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Truth and Measure

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"You know, you're absolutely right. Give me a woman who knows her own mind."

"No one gives you a woman like that. You have to capture her."

-To Catch a Thief

 

So far, the first day of the rest of Andy's life was disturbingly like all the other ones. She'd showered, dressed (trying especially hard to look pretty today), and met Miranda downstairs before they left to go to an official breakfast. Miranda looked lovelier than ever, though Andy couldn't tell if she too had put in some extra effort, or if it was just because the whole world seemed new this morning.

New and kind of weird. Miranda and Andy stared at each other in the hallway, taking each other in as if for the first time. Miranda raised her eyebrows and gave Andy an approving nod, which might have been almost normal if her cheeks hadn't gone pink. Andy took a deep breath and gave her one right back. "Morning," she said, and added, "you, you look nice."

Miranda opened her mouth, closed it, smiled tightly, and nodded. Her version of 'you too,' Andy guessed. Then she jerked her head towards the doorway without speaking--Andy thought she wasn't being unpleasant today, but that maybe she just didn't know what to say, for once. Apparently another peck on the cheek wasn't on the cards.

Hurrying to the door, Andy just barely remembered to stop by the hall closet and pull out their coats. She felt a thrill as she helped Miranda into hers, which was odd, because she did this at least once a day. But like everything else, it seemed, felt  different now. She wasn't helping Miranda into her coat, or getting the door for her, as an assistant today. She was doing it as an, um. Girlfriend. Or…something.

It was going to be the weirdest day of her life. She could already tell. But possibly, hopefully, one of the best, too.

On the surface, the car ride was the same as always: sitting next to Miranda and writing down everything she said on the way to breakfast. But just doing that, sitting next to Miranda and thinking that they sort of maybe had some kind of thing going on, just doing that made all the difference in the world. Miranda had been right. Once you said certain things out loud, you couldn't take them back. They changed everything.

Andy had no idea how to feel right now. Happy? Scared? Incredibly awkward? She was managing the last one fairly well. But so was Miranda. She rattled off the usual instructions--not just as a matter of course, but for Jimmy's benefit as well, like she was trying to say to the first outsider they encountered, 'See? Nothing happening here. Move along.' Except that she spoke a little more quickly than usual, and sat a little more stiffly in her seat, and refused to look anywhere but out her window. Also, her neck and cheeks were pink.

Apparently it was going to be up to Andy to keep things normal. Normal-ish. As normal as things ever got, anyway. So when Miranda finally looked at her as Jimmy was pulling up to the curb, Andy gave her the usual bland-yet-helpful smile, and said, "Yes, Miranda," like the very picture of assistantly obedience.

Miranda blinked. "What? Yes what?"

Andy blinked too, and looked down at her notes, which she'd taken as meticulously as always. "Um," she said, and waved her notepad. "Yes everything?"

"Oh," Miranda said, and went pinker. Then she cleared her throat. "We're here."

Andy pursed her lips fast, hoping that would cover up her grin, and she quickly unbuckled her seat belt. She'd be lucky if she could get through breakfast without bursting into hysterical, I-don't-believe-this laughter. They both would, from the look of it. All in all, it was the strangest morning-after ever, and they hadn't even done anything the night before.

At breakfast, Miranda was again at the center table, along with Georg and Helga Schumann, Massimo Cortiglione, and a couple of other people Andy recognized. Irv was there today, too, with his wife Mavis: he'd flown in last night and was planning to spend the weekend in London, now that the frantic bustle of Fashion Week was nearly over. He and Miranda smiled stiffly at each other across the table, like very polite mortal enemies. In spite of her newfound happiness, Andy still felt a twinge of unease. It was all too likely that Irv was planning something else, because why wouldn't he be? His pride had been stung by his earlier defeat.

And compared to Irv's power and influence, Andy had to admit that Miranda's defenses were pretty weak. Sure, she had a list of all the people who were devoted to her and grateful for her patronage. But she had to know, better than anybody else, that people's loyalty only lasted until it wasn't convenient--or profitable--to be loyal anymore. If Irv could figure out how to offer better terms to all those designers, writers, editors, models, and more, they'd stick around Elias-Clarke and work with, or for, whomever Miranda's replacement was. And Andy, of course, was helpless to prevent it. No matter how much she might want to help or protect Miranda, she would be utterly useless when it came to going toe-to-toe with someone like Irv Ravitz.

Andy took a deep breath, sipped her water, and smiled politely at the woman seated next to her. The woman took this as her cue to start babbling about how much she'd liked the last issue of Runway . Would Andy pass the compliment on to Ms. Priestly? Andy nodded, and the woman, thrilled, kept on going, talking about satchel handbags and the new trend in patent leather.

Andy couldn't help but remember the last time she'd been in London, when Miranda had said to Andy, "You don't care about this." She'd been right. She usually was. Andy cared about Miranda, cared about her job, hell, even cared about Runway , but when it came to fashion itself she kind of didn't give a damn one way or the other. Patent satchel handbags versus snakeskin hobo handbags? Who cared?

Only half-listening to the woman's blather, Andy decided that when it came to Irv and her career, Miranda could take care of herself. She always had, always would, and Andy was just going to go along for the ride and try to make things easier on the home front. It had obviously been working well so far. As for right now, she might as well try to enjoy the excellent food. A little of it, anyway. She waved away a plate of chocolate-drizzled crepes in agony.

Nigel caught up with her after breakfast, as they were heading to the first show of the day. "Good morning," he said.

Andy smiled at him. "Hi."

"You're pretty happy, aren't you?" Nigel said, raising his eyebrows. "I haven't seen you this pumped since you told me about Modernity . What's up?"

Obviously she wasn't doing as well at the acting-normal thing as she'd thought. "Nothing," Andy said, trying very hard to sound casual. "I can't just be in a good mood?" Nigel obviously wasn't fooled. "Maybe I'm just glad we're going home tomorrow. This week's been crazy."

"There is that," Nigel said. "Maybe Miranda agrees with you. She's positively bubbly today."

Andy's heart began to pound and she tried very, very hard not to blush, even as she began to feel even sparklier. Bubbly? She might possibly have made Miranda bubbly? But all she said was, "R-really?" while looking around the room as she tried to regain her composure. She saw Miranda chatting with someone, but Miranda looked pretty much the same as always. Maybe a little bit pregnant. Andy lowered her voice, hoping to draw Nigel off the scent. "She didn't look too bubbly with Irv a few minutes ago."

"Ah. So you noticed," Nigel said.

"It was hard to miss," Andy said.

"Yes, it was. When's your birthday?" Nigel asked. "It's pretty soon, isn't it?"

"I--huh?" Where the hell had that come from?

"When is your birthday?" Nigel repeated patiently. "You know. The day you were born. Want me to explain how that works? When a man and a woman love each other very much, or are sufficiently drunk--"

"March thirteenth," Andy said, utterly confused. "What does that have to do wi--why do you want to know?"

Nigel nodded. "I thought so. I knew it was coming up, anyway. Isn't that about when you started working for us last year?"

"The same day I interviewed," Andy said, who hadn't thought at all about her birthday since the last one. It wasn't like she had a ton of time to worry about it. "I got a job on my birthday and then everybody started calling me fat. It was really fun."

Her friends had sure thought it was fun, getting together for a late-night toast. They'd thrown her a birthday party the weekend before, when they were all free, but the night Andy turned twenty-four and became a salaried minion was too good to pass up. "What was it, a phone interview?" Nate had joked, like a jerk. And then Andy had said: "To jobs that pay the rent." And then they'd said: "To Andy." There was more wine. Nobody'd had any idea of what lay ahead, that was for sure. Nobody would ever have dreamed--

"Going to hit the big 2-5?" Nigel asked, breaking in on her thoughts. "As in, halfway to fifty?"

Miranda was fifty. Andy didn't really like to think about that. "Yeah," she said slowly. "Nigel--why are you asking?"

"No reason," Nigel said airily, taking her arm.

"What are you up to?" Andy pressed.

"I can't just be curious? I'm hurt. Maybe I'm planning to take you out for drinks and just want to make sure my schedule is open."

"Well, is it?"

"I'll have to ask my personal assistant. Wait, you're the closest thing I have to one. Check my calendar for me." Nigel glanced over Andy's shoulder and let go of her. "Later, that is."

Andy turned to see Miranda approaching them. She wasn't quite meeting Andy's eyes, and though she was a little flushed, Andy didn't see where Nigel was getting 'bubbly' from. "Are you ready to go?" she asked Andy.

Nigel stared at her, and Andy tried not to wince. Miranda never asked, 'Are you ready to go?' She went places, and you ran along after her without asking questions, bearing Starbucks and San Pellegrino if necessary. But Andy chirped, "Yes, Miranda," as if this wasn't out of the ordinary at all.

Miranda suddenly appeared to realize her slip, and sounded twice as impatient as usual when she snapped, "Then come on." She barreled past them towards the door without acknowledging Nigel's presence.

Play it cool. Andy turned to Nigel. "'Bubbly,' huh?" she said, trying to sound as doubtful as possible. Then she rushed after Miranda without waiting for his reply, or even to see the look on his face.

Jimmy was just pulling around the corner as they reached the sidewalk outside. Photographers were everywhere, snapping pictures. Fortunately, Andy was standing near enough to Miranda that nobody could overhear when she said, "Nigel's acting weird." She felt odd saying it, like she was betraying a confidence. But she wasn't, not really. And now that things were like this, now that Andy had dived in headfirst, she would have felt disloyal not to mention it. Miranda might need to know, after all.

"Is he?" Miranda said, her cheeks still pink. Andy really liked it when she blushed. "I haven't spoken with him today." Andy looked down and saw that she was trembling a little. Just a little. Nobody who wasn't standing next to her would have noticed it.

"Are you feeling all right?" she asked, hoping that sounded neutral enough. She could always pass it off as some kind of pregnancy-related concern. Or maybe Miranda was just cold.

"How long," Miranda said, "does it take that man to pull a car up to the sidewalk?" Andy took the hint and shut up. As luck would have it, Jimmy pulled up at that instant, and Andy hurried forward to get the door for Miranda.

The first show of the day was Peter Jensen: ready-to-wear and a new menswear line. Andy didn't see anything special about it--certainly not compared to the extravagant offerings of other designers--but Miranda seemed pleased. And Andy could tell that Nigel, seated next to Miranda, really liked it. Or maybe he just liked ogling the asses of the hotter male models. Andy, who'd had precious little sleep the night before, mainly tried not to yawn too visibly, or get too distracted by the sight of Miranda sitting in front of her, or think constantly about what had happened early that morning. She failed on all three counts.

What happened after the show got her attention, though. She'd just stood up when she heard someone murmur into her ear, "We meet again."

Andy almost jumped out of her skin. "Christian!" she said. "Jesus." When she turned, he was smiling at her. She took a slight step backwards.

He didn't appear to notice. "I see you didn't get canned," he said.

"Er, no," Andy said, and shot Miranda a quick look. She was deep in conversation with Peter Jensen himself, but would look up and notice Christian any second. "She, uh, I don't think she was happy that I went out with you, though, so…"

Right then, while Andy was looking at her, Miranda glanced over her shoulder and took in the tableau: charming Christian, nervous Andy. She immediately laid a quelling--if polite--hand on Peter's arm, interrupting whatever he'd been saying, and stepped through the first row of seats, managing her slightly-larger bulk with aplomb. Andy tried to imagine what she'd look like in a few more months, and realized that her brain still wouldn't go there. Evidently she'd have to see it to believe it.

"Miranda," Christian said, evidently deciding that sheer bravado was the way to go. "Nice to see you again."

To Andy's surprise, Miranda did not appear upset. In fact, her eyes had the slightest sparkle to them, which was both incredibly appealing and slightly worrisome. When Miranda's eyes sparkled, it usually meant someone was in trouble. "The pleasure's all mine, Mr. Thompson," she said, in a voice that was definitely amused. What was going on?

Then Andy's eyes widened. The memory of Miranda's voice on New Year's Eve sounded through her head: 'I'd just look at him and know.' Evidently she was looking and knowing right now, no doubt cherishing the idea of Christian standing around almost-naked while Andy ran out on him. Great. Andy felt her face heat up.

"Er…have you had a good week?" Christian's bravado was gone, and he looked confused. As well he might. Andy kept staring at Miranda--who ignored her, of course--and silently pleaded with her not to say anything about…anything.

"Oh, it's improved," Miranda said. Andy blushed even more and decided to attribute it to the crowded room. "Did you enjoy the show?"

"Oh, yeah," Christian said, and gave Miranda his most dazzling smile. It really was a good smile. Andy didn't enjoy it half so much now that he'd turned it on Miranda. "You know I like to keep in style." He stuck a thumb under one of his lapels. "I'm in dire need of an update. I liked the look of some of those pants." He nodded towards the runway.

Miranda said nothing, and Andy glanced at her. Miranda's eyes had just gone very wide. "Pants?" she inquired, her voice slightly strangled.

Oh. Oh, God. Andy bit down on her lower lip and tried to think about very sad things so she wouldn't laugh out loud.

"Uh, yes," Christian said, looking more confused than ever.

"Oh," Miranda choked, looking as if she was about one second away from bursting into laughter herself. She cleared her throat, and shook her head slightly before saying, "What did you think, Andrea?" Not that she actually looked at Andy, of course, because that would have meant doom for both of them.

Andy swallowed hard and managed, "Yes, they were…they looked very…well-made. Um. Everything here did, actually."

"I…I thought so too," Christian said faintly, glancing around the room as if he expected a man to jump out from behind a corner and tell him he was on candid camera. "But I've been following Peter Jensen for a few seasons now, so I'm pretty familiar with his style."

"Yes," Miranda said. "He's always done very impressive towels. Menswear. Come along, Andrea," and then she turned and headed off at top speed without another word, while Andy tried to remember that Christian had done some very nice things for her, and tried even harder not to laugh in his face.

"What the hell?" Christian asked, watching Miranda retreat.

"Beats me," Andy wheezed. "Gotta go. I'll see you around."

"I'll…I'll look you up later," Christian said, sounding utterly bewildered as Andy hurried off after Miranda.

She caught up with her in the lobby, where there were more photographers and more important people wanting to talk to Miranda, or at least be seen talking to her. Miranda appeared to have composed herself completely, and Andy worked hard to be as straight-faced as possible.

They held themselves together until they made it to the car for the next show. The ride was silent for the first couple of minutes. Then:

"I've decided I like Christian Thompson," Miranda said. "I'm going to invite him to everything from now on."

"Oh my God," Andy said, and bent over, laughing helplessly. "Oh my God…"

"And he's very well-informed about fashion," Miranda said, her voice trembling. "I'd never have guessed."

"Towels," Andy moaned, leaning her head against her window, trying to get herself under control because they were in front of Jimmy. Too late, of course. "…Peter Jensen's line of…" She heard Miranda make a noise like a whimper. "I can't believe he said…pants…" She gasped for breath.

Miranda didn't reply. Andy looked over at her, and saw that her face was bright red, and that her shoulders were shaking with her efforts to control herself. She was also biting her lip. Then she snorted, and quickly cupped her hand over her mouth and nose, turning to look out of her window.

It took every ounce of will Andy possessed not to reach out, pull her close, and kiss her. But she vowed right then and there that she was going to ask for--no--insist on getting a goodnight kiss that very night. Miranda might have some insane idea about a chaste romance, but even she couldn't think she was going to get away without at least a kiss once in a while. If she did, Andy would just have to set her straight. She felt confident that she could manage that much, at least.

And then, after that…well. They'd just have to see, wouldn't they?

 


 

The rest of the day was pretty good. Hectic, but good--at least, compared to the rest of the week, which Andy had spent in a miserable daze. Andy kept busy enough that her sort-of-thing with Miranda spent most of its time lurking in the back of her mind, but every once in a while it jumped out from the shadows and performed a little song-and-dance routine. Like when Stan Oppenheimer, who hadn't been at breakfast, approached Miranda with a friendly smile and a handshake, and Andy thought that maybe he wasn't so handsome after all. His ears were too big, and they didn't line up right. And Miranda wasn't interested in him at all. Andy tried not to bounce visibly. Nigel might have been right about how pumped she was.

Fashion Week in London concluded with a big party at the Ritz-Carlton. Andy didn't have the fish this time, but she hoped they'd cooked it better. Miranda introduced her to a whole bunch of new people whose names she tried very hard to remember, because she had a hunch they were pretty important. She also tried to smile in moderation instead of blinding everyone around her with the idiotic grin she really wanted to wear.

That got harder when Miranda touched her. Miranda had touched her all of three times as far as Andy could recall, and only once had it been deliberate: earlier that very morning. But tonight she guided Andy around the room, piloting her like a boat by using only the tips of her fingers on Andy's elbow or shoulder or, just once, her waist. The touches were not caresses; they were subtle and occasional; they didn't linger; they came and went without warning, leaving Andy tingling wherever Miranda's fingers had brushed. Did anybody else notice it? Probably not. Miranda touched other people at social functions, after all: air-kisses, limp handshakes, pats on the arm. Just not Andy.

"I saw a proof of that article you wrote for Carter," a man said to Andy at one point. He gave her a business card. "Good stuff. We're always looking for new blood. Give me a call sometime." Andy thanked him. According to his business card, he was an editor at Rolling Stone .

Wow.

The party was scheduled to go 'till all hours, but Miranda was ready to leave at ten. She gave Andy a sidelong glance and said, "You can stay if you like. You're meeting some very important people here."

Yeah, that was gonna happen. Andy was going to send Miranda home alone on tonight of all nights. Sure. "No, I'm ready to go," Andy said. Miranda looked unsurprised, and rather pleased, so they said their farewells. Or, more accurately, Miranda said her farewells while Andy hovered in the background and tried to look appropriately assistant-like.

They got in the car. Miranda sat quietly, looking out the window, while Andy confirmed the details, yet again, of tomorrow's flight back to New York. All was in readiness. Whew. It would have sucked to screw up the very last thing of Fashion Week while she was so happy, after keeping everything else running so smoothly while she'd been miserable.

For the first time, it occurred to Andy that it was kind of weird to be…together…with Miranda, and still work for her. This went beyond dipping into company ink. This was more like looting the entire company supply cabinet. But her mind rebelled at the thought of quitting her job. Then who'd look after Miranda every day? Who'd schedule the appointments and set out the prenatal vitamins and decode whatever was going on in Miranda's head? Somebody had to, and Andy sure as hell wouldn't let it be anybody but her. Forget it. Besides, if Andy quit, when were she and Miranda even supposed to see each other? No. She'd stay at Runway . Until she had a better idea, anyway.

It had to work. It just had to.

Andy glanced over at Miranda, who was still looking out the window. But her contented glow had diminished somewhat, and she'd started to look a little tense. Andy wondered why. They'd left the busy party and were on their way home where they could relax a little, without anybody watching them.

Then Andy blinked as she figured it out. They were on their way home. Where nobody would be watching them. And Miranda was getting twitchier with every block that brought them closer to the townhouse.

Andy quickly looked out of her own window, not sure if she wanted to laugh, roll her eyes, get nervous too, or maybe all three. Did Miranda think that Andy was going to tackle her the moment they'd shut the door behind them? Not that Andy wouldn't love to do exactly that, but she knew it wasn't on the menu tonight. And the silence in the car was getting very stifling, very quickly.

So she turned to Miranda and said, "Did you hear from the twins today?" at the same instant Miranda turned to her and said, "Are there any problems with the flight arrangements?"

After a second, Miranda said "Yes," right at the moment Andy said, "No."

"They're fine," Miranda said just as Andy said, "Everything sounds okay."

"Oh. Good," they both said together, and turned around to look out their respective windows.

After a small measure of eternity, Jimmy pulled up to the townhouse, and Andy followed Miranda up the steps. Miranda fumbled very slightly with the key, and Andy pretended not to notice, looking up and down the lamp-lit street as if she'd never seen anything like it before. Then the door swung open and they both hurried inside.

Andy removed Miranda's coat with the same proprietary thrill she'd felt that morning, heightened by the fact that now Miranda smelled like the cold night air. She turned to hang it up in the closet, and then removed her own coat and hung it up too. Then she turned back around and realized that Miranda had already high-tailed it down the corridor and was heading for the stairs like her ass was on fire.

"Hey!" Andy blurted before she could stop herself.

Miranda froze in place with one elegantly-shod foot on the bottom stair. She looked guilty for a fraction of a second before her expression regained its customary hauteur. "What?"

Andy quickly realized that she had never, ever faced a task so daunting as the mere thought of asking Miranda Priestly for a goodnight kiss. How the hell did you even… "Um," she said, "you didn't, um, say anything about the, uh, twins. What've they been, been up to?" Maybe she could just stall Miranda until she could reach the staircase. Proximity might make things simpler. Well, a girl could hope.

"Nothing," Miranda said, looking like she was going to bolt up the stairs and lock herself in her bedroom if Andy made any sudden moves. It was completely ridiculous. "It's the weekend. They didn't go to school today."

"Oh," Andy said, walking as casually as she could towards the foot of the staircase while willing Miranda to remain still with the power of her mind. "Yeah, that's right." Miranda lifted the other foot, preparatory to going up another step. "We, we need to work out their birthday party," Andy added quickly.

"Tomorrow," Miranda said, looking longingly up the stairway. "On the flight home. Caroline wants some magician."

"David Blaine," Andy said, nodding. "I think he's the guy who sits in a fishbowl in Times Square and tries not to drown or someth--oop!" Her shoe caught on the carpet, and she only narrowly prevented herself from plunging down face-first, righting herself at the last second. But her pride was pretty well bruised. Talk about making a smooth approach.

Miranda looked slightly less freaked out as she gave Andy a mean little smile. "Even after all the practice you've had," she said sweetly, and tsked.

Andy glared and yanked her shoes off, standing defiantly bare-toed on the carpet. "Yeah, well," she said. "I'm surprised you haven't tried to trade yours in for sneakers."

Miranda frowned. "What?"

"You know," Andy said pointedly. "So you can sprint up the stairs as fast as you can." Miranda's face went a dull red, and she pinched her lips. Caught. "What do you think I'm going to do?"  Andy said.

Miranda cleared her throat, masterfully controlling her blush. "We've already talked about this," she said. Andy didn't give her anything in response, and she glared. "Don't play coy. I've never found that appealing."

"Okay," Andy said, and let her Jimmy Choos drop to the floor with an irreverent thump. She stepped in closer and Miranda tensed, like she thought Andy was going to hit her or something. It was…unappealing. And weird. Andy had never felt less desirable in her whole life.

But she was not, repeat not, going to start backing down now. It would set the worst precedent ever, for one thing. She took a deep breath. "I'd just like a kiss every now and then," she said. "That's not too awful, is it?"

"If you must," Miranda said, looking extremely put-upon.

"Oh, great," Andy said, feeling her face heat up.

"I told you--" Miranda began.

"I, I know," Andy said, trying to speak around a sudden lump in her throat. She'd never been with anyone who flat-out claimed not to find her attractive. It was awful. For the first time, she allowed herself to think that this could not possibly work.

No. Fuck that. Under no circumstances could they-- "But it's just kissing," she persisted. "Everybody kisses. Platonic people kiss."

Miranda looked extremely mistrustful. "Have you ever kissed a woman?"

Andy stared at her. Did Miranda expect her to bring references or something? "No," she said. "I've actually never kissed most of the people in the world, in fact."

Miranda lifted an eyebrow. "Really," she said dryly.

"Oh, come on!" Andy said, and Miranda looked almost penitent as she shrugged. "I'm sorry if I enjoy kissing," Andy said. "And sex. I'm sorry if guys like me. Okay?"

