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The soft whine of the turbojet should have been soothing but served only to make Andy more upset. The flight was full and the only seat she had been able to book at the last minute was in the middle section of the wide body jet. The strangers surrounding her made her sense of isolation even more pronounced and she tried to shrink into her seat as jumbled thoughts cascaded through her mind.

She still couldn’t believe that she’d just walked away from her boss and her job. There was a large part of her that was still jumping for joy that she’d strode off across the square in righteous indignation, but now (several hours after the fact) there was also the more mature, intelligent part of her that was demanding to know just what the hell she thought she was doing. One did not abandon Miranda Priestly and expect to survive; most especially during Paris Fashion Week. It was unlikely that she’d ever get a job in journalism or publishing in New York now; well, if she was being brutally honest, it was unlikely that she’d ever get a job in journalism or publishing anywhere once Miranda was through with her. Such was the clout her former employer wielded. Still somewhat dazed from the day’s events she wondered muzzily if Stanford Law School might be induced to forget she’d turned them down.

Her parents had been supportive when she’d called them in tears begging for a ticket back to New York and by the time she’d packed and made it to Charles De Gaulle Airport, she had barely made the last flight. Now she sat sandwiched between a very pregnant German woman, her portly husband and two Danish engineers. It was not shaping up to be an enjoyable ride, unlike her trip over.

They had taken the Elias-Clarke Gulfstream V; Irv’s new corporate toy. The plush cabin made for a comfortable working trip to Paris and the Runway contingent had arrived rested and ready to hit the ground running. It was a good thing too; there were never enough hours in the day to do everything that needed to be done during Fashion Week. Andy had been at the center of it all; just off Miranda’s elbow through every amazing minute. Everything was wonderful until twenty-four hours ago. Then her life had fallen apart. Miranda in her sedate robe in the suite announcing her impending divorce with a brittle calm that threatened to shatter if Andy even breathed hard. Her fling with Christian Thompson; God, she did not even want to think about that mistake. Her discovery of Irv’s attempt to sabotage Miranda and then watching as Miranda did what she had to do to keep her hold on Runway, trampling a good friend in the process. Had she shown any remorse for her treatment of Nigel or offered even the slightest promise of making it right by him Andy would still be at her side. But Miranda hadn’t. And when Miranda had held up the metaphorical mirror and shown Andy what she was becoming she had bolted. Turned on the heel of her Jimmy Choos and walked away, tossing her company-issued Sidekick into a fountain on the Place de la Concorde when Miranda had tried to contact her.

Now she had to try to salvage a new life from the still-smoldering ruins of her old one. Nate would be out of the apartment by the time she got home. She didn’t have a clue how she could make any of it up to him and to her surprise, she realized that she wasn’t sure she wanted to. Somehow, she would have to smooth things over with Doug and Lily who were most probably commiserating with Nate over her betrayal of him and their friendship at this very moment. And she would have to get another job. With a sad smile she supposed she could always get a job at Starbucks; she had ordered enough of it over the past seven months. Surely she could figure out how the stuff was made by now.

The seven-hour flight was endless but with the time difference, she arrived in New York City an hour after her flight had taken off. She should have minded her pennies and taken the subway home from the airport but her exhaustion was bone deep and she hailed a cab instead. A wry smile reflected her thought that she’d taken her last ride in the back of an Elias-Clarke town car. She schlepped her luggage up the three flights to the apartment and with trembling fingers, worked the key to unlock the door. With a final almost desperate surge, she dragged her luggage inside, locked the door and collapsed on the lumpy sofa. She was home. Now what was she going to do?

* * * * *

“Get that swill away from me,” snapped Miranda to the steward. The steaming cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain based no-foam-extra-shot-skim-extra-hot-latte disappeared very quickly as did the steward. The rest of her Runway team hunkered down as far as they could get from her, prepared to dodge any verbal shrapnel fired in their direction. She had been insufferable since Andréa had left her high and dry on the steps of the Hôtel de Crillon. Someone on the team had had the presence of mind to get an assistant from Runway Paris to fill in when it became apparent that Andréa was well and truly gone. But while the young woman had managed to keep everyone on schedule for the rest of the week, Miranda’s mood had deteriorated until no one who had come to Paris could survive being around her.

Even that suited her black mood. She was beyond furious with Andréa. For the first time she thought she had an assistant who might actually make something of herself; someone she could mentor to follow in her footsteps. The girl was smart and learned fast and she really had been impressed with Andréa’s attempts to warn her of Irv’s pitiful plan. She was fully prepared to reward that kind of loyalty. Hadn’t she told her that she saw a lot of herself in Andréa? And then the wretched girl had just… just walked away from it all! Miranda could not believe the gall. It was a personal affront and Miranda never forgot an affront. Andréa would never work in New York again, Miranda would see to that. She began to formulate a list of everyone that mattered in the publishing world to be notified of Andréa’s perfidy.

As the list grew in her head it began to occur to her that she was more upset with Andréa deserting her than she was with Stephen deserting her. That thought brought her up short. Andréa, more important than Stephen? Of course Andréa was more important; she was her personal assistant during Paris Fashion Week for God’s sake! She had been counting on her to…to….And then it dawned on her for the first time. She had counted on Andréa. She had never counted on Stephen. Or any of the other myriad assistants through the years. She had demanded that they do their jobs and do them well, but she had never relied on them.

Until Andréa. The one who was different; the one who stood out. What was it she had called her? ‘The smart, fat girl’, that was it. Of course, Andréa wasn’t fat anymore; she’d dropped down to a size four in fairly short order. But the smart was still very much in evidence. And was why she simply could not fathom why the girl was so upset at how she had handled Irv and Jacqueline. Granted, Nigel had been shunted aside, but in the end, that would only benefit Runway just as her continued stewardship would. Down the road, she would take care of Nigel. He had earned that much. There would be another James Holt to take global and she would see to it that Nigel was at the helm. Couldn’t Andréa see that? Had she been that wrong about the girl? Was she really that shortsighted?

No, she hadn’t been wrong about her. Miranda had shown her how to claim the keys to the kingdom and Andréa had chosen to walk away.

“…I see a great deal of myself in you…You can see beyond what people want and what they need and you can choose for yourself…you chose to get ahead. You want this life? Those choices are necessary.”

“But what if this isn’t what I want? I mean, what if I don’t want to live the way you live?”

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous, Andréa. Everybody wants this. Everybody wants to be us.”

But apparently someone didn’t. Andréa didn’t. She was unwilling to make the personal sacrifices necessary. She was unwilling to do what Miranda had done to achieve success; she wasn’t strong enough. She wasn’t tough enough to…

But, in truth, she was. She was tough enough. She was strong enough. She had taken the worst Miranda could throw at her and come back for more. She had made mistakes, certainly, but she had never made the same one twice. She had put her personal life on a back shelf and done everything Miranda had asked, whenever Miranda had asked. Andréa was strong enough to reach the top. She had been strong enough to walk away with her head held high. Granted, it was the hubris of youth and she would pay the consequences for throwing away her livelihood, but she had stayed true to herself. And that required strength of character. The insecure and dowdy youth who stood in front of her desk eight months ago had become a beautiful, formidable woman capable of giving up everything for her beliefs.

It was at that moment that Miranda realized that she was not going to punish the young woman for leaving. Because she really could see a great deal of herself in Andréa. Herself, twenty-five years ago. Full of passion and conviction and drive and unwilling to give an inch. The realization caused her to sigh as the worst of the tension left her. She leaned back in the seat, took a deep breath and closed her eyes. And then…

“Call the office and have Emily confirm Demarchelier for the South Beach shoot. We’re going to move that up to the February issue. That spring florals piece is worthless; we’re dumping it. Call Human Resources and have a list of candidates for Andréa’s job waiting on my desk when we get back. And am I asking too much to get a decent cup of coffee?” Pens scratched furiously across various pads throughout the cabin, phones flipped open and the steward leapt for the cappuccino machine.

* * * * *

She pushed through the door and down the few steps to the sidewalk. The grin she’d held back blossomed across her face. She was a staff writer for the New York Mirror! Okay, so it wasn’t the Times or the Post, but it had a reputation for good, solid journalism and circulation was growing every month. It was a comer. She couldn’t believe it. The grin widened.

Heading off toward midtown, she realized that she really couldn’t believe it. Miranda Priestly, the queen of paybacks, had actually given her a decent reference. Never in a million years would she have believed that possible. What was it Greg had said?

“I, uh, called over there for a reference. Left word with some snooty girl. Next thing you know I got a fax from Miranda Priestly herself. Saying that of all the assistants she’s ever had you were by far her biggest disappointment. And if I don’t hire you I’m an idiot. Must have done something right.”

Damned if she could think of what it was. The last thing she had expected after leaving Paris was a good reference from Miranda. She looked up and realized she was across the street from Elias-Clarke. On impulse, she pulled out her new cell phone, called Emily and gave her the couture she’d picked up in Paris. Maybe she’d taken the trip, but at least Emily could wear the clothing. That would go a long way toward making it up to her.

Disconnecting the call her eyes swept the plaza in front of the building and watched a solitary figure striding across it. Miranda’s walk left no doubt of her determination to allow nothing to impede her progress toward whatever goal sat before her. The silver Mercedes pulled to the curb and a security guard moved to open the door for her. As she stepped up to the open car door she stopped and locked gazes with Andréa. Andy smiled a bit and nervously sketched a small wave to the older woman. Miranda’s stony expression never changed and after a long moment she entered the car, reaching to remove her signature sunglasses as she did so. Andy shook her head in bemusement and turned away toward the nearest subway stop.

Unknown to her, Miranda watched her walk away from behind the tinted windows. Staring avidly, almost drinking in the image of the smartly dressed young woman as she strode confidently away. She smiled as she thought of the first day they’d laid eyes on Andréa; Nigel asking “Are we doing a before and after piece I don’t know about?” Indeed, they had done one. And the ‘after’ was across the street drawing admiring glances from passersby. Realizing that the car was not in motion her expression slid back to its normal glacial warmth and she addressed the driver rolling her eyes for emphasis.

“Go.”

Chapter Text

Her legs felt good pounding along the path around the reservoir. It hadn’t taken as long as she’d thought to get back into a regular running routine. In fact, she was so accustomed to her almost-daily three miles that she could allow her mind to wander as her legs ate up the distance.

It had been an unsettled couple of months. She and Nate had decided to end it for good with his move to Boston and it had taken almost a month of steady apologizing to get Lily and Doug back on her side. They could now admit, after few cocktails, that Nate had to bear some of the blame for the breakup. It helped that Andy had walked away from Runway and Miranda and had finally gotten her dream job as a journalist. The three friends met at least weekly for dinner and Doug and Lily both seemed to enjoy her occasional attempts to cook. Their friendship had kept her grounded in the upheaval after her return from Paris.

The new job was going great. She’d begun in the bullpen writing obits and fluff pieces for the lifestyles section, but it was no longer unusual to read an article by “Andy Sachs, Staff Writer” in the Mirror’s City Section. She still got a kick out of reading her byline and her mom was still pasting each one in a scrapbook. But having her articles published was becoming commonplace enough that it was no longer cause for an excited phone call to Cincinnati.

As she swung by the tennis courts a second time she became aware of barking in the distance. Idly she began to outline an article on the problems and benefits of dog ownership in the city; the stress-relieving effect of pets on frazzled New Yorkers. Maybe do some research on the special places and facilities maintained for man’s best friend. Paws Parks and doggie day care and day spas for pampered pooches. As she blocked the article, she realized the barking was growing closer and that it appeared to be from a large breed dog. She’d only gone a couple of hundred yards further when she saw a huge hairy beast bounding gleefully toward her with three almost-familiar forms trailing far behind and obviously in hot pursuit.

Holy shit, is that Patricia ?

Andy slowed her steps and grabbed hold of the monster St. Bernard before Patricia bowled her over. Wet, doggie kisses of the best kind followed close behind. Andy grabbed the huge head and enthusiastically scratched behind both ears as Patricia grinned ecstatically. By the time Andy’s breathing had slowed a bit and the dog was ready to settle down, her pursuers arrived on the scene.

Andy was right; they were familiar. Miranda’s twin demons, Cassidy and Caroline and their long-suffering nanny Cara arrived out of breath to regain custody of their errant pet. Both twins were dressed in warm-ups and were carrying lacrosse sticks while Cara was loaded down with their gear bags and her own purse. Patricia’s leash dangled from one hand. Caroline seemed to catch her breath first and opened the conversation.

“Thank you for catching…wait…You’re…you’re Andréa, right? The one who left Mom in Paris? Cara, this is Andréa Sachs; she used to be Mom’s assistant.”

Andy grinned at the youngster. “Caroline, I may be a deserter, but Cara and I still know each other. How’ve you been?”

The nanny clipped the leash back on Patricia with a friendly smile for her captor. “I’m fine. Girls, don’t you think you should thank Ms. Sachs for catching Patricia?”

“Thank you for catching Patricia, even if you are a deserter, Ms. Sachs,” the twin grinned back. By now Cassidy had recovered enough to join in.

“So what were you doing running? Do you run all the time? Mom said you’re some kind of reporter now. Do you get to see murders and stuff?”

“Call me Andy, and yes, I run nearly every day.  Yes, I’m a staff reporter for the Mirror. No, I don’t work the crime beat so I don’t go to the murders and stuff.”

“That’s too bad. Will you ever get to see the murders and stuff?”

“I don’t know. I suppose some time I’ll work the crime desk so I will. Right now I’m writing general interest pieces.”

Caroline was staring hard at Andy and suddenly elbowed her twin sharply. Cassidy looked at her and then followed Caro’s nod toward Andy’s sweatshirt.

“Northwestern Women’s Lacrosse? Did you play lacrosse in college? Were you any good?”

Andy’s mock glare and hands clapped on hips didn’t fool the twins for a minute. “Were we any good? I dunno – is winning the NCAA Division I national championship for two years running any good?”

“You played on the national championship lacrosse team?” the twins’ eyes bugged out in unison.

“Sure did…for the first year anyway. They won again last spring and it looks like they’ll do it again this year. That good enough for you? And why are you two carrying lacrosse sticks? I didn’t think you were into sports.”

Cassidy looked impressed despite an obvious attempt not to. “We like sports. It’s just that Mom doesn’t really approve; she wants us to concentrate on the piano. She’s afraid we’ll get hurt. But we had a lacrosse unit in physical education this fall and we really liked it. We want to go out for the junior team this spring.”

“Both of you?”

They nodded. Caroline looked glum. “But we really suck. There’s no way we can make the team like we are. So we borrowed some sticks from school and came here to try and learn how to carry the ball and stuff.”

“It’s called cradling and if you don’t know that much then you’re right; you probably won’t make the team. Are you doing any extra running? You’ve got to be able to run three to four miles in every lacrosse game you play. Being in shape is crucial.”

Caroline looked bleakly at her sister. “We’re toast, Cass. We might as well give up now.” Cassidy nodded.

“Don’t just give up. You’ll never get anywhere with that attitude. At least try out. You can start running now, by spring you’ll be in shape. And as for skills, well, show me what you’ve got. Maybe I can give you some pointers.”

Caroline perked right up at that. “You mean it? You’ll help us?”

“If you’re serious about playing on the team, then a private coach would be the best thing for you. But yes, I’m willing to watch you for a while now and give you some help.”

Andy and the twins moved off the running path into an open meadow of Central Park. Cara took Patricia and set up base camp on a nearby bench to watch. Caroline hadn’t been fooling; the twins’ skills were terrible. But it might not be a completely futile endeavor. They moved easily and had good eye-hand coordination. Andy showed them how to cradle and a couple of elementary stick skills and then showed them some drills they could do at home to practice.

“If you’re really serious you’ll need to practice at least an hour a day, just like you would the piano. But you’re not completely hopeless. You’re both well-coordinated and with some instruction in the basics and practice there’s no reason you can’t make the team. But you need to start soon. Find a private coach and start working on your skills. And you’ll need to get your Mom to agree before you do anything else. That’s essential.”

“She won’t be happy about it.”

“Maybe not, but the two of you will just have to convince her. She loves you guys and she wants what’s best for you. If you convince her that this is something that’s important to you and will benefit you later in life then she’ll agree.”

“How will it benefit us later in life?” Cassidy was confused.

“Well, playing varsity sports always looks good on a college application and you can learn some really valuable life lessons playing team sports. Like cooperation and working in a group structure and stuff like that. Not to mention that if you keep playing in college you’ll play against teams from all over the country and meet people; make connections. Network and stuff. She’ll understand that. Convince her to go along with your idea then get yourselves a coach and pay attention to your coach. You’ll make the team.”

“If she’s got questions can we have her call you?” asked Caroline.

“I’m probably the last person your Mom would call, kiddo. Remember, I’m not the most popular person in her world. But if you think it will help then yes, I’ll talk to her about it.”

“Great! We’ll talk to her tonight at dinner. She’s making a special effort to get home early to eat with us. I know we can convince her!” bubbled Cassidy.

Caroline was more pragmatic. “What about equipment and stuff? She’ll want to know all about what we’ll need before she’ll agree to anything.”

“Tell her that your coach will help you with equipment. The Manhattan Lacrosse Club is listed online. Have her contact them to find you a coach. They’ll have all the information you’ll need.”

“Girls, we need to get headed home soon,” interjected their nanny.

“Manhattan Lacrosse Club. Got it.” The twins began gathering up their bags as Cara stood and got Patricia under control. When they were ready to depart they turned back to where Andy was stretching. “Thanks, Andy. For catching Patricia and for the lacrosse help. We’ll practice every night. We promise.”

“My pleasure, ladies. Work hard for your coach and you’ll do just fine. It was nice to see you all again. Take it easy!” And with that she started back to the jogging trail to finish her run. Amazed at the normalcy of her meeting with the twins, she wondered if she might have been wrong about them being the spawn of Satan after all.

 

Chapter Text

That evening Andy, Doug and Lily met for a late-ish supper at a favorite pub. The place was tiny, crowded and served some of the finest British pub grub west of Notting Hill. Andy had a particular letch for their bangers and mash; the sausages were authentic as was the pub’s stout. An order of bangers and mash and a pint and Andy was a happy woman.

The three friends were ensconced in their favorite back booth sipping on their pints as they chatted about the day’s events when Andy’s cell chimed. Assuming that it was the paper as usual, she didn’t check the display before answering.

“Sachs, here.”

“Good evening, Andréa. I understand you ran into the girls in the park this afternoon.” Oh. My. God. Miranda! To her amazement, Andy discovered her voice was still working although her belly clenched and her palms started to sweat. Some visceral responses to an unexpected call from Miranda took far longer than a few months to fade away.

“Well, actually, if we’re being entirely honest, Miranda, Patricia ran into me in the park this afternoon. But yes, I did chat with the twins a bit.”

“They were babbling about joining some athletic team all through dinner this evening. They said you knew all about it.” Andy could hear excited twin-like voices in the background.

“Actually, I don’t know anything about it. They told me they wanted to try out for the junior lacrosse team at Dalton this spring. I played lacrosse in college and gave them a couple of pointers and told them to get a coach.”

“Lacrosse? Isn’t that played with some kind of stick? You bash the other team about until they drop a ball or something? I don’t like the sound of that at all.” The volume of the twin-like voices rose commensurately with that comment.

Suppressing a hoot of laughter Andy managed to keep her voice steady. “There’s a bit more to it than that, Miranda. If you ‘bash the other team about’ with your stick you’ll likely get bounced from the game. Listen, I gave the girls a good resource: the Manhattan Lacrosse Club. You won’t have any problem finding a coach there. If you do, you can always call St. John’s or Columbia. Both schools have good lacrosse programs and I’m sure there’s someone there who would coach the girls.”

“You misunderstand, Andréa. I haven’t given my permission for them to try out yet. I have concerns for their safety. When can we meet to discuss this?”

“Meet? You want to meet? To discuss this?” Andy was stunned.

“Has your hearing deteriorated since you worked here, Andréa? If so, I’m sure it would be considered a work-related condition that your insurance should cover. Yes, we need to meet and discuss this issue before I give the girls permission.” The twin-like voices in the background began to babble even louder than before.

Shaking her head in disbelief, Andy managed to bring up the calendar function on her Trēo™. “I’m sure your schedule is much tighter than mine, Miranda. When is convenient for you?”

“I can free up a lunch Tuesday. Say, 1:00 pm at Smith & Wollensky? Block out a couple of hours.”

“Okay, I’ve got it. Tuesday, 1:00 o’clock; Smith & Wollensky. I’ll be there, Miranda. And tell the girls to go do their stick drills. An hour a day just like I said.”

Miranda’s voice faded as she turned to the girls and repeated Andy’s order. Andy could hear the sound of their feet pounding up the stairs through Miranda’s phone.

“Tell me, Andréa, will they continue to stampede through the house if I allow them to try out for this team?”

“Very probably, Miranda. Running is an important part of lacrosse.”

“Young ladies do not stampede through the house, Andréa.”

Unable to restrain her laughter any longer, Andy howled, “If they make the lacrosse team ‘young ladies’ may be a moot point, Miranda. The only other college teams that drink as much as a lacrosse team are the rugby players. And they’re just plain crazy. At least lacrosse players wear headgear; fewer concussions. They can remember more dirty drinking songs that way.”

“So, let me see if I have the big picture here. You have convinced my daughters that it is desirable to play a sport where serious head injury is likely, vulgarity is prized, dangerous weapons are standard equipment and alcohol poisoning a common side effect?”

“Yep. That’s lacrosse.”

“I see. 1:00 pm, Tuesday, Andréa. Don’t be late.” The phone clicked off.

Lily and Doug had listened to her side of the conversation in stunned disbelief.

“That was her? Really her? Miranda Priestly called you and made a lunch date? To talk about lacrosse?” Lily was beside herself.

“One constant thing about Miranda is her love for the twins. She’s very protective of them. She’ll want to find out as much about lacrosse as she can before allowing the girls to play. And even if I did leave her high and dry in Paris, she knows me and she knows I won’t lie to her. If meeting me for lunch is what it takes to get what she needs, then she’ll meet me for lunch.” Andy let out another hoot of laughter. “If she’s willing to meet as early as Tuesday then the twins must have ganged up on her big time.”

“They were serious about playing?”

“Seemed like it to me. And if they unloaded on Miranda at dinner then they must be.”

“You just can’t seem to stay away from Miranda Priestly, can you Andy? You’d better watch out, you don’t know how to tell her no. She’ll lure you back to the dark side if you’re not careful,” chuckled Doug. Then, as their dinners arrived, he did his best Pacino imitation from the third Godfather movie.

“Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in!” Andy and Lily threw their napkins at him.

* * * * *

Tuesday morning Andy was at her desk transcribing notes from an interview when the phone rang. The double ring indicated an internal call.

“Metro, Sachs.”

Nancy, the Mirror’s receptionist and operator, was on the line. “Andy? I’ve got a couple of kids who insist on speaking with you. Do you know any kids?”

“I know who it is, Nancy. Put them through.” Andy waited for the click of connection and then said “Andy Sachs.”

“Andy? It’s Caroline and Cassidy. Are you still going to meet Mom for lunch today?”

“Which one is this? Caroline or Cassidy?”

“This is Caroline, but I’ve got you on speaker so Cass can hear too.”

“Shouldn’t you two be in class now?”

“We’ve got a half-hour study period. So we thought we’d call and tell you that we’ve been doing our drills every night. Just like you told us. And we started running too. And we really, really want you to convince Mom to let us play, so don’t tell her about how you could get hurt or anything, okay?”

“I’m not going to lie to her if she asks, but I promise I’ll downplay the injury part as much as I can. Has she said anything more about it since she called me?”

“Only that she hasn’t made up her mind and won’t until she talks to you about it. Please, please try to talk her into it, Andy. We really want to play. We’ll be careful.”

Remembering a collision with a midfielder that resulted in a dozen stitches and a dislocated finger Andy replied, “You can be as careful as possible and still get injured. But as I said, I’ll downplay that as much as I can. Don’t worry. Have you checked out the web site for the Club? There’s a lot of useful information there.”

“We looked last night after we finished our homework. There wasn’t anything about coaches listed, but there was a contact phone number for questions. And we downloaded the schedule of club games so maybe we can go watch one some weekend.”

“You can learn a lot about strategy watching a good game. Get a feel for where the various positions play and how a good team works the ball for a shot on goal. But if I don’t get off the phone now I’ll be late for that lunch and your mom will never allow you to play.”

“Okay, good luck. We’ll talk to you later on, okay?”

“Maybe. If it’s okay with your mom. ’Bye.”

Apparently, single-minded focus on a goal was hereditary in the Priestly family.

* * * * *

Smith & Wollensky was jammed when Andy came through the door fifteen minutes before the appointed time but the magical mention of Miranda’s name had her seated at a prime table in moments. Three minutes later, the woman herself swept into the room.

Immaculately coiffed and attired as usual, Miranda captured the gaze of everyone in the restaurant. Ignoring the attention her entrance had garnered, she moved effortlessly through the throng to the table and seated herself.

“Hello, Andréa. The newspaper business appears to agree with you.”

“Hello, Miranda. It does, and I have you to thank for that. Your reference got me the job.”

“I merely stated the truth of the matter. I notice you’re getting more pieces in the City Section. That’s a good sign the editorial staff likes your work. You ought to consider submitting an editorial piece.”

“I think it’s still a little early for me to think in terms of my own column, Miranda. I’ve just now gotten out of the bull pen.”

“Nonsense, Andréa. How many times must I tell you? Set your goal and then pursue it. If a problem arises, deal with it and move ahead.”

“Yes, Miranda. Whatever you say.” Andy’s grin couldn’t be concealed. “How’s everyone? Nigel? Emily?”

“Nigel is organizing a summer shoot at Hilton Head and Emily is browbeating the new Emily into acceptable performance. The new girl apparently does not possess your gift for learning rapidly. But I don’t wish to discuss Runway. This meeting is to discuss my girls. Have you ordered?”

A waiter magically appeared and took their lunch orders. Miranda rearranged her flatware for a moment and then looked directly at Andy. “I have concerns. Can you honestly tell me that the girls won’t be injured playing lacrosse?”

“If you’re asking me for a guarantee I can’t give you one. I played competitive lacrosse for seven years and the worst injury I had was a few stitches and a dislocated finger. I can promise you that the girls will be required to wear protective gear if they play and that it’s very effective. Whichever coach you engage for them will be able to explain about it when they fit the girls.”

“That’s another thing we need to discuss. They require a coach?”

“Well, think of it this way: they have a piano teacher outside of Dalton don’t they? If they want to make the junior team they’ll need someone to get their skills honed up. Some of the girls they’ll be going up against have been in peewee leagues since they were six and seven. The twins have some ground to make up. A coach is the easiest means to do that.”

“And you think I should engage some stranger from this Manhattan Lacrosse Club? Or a student from St. John’s or Columbia?”

“Well, I don’t know; how did you find their piano teacher?”

“I called the director of Lincoln Center and he recommended her. She presented me with references from six world-renowned pianists.”

“I see. I’ve never tried to engage a private athletic coach before but, Miranda, you know half of Manhattan. I’m sure someone you know can help you out.”

She should have recognized the glint in Miranda’s eye but she’d grown complacent and unwary after two months of freedom. She never saw the chasm opening beneath her feet until it was too late.

“My thoughts exactly. Good, then it’s settled. You’ll coach the girls. How often do you think you’ll need to work with them? If we need to rearrange their schedules we’ll need a bit of lead time.”

“But…but…I don’t…I didn’t mean…me! I meant somebody else! Miranda, I can’t coach your girls!” Andy sputtered.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Andréa. You’re the perfect choice. You know the game, you’ve played at the top collegiate levels, the girls already like you and I’m familiar with your character. I trust you with my daughters’ well-being.”

“But…but…” Andy’s stumbling reply was interrupted by the waiter and their lunch. Andy used the arrival of their steaks to make a last-ditch effort to get a grip on the conversation.

“Miranda, I don’t have the time to work with the girls. My job has irregular hours and I don’t have access to anywhere we can practice now. Have you forgotten it’s December and cold outside? The girls need some place inside where they can practice without freezing to death if they’re going to learn the game. I can’t provide them with that.”

“Details, Andréa. Mere details. If you require a warm place to practice then I’ll find one for you to use.”

“But, Miranda…” Andy could feel the ground crumbling away under her even as she made one last try to escape the trap.

Miranda’s cool gaze never wavered. “Yes. Andréa?”

Bizarre as the conversation had become, Andy started to see how it could work. Her job did have irregular hours, but that could work to their benefit as well as not. And once you got the twins away from Miranda they seemed moderately human. Maybe she could give them some much-needed lessons in reality before they became completely unbearable. Granted, it meant that Andy would be back in the sphere of Miranda Priestly’s influence, but at least this time she wouldn’t be in a position that required obeisance. In fact, just the opposite was true. If the girls didn’t work hard or if Miranda tried to interfere, she could leave without consequences. She took a deep breath and returned the cool look.

“All right, Miranda. I’ll do it. But I have a few conditions that will have to be met. First, I’ll expect you to back me up. If the girls don’t like something I tell them, you’re going to agree with me even if you don’t understand why I’m telling them to do it. Second, lacrosse will be just as much a priority in their lives as piano is. And third, I will not accept any payment to coach them. Agreed?”

“Don’t undervalue yourself, Andréa. You have a skill I require. I should compensate you for your expertise. I’ll pay you…”

“No, Miranda. If you pay me then I’m just another employee you can dismiss on a whim. I won’t accept anything for coaching the girls. That way, if they aren’t serious about playing I can walk away without any strings. And that’s a deal breaker.”

The two women regarded each other for a long moment. The electricity their gazes nearly caused St. Elmo’s fire to spark in the air. Finally, the tiniest hint of a smile turned the corners of Miranda’s lips upward.

“Agreed. Now can we eat our lunch before the steaks congeal?”

As they ate, Miranda asked intelligent questions about nutrition and the possible effects of heavy exercise on growing children. Andy was no expert on either, but told Miranda not to worry. She had no intention of forcing weight training or exhaustive cardio regimens on the girls; that would come later in their careers if they chose to continue playing. Her main goal was to get their endurance up to acceptable levels and teach them how to handle a stick and ball. The rest would take care of itself. Over coffee, they agreed that the girls would meet Andy at the Sports Authority on Sixth Avenue the following Saturday afternoon to be fitted for their gear. Much to Andy’s surprise, Miranda upped the ante.

“If you don’t have plans, perhaps you’d consider joining us for dinner afterwards. That will give you a chance to show the girls how to utilize their equipment and set up a practice schedule. Nothing fancy, I assure you. Saturday night is pizza night.”

“Miranda, it’s the height of the holiday season. Aren’t you going to some swank Christmas party?”

“I promised the girls that Saturday nights are family nights. We eat together and do something as a family. So, no, I’m not attending a party.”

Andy agreed without hesitation. It would be interesting to watch the interactions of the Priestly family up close.

Chapter Text

Saturday afternoon came quickly for all concerned. Much to Andy’s surprise, Miranda accompanied the twins to the sporting goods store and watched with amusement as Andy wrestled the girls into the unfamiliar protective equipment. The final items on Andy’s list were field shoes and mouth guards. Miranda handled the rubber-cleated shoes well but looked askance at the brightly colored, oversized mouthpieces.

“Are those horrible things absolutely necessary, Andréa?”

“It depends, Miranda. How many thousands of dollars are you willing to spend on reconstructive orthodontics and plastic surgery?”

“I take your point, Andréa. Forget I said anything.”

“It’s not as bad as it seems, Miranda. We’ll fit them tonight and they won’t seem so huge once we trim them down to size. And remember, these are just temporary until their dentist gets their permanent ones made. Wait and see.”

They headed for the checkout lanes with each twin staggering under the load of unfamiliar equipment and complaining loudly. Andy grinned and told them to shut up and get used to it as Miranda gamely kept her expression neutral. Then, in a moment of charity, Andy detoured the party through the luggage and travel department and allowed each girl to pick out a large gear bag to carry all their pads, sticks, shoes, headgear and gloves. Once the bags were packed the twins moved more easily and with far fewer complaints. They checked out and loaded the bags into the trunk of the waiting silver Mercedes. Andy climbed into the front seat next to Roy and Miranda and the twins filled the back seat, the girls chattering excitedly about their new equipment.

“So are we going to fit the mouth guards tonight? How do we do that? Do we have to break in our new field shoes? Won’t we get blisters if we don’t? How are we supposed to hold a stick with those huge gloves on?”

Andy patiently answered the barrage of questions until they arrived outside the townhouse. Roy popped the trunk and the girls hauled the oversized bags out and up the steps.

Once inside Miranda ordered them upstairs to unpack their purchases before dinner. Andy told them to bring their mouth guards back downstairs when they came down. She and Miranda then adjourned to a comfortable sitting room on the ground floor. The housekeeper arrived quickly with glasses of a chilled Auslese wine and a tray of hors d’oeuvres.

“Cook says dinner will be ready in half an hour, Mrs. Priestly.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Grant. I’ll call the girls then. You and Ms. Wegmann can leave once dinner is on; we’ll clean up.”

Miranda and Andy talked idly about the news from Runway and an article Andy was working on until the enticing aromas emanating from the kitchen told them the pizza was ready. Miranda called up the stairwell for the twins and was rewarded with the sound of running feet along an upstairs hallway. Andy just grinned at Miranda’s involuntary wince.

“It is not amusing, Andréa. After dinner Thursday evening, I was treated to the sound of the two of them running up and down all four flights of stairs for half an hour. When I demanded to know what they thought they were doing, I was informed in no uncertain terms that running steps was a good way to strengthen your legs and improve your cardio endurance. I cannot tell you how thrilled I was attempting to work with their thundering hoof beats echoing throughout the house. I nearly lost my mind.”

Andy’s first instinct was to burst into laughter at the look on Miranda’s face, but she cowboyed up and managed to keep her expression sedate as she replied.

“I’ll talk to them Miranda, but they were right. Running steps is great conditioning. I’ll suggest to them that they find some steps at Dalton to run or that if they’re absolutely forced to run the steps here to do so before you get home from the office. Will that help your sanity?” Unable to resist, Andy added, “See? We’re willing to compromise.”

The arch of Miranda’s eyebrow had never been higher as the twins clattered down the steps and dragged them into the kitchen. Ms. Wegmann, Miranda’s cook, had done a masterful job on the two steaming pizzas that rested on the kitchen counter. Miranda poured juice for the girls and Andy refreshed the adults’ wine as they sat at the table.

The pizzas were simple and delicious. Instead of a tomato sauce, each crust was brushed with a garlic-infused butter and covered entirely with paper-thin slices of ripe tomatoes. Over this was sprinkled a mixture of four cheeses. One pizza contained pepperoni and one Italian sausage. Andy almost hummed in ecstasy at the first bite. It was all she could do to keep from moaning in delight as she devoured several slices.

Four slices, Andréa? You won’t stay a size four long at that rate.”

“Actually I will, Miranda,” Andy mumbled, chewing the last slice. “That’s one of the benefits of running four or five times a week.” Her grin caused a slight upturn at the corners of Miranda’s mouth as she turned to the twins across the table. “So, who’s ready to fit mouth guards?”

Miranda gave a barely noticeable shudder. “What will you need to fit them?”

“A pot of boiling water, a pair of tongs and scissors.”

Miranda set about boiling a small saucepan of water as Andy and the twins washed the plastic mouth guards in the sink. When the water was boiling, Andy took her mouth guard and dropped it into the pot. She waited about a minute then fished it out with the tongs, shook the excess water off and popped it into her mouth, biting down firmly. The softened plastic conformed to her teeth and after thirty seconds, she removed it and ran it under cold water to cool and solidify it. She popped out the plastic plug in the breathing hole and showed the girls how the plastic had molded itself to her mouth.

“Okay, did you pay attention? It’s your turn now. Who wants to go first?” When both twins yelled “Me!” simultaneously, Andy said “Only one way to settle this. Rock, Paper, Scissors.”

Cassidy snapped out ‘paper’ while Caroline put up ‘rock’. “Paper covers rock. You’re up Cassidy.”

Concentrating as if she were creating a cure for cancer, Cassidy repeated the steps Andy had demonstrated and two minutes later had a perfectly fitted mouth guard. Caroline was equally successful and after they’d cleaned up after themselves, Miranda sent her offspring upstairs to complete homework with an amused smile.

“Is it safe for them to wear those mouth guards in the house?”

“I’m sure it is, Miranda. But why would you want them to?”

“Did you not notice how quiet it got when they were wearing them? Could you instruct them to wear them every night to, I don’t know, break them in or something?”

“Miranda, if you want your twins to be quiet you’re going to have to talk them into it yourself. I only hold sway on the Lacrosse field,” laughed Andréa.

“Don’t sell yourself short. I can see how much the twins enjoy being with you. They light up. The way they talked about your meeting in the park was one of the main reasons I wanted you to coach them.  They need…I haven’t...they’ve had to deal with a great many changes in their lives because of me. I want them to feel secure and…and normal. They seem to relax around you in a way they don’t with me.”

“Miranda, you’re their mother.  I’m not. Of course they’re going to be a little more relaxed around me. And as for them being normal? Trust me, playing on a team will more than take care of that.”

Just then, Andy’s phone rang. She checked the display and said, “I’m sorry, it’s the paper. I need to take this.” Miranda nodded agreement and made a ‘go ahead’ gesture with her hand.

“Andy Sachs.”

“Sachs? It’s Greg. How fast can you get to the 300 block of West 53rd?” Greg Hill was the editor of the Mirror.

“I’m on the upper east side in the 70s now. Not too long if I can grab a cab.”

“Right. I need you on this. There’s a fire at some new club called Xanadu. Looks to be serious. Meet Hooker at the corner of 53rd and 8th Avenue as fast as you can get there. He’ll do the photos. Then get back here as fast as you can; we can only hold the print run until 11:00 pm.”

“Okay, Greg; I’m leaving now. I’ll be back at the paper as fast as I can.”  As Andy disconnected she heard Miranda saying “…as quickly as possible to this address. Four minutes? Acceptable. We’ll be waiting.”

Miranda hung up and said simply “A cab will be out front in four minutes for you.”

“You didn’t have to do that.”

“Nonsense, Andréa. Your job requires it. If I could have had Roy out front that quickly I would have. Now, let’s say goodnight to the girls and get you on your way.”

Andy set up a practice session with the twins the following Tuesday and got their promise to do stick drills and run each day until then. A quick grin for both of them and a thank-you to Miranda and she was out the door as the cab pulled to the curb.

The taxi got her half a block away from where she needed to meet her photographer and she paid the driver and jumped out. Jogging up the street, she could see the emergency vehicles blocking the intersection ahead, their flashing lights and crackling radio calls filling the night around her as she dug in her bag for her press ID.  She interviewed a frightened young couple that had been inside the club when the fire broke out while she kept one eye out for her photographer. When he finally arrived she set him to work his way past the fire lines and get some shots of the firefighters battling the blaze up close.

She moved quickly through the throng; heading toward the ambulances lined up at the far end of the block. An hour later the inferno was coming under control, the photographer had some terrific art and Andy had an exclusive interview with an angry Fire Captain who went on the record saying the circumstances looked ‘suspicious’. They grabbed a cab on 7th Avenue and ran through the doors of the Mirror’s offices at 10:25 pm.

Andy had her coat and gloves off before she got near her desk and threw them in the general direction of a nearby bench as she slid into her chair and booted up her computer. Greg Hill paced behind her as she began to block out her story. The mantra “Who, What, When, Where, Why and How” that had been drummed into her in journalism school pounded in her head as her fingers flew over the keys. It was an old-fashioned concept and had been discarded of late as obsolete, but a college professor had showed her how a strongly written lede using them was still the best way to grab a reader’s interest and hang onto it. She was vaguely aware of Bill Hooker and Greg choosing the photos for the story at the next desk as she checked her notes on the Fire Captain’s quote.

Finally, at 10:49 pm she stood up from her desk and said. “Take a look, Greg.”

Hill slid into her chair and began editing the article. It took only four minutes for the few changes he made to be transmitted to the printers and by 11:06 pm the giant presses began their long run of the morning edition.  Bill leaned back and grinned at her.

“Nothing like trying to write your first front page story with the editor breathing down your neck. Feel any pressure, Sachs?”

Andy grinned right back at him. “Are you kidding? I’m used to having Miranda Priestly breathing down my neck. Compared to her, Greg’s a cupcake.”

“Well, Sachs, you keep coming through like this and you’re going to be on the front page a whole lot more often,” said Hill. “That was good, solid journalism tonight. You have a real talent for this business. Keep it up.”

“Thanks, boss.”

Half an hour later the three of them headed out of the Mirror offices toward the nearest subway stop. Even though Andy let herself into her apartment well before 1:00 am she knew that she hadn’t worked off the adrenaline high and that sleep would be elusive. She took a hot shower and made a pot of tea then dropped her favorite DVD of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ into the player and sprawled on the couch to watch. She never made it to the end.

Her peaceful slumber was shattered at 7:22 am by the ringing of the phone. She nearly fell off the couch fumbling for the harshly ringing device. Finally she managed to get a hand around it.

“Hullo?” she croaked.

She was temporarily deafened by a pre-adolescent voice screaming her name directly into her ear. Wincing, she sat up and rubbed her free hand over her face. “Cassidy? Is that you?”

“Yes, it’s me! Andy, it is so neat! We read your article this morning with breakfast! You, like, actually left our house and went right to a fire. And your article is on the front page! That is so totally cool!”

Andy couldn’t help but chuckle. “Totally cool, eh?”

“Totally!”

“Well, since it’s my first front page article, I’m a little impressed myself. Does your Mom know you’re reading the Mirror at breakfast?”

“Who do you think showed us the article? We have a subscription. Oh wait, Caroline wants to talk to you.”

