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The Christmas Shoot

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Kathryn Janeway, CEO of Elias Clarke publishing house, stepped off the elevator and strode through the lobby. The marble floor echoed her every step as she maneuvered with ease despite her four-inch heel Christian Louboutin pumps. As she passed the security desk, she remembered to veer off and step in behind it.
The African American young man stood from his chair and Kathryn half expected him to salute.
“Ms. Janeway. What can I do for you?”
Kathryn read his nametag. “Good afternoon, Noel,” she said amicably. “I need to talk to your new head of security. Is he in yet?”
“Um, yes, ma’am. Ms. Hansen has been in the office since seven this morning, I believe.” Noel colored faintly. “I can show you in.”
How had she missed that the new head of security in Elias Clarke’s high rise was female? Kathryn shook her head. “No, that’s fine. I know the way.” She stepped around Noel who moved so fast to get out of her way, he nearly toppled over. Instead he landed in his chair on wheels and careened toward the copy machine, stopping just before he slammed into it.
Kathryn smiled to herself as she reached the door that had a brand-new sign. Annika Hansen, Head of Security. Annika? Sounded Nordic or German. Hansen suggested any of the Scandinavian countries. Kathryn knocked on the door.
“Enter,” A cool, sonorous voice, easily heard through the oak door said.
Kathryn opened the door and stepped inside. “Ms. Hansen, my name is Kathryn Janeway. I wanted to welcome you to Elias Clarke personally.”
“I know who you are.” Annika Hansen stood, no, towered, behind the desk and extended her hand.
What an odd thing to say—and was it said with a hint of disdain? Kathryn wasn’t sure. “I hope you will enjoy working here.” Kathryn squeezed Hansen’s hand firmly.
“I’m sure I will. Please, sit down.” Hansen motioned to one of the leather visitor’s chairs. “May I offer you something to drink.” Her manner was as coolly polite as her looks. Dressed in a dove grey trouser suit over a crème white blouse, her blond hair kept in an austere twist, and with a minimum of makeup, she regarded Kathryn…no, she studied her.
“I’m fine, thank you. I wanted to talk to you about the penthouse party later this month.” Kathryn crossed her legs and let her hands lay calmly in her lap.
“I’ve read up on it already. Considering the guestlist, I’ve put together a list of concerns from a security point of view.” Annika pulled a folder from a pile.
“Oh?” Kathryn accepted the folder. “I’ll have my assistant look it over—”
“I would suggest you set aside some time to peruse this yourself, considering the high-profile guests that are invited.” Hansen’s ice blue gaze didn’t waver.
The reprimand was clear, and it didn’t sit well with Kathryn. She considered herself a firm, but benevolent, CEO of the famous and prestigious publishing house, but she was also used to being in charge and her subordinates rarely questioned her orders. Especially employees who had been with the company for less than a day. Elias Clarke had outsourced most of their security needs to a well-renowned firm, but the head of security was always an employee. When the previous one was about to retire, Kathryn had trusted him to hire the best to take over. Annika Hansen was clearly the one, but Kathryn wondered what her predecessor had been thinking.
“Very well, I’ll take your advice and look it over tonight.” Kathryn spoke coolly and then stood and so did Hansen. “Have you had the chance to meet the different editors-in-chief?”
“Almost everyone. Mr. Bonner took me on a tour through out the building two weeks ago and I met everyone but you and Ms. Priestly. You were both out of town at the time.” Hansen’s matter-of-fact words showed no special reaction when she mentioned Miranda Priestly, the much-feared and adored editor-in-chief of Runway fashion magazine—Elias Clarke’s flagship. That would no doubt be an interesting meeting, whenever it came to pass.
“Very well, you’ll get the chance soon.” Kathryn nodded briefly. “I will get back to you regarding this. This time.” She hoped the message would go through clearly. “Have a good evening.”
“You as well.” Hansen moved closer and escorted Kathryn to the door. Her perfume was something very fresh, like clean cotton, and she was at least three inches taller than Kathryn. Glancing down, Kathryn saw Hansen wore black flats to her shoes. Ha. Make that seven inches.
After leaving the office, Kathryn walked out to the chauffeured town car waiting for her just outside. As she was halfway across the wide sidewalk, a young, beautiful brunette came running, carrying two mugs of Starbuck coffee, a stack of flat packages and several garment in white covers. Oh, my. One of Miranda’s poor underlings.
The girl rounded Kathryn skillfully, merely gasping a, “Sorry, Ms. Janeway,” as she threw herself through the doors.
Shaking her head in bemusement, Kathryn passed the driver holding up the door for her and sat down in the backseat. She was going to go home, take a bath, eat something, and, God almighty, read the darn folder.

---XXXXX---


“Andrea.” The low, yet demanding-as-all-hell voice of Andy’s boss, the much-feared Snow Queen, Miranda Priestly, made her stand up so fast, she nearly lost her balance. Grabbing her note pad and several pencils—heaven forbid she broke the tip of one and didn’t have backup—and rounded her desk in the outer office. Andy entered the inner office where Miranda looked up, as always with a slightly exasperated expression on her face.
“Yes, Miranda?” Andy remained standing, but then quickly sat down when Miranda merely glared at one of the visitor’s chairs.
“I want another cake for the twins on Saturday. Cancel the unicorn one.” Miranda pinched the bridge of her nose. “They informed me this morning that their cake should have a sloth theme.”
Andy halted her pen. “Sloth?” She immediately regretted asking Miranda anything, since that simply wasn’t done, according to the unwritten rules in this office.
“It is, apparently, a thing.” Miranda obviously let the question slide and merely shook her head in clear bewilderment. “I couldn’t possibly tell you why sloths are suddenly so popular.”
“Zootopia.” Andy cringed at her suddenly so loose lips. “Um. An animated movie.”
“Ah.” Miranda took off her reading glasses and waved them impatiently. “Schedule a meeting with Janeway. Her assistant has reached out via email about some security concern and apparently, I need to be involved, which boggles the mind. Preferably tomorrow.”
Meeting, Janeway, Wednesday. “Yes, Miranda.”
“Make sure my dress is ready for the last fitting not later than on Monday.” Miranda swiveled her chair and glanced out the window. “That new designer is not famous for being early, exactly.” Her voice was a low and intense as usual, but also carried something else, a timbre Andy, who was acutely aware of any change in Miranda’s demeanor, easily detected. Wasn’t there something very odd about her boss this afternoon? Something…forlorn? No, that was ridiculous. Utterly.
“Got it.” Andy wrote it down with several exclamation points. She needed to crack a whip when it came to the young woman who had won a Runway Magazine competition and was now designing Miranda’s dress for the Runway Ball. It was only three weeks away and if that dress was late…Andy shuddered.
“What are you wearing for the event? Anything you’ve found in The Closet?” Miranda turned back and locked her blue gaze on Andy.
“M-me?” Andy cleared her throat. “I haven’t…um, had the time to…I figured I’d do a simple black dress. I mean, I’m staff. Not a guest. Per se.” She tightened her grip of the pencil and the tip did indeed snap against the note pad. Pulling out a new pencil, Andy tried for a casual look, but failed miserably judging from Miranda’s frown.
“Simple black dress? Has your brain suddenly gone simple as well? You are staff, yes, but that means you represent Runway, you represent me, and how could you achieve that in a dreary, simple, black dress?” Raising her chin, Miranda scowled at Andy.
“I’m sorry, Miranda. My mistake. I’ll talk to Nigel.” Swallowing hard, Andy hoped she didn’t sound as subservient as Miranda could make her feel.
“Do that. And I want to see your choice once you’ve narrowed it down. Remember, my dress is maroon. Yours should compliment that. Now, have Roy meet us downstairs. We’re going out in fifteen minutes.”
“Yes, Miranda.” Damn it, fifteen minutes in Miranda-speak, meant ten. At the most. And was Andy going to be glued to Miranda during the whole ball event since she needed to match Miranda’s dress? Usually Miranda bowed out early at these things, but as she was hosting it together with Janeway, this was all night thing.
Returning to her desk, Andy texted Roy and then made phone calls to the cakemakers, who took the sloth change well, thank God, and the fashion designer who started using her falsetto voice at the idea of having a visit from Miranda the following Monday. Janeway’s assistant was, as always, perfectly organized and efficient and Andy jotted down the time and place for the meeting.
When Andy ended the call and looked up, she jumped at the sight of Miranda sitting on the corner of her desk. Behind her, Emily, Miranda’s first assistant regarded their boss with huge eyes.
“Ready?” Miranda tilted her head.
“Yes. Of course.” Turning around, Andy got their coats from the closet behind her and handed Miranda her purse. “Ready.”
Miranda folded the coat over her arm and strode out of the office. “Do keep up, Andrea.”
“Yes, Miranda.” Andy hurried half a step behind.
As the reached the elevator, Miranda let Andy press the button and usher the ones already in it, out, so Miranda wouldn’t be crowded. As the doors closed, Miranda turned to Andy and narrowed her eyes. “Finally, alone.”

