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Miriam took a deep breath and smoothed the pleats on her dress nervously. She knocked on the door to her father's office. Opening the door, she poked her red-head into the room. “Papa?”

The large man behind the desk smiled and boomed, “Honey!” He moved quickly to embrace her. “You look beautiful on the first day of Sixth grade.”

Miriam grinned, dimpling her cheeks. “Thank you, Papa.” She confessed, “I'm a little nervous.” She saw his expression and elaborated. “What if the new kids don't like me?”

“Meh.” He guided her to his chair and as he sat, pulled her onto his knee. “You must not worry about these things. Being liked is not so important as being respected.” He assured his young daughter, “When the little beasties get to know you they will surely both like and respect you.”

Miriam nodded. She hoped that this school would be different, at least for a while. Things always changed after people discovered that her father is a notorious crime boss. Teachers mostly treated her differently, the other children didn't seem to worry about it much. She knew that would change when they got older and became more aware of the world. She wasn't supposed to know about Papa, of course. Mama and Papa always try to keep the business separate from the family, but as she had gotten older Miriam had seen and overheard too many things NOT to know the truth, even before some cop's kid had blurted it out in front of everyone in the lunch room last year. It didn't matter, not really. The police couldn't touch her Papa, Papa had told her so. But still, after they found out who she was any sort of respect was out of fear instead of anything else. “Papa, will I have to change schools again?”

He shook his head and tapped the end of his daughter's rather long, but lovely, nose. “Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Grade will be spent in this school, So no changing again until you go to high school.” He chuckled and gently pushed her off his lap. “Go on now... I'm sure Pavel has brought the car around and your Mama is waiting for you.”

Nodding, Miriam smiled. “Yes, Papa.” On impulse she wrapped her small arms around his barrel-like torso. She had heard many people describe him as a bear-like man, large, and dangerous, but to her he was a teddy bear, gentle and kind. She never felt safer than when he had his arms around her in a loving hug.

He only chuckled and returned the embrace before breaking it and lightly pushing her toward the door. “Go now.”

She walked out of his office quickly, no matter whose daughter she was she still had to be on time or, as her Papa always tried to be, fifteen minutes early.

###

Richard Sachs watched the long black car pull up in front of the school. He was fascinated by the huge, dangerous looking, man who exited the driver's door. He was big, but when Richard looked closely he could tell that the man was younger than his size made him seem. Richard thought the driver seemed like one of his friend's older brother, about ten years or so older than his own age. Still, the size made him intimidating but when the driver walked around to open the back door, Richard forgot about him and his focus centered on a little girl, with wavy red hair, stepping out of the limousine. The girl was followed by an elegant woman with pure white hair. The dress the girl was wearing made her look much more grown up than the rest of the girls here at school too. The woman with white hair hugged the little girl and kissed her cheek. Richard was too far away to hear, but the woman said something to which the little girl nodded then she turned around and walked into the school on her own.

He was ecstatic to discover that she was in his class, but it still took him all morning to work up the courage to say hello. He only managed it at lunch time. She was sitting at a table by herself, so he took a deep breath and walked right up to her. “Hello.” He smiled. “Can I sit with you?” He swallowed hard when the little girl looked at him. He hadn't been close enough before to see her eyes. They were a vivid blue, like the sky on a summer day. He'd never seen eyes like that before.

“Okay...” Miriam gestured, the way she had seen her Papa do, giving him permission to sit.

“Thanks.” Richard licked his lips and held out his hand. “My name is Richard Sachs.”

“Miriam.” She took his hand gingerly. “Miriam Princhek.”

“Nice to meet you, Miriam.” Richard smiled, then began to eat his food with gusto, happy that he had seemed to make a new, interesting, friend.

###

“So!”

Miriam jumped at her father's sudden outburst, then growled. “Papa, you scared me!”

He laughed. “Sorry.” He reached out and ruffled her unruly red hair, brushing the one lock of hair that always seemed to fall down across her eye away from her forehead. “How was your first day of school? Did the other little beasties all behave themselves?”

