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The Doll

Chapter Text

This is a My Fair Lady/Pygmalion rip off storyline.

 

Prologue

Thursday, April 26, 2007

"Wait! Wait! Let me get this straight. You took a leave of absence from the Mirror to learn all about fashion?" Nate asked incredulously. He laughed in disbelief. "Andy! That's, that's ridiculous! Why would you do that? You don't care about clothes! I mean, look at you!"

Andy winced at her boyfriend's words. Boyfriend. Probably not for much longer. He had stopped acting like one months ago. No matter what she was working on, he did nothing but complain. It wasn't surprising that he would insult her now.

"Nate. After it ends, I'll be able to publish a series of articles on learning fashion—a type of journal about my experiences. And, I'm getting an exclusive interview with Runway's Editor in Chief! Any reporter would kill for the opportunity! She never gives interviews!" Andy said as she changed after a long, exhausting day.

"Come on! Who cares! I mean, sure some of the hoity-toity upper crust probably live off her every word but, Andy! You aren't like that. It's bad enough you were working all those hours at the paper, but now you're coming home even later," Nate whined.

Staring hard at him, Andy decided it wasn't worth fighting about. She knew that soon enough Nate would be out of the picture. No doubt this would be one of his rationalizations. Shaking her head, Andy moved through the bedroom and into the kitchen, intent on eating something. She noticed the gym bag near the door, but said nothing.

'Whatever. I'm going out—"

"With the guys?" Andy sneered.

"Uh, yeah," Nate said uncertainly, his anger temporarily subdued by Andy's uncommon tone of voice.

Yeah, right! Andy knew that he had other plans. She supposed the fact that she hardly cared should give her a clue that their relationship was in its death throes. She was not prepared to confront him just yet, though.

"Well, have a good time. Be careful. If you drink too much, just stay wherever you are," Andy said brightly as she opened the refrigerator. Might as well give him an excuse to not come back tonight. It would be a relief to not be awakened in the dead of night. She needed the sleep.

"Okay. They were, uh, talking about taking a trip to Atlantic City this weekend, but I said you'd be working," Nate said slowly.

Although in fact she had Sunday off, she said, "Yeah. You know me. Work, work, work." She didn't mention the fact that he always worked the Saturday night shift at the restaurant. "But that's no reason for you to stay. Go. Have fun."

"Ooo-kay," Nate said, his voice betraying his confusion. He kissed the top of her head and left quickly.

With a sigh of relief, Andy pulled out the makings for a salad. She prepared it quickly and sat down, smiling grimly as she looked toward the door.

The bag was gone.

Chapter Text

Chapter 1

Monday, April 23, 2007

Miranda looked around Central Park with disgust from under the canvas tent hurriedly erected when the summer storm had decided to cost her thousands of dollars in delays as it gleefully threw sheets of rain at her anorexic, screaming models. Honestly. As if they had never felt rain hit their translucent skin before. She wouldn't be surprised if their pitifully weak bodies were covered with bruises from the harsh precipitation, costing more time and money to hide such imperfections while they finished the shoot.

Spring weather was so unpredictable. The weather forecaster swore the rain would abate within twenty minutes. She knew. She had spoken to the nervous man just minutes ago. He'd better be right, or she would be sure to make his career short-lived. She would not tolerate incompetence, particularly when it affected her work directly.

Drumming her hands on the arm of her chair, one leg crossed over the other and a glare permanently affixed to her face, Miranda cursed the weather, Central Park, Chanel's summer ready-to-wear collection, and Irving, in that order. Miranda stalled on Irving, the damned CEO of Elias-Clarke. He made her life a living hell on a regular basis, demanding she account for every dollar spent to make and keep Runway the best fashion magazine in print. This was especially true since she had beaten him at his own game a few months ago when he had tried to replace her with Jacqueline Follet, the former editor in chief at French Runway and currently the president of James Holt International. Miranda smirked, remembering her role in placing the woman with James Holt so that she would no longer be available to take Miranda's job, much to Irving's disappointment.

Really, that woman could never have done what Miranda does for Runway. She would have run the magazine into the ground, and all Miranda's many years of hard work would have been destroyed. Irving was too short-sighted, too caught up with winning a power game that Miranda was not in the least bit interested in playing. He plainly knew nothing about the fashion industry. He looked down on it as insignificant and shallow, when in fact it affected countless people, down to the rattiest of the homeless who wore handouts designed by the most formidable, forward-thinking artists in the world.

Irving had blinders on. No doubt if he really applied his business mind to the proof of just how powerful and life-changing fashion was, he would leave her to her own devices. And, really, he couldn't be entirely oblivious. After all, he knew how to clean up well enough for the major fundraising events. Miranda tapped a finger against her lower lip as her eyes tracked a young woman meandering across the grass. Realizing that it had stopped raining, Miranda looked around for her right-hand man, Nigel. As if on command, he entered the tent.

"Miranda, now that the rain has stopped finally, they are setting up. Twenty minutes tops. I suggest we start with the summer dresses and then move on to the evening wear."

"Fine. Fine." Miranda waved her hand dismissively, her eyes once more tracking the aimless young woman currently walking in a diagonal track toward their position. Focusing on her attire, Miranda grimaced. It was positively abysmal. She wore an oversized, shapeless cerulean sweater that covered a light-blue cotton Oxford shirt. In addition she wore an unflattering, hideous printed skirt which gave no indication of the girl's shape, black opaque tights, and black Doc Martens flats. Pitiful. Abhorrent. Ridiculous. The girl obviously had no sense in fashion. No doubt she was a serious student of some sort—self-important, just raring to change the world. Perhaps a law student or journalism major. Miranda snorted mirthlessly.

"My guess is she's an accountant," Nigel said playfully.

"Well, her outfit is certainly dull enough to fit the bill," Miranda drawled. She smirked at the chuckle her comment instigated.

"It's quite horrible, really. Her face isn't ugly. With the right makeup, a good haircut, and some couture, I dare say she could become presentable," Nigel said. "Of course she'd just be a doll we were dressing for fun. She could never dress herself correctly. Either you are born with it or not." Nigel took off his glasses and breathed on them before wiping them with his handkerchief.

Miranda turned her head to stare at Nigel speculatively. "I disagree," she said. "If fashion needed to be innate, we would have a much smaller following. While it is true that some are born with fashion sense, it is not a prerequisite to being able to appreciate, recognize, and dress fashionably."

With a wide smile, Nigel pointed at the unfashionable young woman now about twenty feet from them. "Come on, Miranda! Look at that sad little person! Do you really think she could learn how to be fashionable?"

"With the right person teaching her, yes," Miranda sniffed.

"All right. I'll make a bet with you. I bet you cannot teach her enough to pass her off as a fashionista at the Art & Fashion Gala in June. That will give you about six weeks to teach her how to walk, talk, eat, dress, wash, and choose her own attire. We can do a before and after piece." Nigel raised an eyebrow, his face so smug Miranda wanted to smack it. He knew just how to goad her into doing whatever he wanted. The arrogant twit, Miranda thought affectionately.

Normally she would have dismissed his preposterous dare, but she would hate having to suffer his knowing looks and teasing comments for backing down. No, she would do it. She would make this girl breathe fashion within six weeks. But, was it worth the effort just to prove a point? She cocked her head in contemplation as she watched the girl step in a puddle and jump back, swinging her foot back and forth in the air as would a bedraggled dog. She shook her head in bemusement.

"I won't hold it against you, Miranda. Really. She may be even beyond your ability to teach," Nigel said in a sympathetic tone.

"Emily," Miranda called in a soft voice as she continued to watch the fashion disaster.

"Yes, Miranda," Emily, Miranda's first assistant, responded politely. Emily had been with Miranda for over a year. Soon, Miranda would have to let her go. She was resistant to the idea, if only because good assistants were so hard to find. Certainly, the junior assistant was incompetent. Nevertheless, she wanted Emily to do well for herself; she had earned the opportunity to work anywhere in the fashion industry with Miranda's blessing. Her loyalty would be repaid.

"Get that dowdy-looking girl over there and bring her to me."

As Emily scampered off, Nigel guffawed. "I can't believe it." He rubbed his hands together gleefully. "If you pull this off, you will be a legend."

Raising her eyebrow, Miranda said derisively, "As if I am not now."

"Well, this will be another feather in your cap. Bragging rights, at the very least."

"Hmm." Miranda's attention fastened on the young woman. She looked rather confused and nervous. As she should be.

"And you are?" Miranda prompted in a bored voice.

"Um, my name is Andy Sachs. Well, it's Andrea, but everyone calls me Andy—"

"And what do you do for work, Andrea?" Miranda interrupted, not impressed with the young woman's blabbering.

"I'm...I...I work for the Mirror," she answered hesitantly.

"Doing what, pray tell?" Miranda asked.

"I'm a reporter."

"Then why have I never heard of you?" Miranda demanded, her eyes flicking over the girl. She really did look ridiculous in those clothes. And she could hardly string a sentence together. This is what the newspapers were hiring these days as the up-and-coming journalists? No wonder that two-bit rag was doing so poorly.

"I just started a couple of months ago. I have to pay my dues, just like everyone else."

Miranda was ready to dismiss the girl as a lost cause and concede to Nigel when she saw his knowing smirk. Oh, he thought she could never succeed with molding this girl. No, no. That would not do.

"Do you know who this is?" Nigel asked gleefully.

"Uh, um, no. I..." Andrea's eyes jumped over them and then around the photo shoot. "My guess is that this is a photo shoot for clothes, so this is for a fashion magazine." She swung her eyes back to Miranda questioningly. "Vogue?"

"What?!" Emily squawked. "Do you live in a hole? You certainly look dirty enough. This is the Miranda Priestly, editor in chief of Runway, the premier fashion magazine in the world! Get your head out of your ar—"

"Emily, that is quite enough. That's all." Miranda watched as her assistant reluctantly left the tent before refocusing on Andrea.

"How would you like to learn all about fashion?" Miranda asked while watching her closely. Not surprisingly, her offer was not well-received.

"N-no. That's all right. I don't really have the time," Andrea said as she shook her head, hands held in front of her to keep couture at bay.

"What if you had the time?" Miranda persisted. "You see my art director, Nigel," Miranda tilted her head at him, "and I are in the middle of a small disagreement I believe you could settle. He seems to believe that one must be born with fashion sense, while I believe it can be learned. So if you agree, I will teach you all about fashion, you will be let loose in a natural setting, and the disagreement will be resolved."

"Oh, well, that doesn't sound too bad. What are we talking about here? A day or two?" Andy asked with a timid smile.

Biting her tongue so that she would not scare the girl off, Miranda's lips formed a thin line as she pressed them together. After a pregnant pause, she spoke. "No, I dare say this will take longer, much longer. I can call your boss to arrange for you to take a leave of absence. And of course you will be compensated for your time."

"Uh, that's really generous, but I don't know whether I'd be the right person for this."

"Oh, you're perfect, darling," Nigel said, the sarcasm lost on the witless creature.

"You will be able to write quite an article, perhaps a series of articles on your experiences after we have finished. And..." Miranda closed her eyes for a moment, hardly believing she was about to offer this next part. Her pride had been pricked, however, and she was determined to prove Nigel wrong, if only for bragging rights. "I will grant you an exclusive interview. Since all the major news outlets have been clamoring for such a chance over the last few months, I dare say your boss will be amenable to the leave of absence, and once you have determined who I am, you will find yourself most fortunate."

"That interview will boost your career," Nigel added.

"So, how long, then?" Andrea asked.

"Six weeks, the culmination of which will be your appearance at the Art & Fashion Gala during New York Fashion Week at the beginning of June," Miranda said slowly, staring at the girl unflinchingly. She willed her to agree. Miranda needed something to focus on other than her divorce and work constraints and even her two beautiful twin daughters. This would be challenging, refreshing, and rewarding. Already she was constructing how she would go about it, how she would deconstruct and recreate this two-bit, wet-behind-the-ears reporter, who was no doubt from some small town and knew nothing about the fashion world, into a fashionable, working-class woman.

"Well, okay. I guess this could be fun," Andrea said with a hopeful smile.

Smiling triumphantly, Miranda called forth Emily and demanded she get Greg Hill on the line immediately. Never taking her eyes off of her quarry, Miranda said as soon as she heard the editor pick up the line, "Greg! It's Miranda. How are you?" She pretended to listen, not hearing a word. When he paused, she continued. "I have Andrea Sachs in front of me. I was wondering whether you would be willing to loan her for a while—say six weeks? I have a project in mind for her. In return, I have offered her an exclusive interview with me. You'll have her back by the second week of June. Agreed?" As soon as he said yes, Miranda interrupted. "Excellent. Say hello to your wife for me." She hung up, not needing to hear anything else. Indifferently, she wondered whether he had a wife.

Widened, mocha eyes stared at her. Miranda smirked. "I will expect you in my office tomorrow no later than eight." She let her eyes run over Andrea. "I have no doubt that all your clothes are similar, but do try to clean up a bit." At Andrea's insulted look, Miranda bit her lip, not wanting to chuckle although the girl looked positively adorable in a defiant puppy type of way. "That's all," Miranda and flicked her hands away, as if shooing away a fly. She looked over at Nigel, and they smirked at each other.

"And so it begins," he chuckled.

