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How to Become a DragonMaster

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“You know, in case you were wondering, the person whose calls you always take, that’s the relationship you’re in. I hope you two are very happy together.”

 

Andy softly sighed as Nate’s words echoed in her mind. “He couldn’t have been more wrong,” she muttered.

 

“What?”

 

Andy turned to the person sitting in the airplane seat next to her. “Sorry. Just talking to myself, I’m afraid.”

 

“Well you know what they say, dear,” the older lady said with a kind smile. “It’s only when you start answering yourself that you have to worry.”

 

Andy returned the woman’s smile and nodded before closing her eyes and laying her head back. Her flight was scheduled to land back in New York at JFK International at 6:40pm, though it was going to feel more like 2:40am, and it had already been a rather long and emotional rollercoaster of a day.

 

~~~

 

After taking a whole week to luxuriate (and recuperate) in the decadence of sleeping late, lounging around her apartment in her pajamas, and indulging only in food that tasted sinfully good, Andy got up, dressed, and with resume in hand, hit the streets of New York in search of new employment.

 

Unless Miranda Priestly had blacklisted her, and there was no reason to think Andy was important enough to Miranda to warrant even a moment’s thought or the effort to do so, Andy was reasonably confident she would find a new job. After all, she had been the editor-in-chief of the Daily Northwestern, won a national competition for college journalists, graduated from Northwestern University at the top of her class, and had been accepted to Stanford Law School. In other words, Andrea Sachs wasn’t one to give up or accept defeat. She knew about hard work and perseverance.

 

She also knew there was often more than one way to get something done. Working as Miranda Priestly’s second assistant had only been a means to an end… and not the only means to that end. It had merely been the first job that she’d been offered. Granted, she had sent out a lot of letters, and it wasn’t until she’d heard from Elias-Clarke that she’d gotten an interview, but she’d since learned a thing or two while working for Miranda Priestly.

 

~~~

 

Andy stood when her name was called and followed the woman back to her office. After a number of job interviews with New York newspapers and magazines, she was now at a temporary employment agency. In the smallish office she sat on an uncomfortably hard chair before Ms. Woodrow’s desk as she waited for the woman to review her file. Finally, dark eyes peered at her over the frames of reading glasses.

 

“With your qualifications I don’t see why you haven’t managed to acquire a job on your own since graduating.”

 

“I did,” Andy replied softly. “I worked for several months at Elias-Clarke.”

 

Ms. Woodrow sat back in her chair. “Yes, I saw that in your paperwork.” She paused for a long beat. “But what you did not indicate was that you were at Runway and worked as a personal assistant to none other than Miranda Priestly. Why did you leave that detail out?”

 

Andy felt her stomach do a flip-flop as she drew a steadying breath. “I learned a lot at Runway, but in the end I…” She took another steadying breath before continuing. “I messed up in the end. I quit without notice.”

 

“So are you saying we should expect a negative reference from Runway?”

 

“Actually, I’ve been told that Miranda has given me a good reference.” Andy noted a wry twist at the corner of Ms. Woodrow’s mouth.

 

“Indeed she has. Which only serves to confuse me all the more. With a reference like that from Miranda Priestly, you should be able to get a job at any publishing house in the city without the help of this agency.”

 

This time Andy couldn’t hold back her sigh as that fateful conversation with Miranda replayed in her mind. That conversation that made her realize she could not continue to work for Miranda, despite the fact that she’d fallen in love with the older woman.

 

“I couldn’t do what you did to Nigel, Miranda. I couldn’t do something like that.”

 

“Hmm… You already did… to Emily.”

 

“That’s not what I… No that–that was different. I didn’t have a choice–”

 

“Oh, no, you chose. You chose to get ahead. You want this life, those choices are necessary.”

 

“But what if this isn’t what I want? I mean, what if I don’t want to live the way you live?”

 

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous, Andréa. Everybody wants this. Everybody wants to be us.”

 

Andy would not compromise herself or her values to get ahead. She had to make her way on her own terms. “I know. But I want a job that Miranda Priestly has absolutely nothing to do with my obtaining, either directly or indirectly.”

 

Ms. Woodrow flipped to another page of the paperwork. “Which would explain why you do not want us to send you on any jobs to the Mirror, the Post, the Wall Street Journal, or any of the Hearst publications, despite the fact that you want to be a journalist.”

 

Andy could feel her cheeks burn with her blush, but she held her tongue.

 

“Look, Ms. Sachs, I don’t know what happened between you and Miranda Priestly, or precisely why you feel so strongly about not capitalizing on her good reference, but I can tell you that you are severely handicapping yourself. The publishing industry is a small world, be it fashion or hard news.” She paused to see if Andy might change her mind. Getting no response, she continued.

 

“As a temporary employment agency, all of our clients require us to ensure our employees meet certain criteria, that we prescreen, check references, et cetera. So while I have reviewed your file and checked your references, any client I send you to for an assignment will not be aware of your history with Miranda Priestly at Runway unless you choose to tell them. If you can live with that I’m sure we can put you to some kind of work in no time, as long as you understand it won’t be in publishing. It’s extremely rare for an assignment in publishing to come up. Whether a client decides to offer you a permanent position will be determined based on your performance as a temp. You’ll earn any permanent job based on your own merit.”

 

Andy smiled. “That’s all I want, Ms. Woodrow.”

 

“Okay. See Fran out front. She’ll give you the paperwork required to have your drug test done. Once that comes back, we’ll see about getting you started as soon as possible.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

~~~

 

Andy picked up the paperwork from Fran and went straight to the lab the agency used. From there she walked down the street, just taking in the hustle and atmosphere of the city. There was something about New York that spoke to her, despite having grown up in the Midwest, an energy that just couldn’t be replicated in any other place on earth.

 

Before she realized it, Andy was across the street from the Elias-Clarke building. She glanced up, her eyes unerringly drawn to the floor occupied by Runway. Having set her new course professionally, she felt a new peace. And it inspired her to settle a few things on a personal level as well. She opened her cell phone.

 

“Miranda Priestly’s office.”

 

“Hey, Emily, it’s Andy. Don’t hang up. I have a favor to ask you.”

 

~~~

 

After helping Roy load all of the clothes she’d brought back from Paris into the car to take to Emily, Andy couldn’t keep from grinning and letting out a chuckle of delight. Even though Emily had tried to sound put out, Andy had been able to hear the smile in her voice. She gave Roy a quick hug before heading back into her apartment. While Andy’s taste in clothing and eye for fashion had definitely improved, she really didn’t have a need for the haute couture that she’d acquired during Paris Fashion Week.

 

With a glance at her watch, Andy grabbed her purse and headed out. She had finally managed to talk Lily into meeting her at the Mayrose Café for coffee.

