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Escorting Your Heart

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Chapter 1

  

Miranda turned the cut glass in her hand, the amber liquid and ice moving gently inside it as she looked out over the Manhattan skyline. She’d checked into the suite and had swiftly poured herself a whiskey, needing the burn in her throat and the heat on her tongue.

The night was fresh, the breeze ruffling her coifed hair as she gripped the balcony and allowed herself to enjoy the moment of calm after the hectic week she had barely managed to survive, the March issue finally going to print.

She had almost cancelled her evening, the sliver of pointlessness edging in at the corners of her mind as she recalled how completely unsuccessful her previous attempts had been, but she couldn’t bring herself to do so as her finger had hovered over the number.

“This is ridiculous.” She hissed, sighing deeply before stepping back inside and sliding the door closed.

Hitting a button on the room remote saw two thick curtains roll into position, concealing her from the world beyond.

Sitting on the end of the bed her hand instinctively went to her throat and the necklace she wore; fingers running across it as her mind started to imagine what she could be experiencing if only she were to finally open herself up to new possibilities.

Miranda had always been a risk taker, never afraid of pushing against the status quo and breaking down barriers. She had established the way the world of fashion worked, so much so that it now revolved around her, everyone else lucky to even be in her orbit.

There was nothing she could not achieve when she set her mind to it. She was brilliant. No one could do what she does and everyone knew it, even Irv with his blatant hatred of her had found himself ousted from his position after his failed attempt to replace her during Paris fashion week the previous year.

No. Miranda Priestley was not replaceable, at least not in fashion. In her private life however it was a completely different matter.

Her first husband had been a match because she had wanted children; because he was available and too interested in his own business to put expectations on her to be home early and keep the home fires burning. That changed the moment her twins were born, where she was made to feel more inadequate as a mother with each passing day. She had returned to Runway despite James making no effort to fulfil his role as a father. She was not at all interested in him fulfilling his position as husband either, so when he announced he was leaving her for his thirty-year-old secretary she barely batted an eyelid. He batted more than that when he realised he would get nothing in the divorce, including the two-year-old twins whom he was more than happy to leave behind.

And then came Stephen, their divorce finalised a little over a month ago. Another person that had tried valiantly to bring her down during her time in Paris. She’d almost considered the possibility that he had coordinated the timing with Irv, but Stephen was way too stupid to have engineered anything so clever. No. He had just been a coward instead.

Their marriage had been about status for him and her attempt at securing a male role model for her seven-year-old daughters. It had lasted less than a year and had remained unconsummated, a fact that he had been made aware of before they had even walked down the aisle. She had it annulled of course, to speed up proceedings, wanting to be rid of the horrible man once and for all.

Now, at forty-nine, Miranda had made the horrifying discovery that she was lonely. Not just lonely but touch starved.

She’d heard the whispers at work. Knew ‘the rules’ that were passed from assistant to assistant in regard to their interactions with her. Not that it would be at all appropriate for her to entertain such contact with them, although she had wondered on more than one occasion how far Emily’s hero worship ran.

She shuddered at the thought and suppressed a nervous laugh choosing instead to take a slow sip of her drink.

Miranda recognised the emotion, albeit it was one she had rarely experienced in her life. She was nervous. She felt a little hotter, aware of the warmth beneath her blouse and the slight tremor in her fingers. Her breathing was shorter too; fine puffs of air slipping over her lips faster than normal. ‘Yes. This is definitely a bad idea.’ She mused, walking to the dining area and setting her glass down.

The knock on the door startled her despite the fact she knew it was coming. A quick glance at her watch alerted her to the pleasing fact that they were on time; fifteen minutes early, a fact that had the corner of her mouth twitching upwards. Maybe this time it might be different. ‘You old fool.’

Miranda made her way to the door, the sound of her heels muffled by the luxurious pile of the carpet. She hovered in front of it, resisting the urge to look through the peephole and get a sneak preview. The last time she had done that she’d refused to answer the door altogether.

She swallowed the nerves into the pit of her stomach and chased them down with a glass of her ice-cold moniker and slid the chain free before opening the door.

What she noticed first were her eyes. Big and wide. Deep brown and doe eyed. Full of life and amazement, without a dash of jaded hope or bitter disappointment; two things she knew her own held several times a day.

As she dropped her vision a little lower, she was met with the broadest of smiles and a set of perfect teeth that certainly indicated that she took care of herself.

Her makeup was flawless. Her long chestnut brown hair glossy and loose, gently cascading over her shoulders.

“Hi.”

The sound of her voice was rich and warm, the timbre of it even in a single short word, was enough to make her pulse start to hum in her ears. She was aware of her fingers wrapping around the edge of the door a little tighter and her lips parting in preparation to speak and yet nothing came out.