"Mmm," she agreed. This ought to prove interesting.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

Monday, April 23, 2007

Walking up four flights of stairs, Andy tiredly entered the apartment she shared with her boyfriend, Nate. He was going to flip. Not that he had been particularly happy with all the hours she had worked at the newspaper lately, but this new venture had the potential of taking up even more of her time. It wouldn't matter that Nate worked long hours while attempting to become a sous-chef. It wouldn't matter that most nights he arrived home long after she had fallen into bed or that he slept for hours after she had dragged herself into the newsroom. No, Nate was not good with change. Convincing him to move to New York City had taken several months of begging, cajoling, and convincing on her part, as well as the combined efforts of their two closest friends, Lily and Doug. He hated surprises, hated feeling as if someone had pulled a fast one on him, and hated not having a say in any decision Andy made.

She understood. After all, her decisions affected him. And if he chose not to share his decisions with her before making them, well, she was much more easygoing. Thankfully, though, he talked in his sleep. That was how she had found out about the sous-chef position in Boston he had applied for. He was planning on flying to Boston this weekend, and yet he still had not mentioned it. Andy couldn't help wondering whether he actually intended to disappear without saying a word about it. Time would tell.

Stopping just inside the door, Andy gasped. "Nate! What are you doing here? Aren't you working today?" She watched as he hurriedly pulled his arms through his t-shirt and tucked it into his jeans.

"I traded shifts with Geoffrey. He had some event to go to tomorrow night," he muttered as he buckled up his belt.

"When did that happen?" Andy asked, sitting down at the kitchen table.

"Um, last week. Didn't I mention it?" he asked, pulling open the refrigerator and grabbing the milk.

"Nope. You didn't. Is there anything else you might have forgotten to tell me?" Andy held her breath, hoping he'd take the opening to tell her about the upcoming Oak Room interview.

Nate's chuckle had the reverse effect; Andy's heart plummeted with the realization that he would not confide in her. That he would continue to hide his plans from her. What was he thinking? Did he believe she would go with him to Boston? Was he planning on a long-distance relationship? Or was he going to break up with her? Did he have someone else already?

"Why aren't you working?" Nate demanded, accusing eyes boring into Andy.

"I was! I just finished interviewing someone for that school cafeteria workers piece I've been telling you about, and—"

"Oh, yeah. Whatever. Look, I've gotta jet. Don't count on me for supper. I'm meeting the guys." A flush from the bathroom and the sounds of someone walking through the apartment captured their attention.

"Nate, do you think we have time to stop at—" A young blonde stopped short before joining them in the small kitchen area.

"Nate?" Andy said uncertainly, not knowing what to think.

"Oh, right. This is Jenny. We work together. She was around when Geoff and I traded, and she asked me to help her move some furniture into her new apartment." He flashed a smile. "I would have told you, but I figured you'd be working."

"Well, I'm not, so do you need an extra set of hands?" Andy asked, smile firmly fixed before turning to the attractive woman. She studied the blonde closely. Curvy, hazel eyes, a bit younger than them, and perfect teeth. Great.

"Oh, no. No thanks, Andy. It won't take long, and I'm meeting the guys right after," Nate interjected.

"Which guys?" Andy asked slowly, her eyebrows rising as she focused on the couple before her.

"Andy! You know. The guys. Hey, I'll see you later. Don't wait up." Nate swooped in and kissed Andy on the cheek before opening the door and ushering his guest out. Andy cocked her head and stared at the now closed door, wondering what the hell she had just seen.

He must think she was a fool. Or oblivious. She was neither. As a matter of fact, her investigative instincts were falling all over themselves while shouting the very clear conclusion of his strange behavior: he was cheating on her. With that blonde. And, no doubt, he was hoping to move to Boston with his workmate. With a disgusted sigh, she wondered whether the blonde actually worked at the restaurant with him. Not that it really mattered.

Replacing the half-drunk carton of milk in the fridge, Andy noted that they needed groceries. On auto-pilot, she made a list. Might as well take advantage of her day off. Particularly since she had no idea how demanding this new arrangement with Miranda Priestly would be. Walking into her bedroom, Andy stopped short. The room reeked of sweat and sex. Her face distorting in disgust, Andy ripped the sheets off the bed and threw them on the couch, along with one of the discarded pillows. Until Nate left for Boston, he'd be sleeping on the couch, and he'd better damn well be happy that he still had a place to sleep.

Returning to the bedroom, Andy remade the bed with fresh sheets and spritzed some of her perfume to get rid of the stink still permeating the air. Bastard! He was not the same man she had fallen in love with four years ago while they were students at Northwestern. She sank on to the edge of the bed with a sigh. She had ignored the signs—the lack of sex and stilted conversations. It had gotten to the point where they never shared jokes, and the easy familiarity they had once shared was absent. They had drifted apart. Guiltily, Andy admitted to herself that she had been relieved when he had stopped touching her. The truth was he had stopped satisfying her a while ago, and she usually had to finish herself off after he had fallen into a sated sleep.

If she were honest with herself, she had given up on their relationship months before. Although he was a coward for failing to break up with her before moving on, she wasn't much better.

Not wanting to dwell on her failed love life any longer, Andy booted up her computer so she could find out more about Miranda. It would be prudent to know more about the woman since they would be spending so much time together. Andy got the impression that this crash course in fashion would prove demanding.

"Shit," Andy breathed as she saw all the pages offered up through the Google search. How could she have never heard of this woman? Andy clicked through page after page of photographs, articles, and celebrity gossip, her eyes widening at the immense number of entries.

Evidently, everyone wanted to know about this woman's personal life. Andy's eyes widened as she read how Miranda was in the middle of a divorce. Another divorce. Speculation abounded about why. Had he tired of being second fiddle to her work? Did he trade her in for a younger, less work-driven woman? Had he finally realized that he would never tame her? Or perhaps he became tired of being addressed as Mr. Priestly. The speculation was endless and oftentimes cruel.

"Jesus!" Andy squawked as she read all the names the editor was called: Snow Queen, Dragon Lady, Devil in Prada, the Passion of Fashion...the epithets were varied—some complimentary but most negative. Although Miranda was known to be the reigning queen of fashion, most seemed to hate her. She was both revered and feared. And it seemed that people were waiting eagerly for her to either fall off her throne or to be knocked off.

"What have I gotten myself into?"

She spent the next few hours reading countless articles on the famous woman, shaking her head at just how clueless she was. Miranda was known all over the world, and in the fashion world her word was law. When she approved of a new designer, that person became an instant success. And if an established designer incurred Miranda's discontent, the person became a persona non grata within the fashion industry until she lifted the ban. Incredible.

Sitting back with a loud sigh, Andy realized with surprise that night had crept in. The apartment was filled with shadows, and the computer screen provided the only source of light. Standing up, Andy stretched her spine, arms extended as she looked around the room. Even though she anticipated long days ahead, she needed to get some groceries for when she would be home.

Grabbing a jacket to ward off the breeze sure to have sprung up now that the sun had set, Andy hurried out of her apartment. With a grimace, Andy shied away from thinking about how she would soon be living there alone, her first real love moving on without her. But she was moving on, too—had been for a while. Lifting her chin up, Andy decided not to feel sorry for herself.

Relationships ended. It was time to look ahead. This challenge of learning fashion from its queen would be just the thing to pull her forward. Really, how bad could Miranda be? Surely Page Six had exaggerated how she terrorized her employees, photographers, models, and designers, among others. If anything, she was probably very exacting so that she could showcase the best of the best. Nothing wrong with that. Andy nodded her head definitively. She could work with that. Miranda would have no quarrel with Andy. She would be the perfect student. Grinning, Andy decided she would soak up all the knowledge available and use it to jumpstart her writing career. She would win this bet for Miranda, and Miranda would help Andy to make her writing aspirations come true. Easy-peasy.

***

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

"Again," came the command wrapped in a soft, dulcet tone. Andy was not fooled. The sensual syllables were uttered by a demon clothed in couture.

"Pedah Pipah picked ah pecka pickled peppahs. A pecka pickled peppahs, Pedah Pipah picked. If Pedah Pipah picked ah pecka pickled peppahs, where's the pecka pickled peppahs Pedah Pipah picked?" Andy enunciated slowly. She grinned. Surely that was better. After all, her accent was nothing like the New Yorkers who surrounded her. She knew some people were easily influenced by the local dialect, but Andy wasn't one of them. She certainly didn't go around saying "yo" or "hey," although she did say "yeah" a lot more than she should.

"Andrea!"

Blinking as she stopped her rampaging thoughts and looked at Miranda, Andy felt a stab of guilt slice through her. The older woman looked tired. Currently, she was holding the bridge of her nose while her eyes fluttered closed. It looked like she had a headache. Did I cause that?

"How anyone is able to understand you is beyond me. Were you born and raised on some outback, hick farm where words over one syllable were not utilized? Really!" Miranda said, frustration rolling through each word. Andy sat mutely, watching Miranda turn to the bank of windows.

This was bad. For the last few days, Miranda had never failed to elegantly slice Andy to pieces with her words. Yet, now she just stared out at the Manhattan skyline as the lights of office buildings and store fronts cut through the Spring evening.

"I...I'm sorry, Miranda. I'll try to do better," Andy hesitantly said. "Should I start again?"

With a huff, Miranda said, "Yes."

"Pedah Pipah—"

"Pe-ter Pi-per," Miranda intoned.

"Right. Petah—"

"Pe-ter."

"Peter Pipah—"

"Pe-ter Pi-per."

"Peter Piper picked ah—"

"Ay."

"Ay—"

"From the beginning."

"Peter Piper picked a pecka—"

"Peck of," Miranda enunciated slowly as her eyes bored into Andy's.

Gulping, Andy started again. "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppahs—"

"Peppers."

"Peppers." Andy gulped at the glare she received and began again. "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. Ah—um, A peck of pickled peppers, Peter Piper picked." Andy took a deep breath, afraid she would mess up. "If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppahs...I mean peppers! Where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?"

"Bravo!"

Andy looked to the doors, smiling as Nigel approached them while clapping his hands.

"How's our guinea pig doing?" Nigel jovially.

"Atrocious. It's amazing to think that she is making a living using words," Miranda answered in exasperation.

"Right here!" Andy said, raising her hand.

"Once more. I want to hear it enunciated correctly the entire time," Miranda stated. "And say it slowly."

Andy did as directed, keeping focused on how the words were spelled, emphasizing each syllable as Miranda had countless times over the last few days, and not allowing her mind to wander since that was when her speech patterns slipped into an infinitesimally detectable accent. It was hardly noticeable, but Miranda was so picky, and the slightest variation set her off. After she finished, she sat proudly, waiting for the deserved kudos to flow her way.

"Hmm. I hear what you mean. Do you wish to concede the bet?" Nigel asked sweetly.

"Don't be absurd! We have over a month."

"Not much time," Nigel needled.

Miranda shook her head and sighed loudly as Andy's spirits plummeted.

"Take a break, dear. Maybe go wash your face. Or your hair," Nigel suggested, his kind voice at odds with the scorn so apparent in his words. As she rose he said in an undertone, "Doesn't she have running water?"

"Still here," Andy growled, placated momentarily by the flash of chagrin that crossed his face.

"Then skedaddle," he urged with a shooing motion.

Andy took a few minutes to do just as Nigel had suggested. She made a face in the mirror after applying some lip gloss, patted down her non-cooperative hair, and returned to the office with a heavy heart.

"There you are. I thought perhaps you had climbed a mountain, melted the snow, and used it to remove the grime from your face, but looking at you it is clear that is not the case," Miranda's whispery voice said dryly. "Let's take a break from your single-handedly destroying the English language and work on walking while wearing heels."

Andy groaned. She could not walk well in heels. Truth be told, it was hard enough to walk in flats without tripping. Andy quieted down quickly in response to the pressed lips, raised eyebrow, and laser-like stare directed her way from classical features. Miranda's face captivated Andy, particularly her Romanesque nose and stormy blue eyes, but right now she was scaring the crap out of her.

Looking around, Andy spotted the pair of torture devices she had been required to don every day this week. Walking slowly, Andy swallowed convulsively before leaning against the desk for support as she slid her feet into the five-inch high Prada heels. Grimacing, Andy balanced with her hands held out closely to her sides and began walking daintily, one foot in front of the other, across the office. She tried to not feel self-conscious as the two other occupants of the room silently watched her.

"Straighten your back and lift your chin. Honestly, you've been walking for what, twenty years? How is it that you resemble the awkwardness of a newborn giraffe wobbling across a rocky field?" Miranda complained.

"Oh, I don't know, Miranda. Baby giraffes are cute," Nigel said, humor lacing his droll remark.

Andy glared at him. Did he mean she was cute so the comparison was not valid or that Miranda shouldn't compare Andy to a baby giraffe because she was not cute? Probably the latter. Andy refocused on Miranda only to see her bending over her desk, her neckline gaping open. Andy blinked in shock, her body pulsing as she recognized black lace contrasting with perfect porcelain skin. Andy's arms flailed, and she yelled, "Shit!" as she stumbled and sprawled on the floor. Mortified, Andy took a moment to breathe deeply, knowing that the next few moments would consist of acerbic remarks at her expense.

