November 1941 - Aboard the SS Dragonfly en route to Honolulu
Andrea Sachs left her cabin and headed for the dining room. The SS Dragonfly had only been in business for two years and held every feature a luxury cruise ship possibly could. This included a breakfast buffet with everything imaginable on the large plates. Travelling in first class was a nice change from what she was used to and she never passed up on an opportunity to dine well and try to spot Hollywood celebrities.
“Ma’am? Mrs. Priestly is requesting your presence in one of the private dining booths.” A steward appeared at Andy’s left just as she was reaching for a plate, her mouth watering at the sight of the food. With a sigh she put it back.
“All right. Thank you.” Not. Was it too much to ask to have breakfast in peace and quiet? Andy groaned inwardly and walked toward the far end of the dining room, passing several people she recognized. Curtains provided privacy to the wealthy passengers that demanded it and the steward pointed at the second private booth. Andy carefully pushed the curtain aside and met the eyes of her boss.
Miranda Priestly, chief editor of Runway, the most popular fashion magazine in the US, perhaps in the world, sat to the right of the table that was half covered with folders and books. Her prematurely white hair was formed in a stylish French twist and her iconic S-shaped forelock was in place. She wore black framed reading glasses and a dark blue skirt suit with a crisp, white shirt.
Andy sighed. So, it was going to be a working breakfast. Wonderful. Miranda looked up, gazing at Andy just above her glasses. “Ah, there you are.” She always made it sound as if Andy had been missing for hours.
“Good morning, Miranda.” Andy slid into the booth on the other side of the table from Miranda. Turning to the steward she ordered about half the breakfast she initially hoped to ingest.
“And bring more coffee. Hot. And more milk. Also hot,” Miranda added.
The steward nodded eagerly and left.
“Before he returns I need you to take a letter to Eleanor.”
Knowing full well Miranda meant Eleanor Roosevelt, Andy flipped open the stenography pad she always carried—even to bed. Miranda was infamous for calling at all hours when she felt the need of her assistant. Now she dictated in record speed a letter to her old friend, the wife of the president of the United States. Andy’s pen flew across the page and she wondered if there was competitions for stenographers. She would do well, she wagered.
“And end it the usual way.” Miranda waved her hand dismissively. “I’m not sure it was wise of you to order pancakes for breakfast. The captain told me the rest of the voyage will get a bit bumpy, as he put it. That and the weight it adds—pancakes are not to be recommended.”
“I’ll risk it,” Andy said calmly. “I rarely get seasick. And pancake reminds me of home.”
“Ah. Ohio. Pancakes, jam, and whipped cream I imagine. So very American.”
“One of our best breakfast ever. The twins agree.”
Miranda’s gaze softened. “One more day and I’ll hold my babies again. I have missed them terribly. Having them visit their father and his new wife was unavoidable, but since he’s about to go to sea on an exercise soon, I couldn’t very well deny them.”
Miranda’s twins, Caroline and Cassidy, had stayed with Commander Baldwin and his very new wife Mindy, for the last month and half. As their father was currently stationed in Hawaii the girls had regarded this as a much anticipated vacation. Miranda had managed to remain positive, but Andy knew every nuance of Miranda’s facial expressions and could see how it hurt her to be without the girls. When Cassidy had deemed New York as desperately gloomy and boring in comparison, it was as if she’d slapped her mother, but Miranda only smiled and encouraged her girls to go with their father to his new command. Now, Andy could feel the excitement reverberating around Miranda at the thought of soon seeing her twins.
“I’m sure they’ve missed you a lot, Miranda,” Andy said kindly. “I received a few postcards from them and you were always mentioned first.
“I was?” Miranda had bent over one of her folders but now gazed up at Andy again.
“Sure. They wanted me to promise to look after you.”
“Really?” Miranda’s voice sank one octave. “And how did they assume this would manifest itself? The looking after?”
“Hm. I, ehm, I’m not sure. They did mention you tend to skip meals when you’re alone.” Andy hoped Miranda wouldn’t draw the obvious conclusion, but of course she did.
“So that’s why you kept bringing me all the food and talking about how hungry you were. You were actually feeding me at their request.” Miranda tapped her fountain pain at her lower lip. Then, to Andy’s astonishment, she chuckled. “Those girls. They are so caring. Much more than I’ve ever been. Imagine that.” She returned to her folder and Andy began to find her breath again.
Miranda glanced back up and locked her unreadable eyes on Andy. “And you, Andrea, you I have yet to figure out.”
“No matter what a good pilot you claim she is, you have to fire that broad, Kathryn.” Chuck Taylor, foreman and chief pilot at Janeway’s Aviation roared as he entered her office. Kathryn’s normally so mild-mannered friend and employee was furious and it wasn’t hard to figure out why.
“By ‘that broad’ I gather you’re talking about Annika Hansen?” Kathryn leaned back in her office chair. Outside it looked like it would be a beautiful day in Pearl Harbor. Blue skies, not a cloud to be seen…she really should grab one of the smaller planes and take to the skies. It would be a blessing to escape the rampaging resentment from her chief pilot toward Miss Hansen.
“You know I do. And don’t tell me she hasn’t gotten under your skin as well. I saw how she looked when she left your office yesterday.” Chuck sat down on the other side of her desk and put his feet up. “And you know me Kathy. I’m a laid back kind of fella, normally.”
“And normally you’re not rude and presumptuous either, Chuck.” Kathryn cast a pointed glance at his feet. To his credit, Chuck took his feet down instantly and sat up straighter in his chair. “And yes, Miss Hansen is a bit rough around the edges, but she is the best pilot I’ve seen in years, you and I included.”
“What?” His ears reddening now, Chuck glared at her. “I resent being compared with this….this blonde! I’ve got more years in a cockpit than she will ever reach before she meets some sailor and starts nesting.”
“Remember who you’re talking to.” Kathryn was angry now and she stood, palms on her desk to make good use of her temporary advantage in height. “I’m not married to a sailor, nor do I have children. You don’t know what Miss Hansen’s past entailed or what her future holds. Show some respect and treat her as any other pilot in my company. Those are your only options. As for you having logged more hours than she has as a pilot, this is true, but flying is also about talent. Something we’re born with. Can you name anyone else who would’ve been able to land that old bucket you sent her up in, with only one wheel intact?”
“Sure.” Chuck’s least attractive feature, and he had plenty that endeared him with the ladies, was him being sullen.
“And now you’re lying to my face.”
“All right, all right. But does she have to be such a know-it-all? Such arrogance does not become a young woman.”
“Only men can pull off arrogance you mean?” Kathryn sat down, smirking now.
“You know what I mean.” Chuck frowned, but his eyes sparkled and Kathryn knew his temper was mellowing. He was never ill-mannered or grumpy for very long.”
“I do, but truth be told, I cannot afford to let any of my competitors get their hands on a pilot as good as Annika Hansen. She’s brilliant and I need her. Since two of my best pilots decided to join the military and then go off to England to fight Hitler, I have been losing customers.” I was no exaggeration. Since pilots became short in supply, Kathryn found it increasingly harder to keep her contracts.
“So, when the war in Europe’s over and the guys are back, then will you fire her?”
Kathryn laughed. “No. Now, get out of here and get Betty ready for the damn pineapples.” Fresh fruit was one of her most lucrative cargos. High end restaurants in California wouldn’t use the canned fruit that normally shipped by sea. Instead they flew in the best of the pineapple crops from Hawaii and the bidding for such contracts was a cutthroat business.
“Yes, ma’am.” Chuck saluted with one finger and rose from his chair. He walked with a slight limp, which was the only reason he wasn’t in the military and on the way to join the RAF. Kathryn knew this was yet another reason why the otherwise so friendly and easygoing man lost his temper every now and then.
Kathryn walked to the windows overlooking her main hangar. Her office was located on the second floor and in the far corner, a winding staircase led to the tower where she employed two people to guide her airplane and work with the military installation.
Behind her, she now heard lighter steps on the metal staircase leading to her office. She turned around slowly and folded her arms over her chest. As she had already guessed, it was the young woman she’d just hired two weeks ago, Annika Hansen.
“Miss Janeway.” Annika stopped just inside the door, her hands behind her back. She wore her long, blond hair in a simple low ponytail. Most women today rolled the front of their hair up in big curls, but Annika was all about flying and not at all about vanity, that much was clear. Kathryn kept her own hair in a pageboy haircut, but rolled up her bangs in soft curls to keep them out of her face. She truly wasn’t vane either, but also knew when to doll herself up and play the part society expected of a woman—especially if it lead to her reach her objective. Now she lowered her chin and frowned mildly at Annika Hansen.
“You enraged my chief pilot again, Miss Hansen.” Kathryn kept her voice calm.
“I want to know why.”
“He was wrong.” Annika shrugged. “I can’t agree with a wrong deduction just because he is my superior—or a man.”
This was undeniably true, but even if Annika was a brilliant pilot, the maneuver had been reckless. “Why do you surmise he was wrong? There are rules to flying—“
“I did not endanger either the plan or the people on the ground. I knew what I was doing. Simply because he cannot perform the same maneuver—“
“I will not have you talk about Chuck Taylor in such a disrespectful manner. You’re a gifted pilot, Annika. We both know you’re a natural. This said, Chuck has been with me for many years and you have been here two weeks. If you’re going to stay on, and I hope you do, you need to deliver your views and ideas with some decorum. I always welcome new ways of doing things, but remember who is in charge here. Chuck is your superior, and I’m his. Next time you want to demonstrate your skills, I want to know about it before hand—and if I don’t sanction it—it’s not going to happen. Understood?”
“Certainly.” Annika jutted her chin out. “And if Mr. Taylor insists you fire me for being the better pilot rather than having just cause?” Her blue eyes didn’t waiver.
“As I said, I’m in charge here. Either you trust me to be a fair boss, who knows her business, or you don’t and then you’re free to leave.” Kathryn hoped Annika wouldn’t chose the latter, but she couldn’t let that wish show. Annika needed to accept the chain of command.
“Very well. I’ll stay for now.” Annika turned to leave.
“Wait.” Kathryn waived for Annika to join her at the desk. “I was just going to have some more coffee. Why don’t you join me for a cup and we can get to know—“
“I don’t drink coffee.” Annika nodded briskly and left.
Kathryn shook her head in exasperation. Perhaps she would be better off to follow Chuck’s advice and fire that stubborn young woman right off the bat? Then again, there was something about Annika. Something entirely different that made it impossible for Kathryn to stop thinking about her.
Miranda stood in the doorway of her bedroom in the suite Andrea had booked for her at the Royal Hawaiian in Honolulu. From here, it was a mere hour to Pearl Harbor where Andrea had rented a bungalow for the duration of the rest of their stay. Spending most of December this far from Manhattan wasn’t optimal, but it was what she had to do.
Soon, James would leave for his next mission and the girls couldn’t very well stay with his new wife. They needed to come home with her to New York where they all belonged. Miranda walked over to the window. She had to admit there was something magical about Hawaii. The scent, the palm trees and all the flowers; their beauty wasn’t wasted on her.
Still this was the last on her mind right now. She must have been naïve to imagine her girls waiting for the SS Dragonfly to make port, waving to the mother they’d missed while in this paradise. Instead a purser had arrived to her cabin with a telegram stating Caroline and Cassidy were on a hike with their father and stepmother and would meet up with her at the bungalow. The disappointment shot through Miranda at the short words and then fury at herself for allowing such daydreaming to fester. No doubt she was inspired by her ever-positive assistant Andrea.
“Miranda?” As on cue, Andrea’s low voice startled Miranda out of her reverie.
“Yes?” Miranda turned and looked at her young assistant who stood in the doorway she herself just vacated, nervously twisting her fingers.
“There’s been an error. I’m so sorry, Miranda. I was very specific when I booked our rooms—“
“Oh, please bore someone who has an inkling what you’re talking about.” Unusually annoyed with Andrea and not quite sure why, Miranda flicked her fingers at her assistant.
“That’s exactly what I’m doing,” Andrea insisted, even if she looked very nervous.
“What on earth are you talking about?” Narrowing her eyes deliberately as she stalked closer to Andrea, she was still impressed that the young woman stood her ground.
“There’s been an error. I don’t have any accommodations.” Andrea laced her fingers before her.
“What?” Now this was an unforeseen development to say the least.
“I do not have anywhere to sleep. No room.” Andrea spoke as if she figured Miranda’s mental ability to be close to a five year old’s.
“What about the rest of the staff?”
“They’re all fine. They have rooms.”
“What about an extra cot in one of their rooms?” Miranda couldn’t believe she was going to spell out a solution regarding this for Andrea.
“Tried that already. I tried everything. We discussed it with the management and the rooms for the rest of the staff are miniscule. No room for any cots there, whereas you have a spare bedroom in your suite.” Andrea smiled faintly. “It would just be for two nights and then were off to the bungalows.”
Miranda knew she and the girls were going to share her bungalow with Andrea. She needed her assistant close by while travelling. Andrea had offered to babysit the girls if the need arose. But to share her suite with Andrea like this—just the two of them? The word ‘unchaperoned’ flickered through her mind, which didn’t make any sort of sense.
“All right. Fine. Move in, as you seem to have your heart set on it,” Miranda hissed and motioned for Andrea to step away from the doorway. She closed the bedroom door and found her hands not entirely steady as she pressed her palms against it. She let her forehead follow suit and the coolness of the door soothed her pounding headache. For a moment, she thought of asking Andrea for an aspirin, but for being so naïve and annoyingly positive, Andrea had a keen eye and she would spot more than the headache in Miranda’s demeanor right away. It had happened before. When Miranda’s second husband, Stephen, filed for a divorce, forever tarnishing what was left of her reputation, Andrea found her in tears in the office. Miranda thought everyone had gone home, but of course, dutiful and perfect, Andrea was always in the office if Miranda was. The girl clearly slept less than Miranda did—but with her twenty-something years, Andrea never looked tired.
Miranda unbuttoned her blouse and unzipped her skirt. Pulling her clothes off, she forewent her habit and let the clothes remain where they fell. She ran the tub and the hot water sent shudders through her body as it soothed her tense muscles.
Tomorrow she had business to deal with and that meant being in close proximity of Andrea. She would have to slam her best editor-in-chief mask on and be the Dragon Lady extraordinaire.
After all, that’s what she was best at.
Annika climbed into the cockpit of the DC3 cargo plane that sat on the private tarmac outside the hangars. This was far from her father’s Sopwith Camel, the one he’d flown for the British during the great war in Europe. As a Swedish adventurer, Magnus Hansen had thrown himself into what he perceived as the adventure of war, only to be shot down by the enemy and killed as he crashed into the English Channel. Annika was only four, but she remembered him quite well, the dashing tall, blonde man who spoke to her in his native tongue despite her mother’s disapproval.
“Hey, Hansen,” a stocky, burly man with a mope of red hear and a freckled face, called to her from below. “Take it easy on the throttle and no flybys, all right. I don’t think the boss will appreciate another broken window in the tower.” Nils Erixon, the other Swede at Janeway’s Aviation, oddly enough, wiped his hands on a rag. As the best flight mechanic around Pearl Harbor, he kept Janeway’s fleet immaculate and operating smoothly, no matter the age of the airplane.
“Thanks for the heads up, Nils.” Annika pushed her side window open to hear him better. I’ll go easy on everyone today. I don’t want Taylor badmouthing me to Janeway again.”
“Aw, Chuck’s not that bad,” Nils said and grinned. “He just wants things done his way as he is the chief pilot…after Janeway of course. Until she hired you, she was the best pilot around her. Now—well, I think I can make some money on who between the two of you would win a race around islands.”
“I’m not about to compete with the boss. I need my paycheck far too much. Job offerings for female pilots don’t grow on tree—or palms.” She couldn’t see herself doing anything else but flying, even if it was mail and other cargo and the same route day in and day out. Flying was in her blood. It was as simple as that.
“I hear you, but one day, when you are both in a good mood, you won’t be able to resist finding out who’s the best pilot.”
Annika knew he was right, but that was not in her immediate future. She knew her blunt way of speaking by never sugarcoating anything, could get her into trouble. It happened frequently with cocky men and women who thought she betrayed her sex by ‘acting like a man’. The few times she dolled herself up, they seemed to wish she’d go back to wearing coveralls and have grease smeared stains on her hands and face.