Miriam sighed. Her Papa had been calling children 'little beasties' for as long as she could remember. She never did ask why. “It was fine, Papa. I met a nice boy.”

Suddenly her father was no longer laughing and his smile had disappeared. He growled slightly and his voice rumbled. “A boy?”

“Of course 'a boy'.” Mira walked into the room, laughing. “Miriam is eleven, she will meet many boys and girls who will befriend her.” She winked at her daughter. “I think it will be a while before you need to use that tone with any of them, Androv.”

Miriam nodded. Richard was interesting, in a bug under a glass sort of way. The thought of dating him, or anyone, was just non-existent. Family and school, Miriam knew her priorities. The number one priority, for her, was to keep anyone from knowing who, what, her father was. His name could strike fear into even hardened criminal's hearts and even at this young age Miriam knew the key to keeping any social connections she had would be to keep the 'family business' a secret. Luckily the other children were mostly oblivious to the machinations of organized crime families.

Of course, time changes priorities, as well as everything else. As she grew older the need to keep her father's identity a secret lessened. His reputation as a business man and restaurateur had grown until his whispered dealings as a crime syndicate leader became more rumor than anything that anyone could prove, especially the police. As the years passed, Miriam and Richard grew closer, spending time in school together and outside of school within groups of friends, and when they got older they did actually begin to “date”. It seemed a bit silly not to, by Miriam's reckoning, since any boy she tried to date always seemed to fall short of the standards she had come to expect from Richard. By the time they were sixteen they were the most liked couple in school and that was also the year that Richard, formally, met Androv Princhek. Oh they had sort of met, at school functions and various things of that nature, but the formal introductions had never happened, until Richard was old enough to get a job within the business.

He had been terrified at the meeting, Miriam knew, but she was proud of how Richard didn't shake and his voice remained steady. She could tell that her Papa was impressed, so much so that after being a busboy at one of the restaurants for only six months Androv began to bring Richard into the operation. But, Miriam knew that her father planned bigger things for Richard. It was a bit disappointing, because by this time Miriam wanted to take over from her father herself, eventually. Androv had seemed amused when she had told him of her plans, but in the last few months he had seemed to reconsider and had taken her into his confidence, teaching her a few things about the business' that allowed her to live her pampered lifestyle. Not everything, certainly nothing that was illegal, but details of the management regarding their restaurants, night clubs, and the hotels were well within his comfort zone to share. He said this kind of information would help her when she went off to get her fancy college business education. They were also barely a challenge for her abilities to absorb. For the moment she was content to learn what she could from the man she loved and idolized beyond all others. The rest would come, she was sure of it. Her Papa would see that she was his logical heir to the throne, his only child. There was no other 'blood' family to speak of, no ambitious siblings on either her mother or father's side to worry about. If she didn't take over then it would have to be someone Androv trusted, and Miriam didn't believe there was anyone her father held in that level of confidence, not even Richard. When she returned from college he would see, but right now she was content to spend time with him. It was painfully obvious that they would miss each other terribly when she was away at school.

Despite Androv's best efforts, the true nature of the 'family business' was not lost on Miriam and she figured many things out on her own just from small comments that her father and Richard would say without thinking about, plus the few documents she saw in her father's office.

Richard seemed to waver from time to time, a little anxious about the slow pace of his ascension in the ranks, but still, Miriam was very fond of him and he truly seemed to care about her.

And time, again, worked its magical changes.

Just as Miriam had grown ambitious so had Richard, more obviously so. They had began to associate with others their age who were also primed to take over their family business'. Richard tended to schmooze a little more than Miriam was comfortable with and even at parties Miriam more often than not found herself alone when Richard had promised to spend time with her, despite his frequent proclamations of love for her.

One day, very close to her eighteenth birthday, when he had promised and failed to meet her at their favorite cafe, Miriam had enough. After waiting for over an hour she paid for the drink and appetizer she'd barely touched then quietly asked Pavel to drive her home. Saddened by Richard's lack of attentiveness, she changed her mind almost as soon as the car had pulled away from the curb. “Pavel? Can we drive around the park for a little while?”

