The reception was, in fact, nearby at the aforementioned Hôtel de Crillon, and Andy noticed that it was absolutely awash with activity. The ballroom was opulent, overlooking the Place de la Concorde, which Andy thought she’d want to get out and visit before they left if she had time.
Andy mostly hovered near Miranda, never drinking from her single glass of champagne and making sure Miranda’s Pellegrino was always chilled to the proper temperature and refilled on the regular. A photographer was skulking around, taking candid shots of the various movers and shakers from Elias Clarke and its “friendly” industry competitors. Andy did her best to stay out of the shots, although she was caught once or twice without realizing it. She was thrilled when Nigel arrived and saw the flash go off as they hugged. Emily was not far behind and Andy was surprised when she went in for a real kiss on the cheek.
“You look not horrible,” Emily said, eyeing her outfit. “That ring’s quite nice.”
“Always so effusive,” Andy replied, taking in Emily’s surprisingly subdued ensemble; she must be saving the Westwood for show days. “You look great, as usual.”
“I know it’s boring but this is the business part.” She snapped up two glasses of champagne for herself and Nigel, handing one over. “I heard you gave notice, by the way. Where are you headed? Scholastic Reader?” she quipped.
Andy rolled her eyes as Nigel chuckled. “I’m taking some time off,” she replied, using the non-explanation she came up with whenever people asked what was next.
She wished she’d had a camera the moment she said the words, because their eyes became simultaneously, comically large. “Are you joking?” Nigel asked softly, concerned. “Six, are you sure about this?”
Andy nodded, taking the smallest sip possible from her champagne. “Just need a little break.”
The two of them stared at her for longer than expected. Emily stated, “Well, that’s got to be a lie. As much as it pains me to admit it, you’re not stupid enough to do something like this. It would be extremely out of character for you to simply quit.” She raised a sculpted eyebrow. “What do you think, Nigel? Going to the competition?”
His eyes narrowed. After a few moments, Andy saw the lightbulb go off, but he masked it quickly enough so Emily missed it. “You young kids, so impulsive. Always making crazy decisions, following the wind wherever it takes you. Congratulations. I’m sure you’ll find something interesting when you’re ready.”
She sighed in relief and wondered when he’d corner her, or if he wanted to continue maintaining his plausible deniability.
They stood together, chatting mostly amiably (Emily continued to prod her for more information) until a familiar figure came into view. Christian Thompson stood leaning against the bar, toasting her from a distance. She smiled at him in reply. She hadn’t seen him in over a year, not since he’d gotten her the Harry Potter book. Which she owed him for, now that she thought about it. A little embarrassed by her lack of follow up, she excused herself and headed over to say hello.
“Hey, stranger,” she said.
“Hello, Miranda Girl,” he replied.
He has no idea how right he is. “Glad to see you here. How are you?”
“Not dead, though I might be for all you care. How long has it been?”
Andy chuckled ruefully. “A little longer than respectable, but that’s life at Runway. Things going okay at New York?”
He shrugged and lifted a hand. “Comme ci, comme ça. Always looking out for the next opportunity, like any good writer worth his salt. How’s your writing going?” He glanced around the room. “Can’t be going that well if you’re still under Miranda’s thumb. I would have thought you’d moved on by now.”
His tone was more bitter than Andy remembered; gone was the charm that had taken her in those few times they’d met. He seemed, well, angry. She decided then that she would not mention she was leaving in a week or so. “I’m learning a lot and things have been pretty interesting lately, so I haven’t been in a rush. But soon, I think.” Out of a sense of guilt, she found herself saying, “Look, I still owe you for helping me out with that top secret project last year. Can I take you to dinner?”
His mood brightened. “Whenever a beautiful young woman asks me to dinner, I always say yes. I know the perfect place. I’ll pick you up.”
Thirty minutes later, Andy had abandoned all conversation in lieu of admiring the cityscape through the window of the salon. Despite the traffic, it looked lovely in the waning afternoon light. She felt someone beside her and knew at once it was Miranda.
“Everything all right?” Miranda asked, eyes trained out the window.
“Mm-hmm. Just needed a minute to myself.”
“Enjoying the view?”
“It is deceptively beautiful. And also the square where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, among hundreds of others, were executed by guillotine in front of the masses.”
Andy closed her eyes and shook her head with a grin. Leave it to Miranda to offer such a detail at this exact moment. “Of course they were.”
“I imagine any number of individuals in this very room would be perfectly happy to see my head lopped off out there as the crowd cheered the executioner on,” she quipped. “Including your friend, Christian Thompson.”
She considered playing off their earlier interaction, but thought better of it. “Yeah, he seemed a little off when I saw him earlier. We’re having dinner tonight.”
Miranda turned to her, eyes sharp with distaste. “Traitor.”
Andy wrinkled her nose in confusion. “He’s just a guy. We’re not hooking up, trust me. And I owe him a favor. I don’t plan on telling you why, so don’t ask.”
“I’m certain he’ll try to wheedle gossip out of you about how much of a gorgon I am. He’s always hated me but now he truly has reason to. I’m surprised he had the gall to even show his face here today.”
