One would have thought that after Paris the office would have settled down a bit. Of course, Runway never stopped—there was always another magazine to produce, another shoot to arrange, another upcoming designer to promote, but that was just the usual chaos. So, if one allowed for such an erroneous thought to enter one’s mind, one would be wrong. Quite wrong. Miranda Priestly always had more than enough obligations to share with her subordinates.
Take for instance the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award she was to receive for her support of and commitment to fashion. Normally, the award ceremony occurred in June, but its board of directors had decided to couple this grand event with a fundraiser for charity.
A Halloween costume ball fundraiser.
It was really quite ridiculous. Absurd even. How could they even imagine Miranda Priestly, the Miranda Priestly, would consent to such a debacle, even for charity? At first she had refused. But they wouldn’t take no for an answer. Then the directors were underhanded enough to get Irving involved, damn them. She knew the only reason he agreed was because he was furious with her for daring to trump him at his own little game. Insipid little man. How could he possibly think he could wrest away her livelihood? Everything she had built?
Eventually, she had no choice but to relent. With the event approaching, everyone was on edge. Runway was taking a terrible risk by holding the printing for the October event. The articles and layouts were set, and all the magazine needed was pictures from the benefit itself with captions. If Miranda wore a costume—all right, when she wore the foolish costume—a large chunk of money would be donated to the charity of her choice, or actually to the charity of her daughters’ choice. And with each person’s acquiescence to wear a costume to this most farcical gala, more money would be contributed. All of this was explained in the magazine waiting to go to print, along with information on lymphoma research, interviews connected to the award, and most markedly an in-depth interview with Miranda herself. That could have gone much worse. It just went to show how useful the death glare truly was.
Once the decision was made, Miranda embraced it in the way she approached everything. Wholeheartedly. She chose to have John Galliano, the designer for Christian Dior, create the most astounding piece of artistry imaginable. At her children’s behest, her chosen outfit for the night would be the White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia. It was they who had convinced her to wear a costume at all. Poor, idiotic Irving, thinking he could force her do anything she did not wish. Really, how droll. But let the stupid man believe what he would. She knew the truth.
She had a complementary costume made for Andrea as well since she would be required to attend in her capacity as assistant. Certainly not in any other capacity. Not as a date. How ludicrous. No one would ever believe that Andrea was a worthy companion for Miranda Priestly. Certainly not Miranda. And especially not Andrea. It was laughable—that’s what it was.
As if to point out that truth, Andrea’s costume represented Queen Susan the Gentle—the nemesis to the White Witch. With her long, dark hair and tender heart, she was perfect for such a role. Add to that the well-hidden fact that her gentle disposition hid a strength of character nearly unheard of in this industry, and was it any wonder Andrea’s arrows had pierced the Snow Queen’s previously frozen heart? As in the Narnia books where Queen Susan proved her mastery of archery, so Andrea demonstrated her effortless ability to defeat Miranda in the most terrifying, effective way. And the rub was that Andrea remained clueless. It was all so preposterous, so hopeless. Consequently, as a salute and sardonic nod to the way life had played out thus far, Miranda had chosen the outfits without explanation.
Miranda tried extremely hard to not think about her soon to be ex-assistant. Yet in her weaker moments, moments when her mind was not focused on the magazine, or her children, or the impending divorce with Stephen, then she found herself dwelling on the inescapable fact that Andrea had tendered her notice of resignation. She was leaving.
And even though Miranda had been able to delay the inevitable demise of her adequate assistant until after this insufferable masquerade benefit had concluded, that had only delayed Andrea’s departure for a short span of time. The pressing question she had but which she dared not ask was why? Why was Andrea leaving her? Surely not for the events in Paris! The editor made it her life’s policy to never speculate. It was a waste of effort to guess people’s motives, after all. But then she was normally the one who manipulated events, who controlled every move people in her world made. She maintained the power and ruled like a true despot.
Evidently, she had no hold on Andrea. Miranda acknowledged, if only to herself, that she would miss the brunette. Oh, she’d be the first to admit to her ceaseless amusement at scaring her young assistant when she was first hired, but as time progressed and as the fetching lady’s steely resolve became apparent, Miranda couldn’t help liking the girl, even admiring her willingness to take every snipe Miranda rendered with a ready smile. It was incredibly compelling.
This benefit, then, was the last hurrah. The last time she would have Andrea to herself. And she damn well was going to look ravishing in this girl’s presence. She would give her someone to remember. Miranda wasn’t above indulging in her selfish desire to dress Andrea up, either. As for those imprudent fantasies where she would find Andrea in her arms by night’s end, well it was all rather pretentious, wasn’t it? As if Andrea thought of her in that way.