“Sure.” He nodded and changed lanes to alter their destination, Central Park was many blocks away from their current location. It was also quite a distance from her house so it had always been a treat when she was younger and allowed to go. He had also driven Miriam and Richard here several times during their courtship, it seemed like they had 'their' place, a certain path for long walks and talks. Pavel hated to see Miriam so sad so he tried to stay as close as he could to her favorite places in the park. He had been driving her around nearly all her life and had grown fond of the girl. It wasn't a difficult stretch to think of her as his niece. He left her alone for a while before speaking, “Richard does good work for your father.”

“I know.” Miriam gazed out the tinted window. “I...” She narrowed her eyes and blinked. It was difficult to believe what she was seeing. Richard was in the park, obviously arguing with a very pretty woman. She normally wouldn't have a problem with that, except this particular pretty woman was known to her. This particular pretty woman was the daughter of a rival crime boss...er... business man, one of Androv Princhek's most hated enemies. Miriam watched as Richard said something and the woman countered his comment with her own along with some exaggerated arm gestures. The sag in Richard's shoulders indicated it was bad news. She watched as the two people continued their argument. “Pavel? Why would Richard be here, with Nicolette Maretti?”

The privacy screen was not raised so Miriam saw Pavel's knuckles go white. She very much got the impression that he wanted to stop the car and go pummel Richard. “I don't know.” He glanced over and confirmed the identity of both people for himself. “Perhaps we should ask your Papa?”

“Yes.” Miriam nodded. “Take me home.”

Home was not what Miriam expected. The large front door was wide open and there was debris all over the place. Every room seemed to have been trashed by someone who was looking, very intently, for a particular thing. Miriam knew what the object of that search, and more importantly she knew its location. It had been shown to her recently 'just in case' was what her Papa had said. She hadn't understood what he meant until now. She also didn't understand why her Papa had allowed this violation of their space. She stopped dead in her tracks when she entered her Papa's office. The safe on the wall was open, and empty but that wasn't what caused her legs to stop working. Tears sprang to her eyes when she saw him, sitting in his desk chair with several holes in his broad chest. Turning away from the sight only brought more heartache when she realized that her mother's body was laying on the couch, also full of holes. She may have screamed. She wasn't sure how long she had remained there, but the next thing she knew she was being lifted off the floor by Pavel's strong arms. That was wrong and she struggled to get free. She had things to do. He gently put her on her feet and stepped back, waiting. After what seemed like forever, she managed to speak, quietly.

“We have to go.”

Pavel watched as Miriam wiped her tears away and walked to the small cabinet where Androv always kept his liquor. It had obviously been searched, but what most people didn't realize was that Androv Princhek did not drink. Miriam pushed the cabinet aside and dropped to her knees, uncovering the safe that the cabinet protected. She pressed the combination code into the keypad and opened it only managing to take a deep breath when she found the contents intact. The books were there. Pavel knew that these were the records of all the transactions Androv negotiated, not just the legal ones. Grabbing those, Miriam also retrieved several file folders and, what looked like a sports duffel bag, the kind used to transport baseball bats and other long equipment. A quick unzip revealed, what to most people would seem to be, a great deal of cash money. There were also a few small drawstring bags, what they were filled with, Pavel did not know. He watched as she shoved everything into the duffel and hefted it to her shoulder. He was concerned at the expression now clouding Miriam's lovely face. He was even more concerned when she spoke. Her voice was hard, and decisive, and Pavel knew that Miriam had just assumed the mantel of the head of this organization when she gave her very first set of orders. Orders that her father himself had told her may one day be necessary. Orders they both had hoped she would never have to utter.

“Burn it. I was never here.”

Pavel watched as the new head of the Princhek family crime syndicate walked out of her father's office without pause and without looking back.