“Shall I er…come in?” The woman said, with a tiny chuckle peppering her request, that had Miranda feeling a stir in her belly.

Shaking herself free of whatever nonsense was happening she nodded sharply and stepped back allowing her to enter, a heady scent of musk and jasmine invading her nostrils as she did so.

Miranda fell back against the door as she closed it to, her hand fumbling for the lock as she continued to appraise the woman who was now doffing her coat over the back of an armchair as she cast her gaze around the room.

She was magnificent. There was no denying it. And it was unexpected. Not that a couple of past experiences hadn’t ticked the attractive box for her because they had, but this one was something else altogether. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to reach for her or run from her.

‘Don’t do that again. Give this…her a chance.’ She schooled herself.

But she hadn’t run before, not really. She’d just been careful, guarded, practical. Had assessed the situation and made a snap decision exactly as she would about a line of clothing, a colour choice for a page or a suitable candidate for a role. Miranda Priestly made tough decisions for a living, and she was not a time waster, so why would those encounters have been any different?

“This is a beautiful suite.” The woman said, and she realised she had spoken three times and Miranda was yet to utter a word. She’d better make it count.

“I’m sure you see plenty of nice rooms.”

She mentally cringed at how acerbic she sounded. Surprised when she heard that warm chuckle again and brown eyes looking at her still stood against the door.

“Are you going to remain by the emergency exit, or should I pour you a glass of champagne?”

Miranda processed the question, her eyebrow quirking a little at how unfazed this interloper appeared to be at her sharpness. That was altogether…unnervingly refreshing? No. Not that. Disturbing? After all her blood seemed to be rushing faster and her breathing was a little erratic.

Deciding not to think about what it was, she nodded and made a slow procession back to the lounge watching carefully as the woman lifted the bottle from its icy confines and started to cut and unwrap the top, twisting the metal restraint before turning and popping the cork.

The sound reverberated in the suite and by the time Miranda was standing across the table from her, she had eloquently poured two glasses, pushing one over to her with a coy smile.

She picked up the glass and took a sip, savouring the expensive vintage she had taken the liberty of having delivered on her arrival earlier in the evening. She was also pleased it gave her something else to focus on other than the confidence radiating at her from the woman, and her own shaky breath.

She watched plump lips wrap around the lip of the glass in her hand and the bob of her throat as she swallowed and couldn’t look away from the long swanlike neck that was suddenly on display for her hungry eyes.

“I don’t believe I’ve tasted better.” The woman said with a grin wider than the Cheshire Cat. ‘Maybe I’m Alice, lost down a damn rabbit hole.’ Miranda thought, as she twirled the stem between her fingers.

“Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame.”

“I’m beginning to see you appreciate fine things.” The woman replied, her eyes scanning around the room once again. “I imagine the view is rather spectacular too.”

“Hmm.”

“So…”

And Miranda was back in the moment, with chocolate brown eyes looking deeply into her own. “…Miranda. Are you comfortable with that name or is there another name you’d prefer I call you?”

She narrowed her eyes, suspicion rolling in her gut like a wave.

Open features recoiled a notch, a small crinkle appearing between perfectly curved eyebrows and the wide smile drooped just a little at the corners. Miranda felt elated she had rattled this overconfident youth; fast approaching full recovery from the so far disarming quality of this mysterious creature.

“So Miranda is your real name then? Ok.” The woman continued gently, placing her drink down on the table.

Confusion started to edge in at the sides of Miranda’s mind and she felt the pinch of a headache forming, bouncing in her left temple. She pressed her pointer and middle finger against it for a moment as she answered.

“You know who I am already.” She glowered; her voice low, quiet. The one she used with her assistants that had them scurrying away like rats.

Deep eyes held her gaze, clearly unfettered. “It may come as a surprise to you, but I really don’t know who you are.”

Miranda huffed, ire chasing her patience away at an alarming speed.

“And you expect me to believe that when you’re dressed like…like that?” She spat.

The woman glanced down at herself; a hand with its long fingers brushing at a hip and then flattening against her waistband for a moment before retrieving her drink and taking her time to savour it. When darkened eyes met her own once more Miranda felt her breath hitch as she stammered to continue, not remembering the last time she had ever stuttered.

“D…don’t lie to me, or you can leave.”

The woman was grating on her last nerve.

“Why do you assume I’m lying?”

“From the way you’re dressed. Head to toe in this seasons Chanel including the bag and coat and Manolo Blahniks size eight and half in midnight blue and featured in Runways latest edition. Your makeup and hair are…acceptable.” She conceded.

“O…kay.” The woman said with a raised eyebrow and a wry smile. “Spot on with the shoe size by the way.”

“You know fashion, needless to say you must know me.” Miranda declared, lifting her chin a little and staring down the brunette whose bright disposition seemed unfazed by her icy glower.

