DISCLAIMER: The Devil Wears Prada and its characters belong to Lauren Weisberger and 20th Century Fox. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks as ever to Xander, who always makes knocking out chapters fun. Also much appreciation to the others authors in our awesome fandom. Yay us, and happy femslash day!
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The weekend passed in a blur of work. No longer consumed with the benefit, Miranda's mind cleared and she focused on The Book as well as Paris. Jane worked over-overtime to set up the rest of the schedules, and she confirmed Miranda's travel plans for after Paris as well. Three days in Monaco, followed by four more in Provence. It was not enough, but it was all they could spare this time of year. Of course with a wireless connection she would be available, but for at least half of the time she would not have access. She'd insisted on a hotel without internet service in Provence, to Jane's surprise.
And delight, Miranda suspected, but she was entitled.
She'd chosen to move the typical Monday morning staff meeting till 10am, as a reward to everyone who had worked so hard at the gala. And she would not arrive in the office until almost 9:30, as a gift to herself. She lazed in bed with Andrea until just past 8, when Andrea had to get up for work. It was a shame, Miranda thought, that they could not do that more often. It was quite pleasant.
The morning was gorgeous, a bright blue sky luring Miranda outside to finish her coffee on the stoop. It was not something she usually did, but she was feeling so refreshed she decided to enjoy the day the way she always had as a young student in London. So many mornings she'd sat outside her Chenies Street flat, smoking Silk Cuts (a brief aberration), drinking coffee and eating crumpets. Today of course she would not sit, but it would be enjoyable, nonetheless.
She unlocked the door and started to open it, but lost her breath when someone pushed against it, knocking her backwards. Her mug flew across the foyer and cracked in pieces, spraying coffee everywhere. Stephen bulldozed his way inside, his white dress shirt wrinkled and unbuttoned far enough to reveal his undershirt. A moment later, she recognized the familiar smell that accompanied him.
Adrenaline spiked through her, and she did not move. He shook a newspaper in her face. "You You have ruined me."
"You and your little slut assistant. What the fuck are you doing, parading around like two peacocks all over the city? Have you no shame?"
"Stephen, I think you should leave."
"Well, tough shit, sweetheart. This is your fault. You and that girl god, she seemed so normal. The only one of the group of you who was actually nice." He laughed darkly. "What do I know? You were probably fucking her down here the entire time we were married, while I was upstairs in bed, waiting for you to finish work. I am an idiot!" He glanced around wildly, and to Miranda's utter horror, he spotted the Alfonso Vargas portrait of Andrea on the wall. He went straight for it, smashing it against the wall. The glass shattered, but Stephen took no notice as he reached inside the frame and ripped out the picture, tearing it to pieces.
The police. She had to call the police. She made a beeline for her phone, but Stephen raced after her, knocking her bag off the table when she reached for it. "You and your girlfriend are in every paper in the city, did you know that? I can't even go to work without someone mentioning you. Every fucking day. 'Hey, did you know Miranda's girlfriend?' they ask. 'She's so hot--you should have gotten a piece of that while you had the chance.' They've lost all respect for me. And it's your fault!" He put a hand around her throat and shoved her against the wall, and she had a thought: You should have run while you had the chance. "You cunt," he breathed.
He moved away from her and went for the vase of flowers she kept on a table, throwing it against the wall. Everything on the mantel went next with one sweep of his arm, and when he tried to bring the bookshelves down off the wall, she grabbed her bag and bolted.
Outside, she dialed 911 frantically, but Roy pulled up to the curb and was out of the car instantly. "Stephen's inside," she said. "I'm calling the police."
Roy took off into the townhouse despite Miranda's panicked "No!" She was giving her address to the dispatcher when it occurred to her that she might be in trouble if she was standing on the sidewalk when Stephen ran outside. Quickly she got in the car and locked the door behind her, and just in time. Stephen flew down the steps, hands bloodied, and took off around the corner. Roy stumbled out after him, hand on his jaw. Miranda closed her eyes and took a deep breath before continuing to explain the situation to the police.
Still holding the phone, she exited the car in a flash. "Are you all right?"
Roy nodded. "He took a swing but he only just caught me. Could have been worse if he wasn't three sheets to the wind."
"Let's go in." They both hurried up the stairs into the townhouse, slamming the door and locking it.
Only then did Miranda realize where Stephen might be headed. "Oh my god," she breathed into the handset.
"Ma'am, stay calm. The officers are nearly there," said the disembodied voice on the other line.
"No, you've got to send someone to Andrea's office. He was very angry."
"Who are we talking about? I need the details please, slowly."
"Andrea, Andrea Sachs. She works in the New York Mirror building, on West 44th and I can't remember the cross street. Seventh floor." Miranda believed Stephen might be too drunk to figure out how to find her, but every article about them mentioned where Andrea worked. He couldn't be that stupid. "How quickly can you have someone there?" Her voice was loud, and it hurt her ears. Stephen wouldn't really do anything, would he? He'd never raised a hand to Miranda in all the years she'd known him Until today. She touched her throat, recalling the pressure of his fingers.
"Okay, I've got the address. We'll have someone there in less than five minutes. There should be a car pulling up to you right now."
Miranda glanced out the window. "Yes, they're coming. But my girls," she croaked. "Twins. Cassidy and Caroline. They attend Dalton. He wouldn't go after them, I think. But--"
"The Dalton School?" Miranda heard a flurry of typing. "I've got a car on the way."
"Don't take them out of school--I don't want them home right now." She looked around at the wreck visible from the foyer. She didn't want to imagine what other damage he'd caused.
"You let us handle that, ma'am. Are the officers there?"
"Okay, can you speak to them?"
"How will I know when someone's reached Andrea?"
"I'll be in touch. You can let the officers in now, ma'am."
"Oh." Miranda blinked, and she pulled the door open. "Thank you."
"Don't you worry, ma'am. Let the officers do their jobs."
Miranda closed the phone when the man and woman stepped across the threshold, glancing at a shell shocked Roy. She lurched forward and put her hand on Roy's arm. "If you hadn't been here " she began.
"It's okay, Miranda," he said softly, putting a huge hand atop hers. "I was."
He never called her Miranda.
"Hi Ms. Priestly," the female officer said gently. "I'm Sergeant Kilborne, and this is my partner Sergeant Samuelson. Let's have a seat and you can tell us what happened."
She nodded, and led them inside.
Andy was only half paying attention to Jenny's story pitches for the week when the conference room door opened. Stan stood there, eyes wide, and two police officers stepped into view behind him. "Andy?" Stan said weakly.
Andy frowned. "What, am I under arrest?" she asked, joking.
"Ms. Sachs, we need to speak to you," one of the men said, and thirteen heads around the table swiveled to look at her.
"Why?" she said, standing and easing around the chairs. "What--" she said, and was suddenly gripped by fear. Police arriving at a person's workplace meant only one thing.
Dixon was at her side in a moment. "I'm coming with you." He pulled her from the room and shut the conference door behind him. "Okay, let's hear it."
"Ms. Priestly is fine, but her ex-husband broke into her townhouse this morning and damaged some property." Andy's hand flew to her mouth. "She was concerned that he might come here."
Andy stared. "For me, you mean."
"We don't know, Ms. Sachs, but we wanted to be certain you were safe." The officer nodded to his partner. "You'd better make the call." The second officer stepped out of earshot to use his walkie. "Will you come with us?"
"Of course, yes," Andy said, feeling a little dizzy. "Dixon "
"Go," he said, eyes understanding.
"I'm so sorry."
"Yeah, because this is all your fault. It's a family emergency. Call me later and we'll work it out. But I might want an exclusive."
Andy managed to laugh, knowing he was teasing, but she owed him. A story could be in the cards. She kissed his cheek. "Thanks, boss." Quickly she ran to her desk and slammed her laptop shut before shoving it into her bag. "Okay, let's go."
They used the siren, for which Andy was grateful. Less than ten minutes later, they arrived at the townhouse, and there was already a swarm of cameras hovering around the perimeter. Cops kept them back, but Andy would have to go through them to get inside. Once out of the car she kept her head down till she heard a familiar voice shout her name. "Andy!"
She looked up, and the flashbulbs went off. It was Leo, one of the nicer photographers. "Is she okay?" he shouted over the din. "They won't tell us anything--we got word of a domestic dispute on the scanner."
"She's fine. Later, all right?"
"You got it, kid."
She leapt up the steps, and an officer opened the door for her. A couple of people were taking photographs of shattered glass in the foyer. "Miranda?" She raced through the house, barely noticing the mess around her, and found Miranda in the kitchen with a detective. "Miranda," she breathed.