“Andy? Your article is like, completely amazing! And the pictures! Were you really that close to the fire? The one of you and that big fireman…” a faint voice in the background could be heard gently correcting her, “that big firefighter you were talking with! Were you guys really standing right next to the building? While it was burning?”

“Well, the angle is a little deceiving, but yes, we were pretty close to the building. Once, while we were talking, we had to dodge some debris that fell from an upper floor. It was on fire and it almost hit us.”

“Whoa! Far out!”

“Do people still say that? Far out?”

“Duh! I just did.” Andy could only laugh in reply. “Anyway, we thought your article was just totally awesome and Mom said it would be okay to call you and tell you so.”

“Your mom did, did she? Is she there?”

“Yeah. Here, Mom, she wants to talk to you. Bye Andy!”

“Andréa? We were most impressed with your article. The girls seem to think their English teacher will react favorably that they know Andy Sachs, front page writer for the Mirror.”

“Well, anything to help them get a good grade. So how does the article look? I only got to see the mock-up that we sent to the press room last night.”

“As I said, it is most impressive. Below the fold, but the photos are quite attention getting and your lede was concise and pulled the reader into the article. I’m constantly being told that the classic ‘5 Ws’ are no longer in vogue for feature writing, but in my opinion there is nothing to compare with them when they are done well. You used them well. Congratulations. But why haven’t you seen a copy yet? Don’t tell me you don’t have a subscription.”

“As a matter of fact, I don’t. I don’t need one; there’s always a pristine copy sitting on my desk every morning.”

“But today is a special day. Your first front page. Shall I messenger a copy over to you?”

“Thanks, Miranda, but no. I think I’ll throw on some jeans and walk down to the corner for coffee and a bagel. I can pick up a copy to read with my breakfast. And just how long have you had a subscription to the Mirror anyway? I used to put the newspapers on your desk every morning and I don’t remember you ever reading it then.”

“It is a somewhat…recent subscription. Well, I’m delighted that you got your story, Andréa. Congratulations again on your first front page. The twins will see you on Tuesday.”

“Tell them to do their drills. Thanks for calling Miranda. ‘Bye.” Andy grinned at the now-silent phone in her hand. A recent subscription? Just how recent? she wondered.

Chapter Text

After she’d hung up with Miranda and the twins Andy decided that it really wasn’t too early for a phone call to Cincinnati. Her parents were thrilled with the news of her first front page story and Andy agreed to pick up five more copies of the Mirror and mail them to her mother. They had taken out a subscription when she was hired but her mom wanted to make sure she had enough to xerox and pass around at the office and church and her dad’s office and to the neighbors and to perfect strangers wherever she could work Andy’s name into the conversation.

When she finally disengaged from her delighted parents Andy grabbed a fast shower and headed for the bedroom to dress. Her ringing phone sidetracked her, this time with a jubilant Doug on the other end. He conferenced Lily onto the call so both of them could congratulate Andy on her front-page article and it didn’t take long for the three of them to agree to meet for breakfast.

She quickly donned her oldest and most comfortable 501 jeans, a turtleneck and an Aran Isle sweater her parents bought her on their trip to Ireland. A pair of Ferragamo loafers that Nigel had pinched for her completed the outfit and she grabbed her favorite 3-in-1 parka and gloves and headed out to meet her friends.  When she stepped out of her building, she realized the temperature had dropped considerably from last night. She made a mental note to make sure the twins were dressed properly for an outdoor practice on Tuesday and walked to the corner newsstand. She chuckled to herself as she rode the subway to the Village to meet Doug and Lily imagining the sight she must be with six copies of the Sunday Mirror under her arm. Surprisingly, no one on the train asked to buy any of them.

Lily and Doug howled when she walked into the diner, teasing her unmercifully about her proud mother. Andy’s response was a face-splitting grin and a succinct “Bite me!” to both of them. The three friends lingered for a while over breakfast while Andy gave them a blow-by-blow recap of the events of the previous evening including not only the fire but the shopping expedition and dinner with the Priestly clan. Doug and Lily were impressed that Miranda was actually allowing Andy to dictate what her children would and would not do and that so far she hadn’t tried to steamroll Andy in any way. Of course, the twins hadn’t had an official practice yet, so they were reserving judgment for the most part, but still.

They pulled up stakes and left the diner when they started getting dirty looks from the owner because the waiting line was out the door. Deciding that they hadn’t spent enough time catching up and just lazing around together, they hopped on the subway and headed for Andy’s place. When they emerged from the subway on Delancy Street Doug and Lily went into the neighborhood bagel shop for bagels and schmears while Andy dodged into the corner market for some gourmet coffee and football-appropriate munchies. When the three of them entered her apartment they had all the necessary provisions for a long Sunday catch-up and football orgy.

Andy called her parents again while Doug and Lily organized the food and coffee. The Sachs were delighted that Andy would be sending them extra copies of the front page and her father related how her mother had been bragging to complete strangers about their journalist daughter while waiting in line to be seated at the local Perkins. Andy, Lily and Doug howled at his account of the story. After promising to mail the extra copies first thing in the morning, Andy hung up the phone and claimed the mug of coffee that Doug was holding out to her.

“At least they’ve stopped calling me at work to ask it they should get a second subscription.”

“Hey, just be happy your parents are proud of what you do. Have they recovered from you coming home from Paris like that?” asked Lily.

“Oh yeah, they’re fine. They were glad I finally left Runway…well, not Runway exactly, but Miranda. When I told them I was going to coach the twins I thought my mom was going to stroke out. I didn’t think she knew some of those words. Apparently, I did a little too good a job of making Miranda out to be a monster while I worked for her. Mom is not happy I’m having anything to do with her again. She still doesn’t get it that Miranda’s recommendation got me the job at the Mirror.”

“How’s your dad about it?”

“He’s doing better than Mom. Not thrilled, but at least he recognizes that the circumstances are different this time around. That I don’t work for her. But I don’t think Mom is ever going like the idea.”

“Then it’s a good thing she’s still in Cincinnati, isn’t it? C’mon, I don’t want to talk about your mother and Miranda. What’s the early game?”

“Looks to be the Giants at Jacksonville, then the Jets at Denver,” said Doug, checking the listing in the sports section.

“Well, turn on the TV and let’s get comfortable.  We haven’t watched a football together in ages. This should be great!”

Later that evening, after cheering themselves hoarse for the local gridiron gladiators, the three friends adjourned to their pub of choice for dinner. The Giants had won, the stout was chilled and life was good.

* * * * *

The next morning Andy got to work a little earlier than usual. Fortune had smiled on her in the subway station and she’d caught a slightly earlier train than usual. Since it was an express, she even had enough time to hit the Starbucks across from the Elias-Clarke building for a couple of vente lattes to keep her going through the morning. The sight of an already frazzled clacker-in-training begging “No, please, it has to be searing hot!” to the barista made Andy grin in spite of herself. This must be the new second assistant that Emily was trying to train. Only someone who worked for Miranda wore that kind of terrified expression before reporting for work. Resisting the urge to offer the young woman condolences, Andy took her lattes and headed back into the cold morning and work.

She had several congratulatory emails waiting for her when she booted up her computer and Bill Hooker made it a point to stop by and tell her he’d enjoyed working with her. A couple of her compatriots from the bullpen hung around her desk wanting details from her night in the spotlight. Andy eradicated the faint stench of professional jealousy by telling them that she got the assignment only because she answered her phone and she was close enough to the blaze to get the story in time to make the morning edition print run. That seemed to satisfy them; however, had they been better investigative journalists they might have inquired why precisely Greg had called her in the first place. Mercifully they weren’t, which was the real reason Andy had gotten the call.

Midmorning, as Andy was trying to decipher the scribbled notes she’d taken in an interview the week before with the City Manager, the phone rang.

“Andy Sachs.”

“Andréa? Be downstairs at noon. You’ll be gone for about an hour; more if you eat lunch.”

Grinning and exasperated at the same time, Andy decided to see just how far her newfound friendship with Miranda could be pushed. “Miranda, I don’t work for you anymore. You can’t just order me to go with you and expect me to jump at your command.”

There was dead silence on the line for a very long moment. “You’re quite correct, Andréa. Let me rephrase. Would you please consider meeting me in front of your building at noon for about an hour?” Sarcasm dripped from every word and Andy noted the distinct lack of apology in the question.

She couldn’t stop herself from laughing at Miranda’s imperious tone. “Yes, Miranda, I’ll be glad to meet you outside. Will I need to bring a photographer along?”

“Just yourself. We’ll be in and out of the car but we shouldn’t be outside for long.”

“Are you going to tell me where we’re going?”

“No, we’ll let it be a surprise. I’ll see you at noon.” The phone clicked in her ear.

Shaking her head Andy returned to the interview notes. What the hell happened to my handwriting? I used to be able to read it. Then the answer dawned on her. Miranda had happened to her handwriting. In the months she’d worked for Runway, her once neat script had degenerated into a spiky scrawl from trying to keep up with Miranda’s rapid-fire instructions for most of her days. For some strange reason she wasn’t upset at the realization.

Knowing Miranda could be counted on to be early, Andy was waiting on the front steps of the Mirror when the silver Mercedes pulled smoothly to the curb at 11:50 am. Andy waved the driver off and let herself into the back seat beside Miranda. She hadn’t been waiting long, but the bitter temperatures made the heated seats a delight to her chilled backside.

“Hello, Miranda. Where are we off to?”

“2nd Avenue and East 63rd. We are going to be shown some property.”

“Property? Are we buying something I don’t know about?”

Miranda gave a small smile when she replied, “Merely insuring that you ‘jocks’ don’t get frostbite before lacrosse season begins.”

“You found a place for us to practice?” Andy’s jaw dropped.

“Emily located a possible venue for your practice facility. We’re on our way to look at it now.”

“Our ‘practice facility’? My God, Miranda, you make it sound like we’re a professional sports franchise!” Andy howled with laughter.

“And what precisely would you have me call it? Is it not a facility in which you will practice?” The icy tones of Miranda’s reply were negated by the twinkle in her eyes. “Andréa, if you cannot control yourself better than this I may grow to regret my choice of coach for the girls.”

Andy laughed even harder but managed to sit up and wipe her eyes as the car pulled to the curb in front of a 12-story building. She had to remind herself that this was Miranda she was dealing with; Miranda who had no concept of restraint where her daughters were concerned. Miranda who never in her life subscribed to the ‘Less is More’ school of anything. Andy decided she wouldn’t be surprised if there was an athletic trainer, masseuse, sports chiropractor and sports psychologist on staff and standing at attention waiting for them. Well, okay, but I draw the line at cheerleaders, she thought.

Instead, they found a representative of the building’s management company who greeted Miranda effusively and escorted them to a secure, key operated elevator. The elevator doors opened into a tiled lobby. To the right a door led into a small but fully equipped locker room. To the left, a large storage room. And directly ahead through double glass doors was an indoor lacrosse field. Well, the important parts of one at least.

The facility was about twice the size of a basketball court and brightly lit. The floor was covered in synthetic turf and a crew was finishing the painting of a restraining line, goal circle, 8-meter arc, 12-meter fan and hash marks. At the opposite end of the ‘field’ was a full sized center circle for practicing draws. A goal and net was against one wall waiting only for the field paint to dry before installation. Orange cones, several sticks, folding chairs, goalkeeper’s pads and three boxes of lacrosse balls were neatly stacked and awaiting the Priestly twins attentions. Andy was completely thunderstruck.

“Miranda, this is amazing! I’m not even going to ask how you managed this. Or how Emily managed this or how whoever managed this! This is perfect. I wish I’d had a place like it to practice when I was playing in college. We couldn’t ask for a better space.”

“Is there anything else you will require in terms of equipment? If there is, just leave word with my office and we’ll arrange to have it delivered for you.” Miranda never showed much, but Andy knew she was pleased with Andy’s response to what she had arranged.

Andy just shook her head and trotted over to check the equipment. There was nothing more she could think of that they would need to get the twins started. She stuck her head inside the locker room and noted that even here no detail had been overlooked. Fresh towels, soaps, shampoos and every other bathing and grooming necessity was there. Andy could shower after practice and go anywhere with no trace that she’d run herself into a sweaty mess teaching two young girls how to play lacrosse. She headed back to Miranda and the leasing agent.

“It’s got everything. Thank you, Miranda.”

The leasing agent explained that tomorrow afternoon building security would make Andy and the twins their ID and access cards and would issue Andy and Miranda elevator keys. Security was on the premises 24/7 and the agent said they had arranged for a thorough check of the gym by a security guard shortly before all scheduled practices. Andy nodded in agreement. They shook hands with the leasing agent and walked back outside to Miranda’s waiting car. Once they were settled inside and headed back toward midtown Andy finally asked Miranda how she had done it.

“It was fairly simple. I had Emily check with several property management companies. This building had been owned by a dot com entrepreneur who went bankrupt. He built this for his personal use.”

“Gym, Miranda. It’s called a gym.”

"My girls do not do gyms, Andréa. It is your practice facility. At any rate, the owner went bankrupt in the dot com bust and when they sold the building, the facility was just closed off. Apparently, it was decided that it would not be worth it to refurbish the space. I arranged to lease it for your use for six months with an additional option if we require it. Then I had Emily call and find out what equipment you might need and had it delivered.”

“All I can say is that the girls had better keep their mouths shut at school. If the coach at Dalton ever finds out where they’re practicing, you’re going to have the school begging you to let them use it too.”

Miranda merely smiled as Roy waited to turn south onto Park Avenue. “Do you have enough time for lunch, Andréa?”

“Not really. I’m in the middle of a follow-up article that’s time-sensitive. I’ve got to get it finished up today. How about you?”

“I should get back to the office too. We have a run-through scheduled that promises to be less than memorable. I’m afraid it will take most of the afternoon to get it right.”

“Well then, let me get lunch. Roy, head for 56th and 7th. Drop me off where I tell you and then loop the block.”

As the town car pulled to the curb, Andy jumped out and Roy swung smoothly back into traffic. Andy jogged a short distance to a street vendor and waved to the owner as she neared. He greeted her effusively. She’d named his cart in an article on survival in Midtown and he took special care of her as a result. She ordered two steak and chicken platters with cans of ginger ale and the lunches were quickly bagged for her. It was an open secret among Miranda’s employees that Roy was a connoisseur of street cuisine and Andy knew that as soon as he had returned Miranda to Runway he’d be getting his own lunch from a street vendor.

When the Mercedes pulled to the curb a minute later, she jumped in the back seat and told him to continue east on 56th to Lexington Avenue and then swing south to 51st street.

Street food?” Miranda demanded archly as Andy set a plastic bag in her lap. “You expect me to eat street food? My God, this bag must weigh five pounds. Are you trying to kill me?”

“This isn’t just street food, Miranda. This is the haute cuisine of street food. This is a Carnegie John’s steak and chicken platter. It doesn’t get any better than this.”  A minute later, she leaned forward and tapped Roy on the shoulder as he turned onto 51st street. “Pull up behind the yellow van. And wait for me. I won’t be long.”

She was true to her word and a minute or so later, she opened the back door and handed in yet another plastic bag to her former boss.

“Dessert. Thanks, Miranda. The Mirror is just across the street so I’ll leave you here. The practice facility is great. I promise we’ll put it to good use.” Grinning she shut the door and slapped the roof to let Roy know she was clear of the car. The Mercedes immediately swung back into the traffic flow headed west to the Elias-Clarke building.

When Miranda strode into the outer office Emily and Nigel froze in shock. Not only had she returned nearly an hour before expected but also appeared to be carrying plastic bags of…food with her. And not her usual Smith & Wollensky bag either. Nor a take away bag from another fashionable midtown eatery. This looked almost like something you’d find from a…from a…Emily shuddered at the thought…from a street cart!    

She leaped to relieve Miranda of her coat and bag and hurriedly handed them off to the new assistant to hang up as Miranda’s voice quietly summoned her into the office.

“Emily, I’ll need some flatware and a glass of ice.” Emily was shocked to see her boss nonchalantly removing foil and styrofoam containers from the plastic bags onto her pristine desk. She darted into the adjoining kitchenette and brought silverware, a plate, napkin and the ice-filled glass into Miranda on a tray. When she re-entered the office a heady aroma filled the air. To her horror, Miranda was looking interestedly at a foil dish containing a large pile of grilled meats, onions, rice and a salad all liberally covered with several kinds of sauce. A smaller styrofoam dish held a Belgian waffle with cinnamon, sugar and a dollop of whipped cream.

“I won’t need the plate, Emily. This will do nicely. And since I’m back so much earlier than I planned, let’s move the run through up to 1:45,” she said, pouring the ginger ale into the crystal glass. Glancing up she saw the look of stunned horror on her assistant’s face as she slid the napkin onto her lap, picked up the fork and prepared to take a bite of her lunch.

“That’s all.”

Chapter Text

“Focus, Cassidy, focus! Use your peripheral vision to pick up the defenders but keep your eyes on where you’re going to pass. Focus, and fire the ball to Caroline. C’mon, lazy passes lead to turnovers! Rip it to her!” The hard rubber ball flew like a laser to the other player running down the ‘field’. A quick flip of her wrists and she snagged the pass into the pocket of her stick on the fly. Neither player broke stride or reduced speed as they quick-passed back and forth across the room.

When the twins had completed five trips up and down the length of the room they halted in front of Andy and leaned forward, hands on knees, to catch their breath. She grinned as she regarded their flushed and sweat-streaked faces.

“You two are beginning to look like lacrosse players. Okay, let’s do it again; five trips up and back, switching each time but this time I want you to deliver the ball on the ground ahead of each other. Practice scooping and not breaking stride. Then we’ll do some shooting drills. You two are looking pretty darned good for a couple of beginners. Go on now. Ready? GO!”

The twin redheads tore off up the floor, their sticks held comfortably and their passes on target. Andy couldn’t believe how far they had come in the six weeks she had been working with them. When they had begun neither of the girls could even catch a pass let alone pass it to someone else. Now they rarely broke stride and their passes were pinpointed as if laser-sighted. Andy had always heard that twins had their own form of silent communication and Cassidy and Caroline were no exception. Both seemed not only to know where the other was without looking but what the other was going to do. Their ability to pass blindly to each other was uncanny.

Andy hadn’t taught them to play any specific position; rather she concentrated on the basic offensive and defensive skills they would need to be considered for the team. However, watching as they flew up and down the floor, sensing where the other was, she decided that they would probably be most effective for Dalton as attackers. They could mark and had decent defensive skills, but that knack for knowing where the other was could be utilized to great advantage in a fast break. Especially since Caroline seemed to have an inherent ability to shake a defender, get loose and launch a rather impressive snap shot. Cassidy was less emotional and more analytical than her sister was. When Andy took on the role of defender Cassidy seemed more able to see the big picture and strategize how to get the ball to an open player.

She couldn’t have been prouder of them if they were her own daughters. The twins had worked hard, practiced hard and forced themselves to train. They could now run over a mile easily and Andy didn’t doubt that by spring a three-mile run would be routine for them. They didn’t complain any more than any other almost-teenagers would and (at least around her) did not act like the children of privilege that they were. Andy felt sure that the Dalton coach would welcome them at spring tryouts.

As the twins began their last sprint up the floor, Andy walked over to the wall to don the goalkeeper’s pads for shooting practice. Lily and Doug had both been drafted to help with practice on different occasions but tonight Andy was by herself. She was the first to admit that she wasn’t a goalie, but she could certainly take up space and force the twins to shoot with pinpoint precision around her. As she began to strap on the chest pad her cell phone rang. Glancing at the display, she called to the twins to take a short break and keyed the phone on.

“Hello, Miranda. What’s up?”

“Andréa, how much longer are you planning on working with the girls tonight?”

“Well, they told me their father was going to pick them up in about an hour, so I figured if they wanted to shower at his place we’d work until he got here. If they want to shower here, then we’ll break in fifteen or twenty minutes. Why?”

“He just called me from Chicago. His flight has been grounded because of weather and he’s not going to be able to get a flight out tonight. I’ve already given Cara, Mrs. Grant and Ms. Wegmann the night off and I can’t reach any of them. I have to stay here until much later. Emily is calling nanny services but I don’t think anyone will be able to respond quickly.” The frustration was evident in Miranda’s voice.

“Miranda, relax. The girls can stay with me. I have to go back to the paper and clean up an article, but they have their laptops with them and they can do their homework while I finish my story. Then I’ll take them to dinner. Do they have house keys?”

“No, there’s been no need. Someone is always with them.”

“Well, then how about I bring them to your office after we’ve eaten dinner and they can go home with you? Will that work?”

“Andréa, are you sure you want to do this?”

“Miranda, it’s not like I don’t see them nearly every day. This isn’t a big deal. Don’t make it into one. I’ll take the girls tonight. Finish what you have to do and I’ll bring them to you when we’re done. It’s easy.”

“Andréa, I…thank you. I’ll be much happier knowing the girls are with you than with a stranger.”

“Not to worry, Miranda. We’ll be at the Mirror and then it’s All-You-Can-Eat-Cottage-Pie Night at the Oak and Thistle. I was going to meet a couple of friends there; I’ll just call and let them know we’ll need a larger table.”

“All-You-Can-Eat-Cottage-Pie Night? I don’t even want to ask.”

“Just what it sounds like. They do it once a month and they make a very good cottage pie. The special comes with a nice salad too. Don’t worry. We’ll take good care of them for you.”

“I don’t doubt that. I’m just afraid that their palates may never recover from knowing you.”

“Funny, Miranda. You are a remarkably funny woman. Was there anything else before I hang up on you?”

“No. I’ll call the girls later. That’s all.” The phone clicked in her ear and Miranda was gone. She turned back to where the twins were catching their breath.

“Change in plans for tonight, ladies,” she said with a grin. “How do you feel about British pub grub?”

 

* * * * *

 

She was nearly finished with the article and blocking the closing paragraph when her cell rang again.

“Andy Sachs.”

“Hello, Andréa. Are the girls behaving?”

“Yes ma’am, they’re just fine. Greg let us use the conference room and we’ve established Camp Homework there. I’m finishing up my article and the girls are tapping all available resources to help with their assignments.”

“What exactly does ‘tapping all available resources’ mean?”

“Well, right this minute it means that Cassidy is working on something for what would appear to be civics or current events. She’s in deep discussion with the Political Editor and he’s diagramming a chart for her that’s tracking how the new Foreign Aid Omnibus Package is working its way through committee and onto the Senate floor complete with the projected voting and PAC influences. Caroline is either doing her science homework or organizing a manned space flight mission. She’s huddled with our Science Editor, he has his models of the Saturn V rocket and lunar lander with him and they’re logged into the Goddard Space Flight Center’s web site. That’s what ‘tapping all available resources’ means.”

“I see. They aren’t getting underfoot? There’s no problem with them being there?”

“Just the opposite, Miranda. Everyone here is enjoying having them. Even Greg stopped in and offered to take them to the pressroom so they could see how the paper was printed. They’re doing fine. We’ll be leaving for dinner in half an hour or so. How are things over there?”

“Crazed. Jocelyn brought back the Michael Kors proofs on a flash drive. Somehow it was erased by airport security when she flew back. Now Testino is scrambling and thinks those memory cards may have already been erased and we might have to dump the entire shoot. I can only imagine how thrilled Irv will be with the cost of that. So, are you still planning on poisoning my girls at the Pig and Whistle with the ‘Excessive Carbohydrate and Saturated Fat Special’ tonight?”

“Oak and Thistle, Miranda. It’s the Oak and Thistle. You love London; you should try it some night. It’s a great pub. We’re having Shepherd’s Pie and I wouldn’t worry about the girls; I made them do five extra suicides before we wrapped practice. They can afford to eat a lot of Shepherd’s Pie after that kind of a workout.”

“Five extra suicides? The mind boggles. Now if only I knew what a suicide was I might have a frame of reference. Although the name would tend to imply something unpleasant. Tell me, Andréa, will they suffer any permanent damage from these…suicides?”

“Only psychic trauma. Suicides are sprints that are extremely tiring. If nothing else, the girls will sleep well tonight. How much longer will you be at the office?”

“I have no idea at this point. Why don’t you call me when you finish dinner and we can decide what to do then?”

“Sounds like a good idea. As I said, we’ll be leaving here soon. We’re supposed to meet my friends in about an hour.”

“Yes, at the Pig and Whistle. Shepherd’s Pie. I remember. Oh, and Andréa; no caffeine for the girls this late in the day, please.”

“Understood, Mom. Seriously, Miranda, you’d be proud of the girls. They’ve behaved beautifully. The entire Mirror staff is charmed. I believe Greg has issued a blanket invitation for them to come by whenever they like. Be warned, once you get the smell of newsprint in your head it’s hard to let go. You may be raising two budding journalists.”

“Being a journalist does not seem to have harmed you in any way. The girls could do far worse. I’ll call you later. Enjoy your dinner.”

An hour later Doug caught sight of Andy ushering the twins through the pub’s door and waved them over to the table. The twins hugged Lily and Doug who helped hang up coats and stow schoolbags in the pub’s office. When they were settled at the table, a round of ginger ales and five dinner specials were ordered. Doug was gay as could be, but he had a way with the girls and by the time their salads arrived, they were giggling hilariously at his impersonations and quips. Andy and Lily were laughing to themselves at his antics when suddenly Lily’s face paled.

Ohmygod!”  she whispered. Andy followed her gaze to see Miranda standing in the doorway of the pub, unbuttoning her Michael Kors trench. Grinning, Andy stood and waved the older woman over. Even in a relaxed atmosphere like the Oak and Thistle Miranda dominated the room as she made her way to their table. When she arrived Doug stood and helped her off with her coat, hanging it on the rack behind their table as the twins greeted her with hugs.

“Hello, everyone. I hope you don’t mind me intruding. Andréa, would you introduce me?” Miranda requested.

“Of course we don’t mind.  Miranda, this is Lily Johnston, assistant curator at the Vargas Gallery and this is Doug Chapman, he’s a corporate analyst with Goldman Sachs.” Miranda extended her elegant hand to first Lily and then Doug.

“I’m very pleased to meet you both. So, have I arrived too late for dinner?”

“Not at all, Ms. Priestly,” stuttered Doug, waving a server over.

“Please, Douglas, it’s Miranda. So what is everyone having tonight?”

“We’re having the special; the Shepherd’s Pie!” said Caroline. “You only have to tell them what kind of dressing you want on your salad. Andy says their balsamic vinaigrette is really good,” she added helpfully.

Miranda ordered the special and turned back to the group. “I hope I didn’t interrupt anything.

“You didn’t, Miranda. We were just laughing at Doug’s impersonation of his boss. But what are you doing here? I thought you were stuck at work.”

“So had I. However, we quickly reached the point where it was obvious that we were not going to be able to accomplish anything productive this evening. Testino has still not located the memory cards and until we know if we have the shoot there is nothing more to be done. So I sent everyone home and called Roy. He was able to locate your ‘Oak and Thistle’ on the GPS with little difficulty. And here I am.”

Andy discovered another facet of the Miranda Priestly persona that night as the undisputed arbiter of fashion in New York and possibly the world utterly charmed her friends. She drew Lily out with questions about upcoming shows at the gallery and a solid knowledge of the New York Arts scene and laughed at Doug’s jokes and impersonations, often laying a gentle hand on his arm for emphasis. Andy watched with amusement as her friends fell under Miranda’s spell and hoped that maybe now they wouldn’t be as inclined to tease her.

They finished their salads in short order and the server appeared with a tray of the dinner specials. The twins dug into theirs with abandon, chattering to everyone about their day at school and what they had done at the Mirror offices after practice. Miranda smiled fondly at her offspring and Andy marveled at the ease in which Miranda fit into what was, for her, a very unusual social situation. She wondered if perhaps that was what defined ‘classy’; the ability to fit in and make others around you comfortable regardless of the circumstance. Whatever the quality was, Miranda certainly possessed it.

When the twins had finished most of what was on their plates Miranda asked if they were planning to have seconds. Cassidy and Caroline had been, but were astonished that their mother would allow it and said so.

“I was led to understand that there were several additional ‘suicides’ run tonight in anticipation of second helpings.”

The twins turned on Andy who laughed and threw up her hands in surrender. “I give up! She’s right; I ran you more so you could eat all you wanted.” The twins tried to act upset but promptly dissolved in giggles. Doug joined them in having another plate of the classic English dish and the lively conversation around the table continued until everyone had eaten their fill. Only the twins opted for ice cream, and once they had finished Miranda looked pointedly at her watch.

“I don’t mean to seem rude, but it’s a school night and you two have to be up early in the morning. I need to call Roy.” The twins’ objections were only half-hearted and it was obvious to Andy that they were winding down. Miranda looked around for their server to get the check and Andy stopped her with a hand on the arm.

“Tonight is my treat, Miranda. We all enjoyed having you and the girls join us.”

Miranda’s blue eyes seemed unreadable. “Thank you, Andréa. For taking care of the girls and for dinner. Your friends are delightful.”

Doug went to get the school- and gear-bags they had stashed in the office while Miranda supervised the donning of coats, scarves and mittens. Before long, everyone was dressed to face the frigid New York night and they headed for the sidewalk. Roy had the silver S600 idling at the curb when they emerged from the pub. He popped the trunk and Doug helped the girls load their bags and backpacks then gallantly held the door for the Priestly women.

The twins were still bubbling from their evening out and hugged Andy, Lily and Doug before they clambered into the back seat of the Mercedes. Miranda wished Lily luck with her next show and requested an invitation to the opening. Then, turning to Doug, she rested a gloved hand on his arm.

“It has been a true delight meeting you, Douglas. I hope we meet again soon.”

“It was my pleasure, Miranda. I hope so too.”

Miranda turned to Andy and smiled. “Thank you for taking care of the girls, Andréa. You gave them a night they will not soon forget. Neither will I. I’ll talk to you soon. Thank you.” And to Andy’s complete astonishment, she leaned in and pressed her cheek to Andy’s before turning and gracefully entering the car on Doug’s arm. He shut the door and the three of them watched Roy ease smoothly into traffic. Then Doug and Lily turned on a dazed Andy.

“Who was that woman and what has she done with Miranda Priestly? That was an alien clone, right? I mean that person was nice. That is not the Ice Queen that Page Six rants on about. Andy, what was going on tonight?”

Andy had no answer. For her part, she was still focused on the jolt of electricity the brush of that soft cheek had sent through her. Unthinking, trembling fingers rose to caress the spot that still burned like fire. She felt her knees quake and a flush creep up the back of her neck. What the hell?

Lily and Doug just watched her and grinned.

Chapter Text

Andy didn’t have time to wonder why she’d responded to Miranda’s touch as she had. A major corruption scandal broke shortly after their dinner at the Oak and Thistle and Andy had been assigned as lead researcher to the investigative team working the story. Her eyes were constantly bleary from staring at computerized records, she only ate when the pain in her stomach reminded her that something needed to go into her gut and she lived on two hours of sleep a night. She was haggard, exhausted, run-ragged and the happiest she could ever remember being.

Andy was grateful to be coaching the Priestly twins. At least she could use that excuse to take a couple of hours off every afternoon and get some fresh air and exercise. The girls were still making excellent progress and Andy was sure that they’d win places on the Dalton team. However, she’d been forced to cancel two practices in the past two weeks and she wanted to make it up to the girls. Granted, they were the offspring of Miranda Priestly and therefore knew better than anyone the meaning of ‘have to work’. All the same, Andy wanted them to know that she regretted the fact that she had not been able to work with them. To that end, she had phoned her college coach and arranged to get DVDs of both of Northwestern’s national championship games, hoping that some weekend she and the girls could watch the games and discuss strategy, teamwork and position play.

She downloaded the last of her reports to the Metro editor on Thursday afternoon and sent emails with the timeline summary of the scandal to the lead reporters. She hadn’t been home since she dashed in for a quick shower and change of clothes early Wednesday morning and the thought of a long hot bath and uninterrupted sleep was heaven. She gathered her things preparing to leave when the envelope from Evanston reminded her of other obligations. She dropped back into her seat and dialed Runway.

“Hi Emily, it’s Andy. I know she’s probably in the middle of something, but is there any chance I could speak with her for just a minute? I swear I’ll be quick.” She smiled at the response and waited a moment.

“Andréa? Are you all right? Emily said you sounded unwell.”

“Just tired, Miranda. I finally finished the last of my reports on the bid-rigging scandal and I’m about to head home and crash. I have a couple of DVDs of some of my college games that I’d like to show the girls to apologize for canceling their practices. What do their schedules look like?”

“Their father had to cancel this weekend with them. I swear the man gets worse every month about his obligations. Why don’t you join us for dinner tomorrow evening and then watch your games afterwards? I’m going to the MOMA Black and White Gala and I’m sure the girls would love to have you all to themselves for an evening. Say 6:15?”

“The MOMA Black and White? Isn’t that on Valentine’s Day? But that’s not for…” Glancing at the time and date icons on her computer screen Andy realized her mistake and laughed aloud. “Oh, God, I’m in worse shape than I thought! Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. I’m sorry, Miranda. I haven’t had nearly enough sleep in the past couple of weeks. I’d love to have dinner with you all tomorrow night. I’ll be there.” Andy couldn’t quite conceal the huge yawn that interrupted her speech. Miranda chuckled and told her to go home and get some rest.

“The girls will not be as sympathetic to your fatigue as I am. We’ll see you tomorrow night.”

By the time she arrived at the townhouse the next evening Andy was feeling like a new woman. A day of catching up on all the sleep she’d missed, eating whatever struck her fancy and luxuriating in two long, hot baths had done the trick and her usual good humor was evident as Cassidy answered the door and pulled her inside with a shriek.

“Caroline! She’s here! Come downstairs!” Pounding footsteps in the upstairs hallway gave ample evidence that Caroline was enroute and a moment later she clattered down the steps and hugged Andy exuberantly.

“So what movies did you bring for us to watch? It’s not something educational, is it? Who’s starring in it?”

“Hang on. Let me catch my breath! Okay, let me see; I didn’t bring movies per se. Yes, they’ll be educational but fun too. And I’m a star in one of them. How’s that sound?”

Both twins frowned slightly as they tried to figure it out. Caroline hit on it first. “You brought videos of your lacrosse games!”

“That’s right. I’ve got both of Northwestern’s national championship games. They’ll be a big help to show you position play and strategies for getting a good shot off. Not as good as a Zac Efron movie I know, but will they do?”

In answer, the twins each grabbed and arm and began to pull her toward the media room. As they hit the main hallway, Miranda came out of the first floor study and greeted Andy. She wore the same gray robe she had in Paris and had obviously not yet begun to dress for her evening gala.

“Girls, do not drag Andréa around like a reluctant playmate. She’s here of her own volition and I’m sure will follow you if you ask her to.”

“But not fast enough, Mom! C’mon, Andy! Mrs. Wegmann made that pork we like.”

Andy allowed the twins to manhandle her into the kitchen, followed by an amused but tolerant Miranda. ‘That pork we like’ turned out to be a pork loin marinated in citrus juices and garlic, crusted with herbs and slow-roasted.  Andy took one bite and decided on the spot that you probably could have an orgasm from simply tasting food. Even Miranda, who always seemed to pick at whatever delicious meal was before her, appeared to eat with gusto. A wild-rice stuffing and fresh peas rounded out the meal and by the time they had finished, Andy was wondering if she could get away with napping on the couch while the girls watched the games. Probably not.

Miranda excused herself to go upstairs and dress while Andy and the girls rinsed the dishes and loaded the dishwasher. Once they’d straightened up, Andy sent them upstairs for notebooks and pens while she loaded a tray with drinks and headed to the media room. While Cassidy powered up the plasma TV and home theatre system, Andy explained that they were going to watch the games as a learning exercise and would be stopping and starting them frequently.

They settled onto the couch, Andy keyed the remote to ‘PLAY’ and the screen lit up with the caption “NCAA 2005 – Division I Women’s Lacrosse Championship: Northwestern University v. University of Virginia” The twins squealed with delight and pounced on Andy as the teams were introduced. They quickly identified Andy as the 2nd Home for Northwestern and settled in to watch the game.

When Miranda came downstairs half an hour later, she heard Andy before she got to the media room.

“Okay, now I want you to look closely at the offensive alignment here. We’re about to run a stack offense. Look how the 1st Home is positioned behind the cage. Since they’ve got the best view of the field, they’ll run the play. They call ‘stack’ and… here….let me pause this….okay, here. Look at the other attackers and how we’re positioned. See the tight line facing the goal? That’s the basis of the stack. Now, let’s watch it develop in slow motion. The 1st Home gives the ‘go’ sign and everybody breaks in a different direction: I’m headed straight for the goal, the 3rd Home is breaking right and the Center is breaking left. Now here’s what makes this work. Watch this wing sprint in and cut diagonally across the goal from all the way over here. Now watch what happens to the defense. See them all bunch up toward the top of the arc? Then check out that wing right here….she’s wide open. A quick stick pass and she’s got a clean shot on goal.”

Miranda stood in the doorway and watched Andy in front of the TV intently pointing out the important aspects of the play and her daughters scribbling notes just as intently as they studied it. As Andy moved away from the television Miranda walked into the room. The soft voice behind her made Andy turn.

“The car will be here in a moment, girls. I just came in to say goodbye.” The twins jumped up and hugged their mother, careful not to disturb hair, makeup or couture. Miranda usually wore black to formal affairs and tonight was no exception. She had on a vintage Bill Blass sheath; his take on the Chanel ‘little black dress’. It was off the shoulder and displayed an impressive amount of flawless skin. While Miranda did not usually favor necklaces with eveningwear, tonight she wore a dazzling set of pearls that served to accent her luminous complexion. Manolo Blahniks, matching pearl studs at her ears and a diamond bracelet completed the ensemble.

It was a good thing the girls had jumped up to hug their mother because Andy suddenly had trouble breathing. As her oxygen intake plummeted, the neural interface between the speech centers of her brain and her mouth evaporated. All she could do was stare like a teenage boy. To make matters worse, Miranda’s perfume was making her decidedly dizzy. Or perhaps it was because her diaphragm had ceased to work. Or her lungs. Or most higher brain functions.

Oh my God! She’s amazing!

Andy’s spinning brain fought to comprehend what was happening to her. She had seen Miranda dressed in eveningwear many times and never reacted this way. Yeah, but you worked for her then; she was your boss and dress-up was business. Andy felt like a horny adolescent; her heart was pounding, her hands were tingling and she was decidedly damp in a place that had nothing to do with lacrosse. She’s looking at you! She’s going to expect you to say something! Jesus, Sachs, get a grip!

Summoning control she did not know she possessed, Andy dragged her gaze away from the vision that was Miranda as she paused the TV and tossed the remote on the sofa. Drawing a deep but shaky breath, she turned back to an amused Miranda whose eyes twinkled knowingly.

“Do you like my ensemble, Andréa?”

“I’ve never known you to fish for compliments before, Miranda. You know as well as I do that you look breathtaking. No one will be looking at MOMA’s art tonight – they’ll all be looking at you.”

“Why, thank you, Andréa.” Miranda’s voice had dropped in timbre and there was just a hint of huskiness in it. That had the effect of making Andy’s knees weak in addition to her palpitating heart, tingling fingers and throbbing….what the fuck is wrong with me? I’ve never in my life been attracted to another woman, but so help me God, if the twins weren’t in the room with us I’d throw Miranda down and ravish her until neither of us could walk. I wonder how soft her skin is. What would she sound like if I were to run my hands down her…Oh God, do not go there! I must be losing my mind!

dy had no earthly idea how she managed to maintain control over her bodily functions until Miranda had donned her coat and was safely ensconced in the back seat of the car, but she did. She and the twins returned to the lacrosse lessons and by the end of the first game’s film, she felt they’d learned a lot. They took a break to recharge drinks and in the kitchen Caroline surprised Andy.

“I don’t see why Mom has to go to those stupid balls and galas and stuff,” she complained. “Like tonight; why did she have to go to that dumb dance when she could have been here with us?” Andy sensed far more than curiosity in the question and hesitated slightly before answering.

“You know a lot of those parties and balls she goes to are for work. She goes representing Runway and Elias-Clarke.”

“They’re boring. What do they do all night that’s so fun?”

“Well, they’re not quite so boring if you like to dance.”

“Dance? Like crumpin’?” To Andy’s amazement and horror, the twins began to gyrate and flail around the kitchen like spastic marionettes.

“Do I even want to ask what that was supposed to be? A pop and lock?” The twins howled because pop and lock was so last year.

“Uh, guys? Got a tip for you: don’t quit your day jobs. So You Think You Can Dance is not going to be calling any time soon.” Caroline snorted Hawaiian punch out her nose and the twins laughed even harder. Andy mopped up with paper towels she found under the sink. When the girls had regained a semblance of control over themselves the discussion continued.

“So what kind of dancing do they do at these things?”

“You know; classic ballroom dancing. The foxtrot, waltz, two-step, some Latin dances. The kind of dancing where you and your partner actually touch while you’re dancing. It’s for sure your Mom isn’t going to crump in that Bill Blass she was wearing.”

“How do you know so much about this stuff? I thought only old people knew about that…stuff.”

“My Mom and Dad like to dance. They would go every week and take lessons with another couple they were friends with. Then they’d come home and practice. They taught my sister and me.”

Cassidy looked thunderstruck. “You mean you know how to dance that stuff too?”

“Yeah, I can dance ‘that stuff’. What’s wrong with that? It’s kinda fun.”

“Show us.”

Andy stared at Cassidy in disbelief.  “What?

“You said you could dance that stuff…show us.”

Me and my big mouth. “Uh, guys, it’s not that easy. I mean the dancing isn’t hard, but you need the right kind of music and the right kind of floor. You can’t dance on carpet. You need a hardwood or tile floor to be able to get the footwork right.”

“We’ve got one of those. C’mon.” The twins pulled Andy down the hall an threw open a set of double doors. She looked into the private sitting room and her jaw dropped. The long walls were floor to ceiling bookcases. The floor was a three-toned hardwood inlay pattern. Two settees faced each other on an area rug in the center of the room. Andy realized that they could have their hardwood floor with very little difficulty.

