she did. She showed this painting to Diego Rivera, an artist and her husband twice-over. He was a great influence on her art and life.”

Miranda bit her lower lip. “It’s a shame she killed herself.”

“Freda led a remarkable life.”

“Is she a favorite artist of yours?”

Looking away but not before Miranda witnessed a certain sorrowful glint in her eyes, Michah replied, “One of many.”

Miranda lapsed into a courteous silence as she followed Michah to a small old-fashioned lift.

“The atrium is on the roof. At first I thought my second husband was very pretentious when he had it built. Turns out he just liked spending my money.” Michah pressed a button and they were carried upward. “But I must admit it’s my most treasured space.”

The metal cage-styled elevator smoothly stopped and Leonard pushed back the expandable door.

“The fool wanted to install a birdcage lift along the outside of the building.” Michah said as she sat down on the chair Leonard held out.

Miranda responded, “I think it would have been lovely.”

Leonard then pulled out her chair and she murmured her thanks.

Large by New York standards, the atrium’s smoke paneled glass walls and ceiling offered a wonderous view of Central Park. Miranda strained her eyes but knew it was impossible to see Andrea from such a height and distance. The tree canopy alone was enough of a deterrent.

“This is truly magnificent, Michah. Thank you.”

Leonard served as Michah replied, “I’m pleased you enjoy it. It’s not often I have the opportunity to share a few of my treasures.”

Miranda glanced at the orchids and ferns and greenery she couldn’t name. “It almost feels like spring in here and your orchids are beautiful.”

“Leonard enjoys...” Michah waved a hand while she arranged a linen napkin across her lap. “...plants and flowers. Latasha, my chef, maintains a herb and vegetable garden along the east  wall. I daresay I will be on a strict diet of leafy greens or some such nonsense after this.”

Miranda smiled, enjoying the baby kale and spinach salad. “I thought you used the caterer?”

“Latasha insisted she could do better.” Michah winked then murmured, “She’s frightfully competitive.”

XxXxXxXxXxXx

Settled in the library with a glass of port, Miranda crossed her legs. Michah, perched a few feet away on the couch, sipped from her drink as she turned to face Miranda.

“Did anyone find a crumb?”

“As you’re aware, I had three photos from Fashion Week parties altered in such a way it appears Andrea and I are more intimate than we truly are.”

Michah’s sly grin put Miranda ill at ease. “Dear, you’re very clever girl but, well, I have been around the block, as it were, much more than you. I’m certainly not judging. However, before we continue, I would like to know the true nature of your association with Andrea Sachs.”

Off kilter, Miranda’s thoughts raced then she clenched her jaw. “She’s the Fashion Director of Runway.”

“Adele is fighting her own battle with Mitchell Langley, if you remember, and her trust in you is very high due to your help in ousting Irv.” Michah sipped her port and looked directly into Miranda’s eyes. “Be that as it may, my role is to handle the details. I had you investigated.”

“Is that so.” she said lowly. never blinking as she narrowed her eyes.

“Oh, dear, please put away the knives. You are in my home, after all, aren’t you?” Michah smiled and the kindness it showed startled Miranda. “Surely you like to know whom you’re doing business with.”

“Are we going to compare private investigators?”

Michah smiled. “I have no doubt you have quite a file on me, Miranda. I wouldn’t be surprised if you had files on the entire Elias Clarke board.”

Miranda chewed a forkful of salad, never breaking eye contact, then she swallowed. “So, what do you want?”

Frowning slightly, Michah dabbed her mouth with a napkin. “Tell me the truth about the nature of your relationship with Andrea Sachs.”

For a second Miranda considered bluffing but Michah spent more money a year than Miranda made. She pursed her lips.

“Miranda, I have pictures as well but they aren’t manufactured. Valentine’s Day, the Florida trip as well as a few steamy ones from the Met this past Friday. I’ll show them to you if you’d like. You both look striking and quite infatuated with one another.”

Pulling back her shoulders and lifting her chin, Miranda answered coolly, “I’m in love with her.”

“Is it mutual?” Michah asked with a clap of her hands. “I do so enjoy a love story.”

Miranda glowered.

“Oh, come now, I have been married four times, you realize. By the way, I think your strategy is brilliant.”

“How do you mean?”

“Once the altered ones are published and shown to be fakes, well, any real photographs to find their way into the news would be dismissed as fakes, too. I find that devilishly funny.”

The vice grip holding Miranda’s lungs hostage finally opened. “That’s the idea, yes.”

“There will be rumors, of course and another flare up once you two go public, but, by then, your new jobs will be secured.” Michah said, leaning back on the settee. “Unfortunately you’ll have to stay in the closet until the end of the year. Simmie and Frank, for their own separate reasons, are quite keen on bringing you into our little club, too. By the end of the year, there won’t be enough dissenters to keep you from joining us.”

“I’m happy to hear that.” Mentally shaking off the fuzziness residing in her head, Miranda redirected the conversation. “Adele told me that Jacqueline Follet contacted Mitchell. I assume he steered her to my Creative Director Robert Reznick. As you know, Jacqueline and Robert showed up at my after-party for Fashion Week. They’ve been spotted together at several Runway functions. He’s the weakest link in my management team so it stands to reason. I don’t know how they knew, however, but given Langley’s ambition for usurping Adele’s position, it’s conceivable he has his loyalists as well.”

“Reznick helps her gather support and spread poison about you as well as search out other discontents.”

Miranda smiled, pleased by the predatory tremor along her spine and shoulders. “This will be her last hoorah.”

“In more ways than one, dear, but I want to surprise you.” Michah said.

Nodding once, she waited a beat before continuing. “Several weeks ago my second assistant suddenly started wearing a few pieces that were only released in the European market. Even her speech improved.” Miranda sighed then finished the port. “Of course her Henry Higgins is Follet.”

“Perhaps, but she does have her own accent.” Michah stared off into space then frowned. “To recap thus far, dear, Jacqueline contacted Langley who then referred her to Reznick. Then...you believe the French tramp enlisted your second assistant to gather dirt on you?”

“Yes. When Jacqueline showed up, I immediately decided on a...strategy.” Miranda smirked. “But it’s twofold, Michah, or it can be.”

“Oh, I do love a two-for-one.”

 “One of the crumbs I planted Friday went missing this morning.”

Michah leaned forward. “The second assistant.”

“Vanessa, the first assistant, has almost finished her year. I’ve already reserved a place for her with Buttons, the new publication. There’s no reason for her to sabotage that by betraying me. Besides which, she’s quite smart and hardworking. I planted the photo late Friday. Coincidently, Andrea stopped by Runway on Saturday morning and ran into the girl.”

“That’s opportunity. What do you think your assistant do with the photo?”

Miranda gently huffed. “Reznick missed the Department Head meeting to sleep in. He was very flippant. I can only assume the spineless twit has it.”

“Now it’s a waiting game.”

“If he gives it to Page Six or TMZ or anyone really, that would be justification not only to fire him but to see if Langley’s involved.”

“Would Reznick talk?”

Miranda felt the corners of her mouth rise. “Oh, it’s quite possible. Especially if Runway decides to sue for breaking the NDA.”

“What about the assistant?”

“Reznick will either give her up or I can simply make her quit or fire her.”

Michah softly chuckled. “I do remember when you took over Runway. You were astonishing. I never witnessed such carnage before or since.”

“Truth is, there is no one that can do what I do.”

Chapter Text

Miranda walked through the doors of Runway at precisely two-fifteen in the afternoon. Without breaking her stride, she covered the crowded expanse of the bullpen, tuning out the startled apologies and frightened exclamations. With any luck Andrea would have returned from the shoot. She flung her coat and dropped her purse on Vanessa’s desk as she entered her office, telling the assistant to ‘fetch Andrea’.

She checked the folder containing the altered photos and grinned. One was still missing. The longer it remained so, the more anxious the thief would become to return it before Miranda discovered the theft. She lived on hope. A dozen or so phone messages were neatly stacked on her desk. Skimming through them as she walked to the window and stood in a slanted rectangle of sunshine, Miranda breathed through the impatience squeezing her ribs. Of all the days to keep her waiting, Andrea chose today.

“Vanessa said you wanted to see me.”

Miranda said, “Shut the door.”

Andrea instantly obeyed, her expression when she looked at Miranda rather blank. She joined her, stopping a few feet away.

“Any problems with the shoot?”

“No, went off without a hitch. You’ll be pleased.” Andrea smiled wryly. “Amber was useless.”

Glancing out the window, Miranda said, “We will discuss things at length when you drop off the Book tonight. For now, I want you to leave Runway at three.” She looked at Andrea and smirked. “Go get one of those bagels you’re so fond of at that place around the corner. Roy will pick you up at three-twenty then we’ll take a little drive.”

Andrea nodded.

“Did you get the data?”

“Yes but I need to filter it and check for...”

“Fine. Have it ready tonight or perhaps we’ll work on it then.”

Looking at her with a smile, Andrea asked, “Is there anything else I can do?”

Miranda’s gaze flicked toward the door, satisfied it remained closed, then said in a low voice, “Take off your undergarments before we leave Runway.”

The blush on her face, how she appeared a little dumbstruck and the way her dark eyes flashed with hunger hit exactly the right spot.

“I can do that.” Andrea whispered and stepped into Miranda’s personal space without touching her. “Fast and dirty then?”

“To start.”

Andrea’s feral smile slowly appeared as her eyes made promises. “I can do that, too.”

Coolly admiring Andrea’s confidence, Miranda nudged, “Are you sure?”