This vitriol was coming out of nowhere. “Is there something I’m missing?”
Miranda turned back toward the view of the city as the sun shone down on the obelisk in the center of the square. “He would have been on Jacqueline’s team, had she taken over Runway last year. Head of editorial.” She scoffed. “Can you imagine? The magazine wouldn’t have lasted six months.”
Andy was, to put it mildly, flabbergasted. Now she really did feel like a traitor. “I had no idea, Miranda. No one told me.”
Miranda turned back to her. “Well. A dinner with you will be a consolation, in any case. Just don’t let him ply you with too much wine.”
Andy enjoyed the practically visible waves of jealousy coming off Miranda like steam. They gave her much more confidence than she ought to have, but not enough to tease. Not just yet, anyhow. “Water only, all night long.”
That brought a curve to Miranda’s mouth. “Acceptable.”
Christian did, in fact, try to ply Andy with wine, but as promised she had water, all night long. Not even an aperitif or a port with dessert. He also tried, rather desperately, to get into her good graces again, but at this point his bitterness and the reason behind it were much more apparent to Andy. He flirted, he bantered, he complimented both her beauty and her intellectual prowess. He seemed much more obvious in his attempts to pull information out of her about Miranda and the magazine, even trying to tempt her to share Nigel’s dashed hopes from the James Holt incident as well. He obviously knew that Nigel had been up for the job Jacqueline had nabbed out from under him, but Andy played dumb. Had no one told her what really happened in Paris last year, she wouldn’t have had a clue. As an assistant, she’d have had no reason to find out, either. She just happened to have been directly involved, without realizing it, both before and after the entire thing.
Following their meal, they walked along the 7th Arrondissement on the way back to the hotel. Little sparkly lights hung from the street lamps, making the stroll far more romantic than Andy felt. Christian reached out for her hand, and though she didn’t exactly pull it back, she did turn to him with an apology in her eyes.
“What? I’m just holding the hand of a friend,” he tried, flashing a curious expression of innocence and seduction.
He was handsome. A year ago, she might have been tempted, even if she and Nate had still been together. Not anymore. “That’s all we can be, Christian. I’m sorry.”
“Come on, you can’t tell me le boyfriend is still in the picture.”
Andy laughed and squeezed his hand before releasing it. “No comment. But I do have an early day of work tomorrow.”
He took his disappointment in stride. “I should have known you’d still be preoccupied with Miranda. She’s tough competition, even if she is a bitch.”
Andy did not take the bait; she had no need to defend Miranda to anyone, much less a man who had tried to beat her at her own game and lost. It was the wine and the disappointment talking and she understood more than he knew. She used the only method of distraction she had at her disposal: redirection. “I’m glad we got to get together before all the craziness of the week. Will I see you at all the shows?”
He nodded, mouth in a grim line. “Some. I leave on Thursday, though. How long are you here?”
“Fancy,” he said. “Well, I’ll be gracious in defeat. Give my regards to La Priestly, won’t you?”
She nodded, relieved she wouldn’t have to go to battle just to get back to her suite. They exchanged air kisses at the door to the hotel and she waved when he turned once to glance back as he made his way down the street. With a deep sigh of gratitude, she headed for the lift.
As soon as she walked in the door, the jetlag hit her. At home it was the middle of the night, but the reception and the dinner had helped her power through. She would sleep hard, if she was lucky. She had to be up at 6 to prepare for the day, and that hour would come too fast if she didn’t get into bed shortly. Briefly she felt a sadness that she would likely not have enough time to enjoy the lavish setting, eyeing the fireplace and settee in front of it. As she undressed, removed her makeup, and set up her wardrobe for the following day, she fell into a fantasy of herself and Miranda in front of that fire, enjoying after dinner drinks, talking of their days, then kissing. Then more. Then a lot more. By the time she was in her pajamas, her cheeks were flaming and she was wet between her legs. She’d already decided that a little self care might just be the ticket to a good night’s sleep when someone knocked on the door.
Frowning, she donned one of the hotel robes over decidedly more upscale pajamas than the ones she wore at home. As she lifted the little cover to her room’s peephole, she gasped; Miranda stood there in all her evening glory. Andy hurried to open the door, worried. “Hi, what is it?” she asked. “I didn’t get a message--”
“It’s nothing,” Miranda sniffed. “You look--” she scoped Andy out much faster than usual, “--like you’re heading to bed.”
“I’m fine, would you like to come in?”
Miranda’s mouth opened. In that moment, Andy saw the want, as well as the reason she’d stopped in, plain as the nose on her face. To make sure Andy was in her room, alone. And maybe something else, too.
Andy bit her lip and breathed out an exhale of desperate need as she took her in. Miranda was utterly beautiful tonight in a dark cashmere wrap coat that hung open to reveal a navy dress with a deep vee. Andy’s favorite Fred Leighton pendant hung between her breasts and Andy felt almost faint with the desire to lift it over Miranda’s head and press her lips there.