"You are acting like a child," Miranda said, turning red again. She glared. "I thought you understood--"

"No," Andy said, hearing the plea in her own voice. "I don't understand, but I'm going along with it anyway, if that's all you want--"

"That's not what I--"

"--but I think you're amazing, and you knew that from the start, and all I'm saying is I'd like to kiss you. How is that a bad thing?" Andy looked helplessly at her, and then had a flash of inspiration. "Maybe you're right. Maybe it'll be awful and I'll never want to do it again." At this, Miranda had the gall to look insulted. "But we'll never know unless we try."

"What if you do like it?" Miranda said.

This was beyond ridiculous now. "Then maybe I will want to do it again," Andy said. "I might ask you for a goodnight kiss again at some point."

"I think--"

"Let's just try it!" Andy said, more frustrated than she'd ever been in her life. She climbed up to the first step, putting her almost level with Miranda. Miranda's eyes went wider, and Andy's face scalded as she realized their sudden nearness to each other. Jesus. Her body was burning up just from standing six inches apart. How was it even possible that Miranda didn't feel anything like this? That Andy was all alone in feeling this?

Then Miranda said, "All right."

Andy blinked.

"All right," Miranda repeated. "That--if you wish it. I can," she sneered, "handle that."

Andy realized that Miranda was blushing, and shivering, and her body was giving off heat like a furnace. Andy could feel it from where she stood. She also felt the ghost of Miranda's fingertips on her elbows and shoulders and waist. And the memory of Miranda's eyes slowly looking her up and down on countless occasions.

"I feel kind of ugly right now," Andy said, watching Miranda's face very, very carefully.

"Um--" Miranda shook her head, and glared. "Don't be ridiculous. You are beautiful--a beautiful woman, Andrea. I am not denying that at all. It's only that I--" Andy stepped in closer until they were almost pressed together, and Miranda's breath caught. "--I'm just not--" Andy cupped her cheek with one hand. "--attracted to…"

There was almost a disastrous collision of noses--Miranda had a lot of nose--but Andy had taken that into consideration and had tilted her head accordingly. And now Miranda's mouth was soft and hot, her lips still moving with her objections. Andy captured them with her own, gently. Then her whole body turned to flame.

Kissing Miranda. Kissing Miranda.

Miranda'd been right, actually: it was different from kissing a guy. Softer and smoother. Her bottom lip was damp and Andy couldn't help lingering on it for just one second. She was already aching for more and dying to see if she could coax Miranda's mouth open, find out what that would be like to really go for it with a kiss.

Instead she brushed her mouth over Miranda's lips just one more time, so lightly, and pulled back, feeling the loss as keenly as if she'd just pulled out some of her own fingernails. Miranda's blush had spread all over her neck and shoulders, she was shivering, and now she was breathing quickly and unevenly. Her eyes were glazed. Her lips moved a little as Andy pulled back, as if seeking for more. Everything about her was begging to be fucked right there in the stairwell.

She looked utterly and completely stunned.

"That was nice," Andy said softly. "Thanks."

"Oh," Miranda said. Then, "Um." She cleared her throat. "Yes. Well. Goodnight."

"Mm," Andy said, and leaned in for a quick, friendly peck on the cheek. Miranda squeaked and tried to cover it with a cough. "Sleep well." Then Andy pulled back and went down the stairs to retrieve her shoes, which gave Miranda a couple of seconds to collect herself and head up to her room alone.

Andy listened to her footsteps upstairs, and smiled to herself in the shadows below. She touched her own mouth and shivered with pure delight.

Yeah. It was in the bag.

 


 

The next morning allowed neither room nor time for Andy and Miranda to feel awkward around each other. Andy was up at six-thirty, directing traffic: the porters who'd come to pick up their luggage, plus various minions who'd come to drop off goodbye gifts from designers and friends at the last minute, all needed clear direction. She also had to finalize the detailed list of instructions for the cleaning crew that would stop by the townhouse after Andy and Miranda had left London. Miranda--up, dressed, and perfect by seven--stalked around the house with her cell phone attached to her ear, barking out constant instructions to poor saps all over the world and mercifully ignoring the one who was actually in her home and trying to get things done.

When they were scheduled to leave in twenty minutes, Miranda breezed through the living room, where Andy was frantically packing up the gifts so they could be shipped back to New York. "David said he'd sent some 'carnelian earbobs,'" she said. "I'm sure the girls would like those."

Andy stared at the pile of gifts and mumbled, "They sure would," before rifling through it again in search of bright red earrings that Miranda could give the twins that night. It wasn't quite as bad as looking for a needle in a haystack, but it was close, especially given that she had to re-wrap everything after she'd gone through it. And also especially given--

"There's only one pair of red earrings," Andy said hopelessly when Miranda swooped through the room ten minutes later. Miranda frowned, and Andy quickly lifted up another jewelry box. "But somebody sent a turquoise ring. It's kind of funky, Cassidy might go for it."

"Mmm," Miranda said, and added, "don't forget to select something for yourself," as she left the room again in search of her handbag.

Andy blinked. Huh. 'Select something for yourself.' Sure, she was used to getting cast-offs and hand-me-downs at Runway,  to say nothing of enjoying the fruits of Nigel's generosity in the Closet. But it was a little different to be set loose in Miranda's personal stash of goodies before Miranda'd even had a chance to check it out herself. That was pretty cool, Andy decided, and immediately narrowed in on a medium-sized brooch--a gold snake with malachite eyes--that she'd loved ever since she'd opened its box during the first go-round that morning. At that moment, more porters came, and Andy told them, with relief, to haul the rest of the loot away.

Miranda returned with her handbag, and already wearing her coat. Andy told herself she was not disappointed that she didn't get to help Miranda into her coat today, and that there would be many other opportunities. "Give me the twins' jewelry boxes," Miranda said, and then she popped them into her purse. "They always like having a little something when I get back." Andy guessed a six-hundred-dollar turquoise ring counted as 'a little something' when you were Miranda Priestly's kid. "What did you choose?"

Andy showed her the snake. "I loved this one," she said. Miranda raised an eyebrow. "Unless it's too nice," Andy said quickly. Miranda raised the other eyebrow. "Oh. It's too nice, isn't it?" Andy started to panic. The damn thing was probably worth a thousand bucks or something, you never could tell with this designer jewelry crap what was expensive and what was ridiculously expensive. "Sorry, I didn't know--here, it'll look really good with your shirt, you should--"

Miranda set down her purse, took the snake brooch, and affixed it to Andy's blouse, near her collar. Andy stopped breathing as she realized that this was as close to her breasts as Miranda's hands had ever been, and perhaps she should pay attention to how it felt because it might not happen again for a while.

Once the brooch was fixed (in Miranda's practiced hands, it took all of three seconds), Miranda stepped back and gave Andy the stop-being-a-moron look. Had it always been so affectionate? Well…okay, no, it hadn't.

"When I tell you that you can have something," Miranda said, "then you can have it."

Andy blushed with pleasure. "Okay," she said, and added, "same here," like an idiot. Then she realized that had sounded like a come-on. Miranda obviously realized it too, because she cleared her throat, glared, and said, "Let's go." Andy followed her, still blushing, and feeling the memory of Miranda's hands on her blouse a lot more than she felt the weight of the golden snake.

They arrived at Heathrow early, of course. But the rest of the Runway  crew was well used to Miranda's timing and had beaten them there. Everybody sat around clutching cups of coffee, trying to look fashionable and alert. There wouldn't be nearly as much to worry about on the flight home, and Andy knew everyone was looking forward to getting some shut-eye over the ocean, even Miranda.

Nigel took one look at Andy and appeared to understand what a hectic morning she'd already had. He gave her a sympathetic grin. Then Nigel took another look at Andy and appeared to notice her new brooch. His eyes widened.

"Well, look at that," he said as soon as Miranda was out of hearing. "How'd you snatch that one from under her nose?"

"What?"

"The Stephen Webster," he said, pointing at the snake. "She's been coveting it ever since she saw it in the showroom a few days ago. Or is this merely a cunning and extremely quickly-executed knockoff?"

"Would you believe me if I said knockoff?" Andy said weakly. Damn it. She would have fixated on the one piece that Miranda had actually wanted for herself. Great, just great.

"I wouldn't believe you if I'd seen you knocking it off yourself," Nigel said.

"It was just in a pile of stuff," Andy protested. "She said I could take something from it. You know, like we always do. I just happened to pick this. She didn't say anything about it." All completely true.

"I have to admit, it suits you," Nigel mused. Andy glared at him; he merely returned his most benign smile.

"Careful," she said. "Or I'll tell the flight attendants that you have a medical condition and can't be given alcohol on an airplane."

"Meow, darling," Nigel said, and patted her shoulder. "Just calm down, drink your coffee, and enjoy your five-thousand-dollar token of Miranda's appreciation."

Andy very narrowly avoided spilling her coffee everywhere. She'd learned her lesson with the blue cocktail. Nigel was a sneaky bastard. "F-fi-five--"

"Oh, Paul," Nigel called over Andy's shoulder, "I need to bend your ear about June's accent feature."

Not a big deal, Andy told herself as she sat down on the nearest available surface, trying not to hyperventilate. Five thousand bucks. Not a big deal. In this business? With these people? Five thousand dollars was a drop in the bucket. Practically nothing. Holy crap, Miranda probably wore about ten thousand dollars' worth of clothes, jewelry, shoes, accessories, and beauty products every day.

It was just that thinking in those terms sort of blew Andy's mind, so she tried really hard not to. Maybe she wasn't the earnest idealist she'd been only a year ago, but she still thought that wearing an outfit that could feed a third-world village was ridiculous. Even, maybe especially, when she did it herself. She self-consciously tugged at her jacket so that it covered the brooch.

Then Andy glanced up and saw Miranda frowning at Jocelyn while Jocelyn garbled her way through some kind of explanation or plea. Ten thousand dollars had never looked so good. Miranda tossed her head in irritation, Jocelyn shrank back, and Andy's stomach flopped pleasantly before she remembered herself and looked away again. She wondered how much better Miranda would look in zero dollars' worth of clothing. She hoped she got to find out.

Miranda did indeed fall asleep on the flight back. It seemed like the whole first-class section, not just the Runway  group, breathed a (very quiet) sigh of relief. Andy rolled over, adjusted her pillow, closed her eyes, and for the first time since Fashion Week had started, felt that she had thoroughly earned her own rest.

 


 

The Elias-Clarke building had not burned to the ground in their absence. Ellie had made no unforgivable mistakes (although she'd managed several forgivable ones that Andy could conceal from Miranda). Within five hours of the Runway  group's return to New York, it was like they'd never left in the first place. The only difference was that Miranda left work much earlier than usual so she could see the twins when they got out of school.

"Did you get lots of pretty clothes?" Ellie asked wistfully as Andy went through a whole notebook of phone messages, trying to decide if anything had been screwed up too badly. "And did you meet all kinds of cool people?"

"Yes, and yes," Andy said. She opened the notebook. "Okay, Ellie, can you remember what Bernard said when he called yesterday afternoon?"

"Oh!" Ellie said breathlessly. "I love your pin!" She was pointing at the snake, which peeked out wickedly from beneath Andy's jacket.

Andy blushed and scolded herself for it. "Thanks," she said. "So do I. Now focus, Ellie." Ellie immediately looked chastened. "So: Bernard?"

Ellie looked confused. "I think I remember him. He's the one who sounded like he had floppy hair over the phone."

"I, um," Andy said. Then, "Okay. Let's try this again…"

She was immensely thankful to leave the building by ten that night, book in hand, and arrive at Miranda's house at ten-twenty-five on the dot. No dry-cleaning to lug in, either. Miranda had had a long day too, of course, so Andy didn't really expect to be greeted, or to see her.

But she still grinned widely when the door shut behind her and she heard the twins saying, "Andy!", followed by the sound of their footsteps rushing down the stairs. They were in their pajamas, but Caroline was wearing her new red earrings, and Cassidy had on the turquoise ring.

"Look what we got," Caroline said, and tilted her neck so that her earrings caught the hallway light. She'd obviously learned the trick of posing from her mother.

"Very nice," Andy said admiringly, keeping her voice low. "Your mom knew you'd like those as soon as she saw them," she added.

"I bet you like my ring better," Cassidy said, sticking out her hand.

"Shut up, she does not," Caroline said.

"I like them both equally," Andy said quickly as she put the book on the table. "Shouldn't you two be in bed?"

"You always say that," Caroline said, and rolled her eyes.

"I've only said it once," Andy pointed out. "And anyway, shouldn't you? Your mom's asleep, isn't she?"

"Not yet," Miranda said from down the hallway, and Andy, Cassidy, and Caroline all jumped guiltily. Miranda was still dressed, although she'd ditched her shoes somewhere along the way. "And yes, the girls are going to bed now."

"We just wanted to say hi to Andy," Cassidy said, like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth.

"And now you can say goodnight," Miranda said, raising an eyebrow. "Just as I said goodnight to you an hour ago." The twins gave Andy defiant grins, and hurried back upstairs without any sort of 'goodnight' at all.

Andy waited until they were out of earshot before offering Miranda the book and saying, "I got in touch with David Blaine's people this afternoon. I think we can work something out for the end of the month, depending on what weekend you want to throw their party." The twins' birthday fell in the middle of the last week of the month.

"The weekend after," Miranda decided. "That Saturday afternoon. Book a suitable venue--nothing too elaborate, with room for perhaps fifty people."

Nothing too elaborate? Andy couldn't remember having fifty people at her eleventh birthday party, but whatever. "The Ace of Cakes guy has a pretty tight schedule, but once I mentioned your name he said he'd do his best to fit us in. He likes the grand piano idea. Oh, and I made up a list of places where you might want to have the party. Now that you've said fifty people, I think some of them are probably too small, but a few might make the cut." Andy opened up her briefcase.

Miranda took the list and glanced over it, giving the occasional nod or making the occasional 'mm' sound. "I'll return this to you tomorrow." Then she added, "That's all."

That's what?  Andy stared at her. Miranda looked up, blinked, and then rolled her eyes. "Good night," she said, in a tone of voice that almost apologized, but that mainly implied Andy was far too sensitive about being dismissed like a lackey.

"Not yet, it isn't," Andy said. Miranda looked up again, blinked again, and then went red.

"The girls," she began, her voice hoarse.

"Have gone to bed." Andy stepped in closer. Miranda did not retreat, although her glare got fiercer. "Come on," she said softly, and a muscle jumped in Miranda's cheek. "Like last night. Just one."

"Then hurry up," Miranda snapped. Andy remembered the way she'd shivered last night and refused to be offended. Instead she leaned in and delicately brushed her mouth over Miranda's for only the second time ever. Miranda's lips were hard and shaking with tension; Andy met the tension with her own softness, kissing Miranda as she might kiss a sleeping child whom she didn't want to wake. And again, when Andy stopped kissing her, Miranda gasped softly and swayed in for more, apparently without realizing it.

"Good night," Andy breathed against her mouth.

"Ah," Miranda replied. Then she added, "Good night," her voice almost steady.

If Roy wondered why Andy smirked during the entire ride back to her place, he didn't ask.

 

Fifth: March.

Andy kept up the teasing little kisses for the next few nights, an exercise she found both frustrating and fun. She would deliver the book; the twins would either sneak down to say hi, or they wouldn't; Miranda would take the book from Andy's hand and submit "reluctantly" to a soft, brief kiss that invariably made her blush and tremble.

Reluctant. Sure. Miranda was not a stupid woman. She had to know that even if she didn't go around kissing other women as a rule, she sure as hell liked kissing Andy. Maybe she just didn't like admitting she'd been wrong. It seemed all too likely, Andy thought with resignation. Why should romance be different from work?

But that was okay for now. There really was nothing wrong with taking things slowly, Andy decided--not important things like this. There was too much at stake, too much that could be ruined by careless mistakes. If Miranda still needed a little convincing, Andy could happily do that. She could…woo. Yeah, that was it. Miranda would definitely be the sort of woman who felt she deserved a little wooing, that she was worth pursuing.

Andy was pretty sure Miranda was open to being pursued. She could easily have let Andy dump the book on the table and depart without ever showing her face. But whenever Andy opened the front door and deposited the dry cleaning, sure enough, she would hear Miranda's footsteps approaching. And she would always greet Miranda with her most radiant (if exhausted) smile, no matter how difficult the day had been, because now she got a kiss before she went home.

Miranda never smiled back, of course, but Andy thought she liked it. After all, how often were people genuinely happy to see her?

On the fourth night, and after an exceptionally smooth day at the office, Andy felt secure enough to murmur, "You know, you don't absolutely have to let me kiss you."

"Don't I?" Miranda asked, her breath warm against the corner of Andy's mouth, and Andy gave up teasing her in favor of touching her chin and kissing her mouth as softly as she ever did, trying, as always, to be patient and enjoy getting whatever she could get.

But tonight, Miranda kissed her back.

Tonight, Miranda's mouth moved gently and softly against hers, reciprocating just barely. Andy caught her breath and caught Miranda's bottom lip; Miranda made a tiny noise that didn't mean 'no' and that almost turned Andy's knees to jelly.

Rather than slamming her back against the wall and going for it, though, Andy let go of her mouth, and placed a small, soft kiss on her jaw. Miranda made a sound that was very like a whimper. God.  Maybe she actually wanted--maybe Andy could--maybe--

Then Miranda stepped back and said, hoarsely, "Good night."

Maybe not. Andy blinked, swallowed hard, and mumbled, "See you tomorrow." Miranda nodded, picked up the book from the table, and walked away without another word.

The next morning, when Roy and Andy picked Miranda up, Miranda had a hard time looking Andy in the eye. Fair enough; Andy blushed every time she looked at Miranda, mainly because of what she'd done when she'd arrived home last night…twice. She wondered if Miranda had done that too--if Miranda ever did that--and very nearly missed what Miranda was saying about setting up brunch with Meisel.

When they arrived at the office, Ellie was just putting the Starbucks down on Miranda's desk. She gave Miranda a scared look and scuttled past her to her own desk. Andy gave her an approving smile and nod, and Ellie's look lightened considerably. "See?" Andy said. "You're getting the hang of this."

"Is she?" Miranda asked a few minutes later, when Andy arrived with Meisel's confirmation for brunch the next day. "Getting the hang of this."

Andy thought for a moment. "I think she's starting to, yeah," she said. Keeping her voice low, she added, "I mean, it's just errands. If I give her clear enough instructions…" She shrugged.

"Hmm," Miranda said, and turned back to her laptop. "I want you to sit in on the Charleston meeting at eleven. Now tell Keisha I want to see her, please."

'Please.' Miranda said that all the time now when nobody was watching, which was coolness itself. It was almost as if she'd figured out that you had to act like a decent human being if you wanted somebody to like you. Well, Andy could always hope.

That night, when Andy dropped off the book and dry cleaning, Miranda didn't appear. Andy tried not to feel extremely disappointed. Maybe she'd pushed too hard last night. Or maybe Miranda had just gone to bed already--nobody said it had to be anything cataclysmic, or indeed, anything to do with Andy. It was almost eleven o'clock, after all.

"Andrea," Miranda called from the den.

Andy's grin almost split her face in two. She picked up the book and tried not to bounce as she headed into the den, where Miranda sat on the couch. "Hi," she said. Miranda held out her hand, and Andy offered her the book, still not feeling daring enough to let her fingers brush Miranda's. You never knew what would be too much. Maybe soon, though…

Miranda took the book and immediately began paging through it. "How did the Charleston meeting go?"

"Paul's having a hard time getting people motivated," Andy said. "Two of them didn't have their tasks done." Miranda didn't ask which two. She'd probably guessed already. "But he--"

"You can sit down," Miranda said dryly.

Andy realized she'd been standing in front of Miranda like a soldier giving a report after a mission. Which she sort of was, she guessed. She sat down, hoping she'd hit the right mark of sitting close to Miranda without seeming to sit too close to Miranda.

"Well?" Miranda prompted, and Andy dragged her brain back online.

"Sorry. He seems to be pretty on the ball about getting everyone trained for the new technology. I forget what it's called. That new image editing software thing." Miranda nodded. "So that seems like it's going well. He brought up a lot of new ideas he had, too. And he's pretty excited about working with Marcel."

Miranda nodded again. "All in all, about what I expected," she said. "I'll speak to him about his little personnel problem. I don't care how introverted he is--he's got to make sure everyone pulls their weight." She sighed and leaned back, arching her shoulders. Andy tried not to stare at her chest. "Paul is gifted at what he does. It might have been a mistake to put him in charge of a team."

Andy dared to offer, "Well, he, um, doesn't seem to like bossing people around." She had a hunch, in fact, that Paul would be profoundly grateful if Miranda let him return to being a team of one.

"Liking or disliking doesn't enter into it," Miranda said flatly. "You want to get anywhere in this world, you accept responsibility, and take authority." She glanced at Andy. "As you are discovering."

Andy was in charge of exactly one other person. "You mean with Ellie?"

"Is that her name?" asked Miranda, who knew perfectly well.

"But, I mean, it's not exactly a big deal," Andy said. "You're the one who really tells her what to do. I just make sure it gets done. I'm a…a mentor figure," she added in a burst of inspiration.

Miranda snorted. "If you insist," she said. She tilted her head to the side and put the book down. And added: "Well? That's all I  had to say."

Andy gulped and her heart started to pound. She scooted in closer to Miranda on the couch. Miranda did not retreat. Andy leaned in. So did Miranda. Their lips touched.

Again, Miranda kissed her back. As always, her lips were feather-soft, and Andy felt like the top of her head had just caught on fire. She reached up, trying not to let her hand tremble, and cupped Miranda's cheek with one hand, never wanting it to end. But it did. It had to, and Andy slowly released Miranda's mouth with the greatest reluctance.

Miranda did not pull her head back. She moved her hand. She touched Andy's elbow very, very lightly.

Andy gasped softly, and leaned back in for a second kiss, unable to believe her luck. Less than a week, and they'd gone from having no relationship at all to something where Andy could sit on the couch in Miranda Priestly's home and kiss her softly on the mouth. Not just once, but twice, maybe even three ti--

"Hey, Mom? Are you in here?"

Andy hit the arm of the sofa as Miranda shoved her away with enough force to knock down a quarterback. "Ow!" she said, but Miranda was already busy patting down her hair, which hadn't even gotten messed up, and trying very hard to look casual instead of panicked. Jesus! Had that really been necessary?

But before Andy could voice her displeasure, or even sit up, a twin in pajamas came trotting into the den. She saw Andy sprawled against the cushions, painfully hauling herself to a sitting position, and her eyes went wide. Crap. It was Caroline, Little Miss "Sensitive" 2007.

"What are you doing back here?" she asked Andy.

"Telling on people from work," Andy grunted, finally sitting up. "Playing spy. You know--the usual."

"Oh," Caroline said.

"Why are you up so late, Caroline?" Miranda asked, obviously trying not to sound too freaked out.

Still looking at Andy, Caroline said, "I almost forgot to remind you that we're going to Nia's house tomorrow after school. I woke up and remembered and came down to tell you."

Andy tried very hard to look normal. Miranda said, "Yes, I know. Cara reminded me this evening." She adjusted her collar. "Now go back to sleep, dear."

"Okay," Caroline said, and gave her mother a long look before she left the room without another word.

When Caroline's footsteps had gone all the way up the stairs, Andy glared at Miranda and said, "Smooth."

"What was I supposed to do?" Miranda snapped.