“I’m afraid I don’t. Listen. Cards on the table here.” The woman said with a soft sigh and a husk that Miranda felt touch her in a place she refused to acknowledge. “The company has a department who does…all this.” She continued, gesturing to her outfit. “I’m usually rather ordinary. I wear jeans and sneakers. I have more hoodies and tees than I know what to do with. And don’t even get me started on sportswear.”

The laughter that rumbled from her chest made Miranda think the woman was anything but ordinary. Yet another thing she was not ready to admit. Everything seemed so casually easy to her. She was unflappable it appeared, unafraid of her blue-eyed disapproval or her caustic tone. It was…

‘Arousing’.

She shook her head in an attempt to dismiss the thought that had tumbled so easily into the forefront of her mind, her chest heaving a little as she tried to clear it away.

“I do own a few summer dresses too.” The woman continued to explain, and Miranda’s eyes seemed unable to blink as she continued to glare away her burgeoning flights of fancy. “I don’t pay attention to fashion. If I like it, I buy it.”

Miranda watched her shrug nonchalantly and tried to swallow the sudden distaste on her tongue at how casually dismissive the upstart in front of her was being; how easily she could discount her life’s work and purpose.

“You expect me to believe that?” She countered, taking a step closer to the table, the tops of her thighs pressing against the edge of it like a barrier.

“You can believe what you want, but I’m not a liar. I can promise that during our time together, I won’t do that to you.”

Miranda laughed. It was the laugh that was rolled out just before someone was either escorted from her sight or left her presence with their tail between their legs. It was a sound, short and clipped, immediately followed with a deathly silence and a flaring of nostrils; lips in a perfect line as her eyes ran cooler than snow.

The woman stood stock still and waited, clearly believing her own words as if she had uttered them a thousand times before. Maybe she had. It was her job after all to make people feel like they could trust her as she lured them into believing her falsehoods for the night. And for what? Company? Sex? Someone to make them feel wanted?

‘It’s why you booked her.’ Her inner voice whispered.

“Preposterous.”

“Why? Because of my job or because you’ve dated liars and cheats and had a lifetime of people telling you what they thought you wanted to hear?”                                                                               

Miranda felt the white-hot prickle of rage sliding through her head as her mouth pursed shut, fingers tightening on the pearls of her necklace as the woman walked boldly around the table and brought her hand to cover the one she had pressed against it.

Her eyelids fluttered at the contact, a judder of her digits that were warming under the soft skin caressing her own like a promise.

The dichotomy between her brain and her body was a dizzying combination she had never experienced before. On the one hand she was desperate to dismiss her and demand her money back for the company sending her someone so utterly disrespectful and on the other, she felt herself melting under the delicate touch, wondering what it would feel like for those graceful fingers to slide up her wrist and dance over her pulse; a pulse she could feel thrumming with erratic purpose.

“Miranda. I’m sorry if that’s been the case, but you don’t know me. Yet, at least, but I don’t say things I don’t mean.” The woman said kindly, her smile so enchanting, wide eyes so alive with warmth that she had to look away, her gaze falling to their hands feeling it could well be her undoing.

A rush of uncharacteristic uncertainty hits her, not at the words spoken to her, or the woman herself but at her own behaviour.

“Very well.” She managed to say, although the words felt tight as they left her dry mouth. “If I choose to believe you, is everything on your resume the truth also?”

She flicked her eyes upwards and waited in the silence as the woman shook her head.

“Everything but my name. They don’t allow us to use our real one.”

“I see.”

It was understandable. Miranda was a businesswoman and if this were her empire, she would not allow her employees to open themselves up to being located outside of their working life.

The woman leaned back a little, reaching with her free hand for her champagne before taking another sip of it, her eyes seeming to search her blue ones for something. Of what, she was unsure, although the appraisal was unobtrusive and tender.

She heard the glass against the wood as it was carefully placed back down, never breaking eye contact as she did so, or the connection of their fingers that had somehow become a little interlaced, the skin on the inside of her forefinger being brushed lightly.

“It’s Andy. My real name is Andy.”

Miranda swallowed past the lump in her throat and finally relinquished the grip on her necklace, her hand resting idly by her side.

“Why did you…?” She started, surprisingly unannoyed when she was interrupted.

“I don’t know.” The woman; Andy, all but whispered. “Something tells me that if this is going to work for you, then you need full disclosure from me, and for some reason I’m ok with that.”

“Andy?” She rolled the name round her mouth, uncomfortable with the masculinity of it.

“Yes.”

“I can’t imagine that any mother would christen their beautiful baby girl Andy.” Miranda stated with a lifted brow and a quirk of her top lip that seemed to make the brunette smile broadly.

“It’s short for Andrea.”