---XXXXX---


Miranda found herself mystified by the young woman next to her in the elevator. Having seen Andrea go from an awkward, drably dressed girl to what she was looking at now, a stunning woman, impeccably styled and with an almost regal posture. Unless she tripped on something. Andrea was infamous for stumbling, which could be exasperating. Well, Miranda hadn’t hired her to be a runway model. Instead Andrea had become just as capable an assistant as Emily, her first assistant, which was no small feat.
“Alone?” Andrea blinked. She probably thought Miranda was displeased.
“Yes. All that traffic in and out of my office today has been maddening. I could barely hear myself think.” Miranda pulled a mirror from her purse and inspected her makeup hair. She always looked the same. Same hairdo the last twenty-five years as she went grey already in her twenties. Her everyday makeup was pastel-based and with a discreet winged eyeliner. Dark-pink lipstick. She adjusted her signature s-shaped bangs and then sent Andrea a glance. Her assistant wore her hair loose and her thick dark brown bangs framed her big, brown eyes. Brown wasn’t the correct word. Cognac with an amber ring around the pupils. Yes. “We’re going to check out a location for the Christmas shoot,” Miranda said as she tucked away the mirror. “It’s in a large structure by the Hudson, which Nigel insists will be just what we need when he’s prepared it. I suppose we’ll have to use out imagination.”
“Should I call Nigel and have him join us?” Andrea already had her cell phone in her hand.
“Whatever for? He’s already seen it. I thought I made it clear that I need peace and quite for a moment.” Annoyed, though not really, Miranda snapped her purse close.
“Got it.” Andrea put the phone in her pocket and merely stood there as she elevator descended.
The lobby was bustling, and Miranda felt herself tens up. “God. Is no one actually in their office?”
Andrea didn’t respond. Good. Her assistant knew better than to comment on obvious rhetorical questions. As they passed security, a tall blonde stepped into Miranda’s path and held up her hand. Miranda stopped, impatience coursing through her. Who was this woman? A fan of the magazine? Of hers? She scanned the woman’s outfit, finding it strict and professional, if lacking some imagination. Then her gaze fell upon the name tag. Annika Hansen, Chief of Security, Elias Clarke. Good lord, this statuesque woman had replaced the burly man previously holding the position?
“Ms. Priestly.” Hansen motioned for them to move to the side and get out of the steady stream of staff and visitors. “I have not had the opportunity to introduce myself.” A low, rather flat, alto voice said very little about her.
“And now is not the time. Come to my office another day.” Miranda took a step forward, expecting Hansen to scurry out of the way, which she didn’t.
“I understand that you’re going outside.” Hansen studied Andrea who, as always, stood half a step behind Miranda. “I have to insist you bring one of the guards with you.”
Surprised at what sounded like an order, Miranda glared at Hansen, who, interestingly seemed unperturbed. “And why, pray tell, would you suggest something so preposterous?”
“It is not a suggestion,” Hansen maintained. “If I had had the chance to see you in your office, which I just called, by the way, I could have briefed you. As it is, we have a security situation regarding and I deem it unsafe for you and your assistant to go anywhere unaccompanied. If you’d rather employ private protection, I have no problem with that, but as it stands, the security company Elias Clarke uses have excellent staff.”                                                                                                                 
This gave Miranda pause. A security issue? She glanced back at Andrea who looked concerned. Resisting the urge to pat Andrea’s hand, she merely turned her attention back to Annika Hansen. “My driver will go with us.”
“Not enough. I’m no alarmist, Ms. Priestly—”
“Miranda.” Flicking her hand at being addressed by her surname, Miranda frowned. “Very well. Do you have anyone standing by as we’ve got somewhere to be?”
“Yes.” Hansen raised her hand and a woman in her late thirties, almost as tall as her boss, came up to them. “This is Carmen.” Hansen nodded at the woman. “Report anything you deem as out of the ordinary and escort Ms. …Miranda to her destinations.”
“So much for peace and quiet.” Miranda sighed.
“I won’t keep you any longer,” Hansen said. “Tomorrow during out meeting with Ms. Janeway, we’ll go over the details.”
Issuing another order. Miranda knew she was going to have to deal with that the next day. “Well.” She didn’t have to look behind her as she began walking through the lobby. She knew Andrea was there. Next to her, Carmen strode while scanning the people around them. The fact that she did this with such a serious face, made Miranda feel a pang of urgency. Was there a threat toward her? Were her girls in jeopardy? Reeling herself in, she let Carmen take the lead out through the main doors.
As they walked toward the town car where Roy was holding up the door for Miranda, Carmen made sure that she and Andrea were safely inside before the stepped into the passenger front seat. Clearly Roy had been informed as he didn’t even bat an eye.
“Don’t worry, Miranda,” Andrea said quietly. “I just got a text from Cassidy. She and Caroline are at the townhouse with the housekeeper baking gingerbread snaps.”
Close to gaping at Andrea, Miranda took her free hand and squeezed it hard. “You are certain?” Something in her chest loosened some.
“Very. Look.” Andrea squeezed Miranda’s hand back and held up her phone. A photo of flour covered faces belonging to her daughter grinning madly made her draw a deep breath. “Thank you.” She held onto Andrea’s hand for a second longer and then let go. A thought occurred to her. “Wait. Why are the twins sending you pictures?”