Now she waved to Nils and put on her headset and contacted the tower. She got the go ahead to start her engines and taxi out to the main runway. Eager to take to the sky, where she felt more at home than any place on earth, she went through her checklist with the same meticulousness as always.
“Janeway to Hansen,” an already familiar, throaty voice said over the headset. “You need to add an extra stop on your route today. I just got off the com radio with the large pineapple plantation owner, Mr. Paris, in Hanamaulu. His wife requires transport to Honolulu. They have their own private airstrip. Get her here and I’ll have Nils clean up his act and take her the rest of the way in my car.”
“Or better yet,” Annika heard herself say, “ask Chuck Taylor. He’s quite the lady’s man or so I hear.” Wishing immediately she kept her mouth shut, Annika listened with astonishment to Janeway’s chuckle.
“Mrs. Paris would have Chuck Taylor for breakfast. Trust me, we used to play bridge together until she quit before she killed her bridge partner for not reading her mind.”
Janeway played bridge? Somehow, Annika had a hard time picturing that. “All right. I’ll pick up the lady.” She glanced at her flight route. “Radio the plantation and let them know I’ll fetch Mrs. Paris on my way back. They’ll hear me coming. Hansen over and out.” She started the engines and the asked the tower for permission to take off, which was swiftly granted.
As she reached halfway down the runway, the DC3, the largest among Janeway’s fleet of planes, as if guided by the benevolent hand of some nameless deity. Immediately, Annika’s mood lifted right with it. Now she was home. Untethered and free, she knew the past was indeed in the past and all she had to do was keep flying, use the talent she was born with, and let the winds carry her wings.
Soon enough she’d be weight down with her past and uncertain future, but for now she kept grinning like a fool and even looked forward to the extra miles to fetch the pineapple wife. What was her name again? Oh, yes. Mrs. Paris. How difficult could a little old lady be?
Andy knew she should check on Miranda before they went to bed. She could tell how the disappointment had taken a toll on her boss, making her every bit the dragon lady her reputation claimed she was. People just didn’t know what a vulnerable person hid beneath the dragon layer of Miranda’s personality. She had been close to bubbly the whole day before they made port in Honolulu, and then that telegram that deflated the larger-than-life woman she worship—worked for.
Andy checked her appearance before knocking on Miranda’s door. This was of course ridiculous since she wore her nightgown and bathrobe. As she didn’t’ travel as a private person, but as part of her job, she was told to have her pick of clothes from the magazine’s closet, which held all kinds of famous designer labels. The soft lilac nightgown caressed her skin every time she moved, giving her goosebumps.
With her heart pounding madly, she knocked on Miranda’s door—a gentle knock that Miranda could sleep through if she was already in bed. But Andy had no such luck. The door was yanked open and Miranda stood there, hands balled into fists and fire in her eyes.
“Yes?” The word was a mere hiss.
“Can I do something more for you before I go to bed, Miranda?” Andy forced herself to sound calm and positive.
“And what would that be? Do share, Andrea. The suspense is killing me.” Her eyes mere slits, Miranda scrutinized Andrea from her toes to her hair.
“I thought you might want a last order for the day from room service, or perhaps you may have thought of something I need to take care of first thing tomorrow.”
“It that from the closet?” Miranda said abruptly. “That color is all wrong on you.”
“I like it.” Suddenly stubborn and feeling gutsier than normal, Andy stood her ground. “I think it compliments my brown eyes as lilac is a lighter version of purple.”
Looking suddenly intrigued, Miranda walked a slow circle around Andy. She stopped every now and then, letting her eyes scan certain part of Andy’s body. Standing motionless, Andy let Miranda do whatever it was she was doing—it almost seemed as if she had stumbled upon some new idea.
“A lingerie spread. Six pages. All soft spring colors. Artistic. Tons of skin.”
As Andy had put notepads in strategic places all over the hotel suite, she now grabbed one and jutted down the short cropped word.
“And I want Lilian. No other.”
Lilian Bassman was a much sought after fashion photographer, protégé of the big male names of Harper’s Bazaar. Miranda adored her photos and used her as much as it was possible under Irving Ravitz, her boss that she loathed as much as it’s possible to despise another human being.
“Lilian. Got it.” Andy scribbled down her own version of stenography that she’d been forced to develop during her first months as Miranda’s assistant. Now her hand ran effortlessly across the notepad page like water.
“And I want baskets with treats for the girls. Toys. Candy. Flowers. Everything.”
Andy looks up, feeling her jaw drop. “Uhm. How big a basket are we talking about here?”
“I’m talking about laundry style baskets. Two. Plural.” Miranda had begun to pace. “I want them to know just how much I’ve missed them.”
Andy tried to move her hand to write down the order, but found she couldn’t. “Are you sure?” she heard herself say. Her heart began to thunder and her adrenaline level spiked. Fight or flight reaction. Not the first time.
“Am I sure?” Miranda spoke so quietly, her voice was barely audible. She had stopped pacing and now she gave Andy the impression of a cobra just before it launches.
“What I mean is…surely they don’t need all those things to realize you’ve missed them. Your love and your hugs will tell them that. Remember what I told you about the postcards? They’re dying to see you.” This was it. This was when Miranda killed her, fired her, or—listened.
“Their father buys them everything under the sun,” Miranda muttered, but her shoulders sank a bit and it looked as if she began to relax.
“Then you will stand out as the parent who listens and gives of her time, despite her busy schedule. If you give them huge baskets, it’s almost like saying ‘here you go, eat candy and play and don’t disturb mom’.” Perhaps Andy was pushing it, but she would be darned if she was going to witness Miranda make even more mistakes with her girls. Caroline and Cassidy idolized their mother and wanted to be just like her. They craved her attention like they did water, but being a businesswoman in a man’s world; Miranda was rarely home for very long. When she was home, she had work to take care of before bedtime.
“You might have a point,” Miranda said slowly now and stalked toward Andy who nearly dropped her note pad. “You’re a clever girl—for an Ohioan.” She smirked quite evilly.
Andy could hardly breathe as Miranda’s perfume enveloped her.
Miranda reached up and adjusted Andy’s hair at her right temple. “And quite pretty.”
“For an Ohioan?” Andy croaked.
Miranda gave a slow, wicked smile.
Andrea had a sometimes ridiculous adorability about her. Right now, she looked at Miranda as if stunned by lightning and yet she dared to question her. Miranda wasn’t stupid. She knew Andrea was out to save her from herself. Someone had once told Miranda she was her own worst enemy at times. Andrea seemed to be of the same opinion.
“No,” Miranda now answered Andrea’s breathless question. “Not just pretty for an Ohioan. Just pretty.”
“Oh. Oh my. Thank you.” Andrea blushed, yet another rare thing in Miranda’s world. Not a lot of people she knew ever blushed. Jaded, hardnosed, and arrogant, yes. Sweet, caring, and prone to blush—no.
Miranda waved Andrea’s thank you away with a flick of her wrist. “Am I to understand my being generous with gifts for the girls is not a good idea according to you?”
“Yes. I think it’s a truly bad idea. If you want to buy them something, why not take them somewhere nice for dinner—or go surfing with them. They wrote to me they’ve been taking lessons.”
It was Miranda’s turn to stare at Andrea. “Surfing? My babies have been surfing?”
Andrea paled. “Oh no. Damn it. I swear my big mouth…that must’ve been part of a surprise. Please don’t tell them I told you. Please.” She placed a hand briefly on Miranda’s arm.
Her skin tingling where Andrea’s hand warmed her skin through her robe, Miranda shivered. “A secret. I see. I won’t tell them you told me, but I fully intend to have this out with James. He thinks the girls should be allowed to do anything. Next thing, they’ll be parachuting from airplanes or, God forbid, he’ll put them in the cockpit to fly the planes themselves.”
“I’m sure surfing lessons for kids are quite safe.” Andrea looked hopeful and Miranda knew she was hoping as well as guessing. So did she.
“If anything happens to my girls because of his carelessness, I swear—“
“Miranda. Don’t.” Andrea stepped well within Miranda’s personal space and now the shivers from before turned into tremors. “You worry about losing your girls, I know that. You feel you work too much, you are concerned about your former husband’s new wife’s attitude toward the girls, and you try to buy their affection and reassurance. I know you could fire me on the spot for speaking to you like this, but I think you know that I say these things because I truly care about you and the girls. Why else would I risk my livelihood like this?” Andrea was even more breathless after her outburst.
Miranda, on the other hand, was slightly breathless because Andrea stood so close. If she came one inch closer, their bodies would touch. This notion induced completely new sensations. Miranda tried to decipher her rampaging emotions and her body’s response. She was no fool and quite well aware of how one could be attracted to one’s own gender, but it had never happened to her. Until now. She was ready to turn rapidly and head for her bedroom. To hide, simply put. Surely she couldn’t be attracted to Andrea? The girl was twenty-five years her junior, for heaven’s sake. Miranda had been surrounded by all kinds of beautiful women during her years as editor-in-chief. Not once had she even contemplated being attracted or let alone had any sort of physical response to their presence. Now she had both and it was not only inconvenient, it was mindboggling. She scrutinized Andrea’s form before her. Stunning. Beautiful. Caring. Sweet. Far too sweet.
Miranda wondered briefly if Andrea’s caring stretched into any sort of attraction to her boss beyond that of mere hero-worship which most assistants went through with her at one point or other? She doubted it. Andrea was looking out for her and her girls and she did so because she was a warm-hearted lovely girl. Feeling utterly miserable for thinking such impure thoughts about Andrea who was only trying to be helpful way beyond what was in her work description, Miranda took a step back.
“You have a point. I’ll make an effort to join them in their latest activities. Though, I must admit, when we get back to Manhattan, I’ll be quite relieved when they resume their piano and flute lessons. Much less nerve wracking.”
Andrea laughed and it sounded cute and cackling at the same time. Miranda had to smile back before she withdrew from the living room area.
“Go to bed, Andrea. We have a lot to do tomorrow.”
Andrea gazed at her with what looked like longing for a few impossible seconds. “Yes, Miranda. Good night.”
Miranda pivoted and hurried into her room. She closed the door and pressed her back to it. She wanted to turn the key, which was of course another ridiculous thing. Instead she tossed her robe in a chair and slid into bed. In her overactive mind, Andrea slid in behind her and wrapped her arms around Miranda’s cold and shivering body.
She gave a muted sob at the idiotic, impossible fantasy. This would never happen, so why torture herself?
Kathryn watched the DC3 land and a broad smile spread across her face. Belani Paris was a good friend of hers and knowing how feisty and gung-ho Belani was it had hardly been fair to send Annika in blind to fetch her. As the plane taxied back to the hangar, Kathryn walked closer and assisted Nils in pushing the airstairs toward the hatch. It swung open and Annika Hansen attached it from inside.
“You are welcome to exit the plane now, Mrs. Paris.” Annika extended her hand and accepted a suitcase. “Mind your steps, please.”
“Thank you, Annika.” Belani Paris, of proud native Hawaiian, kanaka maoli, descent, came into view and waved to Kathryn. “Hello, stranger,” she said and moved down the airstairs on quick feet. Her round belly showed a well progressed pregnancy and, as several times before, Kathryn experienced a mixed sense of tenderness and bittersweet longing. She never did have children of her own and nor would she.
“Kathryn!” Belani hurried toward her on impossibly tall heels.
“You foolish woman. Are you trying to break your ankles this close to your due date?” Kathryn embraced her friend. She glanced at Annika who stood with Nils and went over some data regarding the flight.
“Don’t even start with that. You know I can outrun you in these beautiful things any day of the week.” Belani wrinkled her nose.
“Probably true. You always were faster than me.”
“I sure was. Now,” Belani continued, hooking her arm under Kathryn’s, “who is this sullen malihini you sent to pick me up?”
“Didn’t she introduce herself?” Frowning as she again cast a glance at Annika, Kathryn didn’t revel in the thought she may have to reprimand Annika again.
“Of course she did. Very correct. And as I said, very sullen. Secretive even. I tried all my charm, even some of my more inventive threats, but she was just…cordial. Still there was something…I wonder if you don’t have a bird there.”
“A what?” Kathryn opened the door to the hangar and motioned for Belani to enter the stairs to her office.
“Bird. As in birds of a feather. Get my point?” Belani grinned.
“Not quite sure I do. Ever.” Kathryn closed the door behind them. “Please enlighten me. And sit down before you fall over.”
“Everyone’s always telling me to sit down.” Belani pouted, but did actually obey for once. “So, to my point. I got the impression from what I managed to squeeze out of Miss Hansen that she is a girl who doesn’t care much for men in any capacity.” She wiggled her eyebrows at Kathryn.
Kathryn stared at her friend. She had known Belani since she was ten and Belani four. Belani’s father had worked as a flight mechanic for Kathryn’s father, Edward and he had raised his daughter to know she was as good as any white child. Edward Janeway had insisted Belani would go to the same school as Kathryn and appointed his daughter to be Belani’s protector if any of the other kids would be mean to the young native girl. As it turned out, Belani didn’t need any other protection than from herself. Her temper got her in trouble on a daily basis and she spoke her mind clearer than anyone Kathryn had known…at least until she met Annika Hansen. Perhaps putting Belani and Annika in the same plane had been an error in judgement?
“You didn’t just say that. And oh, God. Please tell me you didn’t flat out ask Miss Hansen about that?” Kathryn stared in horror at her friend.
“Give me some credit. I’m not entirely without manners.”
Belani stuck the tip of her tongue out as if to prove Kathryn right. “No, I didn’t ask her that. I asked her if she found working in a male dominated business to be a positive or a negative thing.”
Kathryn held her breath and tried to conjure up a completely innocent tone. “And what did she say?”
“Here’s your suitcase, Mrs. Paris,” a sonorous alto voice said from the door that Kathryn was sure she had closed. “As you are curious about my private likes and dislikes, all you have to do Mss. Janeway, is to come and ask me and I’ll tell you everything you’ll want to know.” Annika placed the blue suitcase in the center of the floor and left the office.
Kathryn hid her face in her hands.
Annika strode out of Janeway’s office, furious at how they had discussed her. Or perhaps not discussed per se, it was more like Mrs. Paris had expressed her convoluted opinion about Annika. Apart from that, Janeway’s reaction had been more telling—and more interesting. Why would she blush so fiercely and have such a caught expression on her face? Had Mrs. Paris’s comments hit too close to home with her employer?
“Hey, Hanson. Glad to see you actually can execute a normal landing instead of showing off.” Chuck Taylor approached Annika, wiping his hands on a rag. “I saw you brought company.”
“I suppose that’s your way of expressing an offhanded compliment,” Annika said, not impressed by the handsome man’s condescending tone. “And yes. Mrs. Paris.”
“Oh, Lord, save us all,” Chuck said and grinned broadly. “Did she interrogate you about your sordid past?”
Jerking, Annika stared at Chuck. “No. And my past is not particularly sordid.” Annika shuddered. Not sordid, no. More like pitch black until a few years ago. She shook herself mentally. Nobody knew about her past, nor would they. She had left those years behind and she was not about to cry on anyone’s shoulders and bring them back. Certainly not Chuck Taylor’s broad shoulder. He regarded himself quite highly when it came to women; it was easy to see.
“Sordid or not, Belani Paris has a way of digging the truth out. My best advice is to come clean right away—this will keep her off your back.” He nodded toward Annika and left the office area.
Annika felt like simply borrowing a plane, even one of the minute ones, and take to the skies. There, whether among clouds or against a bright cloud free backdrop of a perfect Hawaiian sky, was where she belong. She was truly happy up there. It didn’t matter if she was doing a regular mail run, crop-dusting, or picking up annoyingly curious women, when she was in the pilot’s seat, she was home.
Annika walked through the hangar and grabbed her lunchbox on her way out the large doors. Outside, she crossed the tarmac and found one of her preferred hideaways and sat down in the grass. Unpacking her sandwich and thermos of tea, she leaned against one of the many boulders in the meadow next to the airstrip. From here she could regard the length of the Janeway Aviation hangars. Janeway’s father apparently started this company after the Great War when Janeway was seventeen. Nils had given her the grand tour on her first day and told her the entire story. Janeway was already a pilot at that age and she was a legend in her own right. She had performed several search and rescue missions over the years where she localized fishing boats in grave danger and at one time, a luxury yacht with several senators aboard. According to Nils, Janeway was an even bigger daredevil in her younger days and still could be, as far as he was concerned. It was obvious that Nils adored his boss.