“Andrea.” She took her time with the word, enunciating every part of it slowly, letting it melt on her tongue before it slid past her lips.

“Uh huh, but no one calls me that.” Andrea murmured, brown eyes darkening Miranda noticed, as they hazarded a glance at her mouth.

“Andrea.” Miranda purred, watching the slight tremor rumble through the woman’s body as she said it. ‘Interesting.’ “I believe I will call you it. I don’t appreciate nicknames of any variety.”

“I er, I like the way you say it.”

“Do you.” A fact, not a question; one that had her wetting her lips with her tongue before smiling in amusement, feeling her confidence return.

“I do. Very much so.”

“Then we are agreed.”

Andrea grinned, her eyes shining with something akin to happiness and Miranda wondered if she might drown in them, much like writers often suggested in hapless romantic novels. Idealistic notions of love had always been a fallacy in her book and yet here she was staring back into chocolate pools that she could swim lengths in for days and never tire. No. That wouldn’t do at all.

Miranda let out a small cough and retrieved her hand, now warm and tingling with the barest of attentions it had received. She smoothed her palm down an invisible crease on her tailored Dior skirt.

“We might be comfier on the settee perhaps?” Andrea suggested, strolling towards it before placing her glass down on the coffee table in front of it.

She stood beside it and waited, so open and inviting that Miranda found herself following without preamble wondering, as she sank back against the cushions of the two-seater, how in fact she had even arrived there.

When she turned her inscrutable gaze to the young woman beside her, she wasn’t surprised to be greeted by a warm smile and kind eyes. Was this creature incapable of looking sad? It was a thought that made her want to wipe that look off her beautiful face for daring to unsettle her equilibrium.

She was also painfully reminded by the sharp pang in her chest that she was lying to herself. She remained quiet and nursed the drink in her hand, her attention momentarily distracted by the popping of bubbles on the side of the glass.

“I won’t run through the usual spiel if that’s alright with you, unless you have any questions?” Andrea asked, angling her body to face her, her pant-clad knee barely an inch away from making contact with her thigh. Miranda wondered if she should shift a little closer before she mentally scolded herself and remained rigidly fixed in her corner.

“No.” She replied simply, her features betraying nothing of the anxiety that had slowly started to creep up her spine.

“I notice you have used our services before?”

She nodded curtly, wondering why it had been asked as a question when the woman already knew the damn answer.

“I also know that no one has lasted past the first twenty minutes.”

Miranda took a slow sip of champagne and stared, wondering if Andrea would detect the thunderous roll of storm clouds in her eyes, like her scrambling assistants did.

“As number six, I’d really like to understand what it is I can do for you so I can stay.”

The seductive note to her voice made Miranda’s stomach clench, despite the ice of her gaze and her fixed posture. She was surprised with her own body’s reactions to the brunette and how capable she seemed to be at looking past the walls and the carefully erected persona she had worked tirelessly to create. The names the press had called her over the years added to her armour and she wore them like badges of pride wherever she went, watching as the seas parted around her and lesser mortals fawned at her feet.

But in private, when she allowed the shields to lower, when it was just her in the sanctuary of her home, stripped of all artifice and glamour then who was she? Certainly not the Miriam of her younger years who had clawed and climbed her way up from the gutter to achieve her life’s ambition. And achieve it she had, ten times over, and more than her teenage dreams could ever have imagined.

Here, in this over-priced suite with a woman she’d bet her last dime on being almost half her age, and everything was starting to slip away like molasses; slow and temporal it may be, but still it was happening.

She needed to find her feet. This was a transaction like any other. So what if this particular woman, the sixth one, seemed to be seeping into every pore. It was a trade; an exchange of money for services she had requested. And if this one, this Andrea person just so happened to be making her tingle, then maybe, finally, she could get what she had wanted, despite it not being real. Temporary it may be, but surely she could allow herself to take, to want; to need.

“Isn’t that supposed to be your job?” Miranda replied after moments of silence had settled over them.

“In part, but you are the only client I am aware of who has made more than one rejection without reason.”

“I wasn’t aware that I had to declare my objections.”

She could feel her ire heating up her blood, hoping the champagne would cool her down just enough to allow whatever this was to continue a little longer.

“Miranda, I just want to help you get the most out of this experience, if you’ll let me.”

And there were the doe eyes again looking at her as if she were the moon in human form, waiting for her to cast her silvery light upon her and acquiesce. Her hand shook a little as she took another sip of the golden liquid, the fizz tickling the inside of her mouth as swallowed.

“One of them was very rude.” She stated, gasping at how the words had fallen so easily from her treacherous lips.

Andrea seemed to notice, a frown appearing as some of the light disappeared from her chocolate orbs.

“I’m really sorry to hear that. That’s the sort of thing you should report.”