###

Miriam knew that Pavel had been shocked at her cool demeanor, but now was not the time to break down. She had to be strong for just a little while longer, then she could break down. When she was alone. When no one else would see. Right now she had to do what her Papa would have wanted her to do, to make him proud. The 'just in case' talk had made it very clear what she was to do, she had to go, to survive. This had obviously been the work of another crime family. She couldn't prove it but believed it was the Marettis. She had to make sure that she was safe from them, in case they wanted her dead too. In this day and age it was very difficult to disappear but not impossible. She would have to hide from most, while also remaining somewhat visible to a few people in order to maintain the business'. Tricky, but as challenging as it was it was still possible, especially thanks to her father's planning. Right now she had to get through this next hurdle and she looked across the table at the detectives. Her cool blue eyes never wavering.

“You understand that all of your family's assets will be frozen, pending an investigation into the fire?”

Miriam corrected the speaker quietly, “You mean all of my father's assets.” She nodded and verbalized her understanding. “Yes.”

“The fire destroyed your home.” The second detective was not entirely unfeeling, he was the older person in the pair and became labeled 'Good Cop' in Miriam's head, because his voice cracked as he spoke. “You parents...deaths, were obviously unplanned, so you will be placed with a foster family until you can...”

“No.” Miriam would not allow herself to be placed into the foster system.

Bad Cop, the younger of the duo and probably not even ten years older than Miriam herself, was not taking 'No' for an answer. “You're seventeen, with no means...”

“Sir.” Miriam leaned forward, her bright blue eyes flashed dangerously. “I will not be put into a system that is already overflowing with cases, only to be kicked out of it when I turn eighteen in three weeks. There is no need. I have a house, and despite what you believe, I have the means to support myself.” She already had a short list of lawyers and judges in mind who would help her in this matter.

“Your assets are...”

“...frozen, yes so you said, but you cannot freeze my assets, only my father's, and possibly my mother's if she had any to call her own. I'm assuming you're shutting down the business' for the duration of the investigation and that is fine with me as well. I will need time to look over the operations of each location to see what needs to be done for them to remain open, or sold.”

Good Cop still seemed to be reeling from her earlier statement. “You have the means to support yourself? You have a job?”

“No.” Miriam drew herself up to assume her haughtiest expression. “But, the trust fund that my grandfather left me in his will is separate from any ventures my father may have interest in. The trust fund is mine and mine alone as is the house I mentioned earlier, also left to me by my grandfather. I gained partial access to the trust fund on my seventeenth birthday and in three weeks, upon turning eighteen I will gain even more access to it for college expenses. I had not expected to move into my house until I turned eighteen, but it is basically ready now. You may speak to my lawyers regarding the trust fund records if you like.” She bored her gaze into him to impress upon him her next statement. “I have nothing to hide.”

“Really?” Bad Cop took a deep breath, “Well then, perhaps you'd like to tell me where you were when your parents were killed and your...parent's house was burned to the ground.”

Frowning at that, Miriam barely held her tears in check, something that didn't go unnoticed by either police officer in the room for different reasons. “My so-called boyfriend had just stood me up for the millionth time. I was upset and took a drive around the park. I ended up just getting a hotel room for the night. I didn't want to go home. That is where your people picked me up and delivered the news about the fire and my parents.”

“We will be questioning your boyfriend too.” Bad Cop nodded. “Why did you go to a hotel instead of the home you claim to have?”

“So that my so-called boyfriend couldn't find me, of course.” Miriam looked at him like an idiot. “If I wasn't at my parents house, my own house would be the next place he looked.”

Good Cop conceded, “We did have a bit of trouble finding you, to inform you.”

Bad cop questioned, “Do you always disappear like that?”

“Mmm..” Miriam sighed. “Only when I'm very upset. I tried to call my mother...from the hotel.” The tears were under control now, for the moment, but the word still caught in her throat. She just kept telling herself that she had to do this.