“Annika?” Janeway’s throaty voice made Annika flinch and nearly drop her sandwich.
For a moment, she was certain Janeway knew she had been thinking so intensely about her, but she knew such notions were of course ridiculous. “Miss. Janeway.” About to stand up, Annika sat back down when Janeway simply did the same next to her in the grass.
“I owe you an apology.” Janeway tugged at a tall straw next to her, but looked Annika straight in the eyes. “Belani and I shouldn’t have talked about you like we did. It was completely out of line and I’m sorry.” Her cheeks were still flushed.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before. I’m sure you know what being a woman in a man’s world can bring about.” Complimenting herself at how casual she managed to sound, Annika took a new bite of her sandwich. She chewed and chewed, but found it hard to swallow when Janeway tilted her head and scanned her face.
“That doesn’t make it right. You may have strong reasons to doubt me, but I usually don’t talk about people when they’re not present and able to participate.”
“But I was present. At least for some of it.” Annika shrugged and finished off the sandwich.
“But we didn’t know that.” Janeway shook her head. “You’re awfully difficult to apologize to, Annika. Just so you know.” She smiled lopsidedly.
Annika was about to get up, but Janeway’s self-deprecating approach and her obvious attempt at apologizing made her remain where she was. Checking the watch she’d inherited from her father, she knew she had half an hour before she was piloting one of the smaller planes with spare parts to one of the plantations.
“I think they’re a waste of time,” Annika said. “Apologies don’t change a thing as far as I’m concerned. The deed is done and either you move on from there or you wallow in it and feel sorry for yourself.”
“And you never wallow?” Janeway nodded as if she now understood something she previously didn’t. “I still am of another opinion. I think we need to apologize to show we care about having done something wrong—and because in accepting an apology, the wounded individual can’t merely put all that was said and done behind them, but truly forgive and thus heal completely.”
“Interesting.” And it was. Annika hadn’t heard it put like that before and it made sense. She had tried to leave a lot of hurtful remarks behind her over the years and though she knew she had moved on, some scars were still infected and just barely healed. Janeway was not only an amazing pilot, which was a lot in Annika’s book; she was also a keen observer. This was in turn most worrying.
“Yes, I think so too. Very interesting. Now I have to trespass into your life a bit in order to try and reassure you.” Janeway made a wry face. “I don’t know how much you heard from Belani, but if you for one second think you might lose your job because of personal preferences, that is completely wrong. Unless you make serious pilot errors or show up intoxicated, your job is safe.”
“Personal preferences?” For some reason Annika got stuck on those particular words and tried to figure out what Janeway could refer to.
“Personal preferences when it comes to your potential love interest.”
To her absolute dismay, Annika felt her cheeks go warm. She didn’t blush! She hadn’t blushed since she was fourteen. Now she was sitting here in the grass, sipping her tear and gazing at the most beautiful woman she had ever seen. And this woman opens her wine-red painted lips and says the words ‘love interest’. “You and Mrs. Paris talked about who I might or might not be bedding?” Annika said with a low growl.
“What? No! No, no, no. Not like that.” Janeway scooted closer and placed a hand on Annika’s lower right arm. “It was much more generally speaking.”
“Explain.” Fury and embarrassment flooded Annika.
“Oh, God.” Janeway looked like she was about to bolt. “We wrongly speculated if you prefer men or women.”
Annika had not expected that. Nor had she anticipated how her skin would tingle at the mere touch of Janeway’s hand.
Andy motioned for the men unloading the big trunks from the truck toward Miranda’s room. Luckily, Agnes, the local Hawaiian woman Andy had employed as their housekeeper for the duration of their stay on Miranda’s behalf, was already installed in a room next to the kitchen. She would be busy the rest of the day unpacking Miranda’s belongings and cooking their meals.
“I can’t even hear myself think,” Miranda said from behind. “Do they really have to stomp as they walk through the house?”
“I suppose the trunks are quite heavy.” Andy actually felt for the burly men carrying Miranda’s luggage. They were huge and looking at them, you’d think Miranda was going to stay in Pearl Harbor for a year, not less than a month. “It’s the last one now, I think.”
“Thank you for small graces.” Miranda turned to leave the hallway, but then stopped and waved Andy closer. “I know that woman is busy with unpacking. Make us some coffee and join me on the back porch.”
Andy blinked. “You sure you don’t need me to--?”
Miranda’s eyes glimmered dangerously. “What I need is coffee. Bring your notepad if you are so damn set on working.” She pivoted and left a slack-jawed Andy behind her. Miranda had sounded almost hurt, but that couldn’t be true, could it?
Realizing she was already keeping Miranda waiting, which was absolutely one of the worst things you could do as Miranda meant fifteen minutes ago when she said ‘now’. Hurrying to the kitchen, she made coffee the way Miranda—and Andy herself—loved it. Strong and with hot milk. Andy’s instincts told her not to bring a notepad. Should Miranda reprimand her for not doing so, she would feign forgetfulness. But somewhere in her heart, Andy knew ‘forgetting’ the notepad was the right move.
“Here we go,” Andy said as she came out on the patio, carrying the tray. She had added some biscuits and had also found a tiny vase in a cabinet and pinched a rose from one of the bouquets in the living room.
“Honestly, Andrea. The garden is full of flowers,” Miranda said, but her voice was soft.
“I know, but I think it lends a nice touch to a mere tray of coffee.”
“And biscuits.” Now Miranda surprised Andy by taking one and nibbling primly at it. “Actually, I was starting to feel like my sugar was dropping again.”
Andy knew Miranda occasionally suffered from low blood sugar. She would get even more pesky and irritable at first and then she’d start to tremble. The biscuits had been a good idea after all.
“I had another telegram,” Miranda said.
“I didn’t hear a car,” Andy said, looking up from her coffee.
“The young man arrived on a bike. Anyway. The girls will arrive in five days. By boat.” Her eyes hardened. “This won’t do. James is going back on his word. I was supposed to spend all of our weeks here with them. This way, he’s robbing me of yet another week.”
“I’m sorry, Miranda.” Andy was. Miranda’s girls were her whole world, no matter how much Miranda adored her job. She had missed them so much, it pained Andy to witness it.
“Don’t be sorry. They’re on Kauai north of us. Find is someone who can take us there. I’m going to find the girls and bring them back here.”
“Miranda.” Andy thought fast. If the girls were having a great time with their father and that Mindy-person, would Miranda bringing them back here be the smart move—or would it alienate her spoiled daughters? “Please reconsider. Or at least think about it some more. What if they resent you for barging in?”
“Are you suggesting that I’m not well within my right—?” Miranda was furious now and she quickly set her coffee cup down.
“You’re perfectly within your right,” Andy said and tried to use her best ‘calm-Miranda-down’ voice. “That’s not what I mean. Be smart.” Eager to explain, she got up from her chair, knelt before Miranda and took her hands. “Don’t do anything they might perceive in your spoiling their fun. Once they’re here, you can do all the things you planned to do and they can share their hiking adventure with you. They’ve missed you, but knowing them, and I think I do know them quite well, they’re having a lot of fun right now and will boast quite a lot about it when they’re back in Manhattan as their friends no doubt have never gone on a hike in Hawaii.”
Miranda looked down at Andy, her eyes still stormy, but softer now. “And you think I’ll be making a tactical error if I move in and demand they return with me immediately.”
“I do.” Andy intended to get back up and return to her chair, but Miranda’s hands turned under hers and clung to them.
“What will I do when you leave me?” Miranda murmured. “You’re meant to go on as a journalist, not fetch coffee and keep track of my days. You do so much more, though. You…you save me from myself every so often. Tell me, Andrea, what will I do when you’re not around anymore?” Miranda’s voice was naked and raw.
Andy didn’t know how to respond. Her own feelings on the matter were just as raw and she refused to think about her future without Miranda. “I hate thinking about it,” she said, not sure that’s what she meant to say.
“As do I.” Miranda cupped Andy’s cheek. “My mind constantly attempts to conjure up reasons or plans for how to make you stay.”
All Miranda would have to do was ask. Not ask Andy from a professional standpoint, but if Miranda asked from a personal point of view, Andy would stay on without hesitation. “And I keep thinking you’ll come up with something,” she whispered. Before their intimate gazes caught fire, she thought fast. “I saw a sign on our way here about a private aviation company. What if we have them fly you over to Kauai on the fifth day and you surprise them by joining them on the boat ride back here?”
Miranda looked at her as if she’d forgotten what they were just talking about. Then she smiled as she ran her thumb along Andy’s full lower lip. “You’re not an entire disappointment, Andrea. Just one thing wrong with your plan.”
“Yes?” Husky now, Andy found she leaned into Miranda’s sensuous caress, because that’s what it felt like.
“You have to come with me.” Miranda bent and pressed a quick kiss to Andy’s left cheekbone. “And, no notepads.”
Kathryn looks up as someone raps their nails on the door frame to her office. A tall young woman with brown hair and big, chocolate eyes, stands there dressed in a blue skirt and a white blouse. At first Kathryn wonders if it is some sort of uniform, but then she notices the exquisitely tailored cut.
“Yes? How can I help you?” Kathryn motions for the young woman to step inside.
“Are you Miss Janeway?”
“I sure am. Welcome.” She stood and motioned for the young woman to come inside and take a seat.
“My name is Andy Sachs and I’m Miranda Priestly’s assistant.” The woman sat down in one of the two weathered visitor’s chairs.
“Please tell me who this Miranda Priestly is. The name’s familiar, but I can’t quite place it.”
Andy Sachs blinked and looked taken aback. “Miranda Priestly is the editor-in-chief of Runway fashion magazine. She’s quite well known, but perhaps more so on the mainland.”
“Ah, yes. I can’t say that I’ve bought more than a handful of magazines when I’ve needed some fashion advice. As you can tell, it doesn’t happen a lot.” Kathryn motioned down her own frame, which was dressed in a flight suit.
“Actually, I think you look great in that,” Andy Sachs said and smiled broadly.
“Thank you.” Charmed by the girl’s forwardness, Kathryn returned the smile. “Now, how can I help the editor-in-chief?”
“Oh. Right. She and I want to book a private flight to Kauai in five days. One way.”
“Let me see.” Kathryn pulled out a large binder and ran her fingers down a page. “Today’s December fifth, so that would be on the tenth?”
“I don’t have any planes available for a private flight, but if you are able to get up early in the morning, I can fly you over with our mail service plane ETD 7.15 am.”
“ETD?” Andy Sachs frowned.”
“Estimated time of departure,” Kathryn explained. “It will be a very quick flight and the airstrip on Kauai is close to the harbor as I imagine you want to come back by boat? Are you bringing a lot of luggage?”
“We’ll only bring overnight bags, as we’re going to go by boat back here immediately. Here is a card with our phone number and address while we’re staying in Hawaii.”
“Sounds terrific. Unless I hear from you, I’ll expect you and Mrs. Priestly at 6.30 am at the very latest. The mail service plane waits for no one.”
“I can promise we’ll be on time. Being nauseatingly early to everything is one of Miranda’s characteristics.” She stood and extended her hand. “I look forward to flying with your company, Miss Janeway.”
“Please, call me Kathryn. And you’ll be flying with me literally.” Kathryn noted no objection to this on Andy’s features as she shook her hand.
“Thank you, Kathryn. I’m Andy.”
“Miss Janeway, the cargo manifest is flawed—I apologize. I didn’t realize anyone was in here.”
Kathryn glanced up and saw Annika standing in the doorway, holding an open binder in her hands. She looked at Andy and Kathryn with raised eyebrows and only then did Kathryn realize she was still holding onto Andy’s hand. She dropped it quickly. “Unless you have more questions regarding the flight, I’ll better tend to the flawed manifest,” Kathryn said to Andy.
“No, I’m all set. Thank you for accommodating us. Miranda will be pleased.”
Andy nodded at Kathryn and then at Annika as she left the office. Kathryn listened to the sound of the disappearing high heels as Andy descended the stairs.
“All right, let me have a look.” Kathryn reached for the binder, but Annika rounded the desk and leaned over her shoulder.
“I need to point them out as they aren’t readily visible.” Annika placed a hand on Kathryn’s backrest and ran an index finger down the list. “See. Here, here, and here. And most of all, these three. Their combined weight can jeopardize the plane if the pilot runs into bad weather or has a technical malfunction.”
Kathryn could hardly concentrate on the cargo manifest when Annika leaned so close, her full left breast pressed against Kathryn’s upper arm. Annika’s scent of soap and something vanilla-based flooded Kathryn’s senses and the fact that she knew her lips would touch Annika’s cheek or jawline if she turned her head, didn’t exactly help matter.
“I’ll have Chuck recalculate and take it up with the new guys. I’ve spoken to them about this several times and we cannot have any margin for error.” Kathryn’s voice was huskier than normal, she could hear it.
Annika lowered her head an inch, her lips now right at Kathryn’s ear. “You have yet to ask me what you were so curious about yesterday.”
Kathryn could hardly breathe. She was stunned at Annika’s audacity. She was such an enigma, this blonde goddess. Either she was entirely aloof and kept to herself, or she was blunt and free spirited as if she was not afraid of anything. “I thought I made myself clear. I regretted talking about you in your absence and I told Belani this as well.”
“And yet you still wonder what kind person I’d allow into my bed.”
Kathryn was about to blatantly lie. She had already formed the words that would end this conversation once and for all, when she heard herself say in a strained voice, “Yes. God damn you, but yes, I do.”
Annika thought for a moment she may have gone too far. She had started out by wanting to teach Janeway a lesson for gossiping with Mrs. Paris about her, but then she’d spotted something in Janeway’s eyes. Something vulnerable and also scorching hot. And of course, neither of the two women were that far off base with her. She didn’t respond to men like other girls she knew did. Not that she had that many friends as she had moved around a lot while growing up.
Now she stood in Janeway’s office, bent over her flustered boss and talked about completely inappropriate matters.
“I prefer women to men,” Annika said quietly. “Do I shock you?” She didn’t think so, but she took a gamble as admitting such things mostly got you fired, if not reported. Certainly she could lose her pilot license. This would kill her. So why did she risk it? Was it because of the way Mrs. Paris and Janeway had talked about it—as if it was sort of a non-issue?
“As do I,” Janeway said, even more quiet. “You don’t have anything to fear from me. Not professionally, nor…personally.”
The latter was disappointing. Did Janeway really think Annika confessed to preferring her own gender in a sexual and romantic fashion and still not want to be personal? “Are you sure?” she murmured in Janeway’s ear.
“This is hardly the place to have this conversation,” Janeway said sternly and stood so quickly, she nearly hit Annika’s jaw with her forehead. “Oh, my. I’m sorry. Are you all right?”
“I’m fine. Thank you. So when is it?”
“When is what?” Janeway frowned and remained right by her chair, well within Annika’s personal space.
“When is it appropriate to discuss this?”
Looking exasperated, Janeway sighed. She pinched the bridge of her nose. “Why don’t you join me for dinner tonight? I’ve got a table always ready for me at my favorite restaurant downtown Honolulu.”
“Dress code?” Annika thought this ought to suffice as a yes.
“A dress. No flight suits.” Janeway smiled wryly as she motioned to herself and then to Annika.
“Understood.” Annika hesitated. “Is this a discussion opportunity…or a date?”
Janeway cocked her head and crossed her arms over her chest. Looking up at Annika through her eyelashes, she smiled wistfully. “I suppose it’s a little bit of both.”
Andy drove back to the bungalow and arrived just in time to find Miranda pacing on the front porch. Jumping out of the jeep she had rented for running errands, Andy hurried up the garden path.
“Is something wrong, Miranda?” she asked, nearly falling over as her heel caught between two boards on the porch. Miranda automatically caught her and for a moment they stood close together, swaying.
“For heaven’s sake, Andrea. When are you going to learn how to walk in such modest heels?”
Modest? Andy looked down at the thin heels of her pumps. They may not be as tall as Miranda’s heels, but they were far from what she used to wear back in Cincinnati. Her ankle throbbed as she moved to sit down on one of the chairs. She took off her shoe and rubbed her ankle.