Miranda a waved a hand dismissively between them as if shooing the air.

“I may have commented on her lack of style.”

She was rewarded with a hearty chuckle and found that the corners of her mouth were unable to remain in line formation at the sound of it.

“Dare I ask about the others?” Andrea probed lightly, with a delicate lift of her right eyebrow, that Miranda was finding both endearing and delightfully challenging.

“Two of them were far too interested in trying to get me to hire them as models. Sycophantic to the point of immense irritation. If I wanted that in the workplace, I need look no further than my first assistant.”

“Your first assistant?”

She squinted a little. “Yes. I have two.”

“Right.” Andrea replied, seemingly unsurprised by that discovery.

“Then there was the little blonde waif who I viewed for a good minute through the peephole before deciding I wasn’t about to let her in. It would have simply been a waste of my time.”

“And your money too, it would seem.”

Miranda appraised her at the response, her pulse humming as she watched irises seem to darken a little. She’d expected a snippier tone, or a look that indicated how she could clearly afford to throw away thousands of pounds by not opening a door.

She placed her empty glass down on the small table and before it had barely left her fingertips, Andrea had wrapped hers around the stem and was carrying it back towards the dining table and the bottle on ice. Miranda watched her, her eyes greedily feasting on the long lines and soft curves of number six as she poured her a fresh glass of champagne before returning it to her and sitting confidently back down.

“And the last one?”

Miranda chewed on that for a moment wondering what she should say before deciding she had already divulged more than enough anyway. ‘In for a penny.’ She mused.

“Well, I…I had wanted to book you, but when it came to doing so you were no longer available. I picked someone similar, but…”

“But she wasn’t me.” Andrea husked, resting her cheek on her fist as she leant her arm against the back of the sofa and simply looked at her.

“No.”

“At least I have that in my favour then; the fact that I’m me.”

Again that uncomplicated smile and Miranda could feel it in her bones.

“Yes…you do.” She conceded, shifting her position so she faced the brunette more, relishing the slide of her knee against a trousered-thigh.

“So…” Andrea started, moving her hand carefully, the tips of her fingers glancing over the silk of her stockings at the hem of her skirt.

She felt her breath stutter and her eyelids blinking in slow repetition as her synapses flashed to life. It was a simple, casual movement that had her trying to net butterflies, her mind rebelling at such a childish thought.

“…would you like to tell me a little about yourself?”

“Such as?” Miranda answered, her fingers reaching for her necklace again.

“Well, you obviously have a very important job, one that keeps you very busy no doubt, but what do you enjoy when you’re not doing that? What makes your heart sing?”

Of all the questions that Miranda could remember being asked, it was this one that had her completely off kilter. Runway was her life. There was nothing else that gave her those feelings of complete fulfilment, where she felt at her absolute best. No one could be her, though many wished they could.

She adored her twin girls, her Bobbseys were also her world, but she knew that she squeezed in time with them in between the pages of her magazine. Being a mother had always been part of her dream. It was why she had even remotely entertained the idea of being with James to begin with, but whether she was good one, was a thought she barely tried to wrestle with. She knew she would come up short, and failure was not a word Miranda Priestly had any time for, let alone acknowledge as a possible flaw.

“Have I broken you?”

Her blue eyes focused on brown again, not having left them, simply zoning out as she’d assessed the question and floundered with it. It unsettled her immensely.

“Would it help if I told you mine?” Andrea offered kindly, her sweet caress still a blissful torment.

Miranda nodded.

“I write. I enjoy the smell of fresh ink on quality paper and the scratch of the nib against the grain. Typing is quicker of course, but I try and find the time to use a pen every day.”

“I prefer to make handwritten notes rather than digital edits.” She added, somehow comforted by such a simple thing, not expecting it to have been an answer. She had expected a vacuous reply; a vapid description of socialising and dancing in sweaty nightclubs with the rest of the youth she tried so hard to avoid, dreading the day when her girls would be doing just that.

But no. Andrea seemed different and different was dangerous.

“You appreciate stationary and the need for a quality pen?”

“I do.”

“Then I believe we will get along great.” Andrea said, with a toothy grin.

“You are easily pleased.”

“Oh. Maybe? I don’t know. I just try to appreciate the little things in life I guess.”

“How refreshing.”

She had meant the comment as dismissive when it had entered her head, and yet, as the two words left her mouth Miranda meant them. The girl seemed to possess no artifice at all and it was beguiling.

“It’s sad if you think so.”

“Why?” She found herself asking, interested in this stranger’s opinion. Quite a discombobulating realisation.

She reached across for her champagne, her skirt riding up a little higher as she did so. Fingers rode the journey upwards and Miranda had to keep a tighter grip on her glass. Placing it down was just as much of a challenge.