After a pregnant silence, Andy dared to look up into amused blue eyes. "Honestly, Andrea. We do not have time for you to roll around on the floor like an adorable albeit untrained puppy. Get up," Miranda said mildly, walking toward where Andy remained inert. Adorable? Andy took Nigel's proffered hand and rolled her eyes when he whispered that she was making it too easy for him.

Miranda stopped in front of her with a large, soft-cover book, countless yellow tabs sticking out of its side. "Here. This will help you walk correctly," Miranda said, her breath feathering over Andy's cheek, who stood perfectly still.

Andy could smell Miranda's perfume, a heady mix of spice and citrus. Feeling the book placed on her head, Andy held her breath until Miranda stepped away, then attempted to regulate her breathing so that it did not appear that she had just been holding her breath.

A recent article in Time Magazine had talked about the different abilities females had in comparison to men, and how such abilities gave them an edge in the workplace. One difference was a woman's ability to multitask. Well, they had not tried to do so while in the presence of one Miranda Priestly, taskmaster, perfectionist, and verbal blade-thrower. Andy felt it was extremely unfair to expect her to walk and breathe simultaneously while in Miranda's presence. Furthering her internal fist-shaking, she remembered that she hadn't yet seen any female or male able to accomplish such a feat without great effort—and when accomplished it was done only by those who had worked for Miranda for a very, very long time. Even then, those people stumbled or their breathing hitched when the Snow Queen revealed her discontent. And since she was never happy, that occurred during most interactions.

Feeling the pressure on her head shifting, Andy tried, unsuccessfully, to catch the book before it hit the ground. All three of them stared at it before Andy squatted and scooped it up. It had Runway's name on the front with the picture of some gorgeous, no doubt size zero model, smiling coyly at the camera.

"Really, Andy, you need to treat the Book with more care. It's our bible," Nigel chastised.

"Sorry. Sorry," Andy muttered as she raised it back to her head. She had heard about the Book, the rough draft of the next issue which was used to work out the details of the magazine's appearance. Her eyes flittered to Miranda, expecting to see a sneer or some type of condescension, but the editor's eyes were trained on Andy's chest. Andy looked down quickly as she let go of the Book, hoping she had not stained the blouse. It was one of her most expensive belongings, purchased last night in a resale shop with the hope that Miranda would not aggressively insult her outfit for once.

It had worked. Although she had yet to receive a nod—Nigel insisted that was what she wanted to receive as a sign of approval—nor had she been subjected to the normal morning gibes regarding her clothes. Not seeing anything wrong, Andy lifted her eyes and focused across the room, walking slowly with her head level and back straight.

After she made it to the end of the room, Andy slowly spun around, absurdly proud of herself.

"Again. Quicker," Miranda said.

Andy did it, but as she turned the Book fell. "Shit!" Andy muttered.

"Language, Andrea. We are not barbarians, here," Miranda admonished.

"Sorry." Andy tried again. And again. And again. Her feet were beginning to get sore, but Andy kept walking, not daring to complain.

Twenty more times and Nigel, who was now sitting on a lounge on the far side of the office said, "Not bad. Perhaps it's time we take a break from the catwalk and introduce her to some couture."

"Mmm. We will take her to the James Holt preview this afternoon. Until then, perhaps you will be willing to introduce her to the Closet while I meet with accounting?" Miranda asked as she stood up from her no doubt comfortable chair behind her desk, head tilted.

Not that it was a question. Not really. Andy was quite certain that Miranda never actually requested that anyone do anything, even when couched as a question. And so it came as no surprise when Nigel agreed and quickly led her out of Miranda's inner sanctum, bending to retrieve Andy's flats on their way out.

Once they stood in front of the elevator doors, Nigel handed her the shoes. "Put them on before you kill yourself."

Smiling her thanks, she did just that, content with the reprieve.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Blowing hair out of her eyes, Andy stifled a sigh. Three weeks. Three weeks of hell. It wasn't that she didn't want to learn or wasn't trying. Far from it. From early in the morning until late at night, Andy listened, repeated, asked, and answered. She also weathered verbal abuse the likes of which she could never have imagined.

She arrived at Runway each morning with a smile on her face and hope in her heart. Emily, Miranda's first assistant and the devil incarnate, promptly spewed caustic remarks about her clothes, her hair, her makeup, her weight, all within the first two minutes. In fact, she had quite the gift of throwing pointed barbs at Andy's tender heart in the small amount of time allotted before Miranda arrived. But, nothing Emily said or did could rival the sheer artistry of Miranda's cutting remarks and piercing eyes. Contempt rolled off of the editor, practically drowning Andy each and every day. Except Sunday. She was given that day off to rest. To recover. To wallow in self-pity before giving herself a pep talk, finishing her errands, reviewing and expanding on her notes, and writing preliminary articles on all she observed and learned while thoughts whirled around her head in a maelstrom of confusion and amazement.

Over the past week Nigel had become nicer. Not that he had stopped insulting Andy whenever it struck him. His snide remarks were quite accomplished. Andy was sure that many of his remarks directed at clackers were received with clueless smiles, the mindless automatons of Runway not understanding just how he got his jollies by verbally skewering them. No doubt that amused Nigel even more.

Andy, though, easily understood the many ways that he felt she was inferior, naïve, stupid. And she swung back just as artfully. She even made it a habit to think up new insults at night, right before she fell to sleep. It was a way to unwind.

The first time she had verbally sparred with him, his mouth had fallen open in surprise. He had rallied admirably, unfortunately. Now, the slings they threw at each other were for fun, not to hurt or degrade. Andy wished Emily would get with the program. Miranda—well, that was a lost cause. She was the reigning queen, above everyone, and she had earned the right to sneer at everyone and everything, particularly a two-bit wannabe muckraker.

"I want coffee," Miranda said suddenly, breaking the blanket of silence that had settled over the room. Andy had been studying information on the top ten designers while sitting at a small table tucked into the corner of Miranda's office.

Andy looked around but did not see Emily or the junior assistant at their desks. Confused, Andy looked up into glittering eyes. "Um, were you talking to me?"

"Is there someone else here? Are my eyes failing me?" Miranda said acerbically.

"Well...it's just...I'm not your assistant. I am here to learn about fashion. I'm sure Emily or what's her name?" A loaded silence filled the air instead of an answer. "Right, well I'm sure one of them will be happy to get it for you once they are back."

Andy stared at Miranda curiously as the editor's eyes seemed to darken. Miranda's lips pursed, and Andy braced for the slashing words she was sure to receive within the next few seconds, even going so far as to close her eyes and hold on to the arms of the chair. Not hearing anything, Andy opened one eye a few moments later to find an amused smirk aimed at her.

"Six, come with me," Nigel said as he swept into Miranda's office.

Miranda looked over at him, a bored look covering her face. "I need her back here by three. That's all."

Nigel shot a victorious look Andy's way and jerked his head toward the door.

Without a word, Andy hurried out of the office, exhaling in relief. "Where are we going?"

"I thought you could use a little break from Her Majesty. It occurred to me that you might want to see what just came in. Oddly enough, we received several samples that are horrendously too large for the models. The girls would absolutely be swimming in them. But, there may be just  enough material to cover you." Nigel delivered a cheeky grin to Andy as she rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "Of course, you only get what you can identify."

Groaning, Andy began to mentally list all the designers she had studied over the last few weeks. So many! Dior, Valentino, Chanel, Hermes, Yves Saint Laurent, Louis Vuitton, Oscar de la Renta, Dolce & Gabbana, Balenciaga, Gucci, Coach, Michael Kors, Miu Miu, Jil Sander, Donna Karan, Jean Paul Gaultier, Roberto Cavalli, Stella McCartney, Jason Wu, Donatella Versace, Carolina Herrera, Ralph Lauren, Alexander McQueen, Alexander Wang, Vivienne Westwood...the list was endless and intimidating.  

"Ah, buck up, kid," Nigel said sympathetically. "You'll be surprised at just how much information you have retained. This way."

Following the balding man silently, Andy tried to calm down. Although he had made the bet with Miranda that she would be unable to teach someone fashion, Andy had noticed a softening of his attitude since last week. Perhaps he was recognizing how eager she was to understand the inner workings of fashion. Not because she all of a sudden loved it. Hell no! But she had quite a bit riding on the outcome of this bet.

Now that she knew who Miranda was, had seen her influence, her brilliance, and her detractors, Andy wanted to win the interview and show the world what she had glimpsed. Miranda was more than merely a tough businesswoman. She had made many sacrifices to sit on her throne, and those who should be her staunchest supporters looked for any means possible to remove her from her rightful place.

Andy gasped as they entered the Closet. She had seen it twice before, yet the sheer enormity of it overwhelmed her. Wherever she looked, the most expensive couture and cutting edge fashion were placed with care. Rows and rows of clothes, shoes, hats, purses, scarves, belts—the colors, fabrics, and styles seemed endless. Even Andy, who liked comfortable clothes that made her look good, could easily understand why these expensive, top-of-the-line designs and materials were so coveted.

"Right." Nigel said. He clapped his hands together and looked around. "You identify what I pass to you. Here."

Quickly extending her hands, Andy received a black, lace-back dress that made her breathless. "Dolce," Andy said excitedly.

Nodding, Nigel walked over to shelves full of shoes. He took a pair of black pointy-toes and handed them over.

"Jimmy Choos. Ooh, these are pretty," Andy said, smiling widely. Another pair was handed to her silently with a raised eyebrow. " Manolo Blahnik," Andy cooed. She just smiled at Nigel's chuckle, following him as he walked past several rows of gowns.

"Love that," Nigel said as he passed over a robin-blue leather purse. He pursed his lips while he waited for the name of the designer.

"Um, shoot! I know this. I know this!" Andy moaned, eyes closed tightly as she tried to call forth the name. "Nancy Gonzalez!" she yelled triumphantly, her hand with the purse raised above her head.

"Very good, Six. I thought I had you."

Andy grinned. Six was a nickname he started using at the end of last week. It was in reference to her having only six weeks to learn fashion sense. He liked to tease her that she hadn't a chance of succeeding, but his words lacked any of the vitriol that would normally hurt her. He pulled a few dresses out, shaking his head as he worked his way down a row. "Aha!"

Andy felt her eyes widen as Nigel passed a violet, blue, and multi-colored painterly dress to her. It was beautiful. Andy wanted to change into it immediately.

"Not so fast, Six," Nigel said as he grabbed part of the hanger. "Designer?"

"Narciso Rodriguez," Andy said immediately, her eyes still focused on the dress.

"Right. Well, I have to admit, I am impressed. Now, Chanel. You're in desperate need of Chanel. Darling, shall we? We have to get you back to our Queen soon."

"Oh, yeah. Yes. I'm right behind you," Andy said brightly. She thought about the fact that the majority of items she now held were accessories instead of clothes that would not fit the models. Nigel really could be sweet—in a snarky, indirect way, of course.

Two dresses, one skirt, three pairs of slacks, and five blouses later, Nigel stopped before a row of shelves and reverently lifted a pair of ebony leather thigh-high Chanel boots. His eyes flitted to Andy's legs, and she instinctually straightened up, standing taller as she held her breath in anticipation. When he handed them to her with a sigh, Andy whooped with joy.

"Okay, Princess, keep it down. Let's bring everything to my office, and you can get them before you leave tonight," Nigel said. They walked in companionable silence, and Andy carefully placed her treasures on a side table.

"Don't worry, it will all still be there in a few hours." He folded his arms and tapped his lips with a finger. "You know, I believe La Priestly has a dinner meeting with Irv Ravitz tonight. Have you met him, yet?"

"No. Who is he?"

"The CEO of Elias-Clarke and Miranda's boss. He's been trying to get rid of her for years. Nearly did a few months ago during Paris Fashion Week. He has no vision," Nigel said as he shook his head. "Anyway, come here once she leaves for dinner, and I'll give you a lift home. No sense letting such treasure touch the inside of a dirty taxi."

Chuckling, Andy said, "Actually, I take the subway." She laughed at how aghast he looked, hand raised to his heart like some Victorian heroine.

"Well then, it's settled. I forbid you to go anywhere near that filthy moving sardine can with these exquisite pieces," Nigel declared. "Now, take these, and let's get to the Beauty Department. They'll need lots of time, and God help us if I return you late."

Automatically, Andy took the garments and boots as she followed Nigel. She couldn't understand why Nigel was being so nice to her, but she had no intention of looking a gift horse in the mouth. She was grateful.

An hour and a half later, Andy looked into the mirror, amazed. Her haircut, the makeup, the clothes, the Chanel boots...she felt sexy and confident. Is that what fashion could do?

"You look lovely. Now, shoo. I have work to do," Nigel said as he leaned against the doorjamb. They grinned at each other before Nigel extended his arm and swept it outward gallantly. As Andy passed him, she murmured, "Thank you," turning her head back to deliver a parting smile before scampering back to Miranda.

As soon as she entered the inner office, Miranda looked up curiously. Andy smiled brightly in response, ignoring the raised eyebrows. She felt her body heat up as that signature focused look slowly ran over her body. She held her breath. This wasn't the automatic once-over she received each morning when she first arrived at Runway. No, Miranda's stare was much more intimate, as if she was only just recognizing that Andy was a living, breathing woman. A faint smile flittered over Miranda's beautiful face briefly before their eyes reconnected.

"Are those the—"Andy heard from the doorway. She turned and saw Emily standing as if frozen.