“Oh, please. You really injured yourself?” Miranda stood before her and then lowered herself gracefully as if she courtesied before royalty. “Let me see.”
“It’s all right, Miranda, you don’t—“
“You don’t think I know anything about tending to sprained ankles, splinters, skinned knees?” Miranda gently felt around Andy’s ankle and maneuvered the joint. “You seem to forget I’m a mother of two lively girls who are experts at such injuries.”
“I thought their nanny took care of such things.”
“We don’t have a live-in nanny as you well know. She’s only there when I work. The rest of the time it’s up to me to play nurse whenever there is a nosebleed, sick stomach, things of that nature. And as far as I can tell, you need to stay off your foot for a while to see if it swells. If not, I suggest we go out for dinner tonight. I don’t believe in exhausting my staff and our housekeeper looks a bit overwhelmed after unpacking and making us lunch.”
This was quickly becoming the weirdest conversation Andy had ever had with Miranda. She didn’t believe in exhausting her staff? How about not exhausting Andy for a change?
“All right.” Andy gently wiggled her foot. “I think I’ll be fine if I put it up for a an hour or two. All in the name of non-exhaustion.”
Miranda stood, a smirk on her perfect pink lips. “I do enjoy when you let your sassy side show, Andrea. Just don’t think having two hour siestas will become a regular occurrence.”
And then she shocked the hell out of Andy by supporting her by putting an arm around her waist as they walked inside.
Miranda stepped out of the jeep and pulled her cashmere shawl close around her after untying her silk scarf that had kept her hair in place during their forty-five minute drive. Yes, the sixty-five degrees in the evening made for a much more pleasant weather than New York, which was usually close to freezing in December, but the wind made it feel a bit cooler.
“Are you cold?” Andrea climbed out of the jeep and let her eyes glide over Miranda. This made Miranda shiver again, but for entirely different reasons. “Should we perhaps dine somewhere else where we can sit indoors?”
“No, I’m fine.” Miranda studied the restaurant. With its quaint banana leave roof and bamboo poles to keep it secure, it looked a little better than a beach shack, but according to the locals, this was the place to dine. She had travelled enough to learn to avoid the touristy places wherever she stayed.
Andrea rounded the jeep and it pleased Miranda to see no trace of a limp. Andrea claimed her ankle was back to normal and looking at the young woman’s effortless movements, Miranda believed her. They crossed the sand on a wooden pathway and Miranda wasn’t sure if it was the sun-warmed sand that made it warmer around the restaurant or the open fire grill in the center of it. Either way she was grateful for it.
A blond man approached them, wearing a well-used apron. “Good evening, ladies. I’m Dean and this is my place. You’re in time to get a really good table, so have your pick by the railing over there if you want to watch sea.” He pointed to the back of the restaurant.
Andrea turned to look and then Miranda saw her smile and give a little wave.
“Someone you know?”
“Yes.” Andrea waved for Miranda to follow her, which she did, without quite knowing how this came about. Normally Miranda was the one leading, no matter what was at stake. “Good evening, Miss. Janeway.”
An auburn haired woman dressed in a green dress with a sweetheart neckline looked up at them, smiling. “Andy. Please continue to call me Kathryn.”
“Yes, of course, Kathryn.” Andrea shifted her gaze to Miranda. “Miranda, this is our pilot on the tenth and also the owner of the aviation company, Kathryn Janeway. Kathryn, this is my boss, Miranda Priestly.”
“Hello. May I call you Miranda?” Kathryn Janeway’s voice held a charming huskiness and her handshake was firm.
“I prefer it. Nice to meet you, Kathryn.” Miranda looked at the other woman at the table. Tall, blond, and utterly stunning, the young woman locked her ice-blue gaze on her and Andrea.
“Forgive me. This is my newest pilot, but also my most skilled one, Annika Hansen. She’ll be co-piloting the mail service round to learn the route with me on the tenth. Annika, this is Andy Sachs and—“
“I heard. Nice to meet you.” It was clear that Annika would rather they hadn’t stopped to say hello.
Andrea blinked at the impolite answer. “Well, we will let you go back to your meal. Nice to meet you. See you on the tenth, then.”
Miranda nodded briskly and they moved to the empty table at the other end of the ocean view wall.
“I’m so sorry, Miranda,” Andrea said, sounding mortified. “I don’t know why this Annika was so rude. I truly haven’t even talked her before.”
“Never mind any of Janeway’s minions. I’m here to eat well and if you’re up for it, we can share a bottle of red wine. I’m not sure what kind of selection they have here, but we just have to cross our fingers that it won’t be horrendous.” Miranda saw Andrea relax marginally, and before she thought better of it, she reached out and placed her hand on Andrea’s restless one on the table.
“Thank you, Miranda.” Andrea stared at their joined hands, but didn’t withdraw hers. “Red wine sounds great.” She turned her hand around, palm up, and lazed her fingers with Miranda’s. “And this feels wonderful.”
Miranda didn’t know why, or even how she dared to make the move, but she raised Andrea’s soft hand to her lips and kissed the back of it. “So does this.” She turned Andrea’s hand around and pressed her lips to the fluttering pulse point. “And this.”
Kathryn looked at Annika under raised eyebrows. She had gotten used to Annika being short and abrupt in the way she addressed others, but to be deliberately rude to a client, that’s where Kathryn drew the line.
“Why?” Kathryn asked in a low hum of a voice.
To her credit, Annika didn’t act as if she had no idea what Kathryn asked about.
“I apologize. I let my personal emotions get the better of me. I honestly don’t have anything against either of those women.” Annika shrugged and looked decidedly uncomfortable as she rolled her glass of white wine between her fingers.
“What personal emotions?” Kathryn was still irritated, but also immensely curious. Annika looked like she wanted to be anywhere but here, which was telling in itself. Still the pieces of the puzzle that was this amazing young woman didn’t seem to fit, no matter how Kathryn tried to change and turn them.
“I saw how you responded to Andy Sachs in your office. This made me realize I’ve allowed myself to hope when in reality, there’s not a lot to hope for. You have showed me great kindness and respect, but apart from our flirtation earlier today, I have no right to assume—“ She stopped and sipped her wine. “So I apologize.”
“Apology accepted, though I think you need to be extra cordial when we meet next time as they are soon-to-be revered customers.” Kathryn thought of what Annika had said about today’s ‘flirtation’. “As for what took place in my office; I don’t harbor any feelings of attraction toward Andy, or any other woman come to that. I do however feel a great many things about you. Surely you must realize this? I don’t mix business with pleasure. For me to respond to you like this…it’s been a long time. Perhaps you should run for the hills.”
Blinking a few times, Annika then smiled that slow, blindingly bright smile that made Kathryn’s thighs clench and her breath catch in her throat. “I should go over and apologize before we leave.”
“I’d appreciate it, Annika.” Kathryn glanced over at Andy and Miranda’s table just in time to catch Miranda kissing the back of Andy’s hand. Andy in turn colored a becoming pink and gave Miranda a smile so like Annika’s it made Kathryn gasp mutedly.
Kathryn looked up as the owner came carrying their dessert. Glace au Four were always her favorite and the fact it was a staple on the menu had it on the menu was probably since Kathryn was good friends with Dean and his family. Ever since the day she flew Dean’s wife from Kauai to Honolulu when they were expecting their first baby, their entire huge family treated her like she was a much loved aunt to their daughter.
“Do I…I mean, have I lost my chance of getting to know you better?” Annika asked quietly. “I’d hate if that was the case.”
“No. No, of course not. I think as we do get to know each other, you’ll find out a lot about me that I haven’t shared with anyone.” Kathryn drew a slow line along Annika’s hand and her index finger. “This isn’t something I offer just anyone. Do you understand what I mean?”
“I think so. Yes. I do.” Annika’s blue eyes darkened to a dusky purple. “And I appreciate it.” She gazed at their hands. “And just to be fair, I don’t share with very many people either.”
“And yet here we are…” Kathryn smiled now, feeling more carefree than she’d done in ages. “Did you enjoy your meal?”
“Yes, thank you.” Annika dabbed at her full lips with her napkin. “I can understand why this is your favorite restaurant.”
Kathryn sighed contentedly. “And I can see why you’re becoming my favorite person.”
Annika gasped and the sound made Kathryn reach for her wallet and place some money on the table. “Come along,” she said. “Time to apologize and then go down to the water.”
Annika looked dazed as Kathryn pulled her along to Andy and Miranda’s table.
“Annika has something to say,” Kathryn said and gazed patiently at Annika.
“By all means,” Miranda said and slowly let go of Andy’s hand.
“I was wrong to involve my preconceived ideas. I apologize.” The simple apology seemed to have the desired effect. Miranda nodded regally and Andy lit up from across the table.
“Apology accepted. I’m not aware of what preconceived ideas you might refer to, but as we’re flying with you on the tenth, I’m glad if you can focus on that rather than some silly hang-up.”
“I promise you, if there’s anyone who can get you safely from one destination to the next, Annika’s your girl.”
“I think it sounds great,” Andy said, her eyes sparkling. “I look forward to it.”
“As do I,” Annika said gently. Her gaze returned to Kathryn’s who merely stood there, her eyes greedily running over Annika’s form. Kathryn took her hand and they said goodnight to Andy and Miranda. Pulling Annika with her along the warm sand, Kathryn smiled broadly.
“Why are we here on the beach?” Annika asked huskily as they stopped at the water line before it splashed over their feet.
Kathryn turned and cupped Annika’s face with both hands. “Darling, I can’t think of any other place as romantic as this. This is where I want to kiss you for the very first time.” She stood on her toes and pressed her lips to Annika’s.
“That was brave, in a way, don’t you think?” Andy watched Kathryn and Annika walk out of the restaurant and down toward the water. “Apologize to us, I mean.”
“If you had embarrassed me like that, I would expect nothing less.” Miranda took a bite of the steak she had ordered. After swallowing, she continued, “Not that you ever would, or ever have.”
Her entire body warming at the calm statement from Miranda, Andy happily ate of her fish. The food was excellent and the Hawaiian evening so beautiful. Still none of this came even close to the beauty of the woman sitting across the table from her. The fact that they were so far from home and that she had Miranda all to herself, at least for tonight, made her almost dizzy.
“I want to make your life easier, not harder,” Andy heard herself say and blushed at her own audacity.
Miranda lowered her utensils, her eyes widening. “And you do, Andrea. I know I’m not the type to compliment every little thing someone in my employ do, but I see how you go above and beyond very often.”
“It’s important to me. Not just as your assistant, but after these years I’ve worked for you…please don’t fire me for this, I’m really not being presumptuous, but you’ve become so…so…”
Miranda tilted her head and Andy knew whatever word she would end up choosing would get her in trouble.
“So what, exactly?” Miranda asked, her voice a low purr.
“So vital to me. You matter. A lot.” Refusing to sound apologetic, Andy knew she still sounded weak and indecisive.
“I’m vital to you? In what way?” Miranda laced her fingers together and leaned her chin on top of them as she studied Andy with her unwavering gaze.
Oh, this was not going well. Andy wished she’d kept her mouth shut, and not for the first time either. She had such a knack for getting herself all tangled up verbally…and right now, she was pretty tangled emotionally too.
“As my boss, naturally, but that’s not it. You matter to me because I care. You know I do. I told you.”
“Yes, you did. I’m just trying to ascertain the exact nature of all this caring. We’re here alone in Hawaii at the moment. Yes, the staff is in some other bungalow down the street from us, but you and I share a house and we’re free to express ourselves honestly and without fear we might be overheard by the wrong people. So, again, can you share with me in more detail why I matter?
Andy wished she could. If she told Miranda the truth, what would happen then? What if Miranda looked at her in total dismay? What if these overwhelming emotions was the last thing Miranda would ever want from her? But Miranda kept asking, kept prodding. Perhaps she was just as insecure? Now, that was ridiculous. Miranda Priestly wrote her own rules and lived by them as she pleased.
“You matter because I have invested a lot into pleasing you,” Andy said quietly. “I know a lot about your life and I love your girls. I think they see me as a good friend by now. You’ve let me in as close as it’s possible to get without actually living at your Manhattan townhouse. Sometimes when I’ve delivered the Book in the evenings, I stand in your foyer and it’s like I’m supposed to walk upstairs and find you. I know it sounds crazy, but please remember you did ask for why you matter. You’ve made me feel like I belong, even if I’m only your assistant.”
Miranda just stared at her. Her blue eyes had darkened and a small frown appeared between her eyebrows. Still, she didn’t look angry or ready to fire Andy on the spot—rather she looked shocked. Perhaps even dazed. “I make you feel all that?” Miranda said in such a low voice Andy could hardly hear her.
“You’ve made yourself indispensable over time. At first I thought it was only work related since you are as close to a flawless assistant as a person can be. But there’s more. You don’t just anticipate my needs at work, it’s like you know me so well that you know what I want even before I need it even at home. Especially on this trip. You’re making this bearable for me while I wait for my girls.”
Andy was both happy that she managed to provide assistance and distractions for Miranda, and upset that this was all she could do—all she was allowed to do. Assist and distract.
“That said,” Miranda continued. “I still find it strange how easily I can lose my trail of thought when you’re in the room. I look at you and then I’m somewhere else, wanting other, completely different things. Your eyes, like chocolate dipped in cognac, follow me wherever I go. Your attention to me makes me tremble.” The last words actually did tremble. Miranda was now fidgety, which was another novelty. Miranda Priestly didn’t fidget.
Andy took Miranda’s restless hands in hers. “How can I not look at you? You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. You move with such grace and your voice pulle me in no matter the topic.”
“And I want to keep talking, dictating anything, just to keep your eyes on me. Oh, God, I’m insane for even telling you this!” Miranda tugged at her hands, looking like she was about to bolt, but Andy pulled her down.
“Sit with me. You’re not telling me anything I haven’t already thought, or wanted, for months and months. Surely you must realize how amazing it feels to hear you say this?”
“Really.” Stiff, but at least sitting down, Miranda pursed her lips. This was never a good sign, usually, but Andy recognized how Miranda was nervous or upset, rather than utterly displeased.
“Yes, really.” Andy regarded their half-finished plates. “Should we take this to go, or…?”
“No. I just want to leave.” Miranda rose and this time Andy let go of her hands. They paid Dean after reassuring him they were only tired and there was nothing wrong with his food. Walking back to the jeep, Andy mulled over their conversation and tried to figure out if she really was in trouble. She was used to Miranda’s moods, but this time she wasn’t as easy to read.
Andy was about to round the car to get into the driver’s seat when suddenly strong hands landed on her shoulders and pressed her back. With her bottom against the hood of the jeep, Andy looked into Miranda’s eyes that had changed to bright blue glittering wells. They were parked well out of sight from the restaurant and not a soul was in sight. “Miranda?” Andy whispered huskily.
“Quiet.” Miranda wrapped her left arm around Andy’s waist and used her right hand to cup Andy’s cheek. “Heaven help you if you’ve made me believe something that isn’t true. I will kill you if you have.”
Andy had no idea what Miranda was talking about, but everything became blatantly clear when Miranda kissed her.
Miranda never acted on impulse and certainly didn’t endanger her career or her reputation—and definitely not in public. Still, here she was, her hands holding on to this young woman she’d come to adore. Now she pressed her lips to Andrea’s and felt, more than heard, how she gasped.
Then Andrea’s arms were around Miranda’s neck. Tugging Miranda even closer, it was clear Andrea wanted to take the kiss further. She nibbled at Miranda’s lower lip and trembled.
“We can’t do this out here.” Miranda managed to pull back enough to speak. “I’m sorry I instigated it in public. I wasn’t thinking.”
“I’m not sorry. I could never be sorry about this.” Andrea held on to Miranda’s shoulders and almost looked like she was about to shake her. “But you’re right. We need to be…careful. Can we go back to the bungalow and talk?”
“Yes. Yes, of course.” Miranda felt her hair and was relieved that her French twist was intact. “We should get out of here.”
As they drove back to the bungalow, Miranda didn’t feel like talking. At least not in the car. Her mind whirled with thoughts of the kiss perhaps being her biggest mistake, only to switch to how marvelously wonderful kissing Andrea had been. Andrea also seemed to be content with the silence. She drove skillfully along the winding road and took them safely back to the house they shared.