"Not breaking my spine would have been a good start," Andy said, rubbing at her back. "Ow. Jeez." She supposed this answered her question about how much the twins were supposed to know.

Miranda looked extremely upset. Andy didn't know if it was because of Andy or Caroline or something else completely, but she sighed anyway and said, "Anyway. I'll see you tomorrow." Then she smiled to show there were no hard feelings. Although there kind of were.

"All right," Miranda said. She looked more troubled than ever. And in spite of her aching back, Andy felt bad for her. She opened her mouth to say something useless, but Miranda added, "Good night," in a final-sounding tone of voice.

Oh. Well, okay then. "Good night," Andy sighed, and left, trying not to remember how bouncy she'd felt just a few minutes ago. Can't win them all, she told herself.

"You look kind of blue," Roy said in the car. "Got a telling-off?"

"Yeah," Andy said, and fiddled her thumbs. "I guess so."

 


 

The next morning, Miranda called from within her office, "New girl!"

Ellie gulped and gave Andy an apprehensive look. Andy tried to give her a reassuring smile. It probably wasn't all that convincing. This morning's car ride had been more awkward than ever, and Andy knew she was partly to blame for Miranda's bad mood.

A few minutes later Ellie came out of the Miranda's office looking both surprised and pleased. "She says for you to give me the key," she said.

"Huh?"

"For her house. She says it's time for me to start bringing the book to her place."

"…oh," Andy said.

"Isn't that great?" Ellie said. "Now you don't have to stay at the office so late." Then she drooped. "Oh. I guess I do, though. But you deserve the rest, you work so hard--"

"Here," Andy said, digging the key from her purse and offering it to Ellie with a shaking hand. "Take care of it. I mean, don't lose it."

"I won't," Ellie promised. "I bring the dry-cleaning too, right?"

"Right," Andy said. "Um."

Just then, Miranda strode through the doors of her office and out of the receiving area without a word, or a glance at either of them. Off to brunch with Meisel. And she'd be out of the office for the rest of the day. Andy stared after her hard enough to burn a hole through her back.

What the fuck was she trying to pull?

"Andy?"

Dragging her attention back to Earth, Andy saw that Ellie was looking at her with wide eyes. "Sorry," she said, and managed a smile. Ellie looked relieved. She was so used to Andy being nice to her that she didn't handle it well if Andy appeared even moderately peeved. "So. Book. Dry-cleaning." She shook her head. "Right. Okay."

Then she gave Ellie the spiel that Emily had given her, only with better detail. Dry cleaning: the hall closet was the first door on the left. Put the book on the table next to the closet, also on the left. Then leave. Not a word to anyone. The front door, the closet, the table, and then the front door again.

"That's it," Andy said firmly. "That's the whole route. I mean it, Ellie. Don't wander around in the house." She might be able to drive her point home even better with the story about her own disastrous mistake, but she just couldn't bring herself to do it right now.

"I won't," Ellie said, shaking her head. Then she shivered. "I don't think I'd want to. Whenever I think about her house, it makes me think of an evil castle or something."

Andy couldn't help grinning at that. "Complete with dragon, huh?" Ellie nodded and beamed. "Well, hold that thought. And hold the phone. I've got to pee."

Miranda called the office exactly once that afternoon, and she called Ellie, not Andy. By seven-thirty, Andy was tied up in knots of frustration and anger. This was ridiculous. What happened to talking to someone when you were upset, huh? What happened to hating passive-aggressiveness? Andy knew one thing. She was calling Miranda as soon as she was off work. She was going to hash this out, this…this whatever-it-was. She was going to--

"Oh!" Ellie said across the way, and hopped to her feet. Andy looked up, and saw with surprise that Miranda had returned to Runway , off-schedule. Yet again, she looked at neither of her assistants as she entered her office. Ellie gave Andy a wide-eyed look; Andy shrugged.

A minute or so later, Miranda reappeared with a binder of proofs under her arm. She stopped by the desks and looked at Andy for the first time since getting out of the car that morning. "Well?" she said irritably.

"Huh? Well what?" Andy said, trying not to sound too uppity in front of Ellie. It helped that she was as confused as all-get-out.

"Why are you not ready to go?" Miranda asked.

"…oh," Andy said, after the briefest of moments. "Right. Okay. Sorry." She rose and retrieved her coat and bag. "I'm, um, ready."

Miranda headed towards the elevator, and Andy trailed along behind, knowing that Ellie was watching them uncomprehendingly. Which was fine, and pretty much par for the course. She looked over her shoulder and mouthed the word, 'Remember,' before rounding the corner.

The elevator doors closed, and she and Miranda were, of course, the only two in the car. Andy wanted to ask Miranda a question, but she wasn't quite sure what it was anymore. It was a long shot that Andy had forgotten some kind of meeting, but it was an even longer shot that--

"Jimena's prepared an extra portion tonight," Miranda said blandly.

Jimena was Miranda's cook. Andy's eyes opened wide. Miranda refused to look at her, and Andy smiled. "Oh," she said. "Okay."

"The twins will want to talk to you about their party," Miranda continued, as if she was debriefing Andy on an assignment. "And then of course we will need to discuss the Charleston shoot."

"Of course," Andy said, her sunny mood returning as if it had never left. Twofold.

"You gave Eleanor very precise instructions?" Miranda asked pointedly.

Even that couldn't nettle Andy. "Super precise," she said. "No dumb assistant coming up the stairs tonight." Miranda hmph'd. "You going to start using her name now?"

"We'll see," Miranda said.

Roy was obviously surprised to see Andy going home with Miranda when it wasn't after eleven p.m., though he knew not to say anything. But when he pulled up to Miranda's house, he did say, "Ms. Priestly, should I stay here to wait for Andy?"

"No," Miranda said shortly. "Come along, Andrea." Andy avoided looking at Roy in the rear-view mirror as she got out of the car, and tried even harder not to remember the little lecture Miranda had given him on professionalism.

All of a sudden, she wondered where that little lecture had come from in the first place. Miranda had been really upset to find that Roy had maybe possibly been considering asking Andy out. And she'd immediately swatted the possibility like a fly. Had she been jealous? How far back did this…this "caring for" Andy thing go?

Andy doubted that she would have the courage to ask Miranda that for a long time, if ever. Instead, she meekly followed Miranda up the stairs and into the house, while Roy drove away behind them.

Miranda fished out her own key. "Make another copy of this one tomorrow," she said.

"All right," Andy said, feeling her stomach get pleasantly warm.

"Hello, girls," Miranda called, as she stepped inside. Andy shut the door behind them both.

"Hi, Mom." Cassidy's voice, drifting down the stairs. "Dinner's warm in the oven."

"All right," Miranda said, and let Andy help her out of her coat. "We're coming."

There was a pause. "We?" Then Andy heard hurried footsteps. For the first time, it occurred to her to be very nervous.

Miranda did not appear to have the same problem as Cassidy appeared on the stairs, followed by Caroline, and then Cara. All three regarded Andy with wide-eyed surprise, but not hostility. Andy smiled at them, and said, "Hi."

"Andrea is here to talk about your party," Miranda said, as if she invited assistants home to discuss work over dinner every day. "She'll be eating with us."

Cassidy's eyes lit up at the mention of the party, and she hurried downstairs at once. "Cool!" she said. "Come on!" Cara, grinning, followed her to the foot of the stairs.

Caroline looked at both Andy and Miranda for slightly longer. Andy tried not to sweat. Caroline said, "Is David Blaine coming?"

"Yep," Andy said. "But he'd like a list of what you guys want him to do."

"We get to pick?" Cassidy said. "Awesome. Come on, Caroline," she repeated, and after another long look at Andy, Caroline followed her into the kitchen. Andy took a deep breath, and grinned when she realized Miranda was doing the same.

"I'll just be going home," Cara said, donning her coat and taking her bag from the table by the front door. "Have a good night, Ms. Priestly. G'night, Andy." Her gaze was curious, but not exactly nosy. She'd been taking care of the twins for a few years now, and she'd apparently learned to keep her thoughts to herself.

"Night, Cara!" Cassidy called from the kitchen. "Mom, Andy, come on!"

Miranda sighed and headed towards the kitchen while Andy and Cara exchanged a wry smile. Cara left, no doubt relieved to end her working day, and Andy followed Miranda.

The twins chattered their way through dinner, and Andy didn't get to eat much of her (excellent) food because she was writing so fast her hand got cramps. Miranda was silent nearly the whole time, watching everything. Andy felt like she was on stage. For an audition.

"Okay," Andy finally said, damming up the endless flow of instructions from the twins. She flexed her hand and rotated her wrist. "I think that's all the stuff he wanted to know. And we've got everything all set up with your cake. Did you have a look at the guest list?"

"Yeah," Caroline said. "Why isn't Chelsea on there?"

"Chelsea?" Andy stared at her. "I thought you didn't like her."

"That was, like, years ago," Cassidy said, rolling her eyes. "We're best friends now."

"Oh," Andy said. "Right. Okay, I'll add Chelsea to the list."

"Have you spoken to Glorious Foods?" Miranda inquired.

"Yes," Andy said. "They said the menu shouldn't be any problem."

"I certainly hope so," Miranda grumbled, and sipped her decaf. "Now that Natalie's been fired, we might see an improvement in service. I'd hate to have to choose another caterer."

"Are you going to have dessert?" Caroline asked Andy. She and Cassidy had already plowed through their apple crumble. It smelled fantastic.

Better not risk it, Andy decided glumly. "No, thanks," she said. "I'm stuffed." Even though she still hadn't finished her food.

"Probably a good idea," Caroline said, nodding, after looking Andy up and down. Andy's eyes widened, and she couldn't help glancing over at Miranda.

Miranda was no help, of course. In fact, as she took another sip of coffee, Andy thought she was actually trying to suppress a smile.

At eight-thirty the twins headed upstairs to finish their homework. Andy knew the gears in their heads were spinning, trying to figure out what was going on. Caroline probably already half-knew, and she'd probably told Cassidy, too--that Andy and Miranda had been sitting a little too closely together in the den yesterday. They weren't dumb. But had they worked out what was really going on between Andy and their mom?

If they did, Andy sure hoped they'd let her in on it, too. In the meantime, she finished her own coffee, also decaf, and glanced across the kitchen table at Miranda.

"That went well," Miranda said cautiously.

"Yeah," Andy said, nodding in relief and making sure to keep her voice low. "But I don't think they really know. I mean, not totally."

"I hope not," Miranda said. "I'd rather they weren't that precocious." She gave Andy a cautious look. "Too many changes for them," she said. "Too many, and too quickly."

Andy didn't need any elaboration. She just nodded. "I don't know how involved you will be in their lives," Miranda added. "I don't know what role you'll play. In any of this."

Oh. So they were finally going to talk about it. "Me neither," Andy said, and then added, "what do you mean, 'any of this'?"

"I've got another one on the way, in case you've forgotten," Miranda said.

"Well, yeah," Andy said, and blinked. Then her eyes widened. "You think I'm not going to be involved with--?" Miranda had to be kidding, right? Whatever happened with the twins, Andy had been 'involved' with the new kid from the moment Miranda had found out about him. Or her. Whichever. She'd sure as heck been more involved with Miranda's pregnancy than Stephen ever had. Well, except for jump-starting it, anyway.

"Of course you are," Miranda said, and waved her hand. "You can hardly avoid it, can you?" She looked directly at Andy. "Do you want to? Avoid it, that is."

"What?" Andy said. "No!"

"You sound so sure," Miranda said. "You're, what, twenty-four? You have no idea what this is going to be like."

"Neither do you," Andy said.

"I have a much better idea than you do," Miranda said flatly. "And if this isn't keeping you awake at night, it probably should be."

"Well, it hasn't," Andy said. But she had to admit that that was only because she hadn't really been thinking about it too much. So much else had been happening. So much that the fact that, in July, Miranda would actually give birth had sort of fallen into the back of Andy's mind, in spite of prenatal vitamins and doctor's visits and everything else.

She sat back in her chair and spread her hands helplessly. "What do you want me to do?" she said. "I want to be with you." More than she'd ever wanted anything. 'Want' wasn't even the right word. "People who are younger than me have children all the time."

"Please don't trot that one out," Miranda said. "Most of them aren't ready, either. And none of them are you."

"What do you want me to do?" Andy repeated, trying not to get defensive, because that wouldn't help at all. It was tough, since Miranda put everybody she'd ever met on the defensive. "I mean--I don't have a plan written out or anything. How…I mean, won't we just have to play it by ear, like everything else? You don't know how anything's going to turn out. Nobody ever does."

"True," Miranda said, and she didn't look happy about it at all. Well, it figured--if anybody wanted life to adhere to a well-ordered plan, it was Miranda Priestly. "Which is why I said I don't know what role you will play."

"…right," Andy said, with no idea whether they'd come to any kind of resolution or not. She didn't think so. More like they'd gone in a circle. "Well, I, um. I want to be here. And I am here. So." She shrugged, and realized she was sweating under her arms.

Miranda nodded. She said nothing.

Andy swallowed and took a chance. "Um…is this about the ultrasound next week?" Then she saw a muscle twitch beneath Miranda's left eye. "Because--because--"

"Let's not," Miranda said. She'd gone tight around the mouth and eyes. Andy hated that she'd been the one to put the worry there. But in a week, after both an ultrasound and amniocentesis, they'd know a lot more about the baby: its size, its sex, and whether it was…okay. Or if it was the one chance in a hundred. "I'd rather…the Charleston shoot."

"Okay," Andy said, took a deep breath, and smiled. Then she bent down to retrieve the briefcase by her chair. "I have the layout mockups from Paul right here."

"The den," Miranda said, and led the way there. Andy got the proofs out of her briefcase, and Miranda reached for them like she might reach for a life jacket in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. "Inadequate," she said, after she'd looked at the first one for all of half a second. "The misuse of color here…" Andy hunched her shoulders, feeling guilty that she'd put Miranda in such a bad mood, and that Miranda was going to take it out on poor Paul and his team. But if Andy protested, tried to call Miranda on it, that just meant Miranda would get mad at her too, and take it out even more on Paul and his team out of pure spite.

Andy sure could pick 'em. She tried not to sigh audibly, and wrote down everything Miranda said. Her wrist started cramping up again.

They were done by five after nine. Andy could tell that Miranda wanted to get her out of the house before Ellie arrived with the book, which was a really good idea, so Andy didn't mind.

"For the record," Andy dared, as she was packing up the briefcase again, "I'm almost twenty-five." As in, halfway to fifty.

"Oh, well, that's--" Miranda began sarcastically, and then paused as Andy's words sank in. "Almost?"

"My birthday's on the thirteenth," Andy said. She grinned. "Just so you know."

Miranda raised her eyebrows then, looking almost playful. Andy was instantly and utterly enchanted. "And? Why are you telling me?" Miranda asked.

"Gee, I don't know," Andy said, still grinning. "Hey. Do you remem--you probably don't. But I interviewed with you last year on March thirteenth. Guess what? It was my birthday."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. 'Happy Birthday, here's a paycheck.'" Andy had been able to appreciate that much, at least, even if she'd had her head up her ass about a lot of things. Then she stopped grinning, and added more seriously, "I don't expect anything. I just remembered it because Nigel asked me about my birthday in London. It was kind of weird." In a way that she still couldn't put into words. "I don't know what he's up to."

Miranda sighed. "Neither do I. But out of all the things I have to worry about right now, Nigel is not exactly at the top of the list."

"I guess not," Andy said. She glanced around to make sure that no twins were lingering around the den unobserved. Then she turned back to Miranda and blinked hopefully.

"I suppose I can't stop you," Miranda said, and took her by the hand.

"I'm the luckiest girl in the whole world," Andy said, and kissed her.

 


 

But that night, Andy followed Miranda's suggestion and lay awake worrying.

Miranda had been right. She usually was. Andy was a young professional; she wanted a career now, not kids. She needed to be focusing on her work, on making her way to the top. Not on changing diapers.

But would she be doing much of that, anyway? Miranda kept a nanny for a reason. She worked all day, Andy worked all day--no doubt Greg, the twins' father, worked all day, too. And Stephen as well. Sure, parenting was high on Miranda's list of priorities. It was also kind of convenient. She went to parent-teacher conferences, she attended recitals, she came home in time for dinner when she could manage it; she didn't exactly volunteer for the PTA, cook macaroni and cheese for lunch, and vacuum the living room, like Andy's mom had done when Andy was growing up.

Andy's mom. God. Andy's stomach cramped and seized. That was another thing she'd deliberately not been thinking about: her parents, and what they'd say. All of a sudden, that seemed a lot more real than kids and jobs. Andy would be lucky not to be disowned. It was already weird, already uncomfortable, sending the usual breezy emails and making the brief, weekly phone call and never mentioning, 'By the way…'

It wasn't even so much that Miranda was a woman. Andy's parents had never seemed to have much against gay people, as far as she could tell, and she knew they thought that altering the Constitution just so gay people couldn't get married was a bad idea. Although of course it was always different when it was your own kid. And of course they'd always liked Nate. And wanted grandchildren.

Fuck it. Rachel was getting married. And from what Andy knew about her sister, she and Mark would be popping out grandchildren within two years, if that's what her parents were worried about. No. It wasn't just that Miranda was a woman. It was everything else--age, children, divorce, everything--plus the fact that, above all, Miranda was Miranda.  After all, Andy's parents weren't likely to forget:

"What does she want you to do? Call the National Guard and have her airlifted out of there?"

To say nothing of:

"I completely fail to understand why she can't spend Christmas with her children and take care of them herself."

And, most damning of all:

"After what I've seen and heard, I'm starting to think there's nothing she wouldn't do."

Yeah. After what they'd seen and heard, they'd never believe--never understand--they'd never--

But that wasn't an issue yet. Wasn't a problem. Andy's parents couldn't say any of that because they couldn't find out yet. Nobody could. Discovery was disaster: it would be the end of Andy's career (and probably her professional reputation), and it would put Miranda's in serious jeopardy. It would give Greg an excuse to demand custody of the twins, if he felt like it; it would give Stephen an outlet for his spite; it would give New York a chance to subject Miranda Priestly to utter ridicule and contempt, as though far more sordid things didn't happen every day. And what kind of defense could Andy and Miranda offer? "It's completely platonic"? Either they'd be disbelieved, or worse, people would believe them and laugh all the harder. Because people were heartless fucks.

And there wasn't a thing Andy could do about it, short of calling the whole thing off, which wasn't a possibility because then she'd probably die or something.

For want of another plan of action, Andy rolled over and yelled into her pillow. It helped a little bit.

 


 

For the rest of that week, Andy hitched a ride home with Miranda. She only ate dinner at the townhouse three more times, though; on the other nights, Roy took her home after dropping Miranda off, just like before. Andy had a definite feeling that she and Miranda were trying not to push their luck with the twins, and whenever Andy came to dinner, Miranda always came up with some bullshit work excuse just in case the twins asked why Andy was there. But the twins never asked--they seemed perfectly happy to chatter on about their day at school while Miranda listened attentively and Andy tried to keep up without feeling self-conscious. How much did they know, how much did they guess? She had no idea, and the twins still weren't telling.

After dinner, the twins did homework upstairs, and Andy and Miranda worked downstairs. It wasn't as bad as Andy might have thought. In her own home, with someone she liked and trusted, Miranda was a lot less vile, though no less focused. And Andy felt useful. Helpful. Good to have around.

More than that, it was pretty much the only time Andy and Miranda ever spent alone together. It often felt like they lived in each other's pockets all day long, but somebody else was always around: Roy, Ellie, Nigel, the clackers, the twins. Even the security cameras in the elevators. This, sitting in Miranda's house and working after the girls were gone, was the only time they could be together without worrying that somebody else might catch them…what? Sitting together and enjoying each other's company? Well, for Miranda, enjoying an assistant's company was a heck of a red flag to anyone who cared to look, so even hanging out together was a subversive act. Sure, it'd be nice to have an actual conversation not about work, or sit closer to each other than five feet apart, but Andy was trying to be patient.

Plus, when she stayed for dinner, she got a kiss before she went home. Since she'd stopped bringing the book over, she didn't get one every night now, which was the biggest disadvantage to the arrangement as far as she was concerned. It wasn't like Miranda could give her a peck before getting out of the car in front of Roy. And when Andy went straight home after work she didn't get any of Jimena's cooking, either, which really was excellent and fulfilled all of Miranda's nutritional requirements.

On Monday night, the seventh of March, Andy stopped in for dinner a fourth time. Tonight Miranda didn't volunteer any excuses to the twins. She was too pale and distracted--she had been all day, though she'd been disguising it masterfully. The ultrasound and amniocentesis were tomorrow morning. Miranda didn't look hungry, but she devoured every morsel of her spinach salad as if a last-minute dose of folic acid would make all the difference.

The twins didn't chatter on like usual, either, and Andy didn't feel up to carrying a conversation at the Priestly dinner table all by herself. Miranda hated it when people babbled for no reason. So it felt very much like all four of them were hunkered down, waiting in silence for some kind of bomb to drop.

Finally Cassidy said, "Your doctor's appointment is tomorrow, right, Mom?"

"Shut up," Caroline said.

"Yes, it is, darling," Miranda said. "Caroline, don't be rude to your sister." She sipped her water and tried to appear calm.

Cassidy didn't shut up, either. Miranda had told Andy that Cassidy could be every bit as stubborn as her father when she was on to something. "What'll you do if something's wrong?" she asked.

Andy held her breath. She'd forgotten how blunt kids could be about the things adults never discussed openly. But she tried to look tranquil as she awaited Miranda's response.

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Miranda said, and Andy wanted to applaud the reassuring tone of her voice. "Let's not go creating trouble when there's no need for it."

"Are you going to the doctor with Mom?" Caroline asked Andy, peeking at her through a veil of red-gold bangs.

"Mm-hmm," Andy said, and then looked quickly at Miranda. "I mean, I think so." She damn well better be.

"Yes, she is," Miranda said.

"Will you call us and tell us everything's okay?" Caroline said, still talking to Andy, not her mother.

"Well…sure," Andy said. "I--we can leave a message for you at the school office. If that's okay," she added, looking at Miranda.

"Of course it is." Then Miranda glanced at the clock. "Homework time." The twins sighed, but carried their ice cream bowls to the dishwasher.

After they'd gone upstairs, Andy and Miranda repaired to the den, as usual. But when Andy opened up her bag to pull out her work, Miranda waved her hand and stared off into space. She looked haunted. Andy took a deep breath, folded her hands in her lap, and waited.

But Miranda said nothing, and nothing, and then some more nothing. Finally, after about five minutes (which felt very long when you were waiting for someone to speak), Andy said, "You okay?"

"She might be right," Miranda said, still not looking at Andy. "Cassidy." She tapped her fingertips nervously on the arm of her chair while Andy sat up very straight on the sofa. "Something might be wrong with it."

"Hey," Andy said at once. "No. You don't know that."

"And if it is?" Miranda sat back in the chair, and rubbed her hands over her eyes as if Andy hadn't spoken. "I can afford to take care of it. That's not an issue."

"Right," Andy said carefully. "But remember what you said to Cassidy? There's no sense in--"

"I had an abortion when I was eighteen," Miranda said.

Andy stopped talking right away. Miranda moved her hands away from her face and looked at Andy. Then she smiled bitterly. "You're surprised."

"I…yeah, I guess," Andy said. "You…um?"

"Oh yes," Miranda said. "Knocked up at eighteen, outside of Toledo, Ohio." She snorted derisively and looked away from Andy, back into the past. "Like so many other girls I knew."