Miranda didn’t readjust her clothing as she sat back against the cushions and fixed her gaze on Andrea again, waiting to see what observations she could provide.

“Because if you spend your life waiting or looking for the big things to happen, you’ll miss all the small ones. All the little occurrences. All the ones that happened in between may well be the ones you look back on in life.”

“Are you usually this…profound?”

Andrea laughed. “Not always, no. I just seem to have a lot of optimism despite…well, the difficulties the world throws at you I suppose.”

“I like to live on hope.”

Long, capable fingers halted for a moment, a warm palm cupping her knee.

“That…that was something my mother would always say to me growing up.”

Miranda noted the past tense and wondered if it meant what she thought it did.

“A wise lady.” She murmured, her eyes widening to take in more of Andrea’s features as the woman seemed to be replaying something in her mind.

“She, er…I guess.”

The stroking started again, digits turning to brush the fold at the back of her knee. She could no more prevent the goosebumps erupting on her skin than she could stop the sun rising in the east.

She wasn’t sure if she should ask. Andrea was not a friend and Miranda wasn’t certain she would even ask if she was one. She had never been one for platitudes or idle conversation. Maybe that was why she was paying an exorbitant fee for company because she didn’t have anyone else she could spend her time with without it being a work connection or something related to the girls.

“I enjoy listening to classical music.” She almost whispered, a warm brown gaze flicking up to her own for a brief moment before returning to the place their bodies were connected; where she was being touched with a reverence she could not seem to justify. She hadn’t asked to be touched, so used to being untouchable and here was Andrea simply defying an unspoken barrier.

“And I imagine you are the art gallery type? Museums too I expect?”

“Yes.”

“Have you seen Zhang Enli’s collection called ‘Looking Outwards’ at Hauser & Wirth? It totally blew my mind with his choices of line and colour.”

“No. I have yet to have found the time.”

She felt the hand leave her knee, missing the contact instantly, before her own was grasped lightly and cradled on top of Andrea’s palm, the fingers of her other running circles on her own. The sensation was dizzying.

“Sometimes when we can’t find time for something you have to make it for yourself.”

“Enlighten me.” Miranda replied, feeling a sliver of ice glide perfectly back into place at the sound of feeling challenged.

“I don’t know what it is you do, but it keeps you wrapped up till all hours I bet. You are clearly the mistress of your own ship, so give yourself time away to enjoy those little things. Book an hour away from the daily grind to explore it. I have a feeling you’ll love it.”

“Ah.” She said, her hand tensing under the gentle ministrations being administered to it. She hadn’t pulled it away however, and that thought was very vexing indeed. “You think you know me enough to discern that after half an hour?”

“No, but I’ll send you an open ticket to see it and if you don’t enjoy it then it’ll have cost you nothing.”

“Except my precious time.”

“If you hate it, I’ll buy you dinner.” Andrea said, dragging her bottom lip between her teeth.

Miranda licked her lips in response and watched as darkened eyes flicked to the movement.

“If I do not like this…exhibition?”

“Uh huh.”

“You’re overly confident it would appear, if you’re prepared to gamble your free time on whether or not I would approve of your taste in something as subjective as art.”

“I’m kind of hoping you hate it.” Andrea said with a smirk and a press of her thumb against the pulse in her wrist that Miranda was certain was beating too quickly.

She noted the lower timbre of her reply and the heady feeling of attraction start to tug on her tightly sewn seams. There was a fine line between arrogance and confidence and Andrea seemed to walk it like a seasoned tightrope walker.

“Are you…flirting with me?”

“Is it working?”

“I suppose it’s what I have paid for. Your company, you attention, your…flattery.”

“You’re making my job very easy for me Miranda.” Andrea grinned, looking up at her from under thick lashes as she laced their fingers together.

Miranda wondered if her smile could light up Broadway, never mind a room, feeling a blush rising up her neck. She couldn’t recall the last time something or someone had caused that reaction.

“And how long have you been working at this…job?”

Andrea looked away for a moment and Miranda wondered as her eyes darted to pillowy lips, what the woman would do if she pressed hers against them. It would break one of the rules on the agreement she had signed, but it didn’t prohibit her imagining how soft they would feel or how her mouth would taste laced with the finest champagne.

Instead she swallowed and moisturised her lips with a lick of her tongue and met the brunette’s gaze.

“Almost four years. Longer than I expected to be.”

“I see.” Miranda replied, imagining just how many women had been in this position before her.

Her hand juddered beneath the one holding it and she felt a strange burning at the base of her throat as wild images of naked bodies panting, sweating and writhing against Andrea burst unbidden in her mind and refused to leave.

She felt sick with it and tugged herself free, reaching with an unsteady grasp for her drink, the taste of it sour and bitter on her tongue. This was a mistake. A ridiculously expensive mistake that she had kept repeating. Wasn’t that the very definition of madness; doing the same thing repeatedly but expecting a different result?