"Andrea," Miranda said, her voice thick with relief. She swayed and Andy stepped forward to catch her in an embrace. "Andrea," she said again, trembling. "Thank god."
"I'm fine. Are you fine?"
Miranda nodded, but did not loosen her grip. Public displays were not like Miranda; Stephen must have scared the shit out of her. "Can we have a sec?" she asked the detective over Miranda's shoulder.
The woman nodded and motioned for the officer who had followed Andy in from the car to step out of the room. When they were alone, she let herself embrace Miranda more fully, pressing her lips to one shoulder. "We're okay. We're okay."
Miranda just pulled her closer. It felt as though she might shake apart, so Andy just held on and rubbed her back. "Shh," Andy soothed, rocking her back and forth.
"Andrea," Miranda huffed. "I am very glad to see you."
"I'm glad to see you too. Can we sit?" With a nod, she eased Miranda back onto a stool at the counter. She stayed in the circle of her arms. "I don't want to interrupt what you were telling the detective. Maybe we should bring them back." Andy desperately wanted to know the whole story, but other things were more important right now.
"All right," she said, her voice rough.
Andy kissed a soft cheek, and the crinkles at the corners of Miranda's eyes, before calling out, "Hello?"
The detective poked her head into the kitchen. "Hi?" Andy waved her in.
"Sorry," Andy said.
"Not a problem. Ms. Priestly was just telling me what happened. We were about at the end of it, I think."
Miranda said, "Yes. Um, I was outside, correct?"
The detective checked her notes. "Yes. And your driver pulled up."
Miranda heaved a deep sigh. "Roy got out and rushed inside, though I asked him not to. I got in the car in case Stephen came out, and called the police. I was on the line with them when Stephen emerged, and he went down to the corner and turned right. I didn't see him after that."
"Okay. Then what happened?"
"Roy came out, and I could tell that he was injured." Andy gaped. Worse than she thought, then. "It wasn't bad," Miranda said, turning to Andy. "Stephen was drunk. In any case, we went inside and locked the door, and the police arrived not long after that."
"Any ideas where Mr. Tomlinson could have gone?"
Miranda shook her head. "None. We haven't spoken directly in almost eighteen months."
"People's habits don't change that much over time. Can you give us some names of friends or acquaintances he might go to?"
"I suppose. I'd have to get their information from the study."
Andy followed the two of them into the study, which was fortunately intact. Miranda was digging in a file cabinet when an officer stepped into the doorway. "We got him," the man said.
The detective exhaled. "Great. Where?"
"He went home."
Andy was enormously relieved, and she could read the same on Miranda's face. She seemed to dissolve into the seat, leaning her head back in the chair and shutting her eyes. Only then did Andy realize that Miranda's throat was sporting an angry red streak along one side. "What is that?" she said, her tone shrill. Miranda's head came up, and Andy pointed. "There."
Miranda covered her neck with a hand and looked guilty.
"Ms. Priestly, I thought you said he didn't touch you," the detective said.
"I didn't say that exactly," Miranda said. "I--"
"You need to see a paramedic," the woman said, and Andy stood angrily.
"What happened?" Andy demanded.
Miranda flinched. "He shoved me against the wall."
"Let's go." The detective stood next to Miranda's chair and seemed to will her to stand. Andy approved. Miranda followed her out of the room almost meekly.
They sat at the kitchen table while an EMT performed a series of tests on Miranda to discern whether she was concussed, and Andy sat quietly at her side. Nothing seemed to be wrong, other than the bruise that was starting to show on Miranda's pale throat. Andy wanted to be sick. She wanted to punch something. But most of all, she wanted to kill Stephen for being such a complete asshole.
"You're certain it was just once?" the detective asked again.
"I swear," Miranda said, and rolled her eyes.
An eye roll. Good sign, Andy thought. "What's going to happen to Stephen?"
"He'll go to the precinct, where he'll be booked if you and Roy decide to press charges."
"I will. I am," Miranda said firmly.
The detective grinned. "Great. They'll keep him long enough to get sober, and he'll lawyer up and be released on bail. Chances are, he'll make a plea, pay a fine and get community service. His record is clean with the exception of a DUI last year."
Miranda raised an eyebrow. "I hadn't heard that."
"They could add a court-mandated alcohol abuse program."
"What if he comes back here?" Andy asked.
"You can file a restraining order. They're hard to enforce, but it helps. Other than that, you can hire private security if you're concerned."
Andy looked to Miranda. "What do you think?"
"I don't know," she said uncertainly. "I haven't felt afraid of him before. He drank to excess near the end of our marriage, but I never thought "
"Why did he pick today?" Andy asked. "Was it what I said at the party?"
Miranda watched her steadily. "I think it was the cover of Saturday's Post. He had a copy with him."
I should have known, Andy thought. It was a great photo; the two of them side by side on the red carpet, glowing with happiness. There was a smaller shot inset, of Andy kissing Miranda's cheek, accompanied by the headline, "MIRANDY: THE NEW BRANGELINA!" Andy had been embarrassed beyond belief by the silly moniker, and in the hour she'd been at work today she'd heard it three times.
"What do we do now?"
"Stay calm. Clean up. Call your lawyer. I've seen a lot of these cases, Ms. Priestly, and they don't usually come back, but we're happy to put a detail outside for the next 48 hours." Andy figured that was because of Miranda's stature in the community, but she wasn't going to complain.
"Thank you, Detective O'Hara, you've been a great help." Miranda reached out to shake the woman's hand.
"My pleasure. Here's my card--if anything comes up, please call me, night or day. And I mean that."
Andy shook the detective's hand as well after pocketing her card. "Thank you so much."
"I have to go to work," Miranda said, staring at her sitting room.
The couch had been upended, books were strewn across the floor. The glass had been swept and disposed of, and the shredded portrait of Andrea was tucked away upstairs and out of sight. Most of the other photos of her on the first floor were also smashed or otherwise destroyed. Remnants of the amphora vase Miranda purchased after receiving her first paycheck from Runway all those years ago was in a plastic garbage bag in the kitchen. It was no Ming, but she'd loved it, and now it was gone.
Her throat ached a little. "I want to go," she repeated.
Andrea held her hand as they shared the loveseat. "Jane is sending someone to clean up," she said.
"Fine," Miranda said, and deliberately did not touch her neck.
"Try not to take anyone's head off today, okay? Jane is freaking out, and I heard Amanda crying. Just let them be nice to you. They care, no matter what you may believe."
"I know," Miranda said. The sound of Nigel's voice on her voicemail disturbed Miranda; he'd heard about the situation on the news, since she could not seem to keep one iota of her life private any longer. His anger at Stephen and concern for her safety made her immediately delete the message. She had to stay calm, for her own sanity.
"Can you pick up the girls with the driver later?" Miranda asked. "I'd like someone to be with them."
"Of course. I spoke to Dixon. I'm taking the day off."
"Sensible," Miranda said.
"The car's ready when you are," Andrea said. "Amanda rescheduled Diane for lunch tomorrow and pushed Demarchelier to 4:00. You'll be a little packed but you'll make it."
The room was silent for a few moments, and Miranda looked over at Andrea. She was staring blankly at the wall, gazing into nothing. "Darling," Miranda said.
"Are you all right?"
Andrea did not move her eyes. "Yeah."
"We can talk more later."
Miranda made no move to leave her seat.
"This is totally fucked up." Andy shook her head at the wall. "Totally."
With a sigh, Miranda replied, "It is."
"I'm probably going to be really angry later," Andrea warned. "I'd like to go to that jail cell and punch Stephen's face in."
"I'm glad he's behind bars then. We don't need a lawsuit on our hands."
"No judge would give him a cent after today."
"Well, regardless. Don't stoop to his level."
Andrea frowned. "You take the fun out of everything."
"You're not the first to say so," Miranda said, a little sadly.
At that, Andrea leaned her head on Miranda's shoulder. "Are you sure you want to go in?"
Looking at the mess around her, Miranda nodded. "I have to."
"Okay." Andrea stood and offered a hand. "Come on. I have a lot to do." Their fingers entwined, Andrea led her to the door. Carefully she adjusted the Hermes scarf that would hide the mark Stephen left behind. "That's better. Call me. Every hour."
"That's a bit excessive."
"Every two hours, then. Humor me. I've had kind of a bad day," Andrea replied.
"I'll try and find the time." Miranda drew one finger down Andrea's warm cheek. "I love you."