Andy swallowed. "Oh," she said. "So…so you…"

"So I got out," Miranda said. "I'd always known I had to get out. That I would never stay there. That as soon as I graduated high school…" She took a deep breath and let it out again. "I felt like I'd been running for the gate at a prison camp, and someone had tried to stop me right before I could cross. I couldn't let that happen."

"Oh," Andy said again, wondering if Miranda was about to tell her about her past, about her family, about everything Andy wanted to know.

But all Miranda said was, "Two years after Roe v. Wade. And I wasn't a minor. I was lucky." She gave a short, bitter little laugh. "And then I packed up and came to New York with four hundred dollars in the bank. Just like that. I have never, ever looked back."

"Oh," Andy said. "So…so is this…"

The word 'atonement' hung unspoken in the air, and Miranda shook her head at it. She glanced at Andy. "I don't regret it," she said. "I never have. It was the right decision for me then."

Andy nodded wordlessly. Then she dared, "And now?"

Miranda shrugged one shoulder. "I don't know," she said. "I can afford it now. I can take care of it." She smiled mirthlessly. "I got the job. The money. The townhouse. Everything I told myself I would." She glanced at Andy, and this time her smile was incredulous. "And some other things I didn't anticipate."

In spite of herself, Andy smiled at that. She stood up from the couch and sat down on the blue footstool in front of Miranda's chair--the very one she and Ellie had tracked down, pre-London. It seemed like she'd divided her life that way now: before and after London. "You got the girl, huh?" she asked, trying to keep her own voice light.

"I seem to have," Miranda said. She looked at Andy thoughtfully, as if she was trying to decide whether or not to say something. Andy held her breath, wondering if Miranda would--if she might actually say--and if Andy, too, might say--

Then Miranda said, "I'm glad I hired you."

Andy's breath left her in a whoosh, and she bent forward, laughing helplessly. "Me too," she said. "I'm glad Nigel gave me a kick in the ass and made me put on those Chanel boots."

Miranda chuckled, evidently forgetting her worries and memories for a second. Andy reflected that it would be really easy, in this moment, to make big promises and declarations. And that Miranda might even believe them, because she needed to right now. So tempting to--

"Chanel boots?" Miranda said, stopping Andy's train of thought. She looked amused, but also curious.

"Yeah," Andy said. "The day of my big makeover. You didn't see--oh." Andy remembered that Miranda had left the office after chewing Andy out that day, and hadn't seen New and Improved Andy until the following morning, when she'd practically eaten Andy up with her eyes. Andy blushed just remembering it, and cleared her throat. "You know, the Chanel boots. Last season. The brown leather ones that go all the way up to…" She tapped her thigh. "Remember them?"

Miranda lifted her eyebrows, and then her cheeks went a little red. Oh yeah, she remembered them. She cleared her throat and said, "Did they fit?"

"Nigel wouldn't have set me loose in them if they didn't," Andy said.

"Oh. Yes," Miranda said. "I suppose." She cleared her throat again. "Well. I think it's time for you to, um, go home. It's late."

Not that late. Damn. Well…at least thinking about skintight leather had distracted Miranda a little. "Okay," Andy said, and instead of standing up, scooted to the edge of the footstool and leaned in.

Andy didn't know if it was the stress, the worry, or the thought of Andy in thigh-high boots, but tonight Miranda leaned forward too, without prompting or urging, and met Andy halfway. They lingered for a moment, brushing their lips together, little puffs of breath between them. And tonight, Andy waited.

Miranda didn't. She pressed her lips to Andy's; she cupped Andy's chin; she caught her breath and sighed when Andy tilted her head and kissed her back. That sound, that sigh, slid through Andy's brain and buzzed around at the base of her skull. She parted her lips, and felt the lightest, accidental brush of Miranda's tongue against her mouth. It made her whimper. Miranda gasped at the noise and moved her hand to cup the back of Andy's neck, apparently unable to stop herself.

Jesus. They might not be having sex, but they were definitely fucking each other right now. Andy kissed Miranda again and thought about long looks, and accidental hand-brushings, and countless tiny moments. She and Miranda had been fucking each other for a very, very long time. Before London. Before Paris, even. About time they'd figured it out.

She moved her mouth from Miranda's and trailed it down to Miranda's chin, then her jaw. Miranda gasped again, shuddered, and did not push Andy away. Andy's head spun. She was used to stubble, to roughness, but Miranda's skin was unbelievably soft and smooth. And warm.

Andy kept kissing, kept nuzzling, while Miranda trembled and tried to catch her breath. Her grip was like iron on the back of Andy's neck. Why weren't they on the sofa? Or anywhere else they could…they could…

Could Andy--would it be okay to--she touched Miranda's neck with the back of her index finger, stroked it gently up and down. Miranda hissed and arched into the touch. Andy promptly lost her mind, whispered, "Let me," and leaned down so she could kiss where her finger had touched, could kiss Miranda's throat for the first time. She barely pressed her mouth to the skin, though, kissing Miranda almost as much with her breath as she did with her lips. Miranda made a breathless noise that was almost a moan.

Then she turned her head, rubbed her nose in Andy's hair, and whispered--pleaded-- "No. No. Not here."

'Where, then?' Andy didn't say. Instead, she pulled back, her head whirling. Miranda was flushed and panting. She pressed a hand to her throat, closed her eyes, and tried to collect herself. Andy just stared at her in agony, wondering if this was what guys felt like when they had blue balls.

"So," she croaked, "so…I'll, um, I'm going home?"

Miranda nodded, keeping her eyes shut. "I think that's a good--yes."

"Sorry," Andy said, before she could stop herself, even though she wasn't sorry at all. Miranda opened her eyes again, and Andy saw that they were glazed with desire. She'd managed to get her breathing under control, but her face was still red, and she still quivered. God.  Andy stood up really fast. "I'll see you tomorrow morning," she gasped. Miranda swallowed and nodded, and Andy grabbed her bag and stumbled for the front door.

Well. At least she might have given Miranda something else to think about tonight.

 


 

The next morning in the car, however, Miranda did not appear distracted. She kept her eyes rigidly focused on the book, making last-minute notes and changes. But she didn't blush today; rather she was pale and tense, and Andy knew she was thinking, not about their kisses, but the doctor's office.

Andy longed to comfort her, but she still didn't know what kind of comfort Miranda would accept. Andy couldn't touch her or say anything in front of Roy, and Miranda might not want that anyway, even if they were alone. So Andy did what she'd done when she'd still just been a lowly assistant, and sat quietly, ready to get Miranda anything she might need at a moment's notice. It had worked like a charm before, and she certainly didn't have any better ideas now.

In Dr. Viswanathan's waiting-room, Andy was prepared for another session of waiting in tight, tense silence. But instead, Miranda said, "What have you arranged for the team going to the Charleston shoot? Transportation-wise?" They'd already discussed that a few nights ago, but Andy gamely launched into talk about plane tickets and rental cars and hotel shuttles, and Miranda nodded silently until a nurse came to lead her into the examining room.

"Nervous?" Mary asked Andy when Miranda was gone. Andy didn't even bother denying it, and just nodded with a tight smile. "She seems to be in good shape," Mary said. "Seems like you're looking after her pretty well. Or somebody is, anyway."

"No, it's me," Andy said, trying to sound casual instead of insanely possessive and worried. Then she added, "I mean, I, uh, I try to help her do what the doctor says."

"Well, I think she's lucky to have you," Mary said, and lowered her voice to add, "are she and her husband still going to get divorced?"

"They, um--" better.  "I think that's still the plan, yeah."

"That's a shame," Mary murmured, and turned back to her computer. "I'm glad she's got somebody to be there for her, at least."

At least. Andy gritted her teeth. "Yeah," she said.

The procedures took forever and ever, and Andy was an old woman by the time they were finished. At least that was how it felt when the nurse emerged and gestured for Andy to follow her. Without speaking, Andy gave the nurse a pleading look: the nurse gave her a big smile and a reassuring nod in return. After that, Andy needed a couple of seconds before she could stand up, just so she could make sure her knees would support her.

Miranda was sitting in front of Dr. Viswanathan's desk again, sipping a glass of water. Her hand didn't tremble and her breathing was steady. The look on her face was perfectly calm. Dr. Viswanathan was the one who greeted Andy with a smile. "Shall we begin?" she said.

"Please," Miranda said, not even glancing in Andy's direction.

"As Miranda already knows," Dr. Viswanathan said to Andy, "everything checks out okay today. The ultrasound detected no problems, no defects. Of course the ultrasound alone is not completely foolproof, which is why we've sent the amniotic fluid sample to the lab for chromosomal analysis. We should have the results in a couple of weeks." Andy took a deep breath and exhaled it, nodding. "But so far everything seems perfectly in-order. So I suggest we all relax for a while." Andy nodded again, and glanced at Miranda, who appeared to be concentrating on her water.

"It's a boy," Dr. Viswanathan added.

Andy stared at her with wide eyes. Oh, that was right--what with all the worry about, about other stuff, she'd nearly forgotten they'd learn the baby's sex today. "Really?" she said.

"Yes indeed," Dr. Viswanathan said, and for the first time, she looked as amused as Sandra Latchley had during Miranda's first consultation.

"Oh," Andy said, trying very hard to play it cool. "Well, that's…neat." She glanced at Miranda, who was still refusing to look up from her water, and felt another, very different pang of worry. Was she unhappy? Had she wanted another girl or something?

"That it is," Dr. Viswanathan said. "Would you like to see the picture?" She picked up a large sheet of paper from her desk, and Andy realized it was a print-out from the ultrasound. It wasn't much to look at, really--a fuzzy white blob surrounded by fuzzy black space--but then Andy remembered that the white blob in the photo was the kid inside Miranda , right at that very moment, and her mind got blown a little.

"Wow," she said faintly.

"Yes," Dr. Viswanathan chuckled. "'Wow,' indeed. Ms. Priestly, would you like to take the picture with you?"

"No, thank you," Miranda said to her water. Andy wanted to protest, and didn't dare.

"Very well," Dr. Viswanathan said. "Do you have any other questions for me today?"

"No," Miranda said. Andy shook her head mutely when Dr. Viswanathan looked at her. Her only question was about why Miranda was so subdued, and Dr. Viswanathan wouldn't be able to answer it.

"All right," Dr. Viswanathan said, and looked down at her notes. "I'll want to see you in another two weeks, Miranda."

"Fine," Miranda said, her voice as even and cool as ever. Andy worried some more.

Then she worried while checking out of the clinic, worried during the car ride back to the office, and worried on the way into the revolving doors of Elias-Clarke, because Miranda hadn't said anything. Not even instructions for work.

The elevator doors shut, leaving them alone together, and Miranda exhaled a long, shaking sigh. Andy quickly turned to look at her, and saw that she was pale and trembling, and that she'd pressed a hand to her heart. "Are you okay?" Andy said, scared and wondering if she should call Roy and tell him to take them back to the doctor's office right away.

But Miranda nodded, waving her hand at Andy for silence while she took another deep breath. "I'm fine," she said. "I'm fine now."

Andy fidgeted, twitched her fingers, balled her hands up into fists. Then, when they passed the eighth floor, she reached out and hesitantly touched Miranda's hand with her own, not quite daring to say anything. Miranda didn't look at her, but she grabbed Andy's hand so hard it hurt.

"A boy, huh?" Andy said, and Miranda covered her mouth with her hand, but not soon enough to stifle a half-hysterical laugh. Her cheeks finally got a little color in them. Andy laughed too, breathlessly, as a surge of relief overwhelmed her. It was okay, the tests hadn't discovered anything immediately awful, Dr. Viswanathan had been hopeful, and Andy and Miranda were holding hands in the elevator. The day couldn't get any better, really.

Then Miranda glanced over at her, and Andy saw that her eyes were actually shining with relief and happiness. Andy felt a little dizzy from that look, and wondered if the day would come when Miranda's beauty didn't shut her mind down completely. But then Miranda got herself under control, let go of Andy's hand, and just in time, too, because then the elevator dinged and the door opened and they were staring at Keisha and Jocelyn. Andy put on her straightest face right away.

They got out of the way immediately, and Miranda brushed past like she hadn't even seen them. Andy followed her, but Jocelyn grabbed her elbow, and mouthed, 'Is it okay?', nodding after Miranda's retreating back. Andy couldn't stop another relieved grin as she nodded, and both Jocelyn and Keisha relaxed. Andy realized that the whole office had no doubt been holding its breath in a prayer that Miranda's entire pregnancy would go as smoothly as possible, because the alternative, and Miranda's resulting mood, was too horrifying to consider.

But that day went smooth as glass. Even when Ellie mixed up a photo spread from Prada with one from Philip Lim, even when Paul was late getting back from a meeting because of traffic, even when Nigel had to leave the office early because of a crisis at Donna Karan, Miranda didn't flip out. Of course, it helped that Andy found the spread from Prada, re-routed all of Paul's messages and suggestions to Keisha, and had Marjorie at Donna Karan call her with updates every half-hour, but on a normal day even that wouldn't have pacified Miranda. Today was unusual, for sure. And special.

When they went to Miranda's house after work--Andy had definitely scored a dinner invitation tonight--Miranda looked tired and content. Andy felt the same, and their silence was comfortable. But when they got out of the car and the townhouse door closed behind them, Andy heard Caroline and Cassidy's pounding footsteps and knew that quiet time was over.

"We got your message," Cassidy said as she hurried into view, Caroline hot on her heels. "It's really a boy?"

Miranda smiled, bent down, and kissed both the girls. "So it appears," she said.

"What are we going to do with a brother?" Caroline asked, making a face.

"Boss him around," Cassidy said. "He's, like, ten years younger than we are. When he's our age, we'll be twenty ." Caroline's eyes opened wide, and she appeared intrigued. Obviously she hadn't thought of that.

Miranda hadn't either, because her eyes widened too. "Well," she said. "That's true. You'll just have to help look after him."

"And Cara," Cassidy pointed out. As if the mention of her name had summoned her, Cara appeared, wearing her coat and carrying her bag, ready to leave now that Miranda had returned home.

"I heard," she said, smiling. "Congratulations, Ms. Priestly."

"Yes," Miranda said, and for the first time, being congratulated on her pregnancy did not appear to annoy her. "Don't forget the girls are going swimming tomorrow after school."

"Yes, Ms. Priestly," Cara said, keeping her polite smile firmly attached to her face. Andy admired her for that, considering that Cara was the one who organized the twins' schedule every day and updated Miranda on it. "Good night."

Dinner that night was salmon: the same salmon dish Miranda had said she'd liked in London that January. Jimena had done a good job of replicating it, right down to the spinach, which Andy pretended to enjoy yet again.

"So what are we going to name it?" Caroline asked.

"Not Stephen," Cassidy said at once.

Miranda gave a dry laugh and sipped her water. "No," she said. "Definitely not Stephen, darling." She shrugged. "I haven't really been thinking about it."

"What about Daniel? For Daniel Radcliffe," Cassidy said. "He is so cute."

"No!" Caroline said. "Orlando!"

"Daniel I might consider," Miranda said. "Orlando is off the table."

"Oh, come on," Caroline said, and appealed to Andy, "Orlando is an okay name, isn't it? It's from Shakespeare!"

"I, uh," Andy said, "I'm not sure I'd want to name my brother after a guy I had a crush on."

"Oh," Caroline said.

"Okay," Cassidy agreed. "Ew."

"So what would you pick?" Caroline said.

Andy deliberately didn't look at Miranda. "Me? Oh, I don't know," she said. "I haven't been thinking--I mean, we just found out it was a boy today."

"You could name it Andrew," Cassidy said slyly.

"Um, oh, ha ha," Andy said at once, wondering yet again just how quick on the uptake the twins really were. "I, I actually don't like the name Andrew," she added. "Believe it or not." It was the truth--she'd hated being taunted for having a 'boy's name' like Andy in middle school. The fact that 'Andrea' meant 'manly' hadn't helped, either.

"Huh. That's weird. Oh--I forgot!" Caroline said, got up from the table, and ran to her backpack, sitting on a chair by the kitchen door. She opened it up and pulled out several sheets of paper. "We printed these off from the internet during computer lab. A whole list of baby names for boys."

"Oh, yeah," Cassidy said. "There's like five hundred of them."

"Let's do ABC order," Caroline said, and handed Cassidy half the sheets. There seemed to be about ten total, and each one had a long column of names in teeny-tiny type. "I'll go first. 'Abelard.'"

Andy and Miranda exchanged a pained look. It was going to be a long dinner.

During dessert, when the girls had arrived at "Quincy," Miranda called a merciful halt. "Mommy will give the matter careful thought, darlings," she promised. "Although your father and I didn't decide what to name you two until after you were born."

"Really?" Caroline said in surprise.

"Why'd you wait so long?" Cassidy asked.

"Oh, well, we just couldn't decide until we saw you," Miranda said lightly. Andy wondered if there was more to it than that, and if Miranda would wait to name this baby too--until she knew everything was all right. If you named things or people, you got attached to them pretty quickly. "Now," Miranda said. "Homework."

"We have fine arts essays due Wednesday," Caroline said. "Andy, will you help me with mine?"

"Mine, too," Cassidy said, glaring at Caroline. Caroline glared right back.

Andy looked at Miranda in surprise. Miranda blinked. "Um," Andy said.

"Of course she will," Miranda said. Andy's hackles rose at once: Miranda really had to stop deciding that kind of stuff for her, and besides, there went their hour of time together out the window.

Still. The twins wanted her to hang around, even if it was for their own reasons, and that was good. Right? So Andy smiled and nodded, and followed the twins upstairs into a well-lit study with a big table in the middle, where they all sat down. To Andy's surprise, Miranda came upstairs too, but detoured into a much smaller room by the study that served for an office. It had probably been Stephen's before. Mindful that Miranda was working in there, Andy did her best to keep the volume down to a dull roar so she wouldn't be distracted.

Time passed, with Andy offering suggestions for thesis statements and paragraph organization. She was impressed. In fifth grade she'd been writing essays--if you could call them that--on her summer vacation, or what she wanted to be when she grew up. And book reports. Apparently when you went to Dalton you wrote essays on Ancient Greek art (Caroline) or African dance (Cassidy).

"Of course I picked Ancient Greek stuff," Caroline said, rolling her eyes. "I mean, since Marion True got indicted for stealing stuff for the Getty, it was just a bonanza. Very topical."

"Yes, of course," Andy said, deciding to pretend she knew something about that. "I mean, talk about getting caught."

"Everybody knows all about Ancient Greece, though," Cassidy said. "It's not even original." She tapped her temple and grinned. "Think outside the box."

Andy kind of hated that the twins actually might be as brilliant as Miranda seemed to think, but all she said was, "I think you've both done some good work. Just think about the stuff I suggested, okay?" She glanced at the clock on the wall. Five past ten. "Whoah. It's way after bedtime." She was surprised at how quickly the time had gone by. They packed up reluctantly and left, stopping by the office to say goodnight to Miranda. Andy lingered in the study, not wanting to interrupt any family time; instead, she stood up and stretched her back. The chairs at the table weren't very comfortable. Then she flopped with relief down onto the much comfier sofa.

When the twins had gone up yet another flight of stairs to their bedrooms, she heard Miranda get up. After a moment, she wandered out of the office and into the study.

"You were good with them," she said neutrally.

Andy took a deep breath and said, "Yeah…well." Then she shrugged. "I'll just--you know, I'm doing my best." She smiled. "We'll see how it goes."

Miranda seated herself at the other end of the sofa, hands folded demurely in her lap. "Yes."

Andy found that she couldn't bring herself to chastise Miranda for rearranging their evening without a by-your-leave. Not tonight. Besides, they were still so new--she was still trying to adjust to being part of a 'they, in fact--that she wasn't sure chastisement would go over well anyway. So instead she said, "Well, did you hear any names on that very long list that you liked?"

Miranda smiled tiredly. "Oh, a few. But I'm reserving judgment until we hear the final third of the alphabet." She rubbed her fingertips over her forehead, and shut her eyes.

"I should go," Andy said, gulping down disappointment at the thought of leaving without having spent any time alone with Miranda. "You've had a long day."

"No," Miranda said, and opened her eyes again. "Stay a little while longer."

Andy felt all the blood in her body rush to her face, and she tried to choke down the rush of hope, anticipation, and spine-tingling terror. "Uh," she said. "Do you want me to go bring in your work? From the office?"

"No," Miranda said again.

"Okay," Andy said, took in a huge breath, and scooted in until she was sitting right next to Miranda. Miranda didn't move to touch her. Instead, she held perfectly still as Andy cupped her jaw, tilted her head, and leaned in.

Warm, and soft, and nobody had ever, ever turned Andy on like this before. Just this, just brushing her lips over Miranda's over and over again, made Andy more hot and bothered than when she and Nate had been naked together. She sighed and dared to slide her hands farther back, to stroke them through Miranda's hair. She loved Miranda's hair. She remembered how it had looked on New Year's Eve--all mussed-but-not-really--and wondered if she could recreate that look tonight.

Miranda took Andy by the shoulders, and Andy paused--but Miranda did not push her away. Instead she pulled, and next thing Andy knew, she'd given up on Miranda's hair in favor of sliding one arm around Miranda's shoulders and the other around Miranda's waist, being careful of the bulge between them. Then she kept giving Miranda the tiny, teasing kisses she'd been perfecting for days now. Like always, Miranda shivered and blushed and sighed, but tonight she cupped Andy's neck again and moved her mouth weakly against Andy's, her lips hot and damp.

When Andy, breathing harshly, pulled away, she looked into Miranda's eyes. Her glazed, pleading eyes. Her face was bright red, and her body was throwing off heat like the hottest-ever Starbucks latte. Andy thought about brown leather boots, and the relief of tension, and second-trimester hormones, and decided she would take advantage of all that and anything else she could think of as she leaned in again. She kissed Miranda firmer and harder this time, and this time it was Miranda who slid her fingers into Andy's hair, who parted her lips a little, just a little…

Andy lost track of the time. Her head was spinning too much to think about anything but this. Miranda was making soft little noises in the back of her throat. Andy realized that she was thoughtlessly muffling the noises with her own mouth, so she pulled away and nuzzled at Miranda's jaw for a second to collect herself. Miranda hissed and dug her hands harder into Andy's hair.

Then, suddenly, her hands were at Andy's shoulders again, and this time she was pushing Andy away. "No," she whimpered. "Oh. Please. Enough, enough."

Andy pulled back at once, her blood pounding in her temples, and her stomach twisting with nerves. But Miranda didn't look mad. Like last night, she had her eyes squeezed shut while she desperately tried to pull herself together. And like last night, Andy ate up the sight of her flushed skin, her trembling hands, her breasts rising and falling rapidly with her breath. "How," Miranda managed, "how do you…" She took a deep breath, and shook her head. Then she chuckled mirthlessly. "How do you do whatever it is you're doing to me?"

"I dunno," Andy muttered, trying to get her own heart rate under control. If Miranda started talking about how turned on she was, the cease-fire wasn't going to last long. "I'll do as much as you let me," she added, and swallowed hard. "As much as you want."

Miranda gasped again at the words, and shut her eyes. "I, um," she said. Then she reached up and smoothed down her hair with shaking hands. "You seem to have a gift for this."

"Well…yeah," Andy said. It shouldn't have been a surprise. She'd told Miranda right from the beginning that she liked kissing and sex and everything else. Then she added brightly, "Want to unwrap it?"

Miranda stared at her. Andy abruptly wanted to sink through the couch. "That's the worst line I've ever heard in my life," Miranda said.

Andy had figured that out the moment the words left her mouth. She squirmed. "It's the worst one I've ever given." It was. It put all of Christian's to shame, that was for sure.