 

Andy was already seated and sipping her coffee when Lily arrived. She saw her friend stop and pause, gazing at the café’s exterior for a couple of seconds before finally moving to the entrance. The Mayrose had always been a favorite place for their little group of friends, Andy, Nate, Lily, and Doug. She saw conflicting emotions pass behind Lily’s eyes as her friend approached the table and sat down across from her.

 

They both remained silent until the waitress poured Lily’s coffee and left them alone.

 

“Lily–” “I’m sor–” they started, and stopped, simultaneously. They exchanged nervous smiles.

 

“You go ahead,” said Andy.

 

Staring into her coffee, Lily took a steadying breath. “I’m sorry. I should have never come down on you like I did that night at the gallery, accusing you like that. I know you’d never cheat on Nate.” She finally looked up and met Andy’s eyes. “I’m sorry.”

 

“I’m sorry, too.”

 

“For what?”

 

“For letting my job take over so much of my life. I don’t regret working for Miranda. But I am sorry I didn’t manage my time better, that I missed out on some things with you and Nate and Doug.”

 

“You’ve changed,” Lily said softly.

 

“Yes, and no,” Andy replied. “I’m still me, Lily. But I’ve learned a lot and grown up a little. Things aren’t always black and white, right or wrong…” She let out a soft sigh. “And sometimes they are. I never cheated on Nate; however, I did know we were growing apart, and I didn’t do anything about it.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“Because it was becoming apparent how little we really had in common.”

 

“So, I take it you’re not going to be spending any time up in Boston then.”

 

Andy shook her head. “No.”

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

“It’s okay. Nate and I talked; we’re good. We’re friends, but that’s it.”

 

The two women talked and relaxed as they reestablished the connection and camaraderie of their 16-year friendship.

 

~~~

 

Several days after her interview with Ms. Woodrow, Andy received a call from her.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Ms. Sachs? This is Ms. Woodrow with the Piccolo Agency.”

 

“Oh, hi!”

 

“We received the result of your drug test so we can get you started working. Can you come into the office this afternoon?”

 

“Sure. What time?”

 

“2:30.”

 

“I’ll be there. See you then.”

 

~~~

 

Ms. Woodrow smiled when Andy walked into her office. “Good afternoon.”

 

“Good afternoon,” Andy replied as she sat down.

 

“I had an assignment in mind for you, Ms. Sachs, but I had a new and rare request come in from a client this morning, after I spoke with you. It’s not exactly the most exciting assignment in the world, but it is with a publishing company.” She gave a small shrug. “You never know what can happen if you do well in the assignment.”

 

“What is it?”

 

“Proofreader. The assignment is with Tom Doherty Associates, specifically on the Tor Books side of the house. Are you familiar with them?”

 

“They publish sci-fi/fantasy books. I’ve bought plenty of their titles,” she said with nod. “For my boyfriend, not me,” she quickly added. “But for a job, I’ll read all the sci-fi they want me to,” she said with a genuine smile.

 

“Good. You’ll start in the morning.” Ms. Woodward handed Andy a sheet of paper with all of the pertinent information on it.

 

~~~

 

The next morning Andy reported to Tom Doherty Associates. She was shown to a small, windowless office which she shared with Katy Towler who explained the job. Or perhaps more accurately, explained what the job didn’t entail. As the woman droned on in a rather imperious tone, Andy couldn’t help but compare Katy to Emily and smile at the similarities of the two Brits.

 

“Proofreading and editing are fundamentally separate responsibilities. Thinking like an editor will only slow you down, and no one here expects or appreciates an intrusive proofreader. So, to sum up – questions of fact, interpretation, grammar, syntax, and literary style are not your responsibility. Got it?”

 

“Got it.”

 

Andy soon found that it was much easier said than done to ignore anything but actual typos. Each time she came across an error in grammar, she had to tell herself to ignore it and move on, no matter how much it grated on her nerves.

 

~~~

 

For nearly eight weeks she reported to that small, windowless office, sitting and reading in silence, only sharing conversation with Katy and other coworkers during breaks and lunch. From what little she did learn about her officemate, Katy Towler was born in England but had moved to the States when she was fifteen. Her dream was to be a successful, young adult fantasy novelist like Stephanie Meyer – whose second book, New Moon, had been released the past year. Personally, Andy thought Katy should choose someone with more talent and skill to emulate – perhaps someone like J.K. Rowling, if she wanted to write young adult fantasy.

 

As for the work, it was tedious and not at all challenging, but it did pay the rent. And once in a while, though not often enough, she found the material she was proofreading interesting and almost entertaining.

 

Andy stifled a yawn as she reached for her coffee cup with her left hand while she made a mark with the red pen in her other hand on the page she was reviewing.

 

“Andrea Sachs?”

 

She startled at the unexpected sound of someone addressing her. She looked up and saw a petite brunette standing in the doorway of the office. Though the woman couldn’t be more than 5’1″ in her heels, she exuded an air of quiet authority. A quick glance at Katy only served to reinforce that impression since Katy was clearly trying to fade into the woodwork and not be seen by the newcomer.

 

“I’m Andy,” she replied.

 

“I’m Sofia Padretti, the HR manager. Come with me.”

 

The look on Katy’s face as Andy stood was one of ‘better you than me,’ but Andy simply gave her an almost imperceptible shrug. She had no idea why HR would want to see her. She silently followed Sofia to the elevator.

 

Alone in the elevator, Sophia turned to Andy. “I’ve heard good things about your work here, Andrea.”

 

Not sure where the conversation was going, Andy simply smiled and said, “Thank you.”

 

“Harriet told me you’d be a good one to keep an eye on.”

 

“Harriet?”

 

“Harriet Woodward.”

 

“Oh! From the Piccolo Agency.”

 

Sofia smiled and nodded. “I go to her whenever I need someone for a temp position. I always know she’ll send someone good.” She paused for a beat. “And she gives me a heads up when there’s someone I should keep an eye on, someone like you,” she finished with a smile just as the elevator opened.

 

Andy followed Sofia down the hallway and into a spacious corner office.

 

“Have a seat, Andrea.”

 

She sat in one of the chairs in front of Sofia’s desk.

 

“I’ve reviewed your resume, and Harriet has told me your references are solid. You’re overqualified for the work you’re doing here, but if you want to become a permanent, full-time employee, if you want your foot in the door, the job is yours.”

 

Andy grinned. “Yes, I’d like that.”

 

“Good.” Sofia opened a folder with the appropriate paperwork.

 

~~~

 

Katy seemed more than a little surprised to see Andy return to the office unscathed. “What did Padretti want? You know her family is Sicilian, right? You don’t want to upset a Sicilian, if you know what I mean.”

 

Andy couldn’t help laughing at Katy’s paranoia. She didn’t know if Sofia was Sicilian or not, but she couldn’t imagine anyone wielding more fear in an office environment than Miranda Priestly. “It’s okay, Katy; she’s not mad at me. In fact, she offered me a permanent position. I’m no longer a temp.”

 

“Oh.”

 

Having a permanent full-time job was a relief. While it was a rather boring job, at least she was officially employed with a publisher. She had her foot in the door. And, she’d made a new friend. It turned out that Sofia Padretti may have had some ancestors that came from Sicily, but Sofia was actually from Cincinnati and an OSU graduate. As a Buckeye, she was a “friendly” nemesis to Andy’s NU Wildcats. That, however, would not prevent them from becoming friends.

 