It looked like the housekeeper had gone to bed as the house was mostly dark. The porch light was on, as was the light in the hallway and their respective bedrooms. Andrea stood motionless in the middle of the hallway, looking indecisive. “Miranda? What’s going on? I mean, what brought this on?”
“You have got to be kidding?” Miranda usually didn’t question Andrea’s intelligence, but if she had to ask, either she was more insecure than Miranda knew—or denser.
“No. I mean, I know we’ve danced around these…this attraction for quite some time, but something made you act tonight.”
“Does it matter?” Miranda tried to sound matter-of-fact.
“Yes. It does to me.” Andrea moved closer and before Miranda understood her intention, Andrea had her pressed against the wall next to her bedroom door. “If it was just a thing brought on by the romantic Hawaiian night, that’s not good enough.” She leaned in and pressed her lips to Miranda’s temple. “But it if was something you’ve wanted to do for a long time, like it was for me…then that’s great. Perfect, even.” She nuzzled Miranda’s cheek, down along her jawline and then held still, only a breath away from Miranda’s lips. “So?”
“You’re going to drive me utterly insane, aren’t you?” Miranda hissed. She took fistfuls of Andrea’s hair, destroying her pristine ponytail, and tugged her closer. “Fine. You’re no fool. You’ve figured out that for me to respond this way to you, there has to be more.”
The single word admission infuriated Miranda, but also ignited a spark of intense arousal. She hadn’t felt anything so sizzling hot in ages, certainly not with any of her former two husbands. She parted her lips and licked along Andrea’s lips. Andrea groaned and opened her mouth. Her tongue was as eager and invasive as Miranda’s. Slick muscles wrestled each other without really competing, and Miranda couldn’t help but moan.
“So…damn…beautiful…” Andrea rand her hands up and down Miranda’s sides, inadvertently touching the outside of Miranda’s breasts with the heel of her palms. Andrea whimpered and kissed her again.
“You’re the beautiful one,” Miranda murmured as she was temporarily freed to draw new breaths into her lungs. “Young, gorgeous, smart. You have it all and I’m too old for you.”
“If you ever talk about age as a factor between us again, I’ll quit.” Andrea spoke with a low, furious voice. “Surely you can understand that we have far greater obstacles against us than age.”
She was right of course. Miranda leaned her forehead against Andrea’s and their gasping breaths mixed, which was oddly comforting. “Very well. Disregarding age, we know nobody will accept two women in any sort of sexual relationship.”
“Yes.” Andrea kissed Miranda softly, a long, sweet kind of kiss that made Miranda feel as if Andrea was memorizing the taste and texture of her lips. Eventually they were back in the haze of arousal and Miranda knew they should slow down. Knowing and actually doing was entirely different things. Especially when Andrea suddenly had one hand cupping Miranda’s left breast. Her nipples became rock hard and she didn’t doubt Andrea could feel it through the fabric in her dress. “I don’t think you understand how much I’ve wanted this—you—or for how long. Now when you’ve allowed me in this close…it’ll break my heart if you pull away.”
“You underestimate me, Andrea.” Miranda knew she had to be truthful, but still try to harness this volcanic eruption of their attraction. “I don’t intend to pull back. What I intend to do is allow for us to keep our wits about us. As you pointed out, most people won’t understand and that means for us to use discretion at all times.”
“Oh, I can be discreet.” Andrea had clearly only half listened because she slid both hands around Miranda’s back and found the zipper. “I promise.”
Kathryn pulled Annika into her arms after they entered her ranch style house that was located on a hill behind the hangars. Molly, her Irish setter came up and sniffed the newcomer, but clearly recognized Annika by now and went back to her bed in the kitchen.
“My dog approves of you,” Kathryn said and nuzzled Annika’s neck.
“Is this a requirement?” Annika tilted her head back, allowing for better access.
“Yes, of course. I can’t have a lover who risks getting bitten,” Kathryn deadpanned and then broke into a low chuckle at the startled look on Annika’s face.
“Very funny.” Annika bent her head and bit into Kathryn’s earlobe. “Mm. And tasty.”
“Oh, sweet Jesus.” Feeling her knees give in, Kathryn clung to Annika, secure in the knowledge that the strong young woman could easily steady her. “I may be funny, but you’re evil.”
As if to answer this statement, Annika let her teeth lightly slide along the tendon on the left side of Kathryn’s neck. Her hands held Kathryn closer and then one moved in under her neckline and bared her shoulder. Sucking on Kathryn’s pale, freckled skin, she built the sensation of hot fires along it. Kathryn pushed her fingers into Annika’s hair and removed the ribbon holding it back. It flowed around them as she freed it, and looked much longer when it was loose.
“You’re the most beautiful woman in the world,” Kathryn murmured. “I can’t look at you enough. Every time I take my eyes off you, I feel bereft, as if I’m going to miss out on something special. I can’t remember ever being this consumed by anyone before.”
“I have never experienced this all-overshadowing emotion either,” Annika said against Kathryn’s skin. “I can only compare it to—“
Taking Annika by the hand, Kathryn pulled her with her to the living room. Here, a desk covered with books and papers dominated the room together with a fire place and a huge couch. Leading Annika to the latter, Kathryn tilted her head. “Sit a while with me?”
“You’re not going to take me to bed?” Annika raised an eyebrow, but there was something guarded in her eyes.
“I might. One day soon, I hope. But what kind of a romantic would I be if I gave you the impression that this is all I want?”
“It’s not, then?” Annika sat lingeringly.
“No. If you are getting to know me at all, you know I’m a stickler for rules, unless it’s a really big one that needs breaking. Courting someone, for me, is about getting to know them, show them who I am, and I for one am not about simple and fast carnal pleasures. I think if we take it slow and build up genuine trust, we’ll be making magic one we do end up in bed—if that is still what you want when that time comes.” Feeling rather ridiculous and lecturing, Kathryn looked down at her hands holding onto Annika’s. Gazing up into her eyes again, she was shocked to see tears welling up. “Annika?”
“I had hoped…I mean, I wasn’t sure, but I wanted to believe you were not the like so many other men and woman who judge me by my looks. It doesn’t matter if I dress in a flight suit or am covered with oil smears; it’s as if my figure and blond hair automatically suggests I’m an easy target. I have fought off too many presumptuous individuals over the years to count. I’m not being conceited. These are facts.” She looked sorrowfully at Kathryn. “When I heard you talk with Mrs. Paris—“
“—you assumed I was of the same rude stock.” Sad that Annika had ever had to go through such things, and embarrassed that she had figured her boss to be yet another womanizer. “I’m no virgin, clearly, but I don’t fall for anyone easily. In fact it’s been so long, Belani has taken it upon herself to find me someone to care for.”
“Was this why she scrutinized me to no end on the plane?” Annika smiled carefully. “And why you talked about me in the office?”
“Belani knows I favor women and she had a hunch you might too. For being a heterosexual woman, she has a keen sense for when someone isn’t.” Kathryn smiled wryly. “It was still rude and unforgivable. We should’ve known better.”
“Not unforgivable. I forgave it almost instantly.” Annika suddenly hugged Kathryn hard. “So are you?”
“Am I what?” Kathryn murmured distractedly as her hands explored the curve from Annika’s hips to just beneath her breasts.
“Are you falling for me, Kathryn Janeway?”
Annika woke up in a strange bed. As she had moved around often during her life, not quite recognizing where she was had a familiarity to it. Now she gazed around the room, trying to remember where she was and how she got here. The room was lovely, if a bit impersonal. White walls, light blue curtains, dark wood furniture and a twin size bed, which she currently occupied.
“You look a little forlorn, I think?” A vaguely familiar voice said from the door way. The door was half open and a dark haired woman stood there, one hand pressed to the small of her back and a mug in the other. The unmistakable scent of coffee gave away its content.
Annika frowned at the woman, but then she remembered. Belani Paris. The very pregnant woman she’d flown to Oahu. “Mrs. Paris.”
“Miss Hansson.” Belani nodded regally. Her dark brown, almost black, hair lay in soft waves around her stunning features. She peered curiously at Annika. “And I know I’m fairly known for my nosy disposition, but you can’t blame me for being interested in finding out what you’re doing in Kathryn’s guest room?”
“None of your business, Belani Paris.” Kathryn showed up just in time and saved Annika from the embarrassment of having to confess she wasn’t quite sure yet. It was as if there was a thin curtain between today and yesterday. She couldn’t quite fathom why. She never drank much alcohol as is made her dizzy and not in a pleasant way. Had she gotten ill?
“Aw, come on, Kathryn. You pine for the girl and then I find her here. I’m not stupid you know.” Belani pouted. “You need to tell me these things. I live vicariously through you, you know that.”
“Then you must be bored out of your mind.” Kathryn shook her head and looked over at Annika. “Hey, are you all right? You look a little pale, darling.”
Belani gave Kathryn a telling glance at the ‘darling’ part.
“I’m fine,” Annika said, if not entirely certain this was true. “I should get to work.”
“Surely you have time for some breakfast at least?” Kathryn asked and sent Belani a glance that apparently gave a clear message because Belani raised her free hand in surrender and left the doorway. Kathryn turned her attention back to Annika while she sat down on the side of the bed. “You look pale.”
“I feel strange. I’m trying to figure out what happened last night and why I’m here.”
Kathryn’s frown deepened. She felt Annika’s forehead with the back of her hand. It was blissfully cool. “No wonder. You’re running a fever. No work for you today. You might be coming down with something.”
In a way grateful that there was a reason for her feeling of disorientation, Annika nodded slowly. “Then what did happen last night?”
“We cuddled on the couch and listened to the radio. And we talked about us.” She kissed Annika’s hot cheek.
Annika winced and pulled back.
“Did I hurt you?” Kathryn looked shocked at the idea.
“Not at all. I may be contagious.”
To Annika’s surprise, Kathryn began to laugh.
“What’s so amusing?” Annika wanted to frown, but a low, persistent buzz of a headache stopped her from doing such a thing.
“If you’re contagious, darling, then I’m already infected. We kissed enough times last night to infect an entire army.” Kathryn smiled wistfully. “Then you got very tired, very quickly. I should’ve guessed that you were not quite yourself. I can only hope the reason for whatever you’re experiencing are not responsible for how you returned my kisses.”
Yes, they had kissed. A lot. Annika relaxed some when memories of being in Kathryn’s arms flickered through her mind. They had kissed and talked, over and over. Then there was something…something else that tickled her memory. Something they’d talked about and that she had asked. The words were right there, but she couldn’t vocalize them.
“Mind if I keep you here so I can look after you? I can have Chuck take my flights today. He’ll be happy not having to deal with all the ground staff a while.”
Annika considered this. “I don’t mind you look after me, as you put it, as long as you don’t inform him of our altered relationship.” Actually holding on to the bedding now as she was getting increasingly dizzy now, Annika spoke with fervor. “He has a low opinion of me as it is.”
“And you don’t want him to know that you’re about to start dating your boss.” Kathryn caressed Annika’s naked arm. “Don’t worry. We’re close when it comes to the company and as devout pilots, but that’s it. We don’t spend time together outside of work.”
“All right.” Just like that. Those words are all Annika has to hear. She has confidence in Kathryn and cannot imagine she would ever bend the truth. If Kathryn says she’s not a personal friend of Chuck’s—Annika has to believe it.
“Why is Mrs. Paris here this early?”
“She’s here because her doctor says she can’t travel until after the birth of her baby. She was staying at a hotel close to the hospital, but I offered her to stay here in my guest house. She can build up some energy and when her time comes, I hope you can do one of your amazing flights and go fetch her husband, Tom.” Kathryn kissed Annika’s hot cheek. “And now I’ve rambled enough. I’m going to see about some breakfast to you. Scrambled eggs and sausages all right?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
As Kathryn stood and turned to leave, Annika suddenly remembered. “Please. Did you ever answer my question from last night?”
“I think you already know the answer, but I’ll take pity on you since you’re not feeling well. Yes, I did answer. And yes, of course I have fallen for you.”
Miranda walked out the door to the backyard of their bungalow. At the pool, Andrea and the others from Runway that she brought to stay on top of the next edition, sat in swimsuits under an umbrella around a table. Andrea updated them with a clear voice, but seemed to lose her trail of thought when she looked up and saw Miranda.
Feeling quite devilish, Miranda walked past them, also dressed in swimsuit. It was cut beautifully by a master designer and enhanced her figure to a degree when even she was pleased at her appearance. She tucked her long, white hair into a bathing cap before she dived into the pool. Swimming was one of her favorite ways of staying fit and it also helped with her aching shoulders and back. Working long hours in an office took a greater toll than most people thought.
A splash to her left made her stop to tread water. Of course. Andrea. And an Andrea with a predatory gleam in her eyes. Miranda glanced at the table, but the others were nowhere to be seen.
“I’ve sent them to carry out their assignments at their own bungalow. They have a pool there too, if a bit smaller. I didn’t think you’d want all four of them splashing around in yours.” Andrea smiled broadly.
“Which of course didn’t stop you from splashing into mine yourself.” Miranda spoke curtly, but her thighs clenched at the sight of Andrea. Her long hair lay sleek and dark along her back and her eyes glittered with an obvious challenge.
“I never thought you’d object. In fact, I am pretty sure you’re happy I joined you.”
“Whatever gave you that idea?” It was getting harder and harder to keep a straight face. Miranda did have extensive training in how to display whatever expression she found most useful. Right now, she enjoyed the banter and gentle teasing.
“Perhaps the way you’re breathing so fast and ogling me.” Andrea swam closer. “We’re alone. Agnes is shopping for tomorrow’s Sunday dinner. “ She tilted her head. “And I’m going to kiss you, Miranda Priestly.”
“Oh, are you indeed, Miss Sachs?” Miranda placed her right index finger on Andrea’s lips. “Well, what’s keeping you?”
“Nothing. Not a thing.” Andrea wrapped her arms around Miranda’s waist and tangled their legs. Her lips captured Miranda’s and sucked her lower lip in between her teeth.
Groaning, Miranda clung to Andrea, grateful they were in the shallower part of the pool. She opened her mouth and let Andrea in. One kiss led to another, deep, probing and so filled with passion, Miranda heard herself whimper like a trapped animal.
She cupped Andrea’s breasts without really thinking about it. Then she felt a hard nipple prod her palm and her arousal reached new heights. She wanted this to last forever. This utter bliss in Andrea’s arms. The feral look mixed with true affection sent wave after wave of moisture between Miranda’s legs. Her sex throbbed and she pressed her thighs together to find some relief. Instead it took it to the next level and she squeezed Andrea’s breasts firmer in response.
“Miranda…” Andrea moaned and tipped her head back. “Oh, God…Miranda…don’t stop.”
”I won’t. Hold onto me, Andrea. Don’t let go.”
“Never.” Her eyes narrow slits, Andrea pushed her hips against Miranda and kept the pressure up in small circles. “I won’t let go unless you tell me to, and even then I will fight for you.” She kissed Miranda again, deeply and thoroughly. Miranda whimpered into the kiss and nearly lost her footing.
“I will hold you to that, Andrea,” she heard herself whisper. “You may end up regretting those words, but I don’t care. I will hold you to it.”
“Oh, Miranda.” Hugging her close now, Andrea pressed her left leg in between Miranda’s. This was almost enough to make her orgasm, which scared her. She tried to fight it back, the overwhelming wave of supreme pleasure that was ready to claim her.
“Don’t move. I can’t…Dear Lord, I can’t…”
“I think you can, Miranda.” Andrea pressed her lips to Miranda’s neck and then bit down gently. “I think you just have to let go and allow me to be the one who sees you lose control. Trust me. Have faith in me.”
“I do.” Miranda sobbed. “I do.”
And then she was there on the precipice and it was somehow so easy to take that one step out into the unknown. Miranda hid her face in Andrea’s wet hair and cried out, short and sharp, as the pleasure rolled through her system over and over.
Andy walked through the bungalow, nodding in passing to Agnes, the housekeeper, as she carried some of Miranda’s correspondence with her. She was about to enter the study where Miranda had set up a makeshift office, when the phone rang over on the desk. Miranda had apparently stepped out for some reason and Andy answered it with practiced ease.
“Miranda Priestly’s residence.” She placed the letters on the desk and reached for a notepad.