"Chanel boots?" Andy finished. "Yes." She smiled. A small clearing of the throat redirected their attention to Miranda.

"Oh! I'm so sorry, Miranda. Here's your coffee," Emily said as she rushed forward to place it on the desk.

"Where is Andrea's coffee?" Miranda asked, frost dripping off the words.

Eyebrows flying up, Andy stuttered, "Oh, no. When Emily asked, I told her I only wanted water. No caffeine needed here," Andy tittered nervously. Of course, she hadn't said any such thing, but then Miranda had never actually voiced the offer for her to have coffee, either.

"I'll go get the water," Emily said and left the office. Andy's eyes skittered against Miranda's penetrating stare, pausing as heat crawled up her neck and suffused her face. She blinked several times in surprise as she watched a smirk lift Miranda's lips. Emily hurried in and placed a glass filled with cold water on the desk. Then she stood at attention, her gaze focused on the ground.

"That's all," Miranda sniffed. She reached out and lifted her coffee cup to her lips, eyelids fluttering closed as she enjoyed the first sip.

Feeling the urge to lift the glass of water to her forehead, Andy shifted uneasily on her feet. Her eyes remained riveted to the provocative picture of Miranda drinking her coffee in such a sensual manner that Andy felt the need to light up a cigarette. And she didn't smoke.

Andy felt her eyes widen as eyelids lifted slowly and blue eyes immobilized her as surely as if two brawny arms had just clamped down on her shoulders.

"I have a dinner to attend tonight. Before then, however, I thought we might look at the Book, and I can explain to you the vision, the layouts, the colors, all the details that make a successful issue. Pull that chair over."

Doing as instructed, Andy repositioned one of the visitor's chairs next to Miranda and sat to her right, trying not to hyperventilate as the editor's distinctive scent flirted with her senses. She could do this. She just needed to concentrate.

Remembering her water, Andy jumped up, retrieved it, and sat down. Looking around, she realized she didn't have any place to set it. She did not want it too close to the Book or her elbow. She drank half of it, hopped up, and set it back in its original place before sitting down again. Realizing her hand was wet from the sweating glass, she blinked at it while trying to figure out what to do. Her natural response was to wipe it against her skirt. A soft clearing of the throat stopped her, though. Andy looked up to see Miranda with her head cocked and an eyebrow raised, staring at her.

"Are you quite done, Andrea?"

"Oh! Yes. Yes. Sorry."

"Hmm."

Andy tried not to squirm while Miranda continued to stare at her, her eyes sparkling and lips slightly pursed. "Don't even think about wiping your hand on that skirt," she said in a low voice.

"I, I wasn't!" Andy denied strongly, trying hard to push away feelings of embarrassment and guilt. She felt like she had been caught trying to steal the last cookie from the cookie jar. Or the latest pair of Fendi sunglasses from Miranda's desk. She bit down on her lower lip and looked up through her eyelashes at the formidable woman, lifting up her chin defiantly when she saw that signature smirk return to Miranda's face. She nearly slumped in relief when Miranda turned her attention to the Book. Instead, she sat stiffly, spine straight and hands to her sides as she soaked up every word the editor uttered.

Completely enthralled by the cadence of the alluring woman's voice, Andy felt her body relax little by little. Leaning closer to see what Miranda was pointing to while she voiced her despair over how it clashed with the accessories being showcased on the page, Andy crossed her legs, attempting to ignore how the boot leather creaked. She felt herself blush when Miranda stopped mid-sentence and turned her head toward her. After a pregnant pause, Miranda began speaking again, but Andy was so distracted by the view of the older woman's cleavage and how it formed an enticing V that she was unable to process the words.

”Andrea!"

Jolting out of her trance, Andy sat back as she wrung her hands together, hoping that Miranda had not seen where her eyes had wandered. "Yes?"

"Are you deaf as well as dull-witted, now? Or have you not been paying attention?" Miranda said harshly. She sighed in exasperation as she pointed to the page. "Let's see whether you have learned anything or if you have wasted my time completely. Tell me what is wrong with this page."

Fear of failure clawing at her throat, Andy leaned in and stared at the pages in question. She noticed it looked similar to some of the earlier pages, but Miranda had not yet made any changes to this one. The colors were bold—reds and greens splashed in the background while models wore black formalwear. The designer's name was on the bottom in gold.

"Something with the font. It's not, it looks, um..." Andy wanted to say that it looked juvenile, two-dimensional. "The designer's name doesn't pop."

"Hmm. And?"

Andy's triumph was short-lived. And? She had no idea. If she guessed wrong, Miranda would become angry at her.

"Um, the...the..." she shook her head in bewilderment.

"Do you mean to sit there, stuttering like a little girl while proving to me that you haven't heard a word I've said? Weren't you the editor in chief at Northwestern? How can you know nothing about product positioning or the juxtaposition between the people and the landscape?"

"Well, yes I was the editor, but it was not in color, and most advertising was without pictures. When there was a picture, it was just of a person or two. No backgrounds, no products, nothing like that."

Shaking her head in despair, Miranda said, "I don't know why I bother. We have less than three weeks, and you have learned virtually nothing. Your work ethic is simply deplorable. Haven't I devoted countless hours to teaching you how to walk, talk, and dress? Haven't I introduced you to some of the most impressive designers and their creations? Haven't I opened up my world to you with the hope that you would be willing to learn? Hope. I live on it. But you, you don't care. You aren't even trying, Andrea. I am extremely disappointed." Miranda rose and slammed the Book closed.

"But, Miranda! I am trying! You have been part of this industry for what, twenty, twenty-five years? I have been in it for three weeks! How can you expect me to remember everything? The sheer enormity of the material and the people involved—I'm not just learning the names of a dozen designers and their clothes. And I'm doing the best I can," Andy responded, wanting Miranda to acknowledge how much she had been doing, how hard she had been trying, but that it was so, so much.

"Your best falls far short. No wonder you work for that shoddy rag as a cub reporter. Look at you," Miranda raged in a low voice. "All dressed up in expensive couture, yet you probably have no idea why those clothes and accessories were paired together. You may make a pretty doll, Andrea, fat as you are, but you are as brainless as a scarecrow and just as hopeless to teach."

"Hey! You don't get the right to talk to me like that!" Andy said as she jumped up from her chair. She glared at Miranda. "You are the one who made that bet, not me. I never pretended to know anything about fashion, and you have made it abundantly clear of your disdain for such ignorance. But that doesn't mean I am stupid. And, even with your deplorable way of treating me," Andy mimicked the way Miranda had massaged the word moments ago, "I have sucked it up, taken your abuse, and kept trying, although I am beginning to fear I might be brainless for putting up with your crap!"

Andy noticed how Miranda was flushed, her hands balled into fists, and her body slightly bent as if she were contemplating throwing a punch, but Andy was so worked up by all that she had experienced over the last three weeks that she held nothing back. "As for me being fat—I am no bigger than you, and I've never had anyone complain about my body, so you'd better watch your mouth!"

Suddenly, Andy was done with her tirade, and she glowered defiantly at Miranda, waiting to be verbally eviscerated and thrown out.

"Coat. Bag." Miranda demanded, her voice so filled with venom that Andy felt her heart shake. Without another word, Miranda stormed out. "With me," Andy heard her say to Emily. The other assistant had already left for the day.

Andy watched her leave, astounded. Did I just chase her out of her own office? Anger pulsed through her body. It was so unfair! Remembering some of Miranda's insults, Andy began to tremble. Raising her fist, Andy shouted to the empty office, "Just you wait, Miranda Priestly! Just you wait! You'll be sorry, but your tears will be too late! People hate you; they'll love me. Will I care? Don't be funny! Just you wait, Miranda Priestly! Just you wait!"

Stomping to the windows, Andy looked down, watching as Miranda regally walked out the door, Emily's simpering form three paces behind the editor with head bowed obsequiously as they made their way to the town car. Gritting her teeth, Andy muttered, "Just you wait, Miranda Priestly, I'll show you! Just you wait, you think you're so smart, but you're a fool. I'll be famous for my writing, you're just famous for your whining. Just you wait, Miranda Priestly! Just you wait!" Nodding so hard she nearly lost her balance, Andy uncrossed her arms and left the office, eager to find Nigel and get away from all the reminders of Miranda's might.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Striding down the hallway, Miranda began to dictate what needed to happen that morning while Emily walked quickly next to her, taking the Book and scribbling notes efficiently. As soon as they passed through the glass doors, Miranda practically threw her purse and jacket on the junior assistant's desk, her eyes swiveling as she looked for Andrea. Thoughts of that girl had kept her up for much too long, and she just wanted to move on from yesterday's debacle. She had some new ideas she wanted to implement that she was confident would help Andrea appreciate fashion more.

Yesterday had been horrendous. Certainly her loss of temper had not been her finest moment. The girl frustrated her to no end. Pursing her lips when she did not see the brunette, Miranda entered her office and glanced around. No Andrea.

"Emily."

Miranda looked at the messages waiting for her attention, but she did not find any clues about the missing reporter. Where in the world is she? Hearing Emily rush in, Miranda looked up briefly and barked, "Where is Andrea?" She could see by her assistant's panicked expression that she had no idea. "Get her on the phone. That's all."

Sitting down with a huff, Miranda waited for Emily to tell her Andrea was on the line. Agitatedly, she booted up her computer. She opened her e-mail account immediately, thinking that perhaps Andrea had been delayed and had sent her word that way. No message. Now that Miranda was thinking about it, she was fairly certain Andrea did not have her cell phone number or e-mail address. She could have left a message with Emily, however.

"Emily?" Miranda said impatiently. Hearing noise at her door, Miranda looked up with irritation. How hard is it to get someone on the phone?

"Well?"

"I'm sorry, Miranda. She is not answering her cell phone, and she doesn't have a landline. I left a message and a text. I'll keep trying," Emily reported, her voice high.

Nodding dumbly, Miranda flicked her wrist in dismissal and leaned back in her chair. Surely Andrea was just running late. It surprised her how different the office felt without Andrea's presence. Empty. Drab. Flat. Shaking her head in denial, Miranda stared at her screen blankly. The girl had shadowed her for the last three weeks. Miranda could not deny that she had become...accustomed...to her face. The bright smiles and sincere eyes. Those mocha-colored eyes she could drown in. And now that her hair was cut, she could see that Andrea wasn't a girl at all. She was an attractive woman, a diamond in the rough.

Those leather boots had certainly driven that fact home yesterday. Miranda propped her chin on her knuckles, her arms supported by her elbows on the desk, as she contemplated yesterday. The way Andrea had looked in couture, her hair sleek and her makeup emphasizing her beautiful, guileless face—it had surprised and pleased Miranda. Once Andrea had pulled up a chair to review the Book with her, Miranda had felt a spark of desire shoot through her. It had been unexpected and unwelcome. So, she had lashed out unfairly and removed herself from her newly-discovered temptation.

It hadn't taken Miranda long to admit to herself just how unfairly she had treated Andrea. If she were honest, Andrea had worked nonstop to absorb information most took a lifetime to learn, if they learned it at all. Three weeks was not a long time to assimilate so many nuances of the fashion world. Yet, Miranda had allowed her frustrations and fears to control her actions, and now Andrea, it seemed, had left her.

One argument and she leaves? It was absurd—that's what it was! Andrea obviously did not understand that it meant nothing; the insults were just a way to vent frustrations. She hadn't wanted the girl to run away. How could she quit so easily without a second thought? This would not do. She would not allow Andrea to move on.

"Emily."

"Yes, Miranda."

"Get me Andrea's address immediately. That's all." She would find her and bring her back. Already today hours of potential learning—gone. They would have to stay late. A frisson of excitement raced through her body, and Miranda gasped. She'd better get these feelings under control. Lusting after a young, supple body was ridiculous and embarrassing. She tried to ignore the thoughts flitting through her mind, pointing out that Andrea's keen mind and agreeable disposition were also attractive. Miranda had to admit to herself that Andrea was more than a pretty face. Much more.

Sighing, Miranda rose just as Emily raced in with a piece of paper. Glancing at it, Miranda nodded. "I do not know how long I will be." Sweeping through the outer office, Miranda paused only to receive the coat and purse her junior assistant thrust at her. "Nigel can cover for me this morning," Miranda directed before walking past Emily, who held the glass door open for her.

As she traveled to Broome Street in lower Manhattan, Miranda thought about how to entice Andrea to continue with the bet. No doubt Andrea's anger was overshadowing her good sense. After all, Andrea could benefit substantially from the promised exclusive interview alone, never mind the series of articles on her experiences. Andrea merely needed to learn that indulging in emotions would lead to no good in the business world.

Once she arrived, Miranda directed her driver to wait for her. Roy had driven her for years. He was adequate. He never blinked an eye when she changed her destination, never showed his frustration with traffic, and always remained silent unless spoken to directly. She appreciated a person who acted professionally while working; his actions reflecting the respect and decorum necessary to properly fulfill his job requirements.

Miranda entered the front vestibule, pressed the buzzer, and waited. Andrea's voice, distorted by the antique intercom, sounded subdued and uncertain as she answered.

"Andrea. Let me in," Miranda said firmly, fully expecting to be obeyed.

"Miranda?! I, um, no. That's not a good idea. I'm cleaning, and Nate's asleep, and I'm not dressed for company—" Andrea rambled.