~~~

 

“What the hell is this?!”

 

Andy stopped short as she re-entered the office she shared with Katy. “What are you doing going through my desk?” she demanded.

 

“I ran out of paperclips. I was just going to borrow a couple before grabbing a box during my next break. Now, answer my question.” Katy dropped a thick folder on top Andy’s desk. “What the hell is this?”

 

“It’s nothing to concern yourself about. It’s just a little exercise I’m doing. Don’t worry – I’m doing it on my own time.” Andy walked over to her desk, picked up the folder, and replaced it in her top drawer as she sat down.

 

“That is a copy of the Munson manuscript.”

 

“Yes, it is.”

 

“The deadline for proofreading that was last Tuesday.”

 

“I know. And I turned it in last Monday.”

 

“Then what are you still doing with it?”

 

“I made a copy for myself.”

 

“Why?”

 

“I told you – it’s an exercise.”

 

“In what? Literary espionage? Are you going to scan it and put it out on the internet?!”

 

“Oh for– Of course not, Katy.”

 

“Then what the hell are you doing with it?”

 

“I’m editing it, okay?

 

“It’s already been edited.”

 

“Not very well,” Andy muttered.

 

“What?”

 

Andy let out a long sigh. “Look, I know the book was already edited, but as I proofread it there were so many things I saw that could have been done better. There were grammar errors, phrasing that if tweaked just a little bit, would have made a huge difference.”

 

“But that has nothing to do with your job as a proofreader.”

 

“I know that. But I don’t want to always be a proofreader. I’m just using this manuscript to practice a little editing, to see if I can improve it… not as part of my job, but as an exercise to expand and polish my skill set.”

 

~~~

 

The phone on Andy’s desk rang. A rare enough occurrence that both she and Katy stared at it for a moment before she answered it.

 

“Andy Sachs… Yes, sir… I’ll be right there.”

 

“Who was that?” Katy asked after Andy hung up the phone.

 

“Eric Callaghan. He wants to see me.”

 

“Callaghan? From the editing department?”

 

“I guess. He didn’t say what department he was in, just to report to his office.”

 

Andy headed out of the office and took the elevator up three floors. She knocked on the door that had Callaghan’s name on the door and opened it when she heard the voice inside tell her to “Come in.”

 

“You must be Andy Sachs. Come in and have a seat.”

 

“So, what did you want to see me about, Mr. Callaghan?”

 

He reached down and retrieved something from a lower desk drawer and then dropped it on his desk. “I understand you might be familiar with this.”

 

She looked at the book on the desk top – In the Land of the Syngi – the latest book by J.D. Munson.

 

Andy nodded. “I was one of the proofreaders on that project.”

 

Callaghan nodded. “It’s not selling as well as we’d hoped.” He paused. “But maybe it would be getting better reviews if it had been edited better.” He suddenly dropped a thick file on his desk – a file that Andy recognized.

 

Andy felt herself blanch.

 

“I’ve read this,” Callaghan said, indicating the manuscript she’d edited as an exercise. “If we’d published this version, I dare say it would be selling much better.” He gazed at her a moment. “You are clearly being wasted in proofreading.”

 

“H-How did you…”

 

He smiled. “Someone who read it brought it to my attention.”

 

~~~

 

Andy was more than pleased with the promotion she’d received. Not only did it come with a raise, but she got to work in an office that had a window, too. As Eric Callaghan’s editorial assistant, Andy was responsible for liaising with the editorial board and publishing committee, acting as the in-house representative for out-of-house editors, ensuring deadlines and schedules were kept, overseeing books transmitted to production, and plenty of other responsibilities that helped her learn more about book publishing than she ever could have learned in a classroom.

 

Her duties kept her much busier than proofreading ever did, but she enjoyed it immensely. Even so, she would still occasionally make a copy of a manuscript now and then and try her hand at editing. It was interesting to compare her edited version to the official, edited version when it was done.

 

Andy quickly discovered which editors on staff had a real talent for the work and which ones just went through the motions. She used that knowledge to help make sure the newer, less experienced authors were assigned to the more conscientious editors.

 

~~~

 

As July 4th weekend approached, Andy found herself confined to her apartment, violently ill from a particularly bad stomach virus. Nothing she ate stayed down. She was so sick, it was all she could do to keep herself from getting too dehydrated. Lily stopped by each evening to make sure she was still alive, but mostly, Andy just slept for the better part of two weeks.

 

When she finally returned to work, Andy found the resulting pileup of work to be not quite as bad as she’d expected. Eric had had someone cover for her while she was out, so the most urgent of matters had been handled. She would be playing catch-up with quite a bit of stuff, but nothing was in immediate danger of missing a deadline.

 

At least that’s what she thought until she got to the bottom of her in-basket, where found the Lamarche manuscript. “Oh, no!”

 

“What’s wrong?”

 

Andy looked up to see Jennie, the college intern that had been filling in for Andy, enter. “This manuscript should have been sent to prepress this past Friday! It hasn’t even been completely edited and through proofreading, yet!”

 

“Which manuscript is it?”

 

“It’s by a new author – Darcy Lamarche.” Andy sagged in her chair with a heavy sigh, “What am I going to tell Eric?”

 

“Oh! That was a really good book,” Jennie said excitedly. “And there’s nothing to worry about. I sent the manuscript to prepress four days ahead of schedule.”

 

“What? How did you manage that?”

 

“I found the edited manuscript on your desk the first day I covered for you, so I sent it to proofreading. As soon as it came back, I forwarded it,” Jennie said with a shrug. “I was a little confused at first since it was in a purple binder and all the edited manuscripts are supposed to be in blue binders, but I had Mr. Callaghan check it out, and he said it was definitely edited. So, he told me to go ahead, put it in a blue binder and send it to proofreading. It, of course, came back from proofreading in the usual green binder, so I knew it was okay to send it to prepress. And even though it came back early, I went ahead and sent it. Mr. Callaghan said it was–”

 

Andy was still recovering from her extended bout with the stomach virus, and so had stopped listening to the young college girl as she babbled. But then some of what Jennie had been going on about finally sunk in and she cut her off. “Wait. Did you say purple binder?”

 

“Yeah. The manuscript was in a purple binder instead of a blue binder. But Mr. Callaghan checked it and said it was edited. I changed the binder to a blue one and sent it on to proofreading.”

 

Andy looked at the red binder in her hands, the color indicating it still needed to be edited. She used purple binders on the manuscripts she practiced on since none of the departments used them. No one would mistake a purple binder for something that was part of production.

 

“Oh, no,” she moaned.

 

Just then Eric arrived. “Good morning, Andy. I’m glad to you’re feeling better. We missed you around here. Jennie held down the fort while you were out, and she’s here today to help you get caught up. If you need anything, just let me know, okay?”

 

“Actually, I do need to talk to you about something.”

 

Eric looked at his watch. “Okay. I’ve got time now. Come on in,” he said with a genuine smile and a polite gesture toward his office door.

 

Andy preceded her boss into his office and sat in one of the chairs in front of his desk, nervously waiting for him to take his seat.

 

He sat down and smiled at her. “It really is good to have you back, Andy. I was worried about you.”

 

“Thank you. I’m sorry I was out for so long.”

 

He waved off her apology. “Don’t worry about it. It certainly wasn’t your fault. Now, what did you want to talk to me about?”

 

Andy drew a steadying breath. “It’s about the Lamarche manuscript…”

 

Eric nodded. “I’m particularly pleased with that one. A good new author and skilled editing. It’s going to do very well.”

 

She felt her stomach drop. How was Eric going to react when she told him? “About that…”

 

“What?”

 

“The manuscript was never sent to an editor. What you saw… the purple binder was mine.”

 

“I know.”

 

Andy was surprised to see her boss smile widely.

 

“What? You didn’t think I didn’t know, did you?” he asked good-naturedly. “I knew you had edited it as soon as I saw the purple binder.” He paused for a beat. “And I told you months ago that your talents were being wasted. I have an opening for an editor, Andy; it’s yours if you want it.”

 