With a slight nod, Andrea took a careful step back. “The question is whether or not you’ll be able to take what I’m going to do to you. Isn’t it?”

Miranda watched the sway of Andrea’s hips as she walked away.

The woman was going to be the death of her.

XxXxXxXxXxXx

Roy cut into the flow of traffic from the Elias-Clarke curb. The tinted partition slid into place. Her earlier thoughts teased the back of her head, buzzing like so many tiny insects. She gauged the backseat, pleased by the roominess but unconvinced by the opaque divider’s ability to shield them from prying eyes. Having never sat in the front seat, Miranda hardly knew how effective it was, but, then, Roy proved his loyalty every day unlike her ex-husbands. It struck her then, the uncomfortable prickle between her shoulder blades.

Fucking Andrea in the back of the town car seemed a bit tawdry when she stopped to think about it. The needs must explanation held true, but, didn’t Andrea deserve better? Miranda frowned, forcing out an annoyed breath through the sudden tightness in her chest. Her brain rumbled to life, spewing ideas like coal fueled locomotives ejecting black cumulus clouds. Perhaps amid the current conditions Miranda could turn tawdry into romance. She loved Andrea with a boundless wonder but it as rather difficult to be romantic in a car, even if it had heated leather seats, darkened windows and a driver. Miranda flared her nostrils and looked out the window.

Roy slowed down as he pulled up along the curb. The driver’s door opened but Andrea, more impatient than he, hopped in before he had a chance to open the rear passenger side. Miranda played with her glasses, opening and closing them, then shoved them into her purse, obviously keyed up.

“Hi.” Andrea said, smiling as she hooked the seatbelt closed and leaned forward to kiss Miranda on the cheek. “You look edible.”

“I’m...petulant.”

The dark twin wings of Andrea’s eyebrows climbed then dived. “What’s the matter, baby?”

“I want to romance you.”

Andrea started laughing then quickly stopped when Miranda leveled an icy blue gaze at her. “I know you love me, Miranda. We’ll have time to for romance.” Sucking in her upper lip, she reached across the seat and placed her hand on Miranda’s thigh. “I guess I’ve just pushed everything back until the end of the year. You know what I mean?”

Miranda placed her hand over Andrea’s and squeezed. “I do but it doesn’t mean...well, I just want...” No longer hiding behind her editor’s veneer, she continued, “...more. For us.”

Andrea disengaged the seatbelt and moved over until their shoulders touched then she inched closer, hand gently cupping Miranda’s cheek to look into her eyes.

“We will have it.” she said, staring into Miranda’s dark blue eyes. “But right now, I am happily going to take whatever I can and I’m not going to question it.” Andrea nodded then returned to her side of the seat. “Now, put your big girl pants on.”

Miranda simply narrowed her eyes at Andrea.

They drove in silence until Roy slowed the vehicle a few minutes later then stopped. The rush of chilly wind swept into the heated vehicle as Andrea exited and stood off to the side to allow the private investigator to enter with Andrea right behind her.

“Q, this is Andrea Sachs.”

The diminutive woman remained silent but nodded as she pulled a sealed brown envelope from inside her coat. Andrea snatched the folder from Q’s hand. The investigator startled but didn’t try to take it back.

Miranda scowled, imperiously extending her hand across Q’s lap but Andrea tucked the dossier into her purse on the floor by her feet.

“Well, so, good doin’ business.” Q muttered, giving Andrea a side glance.

It was a shock, Andrea’s high-jacking but whatever information Q had obtained was about Andrea’s parents.

“Yes.” Miranda replied. “Any particular corner you wish to be dropped off at?”

“Suppose closer the better.”

Miranda pressed a button and said, “Roy, pull over when it’s convenient.” She then handed over an envelope which Q quickly accepted before sliding it somewhere inside her coat.

As soon as Q scrambled out and Andrea slid back in Miranda asked, “Do you want to tell me what that was all about?”

“I want to give my mother time to adjust to the changes. I trust my dad, Miranda. He’s never broken his word to me, okay?”

“I suggest you keep it locked up only because it likely contains sensitive information. I also want to point out that if you’re wrong, we will have lost any advantage that may be in the dossier. There won’t be another opportunity.” Miranda held up her hand, stalling Andrea’s objection. “It’s your decision to make, of course.”

“Duly noted.” Andrea met Miranda’s gaze, her dark brown eyes unwavering. “If it all goes to hell, you’ll still be Runway’s editor and I can get a position somewhere else.”

“Andrea...”

“Miranda, you know it’s true, but that’s a...” Andrea stopped, obviously thinking of how to finish her thought. “...worst case scenario!”

“Hardly. You could lose custody of Fen.” Miranda rubbed her temple then rounded on Andrea. “We will discuss this tonight. Roy will drop me off at Runway then take you home. Perhaps you should make the girl bring the Book that way you can have more time with Fen?”

“What if she decides to snoop around?”

Half-smiling with her lips closed, Miranda’s forelock gently fell forward, not quite shielding one eye. “If she’s that foolhardy...”

Then Miranda chuckled, a very wicked, faint sound, which obviously affected Andrea considering the burst of heat in her gaze.

Andrea’s top half leaned toward Miranda, chin extended and her expression caused Miranda’s heartrate to inch higher.

“If I’m going to have a chance in hell of fooling people that I just didn’t take off my panties simply because you wanted me to, then can you just, like please, tone down La Priestly?”

Indignant, Miranda retorted, “Then stop devouring me with your eyes.”

Miranda fluttered a dismissive hand in Andrea’s direction then faced the window. The timing was incredibly inconvenient, but then, the chemistry between them didn’t care. It was aggravating. People muttered “ice queen”, “frigid bitch”, and other insults behind her back yet that didn’t mean they never reached her ears. Of all the times to struggle with control, when the stakes were the highest, left her insanely at odds with herself. She just knew Andrea’s thighs were slick.

“I have tried.”

The almost meek pitch of Andrea’s voice pushed at Miranda, reminding her that while Andrea was a formidable person, she possessed vulnerabilities like everyone else.

“I know, darling.” she sighed and reached over to hold Andrea’s hand. “I should not have lashed out at you.”

As quick as Andrea’s temper rose, it ebbed. For that and many other things,  Miranda’s gratitude doubled.

“I think it’s understandable, don’t you?” Andrea’s fingers tangled with Miranda’s as she smiled. “You basically just have to breathe and I get turned on but tonight we’ll talk first.”

The car slowed. Gradually Andrea’s fingers flexed as they freed themselves from Miranda’s.

“I’ll send Roy to collect you around seven-thirty.”

Roy stopped and hurriedly exited the vehicle. Miranda unbuckled her seat belt.

“Sounds good.”

She smirked as the door swung open. “I’ll see you tonight.”

XxXxXxXxXxXx

The sun was setting through the gaps between the buildings. She listened to Malcolm request her presence at a client dinner as she loosened the belt on her coat then instructed him to hold on.

“Too hot.” she said to Roy then leaned back in the seat and told Malcolm to continue.

Traffic was light as they drove through an intersection but pedestrians crowded the sidewalks up Sixth Avenue. A red light at Fifty-Ninth Street kept them from taking a right at East Fifty-Seventh. She disliked the human congestion around Central Park that ballooned the twenty minute ride home into nearly thirty. Even so she’d make dinner with the twins.

Malcolm’s tone sharpened. It took her a few seconds to realize he was trying to get her attention.

“It’s not rocket science. I’ve been married twice, you know.”

“That’s not the type of wit I was alluding to, Miranda.”

She tsked into the receiver. “And they say I’m the diva.”

“This dinner is very important to me.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow night.”

Miranda put her phone away then started toying with her glasses as she thought about Andrea’s birthday which was coming up next week. It was frustrating not to be able to do what she wanted and take an extended weekend to Nigel’s cabin by Hunter Mountain in the Catskills. She thought of teaching Fen how to ski on the “bunny slope”, watching the twins fly down the blue runs, and drinking wine by the fireplace with Andrea. Or perhaps hop on a plane to Ottawa and go ice skating on the Rideau Canal or lazily browse the ByWard Market.

The car slowed once again and parked in front of the town house. Miranda gathered her purse and braced herself against the cold air when Roy opened the door.

“Andrea’s expecting you at seven-thirty to bring her back to the town house.” she said, handing him a folded hundred dollar bill.

“Of course, Miranda.”

As soon as she entered the house she was besieged by two little terrors even before she set her purse down. Cara took her coat once Miranda shrugged out of it. She slipped out of her heels and flexed her toes, enjoying the floor’s cool, flat surface against the soles of her feet. Perhaps after dinner there would be enough time to soak in the tub with a glass of wine.

“Can you sign our permission slips?” Cassidy groaned, hanging onto Miranda’s forearm.

Before being allowed to clarify, Caroline supplied, “The Food Bank on West 116th.”

“Yeah. We’re gonna learn how to sort food and put it away.” Cassidy finally explained as she performed a drunken pirouette.

“Cassidy, do be careful.” Miranda scolded in a mild tone, setting the heels on the bottom step of the stair to carry up later. “Leave it on the kitchen table and I’ll sign it before bed.”

“Dinner’s almost ready and the table’s set.” Cara said as she blocked Cassidy from twirling near the flower vase again then ushered the twins on ahead. “Wash your hands.”

“I’m sure Derby’s waiting.”

“Don’t gotta tell me twice.”

“Before you go...” Miranda glanced toward the kitchen then ducked low to say, “...have the girls said anything about Andrea and I?”