"Andrea! Don't be absurd. We must talk. Let. Me. In. Immediately." Miranda demanded. She was becoming irritated, not used to being kept waiting. Taking a deep breath to calm herself, Miranda pulled open the door as the buzzer sounded and made her way quickly to Andrea's apartment.

Before she could knock, the door swung open to reveal Andrea in denim cut-offs and a hooded sweatshirt with the name "Northwestern" prominently displayed across her chest. Miranda worked hard to keep a noncommittal look on her face. Revealing her feelings for such a horrid outfit would be counterproductive. Regardless of the hobo attributes Andrea's clothes reflected, Miranda felt a shiver ripple through her when she noticed the length of leg revealed. She pursed her lips to cover her reaction as Andrea stood aside to let Miranda pass and then proceeded to lock the door. Instead of leading Miranda any further into the apartment, Andrea leaned against the kitchen counter.

"We need to be quiet," Andrea said in a soft voice. "Nate's asleep," she continued, her head jerking to the left to indicate that he was in the next room. Following Andrea's movement with her eyes, Miranda noticed a man sleeping on a sad-looking couch, a tattered blanket covering his legs.

Asleep at ten the morning. Ridiculous. Nodding slightly, Miranda could see that the small living room contained a small television in the corner, a chair, and a desk in the another corner. The kitchen they stood in was extremely small. To the immediate left of the door were the refrigerator and stove, to the right was a window that separated the kitchen from the bedroom and what looked to be a small bathroom, across were the sink and an antiquated tub of all things, and just in front of them was a small kitchen table with two rickety chairs. The place was a tiny, dingy hovel. And small.

Miranda stood stiffly, not quite knowing how to begin a conversation that would end with Andrea returning to Runway. She looked over and observed Andrea's defensive stance: folded arms, stone face, and an impressive glare. Miranda felt her hackles rise. The nerve of this upstart!

"I don't know why you are here," Andrea said.

"And I cannot imagine why you did not appear at Runway this morning, did not have the courtesy to call, and have managed to disrupt my busy day by forcing me to come fetch you. Really, Andrea! If you are quite done with your temper tantrum, get dressed so we can go. As it is, we have lost hours which will have to be tacked on to the end of the day," Miranda grouched, ignoring Andrea's incredulous look.

"I don't work for you! Why would I go back?"

"Aren't you being compensated for your time? Aren't you gathering valuable information you can use to write a series of articles, including an exclusive interview with me? I'd say that means you are my employee, albeit temporarily. Now, I will overlook your ungratefulness and assume your cell phone was broken this once, but in the future I expect you to show up for work on time."

"What's going on?" a gruff voice asked from the doorway.

Miranda looked over to find a scruffy, bare-chested, hairy young man in wrinkled boxers leaning against the doorjamb as he rubbed his eyes.

"I, um, this is Miranda Priestly," Andrea said.

Noticing that she was not offered a true introduction, Miranda deemed the man inconsequential and refocused on Andrea. "Andrea, stop dawdling. "

"Why would I come back when you made it so clear that I am just wasting your time?"

Sighing in frustration, Miranda squeezed the bridge of her nose. Why is this so hard? "Don't be absurd." Miranda swung her hand out in a dismissive gesture. "We had a difference of opinion."

"Andy, you said last night you were done with this crap," scruffy boy whined.

"Nate, go away," Andrea directed.

Miranda agreed whole-heartedly. He had no business here. Miranda raised her eyebrows when he shot a glare at her. He stomped into what she presumed was the bedroom and slammed the door. Idly, she wondered why he had slept on the couch. Did they have lover's spat? She followed Andrea into the living room and watched her flop on the couch like a ragdoll, sighing dramatically.

Recognizing that commanding Andrea to return might not work, Miranda sat down next to the younger woman and gazed at her silently. Andrea had her eyes closed as she rubbed her forehead wearily. It was plain to see how tired she was. Black smudges normally hidden with foundation resided under those now open brown eyes. No spark could be found within their depths, and that worried Miranda to a surprising extent.

"Andrea," Miranda said with her gentlest, most soothing voice, the one she used when talking to her two daughters. "I know you are exhausted. I know your head aches. I know your nerves are as raw as meat in a butcher's window. But think what you are trying to accomplish." Miranda took a limp hand in her own. "Think what you're dealing with. The majesty and grandeur of fashion. It's one of the greatest forms of expression we have. What hangs off our backs reflects who we are. The noblest sentiments that ever flowed in the hearts of designers are contained in their extraordinary, imaginative, and mystical mixtures of material. That's what you've set yourself to conquer, Andrea. And conquer it you will."

Pulling Andrea up from the couch, Miranda said, "Let's go. You can shower and change at Runway." Fully expecting to be followed, Miranda strode out the door, down the stairs, and to the car. Andrea followed mutely. Satisfied that Andrea had gotten over their difference of opinion, Miranda sat back in the leather seat and allowed her mind to dwell on the reporter as the town car weaved through traffic. Soon they would be back, and Miranda would proceed with educating Andrea in the intricacies of the fashion world. With a small smile, Miranda felt excitement course through her. Although she chose not to interpret her reaction, she acknowledged, if only to herself, that it had everything to do with Andrea's presence, and nothing to do with the bet.

***

Friday, May 25, 2007

"No, Andrea. Stop stomping around like some two-bit gangster. My God, baboons are more graceful." Exhaling forcefully, Miranda tapped her fingers on her desk, her eyes following Andrea as she traversed the room. Rising, Miranda approached her. "Watch me," she commanded. She turned and glided across the room, sensually swaying her hips with a bit more emphasis than she normally would.                                                

Spinning around slowly, Miranda focused on Andrea and walked toward her with hips thrust forward slightly and shoulders back. She concentrated entirely on Andrea, disregarding the murmurings of her assistants, the ringing phones, and all the noise that filtered into her lair, willing Andrea to see how sexy, how desirable, how alluring she was. Miranda let the world fade away, trying to impress during these moments how Andrea's presence was all that mattered to her. When she reached Andrea, she noted the flushed features, parted lips, and dilated eyes with satisfaction.

"Your turn," she said in a husky voice. Miranda did not analyze why she felt her breath quicken or how Andrea's obvious appreciation affected her. She chose to be more concerned with whether Andrea could translate presence and sensuality through movement.

Miranda watched as Andrea sashayed across the room, and she found she could not tear her eyes away from Andrea's flexing backside or the way the Stella McCartney cerulean-blue silk dress shifted as she walked. The one-piece dress reached to mid-thigh, and Miranda could not deny that Andrea's toned legs were mesmerizing.

Andrea reached the far end of the room, pivoted, and paused, her head slanted down a bit as she gazed through her thick eyelashes at Miranda. The intensity of the stare was coupled with slightly pouting lips, short-circuiting Miranda's thoughts. Miranda watched breathlessly as Andrea approached, her heated gaze never flickering from Miranda's avid stare. Desire rolled through Miranda's body, coiling low in her belly and pulsing between her legs. Good God!

Just before Andrea reached her, she caught her lower lip between her teeth, and Miranda barely managed to stifle a moan. It suddenly occurred to her just how attractive Andrea was. Shocked, Miranda blinked back the feelings, refocusing in time to watch Andrea trip on nothing and sprawl at her feet. Pursing her lips to contain the laughter that fought for life, Miranda turned away, shaking her head. Honestly, Andrea was so clumsy that it was cute. And thank God she fell. Otherwise... Miranda did not allow herself to finish the thought. She feared what would happen if she indulged in them. 

"We only have one week left and plenty to accomplish," Miranda said sternly as she returned to her desk, "including teaching you how to walk in heels without breaking your ankle. Well, there's only one solution. We will have to stay late for the rest of the week. That way we can at least review more information." Miranda ignored the gasp Andrea issued, pretending to focus on the photos spread out on her desk.

"Miranda, I...I don't know if—"

"No, no. That was not a question. It's the only way. As it is, we are nearing nine o'clock, and I should be home with my children. But I am here with you, attempting to stuff decades' worth of knowledge into your pretty little head. So, it's settled." Miranda felt better now that she had made the decision.

"I knew I'd find you here," a harsh male voice interrupted.

Glaring at the unkempt, shaggy boy-man who had intruded, Miranda said in a low voice, "How did you get in here?"

"Nate! What are you doing? You can't be here!" Andrea said in a distressed voice as she strode toward him. She placed a hand on the young man's chest, whether to placate or to block him, Miranda could not determine.

"This is ridiculous, Andy! You're killing yourself and for what? An interview with her?!" he exclaimed while pointing at Miranda.

"It's only one more week. Be reasonable, Nate," Andrea pleaded.

"Reasonable? I think I have been patient enough. Come home, Andy," Nate said, pulling Andrea toward the door.

"Wait!" Andrea objected, pulling her arm away from his possessive grip. "I can't. I made a commitment. I want to see it through."

"How about your commitment to me?" Nate said belligerently. "You know what, Andy? Either you come back now or we're over."

"Wha—? You're kidding, right? You can't seriously be questioning my commitment to you and delivering ultimatums."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means, I know about Boston, I know about the Oak Room, and I know what type of friend Jenny is. You have no right to question my loyalty when all you've done is lie to me," Andrea answered, crossing her arms. "Or did you forget why you've been sleeping on the couch for the last five weeks?"

"I thought it was so that I wouldn't wake you when I got home late from work!" He stared hard at her. "So that's it, then, huh? You're throwing away everything for her? Well, I hope you two will be very happy together!" Nate yelled and strode toward the door.

"Don't forget to leave your key when you get your stuff," Andy shouted back, hands curled into fists and held stiffly at her sides.

"Fuck you, Andy!" Nate ground out before grabbing both doors and slamming them together so hard that they bounced back open.

The vacuum of silence was uncomfortable, and Miranda found herself in the strange position of wanting to comfort Andrea. Yet another unexpected emotion Andrea evoked. Hearing a choked sob, Miranda instinctively rounded her desk before her mind could stop her. Tears escaped expressive dark eyes, eyes that glistened with hurt and mortification. A panicked look crossed Andrea face, and she stuttered, "I...I'll be right back," exiting before Miranda could take another step. Miranda felt her heart clench.

"Did you allow Cinderella to go home?" Nigel asked with a smirk as he strolled in.

"No. She'll be back in a moment. Why are you still here?" Miranda asked tiredly.

"I wanted to finish reviewing the proofs for the last photo shoot. I think you will be pleased." Nigel passed the folder he carried to Miranda. Nodding, Miranda placed them on her desk.

"So, are you planning to keep her here all night?" Nigel asked as he sat down in one of the visitor's chairs in front of her desk.

"Don't be absurd," Miranda said crossly. Hearing Nigel's chuckle, Miranda pursed her lips.

"I wouldn't blame you. She's certainly cleaned up well. She learns quickly and is oh-so-eager to please you," Nigel continued.

"Oh, whatever are you blathering on about?" Miranda asked, glaring at the balding man.

He tilted his head and eyed her with a speculative look on his face. "You are attracted to her."

"I most certainly am not!" Miranda exclaimed, affronted by the notion. His knowing grin was infuriating.

Luckily, Andrea chose that moment to return. Miranda looked at her closely, noting the reddened eyes and pale face. To think that her boyfriend, ex-boyfriend now, had thrown her away. How could anyone cheat on such a precious creature? He hadn't deserved Andrea. Hopefully, she would realize this and move on. Miranda felt like destroying the worthless boy for causing Andrea pain.

Music filled the room, and Miranda realized that her thoughts had wandered off. She glanced at Nigel in question.

"Dancing. She has to know how to dance in couture and heels for the Gala," Nigel supplied, a suspiciously mischievous look on his face. He turned to Andrea and spread his arms out. "Six, let's see how you are at dancing."

"Um, well, I took ballroom dancing a few years ago," she said hesitantly.

"Splendid. Let's begin. Shall we?" Nigel said.

Miranda leaned back in her chair and watched as Nigel led Andrea around the room. Surprisingly, Andrea was light on her feet. Miranda could not help the smile of satisfaction that crossed her face at the tableau before her. Obviously, Andrea could dance. The longer Miranda watched, the more she wished she were holding Andrea instead of Nigel. They danced three songs before Nigel stopped them.

"Well, that's it for me, Six. You're a natural. If only that were all you needed to know to win the bet," he teased.

"Ah, Nigel! Do you have to go? I was enjoying myself. It's not like I have that many opportunities to dance like this," Andrea said, sporting an honest to goodness pout with the lower lip poking out and shiny eyes begging him to reconsider.

"Tempting, but no. I'll see you both tomorrow," Nigel said and after giving a little bow in Miranda's direction, he left while whistling a random tune.

Before Miranda could talk herself out of it, she was in front of Andrea, sliding her hand onto the younger woman's waist while grasping her right hand firmly. Ignoring Andrea's startled yelp, Miranda began to lead her around the office, moving to the beat of the music. After a few moments, Andrea settled into the dance, her free hand resting on Miranda's shoulder, burning her. Miranda began to execute some of the more advanced steps, pleased to find that Andrea kept pace. Smiling, Miranda looked into mocha-colored eyes. And her eyes stalled.