“Hello? Is this Andy Sachs?” a throaty, by now familiar voice asked. “This is Kathryn Janeway.”
“Hello, Kathryn. Yes, it’s Andy. What can I do for you?” It didn’t dawn on Andy that this was anything but regarding their flight.
“You could perhaps persuade your boss to dine at my house tonight unless you two are otherwise engaged?” Kathryn asked.
“At your house?” Feeling a bit silly for repeating Kathryn’s words back to her, Andy tried to foresee what Miranda would think of such an invitation.
“Yes. I realize this is totally out of the blue, but the thing is, I have a friend staying and she is an avid Runway reader as well as a great admirer of Mrs. Priestly. I would love to be able to surprise her with your presence if it is at all doable. Then there’s the fact that I found the both of you extremely nice and generous when we met last night. The way you conducted yourselves was admirable to say the least.
Andy thought of the way Annika Hanson had first been unexplainably rude and then offered an eloquent and obviously sincere apology. “Think nothing of that. Water under the bridge.” She heard a noise from the door and looked up to see Miranda enter the room. “Ah, here’s Miranda now. Hold on for a moment, please.” She covered the receiver and relayed the conversation.
“Dinner?” Tapping her lower lip with her index finger, Miranda thought for a moment. “Why not? I found Miss Janeway fascinating, to tell the truth. A female pilot. Two in fact.” She lit up. “Tell Miss Janeway we’ll be happy to attend if she doesn’t mind granting me an interview about her line of work. With a photoshoot later on.” She smiled, but then stopped as she was about to sit down at the desk. “Unless you don’t want to go?”
Andy gaped. Miranda was truly asking her opinion? And about to forfeit an interesting story for Runway if Andy declined to go? “I’d love to go if you’re all right with it. I’d like to know more about her business and female pilots as well.”
“Arrange it. Thank you.”
Andy grinned at Miranda for that last part. Miranda wasn’t known for her social niceties and for her to say thank you, even as an afterthought, was indicative how their relationship was changing. “All right.”
Kathryn didn’t seem too thrilled to agree to an interview, much less a photo shoot, but apparently surprising her friend, which couldn’t be Annika Hanson as she’d already met Miranda, was too important. “Fine. A shorter piece and only a couple of photos. I can’t promise Annika will want to participate. Which I’m sure is a letdown as she’s the beautiful one.” This was said with such longing, Andy clutched at the receiver.
“Thank you, Kathryn. I appreciate you accommodating Miranda like this. I suppose we can talk about the story in detail tonight then.”
“Certainly. My house is located on the hill behind the hangars. You can’t miss it. Let’s say 7.30?”
“7.30 it is. See you then.” Andy said goodbye, hung up and stood motionless for a moment as she lost herself in the vision of Miranda working at her desk. Her white hair, so stylish in her iconic hairdo with the big s-shaped bangs at her forehead. It glistened in the sun from the window and the light also made her complexion look utterly flawless. To think she’d actually held this woman and helped her climax in the pool this morning was crazy. Unfathomable. Andy hadn’t given Miranda the chance to reciprocate, didn’t even know if she would have, as she had pulled Miranda from the pool and wrapped her in a towel. Afraid that someone would see them, she had taken Miranda indoors and into the master bedroom. There she had excused herself and rushed to her own bathroom. Gazing at her reflection, she had blushed profusely and then taken a cold, cold shower. When she saw Miranda half an hour later, her boss acted friendly, but unfazed. This was both reassuring and disconcerting.
Now, Miranda looked up. “Guess you just got a reprieve of sorts.”
“Excuse me?” Andy blinked.
“The dinner.” Miranda took off her reading glasses and tapped her lower lip with the frame. “Just so you know, your reprieve is just that—a temporary one. Sooner or later we’ll be back here and then I’ll want to take my turn.”
Annika watched her reflection and debated whether to risk insulting Belani Paris and exchange the dress for her slacks and shirt. When Belani heard Miranda Priestly was joining them for dinner, she became entirely insane as far as Annika was concerned. Suddenly it mattered what they were wearing.
“I know I’m looking like a weather balloon,” Belani said and gestured at her very pregnant belly, “but there’s no reason why the two of you should. I know you have some great designer dresses, Kathryn, but do you, Annika?”
“I have a fever still. I will forfeit this dinner.” Annika thought she found the perfect excuse until Belani felt her forehead.
“You don’t feel very hot to me. I have a dress I bought in Honolulu yesterday. I mean to save it for when I’ve had this elephant…I mean baby. You’re a couple of inches taller than me, but my seamstress back home was going to shorten it as it was, so it should fit perfectly.” She tugged at Annika’s hand and soon she found herself in Belani’s room, undressed down to her underwear.
And now here she was, dressed in a crimson dress with a bold cut around her décolletage. The dress was not meant for someone with quite as full breasts as hers, but it fit her like a glove.
“You ready? They’re pulling up. Oh, my God…” Kathryn stared at Annika, her mouth open for a moment.
“Something wrong?” Annika scrutinized her reflection again. Now she was blushing, which oddly enough made Belani’s dress fit her even better.
“No. If anything, I’m nervous that someone much more deserving of you than I will sweep you off your feet and steal you away.” Kathryn spoke in a low, husky tone and Annika wanted to drag her close and lock the door. She felt warm; perhaps her fever was back, and slightly lightheaded.
“Nobody can steal me unless I want to be stolen,” Annika said. “And as far as I’m concerned, you’ve asked me to wait and take things slow, which is a new thing for me. Nobody has ever cared enough to take the time to get to know me before they propositioned me…”
“Oh, trust me, I’m not immune against your beauty, Annika,” Kathryn chuckled and walked over to her. She pressed her cheek to Annika’s and held her close. “I could easily drag you into bed and have my way with you, but as you say, this is—too important. I don’t want to destroy it by losing your trust.”
“And yet you let Belani maneuver me into this.” Annika was close to pouting.
“Purely for selfish reasons.” Kathryn backed up a few steps. “I get to watch you like this the entire evening.”
Annika took the chance to look at Kathryn. She was dressed in a forest green dress, cut perfectly to her compact frame. It enhanced her curves and the small buttons in the front made Annika want to yank the dress open and watch them fly. Kathryn was so beautiful and possessed such a commanding presence, Annika’s knees felt wobbly.
“We better go before we get into trouble with all this ogling.” Kathryn chuckled and guided Annika toward the living room.
Miranda walked into Kathryn’s house, not expecting much, but was pleasantly surprised by the classic furniture and antique collector’s items. As usual, Miranda noticed the clothes on the woman she met, and Kathryn was dressed in a two year old designer dress, but it fit her so well, it was forgivable as she lived in Hawaii, a long way from New York. Annika was a complete surprise. Like a goddess, she stood over by the window, holding onto a glass of white wine. The red dress bordered on being too small, but Miranda could easily picture her on the cover of Runway. An idea started wiggling in her mind.
“Miranda, Andy, you know Annika from before. This, however, is my good friend since many ears, Belani Paris. She lives in Hanamaulu, but is staying with me for the time being.”
Belani Paris was a fan, all right. She looked wide eyed at Miranda, but then shook her hand.
“How do you do, Mrs. Paris? I see congratulations are in order,” Miranda said politely. It would pay to be courteous to Kathryn’s friends and stay on her good side if she was going to pull of the idea that was brewing inside her.
When Andrea had been included into the introductions, Miranda accepted some wine and strolled over to Annika who seemed tense. Her coloring wasn’t as pale as last time, but perhaps the fact that she’d been forced to apologize for being rude had made her pale then? “You look lovely in that dress, Annika.”
“It’s not mine.” Annika spoke matter-of-factly, but tonight there was no hostility in her tone. “Belani lent it to me as she assumed my slacks and shirt wouldn’t fit your dress code.”
“My dress code?” Confused, Miranda shifted her gaze to Belani who joined them. “I assure you I do not judge anyone by their choice of clothes. Unless they work for Runway that is.” She raised her eyebrows at Andrea who looked stunning in a light blue dress. Her dark-brown hair was swept up in a chignon.
“Oh, I know to dress the part,” Andrea said and smiled broadly. “And whether it’s your dress or not, you wear it very well, Annika.”
“I told you so,” Belani said, beaming.
“Dinner’s ready,” Kathryn said from the door. “Mrs. Delgado has outdone herself. I just had a taste.”
“Oh, please tell me it’s her steaks.” Belani sighed. “They’re to die for.”
“Steak,” Miranda murmured to Andrea. “Things are looking up.”
As they sat down around the dining room table, set with white linen table cloth and napkins, Miranda made sure she ended up with Andrea to her right. As they devoured the starter dish during idle conversation, she kept searching for close contact with Andrea’s thigh, resting her hand there whenever it was doable and out of sight from the others. She was going to take this girl to bed once she had her to herself and once and for all make sure Andrea knew whom she belonged to.
“What do you mean, it won’t start?”
Andy sighed inwardly, but did her best to look positive. “The jeep is dead. Kathryn even had her best mechanic, Nils, come up and have a look. Seems like they rented us a jeep with more than one faulty part.”
“We need to call a cab then.” Miranda said ‘we’, but Andy knew she meant her. The day Miranda Priestly called her own cab…She sighed again.
As it turned out, calling a cab in Pearl Harbor wasn’t like doing it in New York, or even Honolulu. When Andy had to return with bad news again, Kathryn intervened.
“Miranda, Andy, please. If you don’t mind sharing, please, have one of my guest rooms. Belani occupies it and Annika the other. If Annika sleeps in my room…?” She sent a questioning glance at Annika who curtly nodded. “Miranda.”
“Thank you, Kathryn. I’m very grateful for your suggestion. Our bungalow is located further from Pearl Harbor.”
“Don’t mention it. And by tomorrow Annika and I can drive you back there. You can call the company you rented the car from on Monday and sort it all out. Did you have plans for tomorrow?”
“Other than start planning our photo shoot with you and Annika, no.” Miranda nodded regally.
“All right. Annika can take you to the room you’ll share and move her things into my room for now.” Kathryn’s cheeks were slightly flushed and as she turned to look at Annika, she became unusually fidgety.
Andy wondered if Kathryn had her eyes set on Annika. Would it be possible for her and Miranda to have stumbled upon another couple like themselves? What were the odds? The way Annika gazed down into Kathryn’s eyes spoke of a multitude of pent up emotions. Andy had to look away. She felt as if she was trespassing.
“Very well. Follow me.” Annika motioned for Andy and Miranda to follow her.
The guestroom was spacious and nice. Annika gathered a few items and then showed them the dresser. “Here you can borrow nightgowns and toiletries. Kathryn keeps her guestrooms fully stocked with anything a guest might require during circumstances just like this.”
“Oh, my.” Andy peered into the drawer. Cotton nightgowns in white, pink, and blue. Soaps, toothpaste and toothbrushes. Shower caps, shampoo, and curlers. “We’ll be all set, thank you.”
“I will relay your gratefulness. There are robes on the back of the door. If you are interested in a cup of hot chocolate before bedtime, I recommend you switch into your nightwear and join us in the kitchen. Belani has made this a tradition very quickly.” It was impossible to read the solemn features on Annika’s beautiful face. She may approve of hot chocolate, or she might not.
“I would love some. I always sleep better after hot milk.” Andrea grinned when she heard an unmistakable, “ew” behind her. It was hardly a surprise that Miranda would much rather have a glass of red wine instead.
“See you then. Don’t be long. Belani gets impatient easily. We don’t want her to deliver her child prematurely.” Annika’s stoic look changed into one of complete dismay.
Andy didn’t think a woman would go into premature labor because of delayed hot chocolate, but she nodded emphatically. As Annika left and Andy turned to face Miranda, she found her boss glowering.
“You’re joking, right? Not only are we embarking on an impromptu sleepover, but we’re going to have some sort of Girl Scout meeting in the kitchen over hot chocolate?” She was clearly not impressed.
“Miranda.” Andy sauntered over to Miranda and wrapped her arms around her neck. “I know you find it way to pedestrian to even contemplate, but Kathryn and Annika are making space for us by sacrificing their privacy and space. The least we can do is join them and help them keep Belani happy. She’s a feisty woman and I bet she’s a handful.” Like you. She kissed Miranda’s lips lightly. “I’ll make it worth your while.”
Miranda flinched. “Oh?”
“I’ll let you do whatever you want to me later and I promise to be very…” Andy kissed Miranda again. “Very…” Another kiss. “Quiet.”
“Damn you.” Miranda trembled now.
Andy merely kissed Miranda again, reveling in the faint taste of red wine, the heat of her mouth, and the passion her response revealed. She still found it almost unbelievable that Miranda found her attractive and that Andy was allowed this. The kisses, the caresses, and all the murmured heated words, those were for Andy. No matter what they future held, nothing could take away these magical moments in Hawaii. This was paradise in so many ways.
“Come on,” Andy whispered against Miranda’s lips. “Let’s get into our jammies and get some hot chocolate.”
“Jammies?” Miranda rolled her eyes.
“Yes. You heard Annika. It’s either that or risking playing midwives in the middle of the night.”
“Any preference as to which side you favor?” Kathryn knew she sounded way too perky, but she was quite nervous about sharing a bed with Annika. It had seemed the best option when she suggested it, but now, standing here and regarding the nightgown clad tall blonde, she wasn’t so sure.
“None. This is your bed. You choose.” The slight tremor in Annika’s voice seemed to settle Kathryn’s onset of nerves some. Annika was a lot younger, and Kathryn wondered how she might inquire about Annika’s actual experience when it came to sex, whether it was with men or women. She had said she preferred women, but she hadn’t mentioned how she knew this. The way she had been forward with Kathryn in the office suggested she was hardly a virgin, but her trembling voice—and hands—indicated she was not as well-versed as she tried to portray herself.
Kathryn hadn’t had a lover, male or female, in a few years. There simply wasn’t time, usually. She also had to be careful not to draw attention to her sexual orientation. Having a business also meant having to keep a perfect public image. It was enough of a controversy to be a woman in charge of an aviation company and be a pilot at that. Being a lesbian was nothing she could share with anyone outside her very close knit circle of friends. The ones who knew and supported her right to love whom she pleased was Belani and her husband Tom, and Nils, her mechanic who’d been with the company for more than fifteen years.
“I’ll sleep on the right, then.” Kathryn pulled off her robe and slipped under the covers. She watched Annika do the same on the left side. Her queen size bed was more than big enough for the two of them, but Kathryn still felt heat radiate off Annika’s body under the covers. Of course she had one large bedsheet and blanket, which meant they truly were sharing the bed that way as well.
“I rarely sleep well in new beds,” Annika said, her voice void of infliction. “If you wake and I’m not here, I may have opted to try the couch in the library.”
“Are you sure it’s the bed you’re apprehensive about and not my presence in it?” Kathryn made sure she didn’t sound accusatory, but she did wonder. Perhaps Annika was already regretting their kisses and the heated embraces from yesterday. After all, she stood to lose a lot if none of this panned out the way Kathryn hoped.
“No. I find your presence reassuring and exhilarating. The bed however is a bit softer than what I’m used to.” Annika turned on her side toward Kathryn. “I don’t like speaking in riddles. I’m not good at the games people sometimes play. You know, being ironic, or sarcastic. I don’t always get it, which makes me feel awkward and—well.” She shrugged, but there were shadows in her big, blue eyes.
“I would never want you to feel awkward or less cared for.” Kathryn slid closer and cupped Annika’s cheek. “You’ve quickly become far too important to me. Not just as a pilot, obviously, but from a personal point of view as well.”
“And yet you keep saying we need to take things slow. Is that because you fear you might make a mistake by allowing me closer?” Placing one trembling hand over Kathryn’s, Annika held it in place against her cheek.
“No. That’s not it at all. I want to move slowly so you can be sure I’m not just trying to use you for sex. Which I’m not. I can very easily see myself having my way with you, right here and now, but waiting until you’re ready is more important.”
Annika’s eyes softened. She pulled Kathryn’s hand to her lips and kissed her palm. “You are a romantic at heart, Kathryn.” She smiled against Kathryn’s skin. “Perhaps you imagine I’m younger than I am when it comes to sex. Perhaps I am in a sense. I have limited experience as I was propositioned by a person very wrong for me as a very young girl. After that, I kept both men and women at arm’s length and focused on my flying. I didn’t want to be made a fool of again. Ever. I did also notice that when I did respond to anyone, it was always a woman. I never acted on it, or at least, not entirely.” Annika blushed faintly. “So, I’ve allowed some touching, but I’ve declined to take things further than that. Until now.”