Cara’s grin arrived slowly with a hint of gloating. She shrugged and said, “Cassidy has math homework.”

Miranda raised her eyebrows as Cara gather her coat then followed the girls down the hallway.

As she opened the door, Cara’s amused voice reached Miranda. “And she brought back a pet.”

When she reached the kitchen, the girls were wiping their hands on a dish towel.

“Cara mentioned you brought home a pet, Cassidy.” Miranda slightly narrowed her eyes at the unrepentant terror. “Care to explain?”

“Harriet had babies. Like a lot of them and Spaghetti was being mean so Mrs. Nelson separated them.”

Miranda pulled down two cups from the cabinet. “I don’t believe I know a Harriet, darling, and spaghetti is pasta. I suppose I should be thankful I know Mrs. Nelson is one of your teachers.”

“They’re hamsters, mom.” Cassidy groaned and gave her an exasperated look.

“I didn’t give my permission for a sleepover with your school pets.” Miranda sternly said as she withdrew the water pitcher from the refrigerator.

“Cara did.” Caroline supplied then accepted a cup.

Miranda pursed her lips and thought of suitable retributions. “Go sit down at the table.”

“Can I have iced tea? Cara made some when we got home.”

“Drink your water first. At the table, Cassidy.

When the twins were finally seated, she retrieved more plastic cups and the pitcher of tea then set everything down on the table. She cut into the veggie lasagna. Cara used long thin strips of zucchini instead of pasta per Miranda’s instructions, however, the girls were less than enthused.

Finally sitting down, Miranda scraped off the top layer of cheese which was merely a thin dusting of parmesan in anticipation of Cara’s heavy hand with the ricotta layers.

“Now, about your school pets.”

Each girl cringed a little, keeping their eyes on the plates in front of them. Miranda sipped some water then started cutting into the lasagna. She waited and watched Cassidy give her sister a side-eyed glance, raising an eyebrow, to which Caroline responded with a brief nod.

“We’re getting extra credit which will help our grades so we can get into a good college.” Caroline carefully enunciated.

“I see.” Miranda stared at her daughters but neither blinked. She gave them credit for clever manipulation but declined to voice it.

To prolong their anxiety just a bit, she slowly chewed her food then took a long sip of water.

Mom!” Cassidy whined, kicking her feet.

“We’re learning about reproduction and how hamsters care for their young.”

Cassidy silently encouraged her sister. Then, as if inspired, thoughtfully added, “Yeah, the babies are bald. There’s like ten of them. Mrs. Nelson says human moms can’t have that many babies at once without the help of doctors. It would be soooo cool if you could get us like ten baby sisters at once, Mom. For reals.”

Miranda stabbed her food and scoffed quietly.

“We have an assignment, too.” Caroline informed her, nearly knocking down her tea.

Gently repositioning the glass away from active elbows, Miranda said, “Which is?”

“To observe and keep a...log?” Caroline nodded at her word choice then scratched her cheek. “I don’t know for how long.”

“Thirty minutes.” Cassidy answered before shoveling too much food into her mouth.

Pinning Cassidy with a hard stare and a shake of her head, Miranda waited until her daughter bit off a manageable portion, leaving the rest on the fork.

“Can we use your phone to take pictures?”

“Finish your dinner first and I mean all of it.”

XxXxXxXxXxXx

While Cassidy worked on math and Caroline hunkered down on the couch in the playroom to read, Miranda soaked in the hottest water possible. She finished off the merlot from the previous night and set the glass on wide ledge of the oval tub then expelled a long breath, closing her eyes. The milky, lavender scented water lapped against an exposed knee. Water swirls caressed her skin as she slid further into the tub. The gurgling sounds each time she moved softly reverberated in the steamy room. Miranda glided her palms across the slickness of her skin, evoking an erotic ripple from her head to her toes as she arched into the sensation.

“MOM!”

The girls burst through the bathroom door, hysterical as they begged her to hurry and follow them. Bath water sloshed against the tub as she got out and grabbed the silk robe draped over the closed toilet seat. Heart hammering in her chest, she followed them to the playroom.

Caroline’s face was horrified as she pointed to the hamster cage, tears streaking down her face.

“She ATE THEM!” Cassidy yelled, her bottom lip trembling.

Miranda leaned forward, one arm wrapped around her middle while she pressed her fingers to her lips, not quite wanting to get a ‘good view’ of the carnage. The twins crowded the table where the small habitat loomed like a plastic castle of death.

“Mom, look! She got another one.” Cassidy cried out, pointing and stomping.

Her stomach tensed when she beheld a voracious Harriet stuffing her cheeks with squirming pink young.

“Perhaps she’s...I’m sure she’s just protecting...”

“Well, they’re not coming out!” Cassidy exclaimed, so waspish it almost made Miranda laugh. “You gotta stop her.”

“There’s only three left! Do something, mommy!” Caroline cried yanking on her hand and pulling her toward the table.

“I’ll take care of this...you just leave. Mommy’s going to...”

They wailed in unison, skin splotchy and tiny chests heaving. She sucked in a breath then approached the cage, vaguely queasy by Harriet’s apparent appetite. Beady little black eyes glanced up at her as she opened the top of the cage. Miranda reached in, mashing down on her bottom lip with her teeth, and went to grab the cannibal but Harriet went on the offensive. The orange spawn of Satan dropped a baby then sank her teeth into Miranda’s finger.

“You ungrateful son of a bitch!” she shrieked, pulling out her hand.

Blood dripped from the side of her index finger, down to the knuckle then off her wrist. She tried to quiet the girls while making the choice to sacrifice the robe instead of the carpet. Their cries lowered to a less dramatic level while Miranda wrapped the mid-length sleeve around her hand, yanking down the neckline to reach it.

“Shh, shh, mommy’s okay. It’s just a tiny bite.”

She went to show them but as soon as the pressure on the wound eased, it bled.

The girls followed Miranda to the hall bathroom where she patiently allowed Caroline to wash her finger and pat it dry. Cassidy tore off a piece of toilet paper and held it against her mother’s skin while Caroline got the first aid kit from underneath the sink. The twins took turns taking care of it as Miranda docilely obeyed their instructions. When first Cassidy then Caroline kissed the band-aid, she gathered her girls, hugging them and kissing their heads.

“Harriet!” Cassidy suddenly whispered then took off, Caroline right behind her.

Miranda groaned. She supposed she could try to spray salt water on it, let it sit then rinse it out to see if the blood stains vanished. Then she thought of Cara and smirked. By the time she returned to the playroom, the girls stood in front of the cage with their heads down, sniffling.

“She ate them all.” Cassidy informed her, shaking her head. “Man, hamsters are medieval.”

Lips twitching, Miranda opted to bite her lip rather than comment.

Caroline grabbed the side of her robe. “What’re we gonna tell Mrs. Nelson?”

Miranda put the top back on the cage as she replied, “I’ll take care of it.”

“Oh, crap.” Cassidy gasped. “Are you gonna get rabies?”

The thought made her stomach twist. She made a mental note to Google it. “No, bobbsies, of course not. Now, I need to clean up...”

“Somebody’s at the door.” Cassidy stated the obvious given the doorbell then took off, joined by Caroline. “I’ll answer it.”

Miranda muttered an expletive then hurried behind them, tying the robe closed. “Wait for mommy.”

They peered through the long narrow windows on either side of the door.

“It’s Andy!” they announced with excitement.

It was later than she realized. Miranda opened the door and pulled her inside from the cold night. Her nose and cheeks were tinted a lovely shade of pink.

Andrea pulled off her beret as the girls chirped around her like little chickens. Miranda shut the door and set the alarm. Chilled from the thin, damp material that uncomfortably stuck to her skin, she attempted to pluck it loose as she stood off to the side.

“Andy, guess what...”

“Cassidy, let’s allow Andrea a minute to take off her coat, shall we, before regaling her with the savage details?”

“Are you hurt?” Andrea tugged on Miranda’s wrist then eased her grasp as she looked at her hand.

Shaking her head, she answered, “I need to change...”

“Don’t on my account.” Andrea whispered, staring at the slight gape of material exposing Miranda’s cleavage.

Rolling her eyes, Miranda adjusted the robe and gave Andrea a hard look before saying, “If you’re hungry, we left a plate for you in the fridge. I’ll just be a minute.”

“Come on, Andy.” Caroline ordered, taking her hand as Cassidy ran ahead to the kitchen. “It’s veggie lasagna and it’s good, kinda, I guess, but it doesn’t have pasta.”

Andrea looked back over her shoulder and smiled wickedly as she gave her the once-over.

Miranda more or less hustled up to her room and surveyed the damage in the bathroom mirror. Hair curling around her face, damper on the nape of her neck, she carefully arranged her bangs until the forelock looked sexily tousled. After allowing the robe to slip down her arms to the floor, she applied the lightest touch of mascara and lip gloss then picked up the robe and slung it over the hamper. Quickly she put on the Monrow vintage crew shirt made of a cotton-modal blend that brushed down her skin like a sigh. The old, frayed jeans were loose but tight enough across the ass that she couldn’t bear to part with them. She seemed to recall Andrea harbored a particular fondness for them as well. All the better. Barefooted and expectant, Miranda took the stairs almost with a girlish eagerness.

At the island on a high stool, Andrea sat between two little red heads and ate. Hanging back, Miranda enjoyed the view for a moment then sauntered in.

Andrea, holding the back of her hand against her mouth to keep the food inside when Cassidy said something funny, looked equal parts amused and appalled.

“Did you finish your math homework?” Miranda pointedly questioned on her way to the refrigerator.