"Love you," Andrea replied, pulling Miranda into a sudden embrace. "Be careful. And don't let the cameras drag you down, okay? You look beautiful. The pictures will be just like every other shot they've ever taken."
"You'll speak to them after I leave?"
Andrea nodded. "Just that Stephen was here, and if they want more information, they'll have to harass the cops for a statement. I'm sure they already know everything. Maybe they'll go away after that."
Miranda did not think so. "Hope springs eternal."
Andrea kissed her then, gently, as though Miranda might break. This won't do, she thought, and held Andrea's head in place, tasting her thoroughly enough to leave them both breathless. "Much better," she muttered when they parted.
Blinking blearily, Andrea grinned. "You smudged your lipstick."
Miranda glanced in the mirror and did what she could, but she really didn't care. "See you tonight."
Outside, the cameras were voracious; she ignored them. Someone who was not Roy rushed out of the car and opened the door, closing her in as quickly as possible. Sunglasses firmly in place, she sat back and shut her eyes for the remainder of the trip.
Andy hated not having Roy as a driver. The guy she ended up with looked like a secret service agent, and he wore far too much aftershave. She'd have to put in a call and request someone else.
Roy, of course, was officially on vacation. A week now, and another soon after Paris at the location of his choosing, wife and two children included, all expenses paid.
Miranda was nothing if not generous. He'd actually tried to resist the gesture, until Andy shook her head and waved her hands. Later, she told him, "You might feel like you did nothing, but in my book, you saved the day. Let her do this for you. Believe me, she can afford it. Which you well know."
His eyebrows had gone up then, and he nodded. He was going to let his wife choose the location. Smart man, she thought.
The car pulled up to the curb, and two uniformed guards escorted the girls up to it when Andy rolled down the window. The cameras were kept at a greater distance here than in most places, which was a big help. Cassidy scrambled in, followed by Caroline, and they both snuggled up to Andy. "Is Mom okay, really?" Cassidy asked.
"Yeah, she is."
"I hate Stephen."
Me too. "I'm not so crazy about him myself," Andy replied.
"What about Roy?" Caroline asked. "I read online that he got in the middle."
Andy wondered exactly how much they'd heard, but it was too late now. "Stephen clipped his jaw, but he's okay. Your mom gave him some time off."
"So we're stuck with Mr. Stinko up there?" Cassidy frowned.
Shh, Andy mouthed. "I'll take care of it," she whispered.
Two heads bobbed in understanding.
When they arrived home, Andy held the hands of both girls so they were a united front climbing the stoop. The cameras stayed at a respectful distance for a change, and the girls refrained from their usual mugging. Inside, the place was a damn sight cleaner than it had been that morning, but there were still empty spaces. That afternoon she had replaced most of the pictures with other frames and photos, though Alfonso's portrait would have to be reprinted. Andy knew the vase filled with fresh flowers was not as pretty as the original. And unfortunately, the mantel remained bare for the moment. There was nothing she could do about that; Stephen had broken every item on it with great diligence. Bastard, she thought for the hundredth time that day.
At Andy's request Carina made a light dinner of salad and chicken. She wasn't up for eating much. She was, however, ready for a glass of wine. The pinot gris was sweet and cool, and she set her glass down noisily as the girls moped at the kitchen table with their homework. As much as Andy wanted to put on a brave face, she felt exhausted. Caroline soon dropped her pencil and crept into Andy's chair, wrapping an arm around her. Andy felt something inside break loose, and finally she let the tears roll down her cheeks. After a moment, she sniffled. "Sorry. I'm trying to keep it together."
"You don't have to pretend, Andy." Cassidy pursed her lips before adding, "I cried today."
"Me too," Caroline said. "We don't mind."
"Thanks, guys." Andy rested her head against Caroline's.
Not long after that, Miranda arrived home and breezed into the kitchen as though nothing unusual had happened that day. "Who died?" she asked.
"Hi, Mom," Cassidy said, and went in for a hug. Miranda kissed the crown of her head.
"How are you, my girl?"
"Okay. How are you?"
Miranda went to the kitchen table and kissed Caroline, who did not budge from Andy's side. Miranda fluffed Andy's hair away from her forehead and looked into her eyes. She trailed a path down her cheek where tears had recently fallen. "The house looks lovely. Thank you."
"Jane handled most of it."
"Not the important things." A thumb brushed across Andy's lower lip. "Is that dinner?" Miranda suspiciously eyed the bowl of greens, and the chicken still warming on the stove.
"Yeah," Cassidy whined.
"Well. I don't think so." Miranda dropped her bag on the counter. "We're going out. I'm ravenous, so be ready in five minutes."
"All right!" Cassidy pumped her fist.
"Miranda," Andy began, "I don't think--"
"No, no," Miranda interrupted. "We're going. You might want to wash your face first." Phone in hand, Miranda hit a speed dial. "Amanda, yes No, this is not about the Book. I need a reservation for four at Serafina Fabulous Yes, tonight. Eight o'clock Good." She hung up, and no one moved. "I won't sit in this house tonight and be miserable. Stephen ruined my morning, Patrick ruined my afternoon, and I'd prefer to enjoy myself for the remainder of the day. All right?"
Cassidy took off like a shot, and Caroline followed, the two of them racing up the stairs to change. Andy stared up at Miranda and took a breath. "All right?" Miranda repeated, this time a little more softly.
Andy nodded. "Yeah." She stood and walked into Miranda's open arms. "You're a smart cookie."
As she peered at the ceiling, Miranda said, "I spoke to my therapist today. She advised me to get out of the house and see people. Staring at the wall will do none of us any good."
Andy did her best to control her features. Lightly, she said, "You didn't tell me you went back to therapy."
"I didn't want to discuss it yet."
"How long have you been going?"
"My first appointment was the week after we were outed."
Wow. Shows how much I know. "Is it working?"
A slight nod was her reply. "Very well."
"I'm so glad, Miranda. Really." She was. At the moment, she was jealous. Maybe she could get a referral for someone herself.
"She implied that you may be traumatized."
"How's that? I wasn't even here."
"Our home was violated. The police came to your workplace. You cleaned up and dealt with the aftermath. And beyond that, you've been thinking about what happened all day. Dr. Golden says it's very common for sensitive people to suffer vicariously." Miranda tipped up Andy's chin, looking her in the eye. "Would you agree?"
Andy shrugged helplessly. So she'd been imagining what it had been like for Miranda, to the point of taking Stephen's actions much further in her mind's eye. If she hadn't had something to occupy her time, it would have been impossible to get through the day. "Maybe."
Miranda simply nodded. "I thought as much. In any case, I do want to enjoy our evening. The girls I'd like to make things as normal as possible. They need to feel safe."
"Absolutely." Andy closed her eyes and pressed her forehead to Miranda's. "Have you heard anything about Stephen?"
"He'll be released tomorrow."
"Are you nervous?"
Miranda tilted her head. "No. Honestly. I'm certainly not afraid, and I have nothing to be ashamed of. I almost feel sorry for him. He's going to be crucified by the press."
"He deserves it," Andy insisted, vitriol lacing her tone.
"Stephen's problems are not about us, or even me," Miranda said softly.
Of course she would know better than Andy would, but still. "He'd better get his shit together."
"Yes. Enough about him. Would you like to change? Not that you don't look good enough to eat in that outfit," Miranda said suggestively, "But you may stand out from the crowd in a tank top and little sweatpants at Serafina."
Andy rolled her eyes with gusto, which brought a tiny grin to Miranda's mouth.
Dinner, by all accounts, was delightful. The photographers went berserk when the four of them departed the townhouse, but their shouts fell upon deaf ears. The girls were intent on having fun at Miranda's behest, and the lines on Andrea's forehead relaxed significantly. Martinis arrived immediately at their table, which took the edge off. Miranda deliberately kept the conversation light, and Andrea followed her lead, resulting in one of their most pleasurable nights out in recent memory. Miranda supposed if she tried hard enough, she could have fun more often. It didn't take much effort; just a little care and attention.
The next few days went by in a rush. The paperwork for the affair was handled by her legal team, and soon the entire thing was resolved. As expected, there would be no trial, and Stephen was fined and assigned community service. She had Jacob to thank for dealing with it so quickly. Money talked, and Miranda was more than willing to spend it in this case. Perhaps she'd send Stephen the bill when all was said and done.