It was official. Miranda Priestly was certifiable. She would have laughed had she not been completely convinced she may vomit.

“Miranda?”

Her name spoken with such delicate earnest made her heart ache.

“You…you have rather a lot of experience then?” She managed to ask, again scrambling over her own words and feeling how unsafe the conversation was when she was not in charge of it, controlling from the helm.

“I…I suppose I do, yes.”

Her reply seemed to hold a tinge of regret and Miranda tried to keep hold of its frayed edges.

“And have all your…interactions been like this?” She asked, feeling her cheeks pinching.

“I guess it depends on how you would define ‘this’.” Andrea stated, her brave fingers tracing along her knee, seemingly at home there. She wished she wasn’t wearing stockings. “Honestly?”

Miranda thought whether the truth on this occasion should be avoided at all costs, given the nausea that had taken hold of her stomach, but she nodded anyway and stared pointedly at the woman.

“Ok. Mostly it’s the same. Women needing company. Someone to share their day with over a meal and fine wine. The girlfriend experience if you will. Touch is almost always requested but as you already know, the instigation of sexual acts is down to choice. My choice.”

“Hmm. And how often do you choose Andrea? What makes you decide to offer yourself up in this way?”

She watched as brown eyes lost their sparkle and lips flattened out. The crinkle above her nose reappeared and the touch against her leg held still. Was there a level of anger bubbling to the surface of this seemingly impenetrable woman? Was she finally starting to feel as shaken as she had made Miranda? The thought made the tension in her shoulders disappear and she waited in her small victory.

It didn’t last.

“Not as often as you are no doubt imagining.”

And she had. She had more than imagined it and it had affected her on a level she would not dare admit to. Still she fixed her with her icy blue eyes and remained silent.

“I have to feel comfortable enough I suppose. Attracted on some level and if I’m being direct, which I promised you I would be, I had to want that sexual contact to meet my own needs.”

“You must have someone outside the confines of these…arrangements that can give that to you?”

“Must I?” Andrea smirked but Miranda noticed it didn’t reach her eyes. “I’m not sure a girlfriend would like how I make money.”

“I see.”

And she did. If Andrea were hers, she would never allow her to continue in such pursuits. The proprietary thought burned a hole in her chest and she winced at it; pleased that brown orbs seemed to be more interested in the fingers that were teasing her hemline and dipping underneath it with each passing glance. It made her breath catch.

“No one has actually asked me that before you know; what makes me decide? Women have propositioned me and if I’ve declined, they have not pressed me. Maybe we don’t feel as entitled to things in life as men do. We accept what we are given.”

“I don’t. I never settle.” Miranda sneered, raising her chin.

“In work or in life? The two are very different.”

“Are they?”

“Infinitely so. Relationships are challenging and people, in spite of themselves, need human connection. Touch, taste, the intimacies another woman can bring to you. Pleasure. Desire.”

Miranda said nothing but could feel the thrum of her pulse between her thighs at the sound of the low gravelly husk of Andreas voice.

‘Would she sleep with me if I asked her? Would I dare to?’

She would never ask, even if her La Perla’s were drenched with need. It was tantamount to begging; a word reserved for lesser people, not the likes of the Devil in Prada. She took, she demanded, she had people ready to bend to her every whim and she was more than delighted with that. This ridiculous predicament she had found herself in was an abomination. The heat in her core simply an undigestible side effect of champagne and a smile that should be illegal.

“You’re beautiful, do you know that?”

The compliment came out of nowhere as still reeled in her inner denial. It stunned her into a continuation of silence. She felt her knee twitch as fingers moved up the inside of her thigh and she was only mildly aware of her legs parting to accommodate them.

“You must know that surely?” Andrea continued, a furrow appearing in her brow. “Someone must have told you?”

She sighed shakily, not liking the feelings of insecurity and the memories of hurtful words simply because she was unwilling to give herself as part of a marital bargaining chip.

“Not for a long time.”

She felt her hand being lifted and the soft press of lips to her skin as a kiss was bestowed upon it; a warm wet slide against the raised veins on the back of it that showed her age.

“You’re beautiful.” The words glancing over her skin like a benediction.

Miranda caught the look in Andrea’s eyes expecting to see an onerous display of flattery, but instead was surprised to see nothing but honesty, an admission of truth given freely without a request for something in return; something her previous partners had been all too happy to take.

What did this creature want from her? Surely it couldn’t be as simple as intimacy and a simple desire to tell her the unguarded truth that lay in her heart?

She turned away, biting the inside of her cheek until she felt a palm cup it gently.

“Hey. Where did you go?”

She shook her head, her eyes lost to the cornices around the ceiling of the hotel room; anything to occupy them rather than stare into the chocolate pools that she could feel caressing her face.