“Yup.” she said, leaning against Andrea’s arm.

“How’s Fen? When can we see her?” Caroline chimed in, tugging Andrea’s elbow.

“Let me talk to your mom about our schedules but, to answer your first question, she’s doing well and learning a new French song just for you two.”

The uprising of questions drowned out all else. Miranda smirked at Andrea, arching her eyebrows as she drank a glass of water. For the most part, she allowed the conversation to be directed by the twins, only nudging them here and there.

“Can we show her now, Mom?” Cassidy asked, hopping off the stool albeit with a touch of difficulty.

Andrea’s brow crinkled but she gamely followed the Priestly females up the stairs and to the playroom. As if drawn to the plastic habitat, Andrea headed straight toward it, cooing over Harriet’s cute little face. Miranda stayed in the background to the side and waited.

“Okay, so, here’s what happened...” Cassidy launched into the why and how of Harriet’s temporary lodging at the Priestly abode.

“Can I hold her?” Andrea asked.

“Umm, it’d be better if you watched this first.” Caroline replied, holding up Miranda’s phone. “We took a video to, uh, show our teacher cause we’re getting extra credit for taking Harriet home.”

Caroline’s eyes grew round. “I wonder how much now. Oh, wow, we might never have to take a test again, Sid.”

Miranda hushed them.

Andrea, slightly perplexed, said, “Uh, okay. Must be pretty good to get even more extra credit.”

“Just press play.” Cassidy said, handing her the phone.

A few minutes later Andrea breathed, “Oh, my god. What the...”

Then they started shouting, the girls hovering around and offering Andrea their thoughts, while Miranda covered her mouth and bit the inside of her cheek. The way Andrea and the girls interacted, equally mortified by Harriet’s behavior, showed they were three peas in a pod. They took turns trying to come up with a reason why which splintered into several more questions and the speculation went wild.

“Okay, girls, calm down and tell her the rest of the story, hm?” Miranda cut in then motioned for Andrea to follow her to the couch.

Much to her chagrin, the girls flanked Andrea and Miranda was regulated to a chair.

Andrea’s eyes promised, the glint of affection immediately settling Miranda’s annoyance at being outmaneuvered by her offspring.

“Mom was taking a bath.” Cassidy said then leaned close. “It helps her relax. Remember that.”

Andrea slyly looked at Miranda who tried to keep a blush from showing.

“I was doing math and Ro was reading here on the couch.” Then whispered, “She’s really good at it but I’m not.”

“It cause you don’t like it.” Caroline offered, taking Andrea’s hand. “Sid is way smart.”

Miranda sank into endless tenderness she felt when watching her bobbsies support one another.

“So, I checked on Harriet cause, well, I needed a break. We got mom’s phone.” Cassidy said.

Caroline explained, “We ate all our veggie lasagna even though it didn’t have pasta in it.”

Cassidy frowned, then made a gagging noise. “She just started eatin’ her babies. I was so freaked out. For reals.”

“I started to cry.” Caroline confessed, sweetly patting Andrea on the shoulder. “We totally freaked out.”

“I would have, too.” Andrea rejoined, squeezing the little girl. “Then what happened?”

“We got mommy.” Cassidy answered as if it were the most obvious answer in the world.

Andrea nodded with solemn understanding. “She’s really good in a freak out. Trust me, I know.”

Unable to help herself, Miranda closed in on the little group and nudged Cassidy away from Andrea then sat down.

“Hi.” Andrea pressed her side against Miranda’s.

Angling in, Miranda kissed Andrea’s temple and murmured, “Hi.”

“It’s okay.” Caroline said at Andrea’s wide-eyed expression. “We know you and Mom are girlfriends, not like girls that are friends...”

“Like romantic friends.” Cassidy supplied, grinning.

“Mommy says we are private people in public lives.” Caroline intoned, nodding her head.

“Yeah. We just don’t tell our business.” Cassidy confirmed but a crease formed between her eyes. “Be nice to her.”

Miranda hugged Cassidy and reached across Andrea’s lap to squeeze Caroline’s knee.

Andrea crossed her heart then kissed her index finger and pressed it to Cassidy’s lips. “I promise to be nice and not tell anybody’s business.”

“Promise me, too.” Caroline said, puckering her lips to receive Andrea’s promise. “And you gotta talk to her, okay? Mom says people aren’t mind-readers.”

Looking at Miranda, Andrea’s dark eyes shone with emotion.

“I will.” she said.

Miranda stood, extending her hand to Andrea who eagerly grasped it.

“Hey.” she said, holding up their clasped hands. “What’s with the band aid?”

“Harriet bit her when she tried to stop her!” Caroline answered, putting her head against her mother’s hip. “Me and Sid made it better though.”

“I’m glad she had you two here to take care of her.” Andrea said, smoothing down Cassidy’s hair. “Harriet has...issues.”

Cassidy scrunched up her face then said, “She’s an ungrateful son of a bitch.”

Chapter Text

Without an audience, Andrea’s gaze roamed wherever it wished and for however long it wished to do so. She crossed her legs and settled into the chair. Miranda traced a fingertip down the computer screen, her absorption providing Andrea an uncontested view. The low lighting in the den softened the sharp jut of Miranda’s jaw and cheekbone, warming the paleness of her skin. Andrea loved how the graceful arch of her eyebrows so eloquently expressed her thoughts.

“It’s interesting to note that every weekday since the middle of February Reznick and Amber have been in the Closet at eight am. No one else is even close to matching that regularity at all.”

Andrea rose from the chair and joined Miranda behind the desk. She lightly placed her palm on Miranda’s back as she bent low to confirm which spreadsheet was on the screen.

“Within minutes of each other, too. I think the longest time they spent together in the Closet was a little under five minutes and Reznick never scanned anything in or out.”

Miranda propped her chin in her hand. “What about the weekends?”

Andrea took control of the mouse and moved the cursor while using the button to open up a different tab on the worksheet.

“Reznick no, and Amber about what you’d expect. Aside from some spikes that corelate to Runway or fashion events, activity is nominal on Saturdays and Sundays.” Andrea pulled up another spreadsheet invading Miranda’s space. “Reznick only visited the Closet once in January but nothing for December and November of last year. He didn’t cover his...” Sidetracked by the fragrant skin so close to her, Andrea nuzzled behind Miranda’s ear. “God, you smell good.”

“Let’s get through this than we can do that.” Miranda whispered, tilting her head toward her.

Andrea didn’t hesitate to kiss her. Achingly soft, Miranda’s tongue delved deeper into her mouth, seducing Andrea to offer more. When she dug her nails into Miranda’s shoulder, a positively indecent moan spilled forth from Miranda’s throat.

“We need to stop.” Andrea panted, drawing away. “I really don’t want to.”

Miranda smirked, lazy appraisal in her gaze as she licked her bottom lip, then returned her attention to the computer screen.

After a moment, she said, “Send Emily...”

“I already sent her an email about Gretchen’s failure to return things. I told her I did an inventory check.”

Miranda said, “I do love your efficiency.”

“Is it a turn-on? Because if it is, give me five minutes and I’ll efficient your ass to an orgasm.”

Scowling, Miranda retorted, “It’s not my ass that orgasms.”

“Let me try.” she said without missing a beat.

Chuckling and taking off her glasses, Miranda pulled her down for a quick kiss and murmured against Andrea’s lips, “If anyone could...”

Andrea pecked her one last time then withdrew to stand beside the desk.

“You can keep the data stick. I’ve got a copy on another flash drive.”

“Security got back to me and there wasn’t a breach so let’s consider ourselves fortunate, hm? It was a longshot, I admit.” Miranda touched the hinge of her glasses to the side of her chin as she paused, staring across the room then smoothly put them on. “I doubt either of them has a talent for hacking. Besides which, access to the Elias-Clarke mainframe Runway has the highest security system in place outside of the government. It’s more likely IT would find something amiss before either one of us.”

“I wasn’t worried either but I feel much better knowing we can cross it off the list.” Andrea frowned. “Reznick has the same security level as mine. He could have easily logged in and allowed someone else to drop some spyware or virus or a data sweep into Runway’s mainframe.”

“I could request IT to check for downloads and email attachments from external sources, either from the web or USB ports and remote access.” Miranda sighed as she took off her glasses and delicately soothed the bridge of her nose. “In all honesty, something like that would have to go through the proper channels. I’ll shelf it for now.”

Content to simply admire the editor and woman behind the mask, Andrea remained still.

Miranda placed the end of the earpiece against her bottom lip. Regardless of the reason for such a habit, it always transfixed Andrea. What Miranda did with a pair of glasses, the economy of motion and understated eroticism between an inanimate object and her skin, was outright seduction.

“You’re staring.” Miranda tenderly reproached then turned her deep blue gaze on Andrea.

“Of course I am.” Andrea blinked away most of the haze. “This is gonna sound stupid. I know it is but...I hear this song in my head sometimes...when we’re together.” Blushing, she looked away, suddenly feeling foolish. “I had this best friend. Shonda. I used to spend every day after school at her house. This one time I stayed for dinner, her dad came home from work early to surprise her mom.”

Miranda rose then placed a hand on Andrea’s hip and the other softly on the junction between Andrea’s neck and shoulder.

“He put on a Motown record and started dancing and trying to get Shonda’s mom to dance with him. Everybody was laughing and it looked so...happy. My parents weren’t like that...obviously.”

Rubbing Andrea’s hipbone with a thumb, Miranda shared, “I grew up hearing Chopin.”