"Well, it did the trick," Miranda said, her lips curving into a tiny smile as she regained control of herself. "I feel much calmer now, thank you."

So much for Andy's amazing gift. "Great," she sighed. Miranda snorted, and stood up with a grunt, putting a hand in the small of her back.

"Well," she said, and glanced down at her stomach. "Give me a couple of months and it won't be an issue anymore."

"What?" Andy said incredulously. "You think I can only approach from the front?"

"Isn't it time for you to go home?" Miranda said, raising an eyebrow.

"All right, all right," Andy grumbled, and got to her feet. Then she grinned at Miranda. "A boy," she said. "Wow."

Miranda blinked, and for just a moment, got a look of wonder on her face. It vanished soon enough, and she shook her head with a resigned sigh, heading out the door of the study. "Caroline's right," she said. "What in the world are we going to do about that?"

We.  Andy tried not to bounce. "What do you mean?"

"What do I know about raising a man-child?" Miranda said, and Andy got the feeling she was only half-joking.

"Oh, come on. It can't be that hard."

"I work in the most feminine business there is," Miranda said over her shoulder. Andy followed her into the hallway. "I have no husband. Two twin girls. Even the dog's female. And--"

"So we'll ask Nigel," Andy said with a grin, and pictured Nigel's expression, which made her grin even harder.

"Oh, well, then," Miranda said. "I can stop worrying."

"Come on," Andy said again, and laughed as they drew up to the stairway. "I played Little League. I took Tae Kwon Do. I love camping. Check me out, I'll be a great role model--" She casually glanced down the stairs.

Right into Ellie's wide brown eyes.

Andy felt like every drop of blood in her body had frozen all at once. Miranda, still with her back to the stairs, blinked, said "What?", followed Andy's gaze, and then went rigid as she, too, realized they had an audience.

Andy and Miranda stared at Ellie. Ellie stared right back.

"You've got to be kidding," Andy whispered.

"I…" Ellie said. Her face was so pale it was nearly translucent. She was clutching the book to her chest. "I…"

Miranda said nothing. Andy said nothing. They just looked down at Ellie in what, Andy was sure, was mutual disbelief.

"I h-heard Andy's voice," Ellie croaked. "I thought maybe it would be okay…maybe I should come up…g-g-give you the…the…"

Miranda turned and walked back down the hallway without a word, without another glance at either Andy or Ellie. Andy stared after her, and then looked back down at Ellie, wondering how much she'd heard, how much she'd guessed, how badly everything was ruined, and how badly Andy should want to kill her right now.

Looking at her, Ellie went even paler, and made a helpless little squeaking noise.

Andy, feeling like she was moving through quicksand, stepped to the head of the stairs and extended her hand very, very slowly so that it wouldn't shake with fear and rage. Ellie's hands, by contrast, were nearly spasming as she gave Andy the book.

"Andy," she said pleadingly, and glanced down the hallway, towards where Miranda had gone.

"Tomorrow," Andy managed, taking hold of the book so tightly that the edges of the cover bit into her palm.

"But…but I only, I thought…"

"We will deal with this tomorrow, Ellie," Andy whispered, wondering how illegal it was, exactly, to knock somebody down the stairs. Ellie's eyes went even wider, she gave a little cry, and then she turned and literally ran away, her heels thumping on the carpeted stairs in triple-time.

Andy didn't exhale until she heard the front door shut. Then she let loose a long, rattling sigh.

Okay. It didn't have to mean disaster. It didn't have to be the end of anything. Damage control. Andy would think of something. She clutched the book to her chest, much like Ellie had just done, and retraced her steps to the study, where Miranda had retreated.

Miranda was standing by the window, looking outside. She didn't turn around, although she must have heard Andy's approach. She didn't say anything. She didn't move.

In her memory, Andy heard herself asking Miranda, "Is there anything else I can do?"

And Miranda replied: "Your job."

Andy set the book down on the small table by the door. "I'll…I'll take care of it," she whispered.

Miranda did not respond. Andy turned and left her alone.

 


 

But that night, lying awake, Andy realized she had no idea how to take care of it. What did you do in situations like this? Blackmail? Bribery? If Ellie got fired, got angry, and talked to the press, it would be catastrophic. Rational discussion probably wouldn't do much, either, since Ellie didn't exactly seem suited to…well, discussion, period.

Andy took a deep breath and stared up at the ceiling. How much could Ellie have overheard, really? Andy tried to remember words, positions, volumes. Plus the time Ellie would have entered the house. There was no way she could have overheard Andy and Miranda making out, or even talking about making out, so that was something. No, she would just have overheard the stuff, the jokes, about raising a boy. Which was plenty weird on its own, but not nearly as bad as the other. It might be suspicious, but it wasn't damning. It could be written off, if Andy and Miranda played their cards right.

Except…their reactions might have given the game away anyway. She hadn't seen Miranda's face, but if it had looked anything like it had looked when Andy  came up the stairs…God. Even now that they were together, the memory of that look scared Andy shitless whenever she thought about it. No wonder Ellie had looked like she was about to faint. That wasn't the sort of look you gave somebody when they'd interrupted something inconsequential, something casual. And Andy was pretty sure she hadn't been any subtler. Not with the way she'd felt at the time.

Fuck.

Andy ran through her options, again and again, unable to settle on any kind of solution. By the time she got to wondering how much it would cost to hire a hit man, she decided that she might be overreacting just a tiny bit, and perhaps going insane into the bargain. She threw the covers over her head. She hoped Miranda was managing to get some decent sleep, at least.

The only thing to do was wait. Wait and see what Ellie did tomorrow. Andy peeked out from under the covers and checked the clock. No…today.

All of a sudden, she understood why Miranda could never bear to wait for anything.

 


 

She clambered out of bed at six, called Roy, and told him that she'd be taking the subway that morning. It was a bad idea to arrive at work with Miranda today. Besides, she wasn't sure that she could face her in the car. She couldn't even call her right now. She needed the subway trip to wake up and get her head together.

So of course, halfway to Elias-Clarke, she found out that her connecting line was closed for a bomb threat. Everybody was forced to head aboveground, and all the nearby taxis were snatched up in a heartbeat by people who weren't hampered by four-inch-heels. Andy leaned her head back and stared up at the steel-colored sky, praying for strength and patience. Of all the days to be late--

She couldn't call Miranda. She sure as hell couldn't call Ellie. So she called Nigel, acting like she hadn't been able to get in touch with anybody else, and told him that she was on her way.

"You're going to be late? Fantastic. Miranda's going to be beyond pissed," Nigel said. "She's on a tear today."

Andy stopped dead in the middle of the sidewalk, causing grumbling and cursing people to go around her. "She's already there?" It was early for that.

"As of five minutes ago," Nigel said. "And yet, it already feels like five hours."

"Great," Andy said, her stomach clenching as she walked faster. "I'll be there as soon as I can."

It took her fifteen more minutes to reach Elias-Clarke, and once she arrived, she had to detour to the lobby bathroom to fix her hair and makeup, and straighten out her clothes. No matter what, you did not show up to work at Runway  looking like you'd been walking for half a mile. Instead of freaking out, Andy tried to use the moment to calm down, to focus on making herself appear sleek and polished, to try not to panic.

When she walked into Runway , nobody shunned her. Nobody stared at her or made the sign of the cross or did anything else to indicate that Ellie might have spilled the beans about…well, anything. Jocelyn even smiled at her, and Andy tried to look calm as she headed towards her desk. Towards Ellie's desk. Towards Miranda's office.

As she walked past receiving, she heard Ellie's voice, fast-paced and gabbling, sounding panicked. And as she rounded the corner, she saw Ellie standing to the side of Miranda's desk, shaking and clasping her hands at her breast, her face the color of milk.

Miranda, however, did not look angry. Miranda looked completely flabbergasted.

Andy blinked, but at that moment, Ellie turned and saw her approaching. She jumped and squeaked. The hapless look on her face reminded Andy too much of the night before, so she set her jaw and detoured very quickly into the kitchen, where she could take a deep breath and regain her composure.

Then, just as she'd finished taking her deep breath, Nigel poked his head in. "Here at last. Good. Come on."

"What? I mean, I have to--"

"Ellie's here to take the phones, isn't she? Come on," he repeated, and Andy followed him out of the kitchen with one final, curious glance over her shoulder. The scene had not changed, except that now Miranda looked a little less shocked and a little more like her usual self. Ellie still looked petrified.

Andy had said she'd take care of it, but it looked like Miranda was going to be stuck doing that now. Damn. Well, Miranda probably had a lot more practice with that stuff anyway. So Andy tried to put it out of her mind as Nigel dragged her to a meeting with Keisha and Matthias about the most recent layout, which hadn't gone well, and which they were trying to fix before Miranda could see it.

"So how badly is she going to hate it?" Keisha finally asked in desperation, holding up a mock spread.

"Pretty badly," Nigel said, looking to Andy for confirmation.

Andy bit her lip and nodded. "Especially today," she admitted. "Any way you can sit on it until later? When she's, um…"

"Not psycho?" Matthias muttered. "Just had a personality transplant?"

Keisha appealed to Andy. "Any chance you can cheer her up? She listens to you."

Andy blinked, and tried not to blush. "It, um," she said. "It depends." She glanced at Nigel. "I guess we could work together on that."

"Fine," he said, and his lips quirked. "You distract her with juggling. I'll bring the dancing bear."

Just then Matthias looked over Andy's shoulder. His eyes widened and he cleared his throat. Sure enough, the glass door swung open and Miranda, wearing her coat and carrying her bag, swept through it. "Is that the layout?" she said. She didn't look furious, either. More like…contemplative. Andy glanced at Nigel, who glanced back, looking just as cautious as Andy felt.

"Yes," Keisha managed. "Um--we were thinking about making some changes, though. Last-minute. But we'd still get it in on time--"

Nigel picked up the layout and passed it to Miranda without a word. She looked over it and pursed her lips. Everybody held their breath, but all Miranda said was, "Get rid of Kate's picture. I want to see more red, and that font's been overused." She looked at Nigel. "I'll trust you to take over from here and fix it." No condescension, no vitriol, no insults? What had happened to the 'tear' she'd been on earlier?

"Andrea, come with me," Miranda said, and turned and walked away without further elaboration. Andy's stomach twisted again. As she hurried out after Miranda, she glanced back and saw Matthias, Keisha, and Nigel exchanging confused, but relieved looks. Matthias mouthed the word, 'Hormones?'

Andy followed Miranda to the elevators in silence. Miranda was on her way to breakfast with Pat McGrath, and Andy wasn't supposed to accompany her. But she got in the elevator anyway, and turned to Miranda as soon as the doors shut.

"I'm sorry I was late," she said. "There was a bomb thing, I mean threat, on the subway--I was going to talk to Ellie before you got in--"

"'Talk to Ellie,'" Miranda said, and the bemused look was back on her face. "Apparently it's better that you didn't."

"Why? What did she say to you?" Andy asked uneasily.

"Where to begin?" Miranda said. "The part where she all but prostrated herself in front of my chair before I could even sit down?"

Andy winced. "Oh, boy."

"Or the part where she started talking?" Miranda said. "Let's see: 'Miranda, oh my God, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to, it'll never happen again, I swear, I'll do whatever you want'--"

"God. That must be why she looked--"

"--'just please don't let Andy kill me.'"

Andy's mouth snapped shut. She stared speechlessly as Miranda turned to regard her with raised eyebrows and an impressed-looking little smile.

"You're kidding," Andy said after a second.

"Apparently," Miranda said, "the look on your face was, and I quote, 'the scariest thing she has ever seen in her whole entire life.'"

Andy looked at Miranda, completely dumbstruck, for three more floors. At the eighth floor, the elevator stopped, and the doors slid open; two men in suits saw that Miranda was inside, and respectfully retreated. The door closed again.

"I was just really mad," Andy said weakly as the elevator started moving once more.

"So I gathered," Miranda said, looking amused now.

"I was just…" Andy realized she was trembling and not really thinking about Ellie anymore. "I was afraid. That she'd heard and that, you know, that things might…" She gulped. "Might get messed up." Which she really didn't think she could have endured. She wondered if Miranda knew that.

"I don't think she has any real idea of what she interrupted," Miranda said. "Not the brightest bulb on the porch, Eleanor."

"No," Andy said, dizzy with relief and thinking that maybe the day wasn't completely ruined after all.

"Which is why you sent her to me in the first place."

"Yeah," Andy admitted. No point in lying. Miranda must have known that from the beginning. "I didn't want anyone to…you know…"

"Do what you did to Emily." Andy nodded, ashamed. "Unlikely," Miranda added. "And nothing is 'messed up.'"

"It's not?" Andy said hopefully, thinking it would be fantastic if she'd lost all that sleep for nothing.

"Of course not," Miranda said. "Don't get dramatic."

Like Miranda could talk. But looking closely, Andy saw that Miranda's cheeks were a tiny bit flushed, and a smile lingered at the corners of her mouth. She was pleased by something. Very pleased. And in the lack of other evidence, it seemed to be by the way Andy had scared poor Ellie out of her wits.

In fact--Andy's heart tripped--Miranda appeared more than pleased. Miranda looked almost like she looked whenever they finished kissing. She looked turned on.

Andy gulped and wondered if Miranda would object terribly to having sex for the first time with Andy in an elevator. Probably. There were security cameras. And they were still supposedly all chaste and spiritual and platonic, which, seriously, was such a load of--

Miranda glanced at her, blinked, and went a little redder; Andy's thoughts were obviously written all over her face. But Miranda just cleared her throat and sounded extremely calm when she said, "Don't forget I'm meeting Geoffrey and Tilda tonight."

She was having dinner with the Barnhardts. So no hanging out at her place after dinner, for work or anything else. Andy nodded, trying to look helpful and conceal her disappointment. "Right," she said. "I've already told the restaurant to have your bottle of Clicquot Grande Dame chilled and ready."

"Mm," Miranda said, and looked sour. "It looks like I'll be enjoying alcohol vicariously again. I hope they appreciate the gesture." Andy winced sympathetically, and Miranda glanced back at her. "Try La Grande Dame sometime. It's exceptional."

Well, as soon as Andy's salary equaled Miranda's, maybe she would. Not for the first time, Andy wondered what it must be like to be so clueless about the financial realities of most people's lives. Especially since Miranda hadn't been born into money in the first place--it apparently hadn't taken her long to forget her roots. But all Andy said was, "Okay. Have a nice breakfast."

"Take care of Eleanor," Miranda said, and the door slid open at the ground floor. She gave Andy a slight smile. "You said you would, didn't you?" Before Andy could reply, she swept out, and three more people got in after making way for her.

"What's it like to work for her?" one of them, a middle-aged woman, asked Andy with wide eyes.

"Never a dull moment," Andy said, watching Miranda's retreating back until the elevator door closed between them.

 


 

When Andy returned to the office, Ellie was sitting at her desk and staring down without moving. The back of her neck was bright red, and she was practically shivering. Like a puppy left out in the rain.

Andy laughed before she could stop herself, and said, "Oh, Ellie." Ellie looked up, and then her lips wobbled in sheer relief when she saw Andy smiling. Andy reached down and patted her shoulder.

"Andy, I'm so sorry," Ellie whimpered. "I really didn't mean any…I thought if you were there, then…"

Uh-oh, had to nip that in the bud right away. "Ellie," Andy said in a low, firm voice, "does anyone else know you saw me talking to Miranda last night?" Ellie shook her head mutely. "Good. Don't tell," Andy said. Ellie nodded hard. Feeling compelled to explain further, Andy continued, "Listen, even Miranda needs somebody to talk to, sometimes. Last night, she talked to me. But if the rest of the office found out, she might get embarrassed, and, well…"

"Oh, I won't say anything," Ellie said fervently. "I swear." Then her eyes went wide in horror. "She won't ever want to talk to me, will she?"

"Uh--" Andy had to clear her throat really fast. "Probably, uh, not for a while. She still doesn't really know you. I, um, wouldn't worry about it yet." Ellie nodded, looking more relieved than ever. "Just keep it on the downlow."

"Oh, I will. I'll do anything you say." Ellie's eyes were huge with earnestness. "I knew I should right from the beginning, when Nigel talked to me. I'm so sorry I messed up."

"Well--" Andy paused. "Nigel talked to you?"

"Oh, yes," Ellie said. "A few days after I started work and you were off doing something for Miranda. He said I should probably just do whatever you said and, you know, stay out of the way."

"Stay out of the…"

"You know. Just let you handle Miranda and take care of whatever you said to do because you probably wouldn't like it very much otherwise." Ellie blinked up at her. "I told him I was good at doing stuff like that."

"Ellie," Andy said with the utmost sincerity, "I really, really like you."

Ellie beamed like the sun.

 


 

Once the matter with Ellie had been settled, Miranda appeared much happier for the rest of the day. She returned to the office at eleven, but left again at one for a couple of meetings, and did not return until a few hours later in the afternoon.

Andy was actually glad that Miranda wasn't around as much today. Maybe it was their little moment in the elevator, maybe it was just Andy's own overheated imagination, maybe it was relief about Ellie--who knew what it was?--but today it seemed that Miranda didn't so much walk as saunter. Her movements, always purposeful, today seemed almost languid; she had a slow roll to her hips, a slight sway in her walk. Taking it easier today? Balancing a little extra weight? Andy didn't know what it was, but while Miranda was in the office whispering her orders and being as terrifying as usual, her body was telling everyone within a ten-yard radius 'you should want to have sex with me.' Worst of all, she didn't even seem to be aware of it.

At least Andy wasn't the only one who saw it. Even Matthias stared when Miranda returned from breakfast, and he was gayer than Nigel. This couldn't possibly be what people meant when they talked about the glow of pregnancy, could it? Wasn't that supposed to be more of a, a maternal  thing? Not a 'throw-me-down-and-fuck-me-now' kind of thing? Whatever it was, Andy was horribly distracted all day long.

At a quarter till five, Miranda summoned Andy into her office. Andy ignored the twitch between her legs, and tried very hard not to stare at Miranda, who was wearing a beautiful dark blue blouse that brought out her eyes and made her skin look like cream. Were her breasts bigger? Probably. That happened during pregnancy, didn't it? And Andy, who'd thought she'd noticed everything about Miranda's body there was to notice, found her head spinning with these new revelations and cursing Miranda's evening out with every fiber of her being. Of all the nights not to get a kiss…

Miranda leaned back in her chair, closed her eyes briefly, and made an 'mmm' noise. She was obviously tired, but it looked like…something else. Andy tried not to whimper. Miranda opened her eyes again, stunned Andy into immobility with their color, and said, "Find a suitable venue for a little party in mid-April."

Andy hauled her brain to its feet with an effort that nearly killed her, and said, "Uh…how little?"

"Let's say…hm, let's say fifty people, definitely no more than sixty." Miranda tapped her lips with her fingertip. This time Andy did whimper, but she covered it with a cough. "It'll be a dinner party. And we'll look elsewhere than Glorious Foods, so bring me the names of some suitable caterers. In fact, call dear Yves, why don't you, and see if he'd do the honors?" 'Dear Yves' was Yves Camdeborde. Andy boggled. "Wine…Mouton-Rothschild and Puligny-Montrachet for the guests at my table--there will be six of us. Get Yves's recommendation for the rest. And speak to Tomás when you call my florist, he always knows what I'll like. Nothing too fancy. I'm thinking minimalist arrangements of orchids."

"Okay," Andy said, her head spinning in a different, less pleasant way now, as she returned to her desk and picked up the phone. Secure the chef first: no easy task, as Yves Camdeborde was the most in-demand man in Paris, but if Miranda wanted him, Andy would get him. Then the wine. Then the venue. Having a guest list would help, but for starters Andy would just find a few places in Manhattan, and then one or two farther afield. Nothing less than five-star, naturally. For sixty people.

'Nothing too fancy,'Andy's ass. All this in one month? On, what, a whim? It had been a while since Miranda had made a demand this bugfuck crazy. And it was beyond Andy's ability to do alone, so she was going to have to get in touch with Miranda's event planner right away, once she'd done a little legwork.

Miranda hadn't even said what the party was for, or who she wanted to invite. Another reason to be frustrated that they couldn't talk tonight. But Andy would ask her tomorrow, first chance she got.

At least it distracted her from thinking about the lazy slide of Miranda's walk, and the purr in her voice. Some. A little. Maybe.

Damn.

But nothing said Andy had to take it lying down. No, wait, standing up. She'd love to take it lying down. That was the whole problem. She needed to fight back.

And she knew exactly how to do it.

 


 

Miranda was talking about the party from the moment she got in the car the next morning. "I'm sure that Yves will plan something seasonally appropriate, but all the same, Andrea, do make sure the food is suitably…spring-y. Did you get in touch with him? Oh, and we're having it on the twelfth."

"I had him keep the middle of April open," Andy said. For Yves, 'keeping it open' meant 'laying waste to most of his pre-existing calendar,' but everyone made exceptions for Miranda. "I'll call him today and tell him about the twelfth, he'll be glad to know. Oh, and I spoke with your event planners, and they're compiling a list of potential venues--they should have it to me this afternoon. Once you pick, we can contact the stationer for the invitations. I've also put in the wine order."

"Fine," Miranda said, sounding as if she'd only been half-listening as she rifled through her handbag. Andy knew she'd absorbed every word, but she looked oddly excited this morning. Revved-up, you might say. Andy doubted it was because of the run-through at noon. Was it because of last night's dinner with the Barnhardts? Had they really enjoyed the champagne?

Andy opened her mouth to ask, but Miranda barreled on. "Text Jocelyn and tell her to make sure that the Armani Privé suit shows up in the run-through, and then tell Keisha I want to see something a little more inspired than linen sandals. It's the August issue; we need to be working on transitions between summer and autumn, and women will want better ideas than a worn old retread of what they've been wearing all season long. I'd like to see some wood accessories too. Hmm. With pyrogravure."

"Pyro--" Andy's head spun as she tried to text fast enough to keep pace with Miranda: an impossible task. "I'm sorry, could you spell that?"

"P-y-r-o-g-r-a-v-u-r-e. It means burned wood; that is, wood that's decorated or ornamented by--" Miranda's voice suddenly stuttered a little. Andy looked up and saw that Miranda was staring down at her thighs. Ah. Well, took her long enough. Andy grinned, and crossed her legs, making sure that the brown leather boots squeaked a little. They were damned uncomfortable, and hot even in the cold weather, but the look on Miranda's face right now made up for all that. Her eyes had actually gone glassy.

"Burning," Miranda said, and cleared her throat, recollecting herself at once. "Designs etched into wood with fire. Pyrogravure."

"Sounds pretty neat," Andy said, and returned to her texting. Thankfully, the boots appeared to have silenced Miranda temporarily, so she finished in relative peace. By the time they pulled up to Elias-Clarke, however, Miranda had regained her composure, and launched off again, this time about the feature articles. "I liked John's submission on summering in New Zealand," she said, striding towards the revolving door with Andy in tow. "We'll need to trim it, however. I want it down to five pages from six-and-a-half. Tell Anne to take care of that--we can at least lose the paragraphs on his love for the local shellfish. We're not Bon Appétit. "

"Right," Andy said, writing so quickly she hardly saw the people rushing to get out of Miranda's way in the lobby.

"And I want a feature on the art scene. Something short: two pages of words, and a page and a half of images. Focus on abstracts with bold colors. That'll go nicely with the Testino spread. A few blurbs about four or five local galleries will do."

"Okay," Andy said as the elevator doors opened for them.