It did not distract her too much from the Paris preparations. The date was fast-approaching, and she had an enormous amount of work to do. But unexpectedly, Jocelyn had gone above and beyond Miranda's expectations, and Jane and Amanda were already a well-oiled machine. The September issue had come together nicely, which would make her upcoming vacation far more pleasant. Things were working out. And no one could have been more surprised than Miranda. Perhaps her attempts at expecting the best out of people instead of the worst were working in her favor. She would have to discuss it with Dr. Golden at length in her next session.
The following Saturday morning, Andrea went out for a run, and Miranda worked on the Book in the study. The girls were dutifully doing their homework early, but Miranda knew it would only happen this once. Next week, they would surely return to their typical Sunday night race to complete it all.
The phone rang, and without looking at the caller ID, Miranda picked up. "Hello?"
"Don't hang up," Stephen said.
Miranda dropped her pen and tried to catch her breath. Her good mood fled. "You have thirty seconds."
"Listen, I'm sorry. I'll never be able to apologize enough. I didn't have my head on straight for over a week. I was on a bender."
She snorted. "To put it mildly."
"You sure know how to cut me to the quick, Miranda. Always have." She heard him sigh. "I fucked up."
"Yes, you did."
"Not the first time, and not the last. I'll be gone for a while, which I'm sure will be a giant disappointment to the Post. I get to keep my job if I spend 90 days at Betty Ford."
"I'm a drunk, Miranda. I'm not stupid."
With a nod of her head, she had to give him that. "True."
"I don't have an excuse. And I won't do anything like that again."
"I hope not. I don't want to redecorate a second time."
"Christ, Miranda, can you be serious for one minute? Could you talk to me like a human being?"
The pain in his voice was apparent. Long ago, they'd wounded one another a thousand times over, and he'd suffered willingly. They both had. "You scared me, Stephen. It's been more than a year since I've seen you. What am I supposed to say?"
"Say you forgive me. Say you're sorry it turned out this way."
"Of course I am!" she said, her voice rising. "I didn't marry you so we could end up hating one another. I'm not so cruel."
"It's fucking hard to see you smiling all the time, by the way. I never saw you smile so much with me. Takes a lot out of a man."
She shook her head. "I don't know what to say, Stephen. We've been over for a long time. I don't know how to end it more than I already have."
"Don't worry, babe, it's ended. I got that." She waited, expecting more. "Celia left me a few weeks ago."
Oh god, no wonder. "I'm sorry."
"I never hurt her," he reasoned.
"You mean you never hit her." Miranda knew the difference. She remembered what it had been like near the end, and she'd tried to make it work for reasons that made little sense to her now. Thank goodness he'd had the sense to walk away.
With a bitter laugh, he replied, "You're right, of course." She heard him take a long breath. "I loved you, you know. A lot."
Tears came to her eyes, against her will. That feeling she once had for him rushed back, as well as the devastation when it had all burned up and blown away like so much ash. "I loved you too. I don't know if you'll ever believe that, but it's the truth."
"I believe it." He swallowed. "Gotta go, babe."
He hung up without saying another word. Staring at the phone in her hand, so silent and still, Miranda allowed herself to weep. She pushed the Book aside and leaned her head on the desk, shoulders hunched and shaking as she sobbed. She cried for herself, for her mistakes, for the broken past with Stephen that would not mend.
Finally, she lifted her head and wiped her face. When she grabbed a tissue, her favorite photograph of Andrea caught her eye. It had been taken in this very room, months before. She did not want to imagine what Stephen would have done had he seen it, or the others from the same set that hung in their master bath. Andrea's sensual expression stirred something in Miranda that went beyond sex. It was the source of everything between them; a connection that began so strangely and morphed into something Miranda could not have predicted. Whatever it was fed Miranda's soul and tethered her to the world in a way she had not experienced before.
She touched Andrea's face, sliding her finger along the line of her body. Gazing on that easy smile, she resolved not to let their relationship disintegrate the way things had with Stephen, or Jeremy, or anyone else. She would make it work, and be grateful for whatever Andrea gave her. Even when that meant, if the time came, having the grace to let her go.
Another week passed, leaving only six days before they were to depart for Paris. Andy was nervous, and not simply because she was returning to the scene of her previous crime.
Miranda was at the office for another Saturday, and the girls were spending a long weekend with Jeremy before they all jetted off to France. That left Andy some time to herself.
She grabbed her cell and dialed before she chickened out.
"Doug. I need you."
"Andy, what's happened?"
"It's a jewelry emergency."
"Oh, that I can handle. Hang on." She waited a few seconds. "Okay, describe the emergency."
"I need you to come to Cartier with me and buy a ring for Miranda."
There was a gasp. "A ring! Holy shit, are you two running away to Massachusetts? Or Belgium?"
She laughed, and some of the tension left her stomach. "No, not really. I'm not proposing or anything. It's just a ring. That's sort of about, I don't know, commitment, or something. But not marriage." She wasn't ready for that, and assumed Miranda was in no hurry to walk down the aisle a third time.
"Wait a second, did you say I needed to buy the ring?"
"Because they'll recognize me. And word might get out. And then she'll know, and everyone will start following us again--we've only been in the clear for a week since the thing with Stephen. I just want the ring, and you're the man to get it for me. You can buy it for your 'girlfriend,' who's not me of course, and I know exactly what I want. You can poke around for a few minutes, I'll give you some fake advice, and you hand over the cash. Which I'll give you in advance." Andy bit her lip. "Are you in?"
"Duh! You know I love to pull the wool over the press's eyes. You think anyone will buy it?"
"I don't know, but I couldn't get the ring online. So it's this or nothing."
"Goody. When are we going?"
"What time can you get here?"
He snorted. "You're in no rush then." She heard him take a gulp of something. "I'm at a coffee shop on 14th, so probably half an hour. Cool?"
Andy paced for all thirty three minutes it took Doug to arrive. "Hey," she said when she opened the door.
"Jesus, you look like shit. What's wrong?"
Andy mopped her forehead with her hand. "I don't know, I just got nervous all of a sudden. Sick to my stomach. Jittery. I've never dropped this kind of cash on anything before."
"How much are we talking?"
She looked at him. "Three thousand dollars."
His eyebrows rose. "Well, I've heard worse. Cheaper than a car, though. Where'd you get the money?"
"I've been saving up, and now that I'm not paying rent, I'm kind of swimming in cash."
"Ah, to be a kept woman," he sighed. She punched him in the arm. "Hey!"
"Don't even joke. Let's go before I lose my nerve." Andy grabbed her porkpie from the closet and shoved her ponytail up inside it. Sunglasses completed the disguise.
"You're not fooling anyone, you know. Those glasses are too obvious. You look like an Olsen twin ducking paparazzi."
At that moment, Andy realized that's exactly what she felt like.
Doug reached over and took the Gucci shades off her face. "Don't be so worried. We're just going out, and you're helping me buy a pretty ring for my gorgeous girlfriend, right? You don't need to hide from anyone. You have to believe the lie for anyone else to, though. Can you do it?"
She chewed her lip. "Yeah. Sorry."
"Pshaw," he said, waving his hand. "Let's do it."
It was a gorgeous day, and Andy was in the mood to walk. As they strolled the twelve blocks in the sunshine, they chatted about their respective jobs. Doug was curious about Stephen, and Andy told him all she knew. He was at Betty Ford now, and as Miranda expected, the press had been all over him till the moment he got out of town. Rehab would be a blessing for him in more ways than one.
But Doug had better news. "I uh, went out on a date last night."
"Oh my god, I am so self-centered. I didn't even ask how you were! With who?"
"Um, well, remember Gina, who did your make up for the gala?"
"Yeah! She works for Alfonso." Andy loved her; she had a calming presence that worked wonders with Miranda. She was now their go-to gal for any events that required heavy lifting. "You're dating a lesbian?"
He rolled his eyes. "No, I had lunch with her last week, and her friend Joe came along. He does lighting."
Andy remembered him very well. He'd seen her mostly naked during her photo shoot, after all. "Stop it. He is so cute!"
"I know," Doug said. "And the best part is he thinks I'm cute too."
They high-fived. "Fantastic. Are you seeing him again?"
He nodded. "Tonight."
"Wow! You think this might be something?"
"I don't want to get ahead of myself, but Yeah. I like him. A lot. He doesn't seem crazy, he's got a good job, he's creative, he's gorgeous. I mean, today he seems perfect. Tomorrow, maybe not so much. But I'm excited. It's been a long time."
"This is great," Andy said, looping her arm under his. "You deserve to be happy, Dougie. You have to call me first thing in the morning to report in, okay?"