Andrea fidgeted then ran a hand through her hair. “It’s ‘I Hear a Symphony’ by the Supremes.” Clearing her throat, she forced herself to continue despite the heat in her cheeks. “That’s, uh, what I hear. Sometimes. When I’m with you.”

In a graceful move, Miranda pulled her close until their bodies snuggly fit.

Andrea felt Miranda’s deep inhalation, the slight tremble of her lips brushing Andrea’s sensitive ear.

“There are moments...” Miranda paused, her voice like a whispery confession as she tightened her hold on Andrea’s waist. “...when I cannot get close enough to you, Andrea.”

For a time their lips and tongues touched in languid appreciation. Andrea lightly gripped Miranda’s shoulders, enjoying the firmness until moving on, pressing her palms down the length of Miranda’s arms as her fingers gently followed. When the moment ended, Andrea held onto the thrum of sated contentment inside of her. Miranda’s hands encircled her waist, the pads of her fingers gently kneading the muscles of Andrea’s lower back.

“I have missed being close to you, darling.” Miranda revealed then lightly prodded the fine hairs along Andrea’s jawline with small breaths.

Looking at Miranda through half-mast eyes, she repositioned Miranda’s hands from her waist and slid them down her hips and lower still, slightly widening her stance.

“Here’s your chance.” Andrea whispered.

Miranda’s fingers dug into her flesh then gathered the skirt upward, inch by inch. The cool air wafted against the heat of Andrea’s bare thighs as Miranda rucked the skirt up around her waist. Unashamed by the heavy scent of her excitement, how it permeated the air and coated her inner thighs, Andrea urged her on by canting her pelvis. With a flick of Miranda’s wrists, her hands were under the fabric, nails scoring across Andrea’s ass.

Andrea groaned into a kiss, flooded by a wave of need. Pulling back enough to look into Miranda’s eyes, she urged, “You owe me down and dirty.”

Miranda hissed an obscenity then spun Andrea around and bent her over the desk.

XxXxXxXxXxXx

The swagger as Miranda reentered the study, two glasses in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other, was well earned. It required a certain self-assuredness to bend someone over a table without the persuasion of a kiss or kind word. God help her, Andrea loved being manhandled by the woman. The Mona Lisa smile slightly changing the shape of Miranda’s mouth caused Andrea to stop putting her clothes to rights. Not often did Andrea lack confidence but when confronted by a full frontal of Miranda’s dominant personality, it tested her mettle.

With a casual grace, Miranda set down the glasses and poured, her gaze never once drifting from Andrea. Oh, the Priestly confidence burned bright.

Miranda handed her the wine glass.

The tremor in Andrea’s hand was a bit embarrassing but she shook it off by sassing, “Well done.”

Miranda touched their glasses and smirked.

Andrea swallowed the dry wine, doing nothing for a throat that emitted a variety of pleading sounds not so long ago. Staring at the desk, she smiled into her wine glass, tiny tremors still shooting through her body.

“Stay.” Miranda murmured, planting her hand on Andrea’s hip.

“Do you think that’s smart?”

Miranda straightened Andrea’s collar. “No. But...stay.”

Andrea reached for her purse and pulled out her phone. While typing, she remarked, “We won’t get much sleep.” Finished sending a message to Demetria, she looked up and a debilitating weakness swept through her body.

Dark blue eyes regarded her with steadfast confidence.  “I’m up for the challenge.”

Primly Andrea set down her unfinished wine then leaned her ass against the desk, facing Miranda. Not willing to give in so quickly, she switched gears. Planting her palms on the desk behind her, Andrea said, “I suppose I’ll find out.”

Miranda laughed through her fingers. “Says the woman who just had two very...wet...loud...orgasms.”

“Before we continue this upstairs...” Andrea hesitated, thoughts of retribution clouding her head. “I’d like to know what you intend to do about the proof of Reznick and Amber’s alliance.”

A look of surprise twisted Miranda’s features.  “You know I don’t kiss and tell, Andrea.”

“Miranda.” Andrea protested, dropping her octave in warning.

Shrewd blue eyes took their time assessing Andrea’s face.

“I will discuss it with Michah.”  Coaxing Andrea into her embrace,  Miranda whispered into her neck, “It’s not a fatal blow. More like the first salvo.” She licked a patch of skin, drawing down the neckline of Andrea’s blouse. “Perhaps Reznick has other skeletons in his closet.”

Andrea clutched at Miranda’s back, hips rolling into Miranda as she bit down on Andrea’s shoulder. Before she was back on the desk, begging and out of control, Andrea created distance between them.

Miranda pursed her lips but didn’t otherwise react.

“You can get me from zero to spread open in less time than is humanly possible. Jesus.”

Stare narrowing, Miranda murmured, “A slight exaggeration.”

“I’ve spoiled you.”

Other than placing a hand on her own hip, she didn’t move. “That’s one theory.”

Whenever Miranda wound her up, Andrea gladly lifted her skirts, location and position be damned. At first, she wasn’t sure how to feel about it. Pre-Miranda, she had been fine with pleasant orgasms and tunnel vision. The first time Miranda wrecked her, using only words, Andrea told herself it was a one-off but, then, Miranda’s mouth and fingers came into play and Andrea understood need. The second Miranda’s imagination and creativity joined the party, surrendering actually tipped the scales in her favor.

Turnabout certainly due, Andrea coolly announced, “Tonight, I’m going to ruin you.”

Miranda’s feral grin, reinforced by an arched brow, cast doubt on Andrea’s matter of fact statement.

“You’re welcome to try, darling.”

XxXxXxXxXxXx

Swaddled in one of Miranda’s robes, Andrea quietly went to a guest room on the fourth floor where a stash of last winter’s clothing were kept. With any luck, she’d find something to wear to work. The alternative, taking a cab to her apartment at an ungodly hour and being late, held no appeal. She left Miranda in bed, curled around a pillow and grumbling at the lack of warmth Andrea’s absent body created. It took a long minute to find something as she evaluated the closet’s contents. Every muscle in her body relaxed once she found something in her size and realized they could ride in together. Roy could drop her off around the corner from Elias-Clarke at the coffee shop. Maybe she’d buy a scone for Miranda.

“It’s too early, Andrea.” Miranda quietly groaned when Andrea closed the bedroom door behind her. “Come back to bed.”

“It’s almost five.” she murmured, hanging the outfit she put together on the back of the en suite door.

Incapable of resisting a sleepy, tousled Miranda for long, Andrea went to the other side of the bed and disrobed.

“Come back to bed...please.”

Andrea tunneled under the duvet, extending her hand to caress Miranda’s pronounced oblique. “Here I am.”

Miranda stretched then turned onto her back. Immediately Andrea’s hand splayed across her taut stomach, inching upward between the slopes of breasts.

Eyes closed, Miranda turned toward her, draping an arm across Andrea’s waist and nestling into her. She pressed tiny kisses along Andrea’s shoulder and arm, then murmuring, “This is nice.”

While the world looked upon her as La Priestly, dorsal fin quietly cutting through the complacency, Miranda was so much more to her. She was early-hour mornings of affection and intimate looks from across a crowded room. Whether quietly subsidizing her daughter’s childcare, swim and French lessons, or going to battle against Nate and Andrea’s mother, Miranda paired actions with her words of love.

Using her arms and legs, Andrea held her close.

“It is.” Andrea whispered into Miranda’s ear then kissed her jaw.

Sighing with contentment, Miranda rubbed her forehead against Andrea’s neck.

Thoughts of the future drifted through her head as she stroked down the contour of Miranda’s back, easing them both back to sleep.

XxXxXxXxXxXx

“I have a confession.” Andrea said, disliking the tentative lilt in her voice, as she finished securing the messy bun on top of her head.

Miranda eyed her in the mirror’s reflection.

“I read the file. On my parents.”

Primly spitting out toothpaste, Miranda looked startled. She rinsed, then dabbed her mouth clean. “And?”

“They have separate banking accounts and investment portfolios.”

“That’s not unheard of, darling. In fact, Stephen and I...”

Andrea scowled.

Miranda turned her back on the mirror and held Andrea’s hand. She leaned against the lower counter, nudging aside the squat rolling seat she used when applying make-up.

“My father has an...apartment in Cincinnati.” Frowning, she stared at their clasped hands and admired the way their fingers intertwined. “He’s had it since I went away to college.”

“Is his work...”

“No.” Andrea raised her chin. “I seriously doubt my mother doesn’t know. I mean, he’s probably living there, right?” Shoulders slumping, she tightened her fingers around Miranda’s and took a step closer. “I don’t want to know about...it’s not my business.”

Miranda stood and closed the gap between them. She enveloped Andrea in a hug. The familiar scent of her perfume and lotion lingering on her skin affected Andrea in the same way light twinkled through the leaves on a lazy summer afternoon.

“Perhaps a conversation with him...”

“No.” Andrea negated with a short movement of her head.

Tenderly Miranda moved her hands in circles across Andrea’s lower back.

Lulled by the safety of Miranda’s embrace, she swayed. “I love the way you smell.”

“Thank you.” Miranda pulled back and gauged the mood, the trace of a smile on her unpainted lips. “You don’t have to do anything about the dossier.”

A thought popped into her head, making Andrea grin which, in turn, caused Miranda to return it, if only just a little.

“Thank you, but, no, you are not allowed to do anything about it.” Although her tone was stern, the expression of gratitude was just as clear. “What you won’t do to read that dossier.”

Miranda pursed her lips as she smoothed down the hair behind her ear.

“I won’t use anything in there against them.” Andrea stated and looked Miranda in the eyes.