"Tell Paul to have that ready for me by the middle of next week. And then call Marcela…"

By the time they got to the office, Andy's wrist was already aching from the deadly combination of speed-texting and old-fashioned scribbling. But before they entered the inner sanctum, Miranda said, "By the way, get in touch with Seamus. You don't want him to forget you're alive."

"Seamus?" Who the hell was that?

"Seamus Burghton," Miranda said impatiently as Andy held the door open for her. "From Rolling Stone . You met him in London. I saw him the other day, and he's looking for new talent to write a few reviews."

"Oh, right, Seamus," Andy said, her head spinning. "He gave me his business card." She hoped she still had it.

"Use it, then," Miranda said as they rounded the corner. "It's all too easy for people to forget your name and face if you're a newcom--"

Just then, she was interrupted by a hacking cough coming from Ellie's desk. They both looked up to see Ellie blowing her nose and peering apologetically at them from behind watery eyes. Miranda made a small, disgusted noise and continued on into her office.

"I'b sorry, Andy," Ellie said. "I must hab picked someding up on the subway."

"Sounds like it," Andy said. She glanced into Miranda's office. "If she lets us, you can stay inside today and I'll run the errands--"

"Start with Starbucks," Miranda snapped, and both girls jumped. Andy often forgot that Miranda could hear what was going on outside her office perfectly well, if she actually gave a damn about listening to it. "Did you touch this, Eleanor?" Andy and Ellie both looked inside to see Miranda pointing at the latte on her desk.

"Well--uh--yes," Ellie said helplessly. "But, but I--"

Miranda picked up the latte, using a tissue as a buffer between her fingers and the cup, and dumped it in the trash. "Andrea, get me another one." Ellie let loose a rattling cough. "And something to shut that up."

Andy winced. "I'll get some cough syrup," she said to Ellie. Ellie nodded dolefully. "Anything else?" Ellie shook her head. "Okay. You just sit tight and do the best you can."

"Cherry, please?" Ellie said, and blew her nose, looking more wretched by the minute.

"Cherry, got it," Andy confirmed, and headed out the door. Sure enough, she spent the rest of the day running around and doing the tasks she hadn't performed since Ellie had arrived. She'd forgotten how exhausting it could be. Or maybe that was just from not being around Miranda all day long. She'd kind of gotten used to that, and she felt a little lost without it. Also, when she'd put on the Chanel boots that morning, she hadn't counted on actually having to walk so much in them. Her feet were killing her and the leather was sticking to her thighs.

It was worth it, though. Around four, and in between errands, Andy overheard Miranda telling Keisha, "--linen sandals, for God's sake. I want to see something else. Like boots. Ankle boots," she added much too quickly, and cleared her throat. "Put them on Gemma Ward and stick her in a tutu."

Andy grinned, and then stopped grinning as she realized she had to run out to Derek Lam. She checked her watch and sighed.

"I'b sorry, Andy," Ellie said, apparently reading her mind, and looking penitent next to the ever-growing pile of tissues in her wastebasket.

"Not your fault."

"But I albost forgot to tell you," Ellie said, looking very penitent now, "she said to tell you that you had to drop the book off tonight because she doesn't want by germs in her house."

"Okay," Andy said, already drooping a little at the thought that after her hectic day she wouldn't get a nice meal and the chance to sit down with Miranda and the twins--

--who were staying with their dad tonight.

Ellie was blowing her nose again, so she probably didn't hear the shocked, squeaky noise Andy made. Just as well.

 


 

By the time Andy returned from Derek Lam, Miranda was gone for the day. She'd probably gone home to see the twins off for the weekend. Because they'd be gone. For the whole weekend.

Which had been on the schedule forever, and which didn't mean anything, and it certainly didn't mean anything at all that Andy was stopping by Miranda's place late at night to drop off the book. Ellie was sick, that was all. There was no way Miranda was going to let Ellie into her house, especially when she was finally being careful about her own health. Right. Good for her.

But while Andy was on the way back from Derek Lam in the Lincoln, Ellie called her. She sounded utterly miserable as she said, "Andy, Roy just called be and said Biranda told him to take the Bercedes in to the shop tonight. So you won't hab a ride to her house."

There was no earthly reason Andy couldn't take the Lincoln instead, but all she said was, "Oh. Okay." Her heart was pounding too much for more. So there wouldn't be any driver waiting for her to leave the townhouse after she dropped off the book tonight.

"I'b sorry," Ellie wailed. "You have to do all by work and go home late on the subway and it's all by fault."

"Ellie, I don't mind," Andy said, as fervently as she'd ever said anything in her life. "Really. I don't. I promise. Uh. Did the cough syrup work?"

"It's helping," Ellie said, and sniffled. "Thank you. Oh, but at least you don't have to get the dry cleaning, Roy said. Because Biranda doesn't want you bringing that onto the subway."

"Huh? Oh, I mean, right. Is there anything else I can get you? I'll bring you anything you want," Andy offered.

"I'b okay," Ellie said. "Thanks again."

'No, thank you,'  Andy didn't say. And of course, after Ellie and everyone else had gone home, the minutes turned into hours turned into years. Andy found herself pacing the empty office, prowling, almost, waiting for the damn book to arrive.

While waiting, she got nervous.

Like that was going to do anybody any good. Like worrying was going to help. For God's sake, there was still the tiniest sliver of a chance that Miranda wasn't up to anything or giving any kind of signal. And even if she was, Andy probably had no idea what to make of it--who knew what was going on in Miranda's head at any given moment? It was a hell of a jump from tentatively making out to, to, to doing whatever they might be doing tonight.

When Matthias delivered the book, Andy had to restrain herself from yanking it out of his hands and sprinting down the hallway to the elevators. She clutched it closely to her during the whole ride on the subway, and then the trot to Miranda's townhouse a block away. She told herself that the brisk walk in the cool night air was the reason for her pounding heart, and didn't believe it for a second.

To Andy's disconcerted surprise, Miranda's house was dark and silent when she entered--no light shining from either the kitchen or the den, no sounds of movement. Oh. Maybe Miranda was asleep. Disappointment crushed Andy, who hadn't realized until that moment how hard she'd been hoping. She gulped and placed the book on the table between the flowerpots, glad that at least she hadn't had to wrestle with any dry cleaning.

The light went on in the stairwell.

Andy froze.

"I'm up here," Miranda called.

Andy wondered if she was actually about to faint as she headed up the stairs on unsteady legs, made worse by the high heels of her boots. Her palms were sweaty, and she had to stop when she was halfway up the endless trek to wipe them on her thighs.

When she reached the top of the stairs, she saw that the light was on in the study where she'd helped the twins with their essays, where she'd made out with Miranda on the couch. She gulped again, and walked in.

Miranda was sitting on the couch. She looked up at Andy with bright, glittering eyes. Then she raised an eyebrow. "No book tonight?"

Andy realized she'd left the book on the table downstairs. Shit. "I--sorry," she said, glancing towards the door. "I left it…I'll go--"

"No, don't bother," Miranda said, her voice a little strained. "Come here and sit with me."

Andy sat. Her boots creaked. Miranda breathed in deeply through her nose. "Well," she said. "They certainly fit you."

"Yeah," Andy croaked. "You like them?"

"Come here," Miranda repeated, but she was the one who reached out, cupped Andy's face, and pulled her in. Andy slid her arms around Miranda's waist and went for it.

She started off gentle, like always. And like always, she felt Miranda's face and body heat up against her own, felt the shiver that chased up and down Miranda's spine. And when she'd finished the first kiss, she gave Miranda another one. And then another. And another. Then she lost track and just thought about Miranda's unbelievably soft mouth and the way it kissed her back so hungrily tonight.

Suddenly Miranda pulled back, panting, her face bright red. Andy's heart fell, but Miranda didn't retreat or push her away. Instead, she said: "Please."

Please what? Andy didn't know, but she didn't stop to think about it. She couldn't really think at all as she bent and kissed at the angles of Miranda's chin, nipping at the place where Miranda's jaw met her throat. Miranda gasped in her ear; Andy sighed and moved downward, mouthing and kissing at her throat, and Miranda dug her nails into Andy's shoulders as she stiffened and arched. "God," she whispered.

"Good?" Andy asked, breathing deeply, her head spinning from Miranda's perfume and, beneath it, the very human smell of her skin.

"D-don't stop--"

Andy didn't stop. Given permission to drown, she did, and nuzzled at Miranda's skin like she was in a dream, feeling Miranda's pulse going fast and hard near her mouth. She realized her hands had frozen in place, clutching at Miranda's back, and she deliberately loosened her grip and slid them up and down, pressing Miranda even closer to her.

"Oh," Miranda said, and moved one of her own hands up to dig into Andy's hair. "Y-you--" She gave a sudden, rueful laugh. "You win."

"I do?" Andy said, and before Miranda could reply, she kissed her again: a long kiss now, and by the end of it Miranda was practically squirming.

"You're driving me crazy," she whimpered when Andy let up. "My goddamned hormones are--and you, you've been t-teasing me for--"

Say what? "I never teased you," Andy said, letting indignation take over her arousal for a moment. "You're the one who--and I told you I'd do whatever you wanted." At those words, Miranda's eyes glazed over and she gasped; Andy's irritation vanished without a trace. She kissed Miranda again, as lightly as she had that first night, and whispered, "So what do you want?"

"I don't know," Miranda panted. "I don't--I can't think." Her eyes slid shut. "Just--please, just--"

The raw need in her voice was going straight down between Andy's legs. Andy couldn't get past the blush in Miranda's cheeks, or the smell of her, or the tremble in her mouth, or how soft her hair was when Andy slid her fingers into it and pulled Miranda closer for another kiss. And this time, for the first time, she nibbled and kissed until Miranda parted her lips and let her in.

Oh. Drowning. Yes.

When they parted at last, Miranda moaned. At the sound of it, Andy did too, and then kissed her again, sliding her hand up and down Miranda's ribcage, feeling the heat of her through her soft knit blouse. It was a wrap blouse: comfortable, stretchy, and promising easy access if Andy just popped open the three big buttons right here…

Not yet. Too fast. Take it slow. Savor this. Andy wasn't a fifteen-year-old boy, for crying out loud.

So instead of trying to tear Miranda's clothes off, Andy started in on her throat again, and this time she didn't hesitate to use her teeth. Nothing mean or rough or likely to leave a mark: just little nips in between softer kisses while Miranda trembled and whimpered some more. When Andy pushed her blouse aside so she could get to more of her shoulder, Miranda said, "Andrea," and rubbed her nose in Andy's hair. That was more than enough to bring Andy back to her mouth, and at the end of this kiss they were clutching each other and panting for air, and Andy had slid one hand under Miranda's blouse to touch her soft, warm skin. Very soft, and very warm.

"Ah," Miranda said, and pulled Andy in for another kiss. Andy rubbed her hand up and down, her fingertips tingling, because she still wasn't used to touching Miranda, certainly not like this, and she wondered if she ever would be because she'd never been bowled over like this by anybody else. She wondered if, she hoped Miranda felt the same.

"You feel good," she mumbled against Miranda's mouth. "You feel…" She kissed Miranda's shoulder again, felt Miranda shudder. "You like this?"

"Ah," Miranda said again, and added, "Don't stop." She slid her own hand down, cupped Andy's hip, kissed Andy just by her ear. The brush of Miranda's lips on her cheek made Andy think of their first morning together, at a kitchen counter in London when Miranda had sealed their deal with a chaste little kiss that had nearly blown the top of Andy's head off. Made her think of the dizzy, terrifying joy that had taken hold of her at that moment and still hadn't let go.

No Ellie tonight. No twins. No dinners with the rich and famous. Nobody but them, nothing to stop them from--

"Oh,"  Miranda moaned, arching into Andy's touch, which was a good thing because Andy had cupped her breast without even thinking about it. And now she couldn't stop, couldn't stop rubbing and stroking that strange, soft weight in her palm, longing to feel it without all the layers in the way. She didn't think Miranda would object; she'd tilted her head back and closed her eyes while she tried to breathe.

"You like this?" Andy panted again, feeling like she was melting between her own thighs, like she was so hot that all her clothes were going to burn right off. She could feel Miranda's nipple even through all the layers of clothes, and she rubbed gently at it with her thumb. "Is that--is it good?"

"Yes," Miranda gasped, and kissed Andy again, whimpering into her mouth when Andy kept moving her thumb. "It's," she managed against Andy's mouth between kisses, "it's--they're--more s-sensitive--"

That tore it. Andy decided that being prudent could go to hell, and she fumbled with the buttons on Miranda's top. Miranda gasped again, but didn't stop her; instead, she let her mouth wander over to Andy's cheek again, then Andy's forehead, and then her temple, like she never wanted to stop kissing her. Fair enough. It certainly worked both ways.

After a few more endless seconds, Andy's fingers finished their work, and Miranda's top slipped open. She was wearing a soft white bra that looked slightly more comfortable than fashionable. It hooked in front.

Now it was Andy's turn to say, "Please," as she rubbed her thumb again, already stunned at how much warmer Miranda was with one layer removed. She touched the clasp between Miranda's breasts, and Miranda's breathing got even faster. "Let me," she begged.

"Oh," was all Miranda could say, but Andy decided to take it as permission, and she popped the clasp open. Then she pulled back: not far, just enough to see. Oh…God. The Polaroid models had nothing on these. Beneath her blouse, Miranda's skin was as smooth and perfect as the rest of her, and her nipples were as pink and tightly-furled as rosebuds. Andy rubbed her thumb over one of them, realized it wasn't enough, and bent her head so she could have a taste.

Miranda melted against the couch, sagging back into the cushions as she cried out. Her nails dug into Andy's back and shoulders, but Andy wasn't really paying attention because the texture of Miranda's nipple was perfect against her tongue. Soft and rough all at once, and she'd been dreaming of this, and didn't want to miss a single detail or leave a single inch undiscovered.

She licked just at the very tip, over and over again, before taking it between her teeth and tugging gently; the nipple became even harder in her mouth. Sensitive. Yes. Why hadn't she ever realized breasts could be such a turn-on before? She licked it again, realized that wasn't enough either, and began to suck on it, alternating the softness of her tongue with the edge of her teeth.

Someone gave a sobbing moan, and Andy felt one of the hands that had been digging into her shoulders move up to rub through her hair. Feeling like she'd just been jerked out of a trance, Andy raised her head, and saw Miranda staring back at her with glassy, wild eyes. "What," Miranda began, her voice hardly recognizable, "no--don't stop--oh please don't--"

Stop? Andy was never going to stop. She was going to do this for the rest of her life. Instead of wasting her breath saying so, though, she pushed until Miranda's back was propped up against the arm of the sofa, until she was very nearly lying down, so that Andy could get to her other breast and give it equal attention. Beneath her, Miranda sobbed again, arched up, grabbed her shoulders and held on for dear life as she whimpered things like oh God  and please yes.

Andy lifted her head again, giving the wet, reddened nipple one final lick-- "More," Miranda gasped, "please, more" --and switched back to the first, earning a grateful moan. And then back again. Back and forth, between Miranda's breasts, again and again, for what seemed like hours while Miranda writhed and begged like she couldn't get enough. Her head tossed against the arm of the couch, and she seemed utterly shocked by the strength of her reaction, as if she'd never been this horny in her life. She probably hadn't. That made two of them. "Oh my God," she panted, "oh my God, Andrea," and then Andy started pinching and stroking her other nipple in time with her mouth, which rendered Miranda too breathless even to moan.

How could this not be enough? How could Andy still want more, still want to devour every single inch of--she gasped helplessly against Miranda's breast, and said, "I want to do everything to you. Everything--" She bent and sucked again, long and hard, which coaxed a new, mewling noise out of Miranda's throat. "I want to make you feel so good--I'll do anything, anything you want--"

"Oh God," Miranda said, "oh God, oh God--" She pressed Andy's head down again, shaking all over, shaking so hard it was a wonder they were both still on the couch. "Please--p-please--" Andy licked. "Ah! Oh, that's…that's so…I didn't, I've never, I've oh--" Andy sucked. "Oh, oh--God--I'm--" Andy bit. "God, I'm, I'm--" Andy licked again. "Stop!"

Andy paused, sure that she must have misheard, but Miranda was, in fact, weakly pushing at her shoulders, pushing her away. "I can't," Miranda whimpered, "I can't…no more…please stop…"

Her blood pounding in her ears, Andy raised her head. Miranda was splayed back against the couch, her eyes closed, with her blouse and bra open and her skirt hiked up from the way they'd been lying together. She was panting; her throat, chest, and gently-rounded belly were blotched with red. Her breasts were wet from Andy's mouth. She looked like she'd just been fucked six ways from Sunday, and had loved every second of it.

"Oh," Miranda whispered, and raised one shaking hand to brush the hair out of her face before covering her eyes with her hand. "Oh my God." She was still trembling, but less violently now, and in fact, seemed actually to be relaxing against the sofa like she'd--like she'd--oh. No. No way.

"Did," Andy managed, "um, did you just--"

Miranda nodded, and then lifted her hand, looking at Andy with shocked, dazed eyes. She gulped. "Twice," she rasped.

Andy stared down at her. Miranda reached up. Held out her arms. And Andy bent down, kissed her, and came so hard at the first touch of Miranda's tongue that she cried out against her mouth.

This time it was Miranda's turn to whisper, disbelievingly, "Did you--?"

"Uh huh," Andy said, and hid her face against the side of Miranda's neck, nuzzling there and tasting the salt, making sure not to lie directly on Miranda's stomach, glad that the couch was so enormous. Miranda said nothing, but she did slide one hand up and down Andy's thigh, caressing the leather of the boots. They rested there together in mutual stunned silence for a moment as they both struggled to get their breath back.

"You okay?" Andy said when that moment had passed.

"Mmm," Miranda said, took one more deep breath, and let it go.

"That was, um," Andy said. "That was pretty good." Not a question. If two people could make each other come without once venturing down below, then yeah, it had been pretty good.

"Yes," Miranda said, still sounding breathless. Andy rubbed her hip, and she shivered. "Umm."

"Please tell me we can do that again."

Andy half-expected Miranda to say something smart, or maybe not even reply at all; instead she just said, faintly, "Okay." And she stroked Andy's leather-clad thigh again. Andy decided that, should time and cash permit, she was getting these boots bronzed.

In the meantime, though, Miranda appeared to be returning to herself, and Andy's joy was starting to make her feel a little silly. To say nothing of really, really smug.

"'We don't have to have sex,'" she said prissily into Miranda's ear.

"Oh, shut up," Miranda said.

"'Let's be all platonic and chaste.'"

"Yes," Miranda snapped. "You respected that suggestion for an entire day, didn't you?"

"Nowhere near that long," Andy said, and laughed, feeling downright giddy.

"Again with the snickering." Which was when Andy knew Miranda wasn't really angry.

So she laughed again. "Oh, come on. It wasn't that bad." Understatement of the year. "I know I feel better, anyway." She caressed Miranda's side, enjoying the way it made Miranda shiver again. "Don't you feel better?" Miranda had been the one begging for a little relief, after all, which she'd apparently gotten in spades.

"Mmm," Miranda said, and rubbed her nose against Andy's ear. Then she paused. "Actually, I'm starving."

Andy laughed again. "Worked up an appetite, huh?"

"Are you going to start giggling every time we do this?"

Every time . The thought didn't exactly make Andy stop smiling, that was for sure. Still grinning, she sat up. "Maybe. You want me to bring you something from the kitchen?"

Then suddenly a thought occurred to her, and she froze and stopped grinning. "Or, um, did--should I just go home?" Because having her way with Miranda on the couch was one thing, but making herself at home without an invitation was something else entirely. Even now.

Miranda regarded her much too thoughtfully for someone who'd been a whimpering mess just a few moments ago. "Plain yogurt, please," she said. "On the door of the fridge. And bring up the book, too."

"Right," Andy said, suddenly feeling weak with relief. "Anything else?"

"Yes," Miranda said. "I prefer to sleep alone."

Andy, who had been about to stand up, froze in place again. Miranda slowly sat up and re-fastened her bra, never taking her eyes from Andy's face. "As you should already have guessed," she continued, "from London." She grimaced. "And given that I'm ten times more uncomfortable when I try to sleep now…"

"Oh," Andy said, and swallowed around the bitter disappointment in her throat. "Well, sure. I mean…I didn't mean…"

"But it doesn't follow," Miranda said, "that I don't want you to stay."

"…oh," Andy said again.

Miranda nodded towards the open door that led to the hallway and the stairs. "Unless you object to taking Stephen's room again." She chuckled mirthlessly. "Not that I'd blame you."

"I don't mind," Andy said, and now she didn't. It wasn't the room's fault that Stephen had slept there, and besides, she doubted very much it was haunted by the Ghost of Douchebag Past. It was enough, tonight, to know that at least Miranda didn't want her to leave. Sure, it was always fun to snuggle in bed--at least, Andy had always thought so--but she figured a woman who was five months pregnant, and getting bigger every day, had the right to sleep however she chose. Maybe they could re-negotiate after the baby was born.

Miranda narrowed her eyes. "You 'don't mind.' Is this like the way you 'didn't mind' when you agreed with me about keeping this platonic?"

She really was a mind-reader. "Who, me?" Andy said innocently.

"Yogurt. Book," Miranda growled, and then her stomach growled too. She turned red. Andy laughed before she could stop herself, and hurried out of the room in the face of Miranda's impending wrath.

 


 

Andy hadn't exactly brought a change of clothes, but she decided to worry about that later. Miranda lent her a pair of pajamas as if they were having a sleepover or something, which Andy guessed they were. And the bathroom, Andy discovered, was fully-stocked. Was Stephen's room the guestroom again, or had Miranda actually planned this?

It wasn't a good idea to ask, so Andy just kissed her goodnight after the yogurt. "Sleep well," Andy murmured against Miranda's mouth, and grinned at the dazed, flushed look that returned to Miranda's face before she could hide it. For once, the kiss didn't leave unasked the question of more. There would be more. They'd settled that.

What they hadn't settled was how much, or how soon. Andy realized this when she woke up because her mattress dipped and shifted, and she saw Miranda crawling into the empty side of the bed with a fierce look of expectation on her face. Andy squinted at the clock: seven-thirty a.m. Yet another Miranda Priestly wake-up call.

Only this one was a little different. "I have been waiting," Miranda said, bent down, and kissed Andy hard on the mouth without further ado.

"Y-you have?" Andy gasped, winding her arms around Miranda's neck without really thinking about it, tugging at her until they lay side-by-side, close as could be but for the bump in Miranda's belly.

"I woke up an hour ago. I let you sleep," Miranda said, and kissed Andy again. "But apparently you were going to laze the whole Saturday away."

"That was the plan," Andy said against her mouth. She'd sort of hoped Miranda would go along with it. Miranda had the whole day off today, which meant they both did. There was plenty of time for--

"Cancel the plan," Miranda growled between kisses. Through the thin silk of her pajamas, Andy could feel how hot her skin already was. "You wanted this, you did this to me, and you'd better be ready to deal with it."

Well, there were certainly worse ways to wake up. Andy grunted, and sat up until she was leaning over Miranda: not lying on top of her, exactly, but at a better angle to 'deal with' her. Already wide awake, she said, "I've created a monster, huh?"

"I fully expect to be catered to," Miranda said, and spread her legs so that Andy could rest one knee between them.

"Makes a nice change," Andy said, and stopped Miranda's impending bitchery by kissing her again. "So," she said, when she pulled away, "you decided what you want?"