---XXXXX---


Annika locked the door to her office behind her and made a quick stop at the security desk where the two men working the night shift were going through the logs of the day and viewing the surveillance screens.
“I’m heading home.” She placed the strap of her messenger bag across her chest. “I trust you paid attention at the evening shift’s briefing.”
“Yes, ma’am.” The older of the men nodded solemnly. “I for one welcome the running of a tighter ship.”
Annika didn’t show her surprise. Most of the men and women employed by the security firm Elias Clarke used, had regarded her with different degrees of trepidation, some even with resentment, during the day. She read his nametag. “Good to hear, Mr. Johnson.” Annika nodded briskly and made her way across the lobby. Out on the sidewalk, she stopped for a moment and inhaled the crisp air of early November. Fall was almost over and she thought she could smell snow in the air. She hadn’t seen snow for the last two years, having worked in Sydney, Australia. Coming to the US after being headhunted by several firms, she had baffled her handful of friends around the globe by taking this job. It paid well enough, but not the kind of money she could have made working for any of the companies that offered her the moon and then some.
Pulling the belt of her jacket tight, she flipped up her collar as she started to walk. She was still staying at the hotel in Midtown and thought she’d walk a few blocks before she hailed a cab. It was dark, but there were plenty of people in the streets and the idea of yet another night in the impersonal hotel room didn’t exactly make her want to hurry to get there.
“Ms. Hansen?” The throaty voice behind her was easily distinguishable.
Annika stopped and turned around, her right hand resting on top of her bag. “Ms. Janeway.”
“And here I thought I was the only one who enjoyed late night walks.” Janeway stood before Annika, dressed in a red coat over a black pant suit. Black ankle boots and a cashmere scarf completed the elegant outfit.
“I’m enjoying the cool air.” Annika shrugged. “I hope you have a pleasant evening—”
“Wait. I’m on my way to grab a bite to eat. I loathe dining alone. Please, join me?” Smiling crookedly, Janeway stepped closer. “I have a favorite Italian place, very small and unassuming, and it’s just around the corner.”
Annika wanted to refuse, but her brain couldn’t come up with a reason which would sound credible and non-offensive. “Why not? Thank you.” She waited for Janeway to take the lead, which she did so naturally and with such ease, Annika would have known she was a leader even if she wasn’t her boss.
“Whether you are a pasta lover or enjoy pizza…you have to try their carpaccio. If you eat meat, that is?” She glanced quickly at Annika.
“I do.” In fact only once a week at the most. Annika preferred fish or chicken, but did indeed like something like carpaccio on occasion. “I will sample it.”
“You won’t be disappointed. I’ve known the family who owns Il Passaggero for more than a decade.” Kathryn smiled gently. “They’re a loud, but lovely, bunch of people.
“Il Passaggero. The traveler?”
“Yes, but Tomaso says it translates to The Voyager.” Laughing now, Kathryn shook her head. “He’s the oldest son and he’s quite romantic.”
“I see.” Annika really didn’t and she wasn’t sure what to make of the longing look in Kathryn’s eyes when she mentioned this Tomaso.
The small restaurant was indeed only half a block away. A handsome young waiter guided them to a table in the far corner. “Your usual table, Ms. Janeway.”
Janeway smiled at him. “Thank you, Tomaso. How’s your father doing?”
“He’s back at work, ma’am. He’s cooking tonight.” Tomaso placed a pitcher of ice water on the table after having pulled out Janeway’s chair for her. Annika quickly took her seat, never comfortable with someone else maneuvering her seat. “I’ll bring you your menus.”
Annika grabbed the pitcher, but then hesitated for a moment, as it suddenly seemed like such a intimate thing for some unfathomable reason, before she filled Janeway’s glass and then her own.
“Thank you,” Janeway said as she accepted a menu from Tomaso, but her eyes were firmly locked on Annika.
Glancing at the menu, Annika ordered the carpaccio and two other starter dishes along with a glass of red wine. She returned the menu and leaned back in her chair while studying Janeway who was still busy choosing. The auburn hair, perfectly kept in a bob framed an oval face. Even blue-gray eyes, a delicate nose, and finely shaped lips combined with an assertive, no, commanding, persona, made this woman into a corporate legend. If Miranda Priestly ran Elias Clarke’s flagship, and governed through equal parts worship and fear, Kathryn Janeway ruled effortlessly. At least on the surface.
“A penny for them?” Janeway’s voice, laced with mirth, made Annika straighten.
“Excuse me?”
“You seemed very far away.” Janeway raised an eyebrow.
Annika felt her cheeks warm, but fortunately Tomaso was back with their wine. “It has been an intense day.” She hoped Janeway would buy that.’
“It has.” Janeway raised her glass. “Here’s to all things intense…and interesting.” She looked at Annika through her eyelashes as she sipped her wine.
Annika had to clear her throat before she drank. Was Janeway always this…friendly?


---XXXXX---


Kathryn regarded Annika Hansen over the rim of her wine glass. The candle flickering between them on the table cast a soft glow over her flawless alabaster skin and made her ice blue eye darker and glittering as if they held all the secrets in the world. They had eaten in silence for the most part and Kathryn wondered if Annika was as introverted as she seemed, or perhaps shy. That didn’t feel correct because certainly her new chief of security had easily gone toe to toe with her earlier in the day. Of course, Annika had addressed Kathryn in her professional capacity and now that they were in this, well, quite intimate setting in the small restaurant, it was different. Sort of personal.
“Do you need any referrals when it comes to finding a place?” Kathryn asked when the prolonged silence seemed to grow between them.
“I don’t, but thank you,” Annika said politely.
Oh, great. That shot that topic down. “It can be daunting to look for places in Manhattan, but a good realtor should make it less painful.” Oh, dear God. Kathryn moaned inwardly. Now she sounded patronizing as well.
“I’ve resided in large cities before, but you’re correct. Manhattan is special in that respect as well.” Annika placed her utensils to the side of the plate and looked around her, clearly searching for Tomaso.
“I’ll get this,” Kathryn said quietly and nodded at Tomaso’s mother who was clearing a table to their left.
“Thank you, but you don’t have to—”
“Humor me. You can pay next time. It was my suggestion after all.” Tomaso stepped up to them and she gave him her credit card. “Here you go.”
Annika merely nodded. “Thank you. I will.”
Kathryn blinked. So, at least Annika didn’t shoot down that idea of a raincheck at a later date. Imagine that. “Excellent.”
“I want you to use a security guard when you leave work or home.” Annika studied Kathryn intently.
“I rarely go walking alone and if I do, it’s only for shorter stretches like to this place. Kathryn flicked her hand. “I’ll be fine. And please, call me Kathryn when we’re not at the office.”
“I managed to convince Ms. Priestly earlier, and if she can be persuaded, which judging by the look on her assistant’s face was no small feat, so can you. It would actually help if you set a good example as CEO.” Raising her chin in a clear challenge, Annika made no attempt at getting to her feet yet. Clearly, she was on a mission.
Kathryn knew she was trapped. If she didn’t abide by the suggestion from security, other potentially targeted employees could act just as cavalier about these matters. “Oh, by all means. I’ll hail a cab and I’m going straight home. Happy?” Feeling ridiculously close to pouting at the idea of having a security guard shadow her every move outdoors, Kathryn pushed the chair back and stood.
Annika followed suit. “Very. Don’t forget to read the folder I gave you earlier. It will shine more light on why I’m being this careful. It’s not frivolous or an exaggeration on my part.” Setting her jaw, Annika looked stunning where she stood, tall and regal. Kathryn’s heart stopped beating for a few seconds before it lunged into a mad tempo, making her give a muted gasp. What the hell was going on? Where did that reaction come from?
As they donned their coats, Kathryn cast furtive glances at Annika, wondering if the other woman had noticed her unexpected response. She hoped not.
They made their way toward the door, Annika stopping briefly by Tomaso’s mother to compliment her on the food and the restaurant. Outside, Kathryn noticed it was getting much colder than earlier in the day. She raised her arm and hailed a cab. She didn’t mind going by cab, unlike Miranda Priestly who preferred Elias Clarke’s town cars. Turning to bid Annika goodnight, she found herself instead saying, “Where can I drop you off?”