"Yes, ma'am," he said, saluting. "So you know when you're going to give this ring I'm buying for my girlfriend to your girlfriend?"
Andy grinned. "I've got an idea. It's pretty simple, but I think it will work."
Andy did, and Doug approved whole-heartedly. His enthusiasm made her feel better about it all for some reason; shared anxieties were far easier to handle. And he was sure Miranda would be thrilled. Andy thought she would be too, but then again, she was so unpredictable.
By the time they arrived at 52nd and 5th, Andy was nearly giddy with anticipation. She'd have to tone it down if she was playing the part of a friend giving out advice. They stepped through the hallowed doors, and briefly, Andy was overwhelmed. It sported a stunning interior that even smelled good. Moments later, a man was at their side. "How may I assist you?"
Struck dumb, Andy let Doug answer for him. "Uh, yeah. I'm looking for a ring for my girlfriend. From the orchid collection?"
"Of course, sir. This way."
They trailed after the very tall man into a second room, lit beautifully by glowing counters that displayed sparkling jewels. "Renata will assist you," the man said, and a pretty brunette came out from behind the counter with a smile.
"Hi," Doug said, shaking the woman's hand. "Can I see the rings from the orchid set?"
"Of course. Did you have something in mind?"
"I think so," he replied, while Andy peered behind the glass. There were diamond-encrusted pieces everywhere that were far out of her price range, but Andy didn't spare them a glance. She saw what she wanted immediately. Renata selected half a dozen rings and set them out on the counter. Doug caught Andy's eye and motioned her closer to inspect them all. "Which one do you like, Andy?"
"Um, I'm sure she'd like that one," Andy said, pointing to the one she wanted.
"Oh, it's not for you then?"
Andy shook her head. She'd considered trying to play the girlfriend, but her fingers were a size and a half larger than Miranda's. "No, but I know her taste."
"Of course," Renata said, her eyes narrowing slowly. Andy wondered if she recognized her.
Doug hemmed and hawed, appearing to consider his options. "I think you're right. Do you have it in a 6?"
"Absolutely. One moment." Renata disappeared, while Andy tried not to look too interested. She returned with an open box. "Here you are."
Doug took it and showed it to Andy, who pulled it from the velvet. She stroked the pink gold petals of the flower. "Perfect." She looked up at Doug. "This is the one."
Doug nodded, and Andy replaced the ring very gently and closed the box. "Can you wrap it up?" she asked, meeting the saleswoman's eyes.
"It would be my pleasure," she replied.
Suddenly the ring felt heavy with meaning, and Andy was embarrassed when tears came to her eyes. She leaned against Doug, who put his arm around her. They were alone when she looked up at him. "It's just a ring, right?"
His expression was tender. "It's whatever you want it to be."
Renata returned with a beautifully wrapped box. "Here you are," she said, sliding it across the counter. As Doug discussed payment with the woman, Andy drifted off to look over some of the other pieces. She thought back to the orchid that had started everything, the one that sat on Miranda's desk at the office. How nervous she had been when she'd chosen it, uncertain how it would be received. She'd wanted Miranda to like it so much. To like her. Suddenly, Andy realized she'd made an error that had to be rectified. Turning around, she heaved a breath and went straight for Doug.
"Hold it," she said. "I need it engraved." She looked at Renata. "Can you unwrap it and have it engraved?"
The woman's smile said it all. "Of course. Right away." From beneath the counter she presented a form to write the words exactly as Andy wanted them to appear. "And I promise, Cartier is the soul of discretion, miss. You have nothing to worry about."
Andy blushed, embarrassed at trying so hard and then blowing the ruse in a single moment. The saleswoman clearly recognized her. She shrugged. "Thanks." She wrote down the words and slid them over.
"Very good. Let me show you the fonts you can choose from."
Andy poured over the various lettering, discussing the differences between hand and machine engraving. "If it's hand-engraved, can I have it by Friday?"
"It usually takes up to ten days," the woman said hesitantly, and Andy's face fell. "Hold on."
Renata disappeared, returning a few minutes later. "Come in Tuesday. We'll have it ready."
Andy glowed with pleasure. "Oh, thank you so much. That's wonderful. Really."
She glanced over at Doug, who shook his head. "Next time I have to stand in line for anything, you're coming with me," he muttered, out of the saleswoman's earshot.
"You got it."
By the time Miranda raised her head after hunkering down for last-minute preparations, it was Friday. Her things were already packed by the time she got home that night, courtesy of both Andrea and Jane. Miranda was relieved beyond belief that everything was ready. Sometimes she could not fathom how Andrea was able to hold down a full-time job and still do so much for her. Occasionally she wondered if her lover would stay at the newspaper, or if she'd consider writing freelance for other publications so she could have fewer restrictions. But it was not Miranda's place to direct her career, so at the moment, she resisted the impulse to make a recommendation.
Even the girls were packed, passports organized and clothes laid out for the morning flight. She sighed as she lay back on the bed, sated from a late meal of risotto and salad, prepared by Andrea's own hand. Gazing over at the exhausted face of her lover, she considered herself one of the luckiest women on the planet.
"Darling," she said.
"Huh?" Andrea replied, jerking awake.
"I saw Jeremy for dinner last night."
"Really?" That perked her up.
"Mm." He'd called that afternoon to say he was in the city for meetings, and would she care to have supper? As much as Miranda had been tempted to go home and eat with the girls, she knew she was going to have to go back to the office anyway. Nipping out for a quick meal with Jeremy was easier. Besides, Andrea had worked late as well, to wrap up as much as she could before her two weeks of vacation.
"How was he?"
"He was agreeable. Far more than he has been lately."
"I'm sure he heard about Stephen."
Miranda nodded. "Yes. I think that may have changed his perspective on a few things. And he was remarkably complimentary toward you, of course. Everyone these days seems to like you more than they like me. Can you tell me why that is, Andrea?"
Andrea rested her head on one hand and blinked deliberately. "It's my mascara. Makes my eyes much bigger. I just flutter my lashes and everyone falls under my spell," she said with a perfectly smug grin.
Miranda narrowed her eyes and considered slapping the rear end that was within reach, but she thought it might start something she was too tired to follow through on. Instead, she said, "That is outrageous. My eyelashes are just as attractive."
"Yeah, but you don't flutter yours." Andrea rolled over and rested her head on Miranda's shoulder. "You know I'm teasing. If you mean Jeremy liking me, we get along. He tries hard with the girls, and he did me a favor, so I owe it to him to be nice."
"Yeah. If he'd been a better guy, you two might still be married. And then where would I be?"
Miranda laughed at that. "You do have a unique perspective on the world, I'll give you that." She was supremely touched, and brushed her lips against the cool skin of Andrea's forehead. "And your eyelashes are very pretty. Regardless, Jeremy seems to have come around to the idea of us together, and he was quite angry about Stephen's outburst. He seemed almost protective."
"I'm sure. He cares about you. I think he always will."
"Perhaps." Miranda found she cared about him as well, which astonished her. They had made great progress over the last year, and the things she'd once liked about him had resurfaced little by little. "It was good to see him. He wished you luck on keeping me from working during our vacation, by the way."
"Don't worry, I have it all planned out."
"That sounds suspicious."
"Nothing you need to concern yourself with."
Andrea nodded, rubbing her cheek on Miranda's collarbone. "It's simple. When the girls aren't around, I'm just going to go naked to keep you distracted."
"Really." Miranda thought if Andrea really made such an attempt, it might work. "So as we explore the wineries of Provence, you'll be giving the rest of the town a show?"
"Mm-hmm," she breathed, nudging her knee against Miranda's thigh. "I had designs on you tonight, but I'm so sleepy."
"It's all right, darling. We'll find time in Paris."
"Not with the girls in the next room!" Andrea was scandalized.
"We won't all be together every second, Andrea. You leave that to me."
Exhaling, Andrea settled back down and closed her eyes. "Okay."
There were a lot of things Andy loved about being with a woman as wealthy and powerful as Miranda Priestly. At the top of the list was getting a first class seat on one of British Airways' new luxury jets.
She'd actually been able to catch up on rest she'd missed over the last few days, stuffing in her soft earplugs and flopping down almost as soon as the seat belt sign dimmed. She awoke peacefully, rolling over and blinking calmly under her eyemask. Sighing, she smiled. There was nothing, nothing in the world like having a bed on an airplane. Half the flight was over by the time she awoke.
Miranda was just next to her, going through notes, and the girls were both sprawled out on their respective seats a row back, watching movies. Andy sat up blearily and gave Miranda a lazy grin. "Hi."