"A little more finesse than last night, please," Miranda said. She'd obviously meant for it to come out sounding all haughty, but she'd already started breathing faster from the kisses, so it didn't work. She cleared her throat. "That is--not that I didn't enjoy it--"

"I noticed," Andy said, not sure whether to grumble or be smug. She settled for getting a little nervous. Finesse, huh? Okay, fair enough. But for all her enthusiasm, Andy didn't exactly know what to do in bed with another woman. She'd sort of avoided thinking about it in any sort of detail, or researching it, or anything like that. Because it, because they, still felt so…new? No, not just new. So precarious. So fragile. Like Andy could jinx them or something by presuming too much, by hoping too hard, no matter what Miranda said.

It had felt too good to be true. Still did.

But she doubted Miranda would let her push the pause button so she could go look up lesbian sex tips. And Miranda always noticed a lousy bluff. Andy sighed. "So," she began. "You, you know I haven't…I mean, with women."

"Yes. Lucky me," Miranda said.

"You haven't either," Andy pointed out incredulously. Of all the--

Miranda shifted impatiently. "How hard can it be?" she said. "Rosie O'Donnell does it, for God's sake, it can't be rocket science--" She tugged at Andy's pajama top. "Let's start with this. I want to see you."

Andy's face got hot. Miranda raised an eyebrow. Well, fair was fair, and before Miranda could say anything, Andy unbuttoned her top and shrugged it off, letting the silk slither down to the bed. Then she didn't quite know where to look, so she shut her eyes. Having Miranda look at her was different than having Nate or Christian or anybody else look at her. Miranda looked at women's bodies all day, and usually found them lacking. Andy already wanted to apologize.

"Oh," Miranda said. Andy opened her eyes, and saw that Miranda was blushing too as she looked at Andy's breasts. Miranda cleared her throat again. "Well. They're…" She reached up and cupped the left one.

Wow . Miranda's palm was soft, and very warm, and the heat from it raced through Andy's body like an electric shock. She gasped. Her nipples hardened instantly, and Miranda's eyes went wide. She actually looked alarmed for a second. Then she smirked. "Hmm," she said. She rubbed her thumb over Andy's nipple, and Andy gasped again. "I see why you like mine."

"I really do," Andy said, already having a hard time breathing. Miranda lying beneath her, glowing with desire and anticipation, touching her--Andy was going to be lucky if she didn't come four seconds into it again. Maybe she really was a fifteen-year-old boy. But God, this was what she'd been wanting for months, and it was better than what she'd wanted. Sometimes reality didn't live up to fantasy. Sometimes, this time, it was the other way around.

"You do more for me than anybody I've ever met," she blurted. Miranda looked up at her, startled. "I mean…you do."

"Hmm," Miranda said again, and then, "well." She looked embarrassed--Andy could see her wondering if she was expected to return the compliment. Andy's face burned again, but for a different reason. She shouldn't have said that.

But before Andy could say something that would make it even worse, Miranda said, "I admit I didn't expect last night." She coughed. "It was--are we going to talk about this all morning?"

Andy grinned, her confidence back and waving little victory flags. "You don't like talking about it?" she asked, and lowered herself farther until she was tucked up against Miranda, rubbing her bare breasts against Miranda's own silk top. She sighed at how good it felt, and watched Miranda's eyelids flutter. "I like talking about it sometimes." Their nipples brushed. Miranda gasped, and dug her fingers into Andy's hair again, tugging her in for another kiss.

She was shivering when they pulled apart. "I don't like talking ab…" she began, gave up, and kissed Andy again. Andy slid her hands between them and began unbuttoning Miranda's top, already eager to see again what she'd seen last night, as she kissed Miranda's throat. Miranda arched her head back accommodatingly.

"Maybe you could just give me feedback as I go, then," Andy said, hoping she sounded calm and breezy instead of apprehensive. This was a lot harder when you had to think about it. Then Miranda's top fell open, Andy slid a hand up and down Miranda's side, Miranda gasped, and Andy decided maybe it didn't have to be so hard after all.

As it turned out, Miranda appeared to have simple tastes for once. She loved being kissed anywhere--mouth, throat, shoulders, breasts. And she liked it gentle, liked being treated and pampered, which surprised Andy not at all. So Andy pampered her: lots of long, slow kisses, and trying to do things all in a rhythm--kissing, squeezing, rubbing, moving--that would please her. She smelled good, felt better, and tasted best of all, and eventually Andy forgot about nerves and just lost herself in doing the stuff to Miranda that she'd wanted to do for ages.

Miranda gave her feedback, all right. Little moans and whimpers that gave Andy goosebumps, pleas that came out like commands ("do that again"), excited squirming and wriggling. She tried to touch Andy too, but then Andy would lick the side of her neck and she'd lose her concentration, or Andy would squeeze her breasts and she would forget how to breathe, let alone kiss.

Finally, when Miranda was starting to tremble and pant, Andy got her courage together, and tugged at the waistband of Miranda's pajama bottoms. Into the breach. Miranda went still, and Andy froze. "Um," she said. "Do you want--?"

"…yes," Miranda said. She actually sounded a little uncertain, but lifted her hips eagerly enough, and helped Andy shimmy the pants down her legs. Andy touched the inside of her thigh, and she shivered.

"This is going to be complicated," Andy mumbled.

"Do you want me to do it first?"

Andy looked at her, stunned. "You, um--you'd show me--?" She imagined Miranda touching herself, which, okay, she'd imagined several times before. The thought that she might see it in real life was almost unbearably hot, and she opened her mouth to say so.

But Miranda cut her off by going red and saying, "Of course not--I wouldn't--I meant, I'd--" She touched Andy's own hip. "To you."

"Oh," Andy said, and tried not to feel dumb. "Well…I'd like to watch you sometime, all the same."

"I wouldn't like that," Miranda said, but again, she sounded uncertain. Well, by now she probably knew that Andy was good at talking her into all kinds of things. "What's the point?"

"You could show me how you like it," Andy suggested, getting hot again just at the thought. "Or--just show me like you'd show a guy how to touch you. It doesn't have to be that different." Then she moved her hand. Oh, wow. Down here, Miranda wore satin.

Miranda took a shuddering breath and arched her hips. Andy kept looking her right in the eye. "Show me," she whispered, slid her hand higher, and cupped. Miranda gasped and arched again. Andy slid her thumb around over the satin, which made Miranda bite her bottom lip and squeeze her eyes shut. Then Andy's thumb hit one particular spot, and Miranda's hips jumped as she squeaked. Her eyes opened wide again. Andy gulped, but not from fear this time. "Here's good, huh?" she said, and rubbed again.

"A little to the--um--" Miranda shook her head. "Left--" Andy moved her thumb. "No, my left--" Andy obligingly moved it again, and pressed down hard because, just this once, she could punish Miranda for giving lousy instructions. But Miranda obviously liked it way too much for it to be a punishment, and Andy decided to forgive her instead. She rubbed until she found a pace that actually made Miranda cry out, and then she bent down and lapped at a nipple, sucking it in time with her strokes.

Miranda's body undulated like a wave, and this time she didn't make any noise, but Andy felt the quiver through her underwear. And this time she raised her head so she could watch Miranda's face, could see the way her head arched back and her eyes shut and her mouth fell open in a silent cry. One of her hands curled into a fist and she struck the mattress. Then she writhed her hips and managed, "Move--hand--down--"

Whoops. Too sensitive now? Andy moved her thumb farther down, away from the clit, and rubbed gently where she could feel Miranda's labia through the cloth. She could feel moisture there, too. Miranda sobbed in appreciation and relaxed, shivering gently. She even smiled. Andy could not have imagined anyone less like the cool woman who'd sized her up over a pair of reading glasses on the day they met.

But it was the same woman, and she bent and kissed that woman before she could even get her breath back. Miranda hummed and lazily slid her fingers into Andy's hair. Then, when Andy paused for breath, she sighed in satisfaction.

"You might have been on to something," she conceded.

"I'm full of bright ideas," Andy said.

"Mm," Miranda said, and commented no further. "Now let's see." She sighed again, and sat up, pressing Andy back down against the pillows. "Unless you managed it again while we were kissing?" she added, sounding hopeful.

"Not quite," Andy said, and swallowed hard. "You don't have a lot of work to do, though." It was true. She'd felt like she was going to explode, watching Miranda come.

"Good, I suppose," Miranda said. Her brow furrowed as she looked down at Andy, like she was checking over an unsatisfactory layout. "It is more complicated."

"Look," Andy said, trying desperately to sound patient and calm, "it's not like I have a lever you can grab, but I promise--"

"Oh well," Miranda said, and bent down to kiss her throat, just as if she was someone who'd never advocated a chaste romance in her life. She trailed her mouth down Andy's chest eagerly, and then Andy's nipple was in Miranda's mouth, and it wasn't like nobody had ever kissed her breasts before but this was Miranda  and her lips were soft and her mouth was hot--

--it was Miranda's white hair tickling Andy's chest and chin--it was--

Andy wasn't as quiet as Miranda when she came, and she was pretty sure she'd left nail marks in Miranda's shoulders. But Miranda didn't seem to mind as she gave Andy's nipple one final, affectionate lick and murmured, "Hello, lever."

"Like you can talk," Andy wheezed, falling back against the pillows again. "Oh. Wow."

"Maybe next time we'll get all our clothes off," Miranda said thoughtfully. Then she blinked. "Unless--I'm assuming we're finished."

Andy managed to pry her eyelids open. "Huh?"

"We're done, aren't we? That is, we both…" Miranda frowned. "It really isn't like men, is it?"

"Well…no," Andy said, bewildered and trying to catch her breath. "We don't have to be done, I guess. Um. What are you talking about?"

Miranda scowled and propped herself up on her elbow. Her hair fell in her face and she blew it out of her eyes impatiently. Andy grinned in delight. "I mean, it's not like with men--what if neither partner comes? How are you supposed to know when to stop?"

Andy stopped grinning and stared some more. "I, um," she said. "I guess we could set a timer." Miranda looked pissed, and Andy added, "I'm sorry. Uh…I don't think it's just about reaching the end goal, though." At least, it had never been for her. She just liked sex, period--the sensations, the closeness, the urgency. She supposed Miranda had a point. For girls, it didn't have to be all about having an orgasm. "I mean, you just do what you like, and stop when you're ready to stop." How the hell else did Miranda think it was supposed to go?

Now Miranda looked suspicious. "What if one of you is ready to stop and the other one isn't?"

This was worse than their first kiss. "I--Miranda, I'm really not sure this is going to be a huge problem," Andy said helplessly. She'd never pictured afterglow and pillow talk going like this. "Why don't we just play it by ear?"

"Well," Miranda said, still not appearing appeased. Which was weird. Why was she making this so complicated? Why had she been dead-set on making it complicated from the very beginning?

Then Andy thought about it. Miranda had been married three times. For a woman so devoted to her career, she'd invested a lot of time and energy in relationships that had never worked out. If Andy wasn't used to love being this complicated, Miranda probably couldn't imagine that love could ever be easy. That anything could ever be easy. She was used to fighting for everything she got. And she hated being wrong.

But she'd never know for sure if she didn't ask, and now seemed to be the right time for it. "Um. Miranda?" Andy said, hating how timid she sounded. Miranda blinked down at her, and Andy saw that she, too, was taken aback by Andy's tone. So Andy tried to have a little more gumption as she said, "Why were you so sure that you didn't, you know, want to do this? In the beginning."

Miranda scowled, and admitted, "I didn't know that I wanted to." Then she blushed and looked even madder about that. "Until you kissed me. It was…I didn't expect it."

Andy remembered Miranda's look of surprise, and how it had kept her warm during a few lonely nights--the hope it had given her. "You were, huh?"

Miranda raised an eyebrow. "Are you sorry I didn't jump into bed with you right away?"

"No!" Andy said, and now it was her turn to blush. "I think it was--I didn't want to rush you or push you." Much. "I didn't want to screw anything up. I wanted it to be okay."

"Then we agreed on that," Miranda said lightly. "Or do you think you've screwed it up now?"

"Not if I did it right," Andy dared, and Miranda finally smiled. Awesome. "Did you have breakfast already?" Andy added.

"You were breakfast," Miranda said. She stretched, and smiled again, relaxing as the tense moment passed.

"Well, seconds are available," Andy said, "whenever you want them."

"Why do you say things like that?"

"I don't know," Andy said, and laughed. Miranda rolled her eyes, but scooted in closer on the mattress.

Andy wasn't sure how it happened, but they both fell back asleep. So much for Miranda's idea that they shouldn't laze around. And when Andy woke up again at ten o'clock, Miranda had plastered herself to Andy's side and was sleeping like a baby. So much for Miranda preferring to sleep alone. Her head was on Andy's chest and she'd thrown an arm across Andy's stomach.

Andy watched her sleep. She remembered the first time she'd ever seen Miranda sleeping--that night in the car, after she'd just discovered she was pregnant. It seemed like years ago. Or at least like more than four months. Andy petted her hair, careful not to do anything that would tug at Miranda's scalp or otherwise wake her up.

The room, the whole house, was peacefully still. Even the dog had gone with the twins to their dad's place. Sunlight was shining through the blinds now, falling across the bed, painting Miranda and Andy in stripes of light and shadow. There weren't even many sounds of traffic outside on Miranda's quiet street--well, not as many as usual, anyway. Andy wondered how many people were doing what they were doing now: just lying in, sleeping late on a Saturday. She wondered, in fact, if Miranda ever had done this before. Surely? At least once?

Well, Andy wasn't going to wake her up to ask. She lay still, felt Miranda Priestly's weight against her, and enjoyed her happiness.

 


 

Andy stayed at the townhouse all day Saturday and had more fun than she could ever remember having before. It was a very specific kind of fun. Neither she nor Miranda stirred out-of-doors, and while Miranda made a game attempt at getting dressed, it didn't last very long. Miranda also had a vague idea about preparing food of some kind, but Andy wasn't particularly interested in that either.

"You had me for breakfast, I'm having you for lunch," Andy said, and slid her hand up under Miranda's skirt. "Fair's fair."

Miranda leaned her head back against the kitchen wall. "It's not f…you're the one who's always…after me to ea…mmm."

Andy was already addicted to watching Miranda lose her cool, to watching her forget how to talk. "You're the one who said 'deal with it,'" she said. Then she leaned in and smiled against Miranda's mouth so she could feel it--Miranda trembled--and whispered, "So deal."

"No wonder they're all over you," Miranda mumbled. Andy pulled back and blinked. Miranda turned a dull red, realizing what she'd said, and Andy quickly kissed her.

"I only want you all over me," she said. And added, inspired, "That's why you get all my best lines."

"Oh, for God's…"

Andy slid both hands beneath her skirt, hiking it up around her thighs, and then plucked at the waistband of her panties. Miranda's breath caught, and she looked into Andy's eyes, her own eyes wide and shocked. "You're going to try this for the first time up against the kitchen wall?"

Andy, who remembered Miranda coming just from being rubbed through her underwear, said, "Sorry. Did you want me to peel you some grapes first?" Miranda glared; Andy slid the fingers of her right hand gently up the inside of Miranda's thigh, and the glare wobbled. "Rub your feet? Fan you?" She tickled a little. Miranda twitched and gasped.

"Or I could kneel," Andy said hoarsely, her temples starting to pound with her heartbeat, her blood rushing in her ears. She slid her fingertips farther up until she was cupping Miranda through her underwear. "I could kneel right here, and…" Miranda's head fell back and thunked gently against the wall as her eyes closed. Andy realized she was thinking about it, they both were, about Andy sliding her tongue against those little folds and tucks and creases until all of Miranda's bones turned to water and her voice was hoarse with her cries.

"Maybe," Andy said, and swallowed hard. "Maybe later." When they had more room. More time. But they weren't going to take any time right now. Instead, she bent in and began to nuzzle at the sensitive spot beneath Miranda's ear and tugged at her panties again. "Let's get these off?"

Seconds later, the underwear got tossed onto the kitchen counter while Andy kissed Miranda to distraction. Then she reached for her courage once more, and carefully--very carefully--slid her hand under and up, until her fingertips brushed against soft, fine hair, and heat, and slickness. Like when she touched herself. Not so different, not so weird. Only when she did this, Miranda gasped and went wide-eyed, so it was better.

Then again, the angle was pretty different. Andy moved her hand carefully so that her fingertips were rubbing against the soaking lips. Miranda practically climbed her wrist, and Andy's fingers slid farther back, until they were… "Please," Miranda moaned. "Oh. Oh. Please."

Andy wished she could see what she was doing. Miranda had a point about doing it up against a wall. But heck if Andy was going to admit it, so she just kissed Miranda's neck again and whispered, "Show me," in her ear. "Show me."

Miranda hissed and gave in, reaching down between her legs--Andy got dizzy and moaned--and taking hold of Andy's hand. The brush of her own fingers made her gasp, and she groaned, "There, right there." She shuddered and patted Andy's knuckles. "U-use your whole ha-hand against--"

Andy cupped her again, with no underwear in the way this time, and her palm got slippery. She squeezed gently, rubbed, and Miranda rocked her hips; Andy angled her hand so that the heel of her palm could grind against Miranda's clit, and Miranda's head tossed back against the wall again. She cried out softly. Andy took a deep breath, tried not to faint, and began flexing her hand back and forth: on the rise, she rubbed Miranda's clit with her palm, and on the fall, she pressed Miranda's perineum with her fingertips.

"God!" Miranda said, her eyes squeezed shut, her face going red as she lifted up on her toes, writhing against Andy's hand.

"Beautiful," Andy choked. She wanted to kiss Miranda in time with her hand, but she doubted she had the concentration; instead, she found herself rubbing her face against the curve of Miranda's throat, nuzzling her again, while Miranda grabbed at her back. "Beautiful. You're so…"

"Inside," Miranda gasped, rubbing her own nose in Andy's hair. "Please--inside me--"

Andy couldn't think of anything to say to that other than a moan, so she kissed Miranda, slow and deep, before she did anything else. And then she hunted ungracefully with her fingertips for a couple of crucial seconds until she found it, soft and slick and giving beneath the pressure of her hand. She slid one finger in, shocked by how easy it was, and how hot Miranda was down here, how she burned like fire. "Is that--"

"B-be gentle," Miranda pleaded, cupped Andy's face in her hands, and kissed her, not gently at all.

Andy pulled back a little, murmured, "Sssh," and leaned back in, being so gentle with her mouth and her hand that Miranda nearly hyperventilated. "Nice and slow," she breathed, and sucked on Miranda's bottom lip. "Is this how you like it?" Miranda made an incoherent noise. Andy didn't wait for a better answer, but instead pressed a second finger inquisitively at the entrance. Miranda sobbed and bucked her hips, which Andy took for permission as she slid the second finger in. Very, very gently. "God," Andy whispered. "That's amazing."

"Gentle," Miranda said again, but the word was without meaning--she was chanting more than talking now. "G-gen…gentle…"

"Yes," Andy said, and kissed the side of her neck. "Is it good? Can you show me how to make it good?"

"Ah," Miranda said, "ah," and she reached down between their bodies again, between her legs. But she didn't guide Andy's hand this time, didn't touch Andy at all; she just hiked her skirt up higher and rubbed frantically at her clit, and then she was clenching all around Andy's fingers, fast and rhythmic. Andy lost her breath as she tried to watch it all at once: Miranda's hand, Miranda's face, and everything in between as Miranda stroked herself to climax, biting her lip and whimpering through her nose.

When Miranda was done, when her convulsions had slowed, Andy leaned in to kiss her. They were both gasping. When they parted, Miranda managed, disbelievingly, "I couldn't wait." Andy bit her throat. "I couldn't…I had to…"

"God , Miranda," Andy moaned.

"How are you doing this, I don't, I don't--" Andy bit down again, harder. "Oh!" Andy began to slide her fingers in and out again, slowly. "Oh.  Oh yes--" Andy flexed them. "Yes--yes--"

"As often as you want it," Andy panted. "As much as you want it--"

"Yes!" Miranda cried, and came again, longer and slower this time, finishing with a soft, broken little moan. Her knees wobbled.

"God," Andy said again, pressing her nose into Miranda's throat. She slid her fingers out very carefully--the angle was starting to make her wrist ache--and patted the inside of Miranda's sticky thigh. "You're incredible," she said. Miranda was panting too hard to reply. But she kissed Andy's temple, nuzzled her cheek, and slid her arms around her waist. Andy was trembling and wondering if this was the pattern they were going to follow from now on--Andy making Miranda come hard and fast, and getting so turned on by it that she went off like a firecracker at the slightest provocation. Nothing wrong with that, she thought dizzily, as Miranda slid one hand up and down her back. And down to her hip. And then between--

Andy heard herself say "Oh Jesus" as Miranda cupped her through the silk of her pajama bottoms, and the underwear beneath. Miranda's raspy breathing had slowed, regulated itself, dropped down into something like a purr.

"Is this nice?" she murmured into Andy's ear. "Do you want my hand now?" She squeezed. "Do you like my touch, Andrea?"

Andy shut her eyes and tried to think of sad stuff, or gross stuff, or anything but Miranda's hand between her legs. It didn't work, so she tore at the buttons of Miranda's blouse until it fell open, shoved up her bra, and hungrily bent back down to her breasts. Miranda's hand froze for a moment, and then she said "ah" and began moving her hand, rubbing and squeezing Andy firmly. Andy cupped her breasts, held them, pressed them together, and had a darn good go at sucking and biting both nipples at the same time. Miranda wailed, and her hand began to follow the rhythm of Andy's mouth until they were rocking together, and Andy wasn't able to take more than a few seconds of that before she came.

Andy rested her head against Miranda's shoulder. Miranda rested hers against the wall. They both struggled for air. Then Andy lifted her sticky fingers, sniffed them, and licked them. Not bad. Nice, even. She could probably stand to drink it right from the source, so to speak. She wondered if Miranda would be able to return the favor. Mmm. That would be…

"Lunch now," Miranda said breathlessly against her forehead. "Get dressed."

So much for the afterglow. "In what?" Andy said, straightening up, and straightening her pajamas too. "I'm not putting the boots on again. They're not all that comfortable."

"So walk around barefoot," Miranda said, tugging her bra back down. "Civilized people do not wear pajamas at noon."

She sure recovered fast. Andy still felt dizzy. Which was probably why she didn't put up much of a fight as she staggered back to her--to the guestroom and changed. Then she decided that she wasn't going to let Miranda order her around, not here, and called out of the door, "Getting a shower first!" She heard Miranda make an indignant squawking sound, but she shut the door anyway and stripped again. She was all sticky and sweaty and wanted to wash up. She'd make the shower quick.

 


 

When Andy returned to the kitchen, feeling much fresher, Miranda was nowhere to be found; upon listening closely, Andy could hear water running upstairs. Miranda must have decided to get cleaned up too. Which left Andy to make lunch. Surprise, surprise. Andy sighed, and rummaged through the fridge until she found enough stuff to make a decent salad. The fridge was well-stocked; Jimena must have gone grocery shopping yesterday afternoon. There was even cold marinated salmon, which Andy decided would do very well on top of some lettuce.

She'd just finished making the salads when the water stopped running. Andy set the plates on the counter and, out of curiosity, decided to see what secrets Miranda Priestly's freezer held. She was a little disappointed to see no human heads lining the inside of the door. Oh well. The freezer was surprisingly empty. What little was there, was nothing out of the ordinary: Tupperware containers full of food Jimena undoubtedly kept frozen for last-minute dinner emergencies, a package of frozen peas, a pint of lemon sorbet, some decaf coffee, and a couple of steaks.