“Okay, one of you stay here with me and we’ll move the furniture. The other has to get us some music.”

“I’ll download some and burn a CD. What kind do I need?”

“Concentrate on Sinatra or Tony Bennett or stuff from the Big Band Era. The foxtrot is danced in 4|4 time, the quickstep in 2|4 or 4|4, and the waltz in 3|4. Knock yourself out.”

Ten minutes later, Caroline and Andy had slid the settees to the end of the room and rolled up the small rug between them. Cassidy appeared waving a CD and carrying a small boom box. A moment to plug it in and they were ready to go.

“Okay, ladies. We’ll start with the foxtrot. The basic step pattern is slow-quick-quick or slow-slow-quick-quick. We’ll start with slow-quick-quick because it’s easier for beginners and you don’t have to worry about not finishing a step on the downbeats. To begin, let’s get you into dance positions.”

Andy assumed the man’s position and showed each twin proper posture and position. When they felt comfortable with that, she began with the basic forward step and the basic backward step. The twins seemed generally unimpressed until Andy combined the two into a box step. She put on Sinatra singing “The Summer Wind”, held out her arms to Caroline and away they went. Cassidy held her sides laughing and offered bad advice and derisive comments from one of the settees. That was all well and good until Andy sent Caroline to sit and grabbed Cass to dance.

She replayed the Sinatra song and started off with Cass who quickly decided it was a lot harder than it looked. Now it was Caroline’s turn to laugh.

“Don’t look down at your feet, look at me. You two play the piano; I know you can feel the beat. Just relax and keep count in your head. Slow-quick-quick, slow-quick-quick. Your feet will take care of themselves. Remember, I’m leading. I’ll show you where to go from the way I hold you and move my arms and upper body. Caroline? Did you feel me gently pulling you toward me when I wanted you to move forward?”

“Yeah, I did.”

“Well, that’s what leading is. It’s showing your partner where you’re going next and very possibly what you’re going to do next. A strong lead will always be able to indicate to their partner what’s coming next and an accomplished partner knows the steps so well that the slightest indication from the lead and she’ll know what to do. It does take a lot of practice to get it right.”

“Hw come the girls always have to go backwards?”

“Because if the lead was going backwards they’d probably crash into the other dancers. Right Andy?”

“That’s right, Cass. You’re getting better…more relaxed. That’s good. Caroline, play that song again.”

“I still think it isn’t fair that we don’t get to see where we’re going just because we’re girls.”

The cool voice from the doorway took them all by surprise.

“You’re absolutely correct, darling. It’s not fair. So any time you hear somebody say what a great dancer Fred Astaire was always remember that Ginger Rogers did the same thing he did only going backwards and in heels.”

To Andy’s utter terror, Miranda walked across the room, tapped Cassidy on the shoulder, said quietly, “May I cut in?” and stepped into Andy’s arms.

Andy didn’t know whether to shit, run or go blind.

 

Chapter Text

Andy was only vaguely aware of the music surrounding them. Her entire being, her entire life force, every molecule in her body was focused on the woman in her arms as they began to sway gently to the beat. And then, by some unsought gift from the gods, the many hours spent practicing in her Cincinnati basement came into play, and Andy and Miranda began to dance.

Hesitantly at first, getting a feel for each other, they moved around the room. Miranda was light on her feet and a good dancer; under normal circumstances Andy would have been pleased by that fact. But these circumstances were most certainly not normal…this wasn’t some pre-teen friend giggling as her parents demonstrated the steps. This was Miranda Fucking Priestly in her arms; and Miranda Fucking Priestly left no doubt whatsoever that Andy was holding a woman. A beautiful, desirable, soft, wonderful-smelling woman that every straight man (and quite a few gays ones) in the greater Tri-State area would give his left nut to be holding like this. Miranda Priestly who twirled into a spin with a soft smile and melted back into Andy’s arms to glide into another set of box turns.

Now Andy knew she was losing her mind because before the spin Miranda’s left hand had been resting on her shoulder, and now it was pressing gently against the back of her neck. Andy felt the tiny hairs there rise at the thought, and suddenly her whole body was aware of Miranda’s nearness. The weight of her forearm across Andy’s shoulder. The rustle of the black dress against Andy’s jeans as they pivoted through a turn. The firmness of Miranda’s back as Andy used her right hand to guide her into a promenade step, and the faint brush of Miranda’s hair on her cheek when the older woman pivoted sharply back into position.

Gradually, Andy’s courage grew; she began to enjoy this impossible dance and the marvelous nearness of Miranda. She linked two slightly more complex steps together and, as they came out of the combination, the twins whistled and applauded loudly.

“Way to go, Mom!” “Andy, you rock!”

Andy nearly danced them into a bookcase when Miranda’s cheek came to rest against hers and warm breath brushed her ear with a whispered, “Dance lessons, Andréa? It was lacrosse when I left.”

Without thinking and completely focused on the goosebumps that whisper had raised, Andy murmured back, “Well, I try to be a full-service coach, Miranda,” and pivoted her partner into another promenade. But this time, instead of ending the combination with a basic step, Andy swayed to the side, pivoted her torso a quarter turn and dipped Miranda Priestly. As the women held the stunning pose for a two-count, something happened which few people in the world had ever witnessed: Miranda threw her head back and laughed. The full, uninhibited laugh of a delighted woman having a simply marvelous time.

Andy brought her back to basic position, and they finished the dance with a flourish; Andy twirling Miranda twice and then applauding as Miranda curtsied to the twins. The girls immediately bounced to their feet demanding to be taught ‘that totally cool dip thing!’  Andy and Miranda each took a twin and did so, the four of them exchanging partners frequently with the adults demonstrating when necessary.

An hour and a half later Miranda called a halt to the merriment, telling the twins that even though it was a Friday night, it was long past their bedtimes. Andy and the girls unrolled the rug and replaced the furniture under Miranda’s supervision, and then the twins bid them good night and headed for bed. To Andy’s surprise and great delight, both Cassidy and Caroline gave her the same hugs and kisses on the cheek that they gave Miranda as they went to their rooms.

Andy closed the sitting room doors and headed for the media room with a grin on her face. She gathered the detritus of their lacrosse lessons and carried it to the kitchen. Miranda powered down the home theatre system and followed her.

“They’re very fond of you, Andréa. I hope you realize that.”

“I do. And I’m very fond of them. You’ve got great kids, lady.”

Miranda’s facial expression turned almost wistful. “I hope so. I’ve put them through so much, and sometimes it seems like everything is conspiring to keep me away from them. They are everything precious in my life.”

Unthinking, Andy reached out and touched Miranda’s hand. “That’s obvious to anyone who knows you, Miranda.” Then, realizing what she had done, Andy flushed and pulled her hand back. “You’re right, it is getting late. I’d better be going.”

They walked to the foyer, and Miranda took Andy’s coat from the front closet. Andy shrugged into it, and while pulling on her gloves, turned to face her former boss.

“Thank you for having me. I had a good time.”

“Thank you for giving me and the girls another memorable evening. I enjoyed myself far more here than at the Black and White Gala. It was…fun, Andréa.”

Both women leaned in for a generic air kiss; afterwards, Andy was never sure exactly what happened next. One moment she was bussing the air in the general vicinity of Miranda’s ear, and the next an impossibly soft pair of lips were pressed to the corner of her mouth. When they withdrew she eased back, trembling, to look into Miranda’s eyes. Pools of deep blue gazed back at her as Miranda gently wiped the smudge of lipstick off Andy’s cheek with her thumb.

Neither spoke. Neither had words. Andy merely smiled, touched Miranda’s cheek, and left. One instant looking lovingly at the woman who, beyond reason, had captivated her heart and the next, wrapping her muffler around her neck and walking toward the subway with the world’s goofiest grin on her face.

Inside the townhouse, Miranda leaned back against the door, stunned by what she had done. A moment later she caught sight of a slightly flushed, smiling woman in the hallway mirror and it took a moment to dawn on her that the woman in the mirror was her. The smile widened as she turned off the lights and slowly climbed the stairs.

* * * * *

Andy spent the next day at work proofing and correcting stories on the bid-rigging scandal. In between edits, she relived THE MOMENT, as she now thought of it, when Miranda had so fleetingly kissed her. If she thought about it for any length of time, she started to hyperventilate. Miranda kissed me. Miranda kissed me. Ohmygod, Miranda kissed me!

Every time she thought of what had happened as she was leaving the night before, one part of her melted into a gooey puddle of love-struck female and another tried to talk her out of believing it. The gooey, love-struck part of her was thrilled at the idea (preposterous as it might sound) that Miranda might actually feel something akin to desire for Andy. The disbelieving part kept up a repeating list of reasons why it was not possible.

Miranda had been married twice and was in the middle of her third divorce. She kissed me. Miranda had conceived the twins the old-fashioned way…no turkey basters, no frozen sperm, no donor choices. Just her and her husband doing the nasty. She kissed me. Every day Miranda was surrounded by models – some of the most beautiful women in the world - in all states of undress and never even glanced at them. She kissed me. She has kids who sort of like me and she won’t let anything in the world hurt them. She kissed me. I’ve never been remotely attracted to a woman before. But…she kissed me and my knees went weak. And the way she looked when she walked into the media room!  I wanted her; I wanted her so badly.

And she kissed me! Not a social air kiss and not on the cheek either! It was…almost…on the lips. On the corner of my mouth … that’s still lips, isn’t it? Oh God, why didn’t I kiss her back? I could have. I saw it in her eyes. If I’d have just pushed a little, I could have…no, I couldn’t. If I’d pushed I’d have frightened her off. I don’t want to frighten her off. I want her to come willingly. I want her to walk into my arms to make love like she walked into my arms to dance.

Oh, God, that dance! She felt like…I don’t know what… in my arms. No wonder guys are always touching us and trying to hold us….she felt amazing against me. I danced cheek to cheek with Miranda Priestly and afterward she kissed me! How lucky am I? Her cheek was so soft, if I’d turned my head just the tiniest bit I could have…

“Sachs? Where are those rewrites on the DPW office manager’s Grand Jury testimony? I needed them ten minutes ago!”

“Filing them now, Greg!” Andy snapped her attention back to her workstation and the article displayed on the screen. She read it one last time, saved her corrections, then transferred the files to the queue for Greg’s terminal. She had to stay focused, or she’d be stuck in the office all night. And she did not want to spend the night at the office. She wasn’t sure if she was ready to talk to Miranda about what happened last night, but she certainly needed to do some serious thinking about where her head was. She’d call Miranda tomorrow once she figured everything out.

In the meantime, there was work to do. She brought up another mock-up article and began to edit it. Absently, she tapped her cheek with her pencil on the very spot Miranda had kissed her last night.

She kissed me!

“Sachs! Get in here!”

Shit! “On my way, Greg!”

* * * * *

Things were not going well across midtown at the Runway offices, either. The proofs from the Michael Kors shoot were gone, and Testino had finally admitted that he had no idea where the original memory cards were. They were stuck and would have to move up another photo spread if they couldn’t re-shoot within the next few days. Miranda had Emily and Nigel working the phones, and to make matters worse, Irv had fired off a memo stating that unless the shoot could be re-photographed for under two hundred thousand, it would not be re-shot at all.

The rest of the editorial staff was in the offices, frantically culling through their files, trying to find a location they could use. Miranda hadn’t needed to summon everyone in on a Saturday; Irv’s memo had done that for her. By 10:00 am, critical mass had been reached.

“Emily?” The quiet voice summoned her assistant more efficiently than a shouted command ever would.

“Call Nigel and ask him to come over then call an editorial meeting for 10:30. We have to get a handle on this right now or scrap the entire issue and start over.”

“Yes, Miranda.” Spying the half-drunk Starbucks cup on the desk next to Miranda, Emily risked breaking her cardinal rule of never asking Miranda a question. “Do…do you need more coffee?” To her amazement, Miranda not only answered her but also thanked her absently. Something was wrong…very, very wrong.

She scurried back into the outer office and dispatched the second assistant for fresh coffee - including Nigel’s favorite blend in the order as well. When he arrived several minutes later, the second assistant was just stepping out of the elevators, balancing two Starbucks trays precariously. Emily relieved her of them and handed Nigel his cup.

“How’s the mood?” he asked quietly as she rearranged the cups into one carrier.

“Something’s wrong, and I don’t know what it might be.”

“What do you mean?”

“Just watch her during the meeting. I mean she actually answered me when I asked if she wanted more coffee and said ‘thank you’!” Emily hissed. Nigel’s eyes widened.

What?” It’s difficult to deliver a whispered comment with the same impact as a shout, but Nigel managed it.

“Just watch her. See if you don’t notice something…off.”

They were interrupted by the quiet voice from the office. “Emily?”

“Coming, Miranda!”

Nigel arranged himself in one of the twin chairs facing the desk, and Emily took the other. Miranda swung around from her examination of the midtown skyline behind her and began.

“We have a serious problem. If we can’t reschedule the Michael Kors shoot within a week, the entire issue will need to be scrapped. Despite the fact that none of the blame rests with our staff, Irv’s memo made it crystal clear that we will be on a tight leash financially. So we need a location with a climate that can pass for summer, doesn’t cost much, and that we can have on two or three days’ notice. Moreover, as if that’s not enough, we need to accomplish all this before we leave for London in three weeks. Where are we?”

Nigel opened. “I just got off the phone with Jeffrey Talbot down in Savannah. The Roadhouse restaurant group was scheduled for their annual corporate retreat down there and cancelled. Something to do with their Chapter 11 filing. The important thing is there are plenty of rooms available, and a major revenue source just bailed. He said we could get rooms on an hour’s notice and that civil permits wouldn’t take much longer. I think we could make Savannah work if we can get the Historical Society behind us, and Jeff’s working on that right now. I’ll know more in an hour or so.”

Miranda nodded in approval and looked at Emily. “Where do we stand with photographers? And do not tell me that Testino is ready to shoot again. It will be a long time before he shoots another spread for Runway.”

“I just got off the phone with Demarchelier’s assistant. Patrick is willing to rearrange his schedule and shoot this week if we can lock down a location. He says he and his crew can be on site in twenty-four hours or less. As far as the…”

They were interrupted by the ringing of Nigel’s cell phone. He jumped to his feet and headed into the outer office to take the call. It was brief and he returned to his chair, wreathed in smiles, a minute later.

“That was Jeff. We’ll get all the cooperation the city of Savannah and its Historical society can give us. He’s even talked The Marshall House into holding a block of rooms for us for twenty-four hours. If we confirm within that time, they’re ours.”

Miranda actually showed the hint of a smile for the first time that day. “Excellent. We’ll meet with the entire editorial staff in fifteen minutes. Pull up everything we’ve got from the spring shoot we did there in 2005. We’ll need contact information for…well, everything.”

Nigel rose and nodded. “I’m on it. I’ll pull the records and get a list of contacts for us to work with.”

Miranda nodded absently. “That’s all.”

Emily cast a frightened glance at Nigel then squared her shoulders. “Should I confirm with Patrick?”

Miranda seemed to bring herself back to the present with a visible effort. “Yes, tell him we’re looking at Savannah, and we’ll have full information for him within three hours.” She slowly swiveled around in her chair and gazed back out the windows at the skyline, and Emily and Nigel vacated the office.

In the reception area, Emily gave Nigel a wide-eyed look.

“Do you see what I mean?”

“Something’s on her mind and you’re right; it’s not the shoot. Just keep doing what you need to, and let’s just get through this day. We can worry about her later.” Then both rolled their eyes and Nigel left for his office.

Miranda found herself preoccupied once again with the events of last night. What in the world had prompted her to cut in on Cassidy and dance with Andréa? The woman was half her age for heaven’s sake. And she was a woman. Was she having some horribly clichéd mid-life crisis? But, try as she might, Miranda could not deny what had happened. She had enjoyed dancing with Andréa far more than she had ever enjoyed a dance before. And then the impertinent child had actually dipped her! The memory of laughing exuberantly sent a thrill through her even today. It had been…fun. She had felt happy, truly happy, for the first time in a long time.

Even the twin’s laughter seemed almost a benediction. They hadn’t batted an eyelash when she and Andy had danced together, or even when she had pressed close to Andréa and deepened the intimacy of the dance. The ensuing hours had been filled with laughter and smiles from everyone as the four of them danced. The twins had learned quickly; Andréa was correct, they were well coordinated and surprisingly light on their feet considering the amount of noise their passage through the house usually generated. It had been a delightful evening.

And the twins’ kissing Andréa good night…that was a most pleasant surprise. They hadn’t even hesitated, and she had seen how it had made Andréa smile. She really was fond of the girls, for which Miranda was profoundly grateful. Last night they had seemed almost like a happy family. This led her to the thoughts she had been trying to avoid all morning. What had she been thinking when she’d actually kissed Andréa? They had been exchanging an ordinary goodbye, and suddenly she was actually pressing her lips to that marvelous dimple at the corner of the young woman’s mouth. And feeling a shiver of delight run through herself that she hadn’t felt in a very, very long time.

So what was actually happening here? She found herself attracted to a woman half her age; a woman of whom her daughters were extremely fond. She had never been in a relationship with a woman before, but she was a veteran of three failed marriages; could a relationship with a woman be any worse? What if they were found out? She’d had too many unpleasant run-ins with the media to think that the discovery of an affair with another woman wouldn’t be splashed all over the tabloids. But what would it really matter? The scandal would die down quickly, especially with her publicist doing damage control. She worked in the one industry where being gay was considered normal. Her custody agreement was ironclad. She had never used the incriminating evidence the investigators had gathered on her first husband during their divorce, but if he attempted to alter the custody agreement in any way, he knew what awaited him.

So, in reality, the only factor that might affect her decision about whether or not to have an affair…no, it wouldn’t be an affair. Miranda already knew that her feelings for Andréa ran far deeper than would be dictated by a mere affair. If they embarked on a relationship, it would be just that; a meaningful relationship, not a fly-by-night fling. The only factor that might affect her decision about a possible relationship with Andréa would be its impact on the girls. Their interactions had improved so much of late and Miranda was loathe to do anything that might change that. She would have to think of a way to sound the twins out about their feelings for Andréa.

“Miranda?”

She turned with a start to see Emily standing in the doorway. “The staff is waiting in the conference room.”

As soon as they managed this reshoot, she was going to have a long talk with her daughters.

* * * * *

Andy’s day had been long and frustrating. Not that the work was either of those, but she simply could not keep her mind off the night before. She’d finally escaped the office around six-thirty and ordered Chinese food for dinner. By the time she was back home and comfortable in her softest pair of sweats, the food arrived.

A cold beer and subgum shrimp served to stave off the starvation pangs, and after she cleaned up from her supper, she grabbed another beer and flopped on the couch. She turned on the television for background noise and settled in to ponder what had happened over the past couple of weeks and what it meant for her.

She’d discovered that she could be extremely attracted to another woman. That wasn’t quite right. She was extremely attracted to Miranda Priestly, not just to another woman. To one very specific woman. She ran over the significant friendships she’d had with various women in her life, and concluded none had ever sparked the response Miranda had. So she didn’t think that she had been gay all along and in denial. This was something completely new and different to deal with. Okay, so she was attracted to Miranda. What did that mean?

Andy worked all around the issue, poking at it from different directions and trying to make sense of how she felt. At the end of two hours, she had finally peeled back all the layers of rationalization and excuses to uncover one essential truth. After being tormented, tortured, belittled, worked to exhaustion, used, abused and ignored for almost a year, she, Andy Sachs of Cincinnati, Ohio, had fallen ass-over-teakettle in love with Miranda Priestly. No matter what excuses she came up with for her reactions of late that one fact always seemed to be at the source of everything.

Now, what was she going to do about it? Miranda had flirted outrageously with her when she had asked if Andy liked her ensemble. It had been Miranda who had stepped into her arms without hesitation to dance. It had been Miranda who had moved closer, making that dance intimate. And it had been Miranda who had moved and changed their goodbye from something friendly to something… else. It was Miranda…it had always been Miranda. Nate had subconsciously known. The person whose calls you always take? That’s the relationship you’re in. And she had always taken Miranda’s calls. Except once. In Paris. Andy realized, at that moment, she had been trying to make up for that ever since.

I need to talk with Miranda, she thought, reaching for the phone.

* * * * *

The twins sat on Miranda’s bed and complained half-heartedly.

“But you said you’d be here for tryouts. You promised!” said Cassidy.

“And I will be, darling. We’re leaving tonight and I’ll be back on Wednesday morning. Your team practices run through Thursday, and final cuts won’t be until Friday afternoon. I will be back two days before then. And you both said that you don’t want Andréa or me at practices. That you want to do it on your own.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t want you around. How are we supposed to tell you about it?” griped Caroline. The twins continued to complain about the last-minute trip to Savannah. They understood the need for the trip but really had wanted Miranda around for encouragement during their tryout week, even if they didn’t want her hovering at practices. They were scheduled for one last practice with Andy tomorrow afternoon, and then Andy had been forbidden from attending the team practices as well.

“You can call me each night I’m away and tell me every single detail. In fact, if you’d like, I can conference Andréa onto our calls and you can tell both of us. That’s not so bad, is it?” The bedside phone began to ring. “Darling, would you get that for me?”

Cassidy answered and promptly handed the phone to Miranda. “It’s Andy, for you.”

“Andréa?”

“Hello, Miranda. I hope I’m not disturbing you?”

“Not really, but I haven’t much time. The girls were just helping me finish packing. I’m on a late plane to Savannah tonight and the car is due in fifteen minutes.”

“Savannah?” Andy thought for a moment. “You’re going to reshoot the Michael Kors feature?”

“Yes, Nigel worked his usual magic and got us the permits we needed on an hour’s notice, so everyone is flying in tonight. We start the shoot tomorrow afternoon. I’ll be home on Wednesday morning. What was it you wanted?”

Andy took a deep breath, torn between bringing up her feelings when Miranda obviously didn’t have time to discuss anything and saying nothing. She decided she’d waited long enough. “I… I think we need to talk about last night. I don’t want… it’s taken me a while to figure out how I feel and I don’t… I don’t want to lose… God, I’m doing this badly.”

Miranda stiffened at what she heard and spoke coolly, glancing at the twins as they folded the last of her blouses. “I think you’re making a mountain out of a molehill. There is no need for you to worry about… anything. I assure you there won’t be a repeat if that’s what concerns you.”

“But that’s just it, Miranda. I want there to be a repeat. I want there to be a repeat and so much more! I know you need to catch your plane, but will you promise me we’ll talk – really talk – when you get home?”

Miranda could hardly breathe. “You want…? Andréa, are you sure?”

“As sure as I’ve ever been about anything. Promise me? Promise me we’ll sit down and talk?”

“I promise. I’ll call you Wednesday morning when I get back.” Miranda felt a fluttering in her chest at that thought.

Andy’s voice became a soft purr. “I’ll be waiting.”

 

Chapter Text

The final practice session had gone extremely well and Andy was more certain than ever that the twins would make the Dalton junior squad. The Dalton coach had organized the tryouts over a full week with team scrimmages and practices Monday through Thursday and final cuts on Friday. Several other coaches from Dalton were serving as the selection board and were observing all the prospective players during the week, making detailed notes on performance logs.

The twins had called Miranda and Andy both Monday and Tuesday nights to deliver blow-by-blow accounts of the afternoon’s practice. Miranda was always encouraging, convinced that no coach would find fault with either of her daughters. Andy was just as certain, but asked thoughtful questions on some of the things the girls had been asked to do during the practice sessions and explained the reasons behind them if the twins didn’t know. She projected a calm assurance that they would make the team and by doing so kept the twins focused on what they needed to do to make that happen.

But inside Andy was as nervous as could be. She debated calling the twins during their Wednesday lunch period and rejected the idea. If she seemed at all uneasy that could spill over to the girls and might affect their play. She had survived Monday and Tuesday by forcing herself to go out and around the city checking facts and running down leads on corollary stories coming out of the bid-rigging scam, but by Wednesday afternoon she’d double-checked everything she could and was pacing the newsroom like a caged lion.

Screw it! I’m heading to the park. I’ll just lurk on the fringes and watch to see how they’re doing. She threw on her parka and took off.

Miranda had called briefly around 11:30 am when she had arrived back at the Runway offices just to let Andy know she was back in town and to invite her to dinner that night. There was no time to talk because Miranda had to make sure she was home for dinner that night. That meant Emily was shuttling people in and out of her office at breakneck speed, trying to cram two days’ worth of meetings into a single afternoon. Miranda had told her that Cara was collecting Patricia from the groomer’s and Roy would take them all home when practice was complete. She would join them there.

Andy got lucky with a cab and in a few minutes was tearing north on Sixth Avenue headed for the entrance to Central Park. The taxi gods continued to smile on her as her cabbie got her within a half block of the fields Dalton had booked for their practices. Andy tipped him generously and jogged across the softball fields to where the Dalton teams had gathered.

As she approached the field, she saw Cara sitting on a bench watching practice and riding herd on the twin’s gear bags, school backpacks and Patricia. Thankfully, the huge St. Bernard was a cum laude graduate of the finest obedience schools in the city and was sitting placidly by the nanny. Andy made sure to hide her approach behind as many trees and groups of spectator parents as possible and in a couple of minutes had settled on the bench next to Cara.

“How are they doing?”

“They look good. You can’t tell that this is their first year playing. In fact the coach had them demonstrate a give in…errr…a give…”

“A give-and-go?”

“Yes! That’s it. The coach had them demonstrate a give-and-go to the rest of the squad a few minutes ago. Cassidy and Caroline always seem to know where the other is on the field. I think the coach has noticed that.”

“It’s that twin thing of theirs. And I hope the coach notices it; that’s one of the strongest things they bring to the game. Okay, I’m going to go hide in the trees at the other end of the field so they don’t see me. I promised them I’d stay away from practice. They wanted to do this on their own.”

Cara smiled. “I know. And Andy, you’ve done a great job with them. They’ve blossomed since they started working with you. And they’re getting along with their mother much better. I think all three of them are happier now.”

Andy grinned back at her and gave Patricia a good scratch behind the ears. “They’re great kids. I know they can be a handful, but they’ve worked hard and really settled down these past two months. I loved working with them. But now I’ve got to make my escape before they see me. Is Roy here yet?”

“He’s in the parking lot behind that ball field,” Cara gestured to the softball diamond to her right.

“Give him my best. I’ll probably see you on Friday. I think Miranda and I are going to be allowed to come watch the final tryouts.”

Cara chuckled as Andy got up and started weaving her way along the sideline, watching the twins on the field and using groups of parents and bystanders for cover. She made it unnoticed to the opposite end of the field where she leaned against a tree and watched as the youngsters ran their drills and scrimmages. After about twenty minutes, one of the selectors strolled over and greeted her.

“You’re Andy Sachs, aren’t you? From Northwestern? I’m Jennifer Ramsay from Virginia. You guys whipped us in the finals two years ago.”

Andy recognized the woman. “You played defensive wing. Damn, you were fast. I remember you took a shovel pass off a turnover and left half our team in a cloud of dust. Do you coach at Dalton now?”

“I’m teaching second grade at Little Dalton and helping out as an assistant for the lacrosse teams. What are you doing out here? Got family trying out?”

“No, I helped coach a couple of prospects who had never played before. They didn’t want me to come to tryouts but I really wanted to see how they’re doing. I’m trying to keep a low profile so they don’t see me.”

“Who’d you coach? Oh wait, I bet I know. The twins? Caroline and Cassidy?”

“Yeah. How are they doing?”

“Not much question they’ll make the team. You did a good job with them; their skills are solid. I’m kind of curious though; if you were the team coach, where would you use them?”

“I’d have to go with offense. It’s really weird, but the two of them always seem to know where the other is on the field. Their passes to each other are uncanny. Maybe it’s one of those twin things; I don’t know. But I do know that any two players who pass like they do can really help out a fast break.”

Jen nodded. “That’s what we were thinking too. Well, I won’t say congratulations until Friday, but I don’t think the girls have anything to worry about. They’ll be getting a lot of playing time. It was nice to see you again. Come by some of our games once the season starts, we can always use another pair of hands.”

Andy grinned back at her. “I’ll remember that. Maybe I’ll see you Friday.”

“I look forward to it. Say, if you’re gonna hang around at this end of the field, keep your eyes peeled for a bag of sticks and a duffel with a practice goal will you? We’ve managed to misplace a couple of equipment bags.”

Andy nodded toward the Dalton vans parked a few yards away. Green duffels were visible in the cargo doors of each. “What about those?”

Jen laughed as she headed back toward the field. “One of our part-time drivers brought them by mistake. The softball team is going to be very short of bats this afternoon. See you around, Andy.”

“Bye, Jen, it was good to see you.”

The practice wound down to be finished off with wind sprints. The sight of Cassidy and Caroline pushing themselves to be among the fastest players made her smile. The coaches gathered everyone together for some quick announcements and then the group began to break up. Andy watched as one of the twins – Cassidy she thought – trotted over to Cara and Patricia. The other one – probably Caroline – was still talking with one of the coaches. Their conversation ended, she walked toward her sister and Cara as Andy turned toward a park entrance to catch a cab back to the office.

Later, when she tried to recall what happened, all Andy could remember were isolated details. The players walking off the field in their colorful warm-ups and sweats. The sounds of engines turning over. Parents and spectators standing in small groups. Cars pulling up onto the grass to pick up their passengers and the late afternoon sun glinting off their trim. The excited chatter and happy laughter of the kids. Then the screams started.

NO! LET ME GO! LET…ME…GO!

Caroline!

Andy knew immediately who was screaming and her blood ran cold. Her feet were moving before she realized it and she sprinted toward the large man wrestling Caroline into the back of a gray minivan and piling in after her.

No! Cutoff their angle! Go back! Realizing she would never reach the van in time, she skidded to a stop and reversed course. Her only chance was to cut them off before they reached the west drive and could exit the park. As she tore past the Dalton coaches, they shouted at her demanding to know what was happening.

“Kidnapping! Call 9-1-1!” she screamed over her shoulder, now dimly aware of Cassidy and Cara’s cries and the shouts of the parents as the reality of what was going on dawned on them. She slammed to a stop at the Dalton vans and ripped a softball bat from the equipment bag then caromed off the rear quarter panel and headed toward the road. She could see the gray van several hundred yards away just making the sharp turn onto the access road and she put on a burst of speed, the sound of her panting loud in her ears. She approached the trees lining the pavement and could see sunlight flash off the front of the van. I’m not gonna make it! She broke through the tree line and onto the road just as the van flew past her.

Suddenly, the roar of twelve German-engineered cylinders exploded around her as Miranda’s Mercedes flew out of the trees to her left and broadsided the van, tires screaming. Both vehicles spun out and Andy had a vague image of Roy’s head flying into the door pylon as she ran toward the van shouting Caroline’s name.

The minivan had come to rest against a tree, the left front wheel nearly snapped off. Nothing was moving inside as Andy charged up. The doors were locked so she started swinging, smashing in first the windshield and then the driver’s window. Again and again she swung, shouting for Caroline to answer her as the shattering glass sliced her hands and forearms. Finally, one of the back doors of the van was forced open and the big man who had first grabbed Caroline staggered out with the girl wrapped in his arms. Andy’s vision tunneled down to see only the terrified child struggling against him. Snarling like a feral animal, she charged and brought her bat to bear.

Her skills as an offensive shot-maker served her well as she hit him, trying to force him to release Caroline. She finally connected to the side of his knee, and as his leg folded under him, he relaxed his grip enough for Caroline to slip free.

Run!” Andy shouted as she put him out of the fight with a solid shot to the side of the head. Caroline disappeared from her sight line and she pivoted back to face the driver who had just climbed out of his shattered window. Sirens could be faintly heard and Andy knew if she could just hold him off a bit longer help would arrive. She swung wildly and he managed to grab the bat, throwing her off balance as he yanked a large automatic pistol from the waistband of his pants and aimed it in the direction Caroline had headed.

Andy screamed “NO!” and threw herself against him as he fired. The explosion wasn’t as loud as she thought it would be but the smell of cordite was worse. He apparently wasn’t a very good shot, because she could still see Caroline running away out of the corner of her eye. He ripped the bloody bat from her hands and bellowed “You fuckin’ bitch!” as he slammed the gun into the side of her head and dropped her to her knees. He was taking aim at her head when a snarling St. Bernard in full attack mode bowled him over, leaping for his throat. The gun flew out of his hand and landed in the middle of the roadway.

Andy became aware of other people around them as she staggered to her feet. Blood streamed down her face as she scrabbled to get a grip on the enraged Patricia and pull her off the screaming driver. Another hand joined hers on the leather collar and she looked sideways to see Roy dragging the dog with her, most of the left side of his face starting to bruise. Together, they got Patricia under control as the Dalton coaches subdued the would-be kidnappers and other people began to run up.

“Caroline? Caroline? Roy, where’s Caroline? Caroline?” Andy frantically searched for the girl as the wail of approaching sirens grew louder. The blow to her head must have been worse than she thought, because Andy could have sworn she heard hoof beats too. Finally, her eyes found Caroline wrapped safely in the arms of Jen Ramsay and the relief that flooded through her made her legs weak. Sobbing, Caroline broke free from Jen.

“Andy!” she cried and flung herself against Andy, who clutched her as tightly as she could, resting her cheek on top of the girl’s head. For some reason her left arm wasn’t working quite right, but Caroline was safe and that was all that mattered. Andy would worry about her arm later.

“It’s okay now, baby; it’s okay. I’ve got you now. Are you all right? Did they hurt you, honey?”

“Oh, Andy, you’re bleeding!”

“Sweetheart, I’m okay. He just hit me in the head and that always bleeds a lot. I’m just fine. But are you sure you’re okay?” Andy raised her head just in time to see three mounted Park Police officers thunder up and dismount. They quickly handcuffed both kidnappers and confiscated the gun. The approaching sirens were now close enough that the vehicles’ flashing lights could be seen through the trees.

Andy refused to release Caroline, even when the Dalton coaches came over and tried to get her to sit down. She kept repeating that they were both fine, just leave them be. Finally, Coach Ramsay looked at them and said gently, “Andy, you’ve been shot. You need to sit down.” Firmly she moved both Caroline and Andy over to a large tree at the side of the road, where she eased Andy off her feet and leaned her back against the trunk. One of the other Dalton coaches ran up with a bag and Jen pulled a clean towel from it and pressed it against the front of Andy’s left shoulder. Andy glanced down and was shocked to see bright red blood begin to soak it. Jen snatched another towel from the bag and pressed that against the back of Andy’s shoulder as well.

Caroline’s eyes widened in fear as she saw the blood soak the towels and Andy quickly reached up to her and pulled her down against her uninjured side. She pressed a kiss against the red hair and whispered fiercely “I am so proud of you! You were so brave and you did everything right. You hollered so we all knew you were in trouble and you fought him. You’re a hero, Caro!” The youngster just burrowed more tightly against her as Ramsay continued to put pressure on her wounds.

Just then, Andy heard Cassidy’s frightened voice calling for her sister and she managed to catch Cara’s attention with a wave as the two arrived, surrounded by a protective ring of Dalton parents. Cassidy dashed over and threw her arms around both of them crying. Now Andy had two distraught twins to deal with. To complicate matters, Patricia decided to join the fun and, with a huge sigh, promptly collapsed across as many pairs of legs as she could.

Andy was given a sudden assist from Jen who promptly grabbed Cassidy and told her Andy needed her help. “You need to press this towel firmly against her shoulder while I do the same on her head. Do you understand?” Cassidy nodded wide-eyed and did as she was told. Andy winced as the girl pushed the towel against her.

As the adrenaline wore off, the pain set in. Thanks to Jen’s quick actions, the worst of Andy’s bleeding had been controlled, but now the pain rolled over her in waves. A patrol sergeant arrived in the first of the emergency vehicles on the scene and she strode up to question the girls. Her experienced eye quickly told her that Andy was in no immediate danger and that the trembling children wrapped around her would not be easily dislodged. She didn’t even want to think what it would take to move that monster dog.

“Ma’am, I know you’re hurting right now, but I’ve got to ask you some questions. We need to get some vital information right away.”  Thankfully, Cara stepped in at that point, identified herself and began to recount what had happened. When Cara identified the girls, the sergeant winced.

“You’re telling me that these are Miranda Priestly’s daughters? That those two yahoos tried to kidnap Miranda Priestly’s daughter?” Cara nodded in confirmation and the sergeant just shook her head muttering “Fucking idiots,” under her breath.

Andy interrupted at this point. “Sergeant, one of these people has to go to Ms. Priestly’s office. She can’t hear about this on the television and the media trucks are pulling in now. Please, this is Ms. Priestly’s driver. Let him go and bring her here. That will make things much easier for everyone.”

The sergeant must have heard about Miranda because she simply nodded and waved a junior officer over. “Laskey? You’re going to provide an escort for this gentleman and that Mercedes to West 49th and Sixth Avenue, the Elias-Clarke building. You’re going to wait there for him to pick up his employer and then you’re going to give them an escort back here. You will get him and his vehicle quickly and safely to their destination and back. I’ll alert the traffic division and request an assist from them. Is that clear?”

“Yes, ma’am. Sir, if you’ll pull your vehicle behind mine for just a moment until we get clearance from the traffic division, we’ll leave very shortly.” Roy handed Patricia’s leash to Cara and went to the Mercedes as the police officers walked a short distance away to organize Miranda’s transport. When the sergeant returned, she informed them that a representative of the Police Commissioner’s office and the District Commander were enroute to Miranda’s office to inform her of what happened. They had been ordered to wait for Roy’s arrival so that there would be no delay in bringing Miranda back to the park.

The influx of emergency vehicles had not slowed and now an EMS ambulance pulled in, adding its strobes to the wildly flashing lights surrounding them. Two paramedics jogged up to Andy and one of them said brusquely “You kids will have to move so we can work on her.”

She summoned a glare every clacker at Runway feared and leveled the men with it. In tones as icy as Antarctica, she said menacingly, “The girls stay. Deal with it.” Caroline and Cassidy hugged Andy tighter as the medics went to work.

 

Chapter Text

Miranda’s office had been organized chaos since her return from the airport that morning. She was determined to be home for dinner early so that she and Andréa would have ample time to talk while the twins finished their homework. To that end, Emily had been shuttling people in and out of her office with the precision of a veteran air traffic controller lining up arrivals at JFK.

Emily had just hung up from alerting the accessories staff that they were up next when Nigel walked through the doors.

“Who’s in with her, Emily?”

“The features staff right now and accessories are on their way. I do not understand why she chose tonight to leave early. This is insane!” the first assistant hissed.

“You might want to keep the accessories people out for a minute or so. Some people are on their way up to see her. It’s important.”

Then the accessories team pushed through the doors, all talking at once. Emily winced and shushed them as she turned to Miranda’s schedule on her computer. She felt Nigel stiffen beside her, looked up and gasped.

Two grim-faced NYPD officers, the Elias-Clarke Director of Security and an obviously injured Roy walked into the reception area. Emily leapt to her feet and pushed through the doors into Miranda’s office.

“What do you mean, barging in like this? What part of ‘I am not to be interrupted’ do you not comprehend?” Miranda rose to her feet in outrage.

“Miranda, I know, I’m sorry, but there are some people who need to see you right away.”

‘Tell whoever it is out there that…”

Miranda! It’s important!” Emily’s bark stunned even her boss into sudden silence and a quick jerk of her head sent the features staff scurrying for the safety of the outer halls. As the last of them filed out, Nigel showed the new arrivals in.

Miranda’s widened eyes locked on Roy and never moved; taking in his rumpled suit and the burgeoning bruise on his face, even as the Division Commander introduced himself.  “Ms. Priestly, I’m Commander O’Neill of the Central Division and this is Captain Ryan of the Commissioner’s office. Ma’am, there’s been an incident at the Park.”

Miranda’s flawless complexion went white but her eyes never left Roy’s as Nigel gently guided her back into her chair. Finally, she tore her eyes away and stared at the police officers.

“What happened to my girls?” she said in a tone so lethal that both men felt it in their guts. The tabloids hadn’t been wrong; this really was a woman to be reckoned with, a power broker of the city whose word could make things happen. Immediately.

“Ms. Priestly, ma’am, someone kidnapped your daughter, Caroline.”

Emily’s cry registered only as a background noise as the room swirled around Miranda. “Is she…is she…?”

She looked at her driver again as he squatted beside her and took her hands in his. Her mind registered that he had never deliberately touched her before.

“Miss Caroline is fine, ma’am. She’s not hurt. Cara had Miss Cassidy; she was never in danger. But we got Miss Caroline back. Andy and I stopped them. Miss Caroline is just fine. She’s scared, and so is Miss Cassidy, but they’re okay. I’ve got the car downstairs and I’m going to take you to them right now. So you’ll need to get your coat and come with me.” Feeling how icy her hands were, he continued to reassure her.

Emily dashed out to get Miranda’s coat and bag as Nigel pulled the officers aside and introduced himself. “Are there more of them out there? Is this over?  Are they going to try again? Are the twins safe?” he asked.

“We don’t know at this point, Mr. Kipling. Our people have secured the scene and her daughters are in no immediate danger, but we haven’t had time to interrogate the perpetrators. We don’t know the scope of their plan yet.”

Nigel decided quickly. “Then I’m going to arrange for additional security until you determine that all the danger is passed. Can you make sure that your people know private security will be arriving shortly to protect Ms. Priestly and her family?”

“Do you have a firm in mind?” asked O’Neill.

“We use Whitehall Security.”

O’Neill nodded approvingly. “They’re the best. All former Secret Service, FBI and State Department Office of Protection. I’ll let our people know to expect them.”

“Where is everybody? Where do I send them?”

O’Neill pulled out a Blackberry and quickly brought up a map of Central Park. “They stopped the van right about here. On the connecting drive north of the North Meadow ball diamonds. Not the 97th Street Traverse, but the northern connecting road.” Nigel went out to make the call as Emily hurried back in with Miranda’s things.