Unable to tear her attention away from the myriad of emotions revealing themselves to her avid gaze, Miranda was intrigued by what she saw. She moved closer as they floated around the office, their bodies brushing softly. Hearing a soft gasp, Miranda's eyes jumped to parted lips before returning to widened eyes. Feeling her heart racing, Miranda realized that she wanted to kiss Andrea. She slowed their movements and stared into quickly darkening eyes. Swaying closer, Miranda parted her own lips, feeling sweet breath caress her cheek. She tilted her head slowly, signaling her intent clearly.

This is what she wanted. This was why she could not allow Andrea to leave. This was why she cared about Andrea's happiness. She cared for her. It was amazing to find that her heart had latched on to this young woman so quickly.

Hearing noise in the outer office, Miranda stopped and stepped back, her hands dropping to her sides. A young man hurried in the office with the Book. Miranda held out her hand for it and rolled her eyes as he extended his hand out as far as he could to pass it over, as if she would bite him were he to come too close. The music stopped, and Miranda dismissed the man with a soft, "That's all" while watching Andrea gather her purse and jacket.

Andrea's eyes flittered around the room, avoiding Miranda's gaze. She did not want Andrea to feel nervous round her. She wanted to calm the girl. In fact, she wanted to hug her.

It was absolutely confounding. Somehow Andrea had seduced her with her guileless, genuine demeanor. She was a verdant, wet-behind-the-ears girl who had shown herself to be hardworking, intelligent, and sincere, and Miranda found herself helpless to fight the feelings bubbling to the surface. If she were honest with herself, Miranda had to admit that she wanted Andrea to come home with her. If not to finish their dance, then to make sure Andrea was safe. She did not trust scruffy boy, and she was not ready to part company.

"Will you be safe if he is there?" Miranda asked softly. "You are welcome to stay in my home tonight." And the next night. And the next night.

Andrea's blush was endearing. "He won't be there. But if he is, I'll leave," she added.

"Well then. Come along. You'll ride there with me, and I will wait until you communicate that he is not present. Then I expect you to barricade that flimsy door." Miranda gathered her belongings and made her way to the elevator banks.

She said nothing when Andrea joined her in the elevator. Normally she did not allow anyone inside the elevator with her, preferring to use the few minutes to clear her thoughts. Andrea did not intrude upon that momentary peacefulness, however. Even when she babbled, Miranda found it amusing instead of irritating. Tonight, though, Andrea was disturbingly quiet.

As they drove through Manhattan, Miranda stared out the window, tracing the reflection of Andrea's profile with her eyes. How can I be attracted to her? It seemed so ridiculous. In one week Andrea would impress the fashion world and then leave Miranda as if their time together had never occurred. Andrea would interview her and move on, while Miranda would be left with memories and desires.

The car stopped in front of Andrea's apartment. A warm hand grasped hers briefly, and Miranda turned her head in surprise. Soft eyes gazed into Miranda's widened ones. "You don't have to wait."

"I do, Andrea," Miranda corrected in a low voice.

"Okay. I'll either text you if he isn't there, or come right back out," Andy said. Miranda nodded.

Watching Andrea exit the car and prance up the staircase before entering the apartment building, Miranda allowed thoughts of their dance and the feelings it had evoked to flood through her. "I could have danced all night," she murmured. She had no idea why she had become so excited; she only knew she had felt more alive during those moments than she had in years. Her heart had lifted, and holding Andrea had felt so right.

Her phone signaled an incoming text. Looking down she read the message from Andrea. "All is clear. See you tomorrow. Thanks for the dance." Miranda smiled.

Yes, she most certainly could have danced all night and still have begged for more. No amount of denial would erase those feelings. And if she ever found herself holding Andrea in her arms again, she would claim that kiss. Consequences be damned.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Noises filtered through Miranda's townhouse, intruding upon Andy's careening thoughts. She tried to subdue her feelings, but she was having trouble even understanding them. This was the night of the all-important gala. Tonight she would prove that she knew fashion. She had picked the gown and accessories to wear, and now she only needed to walk the walk and talk the talk. By the end of the night she would win Miranda's bet. They had scheduled the interview for the following Thursday at Runway. Then...then.

Anticipating what life would be like without seeing Miranda every day hurt Andy's heart. How could she return to her former life? Well, she would not be returning to everything. Nate was gone, and good riddance. Her fashion sense, hard-learned and life-changing, would not disappear. If anything, Andy planned to develop it even more. She would not go back to wearing just anything. Even if she did not have the money to buy couture, she knew what textures and colors worked well together. She recognized the trends influencing the world on what to wear and how to wear it. She even had a good understanding of how to accessorize an outfit.

"Tilt your head up," Serena said as she approached with a Shu Uemura eyelash curler. Miranda had insisted that she apply Andy's makeup. Andy knew she should be watching closely so that she'd be able to do it herself after tonight, but she just had too many thoughts swirling around to concentrate. Miranda had also arranged for Justine to style Andy's hair earlier, and now her hair was in an elegant up-do with some wisps of hair hanging down to draw attention to her neck and shoulders. She would be wearing an ebony lace and silk Chanel sheath that left her arms, shoulders, and upper chest bare. Andy had chosen not to wear a necklace or earrings since she had nothing that would match the splendor of the gown. To give the ensemble some edge, Andy planned to wear five-inch Gucci stilettos with criss-crossing straps held together by crystals. The shoes were beautiful. Andy had coveted them ever since she had first seen them a month ago, and she had nearly kissed Nigel's feet when he had gifted them to her yesterday.

"All set, Andy," Serena said as she stepped back and viewed her handy work. Andy gazed at her reflection in the mirror and grinned. She didn't look half bad.

"Thanks, Serena. I wish I could do that," Andy said.

"I will teach you. But tonight, you are the princess. Enjoy yourself at the ball, and do not worry. You will impress everyone, even our Dragon Lady."

Andy felt herself bristle at the name she used for Miranda, but Serena's voice was warm with humor and her eyes gentle, allowing Andy to relax. "Thank you." Andy rose and walked toward the closet where her gown was hanging from the door.

"Do you need help dressing?" Serena asked.

Blushing, Andy looked over her shoulder as Serena approached. "S-sure," Andy stuttered. She took off her borrowed robe hesitantly, sternly reminding herself that Serena was used to seeing people in their lingerie. Andy also knew, though, that Serena was normally surrounded by gorgeous models, not an imperfect size four. Andy consoled herself with the thought that at least she was wearing expensive La Perla pieces.

"Do not be embarrassed," Serena said softly as she took the robe and placed it on a nearby chair. "You have a beautiful body, and if I were free, I would certainly pursue you."

Immediately believing she was hearing empty words, Andy turned to stare into earnest brown eyes. Blinking away her surprise, Andy smiled shyly. "That is kind of you to say."

"Nonsense. It is merely the truth. I do not think I would win your heart, though. It seems clear that another holds it hostage, even if neither of you have acknowledged it. Here," Serena said as she crouched, holding the gown open so that Andy could step into it.

The gloriously sensuous silk slid over her skin, and Andy sighed as she felt Serena zip up the dress. Gentle hands reverently smoothed the material down her spine. Andy stepped into the heels and stared into the full length mirror, not quite believing what she saw. She looked wonderful. Elegant, sophisticated, and stylish. Lifting her gaze as she felt hands land on her shoulders, she recognized desire swimming in Serena's eyes, Serena with the glorious cheekbones and perfect figure. It amazed her that such a beautiful woman could be attracted to her.

"Thank you for your help," Andy said softly as she held Serena's gaze through the mirror.

"You are welcome." Serena leaned in closer and whispered, "You will have to take a chance if you want to be with her. She has been hurt too many times and has too much to lose. She will not tell you how she feels, but her eyes follow you everywhere, caressing your features. And I assure you she does not do so because of a silly bet." With a warm squeeze, Serena's hands dropped and she stepped away. "You will be the belle of the ball."

Andy laughed nervously. "As long as I don't embarrass myself, I'll be happy." She turned. "Well, I guess I should get downstairs. Thanks again, Serena."

"You are welcome." Serena opened the door and walked swiftly across the hall and down the stairs.

With one more look at herself in the mirror and a few deep breaths, Andy was ready. She walked confidently, deciding to pretend she was the most powerful, sexy woman alive. Perhaps she'd be able to fool other people into believing it too.

Carefully, Andy made her way down the winding staircase. Nigel, Serena, Emily, and Miranda watched her, and Andy coached herself to not give in to her insecurities. She looked good. That's why they looked amazed, awed, shocked, and astonished in that order as she looked from face to face. She locked gazes with Miranda, searching for acceptance and finding it within the heated stare she received. Andy stopped in front of them, and Nigel whistled his appreciation.

"Turn around. Let me see," Nigel instructed while he made a twirling motion with his finger. Andy turned slowly, making sure her posture remained straight. "Mm. Incredible. It's really just—no, it's—no. Gorgeous. I think that my work here is done," Nigel proclaimed as he clapped his hands together and smiled widely.

"Your work?" Miranda drawled.  

"I'm the one who introduced her to the Closet, quizzed her on the designers, and taught her the more practical aspects of fashion," Nigel claimed.

"More practical aspects? How exactly would you categorize walking, talking, and dressing, then?" Miranda asked, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

"Well in all fairness, I did know how to walk, talk, and dress before the bet. You just tweaked those areas," Andy said. Miranda's glare made Andy blanch, and she stared at the floor, feeling stupid.

"Well, I think you look lovely," Serena stated firmly. Emily and Miranda glowered at her while Nigel smirked, and Andy shot Serena a grateful look.

"Thank you," Andy said softly.

"Wouldn't you agree, Em?" Serena asked.

Grudgingly, Emily nodded her head. "You look chic." Silence fell over them, and Andy struggled not to squirm.

"Is there anything else you need me to do?" Serena asked Miranda.

"No. You've done quite enough," Miranda ground out. "That's all."

Serena ran her eyes over Andy's form slowly before making eye contact. Andy felt her eyes widen in response. A sultry smile was directed at her. "Good night, Andy."

"Go-good night, Serena," Andy stuttered when she caught sight of the thunderous expression on Miranda's face. Emily's expression was a pretty good imitation. Another uncomfortable silence enveloped the room, and Andy looked at Nigel pleadingly.

"Shall we go?" Nigel asked jovially.

"Just a moment," Miranda said.

Andy's body quivered with awareness as Miranda's eyes slowly traveled over her body. Their eyes locked, and Andy felt herself falling into stormy blue eyes. Heat rolled through her, and a flush suffused her face and upper chest. She watched Miranda's eyes fasten on her torso, seemingly mesmerized. Then, Miranda turned and walked over to a side table, picking up a navy blue velvet box before swishing her hips enticingly as she approached Andy. Holding her breath, Andy marveled at the innate sensuality Miranda exuded so effortlessly.

"I took the liberty of renting this for you. It will complement your attire," Miranda said softly.

Taking the proffered box, Andy ran her fingers over the top slowly before opening it. A gasp escaped her when she saw the large teardrop ruby necklace surrounded by diamonds and matching earrings. "Jesus!" Andy breathed.

Miranda lifted the necklace from its satiny cushion and leaned well into Andy's space. Their eyes connected as their faces became separated by mere inches. Andy felt gentle fingers clasp the necklace and then slide between the thick chain and her skin from the back of her neck to just below her collarbones, where Miranda rested them on the ruby for a moment.

"Breathtaking," she said in a low voice, her eyes caressing Andy's for a moment. Then she stepped back and walked to her closet to retrieve her wrap and clutch as Andy tried to get her breathing under control.

"Do you need help with the earrings?" Nigel's voice intruded upon the moment, reminding Andy that they had an audience.

"Uh, no. I can do it," Andy said. She removed them from the jewelry box and placed them in her ears before accepting the wrap Nigel held out to her. Clutch in hand, Andy walked through the front door where Miranda had just swept through, Nigel and Emily close behind her.

They sat in silence, and Andy used the time to wrangle her emotions into line. No matter what she felt for Miranda, no matter how attractive the editor was, the bottom line remained that in twenty-four hours she would no longer have the right to interact with this incredible woman. Tonight she had a job to do: to impress upon everyone in attendance that she knew fashion in all its various forms. And on Thursday morning she would also do her job by interviewing Miranda. Even if Miranda were attracted to her, as ludicrous as that seemed, it was probably just a passing fancy, a type of Pygmalion complex. So, enough of the unrealistic desires and silly yearnings. She would finish what she had started and hold her head high, knowing she had succeeded in delivering bragging rights to Miranda.

"I will descend the main staircase alone. Emily, you will wait for me below. Ten minutes later, Nigel, you will escort Andrea down to join me. I have no doubt that many will wish to speak to her. This shall provide ample opportunity to determine whether Andrea has acquired adequate fashion sense. At the end of the evening, we will decide who has won the bet."

"Well, regardless of the bet, Six has certainly learned quite a bit. Even if tonight's festivities prove that she hasn't mastered enough to navigate through these shark-infested waters successfully, I have no doubt that she has learned enough fashion sense in six weeks to win the bet," Nigel said with a kind smile shot Andy's way.

"Does that mean you concede now?" Miranda asked.

"Oh, no! I can't wait to see what happens!" he responded.

"Thanks a lot," Andy said sourly.

The car pulled up to the venue, and Andy was practically blinded by the camera flashes. She hung back with Nigel as Emily trailed Miranda up the red-carpeted stairs to the front entrance. Andy was surprised that so many photographers swung around to snap pictures of her and Nigel as they made their way into the hotel lobby. Unlike the paparazzi, the press reporters were civilized, and Nigel guided Andrea through the gauntlet swiftly.