“You’re paid to tell me these things. At least I know your princely fee garners me such praise.”

Andrea’s hand fell from her face and resumed their ministrations between her parted thighs, tracing the seam of her stocking.

“I told you I wouldn’t lie.”

Miranda could feel the trickle of ire start to make its way down her spine and it rankled her. She wanted to resist it, push it away and allow herself to open up even more than she had, to succumb to this woman, but it was starting to feel unsafe. Unchartered waters in a territory that could only lead to personal ridicule if she entertained this for a moment longer.

She waited and allowed it to pass further, trailing its way down towards the small of her back as she began to straighten her posture and lift her chin.

“It’s what I’m paying for.”

“Your fee pays for my company, not for the things I mean.”

“Is it not the same?”

“No and you’re deflecting.”

“Excuse me?”

“When you feel vulnerable you sidestep.”

Miranda pursed her lips, her nostrils flaring.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Why are you here Miranda? What is it you have come here for every time looking to find?”

The softness of Andrea’s gaze coupled with the languid stroke of her fingers just beneath her skirt sent her mind reeling as her ire finally pressed home and imbedded itself in the dip of her back. She felt burned by it; scorched, as if her skin was peeling back, allowing Andrea to read her like a book. Vulnerable, yes. Exposed. Raw. And angry because of it. How dare this woman do this to her?

“I’d like you to leave.” She stated, her voice dripping with disdain.

“I’m sorry?”

“You heard me.” She whispered, her tone low and deadly. The one that could verbally eviscerate and leave a lasting impression.

She took hold of Andrea’s wrist and dragged it away from her leg, practically throwing it onto the woman’s lap before standing and making her way to the large windows, wishing she had not obstructed the view as she gazed at the weave of the heavy drapes imagining the feel of it beneath her fingers, rather than the skin she so desperately wanted to touch instead.

She shook her head and squared her shoulders, aware of movement behind her. She couldn’t suppress a shiver as goosebumps danced across the nape of her neck, almost imagining the softest glance of warm breath as Andrea spoke, close but not touching.

Her body felt magnetised as if pulled by the invisible force stood behind her, but she resisted the tug of it even as her heart screamed for her not to. It was an organ she rarely paid attention to, and she wasn’t about to start now. It was ridiculous, really.

“I apologise if I overstepped.” Andrea stated, with a delicate confidence that was utterly confusing. “I…I shouldn’t have presumed to know you that well.”

“You don’t know me at all.” Miranda countered, as the word liar crashed into her mouth and she had to bite her lip to stop it slipping free; the truth clambering to be heard.

“I wish you’d let me.”

And there it was. One simple statement that ghosted into the air of a Manhattan hotel suite like a promise. And she believed it; believed that this gorgeous twenty-something woman whose name she already knew she would cry aloud each and every time she touched herself, meant what she had so ardently proclaimed in the softest of whispers.

She shuddered, a sigh falling past open lips and she expected to feel the press of pert breasts against her when her body leaned back as it swayed in dizzying arousal and want. But the touch never came and when Miranda craned her head round to look, Andrea was already donning her coat and collecting her bag.

She blinked several times, wondering how the moment had ended so abruptly and cursing herself for yet another failed attempt at human connection. She wanted to scream, to ask her to stay, to walk over and grab her by the lapels of her perfectly tailored Chanel and kiss her in spite of everything.

But Miranda Priestly never gave in to moments of repugnant weakness and she wasn’t about to start now.

Andrea’s hand reached the doorknob and Miranda simply stared at her, her features fixed as if carved in marble. Her fingers had reached for her necklace again, the feel of it rolling between her fingers; a comfort when big brown eyes met her gaze and a resigned smile looked back at her.

“I’ll leave that ticket for you at Hauser & Wirth. Just ask for Lily and tell her I sent you.”

Miranda’s hands trembled, her eyelids flickering briefly as she sucked in a breath and held it tightly, enjoying the burn in her lungs more than she cared to admit as little fissures of pain started to erupt in her head.

“Well, I guess I outlasted the others and despite how this has ended I genuinely hope I see you again.”

Andrea opened the door and then paused in the doorway for a moment, her hand squeezing the handle her back to her. Miranda’s heartbeat pounded in her ears, waiting on the precipice of silence for what the woman was clearly thinking to say.

But when Andrea turned, her feet firmly in the hallway she simply smiled brightly and pulled the door closed.

Miranda was unsure how long she stood and stared at the closed painted wooden barrier that had shut her away from the world once more and the woman who had started to show it to her. When she finally sat down on the settee, her champagne long forgotten, her breathing hard and painful, she felt something slide hotly down her cheek.

She licked it into her mouth and swallowed it down along with the rest of her feelings.