Miranda stood and Emily helped her on with her coat. Terror for her daughters made her heart freeze and her insides were like writhing snakes, but her head began to function again. “Emily, you’d better come with me. I’m sure I’ll need you. Bring your laptop. Nigel can take care of things here.” She turned her attention back to the officers. “My daughters are safe? You’re sure?

“On my life, Ms. Priestly, they’re completely safe. We have maybe fifty officers around them right now and your Mr. Kipling is arranging for private security too. Ma’am, we’ve got cars waiting downstairs to get you back to them as quickly as possible.”

Roy is my driver. He will take me, as usual.”

O’Neill flushed quickly. “I’m sorry, ma’am. What I meant was that our cars will escort you and your driver back to the scene. If you’ll come this way, please.”

Roy led the group out of the office where Emily was shrugging into her coat and barking orders at the second assistant. Nigel hung up the phone and took Miranda’s hand as she paused in front of him. He kissed her cheek and said quietly, “You go take care of your family. I’ll take care of things here and call you later. A security contingent will meet you at the Park.” Miranda nodded mutely and the entourage headed for the elevators.

The ride down in the elevator was silent and tense as Miranda tried to process the enormity of what she had just been told. Her hands and feet felt like blocks of ice and her insides were, if anything, worse than before. Her chest was tight and she could barely breathe. Caroline! Her baby…nearly stolen from them…from her. Unthinkable! A wave of white-hot rage surged through her when she thought of some inhuman… some… some motherfucker…laying hands on her child! As quickly as the rage surged, nausea followed and she grew even paler. Forcing herself to breathe deeply she fought to get a grip on herself. She could do her daughters no good if she didn’t focus. She had to maintain control. She could go to pieces when she had the girls safe at home. Not until.

“Roy, I assume Andréa will be tied up with the authorities for the rest of the evening. But we’ll need to secure transportation for her if the police can’t escort her home.”

“Andy won’t be talking to the police any time soon. I just hope she’s still at the Park when we get back there.”

Miranda’s eyebrow arched nearly to her hairline and her voice cut through the elevator like a laser. “And why wouldn’t Andréa still be at the Park? Don’t tell me she would leave the girls to go back to that paper of hers and write the story!”

Roy’s eyes were remarkably gentle as he looked squarely back at her. As if he knew how close to the edge she really was despite outward appearances. Softly he told her the news he had dreaded to relay. “Ms. Priestly, they had guns. Andy was shot rescuing Caroline.”

Her involuntary cry was bitten back sharply but Miranda’s knees sagged as if she had been struck. Emily and Roy grabbed her elbows to support her as she fought the gorge that rose in her throat at the news. The police officers held the elevator doors open and watched open-mouthed as moment-by-moment, inch by inch she fought and clawed for control. Visibly trembling she forced herself to calm her breathing and slowly straighten to her full height. She took a deep shuddering breath and nodded once to her employees. They released her and she closed her eyes. When she opened them a minute later her facial expression was composed and regal. She nodded to the officers and they moved out of the elevator. Captain Ryan later said it was the most awesome display of self-control he had ever witnessed.

As they entered the main lobby, building security guards closed ranks around them as an escort to the waiting cars. The need for it was apparent as the group swung out of the elevator lobby and hundreds of flashes and television lights exploded on the plaza. Several other police officers were waiting for them at the doors and forced a path through the mob of paparazzi for Miranda as the press screamed questions at her. Her expression never changed nor did she acknowledge any of the frenzy surrounding her. To all outward appearances she was, indeed, the Ice Queen the tabloids had always accused her of being.

Miranda glanced at the curb as they crossed the plaza. There was a radio car ahead of her silver S600 and an unmarked car behind it. Four motorcycle outriders waited to ferry them through Manhattan traffic. And then Miranda looked closely at her $145,000 automobile.

The passenger side headlight was missing and the chrome trim bent and dangling. The right front quarter panel and bumper were caved in and the entire right side had heavy scraping, dents and paint damage. There was what appeared to be shrubbery caught in the front grille and the tailpipe was dangling precariously. Miranda’s eyes swept over her vehicle and then went to Roy’s purpling face.

“Roy, once we get in the car I believe you ought to tell me what happened to the car.”

“Yes, ma’am. As soon as we get moving I will.”

A security guard opened the rear door and Miranda slid inside. Emily and Roy trotted around and entered the driver’s side doors. In a moment, both police vehicles sprang to life, lights flashing and sirens screaming. The motorcycle outriders swept them forward and onto the street. Traffic Division had done a masterful job of clearing a route for them and the small convoy roared through mid-town and up Sixth Avenue at close to fifty mph.

“Roy? I assume you’ve called your wife and informed her that you are safe?”

“Yes, ma’am, I have.”

“You will have your injuries examined at the first opportunity.”

“Yes, ma’am, I will.”

“Very well. I believe you were going to tell me what happened to the car.”

“Yes ma’am. Cara had been watching practice from a bench with the dog. I had the car parked behind the practice fields in a parking area next to a ball diamond. I saw Cassidy run over to Cara and I saw Caroline start to. Then people started yelling and pointing. Cara rang my cell and screamed that Caroline had been taken and put in a gray minivan. I could see it, but I couldn’t get out of the parking area in time to catch them. But I don’t think they knew the Park very well because they missed a turnoff that would have taken them right out of the Park and into the city.” He paused to take a deep breath before continuing.

“I realized that the only way they could get out of the Park was to take the connecting drive to the west side. And I could see Andy running toward that road across the field. So I drove across the softball fields and across the soccer fields and through some shrubs to try to get to the curve in the road before the van did. Andy nearly made it; she was only a couple of steps from catching them when they got past her. All I could do was step on the accelerator and try to block the road so they couldn’t get around me. Then Andy could catch up. I blew through the tree line and t-boned the van. We both spun out, but the van was more unstable. They hit a tree and Andy got there and started smashing the van’s windows with her bat…”

“Her bat?” They slowed as they entered Central Park on the 97th Street Traverse. What seemed like hundreds of flashing lights were visible in the distance.

“Yes, ma’am. Andy stole a baseball bat from somewhere. And she was shouting Miss Caroline’s name and smashing windows. I was trying to get out of the car but I was so dizzy…I couldn’t see. I guess I hit my head. But I finally got out and started to go help her. She had one of them down on the ground and was yelling at Miss Caroline to run away when the other one pulled a gun. He aimed at Miss Caroline and Andy…Andy threw herself in front of him. Then he smashed her in the head with the gun. She went down to her knees…God, I was trying to get to her but I could hardly walk…and he pointed that huge gun right at her and suddenly Patricia attacked him and…”

Miranda’s eyebrow was once again nearly at her hairline and Emily’s eyes were as big as saucers. “Patricia? OUR DOG? Attacked an armed gunman who had tried to shoot Caroline and was about to shoot Andréa?”

“Yes ma’am. She nearly tore his throat out protecting Andy.” Emily looked at Miranda and saw her almost smile at the thought. “So Andy and I dragged the dog off him and the others started to arrive. I think the lacrosse coaches got there first and held the kidnappers for the police. Then the Mounted Police got there and then Cara and Cassidy and all the Dalton parents got there and the girls were hugging Andy but she was bleeding so badly. The coaches finally got her to sit against a tree and tried to put pressure on the bullet holes.”

“Bullet holes?”

“Yes, ma’am. I think it was only one shot but it must have gone in and come out. She was bleeding out her chest and her back.”

They were almost at the scene, and officers waved them up onto the grass verge. Roy brought the Mercedes to a halt across the road from an ambulance and the paramedics and people grouped around a nearby tree. He trotted around the car and opened Miranda’s door. She stepped out of the car and gave it another long glance as she did. The flash of cameras and the bright lights of TV news crews captured it.

“They’re over by that tree, ma’am.”

She turned to face Roy and pointed to his cheek. “You will have this looked at immediately. Emily will arrange for a car service to pick up your wife and deliver her to you at the hospital. I will have the dealership pick up the car and deliver a loaner for you to use until ours is repaired. Is that clear?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And Roy?”

“Yes, ma’am?”

She reached out a trembling hand and gently touched his bruised face. “Thank you. Thank you for my daughter.”

He straightened visibly and smiled broadly. “Yes, ma’am.”  The cameras caught it all.

* * * * *

Andy was cold; colder than she remembered being in a long time. Part of her refused to acknowledge that she was seriously hurt and should let the twins go, and the other part was whimpering in pain and wanted her mother. She continued to hold both girls as best she could and convinced herself that as long as she did, they would be calm and safe. Cara hovered nearby, giving statements to the police and keeping an eye on the girls too. Patricia was still sprawled across her legs with an amiable canine grin on her face. The paramedics continued to fuss over her, starting IVs and checking her vitals frequently. They kept wrapping blankets around her and the girls trying to warm her up but it wasn’t working. She watched yet another parade of flashing lights careen into the park and head in their direction.

But this parade had one car in it without flashing lights. Andy let out a relieved sigh as the battered Mercedes pulled up across the road and Miranda, Emily and Roy got out. Miranda exchanged a few words with her driver and then made a beeline for the girls.

Andy pressed one last kiss on the red heads and said, “Here’s your mom, girls.” They hugged Andy briefly, then jumped to their feet and flew into Miranda’s arms. As soon as they did, the paramedics swarmed over Andy.

The most powerful fashion arbiter in the world dropped to her knees and crushed her daughters to her in a fierce embrace. It was quite a while before she stopped murmuring, “Are you all right? Are you sure you’re all right?”, finally satisfied that she hadn’t lost either of them.

Caroline was still shaken and Miranda and Cassidy both held onto her. A thoughtful police officer had dragged a bench over for Cara to sit on while they waited for Miranda to arrive and she finally settled the girls there with their nanny and their dog before turning to Emily and giving instructions about the Mercedes and Roy’s wife.

Then, turning back to her girls she asked, “Will you be all right here for just a minute? Cara and Emily and Roy are right here. I need to go check on Andréa and see how she is.”  

At this, Caroline’s eyes teared up again. “He shot her, Mommy. He was going to shoot me and she jumped in front of him and he hit her and he pointed that gun right at her head and…” Miranda and Cassidy wrapped her in their arms.

“Shhh, darling. Don’t. It’s all over now. He may have pointed the gun at her, but didn’t our Patricia save her? Just like Andréa saved you? Try not to think about that, darling. It’s all over now and you’re perfectly safe. Mummy will be right over there checking on Andréa. Is that all right?” The sniffling child nodded and Cara took Miranda’s place in the hug as Caroline watched Miranda cross over to where the paramedics were securing Andréa to a gurney.

IV lines snaked everywhere and portable monitors beeped. The edge of a large, bloody bandage showed through a gap in the blankets Andy was wrapped in and most of her head was swathed in bandages as well. She was frighteningly pale and she had started to shiver. The paramedics were moving far more rapidly now, urgency beginning to drive them. Miranda leaned over and looked down at the beautiful young woman.

“If you didn’t want to come to dinner you could have simply told me, Andréa. You didn’t have to go to these lengths to get out of it.”

Andy tried to smile but it was tremulous at best. “Didn’t…want…to…get out…of it.”

To her horror, Miranda felt her eyes well with sudden tears. “Please tell me you’re all right.”

Andy said quietly, “I’ll be fine. I just probably… should have let them take me to the hospital… sooner. But I didn’t want to leave the girls…”

“I got here as quickly as I could once they told me what happened…Have you called your parents? You don’t want them to hear about it on the news.”

“I called them… earlier. My… mother is hysterical. Dad was trying… to calm her down.”

“Do you want me to fly them here?”

“No, they’ll just make me crazy.”

“Andréa, they’re your parents. They should be here. Let me call them and arrange it. It’s the least I can do.”

“Miranda,” Andy’s eyes closed as her vision blurred, “You don’t have to…”

Miranda very tenderly touched her cheek. “Yes, I do.”

A paramedic interrupted. “Lady, we’ve got to transport her right now. We need to get her into an ER.”

“Which hospital?”

“New York-Presbyterian. They’re not the closest, but they’re the regional trauma center and that’s what she needs right now.”

Miranda nodded and leaned back over Andy. “I’ll get your parents here and make sure that your doctors are…”

“Miranda? Just get the girls home… where they’re safe. I’ll be okay.” Andy’s voice was growing weaker.

“Thank you, Andréa. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.” Miranda pressed a quick kiss on Andy’s cheek and whispered, “We’ll have that talk very soon, I promise.”

Andy just smiled as the paramedics loaded her on the ambulance.  When it left in a roar of diesel exhaust and wailing sirens Miranda returned to the bench and her girls.

As she sat down between them and wrapped her arms around their shoulders they watched as four highly polished, slightly ominous-looking black SUVs pulled up and some very serious looking men climbed out of them, all attired in dark suits. Their security contingent had arrived.

Chapter Text

“That’s them on the bench. Pull up here and have the men form a loose perimeter. I’ll go introduce us to the detectives in charge.”

“Yes, sir. Do you want agents specifically on the children?”

“Not yet. The police have things under control here. The kids have been through enough today. Let me introduce myself and make friends. Tomorrow is soon enough for them to meet individual agents.”

“Yes, sir.”

The armored SUV stopped and he stepped out onto the grass. The late winter sun was setting quickly and he needed to get his principals safely into the cars and home. The receiver in his earbud crackled slightly and he received the report that the residence had been secured. He toggled his wrist mic twice in acknowledgement and strode over to the knot of NYPD suits watching CSIs going over a crashed minivan.

“Excuse me, gentlemen. I’m Simon Hughes from Whitehall Security. I’m here to establish security for the Priestlys.”

A middle-aged detective detached himself from the group and extended his hand. “Jack Simms. Detective Lieutenant. I caught this one.”

“How’s it going?”

“I wish they were all like this. These were not the brightest bulbs on the string. The van is loaded with physical evidence, we’ve got about forty witnesses, and they didn’t make it but a few hundred yards from the snatch site. Overall, the DA’s office is on cloud nine. High profile case; should be a slam-dunk. We haven’t been able to question the perps yet; they’re still being treated at Bellevue, but we’ll get to them. The only thing that seems strange about it is that they had gang tats. We could identify the gang right off. This isn’t something they’ve ever done before. In fact, it kind of breaks an unwritten agreement they have with their…competitors. I think we need to look into that real close. If this is a new business sideline, we could have problems.”

“Have you interviewed the girl yet?”

“No; she was pretty shook up. Kept clinging to her coach until her mother got here. I guess I can understand that. I’ve got kids of my own.”

“Will there be any problem interviewing her tonight at their home? I’d like to get the family into a secure location if I can. That’ll be a first step in calming her down. Get her someplace she knows.”

“No, that’s fine. When I finish up here I’ll take a run through Bellevue and check on our suspects. I won’t try to talk to the girl until later on this evening.”

“Any chance you could make it after dinner; say around 7:30?”

The detective nodded amiably. “Sure that’ll give me and my men a chance to grab some food too. As soon as we get the statements from the girls and the nanny, I’ll make a preliminary report to the DA and we’ll decide what charges to bring. It a shame there’s no statute against being stupid. If there were, I could lock these two up and throw away the key.”

“All right then, Lieutenant, I’ll notify Mrs. Priestly that you’ll be coming by around 7:30. I’m sure that will be acceptable. See you then.”

“Oh, Mr. Hughes?”

“Yes, Lieutenant?”

“Make sure all your men have their Conceal Carry permits on them at all times. I’d hate to have to arrest you.”

“That is never a problem, Lieutenant.” Agent Hughes shook Simms’ hand and turned back toward the bench where Miranda, Cara and the twins sat.

“Mrs. Priestly? I’m Simon Hughes from Whitehall Security. I’ll be overseeing the detail assigned to you.” He squatted down in front of the bench and smiled at the twins who were studying him intently. “It’s going to take me a day or so to tell you two apart. I’m Simon, and I’m here to make sure you’re safe.”

“Say hello to Mr. Hughes, girls,” said Miranda softly. Cassidy greeted him quietly. When she finished, he turned his eyes to Caroline.

“You must be Caroline, then. I’m very glad to meet you.”

Caroline said nothing, merely regarding him for a long moment. Finally, in a voice barely above a whisper she asked, “Do you have a gun?” Miranda stiffened.

Simon regarded her gravely for a moment then replied, “Yes.”

“Is it a big gun?”

“A very big gun.”

“Can you shoot it?”

“Yes, I can.”

“Will it keep bad people away?”

“It won’t, but I will.”

“You promise?”

“I promise.”

Hesitantly, she held out her hand and Hughes gently shook it. “Now, how about we get everybody back home as quick as we can?”

Hughes took Miranda and the twins into the second SUV and put Emily, Cara and Patricia in the third. That left a lead car and a chase car free to flank the primary vehicles. The agents knew their business and within a few short minutes, the cars ran a gauntlet of screaming paparazzi and pulled up in front of the townhouse where additional agents opened the car doors and escorted everyone inside. Stepping out of the SUV, Hughes noted with satisfaction that his men had secured the townhouse and managed to isolate the media at the end of the block. That would benefit not only the Priestlys but the neighbors as well.

As Cara took the girls upstairs, Hughes started to explain the security procedures and manpower he had surrounding them to Miranda. Absently she nodded and he realized that she was just going through the motions with him.

“Ma’am? Why don’t you go upstairs and change into something more comfortable? Go check on your daughters? I’ll see to the arrangements for tonight and when you come back downstairs, we can go over some of the things we need to review. How does that sound?” Miranda just nodded distractedly and took Emily down the hall to her first floor study. A couple of minutes later she emerged and climbed the stairs to check on the twins.

* * * * *

As the study door closed behind Miranda, Emily went into action. She fired a text message off to the office informing them that everyone was safely back at the townhouse and that their base of operations would be there until further notice. Opening her laptop and using the password Miranda had given her, she signed into the townhouse’s wireless net and brought up Miranda’s personal address book.

Her first call was to the twins’ pediatrician, who came immediately to the phone and expressed horror at the day’s events. When Emily informed her of Miranda’s request, she agreed promptly and Emily gave her the ETA of one of the security vehicles. Her next call was to their Runway office to get telephone numbers for the Chair of the Medical Board of New York-Presbyterian, the Human Resources department at Goldman Sachs, the Vargas Gallery and the Richard Sachs residence in Cincinnati. That task complete, she called Miranda’s veterinarian and arranged additional transport to the townhouse so that Patricia could be examined. She then placed calls to Goldman Sachs and the Vargas Galleries but was unable to reach either of the parties she sought and made a note to try again in a short while.

Just as she disconnected from that call, her phone buzzed and the caller ID display showed the Mercedes dealership. She was informed the Mercedes had been transported to their dealership and that a new S600 would be ferried to their garage within the hour for their use until their car was repaired.

Their immediate needs having been attended to, Emily then sent an email to Miranda’s charitable trust authorizing a donation to the NYPD and an additional contribution to the Mounted Park Police. When she had completed that, she took a deep breath and steeled herself for the next call that needed to be made. Emily was not fond of Miranda’s publicist, Leslie, and the feeling was mutual. But the paparazzi had been everywhere and Leslie would need to do damage control. It was bad enough when Miranda’s life was splashed across Page Six; if the tabloids exploited Caroline’s kidnapping, Miranda would go ballistic.

When her phone began to ring, she took a steadying breath. “Yes, Emily Charlton for Leslie Hamilton. Leslie? Yes, it’s bad. We’re at DefCon5 around here but at least we have the girls home. Miranda is with them now. The press was waiting in force when we left the building for the Park and I swear they had live news feeds from the scene of the kidnapping by the time we got there. Miranda? She had a bad moment when she first found out but she’s a rock. Once she got Caroline in a hug and realized that she really was all right she was better. Well, that’s true, I’m sure Caroline and probably Cassidy will need to see someone---post-traumatic stress and all that. You know Miranda; anything for the girls. What? Yes, I think that’s best. Full on damage control. You know how she hates for anything about the girls to get out. I know this is big news, but you’re paid to take care of things like this. What? International wire services? CNN? Shit! Shit! Shit! What time is it in Milan? I have to call the office and try to prepare…dammit! Leslie, just do your job, please? Yes, we’ll be here at the townhouse. All right. Goodbye.”

Swearing more profusely that a well-bred Englishwoman should be able to, she called the Public Affairs office of Elias-Clarke and warned them of the impending deluge the reports on the international wires would generate. Then speed-dialing Miranda’s office she tried to explain what was about to happen to the new second assistant. Finally, in desperation, she demanded to speak to Nigel.

“Emily? What’s going on? I thought everything was under control.”

“It was until I discovered that Miranda’s publicist doesn’t have the intelligence to turn on a television and realize that if she’s watching live pictures from the scene of the kidnapping then it’s likely that the rest of the world is as well. It’s on CNN and on the international wire services.”

“Damn! That means everyone we’ve ever met in Paris, Milan and London will be calling. Our friends will call to make sure Miranda and Caroline are okay and the rest will call just so they can tell the local press that they’ve spoken with Miranda and expressed hopes and prayers. Christ, this is going to turn into a feeding frenzy isn’t it? Miranda will demand retribution, I just know it.”

“Well, it certainly won’t help her state of mind, that’s for sure.”

“How’s Miranda doing?”

“She’s a little shaky, but the security personnel seem extremely competent. The townhouse and the street outside are like an armed camp. The police and the security people actually had the press cordoned off at the far end of the block to keep them away from us. Miranda will be fine as long as she can be with the girls.”

“Any word on Andy?”

“They took her to New York-Presbyterian. Miranda will be calling there as soon as she makes sure the girls are bathed and are having their dinner. Caroline is so tense she could unravel at the slightest thing and Miranda doesn’t want to get far from her. As soon as we have any word on Andy I’ll call and let you know.”

“Okay, is there anything else? I have to mobilize the troops over here if the whole fashion world is going to be calling….hang on, Emily. Damn! It’s starting; the phones are lit up like Christmas trees.”

“Nigel? Get a couple of assistants from the clerical pool and have Serena ride herd on them. She’ll know which calls to put through to you and which to take messages from.”

“Good idea. All right, we’re going into emergency mode over here. I’ll talk to you later.” Neither of them bothered saying goodbye.

Emily checked her list again and moved onto the next item.

* * * * *

Miranda climbed the stairs and walked to the twins’ rooms. Everyone was in Caroline’s room talking quietly. Cara was trying to get the twins focused enough to change out of their bloodstained warm-ups. Miranda suppressed a shudder at their appearance.

“How are you doing, darlings?”

“Mom, how’s Andy?”

“Emily is getting the director of the hospital on the phone for me right now so I can find out. Darlings, why don’t we get you out of these… sweaty… clothes and into a nice hot shower? I think you’ll both feel better. Slip on those new Dalton fleece sets you just got – they’re comfy aren’t they?”

“Why can’t we just put on jeans?”

“Dr. Wilder is coming over in a short while to take a look at you and make sure you’re not hurt.”

Caroline scowled. “I don’t need the doctor. I’m fine! I was fine with Andy!”

“Darling, I know you think you are, but please humor Mummy and let the doctor look at you. You know when I go to the hospital to see Andréa later on that the first question she’s going to ask me is how you are. I’d like to be able to tell her without question that you’re fine.”

“Come on, Caroline, I’ll stay with you. Heck, she can check us both over, okay?” Cassidy could see the sense in what Miranda was saying and besides, she was worried about Caroline too.

“Okay, just so Andy can be sure.”

“Thank you, darling. Cara, do you have things here so you can spend the night? No? Then I’ll have Emily arrange something from the office for you. She’s downstairs in my study. Just tell her your sizes and we’ll have some things sent over.”

With the girls headed toward their showers, Miranda went down the hall to her room to change. She closed the door behind her and leaned against it as a wave of shivers passed over her. They were home. They were as secure as they could be. Caroline and probably Cassidy too would need counseling, but they would deal with that tomorrow. For tonight, the girls were safe and sound.

She walked into her closet and began to remove her office clothes, mentally choosing a casual pair of Ralph Lauren slacks and a cowl neck Dolce sweater to wear. She tried to unbutton her blouse but her fingers were trembling so badly she couldn’t. She had obviously taken a chill at the Park. In frustration, she tore it over her head as buttons flew. She stripped off her pants in an equally cavalier manner and strode into her bathroom. A hot shower would do her some good too.

A huge bathtub occupied the center of the large room, a slate wall backing it at the far end. Behind that slate wall was the shower area. Entering the area one immediately found a heated, tiled bench, towel warmers and a large supply of the thickest, most absorbent Egyptian cotton towels on the planet. At the far end of the space was the shower area. Three wall-mounted showerheads, an overhead rain shower, three banks of wall jets and two hand-held showerheads insured the most high tech and comprehensive shower experience anywhere. Muted lights, music and steam were available at a touch on the digital keypad. Stephen had often chided her on the bathroom renovation she had done a year ago, claiming that she could have paid for the twins’ college educations for what she had spent on the shower alone. Miranda had told him to pound sand.

She keyed in the activation code and the walls sprang to life. The soothing hot water poured over her but Miranda felt herself shiver more violently. Unthinking, she wrapped her arms around herself as she leaned against the wall and the choking sobs erupted. Her legs turned to rubber and she slid down the wall. Naked and shivering, Miranda Priestly huddled on the floor of her luxurious shower sobbing in relief that Caroline was all right and in terror that Andy Sachs was not. Long-forgotten prayers came unbidden to her lips as she begged whatever deities would listen to watch over her Andréa.

* * * * *

The pediatrician declared Caroline a bit bruised but otherwise unharmed and left. Miranda brought the twins into the study and ensconced them on the sofa to talk to their father and reassure him that all was well and that he didn’t need to come charging to their rescue from Long Island. While the girls were occupied with him, Miranda contacted the Chairman of the Hospital Board of New York-Presbyterian Hospital and demanded that the Medical Director oversee Andréa’s care in their Trauma Center. With his assurances that he would personally see to it and get back with her with regular and timely updates on her condition, she disconnected and immediately called the District Attorney’s office.

They knew each other socially from the many benefits Miranda attended and she felt no compunction whatever at demanding that he charge and prosecute the perpetrators using every possible statute. When told that New York did not have a death penalty she inquired about prosecuting them under federal statutes. After all, hadn’t they executed the Lindbergh baby’s kidnapper? The DA assured her that it appeared both perpetrators had previous felony convictions and that under habitual offenders laws, both would most probably be sentenced to life without parole. Miranda was satisfied and demanded to be kept informed of developments.

As she ended that call, the housekeeper opened the door to admit their veterinarian, there to examine Patricia. Cara and the twins helped hold the exuberant dog while the vet poked and prodded and thumped and listened. When he was finished, he took some wipes from his bag and cleaned up her muzzle. The twins were delighted to hear that Patricia was as healthy as could be. As the vet was shown out, Miranda thanked him for coming and then turned back to Emily.

“Have you had any luck contacting Douglas Chapman or Lily Johnston?”

“Lily is out somewhere and Douglas is in a meeting and can’t be disturbed. I’ve called three times.”

“That’s not acceptable. Get me Michael Janewiez at Goldman Sachs. He’s the CEO: call the executive offices. I cannot believe that people refuse even the simplest of civilities.”

“Goldman Sachs? This is Miranda Priestly’s office calling; I need the executive offices. Hello? I have Miranda Priestly for Mr. Janewiez. I have him, Miranda.”

“Michael? I…yes, thank you. We’re all relieved it wasn’t worse. No, she’s here at home. Michael, I need your help. The young woman who saved Caroline was… yes, Michael, she is the girls’ lacrosse coach. Well, we’re hopeful they will make the Dalton team; they were in the middle of tryouts this afternoon when all this happened. Really, Michael? Georgetown? Two years? Goalie? How lovely for you. As I was saying, she was injured rescuing Caroline and taken to…Michael, she was shot. Please allow me to finish, Michael; the police and Assistant District Attorneys will be here shortly and I have a lot to do before they arrive. Thank you. As I was saying, she was taken to New York-Presbyterian Hospital. However, her family is in Ohio and she should have someone with her. Her best friend is Douglas Chapman and he works for your company. A corporate research analyst I believe. I’ve been told that he’s in a meeting and can’t be disturbed. Thank you, Michael; of course, I can wait. Certainly. No, I actually don’t know exactly what happened; Caroline is still very upset as is Cassidy and I didn’t want to disturb them any more than necessary. They will have to describe everything for the police when they arrive; I decided to wait until then so they didn’t have to go over it more than once. From what I’ve been told, they are both convicted felons and there was some indication of gang affiliation. I’m not sure; tattoos I believe. No, it is not true that I set my dog on one of them while he was handcuffed. Honestly, Michael, where are you getting this tripe? Of course not! Roy had just picked Patricia up from the groomer’s and Cara had her sitting by the bench during practice. In all the confusion when Caroline was taken, Patricia broke free and chased after the girls’ coach. When she was pistol-whipped by one of the kidnappers, Patricia leaped on him and knocked what I am told is a very large caliber pistol out of his hands. Well, of course there were some injuries, Michael; she is a large dog and she was protecting someone she knew. From what I have been told, he clubbed her to her knees and was pointing the pistol at her head when Patricia attacked. He can try, Michael, but if he does I will crush him and his lawyers like bugs. They wouldn’t dare. No, Michael, I don’t believe that animal control will be taking her any time soon. Over my cold, dead body. What? Yes, I wish to speak to him… Douglas? It’s Miranda Priestly…”

~ ~ ~

This meeting has to be the most inane thing I’ve endured since I hired on here. Even playing Bullshit Bingo isn’t helping. The corporate team builder at the front of the room droned on about the new ‘value-added paradigm’ of their corporate entity and Doug shifted in his seat. Just as he was about to cross off two more items on the Bullshit Bingo card he and three others had drawn up before coming into the meeting, the conference room door flew open and Ed Shea, the Senior Business Analyst walked in.

“Chapman? Doug, you need to come with me.”

“Okay, sir,” Doug responded.

“Grab your things and get a move on, son. You won’t be coming back.” Doug dropped his Blackberry in his coat pocket, picked up his coffee mug and folio and followed his manager out. “Let’s get your coat.” They headed for Doug’s cubicle.

“Sir, have I done something wrong?”

“Funny, I was just about to ask you the same thing. You didn’t try to screw the Chairman’s daughter at some drunken bash in the Hamptons, did you?”

“No sir, not that I know of.”

“Lose us a shitload of money lately?”

“No sir, I don’t think so.”

Doug dropped his folio on his desk, set his coffee mug on the coaster and grabbed his coat. “Ready, sir.”

“C’mon, I’ve got an Executive Vice-President cooling his heels in my office waiting for you.”

Doug blanched. “What?”

Shea regarded at him closely. “I’ll be goddamned. You really don’t have any idea what this is about do you? Well, come on son. We’ll find out together.”

They strode out of the cubicle farm and down a corridor to Shea’s office. A very distinguished and immaculately attired man was leaning against the desk. He straightened as they entered.

“Is this him?”

“Yep. Douglas Chapman in the flesh.” The VP looked at him intently.

“Son, how exactly did you screw the pooch?”

Doug began to get very nervous. “Sir, I haven’t done anything that I can think of.”

“Well, we’ll find out. Come along. Thank you, Shea.”

“I’m coming. He’s one of my guys. He says he hasn’t done anything wrong. I believe him. So I go with him.”

Nothing more was said until they boarded an elevator and Doug watched the VP access the Executive Suites with his keycard. As the lift rose into areas of the building that Doug had never before been near his nervousness grew. Mentally he reviewed everything he had done in recent memory and could still not discern why he was being hauled up to the rarefied air of the Executive floors to be chewed out. Or fired.

They stepped off the elevators and strode down plush carpeted corridors. Turning one final corner Doug was confronted with the office suite of the Chief Executive Officer of Goldman Sachs. Multiple assistants guarded the portals and security guards maintained a discreet but ready presence. An expensively dressed and handsome older woman stood as they approached and opened the door for them.

“He’s expecting you – go right in.”

The three men walked into the expansive office of Michael Janewiez. He appeared to be talking on the phone but vigorously waved them over to his desk. As they approached he straightened and said, “Here he is. Are you sure you…Okay.” And he handed the receiver to a stunned Doug.

“Hello?” Doug said cautiously.

“Douglas? It’s Miranda Priestly. How long have you been stuck in that cursed meeting?”

“All afternoon, Miranda. It’s a team building meeting; they tend to go on for a while.”

“Then I assume you haven’t heard yet. Caroline was kidnapped this afternoon.”

Doug couldn’t get air in his lungs and his knees buckled. Luckily, Shea had the presence of mind to shove a chair under him before he hit the carpet. “Oh my God! Jesus… Miranda! Is she okay? Are you okay? What can I do?”

“We were extremely lucky, Douglas. Andréa was watching the tryouts when they took Caroline and she, my driver and our St. Bernard thwarted their attempt. Roy crashed my Mercedes into their getaway van to stop them, Andréa rescued Caroline and Patricia leapt on one of the kidnappers when he tried to kill Andréa. An admirable team effort that succeeded. Caroline is frightened but physically fine.”

“One of them tried to kill Andy?”

“That’s why I need you, Douglas. There is no easy way to say this, dear; Andréa was shot saving Caroline. She’s been taken to New York-Presbyterian Hospital’s Trauma Center. I need to be here with the girls… the police are coming after dinner to interview them and get their statements. But someone needs to be at the hospital with Andréa. My assistant has been trying to get you and Lily for almost forty minutes. I finally couldn’t wait any longer and called Michael to have someone get you. Can you find Lily and get over to the hospital?”

“New York-Presbyterian? That’s at… let me think… East 70th and the river? I’m leaving now. I’ll get hold of Lily and have her meet me there. How was she transported there?”

“EMS Ambulance. Douglas… she didn’t want me to telephone her parents. What do you think?”

Doug thought for a minute. “Call ‘em, Miranda. They need to be here. If they aren’t Andy’s mother will have a breakdown or something. She gets a little melodramatic.”

“Wonderful. I cannot tell you how much I’m looking forward to yet more melodrama this evening.” Miranda’s verbal wince was not lost on Doug. “And Douglas, when you speak with Andréa, tell her I will be there as quickly as I can settle the girls for the night.”

“So Roy crashed your S600, Andy got shot and the dog attacked? Damn, some time you’re going to have to tell me the whole story. This one sounds good.”

“When I know it all I promise I will. Let me have your cell phone number so I can contact you at the hospital if I need to. Mine is 646-645-5231. And the townhouse is 212-536-6836. Please be discreet with those, Douglas. There are a great many people without your character who would very much like to have that information.”

Doug gave her his cell phone number as he keyed her numbers into his speed dial. “I’ll guard it with my life. Anything else you need me to do? Please tell Caroline I’m thinking of her.”

“She’s right here; would you like to tell her yourself? Caroline? Douglas would like to speak with you.”

“Hi, Doug!”

“Hey, Squirt. How you doin’? You okay?”

“I’m okay, Doug, but Andy was hurt bad and there was so much blood and nobody’s there with her and nobody knows how she is and we can’t go there and…”

“Easy, sweetie, easy. I’m leaving for the hospital right now and I promise you that the minute I see Andy I’ll find out how she is and I’ll call you. Cross my heart, kiddo.”

“For sure?”

“For absolute, BFF sure! Okay? I’ll talk to you soon, I promise.”

“You better or I won’t invite you to come watch any of our games.”

“So you’re pretty sure you made the team, eh?”

“I snuck a look at one of the evaluation sheets before practice ended. Yeah, I think we’re in.”

“Well then, I’ll be double sure to call when I get to the hospital. I wouldn’t want to miss a Dalton lacrosse game!”

“Maybe we could go back to the pub after a game and have dinner again.”

“You bet we can. But we have to make sure it’s okay with your Mom. And Caroline? Remember, grownups get scared too when these things happen. Your Mom was probably pretty scared herself this afternoon. So go a little easy on her if she’s kind of… smothering for a while, okay? She can’t help it.”

“Yeah, Cass and I already talked about that.”

“Okay, Squirt. I have to leave right now, so let me talk to your Mom again. Give Cass a hug for me. Miranda? Yeah, she’s doing better than I would be. How are you doing?”

He could hear the shaky breath she drew. “I’m all right. I had a few bad moments earlier, but I’m better now. I’ll be even better when I get some word on Andréa.”

“I’m on it. I’ll call you as soon as I get to the hospital.”

“Thank you, Douglas. I really appreciate…”

“Miranda, enough. I’m the one that should be thanking you for letting me know. I’ll get there as quickly as I can and call you.”

“All right, Douglas. Let me speak with Michael again and be on your way.”

“Right. ‘Bye.” Extending the phone back to Janewiez he murmured, “She wants to talk to you again.” When the CEO had taken the phone Doug stood up and nodded at the men. He and Shea headed for the elevators.

“Thank you for sticking with me. I appreciate the help.”

“Hell, son, if you’re on a first name basis with Miranda Priestly you don’t need my help. I should be asking for yours. What’s she like, anyway?”

Doug thought for a moment. “Not what you’d expect. Not at all like she’s portrayed in the press.” Just then they heard a voice calling them. They turned back toward the offices to see one of the assistants trotting after them.

“Mr. Janewiez says a car and driver will meet you at the east entrance as soon as you can get there. And if you need anything else you’re to call him. This is his private number. Consider yourself on corporate business for as long as you need to be at the hospital. Just check in if you’re going to miss all of next week.”

Doug stuttered his thanks and turned back to the elevators. Shea just grinned at him.

“Shit, son. You’re runnin’ with the big dogs now. Hope you can keep up.” Doug swallowed hard and gave him a shaky smile.

* * * * *

The ride to the hospital was a blur for Doug as he attempted to reach Lily. If Lily was out and about the city running artists to ground or assembling parts of a show there was a good chance she hadn’t seen the news feeds. Unless she was close to Times Square of course. The evening editions of the dailies were already on the streets and unless she had live news feeds on her cell she may not have heard that Andy was involved with the kidnapping. Finally, he managed to reach one of the assistants at the gallery and discovered that Lily had gone out to Glen Cove with the drivers to oversee the transfer of artwork for an upcoming exhibition. He left word that Lily was to call him the moment she could; that there was an emergency. Hopefully she’d get that before she saw what had happened and recognized the dark head on the stretcher as it was loaded into the ambulance. Video clips from the Park were looping on every 24-hour cable news network in the world.

Finally they pulled up outside the Trauma Center and Doug ran in. It didn’t take long for him to run headfirst into hospital bureaucracy. He failed utterly to convince a nurse at the admitting desk to go back and give his name to Andy. They wouldn’t even confirm that Andy was a patient there. In desperation, Doug thought back to Andy’s tales of dealing with people when she worked for Miranda and inspiration struck.

Flipping open his cell phone he hit the newest speed dial number in his address book. It didn’t take long to be answered.

“Yes?”

“Miranda, it’s Doug. I’m at the hospital but I’m running up against the bureaucracy. What was the Chairman’s name again? Dr. Paul Edelstein. Thanks. No, I’m just going to have him paged. Okay, thanks Miranda. No, I’ll call you back as soon as I know something. ‘Bye.”

The expression on the nurse’s face changed markedly when she overheard the conversation and by the time Doug turned back to her and politely requested that Dr. Edelstein be paged she had decided to cooperate. Not surprisingly, Dr. Edelstein was right in the Trauma Center and responded in moments. He had no qualms about taking Doug to see Andy and in short order he was leaning over her bed grinning at her.

“Hey, Six. Heard you had an exclusive on the story of the century and fucked it up.”

Andy’s look of relief at the sight of him reassured him that his call on her parents was the right one. She was putting up a good front but he could tell that she was frightened by everything that had happened. Dr. Edelstein gave him a quick rundown on her condition and Doug excused himself to report to Miranda. The twins were disappointed that they couldn’t talk with Andy but Doug reassured them that he had no intentions of leaving Andy that night, and he would make sure that she called them tomorrow. Miranda was not as easily reassured, however and he had to explain in great detail what was about to happen. She listened intently but was not about to blindly accept the word of the trauma physicians.

“So why are they talking about surgery? I thought the bullet went in and exited.”

“It did, but apparently there is a major cats-cradle of nerves and blood vessels in that area called the brach…hang on I wrote it down…the brachial plexus. It’s everything that feeds the entire arm. They’re worried that there may be ‘nerve or vascular damage’ so they want to go in and check.”

“Who will be doing the surgery?”

“According to what they told me the Chief Resident in Trauma Surgery.”

“All right, Douglas. Thank you for getting back to us. I was getting worried. So they’re taking her for a scan now? And then surgery if it’s warranted. You’re staying there so she won’t be alone?”

“Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere. I’m here for the duration.”

“Douglas, did you come straight from the office?”

“Yes, I did. Why?”

“Give me your sizes and I’ll have some comfortable clothes sent over to you. I’m arranging for some for the girls’ nanny too.”

Doug gave her the information and then disconnected and went back to sit at Andy’s bedside. “She’s worried about you, kid. Said to tell you that the moment she has the girls asleep she’s coming over. Do you think she can afford to buy this hospital? Because I think she’s perfectly capable of doing that if she doesn’t think you’re getting the proper care.”

Andy grinned as best she could. “She’s capable of anything. Doug, can we be serious for a minute?”

“Sure Six, what’s up?” Doug had always loved Nigel’s nickname for Andy and adopted it for himself.

“My parents are my next of kin. If something were to happen to me, they’d be responsible for the medical decisions concerning me. Doug, I don’t want that. You know how I feel about life support machines and organ donation and stuff. My parents don’t.”

“What do you want to do?”

“I want to give shared medical power of attorney to you and to Miranda.” Doug’s eyebrows went up at this, but as he thought longer it made sense. Both he and Miranda cared for Andy but were probably better equipped to make rational decisions than the Sachses.

“Okay, I’ll do it. What about asking Miranda?”

“I’ll tell her when she gets here later. Let me do it, Doug, okay?”

“Whatever you say. So how do we go about doing this?”