Even Bad Cop paused awkwardly at the mention of the call to Miriam's mother. “Phone records did show that...that's how we found you.” He shook his head. “Well, don't disappear on us anytime soon. We may have more questions for you later.”

“My lawyers will know how to contact me.” Miriam stood. “I will not be making any public appearances, however, I need to be alone, to grieve.”

They watched her go. Bad Cop shook his head. “Grieve? Are you kidding me? That gal is made of ice! How can anyone human go through what she's been through and not break down into tears?”

Good Cop said nothing because he didn't have any way to refute the statement or to answer the question. For some reason though, he didn't believe it was, totally, true.

Miriam Princhek was indeed very human.

###

Pavel watched Miriam pace the floor in his small living room. “What are you going to do?”

“I'm going to do what Papa wanted me to do.” Miriam took a deep breath to clear the catch in her throat at the thought of her Papa's smiling face. “I'm going to go to college. I'm going to learn everything I can.” She turned to face Pavel. “And then I'm going to return.” She put her hand on Pavel's arm. “You have always been Papa's most trusted friend. He would not have allowed you to be in charge of my safety for all these years if that were not true.” She nodded at his teary smile. “I need you to be my eyes and ears here, while I'm gone.”

“I will.” Pavel promised then asked, “Do I need to take care of Richard for you?”

“No.” Miriam ground her teeth together for a moment then licked her lips. Her father had been a ruthless businessman, but she believed that he had never resorted to the extreme of murder. Many times she had heard him utter the phrase 'he is dead to me', which just meant that the person in question was no longer even someone to be thought about. But that was not the case here, Richard was very much someone of concern to her, she just had no time to deal with him at the moment. “I need you to find him, watch him, but he is mine to deal with.”

Nodding, Pavel silently agreed. They both knew that Richard had something to do with the murders, it was possible he had orchestrated the whole thing, if not committed the crimes himself. It was Miriam's right to deal with the traitor however she saw fit. “I will do as you ask, Miriam.”

“No, no...” Pursing her lips, Miriam released a clearing breath and corrected the man. “I am no longer Miriam Princhek...”

“No?” Pavel understood that the girl needed to disappear. Assuming a new identity would be best, especially if their concerns were accurate and the Marettis were still after her, looking to finish what had been started with Androv and Mira's death. “Then who?”

“Just call me, Miranda.”

Pavel thought about that, a mixture of her mother's and father's names, then nodded and answered appropriately.

“Yes, Miranda.”

###

Miranda stepped through the gate at the airport and took a deep breath. She had only returned a few times during her school years, for business reasons, and only once after that when she had a week between her job as Art Director at British Runway and Editor-in-Chief at French Runway. Now she had been given the unenviable task of leading American Runway back to its former glory. The youngest Editor-in-Chief in American Runway history, she was going to have to work hard to prove that she deserved the honor. One year as Editor-in-Chief of French Runway wasn't enough for most naysayers to feel she was worthy. Miranda knew, she would prove them wrong. She also knew it was going to take a lot of hard work to do it.

As before, when she changed jobs, she had a week before she started her new position so she was looking forward to re-acclimating herself to New York and its various quirks. Looking around she saw a man in a driver's uniform holding a sign with her name on it. She was wary, she had never seen this man before. Even half a decade after the murder of her parents, Miranda was not over the paranoia that someone could possibly still be looking for her, or the information that she had taken from her father's office that night. At this point it was unlikely, for various reasons, but it still didn't hurt to be cautious.

Carefully approaching the man, Miranda identified herself. She relaxed slightly when he nodded and spoke.

“Hello. My name is Roy. Pavel sends his regrets. He told me to tell you that your townhouse is ready and,” he closed his eyes as if seeing the words he recited, “there are no signs that the little beasties were ever in the house.”

Miranda chuckled. “Thank you, Roy.” During her time away she had leased the townhouse to a family. When she found out how many children they had she had been shocked. Even with five bedrooms some of the children had needed to share rooms with each other. The thought of it made her shudder. When she was growing up, she'd had practically a whole wing of the house to herself. Even now, as an adult she couldn't stand the thought of someone else living in close proximity to her. Shaking those thoughts away, Miranda handed him her luggage tickets. “My checked bags should be on the carousel soon. It took long enough in customs that they should be there now.”