~~~

 

It quickly became apparent that Andy had a real talent as an editor. Borderline manuscripts became good under her red pen, and good manuscripts became great. Experienced authors recognized a kindred creative soul and appreciated her honest feedback, while inexperienced authors benefited from her patience and gentle but firm guidance.

 

No matter how good Andy was at her job or how much she loved it, editing still didn’t quite scratch a particular itch, the itch that had driven her to earn a degree in journalism at college. The itch that had made her walk away from acceptance by Stanford Law School. Andy was a writer; she needed to write. While working at Runway for Miranda, she really hadn’t had the time to write. And after she left Runway, Andy hadn’t felt the creative urge to write. She’d been too emotionally off-balance and battered. However, after a year and a half away from the insanity of Runway, a year and a half spent checking and correcting and shaping the creative works of others, that itch was returning.

 

Andy had always leaned towards the gathering and reporting of facts in her writing, which was why journalism had suited her so well in college. She had enjoyed the investigative aspect, digging deeper to find the hidden truths. But after having worked with some truly talented and very creative people in her current job, she was finding her mind wandering back to her creative writing classes with a certain fondness and nostalgia. Of course, she also found herself feeling like she had very little time to actually sit down and write anything. As a skilled and popular editor, she was just as busy now as she had been while working at Runway.

 

“You know, some days I swear I could write a better a book in my sleep than some of the stuff that crosses my desk,” she muttered under her breath as she headed into the break room. She desperately needed some caffeine, and it was time for her morning break which she usually shared with Katy, Sofia, and a couple of others.

 

“So put your money where your mouth is.”

 

The challenging tone of Katy’s statement made Andy suddenly look up from where she was refilling her coffee mug. “What?”

 

“Don’t give me that look, Andy. I have heard you say since the day you started here as a temp that you could write something better than some of the stuff you’ve proofread or edited. And I’m saying it’s bloody well time for you to prove it.”

 

Andy opened her mouth to explain she really didn’t have the time, but saw by the jut of her chin that Katy wasn’t going to back down. Since Andy had found out that Katy had turned in Andy’s edited version of the Munson manuscript to Callaghan, they had become good friends. Andy knew that Katy could be rather stubborn when she thought she was right. Like now.

 

“She has a point, Andy,” Sofia agreed with an amused smirk. “We’ve heard you tossing around plot ideas for a long time. Take one and run with it. Show us how you can write something superior to what you’ve been editing and proofreading. Time to put up or shut up.”

 

She did have a four day weekend scheduled. Andy had planned to cancel it and work, but… Not one to back down from a challenge, particularly not one that had been so publically thrown at her like a gauntlet at her feet, Andy felt her spine stiffen as she steadily met first Katy’s gaze and then Sofia’s. “Okay, I will.” She smirked. “If only to get you two to shut up,” she said with a chuckle.

 

~~~

 

The first thing you must realize is that there is no “master” in a dragon/rider relationship. If you don’t display the same strength of character as your dragon, you will quickly find yourself on the receiving end of flaming dragon’s breath, scorched physically as well as emotionally. By the same token, if you try to dominate your dragon, you will find yourself standing alone as your dragon seeks a rider elsewhere.

 

It is only through courage, compassion, trust, and respect that you can develop the requisite partnership with your dragon to become a DragonMaster and join the DragonCorps.

 

Andy was surprised at how quickly the words filled her screen once she sat down and started typing. She was actually smiling as she spun the tale of a young heroine and her dragon as they joined the DragonCorps, had adventures, fought the good fight, and won the day while learning a few lessons about life and love along the way. It may not have been an investigative piece on the janitor’s union, but it was fun and fanciful and something that appealed to her inner whimsy.

 

By the end of her long weekend, she had a novel – a fantasy novel, something she’d never thought she’d write. It had been a fun exercise of her writing muscles.

 

But now what? She sighed. Now nothing. She dropped the printed out manuscript on the coffee table and headed to bed. She had to get up bright and early to get back to work in the morning.

 

~~~

 

“Is there anything else we need to discuss today?” asked Charles Weatherly, the managing editor, during the editorial board’s weekly meeting.

 

“Yes,” replied Aimee Schaffer. She tapped a folder on the table in front of her. “I’ve got a manuscript here that we really need to publish.”

 

Charles shrugged. “So what’s the problem? You’re a senior acquisitions editor, Aimee. You have the authority to make the deal.”

 

“The problem is I don’t know where the manuscript came from, and I don’t know who the author is.”

 

“How in the world does that happen?” Charles held up his hand to forestall any answers to his question. “Okay. Give a copy to each of the department heads who will review it to see whether they recognize the writing style if not the manuscript itself.” He looked at Andy. “Please take Eric’s copy and see that he gets it, Andy.”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

When the meeting came to a close, Andy gathered her notes together, accepted an interoffice envelope with an excerpt of the manuscript for her boss to review, and headed back to her office.