Andy explained that the hospital had standard POA forms on hand and that most of the admitting clerks were also notaries. It was only the work of about ten minutes to have notarized copies of the new POAs in Doug’s pocket. Just as they completed the process, aides arrived to take Andy up to the scanner. Doug accompanied her as far as he could and sat in a remarkably uncomfortable chair until the scans were complete. He walked back down to the trauma center with her and discovered another remarkably uncomfortable chair to sit in at her bedside.

Twenty minutes later a young surgeon bustled into the alcove holding films of Andy’s scans. He showed her where the bullet had careened through her shoulder, mercifully missing the major bones and muscles, but coming dangerously close to the fragile plexus that allowed the arm to work. He explained briefly what he was going to do and guessed that the procedure would take a couple of hours at most.

Neither Andy nor Doug had any questions. And the surgeon informed them that they’d be taking her upstairs in a few minutes and that Doug could wait for word in the surgical waiting room on the eighth floor. Andy kept giving him instructions ‘in case’ and he finally shushed her.

“It’ll be all right, Andy. Don’t worry. I’ll go grab a burger in the cafeteria, tell Lily and Miranda where we are and just wait until it’s over. I’m not going anywhere and you’ll be just fine in a couple of hours.”

“They keep calling this a ‘flesh wound’. Like it’s one of those that John Wayne would just wrap his bandanna around and keep fighting the Indians. Let me tell you, it hurts like hell.”

“Yeah, but Six, you’re not the Duke. I mean, can you bite the neck off a whisky bottle to pour it in the wound before you wrap that bandanna around it? That’s why it hurts so much. You haven’t medicated yourself the right way.”

Their laughter was reassuring to the surgical techs that appeared a moment later to take Andy up to the OR. Doug went with her as far as he could, kissed her quickly on the forehead and swore on his life that he’d be there when she woke up. That was good enough for Andy.

* * * * *

“Michael? Thank you for seeing to it that I spoke with him. You really should speak with your clerical staff. They seemed incapable of understanding that a medical emergency was more important than whatever meeting he was in. Douglas? He’s a most remarkable young man. You really should consider utilizing his talents more fully, Michael. I must go; my call sheet is growing by the second. Please give my best to Eleanor. Goodbye.”

After making sure that someone was with Andréa, Miranda could relax slightly and she and Emily conferenced with Nigel and Serena. The office was dealing with a huge influx of calls from around the world. As they went through the call logs, Miranda indicated to Emily which ones she would be returning personally and which ones Nigel could make. In the middle of it, Douglas beeped in from the hospital, saying he was having some difficulties and requesting the name of the Chairman of the Medical Board. He thanked her and hung up quickly. They went back to work on the Runway call sheets. The situation wasn’t helped by the fact that London Fashion Week was only two weeks away and most of the fashion world was already getting together. Thankfully, the incident was so frightening to most people that Miranda could plead that excuse and avoid returning most calls. Nigel would handle many more. Most of the calls were relegated to no response whatever. After almost half an hour they wrapped it up. No sooner had they done so than Douglas called again, this time with an update on Andréa’s condition and the prospect of surgery. Miranda was glad she was able to let Caroline speak with him; her daughter visibly relaxed after hearing that Andréa was awake and talking to Doug. When she hung up, she thought briefly about what Douglas had described to her. Without thinking she dialed the Chairman of the Medical Board again and asked for his help. Not surprisingly, it was willingly given.

Even Miranda heaved a sigh of relief when that call was finished, knowing that Andréa would be in the best hands possible. She looked at her assistant and thought for a moment. “Get me the Sachs residence.” She took a steadying sip of the wine her housekeeper had brought in. Emily handed her the phone.

“Hello? Is this Richard Sachs? Mr. Sachs, this is Miranda Priestly calling.”

“Why are you calling? Haven’t you done enough to my daughter already?” the shrill voice shouting from another extension left no doubt that Andy’s mother was still highly upset. Still, Miranda tried again.

“Mr. Sachs, Mrs. Sachs, I have current information on Andréa’s condition. I thought you might want to have it. I know you must be very worried about her. If you’d permit it, I would like to bring you to New York to be with her.”

“We don’t need your charity! Andy didn’t need your job either! She was accepted to Stanford Law School. I never did understand why she stayed in that miserable job working for you. You never appreciated her or how hard she worked or what she did. You just always…” Andy’s father cut in at this point.

“Mrs. Priestly, we’ll get ourselves to New York. But I would like to know what’s going on with my daughter.”

Miranda gave him the rundown Douglas had given her and added that she had requested that the Chief of Staff monitor Andréa’s care. She gave Mr. Sachs the telephone number for the hospital and then hesitated a moment.

“Mr. Sachs, please allow me to give you my cell number. If you should have any difficulties getting here please call me. I’ll do whatever I can to help.”

“I’m sure that won’t be necessary, Mrs. Priestly, but I’ll take your number just in case.”

The call ended on a frigid note and Miranda decided that it would be a good idea to be at Runway while Andréa’s parents were at the hospital. She’d visit Andréa when they weren’t there.

Mrs. Wegmann called them into dinner and Miranda made a concerted effort to keep the conversation light knowing that the police and DA investigators were due in an hour. While Cara had eaten with them before, Emily had not and was somewhat intimidated by the fact that Miranda actually consumed food. But they made it through the meal and afterward, settled back in the study. Cara read while Miranda and Emily checked in at the office and the twins did homework.

When the police got there, everyone but Emily moved into the large living room. Mrs. Wegmann saw to refreshments for everyone and then the police gently questioned Caroline, Cassidy and Cara. The twins did a good job of reconstructing events leading up to the kidnapping and Caroline could add a couple of details from the minute or so she was in the van (“They said that once they got to Jersey they’d be fine”). Cassidy couldn’t add much more than that but Cara recalled seeing the van parked near the fields for most of the last half of practice. She had just assumed it belonged to a Dalton parent.

The twins were allowed to return to their homework while Miranda and Cara stayed to speak with the prosecutors. It had been confirmed that both men had prior felony convictions and the DA’s office would be bringing as many charges as they could against them both. If convicted, each man would be sentenced to life, with parole possible only after twenty-five years. Remembering her conversation with the Goldman Sachs CEO, Miranda asked if there would be an investigation about Patricia’s involvement; the Assistant DA just laughed.

“We got a call from Animal Control asking when they should pick the dog up to put her in isolation. The DA told them ‘when hell freezes over’.” Still chuckling, she handed Miranda a legal document that, to her amazement, was a full pardon for all of Patricia’s acts signed by the Mayor and duly executed before a judge. Miranda wasn’t sure if she wanted to laugh or be outraged at the amount of time and money that had been wasted on the gesture. Since she wanted the DA’s office on her side, she decided to go with laughter.

The Assistant DA told Miranda that the DA was scheduling a press conference for 10:00 am the following morning to announce the charges and release the identities of the perpetrators. She cautioned Miranda to notify her publicist well in advance; their office had been inundated with calls from media outlets all pleading for information, interviews and quotable comments. The DA was well aware of the international coverage of the incident and, political animal that he was, would not miss an opportunity to bask in media limelight that intense. Miranda said that her publicist would be informed very shortly.

The only aspect of the case still up in the air was the fact that nobody knew yet if there was additional danger. The fact that the kidnappers had obvious and identifiable gang tattoos was troubling to both the police and the prosecutors. The police had decided to bring their Gang Task Force in on the case and see if a conference could be set up with the leaders of the gang. It was a long shot, but it might possibly yield some information on whether the gang was responsible or just the two individuals who had pulled the crime.

Miranda demanded to be kept in the loop on progress with the meeting and Lieutenant Simms agreed to do so. He had been instructed by his superiors to give Ms. Priestly every consideration and bit of information she requested. Given the magnitude of this incident he wasn’t sure what she was capable of and didn’t think he wanted to be. After getting an update on Andy’s condition, Simms agreed to put off interviewing her until the next afternoon when the effects of the anesthesia would have fully worn off. They took their leave shortly afterwards.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, back at the hospital, the trauma surgeon whistled as he scrubbed for surgery. Suddenly, the doors from the Doctor’s locker room flew open and the Chief of Neurosurgery and the Chief of Vascular Surgery came in and began scrubbing up at the sinks on either side of him. Knowing that these world-renowned surgeons wouldn’t be at the hospital this late unless something huge was going on he risked inquiring. Maybe if he got this emergency shoulder out of the way fast he could scrub in on whatever they were doing.

“We’re here to help you ascertain the status of that shoulder. Your patient is a VIP.”

‘What?”

“Son, the Chief of Staff asked us to scrub in on this one. Like it or not, you’ve got help.” Suddenly the resident didn’t feel like whistling anymore.

Doug had finally found a sort-of-comfortable chair in the surgical waiting room and discovered that his cell phone actually had a signal there. So it came as no surprise when it rang a few minutes later with a semi-hysterical Lily on the other end. She had heard only bits and pieces of what had happened and was currently on her way back to the city from Glen Cove. Doug gave her all the information he had and told her to just get there when she could.

He was just getting into the celebrity gossip in a four-month-old copy of People when his phone rang again and the caller asked for Douglas Chapman. Doug admitted to being him and the caller said he had a delivery for him. Doug told him where he was and a few minutes later an attractive and slender young man from Banana Republic brought a leather garment bag and matching weekend bag and gym bag full of clothing and two boxes of shoes. Doug was stunned and claimed there must be some mistake.

“Nope. Miranda Priestly’s office called and said you were stuck here and needed a few
changes of clothes so we put something together for you. Here you go.” The cheerful young man set the bags and boxes down and took his leave.

Doug promptly forgot about the celebrity gossip and spent a delightful fifteen minutes going through the selection of casual clothing. They had thought of everything including not only jeans, shirts and sweaters but underwear, socks, a belt and, inside a leather gym bag, a dopp kit with body wash and cologne. When he’d decided which he was wearing first, he found a men’s room and changed out of his suit, stowing it in the garment bag. He figured if worse came to worse, he could stash everything in Andy’s room as soon as they got her out of surgery. Feeling tremendously better, he returned to the waiting room and the celebrity gossip.

* * * * *

“Miranda, I’m sorry to interrupt, but there’s a call for you. It’s Andy’s parents.”

Miranda had been sitting with the twins helping with homework when Emily had quietly interrupted. She took the phone knowing the call would probably mean trouble.

“Yes, Mr. Sachs? How can I help you?”

“The earliest flight we can get into New York isn’t until tomorrow afternoon. You said you could help us. Are you still willing to?”

“Yes, of course. Let me make a few calls. I’ll call you back shortly.” She disconnected and rubbed the bridge of her nose absently.

“Didn’t Nigel say Irv was horrified at what happened and said he’d do anything to help?”

“Yes, but apparently that didn’t extend to actually calling you.”

“No matter. Call him and get the corporate jet warmed up. Send it to whatever the private aviation terminal is in Cincinnati and return to Teterboro. Then make sure there’s a car and driver waiting for them when they land and available until they leave. Book a suite at….what’s close to the hospital?”

“I think the Lowell is close.”

“Fine. Book a suite until Monday with an option to extend if necessary. Bill my accounts.”

“All right. This shouldn’t take too long.”

Emily was as good as her word and she had flight, hotel and town car set up within twenty minutes. Miranda called the Sachs back and gave them the information. Predictably, they balked at Miranda paying for anything, but she managed to convince them that it was easier to book the car and hotel through Runway. That wasn’t true, but at this point, Miranda just wanted to get them to New York with the least amount of drama possible. After another five minutes of reassuring them that it really was no trouble, she escaped the call and hung up.

Checking her watch, she was amazed to see it nearly 10:00 pm. She sent the twins upstairs to get ready for bed, promising to be up shortly. When they had vacated the room, Miranda sat down heavily on the sofa. Emily thought she looked great, but there was exhaustion written in the tight line of her mouth and the tension in her shoulders. She wondered what else Miranda would take on this night. To her amazement it was nothing. Miranda told her to touch base with Nigel and then go home. They would pick things up again in the morning. Within minutes, she was in one of the black SUVs and heading back to Runway.

Miranda, for her part wanted only to make sure the twins slept. She was tired and the stress of the day was wearing her down. Something inside her kept repeating that once she got to the hospital and saw Andréa for herself she would be fine. The thought of finally being able to just sit and talk with Andréa was a balm to her soul.

Cara had the girls in their pajamas when she got upstairs but they were stubbornly fighting going to bed. Miranda sat down with them and wrapped an arm around their shoulders.

“What’s wrong, darlings? You two should be exhausted; I know I am.”

Neither twin said anything; they just leaned against their mother and Miranda found it oddly comforting. Finally, Cassidy mumbled “We don’t want to sleep alone.” Miranda realized that this was a sign of their stress and had an instant solution.

“Well, why don’t you sleep in my room? That way, when I get back from the hospital we can all sleep together? I’d certainly sleep better knowing you’re close tonight. How about you?”

The twins readily agreed and Miranda walked them down the hall to her room. She settled the girls into her bed and tucked them in, planting comically loud kisses on both their cheeks. The bout of giggles this produced was like a tonic to Miranda and she felt the tight knot of tension inside her ease. Fussing with the covers, she gave each of the girls a quick tickle to keep them smiling and then found herself gently stroking their cheeks.

“How are you feeling darling?” she whispered to Caroline. The youngster curled against her and Miranda saw Cassidy snuggle up on Caroline’s other side.

“I’m scared for Andy.”

“You know I’m going to the hospital to see her just as soon as you two are asleep, right? And that by the time you wake up in the morning Andy will be much, much better and maybe we’ll all be able to go see her. That’s a good thing, isn’t it?” The girls agreed that it was.

“What about school tomorrow?”

“I’ve decided to keep you home from school tomorrow. I’ll call Dalton in the morning and get your assignments.”

The twins immediately began to argue claiming that they couldn’t miss the last day of practice before tryouts. Miranda settled things by assuring them that they would not miss their tryouts on Friday even if she had to hire an army of security guards to surround Central Park. This calmed them down and the prospect of a day off from school began to seem far more attractive.

“Will you be here with us tomorrow?”

“Why, darling?”

“Because it was nice tonight. With all of us together. Like we’re really a family.”

“We are a family, darling. But I know what you’re saying. It was nice, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah, all we needed was Andy.”

“Andréa? Why would we need Andréa?”

“Because when Andy’s here you’re different. Dinners are more fun when she’s here. And we like Andy. Do you, Mom?”

“Do I what, darling?”

“Do you like Andy?”

“Well of course I do. You know that.”

The twins looked at each other and this time Cassidy tried.

“No, we mean, do you LIKE, like Andy? Like when you met Stephen. Do you LIKE, like her…like a…girlfriend?”

Miranda’s breath caught in her throat. “Do you mean do I love Andréa? Like a girlfriend?”

The twins nodded. “Because if you did, we would be, like, totally cool with that.”

“You would?”

“Yeah, because then Andy could come to live here with us and we would be like, like a family all the time. And then you could come home early more and we could eat dinner together and do homework and we would be together and stuff.”

Miranda squeezed her eyes shut to keep the tears from falling. They were telling her that she had failed them. That she hadn’t been there for them. But forgiving her and showing her salvation at the same time.

“So you would be fine with it if Andréa and I were…together? If we were a family?” The girls nodded again, solemnly. “We haven’t really talked about that, but you’re not wrong. We were going to talk about it before this afternoon.”

Caroline was cautious. “So, maybe you and Andy can talk at the hospital? And she could come here when she gets out? So we could take care of her?”

Miranda hugged her tightly. “I promise to talk with her just as soon as she wakes up. And I think her coming here so we can take care of her is a wonderful idea, darling.”

“You do?”

Miranda kissed both girls soundly. “I do. Now lie down and try to sleep.” There was a quiet knock at the door and Miranda smiled at the girls. “I’ve arranged for a special sitter for you while I’m at the hospital. Come in!” Cara opened the door to the bedroom and Patricia bounded into the room. Knowing that she would regret it but not caring at that point, Miranda patted the bed and the huge dog leapt up onto it, immediately collapsing in the middle of the twins. They laughed and hugged the dog from both sides as Miranda reached over and gave Patricia a good scratch on the head.

One final kiss goodnight to the girls and they settled down with the dog to sleep. Miranda sat by the bed until they had, then relinquished her place to Cara and went quietly downstairs. Most of the lights were dimmed, but Miranda found Simon Hughes and two other agents sitting at the kitchen table reviewing staffing rotations. All three men rose as she walked into the room.

“Are the girls asleep, Mrs. Priestly?”

“Yes, they are, Mr. Hughes. Cara is with them. So is Patricia. Everyone seems content for the moment. Mr. Hughes, I need to go to New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Usually I just call my driver. How do we accomplish that tonight?”

“Just like this, ma’am.” Hughes spoke quietly into his wrist mic, “Bring the car up, we’re going to the hospital.” He looked back at Miranda. “Simple enough.”

She smiled back at him “Yes, it is. I’ll get my coat.” A minute later, they swept out the front door and into the waiting SUV.

Chapter Text

The distance from the front door of the townhouse to the curb was perhaps twenty-five feet. The moment Miranda emerged from the door the entire party was nearly blinded by the lights of television remote units and what seemed like hundreds of digital cameras. A cacophony of sound roared over them as every reporter on the opposite sidewalk shouted questions in the hope of eliciting some kind of response from the famed fashionista. As the vehicle doors slammed shut behind them, Hughes’ earpiece sounded.

“Wait one,” he commanded the driver, listening to the message. He acknowledged the message into his wrist mic and turned to face Miranda.

“Ms. Priestly, we’re going to wait for just a moment for a second car. The press has managed to get organized and they’re waiting with cars and motorcycles at the end of the block. I’d like a chase car before we leave for the hospital.”

Miranda frowned. She was used to the press and dealt with their attentions through her publicist, but this appeared to be more than the usual gaggle of gossip reporters.

“Mr. Hughes, is there something going on I don’t know about?”

“As far as we can determine, every news outlet in the country has picked up the story and appears to be running with it. These aren’t just the celebrity gossip reporters, some of these are hard news. We’re monitoring the coverage back at our main communications facility. It’s big, Ms. Priestly; there’s worldwide coverage. And it doesn’t seem to be dying down any.”

A second SUV pulled in behind them and both vehicles accelerated rapidly down the block to where the NYPD had opened a lane for them through the crowd of reporters and news vans. Just as Hughes predicted, several cars and motorcycles pulled out to follow as they passed.

It was only about twelve blocks to the hospital, but the ride was nerve-wracking with the press vehicles chasing them. If they slowed for a traffic signal, motorcycles with photographers on the rear pulled abreast of them and tried to snap pictures of Miranda through the tinted glass. Hughes got a radio report that there was still more press gathered at the hospital, but that NYPD had them cordoned off and had cleared a lane for them to a rear loading dock by the Trauma Center that was away from the cameras.

As they reached the hospital precincts, the NYPD stopped their pursuit and the SUVs pulled into the covered loading dock with no further incident. Several police officers stood outside the Trauma Center’s doors keeping the more eager of the press at bay.

They slipped behind the police line and entered the main lobby of the Trauma Center. Miranda looked around and spotted the admitting and information desk, which served as the security check for the main part of the hospital after hours. There were two people in what appeared to be a heated discussion with the clerk on duty. As she got nearer, she realized it was Douglas and Lily.

Greeting them, Miranda inserted herself into the discussion by asking where Andréa’s room was located. Apparently, this same question had prompted the heated exchange between her young friends and the hospital bureaucrat now confronting them.

“I don’t show an Andréa Sachs as a patient in the hospital. You must be mistaken.”

“I’m not mistaken; I watched them wheel her into surgery an hour ago! She was brought her by FDNY ambulance from Central Park. I was upstairs in the surgical waiting room until I came down here to get this woman and bring her back upstairs with me.”

“Can you prove she’s a patient here? Where’s her admitting paperwork?”

“I left it upstairs in the waiting room! Along with my briefcase and a change of clothes!” By this point, even the normally easy-going Doug was ready to commit a felony. “For God’s sake, this isn’t hard; just call upstairs to the surgical suites and get verification that she’s up there.”

The clerk reached for the phone. “What relation are you to the patient?”

“We’re her friends.”

The clerk set the receiver back in the cradle. “Then I’m sorry, but you can’t be up there. Only immediate family is allowed on the surgical floors after visiting hours.”

Doug’s anger threatened to boil over. “Look. I’m her medical Power of Attorney. So is this woman,” he barked, pointing to a surprised Miranda. “We need to be up there in case medical decisions have to be made.”

“May I see your Power of Attorney form?”

“Doug’s face flushed an even deeper shade of red. “It’s upstairs in my briefcase! In the surgical waiting room. Where I was – legally – until I had to come downstairs to bring Lily here up.”

Miranda cut in smoothly, “You do not seem to grasp the seriousness of this situation. Andréa was wounded protecting my child and I must see her immediately to insure her care is adequate. These two admirable young people are her best friends; no one in New York City has more right to be with her than the three of us.”

“Apparently you do not understand the hospital policy that states only immediate family members are allowed onto the surgical floors unless otherwise noted, and it’s not otherwise noted. You’re not in my system and until you are, you’re not going anywhere.”

Doug started to say something and Miranda touched his arm. Realizing any further discussion here would be fruitless, she pulled out her cell phone, scrolled back through her call log to find the number for the Medical Director and hit ‘dial’. “You have no idea with whom you’re dealing,” she said in that quiet voice every employee of Runway feared.

“I don’t need to!” snarled the angry clerk, pushing a large button on the wall next to her. Three good-sized hospital security guards walked around a corner to stand behind her. Sensing a threat, Doug stepped forward in front of Miranda and Lily.

Forty minutes later in the surgical waiting room, they were still talking about the incident.

“Damn, Doug; I didn’t know a human being had that much mucus in their head. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen an adult shed more tears. That pepper spray they used must have been industrial strength,” Lily laughed.

“You take a double blast at point-blank range and see how much you’re laughing. God, I was blind! My eyes were tearing so bad I could not see. Why would they use that stuff indoors? That’s got to be dangerous for the patients.”

“Douglas is right, Lily. He did get sprayed by two of the guards.”

“Miranda, you’re the one I don’t believe. Talking on your cell phone and you take out a security guard with your bag! Two rent-a-cops go down and you don’t even chip a nail. Lady, you swing a mean purse.”

“Well, it was one of my larger Prada bags,” sniffed Miranda.

“PRADA – When you care enough to swing the very best!” intoned Doug solemnly. The three of them looked at each other for a moment then burst out laughing.

“Andy is going to be so pissed she missed that!” howled Doug.

“It the hospital doesn’t get its records straightened out we may have to reenact it for her. It’s a good thing your security people are as quick as they are, Miranda. The hospital goons settled down real quick once your guys showed up.” Lily commented.

“I still do not understand why the clerk didn’t wait for me to make one phone call. Once the Medical Director arrived at the desk, it only took a minute for us to be cleared for access. She couldn’t have waited thirty seconds before unleashing her storm troopers?”

“Well, I for one am very glad you had your cell phone out and working, Miranda. I didn’t relish spending the night in jail. I’m just glad we didn’t miss Andy’s doctors with the extra time we had to spend down there.”

“Lily, it was important to flush Douglas’ eyes and sinuses before we came up here.”

“I suppose, but he still looks a little like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

“The ER physicians assured me that would pass fairly soon. Speaking of physicians, shouldn’t we have heard from Andréa’s surgeons by now?”

Doug glanced at his watch. “Any time now. They said the surgery shouldn’t take but around two hours. Listen, I saw a coffee machine down by the elevators. Anybody want some?”

Miranda cocked an eyebrow. “I think we can do better than that, Douglas.” She stood and walked to the door. Simon Hughes and another agent were standing outside the waiting room.

“Mr. Hughes? Is our driver doing anything pressing at the moment?”

“No ma’am, he’s not.”

“Would he be willing to make a Starbucks run? For everyone on the team? It’s getting late and I’m sure your men could use a pick-me-up.”

“I think that can be arranged, Ms. Priestly.”

Miranda got coffee orders from Douglas and Lily and handed Hughes a $50. Fifteen minutes later, two agents walked off the elevators with coffees for everyone and some muffins to keep blood sugar up. Shortly after they’d finished the muffins, three surgeons walked into the room.

“Ms. Priestly? I’m Dr. Sarazen and this is Dr. Pedersen and Dr. Wallace. We operated on Ms. Sachs.”

“How is she?”

“She’s going to be just fine. Drs. Pedersen and Wallace are the heads of Neurosurgery and Vascular Surgery respectively and we all examined the wound thoroughly.”

Dr. Wallace took over. “There was some damage to the axillary artery which was repaired and should have no lasting effects. However, the bleeding did put pressure on the radial nerve.”

Dr. Pedersen picked up the thread. “The radial nerve supplies function to the triceps and brachioradialis muscles which allow you to straighten your arm. It also supplies function to the extensor muscles of the forearm, which allow you to straighten your hand and fingers. There was some impingement of the radial nerve. We’ve relieved that and we’re confident that there won’t be any lasting damage to her hand function, but we don’t want to take any chances. We’re going to put her in a shoulder immobilizer for six to eight weeks. That will hold her left arm and shoulder in a neutral position and allow those nerve fibers to heal fully. Basically, this immobilizer looks like a very large, padded sling. She won’t be able to use her left arm at all once it’s on. But it’s the single best way we know to insure that her arm will heal.”

“So she’ll require assistance with almost everything?”

Dr. Sarazen answered the question. “We’ll discuss that with both of you when she’s fully awake tomorrow. Now, regarding the head wound. From the size of the laceration, I would have bet that there would have been a skull fracture and an intracranial bleed. Amazingly, there is neither and she doesn’t even have a concussion. She must have one of the hardest heads on the planet. We did have to suture the laceration; she has twenty-three stitches in it. But the worst thing she’ll suffer from it is that we had to shave part of her hair to get to it. She’s in the recovery room now and they’ll be moving her to a regular room in about half an hour or forty minutes. She’s going into…” Dr. Sarazen checked the chart in his hand, “…Room…876. If you’d like, you can all go there and wait for her. One of us will be by in the morning and go over all this with Ms. Sachs. What you need to remember now is that she will be fine. It’s just going to take a few weeks. Do you have any questions?”

“None that can’t wait until morning. She’s awake now?”

Dr. Sarazen chuckled. “I wouldn’t say awake, exactly. She’s pretty groggy. Once she begins to wake fully she’s going to be in considerable pain. I’ve prescribed some strong pain meds and she’ll be getting an injection of that when she needs it. That ought to knock her out for the rest of the night, which is the best thing for her. By tomorrow morning, she’ll be considerably more comfortable.”

Everyone stood and Miranda thanked the physicians. They gathered up bags and Doug’s clothes and moved into Room 876. Not surprising, it was a private room with a small loveseat and two comfortable chairs. Doug stowed his clothing in the closet and the three of them settled in to wait, talking quietly.

It didn’t take long. They heard the squeak of a bad wheel before they saw the gurney swing through the door. Andy looked terribly pale swaddled in the recovery room blankets, but her face was relaxed and she didn’t seem to be in pain at the moment. The orderlies transferred her to the bed and a nurse got her settled, tucked her in and took her vitals. Proclaiming that Andy was doing ‘just great’ she left. Douglas pulled a chair next to the bed for Miranda and he and Lily sat on the opposite side of the bed.

“Andréa? Can you hear me? You need to wake up now.” Andy made a small mewling sound and her eyes fluttered partially open.

“M’randa? Zat… you? Doug… here?”

“I’m right here, Six. So’s Miranda and so’s Lily. We’re all here.”

“I’m… okay? Surger’ done?”

“The surgery is all finished. You’re back in your room. You’re going to be just fine.” Miranda wasn’t conscious of fumbling to hold Andy’s hand, but somehow hers found it under the blankets and gripped it tightly. She pulled it to her cheek and blew a soft sigh of relief. Andy blinked her eyes again to focus and turned her head to look at Miranda. She managed a lopsided grin.

“Iz you. I’m glad… y’ur here. How’s Caro… Caroline?”

Miranda smiled at her and stroked the sweaty hair off her forehead. “She’s just fine. Asleep in my bed with Cassidy and Patricia. She’s very worried about you. They both are.”

“Side of…headzzz… cold. How come?”

Miranda’s fingers stroked through Andy’s hair and lightly touched the shorn area. “Darling, they had to shave some of your hair to close the gash on your head. I’m afraid you’re going to have to cut your hair.” Miranda was so relieved that Andy was talking that she never realized the endearment had slipped out.

“S’okay…you still love me wi’ short hair?”

“Yes, I will. I’ll arrange for my stylist to do it when you’re back on your feet again.”

Doug and Lily exchanged surprised expressions at this exchange but said nothing. If the verbal exchange startled them, it was nothing compared to what happened next. Miranda leaned forward and very gently kissed Andy. When she settled back onto her chair, her eyes were filled with tears.

“I’m so glad you’re all right. I don’t know what I would have done if you weren’t.” Miranda’s hand continued lightly stroking Andy’s hair as she whispered to her.

“Had to be all right… jus’ gettin’ to the good parts. Doan wanna miss that. Gon’ be fun.”

Miranda smiled as Andy mumbled. She glanced over at Doug and Lily and took a steadying breath. “Andréa and I were going to discuss changing the parameters of our…relationship… tonight. As you can see, she remembers. I hope… I hope that… “

“We just want Andy to be happy, Miranda. If you make her happy, that’s fine with us.” Miranda had expected Douglas’ support, but Lily’s statement surprised her.

“You guys cool wi’ ‘at? ‘Cause she’s M’randa an’ … an’’…” Andy started to fade out at this point.

Doug leaned over her with a grin. “We get it. It’s all cool. You and Miranda. Gotcha. Sleep now, why don’t you?”

“Nah, doan wanna sleep. Wanna kiss on M’randa s’more.” Everybody in the room except Andy laughed.

“Okay then. On that note, I’m going to head home and go to bed. Unlike Doug, I have to work in the morning. You get some sleep and I’ll be here just as soon as I get off work tomorrow afternoon.”

“’kay…promise?”

“I promise. I’m just so glad you’re all right.” Lily leaned over and planted a kiss on Andy’s forehead. “See you tomorrow, girlfriend.”

“’Bye…bye…Lily. I’m jus’ gon’ lay here an’ kiss on M’randa.”

“Then I think I’ll walk Lily down to the elevators and give you two some alone time. C’mon Johnston, let’s get you headed for home.”

As the two friends cleared the door of Andy’s room, Simon Hughes intercepted them. “You two need to give me a head’s up when you’re leaving. I’ll arrange transport to your residences.”

Doug was confused. “Why would you do that?”

“We don’t yet have enough data from the police to make a credible threat assessment for Ms. Priestly. Until we can ascertain the level of threat, we’re protecting anyone that might be used to get to her. You two qualify. So you get escorts.”

“Well that beats hell out of the subway. C’mon Lily, I’ll walk you down to the cars,” laughed Doug.

When they were alone, Andy looked back and Miranda and did her best to focus intently. “You sure Caroline’s okay?”

“She’s asleep. Cara is with them and has instructions to call me immediately if there are any problems. But Caroline was more worried about you. Once she’s certain you’re all right I think we’ll look at some counseling for both of them to deal with what happened. I was thinking I’d bring them by tomorrow afternoon to see you. They will be badgering me to death until I do. There’s another thing we should discuss. I sent the company plane for your parents. They should be in the air heading back here now.”

“Awww crap. Why’d you do tha’? Din’ wanna hafta deal wi’ them.” She grinned again and again both sides of her face were not working in concert. “’Sides… iz only a flesh wound. John Wayne woudda rode off… inta sunset…”

“Well, yes, I suppose he would have. But we don’t have a horse handy. Do you want your parents to come here tonight? Because if you don’t we’ll need to do something about it now. They’ll need to be reassured that you are all right.”

“Call ‘em,” Andy mumbled.

‘What did you say? Say it again, dear.” Miranda leaned close to try to catch Andy’s words.

“Call…th-em. On… plane. I c’n talk to ‘em. Gon’ kiss you now.” Andy puckered up and tried to aim a kiss on Miranda’s lips. She missed, but Miranda corrected for her error and their kiss lasted for a long moment.

“Y’ur a good kisser. Call ‘em an’ I’ll head ‘em off. I like kissin’ on you.”

“Really?” Miranda kissed Andy softly again. “Well, I like kissing on you too.” To prove it, she placed a long lingering kiss on Andy’s lips. There might have just the faintest brush of the tip of her tongue on Andy’s lower lip. Pulling away, she lifted Andy’s hand and pressed a kiss there too, then carefully placed it back on the bed as she reached for her cell phone.

Pressing a long numeric sequence, she accessed the phone on the corporate jet. In a moment, she was talking to Andy’s father.

“Mr. Sachs? It’s Miranda Priestly. I’m at the hospital and Andréa is safely out of surgery.”

“What did the doctors say?”

“In a nutshell, she’s going to be fine but it may take a few weeks. They’re going to cover her condition fully tomorrow morning, so you’ll want to be here then.”

“How long is the drive from the airport to the hospital? We’ll be there as soon as we can when we land.”

“If I might suggest, you should go to your hotel and get some sleep before you come here. They’re about to give Andréa an injection that will put her out for the night. There will be little reason for you to be here, and her friend Douglas will be spending the night as will I.”

“We’re her parents. We’re coming to the hospital!” snapped Andy’s mother.

“You’re certainly welcome to, but Andréa won’t be awake until tomorrow morning and I’m sure you could use some sleep.”

“You can’t dictate what we will or won’t do! She’s our daughter!”

Miranda sighed and tried once more. “I am not trying to dictate anything, Mrs. Sachs. It was merely a suggestion intended for your comfort. Regardless of where you go tonight, let me give the phone to Andréa now while she’s still semi-awake. Perhaps it will reassure you.” She handed her cell to Andy.

“Mom? Stop yellin’ at M’randa.”

“Andy, darling, are you all right? What did the doctors say?”

“Dunno. M’randa talked to ‘em, Mom. Hurts, though. They gon’ gimme a shot. Gon’ t’sleep. Don’ come here. An’ stop yellin’ a’ M’randa.”

Andy’s father apparently took possession of the phone. “Andy? Honey, you’re okay?”

“‘M fine, Dad. Tol’ Mom. Getting’ a shot soon…make me sleep. Come inna mornin’, ‘kay? Givin’ phone back t’M’randa now. ‘Night.” She handed the cell back to Miranda.

“Mr. Sachs? As you can tell, she’s still a bit under the influence of the anesthetic. But the doctors did assure me that she will be fine. They felt her sleeping soundly tonight would make a big difference tomorrow. If you still wish to come tonight, then by all means do so, but Douglas and I will be here and stay until you arrive in the morning if you’d rather.”

“She did sound like she wanted to sleep. All right, we’ll go to the hotel and come in the morning. You’ll call us if anything changes?”

“Mr. Sachs, your hotel is only blocks from the hospital. Your car and driver will wait there for you. If you need to, you can be here in minutes. I assure you, if anything at all changes I will call you immediately.”

Miranda looked at Andy and rolled her eyes, which made Andy break out in a fit of the giggles. Miranda smiled affectionately at her and Andy responded by trying to grab her boob. Unfortunately, her eye-hand coordination was still a bit off and she missed. Miranda swatted her hand away with a barely suppressed laugh. Somehow, she didn’t think Andy’s father would appreciate her explanation that his daughter was attempting to cop a feel.

“I…thank you, Ms. Priestly. I…what’s going on there?”

“Andréa seems to be getting a bit restless,” she said swatting the hand away again. “I would imagine that the pain is getting worse and she’ll need that shot fairly quickly. I’ll let you go now and call the nurse to tend to her. I’ll see you in the morning, Mr. Sachs.”

“Yes. In the morning then. Goodnight.” Miranda dropped the cell back into her bag and captured Andy’s searching hand.

“That will be quite enough of that impertinence, you. Behave yourself.”

Andréa’s goofy grin completely enchanted her. “Then kiss me, M’randa. ‘M wounded an’ I need comfort.”

Miranda kissed her softly. “There. Does that help?”

“Yeah, but only a li’l. I need… higher dosage…” This time, Miranda kissed her deeply and with an intensity that startled both of them a little. When they finally broke the kiss, Miranda rested her cheek on the pillow next to Andy’s and they just gazed at each other for a long minute.

“Wow, you really are a good kisser,” whispered Andy. “Don’ t’ink ‘m ever gon’ get ‘nuf of those.”

“Don’t worry, there’s plenty more where that came from.”

“Good… then do it again…”

Doug was as gay as a goose, but the kiss Miranda and Andy were sharing when he walked back into the room raised even his blood pressure a few degrees.

“Jeez, you two. Get a room!”

Miranda eased back out of the kiss and without breaking eye contact with Andy said smartly, “We already have one, Douglas and you’re intruding into it.” With an effort, she tore her eyes away from Andy’s, looked at him and said, “I think you should tell the nursing staff that Andréa is ready for her injection. She needs to rest now.”

Andy murmured in complaint but Miranda just stroked her hair and whispered, “No, you need to sleep now. Your parents will be here in the morning and you need to be rested. Besides, the doctor said that the pain will get worse quickly as you shake off the anesthesia. You need the shot, Andréa. Don’t be stubborn.” Miranda and Doug nodded to each other and he turned and headed for the nurses’ station.

“Wanna kiss on you s’more.”

“We have a very long time to do that, chère. But I promise I’ll kiss you right before you fall asleep and again first thing when you wake in the morning. Will that suffice?”

“You gon’ be here in mornin’? Stay all night?”

“Yes, I’m staying. I’ll be here when you wake.”

Andy giggled. “We’re gon’ spend our firs’ night t’gether…with Doug.”

Miranda smiled at her. “An altogether auspicious beginning, I think.”

As Doug stood at the nurses’ station chatting, the elevator doors on the other end of the hall opened and Nigel and Emily walked out.

“The Whitehall agent said Room 876; it’s this way.” They headed down the hall.

Doug glanced back toward Andy’s room and thought he saw someone going in the door. Nodding in agreement when the nurse said she’d be right down with the injection meds, he walked back through the door just in time to hear…

“Andrea Sachs! What on earth do you think you’re doing?” in an outraged upper-class British voice.

“Hey, Em…’M jus’ layin’ here kissin’ on M’randa…How you doin’?”

“I…I…Miranda! What were you doing?”

Miranda looked squarely at her first assistant and replied, “Just sitting here, kissing on Andréa.”

As Emily stood rooted to the spot and speechless, Nigel reached up to seat his glasses more firmly on his nose and quipped, “Well, this is news!”

Turning to Doug, he gave him a long, appraising look up and down and then extended his hand. “Nigel Kipling, Fashion Director of Runway. You must be Douglas. I see Banana Republic did a passable job for you.”

Doug laughed. “So I have you to thank for the new clothes? Thank you very much; they were a godsend.”

“My companion here is Emily Charlton, who has apparently lost both the ability to walk and speak. We wanted to run some things by Miranda and they told us at the house that she was still here.” Turning his attention back to Andy, he shot her a wide grin. “Hello Six.”

“Hi Nige…how you doin’?”

“I’m just fine. How are you is the question.”

“’M great, Nige. M’randa’s here an’ we’re kissin’ an’… an’ thass so neat…”

“Yes, I can see. Emily may never recover from the shock.” Doug tried to hold in his guffaw but failed miserably.

The nurse arrived then and prepared to inject the pain medication into Andy’s IV line. Andy turned back to face Miranda and said with a hint of fear in her voice, “You’ be here… when… wake up? Promise?’

Miranda kissed her and gently brushed her cheek with the back of her knuckles. “I promise, love. Go to sleep now. I’ll stay with you.”

She watched as Andy’s eyelids fluttered several times and finally closed.

Chapter Text

A nurse woke Andy promptly at 6:00 am to take her vitals and check the surgical incision. Miranda and Doug stepped out of the room while she did. Miranda took the opportunity to organize another Starbucks run for everyone and Doug headed to the lobby for copies of the morning papers. When the nurse finally emerged from Andy’s room, Miranda went back in and pulled a chair up to her bedside.

“How are you feeling this morning?”

“Like I got run over by a truck. They’re bringing in a… a… what did she call it? A PCA pump. It will inject pain medication into my IV line and I can get an additional shot if I need it. I hope she hurries, this hurts a lot.”

“Do I need to call your physician?”

“No, just let them do their jobs. I can take it for a little while.” Andy fidgeted a little and then looked Miranda squarely in the eye. “I don’t really remember much of last night, but what bits and pieces I can recall make me think…did I behave like a…what did I say? Please tell me I didn’t embarrass you and humiliate myself.”

Miranda once again took Andréa’s hand in hers. “You neither embarrassed me nor humiliated yourself. You simply bypassed the emotional roadblocks typically found in the kind of discussion you and I planned to have and moved directly to the heart of the matter.”

Andy’s heart beat faster and her breath caught in her throat. “And how, exactly, did I do that?” she whispered.

“Like this…” Miranda’s lips brushed over hers so gently she wasn’t sure they had even touched, but a moment later their wonderful softness returned in a warm kiss Andy never wanted to end.

When she and Miranda finally broke apart she gazed back into the sparkling blue eyes next to her and murmured, “Then I wasn’t dreaming?”

“No, you weren’t dreaming,” was the soft reply.

“No regrets? No concerns?”

“No regrets. Many concerns. This will not be easy for either of us. But I truly believe it will be worth the effort.”

“The girls will need to…”

“The girls and I spoke last night before I came here. I have been informed that should you and I embark on a romantic relationship they would be ‘like totally cool’ with it. In fact, they think you need to move into our house when you’re discharged from the hospital so that we can look after you properly. I happen to agree with them.”

Andy’s grin was incandescent. “They’d be ‘totally cool’ with us together?”

“Yes. It would seem that I’m different when you’re around and our meals are much more fun. There were quiet comments about doing homework and spending time together and being like a real family. You are, apparently, the catalyst that will form this cohesive family unit.”