---XXXXX---


Andy knew she had barely dodged the question about why the twins texted her and not their mother directly merely because Miranda quickly became distracted, and annoyed, by rush hour traffic. She had cast an irritated glance at Andy and then pulled out some document from her briefcase.
Forty minutes later, they pulled up by a large structure by the Hudson that looked quite rundown on the outside. Made of red brick and with its black windows, it looked as if it originated from the turn of the last century. A tall man was waiting for them at the gates leading into a courtyard, but when Miranda began to stride toward him, Carmen interjected and stepped in front of her. Miranda stopped so fast, Andy bumped into her side from behind. Miranda grabbed her arm before she toppled over.
“What on earth are you doing?” Miranda snarled, glaring at Carmen.
“Sir. I need to see some ID.” Carmen ignored Miranda, which made Andy fear for the woman’s life.
“Sure thing, Miss.” The burly man handed her a card and Carmen scrutinized it and then nodded. “Very well.”
“Honestly.” Miranda had let go of Andy’s arm and now stepped past both Carmen and the man and walked through the gates. Andy hurried behind her, still feeling the imprint of Miranda’s hand scorching her through the coat sleeve.
Inside the courtyard, they both came to a halt. Wide eyed, Andy gazed around her.
“Nigel.” Miranda spoke softly. “He’s set the stage for us to see his vision.”
“He sure did,” Andy said dreamily. Around them, behind the glass in every window in the four-story structure, a multitude of candles flickered. It provided an amazing ambiance as the sun had set and darkness was falling. “Magical.” Andy wasn’t sure why, but tears threatened to well up and she blinked repeatedly.
Miranda walked to the different corners of the courtyard, slower than usual, perhaps because the worn cobble stones made her four-inch heels precarious. Andy commended herself for wearing more sensible shoes, which was a life saver on coffee or skirt runs. Now she kept close to Miranda in case her boss would trip, and she’d have to return the favor. The mere idea of catching Miranda in her arms made it damn near impossible to breathe.
“Take notes.” Miranda rattled off ideas from every angle of the courtyard and Andy was grateful for what little light the candles provided so she could actually see what she jotted down. It was obvious that they were going to use this location for the Christmas shoot and if she weren’t able to remind Miranda of all her brilliant ideas, there’d be hell to pay.
When they returned to the town car, Carmen again took the front passenger seat and Miranda surprised Andy by pressing the button for the privacy screen. Still holding onto the note pad, Andy half turned toward Miranda. “Yes?”
“What?” Miranda blinked. “No. No more notes today. Call Emily and have her arrange for the Book to be sent to me electronically. We’re not returning to the office.”
“But you could drop me off—”
“No. I honestly don’t much like going through the Book this way, but there’s no way I’m having Roy cross Manhattan again as traffic will be horrible.” Miranda rubbed her neck and rolled her shoulders. “I want to spend the evening with my girls.”
“Yes, of course. Roy can drop me at the first subway station we see and—”
“Aren’t you listening?” Miranda snapped her head to the left to look at Andy, grimacing as she did so. “He’s not dropping you anywhere. You’re going with me to the townhouse. Why I have to repeat myself constantly, I have no idea. You’d think after working for me for more than a year, you’d know better.”
Know what? Andy pressed her back against the seat and tried to figure out what the hell Miranda was on about. Why was she going home with Miranda, and without the Book, or her dry cleaning for that matter? Did she dare bring that up? She had to. “Um. The dry cleaning?”
“I do have enough clothes.” Miranda actually smirked now. “It can wait.”
Now this was surreal. Electronic Book and postponing the dry cleaning. Was the sky going to fall on their heads as well. A small ember of resentment ignited in Andy’s belly. She was used to most of Miranda’s antics, but this was…weird. Still, this was her job, and if Miranda wanted her to sit pretty and lick stamps at the townhouse, or something, then by all means.
Then Miranda spoke again and this time she said something Andy never in a million years would have expected to hear from her.
“Fuck!”

---XXXXX---


Frustration rose with Miranda as she realized what had skipped her mind all day.
“Miranda?” Andrea asked gently, but with obvious shock in her voice.
Miranda ignored her stunned assistant and pressed the button for the intercom. “Roy. Stop at the closest bakery.” She didn’t have to glance over at Andrea to know the young woman was probably gaping at her.
“Absolutely, Miranda,” Roy’s voice assured her. “Two Little Red Hens are coming up in a few blocks.”
“Good.” Miranda turned to Andrea. “I want you to run in and get one Red Velvet and one New York Cheesecake.”
“Um. Okay. I mean, sure. Of course.” Blinking slowly, Andrea managed to look confused in the sexiest way Miranda had ever seen. This notion almost caused her to utter another profanity, but she bit down around it.
As Roy pulled over, Miranda handed Andrea her personal credit card. “This is a private expense.” Miranda hoped Andrea wouldn’t realize that another reason for using her own card was that she didn’t want the office to know of her purchase. Her reputation for “steaks only” could be tarnished. Perish the thought.
Andrea merely nodded and hurried across the street, zigzagging between cars in a way that made Miranda hold her breath in horror. Did the girl have a death wish? To distract herself, she dialed Carolyn’s phone.
“Hi, mom,” her firstborn twin said after one ring. “You on your way home?” There was a cautious tone to her merry voice.
“I am. And I’m bringing Andrea.”
“And the cakes?”
“And the cakes. What are you up to? Andrea said you and Cassidy were baking with Paulina earlier.” Miranda settled in when talking to her daughter, but kept her eyes locked on the door leading into the bakery.
“Yeah, they turned out great, but mostly because Paulina kept an eye on the timer. If it had been up to me or Cass, we would have burned half of them.” Caroline giggled.
“Oh? How so? You’ve been able to tell time since you were four.”
“Because BTS just released a new music video, mom!” The voice was almost identical to Caroline’s, but Miranda could easily distinguish Cassidy’s energy and intonation. “It’s freakin’ awesome!”
“Cassidy. Language.” Miranda shook her head. “BTS? Is that a group?”
“A group. You make them sound like barber shop singers.” Cassidy huffed. “It’s K-pop, mom. And those boys are the cutest you’ve ever seen in your life.” Of the two, Cassidy was the boy crazy one and at age twelve…
“K-pop.” Even Miranda, despite being ancient in her daughter’s eyes, knew of the popularity of Korean pop music. In fact, she’d scheduled a shoot with some of the most popular young women in early 2020. “I hate to sound dreary, but is your homework done? We’ll have dinner when Andrea and I arrive and—”
“And why’s Andy coming? Did you finally convince her that she needs to spend more time with us?” Caroline was back on the phone again.
“With you?” Miranda looked impatiently for Andrea. How long could the line in the bakery be? Didn’t the girl know by now how to drop Miranda’s name properly?
“Yes. She’s so cool, mom, and she, well, she gets us.”
This made Miranda frown. “And what does that mean?”
“All your other assistants have always been so uptight, even snarky, some of them, when you’re not around. Emily is mainly uptight, but Andrea is, well, cool.” Cassidy spoke over the sound of a pop ballad. No doubt the much loved BTS.
“I’m bringing Andrea with me because I have a new assignment for her that we need to discuss. If she has some time after that, I’m sure you can talk to her.” Miranda was about to send Carmen, the security guard, to look for Andrea when she stepped out through the door, carrying two boxes. She weaved through traffic and slid into the backseat next to Miranda.
“That took quite a while.” Miranda had to let out steam after watching Andrea battle traffic twice. Annoyance was a good outlet.
“Excuse me?” Andrea squared her shoulders. “Do you know that you have to order cakes three days ahead of time at this bakery. Only the fact that I told them they were for you and had your card made it even possible for me to buy anything.”
“Well, then.” Miranda reeled herself in. She hadn’t seen this type of reaction from Andrea many times, but lately, she had stood up to her a few times—and only when it mattered, it would seem.
“Here’s your card. I added a tip for the staff who pulled this out of the hat for you.” Still with a defiant rise of her chin, Andrea had an air about her that made Miranda’s stomach clench.
“All right.” Miranda tucked her credit card away. “Well done.” The words were out before she realized it and now Andrea’s demeanor changed into a millisecond of shock and then a warm, blinding smile spread across her face.
“Thank you.” Andrea strapped in as Roy pulled into traffic. She was all soft edges and her eyes a warm, dark honey. Miranda swallowed hard and had to turn her attention to something else, her phone, the passing streetlights, anything. Her heart was thundering in her chest and she gripped the handles of her purse hard. What the hell just happened?