“Until now?” Kathryn held her breath as Annika’s fingertips slid down her neck and followed the neckline of her nightgown. She shivered at the innocent, but oh, so sexy touch.
“Now, I’m ready to have sex, but it has to be with you. You’re the only one I’ve felt this strongly about. I cannot quite explain it, but the more we spend time together, whether like this, or when flying, I find it harder and harder to envision my life without you.”
Kathryn had to close her eyes briefly. Annika’s matter-of-fact voice was more enticing than any other voice could possibly be. She was going to have to kiss her. There simply was no other way. Pushing herself forward, she pressed her lips to Annika who rolled onto her back, bringing Kathryn with her. She ended up on top of Annika and knew without any doubt, this was it. Waiting was no longer an option. She was going to make love with this amazing woman and nothing was going to stop her.
Annika had not expected this. Kathryn’s lips against her skin, slow and deliberate, was like velvety flames every now and then cooled down temporarily when she blow softly. Arching, Annika wanted nothing but to experience every single caress to the fullest.
“You’re like silk,” Kathryn murmured against Annika’s left nipple. “And so sexy…am I going to fast?”
“Not fast…enough.” Annika curled her toes as she wrapped her legs around Kathryn. They were both almost naked now. Somehow they had pulled their nightgowns down off their arms and shoulders and pulled them up over their hips, which left them both with bunched up nightgowns like rings around their waists.
“Oh, really?” Sneaking one hand down, Kathryn cupped Annika’s center. “You’re not joking.” She moved her fingers and Annika hissed as she pulled her knees up higher.
“Kathryn…” She knew she was wetter than she’d ever been. The scent of Kathryn was enough to make her slick between her legs these days and now, while in Kathryn’s arms, nothing had ever been this arousing.
“May I go inside?” Kathryn whispered in her ear.
“Yes!” Annika heard how loud her voice was as she desperately wanted Kathryn to enter her. She slapped a hand over her mouth as she feared she might get even louder when it happened.
Kathryn positioned her hand differently and then at least two fingers entered Annika slowly. The pad of Kathryn’s thumb found Annika’s clitoris. The throbbing ache made Annika undulate and whimper.
“Annika.” Kathryn got up on the elbow of her free arm and studied her face, perhaps for signs of discomfort. “You’re so beautiful, it’s crazy. You certainly make me crazy.” She leaned down and took Annika’s left right nipple between her lips. Sucking it as far into her mouth as it could go; she then raked her teeth gently against it, over and over.
Annika now had both her hands over her mouth, trembling so hard, she feared Kathryn might lose her grip of her most sensitive parts.
Kathryn chuckled quietly and let go of Annika’s nipple. “I think I have better use for that sweet mouth of yours.” Moving up some along Annika’s body, Kathryn nudged Annika’s hands out of her way before she claimed her lips. Nibbling and sucking, Kathryn hummed in unison with her hand’s slow thrusts between Annika’s legs.
“Mm!” Completely muffled, Annika kissed Kathryn back as her legs was trembling and shaking. She knew she was going to come, and soon, something that had rarely happened before, and certainly not at anyone else’s hand.
“Good? Does this feel good?” Kathryn whispered heatedly at Annika’s mouth as she ground her own hips against the back of her hand. This made her thrusts stronger and faster and clearly it brought Kathryn immense pleasure, judging from her the shivers traveling through her.
Then Annika was there. Just before the fire spread from her clitoris to her abdomen and down her thighs, she couldn’t breathe. She gasped and clutched at Kathryn and not until her lover—her lover—said, “I have you, darling, let go,” did Annika’s body allow the pleasure to flood her.
If anyone was awake in the house, they wouldn’t have any problem guessing what they were up to as nothing could have muted Annika’s wailing and mewling sounds. She just didn’t care if anyone did. All she cared about was being locked in a safe embrace as the orgasm kept going, one wave after another, until she melted into the bed like love into the ocean.
“Kathryn….Kathryn…” Shaking, Annika held on to Kathryn. “I never…I’ve never thought it possible. I never thought I’d find someone like you. For me.”
Kathryn hugged her close. “But you did. And I don’t want to be without you.”
Opening her eyes, Annika blinked at the tears that stung them. “Do you really mean that or is it, eh, pillow talk?”
“I really mean it—pillow, or no pillow.”
Annika wrapped her arms and legs around Kathryn again. If Kathryn thought she was going to let go of this woman anytime soon, she was wrong. For the first time in ages Annika was happy.
“What a glorious morning,” Andy said and took Miranda’s arm. They were alone outside the house while Kathryn and Annika were bringing the car back to drive them to the bungalow. The sun shone from a clear blue sky and it was quiet.
“It is. I’ve never seen anything as beautiful.” Miranda’s voice held a dreamy quality, which was so rare, Andy had to turn and look at her. Instead of watching the sun soaked scenery around them, Miranda gazed at Andy with something resembling tenderness in her eyes.
“Miranda,” Andy whispered. “I…if you look at me like that around other people I’m going to cause you trouble.”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re referring to.” Miranda tilted her head, but her gaze was firmly locked on Andy. “I never realized that my assistant had such a vivid imagination.” Her perfectly painted lips pursed into what almost looked like an air-kiss.
“Uh-huh. Of course. That’s me. Imaginative.” Andy grinned broadly and this time it was Miranda who drew a deep breath.
Andy heard the sound of an engine from the hangars and turned around. “Looks like they’re on their way.”
From the north east a different sound, other types of engines, grew louder in intensity. Looking that way automatically, Andy was surprised to see a multitude of smaller aircraft approach. They flew low, way too low, and she took Miranda by the hand as her heart began to pound harder. Next to them, Kathryn pulled up and jumped out of the car.
“What’s going on? Is there a naval drill?” Miranda stepped closer to Andy.
“I don’t know. Nothing that’s been declared to the public as far as I’m aware.” Kathryn turned her head back as the first planes passed above. “Damn. They’re not ours.”
“I saw the markings. They’re Japanese.” Annika sounded somber.
Behind them the door opened and Belani appeared, still in her nightgown and robe. “What the hell…?” She stared at the planes and then paled so fast, she wobbled where she stood. Kathryn rushed to catch her before she fell. “They’re Japanese. Oh, no.”
“Are you all right?” Kathryn placed her hand on Belani’s stomach and held her close. “Annika we need to take her inside—“
Engines roared above them and then the dirt around them exploded. Machineguns on the aircraft hit all around them. “Get away from the vehicles. We need to get into the cellar. Come on!” Kathryn yelled and tugged at Annika and Belani. “I see more approaching.”
They rant toward the side of Kathryn’s house where she opened the doors to the cellar. Andy tasted the sand in the air as they moved toward the relative safety. Just as she stood on the threshold, a roar behind her, like a crazed beast made her knees weaken and she went down, bringing Miranda with her.
Miranda’s knees hit the dirt with a thud and she knew she split her skin open on her right kneecap. Above her, the Japanese attack planes, because surely that’s what they were, seemed to pass right on top of them, firing at the house. Further away, something exploded and Miranda whipped her head around to find out it was somewhere near Kathryn’s hangars.
She could see men scurry around among the planes, some attempting to hide near them, others trying to climb inside. Next to her Andy pulled at her arm, yelling something incomprehensible.
“What?” Miranda shouted back, trying to get up.
“Stay down!” Andy cried out, tugging at Miranda who was entirely set on getting to her feet for some reason. “Keep your head down! Now!”
The planes moved toward the harbor and it didn’t take a genius to figure out where they were heading. All the time, new planes passed above them. Some just passed by, other’s dove and fired at the planes by the hangar.
“So far they haven’t destroyed the runway,” Annika shouted next to Miranda, but she was turned to Kathryn who still held on to the traumatized Belani. “We need to get planes in the air and move them to another island.”
“We can’t even move,” Kathryn said and shielded Belani. “If we try to take off, they’ll shoot us out of the sky.”
“At least you have a chance to save some of your planes this way. And we need to fly the other three out of there. It’s pure luck they haven’t actually hit any of us yet.”
Miranda looked at her skinless knees. Next to her, Andy shook and clung to her. The poor girl was of course devastated and afraid. So was Miranda. She turned to comfort Andy.
Andy was chalk white. “Don’t freak out now, M-Miranda, but I believe I’ve been hit.”
Annika turned just in time to see Miranda fling herself down next to Andy.
“She’s been hit. Oh, God, she’s bleeding.” Pressing her hands onto the wound on Andy’s hip, she tore at her blouse, ripping off a sleeve.
Kathryn and Belani knelt next to Andy and Miranda when a new set of planes, also them Japanese, passed above them. They were higher up than the first ones, but Annika heard the sound of accelerating engines more approached. Perhaps it was the first ones circling the airfield to attack again?
“Here. Rap this around her waist and press against your sleeve,” Kathryn said and tugged her belt out of her slacks. “I don’t think it hit an artery, but she’s bleeding pretty badly.”
“They’re coming again.” Annika patted Kathryn’s shoulder. “We need to help the others down into the cellar and get some planes in the air. You’re going to lose your entire livelihood if we don’t.” Annika tugged at Belani. “Come on. They have a hold on the bleeding now. You need to go down now!”
Belani was pale with red spots highlighting her cheeks. “Do you think they’re bombing and firing all over the place? Like on Kauai?”
“I don’t know.” Annika knew it was harsh, but how could she possibly know? “Logically, they’re after the naval base and the air fields, not the pineapple fields.”
“Annika.” Kathryn gave her a firm glance. “Let’s go.”
They placed Andy on a cot in the cellar by the far wall. This was the deepest and most secure area under the house. It was doubtful if it would last if it was hit directly, but it would shelter the three women from machine gun fire.
“Is the bandage tight enough to stop the bleeding?” Annika made sure they put Kathryn’s belt on hard enough. “Don’t leave the cellar unless it’s absolutely necessary. Kathryn and I will try to save some of the planes and make sure her employees are all right.”
“Surely they weren’t there on a Sunday morning?” Andy said weakly.
“I saw some of them running,” Kathryn replied darkly. “We’ll see. Once the attack is over we’ll be back to check on you, all right?”
“Andrea needs medical attention much sooner than that,” Miranda said. Her voice was stern, almost angry, but Annika could imagine she herself would sound a lot more agitated if it was Kathryn who was hurt.
“For now, she’s better off down here, then in a ca on a winding road.” Kathryn spoke quickly as she donned a flight suit from a shelf in the cellar. She tossed one to Annika. “Right now, the roads will be blocked by vehicles on their way with wounded, or soldiers rushing toward their ships. You don’t want to be caught in the cross fire again.”
“No. No we don’t.” Andy’s voice was weaker. “Miranda. Just hold my hand for now. Please.”
“Of course, darling. Of course.” Miranda took Andy’s hand and raised it to her lips. She winced, as if remembering they weren’t alone, but then looked defiantly at the rest of them.
“Keep them warm and safe, and we’ll try to do the same,” Kathryn said and hurried up the narrow staircase. “Come on, Annika. From the thunder in the harbor, things aren’t looking so good.”
Annika stopped as she stood outside and watched the smoke billow up from the Pearl Harbor area. A lot had to be on fire to generate that type of smoke. She began to run, Kathryn only a few steps behind her.
This was not good. Judging from the smoke, this was hell on earth in Pearl Harbor.
Andy had never known such pain. Her hip was on fire and the leather belt dug painfully into her flesh. She drew yet another trembling breath. Wanting to wail, she kept silent as she didn’t want to startle anyone, least of all Miranda.
“Oh, God,” Belani moaned. “This can’t be right. Not now!”
“What on earth?” Miranda shifted and turned to Belani. “What’s wrong?”
“I…I think my water broke,” Belani managed through clenched teeth. “Which apparently means I’m in labor. Oh, God!” She caressed her stomach as her face contorted with pain.
“You’ve got to be joking,” Miranda muttered. “You’re having the baby now?”
Kathryn ran toward the hangars, fearing she would find everyone dead, or injured. Most of her employees should be home with their families, but she had seen some running toward the closest planes and who knew what happened to them.
“We can get the DC3 out and perhaps the mail plane,” Annika said as she ran next to her. Kathryn was pretty sure Annika could’ve run twice as fast, but she was not about to leave her boss—or lover—behind. Annika was as loyal as they came. Kathryn knew this.
“Kathryn!” A male voice came from one of the doors leading into the hangar office area.
“Chuck!” Kathryn grasped his arm. “Are you all right? Is Nils here?”
“He is. He’s getting some of the smaller craft ready to take off. We need to set down as far away from Pearl Harbor as possible.” Chuck looked as if he had swept chimneys all night. Blood streamed from behind his ear.
“But you’re hurt…”
“Never mind that. Just a scratch. Come on.” Chuck held the door open as his eyes scanned the sky. “I’ll get the DC3—“
“No. I’ll take the DC3 and the rest of you take the smaller craft.” Annika spoke curtly. “I’m the better pilot and also, you have worked longer for Kathryn. You need to be in the smaller planes.”
“What the hell’s she on about?” Chuck’s face was getting red from anger. “She can’t possibly—“
Kathryn felt herself go pale. Her fingers were icy as she gazed at Annika. “Shut up, Chuck. I know why she’s doing this.” She wasn’t going to argue with her lover. Annika was determined to take the biggest plane in Kathryn’s fleet. She deliberately made herself the biggest target for the Japanese Zeros. For some unfathomable reason, Annika thought she must save the other people in Kathryn’s company—and perhaps die trying. “Annika, I never meant for anyone to go up alone in the DC3. Chuck and the rest of the men will take the planes that are still operational and you and I will fly together. No arguing.” She ran toward the DC3 and climbed up the steep stairs. Was it only two days ago that Annika had fetched Belani in this machine?
Around them men scurried to other planes, everything from small two seaters to larger cargo planes. Four charred, still smoking, airplanes sat to the left of the hangars. They’d been lucky so far. If the Japanese pilot had managed to fire on the hangars and hit the fully tanked DC3, the explosion would have killed a lot of her men and destroyed everything inside.
The smaller craft took off quickly. Annika had automatically claimed the left chair and maneuvered the large plane out of the hangar doors, completely without assistance from the ground staff. They were busy helping the wounded who’d been too close to the burning planes. Kathryn could barely look at their wounds as they passed them, but knew she had to. In case any of her men died before all this was over, she owed it to them to at least acknowledge their bravery and their injuries.
They started down the runway, but Kathryn soon realized they were in trouble. Three Japanese planes in formation came toward them.
“Get us off the ground, Annika,” Kathryn growled. “If they fire against us, we’re going to burn and also destroy the runway.”
“We need more speed,” Annika muttered. “The full tanks make us heavier than I was two days ago.”
“If you can’t make it, nobody can. In that case, turn off the runway and head for the palms. That way the runway will remain intact a while longer!” Kathryn held on as the plane shook.
“I’m not going to destroy your plane. We’re going to fly out of here.” Annika’s laconic voice showed no nerves, but her grip of the wheel was white-knuckled.
“Then pull!” Kathryn gripped the wheel in front of her and helped Annika pull the nose wheel off the ground. “Come on, sweetheart. Come on!” She wasn’t sure if she meant Annika or her DC3—or both.
Slowly as the Zeros approached, they eased off the runway and in a flat trajectory barely cleared the tops of the palm trees. Behind them, the Zeros mimicked their maneuver, but with such ease and speed, they were gaining on them fast.
“Annika. They’re going to shoot us down. You can’t go over residential areas, you know that, right?”
“I know.” Annika’s sharp gaze scanned the area before them. “If we go down, I’ll make sure to crash us into the uninhabited area or the ocean.”
Kathryn’s heart twitched painfully. She looked around them and to her relief; it looked like all her small plane got away. The Japanese seemed only interested in her biggest aircraft now. What she would’ve have given for her and Annika not to be inside it.
Miranda looked from Andrea to Belani. Andrea was pale and lay too still. Miranda had just checked on her bandage and she wasn’t hemorrhaging as badly as before. Belani’s water had indeed broken and now she was on her back, humming as she stroked her belly. The words were alien to Miranda, but they seemed to soothe Belani’s pain as the contractions held her in a grip. As far as Miranda could determine, Belani’s contractions were about ten minutes apart and she deemed the woman was in the beginning of her labor. With some luck, they’d be able to get her to a hospital…if the Japanese would stop shooting at them.