 

~~~

 

Andy looked up at the tap on her open door and smiled. “How was your son’s wedding?”

 

Eric smiled. “It went very well. He and Carrie are off to Fiji for their honeymoon. Thanks for covering the weekly editorial meeting yesterday. Anything important I need to know about?”

 

“I took notes which I put on your desk. There’s also an interoffice envelope from Aimee Schaffer there, too. It contains and excerpt from a manuscript she received. She wants to make a deal for it but needs to know who the author is.”

 

“And she’s sent it to me because?”

 

“Mr. Weatherly said to see if any of the department heads recognized it.”

 

“Okay. Well, I better get to work on clearing my desk.”

 

~~~

 

Andy picked up her desk phone on the second ring. “Andy Sachs.”

 

“Andy, it’s Eric. I need to talk to about the Edgecombe manuscript.”

 

“Oh, okay. When?”

 

“Now would be best.”

 

“Sure. I’ll be right there.”

 

“I’m in the conference room.”

 

“I’m on my way.”

 

Andy hung up and headed out of her office. When she arrived at the conference room, she entered to find Eric waiting for her… but he wasn’t alone. Aimee Schaffer and Charles Weatherly were also present. Then she saw her friend, Sofia Padretti, in the corner as well. Whatever she’d done, it was big enough to have to the HR manager there.

 

“Have a seat, Andy,” Mr. Weatherly said.

 

“Okay,” she replied nervously. She took in the serious expressions as she sat down across the table from her boss’s boss. “This isn’t about the Edgecombe manuscript, is it?”

 

“No. It’s about this.” Mr. Weatherly pushed a thick folder across the table toward her.

 

Andy opened to the folder… to find her manuscript for DragonCorps: How to Become a DragonMaster. “How? Where did you get this?”

 

Mr. Weatherly smiled widely. “The question is, why didn’t you tell us about it?”

 

It took a few minutes to sink in, but Andy eventually understood that hers was the manuscript that Aimee had been so excited about at the editorial board’s meeting three days earlier. Apparently, Sofia had seen the manuscript when she had been over at Andy’s and had picked it up. When she couldn’t stop reading it, she decided to anonymously slip it to one of the senior editors to see what she thought of it.

 

If Andy agreed, they wanted to publish her book!

 

~~~

 

“Miss Sachs?”

 

“Please, call me Andy,” she told the young woman. “What’s your name?”

 

The harried, young production assistant had introduced herself when Andy first had arrived on the set, but Andy had been whisked into makeup so quickly that she hadn’t actually caught the young woman’s name.

 

“I’m Cindy. Are you ready? Ms. Walters is bringing you on early.”

 

“What? I thought I had another ten minutes.”

 

“Come with me, please,” Cindy urged, grabbing Andy’s hand and pulling her out of the makeup chair as the hairdresser finished with her hair. “We just went to commercial, and she wants to bring you on as soon as we come back.” Cindy physically positioned Andy on a spot in the wings of the set and attached her mic and battery pack. “Stand right here and enter when they cue you.”

 

Andy had no sooner taken a deep breath when she looked out onto the set and saw who else was sitting there beside Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg, and Joy Behar… Miranda Priestly. How had she not known Miranda was going to be on same show? Why was Miranda on the same show? Suddenly Andy felt Cindy’s hands on her back, pushing her forward and out of her stupor.

 

Somehow, Andy managed to cross the set and take a seat. They discussed Andy’s bestselling books DragonCorps: How to Become a DragonMaster, DragonCorps: Dragon’s Breath, andthe upcoming sequel, DragonCorps: The Athyn Rebellion; Andy’s heroine, Alianna and her dragon, Prath; and how her heroine had such an appeal that even top designers like Holt and Chanel were inspired to incorporate Alianna’s distinctive uniform and boots into their upcoming fall lines.

 

That was where Miranda was drawn into the conversation. Someone also brought up the fact that Andy had once worked for Miranda as her assistant. There were smiles and gentle laughter, and then the show was finally over. Andy could not have repeated a single word of it, though, because she couldn’t get over how stunning Miranda looked. Miranda didn’t look a day older than she had three years previously, but somehow she was even more beautiful.

 

The next thing Andy realized, she and Miranda were both leaving the studio. However, she was suddenly inundated with screaming fans wanting her autograph. When Andy was almost knocked over, Miranda grabbed Andy’s arm and pulled her close, wrapping a protective arm around her shoulders. Miranda guided her the few feet to her waiting car. As soon as they were safely ensconced in the backseat, Miranda ordered Roy to drive.

 

“Are you alright, Andréa? Have you been injured?” Miranda asked.

 

“I’m fine. Thank you.” Andy missed the warmth of Miranda’s arm around her shoulders.

 

“Are you always set upon by your fans in such a manner? If so, I would think you would have made arrangements for your own transportation.”

 

Andy let out a small chuckle. “No. Actually the only time I’ve really had to deal with that kind of reaction has been at some book signings, and my agent always made sure there was adequate security for those events. Besides, my appearance on The View today was a last minute thing; it was never announced. I don’t know how they all knew I’d be there since it was a surprise.”

 

“I’ll say,” Miranda murmured in a low voice.

 

“And anyway, I’m meeting someone at the Mayrose Café. If you’ll pull over at the next corner, I can catch a cab.”

 

“Nonsense,” Miranda declared. “Roy, take us to the Mayrose Café,” she ordered.

 

“That’s not necessary, Miranda.”

 

“Perhaps not, but it’s already being handled.” Miranda paused as she seemed to take Andy’s measure. “I wondered what had happened to you for a while. I’d received a few requests for references. Why the Mirror never hired you I’ll never know. They must be idiots over there,” she pronounced.

 

Andy couldn’t quite suppress an amused smile. “Actually, they did offer me a job, but I turned it down.”

 

“Oh? Why?”

 

The car came to a stop, and Andy realized they had arrived at the Mayrose. “That’s a discussion for another time and place – one I look forward to having with you,” she said as she reached for the door handle. “Give me a call so we can arrange a time to get together and talk. Thank you for the ride, Miranda.”

 

Andy got out of the car and entered the café. With a smile, she watched as Miranda’s car pulled away. There was no doubt the older woman still made her heart race, but she wasn’t the same disillusioned, young woman she’d been three years earlier. Like Miranda, she’d taken on the world on her own terms. She was her own woman, her own master. And she had just placed the ball squarely in Miranda’s court.

 

Her thoughts were interrupted by the voice of Darren Saddler.

 

“Are you going come sit down, Andy, or are you going to just stand there staring out the window all day?”

 

She turned and smiled at her agent. Then she mock-frowned and shook her finger at him as she approached the table. “I should fire you for what you did to me this morning.”

 

“What? I got you on The View this morning when Kristine Rusch had to cancel at the last minute.”

 

“Don’t try to play innocent with me,” she said as she sat down. “You know exactly what I’m talking about. Why the hell didn’t you tell me Miranda Priestly was going to be on the show, too?”

 

He smirked. “And how is Miranda?”

 

Andy sighed and waited until the waitress filled her coffee cup and left them alone before answering. “Just as beautiful as ever.”

 

“And?”

 

“And what?”

 

“Now who’s trying to play innocent? Did you talk to her or not?”

 

“I talked to her – she gave me a ride here.”

 

“So did you tell her?”

 

“Tell her what?”

 

Darren threw his hands up in exasperation. “Good grief, girl, this is like pulling teeth. You and I both know you’re in love with the woman. You’ve told me time and time again why you walked away from her in Paris, how you wanted to make it on your own terms. How you realized you could never be with her unless it was as an equal, which you couldn’t be while working for her. Well, you have made it, you are an equal, and you did it on your own terms. Now, are you going to tell Miranda why you walked away and how you feel about her?”

 

Andy stared into her coffee a few moments before replying. “I don’t know.”

 

“Are you still in love with her?”

 

She nodded.

 

“Then tell her.”

 

“It’s not that simple, Darren. I don’t know if she’s even given me a thought these last three years, much less if she’d ever think of me in that way. Anyway, it’s up to her at this point.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I told Miranda to call me to arrange a time to get together to talk. So if she’s at all interested in talking with me, she’ll call. If not, I’ll never hear from her.” She took a sip of her coffee. “Now, what did you want to talk about?” she asked, deliberately changing the subject.

 

“They’re moving up the release date of Athyn Rebellion by a week, so I’ve been juggling your schedule around a bit. You’re about to get very, very busy. And,” he looked at his watch, “I’ve got someone I want you to meet.”

 

“Who?”

 

“He should be here any moment.”

 

“He? Have you met someone, Darren?” Andy asked with a grin. “Am I going to meet you new boyf…” her voice trailed off as the door to the café opened and in walked a ruggedly handsome man. As soon as he made eye contact with Darren he smiled and walked over to their table.

 

“Andy, I’d like you to meet Sam Bridgeman. Sam, this is Andrea Sachs.”

 

Sam smiled brightly as he shook her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

“Sam is your new personal assistant,” declared Darren.

 

“What?! I don’t need a personal assistant,” she objected.

 

“Trust me, you will. Sam here is not only the best, he’ll also be able to handle getting you through the crowds – and there will be crowds.”

 

She shook her head as she remembered the crowd outside the studio that morning. “Speaking of which, how the heck did so many people know I was going to be on The View this morning when it was such a last minute deal?”

 

“You tweeted. Well, I tweeted for you.”

 

“I don’t have a Twitter account.”

 

“You do now. And it’s just one of the things that Sam will take care of for you as your personal assistant.”

 