“Well, then, I suppose it’s time for me to make a confession.”

While it wasn’t the admission per se that shot a reedy tickle up her spine, Andrea steeled herself anyway. Experience alone had taught her what a wild card Miranda tended to be when Andrea least expected it.

She ran her fingertips along the ridge of Miranda’s shoulder, enjoying the cool silky material of her blouse. “Should I guess?”

Maybe Miranda heard the hint of provocation in her low voice or saw the faint change of intention in Andrea’s eyes. Regardless of how it came to be, Miranda’s interest sharpened.

“We don’t have time.”

“There is always time.” Andrea countered but then relented, drawing back with a  nonchalant shrug. “So, your confession?”

Blue eyes focused on Andrea’s mouth then lazily drifted upward. “I rented a BMW for you under a shell corporation I use for the purpose of discretion.”

“Wait, what? I mean...”

“It’s not illegal, Andrea.” Miranda rolled her eyes. “And I don’t use it for anything nefarious. Really, I don’t...”

“Maybe you’re an international jewel thief that will take me to Monte Carlo on her private jet.” Andrea husked, sliding her hands up Miranda’s ribcage as she softly kissed along Miranda’s jawline. “That’s a good fantasy, right?”

“Yes, well...” Miranda faintly replied. “You can be distracting, Andrea.”

Directly whispering in her ear, Andrea promised, “I am a very good distraction.”

“You’re incorrigible and I’m starting to think you may suffer from a touch of nymphomania.”

“Pot calling the kettle black.” Andrea kissed her hard on the corner of her mouth then gave Miranda some breathing room. “Why did you rent me a car?”

Attaching the last hoop earring, Miranda replied, “Page Six doesn’t usually loiter on my front steps. Besides, I do have a garage. No one will see you come or go unless you hang out the damn window or draw attention to yourself.” She stepped into a pair of brown leather Manolo Blahnik slingbacks. “I’ve also acquired a parking spot on a lower level of Elias-Clarke.”

Andrea pivoted on her heel and crowded Miranda’s personal space. “Oh, you deserve whatever your evil brain conjures up.”

Miranda’s eyebrow quirked. “I’m rather ashamed I didn’t think of it earlier. It’s convenient. That’s all.”

“For now.” Leering, Andrea reiterated, “That’s all, for now.”

XxXxXxXxXxXx

“Cassidy, time to get up.” Andrea announced, knocking on the door.

She looked up as Caroline, already dressed, exited her bedroom.

“Hey, Ro.” Andrea said then pointed to the closed door in front of her. “You mom said to make sure Cassidy’s awake. Should I just...go in? Would that be okay?”

“Did you make mom mad?” Caroline asked tilting her head as she demurely held a miniature Kate Spade purse.

“No, why? I mean, uh, I don’t think I made her...”

“You’re gonna have to drag her out of bed.” Caroline said with a certain pre-teen disregard Andrea hoped Fen didn’t develop. “She’s a nightmare.”

Nodding, she fended off an outright smile, took a breath then opened the little girl’s door.

Utter chaos greeted her. Heaps of clothes covered the floor like crawfish chimney stacks erupting across an unfortunate soul’s lawn. A ragged line of stuffed toys semi-encircled Cassidy who curled around a pillow almost in the middle of the bed. Andrea carefully sat on the edge of the mattress.

“Cassidy, it’s time to wake up.” she said, employing the same voice she used on a recalcitrant Fen.

Of course it didn’t work. Tickling the underside of the girl’s foot yielded a jerky kick. There was no point in stripping the bed of linens. Andrea gently shook a tiny shoulder but all Cassidy did was swat at her and groan.

Andrea deeply inhaled, clenching her jaws as she bored impatient holes into the little girl’s skull with her eyes. At the count of ten, she exhaled to release the tension.

“Sweetie.” she whispered, lightly palming Cassidy’s calf.

The decision to lie down facing her was as much for Miranda’s stubborn daughter as it was for Andrea’s uncertainty of how to handle it. She combed her fingers through the coppery tendrils framing Cassidy’s face.

“Come on, Sid. It’s time to start your day.” she whispered.

Cassidy scrunched up her face then yawned. Slowly blue eyes focused on Andrea.

“I’m sleepy.” Cassidy whined, frowning and blinking.

She sounded like her mother which endeared her even more to Andrea.

“Still have to go to school, kiddo.” Andrea kissed the tip of Cassidy’s nose then sat up, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. “Well, I’m going downstairs. Your mom really doesn’t like it when I’m late to work...hey, can you keep a secret?”

Cassidy propped herself up on an elbow, pushing back her tangled hair. Although she nodded, she didn’t seem particularly interested.

“I love working with your mom. I don’t wanna miss a second of it if I don’t have to.”

Yawning, Cassidy sat up all the way. “So, I can go back to sleep?”

Andrea shrugged and checked the time. “You’ve got about two minutes before your mother realizes I couldn’t get your butt out of bed. Have at it.”

“Oh.” Cassidy stumbled out of bed and reached for the school uniform on the chair.

She watched Miranda’s daughter duck into the bathroom then reappear a few minutes later, hair perfectly combed and pulled back in a ponytail. The kid had the routine down, Andrea gave her that, impressed how quickly she shucked her night clothes then donned her uniform.

“Cassidy...” Miranda said as she burst through the door then suddenly stopped. “Well, breakfast is ready. You have ten minutes until Roy collects you.”

“Yeah?” the imprudent girl said, slipping into her shoes. “Did you sign our permission slips?”

Miranda urged her daughter to come along, cupping the back of her head as she walked through the door.

“Yes. And don’t run down the stairs.”

Andrea half-hid a smile behind her fingers as she met Miranda in the doorway.

“She’s notorious for squeezing every second of sleep from early mornings.” Miranda curled a strand of brunette hair around her finger, coaxing Andrea nearer. “I’m not surprised you managed.”

“You should be.” Andrea huffed, palming Miranda’s hip. “I was on the brink of bribery.”

Chapter Text

“Hey, Dad, what’s up?” Andrea answered the call as she put the finishing touches on a presentation for the Fall issue.

“Your mother talked to someone.”

“Wh-what?” She closed her eyes, the tension between them suddenly throbbing.

“And we’re divorcing.” Her father paused.

Andrea held her breath.

“I’ve been in love with another woman for the last ten years. I know it’s not an ideal time but I couldn’t keep living a lie.”

“You’re fucking kidding me right now!” Jumping up from behind her desk, she glared at the person awkwardly standing and in her doorway. Without another thought, she shut closed the door. “So, what, you’ve been shacked up with some woman in your Cincinnati apartment since I left college, Dad?”

“I should have known your mother...”

“My mother? She hasn’t told me shit except for championing that CHEATER I married.” Andrea ignored the knock at her door.

“You are technically still married, Andy. Let’s not start pointing fingers.”

When the door opened Andrea glared at the intrusion.

Miranda quietly said something to someone behind her but Andrea ignored her.

“Who did she talk to?”

“A reporter, obviously.”

“I need to know the details because my life and career are on the line because of you.” Andrea hissed as she paced, barely taking notice of Miranda occupying the visitor’s chair. When the silence lengthened over the phone, she ground her teeth as she palmed her forehead, tempted to hang up.

“Your mother and I provided and cared for you until you graduated from college. You’re not entitled to know what went on, what is going on, and what will go on between us, Andrea.”

Andrea met Miranda’s intensely blue gaze. A tiny click sounded in her head. “You promised you would make sure my mother wouldn’t do anything rash. I trusted you to protect me. Enjoy your private life. I only wish you allowed me the same consideration.”

Andrea hung up. She wouldn’t cry.

“My mother went to the press about us.”

Miranda rose from her seat and walked across the room to stand next to her.

“Look at me, Andrea.” she murmured, firmly holding Andrea’s head.

“I’m fine.”

Soft fingers rested below Andrea’s ears while two thumbs brushed the concaves of her cheeks.

“Look at me, darling.”

Andrea held Miranda’s wrists but didn’t pull her hands away. She nodded then lifted her chin.

“He cheated on her. Ever since I left college, Miranda.” Hating the quiver in her voice, she broke out of Miranda’s hold and put distance between them. “He promised me and I trusted him. Oh, god, what are we going to do?”

“We have nothing to be ashamed of, Andrea.” Miranda said, leaning against the door with her arms crossed. “I’m so sorry he hurt you.”

“I mean, what’s the matter with me, really, Miranda? First Nate fucks a waitress then knocks up my best friend and now my father...”  Andrea ground the heel of her hand into one eye. “Now, our careers...I should resign. Right now. Before it hits the papers.”

“Come with me.” Miranda ordered quietly, snapping her fingers to urge Andrea to follow. “We’re leaving. Get your things.”

“I can’t. I have meetings...”

“Cancel the rest of the day.” Miranda opened the door. “Get your coat and meet me at the elevators.”

“Don’t handle me.” Andrea snapped, snatching her coat and bag. “I can take care of myself.”

“Trust me.”

Andrea’s head snapped up and her progress across the room slowed. Her fingers curled tightly into the soft fabric of her coat then relaxed. With the slightest of nods, she stroked Miranda’s hip on the way out.

Not meeting anyone’s gaze, Andrea cleaved her way through the bullpen wearing sunglasses. Forced to turn around when someone called out for her, she slid the glasses back over her head. Someone from the Art department needed prop approval for the Eddie Borgo jewelry shoot scheduled for later in the day. Plans had been finalized weeks ago, however, the designer requested a last minute change. Andrea slashed her signature across the paper on the clipboard. She arrived at the elevator bay, pulling out her phone to keep passersby at a distance. To fortify the illusion, Andrea held the phone to her ear and paced a little.