“That will last until the first time I have to be the bad guy and force them to do their homework or something else they don’t want to do. Then I’m certain I won’t be any kind of catalyst at all. But, are you really sure, Miranda? You really want to try to make a go of it…the four of us? Like a real family?”

“As I said, I don’t believe it will be easy, but I do believe it will be worth the effort.”

“Well, look at it this way; I come complete with Doug and Lily. Instant honorary aunt and uncle. That should count for something.”

Doug walked back into the room in time to hear the last comment. “I’m an uncle? When did that happen?”

“You just inherited twin ten-year-old nieces.”

“Sounds good to me. I’ve already been invited to some of their games this spring. Does this mean I get to cruise the sidelines and pick up all the single dads? And do I have bragging rights at the office?”

“Oh dear God…I don’t…” Whatever Andy had planned on saying was lost as one of Hughes’ men stepped inside the room with their Starbucks orders and asked if he should let the Richard Sachs into the room. Andy nearly choked on her coffee and informed him that her parents were to be admitted at any hour.

Andy’s mother flew to her bedside and hugged her hard, which caused Andy to gasp in pain and Miranda to stiffen in outrage at the thoughtlessness. Doug greeted Mr. Sachs warmly and after Andy had kissed her father, she introduced them to Miranda. They greeted her stiffly and Andy immediately gave up any hope that this would be an easy time.

Her father finally broke the awkward silence. “Your daughter, Ms. Priestly. Is she all right?”

“Caroline is still somewhat shaken but physically unharmed. It could have been…well, unthinkable. Fortunately, she had an insane lacrosse coach who took on a speeding van with an aluminum softball bat and saved her.” Miranda took Andy’s hand and squeezed it gently.

“Don’t forget about the $150,000 German battering ram and one slightly crazed St. Bernard,” added Andy, “It was a group effort.”

“Yes, but only you got hurt,” sniped Andy’s mother.

“That’s not true, Mom. The whole side of Roy’s face was turning purple from where he hit the door. If he hadn’t driven broadside into that van Caroline could be dead right now instead of asleep.”

“Yes, but you were shot. That monster could have killed you!”

“But he didn’t. Instead, we saved a ten-year-old from being kidnapped, or killed or, or…worse. Isn’t that what grownups are supposed to do? Protect kids? I know you’re worried about me, Mom, but just give it a rest. I’ll be fine.”

Doug realized that things could deteriorate into ugly very quickly and took action. Andy was in far better shape to deal with her overwrought and frightened mother’s anger than an exhausted Miranda was. “Miranda? Why don’t you and I go have breakfast with the girls? I promised them a complete update on Andy’s condition and you know they’ll want to grill both of us. It’s 6:45; will they be up yet?”

Realizing what Douglas was attempting, Miranda gratefully went along. “No, they won’t wake on their own much before 7:30. You’re right about them wanting a full report. Shall we go wake them?” Turning to Andy, she air kissed both of her cheeks and straightening back up said, “I’ll bring the girls by this afternoon. I’m not sure they will be able to restrain themselves much past lunchtime, so expect us around then. Can I bring you anything?”

Andy got a wicked gleam in her eye and a smartass grin on her face. “Lunch from Carnegie John’s. You know what I like.”

“Carnegie John’s?” Miranda’s eyes narrowed in apparent displeasure, but the twinkle in them belied her look.

“Yep. Roy knows where to find him.”

“Very well. We’ll see you around lunch time.” Doug leaned down and planted a kiss on Andy then walked to the closet and pulled out the garment bags. He and Miranda then bade Andy and her parents goodbye and walked out of the room. The security team split with two agents remaining to guard Andy and the rest escorting Miranda and Doug to the townhouse.

The drive home wasn’t long and their SUVs pulled to the curb as the first light of the day was breaking over the city. The press was still gathered across the street from Miranda’s home and the police were keeping them fairly well contained. Doug had just stepped out of the SUV and turned back to offer Miranda his hand when a series of loud pops sounded from across the street and screams broke out from the reporters gathered there.

“Gun! He’s got a gun!”

Without thinking, Doug dove back into the SUV pinning Miranda beneath him. “Stay down!” he rasped loudly. A minute later one of the security agents stuck his head into the back seat and told them it was safe to exit the vehicle.

Doug slid off Miranda and, apologizing profusely, helped her out of the vehicle. “I’m so sorry, Miranda. Did I hurt you?”

“Aside from being slightly rumpled I’m just fine, thank you, Douglas. Tell me, dear, do you always leap to protect the women around you or just the older women? Last night you took pepper spray for me and this morning you protect me from…whatever that was.”

Doug blushed to the roots of his hair. “I’d like to think I’d do it for any woman, but it’s a whole lot more natural with women I like. You know, we’ve got to be careful or people will talk.” He waggled his eyebrows suggestively and Miranda laughed and swatted his arm. Turning to the agents she asked what happened.

“Looks like an unstable individual wanted suicide by cop. Unfortunately for him, the NYPD is well trained and they took him down rather than shoot him. His gun was a loaded with blanks. This wasn’t related to the kidnapping. He’s just a disturbed, sad person who was looking to end his life. There was no threat to your daughters here, ma’am. However, I want to get you inside the house. If you’ll come with me?”

Both Miranda and Doug turned around to see what was happening across the street. The uniformed officers were hauling a handcuffed man to his feet as he screamed and thrashed around. The media was in a frenzy shooting the events and screaming questions to anyone within earshot. At the urging of their guards, they hustled up the steps and into the house.

A moment later, they were hanging their coats in the hall closet and Miranda gestured him to follow her upstairs. They paused at the door to her bedroom as they heard young voices from within.

“Evidently they were more worried about Andréa than I thought,” she whispered, opening the door and stepping into the room.

“Mom!” chorused the twins, still in her bed but obviously awake and talking to Cara.

“Good morning, darlings. I brought you a surprise.”

“Andy! Is it Andy? Is she okay?” cried the girls.

“Nope, it’s not Andy…will I do?” asked Doug as he stuck his head around the door and walked toward them.

“Doug!” Both girls leapt up and threw themselves on him. With a muffled ‘oomph’ he collapsed on the bed under their onslaught but was holding his own in the resultant tickle fight until Patricia joined in and began vigorously licking his left cheek and ear.

“Uncle! Uncle! I give up!” Giggling, the girls rolled free of him and Patricia settled back down with Miranda’s firm hand on her collar.

“So how’s Andy? Did you talk with her? Is she okay? When’s she coming home? Is she going to stay with us until she’s better?”

“Girls, Douglas and I have been up all night. Why don’t we all go take showers and get dressed and we can talk all about Andréa over breakfast? How does that sound?”

Caroline was suspicious. “You’re not trying to hide anything from us? You’ll tell us everything about Andy?”

“I promise, Squirt. Andy would have my head if we didn’t. The first thing she said when they got her back in bed after the surgery was ‘How’s Caroline?’”

“But that means we’ll have to wait until you go all the way home and come back again before we learn anything! That will be, like hours! We can’t wait that long!”

“No it won’t. You mom graciously offered me one of your guest rooms until Andy’s released from the hospital so I won’t have to go way downtown to the Village and back all the time. So I’m getting cleaned up right here just like you guys.”

Caroline finally seemed satisfied. Rising to her knees, she shuffled across the bed to behind Doug and wrapped her arms around his neck. Instinct took over and he quickly grabbed her legs and stood, hauling a delighted Caroline piggyback.

“Wrap your legs around me and hang on, Squirt!” he grinned as he grabbed Cassidy and plopped her bare feet on his shoes. Hugging her against his front he lock-stepped them out of Miranda’s room and down the hall to their rooms; a smiling Cara and secretly thrilled Miranda trailing behind with Patricia. The sound of the twins’ laughter was like music wafting through the house.

At their doors, Doug noodged Cassidy forward and helped Caroline slip back to the floor. Looking sternly at them both he said, “All right, troops. Synchronize your watches. I make it 0728 hours. We rendezvous in the mess hall at 0758 hours precisely for debriefing. Any questions? No? Then, dismissed!” He saluted them snappily and the girls dashed into their rooms to shower and dress.

“You’re very good with them, Douglas. They like you a great deal.”

“Well, I like them too. They’re great kids, Miranda. I’m gonna like this ‘uncle’ thing a lot. So, where’s my bunk, general?”

Laughing, Miranda showed him to a guest room at the far end of the hall then excused herself to clean up too.

* * * * *

When she walked into the kitchen at 7:55, Miranda was treated to the sight of a freshly showered and shaved Doug and the twins setting the table, much to the amusement of Cara, the agents, their cook and housekeeper. Doug kept deliberately moving flatware and plates around and when the girls caught him at it he claimed that setting the table was ‘women’s work’ and that no man ever knew how to do it right. Their outraged complaints only served to make the household staff, Cara and security agents in the room laugh harder. Miranda breathed an internal sigh of relief that Caroline and Cassidy seemed so relaxed.

Just as they sat down to Mrs. Wegmann’s special french toast (usually served only on weekends) Emily arrived and, to her surprise, an extra place was quickly set for her. Once everyone’s plates were full, Doug and Miranda began to relate their evening at the hospital. They wowed the twins with the ‘Battle of the Admitting Desk’, although it was never clear if it was Doug getting pepper-sprayed or Miranda cold-cocking the security guard with her handbag that made the biggest impression on them. They did their best to recount the meeting with the surgeons in as much detail as possible, with the adults explaining all they knew of the anatomy involved.

However, it wasn’t until they told about actually talking with Andy that the girls visibly relaxed. Both of the girls repeatedly interrupted with, ‘You’re sure she’s okay?’ and didn’t seem to tire of reassurances that she was, indeed, fine. Miranda’s promise of lunch at the hospital with Andy perked them up and when they discovered that they would be stopping at a street vendor for the food their eyes popped.

“For real? We get to eat real, live street cart food? Sweet! That is so cool!” Mrs. Wegmann just shook her head in dismay as everyone else in the room chuckled. When everyone had finished, Doug and the girls headed for the media room to watch some TV while Miranda and Emily moved into the office and began to work through the overnight news accounts of the kidnapping. An ecstatic phone call from Leslie around a quarter to nine confirmed that the coverage was unbelievably favorable and that they could use every bit of it.

The print media was overwhelmingly positive, led by the banner headline on Page Six of “MELTDOWN!” The sub-header read ‘She’s NOT made of ice after all!’ and ‘Miranda Priestly embracing her daughters after yesterday’s foiled kidnapping attempt. It’s wonderful to see that she’s not the world’s only living heart donor and that her children DO mean the world to her.’ Underneath was a quarter-page photo from the park of Miranda on her knees hugging the girls tightly in her arms. The other newspapers showed shots of her smiling at Roy and gently touching his obviously injured face while he grinned back at her and another of the girls and her sitting on the bench with her arms around their shoulders.

Each of the shots showed a human and vulnerable side of Miranda that no one in the press corps could ever remember seeing. So they ran with it. As far and fast as they could. Miranda was being portrayed as a loving and worried mother and not a dragon lady. Reports were coming out on the news blogs about how she spent the night at the hospital with her daughter’s rescuer and that she had dealt bravely with the shooting incident outside her townhouse earlier. The cable news channels were running sound bites from all over the fashion world alongside the breathless coverage from reporters who had been on the scene earlier when the shots were fired. One still photo in particular was getting huge play on every station and blog. It showed the police dragging the shooter off in cuffs while Miranda gazed at the scene with a pitying look on her face. Leslie was over the moon with the coverage. After they hung up from the call, Miranda strolled down the hall to check on the girls.

Doug and the twins were channel surfing for something good to watch and Caroline was splitting her attention between the TV and her laptop. Suddenly she gasped and elbowed Doug in the side.

“Whoa! You guys; look at this!” But Doug and Cassidy sat frozen, staring at the TV. Miranda walked into the room as the cordless phone in her hand rang shrilly. It was Leslie again, only this time screaming.

“Miranda, WHO THE FUCK IS THAT?”

Chapter Text

Caroline, Cassidy, Doug and Leslie had all seen different versions of the same thing: a freeze-frame shot of Miranda and Doug in front of the townhouse. Both were smiling warmly and Miranda’s hand rested on Doug’s arm affectionately. The captions were variations on the same theme, the most lurid of which was:

 

WHO IS THIS MAN?!?

HUNKALICIOUS!!

MIRANDA'S HAUTE NEW BOY-TOY!

 

Cassidy’s eyes were a wide as saucers. “Mom?”

“Oh, darling, it’s just the gossip rags. You know how they are. Douglas, I am sorry about this. If we don’t comment it will blow over quickly.”

“Hell, Miranda, I’m not complaining. You’ve just done wonders for my reputation!” laughed Doug. He watched while she calmed her publicist somewhat, absently rubbing the bridge of her nose. Fatigue was evident in the sag of her normally straight shoulders and Doug made a snap decision.

“Hey guys, what do you say we give the paparazzi something to gnaw on? I need to pick up some clean clothes from my place. How would you two like to come with me? That way your mom can grab a quick nap?”

The twins thought that was a fabulous idea and were dispatched upstairs to bring down one of Doug’s bags. When they returned, Simon Hughes and two very young-looking women dressed casually in jeans and sweaters were waiting for them. Caroline and Cassidy stuck close to their mother as Hughes introduced the women to the girls and informed them that they would be accompanying them for the day.

“We don’t need them, we’ve got Doug,” complained Caroline, looking to her mother for support. “Besides, they’re just girls, what could they do?”

Simon’s eyebrows rose at this comment and he barked out a command to the smaller of the two women. “Molly, take him out.” He indicated a very large, burly agent standing near the door. The man immediately rushed toward the young woman who, to the amazement of all the civilians in the room promptly hip-threw him to the floor, immobilized him with a knee-drop to his diaphragm and had her 10mm Glock an inch from his nose before he could move.

Caroline and Cassidy stood frozen, their eyes a large as dinner plates.

“Oh, and Caroline? Remember what we talked about in the park yesterday? They’re both better shots than I am,” commented Simon with a smile.

Doug broke the stunned silence. “Okay then, looks like Molly and Kate are coming along. Let’s get moving, shall we?”

Everyone donned jackets in the front hallway and moved quickly into the waiting SUVs. Closing the door behind them, Miranda turned to Hughes.

“Impressive as that was, they seem very young, Mr. Hughes.”

“Mrs. Priestly, both of those young women were trained by the State Department’s Office of Protection. That means they’re even more qualified than Secret Service agents are. Your daughters could not be in better hands. They look young, but I assure you, both are college graduates and fully trained protection agents.”

Miranda was impressed despite her natural inclination to worry about the girls. “Thank you Mr. Hughes. Is there any more news about the plan to kidnap Caroline?”

“We’ve spoken with the D.A.’s office this morning. They still plan to hold their press conference in just less than an hour. Since it’s unlikely that Mr. Chapman and the girls will be back by then I wonder if my staff and I might watch it here? We need to hear what the D.A. says.”

“Of course, Mr. Hughes. I’d like to watch it with you if you don’t mind. I’d like more information myself.”

“That would not be a problem, Mrs. Priestly.” Hughes hesitated a moment and then plunged ahead. “If you’ll forgive my saying so, ma’am, you’re looking a little run down. Why don’t you try to nap until the press conference? I’ll have someone wake you before it starts if you’d like. Better yet, we can record it so you can watch it later on.”

Miranda’s usual response to Hughes’ comment would have been a scathing rejoinder that sliced deep and left the recipient feeling flayed and nearly in tears. Nevertheless, she held her tongue realizing he meant well and that he was probably right.

“I’ll consider it, Mr. Hughes. Tell me, you deal with circumstances like this frequently. Do you know of a therapist who deals with specifically with traumatic situations? I want to make sure the girls have someone to talk to.”

“Yes, ma’am. I’ll have our office fax over a list of the therapists we use for our people. For post-trauma counseling, they’re as good as it gets.”

“Thank you, Mr. Hughes. I’ll be in my office.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Miranda walked back to the office and shut the doors behind her. Emily was working away at the desk in deep conversation with the office about preliminary verifications of their London reservations for the week after next. When Miranda looked at her, Emily put her call on hold and quickly asked what she needed. Miranda toyed with her options then made a decision.

“I’m going upstairs to rest before I take the girls to visit Andréa. The District Attorney is having a press conference about the kidnapping at 10:00 am. I would like you to watch it, take notes and pass along any information you feel I should have. Mr. Hughes and some of his people will be watching it too. Record it in case we need to reference it later for some reason.”

“Yes, Miranda. Is there anything else?”

“No, that’s all. And thank you, Emily. I know it is not easy working out of my home instead of being at the office but I need to be… available… to my daughters right now. I will be… relying… on you and Nigel to take over many of the routine things I do before we leave for London. My focus needs to be here until I’m sure that the girls will suffer no long-lasting effects from the events of yesterday.”

“I’ll take care of it, Miranda,” Taking a deep breath Emily did something she had never done before in her tenure as an assistant to Miranda Priestly; she made a personal comment to her. “Nigel and I won’t let you down. Go rest.”

Five minutes later, Miranda lay stretched out on her bed clad in her bathrobe. The fatigue she had fought off since the wee hours of the morning was crashing down on her and sleep was becoming a necessity. A quiet knock on the door announced the entry of her housekeeper with a thick fleece throw over her arm. Without saying a word, she covered Miranda with it then said softly, “You’ll sleep more soundly if you’re warm. I’ll wake you at 11:00, Ms. Priestly.” Nodding once, she turned and left, quietly shutting the door behind her. Miranda was asleep in moments.

* * * * *

The DA’s press conference was a testament to his political ambitions more than it was a dissemination of critical information about the case. Emily listened to the comments of the Whitehall Security team as they watched it with her and realized that they were not pleased with the content. When she questioned the lead agent, he replied that the DA had not done the investigating officers any favors with the information he released. With that in mind, she went back over her notes and replayed parts of the press conference to listen more carefully to what had been said.

“The police have two suspects in custody that were apprehended at the scene and identified by witnesses as the perpetrators. Ramon Javier Gutierrez, age 23 was identified as the driver of the van and Miguel Ricardo Reyes, age 24, was identified as the grab man.”

“Tattoos identified both men as members of the Washington Heights Dedo Malvado gang. Sources within the NYPD’s Multi-jurisdictional Gang Task Force indicated that both are low-level operatives who primarily deal cocaine. Initial interviews with the suspects indicate that they owed a large amount of money to their drug suppliers and planned to ransom the girl for $1 million dollars to pay off these debts and buy their way into more profitable roles within the gang’s drug distribution network.”

“Public defenders have been appointed for both men and they will be arraigned this afternoon in Midtown Criminal Court. Both men have multiple prior felony convictions and will be charged with First Degree Kidnapping under New York Statues. The District Attorney’s Office considers both men flight risks and will ask that they be held without bail until trial. Because of their prior conviction records, this office anticipates demanding the maximum allowable sentence of life without parole for both suspects.”

Most of those statements were informational, although the Whitehall agents commented that the District Attorney should never have released details of the ransom amount or the reasons behind the kidnapping attempt. That too much information released to the press could hamper the police investigation. But what angered the Whitehall agents the most was the concluding statement of the press conference.

“The criminal investigation into this attempted abduction is ongoing. The District Attorney’s office is not prepared to state at this time that this was the act solely of the two suspects in custody. Detectives and officers assigned to this case continue to pursue leads and uncover critical information even as we speak here. Should new information come to light indicating a broader involvement of Dedo Malvado in this kidnapping attempt, this office is prepared to bring additional charges and indict additional conspirators.”

The agents unanimously agreed that to imply more gang involvement could produce retaliation. According to the reports they had received that earlier that morning from the investigating officers, nothing uncovered so far indicated the gang was involved. The implication that it might be served only to garner more press interest in the case and more specifically, in the DA.

Doug and the girls returned to the townhouse a little after 11:00 am and shortly after that, Miranda came back downstairs looking somewhat more rested than earlier. She read over Emily’s notes of the press conference and only sniffed that the District Attorney always had been a media hungry political lightweight. Emily handed her a list of therapists the Whitehall office had faxed over and Miranda instructed her to research each of them and be prepared to recommend one by the time they returned from the hospital later that afternoon.

Roy arrived in the loaner car at 11:25 am and when he got out to open the back doors for them, even Miranda gasped a little. The entire left side of his face was a startling shade of deep purple and when he removed his sunglasses, both eyes were blackened as well. Miranda was gratified to see Caroline and then Cassidy walk up to him and wrap their arms around his waist. Both girls thanked him for saving Caroline and he just hugged them back and grinned. The girls piled into the back seat and Miranda paused before joining them.

“The hospital said you had a fracture of the zygomatic arch. That it will require neither surgical reduction nor a plastic surgeon. This is correct?”

“Yes ma’am. Aside from the fact that it’s very tender and purple, it should heal just fine.”

“Emily will call your wife with the name of the travel agency we utilize. Please use the week we are in London to take your wife somewhere tropical at my expense. It will give you a chance to heal away from this dismal cold and the Whitehall people will provide transport for the girls and Andréa while I’m away.”

“Yes, Ms. Priestly. Thank you.”

“No, Roy; thank you. I wouldn’t have Caroline if it weren’t for your quick thinking.”

“You’re entirely welcome. To the hospital, ma’am?”

“No, I’ve been reliably informed that you know the location of Carnegie John’s cart. We’re going there to pick up lunch first.”

“Carnegie John’s. Yes, ma’am. Will you be requiring dessert as well?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Because I think that the waffle guy Andy likes is around 45th and 7th today and if we’re going to pick up waffles too then we should stop there first. Easier to get back to the hospital if we do it that way.”

“I yield to your expertise. Take us to Andréa’s ‘waffle guy’.”

“Yes, ma’am.” As soon as Roy had Miranda safely in the back seat and the door closed, he told the driver of the lead SUV their itinerary. In a moment the procession rolled away from the curb headed for midtown.

The twins were beside themselves with excitement at the prospect of getting cart food for lunch. Miranda told them about the lunch Andréa bought her and Doug regaled them with stories of the various carts around Wall Street where he and the people he worked with ate. The girls seemed fascinated with the variety of food available on the street and Doug promised to find some way to get them hot mini cakes from one of the carts around Chinatown.

Miranda smiled. “I had no idea you were such a connoisseur of street cuisine, Douglas.”

His shrug spoke volumes. “When you’re a peon on Wall Street they’re the best deal for lunch in the area.”

Their procession pulled to the curb behind a yellow van and Miranda, the girls and Doug got out. The twins were allowed to choose the toppings for three waffles and Miranda selected the simple ones they had before for two others. When their concoctions were boxed and bagged, they piled back into the cars for the trip to Carnegie John’s cart at 56th and 7th Avenue.

Again, the twins were enthralled by the ordering process and Miranda had to hurry them along in choosing their lunches. Toting several heavy bags of food, their caravan steered back toward the Upper East Side and New York-Presbyterian Hospital. There was still press gathered outside the hospital when they arrived and they were again forced to use the covered loading dock to enter the building.

The twins were so excited to see Andy that Miranda had to shush them as they left the elevator and remind them that they were in a hospital. A moment later, loaded with food bags, they walked into Andy’s room and the twins stopped dead.

Andy was sitting up in bed wearing a surgical scrub top with her left arm and upper body wrapped in a black shoulder immobilizer. Her left forearm was encased in a heavily padded sling with her thumb and fingers held immobile. Padded tension straps encircled her chest from each end of the sling and another ran over one shoulder and diagonally across her back to attach at the back of her elbow. A thick surgical dressing was visible under the scrub top and an IV line ran into the back of her right hand. Several smaller dressings were visible on her forearms and the shorn part of her hair only served to highlight the line of blue sutures in her scalp.

“C’mon you guys, I don’t look that bad!” Andy grinned. The twins snapped out of their paralysis and trotted over to the bed but hesitated, unsure of what they were permitted to do.

“Get your butts up here and give me some real hugs. I’ve been waiting for some all day!” Andy scooted over in the bed and Caroline and Cassidy climbed up next to her. Caroline snuggled silently against her and Cassidy gave her a quick hug and settled farther down the bed against her legs. Andy wrapped her good arm around Caroline and nudged Cassidy with her knee. “I missed you guys. I am really glad you came over this early. I think I would have tried to sneak out of the hospital to see you if you hadn’t.”

“But we had to bring you lunch! And we got to order it at the carts! It was so neat and Roy knew right where we were going and we ordered special waffles and stuff and Mom got you that platter she said you liked from before and we all got ginger ale to drink but we’re gonna need ice for it.”

“I’m sure Douglas can find us some ice at the nurses’ station,” commented Miranda, coming up on the opposite side of the bed. Taking care not to jostle the injured shoulder and arm, she leaned over and gave Andy a quick kiss on the lips. “Were you able to get any more sleep after we left?”

The twins’ eyes bugged out and then they just grinned at each other as Andy answered. “No, my mother had to have her scene after you left. It wasn’t pretty, let me tell you.”

“If you look up ‘Drama Queen’ in the dictionary, there’s a photo of Andy’s mom,” chimed in Doug. “But you did the right thing getting them here, Miranda. There’s no telling what she’d be capable of if she was stuck in Ohio.”

“Little ears, Douglas. Why don’t you try to locate us some cups and ice while I organize lunch?” He grinned at her and strolled out of the room. Miranda began unpacking the lunch containers while Andy talked quietly with the girls and reassured them that she really was fine. A thought occurred to her and she looked up at Miranda.

“You’re sending the girls back to school tomorrow?

“We had discussed it and, yes, that was our plan.”

“Well then, we’ve got to arrange for me to get out of the hospital for a little while tomorrow afternoon.”

“Why would we do that?”

“Because there’s no way in hell I’m missing final cuts. So just do whatever you have to do to get me sprung for the afternoon; dinner too if you can manage it.”

Andy and the twins were looking imploringly at her and Miranda was incapable of refusing those looks. “I believe that can be arranged. We’ll need to get you some clothing. All of yours were…ruined.” Miranda suppressed a shudder at the memory of the blood-soaked jacket, sweater and jeans Andréa had been wearing. She was relieved that Douglas came back into the room at that moment with a pitcher full of ice and several polystyrene cups. He began to help her organize the dishes of food.

“Damn, that was my three-in-one. I’m gonna miss that.”

Cassidy looked at her questioningly. “Three-in-one?”

“A weatherproof outer jacket with a fleece liner and insulated vest. Using combinations of the three parts will give you a weatherproof jacket good for all year round.”

“Where did you get it?” inquired Miranda.

“Ordered it from Columbia.”

“I’m sure we can find a Columbia outlet somewhere in the city and get a replacement. As for your other clothing, we can find something suitable for you.”

“Final cuts are still at the same time? Doug, we’ll have to grab a cab over to the park tomorrow afternoon.”

“You will do no such thing. Roy and I will take you over to the park. You’re not riding around the city in some filthy cab in your condition. Did the doctors mention when they thought you would be discharged?”

“They were talking about some time on Saturday. My Mom’s all worked up about missing work to stay with me because I can’t do much with one arm, but I’ll be just fine by myself.”

“No, you won’t. I know you Andréa; you’ll push yourself and won’t keep that stabilizer on and wind up doing permanent damage to your arm. You cannot stay alone. At least until you begin to get strength back in that arm and the doctors say you can begin to move it somewhat. The risks are just too great. Besides, the girls had an idea.”

Andy looked at the girls. “Well? What was your idea?”

The twins looked at each other and Cassidy began. “Mom’s leaving for London for Fashion Week in another eight days and we’ll need some grownup to stay with us. Our dad’s got some business trip out on the west coast.”

Caroline picked up on cue. “We think you should come and stay with us. That way we’ll always be around to make sure you’re okay and to help you and stuff. We can sort of take care of each other that way. You can take care of us and we can take care of you.”

Miranda pushed the over-bed table to Andy’s bed with three lunches opened on it. Andy looked at her as she adjusted its height. “I take you’re in agreement with them?”

“I am. I believe it to be the wisest solution for all concerned. And that way, I’ll only have to make one phone call at 1:00 am every night I’m gone instead of two.”

“Two?”

“Yes, two. One to the girls to see how their day was and one to you to see how yours was. If you’re staying at the townhouse then I need only make one and can speak with everyone I need to.”

Andy picked up her fork to eat her lunch. “I don’t think I need to be staying at your townhouse, Miranda. I’m perfectly capable of looking after myself. I don’t need to be babysat by you or the twins or anyone else.”

“Really, Andréa?”

“Really, Miranda. And furthermore…” Andy fumbled, trying to spear a piece of meat without shoving the foil dish around too much. “…furthermore…I…”

“Yes, Andréa?” Miranda’s expression was stony.

Andy had the good grace to blush bright red. “And, furthermore, I need somebody to cut my meat….” Sheepishly she glanced back at Miranda. “You’re sure it won’t be any trouble if I stay there?”

Miranda finally cracked a smile. “None whatsoever. In fact, Douglas, why don’t you stay too? That way there will be two adults around for the girls and you’ll be there to do any heavy lifting that might be required. Will that place an unreasonable burden on you? Someone, of course, will drive you to and from work each day.”

“Let me think: you want me to stay in a posh Upper East Side townhouse with three gorgeous women, get chauffeured to and from work daily and have a cook and housekeeper at my beck and call? I don’t know, Miranda, you’re asking a lot…” The twins’ giggles and his grin answered the question. Caroline and Cassidy slid Andy’s dish over a bit and began cutting the meat for her as Andy and Miranda smiled at each other.

* * * * *

Unbeknownst to any of the happy group upstairs having lunch, quite a different scenario was playing out eight floors below them in front of the hospital. Andy and her parents, notably her mother, had not parted on the best of terms when the Sachses left her room to return to their hotel for the afternoon. Mrs. Sachs had not been at all pleased with being displaced by Miranda Priestly and her spoiled children in her daughter’s hospital room that afternoon. But Andy had insisted that it was important to see the girls after what had happened and demanded that they leave until after dinner.

It hadn’t helped her mood that someone had tipped the press off to them and the moment they had stepped outside the hospital’s doors microphones, digital recorders and cameras had been stuck in their faces and questions shouted at them from all sides.

“Mr. and Mrs. Sachs, what is your daughter’s condition?”

“She came out of surgery fine. Her doctors said that the surgery was a complete success and she’ll be just fine.”

“Any comment on the attempted kidnapping?”

“I understand, thanks to my daughter, that they caught the men responsible.”

“What is your daughter’s relationship with Miranda Priestly?”

“She…she used to work for her. Now she coaches her daughters. She told me this morning that she knew one of the Dalton coaches from her college days.”

“Have you spoken with Miranda Priestly yet?”

“Yes, last night.”

“Do you know the man who was with her at the hospital last night?”

“Yes, that was Doug Chapman.”

“How do you know him?”

“He and Andy have been friends since their first year of college. We’d always hoped that something more would develop, but…”

“So Miranda stole Doug from Andy?”

“What? What did you say?”

“Did Miranda steal Doug from Andy?”

“Well, Andy has known him for many years now. It just doesn’t seem fair that my daughter got shot protecting hers and she’s got Doug taking her all over town while Andy’s laid up in the hospital.”

And with that, the paparazzi went berserk.

Chapter Text

“She’s at the hospital, Leslie. She and Doug took the twins over to have lunch with Andy. No, I am not going to page her while she’s there. It’s your job; deal with it. I’ll tell her as soon as she comes home. We can decide what to do then. Well, I’d anticipate that you’re going to have to work with them. I know they probably have no experience dealing with the media, although I do not understand how anyone could be that foolish with the press. I’ll call you back when Miranda returns. Goodbye, Leslie.”

Emily walked out of the office and into the media room where she turned on the one of the entertainment networks. Scanning their rolling headlines for updates, she realized that even the more sedate sites would eventually run something concerning what Andréa’s parents had said. She could only hope that it was merely a speculative quote from their run-in with the media earlier. Her thoughts wandered as she watched the screen.

The only thing that will keep Miranda from killing Andy’s mother is the fact that she didn’t mention the girls except to say that they were glad Caroline was safe. If that foolish cow had made one comment about the twins, Miranda would have had her murdered and thrown off the hospital roof into the East River.

And those comments about Doug and Andy? My God, how can the woman not realize he’s gay? She claims to have known him for years – she never noticed that? Moreover, what’s Miranda going to do with her? She can’t very well attack her now that she and Andy are…what? God, I can’t even imagine it. But if I’m being honest, there always was something there between those two.

With a heavy sigh, Emily powered off the TV and returned to her laptop in the office, scanning the gossip blogs for the latest trash talk about Miranda. The interview the Sachses had given at noon had mushroomed all over the internet although it seemed as though the more ‘legitimate’ gossip sites weren’t as outrageous in their allegations as the smaller blogs. Page Six hadn’t mentioned anything beyond the fact that Doug was a friend of Andy’s, but some of the sites were manufacturing slander out of thin air. Thankfully, Miranda rarely looked at the blogs. If Leslie got right on it, she could quash most of the more lurid speculation in the bigger gossip sites. And things had been so good that morning.

* * * * *

By 4:00 pm, Andy and the twins had taken two slow walks around the floor followed by a watchful Doug and Miranda. This made the medical staff very happy but Andy was tiring fast. Miranda got the reluctant twins to agree to leave her for the day with promises that Andy and Doug would be at their tryouts the next afternoon and that everyone would have dinner together afterwards at home. Andy put in a request for the pork roast they’d had on Valentine’s Day and Miranda agreed to tell Mrs. Wegmann. With that, Miranda got the twins into their jackets and with final hugs and promises of a speedy reunion, they left for home. Doug remained at the hospital to help Andy insure peace was maintained between both families. Lily stuck her head in the door with a grin around 4:30 pm and asked if Mrs. Sachs’s head had spun around on her shoulders when she met Miranda. Everyone laughed, but they all had secretly thought that a more than likely scenario.

When Mr. and Mrs. Sachs returned to Andy’s room, they were surprised that Andy had dinner under control for everyone. Miranda had reserved one of several ‘family rooms’ at the hospital and Smith and Wollensky were catering dinner. They sat down to salads, filet mignon, baked potatoes, string beans, the famous truffled mac and cheese and carrot cake. When everyone had eaten their fill, they walked slowly back to Andy’s room.

While Andy and Lily and Doug talked with Mrs. Sachs, Andy’s dad turned on the TV. The cable all-news channel was on and it was time for their celebrity gossip news. To everyone’s growing horror, there, for the entire world (or at least all of New York City) to see were the Sachses talking to the press. Andy’s jaw dropped as she heard her mother indirectly accuse Miranda of stealing Doug. Face flushing, Andy turned on her mother in a fury and spoke to her in a way neither had ever experienced before.

“What the hell did you think you were doing? Have you completely lost your mind? Nobody talks to the press about things like that. Nobody! What in the name of God were you trying to accomplish?”

“I believe she was trying to put me in my place,” replied a quiet voice from the door.

Mrs. Sachs turned to Miranda and snarled, “Our kind of people don’t need to worry about the gossip press!”

“Miranda is my kind of people and the sooner you wrap your heads around that the better. If you can’t grasp that simple concept then maybe you need to get back to Cincinnati where the press is tamer. Because we certainly don’t need you here if you can’t.” Miranda moved to her side and booted up her laptop to show Andy the gossip blogs’ take on things.

Earlier, when Miranda and the twins had returned to the townhouse, it had not taken the girls long to get online and discover the latest gossip news about them all. Miranda had thought to work on her call sheet from her home office, but as soon as she walked in, Emily conferenced her with Leslie and the three of them plotted damage control. The twins kept them abreast of current posts on the top sites, laughing at the more lurid accusations and commentary.

It hadn’t taken long for both Emily and Leslie to ask why Mrs. Sachs would say what she had to the press. Miranda had to remind them both that Andy’s mother was not from New York City and probably didn’t have any experience in the kind of media frenzy that had followed them all for the past twenty-four hours. But internally, she knew very well what Mrs. Sachs had intended. The attacks were directed at her and while the press was consumed with the love-triangle aspect of the rumors, Miranda knew full well that she had been the target of the vicious comments. Mrs. Sachs was apparently bent on exacting revenge for the time Andy had spent working at Runway and for Miranda. Thankfully, her lack of experience could be used to negate the comments as well. Leslie and Emily took notes and the three of them worked up a plan to defuse the worst of the slander. By the time everyone had eaten dinner and Miranda was ready to return to the hospital, Leslie was working on countering the lies.

Miranda synchronized her laptop with the hospital’s wireless network and brought up the mainstream gossip sites. Thankfully, Page Six had mentioned Mrs. Sachs comments but had not published any of them pending verification. Leslie was on top of that and it seemed likely that no further comments would be forthcoming from that source. The same strategy would work with the other main gossip sites.

The independent gossip blogs were another matter entirely, though. Not only had they exaggerated the original comments tremendously, but their complete lack of concern for fact had prompted most of them to blow the entire issue into the realm of pure fantasy. Miranda explained that ignoring them would be the best method of dealing with their outrageous posts and finished with a piranha-ish smile and an offer to have Leslie give Mrs. Sachs some lessons in dealing with the press.  The tenor of the gossip blogs had changed radically to one single theme:

HOMEWRECKER!!!

While Doug and Lily laughed at the unbelievable articles, Andy turned to her mother again and demanded to know what she thought she was going to accomplish. Miranda watched the exchange with narrowed eyes, prepared to leap to Andréa’s defense should the need arise.

“I don’t understand why you’re taking her side!” said Mrs. Sachs when Andy had finished.

“Taking her side? What the hell is that supposed to mean? There aren’t sides in this. You were dead wrong to talk to the press like that.”

“Why was I wrong? She treated you like dirt under her feet for the entire time you worked for her and now you’re defending her? I was standing up for you!”

Andy was so furious with her mother she thought her head might explode.

“I don’t need you standing up for me! I don’t want you standing up for me! I don’t need anybody to do anything to or about or because of Miranda! Miranda means the world to me: get used to that fact. Whatever happened in the past is in the past. The future is all I’m thinking of and Miranda and the twins are going to be a big part of my future. That’s something else you need to wrap your heads around.”

Andy’s mom opened her mouth to reply but was stopped by her husband’s hand on her arm. He looked at his daughter for a long moment before he spoke.

“Honey, are you trying to tell us something?”

“I’m not trying at all. I’m telling you. Miranda and the twins are going to be in my life. They’re going to be around at holidays and vacations and birthdays and every other kind of special days and ordinary days in my life. Those grandkids you keep pestering me about? You’ve got ‘em; they’re ten years old and twins. They spent the afternoon here with me. I wouldn’t be counting on a son-in-law, though. Looks like it’s Miranda and me. Is that clear enough?”

“But, honey, you’ve never… I mean, you’ve always been with men, haven’t you? Isn’t this kind of sudden? What happened that brought this on?”

“I can’t explain, Dad. I just know that the whole time I was working at Runway it was growing inside me. I think I finally had to leave there so that I could find Miranda on my own terms. And no, I’ve never been with a woman before. Neither has she. But we’re sure about this. It’s not some phase I’m going through. It’s not something I’m going to grow out of. You’d better get used to that idea.”

“But…but…she’s our age!” sputtered Andy’s mom.

“I know. Isn’t that great? Don’t ask me to explain it. I can’t. I just know that when I’m with her I’m happier than I’ve ever been. And I love the twins. Simple as that.”

Andy’s father looked at Miranda as Andy grabbed her hand and just stared for a long minute. Finally, to his dismay, he asked the clichéd question fathers have been asking of prospective suitors since time immemorial.

“What are your intentions toward my daughter?”

Miranda was hard-pressed not to laugh aloud; only the seriousness of his expression kept her from it.

“Mr. Sachs, I am…”

“I think under the circumstances you’d better call me Richard,” he interrupted.

“Very well, Richard; I am not in the habit of explaining myself to anyone. It’s been years since I’ve needed to. But because Andréa is every bit as precious to me as my daughters I will make an exception in this case. I will do anything, spend any amount of money, utilize any influence to keep her safe and make her happy; just as I would for my daughters. You will have to take the rest on faith, just as Andréa and I are doing.” She looked impassively at the Sachses.

Finally, Andy’s father spoke again. “Well, you’ve certainly given us a lot to think about. But give us a little credit here. Anybody would need some time to come to grips with something this big. Give us tonight to get a handle on this. We can talk again tomorrow. That’s not unreasonable, is it?”

“No, Dad, it’s not. That may be the best idea I’ve heard all evening. It will give everybody a chance to calm down and act like grownups.” It seemed that everyone else in the room felt the same way and shortly goodbyes were being said and coats donned. Andy’s parents paid close attention to the brief kiss Miranda and Andy shared as they said goodbye. Richard thought later that it didn’t seem as untoward as he had thought it might; both Andy and Miranda were very comfortable with each other and, if he was being completely honest with himself, he had never seen that loving look on his daughter’s face before.

* * * * *

The next morning, as the Sachses brought fresh bagels and schmears to the hospital, Doug and a Whitehall team headed to Andy’s apartment to pick up some clothes while Roy drove Miranda and the twins to Dalton. The girls hugged Miranda goodbye in the car and extracted solemn promises not to be late to final tryouts that afternoon before entering the school building with their escorts. Once they were safely inside, Roy and Miranda left for the Elias-Clarke building.

The outer office was bustling with activity when Miranda stepped off the elevator. To her surprise, all of the staffers gathered around her assistants’ desks asked after Caroline and Cassidy and seemed sincerely happy they were safe. Several even asked after Andréa, and it was several minutes before Miranda found herself settled behind her desk as usual. Her morning coffee was waiting and the first scalding sip of her latte sent a wave of warmth and contentment through her. The girls were back in school, she was back at work and Andréa would be coming home tomorrow. The nightmare of the past forty-eight hours seemed to be fading. Setting her Starbuck’s cup down she turned her attention to the messages on her desk.