He took the tickets and gestured toward the baggage claim area. “Yes, Miranda. This way.”

Miranda found Roy to be quite efficient and decided that if Pavel couldn't be here himself, Roy was an acceptable substitute.

###

She had only stayed at the townhouse for a few months after her eighteenth birthday, so it surprised Miranda when she walked in and felt as though she was home, on this day of all days. Roy set her luggage down just inside the door. “Do you want these upstairs, Miranda?”

Nodding, she gestured up. “Yes, third floor, first door on the left.” She heard the sound of him bumping the luggage on the stairs as he carried out the task, but Miranda wasn't really paying attention to that. She was more amazed by the photo hanging on the wall of the hallway. She stood mesmerized, staring at it until Roy cleared his throat.

“Will there be anything else, Miranda?”

“No.” The rest of her things wouldn't be arriving until next week. Miranda never took her eyes off the picture of her parents. “That's all.”

Not even the sound of the door closing behind Roy broke her gaze. The quiet sound of another door opening registered on her senses, but then a waft of very familiar cologne told her all she needed to know about the new arrival. He spoke softly when he reached her side.

“You look more like her every day, especially since your hair is starting to turn white.” He smiled when she turned a questioning expression on him. “Your mother, had all the photos saved in an album. I took it, before the fire... started.” His kind eyes never wavered when Miranda's watery blue ones looked at him. “It is in your room, in the safe in your closet, along with some of her more sentimental jewelry.”

She wrapped her arms around his barrel-like torso and smiled as his large arms enveloped her. He was one of the few people in the world that she could interact with in this way. “Thank you, Pavel.” She sighed, luxuriating for a moment in the human contact. “For everything.”

He patted her back a little awkwardly. “You're welcome, Miranda.” He paused then added a soft.

“Happy Birthday.”

###

“Emily...”

Miranda only waited a moment before her First Assistant appeared. “Inform the art department that I need those layouts by two o'clock or they're all fired. Call Cheri in HR to warn her of the impending workload for her. Make sure the beauty department is ready for the photo shoot this evening and pull the run-through up to three, today. Send someone for fresh coffee and get Patrick on the phone.” Glancing up over the rims of her glasses, she blinked when the woman hadn't moved yet. “That's all.”

It was nice to see that her assistant wasn't one of those horrible whiners. From day one the woman had simply done her job, even though Miranda was the younger of the two, Emily never once thought that she could do the job better than Miranda. No matter what Miranda had asked for in the last year, Emily had delivered. As Miranda's hard work had rejuvenated the magazine, she knew that without Emily's tireless and unwavering assistance that feat would not have been possible. It was a depressing thought, because she didn't want to lose such an amazing assistant, but Miranda knew that this woman's talents were wasted in this position. Her father had rarely kept good people in the same position for very long, a year or two at most. It didn't do to squander talent. Emily deserved a promotion for all the work she had done this past year. That did make her think of Pavel though, trustworthy and loyal Pavel had been basically doing the same thing he had always done, for many many years. Perhaps it was time for him too, to spread his wings. She would have to speak to him regarding his future, and speak to Emily regarding hers as well.

Her thoughts were ironically interrupted by both people in question when Emily's voice issued from the intercom speaker on her desk. “Mr. Pavel is here to see you, Miranda.”

That was interesting, Pavel rarely came by in person. Normally he would call her with anything that needed to be taken care of. She pushed the button to reply. “Send him in.”

The expression on his face did not bode well for the news he had to relay, so Miranda indulged herself in a quick hug before allowing him to sit in one of the plush chairs across from her desk. “What has you so troubled, my friend?”