~~~

 

As much success Andy enjoyed with her first two books, she was catapulted into the stratosphere when her third book came out. Her appearance on The View was just the beginning. Once DragonMaster: The Athyn Rebellion hit the shelves, it sold out in record time.

 

And Darren had been right – everywhere she went there were crowds. If not for Sam, Andy would have been overwhelmed. He was large enough that he was able to muscle a throughway in the crowds to usher her in and out of wherever she needed to go. Sam was also indispensible as her personal assistant. He acted as a buffer, taking care of all but the most important things, leaving Andy able to focus on the task at hand, which was usually preparing for yet another interview or book signing. If not for Sam, Andy would have been inundated with appearance requests, phone calls, and fan mail.

 

Andy had to get a separate number to give only to her closest friends and family so that they could get a hold of her. And as it was, Sam still had to occasionally screen calls that came in on that line.

 

Which was why she didn’t know that Miranda had been trying to call and talk to her for some time, not until she happened to overhear Sam on the phone one day.

 

She was actually staying in a beach house on Saint Martin. Darren had arranged for it when she’d complained of not being able to think clearly enough to work on her fourth DragonMaster book. Getting away from everything after all of the talk shows, book signings, and other publicity events for The Athyn Rebellion had been just what she’d needed. Her parents had joined her for a few days, and they’d made a family vacation of it. After her family left, she had her friends, Lily, Katy, and Sophia join her for a week of fun in the sun. Then, it was time for Andy to put her head down and get to work.

 

Andy set her laptop aside, picked up her empty glass, and headed into the kitchen. As she poured herself some iced tea, she overheard Sam on the phone.

 

“Yes, I will make note of your call… No, I do not toss out her messages… If you could tell me what it is you wish to discuss with Ms. Sachs perhaps–” Sam rolled his eyes as he was cut off.

 

Andy smiled, because she knew all too well what it was like to be in his shoes. She was infinitely grateful to Darren for insisting, despite her resistance, on hiring Sam. Sam had proven a real godsend. And because of her own experiences, his Christmas bonus was going to reflect that fact, too.

 

“Well, if you really were that good a friend of Ms. Sachs, you’d know her name is Andrea not Andréa, and you’d have her private number. Good day.” Sam hung up the phone and took a deep breath. Even he had his limits.

 

Andy’s eyes went round. “Did you just hang up on Miranda Priestly?”

 

Sam looked at her. “How did you know who it was?”

 

“Because she’s the only one who’s ever called me Andréa.” She chuckled. “I can’t believe you just hung up on her.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“Because she’s Miranda Priestly.” At his look of total lack of comprehension she elaborated. “She’s the editor-in-chief of Runway magazine. She’s only the icon of the fashion industry.”

 

Sam shrugged. “And you’re Andy Sachs, the author of the best-selling and hottest novels on the market. You’ve been on talk shows all around the world, and actors are already clamoring to play your lead characters even though a movie deal has yet to be made.”

 

She smiled at Sam’s loyalty. “How many times has Miranda called?”

 

“She’s only called three or four times. Though she did have someone else call for her before that.”

 

Andy was surprised. She couldn’t recall any time Miranda had personally called someone other than the twins. Miranda even had her assistants call Stephen to give him messages. So the fact that she was calling Andy personally – multiple times – was a real shock.

 

“Let me have the number, Sam.”

 

“Here you go,” he said, holding out a slip of paper to her.

 

Andy took the number and walked back out onto the patio. She dialed the number as she sat back down next to the pool.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Miranda? It’s me, Andy.”

 

“Andréa. Where are you?” Miranda immediately demanded.

 

“I’m in Saint Martin.”

 

“What is your address there?”

 

She reflexively gave the woman her address before thinking about it. “Why do you need to know my address?”

 

“Stay right there, Andréa.”

 

Andy looked at the phone in her hand in dismay – Miranda had just hung up on her. Then she started to chuckle because it was so typically Miranda.