Emily came in after a few minutes to verify the twins’ evaluation meeting with the trauma counselor. After agreeing to a time, Miranda thought for a moment and asked Emily to arrange for Andréa to be included in the preliminary meeting. She had been shot and nearly killed during the kidnapping attempt; it was a safe bet she would have some issues to deal with as just as the girls would. Once the appointment was confirmed, Miranda sat down with Nigel and Emily and sketched out her plans for clothing Andréa that afternoon. Both agreed with her ideas and set out to make sure everything would be ready on time.

The rest of the morning was spent in catching up with department heads and a half hour with Nigel and Emily coordinating London Fashion Week plans and meetings. They ordered in lunch and ate their salads during an editorial staff meeting while they locked down the next issue and laid the framework for the one after that. By 12:45 pm, Miranda had finished her call sheets, met with every department and tended to the editorial tasks of the magazine. She headed to her private bathroom to change for tryouts with a clear conscience as Emily put together the items on her final list and checked over the clothing for Andréa.

The twins had begged Miranda to dress casually ‘like all the other parents do’, but jeans and hikers were most definitely not her style. Instead, she opted for classic black Donna Karan slacks and turtleneck with Prada’s version of insulated wellies and a bright Hermès scarf for a splash of color. Her outerwear was a fur-lined Burberry pea coat and matching fur-lined gloves. To complete her ‘Dalton Lacrosse Parent’ ensemble, she carried a large Coach tote with everything a good lacrosse Mom should have: a red Burberry umbrella, stocking caps and mittens for the twins in case it got colder during practice, a bottle of ibuprofen and a large thermos of Starbuck’s peppermint hot cocoa to warm everyone up when they’d finished practice.

As their boss dressed, Emily and Nigel went over the clothing that had been delivered and altered for Andréa. Once satisfied with the garments, they quickly folded them and packed them in another large tote for Miranda to take to the hospital. When Miranda emerged from the bathroom, Nigel caught his breath and had the temerity to whistle.

“Miranda, I think we need to do a spread about Manhattan Sports Moms and include you. You look terrific!”

“Thank you, Nigel; I just hope my daughters think so too. They pleaded with me to dress casually like the other parents, although God knows what the other Dalton parents would consider casual. I only hope they won’t start demanding I dress in Dalton school colors for their games. At any rate, we’ll lend a bit of style to this afternoon’s festivities. Is everything I asked for ready?”

“Yep, we just checked it all over again. Once I had the pieces down in the Fashion department it occurred to me that the closures ought to be offset somewhat so I had them move the Velcro on the turtleneck. The closures will be on different parts of Andy’s arm now.”

“Good thought, Nigel. Thank you. I should have thought of that myself. Did that Columbia parka arrive?”

“Yes; it’s a little bulky so I ran it down to the car and Roy stowed it in the back seat. It’s waiting for you.”

“And the color?”

“A Himalayan 3-in-1 in brick and grey. The size is correct as well.”

“Thank you, Emily. I realize it probably wasn’t easy to locate one on such short notice. I’ll leave my cell phone on during practice, but once we go back to the house I’m shutting it down until we finish dinner. When I get Andréa settled back at the hospital I’ll turn it back on and check for messages. I don’t believe anything will go down in flames this afternoon, but if it does, I trust you two to deal with it. Hopefully, I’ll speak with you tomorrow, no sooner.” Picking up the bag of clothing for Andréa, she wished them a pleasant evening and headed for the elevators.

Meanwhile, the mood in Andy’s hospital room was considerably lighter than it had been the night before. Being able to spend the morning with their daughter and talking honestly with her about what they had discovered the night before had given the Sachses a chance to accept the idea of Andy and Miranda as a couple. Andy told them how hard the twins had worked at their lacrosse and Doug had added his take on the relationship as well. Between the two of them Andy’s parents, while not wildly enthusiastic, were at least beginning to accept the facts and willing to meet Miranda and the twins halfway. Andy figured that was the best she could hope for at that moment. Time would make everything easier. For everyone.

Doug was watching her closely and noted that she started to get nervous as the clock neared 1:30 pm. Doug knew from Andy’s many war stories of Runway that Miranda was always early and as the time ticked down to the appointed hour Andy seemed to fidget more and more. Finally, at 1:23 PM, Miranda walked in the door carrying her two totes and Andy’s new parka.

“Good afternoon, everyone. Did you have a good morning?”

Andy’s face broke into a glowing grin as Miranda slipped out of her jacket and began to unpack the tote of clothing for her. To Andy’s surprise, her mother moved to Miranda’s side and offered help. Miranda pulled out articles of clothing and showed her how the Fashion Department had altered them for Andréa’s use. Barbara Sachs was impressed. Coupled with the jeans and hikers Doug had brought from Andy’s place that morning it appeared they had her completely outfitted.

Realizing that Barbara Sachs would want to help her daughter and feeling a touch uncomfortable with that level of intimacy so early, Miranda handed her the underclothes and ushered Richard and Douglas out into the hallway. They chatted for a few minutes before Miranda stuck her head back in the room and asked how things were going.

Laughing, Andy told her “I think we can use another pair of hands!”

Barbara Sachs had gotten Andy into her underclothes and socks and had the jeans gathered around her feet and ankles. She and Miranda pulled them up and got Andy settled with the jeans unzipped and while Barbara dealt with the hiking boots, Miranda brought over the items Runway had done up for Andy. She held a navy turtleneck from Dolce and Gabbana and a classic blue oxford cloth button-down collar shirt by Ralph Lauren. Both were in men’s sizes to provide some extra room and arm length to accommodate the surgical dressings. The Fashion department had slit the entire left side of the garments up from the tails to the armpit and then down the arm. They had then finished the cuts and stitched in Velcro closures along the entire length of the new hems. The resulting garments could be slipped on easily over Andy’s injured shoulder and closed around her left arm without moving the shoulder joint.

Barbara and Miranda had Andy fully dressed in short order and then it was simply a matter of tucking in the shirts and zipping her jeans. Miranda called Richard and Doug back into the room and the group began to gather coats. Miranda discovered a cashmere scarf for Andy that Nigel had included in the bag with the fur lined gloves. She draped it around Andréa’s neck with a small smile and a twinkle in her eye. If her fingers lingered over her lover’s neck and upper chest a few moments longer than was strictly proper no one appeared to notice. Andréa’s answering smile was reward enough. She bundled Andy into her parka, zipped it up and she and Barbara refastened the shoulder immobilizer. As a final touch, Miranda had brought a knit Kangol beret to keep the shorn part of her skull warm. To everyone’s amusement, Andy demurred and opted to wear her Northwestern Lacrosse ball cap instead. It was but a moment’s work to pad her stitches and pull her ponytail through the back of the cap and her head was covered.

Andy’s father cleared his throat and asked, “Do you think you’ll be finished with dinner and back here in time for us to see you again tonight?”

Andy hesitated. “I… I’m not sure what the plans are, Dad. I could call you later…”

Miranda never did know what prompted her to cut in. “If you don’t have plans for the afternoon, why don’t you join us? And we’d be delighted to have you join us for dinner of course.”

The initial look of surprise on Richard’s face was quickly replaced with one of gratitude. “You’re sure it won’t bother your daughters? These tryouts are important and we wouldn’t want to make them nervous or anything.”

Miranda’s laughter swirled lyrically with Andy’s. “I assure you, Richard, being shy around strangers is something my daughters have never been accused of. Please join us.”

Richard and Barbara’s smiles soothed any remaining qualms Miranda may have had and the group headed downstairs for the cars. On the way, Miranda suggested to Doug that he call Lily and invite her for dinner as well. He whipped out his cell phone and extended the invitation before the elevator arrived to take them to the ground floor. Lily eagerly agreed and got directions to the townhouse.

It took a couple of moments to sort out the car arrangements but in short order their small convoy pulled out of the hospital loading dock and headed for Central Park. Miranda kept watching Andréa for any signs of post-traumatic stress, but she seemed only excited to watch the twins as they pulled into the 97th Street Traverse and turned right to the North Meadow fields.

Miranda was relieved to see that Dalton had taken some security measures because of Wednesday’s events. Several mounted Park Police were visible immediately around the lacrosse field and a half dozen uniformed security guards patrolled the parking areas. The Priestly security contingent piled out of their SUVs and spread out as Miranda, Andy, Doug, Richard and Barbara climbed out and headed for the practice field. As they emerged from the cars, a largish group of paparazzi began snapping pictures and shouting questions from where the police had them barricaded across the street. This time, Andy’s parents took their cue from Miranda and ignored the shouting and lights from cameras.

As they approached the field, Andy searched the field until she found the twins and pointed them out to her mother. The moment she did, the girls caught sight of their rooting section and began grinning and waving wildly. Their Whitehall guards had pulled a bench up close to the edge of the field for Andy to sit on. Cara was already there and rose as the others arrived. Richard and Doug made sure the women were seated then took up flanking positions behind the bench as the players spread out on the field and began their warm-ups.

As soon as the preliminary calisthenics had begun, several of the Dalton parents came over to their bench and introduced themselves, expressing their relief that Caroline and Cassidy seemed unharmed from the ordeal and that Andy appeared on the mend as well. Everyone who gathered around had been deeply frightened by the events and Andy’s presence seemed to help ease their fears. One of the parents informed Miranda that Dalton had taken the precaution of having security present at all extracurricular activities for the remainder of the school year. The parents supported the decision, but despaired of the necessity for it. Miranda explained as much as she could that it appeared the kidnapping was an isolated incident and would most likely not be repeated. That too appeared to calm the uneasy parents.

Andy cleared her throat loudly and remarked loudly that practice was beginning. Her pointed comment caused most of the people standing around them to laugh. ‘She’s a coach all right!’ was the general consensus as the group expressed final congratulations on the safe recovery of Caroline and Andy’s safety and broke up to watch practice. Caroline and Cassidy waved enthusiastically again as they jogged past the bench which caused Andy to grumble to no one in particular.

“They should be focused on practice, not us!”

Miranda looked at her in amusement and Barbara leaned across her daughter to comment, “She’s always taken sports very seriously.”

“I’ll be sure to remember that,” replied Miranda with a smile.

Practice continued and halfway through Andy had enough of inactivity. She rose and taking her father and Doug with her moved to the sidelines where she had a better view of the drills the team was working on. Barbara was surprised when Miranda asked her a question about what was going on and she answered as a veteran of years of after-school lacrosse practices. They discussed the game in general and Barbara had to smile when Miranda asked her the most common question of every sports mother.

“Do you every get over being terrified they’ll get hurt?”

“Nope. You’re going to have to learn to deal with it. Because it doesn’t get any easier. I nearly had a heart attack during the national championship game when Andy took a charge from a Virginia defenseman and it knocked her back six feet. She jumped back up and blood was dripping off her chin. She’d caught the basket right in the face and split her lip wide open. She never missed a step, just kept spitting the blood out up and down the field.”

Miranda gave her a wry smile. “So I can expect her to be sympathetic if one of the girls gets hurt?”

“Not a chance. You’re on your own, Miranda. Andy will tell them to suck it up.”

“I was afraid of that.” Even Cara laughed at her resigned tone.

Chapter Text

Practice ended with the usual team meeting, but this one was extremely short. The coaches and selectors thanked everyone for trying out and announced that the team selections would be posted the following Monday at noon outside the athletics offices. After that all-important announcement, they dismissed the players. Caroline and Cassidy quickly jogged over to the bench where Team Priestly had assembled. Their initial exuberance was tempered when Andy introduced them to her parents, but Miranda’s lessons on good manners paid off and they were polite, if reserved, to the Sachses. Miranda, Andy and Doug got enthusiastic hugs, and the twins began describing their practice even before Miranda and Cara could urge them into their jackets, mittens and knit caps.

As the bundling up was getting underway at the opposite end of the bench, Jen Ramsay came over to check on how Andy was doing. Andy introduced her parents and told them of Jen’s actions during Wednesday’s excitement. Both of them thanked her for her quick attention to Andy’s wounds. She waved their thanks off saying she was just glad Andy was all right. Andy told her folks that the two of them had played against each other in the championship match two years ago.

Barbara simply could not help herself. “Do you remember which of your wings charged Andy and high-sticked her in the face? Her mouth bled for almost the whole second half.”

“Mom!” Andy protested.

Jen grinned sheepishly. “Errr…that would be me.” Mr. Sachs threw his head back and roared with laughter. “For what it’s worth, it was an accident and I apologized for it after the game. Does this mean Andy and I can’t be friends?”

Barbara sighed. “Well, I suppose helping her on Wednesday makes up for it. But I’d appreciate it if you two would play nicely together from now on. So far, every time you’ve met there’s been bloodshed,” she chuckled.

Jen and Andy talked for a few moments longer and then Jen made a quiet comment that she would probably see Andy at practice sometime soon. With a nod in the twins’ direction and a wink, she left.

Both girls were very impressed with Miranda’s ‘lacrosse mom’ tote and eagerly took cups of the still-piping hot cocoa as gear- and school-bags were checked, packed and hauled to the waiting vehicles. Andy and Doug rode with Richard and Barbara leaving Miranda, the twins and Cara to ride with Roy back to the townhouse. On the way, Cassidy hesitantly brought up the subject of Andy’s parents.

“So, is Andy going back to the hospital now?”

“No, darling, she and Douglas are having dinner with us just like we planned. In fact, I had Douglas invite Lily to join us.”

“But won’t Andy and Doug have to take Andy’s folks back to their hotel?”

“No, I invited Mr. and Mrs. Sachs to join us too.”

“Oh.” The disappointed tone of that simple word spoke volumes. “But I thought…”

“Thought what, darling?”

“Well, you were pretty mad at them yesterday when they talked to the reporters.”

“Yes, I was. And so was Andréa. But we discussed it and it will not happen again. So, we move on.” Miranda regarded the slightly disappointed expressions on her daughters’ faces and decided the situation needed to be clarified before the evening went any further.

“Cassidy, Caroline, look at me.” The girls looked up expectantly. “Do you love me?”

“Of course we do!” “Well, duh!”

Miranda smiled at their emphatic response. “Because I’m your mother, right?”

They nodded in unison.

“Well, those are Andréa’s parents and she loves them just as much as you love me. So if Andréa is going to be part of our lives from now on, her parents will have to be as well or Andréa will be sad. And we don’t want that, do we?” Violently shaken heads confirmed her statement. “So, we will be as welcoming as we can be to them, all right?” Again, the unison nods.

“Will they be staying at our house too?” asked Caroline cautiously.

Miranda’s lips quirked slightly. “Not that welcoming, darling,” she said tartly.

* * * * *

Back at the townhouse, Cara urged the girls upstairs to shower and change while everyone else adjourned to the sitting room. They had just gotten Andy out of her parka and settled back in her immobilizer when the housekeeper brought in a tray of tea and hors d’oeuvres. Doug got Andy a plate and cup of tea while Miranda saw to Richard and Barbara. Cara came in a few minutes later to inform Miranda that the twins were out of the shower, getting dressed and would be down shortly. She wished everyone a good evening and left for the day.

When Patricia wandered in shortly after Cara’s departure, everyone knew the twins would not be far behind. Richard gave the huge dog a great behind-the-ears scratch for saving Andy and, well, because he was a dog person. Patricia showed her approval of this attention by sitting at his feet and gradually collapsing against his legs until he was in serious danger of having the blood supply to his feet cut off by her bulk. But, because he was a dog person, this in no way hampered the continued ear scratching that was immobilizing the St. Bernard.

Cassidy and Caroline arrived and immediately began a rehash of their final tryout. To their surprise, Barbara Sachs understood what they were talking about almost as well as Andy did. When she informed them that she was a veteran of years of lacrosse practices and games they looked at Miranda eagerly.

“Will you be coming to all our practices, Mom?”

“Probably not all your practices, Cassidy. However, I will make every effort to attend all of your games. Until we get used to incorporating your sports and music schedules that might be the best I can do. Next year will be easier for all of us I expect.”

“All our games? You’ll come to all our games?”

“Darling, I said I would make every effort to attend all of your games. But anything can happen. I can’t promise I’ll make it to all of them. What I will promise is that I will reassign everything I possibly can at work so that I can watch your games. Until we know your schedules, will that suffice?”

The stereo hugs she received from the twins seemed to answer her question. Andy just smiled and reflected on how much Miranda had changed from the Dragon Lady of Runway she’d worked for. That Miranda would have promised the twins anything and then tasked those promises out to her staff. This Miranda was wise enough to promise only that she would try to change for her daughters. And that was promising a lot.

Lily arrived shortly and demanded to know how final tryouts had gone so the twins had another captive audience for their recaps. As they launched into their stories, Miranda checked her cell phone and excused herself to her home office to return phone calls from Runway. When the twins finished telling everyone about their final practice, Doug demanded to know how they planned to entertain him while their mother was in London. The girls then dragged everyone into the media room and dove into the cabinet under the huge plasma TV. When they emerged, they held four remotes for their Wii system.

Andy’s parents had never seen a Wii in action before, so the girls powered up the system and demonstrated some of the games. Fifteen minutes later, Doug and Lily were refereeing a hotly contested bowling match between the twins and Andy’s parents. Her parents bowled in a weekly league and Barbara Sachs, enthralled with a video game system that was sensitive enough to pick up on her natural hook, looked as though she’d roll at least her average in the digital match. The twins, for their part, were amazed that adults older than college age had any of the skills necessary to play their game system, let alone the competitive nature to give them a good match.

As the bowlers trash-talked each other, Andy slipped away and let herself into the home office, quietly shutting the door behind her. Miranda looked up as she eased in the door and to Andy’s amazement, quickly ended her call telling Emily that she was perfectly capable of dealing with the crisis in Accessories, to just handle it and that she would talk to her later.

“Are you all right, Andréa?”

“I’m fine. I wanted to have a little alone time; just the two of us. I’m sure everyone will miss us soon so it won’t be long, but I’ll take what I can get.”

Miranda smiled as she came out from behind the desk and pulled Andy down next to her on an overstuffed love seat. She looked deeply into Andy’s eyes with a worried look on her face.

“You’re not wearing yourself out, are you? The doctors said you shouldn’t push yourself too hard for a couple of weeks. You’ve had a major shock to your system and you need to rest to get your strength back.”

Andy silenced her with a soft kiss. “I’m fine, Miranda. I’m going to get tired out for a while, but I’ll never get stronger if I don’t get out and push myself a little bit. Stop worrying about me. I’m fine now. Better than fine; I’ve got you and the girls taking care of me. Well, at least tomorrow you will be.” She wrapped her good arm around Miranda’s shoulders and pulled her close. To her delight, she felt the older woman sigh deeply and relax against her as her head lolled back on Andy’s arm.

“I haven’t done anything and I feel like I’ve run a marathon.”

“Miranda, you’ve taken care of your daughters, you spent an entire night at the hospital with me and you’ve been coordinating everything at your office and your home and the hospital and dealing with the media fallout since then. Believe me you’ve done a lot. I’m surprised you haven’t collapsed by now.”

“Me? The career-obsessed dictator of Runway? Never. But I probably will sleep well tonight. Attempting to sleep with two almost-eleven-year-olds is not the most relaxing thing in the world. Honestly, they’re just as wild in their sleep as they are awake. They toss and turn and thrash and flop around like two fish. They pummel me; I swear they’re leaving bruises.”

“The twins have been sleeping with you? Since…Wednesday?”

“Yes. I thought it would help them not be so frightened. Right now, I’m beginning to regret my initial impulse. I think Cassidy kicked me deliberately last night.”

Andy just grinned at her. “That’s part of the job description, Mom. If it’s any consolation, when we finally get to that point, I don’t flop around in my sleep or pummel my bedmate. Snore and drool a little, yes; but flop around and pummel, never.”

Miranda’s eyebrow nearly reached her hairline. “Snore and drool? My, you are talented. I can hardly wait.” Gently running her fingers through Andréa’s hair, she looked at the line of sutures and winced internally. “Before I forget, have the doctors said anything more about when you’ll be discharged tomorrow?”

“Yeah, they said probably late morning.”

“Good. I called Isaac. He’ll keep tomorrow afternoon flexible. As soon as we get you checked out of the hospital I’ll take you to the salon and he’ll cut your hair. Have you given any thought as to how you’d like it?”

“Isaac and I can decide that tomorrow. I don’t want to waste what little private time we have tonight talking about my haircut or how tired I am.” Pulling Miranda’s face close she murmured, “I have more important things on my mind…”

Any reply Miranda might have thought to make was lost in the lingering kiss that followed. Most rational thought was lost in the lingering kiss that followed. All Miranda could do was slide her arms around Andréa’s neck and hang on for the ride. It quickly became apparent that Andréa was a naturally talented kisser and Miranda was reaping the benefits of that talent.

When they finally broke to breathe, Andy began to press butterfly-soft kisses along Miranda’s jaw line, finally placing a tender kiss on that wonderfully delicate spot just below the ear. Miranda’s sharp intake of breath told Andy volumes about the sensitivity of that place as she nuzzled Miranda’s neck. Miranda tightened her arms and pressed hard against Andy as their lips came together again and she felt Andréa’s tongue gently seek access. But instead of a heated sigh or the murmur of an aroused lover, Andy let out a gasp of pain and Miranda drew back in horror.

“Oh my God! I hurt you! We can’t…we mustn’t…I knew we shouldn’t have…”

Andy saw the panic rising and moved quickly to quell it. She pulled Miranda back close and then looked deeply into her eyes.

“Shhh….it’s all right. I just moved the wrong way. You didn’t do anything. Relax sweetheart, please? I love to feel you close to me. I’ve wanted to hold you for so long now and never realized it. It wasn’t until I felt how warm and soft you are against me that I realized what’s been missing in my life up to now. You’ve been missing from my life, Miranda. You. You can’t hurt me. So please, don’t pull away from me.”

“But your arm…your shoulder. What if there’s damage and you can never use your arm again? How could I live with myself…”

“Oh, honey, I’m tougher than that, believe me. And this whole immobilizer thing is just a huge precaution on the part of the hospital. The surgeon told me this morning that normally with a wound of this kind they’d send you home in a standard sling and tell you to be careful for a week or two, then clear you to return to work. I’m not as fragile as you think. I won’t break. So stay right here and kiss me again. Your kisses are better than any drugs they have at the hospital. Hell, you’ve probably taken a couple of days off my recovery time just in the past ten minutes. Want to try for a week?” Andy waggled her eyebrows suggestively and Miranda could not contain a burst of laughter.

“You are incorrigible!”

“Yeah, but I’m cute.”

“Well, there is that...” Miranda touched Andréa’s cheek lightly and then closed the distance between them. The kiss began softly but quickly deepened and Andy tightened her arm, pulling Miranda firmly against her. A gentle touch of her tongue on Miranda’s lower lip begged entrance and the nearly inaudible moan in the silver-haired woman’s throat granted it. Andy drank in the softness of Miranda’s lips and the sweetness of her kiss with a thirst she’d never before felt. Miranda, for her part was dazed that she could be so swept away in a kiss. No one in her life had ever moved her so deeply.

Andy could have happily continued for the next century or so, but they were interrupted by a quiet knock on the door. Exchanging a rueful look with her lover, Miranda straightened up but didn’t pull out of the circle of Andy’s arm as she said, “Come in.”

The door opened and Doug stuck his head in with a grin. “Mrs. Wegmann says dinner in five minutes. And I think we’ve created a monster; I’m not sure if we’ll ever get that Wii remote away from your mom, Andy. Miranda, what’s the policy on game controllers at the dinner table?”

“Tell Barbara I’m sorry, but house rules clearly state that all remotes stay in the media room. I can arrange to cut the power to that room if you think it will help, Douglas.”

He laughed and waved her off as he pulled back out the door and shut it behind him. Miranda smiled at Andy, pecked her on the lips and then stood, pulling the taller woman up with her. Reaching up to brush the bangs off Andy’s forehead she whispered “I’m so glad you’re all right. I’m so glad you’re here with us…with me.”

Andy kissed her one last time and replied, “So am I. And I’m not going anywhere for a very, very long time.”

Holding hands, they walked out of the office together.

* * * * *

Dinner was memorable on several levels. Not only had Mrs. Wegmann outdone herself with the roast pork, but also had apparently done some research with Doug and presented Andy’s all-time favorite dessert, pineapple upside-down cake. The conversation flowed easily over a variety of topics ranging from rumors of an exhibition of the original artwork from the Harry Potter books to the NCAA women’s lacrosse rankings, the recent announcement that the smash musical hit Mamma Mia! would be made into a motion picture starring Meryl Streep and a bowling rematch demand from Richard and Barbara. The twins had pulled out a narrow victory in the final frame and they sought the chance to restore the honor of their bowling league. Mr. Sachs questioned the girls about other Wii games they owned, and they gleefully described the fundamentals of Mario Kart Wii and informed him that Miranda was the reigning house champion. Doug laughed so hard at this news that Lily had to pound him on the back to get him breathing again and Miranda responded with twinkling eyes and a tart lecture on the benefits ‘of always trying your best, Douglas.’

Too soon it was time for the Sachses and Lily to take Andy back to the hospital. They got Andy bundled into her parka and immobilizer and she hugged the twins as hard as she could at the door. They were already excited at the prospects of the next day.

“We’ll come to the hospital early tomorrow to bring you home. Mom already said we could. Do you want us to bring you breakfast?”

Andy looked at Miranda for confirmation. “Darlings, I rather thought we might go out for brunch after we pick Andréa up. That might be easier since we don’t know when she’ll be discharged. But we’ll certainly bring coffee and cocoa for anyone who wants it.”

Cassidy looked at her mother with the eye of a natural-born negotiator. “Where were you thinking of brunch?”

Miranda smiled as she replied “The Central Park Boathouse?”

The twins yelped with approval and Richard asked, “They serve brunch in a boathouse in the park?”

“Yes, the Loeb Boathouse. It also houses a restaurant overlooking the lake. Their weekend brunch is very popular. The twins are particularly fond of their cottage cheese pancakes. If you don’t have any objections, I’ll make a reservation.”

“That sounds good. The doctors make rounds by 8:00 am. The nurses told me that Andy should be discharged by 10:00 am. Why don’t we meet there around 9:30? Will you girls be able to hold out that long for your pancakes?”

“We can grab some toast here before we leave,” supplied Caroline. “9:30 is fine for us.”

“Thank you, darling. Will you be organizing the transportation as well?” Miranda’s wry smile made Caroline blush furiously. “9:30 is fine, Richard. How do you and Barbara take your coffee?”

As the others filed out to the waiting car, Andy pulled Miranda behind the door for a quick kiss.

“Tomorrow can’t come soon enough.”

* * * * *

The next morning, Andy’s discharge went like clockwork. Miranda, Doug and the girls arrived at 9:20 am with trays of Starbucks for everyone and by 10:15 am they had Andy, her clothes and discharge supplies loaded in an SUV and everyone headed for the park.

Miranda’s name got them a large table by the windows overlooking the pond. Since the trees in the park were still bare of leaves, the top of the Bethesda Fountain could be seen to the southwest and to the twins’ delight, a flock of northbound Canadian geese had taken up residence on the pond that morning. Their meal was delicious and everyone returned to the townhouse pleasantly stuffed.

Caroline and Cassidy hauled Andy’s bags upstairs to her room and helped her unpack and settle in while Doug, Miranda and the Sachses chatted downstairs. Miranda took a call from her office, which confirmed first that several more tops of various styles had been altered to accommodate Andy’s immobilizer and would be dropped by the townhouse that afternoon and second, that a home nurse would arrive at 7:00am every morning for at least the next week to help Andy shower and dress. Miranda figured that she and the girls could get Andréa into pajamas in the evenings, but a professional would be needed to help her in the shower and getting dressed in the mornings. They’d give it a week and see how things went. If necessary, Miranda was prepared to keep the aide coming until Andy was released from medical care in six weeks.

Andy still maintained that she could take care of herself, but to her surprise, both her parents and Miranda insisted that professional help was needed for a while at least.

“Honey, the risk of losing function in your arm is just too great. What would happen if you slipped, even a little, getting into or out of the shower? You only have one arm to try and catch yourself. If you fell and landed on that shoulder you might never recover. No, having a nurse come in to help you is the smart thing to do. At least for a while.” Her father’s reasonable tone and logic reduced Andy to muttering to herself, but she stopped complaining out loud at least.

Miranda called Isaac and verified a 4:00 pm appointment for the haircut. She was frankly glad that the appointment was later in the afternoon because Andréa looked pale and exhausted after just their brief outing to eat. Miranda suspected that her furlough from the hospital Friday for tryouts and dinner had sapped her limited strength far more than she was willing to let on. Perhaps she could be persuaded to take a nap before leaving for her haircut. Miranda contemplated getting the twins to help her coerce the stubborn young woman into resting.

Caroline and Cassidy had, for their parts, decided that they were Andy’s official guardians and had steadfastly refused to get farther than ten feet from her all morning. Even now as everyone chatted in the living room, the twins flanked Andy on the sofa; Caroline snuggled against Andy’s right side with Andy’s good arm around her shoulders and Cassidy on her left, legs draped over Andy’s lap. Doug and Richard had each made smiling comments about the personal service Andy was getting; any time her coffee cup got less than half-full one of the twins promptly took it to the kitchen for a fresh one.

Miranda succeeded in getting the twins to help her talk Andy into a nap. It didn’t take too much convincing and Miranda realized that everyone would have to adjust his or her ideas on Andréa’s strength. It was becoming evident to her at least that the wound and resulting surgery had taken a great deal out of the young woman and that she would have to go slowly for a while yet. Miranda made a note to have her second assistant keep the nursing agency’s number close at hand and if Douglas indicated that Andréa required more assistance to organize it immediately.

What Andréa had steadfastly refused to do was go up to her room to nap. While Doug, her parents and the twins watched a TV special recapping the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Miranda worked in her home office clearing up her email and messages with Andréa napping blissfully on the sofa across the room. Miranda lost count of the number of times she looked up from her work just to watch the beautiful young woman sleep. It came as a continued surprise that each time she did, her breath caught in joy at the sight.

The twins tried to seem casual when they checked on Andy a couple of times and failed utterly. Subtlety is not something almost-eleven-year-olds do well, if at all. At least they didn’t wake Andy when they stuck their heads in the office doorway to see if she was still asleep. Miranda finally convinced them to leave them both alone for at least another hour with the promise that they could watch the DVD of A Good Year that evening after dinner. It was rated PG-13 but Douglas had seen it at the theatre and thought it would be appropriate for the twins. The combination of their Saturday night pizza and a heretofore forbidden movie did the trick and Miranda was able to finish her call sheets and email while Andréa managed a two-hour nap.

Isaac cringed when he saw the line of sutures in Andy’s scalp, but worked his usual magic and an hour after they’d walked into the salon she emerged from under his shears with a short, disheveled-looking style that would be easily maintained and fill in fairly quickly once the stitches came out. Miranda nodded in approval and Andy was delighted with the result although she did complain that the back of her neck was cold. Miranda took care of that with the cashmere scarf Nigel had sent and a rather lingering kiss in the facial alcove. Both of them thought it an excellent solution to the problem.

 

Chapter Text

Doug left to return to his place after dinner and the Sachses for their hotel not long after. Miranda, Andy and the twins settled in the media room for their movie with a full complement of popcorn and drinks. Despite her two-hour nap that afternoon, Andy fell asleep with her head in Miranda’s lap fifteen minutes into the movie. Miranda and the twins had to wake her to help her upstairs to bed.

Andy managed to wash her face, brush her teeth and don the flannel boxer shorts she customarily slept in. Using a series of directional tugs and a severely bent neck, they managed to pull her henley over her injured shoulder. The twins informed Miranda that they thought Andy’s sleeping attire was awesome and that they, too, should be allowed to sleep in boxers and tees. Miranda informed the twins that when they were out on their own they were welcome to sleep in whatever ratty thing they chose, but until that time, their pajamas would suffice. Moreover, it was time to get into them. Now.

Andy summoned all her self-control and kept a neutral expression on her face during the exchange but as soon as the twins walked glumly toward their rooms, she broke out in giggles.

“I’m sorry, Miranda. I never thought my pj’s would cause a problem.”

“They are very fond of you, Andréa. Of course they’re going to want to do everything you do. But it’s been driven home to me these past few days that they’re growing up far too quickly for my taste. I know most children their age wear what you do to sleep, but I want them to stay my little girls for just a while longer. ” Andy doubted seriously that anyone had ever seen that particular wistful look on Miranda Priestly’s face before.

“Then maybe tomorrow I’ll have my folks take me somewhere I can get some regular pajamas. I don’t want to be a cause for you and the twins to argue.”

Miranda laughed. “You haven’t been around children very much, have you? Every day is a series of confrontations like that. You’d better get used to it. They’ll push you every chance they can. You and Douglas had better be prepared to deal with them while I’m in London.”

“Don’t worry. My mom has already said she’ll be calling nightly to give me the list of standard parenting lines. ‘Is your homework finished?’ ‘Make sure you brush your teeth.’ ‘Sit up straight.’ ‘Eat your veggies.’ ‘Elbows off the table.’ ‘No, you can’t stay up late; it’s a school night.’ I think she’s channeling Grandma. And I’m pretty sure my dad took Doug aside to give him some instruction on how the dads should behave. Stern visage, united front and all that. Don’t worry, we won’t scar your daughters too badly while you’re away.” The grin that accompanied the declaration made Miranda chuckle.

“I’ll leave a list of the house rules for you before I leave. That will give you the basics at least. Are you comfortable? Shall I bring some extra pillows to prop your arm on?”

Andy agreed that a couple of more pillows would make things easier and Miranda fetched them from the linen closet. When she was settled comfortably in bed with a book nearby, Miranda sat on the edge of the bed beside her. She ran her fingers through the short haircut Andy now sported.

“I really do like your hair. I wasn’t sure I would, but Isaac did a good job. It suits you.”

“I like it too. I’ll be out of the bathroom twenty minutes sooner every morning. Think of all the extra sleep I’ll get. And I suppose eventually I’ll get used to the back of my neck being cold.”

“Aren’t you glad that Nigel put that cashmere scarf in the bag for you? Before I forget, if you need any more shirts or tops altered or if you need a particular top while I’m gone just call my office and tell Christina what you require. The fashion department knows how to alter them for you.”

“I’ll be fine, Miranda. You don’t have to fuss.”

The normally cool blue eyes glowed with unusual warmth as their owner leaned in very close. “What if I want to fuss?”

“Then that makes me the luckiest woman in Manhattan,” breathed Andy against the soft lips.

“Only Manhattan?”

“In the entire known universe?”

“Acceptable…” Their kiss began softly and would have deepened considerably had not the twins bounded into the room to bid them goodnight. Miranda and Andy both sighed heavily, realizing that this would likely become a common occurrence in their lives. Miranda rose and allowed the girls to climb onto Andy’s bed to hug and kiss her goodnight. She then softly kissed Andy one more time, wished her goodnight and left to tuck the twins in bed. They were too old to want her to do this usually, but she felt the need given the events of the past week and the girls weren’t objecting.

When everyone was settled Miranda went downstairs to go through The Book and some layouts that had been dropped off earlier. Settling behind her desk, she slipped on her reading glasses and went to work. A half-hour later there was a quiet knock at the door and Andy came in. She didn’t say anything, merely stretched out on the sofa and opened her book.

“What are you doing down here?”

“I decided that I’d rather read down here than upstairs in bed.”

“Are you warm enough?”

“I’m fine. I just wanted to be near you. Go back to work.”

Miranda did as Andy delved deeper into her book. The comfortable quiet enveloped both women in a peaceful contentment and time passed quickly. When Miranda finally closed The Book and took off her reading glasses, Andy shut her novel as well and swung her legs off the couch.

“All finished?”

“For tonight, at any rate. Shall we head back upstairs?”

As Miranda was about to turn out the light, the thunder of pre-teen footsteps descending the stairs in haste was heard.

“Hmmm, the barbarian hordes approach.” Miranda loved her daughters dearly, but they could be a trial with very little effort. Andy just laughed at her comment.

“Mom! Andy’s not in her bed! Is she okay? Mom? Mom?” There was an edge of panic in Caroline’s voice.

“We’re in the study girls. Calm down, darling.” The twins burst into the room in a rush.

“Where did you go? I went to your room to check on you and you were gone! Are you okay? I thought maybe you got hurt again and had to go back to the hospital.” Caroline was worked up and her eyes were wide with anxiety. Cassidy hovered near, knowing her sister was far more fragile than she would ever admit.

Andy wrapped the upset child in a hug and kissed the top of her head. “I’m fine, sweetie. I was reading and I decided I’d rather read down here with your Mom than upstairs in bed. That’s all. No drama; nothing’s wrong. You need to relax, honey.”

“See. I told you she was okay.” Cassidy was worried about her sister, but that didn’t stop her from being irritated at having been yanked out of a sound sleep by a panicked Caroline.

“Honey, they wouldn’t have let me come home from the hospital if I wasn’t fine. Why were you checking on me?” Caroline just buried her face in Andy’s comforting warmth and mumbled. “What, sweetie? Tell me.”

“I was afraid you were leaving. Mom’s got to go away and I was scared you were going too,”

Andy had the good sense to realize this had nothing to do with Miranda going to London and everything to do with feeling safe and secure. She wrapped her arm around the child and pulled her as close as possible.

“I’m not going anywhere. And you know if there was any way to get out of it, your mom wouldn’t be going to London. So what do you say we all go back upstairs and go back to bed? That’s where your mom and I were headed when you two came down.”

“You were?”

Andy yawned impressively and nodded. Miranda just smiled and ushered everyone out of the study and in the direction of the stairwell. In the upstairs hallway, Andy hesitated a moment thinking and then asked the twins if they would like to sleep with her. Caroline brightened noticeably and Cassidy realized it would probably be a good idea to go along.

Miranda got Andy settled on the supporting pillows before she let the girls climb in with her. When everyone was comfortable she cautioned the twins about being careful of Andy’s shoulder, kissed everyone goodnight and headed for her own room. Forty minutes later sleep still eluded her and she sighed in resignation. Grabbing a pillow, she rose and padded down the hall to Andréa’s room to join the slumber party.

Breakfast the next morning was a cheerful event on several levels. The home nurse had arrived promptly at 7:00 am and had helped Andy shower and dress. Being able to wash her hair thoroughly and scrub off the antiseptic smells of the hospital did Andy a world of good and she arrived at the breakfast table buoyant and grinning. Miranda, surprisingly, had slept well in their ‘pile’, as Andréa had phrased it, and both twins were in good humor as well.

The Sachses called shortly after breakfast and were invited over to discuss a downtown shopping expedition. It was quickly decided to make it a full afternoon and dinner out for the Sachses’ last night in town. When they took Andy and the twins in search of pajamas, it freed Miranda to go into the office to catch up on the mountain of tasks that loomed before her departure for London at the end of the week. Miranda arrived at her office by noon as Andy, her parents and the twins started their explorations with a visit to Rockefeller Center just down the street.

To Andy’s pleased surprise, the twins didn’t behave like the jaded, upper east side children of privilege they were. Both Cassidy and Caroline seemed eager to do some touristy sightseeing with Andy and her folks and appeared to be enjoying themselves as much as Andy’s father. Her mother was more restrained in her enthusiasm, but still and all, it was a fun afternoon. They were more than successful in their shopping quest to find Andy some new pajamas; she just hoped Miranda wouldn’t kill her when she saw what else they’d found.

By 5:30 pm everyone was starting to get hungry and Andy was feeling tired, even though they had stopped frequently during their afternoon to let her rest for a bit. They found a convenient Starbucks and over some peppermint hot cocoas began to debate where Andy’s folks would take everyone to dinner. The twins put their heads together and offered several suggestions they thought Andy’s parents might enjoy. To Andy’s amazement, their second offering got her mother’s immediate approval. Consensus was not far behind and Andy placed a call to Miranda’s office with the news that they’d be dining at the Stage Deli that evening.

Somebody must have overheard their conversation, put two and two together and tipped off the paparazzi, because photographers were waiting for them when they arrived at the restaurant. Their security escorts made short work of hustling everyone inside, away from the flashes and shouted questions and the restaurant staff got them seated very quickly. There was another small uproar when Miranda arrived several minutes later, but everyone was soon settled and deciding what to order.

It wasn’t long before Richard was making noises about eating an entire “Mel Brooks” sandwich himself and nonchalantly challenging the twins to do the same. Miranda was on the verge of telling them ‘absolutely not’ when it occurred to her that the challenge was something a grandfather might do. She was estranged from her family and the twins’ father Geoff was an only child. His mother was elderly and his father had passed away before the twins were born, so her daughters had never been exposed to an active and jovial grandparent or much of an extended family for that matter. She very wisely kept her mouth shut and was rewarded by a warm smile from Andréa who leaned close to murmur in her ear.

“They can take what they don’t eat for lunch tomorrow. And don’t worry; Dad won’t let them eat themselves sick. Mom would murder him if he did.”

The eating contest was lively and short-lived. Just as Andy had predicted, Richard called off the challenge when it became obvious that the girls were fading fast. The group split a couple of pieces of cheesecake between them and after Richard paid the check, said their goodnights and headed for their respective vehicles.

On the ride back to the townhouse, the twins chattered about their afternoon of sightseeing and shopping to a smiling Miranda who kept sneaking glances to the largish pile of shopping bags in the rear of the SUV. Somehow, she suspected, there was more to their shopping than merely the simple purchase of pajamas for Andréa. Something she would have to get to the bottom of when they got home.

When everyone had piled out of the SUV, Andy supervised the twins carrying shopping bags upstairs and into her room. Homework for the next day was checked over by Miranda and Andy and once it was declared complete the twins received permission to watch Finding Nemo with Andy before going to bed. They decided to watch the movie in their pj’s and the three of them headed back upstairs to get ready for bed as Miranda retired to the den to work for a while longer. She was dimly aware of hearing the TV go on a short time later.

After an hour Miranda decided that a cup of tea would be good and headed to the kitchen to make one. She glanced into the media room as she walked past and continued for three or four more steps before what she had seen there registered. She quickly retraced her steps and stood in the doorway, open-mouthed and staring.