Finally Miranda joined her, pressing the elevator button. Andrea put her phone away but Miranda remained silent, Chanel glasses and bored expression in place. About to break the silence, Andrea swallowed back her questions when the elevator stopped to take on passengers, one of which, backed off.

“You look familiar.”

Watching the thirty-something appraise Miranda, Andrea settled back against the wall and waited.

Out of the formidable library of Miranda’s expressions, the closed-mouth narrow smile came out, a tried and true deterrent.

“You’re very beautiful.”

Andrea bit back a groan unsuccessfully.

Miranda turned her head away and stared at the mirrored wall.

“What, you don’t agree?” he challenged, turning more toward Andrea.

“Oh, but I do.” she answered and tried not to laugh. “I think she’s a bit out of your league though.”

He frowned then unveiled a lecherous grin. “Jealous?”

Hardly loud but impressively long, Miranda’s exhalation nonetheless forestalled Andrea’s reply.

Looking back at Miranda, he said, “Don’t worry, gorgeous, I’m man enough...”

“How nice for you.” she cut in as she took off her glasses. “I’m sure someone somewhere is interested in just how manly you claim to be. I am not one of them.”

He looked at Andrea directly. “What about you? Or are you an ice queen, too?”

The elevator car arrived on the ground floor as the ding signaled the immediate opening of the doors. Miranda donned her glasses and swept out but Andrea lingered to answer his proposition.

“She’s exactly my type.” she replied, tilting her head toward Miranda’s retreating, shapely figure. “All cool and controlled but once she gets you in her bed...well, you’d have to be a woman to understand.”

Before anyone could board, Andrea walked out, smiling at his confusion.

A severe looking blonde woman, all exact lines and angles, fell into step next to Miranda near the car. After Miranda entered the car, the woman stood aside across from Roy near the back wheel. Quickening her steps, she managed a fleeting smile at Roy before sliding in followed by the blonde.

“Home, Roy, and park around back.” Miranda instructed then raised the privacy screen. “Andrea, this is Leslie Bristol and she’ll be handling the PR.”

The woman inclined her head then rested against the door, apparently eager to watch the scenery.

During the short drive Andrea slumped into Miranda’s side but stopped short of using her shoulder for a pillow. She held Andrea’s hand between her own in a loose grip, the rhythmic graze of her fingertips a soothing gesture. The engine accelerated then smoothly plateaued as it pulled away from the traffic on Park Avenue. When the car slowed, it suddenly dawned on her that Leslie must have been in the vicinity in order to meet them so quickly. What happened before her father’s call that compelled Miranda to seek out Leslie?

She didn’t know how to feel or what to do with her father’s cavalier admission. Andrea glanced at Miranda’s fingers, their swirling now including Andrea’s wrist. Tears pricked her eyes. She looked up and found Miranda staring at her with such tenderness, a few tears escaped. The engine turned off and Miranda kissed the corner of her eye. Leslie fluidly exited the vehicle while Roy opened Miranda’s door. Andrea wiped the wetness from her cheek and got out of the car.

“We’ll need refreshments in the den.” Miranda said to Cara who held her hand to her chest as she spun around from the sink.

“Seltzer if you have it. If not, water.” Leslie informed her, standing off to the side and holding the handles of a purse in front of her.

Cara’s eyebrows disappeared into her bangs. She dried her hands on a towel. “Andy?”

“Uh, iced tea, thanks.”

Nodding, she then turned her attention toward her employer, not quite hiding the curiosity in her eyes. “I went to the fish market this morning and got some sea bass if you haven’t had lunch.”

“Roy is picking up an order from Wollensky’s. We’ll eat at the dining room table.” Miranda replied, striding across the kitchen.

Andrea answered Cara’s inquisitive look with a shrug then hurried to catch up to the two other women.

Once everyone assembled in the den, Miranda sat behind her desk and said, “Leslie, thank you for rearranging your schedule and coming so quickly.”

“I put out fires, Miranda. That’s what I’m here for.” she said, crossing her legs and taking a pad and pen from her purse.

Andrea suppressed a dozen questions protesting behind her clenched teeth, most of which she could probably answer herself if she calmed down.

“This morning I had a meeting with some of the Elias-Clarke board members about this photo...” Miranda retrieved a folder from her laptop case.  “...Robert Reznick was kind enough to show them.”

Andrea leaned over her lap slightly just as Leslie did the same.

Miranda placed two eight-by-tens on the desk and pointed to the first one. “This is the original taken a few months ago of Andrea and I, among several Runway and Elias-Clarke employees, at a fundraiser.”

Eyes darting to the other one, Andrea gasped then sank back into her chair.

“I had the original photo altered and hid it in my desk drawer in a folder marked ‘private’.”

Leslie’s head snapped up from her frantic scribbling. “You planted a fake to lure someone out?”

“Precisely.” Miranda replied, opening and closing her sun glasses. “It seems my Creative Director is very concerned I’ve improperly used my position at Runway to coerce Andrea into a relationship.”

“How many copies of each are in existence?” Leslie asked and resumed writing. “When did you plant it, who else is involved, and I need the gist of what where do you stand with the board, Miranda?”

“Two originals and two altered. I planted the fake close to quitting time last Friday night. The rest I kept in a safe. You don’t need to know all the players, Leslie. Your role is...”

“I feel pretty confident you two are an item for real.” Leslie thumped her pen against the pad. “Besides your careers, what else threatens your relationship?”

“I’m in a middle of a divorce with a kid.” Andrea blurted out and blushed. “He’s a sous chef in Boston and, uh, he...cheated on me with my best friend then knocked her up.”

“Is he fighting for anything?”

Andrea rubbed her forehead. “He doesn’t have any money, especially with a baby on the way.”

Leslie glanced at Miranda. “What does the board think about all this?”

Miranda pursed her lips.

“I can’t put out a fire if I don’t know where it is.”

Sighing, Miranda answered, “There are other aspects at play, Leslie. Trust me in that regard.”

After a silent battle of wills, the PR woman leaned back in her chair and started writing again. “Okay. What’s your end game?”

Miranda huffed a sound of irritation. “A little misdirection, Leslie, and some time, but it won’t work unless he goes to Page Six or some other sensationalist rag. Until then, we’re in a holding pattern, I suppose.”

Andrea pieced together the details. Obviously Miranda didn’t want Leslie to know about the board members loyal to her or the Jacqueline Follet-Robert Reznick dynamic. Her brain churning, it suddenly occurred to her how Miranda was going to assure Reznick leaked the photo.

“Okay. Nothing has come across the wire yet but I’ll place a few circumspect inquiries to be safe.”

Miranda gave her a look.

“What? I have a tag on all my big clients, Miranda. Aside from divorces, you haven’t given me any problems.” Leslie looked at Andrea. “Until now, that is.”

Andrea nearly allowed the contemptuous smile to overtake her face as she stared back at Leslie. Miranda trusted her but Andrea didn’t particularly care for her.

“Really, Leslie, I’m giving you notice which gives you an advantage.”

“That’s true. I’ll let you know if I hear anything. To make absolutely certain, you want me to let it go through, right?”

Miranda nodded.

“We let it go for two news cycles to make sure it gets plastered everywhere.” Leslie tapped her pen against the desk then continued, “It’s ‘no comment’ for the entirety of this stunt, understood? Do not engage with them.”

“And I can understand simple sentences, too.” Andrea retorted with exaggerated sweetness.

Leslie wrote something down, saying, “I’m so relieved.”

Miranda got Andrea’s attention and slowly shook her head.

Spoiling for a fight, Andrea nevertheless shut her mouth. On some level she realized the woman was a convenient target for her anger and frustration. Without a doubt, Leslie didn’t endear herself, but, then, Andrea wasn’t her client either.

All three of them looked up when there was a knock at the door. After a several seconds, it opened and Cara poked her head into the room.

“Lunch is ready.”

Miranda stood as Cara departed, leaving the door ajar and everyone else followed her.

XxXxXxXxXxXx

Andrea didn’t eat, merely pushed her food around until a cab took Leslie away and Cara busied herself in the basement. Miranda’s gaze was steady as she leaned against the kitchen counter.

A mass of contradictions, Andrea yearned to crawl out of her own skin, become someone else, or lose herself. When blue eyes darkened and red lips parted, Andrea knew exactly what she wanted, what she needed. It was almost one o’clock in the afternoon, plenty enough time to return to work but, Andrea noticed, neither one of them made a move in that direction.

“You seem...tense, Andrea.”

She released a shirt button from its mooring. “I need to unwind.”

“Go to our bedroom, take off your clothes and wait for me.” Miranda instructed, Andrea’s obedience a foregone conclusion.

Body flushing with the heat of embarrassment and arousal, Andrea didn’t want to take the time. She eyed the tabletop then stared at Miranda who briefly shook her head. Slipping another button free, she abruptly pivoted. Andrea knew better than to touch Miranda as she walked past. Cara wouldn’t stay in the basement nearly long enough. Unhurried, she took each step toward Miranda’s bedroom with a deep-seated anticipation.

She figured she had another ten minutes or so until Miranda arrived. Andrea quickly stripped, laying her clothes across a chair but keeping her heels on. Naked, she strode across the room to the walk-in closet and went to the drawers that contained a certain type of lingerie Miranda had given her. The red silk satin camisole with macramé frastaglio caressed her mid-thighs. The thin, black straps and décolleté matched her stilettoes which was yet another reason she chose the set.