A blast shook the entire house above them. Andrea screamed and curled up with her arms around her. “It’s caving in on us!”
“No. It’s holding. Calm down. I’m not leaving you. Just lie still and breathe. Listen to Belani’s song.” Miranda felt utterly silly for suggesting Andrea listen to a song sung by a woman in labor, but it seemed to work. Slowly Andrea relaxed. Once again, she was almost too still.
Miranda shifted between the two cots, her knees aching from being pressed against the concrete floor. That’s when she saw more blood pool under Andrea’s cot. Sobbing in fear, Miranda tore off the blanket and saw the belt had moved when Andrea flinched just before. Fumbling, Miranda struggled to get it back in the exact position. If she didn’t do this right, Andrea would bleed out.
“Mayday, mayday. We’re observing and being attacked by Japanese planes. This is Kathryn Janeway of Janeway’s aviation based in Pearl Harbor. We are under attack and suspect the Japanese are heading for military targets in the harbor. Mayday, mayday, mayday.” Kathryn had repeated the message more than ten times since they got off the runway. Her voice was lower and huskier than normal.
“We should draw them out to see, away from the port,” Annika said. “It’s pretty obvious they’re not here to merely reconnoiter.”
“Agreed. We can’t worry about saving the plane. If some of my smaller ones got a way, that’ll have to do. The more of the attackers we managed to confuse, the more time we give the guys on the ground to scramble their planes and man the air defense on the ships.”
A loud explosion south of them made Annika flinch. She raised her hand to shield it from the sun and gazed out the window. At first she didn’t see anything, but then a large black pillar of smoke billowed in the distance.
“I think that’s the Hickam Field air base.” Kathryn’s voice trembled. “Damn!”
“They’ll take out the planes first. You don’t happen to have any machineguns lying around, do you?” Annika gripped the wheel tightly.
“Funny. No, I—“
A thudding, clattering sound made them both jump. Annika looked to their left and saw two Zeros catching up with them.
“Hold on,” she told Kathryn and then pushed the wheel forward, sending the plan in a steep dive. At the same time she forced it to go left, wanting to beneath the Zeros and out of their line of fire. “Keep alerting on the radio. I don’t know how long we’re going to be up here at this rate.”
“Just a second.” Kathryn moved back into the DC3 and then returned with two parachutes. “I’m not about to crash to my death if I can avoid it.” She put hers on with practiced ease. “Ever used one of these?”
“Once. I didn’t care for it.” Annika let Kathryn take the helm while she strapped on the uncomfortable parachute. “I landed in a tree.”
“Better sitting in a tree than flat like a Rembrandt on the ground.” Kathryn kept gazing in all directions as she put on her headset and kept alerting the nearby towers of what they were witnessing.
Belani shook now and it wasn’t a good sign. The cellar was not particularly damp, but it was cold, which was its purpose, Miranda supposed. She took off her jacket and put it over Belani’s upper body. She wondered how far into the delivery she was. Having given birth to twins eleven years ago, she had vague memories of the midwife and doctor feeling inside her for how much her cervix had dilated. She was certainly not doing that to Belani and she wouldn’t know what to feel for anyway.
“Oh, fuck.” Belani slapped a fist into the cot. “Once I get my hands on him I’m going to pull out his tongue and strangle him!”
“I assume you’re talking about Mr. Paris?” Miranda said and smiled wryly.
“You bet. He’s so damn proud of this baby and says he doesn’t care if it is a boy or a girl, but he or she will inherit his stupid pineapple business. I hope this child is smart enough to find their own way and—ow, no, no, no! Not again. It’s happening too fast.”
Another explosion made the house shake. Clearly the Japanese weren’t done with Kathryn’s airstrip. Miranda had so far managed to keep from thinking of her girls in respect to this attack, hoping that they were too far away on one of the less interesting island from a military standpoint. She understood Japan was trying to minimize the US interference in their plans for the Pacific Ocean.
“We’ll be at war with Japan after this,” Andrea murmured and shifted slightly. Groaning against the pain, she was cold and sweaty. These were signs of early shock and Miranda knew she had to find something to keep her young lover, the woman she simply couldn’t do without, warm.
“Andrea. Listen to me. I’m going to go up and find you and Belani more blankets. We also need more water and towels for the baby when it comes.” God, she hoped the attack would be over before that happened. She was not midwife-material.
“No. Don’t go. We’ll be okay. Don’t go up. Dangerous.” Andrea reached for her. “I’ll be fine.”
“No. You’re not fine and Belani will need my assistance as much as it pains me.” Miranda stood and walked up the stairs to the door. She pushed it open and coughed at the smoke coming in. She slipped outside quickly and closed the door behind her.
There was nothing left of the hangars. The airstrip was full of holes and the remaining airplanes were charred skeletons.
Miranda didn’t waste time thinking what this might mean to Kathryn’s future, but hurried toward the front door. She couldn’t see any more planes at the moment, but they could be back before she knew it.
Having been in the air for more than an hour, Kathryn watched the mayhem that followed the attack on her and her airplanes with such fury burning in her stomach, she felt nauseous. Annika managed to get away from the Japanese attackers several times and even if she was a brilliant pilot, Kathryn didn’t kid herself. Their aircraft was larger and slower. The only reason they didn’t go after them more than they did was because they posed little to no threat.
Kathryn had alerted every tower in the vicinity, but she had no idea if her warnings had made any difference. The Japanese bombers hit the ships in the harbor, the runways at the air bases and the planes launching torpedoes, sunk several ships, among them, the Arizona.
“This is insanity. They showed up out of nowhere…” Annika murmured. “What shall we do now? Set the plane down? We’re getting low on fuel.”
Kathryn knew there wasn’t much they could do from the sky now. She thought fast. “Let’s go back. Perhaps our own runway isn’t bombed to pieces. I have a feeling they need us back there.”
“All right.” Annika steered the DC3 toward Kathryn’s property.
The closer they got, the more discouraged Kathryn became. When she saw the multitude of holes in her runway, combined with debris from her destroyed planes, she clenched her fists hard. “Plan B, then. We go set her down on the north side of the—“
The whole plane shook and dipped some.
“What was that?” Kathryn checked the instruments. “Damn. We’re losing what little fuel we have left. We’ve been hit!”
“Not only the fuel lines…something else. I can barely hold her up. We’re going to crash!”
Belani pushed, holding onto her knees. Miranda had rolled up her sleeves, literally, and was getting ready to receive the baby. She prayed all was well with the child as she knew nothing about resuscitation. Especially not when it came to fragile little baby. She clutched the towel in her hand. She had found a linen closet full of clean towels of different sizes as well as blankets and extra pillows. Making two trips up to the house and back down into the cellar, she was mostly worried that Andrea would try to ‘help’.
She cast a worried glance at the young woman who had managed to push the two cots closer together so she could hold Belani’s hand.
“Oh!” Belani pushed again, this time accompanied by a grunting type of wail. “Oh, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts…”
“I know.” Miranda swallowed at the sight of the crowning head of Belani’s baby. “Your baby’s head is at its widest. After this, it will get easier.”
“How would you know?” Belani growled, her teary eyed blazing.
“I have twin girls. Trust me. I know it two times around.”
“Really? Fuck.” Belani looked reluctantly impressed only to change into a panicked expression when the next contraction hit.
“You’re doing so well. You’re so brave,” Andrea whispered and then sagged against her pillow. “I’m sorry. I can’t keep my eyes open it seems. So tired…”
It was Miranda’s turn to panic. Andrea had lost what little color she had and wasn’t moving. She reached from where she knelt between Belani’s feet and felt Andrea’s chest. She was breathing, but only barely.
The plane shook beneath them and Kathryn knew they didn’t have long to go before it would stall on them. She gazed around them, hoping her neighbor wouldn’t have his cows out grazing in the big field a bit north from her house and the hangars. As it turned out, the field was empty. She nodded briskly at Annika. “I’ll circle the field below us once. When I pass over the field, you jump—“
“No.” Annika shook her head and held onto the wheel with steady hands. “I won’t bail on you. If we need to sacrifice the aircraft, let’s put it on auto pilot going west. At this speed, it will reach the water before it goes down. If not, there is little else but fields and beaches in that direction.”
Kathryn regarded her silently for a few moments. “All right. We’ll do it your way.” As it were, there was no time for them to argue who got to be the self-sacrificing one. As things were, Kathryn was selfish enough to want to live and spend what life she had with Annika—if her blond pilot would have her.
Annika struggled with the plane and fought to keep it on course around the field. Kathryn prepared to engage the autopilot at Annika’s command. “We need to have half a minute to get out of the cockpit and open the door. Tell me when.”
“When.” Annika engaged the autopilot and unbuckled her seatbelt and stood. Kathryn had already followed suit and hurried back in the plan to where the door was located. Tugging at the lever, she pressed against it and eventually it swung open. This made the plan stomp and wiggle, almost sending Kathryn flying into the empty rows of chairs.
Annika took Kathryn’s hand and pulled her toward the door. “This is as slow as this plane can fly without stalling. We must jump now!”
“I know. I know! Let’s go!”
As they tumbled and fell through the air, Kathryn looked up at the blindingly blue sky over Pearl Harbor. Next to her, the woman she’d come to love fell with her. Promising herself she wouldn’t let go of Annika’s hand, she tugged the release of the parachute.
The little girl was perfect. She gazed up at Miranda as she wrapped her in several dry, warm towels, looking like she knew all the answers to life’s multitude of questions.
“She’s beautiful,” Miranda whispered and handed her back to Belani. “Congratulations.” She wrapped two more blankets around mother and daughter before she turned to Andrea. It was more than fifteen minutes since Andrea had looked up last. She was now unconscious and even if she wasn’t bleeding externally anymore, Miranda feared there might be internal bleeding that they knew nothing about.
“I need to go for help,” Miranda said with a broken voice to Belani.
“We’ll be all right. I’ll look after Andy.” Belani’s eyes were softer than Miranda had ever seen them and she knew why. Belani thought all hope was lost for Andrea. Suddenly strengthened by this fury, Miranda stood and rolled down the sleeves of her blouse. The garment had seen better days, but never the less, she was going to get help for her beloved Andrea if it was the last thing she did. They were going to make it and she would find her daughter’s unscathed. Any other option was simply impossible.
As she ascended the stairs, she heard voices and steps on the other side of the cellar door. She thought quickly about the enemy, wondering if they had invaded Pearl Harbor with ground troops, but realized it was more than unlikely.
Then the door swung open and Kathryn and Annelie more or less fell down the stairs. “Are you all right?” Kathryn said urgently and all Miranda could do was shake her head ‘no’.
“What’s wrong—oh. Annika, look. Belani had her baby.” Kathryn scanned the other cot, sitting so close to Belani’s. Miranda knew what Kathryn and Annika saw; a very still form under layers of blankets.
“Is she…? Andy?” Kathryn swallowed hard.
“She’s alive. Barely,” Miranda said brusquely.
More footsteps were heard on the stairs. “We’re bringing the stretchers now, ma’am,” a male voice said. “Some of your men are there helping with the search and rescue operations.”
Four men carrying two stretchers appeared and carefully lifted Andrea onto one and Belani and her daughter on the other. As they disappeared up the stairs, Kathryn turned to Miranda. “They’re taking them to the hospital. We need to follow them. I hope I have at least one working car.”
Miranda’s knees gave in and she slowly sank down on the concrete floor. “Oh, God.” Tears streamed down her face. “Andrea…”
“We’ll go to her. Come on.” Annika helped her back on her feet and as if she obtained new strength, Miranda hurried after Kathryn up the stair. She was going to remain with Andrea and the medical personnel would have to keep her informed or there’d be hell to pay.
“Hold on, Andrea. I’m on my way. Don’t you dare give up.” She murmured the words as a mantra all the way through the mayhem in the streets and maneuvering through the rubble by the hospital.
Then the second wave of the attack hit.
“Ninety minutes? That’s all it took to do such damage?” Andy’s voice was husky where she lay against the pillow in her hospital bed. A drainage hooked up to her side kept fluids from building up and she was very weak. “How’s your arm?” Andy pointed at Miranda’s cast on her left arm.
“Getting better by the second. The doctor says they’ll remove the drainage tomorrow unless you develop an infection after all.” Miranda bent and kissed Annika gently on the lips. “Beloved girl. Do you honestly think we have a future together when you insist on damaging yourself like this?”
Andy had to smile. “I think we could be in for a fantastic future and it’s not like I plan to get shot again any time soon.”
“Thank you all deities for that, at least.” Andy took Miranda’s good hand with hers. “And you’ve decided to fly to Kauai as soon as I’m back on my feet, you way?”
“It’s remarkable that you have any hearing left after these last days. But, yes, that’s my plan. I want you with me when we collect the girls. Then we fly with a private plane to Los Angeles and then I think we should take the train back to New York. That way we can spend some time together with the girls and help them get used to…to matters.”
“Oh, my goodness. You’ve got it all figured out.” Andy wondered if Miranda would pick up on her slightly acerbic tone.
Of course, she did. “If that sound agreeable to you, darling?” Miranda caressed Andy’s knuckles with her thumb.
“It sounds very agreeable. As soon as I can stand on my own two feet, I’m all yours.”
Miranda blinked. “Yes. You are.” She kissed the back of Andy’s hand. “Have I told you how much I love and adore you?”
Andy could hardly breathe. She hadn’t seen that one coming and she usually read Miranda so well. It was quite thrilling having to get to know her from scratch. “I didn’t, but as you never say anything you don’t mean, I believe you.”
“Well, thank goodness.” Miranda looked away, but then faced Andy again. “I almost lost you. Don’t go and do something like this again, all right?”
“All right.” Andy smiled gently. “And just so you know, Miranda, I love you too.”
Miranda bent and kissed Andy, long and sweet kisses that proved once and for all that Andy could become aroused in any situation. She held Miranda close to her, very cautiously, but with great satisfaction. She had been in the hospital for two days along with all the other wounded. Many, many people didn’t make it, but apparently Kathryn’s warnings over the radio and Annika’s death defying flying had saved some people. As Kathryn said, even if they saved only one person, it was worth it.
Hugging Miranda and kissing her temple, Andy knew she was alive because of Annika, Kathryn—and Miranda.
Kathryn and Annika sat down and gratefully accepted the coffee mugs from one of the women manning the food station just outside the hospital. They had helped with search and rescue for the last two days and it was beginning to wear them down. Kathryn leaned against Annika’s shoulder, not caring if anyone wondered about the closeness. She suspected people were too grateful to be alive to notice. The soldiers were also busy preparing for war. Somewhere in between all the work and preparations they were also expected to mourn their brothers and sisters in arms, which Kathryn was pretty sure, would stay with them all for years to come.
“I have one more hour of work in me, then I want to say hello to Miranda and Andy and go home. What do you say, Annika?” Kathryn patted Annika’s dusty and grimy knee.
“Good idea. I can use a bath.”
“Me too.” Kathryn looked up at her favorite pilot. “We’re lucky you know. Chuck, Nils, the rest of the men, they all survived. Young Mickey broke both his legs, but he’ll live, which is more than you can say for so many people.”
“Yes. And you lost half your planes, but you still got half left. You can stay in business.” Annika tilted her head. “Am I still employed after the way I overrode your command by taking the captain’s seat?”
“Absolutely. You’re the best pilot I’ve ever seen. Unless the military snatches you up—“
“Then they better snatch you up also, or I won’t go. I’ll never leave you, Kathryn.” Annika bit her lower lip and squeezed her mug.
“Sounds good to me.” Kathryn stood. “Then it won’t come as a surprise that I don’t ever want you to go either. I love you, my beautiful Annika.”
Annika blushed, but a brilliant smile formed on her lips. “I love you as well.”
Kathryn pulled Annika to her feet and they gave the mugs back to the women by the cart. Hurrying over to an arriving truck with more wounded, they began to help the men and women off. Kathryn worked tirelessly, as did Annika, and knowing this wondrous young woman loved her, gave the additional strength she needed.
Soon enough, all the wounded would be taken care of and they could go home.