Caroline, Cassidy and Andréa were all seated on the couch with their feet on an oversized ottoman, Patricia on the floor in front of them. All three were wearing boxers, long-sleeved t-shirts and fuzzy animal slippers.

Andrea was resplendent in a navy t-shirt, tomato-themed boxers and penguin slippers. 

Caroline had opted for a red t-shirt with lobster boxers and tiger slippers. 

And Cassidy had chosen a more traditional look with a white tee, red boxers with baby blue polka dots and pink flamingo slippers.  

The four of them looked at each other for several long moments; Andy and the twins grinning from ear to ear and a stunned Miranda, speechless in the doorway. Finally, she summoned one of her fiercest glares and addressed them stone-faced.

“You are all grounded until you’re thirty-five.”

She pivoted and continued on her way to the kitchen with their peals of laughter pushing her along. Miranda managed to fill the kettle and get it on the stove before she dissolved in helpless laughter herself. My God, those slippers! And where on earth did Andréa find tomato boxers?

Several minutes later, carrying a small tray with her pot of tea and cup, she paused again in the doorway of the media room, took another long look and, shaking her head, returned to the den and her waiting work.

* * * * *

Miranda closed down her laptop and went upstairs with Andréa and the twins. The adults got both girls settled in their beds and then Miranda helped their resident invalid to settle herself. When Andréa was comfortable, she sat on the edge of the bed and assumed her most Miranda-ish expression.

“I’m not sure who’s worse; you or my daughters. The boxers are outrageous and those slippers! Where in the name of God did you find those?”

“Oh come on, Miranda, they’re adorable and you know it. Just because Donna Karan didn’t design them doesn’t mean they aren’t cute.” Andy chuckled, knowing full well Miranda had laughed ‘til tears rolled down her face out in the kitchen. “We found the slippers in a small shop just off Fifth Avenue. In fact, the slippers are what gave us the idea. Once we had those, we hit J.Crew and got the boxers and tees. And just in case you’re thinking I was totally ignoring you, I bought a pair of pajamas there too.”

Miranda smiled and shook her head. “They’re going to use you to get around me every time they want to do something from now on, I just know it.”

“I promise to discuss everything with you before we pull another one like this. I don’t want them to use me to get around you. You and I are in this together. They’re just going to have to learn to deal with it.”

“Thank you. I was hoping you’d feel that way. Now, you had a very long day and I can see the fatigue in your eyes. Do you need some more pain meds before you go to sleep?”

Andy looked sheepish for a moment before she answered. “Yeah, I hate to admit it, but I’m hurting tonight. I overdid it this afternoon. But it was worth it. Mom and Dad and the girls all had a great time.”

Miranda brought her a pain pill and a glass of water from the bathroom. Andy took it gratefully and then settled back against the pillows with a sigh. “God, it feels good to lie down. I was afraid I was going to fall asleep during the movie again.”

Miranda’s cool fingers gently stroked her cheek. “That would have been fine if you did. We would have gotten you to bed when it was finished. You need to take better care of yourself. Or let us do so.”

“You’re taking marvelous care of me. The twins too. They were so funny this afternoon. Caroline insisted on lugging most of the shopping bags because she was afraid I’d hurt myself trying to lift some of them. We’re scheduled for counseling on Wednesday, right? That will be good for her.”

“Yes, Wednesday after the girls get out of school. I hope you don’t mind that I scheduled you to talk with a counselor as well. You suffered as much trauma as the girls did, perhaps more.”

“I don’t mind at all. I still can’t really remember everything that happened, but I’ve been having some flashback dreams. I need to talk it out with someone. It’ll be good for me too.” She yawned and blinked a few times. “Whoa, that pain pill is kicking in fast. I’m seein’ two of you.”

Miranda leaned forward and kissed Andy deeply. “Then sleep well, darling.”

“Wish you were sleeping in here. I liked it last night, even if the girls were with us.”

“You’ll be fast asleep before I ever get ready for bed.”

“So? I’ll still be here. Come back and sleep with me, please M’randa?”

“All right. I’ll be back in a few minutes. Rest now.”

The warm brown eyes were already closed. “Okay.”

Ten minutes later when Miranda eased into the bedroom, she was surprised to find Andréa still fighting sleep. She slipped into bed beside her and felt the young woman’s arm slip around her and draw her close.

“C’mere you. What’s the point in sleeping with me if you’re gonna stay way over there? You’re sleeping right here where I can feel you next to me.”

Miranda settled herself against Andréa’s uninjured shoulder and wrapped an arm across her abdomen. She pressed a soft kiss to the velvety cheek next to her and snuggled close.

“Good night, Andréa.”

“Mmmm, you smell good.”

“Thank you, darling. Now go to sleep.”

“‘K. G’night, M’randa.”

Neither stirred again until the twins woke them the next morning.

 

Chapter Text

The next morning was hectic as expected. Andy’s aide got her showered and dressed in record time and she was downstairs eating with Miranda and the twins when the Sachses called to thank everyone and say goodbye. Caroline and Cassidy promised to call Cincinnati with news of the team selections that night and Miranda was even gracious in accepting their heartfelt thanks.

When the phone call had ended and the twins dispatched back upstairs to pack their school bags, Miranda finally heaved a sigh of relief. Andy grinned and grabbed her hand.

“Thank you for being so nice to my parents. I know my mother can be a royal pain in the ass, but I promise you they’ll be much less of a problem in the future because of this past weekend. You were terrific and so were the girls. Thank you for everything. And I understand the sigh:  Nobody will be happier than I will when they get on the plane this morning.”

Miranda smiled and sipped her coffee. “What are your plans once you get your parents headed home?”

“Don’t really have any. I’m not cleared to go back to the office until tomorrow and only for a couple of hours a day until they take out the stitches next Monday. So I was planning a long afternoon reading and cleaning up my email.”

“Would your medical clearance extend to joining me for lunch?”

“I’d love to, but it’s not going to look good if somebody gets a cell phone shot of you cutting my meat for me and calls Page Six. Leslie will collapse if there’s another explosion in the blogs.”

“Nonsense. Leslie will deal with whatever the fallout may be. However, I was thinking of a place that may minimize the difficulties. Moreover, I’ll bring Nigel along. How does that sound?”

“That sounds wonderful. Where did you have in mind?”

“Marbella on East 33rd. It’s a tapas restaurant; everything is small portions so it’s mostly finger food or doesn’t need to be eaten with a knife and fork. You’ll be able to eat your own food and if you can’t there will be several of us to help out.”

Andy’s grin was all the answer Miranda needed and the first thing she did on arriving at the office was to summon Nigel to invite him. Then, with a slightly wicked gleam in her eye, she called Emily into the office and extended the invitation to her as well. Might as well get her office staff used to seeing Andréa and her together. When a stunned Emily stammered her agreement, Miranda instructed her to make the reservation and confirm it with Andréa and Roy.

Andy, for her part, was delighted to pick up her parents from the hotel and ride with them back to Teterboro. As much as she had enjoyed parts of their visit, she very much needed to get some semblance of normalcy back into her life and that meant shipping them back to Cincinnati on schedule. Besides, everyone needed some time to get used to the changes the events of the last week had brought. Distance and a change in perspective would greatly benefit all of them.

She was heading back into the city when her cell phone rang and the Caller ID display showed Caroline’s number. When Andy answered, her right ear was deafened by the sound of her name being screamed.

“Andy! We made the team! We made the team!”

“That’s great, honey! I knew you guys could do it. I am totally proud of both of you. Have you told your mom yet?”

“Cass has her on her phone right now. She’s kind of excited too.”

“I’m sure she is. So when’s your first practice?”

“Tomorrow afternoon. Coach is handing out the practice schedule and the games schedule in a couple of minutes.”

“Make sure you bring them home.  We’ll go over them tonight. The sooner your mom and I can add your games to our schedule planners the bigger the chance we’ll make all your games. Can I give Doug and Lily the good news?”

“No, they’re our next calls. We want to tell them. Oh, hang on; Cassidy wants to talk to you.”

Andy waited a moment while cell phones were exchanged and then gave her congratulations to Cassidy as well. After listening to a blow-by-blow account of the posting of the team roster, she was informed that everyone would be dining out that evening. The twins had already managed to talk Miranda into dinner at their favorite burger place. Jackson Hole Burgers had several locations around the city and one was fairly close to the townhouse. The menu had items to please both kids and their parents and the atmosphere was decidedly relaxed. Andy agreed it would be great fun and managed to get both girls to turn their focus back to school for the rest of the day. Their exuberance left her laughing and she ended the call as the car pulled up to the restaurant.

Their lunch was peaceful and for the first time since the attempted kidnapping, the paparazzi seemed to be leaving them alone. Nigel and Emily had been close enough to hear part of the twins’ phone call to Miranda and were glad that the previous week’s events had ended happily. Andy then informed Miranda that Jen Ramsay had told her on Wednesday that it was a good bet that the twins would make the team.

“Why didn’t you tell me sooner? I wouldn’t have worried so much.”

“Well, things got a little busy right after she told me and it kind of slipped my mind after I got shot. Do you have the pendants ready?”

“Yes. Tiffany finished them on Friday and I had them messengered over to the house late Friday afternoon. Mrs. Grant brought them in quietly and hid them in my desk drawer. They turned out quite nicely.”

“What pendants?” inquired Nigel.

“When Andréa became convinced the girls would make the team, she bought sterling lacrosse stick pendants for them. We sent the pendants to Tiffany, had them added to a pair of their dogtag necklaces and then had the tags engraved with the girls’ initials, ‘Dalton Lacrosse’ and the year.”

“I got one when I made the varsity team and I wanted to give the girls something to recognize the hard work they put in to make the squad. It was Miranda’s idea to add the Tiffany dogtags and have them engraved. This is something they worked hard for and they deserve something special for it.”

Andy was given the location of the signature light blue boxes in Miranda’s desk just in case Miranda was delayed and had to meet everyone else for dinner. Andy couldn’t resist a wry comment about how easily Miranda had given in to the twins’ request for a celebratory dinner out. Miranda merely shrugged and quoted Andy back to herself.

“I thought their hard work deserved a reward as well. Dinner at their favorite burger place was little enough.”

The rest of the meal was spent discussing the girls and how the kidnapping was affecting them. Andy related Caroline’s panicked search for her and the fact the only last night had the twins slept in their own rooms again. The upcoming counseling session was also discussed in depth and everyone agreed it to be necessary for both the girls. Andy surprised Nigel and Emily by commenting that she was looking forward to being able to talk with someone about the events as well. Not that she would require serious counseling; she had nearly been killed thwarting the kidnapping. But that she would so readily admit to needing it.

When Andy returned to the townhouse, she booted up her laptop and logged into the wireless network. Dealing with nearly a week’s worth of email took her the better part of an hour and she finished the task by sending a reminder to her boss that she would be coming into the office half days beginning the next day.

Shutting her laptop down, she debated between watching television or reading. Figuring that if she fell asleep on the sofa at least she wouldn’t wake with a cramp, she settled on the couch in the sitting room with her book, something to drink and Patricia snoozing on the floor next to her. Despite her best intentions, sleep quickly overcame her.

Mrs. Grant disturbed her briefly around 3:00 pm with her afternoon pain meds and Andy enjoyed a two-hour nap before the front door crashed open and the twins thundered into the sitting room shouting her name.  She swung into a sitting position just as Cassidy and Caroline exploded through the door and threw their arms around her. Patricia, realizing her favorite humans were home, bounded about the room adding a couple of celebratory barks and some slobbery kisses into the mix.

Andy finally got them calmed enough for conversation. “So, I take it you’re still happy about making the team?”

The girls launched into a recap of the coach’s instructions and a detailed blow-by-blow of the posting of the roster. When Andy reminded them that they were only going to have to repeat everything for their mother they just grinned.

“So? We don’t mind telling it again.” Andy just laughed and sent them upstairs to change out of school clothes and get a start on homework before they left for dinner.

Miranda arrived home shortly after 6:00 pm and by 6:30 everyone was in casual clothes and headed to the restaurant. Both Caroline and Cassidy were thrilled with their lacrosse pendants and promptly put them on, vowing never to remove them.

“Yes, well, I’m sure you can accessorize around them with your wedding dresses,” Miranda commented dryly.

Back at the townhouse, Andy and the girls called Cincinnati to report on team selections. While the twins recounted their day for the third time, Andy walked over to where Miranda was frowning at her laptop.

“What’s wrong?”

“I just received an email from the District Attorney’s office. They’ve scheduled a meeting between the Joint Task Force on Gangs, the detectives assigned to our case and the leaders of the gang the kidnappers belonged to.”

“When? Are you going to have time to go?”

“It’s Thursday morning. The worst possible time for me, but we’ll just have to juggle things. I will not miss this meeting. Do you wish to go too?”

“No thanks! I’m just fine never meeting any of those guys again. You go and tell me what happened.”

“I’m going to take it as a good sign that they’re willing to meet with us. This might be the first step toward feeling secure again; toward getting back to normal.”

Andy dropped a quick kiss on the top of Miranda’s head and returned to rescue her parents from the twins. Their phone call ended shortly with continued promises to keep the Sachses up to speed with their season. As soon as they hung up the phone, they headed back upstairs to finish homework.

Andy and Miranda used the time until the Book arrived in exploring various ways to make out without damaging Andy’s shoulder further. By the time Andy went upstairs to leave Miranda working in peace, both of them were smiling broadly and trying hard not to contemplate exactly how long six weeks could be.

Andy stuck her head in to check on the twins and stayed to offer advice on essays for English class. When homework was finished, she talked both Caroline and Cassidy into getting ready for bed. By the time Miranda came upstairs to do the same, the twins and Andy were watching Anne Hathaway take another comic pratfall in The Princess Diaries.

The grownups tucked the children in bed shortly thereafter and Andy joined Miranda downstairs in the office to read while Miranda finished working on the Book. This time, Miranda suggested they sleep in her room and once again, Andy fell asleep with the warmth and softness of Miranda pressed against her. It had been only three days but Andy was already wondering how she’d ever managed to fall asleep without the woman in her arms.

The next morning Miranda dropped the girls off at school and headed to the office while Andy went back to the hospital for a follow-up exam on her surgical incisions. The physicians examined their handiwork, checked for any signs of infection and redressed her shoulder. She made an appointment for the following Monday to have the sutures removed. She was officially cleared to work half days until then and the moment she left the hospital, demanded to be driven to the Mirror offices. She gave the paper a follow-up interview, completed cleaning up her email and left to return home around 1:00 pm.

Not surprisingly, she fell sound asleep reading in the downstairs office only to be awakened by Cassidy and Caroline bursting in to relate all the details of their first practice. Miranda was delayed at the office and didn’t get home until halfway through dinner, but listened attentively to a repeat account of their day.

Wednesday afternoon’s session with the trauma counselors went well. Caroline and Cassidy bonded well with two younger therapists and Andy got on well with the senior counselor. After the initial meetings, it was decided that Caroline would come twice a week for the next few weeks and that Cassidy would come once a week. Andy scheduled twice-weekly session during the afternoons knowing she had the assurances of her editor that she could go to counseling whenever necessary. Everyone returned to the townhouse with the first glimmers of hope that the nightmare was over and that they might begin to resume their normal lives.

Miranda had difficulty falling asleep Wednesday evening. She and Andy talked quietly for nearly an hour before she finally admitted to being fearful of the outcome of the next day’s meeting. Andy offered to go with her but Miranda replied that it wasn’t necessary. The officers of the Task Force had already informed her that too many outsiders at the meeting would result in nothing but posturing on the part of the bangers. Once they started saving face, nothing substantive would be learned. So she had been advised to come alone and particularly not to bring the twins or Andy. Their presence could very well push the bangers to cop an attitude and negate any meaningful talks.

It wasn’t until she explained all of that to Andy that she felt the knot of tension within her begin to ease. To her surprise, Andy understood completely and suggested that Miranda come straight home after the meeting and the two of them attend lacrosse practice and then bring the twins home. For reasons that she didn’t fully understand but embraced eagerly, the idea made her relax and once she had agreed to it, she was able to burrow a touch closer to Andréa and fall asleep.

Thursday morning seemed endless to Miranda, but she focused on finishing everything that needed to her attention before their departure for London the following day. Emily managed yet another scheduling miracle and Miranda met with every department for one last time before London. By 12:30 pm, she was in the car with Roy and her escorts, headed uptown.

The Joint Task Force had scheduled the meeting in a precinct house on what was determined to be neutral territory:  an upstairs conference room at the 26th Precinct in Morningside Heights. Miranda’s townhouse was in the 19th Precinct, Washington Heights was in the 34th, and the kidnapping in the Central Park Precinct, so this was an acceptable compromise for all parties. Roy helped Miranda out of the Mercedes just as a cab with the two ADAs assigned to the case pulled up and the three of them entered the building together. Lieutenant Simms met them at the main desk and escorted them upstairs to the conference room.

Simms introduced Miranda to the men seated around the table from the Joint Task Force on Gangs and finally to a group of young Hispanic men seated across from them.

“And this is Jorge Santiago of Washington Heights and some of his… associates.”

Miranda extended her hand to Santiago across the table. “How do you do, Mr. Santiago? It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

For his part, Santiago was amazed that a woman like Miranda Priestly would be so polite to him. But courtly manners were a deeply ingrained part of his heritage and he rose and took her hand.

“I am very pleased to meet you, Señora Priestly. You little one… she is unharmed? And her sister as well?”

“The girls are as good as can be expected under the circumstances, Mr. Santiago. Thank you for asking.”

Simms cleared his throat and opened the meeting by giving a chronology of the events from eight days ago. When he finished, the senior officer of the Task Force read the rap sheets for both of the suspects and when completed, began a detailed description of the tattoos both men had that had had identified them as members of Dedo Malvado.

“Both Gutierrez and Reyes have the reversed cross tats on their right arms. Just like all the rest of you do, I’m sure.”

“What are you implying, Detective Malloy?” asked Santiago quietly.

“I’m not implying anything, Santiago. I’m telling you flat out: the guys who pulled this worked for you. And we want to know who ordered it. Is kidnap for ransom going to be a new cottage industry for you mopes?”

“You think we would attack helpless children? That we are so evil we would savage innocents?”

“Why not? You don’t seem to have any qualms about using them as drug runners and lookouts. Or selling drugs to them for that matter. And it’s not as if that community center wasn’t your private recruiting station. Maybe now that it’s gone the kids in Washington Heights stand a chance to escape the likes of you.”

“That ‘recruiting station’ you refer to had a food bank for the old ones and a day care for the families in our neighborhood. It was a safe spot for the pequeños after school. It was the hub of our neighborhood.”

Miranda’s quiet voice cut into the exchange. “And something happened to it?”

“Si, Señora. It burned down last month when the furnace exploded. It was a very old building and the weather was very cold. The furnace could not keep up.”

“Was anyone injured in the fire?”

“No, Señora. Thanks to God the fire happened at night.”

“We’ve had tips that the fire was started by your competitors from farther uptown who wanted a foothold in Washington Heights,” commented one of the other task force officers.

“That’s a lie!” snarled Santiago, “The Fire Department investigated and found a gas leak in the furnace piping. Your own investigators said it was an accident! That fire had nothing to do with us and you know it. You spread these lies to disrespect us.”

One of the ADAs coughed quietly and began to recap the charges pending against the alleged kidnappers. When she finished, Simms addressed Santiago again.

“Jorge, were Gutierrez and Reyes members of your organization?”

“Si, I believe they were, although I did not know them personally.”

“What the hell kind of an answer is that?” growled Malloy.

“The best kind you’re going to get, pendejo!”

“Let’s just everybody calm down. We’re not here to air old gripes. We need to know if there’s any chance – any chance at all – that Gutierrez and Reyes were moonlighting for somebody else. We need to determine if there’s an on-going threat to Mrs. Priestly’s family. You say you didn’t have anything to do with the kidnapping attempt; were those two capable of coming up with this plan on their own or did they have outside help?”

Santiago hesitated a moment as he thought. “If they did have help it did not come from us. We had nothing to do with this. We do not threaten little ones.”

“So why do you think those two tried to snatch Caroline Priestly?”

Santiago exchanged a loaded glance with one of his lieutenants. “Gutierrez and Reyes had recently incurred some business losses. We had given them several advances and had requested repayment of those advances. Perhaps the kidnapping was their way to acquire the capital they needed to do so.”

“And what would have happened to them if they hadn’t come up with the ‘capital’ they needed? A quick bullet behind the ear?”

Santiago ignored the pointed jibe. “They would have lost their positions and been reassigned to less critical duties until they had made good on the money they owed.”

“And if they repaid the money?”

“They would have kept their jobs or perhaps even moved up the ladder.”

“So basically, if they wanted to avoid winding up dead in an alley they needed to come up with cash fast.”

Again, Santiago refused to rise to the bait. “They needed to repay their debts. But they did not choose to do it in this way because of us. This plan was theirs and theirs alone. We do not endanger los inocentes.”

“And we’re supposed to believe you… why?” cut in Malloy again.

Santiago turned to Miranda. “Señora, you are la jefa of a large magazine, si? You command many employees, yes? Do you know all their names?”

“No, Mr. Santiago, I do not.”

“Yet you expect them to do their jobs, yes? So that your magazine is published every month. What if some did not do their jobs? What would happen then?”

“Other employees would have to assume their duties. Perhaps permanently.”

“Exactamente! Just as I would have done. Our jobs are not so different, I think. Both of us rely on others doing their jobs well. These two pendejos – they did not do their jobs. And rather than behave like men of substance, they chose to get the money they needed in a way that was deshonroso. Jefa, never would I allow an attack on niños inocentes.”

Miranda stared levelly at him for a long moment. “I understand what you’re saying. But I need to know if they had help. Surely, you can understand that I have to be certain no further threat exists to my family. Could they have had outside help?”

Santiago returned the direct gaze. “It is possible, Señora. I cannot say for sure that they had no help in their plans; but it did not come from us. I will inquire in our community to see if anyone knows anything else. But know this for certain: we did not attack your daughters.”

Miranda nodded decisively and stood. “I believe you, Mr. Santiago. And I thank you for your honesty.” She slid her business card across the table to the young man opposite her. “Please let me know what you discover.”

To everyone’s surprise, Santiago rose and took the card.  “Si, Señora. I will do so.”

“It was a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Santiago. Thank you for taking this meeting and for your concern for my daughters.” She extended her hand.

Astonishing everyone at the table except perhaps Miranda, he gently took it and brushed his lips on the back of it. The gesture was oddly chivalrous from the young gang banger.

“The pleasure was mine, Jefa. You have my word that your little ones have nothing to fear from us.”

The two exchanged another long look before Miranda murmured “Thank you, Santiago,” and swept from the room.

 

 

Chapter Text

Roy delivered Miranda to the practice field just as the vans with the team arrived on site. Andy was already there and to Miranda’s delight, handed her a fresh latte as she sat down on the bench next to the beautiful young woman. Knowing that there was probably a great deal that Miranda would need to process about the meeting from which she’d just come, Andy didn’t push for details. She merely sat next to her in companionable silence until Miranda brought the subject up.

“The meeting was interesting.”

“What did you find out?”

Miranda chuckled quietly. “A great many things, not the least of which was that the gang was not involved in Caroline’s kidnapping. That the men who attempted it and shot you were working independently or for someone else. At least, I believe they were. Enquiries are being made within that… community… to determine if another organization was helping them. I would imagine I’ll hear more on that subject eventually.”

“The police will keep investigating?”

“No, a very interesting young man named Santiago promised me he would try to find out.”

“Santiago? Who’s he?”

“The leader of Dedo Malvado.”

“You’ve got a gang banger checking out who might have been helping Caroline’s kidnappers? How did the police react to that news?”

“Not terribly well, as you might imagine. However, he was very compelling in his explanations and concern for the girls. I was most impressed with him. Not at all what I had expected.”

Andy grinned and teased, “Do I need to be worried?”

Miranda’s answering smile made her heart pound. “Not a bit. Now pay attention to practice before I do something that will land both of us back on Page Six again.”

The two women settled back on the bench and watched the practice before them. Andy took the opportunity to explain some of the finer points of the game to Miranda and was able to indicate to her what Caroline and Cassidy would probably be doing in a game situation. Miranda, not being inclined towards athletics, could see only the large lacrosse sticks, the seemingly inadequate face guards and a plastic surgeon working on the ruined and bloodied faces of her daughters.

Andy laughed, “Relax, Mom. They’ll be fine.” Miranda just glared at her. Andy thought it amazing that The Look that used to freeze her in her tracks only last fall now made her smile.

Arriving back at the townhouse, the twins were dispatched upstairs to shower and change clothes while Miranda did the same and Andy kept her company. Andy took the time to peek in Miranda’s closet for the first time and stopped dead in her tracks, stunned.

It shouldn’t have surprised her; after all, Miranda did receive more clothing, shoes and accessories than anyone else on the planet did. Still, the fact that she had turned a spacious guest room adjoining the master suite into her closet was a bit daunting. Not to mention the fact that Mrs. Grant was in final ‘packing mode’ for the London trip and had eight pieces of custom-made Goyard luggage open on racks around the closet in various stages of being filled. Two of them looked suspiciously like steamer trunks to Andy, and she was further amazed to see a computerized packing inventory lying atop one of the trunks.

“HOLY SHIT, MIRANDA!” Andy’s cry brought the twins through the door at a run, both expecting a row of some kind.

“What’s wrong, Andy?” asked Caroline anxiously. Andy’s peals of laughter relaxed her but not as much as the hug that followed or the smile on her mother’s face.

“Nothing, kiddo. I just cannot believe the complex planning that goes into getting your mom ready for ten days in London. I’ve never seen so many clothes for a single trip before.”

Cassidy picked up the thread. “That’s because she’s always got to be perfectly turned out. We used to think it was gross too, but she explained it to us. It’s business. She is Runway Magazine to the rest of the world for Fashion Week and she has to be prepared for anything. The process takes almost three weeks to choose the ensembles, get them ready and pack them. She explained it all to us a couple of years ago.”  

Andy had a vague memory of a pile of luggage for Miranda on their trip to Paris last year, but she’d never dreamed that the logistics were this complex. “So what is all this?” The twins looked questioningly at Miranda and she smiled and told them to go ahead and explain the layout to Andy.

Caroline picked up the inventory and began identifying the various cases. “This trunk holds Mom’s day wear; suits and dresses for the shows and luncheons. This trunk has eveningwear and shoes and her furs.”

Cassidy picked up the explanation. “This large case holds eighteen pairs of shoes, this smaller one another twelve. That small case holds her Hermès scarves and jewelry.”

And Caroline finished up with “This case holds underclothes, PJs and hosiery. That medium one over there has her blouses, and the square one is for her makeup and stuff.” Miranda nodded her approval at their mastery of her luggage scheme. Andy could only stare, dumbstruck. Finally, she looked at Miranda and smiled. “Remind me to stay out of your way when you’re getting ready for a business trip.”

Miranda sniffed. “It’s only this complex when I’m traveling to Paris or London for the couture shows. Otherwise, I pack my own clothing like anyone else.”

“Well, I’m just glad I don’t have to be the one to schlep them downstairs.”

Miranda threw a wicked grin in the direction of her daughters. “Lucky you. You get to supervise the slave labor.” Andy and the twins just laughed.

The twins made a special effort to finish their homework early and everyone spent the rest of the evening after dinner completing the packing inventory and just being together one final time as Miranda pulled together the final parts of her London wardrobe. When everything was packed, the girls dug through a drawer in one of the built-ins of the closet and came out with high-tech luggage locks for all of the cases.

“You’ll need these, Mom. They’re the ones that US and British Customs can open if they need to but nobody else can.” Miranda frowned slightly at the sight. “What’s wrong, Mom?”

“I don’t remember the combinations. I haven’t used them in six months and I forget how I set them.”

Caroline went back to the drawer and rummaged around again. Finally, she let out a small whoop of triumph and emerged with the instructions for the use and setting of the locks. “We can reset them for you. What combination do you want to use?”

Miranda smiled at the two strawberry blonde heads huddled over the locks. “3-3-7.”

Cassidy concentrated mightily. “Those numbers don’t mean anything that I can remember. Not birthdays or anything. Why those numbers?”

“They correspond to letters of the alphabet that mean a great deal to me. 3-3 and 16 or 1 plus 6. C-C-P for Cassidy and Caroline Priestly.” The twins grinned and set about reprogramming the locks.

Andy leaned close to Miranda and murmured “You old softie! If your staff ever knew what a mush ball you were they’d…”

“Then isn’t it wonderful that they won’t ever know. Correct?”

“Absolutely. My lips are sealed.”

“Good answer.”

The twins moved the now-secured cases out into the hallway and then, one by one, carried them downstairs and neatly stacked them at one side of the foyer. Porters, working under the watchful eyes of their security detail, would be arriving early in the morning to transport the luggage to the private terminals from which they would depart at Teterboro. Roy would bring Emily to the townhouse and then take both her and Miranda to the airport before leaving with his wife for St. Thomas.

While the twins got ready for bed, Miranda sat down with Andy and went over a list of basic house rules she had dictated to Emily earlier as well as the final pre-flight itinerary for the upcoming week. Nobody knew better than Andy how much that schedule could change during the course of the week, but Miranda promised Emily would copy her on all changes so that Andy would be kept as current as possible. Andy nodded through all of it and when Miranda had finished, asked one final question of her own. “Okay, what about the house? Every house has some quirks. Which toilet handle do I have to jiggle? Which door do you need to knee to get it to close? You know; that kind of stuff.”

Miranda cocked an eyebrow and regarded Andy with disbelief and just the tiniest bit of ire that she could think there would be something amiss with the townhouse. “Jiggle a toilet handle? Kick a door? If you discover any problem with the house, report it to Mrs. Grant immediately. She’ll see to the repairs.”

“Right, chief. And don’t worry. Doug and I will take good care of the girls while you’re gone. We’ll talk to you every night and if there’s something you need to know without the twins hearing about it, I’ll call your cell privately. The Whitehall people will take care of the rest.”

Miranda sighed. “I know all that in my head; it’s just that right now my heart doesn’t want to accept it or leave them. I know you’ll take good care of them and I know the Whitehall people will protect all of you. I’d just feel better if I was closer.”

“It’s only for a week. We can manage for a week. All of us. Don’t fool yourself; the girls are going to miss you every bit as much as you’re going to miss them.”

Miranda’s smile was mischievous. “And what about you?”

“I miss you already. I’ll be counting the hours until you get home.”

“Another good answer.”

They went into the twins’ rooms and bid the girls goodnight then went back downstairs to sit with the Whitehall agents and make sure that drivers and coverage were set for the upcoming week. As they sat in the kitchen insuring the safety of  Andy and the Priestly children, those namesakes silently snuck downstairs, huddled over one of Miranda’s bags and quietly left a gift for their mother. They relocked the case and were back upstairs innocently asleep in their beds before the adults even walked back through the foyer.

The next morning, Andy let the porters and their Whitehall supervisors in to load the luggage and then called the twins down to join Miranda and her at breakfast. Miranda explained her itinerary for the day one final time so the girls knew when to expect her call and the rest of their breakfast was spent talking about the upcoming week. Lacrosse practices, visits to physicians and counselors, Doug’s arrival that evening but above all else, how much they would miss each other. Miranda genuinely surprised at the twins’ affections. She had gone away to the couture shows since their births and never before had they been so demonstrative. Then it dawned on her that never before had she been as demonstrative with them. What amazed her even more is how natural it now felt when before it had always seemed awkward and slightly forced. Perhaps you really did need to nearly lose what you cherished to fully appreciate how precious it really was. Whatever the reason, for the first time in her life, Miranda ached at the thought of being separated from her daughters. She didn’t even want to think about being parted from Andréa; that was just too new and unexplored to even be analyzed yet. She just wanted to get through the shows and business functions and get back home. That thought amazed her as well. Career-obsessed, totally focused, Ice Queen Miranda Priestly just wanted to get home again. Groundbreaking.

Roy and Emily arrived promptly and with final hugs for her family Miranda climbed into the rear of her town car and belted in. Roy pulled smoothly into traffic and after greeting everyone, Miranda studied what she could see of his injured face. The bruise, which had begun on high on his left cheek, had grown to cover the entire left side of his face, both eyes and a part of his neck. It had originally been nearly black but now was a riot of purples, reds, blues and assorted variant shades. Miranda winced just looking at it.

“Roy, you’re all set for your vacation?”

“Yes ma’am. We’re leaving this afternoon and we’ll be returning the day before you’re scheduled to fly back so I’ll be waiting on the tarmac when you land.”

“Excellent. St. Thomas, right? You must dine at the Banana Tree Grille one evening. Patrick’s crab cocktail and New York strip are not to be missed. Nor is the key lime pie if memory serves. I seem to remember the girls eating three pieces between them one evening. Emily, when we arrive at the terminal, call and make them a reservation.”

Both Roy and Emily chuckled as Em made a note and Miranda continued. “And did you bring the files on the cloisonné trends for the June issue? I’ll want to read those over as soon as we get airborne. Was Nigel bringing the proofs from the Cavalli shoot? We’ll need to…”

And just that quickly the insanity of Fashion Week began.

* * * * *

Andy’s phone rang as she was making the final changes to an article about restructuring in the Office of the City Clerk. Frowning when she saw the caller on her display she answered quickly.

“Miranda? What’s wrong? Aren’t you supposed to halfway across the Atlantic by now?”

“We’ve been delayed by some problem with the plane. Apparently it cannot be flown in its current state and we’re waiting for the decision to be made whether to attempt to repair the problem or not.”

Andy grimaced at the sharp tone in Miranda’s voice. “I know how you hate waiting. Try not to take it out on Emily, okay? She’ll be nervous enough trying to keep all the arrangements straight. Will it help if I tell you I miss you already and you’re only across the Hudson?”

Miranda’s tone softened somewhat. “A bit. I miss you as well. What are you doing?”

“I’m at the office finishing an ancillary story on the fallout from the bid rigging. I’ll grab lunch here and then head back to the house. Jen Ramsay called just a while ago and asked me if I’d like to come to practice next week and help with some of the offensive drills. I think I’m going to take her up on it; it’ll be fun to work with the kids.”

“Just don’t wear yourself out. You know the doctors said your shoulder wouldn’t heal as quickly if you did.”

“I remember, don’t worry. It’ll help that I’m getting all the sutures out Monday morning. And not a moment too soon; the side of my head is itching something fierce.”

“And your shoulder isn’t?” 

“So far, no. I’m grateful for that. Otherwise I’d be rooting around looking for knitting needles to scratch with.” 

Miranda’s amusement carried through the cell phone speaker. “And precisely who in our household is it you believe would keep knitting needles close at hand?” 

Andy paused for a moment as the visual of a scowling Miranda murmuring ‘knit 1, purl 2’ while she struggled over a miniscule sweater ran through her head. She then promptly exploded in laughter. 

“I’ll assume that hilarity was in response to something that happened in your bullpen.” 

“Of course,” Andy gasped, “there was, uh, I mean, um,…” 

“Silence might perhaps be your best refuge at this point, Andréa.” 

“Uh huh. Sure is. Not saying anything more.” 

The sound of nearby voices carried over Miranda’s phone before she came back on the line. “They’ve managed to replace the faulty indicator circuit. We’re boarding now. I’ll call you when we land in London.” 

“I’ll be waiting. If there’s any problem, I’ll leave a message at the front desk for you. Be safe. I love you.” 

“And I you. Hug the girls for me. I’ll call to you later.” 

As she set her cell phone back down on the desk, Andy Sachs wondered at her good fortune. She loves me too.

 * * * * *

Seven hours later Miranda fastened her seatbelt and glanced out the window of the plane as their Gulfstream flared on final approach then touched down at Biggin Hill Airfield. The former WWII fighter base had evolved into one of the finest private aviation complexes in the world. Miranda noticed four other planes the same size as theirs already hangared, the Gannet Citation XLS notable among them. Once on the tarmac, they taxied into their hangar and were met there by customs officials who efficiently checked the luggage and authorized their travel documents. The waiting line of Bentleys and ubiquitous British taxis were quickly loaded and their caravan left for Mayfair and the Connaught. 

Emily had verified, re-verified and re-re-verified the arrangements and the Connaught’s staff made short work of checking them in despite the relatively late hour. The night manager and several bellmen swept Miranda and her luggage into The Apartment, the penthouse suite overlooking Carlos Place. There, he introduced her to Hastings, her butler, and the two maids who would see to the unpacking. When he learned of their flight delay, Hastings wasted no time in settling Miranda on the sofa in the living room and promptly re-appearing with a cheese and fruit platter and a chilled bottle of Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame for her. 

When she’d had a few minutes to relax from the trip, he brought in several embossed notecards with messages that had been left for her. She read the first one and was on the house phone with Emily in moments. 

“Have you heard about the John Richmond show? Apparently, a disaster. Some problem with the sprinklers. I don’t know; right now everything’s up in the air. We may need to adjust the spring issue. Call everyone and tell them to meet here in twenty minutes. We’ve got work to do.” 

Hastings had overheard the conversation and unobtrusively cleared his throat. “Will you be requiring refreshments for your staff, Mrs. Priestly?” 

“Nothing extravagant.”

“Then perhaps some tea and additional fruit and cheese platters?” 

“Thank you, Hastings. That sounds perfect.” 

“I’ll see to it, Madame.” 

Fifteen minutes later, he ushered the Runway group through the suite’s front entry and into the living room. When they were seated, he wheeled in a cart with a large tea service to accompany the trays of food he had already placed within easy reach of everyone. When everyone had their drinks, he silently disappeared. 

Nigel led off. “I called over there as soon as I got the message. The sprinklers in the showroom went off six hours ago and ruined not only the entire line but the set as well. They’re scrambling to find another venue and get the clothing restored, but the organizers are having problems shuffling things around this late in the game. Everyone is set and nobody is willing to change their show times.” 

“The Richmond line was to be the key feature of the next issue. We’re holding a sizeable block of space for it. I would really like to stay with his line; some of his designs were quite innovative. But we need to be ready with a couple of other features from this week if they can’t manage to get it together. Nigel, stay on top of this and keep me posted. We can only hold that space for a day or so before we’re going to have to switch the focus elsewhere.” They discussed other designer possibilities for feature spreads and within ten minutes had managed to come up with four alternatives if the Richmond house could not salvage its show. 

Nigel cleared his throat to catch Miranda’s attention and indicated that she needed to look behind her. Hastings was standing by the hallway to the master suite. 

“Yes, Hastings?” 

“Madame, there is a small problem with the unpacking that requires your attention.” 

“Hastings, I’m busy, what is it?”

 “Perhaps Madame would step into the bedroom to attend to it?”

 “I’m in the middle of a meeting. What is the problem?” 

“Madame, please…”

“Just tell me what’s wrong.” 

“This is all the sleepwear that was packed in your luggage.”   

Hastings gestured to the maids who were standing just out of sight in the hallway. Together, they stepped into the living room. One of them was holding a grey henley tee shirt and a pair of royal blue silk boxer shorts with orange polka dots and the other a pair of neon-green fuzzy alligator slippers.  

Jaws dropped in unison around the sitting room. Nobody moved. Nobody dared breathe. Eyes wide in horror, the executive staff of Runway Magazine watched as their Editor’s jaw clenched and her fists balled. She finally broke the ponderous silence. 

“They were switched at birth. They cannot be mine.”  Turning to Emily, she hissed. “Find convent schools. In Tierra del Fuego. Convent schools high up in the Andes. Without running water let alone internet access. Run by nuns from the Middle Ages.” Miranda then turned and fastened her laser glare back on the offending clothing. 

Nigel broke first. Unable to hold it in any longer, his guffaw exploded in the silence and echoed around the sitting room. Then, one by one, knowing they could likely be fired for the offense but unable to help themselves and giddy with fatigue and jet lag, the rest of the staff collapsed in helpless mirth. Emily held out longest, but finally even she joined in the laughter and soon tears were rolling down her cheeks as well.  

Miranda swung back to her staff. Her lips pursed. She glared. Everyone else in the room tensed. Then the most amazing occurrence any of the Runway staff had ever witnessed unfolded. 

Miranda Priestly began to laugh. Her shoulders twitched, her lips quirked, she gave a small snort and then began to chuckle. Then laugh. Then howl along with her staff. Finally, regaining a modicum of control, she turned back to the butler and maids. 

“Just lay those out for me, please. And Hastings? Thank you for your…restraint.” 

His eyes twinkling with mirth, he replied “Yes, Madame,” and retreated into the master bedroom to finish the unpacking. The Runway staff, after several bracing sips of tea, managed to regain control of itself and continued with the planning meeting. 

“Miranda, I’ll call the De La Renta showroom first thing in the morning and arrange for more pajamas for you,” said Emily.

“Don’t bother. This is my daughters’ idea of adult sleepwear. Clearly I have failed in their upbringing, but I should at least be familiar with it before I condemn it out of hand. I’ll let you know if you need to call De La Renta later in the week.” 

Andy and Doug were working in the downstairs office while the twins worked on their homework when the phone rang. Doug grinned at the smile that lit up Andy’s face, but the twins were suspiciously busy with their homework and appeared not to notice that their mother was finally calling. Andy chatted, laughing with Miranda for several minutes before her face grew solemn. 

What? When? How would I know? You and I were together all of last night. If you didn’t see them do it then I didn’t see them either. In front of the entire editorial staff? Oh my God…,”  

Turning to face the twins she extended the receiver and said quietly, “You mother would like to speak with you.” 

Cassidy took the handset from Andy and Caroline picked up an extension handset across the room. Apparently their plan was to brazen it out. 

“Hi Mom! How was the trip over?” Cass asked brightly, a moment before her face paled as did Caroline’s. Neither twin said a word for almost a full minute and then both murmured “Yes, ma’am,” hung up and turned to the adults, thoroughly chastised. 

“Andy, where exactly is Tierra del Fuego?”