 

~~~

 

She shouldn’t have been, but Andy was surprised when Sam escorted a guest out onto the patio less than four hours later.

 

“You have a visitor, Andy.”

 

She hit SAVE before looking up to see none other than Miranda Priestly standing there looking at her.

 

“Miranda!”

 

“Andréa.”

 

“What are you doing here?”

 

“You said to call so that we could arrange to get together and talk. I called.” She paused for a beat. “Several times,” she added with a pointed look at Sam, who still conspicuously stood a few feet away with his arms crossed, watching and listening.

 

Andy bit her lip to keep from smiling as she took in Miranda’s pursed lips. She gestured for the older woman to have a seat. “I’m sorry about that, Miranda. That’s not Sam’s fault; he was just doing his job. Things suddenly got very crazy for me right after I saw you. Sam has had to screen all of my correspondence and phone calls, and I’ve had to get a private number just for family and close friends. Even so, I’ve barely had time to breathe, and it’s been downright impossible to find any privacy or peace and quiet. Which is why my agent made arrangements for me to stay here for a while. I apologize for any… misunderstanding.”

 

Miranda’s spine seemed to relax just a tiny bit. “Yes, well… I suppose you have been,” she hesitated a moment as if searching for the right words, “rather busy. One can scarcely turn on the television without seeing one interview or another of you.” Miranda glanced around as if looking for something. “Well, is there nothing to drink in this tropical paradise?”

 

“Oh! Oh course. What would you like, Miranda? Coffee? Tea? Lemonade?”

 

“I don’t suppose you have any Pellegrino,” she replied with a sigh.

 

“Actually, I think we may. Sam, would you see if we have any Pellegrino, please?”

 

“Sure thing, Andy.”

 

“By all means, take your time,” Miranda’s voice trailed after Sam as she finally sat down in one of the other chairs on the patio. Her tongue was as sharp as ever, but to Andy’s eye, Miranda moved with just a little less than her usual grace, as if she were tired or stressed out.

 

Sam quickly returned and then excused himself. “If that’s all, I’m going over to Philippe’s for dinner. I have my phone with me, so if you need anything, Andy, just call me.”

 

“I will. Tell Philippe I said hello and have a nice evening.”

 

Andy returned her attention to her guest. She was vacillating between the nervousness that being around Miranda always made her feel and the knowledge that she wasn’t the same person she was when she had walked away from Miranda three years previously; between the shock of Miranda showing up in Saint Martin and the satisfaction of finally facing Miranda as an equal.

 

She took a moment to run an evaluating eye over the Dragon Lady. Miranda Priestly was elegance and power personified. Though of average height, she always seemed larger than life. But sitting there, silently sipping mineral water on the patio of a beach house, there was something more shining through her blue eyes, something more etched in the cant of her shoulders. Or perhaps Andy was just seeing more clearly now that her perspective had changed.

 

Surprised that Miranda has allowed the undisguised evaluation without comment, Andy finally broke the silence that hung between them. “Miranda, where were you when you called earlier?”

 

“Miami.” The older woman looked away. “I had managed to determine your location was somewhere in the Caribbean; however, no one seemed willing or able to narrow it down any further, not even Emily. Anyway, I borrowed Donatella’s jet and flew down to Miami. I was waiting there until I received word of your exact location.”

 

Her eyebrows climbed up her forehead. “Let me get this straight. You borrowed Donatella’s jet, flew to Miami, and waited until you heard back from me?”

 

Miranda picked at some nonexistent lint on her slacks rather than meeting Andy’s eyes.

 

Andy was surprised to see some pink suddenly color the other woman’s cheeks, and she could have sworn she heard Miranda mutter something that sounded suspiciously like mountain and Mohammed. She frowned, trying to figure out why the woman was acting strangely. Miranda Priestly didn’t get nervous or blush, and she certainly didn’t fly halfway across the country and just wait on the chance that she would hear back from someone.

 

If it had been anyone but Miranda, Andy would have thought that maybe the other woman was trying to deal with the same kind of feelings that she had for Miranda. But that didn’t make any sense.

 

Why not?

 

That thought brought Andy up short. Three years ago she would have sworn that Miranda Priestly was incapable of feeling anything for anyone – other than her children. But three years ago Andy was a bit more naïve about a few things. She remembered sitting in the Mayrose Café and telling Lily that she’d grown up a little during the time she’d worked for Miranda. Well, she’d grown up a lot more in the three years since.

 

A small smile graced Andy’s lips as she stood. “It’s almost dinnertime. Would you care to join me, Miranda? You’re welcome to keep me company while I fix us something to eat or to sit out here by the pool. Or if you prefer, I can show you to a guest room where you can rest or freshen up.”

 

Miranda stood. “I had a chance to rest on the flight down.”

 

“So, where are the twins?” she asked as she led the way into the house.

 

“They’re on holiday with their father.”

 

~~~

 

Andy found the routine of preparing their meal relaxing, despite the fact that Miranda had decided to perch on a stool at the end of the kitchen island and silently watch her every move. Finally, Andy set a plate in front of Miranda. On it was a lightly seared tuna steak on a bed of wild rice, drizzled with a light soy, ginger, and lime sauce, with a side of some fresh, steamed cauliflower and broccoli florets. She poured a little bit of wine into a glass from the bottle she had already decanted and handed it to Miranda, giving her the honor of taste-testing it.

 

Miranda accepted the wineglass and the gesture of respect. She closed her eyes and gently swirled the red liquid in the glass as she drew in the wine’s bouquet. She then brought the glass to her lips and took a small sip, allowing the wine to tease her taste buds for a few seconds before swallowing. The curling of her lips let Andy know she’d chosen well as did the sparkle in her blue eyes when she opened them.

 

“That must be a 1999 vintage Burgundy,” Miranda stated as the curling of her lips turned into a genuine smile.

 

Andy returned her smile. “Yes, it is.” She turned the bottle to show the label as she replied. “Nuits St Georges, Clos la Maréchale Domaine Faiveley.”

 

“It’s excellent.”

 

Andy poured both of them a glass and then sat on the other stool. “I’m glad you like it.”

 

Miranda took a bite of her tuna steak again smiled. “This is very good, Andréa. I had no idea you were such a good cook.”

 

“I don’t cook a lot, but I did manage to pick up a few tips from Nate when we were dating,” she replied with a smile.

 