"Hi. Feel better?"
"I hope so. You snored."
Andy pursed her lips. "Well if I'd slept more than three hours last night I wouldn't have."
Miranda flipped a page. "You're cranky." She waved a hand, and a flight attendant appeared. "Please bring Andrea a skim latte, no foam. With an extra shot."
"Right away, Ms. Priestly."
Andy leaned back. This was heaven. And Miranda even said "please."
They landed four hours later, and Andy felt almost refreshed. She had loads of activities planned with the girls over the next few days, scheduled around various shows they'd attend both solo and together. The au pair the twins had when they were toddlers was spending the evenings at the hotel with them. That left nights free for parties and dinners, and with luck, a bit of sight-seeing.
Excitement sprang up in Andy's stomach thinking about it all. Miranda touched her elbow. "All right?"
"Perfect." She glanced into her oversized Balenciaga and spotted the red box she'd been concealing. Five more days, she thought.
As they strolled toward the baggage claim, she spotted Jane with her little pad and pencil at the ready. Before Andy even had a chance to say hello Miranda was rattling off a series of commands, which Andy tuned out after, "Did you confirm with Giorgio for drinks tonight?" She was perfectly comfortable to be dragged around by the ear, and had no interest in paying attention to Runway business. Not today, at least. They had another day before the shows began, some of which she'd spend with Nigel and James. The boys were enjoying great success since their fall show in February and were already gearing up for Bryant Park again. Miranda would be in meetings for much of the day, which was fine with Andy. She had every intention of enjoying her vacation, considering it was the first one she'd had in... well, she couldn't remember. Christmas, maybe. But that didn't count, since it was four days split between family in Ohio and a couple of nights with Miranda and the kids.
She and the girls trailed after Miranda, with Andy holding one small hand in each of hers. At the entrance of Charles de Gaulle, flashbulbs went off. Miranda paused briefly when she noticed the cameras, letting the three of them catch up. She put a hand on Caroline's head and glanced at Andy. "Bienvenue à Paris," she said in a low voice.
Andy put on her best camera smile. "Merci," she drawled.
It was always a whirlwind, Miranda's week in Paris; the shows, the meetings, the parties. This year was no different, but it felt special having Andrea and the girls with her. Thus far Andrea had made a stellar impression, and all of the design houses had received the two of them like royalty. Andrea in particular had attracted an unusual amount of attention, which instilled in Miranda a deep sense of satisfaction. She'd given only final approval on each of Andrea's ensembles, at Andrea's insistence. And Miranda did approve. Whether she had acquired a fashion point of view by osmosis or otherwise, Miranda didn't care. What mattered was that when Andrea sat next to her at the Ungaro show, or across the dinner table at Le Meurice, or lay a few inches away from her in their bed, she was the most beautiful creature Miranda could imagine.
Paris loved a beautiful woman, so they loved Andrea. Not as much as Miranda did, but it was enough.
After three days of nonstop work, Miranda decided it was time for a short respite from the world of fashion. She wanted to spend a few minutes alone with Andrea, as promised. It took some finagling with Jane to make it happen, but by Wednesday she'd carved out exactly thirty minutes between Elie Saab and Jean-Paul Gaultier. They would cut it close, but even thinking about it made Miranda's breath hitch.
She deserved this, she told herself. And no one would have to know.
"Do not be late," Miranda told Andrea that morning.
"Are you kidding? I'll be naked by the time you walk in the door," she replied with a smirk.
"With Aurora. I spread it around that we'd be at the Rodin museum, which we will be, but later. Not that it matters. No one pays any attention to me here. It's pretty great," Andrea said casually.
Miranda had smiled, and thought her endearing. She really had no idea.
And so Miranda found herself rushing through the hotel just past 1:45, barking into her cell phone for Emily to pick her up at 2:15, but no earlier. She repeated herself, just in case. She keyed her way into the room and slammed the door shut, pulling her scarf off as Andrea flew into her arms with a giggle. "Hi, gorgeous," she growled, unzipping Miranda's skirt and pushing it off her hips in one fluid movement. "Finally."
Miranda grabbed her head with both hands and kissed her, the tension draining from her body the instant she felt the flutter of a tongue against her lower lip. The kiss went on till Miranda felt almost faint. She leaned against the door when Andrea slipped her hands beneath the silk of her underwear, dipping low into a pool of wetness. Miranda's knees weakened, and Andrea pulled away and dragged her to the bed. "Take this off," Andrea said quickly, plucking at her collar. "You're going to sweat."
Miranda shivered, and glanced at the clock. 1:48. "Hurry."
Andrea licked her lips. "We have plenty of time."
She shed her blouse and reached for Andrea, who eluded her embrace and pushed her down onto her stomach. A wet mouth descended onto her lower back, and Miranda arched up when she felt a tongue flick at the cleft of her ass. One hand reached between her legs and encouraged her to lift up, which Miranda did without hesitation.
"Like this, okay?"
"Ungh," Miranda grunted, already on her hands and knees.
Andrea was right; she was going to sweat. She was slick, having drifted into a fantasy in the car on the way over. Andrea's fingers slid in easily, starting a slow cadence, back and forth. Miranda bit her lip when she realized Andrea was bumping up against her from behind, moaning in time with her thrusts. The soft voice that drove her wild was muttering, something about her smooth white skin, the heat of her mouth. "They think you're so icy Oh, Miranda, what would Gaultier say if he knew what you were doing right now?" she asked. "They're rushing around to get ready for the show, hoping to impress you, and here you are, not giving a shit about anything but coming so hard you'll scream yourself hoarse." Andrea gave a shove then, making Miranda whine and tilt her pelvis for a better angle. "What would they all say? You think they'll be able to smell it on you? Hmm?" Her pace quickened. "Think they'll be able to tell you just took it from behind?" She laughed then, and Miranda trembled. "I bet they think you're always the one in charge, huh? God, if they only knew how fucking hot it was "
At that point, Andrea sat back and pulled Miranda up, flush against her body. She reached around and rubbed her clit, other hand still moving deep inside. "Oh Jesus, Miranda, just watching you makes me come," she said, before burying her nose in Miranda's neck and wailing her release. It was too much, and Miranda arched, grabbing Andrea's hair. She came like a shot, focused only on the unbearable pleasure coursing through her body, and the whimpering cries that beat against her throat.
Their rhythm continued, slowing as they both came down. Miranda let her head fall back to Andrea's shoulder. She groaned in satisfaction.
Andrea chuckled as she tried to catch her breath. "Me too. I needed that."
Miranda turned her head and found Andrea's wicked mouth for a kiss.
After an efficient shared shower, Miranda was re-dressed in her original suit inside ten minutes. Andrea eyed her, clad only in a Calvin Klein pencil skirt and bra. "Not a hair out of place," she said.
Miranda spotted the clock. "Just in time." As though she'd summoned it herself, there was a knock at the door. She kissed Andrea once more. "Delicious."
"See you at 6:30," Andrea whispered, standing behind the door when Miranda stepped out into the hall.
She felt refreshed, like a new woman. There was nothing like a fantastic orgasm to brighten up the day. But when she saw the look on Emily's face, she wondered exactly what was going on.
"You you forgot your scarf," Emily said with a stutter. "You Oh my god, Miranda, are you cheating on Andrea?"
Next to her, Serena gasped. "Emily, what are you doing?" the other woman breathed.
Miranda lifted an eyebrow. "Excuse me?"
"You've got a bite mark on your neck," Emily said brazenly, actually pointing a finger, her eyes wide. "Andrea's with the children, your children, at the Rodin museum. She told me herself that she'd be gone all day." Emily's voice was shrill, getting louder by the second. "You are not having an affair. I won't have it."
With a sigh, Miranda realized she'd better go back for the scarf. Damn Andrea and her oral fixation. And damn her own pale skin that showed every mark, every time. "Stay here," Miranda said, and unlocked the door.
Behind her, Emily shoved the door open and went crashing into the room. There stood Andrea, much like the proverbial deer in headlights, only half-dressed and holding a pile of clothes to her chest. Miranda's missing scarf hung from her index finger. "Hi?" she squeaked.
"Oh. Well," Emily said, bluster gone in an instant. "Right. Good. I'm glad to see you, Andrea. Thank bloody god is all I have to say." Casually, she turned to Miranda and nodded. "The scarf?"
Miranda searched her cold heart, determined to rustle up some righteous indignation. Unfortunately, she found it difficult to hide a grin. She blamed the sex for her good mood. Stepping forward, she took the wisp of fabric and wrapped it around her throat. "Apparently you were a little over-zealous."