"Wow! That was intense," Andy said once they were inside.

"You get used to it," Nigel commented as they entered an elevator to reach the mezzanine balcony. He peered at Andy. "Are you ready to dazzle everyone with your beauty and brains?"

Giggling, Andy shook her head. "God, I hope so. I've been studying so hard. As long as I don't trip, I think I'll be fine." Nigel's chuckle helped to relax Andy. It would be fine. She would be fine.

"This way." Nigel guided Andy to a small alcove off to the right of a sweeping staircase that opened up into the main ballroom. "Watch."

Miranda began her descent down the stairs, and Andy was captivated by the fashionista's grand entrance. Miranda walked slowly, each step certain and her bearing regal. She was stunning in a black Marchesa one-shoulder Kimono-style silk-chiffon. Everyone looked toward the stairs as Miranda made her entry, and Andy was helpless to tear her gaze away too. It was as if the crowd were holding its collective breath, chatter ceasing as the Queen of Fashion deigned to grace the plebeians with her glorious presence. Once she reached the bottom step, a roar of excited voices drifted toward Andy and Nigel's spot above them.

"That was...that was," Andy stuttered.

"Yes. She has that effect on people," Nigel chuckled. His face sobered, and he gazed at Andy thoughtfully. "Andy, I just wanted you to know that you've helped Miranda during a really difficult transition. As you probably know by now, she's in the middle of a contentious divorce. That has weighed heavily on her because of how it has affected her daughters. As if that weren't enough, Irv has been gunning for her with both barrels. I mean, he tried to remove her during Paris Fashion Week, and we all know he is still smarting from his failed coup."

"Oh my God! Why didn't I know about this?" Andy asked, horrified that Elias-Clarke's CEO had tried to take Miranda away from a job she so obviously loved. The woman lived and breathed for Runway.

"No one but those inside the industry know. Although, I anticipate she will discuss it at your interview. So, you will have the ultimate scoop. It will make your career."

Andy couldn't help admiring the formidable woman all the more. She shook her head. "She is remarkable."

"That she is, Six. That she is. And you helped to put that sparkle back in her eye. You gave her something to focus on other than the vultures nipping at her heels. You surprised us all." Nigel smiled at her affectionately. "I hope this won't be the last time I'll see you."

Andy smiled uncertainly. She could have sworn he was gay. "Um..."

"No, no!" Nigel practically yelled, flapping his arms between them. "Besides, I believe your interest lies elsewhere, say on a certain unforgettable editor, hmmm?"

Oh, shit! Is it that easy to recognize? First Serena and now Nigel. She valiantly fought the blush climbing up her chest and nipping at her throat. She'd never blushed so much in her life. A hand on her shoulder refocused her attention on Nigel, who smirked.

"If it's any consolation, I believe your feelings are returned. Now, take some deep breaths, settle your thoughts, and let's go." Nigel held out his elbow, which Andy grasped gratefully and forced herself to clear her mind of anything other than fashion. Of course that did not help too much since Miranda was fashion, but she sternly instructed herself to push aside her feelings until after the gala.

Slowly they made their way down the main staircase, Andy choosing each step carefully. She looked around while maintaining a slightly haughty expression, one that said, "I'm worth noticing because I am so alluring." Or so she hoped.

Much to Andy's surprise, the noise level died down again, and when she allowed her eyes to flitter over the crowd, she saw that the majority of people were watching her. Nigel whispered, "You're doing great," helping Andy to focus on what she was there to do rather than worrying about how mortified she would feel if she tripped. They were about halfway down the staircase, and now she could focus on the movers and shakers sprinkled throughout the hall. Her eyes rested on Miranda who was, unbelievably, watching her closely with burning eyes. Andy felt herself light up, feeling the familiar pull between them. Miranda did not look away, and so Andy did not either.

Once she reached the bottom of the steps, Nigel led her to Miranda. As they progressed, people stood aside, as if she were Moses parting the Red Sea. It was flabbergasting. And there was Miranda, smiling at Andy, who could not have been more surprised if she had witnessed Miranda cartwheeling across the room. They came to a stop in front of Miranda, and Andy nearly fainted when strong fingers wrapped around her forearms, pulling her forward to exchange air kisses. Andy nearly swooned as she inhaled Miranda's sweet scent. She breathed in deeply before stepping back and smiling brightly.

"Andrea, I am so glad you could join us. Let me introduce you to some of my friends," Miranda said as she tilted her head toward a small crowd. Andy had researched all the well-known designers in anticipation of seeing them tonight. She was glad she had. "This is James Holt. He just went national a few months ago."

A handsome man took Andy's hand and kissed her knuckles. "It's a pleasure to meet you. You looked lovely in Chanel, I must say. I can well imagine how my creations would drape perfectly on you."

"Thank you, Mr. Holt. That is kind of you to say," Andy answered.

"Please call me James."

"Then thank you, James. I have to say, I love your Spring line, particularly the maize and cream-colored sleeveless dress. The detail of the design is breathtaking," Andy said, pleased to see James' face light up in delight.

And so the night began. Over the course of the next two hours, Andy was introduced to countless designers, editors, writers, and photographers. Andy navigated the conversations as best she could, peeking over at Miranda every so often to see how she was doing, and each time she become caught up in sparkling eyes. Not that all she did was stand and chat. In fact she was asked to dance quite frequently. She couldn't remember the last time she had felt so desirable, so interesting, so fucking brilliant.

By the time Andy had a moment to breathe, the hall was filled with noisy chatter—suffused with joyful laughter, no doubt helped along by the copious amounts of liquor being drunk—and Andy was intoxicated by the taste of success. "Well, I think it's clear that Andy has fulfilled her part of the bet," Nigel said, turning to Miranda. "I concede the bet. You were right, as usual, Miranda. Fashion sense can be learned." He smiled at Andy as he shook a finger at her. "And don't you forget what you've learned."

"Are you kidding? This education came hard-earned. Sweat, blood, and tears, I tell you," Andy replied with a chuckle.

"Really, Andrea. No need to be dramatic. Blood?" Miranda teased, her eyebrow raised.

"Yes, blood! How can you forget when I tripped, stubbing my toe on the chair leg? Or when I misjudged the curb step, scraping my hand when I fell? Or when—?"

"Please bore someone else with the details of your walking challenges." Although the words were harsh, they were said in a light tone of voice, accompanied with an exaggerated eye roll. Andy grinned widely. "I'm leaving," Miranda said abruptly. "Andrea, join me for a nightcap."

"Um, okay." Andrea felt apprehension steal through her. When she saw Miranda's pleased expression, however, her fears abated somewhat, and curiosity welled up, along with a healthy dose of desire. She realized that she would be alone with Miranda. In her home. Late at night. Alone. Drinking alcohol after an exhilarating night. Being Miranda's sole focus. And focusing solely on Miranda. Staring at gloriously unblemished skin. Luminescent eyes. Perfectly coiffed hair. Enticing curves. Alone.

They said their farewells to several people before making their way to Roy, who stood patiently next to the town car. "Hi, Roy," Andy said with a smile before walking around the back of the car to slide in through the passenger side.

The ride was quiet, yet the energy between them was charged. Andy mused that this might be the last time she interacted with Miranda on a personal level. Not that they had ever really hung out. When together, their talks had always revolved around fashion. Miranda wasn't her pal. They'd never spoken of personal matters. Perhaps this nightcap was to serve as a type of debrief.

Andy hoped not.

"Your services will not be required for the rest of the night, Roy," Miranda murmured as they exited the car. Roy nodded and quickly left, the purr of the expensive town car's engine lost in the slight evening breeze.

Andy shivered, although she was not in the least bit chilled.

"I have a nice bottle of port I can open," Miranda said as she led the way to the den on the third floor. Andy had never seen the before. The warm blues and browns invited her to sit down and relax. She sank onto a comfortable sofa and looked around while Miranda continued to a small bar off to the side. On the wall across from the sofa hung a large, flat-screen television. Below was an ornate entertainment center. To the left was a gas fireplace and two burgundy-colored leather chairs. Behind the sofa was a credenza, a roll-top desk, and an office chair. An oriental rug pulled the colors together, and pictures dotted the bookshelves lining two of the walls, filled with books Andy longed to peruse.

Miranda sat next to Andy as she handed off a liquor-filled glass. "Thank you," Andy said softly.

"You are quite welcome." Andy felt pinned to the back of the sofa as laser-like eyes drilled into her. "I was very, very impressed with how you handled yourself tonight. I never thought I would say this, Andrea...but I really—I see a great deal of myself in you. You can see beyond what people want and what they need...and you can choose for yourself. You chose to follow through with this absurd bet, and you didn't give up, even when I was unpleasant." Miranda sipped from her goblet, a pensive look on her face.

"I agreed to the bet, and although I did quit at one point, I'd like to think we worked out our differences. I've learned so much over these last six weeks. I bet a million girls would have loved to have been in my place, learning from the Queen of Fashion herself," Andy replied.

"Hmmm. Yes. No doubt your experiences will make for some interesting articles. Not to mention my interview," Miranda said as she looked around the room.

Smiling sadly at Miranda's words, Andy acknowledged to herself that this experience had changed her indelibly. No matter how difficult and demanding Miranda had behaved, her brilliance and vision had made such times worthwhile. And now the bet was won, and their time together was ending.

"What?" Miranda asked, her voice soothing.

"I'm going to miss you," Andy answered honestly. She held Miranda's questioning gaze, wanting Miranda to see that she meant her words. Andy rose and crossed to the entertainment system, her eyes scanning the CDs housed in it. Finding what she wanted, she inserted the disc into the player and turned to Miranda. "Dance with me."

"I don't think—"

"One last dance, Miranda," Andy implored. "Please." She walked over to Miranda and extended a hand. After a pregnant pause, Miranda's hand slid into hers, and Andy smiled. She led Miranda closer to the fireplace where they would have room to dance and slipped a hand onto her waist. Pulling her closer, Andy swayed to the beat, reveling in their closeness. The susurrations of expensive fabric brushing together melded with the whispers in Andy's mind. Urgings to take a chance, to lean in more, to claim the kiss she knew Miranda had nearly delivered a week ago.

Miranda's hand moved from Andy's shoulder to the back of her neck, fingers playing with some loose tendrils of hair. Shuddering, Andy gazed into expressive eyes, drawn into the emotions swimming within them. Andy slid her hand to Miranda's lower back, her fingers twitching with the need to explore. A question was burning brightly in Miranda's darkened blue orbs, and Andy pulled Miranda closer, gasping as their chests pressed together. She could feel how aroused Miranda was, and it fed her own desires.

"Andrea," Miranda whispered.

Lips parting in preparation, Andy licked her bottom lip instinctually, her eyes on lips she needed to feel against hers. Before she could close the space between them, a thumb traced her lips gently. Andy groaned. The thumb stalled on her lower lip, and Andy sucked on it, licking the pad with her tongue. A guttural moan that seemed to be torn from Miranda's soul caused the hairs on Andy's arms to rise. She trembled, overcome with strong emotion as Miranda slowly withdrew her thumb and captured Andy's lips with a bruising kiss. Desire roared through Andy, and she wrapped her arms around Miranda tightly, wanting to climb inside of her, wanting to feel every inch of her, wanting to feel this rightness forever.

The kiss broke, and they both fought to inhale air into starved lungs before diving back into another kiss. This time, Miranda's tongue slid over Andy's bottom lip, who moaned as she opened her mouth to receive the further intimacy. Miranda was more intoxicating than any liquor. She tasted divine.

The kiss slowed down to several shorter kisses. Andy leaned her forehead against Miranda's as her respiration began to slow down. She pulled Miranda into a hug, tucking her face into the crook of her neck and inhaling deeply.

"Andrea," Miranda said, pulling back enough so that their eyes could meet. "I will understand if in the light of day you decide to move on without exploring this attraction. You can do anything, go anywhere, choose anyone, and you will succeed. However, you are young, and you have yet to forge your path in life, whereas I have walked my path and led the fashion industry for the past twenty years. You might not want to be with someone like me. I treat everyone the same, no better, no worse. I do not suffer fools gladly, and I will not change, not even for you. I would be the fool, though, if I did not at least try to keep you in my life. You are extraordinary. I've never met anyone like you. I do not like the idea of only seeing you at functions. I want more." Miranda framed Andy's face with her hands gently. "The truth is I have grown accustomed to your face."

Gasping, Andy felt her eyes fill with tears. She couldn't believe Miranda was saying these words. The kisses had left her in a lust-filled haze, and Andy was having trouble understanding what Miranda was communicating. Her body was screaming that they get back to kissing, swaying, communicating in a more elemental way.

"If you do not share these feelings, I wish you well. If, on the other hand, you feel inclined to explore these feelings, then you need to know that I will not share you, and I will not sneak around. Think about it. If you can imagine spending time with me, getting to know me in a much more intimate way, then come back tomorrow. If you do not return, I will see you on Thursday for the interview, and this conversation will serve as a confirmation that even the Snow Queen has a heart that can be melted by the warmth of your smile."