---XXXXX---


Annika hesitated, but then nodded and stepped into the cab after Kathryn. This woman was starting to confuse her, and she wasn’t used to dealing with such apprehension. The cab was thankfully one of the fresher ones and the dominating scent was Kathryn’s expensive and understated perfume. Something spicy and with a tinge of bergamot, she wasn’t sure.
“Which hotel was it again?” Kathryn placed a hand on Annika’s arm. The touch was unexpected, and she had to force herself not to flinch.
Annika gave the driver the address of the hotel and then leaned back, willing herself to relax. Well aware that her austere demeanor gave people the impression she was always in complete control, unflappable, which was the intension, she wasn’t thrilled that she had to make such an effort all because of this woman.
“I hope you find a place soon,” Kathryn said kindly. “I’ve lived out of hotels for a few times and it gets old very fast.”
“There are worst things.” Annika raised her chin. “Many people have no place to go at all.”
Kathryn shifted in her seat to face Annika. “This is very true. That doesn’t make it less important for you to find a home though.” Tilting her head, she studied Annika with those even blue-grey eyes. “I confess I familiarized myself with your credentials and referrals and I know you’ve worked in several developing countries. This must be such a change for you.”
“Yes.” It was. The cultural shock and the contrast between some of her previous duties compared to the glossy surroundings at Elias Clarke, could give a person mental whiplash.
The cabdriver weaved between files and at one point took a corner so fast, Kathryn slid across the seat and bumped into Annika’s shoulder. Instinctively, Annika put her arm around Kathryn’s shoulders and kept her from sliding onto the floor—or onto Annika’s lap.
“Never a dull moment in a New York cab,” Kathryn muttered and held onto Annika’s knee and tried to push herself back into her seat. The cab came to a halt and she clung to Annika while cursing. “I should perhaps start following Miranda’s example and use the town cars more. They do take spontaneity out of the equation though.”
“I think we should buckle in.” Annika leaned across Kathryn and pulled the seatbelt in front of her and attached it. She repeated it for herself and that’s when she realized that Kathryn’s hand was still on her knee. Not knowing whether to point it out, she found the warmth of the small, elegant hand spread through the fabric of her trousers and along her nerve-endings.
After a few moments, Kathryn seemed to finally notice where her hand rested and calmly removed it. She seemed completely casual about it until Annika raised her gaze to look into Kathryn’s eyes. They had actually changed nuance and was now a dark blue.
They rode in a silence that Annika felt was thick with unwanted emotions and words. She never mixed her work with private life and being this affected by the woman who was her boss, was unfortunate. Pulling the walls she had carefully constructed around her at an early age, closer, she fortified them. Normally, this reinforcement of her strength was all it took to keep herself safe, but with this woman, this damn force of nature that was Kathryn Janeway, it might take more than an imaginary wall.
The driver pulled up to the curb. “Here we go, lady,” he said.
“Thank you for the ride.” Annika stepped out of the cab and then turned around, slipping the cabdriver a few bills. “Good evening, Ms…”
“Kathryn.” Kathryn smiled broadly. “Ms. Janeway is for the office only, remember?”
“Kathryn.” The name nearly got stuck in her throat. She meant to just leave, but instead she returned the smile carefully. “Then call me Annika.”
Kathryn chuckled. “Oh, I will. Good night.”
As the cab drove away, Annika made her way into the hotel, knowing that after today, her life might have changed and perhaps no walls, no matter how meticulously constructed, would be enough.

---XXXXX--- 


Andy stood in the foyer of Miranda’s townhouse, taking in the onslaught of the twins as their mother entered their home. Caroline and Cassidy, identical twins, rushed toward Miranda as they hadn’t seen her for months and wrapped their lanky arms around her waist, hugging her fiercely.
“You’re home! You’re actually home. And…Andy’s got the cakes! Wow!” Caroline, at least Andy thought it was Caroline since she had a flower adorned headband on, something she knew Cassidy wouldn’t be caught dead in, squealed.
“Girls.” The tone was admonishing, but Miranda’s face shone bright with love. “Are you trying to sever my spine?” Despite the words, Miranda returned the embraces. “And yes, Andrea is bravely carrying the cakes. If it wasn’t for her quick thinking, we wouldn’t have any, which would have been my fault, so what do we say?”
“Nice save, Andy,” Cassidy said and hurried over. “Did you know that mom is getting us a sloth cake for our birthday party next week? These cakes are really for tomorrow, to bring to school. Here. I can help you carry.”
“Cassidy?” Miranda’s voice lowered an octave.
“Sorry. Thank you very much, Andy.” Cassidy gave Andy’s left arm a little squeeze before relieving her of one of the cakes. Caroline took the other one after thanking Andy. Then she pivoted, stood on her toes, and kissed Andy’s cheek. Suddenly it was hard to breathe. Andy knew the girls liked her, but this was taking their affection up a notch—or ten.
“Better.” Miranda, or whoever the alien before Andy was, since it couldn’t possibly be Miranda, who never thanked anyone for anything—or hardly ever. Now she had still demanded her girls thank Andy…this was surreal. “Now. Don’t just stand there. Roy’s left and I want you to stay for dinner. At least.”
Dinner? At least? “But…oh. Um. Thank you. That’s nice of you.” Groaning inwardly at her stupid words, Andy pulled off her coat and stood with it folded over her arm, feeling utterly foolish.
“Give it to me.” Was there a smirk on Miranda’s lips as she took the coat from Andy and hung it in the second closet in the foyer? After hanging her own coat, Miranda waved for Andy to follow her into the kitchen. It smelled of gingerbread snaps and whatever amazing meal was in the pots on the stove. Paulina stood at the kitchen island and placed the last cookies in a jar.
“Everything is ready to eat, Miranda,” Paulina said. “I’ve instructed the girls how to take care of the dishes and I’ll finish them for you in the morning. I would’ have stayed on longer, but my Joe has thrown his back out again.”
“Don’t worry about it. We’ll manage.” Miranda patted the compact woman’s shoulder. “You spoil us rotten as it is. Give Joe my best.”
“I will. Goodnight everybody.” As Paulina passed Andy, she winked at her. “Nice to see you, Andy. You’re finally here. About time.” She spoked quietly enough for only Andy to hear, but Andy still stared at Miranda in horror, and then at Paulina in complete confusion. What was she on about? About time? She bid Paulina goodnight in a barely audible voice. Standing awkwardly at the end of the long kitchen island, Andy laced her fingers together, forcing herself not to tug at her fingers.
“Paulina made boeuf bourguignon, mom,” Cassidy said while taking plates of a small oven. “Should we sit right here?”
“Yes, why not. Andrea and I have worked hard today and it’s easier.” Miranda stopped in front of Andy. “Why are you still standing there? Sit down and I’ll pour you…well, what do you want to drink?”
Andy climbed one of the stools at the island and gratefully sat down as her legs seemed to want to buckle at any moment. “Anything is fine. What you’re having?”
“A glass of Chablis. Excellent.” Miranda walked over to a cabinet and pulled out a bottle. Deftly she uncorked it and poured into two crystal glasses. “This whole nonsense about letting wine breathe…my opinion is it can breathe just fine in the glass.”
A chatty, explaining version of Miranda. Andy accepted the glass and held her breath as her fingertips brushed against Miranda’s. She was in the twilight zone, for sure. Somehow, after going on the errand with Miranda, she had stepped through some interdimensional portal and ended up here. Having wine with Miranda and talking with her children—it could barely get any more surreal. At least that’s what she thought until Miranda lightly wrapped her arm around her shoulders and said, “A toast?”