Sans panties, she thrilled at the shamelessness of it as she took care to primp. Minimal make-up and hair, she wet her lips with a red gloss then settled onto the bed. Perched on the edge with her legs crossed and arms braced behind her, she watched the door. Each minute that ticked by wound tightly within her. Andrea stared without seeing the room and her mind conjured up what she hoped Miranda would do. The indecent images left her breathless.

When the door opened, Andrea fought the urge to cross the room and drop to her knees. Miranda didn’t look at her as she started to remove articles of clothing. An odd voyeuristic thrill lit down Andrea’s spine. The earrings came off first, followed by the rest of the shiny adornments, deposited upon the dresser with a soft clatter. Next Miranda worked on the blouse buttons as she stepped out of the Louboutin’s. Venting a sigh of relief, she took off the blouse and tossed it in the hamper. Andrea muffled a curse at the sight of the leopard print Agent Provocateur bra which was definitely a new addition to the lingerie collection. Eyes fastened on the faint center groove between Miranda’s abdominals, Andrea’s eyes followed it downward until Miranda turned away then disappeared into the bathroom.

Restless, Andrea uncrossed her legs and rubbed the tops of her thighs. It helped dispel some of the tension. She gently drew her nails along the length of her jumpy quadriceps but that only seemed to make them twitch more. Using her knuckles, she pressed hard to massage the muscles. The movement displaced the scant covering of the silk camisole exposing the dark triangle of hair between her legs. Andrea opened her fists then glided her palms along her inner thighs, intent upon a bit of remission.

Emerging from the bathroom covered in a robe, Miranda went directly to the nightstand and opened the drawer. Slightly startled but recovering, Andrea watched her withdraw the Feeldoe and a bottle of lube.

“You won’t need that.” she whispered, not meeting Miranda’s eyes.

One end of Miranda’s mouth quirked, the only outward sign she heard Andrea, as she squirted a generous dollop onto her palm then proceeded to cover the entire dildo.

“Open my robe, Andrea.”

Despite the jerky motion of her arms, she accomplished the task, skirting her fingertips up Miranda’s ribcage. When Andrea reached the underside of a upturned breast, Miranda stepped back.

“Not yet.”

The pretense of separation sharpened the need in parts of Andrea’s body. She lightly breathed through her nose while watching Miranda insert the dildo into herself. Andrea bit her sweaty upper lip, swallowing back a moan.

Miranda allowed the robe to drop from her shoulders.

“Oh, shit, come here.” Andrea entreated huskily.

The ends of Andrea’s nipples rubbed against the lacy brassiere of the camisole with such a filthy effect, she fisted the comforter. Her skin tingled and the slickness between her legs grew.

Miranda stood in front of her, ghosting a soft hand up Andrea’s thigh until her fingers were met with the hem of lingerie. Rubbing the material between two fingers and a thumb, she murmured, “Lovely.”

Parting her thighs, Andrea half-moaned, “There’s more.”

“Then show it to me, cub.” Miranda said with a predatory smile.

Andrea’s eyes slammed shut as she toed off her shoes and lied back, digging her heels of her feet into the edge of the mattress. The camisole fluttered then settled in a caress across her stomach. On the brink of fucking air, Andrea bit back a plea and prayed Miranda wouldn’t require her to wait much longer.

“Like a ripe peach, just waiting for my mouth.” she declared as she nudged the tip of the dildo against Andrea’s opening.

Miranda.” The moan left unbidden as her hips rose imprudently.

Miranda thumped the length of the dildo against Andrea’s swollen labia, teasing the opening. “Such an eager, tight pussy.”

Andrea panted as she spread her legs as far apart as her ligaments allowed. The dildo’s tip pressed and pushed and slid everywhere but inside, driving her insane.

“Yes, that’s it...” Miranda whispered as she repositioned one of Andrea’s legs over her shoulder, holding onto her thigh. “Open for me.”

Panting loudly, Andrea yanked on the comforter and chased the dildo with her hips.

“Let me see your breasts.”

Andrea quickly pulled up the camisole and arched her back.

“Pinch and pull the nipples.”

Her entire body flushed as she obeyed the command. It started at the base of her spine, the frisson of her impending climax. Andrea opened her eyes and locked onto Miranda’s. A wanton satisfaction filled her.

“Oh, yes...that’s the look I’ve been waiting for, my love.” Miranda groaned then nudged the dildo inside of Andrea.

Crying out, Andrea’s back bowed as she tweaked her nipples with one hand and rubbed her clit with the other.  “Oh, god, oh, please...inside.”

Miranda inched in, holding Andrea’s leg steady against her shoulder and keeping the other pressed against the mattress. The orgasm swiftly built, burning and pulsing, and Andrea couldn’t stop it. Instinctively she hooked her leg tighter, digging her heel into Miranda’s lower back.

Immediately Miranda buried the phallus to the hilt and Andrea lost her god damned mind. Nothing else existed except the insatiable urgency taking over her body and the way Miranda moved her hips.

“That’s it, cub.” Miranda grunted, pumping with a series of long strokes broken by short jabs. “All mine. Say it.”

Half-wailing, Andrea responded, “Yes, yes, only yours...please don’t stop.”

Kissing her sloppily, Miranda varied the angle until Andrea sobbed, “That’s it, right there. Ohmyfucking godddd...

XxXxXxXxXxXx

Camisole discarded, Andrea straddled Miranda’s hips then sank onto the Feeldoe. She grabbed Miranda’s wrists and held them above her head then grounded down, her breasts bobbing with each thrust. A wave of sensitivity pebbled Andrea’s skin. She couldn’t get enough. Hips aching, knees sore, she disregarded it all as she looked into Miranda’s eyes. Skin slick with perspiration, the effortless slide didn’t do much to assuage the need building in her. Andrea offered her breast to Miranda’s mouth and when firm lips closed over her nipple, she gasped.

“Harder.” she demanded.

Miranda complied with a bite and added her nails against the length of Andrea’s back.

Stopping all movement, Andrea stared down at Miranda as droplets of sweat fell down on her.

“I want...” Andrea squeezed her eyes shut and dug her nails into Miranda’s wrists. “I need some...pain. Can you...”

“Yes.” Miranda answered, flipped their positions then pulled out.

She knelt between Andrea’s legs and extracted the dildo from her body then tossed it away. Descending, Miranda hooked her arms under Andrea’s hips and splayed her palms across her lower stomach.

“You should hold onto the headboard.”

Andrea frowned, then realization struck. She grasped the spindles and watched through heavy eyelids.

Miranda bracketed Andrea’s pussy with her hands and spread her lips apart. “You are gorgeous. So flushed and wet. A little sting, perhaps?”

A bit unfocused, she found blue eyes then writhed at the devilment in them. “Oh, god, what’re you...sting?”

Working an opened hand over Andrea’s weeping sex, Miranda licked the wet juncture of her leg and pelvis area.

“You taste so fucking good.” Miranda whispered. “Now hold your knees and spread your legs apart.”

“B-B-ut...” Andrea’s pussy clenched despite the rush of fear down her back. Clumsily she obeyed.

“Trust me, my love.” She waited for an acknowledgement. “If it’s too much, simply tell me.”

“Okay, yes, I can do that. Just...please, I can’t take much more.”

Miranda removed her hand from between Andrea’s legs. Looking at the glistening skin of her fingers and palm, she grinned. “You’re ready.”

Faster than Andrea’s brain discerned, Miranda’s slap hit her pussy, and result was electric. Miranda waited a second then flattened her tongue against her swollen labia. As the sting receded, a plume of heat alleviated the discomfort. Incapable of sound, Andrea rode the intense sensation that poppled through her body.

After a succession of slaps, some high and some low, Miranda’s tongue turned her angry flesh into an insistent beggar. Two or three landed on her engorged clit and the sting they left behind took Andrea into another place.

XxXxXxXxXxXx

Later, as the chill of the room breached her skin, Andrea stirred, not quite sure whether or not she wanted to even open her eyes.

Miranda hummed against her stomach, the vibration tethering Andrea to the land of mere mortals.

She lightly flexed her fingers which were buried in silken white hair. Weakly, she urged Miranda up and when their faces met, Andrea kissed her and fell into the scent of sex.

“As soon as I’m able, I want to inhale you.”

Miranda moaned against her neck, cocking her body into hers. Unsteadily she rose onto her elbows and looked toward the night table.

“Oh, well, it’s later than I thought.”

Andrea breathed, “Greatest lunch ever.”

Tenderly Miranda kissed her forehead then gazed into her eyes. “How do you feel?”

Taking time to form an answer, she played with the long curl of Miranda’s forelock. “Sated and loved.” She kissed Miranda softly. “It’s not something I can handle all the time though. I didn’t know...it was a shock to enjoy it as much as I did.”

“I love how open you are to trying new things with me.” Miranda said, pushing back the serpentine tendrils clinging to sides of Andrea’s damp face. “Mmm, I have been thinking of something I want you to do to me.”

“Anything.” she whispered, her free hand coasting up Miranda’s spine. Then she frowned. “Except involve other people.”

Miranda chuckled into the skin above Andrea’s collarbone.  “That’s not something I’d want.”

“Tell me then.” she sighed, softly holding Miranda’s beloved face in her hands. “I want to satisfy you.”

Miranda smiled, the pink tint of her skin and floppy hair making her look a decade younger. “Well then...I want to straddle your face and have you fill me...back and front.”

Chapter Text

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 spec