Andy felt uncertainty grip her. She was afraid that if she showed up tomorrow, she might find that Miranda's wonderful words were the result of too much wine or the prospect of returning to an ordinary work schedule. Could Miranda truly want a relationship? With her?

Fingers gently removing her necklace pulled Andy away from her insecure thoughts. Miranda detached one earring, pausing to rub the lobe between two fingers before gently enclosing her mouth around it and sucking rhythmically. Andy melted into the erotic touch, mewling as Miranda's tongue teasingly entered her ear channel before moving away. A soft kiss was delivered on that oh-so-sensitive spot behind her ear, and then Andy found herself moaning louder as Miranda removed the other earring and rendered the same loving attention on that ear.

Opening her mouth to speak, two fingers blocked the flow of her words. "No, no. Just think about it. Don't answer." Removing her fingers, Miranda brushed their lips together, and before Andy could even open her eyes, Miranda had left the room, a soft-spoken “good night" hanging in the air.

"Well, shit!" Andy muttered. If Miranda had just let her answer, she would have known that her feelings were returned. Instead, Andy could look forward to a night of restless sleep while she counted the hours until she could return. Andy called for a taxi before leaving the townhouse, preferring to wait on the front stoop. The brisk night air cooled her off enough so that she could think clearer. Slowly a smile crossed her face. Tomorrow she would make Miranda understand that she desired to spend time with her too. Lots of time. Doing lots of things. Intimate things. Lots of intimate things.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Sighing, Miranda rolled over, burrowing into her soft duvet. She did not want to get up. Her daughters were staying with their father this weekend, and Miranda had scheduled herself to be free today, knowing that after the end of the Gala and consequently the end of New York Fashion Week, she would need a day to recuperate. A vision of Andrea at the gala, surrounded by admiring glances, caused Miranda to sigh. How had this girl gotten into her heart?

Not that she was a girl. At all. No, Andrea had proven herself to be a very desirable woman. The kisses they had shared last night had reinforced that fact quite sufficiently. It had taken all of Miranda's considerable willpower to not take Andrea to her bed. In fact, she had intended to make love to the younger woman, but then she had realized that one night would not be enough. So, she had made her feelings clear. Walking away after making her offer had been a calculated risk—one that was quite necessary. Although Miranda might change in some ways to please Andrea, the fundamental aspects of her personality would not change. She was a possessive woman, and she would not share. She would not hide. And she would not let Andrea go if they did enter into a relationship.

Realizing she had developed such strong feelings for Andrea, Miranda had sat down with her girls several days ago to discuss it with them. Admittedly, they hadn't taken it well. Well, she couldn't blame them. They were dealing with the upheaval of another divorce, and the press's relentless coverage of it had proved taxing to them. She had really made a mess of her life, and it had colored their interactions. The fact was, though, that she wanted to explore these feelings, and whether her children approved or not, she would. Provided Andrea agreed.

Perhaps the morning light had helped Andrea to see clearly all the reasons why returning to Miranda would be foolish. Perhaps the victorious feeling of winning the bet had faded, and along with it the romantic nature of last night's declarations. Perhaps Andrea had decided that she could do better. And she could. Miranda knew that. She knew her weaknesses, knew her obsessions, knew her imperfections. She was sure Andrea did too.

Rising from her bed, Miranda combed her hands through her silver locks before donning her favorite robe, a gun-metal gray material that wrapped around her body deliciously. She quickly made the bed before moving to her closet to choose her clothes for the day. Something comfortable and casual. She pulled out an electric blue Michael Kors long-sleeve, scoop-neck, chain peasant tunic. The décolletage was low enough to reveal her collarbones and to hint at cleavage. She paired it with a pair of La Idol white skinny jeans. The rear pockets had a jewel design on them that went well with the tunic's chain accessory.

After readying herself for the day, Miranda made her way downstairs to find something to eat. She scooped up the papers on her hallway floor, delivered to her home on the weekends, and opened up to Page Six. Her steps faltered when she saw the picture of Andrea and her exchanging air kisses. The caption proclaimed that she was handing the throne over to her successor. Miranda chuckled. Not quite. Andrea might one day be ready for such a position, but she doubted that was the road she wished to travel. Nor was Miranda ready to abdicate. If anything, this bet had renewed her appetite for fashion, seeing it through new eyes as she had introduced its various forms to Andrea.

Humming a tuneless song, Miranda cooked an omelet, adding tomatoes, mushrooms, and peppers. She perused the rest of the rags as she finished, thinking that it was time to make some coffee. As she placed her plate in the dishwasher, she heard the doorbell. Her heart leapt with hope. Andrea? Trying to temper her reaction in case she was not at the door, Miranda made her way to the front of the house.

A butterfly fluttered near the entrance as Miranda's eyes connected with bright brown ones, and its unusual presence emphasized for Miranda just how excited she felt. A steaming no-foam skimmed latte was thrust into her hand as Andrea swept into the house. Miranda closed the door and followed as Andrea made her way to the den.  

"You know," Miranda drawled, "I do have a coffee maker. And if I recall correctly, you were quite emphatic that your job did not include getting me coffee."

"Well," Andrea said with a small smile, "I am sure you have the best coffeemaker available..."

"I do," Miranda agreed before taking a long sip from her cup. It tasted heavenly.

"And it's true I was not hired to fetch coffee for you..." Andrea continued, her smile becoming larger.

"So you made abundantly clear a few weeks ago," Miranda said, placing her cup on a table and stepping toward Andrea. Her breath hitched as Andrea also stepped forward.

"But that doesn't matter since I am no longer your employee," she said softly.

Miranda stepped forward once again, her eyes traveling slowly over Andrea's beautiful form.

"And I brought it because I wanted to, not because you were requesting it," Andrea said in a breathless voice.

"You mean demanding it," Miranda said wryly as she wrapped her arms around Andrea. She gazed into Andrea's clear eyes, hardly daring to believe she was holding this wonderful woman. "Are you sure?"

"Yes," she answered simply.

Without further prompting, Miranda pulled Andrea close and kissed her passionately. Andrea's hands slid up her back, caressing each vertebrae under her fingers before weaving them through Miranda's hair. Moaning her approval, Miranda parted pliant lips and sucked on the strong tongue that met hers.

"Miranda," Andrea moaned.

The raw wantonness conveyed in that one word drove her wild. She rubbed their tongues together, swallowing Andrea's guttural groans while her hands cupped Andrea's backside, squeezing them in time with her tongue thrusts. When they pulled back to breathe, Miranda rasped, "I want you. Give yourself to me, Andrea."

"Only if you give yourself to me," Andrea said in a low voice.

Looking into her eyes, Miranda saw just how serious she was. Nodding, she pulled Andrea up the stairs to the master bedroom and kissed her sweetly. They lay on the bed, and Miranda held her tightly for a moment before kissing Andrea's throat. She could feel Andrea's pulse racing under her lips. "Didn't I tell you last night that I've grown accustomed to your face?" Miranda murmured.

"Um, yes. Ohhh, you feel so good," Andrea moaned.

"Mmm," Miranda hummed. She lifted her head to gaze into darkened eyes. "I've grown accustomed to your smiles." She ran a finger lightly over parted lips before moving it to brush over Andrea's forehead. "Your frowns." She flipped them over so that Andrea was on top and thrust up slowly, feeling the heavenly movement of Andrea's body as she responded to the pace Miranda set. "Your ups. Your downs. Are second nature to me now. Like breathing out and breathing in."

Miranda slipped her hands underneath Andrea's shirt and familiarized herself with flexing stomach muscles and delicious, full breasts. She pushed the shirt over Andrea's head, pausing to feast her eyes on what was revealed. Noting how Andrea stopped gyrating against her, Miranda looked into apprehensive eyes and remembered her cruel words, said in frustration. Fat. "I am so sorry I called you fat." Miranda ran a hand through silky locks, pushing them back so she could see Andrea's expression. "You are by no means overweight. I cannot wait to explore every glorious inch of you. Please forgive me." She let her feelings of guilt, sorrow, and regret shine through her eyes.

Watching Andrea closely, she recognized through the softening in golden-flecked eyes that she was forgiven. Smiling, Miranda removed Andrea’s bra and lifted her head up to cover a perky breast with her mouth. She began a sinuous rhythm with her body as her hands cupped Andrea's backside and pulled her onto her thigh, whimpering when Andrea's thigh found its way between Miranda's legs. Their pace picked up as Miranda moved her lips to the other breast, sucking it enthusiastically.

"Mir-Miranda! I, oh, my God. I need, um, I want..." Andrea puffed. "Ohhh, that feels so goooood!" she moaned as Miranda chewed on a hardened nipple.

The heat between them was intense. Miranda unzipped Andrea's jeans and shoved them down with her panties as far as she could reach, using her feet to push them off completely. Her hands pulled the addictive body closer, and she hissed as her hand glided easily through slippery folds. "God!" Miranda muttered around a breast. She arched her back as fingers explored her skin under her tunic, loving how Andrea's hands felt on her. She had never felt so aroused in her life.

"I need to see you," Andrea panted, bracing herself on one arm as she pulled at Miranda's blouse.

"Sit up, darling," Miranda directed. Without pause, she removed her blouse and bra, reassured by Andrea's widening eyes and hitching breath. Andrea's hands were quick to help Miranda remove her pants and lingerie before sinking down on her fully. Miranda moaned loudly and pulled Andrea as close as she could, reveling in Andrea's full length against her.

Luscious lips kissed her chest, sucking on her collarbone as a tongue licked the indentation. "You are so sexy, Miranda," Andrea whispered. "I never dreamed you could return my feelings. I need you so much. I just, I can't face a life without you in it."

"You don't have to. Now that you are here, I won't let you go," Miranda declared, returning her hand between Andrea's legs. She was soaked. Miranda felt bolts of arousal shooting through her, and she began moving against the precious body above her. "Oh, Andrea!" Miranda groaned as fingers stroked through her sopping folds. "Yes! Oh, yes! Please."

Sure fingers entered her as she thrust two fingers into Andrea. Their moans mingled as they moved together, picking up the pace while kissing again and again. Andrea threw back her head, crying out as she climaxed. Her fingers stilled for a moment as her body convulsed, but soon she regained control and began plunging her fingers into Miranda with renewed vigor. "Come for me, Miranda. Trust me. Let go. Let me in," Andrea crooned.

Closing her eyes against the intense emotions overwhelming her, Miranda yelled out Andrea's name as her orgasm tore her apart. She wanted to laugh, she felt so good. She wanted to cry, she felt so vulnerable. But above all, she wanted to keep Andrea with her.

She held Andrea firmly, still feeling faint flutters against her fingers. She slowly began to move them in and out, groaning when Andrea followed suit. Pushing more forcefully, Miranda added a finger and brushed her thumb against her engorged clit. "You feel incredible," she declared, kissing wherever her lips could reach. She licked at a swollen bud, drawing the breast into her mouth hungrily, growling as the sweet taste of Andrea's skin filled her senses.

Andrea's body moved against hers provocatively, slick with their combined perspiration. Miranda looked into dark eyes and smiled widely as she brushed more forcefully at the bundle of nerves pulsing against her thumb. This felt so right.

"Miranda...Miranda...Miranda," Andrea chanted, the affection in her voice wrapping around her heart and spurring her second orgasm. She watched as Andrea followed her over the glorious precipice, rejoicing in her ability to please the younger woman. They elongated their movements, drawing out their pleasure as fingers slowed down. Andrea slumped on top of Miranda, who held her as she tucked her head into an attractive neck. Leisurely, she grazed her teeth against it, making a mental note to explore this part of Andrea’s body closely once she got her breath back.

A soft voice broke the silence. "Thank you."

"If anyone should be grateful, it is I. Every day you've been in my life has been a blessing," Miranda said, framing Andrea's beautiful face so she could look into her expressive eyes.

"Well, I'm sure not every day..." Andrea said sardonically.

"No, no. Even when you said things to me that I needed to hear but was too stubborn to listen to, I was grateful. And I will be grateful for every day you give me, Andrea." She smiled tenderly as tears leaked from Andrea's eyes trailing down her cheeks.

"Well, then," Andrea's voice said brokenly. She cleared her throat and tried again. "I'm glad, really glad that I was walking in Central Park on a rainy day."

"Mmm, as am I. And I will be quite content to hear your voice and see your face every day. I fear I became rather spoiled over the last six weeks." She rolled them over so that she was propped on her elbows and knees above Andrea. "We are going to have to figure out a way to get me through each day without you shadowing me everywhere." She smiled wickedly. "This is a good start." She felt Andrea's laugh reverberate against her lips as she sucked lightly on her collarbone.

"I'm glad. I just..."

Miranda looked down to see Andrea biting her lip nervously.

"What?"

"I just hope you won't become bored with me."

"Andrea, you are not a doll. Nor are you a toy or a plaything to be dressed up and then tossed aside. I learned that very quickly. I assure you, I will not become bored."

"Really?" Andrea asked in a hopeful voice.

"Really. Although this conversation is becoming rather boring. I think we can find a better use of our time," Miranda drawled, her hand gliding over curves she craved to feel against her once more. She leaned down, cutting off a joyous laugh as warm hands ran down her back.

Rain hit the window panes, the droplets creating a rhythm that they followed as their passion flared once more. Miranda knew that, just like on that day six weeks ago when it had rained, Andrea's inner light would break through Nature's tears, warming Miranda with her love.

The end.