---XXXXX---


Miranda could practically see the cogs turn behind Andrea’s smooth forehead. Her eyes were huge under her thick, shiny bangs, and she held onto the crystal glass with both hands. Perhaps because she was trembling. Was that of fear or because their close proximity?
“Um. What are we toasting?” Andrea smiled hesitantly.
“The Christmas shoot,” Miranda said and tipped her glass gently toward Andrea’s. “Here’s to it being the best one we’ve ever done. Now that I’ve changed the concept, we’re taking a risk, this is true, but I can feel it in my bones that the outcome will make this issue a collector’s item.”
“What risk is that, mom?” Caroline came up to them and placed plates along the island.
“You’ll see, Bobbsey.” Miranda let go of Andrea and tugged gently at her daughter’s ginger hair. “That’s one of the reason’s Andrea is joining us tonight. Mommy needs to talk to her about this first.” In the corner of her eyes, Miranda saw Andrea places the crystal glass on the counter with great care and then sit down, tucking her hands in under her legs. Well, at least she would make Miranda cringe at the sight of her tugging at them in what looked like a very painful way.
The boeuf bourguignon was excellent, as always, and Miranda made sure to take the seat next to Andrea while the twins sat perpendicular to them on their left. The girls chatted about their day at Dalton’s, which, per usual, contained gossip about other girls, adoration or loathing for some of the boys, and definite worship of their music teacher. Miranda listened and nodded, but every time she accidentally brushed against Andrea’s arm while eating, she was acutely aware of the physical reaction on her part. Her skin tingled and she lost her breath more than once. How long would she have to battle this? For the last few months, her attraction to the much-younger woman had not lessened—on the contrary. And if it had been only that, a mere physical infatuation, she could easily have chalked it up to a midlife crisis, a rebound thing after her divorce, but that wasn’t it. There was something heartbreakingly more to how she responded to Andrea. What she was certain of, hence the heartbreaking part of it all, was that nothing could ever come from it. She was Andrea’s boss. The girl was half her age with her entire life ahead of her. And neither of them was gay…were they? Was she bisexual?
Miranda speared a piece of beef, staring at it before placing it in her mouth. She had only ever dated men, married two of them, in fact, and had a reasonably all sex life. Sure, it hadn’t been all fireworks very often, but that was normal, wasn’t it? A small voice in the back of her mind chided her mercilessly, reminding her that sitting next to Andrea, with their arms brushing together every now and then, did more to ignite Miranda’s arousal than her entire marriage to Stephen, her last husband.
When she was done, Miranda turned to the girls. “You have a chance to earn extra Xbox time if you will do me a favor and handle the dishes tonight.”
“Yeah?” Caroline bounced up and her sister beamed. Miranda knew why. Extra Xbox time was nearly unheard of, but she needed to talk to Andrea. “Sure thing, mom.”
“Then we’ll have some of the Red Velvet once Andrea and I are done…working.”
The girls were busy yanking the plates off the island, nearly tripping over each other as they scurried back and forth.
Miranda turned to Andrea who seemed to be lost in thought. “Andrea? My study.”
Andrea blinked and rose from the barstool, ready to follow her. “Let me get my bag. I need my notepad and—”
“No need for that. This isn’t that type of work.” Miranda waved Andrea along as she strode toward the stairs. Her study was on the next floor, tucked into the back, overlooking the small garden. She entered it and switched on the light. She pointed at the loveseat. “Sit down.” She followed suit and found it both mildly amusing and disconcerting when Andrea pressed her back against the armrest, her eyes growing wider. “We have to talk about the Christmas shoot. Everything about it depends on you.”

---XXXXX---


Kathryn exchanged a few words with Carl, the doorman, and then continued to the elevator that would take her to the penthouse condo where she had resided the last twelve years.
She loved her place even if she sometimes missed the rural area in Indiana where she grew up. There was something about the billowing fields and she still owned the farm which was now maintained and worked by live-in staff. Her mother had opted to live in Seattle with Kathryn’s sister, Phoebe, and her family. Kathryn didn’t blame her. Staying alone at the farm after her father died was a lonely prospect for Gretchen Janeway, and even if Kathryn had suggested Gretchen stay with her, she realized that her job would have left her mother just as alone. Phoebe was an artist and worked from home—and she had two children.
Entering her private space, Kathryn only realized she relaxed her shoulders when they began to ache. Damn it, she needed to pay attention to that. Her physio therapist had warned her to not quit yoga. The last few weeks had meant twelve hour working days, at least, and when she came home, she usually fell into bed, barely able to undress first.
Tonight, was different. She had left earlier than usual, ate a proper meal and in the company of someone…and not just anyone, but the most gorgeous woman she had ever seen. Which said a lot as she worked in the same building as Runway Magazine’s offices, which saw every single model worth the name in the world. Those women were stunning, but something about Annika Hansen gave Kathryn goosebumps. It wasn’t just the skin-deep beauty, but her lowkey intensity, the contained passion Kathryn sensed in her.
Pulling off her clothes, she dropped them into the dry-cleaning hamper, which her housekeeper would deal with, and walked into the walking shower. She would have preferred a bath, she usually did, but she had the damn folder to read and if she took a long bath, she’d fall asleep as soon as she got out and sat down somewhere.
Kathryn turned the water to hot then cold even if she hated it. It was an efficient way to wake up and for some reason it helped with her aching shoulders. As the water streamed down her body, she was stunned at how vividly the image of ice blue eyes showed up in her mind. Standing there with her eyes closed, Kathryn could hear the timbre of Annika’s alto voice. Annika wasn’t one to gesture much when she spoke, but what movements she made seemed measured and deliberate. Was she always in this much control?
Kathryn prided herself for being able to keep a cool head and even temper around other people, especially the sometimes-infuriating board of directors of Elias Clarke. There was especially one man that had a way of getting on her nerves, Irving Ravitz. The short man was after her job, that much was obvious, but that wasn’t it. He was devious and ready to walk over corpses, no matter who they were.
 It dawned on Kathryn that it might be interesting to see Annika take on the horrid little man. Snorting, Kathryn turned off the water and wrapped a thick terrycloth around her
Fetching a cup of black coffee, she grabbed the security folder and sat down in her favorite recliner to read. It only took her two pages into Annika’s report for her to realize they faced a serious security problem.
Reaching into her briefcase, she pulled out her laptop and connected it to the work server and began to type a memo to all the department heads.
Annika had been right.