The man had never looked this concerned. Not when he had told her about Richard's so-called scholarship to Stanford University's law program. The scholarship completely funded by the Maretti family. Nor had his expression been so solemn when he told her of Richard's nuptials to none other than Nicolette Maretti. When the Maretti family had been all but wiped out by yet another rival family the news had not been entirely unwelcome for Miranda. Friends of the Princhek family had sworn vengeance on her behalf but the fact that Richard and Nicolette had survived and moved to the Midwest was somewhat annoying. She wondered why they had been spared but then realized that Pavel had probably put out the word that Richard was hers to deal with. Why on Earth they had chosen Ohio to run to was beyond Miranda's comprehension. It did make surveillance a bit more difficult, however, not impossible. Biding her time also seemed to be nerve-wracking for Richard. The reports of his paranoia made her heart a little happy and prolonging that was fine with her. She should have been expecting it, but for some reason Pavel's next words shocked her speechless for a long moment.

“Nicolette has given birth, to a girl.”

Miranda's mind used the quiet moment to process the information, and slowly a smile formed on Miranda's face. Not a pleasant smile. “A baby...” she mused, “how, wonderful.” Her eyes glittered with anticipation. “Have the pilot ready the plane. Roy will take me to the airport in two hours.”

Pavel swallowed hard and nodded as he stood. “Yes, Miranda.” As he left the office he heard Miranda calling for her assistant.

“Emily.” Miranda barely waited for the woman to be within earshot. “Cancel everything this afternoon and tomorrow morning. Call Roy, he is to be waiting for me downstairs in fifteen minutes. That's all.” There was the expected jaw drop, the very near question as to why the sudden change, but then Emily simply nodded and went back to her desk to make the calls. Miranda sighed to herself, she was going to miss Emily a great deal.

###

Miranda stood looking through the large glass window. So many little beasties, squirming in their tiny clear bassinets, she wondered which one was the one she hated the most. She couldn't see the cards at the end of their little beds clearly enough to read them. From the corner of her eye she saw a man approach the window, he was older, but she would recognize him anywhere. Richard Sachs, the man who had broken her heart and taken her family from her. Over the years the dispassionate reports as to his whereabouts and activities had made her believe that she had gotten over a lot of her anger. She still always wanted to get him back, somehow, but the burning anger had seemed to be extinguished. Now she found that was not the case, and the mere act of setting eyes on Richard was enough to fan the flames even higher than they had been in the days following her parent's murder.

She watched, still unnoticed by him, as a nurse wheeled one of the bassinets closer to the window, for him to see. He smiled, made goofy faces and wiggled his fingers at the infant. Miranda narrowed her eyes and decided that was enough of him being happy. “Why is she wrapped in a blue blanket?”

Richard didn't pull his attention away from the baby. “They ran out of pink...” Then it dawned on him what had been asked, and the familiarity of the voice made him gasp. His eyes were wide when he turned to look at the woman standing next to him. Her red hair was faded to be nearly completely white now, but he obviously recognized her. His tone was panicked as he looked around frantically for, who knew what. “Miriam!”

“Mmm...” An eyebrow raised. “Nice to be remembered.” She turned to look at the squirming infant. “I must say, I was surprised that I didn't get invited to your wedding, or the baby shower.”

Past his panic, now Richard was becoming angry. “You weren't welcome.”

“Wha...” Placing her hand over her heart, like he had delivered a mortal wound with is words, Miranda's mock-surprise only lasted a moment, then she began to laugh. Not a nice laugh. “I heard about the Maretti's unfortunate circumstances.” The head of the Maretti family was not as careful with his books as her father had been. The police had found them and all the Maretti assets had been confiscated. The fortune that Richard believed he was marrying into had vanished in the blink of an eye, well.. the stroke of a bureaucrats pen anyway. “How is Nicolette managing?”

Richard unlocked his jaw long enough to growl, “Nikki is just fine.”