“Andrea.” Watching the coffee-colored eyes connect with hers before darting away, Miranda felt the all-too-familiar jolt of arousal wash over her. Tamping down her attraction viciously, her lip curled before barking, “Is there a reason you haven’t bothered to attend one fitting for the costume you will wear tomorrow evening? Did you just suppose it would remarkably fit over those curves without any help? I have no intention of being embarrassed by your lack of thought. Call John’s assistant and have both costumes couriered over immediately. That’s all.”
Miranda watched gleefully as shock crawled a crooked path over Andrea’s visage. She really was too easy to tease. Andrea had no idea she would be dressing for the event until now. Miranda couldn’t wait to see her in the outfit. To observe Andrea’s reaction when Miranda revealed hers.
Taking off her spectacles, Miranda gazed through the front office window as she tapped the temple arm gently against her bottom lip. Yes, Andrea was attractive. With her luscious chocolate hair and depthless eyes, it was a wonder the formidable editor had held out for so long before finally admitting to herself that she was attracted to this insufferably naïve, sweet, gentle, hardly out-of-her-teens girl. Honestly. This would be humorous if it weren’t so utterly mortifying. Next she’d be throwing herself at the girl—a first for her.
The damnable truth was, she was contemplating just that. Not in some vulgar way, of course, but through an offer of contact once Andrea had left her direct employ. And then there were Andrea’s plans for future work. Miranda had ideas about that, too. She intended to discuss them with Andrea tomorrow. Yes, much would be revealed tomorrow. There was simply no help for it.
An hour later Miranda called Andrea into her office, relishing in the utter wonder and approval she read in her nubile assistant’s striking eyes. And was that a strain of hunger shining from dark eyes, too? She wished to see it and so decided not to question it further. “Try your outfit on behind the screen and come out so we can look at you.”
Andrea looked around as though realizing they were not alone. Nigel leaned against a small table studying Miranda and Andrea closely. That simply would not do. If anyone were to divine her feelings, it should be Andrea first. Looking back to Nigel, Miranda began to dictate her demands for the upcoming fashion spread. He got the message and obsequiously concentrated on every word thrown at him.
Hearing the soft swish of a dress, Miranda redirected her gaze toward Andrea and froze. She felt her eyes widen without permission as her heart palpitated wildly. Splendid. Simply divine. Breathtaking.
The Princess lines of the dress emphasized Andrea’s figure perfectly. The colors, warm greens and golds, accented the richness of Andrea’s hair and eyes while contrasting with her slightly tanned complexion. The décolletage coupled with the fitted bodice accentuated Andrea’s attributes quite beautifully. The fabric was thick and luxurious, tempting Miranda to run her hand down Andrea’s back. Miranda felt herself blushing and quickly turned away, flicking her wrist and saying, “Adequate.”
Nigel circled Andrea before pronouncing that no alterations were necessary. Miranda steadfastly refused to raise her eyes from her desk, continuing her previous list of instructions in the hope of containing her emotions while Andrea removed the dress and left the office silently. Still not deigning to look up, Miranda quietly ended the barrage with her signature words, “That’s all,” no doubt to a much-relieved Nigel.
Finally sitting back in her chair, the editor instructed herself sternly to not even dare think about the way Andrea had looked in that outfit. Swooning over an assistant, how outrageous. Lord knew Miranda saw girls in states of undress every day—had done so for the last twenty years. Yet none had ever turned her head or made her pause. Then this perky girl had shown up and turned her world inside-out. Insane.
Sighing softly, Miranda rose to take off her costume. It was stunning, particularly on her. So it should be. She had worked closely with John to create it, much as she had with Andrea’s costume. It fit her like a glove with silver and blues shimmering throughout the weave—it nearly looked like chainmail, so intricate was the design. The off-the-shoulder décolletage accented her collar bones and upper chest handsomely as did the startling silver mink fur stole that wrapped around her shoulders. The gown reached the floor even with her four-inch heels, moving gracefully around her as she crossed the office.
Miranda determined to get as much work done as possible before tomorrow evening’s event, knowing she would not be able to concentrate on anything except Andrea’s imminent departure once the benefit ended. Although she was prepared to reveal her heart, at least to a small extent, Miranda did not hold much hope that Andrea would want anything to do with her once she had completed her last days of employment. With that in mind, Miranda decided she would give herself the day after the gala to mourn her heart’s loss before she allowed work once again to take precedence over shattered dreams and impossible fantasies.