---XXXXX---


Andy tried to remember how to breathe. You sucked your breath in, preferably quietly, and then let it out, and not too fast. In. Out. But then she met Miranda’s gaze, saw the knowing, slightly amused look, and forgot all about the oxygenation of her system.
“Calm down.” Miranda patted her knee, which nearly made Andy hiccup.
“What…eh…can you perhaps explain why the Christmas shoot has anything remotely to do with me?” Quite proud that her voice sounded steady, well, almost, Andy did her best to ignore the feeling of a scorching handprint on her knee.
“Yes, of course. You’re going to be the model for it.”
There were two possible reasons for such a ridiculous statement. Andy was going crazy. Miranda had lost it. Oh, yeah, perhaps a third, it was a cruel, weird test from Miranda’s end. “Me?” Andy blinked.
“I know this is an unusual idea—”
“Unusual?” Andy raised her voice, not able to control herself. “It’s an insane idea! I’m no model. I’m your lowly, freakin’ assistant. This isn’t funny.”
Miranda scowled now. “It sure isn’t. The Christmas edition of Runway is, apart from the September issue, one of our most prestigious. This is why we need to stay ahead of the other magazines—by constantly thinking ahead…outside the box, as it were.” Miranda took Andy’s hand and squeezed it. “I know this is a gamble, but hear me out, at least.”
Andy looked down at their joined hands and thought of how many times she had lived for the few times when their hands had brushed against each other in the past. Sometimes, while handing Miranda coffee, or the Book, there’d be an accidental, brief touch and it had been the fodder of a lot of fantasies and dreams on Andy’s part. “A gamble. You intend to have me play a model, despite being the “fat girl” and despite having no modeling experience whatsoever. It’s not a gamble—it is a sure failure.” Andy closed her eyes for a second. Opening them again, she realized that Miranda was still holding on to her hand. “It’s not that I wouldn’t do anything to assist you in making the Christmas issue the best it can be—but this plan, which I still think is probably not even a real one, isn’t it.”
“Are you ready to hear me out, now that you’ve gotten that off your chest?” Miranda let go of Andy and stood, fetching a folder from her desk. “You don’t have all the facts.”
What the hell? What facts? Andy shook her head. “I don’t understand.”
“That much is clear.” Miranda sat down next to her again, this time close enough for their thighs to meet their entire length. Holy crap. “Look at these photos and tell me what you think.” She placed the folder on Andy’s lap.
Andy opened it and stared at a photo of herself. It was a photo taken during one of the shoots in late summer, she deduced after recognizing the set in the background. Central Park. Andy was holding a notepad—what else—and talking to Nigel. She looked at him with a faint smile and the wind was playing in her hair. She looked quite pretty, she thought.
The second photo was also at a photoshoot, this time in a studio. Andy was dressed in a tank top and city shorts, bent over a lightbox table but looking up and straight into the camera. A surprised look on her face, with her mouth half open in a way that actually looked sexy rather than dumb.
Photo after photo, of her, in different angles, poses, and with different expressions. Andy couldn’t even begin to imagine why or who had taken them. “Miranda?” She turned her head and flinched as Miranda’s face was merely inches away as she too was looking at the photos.
“Patrick Demarchelier took the first two ones, just because he thinks you are as beautiful as you’re sweet. His words. I saw them and, I’m not sure why, exactly,” Miranda said and then cleared her throat, “but I started asking the photographers I trust the most to keep shooting you. You have something, Andrea. Not the run-of-the-mill model look, whatever that is, but something else. And I want that something else for the Christmas shoot.”
“And if I decline?” Andy had to know. Was she going to lose her job if she refused this?
“If you decline…” Miranda pinched the bridge of her nose. “I hope you won’t, but naturally, I can’t force you. The result would suffer if I did.”
Naturally. The result. Andy sighed and gripped the folder tight.
Miranda’s hand was suddenly back on her knee. “And you may not even smile at me again, which would be a shame.”

---XXXXX---


Annika couldn’t sleep. She tossed and turned in the less than stellar hotel bed. She couldn’t really blame the bed as she had bunked in much more humble places than this. Some had been deplorable, even. No, this was about something else. Images flickered through her mind and if they weren’t about her latest job, then it was crystal clear images of Kathryn Janeway.
Moaning in exasperation, Annika buried her head into the pillow. At least the hotel had decent pillows. She tugged the blankets closer. The air condition was set on high because that was how she preferred it, but she would have preferred a duvet rather than a blanket and loose bed sheet. Why did hotels insist on this old-fashioned bedding? Annika groaned. Yes, she must be losing it since she was contemplating such a thing.
Shuddering, she closed her eyes and stilled her breathing until she’d made it even. This usually worked to calm her and send her to sleep. Instead, pictures of Kathryn showed up again. Images of her smiling, frowning, scowling, and of her studying Annika so intently, it felt physical.
How could this be? Annika had worked for a wide range of people from all walks of life and never felt remotely interested in any of them. Men and women had come on to her on many occasions, especially after she’d actively saved their lives, but she had chalked that up to some sort of misplaced hero worship. Danger and libido sometimes walked hand in hand.
Was she the one reacting to danger now? Kathryn Janeway and Elias Clarke’s brass all had a credible threat hanging over them and as soon as Annika had gathered more evidence and not just a hunch, she would talk to the police again. She had reached out to one of her contacts at the NYPD and she was glad she’d been proactive when it came to protection. If she saw Kathryn tomorrow without the extra security officer, their would be hell to pay.
Kathryn Janeway in Annika’s mind winked at her and regarded her with bright blue eyes. Twisting in bed, Annika rotated and shoved at the pillows. Damn it. It was going to be a long night.

---XXXXX---


The tall blond woman stood in the doorway, dressed in a leather jacket and black slacks, and with her arms folded in front of her. “You are in danger, Kathryn,” she said and stepped inside. “But, don’t worry. I’ll keep you safe.”
“Who are you?” Kathryn stared at the intruder who had entered her bedroom. “How did you get in?”
“Don’t you recognize me? You’ve been waiting for you all my life.” The blond walked up to the bed. “It’s me.”
And now Kathryn saw who it was. Annika Hansen. Here, in her bedroom. “What are you doing here?” She sat up and pulled at the bedcovers.
“I told you. To keep you safe.” Annika sat down next to her and placed a strong arm around Kathryn’s shoulders. “I’ll stay by your side for as long as you want.” She pressed soft lips against Kathryn’s temple. “That is what you want, right?”
This was insanity, and yet it felt so real, so right. Kathryn leaned into the warm arms of her nightly visitor. “Yes. Yes, it is.” Something settled in Kathryn’s chest as she uttered the words. “That’s exactly what I want.”
Suddenly they were on their backs in the bed, Kathryn’s nightgown gone, but Annika still dressed in leather and black denim. She hovered above Kathryn, running warm fingertips along her collarbones. Kathryn shivered and knew she wanted those hands everywhere.
A strange buzzing sound tore through the dark room making Kathryn flinch and when she reached fearfully for Annika, the other woman was gone.
Kathryn sat up in bed, gasping for air. Back in her nightgown again, it took her a few moments to realize Annika was never there. Instead her cell phone had buzzed her awake and it was time to start a new day. Getting up on unsteady legs, Kathryn tried to convince herself that she was relieved it was all a dream.