“Ah... Nikki.” Miranda suppressed a shudder, nicknames were never something she cared for. Oddly, she felt a certain kinship with her former rival. Both having been orphaned in a similar way. Nicolette had gotten the advantage of being an adult when it happened, however, not the same as when Miriam had still basically been a child. Miranda had gotten the advantage of not losing any of the assets her father had built. Since no one could prove anything about any illegal operations all the properties, restaurants, hotels and such had been transferred to her per her father's iron clad will. “Luckily,” Miranda's smooth voice chilled the air between them, “she has you.”

His hands clenched into fists at his sides. “What do you want, Miriam?”

“I merely wanted to see the little beastie.” Miranda grinned when Richard's nostril's flared.

“Her name is Andrea!”

That caught her breath in her throat, then she became as angry as he'd ever seen her. “How DARE you...”

“I loved Androv, too.” Richard's eyes teared up now. “He was like a father to me.”

“Like? LIKE?” Miranda was livid. “He WAS my father! And YOU killed him!”

Richard said something softly, so quiet that the blood pounding in Miranda's ears blocked it out. She had seen his lips move though and called him on it. “What?”

“I said...he wasn't supposed to be home.” Richard admitted. “No one was supposed to be there. They only wanted to get the books, I don't know why Androv and Mira returned so soon.” His eyes begged her to believe him. “I didn't want them to get hurt. The...the Maretti's just wanted the books. I didn't have anything to do with the fire either...”

“Papa would have paid for you to go to school.” Miranda sighed when she saw the truth in Richard's face. “But that wasn't the only reason, was it?” She tilted her head, watching him look everywhere but at her. “You... love, her...Nicolette.”

“Yes.”

“So the entire time you professed to love me, you actually had feelings for her.”

“It didn't start out that way.” Richard sighed. “It was his idea, you know? Androv, told me to get close to the Maretti family. To see what they were up to... but Nicolette was so...” He shook his head, unable to explain the complexity that resulted from Androv's request.

Miranda looked back on that time of her life and the pain his actions had caused her, then turned to look at the child again. “Papa had eighteen years with me, before you ripped us apart.”

“I...” His protest died on his lips when she glared at him.

Returning her gaze to the baby, Miranda continued to speak, as if she hadn't been interrupted, “Therefore I will return the courtesy.”

“What?” Now Richard's voice trembled.

“Enjoy the first eighteen years, Richard, because after that it will be my turn.” Miranda looked at the tiny squirming thing and plans began to form.

“You can't... please. Don't hurt her.”

Rolling her eyes, Miranda waved off his pathetic pleas. “Good God, Richard. I'm not going to kill you, or her.” She scoffed at his visible relief. “But I will control her. She will work for me. You know what that means.”

He did. Androv was the same way. All his employees were under his control, he held their futures in his hands and could make or break them as he saw fit. “Her life will be in your hands.”

“Indeed.” Miranda turned back to peer through the glass. Her eyes narrowed at the infant. “Indeed it will be.”

“Please, Miriam.” Richard took a step closer. “Don't do this.”

“Oh...” She spun her attention back to him. “I like you begging.” She licked her lips. “Do it again.”

“Miriam.” He now hugged his waist, as if to hold his pain inside. “Please, don't hurt her. You know as well as I do, that world, that life, it's no good.”

“It is just as good as any other Richard.” She wasn't even part of that world anymore and had toyed with the idea of being lenient but he had just insulted her entire childhood, and everything that her father, a man he had professed to love, stood for. “She will learn to adapt. Sink or swim, dog eat dog...” Again she turned to the child, speaking to it regardless of the fact that even if her voice were to pass through the glass, the infant wouldn't understand a word. “It's a big bad world out there, Little Beastie, you better be ready when I decide to show it to you.” She sneered when the child smiled as if she'd heard the words and found them to be amusing.

“Miriam...”

Stopping the conversation with a gesture, Miranda spoke two final words to Richard. “That's all.”

He was silent as he watched her walk away from the nursery window, her heels clicking on the hallway floor echoed ominously in his ears. For anyone else it was a woman walking down the hall, to Richard it was the tick tick tick sound of the clock already counting down to his daughter's doom.