Andrea cringed. "Sorry. I totally missed it."
Miranda waved a hand. "No matter. Have fun with the girls." She kissed her cheek, unable to resist such a charming blush.
Once in the hall, Emily did not look away, though Serena clearly wanted to sink through the floor. "I'd apologize, but I'm not really sorry," Emily said nonchalantly. "I'm just thrilled I was wrong. What a disaster."
Miranda adopted her most threatening glare. "What did you mean by invading my privacy in such a way? Have you forgotten who signs your paychecks every month?"
"Of course not, don't be silly," Emily spat, backbone firmly in place. "But Andrea doesn't deserve betrayal. She's a wonderful person and I'm relieved you appreciate her."
Miranda's mouth dropped open, just a little. "Wonderful?"
"Yes," Emily said. "We're late. The car's downstairs." With that, Emily strode off. Serena gaped at Miranda before turning to race in the direction of the elevator.
Unable to help it, Miranda laughed. She was going to have a very interesting conversation with Andrea later that night.
"Wonderful?" Andy threw her head back and cackled. "Geez, things must be going really well with Christophe."
Next to her in bed, Miranda leaned back against the headboard. "Who?"
"Emily is seeing a therapist?"
Andy laughed even louder until Miranda covered her mouth. Andy pushed her hand away. "No, she's dating a therapist."
"You're not serious."
"I am totally serious. I introduced them!"
"At the gala. She caught his eye, and I, well, worked my magic."
Miranda scoffed. "It was more than magic. She would have clawed my eyes out if she'd seen anyone other than you in my room."
Andy felt a swell of affection for Emily then, and snuggled into Miranda's side. "I'm sorry if you were embarrassed. I've never been uh, caught like that before."
"I wasn't embarrassed. And Emily impressed me today. She never flinched, even when I threatened her with death," Miranda twirled her hand in the air, "or something like it."
Andy sighed. "Maybe our little girl is growing up."
Miranda spanked her bottom. "Don't be vulgar."
Enjoying the sting, Andy waggled her eyebrows. "You didn't mind so much this afternoon."
"Mm, no, I didn't." Miranda got that look of satisfaction that made Andy feel quite full of herself. "Not in the least."
"It was fun, wasn't it."
Miranda looked her in the eye, and after a moment's hesitation, said, "You have brought a great deal of fun to everything in my life. More than I can ever remember having."
Sometimes Miranda said things that took Andy's breath away. She was never prepared for it. Her heart squeezed within her chest; it was reminiscent of when she first realized that Miranda cared deeply about her. Her instinct was to play it off. "Not everything," she said, shrugging a little.
But Miranda surprised her yet again. "Everything that matters," she said softly, rolling Andy over beneath her.
Andy gazed up, blinking slowly. "I love you, you know. All the time. Every day."
"I know," Miranda said. Her eyes were steady and warm, silently telling Andy what she wanted to hear.
Miranda loved her just the same.
"Wake up," someone whispered, and Miranda blinked.
The light was on, and Andrea was already fully dressed in a summery Collette Dinnigan Miranda had given her especially for today. "What?"
"It's eight o'clock. We have breakfast with Alexander in less than an hour."
Miranda covered her eyes. She hated jet lag. Her sleep had been restless, and she'd gotten up in the middle of the night to work. "God, seriously?"
"Your things are laid out, and the girls are leaving in ten minutes. I'll be back in two shakes." Andrea kissed her cheek and skittered out of the room so unsteadily Miranda worried for her safety. She doubted Andrea would ever walk well in five-inch stilettos.
Staring at a rather beautiful oil painting hanging on the wall, Miranda wondered after the fact where Andrea had disappeared to. She sighed and rolled out of bed, stumbling toward the shower.
To her astonishment, there was a steaming venti Starbucks waiting for her on the bathroom counter. Andrea was lucky that she'd gone, otherwise Miranda might have taken her to bed, and they'd have been late for breakfast.
Which was delicious of course, and the company was delightful, if a bit crass. Alexander, like everyone, adored Andrea, and thought Miranda was "a fucking star" for emerging from the closet with such a gorgeous girl at her side. Andrea grilled him on his upcoming work, and he preened under the spotlight of her wide-eyed attention.
What made it all so wonderful was that Andrea was truly interested in what he had to say, and better yet, in what everyone in the industry had to say. She did not simply sit at Miranda's side with the occasional nod, looking bored. She was engaged, and engaging, and yes, that word that Miranda found herself thinking far too often these days: adorable.
"I don't remember him being so nice to me on the phone," Andrea said as they walked toward the car after their meal. "He was always in a hurry."
"That was when you were my assistant, darling. I'm sure he finds you far more interesting now that you're my companion."
Andrea grinned as she turned to her, hair falling in glorious waves around her face. "That's a nice word. I like it."
"Mm," Miranda said, and got into the car. They took off for the Grande Palais, and Miranda enjoyed the quiet, knowing their final day of shows would be a circus. Next to her, however, Andrea fidgeted. And fidgeted some more. When she started tapping her foot so quickly her leg seemed to be vibrating, Miranda lifted a curious eyebrow. "Should we find a bathroom?" she asked dryly.
With a squeak, Andrea choked on her own breath. "No, no I'm fine. Fine. Ha. Sorry." She sat back in her seat and clasped her tiny clutch in two hands. Miranda watched, transfixed, as her knuckles went white.
"Hmm?" She didn't move her head.
"Seriously, no problem," she said, and sat forward to speak to the driver. "Right here is perfect."
Miranda glanced around. "This isn't far enough. We need to go to the Grande Palais, not the Place de la Concorde."
Andrea turned around and swallowed once, visibly. "It'll only take a minute."
Glancing at her watching, Miranda said, "The show starts at 11, and I'd like--"
"11:30," Andrea interrupted.
Miranda pulled out her cell phone. "I specifically recall Jane saying it was at 11."
As she dialed, Andrea put a gentle hand on her wrist. "That was a little fib. Which she told at my request, so don't take it out on her. Come on." Andrea slipped from the car.
In a huff, Miranda followed. She tried to reign in her irritation. "I don't see what we're doing here--" Miranda looked around, and her heart started to thud heavily in her chest. Across the street, on those very stairs
Andrea sensed the change immediately. "It's all right, see? Just for a sec. There's something I need to do. Come on," she repeated.
Miranda felt one hand curl around her arm, and their shoulders brushed. Everything came into sharp relief then; the clouds danced high above, as patches of sunlight raced across the sidewalk. Miranda felt hot and cold all at once, and she gripped Andrea's hand tightly, holding it in place.
"I'm not going anywhere," Andrea murmured, and Miranda felt her heart calm. She had gotten very frightened in a short span of time. The memory, edged like a razor, of turning around and realizing Andrea had left her side, not for a moment, but for good It was more powerful now, two years later. When it first happened, Miranda had known nothing at all of Andrea's heart. She'd been enraged, incensed. A little hurt, even. She'd seen so much promise in her.
Miranda shook her head. She'd had no idea, back then.
Today, she knew. She stroked Andrea's fingers lightly and leaned closer.
They approached the fountain, the few tourists nearby paying no attention to them despite their beautiful dresses. "So, I wanted to come here, to fix something," Andrea began. "I always think about this place fondly, because I know if I hadn't walked away, we wouldn't be together today. Does that make sense?"
"You called me, right away, when you saw I was gone, remember?"
Andrea laughed then, and blushed. "I threw my phone into the fountain."
Eyes wide, Miranda glared. "So that's where it went."
Glancing at the shimmering water, Miranda let her off easy. "You've made up for it since then."
Andrea's cheek rubbed her shoulder. "You say the sweetest things." She took a huge breath. "Anyway, I suppose I just wanted to come here and make a new memory. So I could see pictures of Paris, and think about how much I loved it, and you, and the girls, and our life, I guess. And I wanted to give you something." Andrea stopped next to the fountain to reach into her purse.
And held out a compact red box, just large enough to hold a ring.
Miranda looked at it, confused, and held out a trembling hand. She didn't touch it. "What's this?" she whispered.
Andrea rolled her eyes. "It's a gift. You have to open it to find out."
So, with heart pounding anew, Miranda took the box and opened it very slowly. There, resting on a bed of black velvet, lay an exquisite gold ring in the shape of an orchid, with a tiny diamond nestled in the center.
"It matches, see?" Andrea said, touching the sparkling necklace that rested against her own throat. Her smile wobbled a little, as though she were about to cry. "Do you like it?"