Hold on. Andy blinked. Not that she knew for sure, but she was willing to bet good money that nobody in this house ever ate frozen peas. Jimena was under strict orders to buy fresh, local, organic produce that cost an arm and a leg. Raising an eyebrow, Andy stood up on tiptoe and tugged the bag of peas down from the top shelf of the freezer.

Then she laughed out loud before she could stop herself. Ice cream. Specifically, five whole pints of Haagen-Dazs: two of Triple Chocolate, one of Coffee (big shocker there), one of Butter Pecan, and one of an improbable flavor called "Toasted Coconut Sesame Brittle." No wonder Miranda had stuffed them behind the frozen peas--Caroline and Cassidy would never go near anything like that in the freezer. The poor kids were probably stuck with the lemon sorbet.

Three pints of ice cream had already been opened: apparently Miranda didn't believe you had to finish one carton or flavor before starting a new one. Or maybe she mixed-and-matched. Andy debated setting out ice cream bowls along with the salads, but acknowledged that Miranda would murder her, which would be a real shame because they hadn't even gotten to oral sex yet. Then she hesitated, grinned again, and switched two of the pints around before shoving the peas back in. Might as well give Miranda a little something to wonder about.

She heard a thump at the front door. She froze for a second, but no other sounds were forthcoming, and after a moment she dared to peek down the hallway and into the foyer. To her relief, she only saw Miranda's mail lying behind the door. Whew. Andy wandered down the hallway and got the mail, deciding she might as well bring it in to the kitchen.

She deliberately didn't look at it as she carried it back. Just because she got to sleep with Miranda didn't mean that she lived here, or had any business nosing through Miranda's stuff. Other than the freezer, anyway. The last thing she needed was for Miranda to think she was a snoop.

But she couldn't help noticing the issue of Modernity  on top. Miranda had free subscriptions to just about every major magazine in town, of course, and hardly a day went by when The New Yorker , Rolling Stone , Vanity Fair , or even Esquire  didn't drop through her mail slot, to say nothing of rival fashion publications. Andy had, however, been personally responsible for canceling Miranda's subscription to GQ after Stephen moved out.

Miranda probably wouldn't mind if she just looked through the magazine, Andy decided. There wasn't anything personal about getting a magazine in the mail--you read them in doctors' offices, for crying out loud. Andy's article wasn't due to appear for another month or so, but that didn't mean she didn't read each issue of Modernity  cover to cover anyway. It was her new favorite periodical. Not that she'd ever tell Miranda that.

She perched on one of the high stools at the kitchen counter--the layout of the Manhattan townhouse's kitchen was remarkably similar to the one in London--and paged through the magazine, sipping at a Diet Coke. She glanced over the Editor's Letter, which didn't say anything particularly interesting. They rarely did. Miranda hated writing hers month after month. When she'd started at Runway , of course, Andy had read Miranda's letters religiously for the first couple of months, hoping for some kind of insight into her impossible boss's equally impossible psyche. It hadn't taken her long to figure out that Miranda pretty much phoned it in, compared to the amount of work she put into everything else, and Andy had given up trying. She was surprised Miranda had never tried to pass that job off on an assistant, now that she thought about it.

Chuckling as she turned the pages, Andy thought that wouldn't be a half-bad assignment. She'd always wondered how many people actually read the Editor's Letter. It'd be fun to put something surprising, or even shocking in there, and see what kind of reaction it got. Some kind of gaffe or juicy tidbit about a designer or celebrity. Not that Andy would ever do that, of course, it would be totally unprofessional--it was just kind of funny to think about, that was--

She turned the page, and saw the headline, "NOWHERE TO GO."

Just beneath the headline was: "So how badly is the working man getting screwed in the Big Apple? Andy Sachs investigates."  Her name was in bold type.

And there was her article. Complete with the changes she'd made. It was shorter than she remembered--they must have cut some stuff--and it wasn't really a major piece. It hadn't been mentioned on the cover or anything. But it was there. In print. Staring right up at her. Right there.

She looked over it greedily, taking in every black letter on the glossy white paper, inhaling the smell of the print, wondering if this was how guys felt when they looked at porn. It was that exciting. She read her own article as if she'd never seen it before in her life, from beginning to end, drinking in every word.

"So you found it."

Andy looked up, dazed, to see Miranda standing by the kitchen counter, her head tilted to the side. She had a small, amused smile on her face.

"I--you knew?" Andy said. "That it'd be in this issue?"

"I was planning to surprise you with it," Miranda said, and nodded down at the magazine. "It's a pity, really. I don't make many sentimental gestures. You would have really enjoyed the reveal."

"I'm sorry!" Andy said, horrified. She knew she shouldn't have looked at the mail. "I just, I didn't think it would…not for another couple of…" She stared back down at her article. Even now that she had it right in front of her, she couldn't believe it was real. "Wow. My God."

"I read it," Miranda said. "It's good work."

Andy looked up at her. "It is? You read it? You liked it?"

"I did," Miranda said. "Not the sort of thing Runway  covers, of course. But it made a nice change." She took the magazine from Andy and glanced over the copy. "Good work," she repeated. "You should be proud of yourself."

"I am," Andy said. "I…are you?" Miranda looked at her in surprise. "Proud of me, I mean. Because--because--"

"I am," Miranda said slowly, and Andy felt like she'd lit up everywhere. "'Because' what?"

"Well," Andy said, and gulped. "You remember, we had that conversation, about…about me asking Nigel for help, and…" Miranda nodded, frowning. Andy hurried on with, "Well, I just wanted to say that even if I had thought of you instead, I wouldn't have asked you--"

Miranda's eyes widened. "Excuse me?"

"--because," Andy continued doggedly, "I wanted, you know, to impress you. To show you what I could do. That I was, you know, smart, and could do things and…" She winced. Miranda was staring at her like she'd just arrived from Mars. "I mean, I couldn't do that if you'd helped me get it published. It wouldn't have been the same."

"Well," Miranda said. "Don't worry. I know quite well that you don't need me to help you succeed, Andrea." Her voice was cool. She looked hurt.

"What?" Andy said. "No! That's not what I meant at all." She huffed. "It was--" How to explain this without sounding like an idiot? "It's like when you buy somebody a present. You don't want to buy it with their own money. You know?"

Miranda blinked. Then she snorted, but didn't look hurt anymore. "So this is my present, too?"

"Yeah," Andy said, relieved. Then: "'Too'?"

"It wasn't due to be published until May," Miranda said, a little too casually. "But Carter mentioned to me, over drinks last month, that one of his feature writers wasn't going to come through for March…" She shrugged. "I was able to suggest a last-minute emergency substitution."

Andy stared at her. "So--wait--is this--?"

"Happy Birthday, I suppose," Miranda said, and glanced over at the counter. She saw the salads, and her eyes went wide with interest and not a little greed. "Well, early birthday, anyway. Is that lunch?"

Andy clapped the open magazine over her face to muffle her cry of delight. "This is the best birthday ever," she said. "Ever, ever."

"I'm glad to hear it," Miranda said. "Pour me some Evian, will you?"

Andy lowered the magazine, knowing that she was beaming hard enough at Miranda to short out all the electricity in the house. Miranda didn't seem to notice, since she was eyeing the salmon like it was the first food she'd seen in a week. "Anything," Andy said, and hopped off the stool. "Just name it."

Miranda raised an eyebrow again, and she got a look in her eyes that made Andy's giddy glee turn into something equally jubilant, but much more anticipatory. "I'm sure I can think of something," she said.

"Oh, really," Andy said, feeling a slower, much more feral smile blooming across her own face. Miranda went pink.

Yeah. Definitely the best birthday ever, early or not. And it wasn't over yet.

 


 

Andy had been half-afraid that when she actually got a look at what Miranda had between her legs, she'd be embarrassed or freaked or maybe even a little grossed out. Vaginas had never been her thing before, after all. Chiefly they made her think of visiting the gynecologist, which wasn't exactly sexy. Plus, there was something so raw and personal about getting naked with somebody and then just…looking.

"Oh my God," Miranda moaned, rolling her hips into Andy's mouth.

It actually hadn't been a problem. After lunch, they'd settled in and had worked a little bit, with Miranda going over the book and Andy making notes of whatever she said. It had been a hell of a challenge to get and stay focused, but she'd decided it would be a good exercise for her; if she could concentrate on work instead of thinking about screwing Miranda, or about her article in Modernity , then Andy would have achieved enough self-discipline to be a Zen master, which would be pretty cool.

She'd almost managed it, too. Then, after about an hour and a half, Miranda had said, "Ugh. Tell Matthias we have to get rid of this photo in the big band spread. Gisele looks completely ridiculous with that sexophone."

Andy had stopped writing and stared at her. Miranda obviously had no idea what she'd just said, but she kept on talking and said the word 'sexophone' at least two more times before Andy gave up and doubled over with helpless laughter. And then Miranda had scowled, and Andy had explained, and Miranda had gotten snippy, and Andy'd had to take emergency measures before Miranda worked herself into a sulk and ruined the afternoon, and, as it happened, she'd learned a couple of sure-fire ways to distract Miranda by now.

This time they'd made it to Miranda's room. Andy hadn't even had a chance to get a look at the décor before Miranda had tugged her down on the enormous bed and began pulling at her skirt (Andy had lost her blouse on the stairs and her bra in the hallway), while Andy yanked off Miranda's shirt (the only thing she'd had left by that point, which meant she now had two pairs of satin panties lying around in the kitchen). Then all of a sudden they didn't have any more clothes on, and Andy realized that the best way not to get self-conscious was just to keep going, deciding she could take the time for romantic worshipful appreciation once they'd both gotten used to the whole naked thing.

And here they were. By the time Andy had kissed her way down the rise of Miranda's belly, Miranda had begun to babble softly under her breath, and by the time Andy had slid to her knees by the side of the bed, between Miranda's thighs, she'd started to pant. She struggled to sit up; Andy leaned in and pressed a tender, careful kiss; she fell back down. And then Andy pushed her thighs wider apart so she could see everything, and it really wasn't as embarrassing as she'd thought it might be, and wow  was Miranda ever soaking wet, all because of Andy. Andy wondered if she looked like this too, and then stopped thinking as she leaned forward and licked. The taste was sharper down here, fresher, almost, and it did funny, pleasant things to her brain.

Miranda said, "Nnngh!", and rubbed Andy's back with her left foot. Andy tried to remember stuff she liked herself, but the truth was she didn't really like it when she was as tender and swollen as Miranda was after sex last night and again today. And when she did like it, she liked it rough, which Miranda obviously didn't. So…

Well, it wasn't like she had a handbook lying around, so she might as well learn by trial-and-error. Miranda had liked it when Andy had rubbed her here, just to the left (her left) of the clit, so Andy licked there too, very gently. Miranda arched and hissed.

"Tell me what to do," Andy said. "Tell me what you like." How strange, that she actually had to prompt Miranda to give her orders. She licked again, Miranda's hand suddenly dug into her hair, and Andy said, "What do you like?"

"I--I don't know--everything," Miranda panted. "Just keep, just…no fingers," she added suddenly, and gulped. "I'm--a little sore--"

"Did I hurt you before?" Andy asked, pulling away as her libido instantly withered. Then Miranda yanked at her hair. "Ow!"

"No, you didn't hurt me, now for God's sake will you please--" Relieved, and now sore herself, Andy quickly bent back down. "--ooh," Miranda finished, arching her back blissfully. Andy thought fast. Miranda didn't want any fingers, but she'd loved it when Andy had gone inside, so…

When Andy slid her tongue inside, just a little, Miranda stiffened and squeaked; and when Andy twitched her tongue up and down, so gently, Miranda sobbed. Then Andy moved up higher, and lazily rolled her tongue over the clitoris, again and again, until Miranda's breathing went hysterical and she let go of Andy's hair to claw at the bedsheets. She gasped, "Don't--stop--please--oh--"

Andy carefully pushed back the hood, teased the little pearl directly, with just the tip of her tongue--

"Oh my God!" 

Miranda's thighs clenched, and Andy suddenly found her mouth and chin soaked in come. She licked again, and Miranda actually shrieked, ramming her hips hard up against Andy's mouth before jerking away again as she sank back down on the mattress, trembling all over.

"Stop," she whimpered. "Stop…stop now…"

Andy had already figured that out, and she kissed the inside of Miranda's quivering thigh before wiping her mouth and face with her hand. Then she rose to her feet and crawled back on the bed next to Miranda, who was staring blankly up at the ceiling while she got her breath back.

"Were you," Miranda began, stopped, licked her lips, and started again, "were you born. With. Sex hardwired into. Your brain. Or something?" She gulped and panted some more, closing her eyes.

Andy had never felt so brilliant in her life, and probably never would again, she just knew it. She laughed. "I think I was hardwired for you, that's all." She ran her fingertips over Miranda's gently rounded belly, which twitched beneath her touch. "Huh, maybe you're wired for me too. What do you think?"

"I think you're some kind of demon," Miranda said, and covered her eyes with a hand--a characteristic gesture, Andy was coming to realize. Like she just needed to shut out the world for a moment after sex, while she got herself back together. "My God. I've never…" She trailed off, and this time Andy didn't think her blush was due to arousal.

"Never what?" Andy asked, figuring that she was probably crossing a line, and that there would never be a better time for it.

Miranda peeped at her through two fingers. Glared, really. "Never…that," she said.

"What?" Andy said blankly, and then it hit her. Her eyes went wide. "You--I mean nobody ever went down on you before?" Miranda's glare was positively blistering now, but Andy was too busy being astonished. Fifty years old, three marriages, and Miranda had never …?

"They did," Miranda snapped, and Andy came back down to earth. Miranda grunted and sat up. "It just never worked before."

'Really?' Andy didn't say, because there were limits, after all. "Oh," she said instead, feeling at a loss, because how did you respond to something like that, with someone like Miranda? "Um, I'm sorry."

Miranda rolled her eyes, obviously finished with her little moment of full disclosure. "Lie down," she ordered, and Andy obeyed without even thinking about it. Then she blushed as Miranda looked her over with gleaming eyes, and blushed harder as Miranda caressed her hip and side with one warm hand. "I suppose there are advantages to your having a little meat on your bones," she mused. It was Andy's turn to scowl, which only amused Miranda.

"Well, now," she said softly. "It's your turn, isn't it?" And oh, God, just the tone of her voice made Andy's toes curl. "You're so bold," Miranda murmured. "So insistent that I tell you what to do. What I like. That I should just come right out and say it."

Andy swallowed hard. "Well--I mean--seems sort of in-character for you--"

"Turnabout is fair play," Miranda continued as if Andy hadn't spoken. She kept moving her hand, stroked upwards to play with Andy's nipple. Andy gasped. "You've been thinking about this for a long time. Wanting this for a long time. Haven't you?"

"Yes," Andy whispered.

"I felt your eyes all over me on New Year's Eve. I was…surprised."

Andy wasn't sure if she should be elated, or intrigued, or humiliated, or what. She settled for saying, "Me too." Miranda lifted an incredulous eyebrow. "No, really. That's when it started. I saw you in that dress. And you were so--that's when it started."

"Yes?" Miranda plucked her nipple again. "When what started? What were you thinking of? What did you want, exactly?" She smoothed her hand over Andy's belly, down into the hollow of Andy's hip, which Andy hardly noticed because Miranda's gaze was swallowing her whole. "What did you want to do to me, Andrea?"

"Jesus," Andy gasped, curling her toes again. So much for Miranda not wanting to talk about it. She'd never been with anybody who could screw just with their voice, and it was…

"Slip off into a coat closet?" Miranda continued relentlessly. Her hand lay still on Andy's hip, no longer caressing her, no longer moving at all. "Or some quiet corner where you could have me up against a wall? Maybe get under my skirt in the back seat of the car?" She leaned in and inquired, softly, "Did you like the dress? Would you have had me keep it on?"

"Oh God," Andy choked, closing her eyes, unable to stop picturing it, as she'd pictured it a thousand times before. Miranda in that dress, with her head thrown back and her face flushed and her eyes closed, just as she'd been on this very bed only a few moments ago--

"Or would you have brought me home? Locked the door to my room, and made me stay so quiet?" Miranda whispered. "On my back on the bed, covering my mouth with your hand, and me still in my gown because I couldn't wait--"

"Miranda," Andy sobbed, her hips twitching desperately, "Miranda, oh my God--"

"My skirt up around my waist, legs spread and my shoes still on, and me so ready for you, so wet and ready to come for you." Miranda's voice was as cool and as calm as it had been on the day Andy had met her, and Andy couldn't even open her eyes, her body was strung so tight. "Begging you to do whatever you wanted to me. Would you have fucked me in my dress, Andrea?"

The word 'fuck' on Miranda's lips, here in bed, made Andy arch her back and whine. Little lights were starting to go off behind her eyelids. "I, I--"

"Oh, Andrea," Miranda breathed. "I would have let you."

"Miranda!" Andy shrieked, and came without a single touch. She cried out as her cunt twitched and throbbed, and she knew that Miranda was watching every second of it with avid, greedy eyes, and that made her come all the harder, knowing she was on display for this woman she'd wanted so badly that she'd thought she'd die from it, and maybe she was dying right now, it felt like it, it felt--

She slumped back down on the bed, panting, shaking so hard she thought she was going to fly apart. "Juh, juh, Jesus," she managed when she had her breath back. She opened her eyes. Miranda was watching her and looking unbearably smug.

"That was lovely," she said, and stroked the inside of Andy's sticky thigh. Andy moaned again. "So you were thinking about it. I can't wait to find out what else you've been thinking about. You obviously have quite an imagination."

"M-me?" Andy croaked. "You're the one who came up with, with all that stuff…I never told you about any of…" Miranda shrugged as if this was a minor detail, as if reading Andy's id was something she did whenever she felt like it. Oh, God. Maybe it was. "Would you really have let me?" Andy added, hardly able to believe it. "On New Year's Eve? Really?"

"Of course not," Miranda said. "But I thought you'd like the idea."

It figured. "Well," Andy said. "I guess I did." Then she took a deep breath, and held out her arms. "Come here--" Miranda did. And as soon as her breasts were within striking distance, Andy leaned up and took a nipple in her mouth, sucking and biting. Miranda tossed her head back with a shocked cry.

"You love this," Andy said, and tugged with her teeth. Miranda made a choking sound. "Been thinking about this. Wanted me to do it."

"Oh," Miranda moaned, but didn't deny it. She couldn't deny it. "I--I can't, not again--" Andy ignored her, and suckled insistently while Miranda swayed and tried not to collapse on top of her.

"Yes, you can," Andy whispered, and switched breasts, feeling drunk, feeling like she was having a fever dream. She pushed, and Miranda lay down on her back, her eyes wild and glassy again; Andy bent down and kept at it, sucking and licking, while Miranda tossed her head back and forth against the mattress. Andy hadn't been lying. She liked talking about sex in the middle of sex, sometimes. But she'd never liked it like this. "You love this," she repeated.

"Yes," Miranda whimpered.

"So you tell me your fantasy," Andy said, already on fire with revenge as she slid her fingers back between Miranda's legs. Not inside. Just brushing lightly, gently. "Do you want this in the back seat of the car? Or in the copy room? Or do you want me to fuck you--" like Andy, the word made Miranda moan, "--on your desk, with the doors closed, until you get so wet it's all over your skirt and you have to bite your hand to keep from screaming--"

"I can't," Miranda said, "I can't," but she could, and did, right before Andy's eyes. This time, Andy didn't let her cover her face with her hand.

Andy kissed her very gently. "Are you okay?"

"I'm going to want to do this a lot," Miranda wheezed. "From now on."

"Fantastic," Andy said, and didn't care that she was grinning like an idiot as she kissed Miranda once more.

 


 

They dozed after that, and when they woke up--which meant that Miranda woke up and shook Andy awake too--dark was creeping in. There was no need even to pretend that they were going back to work. Instead, Andy put on a bathrobe and threw together a couple of sandwiches while Miranda put on yet another outfit and wandered through the house collecting their scattered clothes. Andy grinned at the reverence with which Miranda set the brown boots by the foot of the stairs.

"Think anybody'll notice if I slip out of here wearing the same clothes I was wearing twenty-four hours ago?" Andy asked.

"Most people in this neighborhood don't actually spy on each other with telescopes through the window blinds," Miranda said. "And my assistants have been coming and going here for years. I doubt that anybody actually saw you arrive last night in the first place, much less cared what you were wearing." She paused, and took a sip of her water. "And if they did…we've all kept each others' secrets a few times."

"Oh," Andy said.

"Quite," Miranda said. "Years ago, before the twins were born, Greg was the one who noticed that Gladys Marchington across the street was spending more time with her plumber than her husband. We said nothing. That's how it's done here. Oh, it imploded, of course, but that was all to do with Gladys, not us."

"Oh," Andy said again, blinking. "I…well."

Miranda's lip curled bitterly. "I wonder if anyone realized Stephen was sneaking around." She glanced at Andy, as if expecting Andy to know the answer, and then sighed. "The point is, as long as the paparazzi are away, you've got nothing to worry about. And they're away. I'm old news by now." The thank goodness  hung unspoken in the air.

"That's, yeah," Andy said, shook her head, and took another bite of sandwich. Chewed, swallowed. "That's good. I just figured I should, um. Probably leave after we eat." Otherwise Miranda would never get any work done at all, and Andy couldn't stay the night again, unless she wanted to creep out when it was still dark, which she didn't. Miranda's personal trainer was due to arrive at six-thirty in the morning.

"Probably for the best," Miranda agreed, her expression not betraying any particular emotion. Then she added, "Why don't you ever wear that brooch?"

"Huh?" Andy asked around a mouthful of sandwich, and then winced at Miranda's disgusted look. She swallowed. "Sorry."

"The snake brooch," Miranda said. "The one I gave you in London. I haven't seen you wear it since then, and I know you liked it."

Andy turned red. "I do," she said. "It's nice. Really nice." Miranda raised her eyebrow. "Too nice," Andy admitted. "I have it in a safe deposit box at my bank." Miranda looked displeased. "I just don't want anything to happen to it!" Andy added quickly. "I keep it in a safe place because it's, you know, special." Yes. Very special. It was the first thing Miranda had given her after they'd begun their…courtship or arrangement or whatever it was. It was irreplaceable. Andy wasn't about to risk that brooch being lost or stolen.

"Jewelry is meant to be worn," Miranda said pointedly.

"I'll wear it again," Andy said. "I promise. It's just too nice for everyday."

"Hmm," Miranda said. "Wear it to the party next month." Her eyes gleamed with secret pleasure.

"Okay," Andy said slowly. "What are you up to with that, anyway?"

Miranda did not reply but, wonder of wonders, put the dishes in the dishwasher. For both of them.

After Andy dressed, put on her boots, and collected her jacket and bag, she and Miranda regarded each other in the hallway. It felt strange: sort of awkward and happy and wistful and sad all at once. "Well," Andy said. "Have, um, a good day tomorrow, then."

"Yes," Miranda said. "I'll see you on Monday."

"Call me if you need anything before then," Andy said, and realized that had sounded stupid on a number of levels. She grimaced, but Miranda only gave her a tolerant smile and nod. Andy realized that Miranda probably tolerated Andy's idiocy more than she ever tolerated anybody else's. Which was only fair, since nobody tolerated Miranda as well as Andy did, period.

They kissed. After the last few radiant hours, Andy felt only a tiny, happy flicker at the touch of Miranda's lips: something that was content to wait for more later, instead of demanding it now-now-NOW, which was good, because she was pretty sure she'd begun to chafe. Before she could say something stupid, she turned and hurried out of the front door, wondering if Miranda watched her as she left.