When Andy raised her eyes to meet Miranda’s, it was like looking in a mirror. Desire refracted between them, brightening in intensity with each successive moment. Andy closed her eyes briefly and stepped back from the door. She felt lightheaded. “Actually, you should probably not come in.”
Miranda shook her head as she licked her lips unselfconsciously. “Right,” she breathed, and there was so much sex in that one word that Andy wanted to scream in frustration. “See you in the morning.” She turned on her heel and strode down the hallway as Andy quickly shut the door and locked it.
“Fuck. Fuck,” Andy repeated to herself, one hand on her forehead. That had been close. Really close. How the hell had they managed to live under one roof for months and never had a run-in like that?
Andy knew, though. She’d been distracted by the article. With her work complete, everything changed. The tension between them had ratcheted up to a boiling point practically overnight. She headed back to bed then, throwing her robe off and tossing it on an absolutely gorgeous wingback chair that might have cost more than she made in a year. Almost angrily, she set her phone to charge and shut off the lights.
The noise from the city outside was faint; the hotel had fantastic soundproofing, and being on the garden side was even quieter. Briefly she held off touching herself; it felt like cheating, somehow, to put her hands on her own body without Miranda there. But she needed the relief now more than ever. So she slid one hand softly down her belly, trailing her fingers so lightly, feeling her muscles jump in excitement and delight. When she slipped her fingers between her legs, she was more than just damp; she was drenched. She imagined Miranda returning, pushing her way in the room, stripping off her coat and the dress and that necklace and lying down beside her, mouth pressed to Andy’s, and that was it. Andy moved with abandon, mouth open and gasping for air as she pictured Miranda there with her, legs open to Andy’s thigh, moving against her hotly as fingers thrust inside her, thumb working, teeth pulling at her ear. Then Andy was gone, muscles strung tight as the orgasm swept over her, pulsing against her fingers as she whispered Miranda’s name once, so softly. Then she relaxed, lassitude and endorphins flooding her system with a brief, sweet pleasure.
She imagined Miranda doing the same thing, right now in her own bed, and smiled.
In the morning, Miranda practically ignored her. Andy was convinced she knew why and smothered her grin beneath a hand.
As the day sped by Andy did not have a moment to herself. The idea of getting away for a few hours, or even one, vanished in the energy that Fashion Week created. Andy knew it would be exciting, but this felt more like a constant stream of electricity both leading up to and following each event. Watching the models take their turns down the catwalks was more thrilling than Andy had expected, even when she hated the designs or thought they were completely outlandish. She took copious notes as Miranda whispered to her, adding nods and headshakes and the occasional half-smile when something remarkable emerged. She met what felt like hundreds of people, some of whom Miranda introduced her to as simply “Andrea.” Not “my assistant.” She told no fewer than three people, “Andrea is a writer, a journalist.” She felt practically high by the time dinner came around. The Runway folks had plans to dine together without Miranda, who was having her annual dinner with the Versace team.
At the restaurant, Nigel commented on her appearance right away. “Good lord, woman, you look ecstatic. Have fun today?”
“I really did!” Andy exclaimed. It might have been helped along by the glass of wine she’d had at the bar before they’d sat down, but generally she felt excellent. “I didn’t know what to expect, but it was awesome.”
Nigel preened a little as he cleaned his glasses with his tie. “I feel like my baby’s just graduated from college with honors,” he joked, wiping an imaginary tear from his eye.
She laughed, but Emily cut them both off. “She’s just happy she’s avoiding the rest of this madness in a week. If I didn’t have to deal with all the insanity that will happen once we get back to the office, I’d be glowing too,” she said.
“Aw, Em, you think I’m glowing?” Andy said, feeling even more cheerful.
“Oh, sod off,” Emily replied with a signature roll of her eyes.
Andy was careful to keep her glass from getting topped up too often; tomorrow would be even busier than today, plus she had to keep the pace up for the rest of the week. The whole evening made her feel more a part of the crew than she ever had before. She loved listening to everyone’s opinions about the various shows and styles, offering a few thoughts of her own when asked. Her words were all respected, too; no one laughed or ignored her because she was a lowly assistant. She had proved her mettle by dedicating many long, difficult months as Miranda’s shadow, and it showed.
Later, before she returned to her room, she had a terrible, potentially disastrous thought. Should she pay a visit to the Windsor suite? Just to make sure Miranda returned safely, or so she told herself. She might not even be back yet, so it wouldn’t matter. She stood motionless in the hallway for a few long, tortured minutes before deciding yes, she would. Without hesitation, she headed for the suite and rang the bell.
Only then did Andy consider what she might say if Miranda opened the door, which she did ten seconds later. There she stood in a robe and without makeup, her hair brushed free of its typically tamed style. She looked more like the Miranda of home, the one Andy wanted to hold in her arms as she spoke of love and desire and forever, not the woman who wore an armor of couture for most of the hours in a day.
Andy swallowed helplessly. They stared at one another without speaking. Before she could make a bigger fool of herself, she turned and left. Miranda did not call her back.