A thousand things flew through Miranda's brain at that moment. She recalled the orchid Andrea had once bought her, the desperation of their first kiss not long after. Realizing that her children knew the way she felt for Andrea, and approved. And later, her ultimate comprehension that what she felt was love, and that she would cherish Andrea for as long as it lasted between them.
She glanced down again. It was a simple ring, elegant and lovely, and Miranda knew once she put it on, she would never take it off. "Yes," she said, "I like it." Their eyes met, and Andrea glowed with happiness. "Would you help me?"
Andrea slid the ring from the velvet and held it out. "It's, um, I had it engraved."
Miranda licked her lips, and with no small amount of embarrassment, reached into her pocket and produced her reading glasses. "Let's see, then, shall we?"
Andrea handed it to her, and Miranda held it up to the light. There was the expected Cartier stamp, but around the inside of band, in an elegant script, were the words, "for my Lady M."
Miranda felt a little dizzy, and she blinked furiously. "My," she said. "Well." She read the words again, and looked closely at the perfectly shaped ring. "I I don't "
"Here," Andrea said, and she took the ring and Miranda's right hand. "This one, okay?" Miranda nodded as Andrea slipped the ring down her finger, where it glinted in the light. "That looks really nice, doesn't it," she said proudly.
Miranda held out her hand and admired the way the sun caught the diamond's brilliant luster. "I don't think I've ever received anything so beautiful," she said, her voice cracking slightly.
"Oh, come on, now," Andrea said with a skeptical expression.
But Miranda caught her eye and silenced her with a single look. "I don't think I've ever received anything so beautiful," she repeated, more slowly.
Andrea understood the second time, and she smiled. "I'm so happy. I wanted you to like it."
Looking back down at the ring, whose inscription seemed to burn like a brand against the tender flesh of her finger, Miranda tilted her head. "I do, Andrea. I do, very, very much."
Several Weeks Later
Andy hummed along with the satellite radio, leaning back in the leather seat. The traffic was a lighter now as she sped past a few trucks on the highway toward East Hampton. Leaving at 5:30 in the morning on a Friday made the trip better than it would have been that night, but the hundred or so miles still crawled by during the worst of it. They were not far from the house now, and Andy wanted to stop for gas and get a quick breakfast so they could enjoy the morning without worrying about groceries or cooking.
She sighed. Life was good.
The sun shone on the new BMW that purred delightfully under Andy's skilled hand. A couple of weeks ago when Miranda casually mentioned that she was in the market for a new vehicle, Andy had perked up, and immediately started researching options.
All of which Miranda shot down.
She wanted a convertible. A fast one. A Prius was off the table, to Andy's dismay.
"It looks like a football. Absolutely not," Miranda said. "I want an Audi."
Andy came back the next day after hours on the net and put her foot down. "Not an Audi. They get terrible gas mileage. It's obscene."
Miranda had huffed. "Then find something else. A convertible. A fast one."
Andy's compromise was a BMW (her mother was horrified at the expense), but not the highest-performing one available. Miranda had been charmed by the salesman's pitch for the M3, but Andy had dragged her in the direction of the less glam 335i, which got 27 miles to the gallon instead of 20. Miranda had rolled her eyes, and Andy pointed to the pale metallic blue one in the showroom. "The color's like your eyes," she murmured to Miranda, whose lips pursed promisingly. Thus, the deal was made, and the car was delivered a few days later with as many bells and whistles as Miranda could get included.
A week went by before the car's maiden voyage, and the wait was worth it. The car was like a dream. An expensive dream, but it could have been far worse.
That morning, Andy packed the trunk while the twins crawled into the backseat in their pajamas, and Miranda complained about leaving so early. Of course she'd worked till 1 in the morning the night before to accomplish all she'd needed to, so Andy understood.
Remarkably, the three Priestlys slept almost the entire way there, which gave plenty of time for Andy to think about the coming weekend. And the plans she'd made.
With Miranda's birthday only days away, Andy had made a few calls and rounded up a motley crew of ten to come to the house for dinner Saturday night. Without Miranda's knowledge, of course. Miranda had not wanted a big bash as per usual, and had insisted that Andy not schedule anything "festive."
But because Andy so often knew Miranda's thoughts before Miranda had them herself, she had very easily disregarded that directive. Better to suffer the consequences of a superficially annoyed Miranda than deal with a sulky one who did not get to enjoy her birthday in the company of friends.
And since Andy made all the plans, she went a little overboard by flying Alice Waters in from San Francisco to cook dinner for the guests. Doug nearly fainted when she'd told him, and she thought Miranda might be pleased too. She hoped so, at least.
A while later, Andy spotted what looked like a good place to stop. When she lowered the gear, the change in speed woke Miranda. "Where are we?" she said blearily, wiping the side of her mouth.
Moments like those reminded Andy that Miranda was as human as the rest of the world. She stroked Miranda's cheek after they rolled to a stop. "About fifteen miles away. It wasn't so bad. I thought I'd get some coffee and stuff for breakfast. Want to come in with me?"
"If they have a clean bathroom."
Andy wanted to laugh. This was the only road to East Hampton. They would, without a doubt, have a clean bathroom. "I'm sure they do. Come on in. Hey, girls, you hungry?"
From the backseat, Cassidy moaned like a wounded animal, while Caroline sat up and blinked. Andy was startled by her expression, mirrored on Miranda's face only moments before. "Can I have coffee?" Caroline asked.
Andy glanced at Miranda for the answer. "Just today. With half milk. I don't want you bouncing off the walls all morning."
"Thanks, Mom." She nudged Cassidy. "We can have coffee," she whispered, and Andy thought it sweet that whatever went for one twin, so it went for the other. Fortunately the promise of their mother's treasured beverage roused the grumpier girl from the seat, and she climbed out of the car after Andy.
The shop was indeed clean, and well-stocked with baked goods and gourmet coffee. Andy bought a fresh bag of beans, as well as two loaves of bread only an hour out of the oven. There were little tables inside, so they sat and ate, the girls tearing into their pain au chocolat while Andy and Miranda shared fruit and a poppy seed muffin. The bell on the door jingled as travelers came in and out, and at least one woman recognized them. Andy had gotten used to the immediate jolt that went across people's faces, and because Miranda was, well, Miranda, people almost never approached. They'd keep their distance, and Andy usually smiled, and Miranda paid no attention. Or Andy didn't think she did.
When they were finished, Andy thanked the store clerk as they left with their goodies. Outside, the day was gorgeous and warm, but breezy. "I think it's time to put the top down," she said, and the girls squealed in delight.
Miranda looked at her, and nodded once in agreement.
Andy produced the remote. "You're going to love this." With the touch of a button, the windows went down, and the hard top retracted into the trunk in about 30 seconds. Caroline was wide-eyed as Cassidy whooped and hollered.
"Awesome. Do it again!" Cassidy cried.
"Later," Andy laughed. "Let's get to where we're going and then we'll see."
Miranda reached into her bag and pulled out a scarf. "Wear this over your hair," she said. Before Andy could even consider whether she wanted to or not, Miranda had wrapped the thing around her head and tied it under her throat.
"Uh, okay," she said, and glanced in the side mirror. She took the oversized sunglasses from the vee of her blouse and put them on. "Cool."
When Andy straightened up, Miranda's eyes were oddly soft. Tender. Andy couldn't tell what had just happened, but whatever it was made her melt inside, and fall just a little more in love. Her cheeks were hot, and she watched in wonder as Miranda blushed in reply.
Andy bit her lip and glanced at the girls, who were focused on each other and their coffee. There was no one around except the cars racing by on the road, so she leaned in and brushed Miranda's lips with her own. "Ready?"
"Mm," Miranda assented, licking her lips as though tasting what Andy left behind.
"Let's go then." She patted Miranda's hip as they separated, eyes drawn to Miranda's figure as she crossed in front of the car. Lucky me, she thought.
Once in the driver's seat, she turned off the radio and plugged in her iPod. The first song that came on suited her mood perfectly, and she pulled back on the road and hiked up the volume.
"Is that the Beach Boys?" Cassidy asked over the music.
"Yep," Andy called back with a huge grin, the car leaping forward as she changed gears. She glanced at Miranda. "I love this!" she said.
"So do I," Miranda said, smiling serenely.
She peeked into the rearview mirror to see the twins waving their arms in time with the music, and for a magical moment, it was like she was flying. With Miranda's fingers resting gently on her thigh, the road unfolded before her, and the future beckoned with an open hand.
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