---XXXXX---


Andy sat motionless in the cab Miranda had called for her. That in itself was just one of the surreal things that had taken place during the day. The Christmas shoot easily topped it and Andy could still hear herself agreeing to do it, barely able to function after the whole “you may never smile at me again” statement. Miranda had regarded her so cautiously, looking as apprehensive as if she thought Andy might laugh or say something hurtful. As if she could ever hurt Miranda. So, Andy had said “why not?” in a dazed voice and after that, Miranda had gone on for a while about what it would mean financially for Andy and so on, but Andy would have to read through the contract she was meant to sign because she couldn’t remember a thing.
Andy had tried to insist on using the subway as she normally did, but when Miranda’s expression great thunderous, and she reminded Andy of the security situation, she had agreed to take a cab. That’s when Miranda called some fancy cab service that Andy knew Miranda sometimes used when Roy was off duty.
“Call me when you’re home.” Miranda had stepped well within Andy’s personal space. “Humor me.”
Humor her? As if Andy didn’t recognize something unnegotiable when she heard it. “Sure thing.”
The cab pulled up at her address and she pulled out her wallet.
“It’s been paid for, Miss.” The driver smiled at her. “And I’m supposed to wait until you’re inside your door.”
“But your tip?” Andy tried to object.
“Also taken care of.”
True to his word, the driver idled until Andy closed the door to her apartment building and headed up the stairs. Pulling out her cell, she settled for texting Miranda, but should have known better. The moment her “safely home,” text reached Miranda, her phone rang. Andy hurried into her apartment and closed the door behind her.
“Yes, Miranda?” Andy locked the deadbolt and attached the chain.
“You were supposed to call me. Not text.” Miranda didn’t sound angry, just exasperated.
“I thought as long as I told you—”
“All right. Fine. So, you’re inside?”
“Yes.” Andy let her coat fall onto a chair. “Thank you for the ride home.”
There was a silence on the phone. “The least I could do.”
Andy’s heart melted at the mixture of tenderness and gruffness in Miranda’s voice. Suddenly all the filters Andy carefully applied when it came to Miranda fell away and she whispered, “You can be awfully sweet when you want to be.”

---XXXXX---


Together with the male security guard that had been waiting next to her doorman this morning, Kathryn crossed the lobby and was all-too aware that she hoped to see Annika’s lean silhouette among the guards—surely they were twice as many?—behind the counter. She didn’t spot any blond head but noticed how animated the security staff were as they passed around what looked like seven-inch tablets. Curious, Kathryn walked over to them and it amused her that it took them a few seconds before they detected her.
“Ma’am! Ms. Janeway.” A young woman literally jumped over to her. “What can I do for you?”
“You can explain about the general excitement…Ms. Henderson.” Kathryn cast a quick glance at her name tag. “This is the first time I’ve seen the guards cause more racket than the clackers from Runway or the motor afficionados from Auto Universe.”
“Sorry about that, ma’am. We’ve received some new, much appreciated work tools, from our new boss.” Henderson held up the tablet.
“May I?” Kathryn extended her hand.
“Absolutely.” Handing over her tablet willingly, Henderson beamed. “It’ll help us keep up with the latest without having to use the stationary computers. We can also clock in exactly if we spot something worth investigating even if there isn’t a station at that exact location.”
“A station?” Kathryn looked up from the elaborate program on the tablet.
“We have stations where we use our keycard to punch in, which also proves that we’ve been at that spot and that all was well. This tablet is more precise. Here, let me show you.” Henderson took the tablet back and tapped it a few times. A schematic of the lobby came into view, much like a blueprint. “See? If you tap the front door, a menu comes up and you can tap several options.”
Kathryn had to smile at the excited expression on the young woman’s face. She loved seeing someone this excited about their job and task at hand, no matter what it was. Tapping the line depicting the door, she received a series of choices, ranging from “all well” to “911”.
“This is a great tool. What if you happen to tap 911 by mistake?”
“That particular one has to be held down for five seconds.” Henderson looked like she was about to caress her tablet. “Giving the circumstances with our elevated security status, this makes us feel a lot more comfortable about doing our job the best way, ma’am.”
“I can tell. Is Ms. Hansen in?” Kathryn hoped she sounded casual.
“She just left, Ms. Janeway. I believe she was going to prepare the department head meeting in the conference room on the executive floor.”
“Thank you, Henderson. I appreciate all the information. Good job.” Kathryn smiled and dismissed her personal guard. Walking toward the elevators, she found Miranda waiting for one. “Good morning, Miranda.”
“That remains to be seen.” Miranda nodded curtly.
“That’s a pessimistic view.” Kathryn leaned against the wall, crossing one leg over the other and folding her arms.
“Not at all.” Miranda shook her head. “I suppose it’s all this nonsense about heightened security that throws every meticulously planned schedule off.” She pursed her lips, which in Miranda’s case was never a good sign.
“When you’re briefed in the meeting, you’ll understand. I just read Ann—Ms. Hansen’s report and she’s clearly not an alarmist.
“Which doesn’t make me feel less alarmed. Not about my own safety as that woman, Carmen, is with me as soon as I open my front door.” The elevator arrived and two people stepped out. Miranda and Kathryn entered, and Kathryn pressed their respective buttons.
“So, whose safety are you especially alarmed about?” Kathryn resumed her favorite position while studying the striking woman before her.
“My girls, naturally. And…Andrea.”
“Andrea?” Kathryn frowned. “Who…oh, your assistant? The dark-haired beauty that seem able to levitate carrying your coffee?” She had to smile.
“Very droll. Yes. She’s always with me since my first assistant still isn’t well enough after fracturing her ankle. If someone’s out to get me, they might go through her to do it.” Something in Miranda’s voice felt very familiar. A tremor, or a certain breathlessness?
“Do you feel she needs a personal guard as well? It can be arranged.” Kathryn let go of the wall and stepped closer to Miranda.
“Not yet. She and I will be working even closer together these upcoming days, which means she’ll benefit from Carmen’s expertise.” The elevator stopped and the door slid open. Miranda stopped in the doorway, preventing it from closing right away.
“Just go with your instinct if you feel she needs protection,” Kathryn said kindly. “I can tell you care.”
Miranda raised her chin. “I do.” It was a clear challenge for Kathryn to comment, but she didn’t.
“I’ll see you in an hour at the meeting. Bring Andrea as she needs to be in the loop, obviously.” Kathryn reached out and briefly touched Miranda’s arm. “Better safe than sorry, right?”
Miranda’s eyes softened marginally. “Well.” She stepped out into the lobby of Runway’s floor. “Thank you.”
Kathryn kept riding the elevator toward the executive floor at the top of the high rise. Something had dawned on her and she was busy trying to reel herself in when the door opened again. She was entirely unprepared for the vision that met her and felt her knees buckle. She couldn’t remember ever having been in this much trouble.

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Continued in part 2