“Well, what time you have devoted in kitchen has been well spent. This is an excellent meal.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

~~~

 

After Andy rinsed the dishes in the sink she opened another bottle of wine and refilled her glass. Taking the bottle with her, she walked outside and stood next to Miranda where she leaned her hip against the column of the patio, gazing out at the beach and the waves.

 

“It’s peaceful here,” Miranda said softly.

 

“Yes, it is. Would you like a refill?” Andy asked.

 

“Please.”

 

Andy refilled the other woman’s wineglass before turning and taking a seat on one of the chaise lounges. She set the bottle on a small nearby table. After a few moments, Miranda turned and rested her back against the column.

 

“You came a long ways down here to see me, Miranda. What did you want to talk about?” Andy finally asked.

 

“Actually, it was you who said you looked forward to having a discussion with me. You then requested that I call so that we could arrange a time to do so.” Miranda gestured vaguely to indicate their present location. “We’re here now.” She paused as she pushed away from the column and moved to sit in the chaise nearest to Andy’s. “So, why did you turn down the job at the Mirror? You had clearly indicated your interests were in journalism.”

 

Andy took a slow breath as she ordered her thoughts. “I turned it down because of the reference you gave them.”

 

She regretted her words as soon as she realized that she’d wounded Miranda with them. Hurt flashed behind those beautiful blue eyes before Miranda turned away, her jaw muscles tightening. Andy mentally kicked herself for not wording it better. She sat up, reaching out and placing her hand on Miranda’s forearm.

 

“Please, let me explain,” she urged.

 

Miranda didn’t meet her eyes, but she did give an almost imperceptible nod.

 

Andy gave Miranda’s arm a gentle squeeze before letting go. She shifted, moving to sit on the edge on Miranda’s chaise facing her, even though Miranda kept her eyes cast downward. “Do you remember what you said to me that day in Paris… in the car, after the Holt luncheon?”

 

“That I saw I great deal of myself in you. That you were able to see beyond what people want and need, you could choose for yourself.”

 

“And I disagreed with you.”

 

“Even though I was right,” Miranda said softly.

 

Andy didn’t reply right away. She waited until Miranda looked up at her before agreeing. “Yes, even though you were right. I did make certain choices to get ahead. You were right about that. And you were right about other things as well. I didn’t see it at the time, but you actually helped Nigel by your actions. Holt International nearly went under with Jacqueline Follet as creative director, proving once and for all that she could not have done your job, ‘the list’ notwithstanding. While in the meantime you promoted Nigel from art director to creative director of Runway, giving him an even more impressive resume and making him the obvious choice to come in and rescue Holt International from ruin when Jacqueline left in disgrace.”

 

At Miranda’s surprised look, Andy smiled affectionately. “I may have left Runway, but New York is still a small place when you know the right people.”

 

“Sometimes a person must take a longer view of things.”

 

“I agree. Which brings me back around to why I turned down the job at the Mirror. You were right about me, Miranda. I did want this life; I do want it,” she said with a loose gesture at their surroundings. “But what I know about myself, what I knew even then, was that I had to get here on my own terms. I needed to do things my way. That’s why I walked away in Paris. That’s why I turned down the job at the Mirror. That’s why I went back to the drawing board and started over from scratch. Not because of anything you said or did, but because it was something I had to do – for me.”

 

The corner of Miranda’s mouth twitched. “You’re even more like me than I realized.”

 

Andy nodded. “You were more right about me than you knew,” she said with a smile. “Which is why, regardless of what did or didn’t happen in Paris, I couldn’t have continued to work for you… especially not with the way I felt about you.” She paused as she caught and held Miranda’s eyes. “Not with the way I feel about you.”

 

“Feel a-about me. I don’t understand.”

 

“Don’t.”

 

“What?”

 

“Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. Playing dumb doesn’t suit you, Miranda.”

 

Andy reached up and gently cupped Miranda’s cheek, before slowly leaning in and pressing her lips against the other woman’s. At the first soft touch of their lips, she felt her heart skip a beat… but then she felt it drop only half a moment later when Miranda didn’t respond. Andy sat back and gave a sad nod while suppressing a sigh.

 

“I’m sorry,” she said softly.

 

Andy stood and walked into the house. She needed the space to regain her equilibrium. She splayed her hands on the cool granite of the kitchen island and leaned on them, dropping her head. She closed her eyes as she drew in slow, steadying breaths. She didn’t regret taking the chance.

 

“Andréa.”

 

She lifted her head and turned to face Miranda. “I’m sor–”

 

Miranda cut her off, “I don’t want your apology.” She pinched the bridge of her nose a moment as she took a deep breath. “Why?” she finally asked.

 

“Why did I kiss you? Because I love you. Because I’ve been in love with you for over three years.”

 

“No, I understand why you kissed me. Why do you love me? I’m a–”

 

“You’re strong-willed, independent, stubborn, bossy,” she smiled at Miranda’s sigh and continued, “smart, accomplished, beautiful, talented, elegant, and sexy.”

 

“I’m 53 years old.”

 

Andy’s smile widened into a grin. “Did I mention I like older women?”

 

“But I’m too old.”

 

“For what? For me? You don’t get to decide that – only I do. I make my own choices, Miranda. I’m my own woman. I don’t work for you, you’re not my mother, and I don’t owe you anything.”

 

Miranda’s eyes widened as realization sunk in.

 

Anything Andy could have gotten from Miranda, she had gone out and gotten on her own. There was nothing Miranda could offer her that she couldn’t get for herself.

 

Andy closed the distance between them. “I love you, Miranda, for who you are, just as you are. There’s nothing I want or need from you.”

 

“Then what could you possibly want?”

 

“Just you, Miranda.”

 

“That’s it? Just me?”

 

Andy smiled. “You. But let me warn you now, I mean all of you.”

 

A smile threatened to play across Miranda’s lips. “You may regret that.”

 

“I doubt it.” She once again leaned in and pressed her lips to Miranda’s. Her heart trip hammered as the lips under hers responded. Andy brought her arms up and slipped them around Miranda, gently pulling her body against her own as she slipped her tongue between Miranda’s lips. Their tongues met, sliding against each other.

 

Andy felt Miranda place her two hands on her chest just above her breasts… and then suddenly push her away. She opened her eyes to see what appeared to be confusion in those beautiful blue eyes as Miranda fought to catch her breath. As if approaching a skittish animal, she took a slow step forward and spoke softly.

 

“Miranda.” She gently took the older woman’s hand in her own. “I would never impose myself on you. If you don’t want this, then it’s done.”

 

“No.”

 

She swallowed and nodded. “I understand. It’s okay.” She tried to let go of her hand, but Miranda tightened her grip.

 

“No, I don’t mean no. I mean–” Miranda let out a small huff of frustration as she tried to find the right words to express herself. She closed her eyes and took a couple of slow breaths.

 

When Miranda opened her eyes and looked into Andy’s, it took Andy’s breath away. Gone were any and all walls that Miranda Priestly had built to protect herself over the years. She was laid completely bare and vulnerable. This was the Miranda that no one got to see. It was the only thing that Andy wanted from Miranda… and it was the only thing Miranda had never given to anyone before.

 

Andy reached up and tenderly cupped Miranda’s cheek. Then she smiled, placed a kiss on Miranda’s other cheek, and turned, leading her love to the master bedroom by pulling on the hand that still clasped hers.

 

As Andy lay Miranda on the bed, she realized just how desperately she had wished to become a DragonMaster to this particular dragon. She was humbled by the gift Miranda was bestowing on her, this willingness to form what Andy knew would become a connection no one would be able to break. Shifting her thoughts to the beautiful woman beneath her, Andy vowed to never take this bond for granted. Just like Alianna, Andy would love her silver-haired dragon, her own Prath, until the day she died. Finally, she had Miranda in arms; Andy would do everything in her power to make sure Miranda would never wish to leave them.

 

FIN